July 31, 2018

Choose Your Poison...

News came out today that Facebook has detected an influence operation, even as we are less than 100 days from the critical midterm elections. Activities of the operation "appeared to target divisive political issues," we're told.
The company identified the activity roughly two weeks ago as part of an ongoing investigation into election interference, its representatives said, and had removed eight Pages and 17 profiles from Facebook and seven accounts from Instagram that had been created between March 2017 and last May. Taken together, the accounts and Pages created more than 9,500 posts and more than 290,000 accounts had followed at least one of the pages, Facebook said. The pages ran 150 ads for $11,000 that were paid for in US and Canadian dollars. 
There seems to be some consensus that the Russians are behind it,at least from the politicians, although the investigation into the shenanigans is really just getting started. Intelligence officials hopefully will do their part to formally identify the bad actors. Per the article, Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, noted
We applaud efforts by our private sector partners to combat an array of threats that occur in cyber space, including malign influence. NSC staff leads the regular and continuous coordination of the whole-of-government approach to addressing foreign malign influence and ensuring election safety.
At least some of the Pages and profiles appeared to be designed to get 'resistes' all riled up, by scheduling events like a counter-protest to a Unite the Right rally in DC in a couple of weeks.

Can I ask a question?

Why do we ask so much of Facebook and other social media companies, but so little of Fox News, Breitbart, Infowars, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity and the like? I mention these particular actors because they are generally excluded from any definition of  'mainstream media' even though Fox and their flock of right-wingers are as mainstream as they come.

Can I ask another one?

Is it worse that we have fake accounts on social media promoting 'malign influence' and divisiveness or that the American president does exactly the same thing on a daily basis?

July 30, 2018

Thank You, NY Politicians (Not)

This could have been one of those posts highlighting the excellent cooperation between state and federal elected officials, except that this is an election year, the interested parties are in opposite parties, and they're more interested in making political hay than they are in solving problems.

A few years ago, New York's Sonofa Gov, Andrew Cuomo (D - looking at DC) and some of his minions involved in tourism here came up with the idea of adding signage on the NYS Thruway, which happens to be part of the federal interstate highway system. Before the signs were ever installed, the Gov and his team were advised by the feds that the signs were not compliant and would cause a distraction to drivers. Not one on par with, say, cell phones, 6- or 8-inch touch screen control pods, 214 cup holders, GPS systems, screaming children, or even men who refuse to ask for directions and the people who love them - but a distraction nonetheless.

And speaking of nonetheless, the NYS team decided to go ahead and ignore the feds, and put up some 500 signs, usually in sets of three or four, across the state. The NY folks say the signs have been effective in increasing tourism spending, and of course we all know that arguing with the government about the benefits of a pet project is really an exercise in futility, so I won't bother with that.

I will say that I think the signs are kind of dumb. They mean to advertise different things (history, parks, food, and so on), but they all point to the main tourism website; they don't do a whole lot to get people to exit specifically to see something that's nearby; and they're small, so you've got to really be paying attention to figure them out (hence the distraction part.) I mean, a billboard could have accomplished the same thing, with less fuss from the feds, but what do I know?

After the signs were installed, at a cost of $5M or so, and after some warnings, the feds said they had to come down. And if they didn't come down, the state would lose $14M in federal highway funds this year. If they stayed up past the September 30, 2018 deadline, future funds would also be at risk. And, reluctantly, NY agreed to take them down. But wait -- this is NY, after all, and we have the Sonofa Gov--we're not taking them down because we were told to, we're taking them down because this particular tourism campaign is over. So there!

But wait again! We agree to take them down, said NY, but we want to  put up new ones, and we want the feds to tell us what's compliant, and that's gonna take a while, and so we'll miss the deadline but we don't want the fine because we want to play nice in the sandbox and stuff.  And that's exactly the segue we need to the final part of this sad tale of our tax dollars at work.

Several folks in the NY Congressional delegation are Republicans, including John Katko (who was sent to represent me), Claudia Tenney, Elise Stefanik, Tom Reed, John Faso and Chris Collins. And, remember, this is an election year and they're all up for re-election, as is Cuomo. So, with around $14M in highway funds at risk, what's a gaggle of representatives to do? Fire off a nastygram to the governor, the titular head of the other party for their state, of course.

Here's the gist of their message:
  • You're facing a $14M penalty; 
  • a bunch of acronyms are in the mix, at both the state and federal level;
  • you've known for two years that your cutesy little signs are dangerous and illegal;
  • you were warned back in February; and
  • you could be hurting the state if you don't stop messing around.
And then, a question:
As we are nearing the end of the federal fiscal year and the September 30 deadline, what steps have been undertaken by your Administration to prevent the permanent loss of these critical funds? Are both NYSDOT and NYSTA working with FHWA towards a resolution?
And then - without even giving the Gov a chance to answer - this:
We urge you to direct NYSDOT and NYSTA to follow the law and not jeopardize the loss of badly needed federal funds for our highway and bridge repair programs. 
Oh, for Pete's sake.

Of course Cuomo was wrong to order the signs put up; of course he was wrong not to listen to the repeated warnings that they were out of compliance, and of course he shouldn't have promised to take them down if he wasn't actually going to do just that.

But these six goofballs, chests all puffed out and ready for thumping, over a pile of money that'll barely pave 15 miles of road? No offer of helping with the negotiations, which they must know about; no offer of trying to get the feds to back off on the distracted driving issue (I'd maintain listening to the president on the radio would be significantly more dangerous, but maybe that's just me); and no mention of leveraging this state/federal cooperation to try and get us more desperately needed infrastructure funding?

Gee, thanks.

July 29, 2018

Sunday School 7/29/18

Just a couple of classrooms today -- Fox News Sunday to hear from Steven Mnuchin, Trump's Treasury Secretary, and CNN's State of the Union, because Anthony Scaramucci.

First, Mnuchin. Wallace asked him if the report on the 2nd quarter GDP - 4.1% - was something that was sustainable, and if the president's suggestions that we could see 8% or 9% growth realistic.  Not so much, it seems.
Well, Chris, we've been very clear since the campaign, the president's economic plan has always consisted of tax reform, trade relief and regulatory relief and we said we're going to achieve 3% or higher sustained GDP, and that's where we are. The 4%, 4.1% was a terrific order, but we are very focused on the long-term sustained economic growth, which our plans have had. 
Wallace noted that the 2nd quarter was when farmers were pumping out exports in advance of the Trump tariffs and that the Federal Reserve is not so bullish on the growth, predicting we'd be back around 2% within two years. And, he talked about both Trump and Veep Mike Pence sticking their noses in the conversation about the Fed's intent to raise interest rates. Wallace wondered about whether the administration respects the Fed's independence.
Well, Chris, I think they do and we as an administration absolutely support the independence of the Fed and the president has made it clear that this is the Fed's decision. So, these are really more just comments saying as interest rates are going up, it's something that the president has a concern. But let me be clear, he respects the independence of the Fed, and the issue is the market expects interest rates to keep going up. So, the only question is how far, and for how long? And we think the Fed will be very careful in managing the economy.
They also talked about tech stocks, what with the Facebook and Twitter drops this week. Wallace wondered about investors souring on social media tech stocks, since they've been such big drivers of both economic growth and of the rise in the stock markets. Mnuchin pointed out that diversified portfolios are great investments and that
As you can see, the market is not efficient. The fact that you could have a one-day correction of these magnitudes just goes to show you that in the short term, the market is not necessarily efficient, but I'm not concerned about this at all. 
And, of course, they talked about trade, and agriculture. On that last part, Wallace pointed out previous comments made by Mnuchin that were against corporate welfare, and asked
So, when did handouts to farmers become strong, good, solid, conservative policy?
Mnuchin doesn't think the $12B bailout (bale-out, it's been called) is a handout.
So, it would be one thing if we were just subsidizing markets, and that's not what we are doing here. This is a -- this is a short-term solution to deal with the retaliatory tariffs where you have people who put tariffs, which, by the way are against WTO rules and unfair and targeting our farmers. So, we are sticking up for our farmers so they don't get hurt in these trade discussions. These are not long-term subsidies for the industry... the focus is trade, not aid...
Focus - that's a key word on which to segue to the conversation with The Mooch - because focus is something that seems missing in this interview. For example, Tapper asked if Scaramucci thought Michael Cohen was a liar, as Rudy Giuliani now says.
And so, when I said that, I meant that, because I - I had known Michael for 10 years, known the president for a very long time. And my- my guess what is that they were very loyal to each other. When your house gets raided and your apartment and your hotel room gets raided and you get jarred by the FBI, maybe that has changed now...
But look, at the end of the day, you're -- you're in the biggest aquarium in the world. The White House is literally like a fishbowl, and everybody's micro-analyzing every single thing that's happened to you in your life, which is one of the main reasons why people, Jake, don't run for office, because they don't like every single thing that they have done in their lives put on State of the Union. 
So -- so, here we are now. My - my guess is, is that this is a rift that will continue. I'm not exactly sure what the criminality is here. To me, it doesn't look like it's criminal,when I step  back and look at it and try to look at it objectively. And I think the president's probably very frustrated because he's got a great economic plan going. He's got great things going on, whether it's in North Korea or the potentiality for a deal with the EU now. And so this is one of those side-tracking things and I think it has to be very frustrating. 
So: is Michael Cohen a liar? Who the heck knows. The rest of the interview went similarly, as you might have expected.

See you around campus.

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v18)

Nathaniel Brooks/NYTimes 
I thought I'd take a peek at the New York State legislative session that ended last month and see what our state representatives have been up to over in Albany.

A quick scan of headlines and it's not looking good, I can tell you that. Here's a sampling:
  • from auburnpub.com: NY State Legislature session: missed opportunities, gridlock
  • from the NY Times: Even for Albany, an Unusually Unproductive End to Session
  • from the Albany Times Union: Legislative session limps to an end
  • from syracuse.com: NYS Legislature adjourns with little to show
  • from the Buffalo News: In Albany, Legislature moving to close session, with major deals dying
Sounds like a resounding success, doesn't it? Let's take a quick look at some of the hits and misses from the session.

From the Auburn paper, we got this assessment, the first part from Senator Mike Gianaris (D-Queens), with the second part coming from Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua), the Assembly Minority Leader:
It's more a story of missed opportunities than a story about what got done.
The 2018 legislative session may be a memory, but it was anything but memorable.  
Nice to see both parties and both houses of the legislature in agreement on this. Other things of note from this article:
High profile proposals to authorize sports betting, overhaul antiquated election laws, extend the statute of limitations for child molestation and address longstanding corruption problems were introduced but never passed amid an ongoing stalemate between the Democratic-led Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate. 
The session's final days saw measures intended to improve school security fall flat. lawmakers failed to renew the state law authorizing 140 speed cameras in the NYC school zone, meaning the city will have to deactivate the devices. Negotiations to overhaul teacher evaluations also went nowhere. 
Successes called out here include legislation related to prosecuting sex offenders, new sexual harassment rules for government employees, and congestion tolls for transportation services in Manhattan, holding rape kids for 20 years, disclosures for online political ads, and a tax on opioid manufacturers.

The NY Times quoted Blair Horner of NYPIRG, who was also unimpressed with this year's session.
There are always things that don't get done. What made this session unique was the gridlock in the Senate, which made even the simplest of issues extremely difficult to resolve.
The Times also provided some detail on those issues in the Senate.
The Senate, for years led by Republicans, has these past weeks been deadlocked in a 31-31 partisan tie after one Republican senator returned to active duty in the Navy, and a group of eight renegade Democrats who had helped empower the Republicans ended their collaboration.  That thew into disarray the balance of power through which Democrats and Republicans, by virtue of their respective controls of the Assembly and Senate, had long been forced to the bargaining table. 
The Times Union shared another point of interest in the lack of accomplishment, via this comment from Patricia Fahy, an Assembly Democrat:
It's a little bit more of a lull this year. Part of it is because a lot was done in the budget, and, I think, because it's an election year, so  more issues are polarizing.
And, of course, our Sonofa Gov had to pivot quickly to fighting an activist actress, Cynthia Nixon, in order to remain in power. John Flanagan, the Senate Majority leader, was not impressed.
The governor was over here last week and certainly (we) had conversations with him but prior to that there was a very large void. So I feel he played some nominally productive role in the conversations that we had. 
Ouch. Way to drive your agenda, eh Gov?  But never fear, the pols kept pushing.
State legislators also found time to approve millions of dollars of pork barrel spending, create a state hymn, authorize new distinctive license plates and name multiple bridges. And even as time ran out on the calendar, both houses of the Legislature continued passing dozens of bills that stood little chance of success in the other chamber.
The Syracuse paper was equally unimpressed with this year's session.
The New York State Legislature's 2018 session limped to its conclusion Wednesday with precious little to show for it. In an election year, that's a funny way to persuade voters that you deserve another term.
The editorial board noted 'punts' on big issues including early voting, fixing the condo tax (more on that in an upcoming post), and efforts to clean up our economic development mess:
The bid-rigging trials involving one of Cuomo's top aides, SUNY Polytechnic, the Buffalo Billion and developers from Buffalo and Syracuse made nary a ripple in Albany. A bill to require the state to maintain a database of all the taxpayer subsidies given to corporations, the number of jobs created and the cost per job to taxpayers passed the Senate but languished in the Assembly. Such a database would bring more transparency and accountability to the $4B in annual state economic development spending. A bill giving the state Comptroller the authority to review SUNY contracts also failed to pass.
In addition to successes already noted above, the Syracuse paper noted passage of a bill allowing Syracuse and other municipalities to tack code violation fees to property tax bills and also a bill to help a local school district avoid payment of massive fines related to years-old missed paperwork deadlines. (For schools that were assessed and paid their fines in similar situations, I expect there was little joy in that one.)

One final note. The Buffalo paper also had some good analysis, but they also gave us this tidbit about how parochial the session had become at the end.
In place of the usual big-ticket items that define the end of a legislative session, lawmakers Tuesday continued pushing through dozens of locally-related and smaller items, including fixing a nearly 60-year-old typo in the name of a New York City bridge - honoring Giovanni da Verrazzano - with an extra Z to set things straight. 
No word yet on whether we'll have a special session to address any of the shortcomings; the most likely suspect is probably sports betting, but we'll have to wait and see.  

July 27, 2018

TGIF 7/27/18

What kind of week did you have? Was it better or worse than these folks?

How about that Michael Cohen, the president's 'fixer', the deal maker's deal maker?  It seems like just a short while ago that Rudy Giuliani was saying Michael Cohen was an honest, honorable lawyer and yet, last night during an interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN, the messer-upper (Rudy) was now contending that Cohen has been a liar from the beginning, lies all the time, which lie can you believe, and so on. And I thought, wow - when the lying president's lying lawyer calls you a liar, that's a pretty bad week, right?

Who else had a bad week?  Mark Zuckerberg and anyone who owns Facebook stock, and anyone who owns Twitter stock, and maybe anyone who owns any other social media stock  Yesterday, Facebook took a huge hit, and in two days its stock has dropped around 20%. Today, Twitter took a huge hit as well, dropping in similar fashion. Both companies have been trying to address bad actors, purging fake accounts, and the like, and also dropping 'real' or 'active' users or at least not growing as fast as investors would like. Facebook faced some particular wrath lately due to its decision not to ban holocaust deniers from the platform. Sure, they're wrong and history deniers and all that, but we have to learn from them and teach them what's right and we can't do that if we shut them down or something. Infowars was another beneficiary of that thinking.

On the good week side of things, there was happy baby news from the Animal Adventure Park, outside of Binghamton, NY: Internet star April the Giraffe and her zoo mate Oliver are expecting another baby in the spring!. Folks will recall the frenzy when the park streamed live footage of April pretty much doing nothing except eating, and sleeping, and eating, and sleeping, for what seemed like weeks on end last spring, with all of the excitement culminating in the birth of baby Tajiri. We're set to go through all of that again early next spring, although owner Jordan Patch noted that while the average or normal gestation period for giraffes is around 15 months, April likes to go longer.

Rod Rosenstein could have ended up on the short end of the stick this week, after the House Freedom Caucus decided to file a resolution of impeachment against him - but that was foiled when lame duck House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated he was not supportive of their shenanigans. The HFC gang decided to table their request and instead will maybe give Rosenstein a contempt of Congress citation if he doesn't start playing better in the sandbox with them.

TGIF, everyone.

July 25, 2018

Wondering on Wednesday (v140)

Have your phone calls been taped lately? Are you fighting with your former lawyer? If yes, you're just like the president!

I'm wondering how much attention we should be paying to a very short, garbled conversation about a deal between a con man and his lawyer, unless and until we know for sure whether anything illegal transpired?

I mean, we can spend all kinds of time talking about Trump's alleged year-long fling with a Playboy 'model' a decade before the election - but we shouldn't. We can spend all kinds of time talking about how the president lied or presented facts unsupported by any evidence, but we shouldn't - because that happens several times a day, on average, according to the Washington Post. We'd be better served, on the whole, if we spent hours talking about it when Trump tells the truth. That would seem significantly more newsworthy.

We could spend time, I guess, talking about whether Trump's former 'fixer' Michael Cohen is working harder trying to get a deal from the US attorneys in New York, or a pardon from Trump. And I wonder, if he does get a deal from the Feds, wouldn't that make him a better deal-maker than the president?

I wonder if Ivanka thought about turning her clothing line over to her brothers, the way her dad turned over the family business to them? Wouldn't that be better than throwing the whole thing out so she could focus on her work in Washington?  And speaking of Ivanka, I wonder if anyone's seen Jared lately?

We learned late today that Russian President Putin's invitation to the White House this fall, which I swear was supposed to align with Trump's military parade $12,000,000 publicity stunt, has been 'delayed' until sometime in 2019. So, I wonder if they realized that $12,000,000 is a pittance, a mere pittance I tell you, for a military parade especially if you're trying to impress a dictator?  Or is it really what National Security Advisor John Bolton said today.
The president believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we've agreed that it will be after the first of the year.
Or, I wonder, is it because it would be silly to have the Supreme Ruler here before the midterms and that the initial invitation was just not well thought out, as aren't many of the things that Trump tosses out like pitches at batting practice? 

And I have to wonder, is that carefully worded 'Putin's not coming' message really a message of another kind? You know -- to Mueller to wrap things up, or else?  To Rod Rosenstein to end Mueller's probe? To Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to get ready to fire Rosenstein if he doesn't pull the plug on Mueller?  I wonder....

What was the name of that old tale, the Saturday Night Massacre? And this fall will mark 45 years from that fateful October day. And Trump is POTUS #45. And on the blog Sacred Scribes Angel Numbers, Joanne Walmsley tells us that
Angel number 45 is a message from your angels to put your efforts towards the things in your life that embrace and enhance who you truly are, your lifestyle choices and your life in general. Be prepared to make necessary changes that will bring auspicious opportunities to advance you along your path. Trust that these changes will bring 'better' into your life in all aspects.
How can I not wonder?

July 23, 2018

The World According to Russia

What really happened at #HELLinHELSINKI2018 may never be known, unless the translator is compelled to tell us. We saw the American president's version of what Supposably happened; I thought it would be fun to check out what the Russian President said happened.  

Let's take a look
Thank you so much. Shall we start working, I guess? 
Distinguished Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. Negotiations with the President of the United States Donald Trump took place in a frank and businesslike atmosphere. I think we can call it a success and a very fruitful round of negotiations. 
So, it would seem there was some deal-making going on, right? Because otherwise, this would have been just a discussion, a conversation, or 'a couple of white presidents sitting around talking' I think.  
We carefully analyzed the current status – the present and the future of the Russia/United States' relationship – key issues of the global agenda.
It's quite clear to everyone that the bilateral relationship are going through a complicated stage and yet those impediments - the current tension, the tense atmosphere - essentially have no solid reason behind it. The Cold War is a thing of past. The era of acute ideological confrontation of the two countries is a thing of remote past, is a vestige of the past.
What's not clear is whether Putin thinks Russia and America share an ideology? He and Trump may share one - you know, building hotels for rich people in all the right places, for example, but I'm not sure anyone else agrees our two countries share the same ideology, much less acute one (sorry, couldn't resist). 
Today both Russia and the United States face a whole new set of challenges. Those include a dangerous maladjustment of mechanisms for maintaining international security and stability, regional crises, the creeping threats of terrorism and transnational crime, the snowballing problems in the economy, environmental risks and other sets of challenges.The situation in the world changed dramatically.
Right: Russia supports Assad, the butcher of Syria, and they continue having designs on Ukraine and Crimea (those hotels, you know), and our economy is doing just fine, we're told daily (hourly?) and our environmental issues will be gone soon with Trump's deregulation, and climate change doesn't exist, so what the heck is Putin talking about other than his own aggressive tendencies (and our bashing of NATO?)
We can only cope with these challenges if we join the ranks and work together, hopefully we will reach this understanding with our American partners.
If would have been interesting if there had been 'partners' in the room, rather than just Vlad and Donny to join ranks. 
Today's negotiations reflected our joint wish, our joint wish with President Trump to redress this negative situation in the bilateral relationship, outline the first steps for improving this relationship to restore the acceptable level of trust and going back to the previous level of interaction on all mutual interests issues.
Again with the negotiations.  What were the two of them negotiating?
As major nuclear powers, we bear special responsibility for maintaining international security... we mentioned this during the negotiations. It's crucial that we fine-tune the dialogue on strategic stability and global security and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
We submitted our American colleagues a note with a number of specific suggestions.
#ShowTheNote. #ShowTheNote. #ShowTheNote.
We believe it necessary to work together further to interact on the disarmament agenda, military and technical cooperation. This includes the extension of the strategic offensive arms limitation treaty. It's a dangerous situation with the global American anti-missile defense system. It's the implementation issues with the INF treaty. And, of course, the agenda of non-placement of weapons in space.
Here comes a good part - from the hacker to the hacked; from the meddler to the meddled:
We favor the continued cooperation in counter-terrorism and maintaining cyber security.
He mentioned the "truly great, one of the best ever"according to Trump World Cup as an example of our cooperation, but he didn't mention the 2016 president election, which was a supreme example of "cooperation" by the two sides, would you agree?
We also mentioned a plethora of regional crises. It's not always that our postures dovetail exactly, and yet the overlapping and mutual interests abound.
Abounding over to Syria, which Trump mentioned as a topic of conversation
We have to look for points of contact and interact closer in a variety of international fora. Clearly, we mentioned the regional crisis, for instance Syria. As far as Syria is concerned, the task of establishing peace and reconciliation in this country could be the first showcase example of this successful joint work. Russia and the United States apparently can act proactively and take leadership on this issue and organize the interaction to overcome humanitarian crisis and help Syrian refugees to go back to their homes...
And he talked about how we at least communicate enough to keep from having "dangerous incidents and unintentional collisions in the air and on the ground. As when Russian fighter jets buzzed our ships and stuff. 
Also crushing terrorists in the south west of Syria. The south of Syria should be brought to the full compliance with the Treaty of 1974 about the separation of forces, about separation of forces of Israel and Syria. This will bring peace to Golan Heights and bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel and also to provide security of the state of Israel. 
Mr. President paid special attention to the issue during today's negotiations. And I would like to confirm that Russia is interested in this development and this will act accordingly. Thus far, we will make a step toward creating a lasting peace in compliance with the respective resolutions of the Security Council, for instance the resolution 338.
He talked about the Korean peninsula and and thanked Trump for his personal engagement there., and also talked about the US withdrawal from the JCPOA - that's the Iran nuclear deal. 
Well, the U.S., our U.S. counterparts are aware of our posture. Let me remind you that thanks to the Iranian nuclear deal, Iran became the most controlled country in the world. It submitted to the control of IAEA. It effectively ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of Iranian nuclear program and strengthens the nonproliferation regime.
And he mentioned Ukraine. 
...we paid special attention to the bona fide implementation of Minsk agreements by Kiev. At the same time, the United States could be more decisive and nudging the Ukrainian leadership and encourage it work actively in this.
And the economy.
We paid more attention to economic ties and economic cooperation. It's clear that both countries, the business of both countries, are interested in this. American delegation was one of the largest delegations in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. It featured over 500 representatives from American businesses.
We agreed, and President Trump, we agreed to create the high level working group that would bring together captains of Russian and American business, entrepreneurs and businessmen know better how to articulate this successful business cooperation, will let them think and make their proposals and suggestions in this regard.
Oh yeah - the elections. The part where the president believed the foreign dictator instead of the entire US intelligence community.
Once again, President Trump mentioned the issue of the so-called interference of Russia when the American elections and I had to reiterate things I said several times, including during our personal contacts that the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere in the internal American affairs, including the election process.
And there was the Independence Day visit to Russia by a Republican congressional delegation, which was well received there, if not so much here.
As far as...I think you know that recently we hosted the American congressmen delegation and now it's perceived and portrayed almost as a historic event, although it should have been just a current affairs, just business as usual. And in this regard, we mentioned this proposal to the president. We have to think about the practicalities of our cooperation but also about the rationale, the underlying logic of it.
As to the future, Putin is looking for people with expertise to help make it better.
And we have to engage experts on bilateral relationship, who know history and the background of our relationship. The idea is to create an expert council that would include political scientists, prominent diplomats and former military experts in both countries, who would look for points of contact between two countries, that would look for ways on putting the relationship on the trajectory of growth.
And finally:
In general, we are glad the outcome of our first full-scale meeting because previously we only had a chance to talk briefly on international fora. We had a good conversation with President Trump and I hope that we start to understand each other better and I'm grateful to Donald for it. Clearly, there are some challenges left when we were not able to clear all the backlog but I think that we made the first important step in this direction.
Thank you for your attention.
Trump: We love you, Vlad!

July 22, 2018

Sunday School 7/22/18

Three classrooms today - ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Fox News Sunday with Brett Baier sitting in for Chris Wallace and Face The Nation with Margaret Brennan on CBS, which is where we'll start.

Brennan aired a recent interview with former Secretary of State John Kerry; he was not so impressed with the current president's performance, which should come as no surprise.
I found it shocking. I found it to be one of the most disgraceful, remarkable moments of kowtowing to a foreign leader by an American president that anyone has ever witnessed... The president stood there and did not defend our country. He stood there and did not defend the truth, he did not defend the facts... and the danger, it's dangerous -- because it sends a message to President Putin and to the rest of the world that the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, really doesn't have a handle on what he's doing, and that he doesn't, you know, know either what the facts are or he won't accept the facts. 
He was equally not impressed with the walkback, wondering how anyone can buy into the walkback when there are so many of them and the positions change all the time, causing a need for more walking back.

Brennan noted that Trump tells us the meddling all happened under President Obama's watch, and that Obama also didn't confront Putin publicly. Kerry pointed out  that Obama sent the unbiased experts out - DNI, CIA - to talk about it what we knew and stayed out of the fray himself. But there was that time in China when Obama pulled Putin aside.

Finally, in choosing not to comment on Trump's recent comments about Joe Biden (from his CBS News interview) Kerry noted something that we all should remember:
What he does is, he's always looking for the diversion, always moving away from the real business of our country because he doesn't know how to do the real business of our country.
Moving to Fox and Brett Baier's conversation with the ethically challenged Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) about Trump/Putin, about Brett Kavanaugh, and about the progressives in the Democratic Party. We'll take a look at his comments in that order.

On Russia:
You can speak to adversaries, but at the end of the day you have to do it in a way in which you challenge them. The president seems to want to be chummy with Putin instead of challenging him...
Trump should be challenging Putin on international law violations, on Syria, on Crimea... And, while he may have done that behind closed doors, he should have done it after their meeting - as in
...when you had an opportunity to show the world, all of our allies, show NATO, show the free world that you would in fact were not supplicant to Vladimir Putin, but a challenge to him, you failed to do so. 
On Kavanaugh, and specifically the simple majority requirement for Supremes initiated by Mitch McConnell
There will come a moment in which they'll regret that and, you know, if this continues, we are going to have a Senate not as the Founders of the Constitution and the Framers of the Constitution imagined, it will just be a majority vote institution like the House of Representatives and that will dramatically change the country.
And on the progressives within the Dem's gang, specifically Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who's been hanging with fake Democrat Bernie Sanders, selling an agenda that apparently includes the end of capitalism and references an Israeli occupation of Palestine. I'm with Menendez on this.
Look, that's their agenda. And, you know, under our democracy, everybody has their agenda. I've seen extreme right wing agendas that I disagree with equally as well. 
Finally, to This Week and and Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor to President Obama. She too reminded us that Trump's initial sanctions against Russia came after a 98-2 vote in the Senate pretty much shaming him into them. And that Trump's policies are service Putin's interests, not so much the interests of the US and our allies. And, in reference to the private meeting, she was pretty clear.
It was a historic mistake to allow the president of the United States -- not just Donald Trump, but any president, frankly -- to sit for two hours without any note-takers, without any aides present, with one of the most adversarial leaders of the world relative to the United States. 
And on how Trump blames Obama and other Presidents for the current state of relations with Russia, she pulled no punches.
So, you know, president Trump can throw all kinds of epithets around. It seems that's how he likes to govern, but the facts are the facts and the reality is, the United States, on a bipartisan basis, needs to be unified in its opposition to Russia's policies, to its efforts to undermine our democracy and our domestic political discourse, and we shouldn't be casting aspersions on one's predecessors, we should be looking Putin squarely in the eye and delivering the message that supports United States interests, not Russian interests.
See you around campus.

Meanwhile, Back in Albany (v17)

Nathaniel Brooks/NY Times
For the second time, former NY State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam were found guilty of corruption charges.  

Previously convicted in back in 2015, that verdict was thrown out and a new trial ordered based on a Supreme Court decision in another dirty politician's trial. The Skelos case was kicked off by former US Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by the Trump Administration, as happens sometimes when administrations change. (Bharara is now more than holding his own on social media, hosting a podcast on NPR and otherwise keeping us in the know.) 

And yes, while the trial was in Manhattan, the case has legs beyond the boundaries of New York City.  Because, meanwhile back in Albany, these are just a couple more convictions in a list of convictions on ethics-related charges that have occured in the past few years, reinforcing the message that we need to do something about the people we elect, the people they appoint, and how they all operate.

Who's in the rogue's gallery, in addition to Skelos? Here's a partial list, covering the nine years I've been publishing veritable pastiche of just the convicted state pols, not the 'resigned in disgrace because of a sex scandal' gang or any who served at the federal level:
  • Sheldon Silver, Assembly Leader
  • Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous
  • Senate Minority Leader John L Sampson
  • Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith
  • Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa
  • Assemblyman William Boyland
  • Assemblyman Eric Stevenson
  • Assemblyman Nelson Castro
  • State Senator Shirley Huntley
  • Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, Jr.
  • State Senator Vincent Leibell
  • State Senator Nicholas Spano
  • State Comptroller Alan Hevesi
  • State Senator Carl Kruger
  • State Senator Hiram Monserrate
  • State Senator Efrain Gonzalez, Jr.
  • State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello
Pretty impressive, kinda sorta, isn't it? You know, in a shameful kind of way, or in a 'seriously, we can't do better than this?" kind of way.

We've tried to address this, in any number of ways, including suggesting that the legislators get paid more so they would be less tempted to be bad.

We've tried passing ethics legislation - that didn't work, either.  And we had our Sonofa Gov's Moreland Commission, which was abruptly cancelled just when things started getting interesting.

Do we maybe just need better people?

July 20, 2018

TGIF 7/20/18

I know the weeks are only seven days long, but sometimes they seem way longer, don't they?

Like this one.  "Take this week - please!"

I mean, we had
  • #HELLinHELSINKI2018 and then we had the 
  • #ligthsoff thing at the meeting when the president tried to explain himself and then we had the 
  • #whatthesniff reaction with the would/wouldn't thing, and then we had the
  • #maybemaybenot part about letting Putin interrogate a former ambassador and then we had
  • #WWIIIwithlovefromMontenegro and then we had
  • #caughtoffguard at the security summit with the announcement that we might be
  • #Putinonairs in the fall if the Russian president decides to come here, and of course that assumes
  • #nocollusiondoesntmeannoindictment but we'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

What else happened this week?

Sean Spicer's back in the news. He's not hiding in the bushes, not this time: he's out with his book, The Briefing: Politics, The Press, and The President. The book includes passages like this one:
I don't think we will ever again see a candidate like Donald Trump. His high-wire act is one that few could ever follow. He is a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow. 
Uh... I guess this next part explains the whole unicorn upon a unicorn thing:
His verbal bluntness involves risks that few candidates would dare take. His ability to pivot from a seemingly career-ending moment to a furious assault on his opponents is a talent few politicians can muster.
That last part is true, even if the whole unicorn thing is sort of like a Sean Spicer press conference.

TGIF, folks.

July 19, 2018

OrangeVerse XXXIV: Supposably

Yes, I know it's not supposedly not supposably, but since I'm quoting the president, well, you know. And supposably, here's what happened when presidents Trump and Putin had their private meeting at  #HELLinHELSINKI2018.

 Supposably I

We made significant
progress towards addressing
some of the worst conflicts on Earth. 
So when I met
President Putin for
about two and a half hours
we talked about numerous things.
And among those things
are the problems that you see in the
Middle East where they are
very much involved
we're very much involved.
Supposably II 
 I entered the negotiations
with President Putin from a position
of tremendous strength.
Our economy is booming. And our military 
is being funded $700 billion this year
$716 billion next year.
It will be more powerful as a military 
than we've ever had before.
Supposably III
President Putin and I addressed
the range of issues starting with 
the civil war in Syria... 
We also spoke of Iran...
As most of you know
we ended the Iran deal
which was one of the worst deals
anyone could imagine and
that's had a major impact on Iran
and it's substantially weakened Iran
and we hope that at some point Iran
will call us and we'll maybe make a 
new deal or maybe we won't.
But Iran is not the same country
that it was five months ago
that I can tell you...
They've got some big problems
 that they can solve probably 
much easier if  they deal with us
so we'll see what happens
but we did discuss Iran.
 Supposably IV
We discussed Israel
and the security of Israel
and President Putin is very
much involved with us
in a discussion with Bibi...
A major topic of discussion was
North Korea and the need
for it to remove its nuclear weapons.
President Putin agrees with me 100 percent...
Discussions are ongoing
and they're going very very well.
We have no rush for speed...
We have no time limit.
We have no speed limit
We have -- we're just
going through the process.
But the relationships are very good.
President Putin is going 
to be involved in the sense that he is with us. 
He would like to see that happen.
Supposably V
Perhaps the most important issue
we discussed at our meeting...
was the reduction of nuclear weapons
throughout the world. 
The United States and Russia
have 90 percent as I said
and we could have a big impact. 
But nuclear weapons is I think,
the greatest threat of
our world today. 
And they're a great nuclear power.
We're a great nuclear power.
We have to do something
about nuclear.
And so that was a matter that we discussed
actually in great detail and
President Putin agrees with me.
Supposably VI
The matters we discussed are profound
in their importance and have
the potential to save millions of lives.
I understand the many disagreements
between our countries but I also
understand the dialogue - 
and when you think about it -
dialogue with Russia or dialogue
with other countries.
So if we get along with them, great.
If we don't get along with them
then, well, we won't get along with them...

Supposably VII

I thought that the meeting I had
with President Putin was really
strong. I think that they are willing 
to do things that frankly I wasn't sure
whether or not they would be willing to do 
and we'll be having future meetings
and we'll see whether or not
that comes to fruition

July 18, 2018

Trump in Transition (v31)

Here we watch the president try and transition from a liar to an honest person who just made a mistake.

You know, he just misspoke.  Here, I'll show you.
Thank you, everybody. Yesterday, I returned from a trip from Europe where I met with leaders from across the region to seek a more peaceful future for the United States. We’re working very hard with our allies, and all over the world we’re working. We’re going to have peace. That’s what we want; that’s what we’re going to have. I say peace through strength.
See - peace through strength, just like Ronald Reagan. And Hadrian.
I have helped the NATO Alliance greatly by increasing defense contributions from our NATO Allies by over $44 billion.  And Secretary Stoltenberg was fantastic.  As you know, he reported that they’ve never had an increase like this in their history, and NATO was actually going down as opposed to going up.  And I increased it by my meeting last year — $44 billion.  And this year will be over — it will be hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming years.
Damn, that pesky inflation.  Just last week, president Trump claimed that he was responsible for a $33 billion increase, now it's a $44 billion increase?  This man is a GENIUS, I tell you!
And I think there’s great unity with NATO. There’s a lot of very positive things happening. There’s a great spirit that we didn’t have before, and there’s a lot of money that they’re putting up. They weren’t paying their bills on time, and now they’re doing that. And I want to just say thank you very much to Secretary Stoltenberg. He really has been terrific. So we had a tremendous success.
Even though some of the people present disagree with his characterization, but hey - he sells the story he wants to sell.
I also had meetings with Prime Minister May on the range of issues concerning our special relationship, and that’s between the United Kingdom and ourselves.  We met with the Queen, who is absolutely a terrific person, where she reviewed her Honor Guard for the first time in 70 years, they tell me. We walked in front of the Honor Guard, and that was very inspiring to see and be with her. And I think the relationship, I can truly say, is a good one.  But she was very, very inspiring indeed.
So, he left out the part about bashing the Prime Minister, which I hope was one of the issued concerning our special relationship that they talked about. And he lied about the Queen reviewing her honor guard, but hey -- who cares, right? It's like breathing: in with the good air, out with a lie.
Most recently, I returned from Helsinki, Finland, and I was going to give a news conference over the next couple of days about the tremendous success. Because as successful as NATO was, I think this was our most successful visit. And that had to do, as you know, with Russia.
And Vlad - it had to to with Vlad.
I met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing humanity. We have never been in a worse relationship with Russia than we are as of a few days ago, and I think that’s gotten substantially better. And I think it has the possibility of getting much better. And I used to talk about this during the campaign. Getting along with Russia would be a good thing. Getting along with China would be a good thing. Not a bad thing; a good thing. In fact, a very good thing.
Now, we have no clue what "some of the most pressing issues facing humanity" include, because  someone, or several someones, inexplicably let Trump and Putin have two hours alone, with translators. A number of senators are calling for Trump's translator to testify before Congress to tell them what the hell Trump might have promised.
We’re nuclear powers — great nuclear powers.  Russia and us have 90 percent of the nuclear weapons. So I’ve always felt getting along is a positive thing, and not just for that reason. I entered the meeting with the firm conviction that diplomacy and engagement is better than hostility and conflict.
And I feel that with everybody. We have 29 members in NATO, as an example, and I have great relationships — or at least very good relationships — with everybody. The press covered it quite inaccurately.  They said I insulted people.  Well, if asking for people to pay up money that they are supposed to pay is insulting, maybe I did.  But I can tell you, when I left, everybody was thrilled.  And that’s the way this was, too.
The press? Yeah, that's the enemy of the people. The insult part? That's in the eyes of the beholder, and the other people who were there, and of course the very hangry General Kelly.
My meeting with President Putin was really interesting in so many different ways because we haven’t had relationships with Russia for a long time, and we started. Let me begin by saying that, once again, the full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies — I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies.
Whoops, they just turned off the light. That must be the intelligence agents. (Laughter.)  There it goes. Okay. You guys okay? Good. (Laughter.) That was strange. But that’s okay.
So that was the only part that had anyone laughing.
So I’ll begin by stating that I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies. Always have. And I have felt very strongly that, while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there.
So, you see what he did there, right? He lied about accepting our intelligence community's conclusion, because no one in the intelligence community - 17 agencies or whatever the count is - has ever suggested it was anyone other than Russia. Just Russia. No one but Russia. Russia alone. You know, like Trump alone can fix this. So, for him in the same breath to say "I accept" and "could be other people too" is impossible. I mean, a lot of impossible right there.
There was no collusion at all.  And people have seen that, and they’ve seen that strongly.  The House has already come out very strongly on that. A lot of people have come out strongly on that.
Every day, every several times a day he mentions there was no collusion, is he trying to convince me or trying to convince himself?
I thought that I made myself very clear by having just reviewed the transcript. Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, “What is going on? What’s the big deal?” So I got a transcript.  I reviewed it. I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realized that there is need for some clarification.
The 'big deal' he's talking about is that even people on his own network were slamming him for his comments at the press conference, where he refused to challenge Putin on election interference.
It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia. So just to repeat it, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative. 
So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.
 And I laughed and laughed, because everyone knows that's a load of crap. Everyone.
I have, on numerous occasions, noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections.  Unlike previous administrations, my administration has and will continue to move aggressively to repeal any efforts — and repel — we will stop it, we will repel it — any efforts to interfere in our elections. We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.
Pretty sure he was going to repeal and replace something with that part, don't you think?  And we're doing everything in our power except calling out the guy who did it, right? And we're doing everything in our power, including scaring our allies. And we're doing everything in our power except we're not really doing anything, are we, other than our damnedest to undermine the efforts of our intelligence community and our justice community, but hey...
And we have a lot of power.  As you know, President Obama was given information just prior to the election — last election, 2016 — and they decided not to do anything about it.  The reason they decided that was pretty obvious to all: They thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and they didn’t think it was a big deal.
That was part of it -- and not wanting to interfere, and strongly warning Putin multiple times, and more. But that's not important.
When I won the election, they thought it was a very big deal.  And all of the sudden they went into action, but it was a little bit late. So he was given that in sharp contrast to the way it should be. And President Obama, along with Brennan and Clapper and the whole group that you see on television now — probably getting paid a lot of money by your networks — they knew about Russia’s attempt to interfere in the election in September, and they totally buried it. And as I said, they buried it because they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win. It turned out it didn’t happen that way.
Dear God, man - we know you won the election for Pete's sake.
By contrast, my administration has taken a very firm stance — it’s a very firm stance — on a strong action. We’re going to take strong action to secure our election systems and the process.  Furthermore, as has been stated — and we’ve stated it previously and on many occasions:No collusion.
N-n-n-no-collusion. N-n-n-no- collusion. N-N-N-NO-COLLUSION
So I just wanted to clear up, I have the strongest respect for our intelligence agencies headed by my people. We have great people, whether it’s Gina or Dan Coats, or any of them.  I mean, we have tremendous people, tremendous talent within the agencies.  I think they’re being guided properly. And we all want the same thing; we want success for our country.
And I think he thinks if he says it enough times, he'll believe it. And we'll believe it, too.


July 16, 2018

Trump in Transition (v30)

Yep -- had to call out the big version of the picture of the person we allow to sit in the Oval Office. Because he truly stuck it to America today, as the #HellinHelsinki2018 summit. #MAGA and all that crap.

From the president's personal Twitter account, on the eve of the meeting with the object of his affection - a dictator who rules his country like a boss, as they say in those ridiculous car commercials - the president continued to foment hatred in our country, while pretending that he has nothing to do with it.

Take a look at his three tweets all rolled into one, to help with your appreciation of it.
Heading to Helsinki, Finland - looking forward to meeting with President Putin tomorrow. Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn't good enough - that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition! Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people and all the Dems know how to do is resist and obstruct! This is why there is such dissension in our country.. but at some point, it will heal!
Later, he noted
Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!
Which was retweeted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, with a "We agree" comment added.

Some have suggested perhaps the Cuban Missile crisis might, just maybe, possibly could have been worser, but when you're a narcissist as bigly as Trump, there can be no comparison.

And, he offered:
As I said today and many times before, "I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people." However I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past - as the world's two largest nuclear powers, we must get along. #HELSINKI2018
We cannot exclusively focus on the past?  That's a laugh.

Well, it's actually a bunch of crap, because he can't get his face out of the rear view mirror long enough to stop worrying about and talking about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, unless it's to talk about Andrew Jackson or Abraham Lincoln or those good white supremacists we all know and love.

In between the tweets was a two-hour long private meeting with the real dictator, the wannabe dictator and their translators (no staff, no Jared, no nothing), and after that there was a press conference that that can only be described as frighteningly bizarre and extraordinarily embarrassing to the United States.

Well, it could be called described as treasonous, as former CIA director John Brennan suggested. But I digress.

In the press conference, Trump said this in response to a very direct question about Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether, with the whole world watching, he would he call out Putin and tell him never to do it again.
So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server, have they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I've been wondering that, I've been asking that for months and months, I've been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media, Where is the server, I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying?  
With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they came to me and said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia.
I will say this, I don't see any reason why it WOULD be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have, I have confidence in both parties, I really do believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don't think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server, what happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman who worked on the DNC, where are those servers, they're MISSING, where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton's emails, 33,000 emails gone, just gone.
I think in Russia they wouldn't be gone so easily. I think it's a disgrace that we can't get Hillary Clinton's 33,000 emails.
I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today, and what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer.
 We transcribe, you decide.