January 4, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump's Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, JAN. 4, 2018, NY Times)

President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House's top lawyer: stop the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself in the Justice Department's investigation into whether Mr. Trump's associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election.

Public pressure was building for Mr. Sessions, who had been a senior member of the Trump campaign, to step aside. But the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, carried out the president's orders and lobbied Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.

Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.  [...]

The special counsel has received handwritten notes from Mr. Trump's former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, showing that Mr. Trump talked to Mr. Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say publicly that he was not under investigation. The president's determination to fire Mr. Comey even led one White House lawyer to take the extraordinary step of misleading Mr. Trump about whether he had the authority to remove him.

The New York Times has also learned that four days before Mr. Comey was fired, one of Mr. Sessions's aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Mr. Comey, part of an apparent effort to undermine the F.B.I. director. It was not clear whether Mr. Mueller's investigators knew about this incident.

Mr. Mueller has also been examining a false statement that the president dictated on Air Force One in July in response to an article in The Times about a meeting that Trump campaign officials had with Russians in 2016. A new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," by Michael Wolff, says that the president's lawyers believed that the statement was "an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation's gears," and that it led one of Mr. Trump's spokesmen to quit because he believed it was obstruction of justice.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Trump attorney sends Bannon cease and desist letter over 'disparaging' comments (JOHN SANTUCCI, Jan 4, 2018, 1ABC News)

Trump attorney Charles J. Harder of the firm Harder Mirell & Abrams LLP, said in a statement, "This law firm represents President Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. On behalf of our clients, legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander, and breach of his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with our clients. Legal action is imminent."

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Bannon goes back to praising Trump (Alayna Treene, 1/04/18, Axios)

...the Trumpbots have no choice but to grovel before him and himiliate themselves on his behalf.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


'The Crown' on Netflix: Why Are Americans Still So Obsessed With British Royalty? (Neal Pollack, Jan 4, 2018, Decider)

Didn't we fight a war so Americans didn't have to bend a knee to the Queen? Yet we still do it, either in person (like Meghan Markle) or on the telly (by worshipping The Crown). Every time you hear "that's such a good show" or "I love the clothes" or "the settings are spectacular," it's a subtle wish for kings, a denial of democracy, a longing for the return of our colonial masters.

England, it need hardly be pointed out, is a democracy.  Americans just recognize that it improves upon our by retaining the monarchy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


"You Can't Make This S--- Up": My Year Inside Trump's Insane White House (Michael Wolff, 1/04/18, Hollywood Reporter)

Part of that foolishness was his inability to deal with his own family. In a way, this gave him a human dimension. Even Donald Trump couldn't say no to his kids. "It's a littleee, littleee complicated ..." he explained to Priebus about why he needed to give his daughter and son-in-law official jobs. But the effect of their leadership roles was to compound his own boundless inexperience in Washington, creating from the outset frustration and then disbelief and then rage on the part of the professionals in his employ.

The men and women of the West Wing, for all that the media was ridiculing them, actually felt they had a responsibility to the country. "Trump," said one senior Republican, "turned selfish careerists into patriots." Their job was to maintain the pretense of relative sanity, even as each individually came to the conclusion that, in generous terms, it was insane to think you could run a White House without experience, organizational structure or a real purpose. [...]

Reigning over all of this was Trump, enigma, cipher and disruptor. How to get along with Trump -- who veered between a kind of blissed-out pleasure of being in the Oval Office and a deep, childish frustration that he couldn't have what he wanted? Here was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on Fox & Friends or an Oval Office photo opp. "I want a win. I want a win. Where's my win?" he would regularly declaim. He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, "like a child." A chronic naysayer, Trump himself stoked constant discord with his daily after-dinner phone calls to his billionaire friends about the disloyalty and incompetence around him. His billionaire friends then shared this with their billionaire friends, creating the endless leaks which the president so furiously railed against. [...]

There was, after the abrupt Scaramucci meltdown, hardly any effort inside the West Wing to disguise the sense of ludicrousness and anger felt by every member of the senior staff toward Trump's family and Trump himself. It became almost a kind of competition to demystify Trump. For Rex Tillerson, he was a moron. For Gary Cohn, he was dumb as s[***]. For H.R. McMaster, he was a hopeless idiot. For Steve Bannon, he had lost his mind.

Most succinctly, no one expected him to survive Mueller. Whatever the substance of the Russia "collusion," Trump, in the estimation of his senior staff, did not have the discipline to navigate a tough investigation, nor the credibility to attract the caliber of lawyers he would need to help him. (At least nine major law firms had turned down an invitation to represent the president.)

There was more: Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he'd repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories -- now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions -- he just couldn't stop saying something.

As telling, with his daughter and son-in-law sidelined by their legal problems, Hope Hicks, Trump's 29-year-old personal aide and confidant, became, practically speaking, his most powerful White House advisor. (With Melania a nonpresence, the staff referred to Ivanka as the "real wife" and Hicks as the "real daughter.") Hicks' primary function was to tend to the Trump ego, to reassure him, to protect him, to buffer him, to soothe him. It was Hicks who, attentive to his lapses and repetitions, urged him to forgo an interview that was set to open the 60 Minutes fall season. Instead, the interview went to Fox News' Sean Hannity who, White House insiders happily explained, was willing to supply the questions beforehand. Indeed, the plan was to have all interviewers going forward provide the questions. [...]

Donald Trump's small staff of factotums, advisors and family began, on Jan. 20, 2017, an experience that none of them, by any right or logic, thought they would -- or, in many cases, should -- have, being part of a Trump presidency. Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country's future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all -- 100 percent -- came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.

...as our desire to dismiss him as merely senile or mentally ill.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


American Ideals Beat the USSR. Why Aren't We Using Them Against Russia? (JEFFREY MANKOFF, 1/04/18, Defense One)

Because the USSR was credibly portrayed as the negation of the United States' ideals (acting as what David Fogelsong called the United States' "dark double"), besting the Soviet Union came to provide a raison d'être for United States foreign policy from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. Whatever else they disagreed on, Democrats and Republicans were united in their belief that Moscow posed an existential threat not just to the U.S. homeland, but to the very ideals on which the United States was founded. That shared perception formed the basis of a longstanding bipartisan foreign policy consensus that emphasized U.S. support for liberal values, multilateralism, and resisting the spread of Communism.

Today, that consensus is in tatters, as a war for the soul of both parties rages between internationalist and isolationist wings. With the original Cold War a distant memory, Washington's commitment to the institutions of the liberal order it created is in question in a way it has not been since the Second World War.

Russia, among other revisionist powers, benefits from this uncertainty. 

The Right--as the Left before it--despises our multi-ethnic/multi-confessional liberal democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Senate Judiciary Chairman: Comey May Have Leaked Classified Info To The NY Times (HANK BERRIEN January 4, 2018, Daily Wire)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is investigating the timing of the memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote memorializing interactions between himself and President Trump, because it is possible that when Comey supplied copies to Columbia Law School Professor Daniel Richman, who transmitted at least one memo copy to The New York Times, one of them contained information that is now marked as classified.

The classification system is an open joke. Open Source it all.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Pence Says U.S. Is 'Natural Ally' For Iranians Seeking Freedom (RFE/RL, 1/04/18)

In an interview at the White House with Voice of America on January 3, Pence said "the American people stand with freedom-loving people in Iran and around the world, and I think this is a very hopeful moment."

So let's help the Reformers grow the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Russia denies report that 7 planes destroyed in Syria attack - TASS (Reuters, 1/04/18)

At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two "military-diplomatic" sources.

In the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched air strikes in Syria in autumn 2015, more than 10 servicemen were wounded in the attack by "radical Islamists", the report said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Trump abolishes controversial commission studying alleged voter fraud (John Wagner, January 3, 2017, Washington Post)

President Trump on Wednesday announced that he is disbanding a controversial panel studying alleged voter fraud that became mired in multiple federal lawsuits and faced resistance from states that accused it of overreach.

The decision is a major setback for Trump, who created the commission last year in response to his claim, for which he provided no proof, that he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 because of millions of illegally cast ballots.

...who swallowed this fraud nonsense whole.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Q&A: 'This is a fight among Iran's ruling factions' (Saeed Jalili, 1/04/18, Al Jazeera)

Rouhani's landslide victory came after a bitter campaign against hardline candidates Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Tehran's powerful mayor at the time, and Ebrahim Raeesi, head of the massive state-conglomerate Astan Qods Razavi, which is headquartered in Mashhad.

The protests first erupted in Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city, which is also where Raeesi's father-in-law, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, leads the Friday prayers.

The ongoing protests are the most recent challenge to Rouhani, whose ministerial picks turned many of his reformist supporters into critics.

Last month, the government submitted a budget bill for the next fiscal year. Part of its plan to carry out partial economic reforms, including increasing fuel prices and reducing subsidies, the budget generated discontent among low-income Iranians.

The bill revealed the huge costs incurred by religious bodies, whose budgets had been largely unknown prior to that point, sparking further anger and criticism.

These incidents are not unrelated, says senior Iranian economist Saeed Laylaz, a professor at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

Laylaz, who is considered sympathetic to Rouhani, was an adviser to Iran's former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and an outspoken critic of his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Al Jazeera spoke to him about the reasons behind the widespread protests and their potential impact.

Al Jazeera: It looks like there is a consensus that Iranian hardliners ignited the protests. What do you think?

Saeed Laylaz: Alamolhoda, Raeesi and Qalibaf started it and Ahmadinejad is extending it. It is, I think, a fight among the factions inside the establishment.

Part of it is to take revenge after the election and part of it is about the succession [to the supreme leader].

We're not facing a protest by the people alone. We're dealing with specific groups. In small cities, they attack to capture police stations. Does a [low-income] teacher, for instance, do that?

Al Jazeera: Is this related to Rouhani's budget bill as well?

Laylaz: It is.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


China's 'Saxophone Capital,' a Factory Town Transfixed by Kenny G (JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ, JAN. 3, 2018, NY Times)

SIDANGKOU, China -- By day, the factory workers pound sheets of brass into cylinders and slather metal buttons with glue. By night, they take their creations to the street and begin to play.

The soothing melodies flow through cornfields, street markets and public squares. They interweave with the shouts of street vendors hawking tofu and men playing mah-jongg.

This is the music of Sidangkou, a northern Chinese village of 4,000, where one sound rules above all else: the saxophone.

Farmers take the instrument into fields to belt out patriotic tunes against the sunset. Children play in all-saxophone bands at school. Shopkeepers set their ringtones to the wistful songs of Kenny G.

The saxophone has never had a large following in China, in part because it was long associated with jazz, individuality and free expression. After the Communist revolution of 1949, officials denounced the instrument for producing the "decadent music of capitalists."

But here in this town, the saxophone is king.

Sidangkou, which calls itself China's "saxophone capital," produces about 10,000 saxophones per month at more than 70 factories, according to Chinese news media. The village exports nearly 90 percent of them, primarily to the United States, where they are sold for more than $100 each.

"It's vibrant and delightful," said Wang Yuchun, the president of one of the largest producers, Tianjin Shengdi Musical Instrument Co. "It's part of our lives now."

For more than a century, the region around Sidangkou has been a hub of musical instrument manufacturing, including traditional Chinese instruments like the sheng, a reed pipe, and the di, a bamboo flute. Factories in the region now produce thousands of oboes, trumpets and tubas each year.

Yet nothing seems to have captured the imagination of people here like the saxophone.

....once they've heard Kenny G.