March 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 PM


Trump: Maybe US will have a president for life someday (AGENCIES and TOI STAFF, 3/03/18, Times of Israel)

US President Donald Trump said Saturday he thinks it's great that China's president now holds that office for life and mused that maybe the US will do the same someday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 PM


Mueller's Focus on Adviser to United Arab Emirates Indicates Widening of Inquiry (MARK MAZZETTI, DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and MAGGIE HABERMANMARCH 3, 2018, NY Times)

George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, has hovered on the fringes of international diplomacy for three decades. He was a back-channel negotiator with Syria during the Clinton administration, reinvented himself as an adviser to the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and last year was a frequent visitor to President Trump's White House.

Mr. Nader is now a focus of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller's investigators have questioned Mr. Nader and have pressed witnesses for information about any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

The investigators have also asked about Mr. Nader's role in White House policymaking, those people said, suggesting that the special counsel investigation has broadened beyond Russian election meddling to include Emirati influence on the Trump administration. The focus on Mr. Nader could also prompt an examination of how money from multiple countries has flowed through and influenced Washington during the Trump era.

Image result for trump crystal ball

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Demoralized West Wing stokes fears over Trump's capacity to handle a crisis: The president has embraced chaos since the beginning, but the past week's drama has left staffers dangerously depleted. (JOHN F. HARRIS and ANDREW RESTUCCIA 03/02/20, Politico)

[T]here is something different about this week's spasm of sudden policy lurches, graceless personal insults, oozing scandal news, and ceaseless West Wing knife fights.

It is the starkest example to date of President Donald Trump's executive style looking untenable not merely from the outside -- from the perspective of establishment politicians and media analysts -- but from the inside, too.

Administration officials and outsiders with windows into decision-making describe a growing sense of despair within Trump's ranks, driven by the mounting realization that the president's brand of politics guided by intuition and improvisation is incompatible with a competently functioning executive branch.

Most alarming, by these lights, is mounting evidence that Trump lacks an attribute possessed by most previous presidents and certainly by all the most successful ones: a capacity for self-critique and self-correction. [...]

Rather than changing course, Trump was described by an administration official Friday -- echoing other reports -- as sullen and isolated, frustrated that he is not being given credit he thinks he deserves and deeply suspicious of the people around him.

Increasingly, that suspicion is justified, as people close to Trump second-guess his judgment and his capacity to do his job. But it is also suspicion that Trump invited by undermining the very people who he asked to come help him get better at governing.

"Most presidents know when to recalibrate, to redirect, to hit a reset button" on their policies or their own leadership style, said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served at senior levels of both the Clinton and Obama White Houses. "So in the face of incompetence and total chaos you have a president who has no self-awareness of how bad it is."

Panetta urged Kelly to organize a "come to Jesus moment" in which Trump's trusted advisers along with Republican congressional leaders and business executives warn the president in the strongest terms that he's veering off course.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


L'Affaire Kushner: A series of revelations about the White House princeling have added further credence to the key claim of the Steele dossier. (JED HANDELSMAN SHUGERMAN, MARCH 02, 2018, Slate)

So: A Qatari fund acquires major assets from Russia. Kushner's business seeks money directly from Qatar. The nation, though, does not deliver to Kushner. The U.S. changes its political posture against Qatar at Kushner's urging, with the alarming possibility that the seemingly manufactured conflict could have escalated into war. (Fortunately, it did not.) Several months later, the Qatar-backed Apollo Group delivers $184 million to Kushner.

All of this should be considered an incredible scandal in its own right, worthy of serious congressional inquiry. Once you factor in, however, the portions of this that are consistent with some of the allegations in the Steele dossier, the stories potentially become even more explosive.

The Steele dossier alleges that Russians made a deal with Carter Page in the summer of 2016 to sell 19 percent of fossil fuel giant Rosneft, a multibillion dollar deal, and secretly transfer benefits to Trump officials. The dossier alleged that Page was a campaign intermediary to meet personally with Russians, and that Igor Sechin--the CEO of Rosneft and a close Putin ally--and Page had held a "secret meeting" to discuss "the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia." The dossier further alleged that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of a 19 percent stake in the company in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia. Page has denied that this meeting with Sechin ever took place.

Page's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, however, confirmed that he at the very least discussed these general topics with key Russian figures at critical points in the Steele dossier timeline. For example, Page confirmed that he had spoken with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft and an employee of Sechin, when in Moscow in July 2016. He also acknowledged "briefly" discussing "a potential sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft" with Baranov. Finally, he would only say that he didn't "directly" express support for the idea of lifting sanctions on Russia with Baranov.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 9, 2016, a month after the election, Russia made a deal with Qatar to sell 19.5 percent of Rosneft. Reuters reported at the time:

The privatization deal, which Rosneft Chief Executive Igor Sechin called the largest in Russia's history, was announced by Rosneft in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. Its success suggests the lure of taking a share in one of the world's biggest oil companies outweighs the risks associated with Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. Rosneft had been under pressure to secure a sale of the 19.5 percent stake to help replenish state coffers, hit by an economic slowdown driven by weak oil prices and exacerbated by sanctions.

The deal falls squarely in the middle of a time when Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Page were communicating with Russians in ways that would later prove very embarrassing and potentially suspicious.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Who's a hero and who's a coward? Trump is no judge (Yonden Lhatoo, 03 March, 2018, SCMP

How many of us have stared sudden, violent death in the face and reacted like a hero?

I was no braveheart when I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time during the middle of an armed insurgency many years ago in my old hometown of Darjeeling.

To cut a long story short, a paramilitary soldier jammed the barrel of his assault rifle under my chin and threatened to blow my head off. I was a terrified school kid and it was enough to send me into catatonic shock.

The second time I stared death in the face was after I had just finished school and was earning some pocket money by taking a group of Canadian tourists on a trek high up in the Western Himalayas.

We were traversing a steep slope when we found ourselves caught in a sudden rockslide. There was no place to run or take shelter, so we just stood there, fully exposed to danger, as rocks the size of water melons came crashing down upon us.

By some miracle, we escaped with our lives, but I remember how petrified and helpless we were, staring up at what seemed like certain death from above. I watched the man next to me tilt his head to one side to dodge a jagged rock that would have decapitated him, had he not made that slight movement. We were all numb with shock.

That's what I'm thinking of as I listen to the shrill chorus of condemnation against the armed security officer who lost his job for remaining outside a Florida high school while an expelled student went on a shooting rampage inside, slaughtering 17 people last month.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Ad-hoc Trump fuels White House meltdown (AFP, 2 March 2018)

A White House lurching from crisis to crisis appeared close to complete meltdown Friday, as Donald Trump's staff struggled to limit damage from two impulsive moves with far-reaching consequences. [...]

Officials made no effort to disguise that the decision -- which will bring legal action -- had short circuited internal deliberations and preempted the administration's own determination about whether the step was lawful. [..]

The internal blowback was swift, with renewed rumors that top economic advisor Gary Cohn -- who had been infuriated by Trump's unwillingness to condemn neo-Nazis -- was ready to walk.

Wall Street insiders -- who have embraced Trump's tax cuts and laissez faire approach to regulation -- expressed disbelief at the policy, but also disbelief at a White House that appears to have careened off the rails. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


The great unraveling: Trump's allies are really worried about him (Gloria Borger, 3/02/18, CNN)

Not since Richard Nixon started talking to the portraits on the walls of the West Wing has a president seemed so alone against the world.

One source -- who is a presidential ally -- is worried, really worried. The source says this past week is "different," that advisers are scared the President is spiraling, lashing out, just out of control. For example: Demanding to hold a public session where he made promises on trade tariffs before his staff was ready, not to mention willing. "This has real economic impact," says the source, as the Dow dropped 420 points after the President's news Thursday. "Something is very wrong."

Even by Trumpian standards, the chaos and the unraveling at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are a stunning -- and recurring -- problem.

But there's an up-against-the-wall quality to the past couple of weeks that is striking, and the crescendo is loud, clear, unhealthy, even dangerous. [...]

Multiple sources report an increasingly isolated Trump: cordoned off from old friends by Kelly, getting the cold shoulder from wife Melania (after Stormy Daniels and friends), increasing friction with his daughter and son-in-law over clearance, and home alone without longtime bodyguard/friend Keith Schiller and Hicks. His economic team is split over tariffs; his national security adviser, according to reports, will be replaced soon. No doubt the exodus will continue.

And the President -- who has bullied Jeff Sessions regularly since the summer -- is now furious that the attorney general has dared defend his department against a President who called it "disgraceful." A man who prides himself on his instinct to counterpunch finds it shocking when someone punches back. 

In fairness to Nixon, the rest of the world was bewildered that we were getting rid of him, not ecstatic as they are with Donald.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Parkland shooting has changed politics-as-usual in Florida (Scott Maxwell , 3/02/18, Orlando Sentinel)

[I]n the wake of the Parkland high school shooting, Republican leaders have joined Democrats in calling for action on guns, mental health and school security -- issues they have flat-out rejected for years.

Florida's governor is even taking on the NRA, calling for new gun restrictions and opposing ideas like arming teachers.

Things like that simply don't happen in Florida.

So what's different this time? At least three things:

1) The gunman committed his massacre smack dab in the middle of the legislative session.

2) Rick Scott is running for higher office.

3) The Parkland kids actually look and sound like the kids of the legislators ... so their cries have resonated more.

Those explanations may seem cynical and even distasteful. So is politics all too often.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, said there's no denying that Tallahassee politicians are reacting differently this time.

With Parkland memorial ribbons on legislative lapels everywhere (compared to Pulse rainbow ribbons, which Smith said were few and far between), legislators are vowing fast action.

"That's a big change," he said. "Usually after a mass shooting, it's: Offer thoughts and prayers. Divert attention. Delay. And then do nothing."

This time, though, they couldn't divert or delay, because the slaughter took place five weeks into a nine-week legislative session.

That's normally a time when Republicans are advancing the NRA's bills -- often ludicrous ones like the 2011 one that tried to ban patients and doctors from freely discussing firearms or the 2014 one that guaranteed schoolchildren the right to carry pistol-shaped Pop Tarts -- so they can earn good grades on the NRA's annual report cards.