Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trump's Russia Scandal: Where We've Been, Where We Are & Where We're Going

DONKEYHOTEY 
(CONTAINS THRILLS, SPILLS AND CHILLS 
NOT IN THE ORIGINAL THUMBSUCKER PUBLISHED ON MARCH 21) 
At this extraordinary juncture in American history and the ninth week of the Donald Trump presidency, let us reflect on where we are: Russia attacked the U.S. in the form of a multi-pronged effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by sabotaging Hillary Clinton, a violation that in another time would have provoked a national security crisis. But instead there has been an ever escalating series of confabulations by the president and his allies even as the director of the FBI, in an unprecedented public rebuke, calls the president a liar and strongly hints that his campaign conspired with the Kremlin. 
"There's a smell of treason in the air," said leading presidential historian Douglas Brinkley of Monday's extraordinary events.  "Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president.  It would have been mind boggling." 
Indeed, but Comey's marathon testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday -- which included the suggestion that a smoking gun in the Russian scandal had been found -- was somehow anticlimactic, as well as its enormity being under appreciated by feckless National Public Radio and some other media outlets even if providing aid and comfort to a foreign nation trying to commandeer the process at the heart of democracy is the very definition of treason.   
It was Trump who yet again boggled the mind, ferociously tweeting during and after the hearing that "NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process" and that collusion between his campaign and Russia "is all fake news," which was in sync with his aides and congressional allies' strategy to try to divert attention from the crisis engulfing the White House by ignoring the leaks that have helped keep the scandal alive and focusing on the leakers.  Or as Russian dissident Gary Kasparov, who now lives in the U.S., put it: "The house is on fire and the GOP demands to know who called the fire department." 
Saying anything that crossed his untethered mind on the campaign trail was one thing, but Trump has yet to realize that as president, his words carry extraordinary weight, and his repeated assertions that Barack Obama ordered his phones in Trump Tower tapped, further disproven by the bogus allegations made Wednesday by House Intelligence Committee chairman David Nunes, have become even more surreal in light of Comey's unequivocal denials. 
This has not stopped Trump from making a host of evidence-free claims, and that in part was why Comey was on Capitol Hill, further distracting from Trump's agenda, breathing new life into public interest in the Russia scandal and further emboldening Democrats, who smell blood and believe the scandal could hobble, if not take down, the Trump presidency as Trump continues to deal with crises by creating new ones.   
Democrats, meanwhile, are justifiably furious that Comey had been sitting on the Russia investigation for months but arguably enabled Trump's Electoral College coronation by going public 10 days before the election in announcing a reopened investigation into Clinton's emails that fizzled. 
Let's look at exactly what Comey said under oath:
"I've been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI as part of our counterintelligence mission is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts." 
Kapow! 
Comey further explained in response to a question from Republican Congressman Michael Turner that a counterintelligence investigation is opened when there is "a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power." 
In response to a question from Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, he said that the Russian government preferred a presidential candidate who had a dim view of NATO (which Trump has) and openly admires Russian President Putin (which he does).  
Comey testified that the investigation began "in late July."  This followed several events of probable interest to the FBI that would have been more than enough to start digging:
On July 7, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page gave a speech in Moscow authorized by then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in which he spoke of Barack Obama's Russia policy in hostile terms. 
On July 11, the Trump campaign strong armed the platform committee at the Republican National Convention into striking a pledge to assist Ukraine against Russian military aggression.   
On July 16, Trump adviser Roger Stone, a self-proclaimed dirty trickster who later was found to be communicating with a Russian intelligence cutout who hacked the Democratic National Committee, launched a new broadside against Clinton.  
On July 21, Lewandowski was fired and replaced by Paul Manafort, a former business partner of Stone's and longtime communications advisor to the pro-Russian Ukrainian prime minister whose ouster led to the crisis in the former Soviet republic. 
On July 22, WikiLeaks released its first batch of hacked Democratic National Committee emails, infuriating Bernie Sanders supporters and further stoking the Clinton email controversy.  
On July 27, Trump himself infamously asked Russia to step up its hacking of Clinton emails and challenged it to find 33,000 so-called "lost" emails not included in a State Department probe. 
Stone, who is not on the White House payroll but has lawyered up, is believed to be a subject of the FBI investigation, which insiders describe as wide ranging, as are Page, Michael Flynn, who was Trump's short-lived national security advisor, and Manafort, who in addition to being a flak for that pro-Ukrainian prime minister secretly worked for a billionaire Russian aluminum magnate with mob ties who is a Putin intimate on projects to . . . uh, Make Russia Great Again, for a cool $10 million a year for several years.  Manafort took no salary running the Trump campaign, so who was paying him?  And when did his contract to advance Russian interests end?
Meanwhile, Intel Committee chairman Nunes, who has proven himself to be a dim bulb, let slip on Fox News Sunday that "I don't think there's any but one [at the White House] that's under any type of investigation or surveillance activities at all." 
Speculation on who that "but one" may be centers on Wilbur Ross, Trump's newly minted Commerce secretary, who has been mobbed up with the Bank of Cyprus, used by Russian oligarchs to launder billions of dollars in cash.   
Meanwhile, the probe also is said to include the role far-right news sites and Kremlin-controlled automated computer bots deploying pro-Trump articles may have played, and whether Trump campaign operatives helped coordinate coverage during periods when the campaign was flagging. 
So where do we go from here? 
Acknowledge that there is a lot of smoke but no fire.  Yet.  And the bizarro possibility of a cover-up but not a crime.  But appointment of a special prosecutor is now more necessary than ever as it becomes more and more obvious that this may be a scandal on the scale of Watergate, if not bigger, only carried out digitally and with a hostile foreign power calling the shots.
The Justice Department is at sea with the recusal of AG Jeff Sessions after he lied about meeting twice with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign and the White House scrambling to divert attention and downplaying the role of scandal principals like Manafort, whom press secretary Sean Spicer now hilariously claims had a "limited role for a limited time" in the campaign despite the fact he ran it for the better part of six months.
Yes, the contacts between important Trump associates and Russians both in and out of government could be a very big coincidence, but we're talking about dozens of contacts which, when they see the light of day, are at first denied and then downplayed.   
(Oh, and it turns out there was a wiretap at Trump Tower.  But it was in 2011-2013 and involved the FBI, which with court approval tapped unit 63A, several floors below Trump's penthouse, in pursuit of a Russian organized crime money laundering operation that led to 30 grand jury indictments.)
If Trump's assertion that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government was even remotely true, he should welcome an independent investigator, but having someone in charge whom he would not be able to influence is his greatest fear.

Has The Smoking Been Found In The Russia ScandalRussia Scandal: Where Where We Are & Where We're Going

DONKEYHOTEY
(CONTAINS THRILLS, CHILLS AND SPILLS NOT CONTAINED IN THE ORIGINAL THUMBSUCKER PUBLISHED ON TUESDAY) 
At this extraordinary juncture in American history and the ninth week of the Donald Trump presidency, let us reflect on where we are: Russia attacked the U.S. in the form of a multi-pronged effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by sabotaging Hillary Clinton, a violation that in another time would have provoked a national security crisis. But instead there is an ever escalating series of confabulations by the president and his allies even as the director of the FBI, in an unprecedented public rebuke, calls the president a liar and strongly hints that his campaign conspired with the Kremlin. 
"There's a smell of treason in the air," said leading presidential historian Douglas Brinkley of Monday's extraordinary events.  "Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president.  It would have been mind boggling." 
Indeed, but Comey's marathon testimony before the House Intelligence Committee -- which included the suggestion that a smoking gun in the Russian scandal had been found -- was somehow anticlimactic, as well as its enormity being under appreciated by feckless National Public Radio and some other media outlets even if providing aid and comfort to a foreign nation trying to commandeer the process at the heart of democracy is the very definition of treason.   
It was Trump who yet again boggled the mind, ferociously tweeting during and after the hearing that "NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process" and that collusion between his campaign and Russia "is all fake news," which was in sync with his aides and congressional allies' strategy to try to divert attention from the crisis engulfing the White House by ignoring the leaks that have helped keep the scandal alive and focusing on the leakers.  Or as Russian dissident Gary Kasparov, who now lives in the U.S., put it: "The house is on fire and the GOP demands to know who called the fire department." 
Saying anything that crossed his untethered mind on the campaign trail was one thing, but Trump has yet to realize that as president, his words carry extraordinary weight, and his repeated assertions that Barack Obama ordered his phones in Trump Tower tapped have become even more surreal in light of Comey's unequivocal denials. 
This has not stopped him from making a host of evidence-free claims, and that in part was why Comey was on Capitol Hill, further distracting from Trump's agenda, breathing new life into public interest in the Russia scandal and further emboldening Democrats, who smell blood and believe the scandal could hobble, if not take down, the Trump presidency as Trump continues to deal with crises by creating new ones.   
Democrats, meanwhile, are justifiably furious that Comey has been sitting on the Russia investigation for months but arguably enabled Trump's coronation by going public 10 days before the election in announcing a reopened investigation into Clinton's emails that fizzled. 
Let's look at exactly what Comey said under oath:
"I've been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI as part of our counterintelligence mission is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts." 
Kapow! 
Comey further explained in response to a question from Republican Congressman Michael Turner that a counterintelligence investigation is opened when there is "a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power." 
In response to a question from Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, he said that the Russian government preferred a presidential candidate who had a dim view of NATO (which Trump has) and openly admires Russian President Putin (which he does).  
Comey testified that the investigation began "in late July."  This followed several events of probable interest to the FBI that would have been more than enough to start digging:
On July 7, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page gave a speech in Moscow authorized by then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in which he spoke of Barack Obama's Russia policy in hostile terms. 
On July 11, the Trump campaign strong armed the platform committee at the Republican National Convention into striking a pledge to assist Ukraine against Russian military aggression.   
On July 16, Trump adviser Roger Stone, a self-proclaimed dirty trickster who later was found to be communicating with a Russian intelligence cutout who hacked the Democratic National Committee, launched a new broadside against Clinton.   
On July 21, Lewandowski was fired and replaced by Paul Manafort, a former business partner of Stone's and longtime communications advisor to the pro-Russian Ukrainian prime minister whose ouster led to the crisis in the former Soviet republic. 
On July 22, WikiLeaks released its first batch of hacked Democratic National Committee emails, infuriating Bernie Sanders supporters and further stoking the Clinton email controversy.  
On July 27, Trump himself infamously asked Russia to step up its hacking of Clinton emails and challenged it to find 33,000 so-called "lost" emails not included in a State Department probe. 
Stone, who is not on the White House payroll but has lawyered up, is believed to be a subject of the FBI investigation, which insiders describe as wide ranging, as are Page, Michael Flynn, who was Trump's short-lived national security advisor, and Manafort, who in addition to being a flak for that pro-Ukrainian prime minister secretly worked for a billionaire Russian aluminum magnate with mob ties who is close to Putin on projects to . . . uh, Make Russia Great Again, for a cool $10 million a year for several years.  Manafort took no salary running the Trump campaign, so who was paying him?  And when did his contract to advance Russian interests end?
Meanwhile, House Intel Committee chairman David Nunes, who has proven himself to be a dim bulb, let slip on Fox News Sunday that "I don't think there's any but one [at the White House] that's under any type of investigation or surveillance activities at all." 
Speculation on who that "but one" may be centers on Wilbur Ross, Trump's newly minted Commerce secretary, who has been mobbed up with the Bank of Cyprus, used by Russian oligarchs to launder billions of dollars in cash.   
Meanwhile, the probe also is said to include the role far-right news sites and Kremlin-controlled automated computer bots deploying pro-Trump articles may have played, and whether Trump campaign operatives helped coordinate coverage during periods when the campaign was flagging. 
So where do we go from here? 
Acknowledge that there is a lot of smoke but no fire.  Yet.  And the bizarro possibility of a cover-up but not a crime.  But appointment of a special prosecutor is now more necessary than ever as it becomes more and more obvious that this may be a scandal on the scale of Watergate, if not bigger, only carried out digitally and with a hostile foreign power calling the shots.
The Justice Department is at sea with the recusal of AG Jeff Sessions after he lied about meeting twice with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign and the White House scrambling to divert attention and downplaying the role of scandal principals like Manafort, whom press secretary Sean Spicer now hilariously claims had a "limited role for a limited time" in the campaign despite the fact he ran it for the better part of six months.
Yes, the contacts between important Trump associates and Russians both in and out of government could be a very big coincidence, but we're talking about dozens of contacts which, when they see the light of day, are at first denied and then downplayed.   
(Oh, and it turns out there was a wiretap at Trump Tower.  But it was in 2011-2013 and involved the FBI, which with court approval tapped unit 63A, several floors below Trump's penthouse, in pursuit of a Russian organized crime money laundering operation that led to 30 grand jury indictments.)
If Trump's assertion that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government was even remotely true, he should welcome an independent investigator, but having someone in charge whom he would not be able to influence is his greatest fear.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Trump Isn't Merely Stuck On Stupid: He is Consumed By Fear, Loathing & Paranoia

DAMON WINTER / THE NEW YORK TIMES
The biggest surprise about Donald Trump's first two months as president is how unsurprising they have been when you consider he is merely being the same twisted person he has been for decades, only now with the nation's nuclear codes clutched in his small hands.  What is surprising is how shocking he has been -- how many people he intends to harm, as well as continually leaving us living in fear of what his next reality-bending explosion of narcissism will be, pondering how long his sham presidency can survive, and when he will get around to starting a war. 
The week just passed was the week that Trump and his Republican surrogacy were going to triumphantly roll out two centerpieces of the Making America Great Again agenda -- the repeal of Obamacare and a federal budget that would set the nation's priorities straight after eight years of deficit-expanding big government profligacy.  Instead, it became even more obvious that the Trump presidency is an ongoing disaster.   
What ended up happening last week, of course, was that Trumpcare had something for everyone to hate and was viciously attacked by right, left and center while the guns-and-no-butter budget (titled "America First" in a repugnant echo of the isolationist, covertly pro-Hitler mantra of the 1930s) was revealed to be a sucker punch.  That punch is straight to the gut of the president's core constituents, who are being thrown under the bus in the service of tax cuts for the rich, building a useless $21 billion border wall and further bloating an already excessive defense budget while giving a middle finger to the $1 trillion in infrastructure spending he promised but never intended to deliver on.   
But all that was overshadowed by federal courts blocking the new, unimproved Muslim Ban, continued questions about Trump's tax returns and ties to Russia, and his ravings about his phones at Trump Tower being tapped on orders of Barack Obama.   
Trump wouldn't allow the wiretapping brouhaha to go away despite denials any such thing happened by the three highest ranking intelligence committee Republicans, the attorney general and FBI Director James Comey, who further confirmed today before a congressional committee that there is no wiretapping evidence but there is an investigation into possible criminal ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.  By week's end, a furious Trump had dug an even deeper hole because of his pathological inability to back down no matter the issue.  His intransigence already had exacerbated the Mexico crisis, opened a rift with Australia, insulted Sweden and Germany, and has now triggered a diplomatic row with America's staunchest ally, the United Kingdom. 
And so we were forced to yet again run a gauntlet of disasters because of the incompetence of Trump, who is learning the hard way that running a country, let alone creating 25 million non-existent jobs, is nothing like leaving complimentary mints under hotel pillows.  And is utterly dependent on a kook-filled administration mired in the quicksand of abysmal management and suffering a collective case of paranoia that has aides locking away their White House-issued smartphones when they go home at night because they fear they will be surveilled by the boss. 
It is not merely that Trump is stuck on stupid, as one pundit put it.  He is consumed by a toxic cocktail or fear, loathing and paranoia and, as it has turned out, is incapable of leaving the cocoon of running for president, where he could say anything, and actually being president, where he has been unable to do anything beyond inflicting problems on himself, a consequence of which is the worst numbers for any president this early in his administration in the history of modern polling. 
Like I said, a lot of people are going to be harmed. 
It is appropriate that people who voted for Trump and told the rest of us to just get over it after he won are harmed first and worst.  With that off my chest, I can move on to pondering how long his sham of a presidency can last.   
The answer is that I don't know.  Nobody knows.  For one thing, the 62 million or so people who voted for Trump remain faithful even as many of them are about to be gut punched.  For another, the Republican-controlled Congress desperately needs Trump to turn its twisted agenda into law.  Only then can the party bother to begin to question whether he is doing the GOP more harm than good, never mind the country. 
My guess is that Trump's presidency will last until that moment when his manifold symptoms of instability, notably his inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, become too huge for even his handlers to continue ignore and must be dealt with.

Friday, March 17, 2017

'It's Time We Stop, Hey, What's That Sound, Everybody Look What's Going Down'


FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
By Stephen Stills / Buffalo Springfield

There’s something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, now, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

VIDEO HERE

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Further On Down The Road: Where Donald Trump's Russia Scandal Now Stands

We're far enough along the Russia scandal continuum to hazard a few conclusions.  The first and foremost is that Donald Trump's foaming-at-the-mouth rants that the news media and Shadow Government President Barack Obama are out to get him, as well as continued stonewalling on cooperating with investigators, have all the earmarks of someone who knows that reporters, with an assist from leaky intelligence services furious at their boss for his disloyalty, may be closing in on the truth.   
This seems like an odd assessment since the news has been dominated by other big stories of late.  Like Trumpcare solving America's ills by potentially killing off millions of old folks, a goodly number of them Trumpkins.  Or the latest white nationalist blast from a Trump ally.  And my fave of the moment, those Orwellian Republicans trying to ram through legislation requiring the barons of business to have their serfs genetic tested. 
Anyhow, this is this is where we are:  
* There has not yet been disclosure of a smoking gun that would link Trump to the Russian effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections, but that collusion -- possibly in the form of the innumerable contacts that Trump's surrogates made with Russians before and after the election -- remains the focus of attention. 
* The FBI's Counterintelligence Division is actively investigating that collusion, while there is no question that Russian President Putin ordered his intelligence services to try to influence the election, something that all U.S. intelligence agree occurred in the form of widespread hacking and disinformation campaigns against Democratic interests.  
* Despite that unanimity, and now the indictment of two Russian intelligence agents for the breech of 500 million Yahoo accounts in 2014, the Trump White House has taken no action against Russia while leaving in place Obama administration sanctions that it criticized but has not lifted for fear of angering Republican allies in Congress over its benign views of the Kremlin. 
* Democrats have been insisting without success for weeks that a special prosecutor be named to investigate those ties, but now Stand Up Republic and other independent conservative groups are joining that chorus, asserting that Trump would not be concealing his taxes, violating the emoluments clause and signing suspect executive orders if Republicans would only stand up to him.
* Trump's claim that Barack Obama illegally ordered a wiretap at Trump Tower, the product of an outburst of angry tweets over continuing Russian collusion allegations, have blown up with no evidence to back the allegation and even his staunches supporters repudiating him, with some threatening to hold up the deputy attorney general's nomination.
* Among the leads being pursued by investigators are the unexplained communications between a Trump Organization computer server and Alfa Bank, which has ties to Putin, including 2,700 "look-up" messages to initiate communications between the two entities, during the period there were repeated contacts between Trump officials and Russian intelligence. 
* Another lead involves Michael Flynn, who new documents reveal received $68,000 in fees from a Russian propaganda network and other entities prior to being named national security adviser by Trump, a post in which he lasted 24 days after being forced out amid reports that he had lied about contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. 
* Yet another lead involves Trump confidante Roger Stone, a dirty trickster who appears to have had advance knowledge of Russian disclosures of Hillary Clinton emails through WikiLeaks because he may have communicated privately with Guccifer 2.0, one of the hackers who is linked to the Russian effort. 
* Wikileaks, whose public support of Putin and disdain for most things American has been affirmed by founder Julian Assange, changed its web hosting to a Moscow-based server several days before the first leaks were published on September 30 and has ties to Guccifer 2.0, who has had back-channel communications with Assange.
There are possibly benign explanations for some of these intrigues.   
Stone is a practiced exaggerator.  Contacts between the Trump and bank servers could be spam.  Discussions between Trump associates like future Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador could be red herrings.  Some Trump aides might have been under inadvertent surveillance.  Repeated White House denials of wrongdoing more a product of a culture of lying even when their is no reason to do so.  The declassified version of the intelligence community's assessment that Putin was actively trying to help Trump is vague, circumstantial and parts are irrelevant.  And so one and so forth.   
Then there is my favorite explanation: There was no clear-cut deal between Trump and Putin to cooperate in stealing the election because Putin's intention was merely to try to wound Clinton, a sworn enemy of Russia's expansionist interests, and like many of us he never expected Trump to win.   
There also are counter-conspiracy theories making the rounds in the right-wing fever swamp, including a claim that the CIA actually hacked the Democrats and made it look like the Russians did.  Ha!  
But I keep coming back to the dossier prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele. 
Steele asserts -- and the FBI was prepared to pay him to keep digging -- that the Russians had been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for years and had personal and financial kompromat (compromising material) on him that could be used as blackmail.   
And that in early January, just days before Trump's inauguration, the Obama administration scrambled to preserve and distribute the substantial intelligence it had uncovered on Trump's Russia ties, leaving as as long a paper trail (or "bread crumbs," if you will) as possible across a broad swath of government agencies to reduce the chances of a coverup.   

Saturday, March 11, 2017

'The Long Driveway . . . Had Disappeared, As Had The Cars And Most Of My Bus'


With the makings of a major mid-March snowstorm looming early in the week, as well as a couple of birthdays, I'm dusting off an excerpt from There's A House In The Land, my book on life at a certain hippie farm in the 1970s:
The Birthday Blizzard was so named because it began snowing on Dadd's birthday and didn't stop until well into my birthday, the next day.  Shell, or rather the Ouija board she was tinkering with at the kitchen table, had predicted this event a couple of days earlier.  So had the Weather Bureau, as well as Bix's knees, which descended into paroxysms of aches as the barometer plummeted.   
My housemates and I never needed a reason to party.  The storm certainly was one and we celebrated it with the kind of glee we felt as kids upon awakening on a no-school snow day.  The kitchen was well lardered with coffee, beer, cognac and victuals. The porch was stacked high with firewood, Shell, Bix and everyone else had evacuated to Newark, and radio reports confirmed that the region had come to a standstill.  We were toasty.  The pipes hadn't frozen. The lights flickered a few times, but had not gone out, although the telephone line running along the short driveway was down.  Nobody could call us and nobody could reach us.  Oh joy!   
Noonish, the snow stopped, the sun came out and the sky cleared into an azure blue.  The kitchen was suffused with the aroma of the potpourri simmering in the kettle atop the wood stove.  Dadd, Jack and I sipped coffee and nibbled on the dregs of a fruitcake sent to us by Owen Owen, our Irish friend.   
Snow was blowing off the trees.  A titmouse noshed on a platform feeder outside a kitchen window.  And suddenly was gone as a hawk swooped down, scooped it up and flew away. How glorious it felt to be alive, even if one little bird no longer was.  
§  
I was the first person thereabouts who had a goose down jacket some decades before North Face became trendy fashion wear.  I had bought the jacket on a trip to Colorado, and it made me look like the Michelin Man.  But boy was it warm.   
Jacketed, gloved and booted in knee-high gaiters, I clomped around the yard, a mug of coffee laced with cognac in one hand and a yardstick in the other listening to the crunch of my footfalls and the occasional caw of a crow.  It otherwise was wonderfully quiet.    
About 35 inches of snow had fallen.  There were wind-driven drifts up to five feet high, one of which had nearly covered an Alberta blue spruce that Doctor Duck and Davis had purloined from a tree nursery on a Christmas Eve when they were feeling holiday-ish and decided the farm had to have a tree.  Portions of the short driveway were impassable, while the long driveway, which was a good quarter-mile in length from the house to the state road, had disappeared, as had the cars and most of my bus.   
I had just come back into the kitchen when our reverie was shattered.  There was the unmistakable whine of machinery, and it was coming our way.  The whine grew louder and the source revealed itself at the milk house turn to be three snow blowers operated in tandem by King Mike and a couple of pals.  We stood dumbstruck at a kitchen window as they passed the house in a cloud of blown snow and continued down the long driveway.   
We had visitors and the farm now had a toboggan run.  
§ 
The toboggan run was fast that first afternoon, and lightning fast the second, because temperatures had come up long enough for it to rain lightly and then plunged back down, freezing the run to an icy sheen.   
Within a couple of days, we had improved the run until we were able to climb onto a toboggan on a barn ramp, push off, and slowly gain speed as the toboggan sliced through the parking area adjacent to the kitchen porch and picked up serious speed on the first downhill stretch.   
We had banked the hard left turn down the driveway.  If a toboggan made it through the turn without flipping over -- and if Jack was aboard one of the four-person rides he'd reach into his bag of nautical terms and shout "emergency full astern!" -- with everyone leaning hard to avoid being spilled, we were able to continue down the rest of the driveway and across the state road, where King Mike and his merry snow blowers had continued the course for another couple hundred feet.  Traffic was very light in the days after the blizzard, but as a precaution we put a spotter on the hill where the driveway met the road with the BEST EVER! Flag Day party flag. The spotter would wave it if there were cars coming.  
§  
King Mike and his posse had lugged in a case of cognac and a keg of beer, which along with a goodly-sized chunk of hashish, fortified the ever flowing and ebbing crowd of tobogganers, sledders and cross-country skiers who beat a path to the farm over the next several days.   
Then we discovered we were out of pot.   
The five-gallon buckets we had filled the previous autumn save for one, had been buried around the farm, and finding them was impossible with nearly three feet of snow on the ground. Then Jack recalled he had buried a bucket in the earth floor of the shed. He and I repaired there, shovels in hand.   
Jack paced back and forth like a pirate sizing up a beach where there was buried treasure, found a spot he liked, pushed the shovel into the floor, and then jumped on it.   
The result was a happy CLINK! as it hit the lid of the bucket. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Sad Tale Of Amish Puppy Mills In Ohio & An American President In Washington

YES, THEY SURE ARE CUTE, BUT THEY HAVE A BIG SECRET
They practically leap off the page at you:  Gorgeous golden retriever puppies that can't wait to lick your face, cuddle in your arms and snooze at your feet before the fireplace when you take them home.  But all is not sweetness and light, because the people who want to sell you Pandora, Tulip, Banner and their kennel mates have a secret: They are a front for a notorious network of Amish puppy mills in Millersburg, Ohio.  And here's another secret: That may be fine with Donald Trump. 
I stumbled on MY GOLDENRETRIEVERpuppies.com by accident.  Or I should say they stumbled on me when a ham-handed employee of the webmaster who runs that site spammed two of my popular blog posts on the cancer epidemic in golden retrievers with advertisements for "Golden Retriever Puppies For Sale in Ohio."  When I complained, webmaster and "kennel" operator Galen Kaufmann replied with an apology.  That was unusual because most blog spam cannot be traced back to its source.
My curiosity piqued, I took a look at the website and quickly concluded that it was what is called an English front house for Amish puppy mills.   
The term, used by people trying to eradicate puppy mills, refers to the Amish habit of referring to anyone who is not Amish as "English."  An inordinate number of puppy mills are run by Amish farmers.  Because the traditional Amish lifestyle rejects modern-day conveniences like electricity and telephones, let alone the Internet, these unscrupulous businessfolk sometimes need a front through which to sell their puppies. 
These puppies often live in squalid conditions in group pens sequestered in dark corners of unheated barns with only a few people to care for a large number of animals.  Female dogs are repeatedly bred without concern for their health and wellbeing, and interbreeding is common, increasing the incidence of ailments like hip dysplasia, eye problems and fatal diseases that result in decreased longevity and huge veterinarian bills.   
The MYGOLDENRETRIEVERpuppies.com website threw up several caution flags that were indicators it was not what it so brazenly advertised itself to be, according to several knowledgeable breeders.  These indicators were that: 
An unusually large number of puppies -- a "huge number," according to one breeder -- were born during the same month, which would require a level of care typically beyond the capabilities of a small kennel.
Some of the birthdates were in January when there was snow on the ground in that part of Ohio, but photos of the puppies with their supposed mothers were taken on grassy, summer-like lawns. 
The prices for the majority of the puppies -- less than $900 for 13 of the 16 puppies on offer -- were far below what reputable breeders charge, which typically are double that amount. 
The "kennel" is not a Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA) member nor were the puppies from American Kennel Club (AKC) parents, the gold standards for reputable breeders.   
GRCA and AKC affiliations matter because these organizations maintain registries and require certain breeding standards, while puppy mills and their fronts are not regulated. 
The "guarantee" to be signed by the buyer is unusual in that it is nullified if the buyer does not return a dog it is not satisfied with, something that buyers typically would not do for fear that the dog would be put down.
The "kennel" is located in the same 3,000-person town in which an extraordinary five of the puppy mills on the Horrible Hundred list maintained by the Human Society of America are located. 
When I contacted Galen Kauffman, he refused to comment when asked if his "kennel" was a front for puppy mills and hung up.  Click.   
Kaufmann called back a few minutes later.  He acknowledged that "we have a small network where we represent other breeders."  He acknowledged that the photographs of puppies with January birthdates shown with mothers in grassy summer settings were not the puppies currently on offer.   "We typically use the same photo," he explained. Kaufmann said that his website "needs updating,"  but had no explanation as to why his sale prices were low and there was no GRCA or AKC affiliation, let alone the coincidence of there being so many puppy mills in the same small town, and then hung up a second time.  Click.
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So what about Donald Trump? 
In the wake of Trump's inauguration, government agencies whose policies could be at odds with the new president scrubbed their websites of material that might be objectionable and therefore politically taboo for a man with fringe views. 
The EPA mysteriously took down documents regarding global warming and the White House mysteriously took down links to LGBT and civil rights resources, while the Department of Agriculture mysteriously took down information detailing animal abuse, including documents on dog and horse breeders, zoos and animal research labs that had violated the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act.   
The USDA disingenuously stated that its website had been scrubbed to protect the "privacy" of these violators and now requires people to file cumbersome Freedom of Information Act request to obtain once-public information, a process that can take months or years.  After protests from animal welfare advocates, the USDA partially relented and again posted certain reports, but not those pertaining to animal breeders.   
Trump also has railed against the "FDA food police." 
He complains that the Food and Drug Administration makes things difficult for pet food manufacturers by regulating the quality of their products through purity and minimal nutrition standards.  Never mind that because of these regulations, there are pet food recalls -- about 25 in the last year alone.  Some 11 recalls involved dog foods contaminated by listeria and salmonella, and one contaminated by a euthanasia drug.   
For what it's worth, Trump is the first president since forever (Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841) to not have a dog or any other pet in the White House.