A few good reads today:
Haven't decided what to eat for lunch yet...
Remember back in May 2017, barely a couple of months in office, when the president bragged to the Russian Foreign Secretary about some intelligence we'd developed on ISIS in Syria? That disclosure resulted in a dangerous and expensive mission to exfiltrate one of our highest-level assets within the Russian government:
The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. The intelligence, concerning ISIS in Syria, had been provided by Israel.
The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.
At the time, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo told other senior Trump administration officials that too much information was coming out regarding the covert source, known as an asset. An extraction, or "exfiltration" as such an operation is referred to by intelligence officials, is an extraordinary remedy when US intelligence believes an asset is in immediate danger.
Weeks after the decision to extract the spy, in July 2017, Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg and took the unusual step of confiscating the interpreter's notes. Afterward, intelligence officials again expressed concern that the President may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia, according to an intelligence source with knowledge of the intelligence community's response to the Trump-Putin meeting.
Knowledge of the Russian covert source's existence was highly restricted within the US government and intelligence agencies. According to one source, there was "no equal alternative" inside the Russian government, providing both insight and information on Putin.
So is he a Russian asset or just a useful idiot? What difference does that make, anyway?
...is a character on TV, according to TV critic James Poniewozik, writing in today's Sunday Review:
The taunting. The insults. The dog whistles. The dog bullhorns. The “Lock her up” and “Send her back.” All of it follows reality-TV rules. Every season has to top the last. Every fight is necessary, be it against Ilhan Omar or Debra Messing. Every twist must be more shocking, every conflict more vicious, lest the red light grow bored and wink off. The only difference: Now there’s no Mark Burnett to impose retroactive logic on the chaos, only press secretaries, pundits and Mike Pence.
To ask whether any of this is “instinct” or “strategy” is a parlor game. If you think like a TV camera — if thinking in those reflexive microbursts of adrenaline and testosterone has served you your whole life — then the instinct is the strategy.
And to ask who the “real” Donald Trump is, is to ignore the obvious. You already know who Donald Trump is. All the evidence you need is right there on your screen. He’s half-man, half-TV, with a camera for an eye that is constantly focused on itself. The red light is pulsing, 24/7, and it does not appear to have an off switch.
Well, it does: 20th January 2021, just 500 days from today.
Greg Sargent makes the case that Mitch McConnell keeps finding new ways to diminish himself by supporting the president:
The diversion of military funds to pay for President Trump’s border wall obsession — which is taking money away from more than 100 military projects around the country, just as a junkie’s habit might take money from the grocery kitty — provides an opening to reconsider the extraordinary depths to which Mitch McConnell has sunk to enable Trump’s corruption.
The Senate majority leader has not only assisted and protected Trump in doing great damage to our democracy, for naked partisan purposes, though that’s a major stain. But McConnell also has in effect now prioritized the mission of enabling and defending Trump’s corruption over the interests of his own state and its constituents.
One project that will lose funding as a result of Trump’s wall — which is now being paid for out of funds diverted as part of the national emergency that Trump declared on fabricated grounds — is on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
That project is a planned middle school at the Fort Campbell army base. The Pentagon has diverted $62.6 million in money slotted for construction of that school, as part of the $3.6 billion that has been shifted toward Trump’s wall.
Let’s not forget that this is the same Mitch McConnell who refused to show a united, public bipartisan front against Russian sabotage of our 2016 election, and has refused to allow multiple bills securing our next election against more Russian sabotage — which Trump has openly invited — from coming to the floor.
McConnell now claims he’s fighting to get the funding for the school, anyway. And he might succeed at that. But regardless, this is not a certainty, and McConnell’s explicit public position is now that funding the wall first — putting that school funding at risk — was the right thing to do.
Yet somehow, McConnell is blaming Democrats for this result, thus spinning away and continuing to enable Trump’s profoundly corrupt and destructive role in all of it.
The election is in 423 days. If you live in Kentucky, ask yourself: do you really want this guy representing you?
First, something legitimately funny, especially if you're Jewish:
And some things that are funny, as in, "the President is a little funny, isn't he?"
OK, that's too much funny for this morning.
It's the last weekday of summer. Chicago's weather today is perfect; the office is quiet ahead of the three-day weekend; and I'm cooking with gas on my current project.
None of that leaves a lot of time to read any of these:
Now, to find lunch.
One of the articles I read at lunchtime concerned the president's press conference at the G7 in Biarritz, France, yesterday. It bears examining, not for anything new, but for the shift in the way journalists are describing his thought processes:
Asked why he continued to falsely blame Obama for the annexation of Crimea, as he did almost a dozen times Monday, the president suggested that he knew the black journalist asking the question, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS News, had an ulterior motive. “I know you like President Obama,” he said, without saying how he knew that.
“I’m not blaming him,” he said, before blaming him extensively because “a lot of bad things happened.”
In four days, Trump imposed new tariffs on China, called the country’s president an “enemy,” admitted “second thoughts” on the escalating trade war, reversed course hours later to say he only wished he had raised the tariffs higher, and then vowed a deal would be coming soon — because China wants one desperately, in the president’s telling. Doesn’t that make it harder, a reporter asked, to make a deal?
“Sorry, it’s how I negotiate,” he said. “It’s been very successful over the years.”
Why the press corps don't laugh him out of the room escapes me. Because no other response seems appropriate.
I'll circle back to a couple of these later today. But at the moment, I've got the following queued up for my lunch hour:
- The Washington Post charitably describes yesterday's press conference in France as "a glimpse into Trump's unorthodox mind." As in, he lied through the whole thing.
- MSNBC says the G7 as a whole (which ended in the aforementioned presser) shows that other world leaders have learned to manipulate the president pretty well.
- Brazil, meanwhile has become the latest country to discover that authoritarian leaders don't know what they're doing and cover it up with bluster and blame-shifting. Oh, and corruption.
- And when those authoritarian leaders (and wannabes) tank the economy, millennials will, once again, get the worst of it. (Though we Xers aren't exactly raking it in either.)
- Via Schneier, Lawfare raises the alarm about the dangers of fake scientific research.
- Adam Gopnik asks, are spies worth it?
- Meanwhile, Riz Virk argues that we need to figure out if we're in a simulation.
- Finally, Microsoft's Raymond Chen takes us back to the days when software used to cost manufacturers a dollar a byte. (That's around when TV producers paid about $1 per foot, or 2/3 of as second, for film.)
That's enough of a queue for now.
Writer Jennifer Rubin argues that the Democratic Party needs to present the president as what he really is:
After all, Trump’s most defining feature these days is a frightful, manic personality more detached from reality than ever before.
We don’t need a medical diagnosis or the 25th Amendment to conclude Trump is crazy in the colloquial sense — cuckoo, nuts, non compos mentis, off his rocker, unhinged. Even Republicans who like the tax cuts or the judges at some level understand this is not normal behavior and, at key moments, feels downright scary.
Now, you might say that in the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton and the entire Democratic Party made the case he was a mean, lying, cruel bully. People didn’t care and still voted for him (although to his chagrin, not a majority or even plurality of those who cast ballots). Why is this different?
This is crucial: It’s one thing to be mean and corrupt. His defenders say lots of politicians are. It is quite another to say he’s so erratic, so unhinged, so crazy that he sends the economy into a tailspin and risks international conflict (or capitulation to enemies such as Kim Jong Un, who Trump — crazily — believes likes him). Tying Trump’s unfitness to dangers to the country and to voters’ personal safety and prosperity should be a key objective for the eventual nominee.
Of course, fully a third of the country doesn't care that the president has gone off the reservation. They'll vote for him anyway. But the middle third of the electorate needs reminding why we can't allow this guy to have another four years in office.
So much to read, so much eye strain from the fluorescent lights:
And finally, this year's Punderdome competition took on food; the audience ate it up.