Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Republican Congress & Trump's (Shrinking) Base Are Holding America Hostage

CAROLYN KASTER / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
No constitutional scholar of repute will deny that the evidence of criminality, as well as unfitness for office, has become so overwhelming eight months into Donald Trump's presidency that the House of Representatives is obligated to begin impeachment proceedings. 
The reason why it has not and will not in the foreseeable future speaks volumes about the moral vacuity of the Republican Party and how it and Trump's shrinking base -- and yes, it is shrinking -- are holding America hostage.  
Trump's election support always was soft.  That is, more people said they would vote for Trump because they didn't like Hillary Clinton than because they supported Trump. 
The current numbers vary somewhat depending on the poll, but overall fewer than 40 percent of registered voters approve of Trump's performance although 46 percent of them voted for Trump last November in an election that was stolen twice -- first with considerable help to the Trump campaign from the Russians and then by the Electoral College.   
The percentage of voters who approve strongly of his performance -- which is a pretty good if unscientific approximation of the base that Trump declared the other day is "bigger and stronger than ever before" -- actually has shriveled to just 16 percent, down from 24 percent only a month ago.   
Put in starker terms, this means only about one in six voters say they like the way Trump has conducted himself as president, while 56 percent of voters in a conservative-leaning Fox News poll say they believe Trump is "tearing the country apart."
Remembering that Trump can do no wrong among his most ferent supporters and that most congressional Republicans won't speak out because they need him to enact their legislative agenda, what has happened in the last month to accelerate the southward direction of his poll numbers? 
Nothing and more of the same. 
Over that month, every one of Trump's campaign-promised and Republican-backed initiatives was dead on arrival, foundered or went down to defeat.  And during that month, Trump:
Embraced white nationalists, neo-Nazis and KKKers and then castigated the highest ranking Jewish member of his inner circle for criticizing him. 
Bridled at blowback from the secretary of state and defense secretary, among others, who distanced themselves from his hateful rhetoric.  
Fired two more aides, bringing to eight (not counting FBI Director James Comey) the high-ranking officials who have left his administration. 
Rolled back Obama era regulations on toxic pesticides, usurious lenders and debt relief for students misled by scam schools like Trump University.   
Announced a new Afghanistan war policy that while vague, assures continued stalemate and additional loss of American lives. 
Further thumbed his nose at the rule of law in pardoning Joe Arpaio, the convicted Arizona county sheriff known for his anti-Hispanic policies. 
Said he would end deportation protection for nearly 800,000 "dreamers," immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. 
Absolved himself of his weak leadership by declaring war on congressional Republicans for failing to pass important legislation. 
Deepened his feud with Mitch McConnell after the Senate majority leader mused about Trump's mental health and ability to lead the GOP. 
Threatened a government shutdown if his border wall, which will cost tens of billions of dollars, is not funded. 
Trump's handling of Hurricane Harvey, an immense natural disaster, was instructive:
By his own admission, he waited until viewers were transfixed by hurricane coverage to pardon Arpaio so his ratings would be higher. 
His disconnect with reality was on offer with the furor over the First Lady wearing stiletto heels on her way to Houston.  
He claimed he witnessed Harvey's devastation "first hand," but the closest he got was meeting with officials well behind the scenes. 
And finally:
There was the increased likelihood that associates and family members will face indictment in the Russia scandal. 
But those are only part of the reason Trump's poll numbers are tanking because, truth be known, beyond health care relatively few voters give a fig about those other issues.   
What those plummeting numbers do reflect is that after eight months, it is impossible to ignore that the president of the United States is batshit crazy, mean as hell, has a penchant for controversy and self-inflicted wounds, revels in juvenile taunts, has done deep moral damage to the country, and is a danger to America and the world at large.   
And that some, if not many, Republican voters are deeply uncomfortable with the metamorphosis of the GOP -- which once proudly called itself the Party of Lincoln -- into a vehicle for white identity and racism, a mutation that its slavish support of Trump has completed. 
The ethical rot of congressional Republicans -- which is to say their refusal to move on impeachment in the face of overwhelming evidence demanding such action -- comes at a time when a second set of emails has emerged showing that there was high-level outreach from Trump's business and campaign to the Kremlin in the heat of the presidential election campaign, as well as the specter of preemptive Russia scandal pardons.   
Those second emails conclusively show that while Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company -- with sleazy partner Felix Sater and personal lawyer Michael Cohen (photo, above) taking the lead -- was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow and that as part of the deal, according to Sater, the Russian government would help get Trump elected. 
(The first set of emails pertain to the infamous June 2016 meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner with Russians with intelligence backgrounds who promised they would provide official documents incriminating Clinton.) 
Trump's penchant for cover-ups -- notably concealing his finances and being misleading about business dealings with America's greatest foe while eagerly encouraging Russia to hack Clinton's emails and kissing up to Vladimir Putin -- are grist for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's obstruction-of-justice mill, while the Moscow deal is a stunning conflict of interest in addition to being evidence of a willingness to collude with the Russians.    
But neither are likely to move Congress to act on impeachment although Trump's actions at the very least meet a key test of Article II of the Constitution -- they are so great and so subvert government and the political order as to render the president a danger. Beyond Trump's abuses of power, moral failures and abandoning the basic duties of his office, this includes personal enrichment, which only rarely has been part of the impeachment discussion. 
What might move the Honorables are preemptive pardons for Trump aides (Manafort, Flynn, Page, Cohen) and family members (Donald Jr. and Kushner) who are under Mueller's microscope.   This is because while presidents have substantial leeway in granting pardons (Clinton with Marc Rich, Bush with Scooter Libby and Trump himself with Araipo), such pardons would be a blatant effort to extricate himself from "the Russia thing," as Trump calls it. 
The legal jeopardy of Trump aides and family members, if not the president himself, grows by the day because Mueller will not be deterred.  But only congressional Republicans, who know that Trump's base still has their back, can stop him.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

'Twas Then When The Hurdy Gurdy Man Came Singing Songs Of Love'

THE HURDY GURDY MAN
By DONOVAN / DEDICATED TO SCOTT BIRNEY 

Thrown like a star in my vast sleep
I opened my eyes to take a peek
To find that I was by the sea
Gazing with tranquility

'Twas then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Came singing songs of love
Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Came singing songs of love

"Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy" he sang
"Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy" he sang
"Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy" he sang

Histories of ages past
Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity

'Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Comes singing songs of love
Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Comes singing songs of love

"Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy" he sang
"Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurd
Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy" he sang

"Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy" he sang
Here comes the Roly Poly Man
He's singing songs of love
"Roly poly, roly poly, holy poly poly" he sang
"Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy" he sang

"Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy" he sang

Charlie 'Bird' Parker: The Jazz Man On The Flying Trapeze

(BIRD WOULD HAVE BEEN 97 ON AUGUST 29.  AS IT WAS, HE DIDN'T QUITE MAKE IT TO 35.  THE PREEMINENT ALTO SAX PLAYER IS HOT AGAIN, ALTHOUGH HE SELDOM GETS BELOW A SIMMER.  PORTIONS OF THIS POST ORIGINALLY WERE PUBLISHED IN MAY 2010)
It is unlikely that anyone in the pantheon of jazz greats has been idolized more and heard and appreciated less than Charlie "Bird" Parker, the mercurial alto saxophone genius and bebop trailblazer.

There are several reasons for this strange dichotomy: Although Parker already was attracting attention in his mid teens, his career lasted barely 20 years.  His relatively small number of studio recordings sound primitive by today's standards, there is little live footage of him playing compared to sayJohn Coltrane or Miles Davis, and the expectations Parker raised among fans attracted to him well after his death were sometimes dashed by a sound that can seem old-fashioned to modern ears.


I myself was afflicted by that feeling until my own ear matured to the point where I finally understood what an extraordinary if troubled force Parker was, as well as the enormous extent to which he influenced succeeding generations of sax and other jazz players. 
§ 
Black jazzmen were not extensively interviewed in the Forties and Fifties, which helps explain why there is so much confusion concerning the childhood of Charlie Parker, who often was referred to as Charles Christopher Parker Jr., although neither his birth certificate or gravestone bear a middle name.

Born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1920 to a homemaker and an evangelist preacher with a wandering eye and fondness for drink, this only child was playing sax by the age of 11 or 12.  Some people claim that baritone sax was Parker's first instrument, but that seems unlikely because a child that age would barely be able to hold yet alone play such a behemoth. Some people also claim that he inherited his talent from a piano-playing father, but Parker insisted that Charlie Sr., whom he deeply resented for abandoning he and his mother, didn't play an instrument.
At age 14, Parker joined his school's band using a rented instrument.  Again the historic record is vague with some people saying that he was terrible and others asserting that his genius showed through from the outset.  What is known is that he was growing up too fast for his own good.

He dropped out of school a year later, got married and threw himself into the vibrant jazz community across the river in Kansas City, Missouri, a scene fueled by alcohol, benzedrine and marijuana.  His first jam session was a disaster because, as he later explained, he only knew how to play "Honeysuckle Rose" and the first eight bars of "Lazy River," became hopelessly lost when the other musicians launched into "Body and Soul," and was hooted off the stage at the Hi-Hat Club.

Parker did what any dedicated jazzman would do.  He woodshedded, practicing for long hours every day.  He began to develop a personal style that had elements of what became bebop, which is characterized by a blazingly fast tempo and improvisation based on a combination of harmonic structure and melody.  His first big break came in 1938 when he joined a territory band led by pianist Jay McShann.


But Parker was dogged by a morphine addiction developed while he was hospitalized after a car crash in 1936 that would lead to a lifetime of on-again, off-again heroin use.  He also developed another habit -- borrowing money or pawning his sax or borrowing a horn from a friend and pawning it.   An acquaintance recalled that at age 18 Parker already looked like a man twice that age.  It would be only a matter of time before Parker moved to New York City, probably the only place where he would be able to attain his goals, and in 1939 he abandoned his wife and their young son, as had his father before him, pawned his sax and headed east.  The year is significant because that was when tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins dramatically reappeared after five years in Europe and recorded a cover of  his own version of "Body and Soul" that heralded the bebop era.
Parker landed a $9 a week job as a dishwasher at a Harlem restaurant where Art Tatum, a pianist who was to have an enormous influence on him, played. He intermittently rejoined McShann's band and then beginning in 1942 played with Earl Hines for a year.  It was here that he met trumpet great and fellow bebopper Dizzy Gillespie.

Gillespie introduced Parker to a group of young musicians and he jammed at after-hours clubs in Harlem with Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, drummer Kenny Clarke and guitarist Charlie Christian, among other avant-garde iconoclasts who were shaking the jazz world to its core.

Parker says that his breakthrough as a soloist came one night in 1939 when he was jamming on "Cherokee" with guitarist William "Biddy" Fleet and hit upon a method that, as he later explained, enabled him to play "what I had been hearing in my head for some time" by pushing the harmonic envelope through extended chords on the higher intervals of a song's harmonies.


Some jazz historians consider this session to be the birth of bebop, but it is no such thing.  As with most new forms in the history of jazz, several pioneers were breaking through simultaneously, and in this case that included Hawkins and Gillespie, although Parker was unquestionably the major catalyst.

As one Parker biographer put it, "Dizzy was training for the marathon and Charlie was the man on the flying trapeze."
There are virtually no recordings of the early years of bebop because of a Musician's Union ban on all commercial recordings from 1942 to 1944 that was part of an ultimately successful struggle to get royalties from record sales for out-of-work musicians.

It wasn't until 1945 that Parker's collaborations with Gillespie and others gained widespread attention and a growing appeal to jazzmen.  The most famous of these collaborations was a November 1945 recording date for the Savoy label that has been called the greatest jazz session ever.  Among the tracks recorded were Parker's masterpiece "Ko-Ko," which was based on the chords of "Cherokee," became his signature song and should not be confused with Duke Ellington's "Ko-Ko."


"Everything had a musical significance for him," said double bassist Gene Ramey of Parker's increasingly sophisticated soloing.  "He'd hear dogs barking, for instance, and he would say it was a conversation -- and if he was blowing his horn he would have something to play that would portray that to us.  When we were riding in a car between jobs we might pass down a country lane and see the trees and some leaves, and he'd have a sound for that.  And maybe some girl would walk past on the dance floor while he was playing, and something she might have would give him an idea for something to play on his solo."  
But some older musicians, whom beboppers derisively referred to as"moldy figs," weren't buying the new sound.  Or perhaps realized that they would never be able to keep up with Parker.  A critic for the then decidedly retrograde Down Beat magazine panned "Ko-Ko," writing that " . . . he's far off form -- a bad reed and inexcusable fluffs do not add up to good jazz."

Five years later, Down Beat would name Parker as best alto sax player for the first and not the last time.
 
§ 
The Parker-Gillespie ensemble embarked on a trip to Los Angeles at the end of 1945.  The gig was a flop, primarily because West coast audiences were not ready for bebop even if West Coast musicians were.  Most of the group returned to New York, but Parker cashed in his return ticket to buy heroin.

Miles Davis, as usual, was more blunt: "In Los Angeles, [Parker] was just another broke, weird, drunken nigger playing some strange music.  Los Angeles is a city built on celebrating stars and Bird didn't look like no star."

When Parker couldn't score heroin he drank heavily and one night wandered into the lobby of his hotel naked, prompting the manager to lock him in his room where he passed out with a lit cigarette in his hand, setting his mattress afire.  Parker was not just out of orbit, he was out of circulation after being arrested and committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital for six months.
Initially clean and healthy (and his syphilis cured) after being released from Camarillo, Parker did some of his best playing and recording.  Much of it was with his so-called "classic" quartet, which included trumpeter Davis, double bassist Tommy Potter  and drummer Max Roach, and occasionally a fifth member, pianist John Lewis.  Savoy and Dial recording sessions included a series of slower tempo performances of songs from the American Songbook, including "Bird of Paradise" (based on "All the Things You Are") and "Embraceable You."

Parker's career turned another corner in 1949 when he made good on a longstanding desire to perform with a string section, as well as exercise his classical muse (and love of the innovative classical composer Igor Stravinsky, playing what came to be known as Third Stream music, which incorporated jazz and classical elements with backing strings.


His improvisations during these sessions -- a rare period when he was more or less drug free and sober -- were more distilled and his tone softer and more economical than on his small-group recordings.  His lines are gorgeous, and the Bird With Strings album (remastered and reissued as Charlie Parker With Strings) is a personal favorite.

Inevitably, some fans thought Parker had sold out by pandering to popular tastes just as the jazz world was falling under his spell. Many sax players blatantly intimidated Parker, prompting hard bop bass player Charles Mingus to write "Gunslinging Bird" (meaning "If Charlie Parker were a gunslinger, there would be a whole lot of dead copycats").  
Parker didn't mind the criticism, or perhaps he just didn't care.
§ 
By 1953, Parker was again fully under the thumb of heroin, but often was playing brilliantly.

"After Bird got high, he just played his ass off," is how Davis put it, and Parker can be credited -- which is to say blamed -- for prompting too many young players, most prominently Davis himself, to follow in his footsteps after they concluded that his brilliance was because of his drug use.  Unfortunately or otherwise, there is truth to that.


One of the best performances of his career occurred that year at Massey Hall in Toronto where he played with Gillespie, Mingus, Bud Powell and Roach.  Parker had yet again pawned his sax and played a Grafton plastic sax that Gillespie had found for him.  Jazz at Massey Hall, the resulting album recorded live by Mingus, lists Parker as "Charlie Chan" for contractual reasons.
Like much about Parker, the derivation of his nickname "Yardbird," which usually was shortened to "Bird," is not entirely clear.
Most people agree that it was a reference to his "Yardbird Suite," while Parker himself suggested that it was a reference to a chicken intended for the pot.  The lone holdout was Gillespie, who always referred to Parker as "Yard."
Parker married twice and had a 13-year relationship with common-law wife Chan Richardson Parker, but when he developed pneumonia in March 1955 he turned to friend and jazz patron Nica de Koenigswater,  confiding that "I've been dead for four years . . . I'm just a husk."  Parker and Chan loved each other deeply, but he had become so volatile and so dependent on alcohol and drugs that she went into hiding with her children.
Parker died on March 12, 1955 in De Koenigswater's Stanhope Hotel suite in New York City.  The immediate cause of death was pneumonia, but he also had severe ulcers, advanced cirrhosis and had attempted suicide at least once.  Although Parker was only 34, the coroner who performed his autopsy mistakenly estimated him to be 53.

The two unquestionable giants of jazz are trumpeter Louis Armstrong, whose rapid-fire playing caught Parker's attention at an early age and he tried to emulate before finding his own groove, and Duke Ellington, who must be considered the greatest American composer in any genre."   What he did was enormous," said Ellington of Parker.  "You hear his music everywhere now . . . But people talk too much about the man -- the people who don't know him -- when the important thing was his music."

In the end, Charlie Parker's remarkable gifts escape easy analysis. They seem to have little to do with the influences of other artists and even less to do with his upbringing.  For me, they remain immense but inexplicable.  And will forever be that way.
PHOTOGRAPHS (From top to bottom): Jay McShane; Biddy Fleet; C0leman Hawkins (1939); Parker and Gene Ramey in Kansas City (1940); Parker (1945), Parker (ca. 1945), Parker and Miles Davis (ca. 1947); Igor Stravinsky; Parker (1949); Parker at Birdland, New York City (1951); Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (1951); Parker (1952); Parker with Chan Robertson Parker and daughter Kim (ca. 1953).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Rick Dearborn & Trump's Obsession With Blocking Russia Scandal Investigations

THE WHITE HOUSE
There was a time when the extent of the scandal now enveloping the Trump administration like a cloud of toxic gas was not yet obvious and it didn't seem particularly strange the future president's campaign advisers were reaching out to Russia.  But as is now screamingly obvious and so exquisitely puts the lie to Trump's claim the scandal is a witch hunt, no overtures were made to China, Germany or any other major global player, and the president's twin obsessions with shutting down the investigation into the many Trump-Russia links and kissing Vladimir Putin's ring were matched by Russia's determination to get him elected.     
As investigators and reporters have dug ever deeper through the scandal's layers, a better understanding of how Russia pursued that goal has emerged.  Beyond email hacking, fake news barrages and other cyber efforts to sabotage Hillary Clinton, there were innumerable -- and by now copiously documented --  attempts to infiltrate and influence the Trump campaign. 
Putin operatives as obvious as Moscow's ambassador to the U.S. and individuals so obscure as to have no public profile sought out so-called "entry points" in the campaign.   These included campaign aides and family members including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and future Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  
Rick Dearborn can now be added to that list. 
Dearborn was Sessions' senatorial chief of staff, was at his side as he became the first senator to endorse Trump, and as a reward for his loyalty is now deputy White House chief of staff. 
When Sessions came on board the Trump campaign, Dearborn was tasked with assembling a policy shop for the candidate.  These are the advisers who put together policy papers on issues and keep the candidate informed.     
Among the biggest issues was what to do about the U.S.'s increasingly strained relationship Russia and Putin.  Here was a reemerging world power that Trump had visited and with which he had developed substantial business ties over the last two decades.  His adoration of the Russian leader was unconstrained by the reality he was a kleptocratic thug who would stop at nothing to return the former Soviet Union to its Cold War glory, including throwing his considerable intelligence apparatus behind trying to keep the hawkish Clinton from becoming president. 
It certainly is no coincidence that two of the five members of the Trump campaign foreign policy team assembled by Dearborn -- Page and Papadopoulos -- are key figures in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.  Nor is it surprising in the context of Trump's fawning admiration for Russia and Putin that in June 2016 Dearborn sent an email to top campaign officials about an unidentified individual who know Russians who wanted to connect the top officials with Putin, according to CNN. 
CNN subsequently identified the individual as Rick Clay, a West Virginian who had been a U.S. contractor in Iraq.  The Russians have not been identified. 
This revelation is yet more prima facie evidence of Russians having identified a campaign entry point about the time they were exploiting another entry point -- the president's elder son -- who along with Manafort and Kushner were lured to a meeting at Trump Tower in New York City with Russians with intelligence backgrounds on the promise they would be given official documents that would incriminate Clinton.  To which Donald Trump Jr. famously replied, "If it's what you say I love it." 
Dearborn may have been responsible for setting up Sessions' two sitdowns with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, meetings that Sessions failed to disclose during his Senate confirmation hearing and led to his recusal from the Russia investigation.  
Kislyak, according to U.S. intelligence intercepts, told his superiors in Moscow that he had substantive discussions with Sessions about campaign-related matters and policy issues important to Moscow, including the lifting of sanctions, contradicting assertions by the attorney general that their discussions were innocuous.
Which brings us back to the elder Trump and his obsession with shutting down Mueller's investigation. 
Politico reports that Trump chewed out several Republican senators in recent days, venting his frustration over the Russia scandal, being all but forced to sign a bipartisan bill strengthening Obama era Russia sanctions and pending legislation that would make it difficult for him to fire Sessions, because he has recused himself, in order to name an attorney general who would fire Mueller.   
In each case, the senators refused to back down in their support for sanctions and Mueller's investigation, while an acrimonious phone call with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is a close second behind Mueller on Tump's most-vilified list, ended with Trump screaming about McConnell not protecting him from Russia investigators, an account that the speaker's office does not deny. 
And with Mueller-generated subpoenas flying fast and furious and Trump pardoning the vile Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who's to say he won't pardon Putin's entry points, his pals and the family member's caught in Mueller's net?


Another shoe has dropped from the Russia scandal centipede and it’s a pretty big one: While Donald Trump has insisted over and over that he has had no business dealings with Russia, the record shows that those dealings have been extensive and date back nearly two decades.  And now it has been revealed that while Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow with a sleazy Russian-American partner who said that he would help Trump take the White House as part of the deal.  
Trump’s partner in the project, reported The Washington Post and The New York Times, was Felix Sater, who is even dirtier than Trump.  Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, negotiated the deal for Trump at the same time he was a campaign spokesman. 
"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater wrote in an email.  "I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process." 
As Trump's presidential campaign was gearing up, Sater urged him to come to Moscow to push the proposal and boasted that he could get Putin to say "great things" about him, according to people who have been briefed on Sater's correspondence, which is being turned over to congressional investigators.   And, said Sater, they would soon be celebrating two victories — one of the biggest residential projects in Russian real estate history and Trump's election as president.  
When the project began foundering in January 2016, Cohen emailed Dmitry Peskov, Putin's top press aide, for his help.  "As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance.  I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics and well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals." 
Cohen's email, which he wrote at Sater's request, is the most direct interaction of a Trump aide and senior member of Putin's government yet documented.   Negotiations for the project stalled a short time later and before Trump's business ties to Russia had become a campaign issue. 
In July 2016, the Republican nominee tweeted, "for the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia" and then insisting at a news conference the following day, "I have nothing to do with Russia." 
The sources of the leaks on which the WaPo and Times stories are based would appear to be from within the Trump Organization.  That seems counterintuitive until you consider that the sources are attempting to put the best spin on very damaging emails and other documents before congressional investigators dig into them.   
Good luck with that. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Strange Story Of A Rogue FBI Agent & The Surprise That Cooked Hillary Clinton

JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES
UPDATE (12/2/17): The New York Times and other publications are reporting that Peter Strozk was removed from Mueller's Russia investigation because of anti-Trump text messages.  
There always have been stories of marginal believability bubbling just beneath the surface of the Russia scandal, sometimes too weird to be true and typically lacking the credible sources the mainstream media would require before going public with them.   
Among these not-ready-for-primetime stories are whether Republican opposition researcher Peter W. Smith, who said before his death that he was looking for Hillary Clinton's "missing" emails and was in touch with Michael Flynn, whom he described as a clandestine middle man between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers, and whether there was a cover-up involving the murder of Democratic National Committee computer wonk Seth Rich.  Then there is the strange but plausible story of senior FBI investigator Peter Strzok and the October Surprise. 
This story, a small portion of which was broken by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on August 18, has been picked up by a few media outlets but hasn't broken into the Russia scandal revelation mainstream -- which is to say The New York Times and Washington Post -- possibly because the pieces don't quite fit together.  At least not yet. 
The trigger for Maddow's story was the news that Strzok, who headed the FBI's Clinton email investigation, had been transferred on August 17 from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigative team to the FBI's human resources department.  In other words, he had been kicked off the elite team conducting the Russia scandal investigation that most threatened the Donald Trump presidency and was now cooling his heels shuffling papers. 
This would be strange in and of itself -- kind of like a highly-decorated Navy SEAL being transferred from the hunt for terrorists to the motor pool, but Strzok happens to be perhaps the key player in the blockbuster that turned Hillary Clinton's seemingly sure-thing 2016 election victory into a loss to Trump. 
That blockbuster is the so-called October Surprise.   
The October Surprise was FBI Director James Comey's shocking letter to Congress 11 days before the election that the FBI was reopening its criminal investigation into Clinton's private email server, which had been terminated with a July 5 statement by Comey, who rebuked Clinton for being "extremely careless" but recommended no criminal charges in connection with her handling of classified information as secretary of state, which included emails on a private server. 
Comey explained in the October 28 letter that the investigation was being reopened because of Clinton emails found on a computer belonging to former Congressman and sexter Anthony Weiner, whose wife Huma Abedin was a top Clinton aide.  Comey intimated that there was new evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton, who had been attacked repeatedly by Trump and his surrogates in "Jail Hillary" rants. 
What takes the Strzok-October Surprise story from fanciful to plausible is that:
* The publicly stated circumstances that led Comey to reopen the Clinton investigation while sitting on evidence of Trump campaign-Russia collusion have always stunk to high heaven. 
* Strzok, described by fellow agents as a "superstar," worked in the FBI's New York office and was such an important player in the Weiner-Abedin-Clinton investigation that he was tasked with interviewing Clinton himself. 
* Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent and author of a dossier linking the Trump campaign to Russian election interference, had been unsuccessful in interesting the FBI in his findings. 
* Steele says "The bureau kept stalling, instead focusing on Clinton. . . . The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade" against her and some agents "had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani." 
* Strzok may have been among the agents who disliked Clinton and leaked the discovery of the Weiner emails to Giuliani, who was an especially influential Trump surrogate. 
* With Trump's poll numbers plunging, Giuliani bragged on October 26 on the Lars Larson radio show that he was in contact with FBI agents and had "a surprise or two that you're going to hear about in the next few days." 
* Comey's hand was then forced, and in an effort to get out ahead of a story that was certain to be leaked, he informed several congressional committees by letter on October 28 of the new development. 
* Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Trump toady, promptly leaked Comey's letter, throwing the Clinton campaign into turmoil from which it never has an opportunity to recover. 
* Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote to Comey on October 30, accusing him of a "double standard" in reopening the Clinton investigation while sitting on "explosive information" on Trump campaign-Russia ties. 
* Erik Prince, Blackwater founder and another Trump surrogate, told Breitbart Radio on November 4 that "criminal activity" by Clinton, her inner circle and Democratic members of Congress had been found on Weiner's computer.
* With Clinton's poll numbers now tanking, Comey announced on November 6, two days before the election, that the "new" emails were either personal or duplicates of those previously examined.   
* Strzok violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity, and that explains his sudden transfer and the likelihood he is the subject of an internal investigation.
The story of why Comey seemingly went slow and remained silent on the FBI's investigation into Trump campaign-Russia ties, which had been all but confirmed before the election, remains untold.  Therein may lie a huge scandal in and of itself, or in my view more likely something that was rather innocuous if troubling and can be adequately explained within the framework of the fast moving events of the last half of 2016. 
In any event, it does not matter that Giuliani soon walked back his claim, that Prince had knowingly floated false information, that Abedin merely had used Weiner's computer as a convenient backup, or that Comey was to testify six months later that it made him "mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election" because of his 11th hour disclosure. 
The damage had been done, it was catastrophic and changed the course of American history.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.   

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trump Is Only The Latest President To Guarantee American Failure In Afghanistan

WIKIPEDIA COMMONS
There is an old Afghan folk tale that portrays a foreigner balancing two connected trays attached to the handheld weighing device used in South Asian bazaars.  The foreigner carefully loads one tray and then the other with frogs.  Just as he puts the last few frogs on one tray and then the other, some frogs on the first tray hop off.  As the foreigner returns those frogs to the tray, frogs on the second tray hop off or jump to the other tray.  Before long, all the frogs are in motion, moving in one direction or the other, and the foreigner gives up. 
Like the folk tale, the Afghanistan conundrum could not be simpler for all of its complexity: What can the U.S. do differently than other great powers did over the millennia to bring a profoundly ungovernable country to heel?   Put somewhat differently, what can President Trump do to avoid a continuing and reliably deadly stalemate in a now 16-year old conflict -- by far the longest war in American history-- that shows no sign of ending?
Nothing, absolutely nothing.   
But leave it to Trump to make a bad situation even worse.  This is because the goal of any war is to win it, right?  And outright victory -- which has eluded Alexander the Great, Mongols, Chinese, British and the Soviet Union -- is not possible.  Everyone, most especially the boots on the ground, know that despite the president's inevitable claim in a televised address on Monday night that "in the end, we will win." 
The war is not winnable, nor did Trump provide a clue as to how it could be won, let alone a timeline. 
This post-9/11 war, which in its most crucial early phase was robbed of materiel and men in service of the neocon wet dream to bring democracy to Iraq, has taken 2,403 American lives at a cost of more than one trillion dollars, and another 1,036 lives of coalition soldiers, not including the thousands of GIs with severe physical and emotional problems who return home to a country and Veterans Affairs system ill equipped to deal with them. 
Afghan casualty estimates are all over the place, but have passed 90,000 for soldiers, civilian and militants combined. 
Trump said he would "not talk about numbers of troops," but senior military commanders have asked for several thousand more -- perhaps 4,000 or so -- to advise Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and step up U.S. airstrikes.   
Speaking of hopping frogs, the new strategy includes pressuring Pakistan, long accused of harboring terrorists, to override its head-bangingly complex and often contradictory interests and support U.S. goals.  It ain't going to happen.  Ever. 
Trump’s decision guarantees failure because it is an incoherent middle path that happens to override the two main foreign policy themes he pushed as a candidate, which make some sense when you're on the outside looking in:  To stay out of expensive overseas quagmires, and to decisively win any conflict worth entering.  This middle path, of course, ignores Trump's frequent calls for Obama to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan as his predecessor incrementally if modestly escalated troop levels to about 8,000 during his second term although that is nowhere near peak 100,000 troop levels when he took office. 
Meanwhile, the inept and deeply corrupt Afghan government controls barely half of the country, although it has not reverted to being a base for terrorist attacks.  The Taliban remain attractive to local tribal chieftains, the people who really run Afghanistan, because the are comparatively less corrupt, while the Afghan army is inept and has little loyalty to  officers or the government.
Trump, in bowing to his generals -- McMaster, Mattis, Dunford and Kelly -- apparently has rejected the outrageous idea pushed by recently departed chief White House strategist Steve Bannon and nakedly self-interested Blackwater founder Erik Prince to send in an army of private mercenaries. 
The otherwise despicable Bannon does deserve a small measure of credit when it comes to Afghanistan, which was reflected in the Breitbart News front page following the speech.   
Bannon adamantly opposed "nation building," which of course got the U.S. in way over its head in Iraq and green lighted Iran's further dominance of the Middle East.  He got it right about Afghanistan because Afghanis don't want the U.S. to build a nation for them, nor would it be able to with 400,000  more troops, let alone 4,000. 
For that, at least, we can be thankful, but it is a small victory.  Even given all his faults when it came to Afghanistan Obama was thoughtful and patient.  Trump is dangerously impulsive and desperate for victories. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why The Russia Scandal Is Our Only Hope Of Ridding America Of Donald Trump

RALPH STEADMAN
It was the week that everything -- and nothing -- changed. 
It was the week that Donald Trump proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is profoundly unfit to be president.  It was the week that he openly embraced neo-Nazis and white nationalists.  It was the week that the top generals from all five military branches, as well as the leaders of Britain, Germany and other allied nations, rebuked him, and charities cancelled events at his beloved Mar-a-Lago.  It was the week that business, cultural and religious heavyweights fled him in droves, and Steve Bannon, chief strategist in a White House without any, became the eighth top administration official to leave in as many months, not counting James Comey.  And it was the week he kept virginally pure his record of never saying anything remotely negative about Vladimir Putin or Russia. 
Things are so bad that the once-in-a-generation total solar eclipse on Monday is being widely heralded as a national moment of reflection. 
"It fits the national mood disconcertingly well," as one pundit put it.   "It will be unsettling, its beauty fleeting and unworldly, but in it we will see the outlines of democracy: for a few moments, a small satellite will overshadow a raging star a thousand times its size.  Our current President is a man who cannot stand to be upstaged, but this is one event that he can’t control."  
Yet despite events terrestrial, as well as celestial, getting rid of Trump is as remote as ever no matter how many "worst week ever" and "more isolated than ever" clich├ęs the news media cooks up.  This is because the same people who supported Trump are oblivious to the rolling disaster of his presidency despite the fact that he never was the person they thought he was, and the same people who were outraged when he "won" still are because it is so obvious that he is very much the demon they knew he was.   
And we are, of course, stuck with the same Republican Party, which has tacked so far to the right, dog-whistling all along, that the great conservative god Ronald Reagan would stand no chance of being nominated today.   
Oh, and lest we forget, Congress has not sent Trump a single piece substantive legislation to sign, which speaks volumes about his disinterest -- which is to say inability -- to master even the basics of dealmaking.  The repeal-and-replace Obamacare failure speaks to that, while three other yuge Trump campaign promises -- jobs creation, tax cuts and infrastructure funding have sunk to the bottom of the swamp he pledged to drain.
There is the possibility that Trump might resign.  Perhaps his obvious health issues -- physical and mental -- will provide an out.  But absent that and even with big Democratic gains in the 2018 mid-term elections, which is an iffy proposition at best, it is unlikely there would be 66 votes in the Senate to convict Trump even if the House voted to impeach.
Only Special Counsel Robert Mueller can rid America of this monster.   
Everything changes if Mueller has indisputable evidence that Trump colluded with the Putin regime in its plot to fix the presidential election, but nothing changes if the best Mueller can come up with is that Trump has had a history of shady business dealings with Russian oligarchs and mobsters and takes down a Flynn, Manafort or three.   
After all, Trump's sordid career was built on lies and sleaze and that didn't keep the Republican Party from nominating him, let alone it remaining far more interested in saving its legislative ass and not rupturing the precarious Trump-GOP coalition in advance of 2018 than in saving America. 
Trump, in fact, seems more convinced than ever that he doesn't need diplomatic or political allies, let alone capitalist corporate advisers, and can bully his opponents into submission because Robert E. Lee has his back, never mind that his presidency is as ignominious after 200-plus days as the Confederacy was after five years of war.   
There is no better proof of Trump's isolation than his being afraid to appear in public -- be it for Kennedy Center Honors or throwing out a ceremonial first pitch -- unless it is a tightly controlled event with a pro-Trump audience.   
As welcome as a right-wing backlash against Trump may be after he fired nationalist cynosure Bannon, it's not going to make any more difference than the Reset Fairy sprinkling magic dust on General Kelly's balding pate would to bringing order to the Wild West West Wing.   
And a special f*ck you to Mitt Romney, who came out of his hidey-hole to remonstrate about Trump after having twice interviewed for the job of secretary of state, cautiously joining Republican lawmakers who following the outrages of last week have been harsher in their criticism of the monster they so unashamedly enabled, but in Beltway parlance now "have no good options." 
Neither, of course, do the American people. 
  
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.