Record Number Of Imprisoned Journalists At Historical High With Actions Against Journalists Encouraged By Donald Trump

The Committee To Protect Journalists reports that, for the second year in a row, the number of journalists in prison around the world is at a historical high. They also argue that Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press contribute to the problem. From their report:

The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide hit another new record in 2017, and for the second consecutive year more than half of those jailed for their work are behind bars in Turkey, China, and Egypt. The pattern reflects a dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press.

Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoricfixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, rose to a record 21…

In China, the number of journalists behind bars rose to 41 from 38 a year earlier. On a visit to Beijing in November, Trump made no public reference to human rights, despite an ongoing crackdown that has led to the arrests of Chinese journalists, activists, and lawyers. With tensions high between the U.S. and China’s neighbor North Korea, and Trump keen to renegotiate the trade balance with Beijing, “Trump seemed to signal a reversal of roles: the United States may now need China’s help more than the other way around,” The New York Times wrote.

The visit came shortly after Xi tightened his grip on power at the Communist Party Congress, where his name was written into the Constitution and no successor was identified. According to news reports, analysts don’t expect improvement in human rights.

PolitiFact Awards Trump Lie of The Year Award Regarding Russia But Unfortunately Ignores Lies Which Promote Anti-Russia Hysteria

PolitiFact has awarded Donald Trump the lie of the year for calling interference in the Russian election a “made-up story.” They are correct that Trump has been lying in saying Russia is a “made-up story.” What they miss is that Clinton and many Democrats have also been lying in going far beyond the evidence to use this to excuse Clinton’s loss and to spread anti-Russia hysteria. Their summary of the issue does make many good points, but also leaves out important additional information to place this in context. As a result, while there is no question that Russia attempted to interfere, and they do note that the interference was unlikely to have changed the result of the election, readers of their article do not get the full picture.

There is no question that Russia interfered in the election. Both Russia and the United States have intervened in foreign elections for decades, so it was absurd for Trump to deny any interference. According to a paper on election meddling reviewed by Slate:

Using declassified documents, statements by officials, and journalistic accounts, Levin has found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3 percent of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. Eighty-one of those interventions were by the U.S. while 36 were by the USSR/Russia. They happened in every region of the world, though most commonly in Europe and Latin America. The two powers tended to focus on different countries, though Italy was a favorite of both, receiving eight interventions by the U.S. and four by the Soviets.

What PolitiFact gets wrong is in their interpretation of the information released in the Congressional testimony, leading to them exaggerating the importance of Russia’s interference in 2016 compared to previous years.  PolitiFact notes that, “Facebook estimated that 126 million people were served Russia-influenced content during the two-year period before the election.” This number means far less when put in perspective, with this representing a minuscule portion of Facebook traffic despite sounding like a large number.

When looking at a number like 126 million it is also important to note that Russian-purchased Facebook ads accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. While PolitiFact is correct that, “Some ads were overtly anti-Clinton,” it leaves out the fact that many of the ads were not anti-Clinton, and many had nothing to do with the election. Many seemed more designed to receive hits than to affect the election result.  Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election. The biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election. The impact on Twitter was not any more significant. The largest of the alleged Russian troll pages had 25,045 followers at its peak, and the others had far fewer.

Similarly there has been a tremendous amount of false or misleading news reports, which were later retracted regarding Russia, which could have influenced readers of PolitFact to rank this lie from Trump as more important than it actually was. It is notable that this was chosen as lie of the year based upon the votes of readers, not any objective measure.

It is significant that Russia did have reason to oppose Clinton in the election. They noted, but played down, how Clinton has also meddled in the Russian election in opposing Putin. With Clinton having a long history of belligerency towards Russia, and with her aligned with neocons who have promoted regime change in Russia, Putin had additional reason to take a side. A recent story in The Atlantic notes:

Putin had always been suspicious of democracy promotion, but two moments convinced him that America was coming for him under its guise. The first was the 2011 nato intervention in Libya, which led, ultimately, to the ousting and gruesome lynching of the Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. Afterward, many people who interacted with Putin noticed how deeply Qaddafi’s death troubled him. He is said to have watched the video of the killing over and over. “The way Qaddafi died made a profound impact on him,” says Jake Sullivan, a former senior State Department official who met repeatedly with senior Russian officials around that time. Another former senior Obama-administration official describes Putin as “obsessed” with Qaddafi’s death. (The official concedes, “I think we did overreach” in Libya.)

Of course the regime change in Libya was orchestrated by Hillary Clinton, based upon lies. Many of our current problems stem from the irresponsible actions of neocons like Clinton and Bush. Besides affecting US relations with Russia, Clinton’s actions in Libya are directly responsible for the problems we now face in North Korea.

Clinton and many Democrats have been spreading their own lies about Russia to shift the blame for Clinton losing an election against an opponent as terrible as Donald Trump. As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability.

While Trump has been lying about Russia, the more important aspects of this story involve financial crimes such as money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Trump has certainly lied in denying that Russia has meddled in our election, but the Democrats have also been lying about the situation, which can lead to catastrophic consequences when applied to a nuclear power, along with encouraging McCarthyism at home by many Democrats.

Tillerson May Have Called Trump A Moron But Is Not Likely To Be Fired

By most accounts, Rex Tillerson is doing a terrible job as Secretary of State, and has alienated many potential allies, but we do have to give him some points for if he really called Donald Trump a moron after a July 20 meeting. With all his faults he is still more rational than Trump (who is a moron, after all). For example, Tillerson has wanted to negotiate with North Korea, while Trump said he is wasting his time doing so.

While there has been speculation Tillerson might be leaving the State Department, I’ve seen good arguments as to why he is not likely to either be fired or quit. Buzzfeed explained why he will most likely be staying around longer:

One US official expressed confidence in Tillerson’s status due to a so-called “suicide pact” forged between Defense Secretary James Mattis, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Tillerson whereby all three cabinet secretaries vow to leave in the event that the president makes moves against one of them.

Other Trump insiders point to the potentially hefty tax bill Tillerson would have to pay if he resigns before serving a year in government.

Of course I write this realizing that Trump has often done things which others thought was  unlikely, so I will have to hedge a bit on this prediction.

The Anti-Russia Hysteria Continues To Defy All Logic

Clinton apologists and other pro-war Democrats are excited today by the report from the Daily Beast that Russians used Facebook to promote pro-Trump rallies in seventeen cities. Do they really believe that these rallies tipped the election results? These were trivial compared to the crowds turning out for official pro-Trump rallies. What hurt Clinton was not these allegedly Russian-organized rallies, but the fact that so few people had any interest to turn out to see her.

It is certainly possible that Russia did violate US elections laws, but it is probably impossible in the internet age to enforce laws intended to prevent foreigners to spend money to promote a candidate in our elections. It does make sense that Russia would want to affect the election. They had a lot at stake. One candidate was a neocon who associated with people who desired regime change in Russia, and who has a long history of supporting a return to a Cold War atmosphere at least. The other candidate appeared far more willing to normalize relations between the United States and Russia. (Unfortunately, while not a neocon, Trump shows his own lack of respect for peace and international law, such as with his speech to the United Nations on North Korea, although it did include mixed messages.)

The $100,000 which Russia is believed to have spent on influencing the election is trivial, especially when compared to the amounts spent by other groups. This is also trivial compared to the actions by the United States to influence the elections in other countries.

It is rather hypocritical Hillary Clinton to deny the legitimacy of the general election, where there is far less evidence of any rigging compared to the Democratic primary system. The Democrats have used rules since 1972 to limit the possible choices in their primaries, and greatly increased their interference with the process to guarantee their desired outcome in 2016. The nomination of a candidate who required such a degree of unfair help to win the nomination is a far more important reason for Clinton’s loss than any meddling by Russia. Clinton’s attacks on the legitimacy of the election also contradicts her attacks on Donald Trump, calling any refusal on his part to accept the election results “a direct threat to our democracy.”

The concentration by Clinton apologists on Russian spending on Facebook ads and trolls also raises the question as to why they were so much more effective than the ads and trolls (both paid and volunteer) used by the Clinton campaign. Facebook tends to create a number of echo chambers, but it is questionable how much impact it has on changing people’s minds.

As Shattered revealed, Hillary Clinton latched onto the argument that others such as Russia were responsible within twenty-four hours of her loss to shift the blame elsewhere. With the claims that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack coming under increased question, they apparently see this as their strongest remaining case, regardless of how irrational this argument is. As I discussed yesterday, Peter Daou tried to lend credence to the argument with the absurd claim that, “If one mind was changed, if one voter was turned against Clinton, Russian interference altered the outcome.”

While the extent of Russian interference in the election remains under investigation, at this point there is zero evidence that Russia had any effect on the outcome. Peter Daou’s standard of one vote being affected is obviously absurd. Regardless of whether the evidence ultimately shows that Russia had an effect, there is no question that Clinton and her allies started making this claim with zero evidence in order to shift the blame for her loss. Unfortunately this has significance far beyond the fate of a failed presidential candidate. The greatest fear in seeing Clinton elected was that her election would lead to increased warfare, including a major deterioration in US-Russian relations. The Queen of Chaos threatens to bring this about even after losing.

Democrats Dreading Damage From Clinton Book Tour

Hillary Clinton has become the Democrats worst nightmare. She managed to run a campaign which was so poorly run that she could not even beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump. Now her actions, and the actions of her most fanatic supporters like Peter Daou, threaten further damage to the party. Politico writes, Democrats dread Hillary’s book tour: Reliving the 2016 nightmare is the last thing the party needs right now, many say.

Democratic operatives can’t stand the thought of her picking the scabs of 2016, again — the Bernie Sanders divide, the Jim Comey complaints, the casting blame on Barack Obama for not speaking out more on Russia. Alums of her Brooklyn headquarters who were miserable even when they thought she was winning tend to greet the topic with, “Oh, God,” “I can’t handle it,” and “the final torture.”

…“Maybe at the worst possible time, as we are fighting some of the most high-stakes policy and institutional battles we may ever see, at a time when we’re trying to bring the party together so we can all move the party forward — stronger, stronger together,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, a Democrat who represents a Northern California district. “She’s got every right to tell her story. Who am I to say she shouldn’t, or how she should tell it? But it is difficult for some of us, even like myself who’ve supported her, to play out all these media cycles about the blame game, and the excuses.”

In a tweet late Tuesday night, Huffman pleaded with Clinton to stop blaming Sanders for her loss, as she partly does in the book, according to excerpts that leaked ahead of its release. Huffman said the tweet had gotten a lot of “likes” from his colleagues — albeit in private conversations with him.

“There is a collective groan,” he said, “whenever there’s another news cycle about this.”

The Hill similarly reports, Clinton’s score-settling frustrates Democrats.

Clinton says that Sanders’s attacks did “lasting damage” to her general election hopes. She accuses him of “paving the way” for Trump to cast her as a corrupt corporate stooge deserving of the nickname “Crooked Hillary.”

Sanders brushed off Clinton’s criticism in a Wednesday interview with The Hill, saying it’s time for Democrats to “look forward, not backward.”

Not everyone was so charitable. Even some of Clinton’s allies have grown weary of her insistence on re-litigating the 2016 campaign at a time when the Democratic Party is looking to forge a new identity in the age of Trump.

“The best thing she could do is disappear,” said one former Clinton fundraiser and surrogate who played an active role at the convention. “She’s doing harm to all of us because of her own selfishness. Honestly, I wish she’d just shut the f— up and go away.”

…Those daunting challenges have some Democrats fuming at what they view as Clinton’s petty post-election score settling.

“None of this is good for the party,” said one former Obama aide. “It’s the Hillary Show, 100 percent. A lot of us are scratching our heads and wondering what she’s trying to do. It’s certainly not helpful.”

My response to her attacks on Bernie Sanders were posted here. Besides attacking Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton has attacked Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and the DNC in post-election statements and in her book, further burning bridges with Democrats.

Excerpts from Clinton’s book repeat the same type of bogus talking points we have heard, and dismissed, from Clinton supporters for months. It doesn’t help matters that the book is coming out at the same time that Peter Daou has started a Clinton propaganda site (Verrit.com) which has received a tremendous amount of mocking. (I have posted about it here and here). It is packed with talking points in the format of the graphic here, except I added my own message.

Politico Magazine was even harder on Verrit in an article entitled This Pro-Hillary Website Looks Like North Korean Agitprop: Peter Daou, the prickly pro-Clinton operative, has launched a propaganda rag so shameless it would make Kim Jong Un blush.

Who would buy stock in a twice-defeated presidential candidate?

If the candidate under question is Hillary Clinton, that zealous buyer would be Peter Daou, one-time rocker, seasoned political blogger, former campaign adviser to John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, ambitious litigantpropagandist and internet entrepreneur. A couple of days ago, Daou launched his self-funded Verrit.com, a slavishly pro-Clinton site (endorsed by Hillary!) to carry on her failed crusade.

The derision greeting Verrit is so universal it inspires sympathy for Daou, as Gizmodo, the Washington PostOutlineNew RepublicNew YorkThe Ringer and others have broken its back with their snap judgments. “Verrit, a Media Company for Almost Nobody,” read one headline. “No One Asked for Verrit, But Here We Are,” stated another. “What Is Verrit and Why Should I Care? (Unclear; You Shouldn’t.),” said a third. “Peter Daou Continues to Embarrass Hillary Clinton,” asserted the best in show…

As Daou’s Verrit manifesto puts it, the site hopes to become the trusted source for the 65.8 million voters who cast their ballots last November for Clinton and who seek verified “facts” they can use to argue politics. In theory, everybody needs a cheat sheet. In practice, the Verrit method is cringe-worthy. The headline to one early Verrit borrows from the literary methods of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea to assert, “Hillary Democrats Are the Heart and Conscience of America.” Does anybody outside of the Daou re-education camp really think this way?

When it comes to criticism, Daou isn’t just a snowflake. He’s a snow squall, equating most criticism of Clinton (or criticism of Daou) with the desire to erase Clinton and Clintonites. Early this year, he telegraphed his irrational partisanship by tweeting that anybody tweeting “Bernie would have won” in his timeline would earn “an instant block” from his account. “Useless and baseless conjecture. Betrays someone unfocused on the challenge ahead,” Daou continued.

His is a reductionist world where evidence of misogyny and sexism can be deduced from almost any political discussion of Madame Secretary. When Verrit launched, it inspired not only a mudslide of negative reviews but an ugly denial-of-service attack on his servers. From this rocky reception, Daou didn’t extract the perennial lesson that politics ain’t beanbag. He didn’t cinch up and concede that political passions will cause folks to overheat. Instead, he flew to Twitter and raged in all caps, “PEOPLE ARE STILL TERRIFIED OF HILLARY. PEOPLE STILL WANT TO DESTROY HILLARY. PEOPLE WANT TO SILENCE ANYONE WHO SUPPORTS HER.”

Terrified? Destroy? Silence? I’d love to see the serial numbers on those “facts.”

As the New Republic’s Sarah Jones pointed out, Verrit’s early shilling for Clinton easily veers into propaganda when it posts headlines like “Sanders and the Mainstream Media Helped Put Trump in the White House.” Such headlines present Clinton as a victim, denying her any agency, and blaming all of her failures on the press and Bernie Sanders. To dwell on this Verrit for just one more beat, is it safe to say that somebody out there is still terrified of Bernie, that somebody out there still wants to destroy Bernie, and that somebody wants to silence anyone who supported him.

All of these attempts to cover up Clinton’s failures are not fooling the majority of Americans. As Politco also reports on the latest polls, Trump hits new low in public opinion — but he’s still beating Hillary Clinton.

Just 36 percent of those reached by pollsters said they have either very or somewhat positive feelings about Trump, 2 points lower than in the poll’s June iteration. But at 36 percent, Trump still finished 6 points higher than Clinton, his 2016 Democratic opponent, about whom just 30 percent of respondents said they feel either very or somewhat positive.

If Clinton had just stayed quiet after the election, she might have had a chance to avoid becoming even less liked than Donald Trump.

Trump Support Falls With Increased Speculation That Trump Will Be Impeached Or Resign To Avoid Prison

Donald Trump’s unwillingness to consistently take a stand against white supremacists might have been the last straw placed upon an administration which is both failing to have its agenda passed and which is under investigation. He is losing support from members of his own party. There is increased talk about the possibility of impeachment or even his resignation.

First Read summarized the position which Trump is in:

The president’s job approval rating hovers between 35 percent and 40 percent. Key American corporations have withdrawn from his business-advisory councils after the response to Charlottesville. He’s regularly lashing out at members of his own party. His top advisers are calling up liberal publications — and letting loose. Forty percent of Americans want him impeached, according to a new poll.

And we’re on the 210th day of his time in office (without a major legislative accomplishment under his belt, and with a special counsel already investigating him and his team).

Here’s the thing: We have no idea how this all plays out for President Trump and his administration. We’ve seen Trump survive past controversies (Khizr Khan, Access Hollywood), but he no longer has an opponent/foil like Hillary Clinton.

We’ve seen past presidents (LBJ, Nixon, Clinton) endure their share of turbulent times, but it’s never come this early in a presidency. And we’ve never seen so many members of the president’s own political party openly criticize him, but still vote for his agenda most of the time.

Using the words “uncharted waters” has become a bit cliché during the Trump Era — everything has been so different. But there also are no better words to use right now. And the turmoil comes at a pressing time: escalating tensions with North Korea, a debt ceiling that needs to be raised, and midterm elections that are right around the corner.

The Fix reports on how Republicans are unwilling to appear on not only NBC but Fox to defend Trump:

Congress is in recess, but Republicans are in hiding, apparently unsure how to answer questions about President Trump’s response to last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville — and unwilling to try.

“We invited every single Republican senator on this program tonight — all 52,” Chuck Todd said on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” on Wednesday. “We asked roughly a dozen House Republicans, including a bunch of committee chairs, and we asked roughly a half dozen former Republican elected officials, and none of them agreed to discuss this issue with us today.”

That’s about 70 rejections altogether, and other news anchors had the same experience on Wednesday — even on Fox News.

“Our booking team — and they’re good — reached out to Republicans of all stripes across the country today,” Shepard Smith told his viewers. “Let’s be honest: Republicans often don’t really mind coming on Fox News Channel. We couldn’t get anyone to come and defend him here. Because we thought, in balance, someone should do that. We worked very hard at it throughout the day, and we were unsuccessful.”

With support so low, a story from the Brookings Institute (and reprinted by Newsweek) speculates that, Trump Is Just Six Senate Votes From Impeachment.

At some point in 2019 (if not sooner) a Republican Senator may walk into the Oval Office and say to President Trump: “Mr. President, we don’t have the votes,” at which point the Trump presidency will end in a resignation or a conviction in the Senate.

This scenario actually occurred forty-three years ago this summer when Republican Senator Barry Goldwater walked into the Oval Office and told Republican President Richard Nixon that they didn’t have the votes in the Senate to save his presidency.

Following impeachment in the House, a trial takes place in the Senate. Conviction requires two-thirds of the Senate and by my count there are already twelve senators who have shown a willingness to take on the president when they believe he is in the wrong.

If you add that to the forty-eight Democrats in the Senate (who have shown no inclination to work with this President), Donald Trump could be six votes away from conviction in the Senate…

The article goes on to list Republican Senators who have been critical of Trump. Of course being unwilling to publicly defend Trump, or even to criticize him, does not necessarily mean they would vote to remove him from office. Even if these Republicans would support removing Trump from office, this would also require a majority in the Republican controlled House, and winning over six additional Republican Senators. This could be complicated by many Republican voters still sticking with Trump.

Tony Schwartz, who c0-wrote The Art Of The Deal with Trump, is repeating his earlier predictions that Trump will resign, possibly by this fall. I have a tough time seeing Trump resigning, but Schwartz does know Trump about as well as anyone outside his inner circle. It is conceivable that he could resign, as Schwartz predicts, as part of a deal to avoid going to prison as the investigations against him proceed. Schwartz also Tweeted, “Trump’s presidency is effectively over.”

Donald Trump Further Inflames Situation In North Korea

The conventional wisdom regarding North Korea has been that Kim Jong Un is crazy. While that very well may be the case, we are now in a strange situation where it is not clear which nation has the crazier leader. Trump made this threat: “He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” There has been received with universal criticism that it only inflames the situation. It also turns out that this was an improvised statement by Donald Trump. The New York Times reports:

President Trump delivered his “fire and fury” threat to North Korea on Tuesday with arms folded, jaw set and eyes flitting on what appeared to be a single page of talking points set before him on the conference table at his New Jersey golf resort.

The piece of paper, as it turned out, was a fact sheet on the opioid crisis he had come to talk about, and his ominous warning to Pyongyang was entirely improvised, according to several people with direct knowledge of what unfolded. In discussions with advisers beforehand, he had not run the specific language by them, though he had talked over possible responses in a general way.

The inflammatory words quickly escalated the confrontation with North Korea to a new, alarming level and were followed shortly by a new threat from North Korea to obliterate an American air base on Guam. In the hours since, the president’s advisers have sought to calm the situation, with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson assuring Americans that they “should sleep at night” without worrying about an imminent war.

USA Today summarizes some of the international reaction. In reviewing past crises, another report in The New York Times reports how there is little precedent for such a statement. Others in the government are now busy attempting damage control. Jonathan Chait wins best headline award on the topic with, Ignore Our Crazy President, U.S. Government Tells North Korea.

Of course not everyone is critical of Donald Trump. In perhaps the scariest headline on the topic, The Washington Post reports, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un,’ evangelical adviser says:

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

Trump’s statements most likely come from his lack of understanding of how to carry out the duties of the presidency. Kim Jong Un’s actions are in some ways more rational, if you look at his motivation based upon retaining absolute control over North Korea, regardless of how much suffering he causes.

There are multiple reasons which originally motivated North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, including both witnessing the effects of nuclear weapons in nearby Japan and the devastation their country suffered in the Korean War. However these events happened before the current leadership was born, and more recent events appear to be motivating them to further develop the nuclear weapons and refuse to compromise. North Korea has claimed that they need to preserve their nuclear program because of the example of how Saddam was overthrown after he gave up his weapons of mass destruction and Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed after he surrendered his nuclear weapons. Such examples make it unlikely that Kim Jong Un will back down in the face of sanctions.

It is now well known how George Bush lied us into the war in Iraq. The regime change in Libya orchestrated by Hillary Clinton has been a similar disaster, with Barack Obama calling it one of the biggest mistakes of his presidency. A report by the U.K. Parliament showed that this war, like Iraq, was also started based upon lies. The situation we now face in North Korea is yet another of the consequences we face for the reckless interventionism of neocons like Bush and Clinton. On top of this, the crisis must be dealt with by a president who appears to be clueless as to how to respond.

Update: The Washington Post points out one of Ronald Reagan’s contributions to the problem with the invasion of Grenada:

In October 1983, the United States invaded Grenada. The Kim family regime that controls North Korea saw this invasion as an early warning sign: If the United States could perceive even a small spice island as a threat, so too could it eventually train its sights on North Korea. Without an effective deterrent, any regime perceived as a threat would be little match for American military might.

It wasn’t just Grenada’s size that caught the Kim family’s attention. Grenada, a country of only 110,000 people that is known primarily for producing nutmeg, had significance for the North Korean leadership in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kim Il Sung, grandfather of North Korea’s present-day leader Kim Jong Un, viewed the new Grenadian socialist government headed by Maurice Bishop as brave revolutionaries directly fighting U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean. Kim Il Sung also sought the help of recently decolonized nations like Grenada in international forums, as a way to undermine South Korea’s legitimacy abroad and garner support for a North Korean-led reunification of the two Koreas…

David Letterman Returning To Television, Plus Letterman On Kin Jong-un And Donald Trump

David Letterman is returning to television for a six-episode talk show on Netflix. Form The Hollywood Reporter:

Two years after signing off CBS’ The Late Show, David Letterman is returning to the small screen.

The longest-serving host in U.S. late-night TV history is set to topline a new talk show for Netflix. The untitled six-episode series will premiere in 2018.

Unlike The Late Show, each hour long episode of the Netflix series will be prerecorded and feature Letterman conducting longform conversations with a singular guest as well as exploring topics on his own — outside of the studio. A guest list has not yet been revealed.

There was no mention of top ten lists or stupid pet tricks.

The Hollywood Reporter asked Letterman about his plans for the show and people he would like to interview. Names which came up included Kin Jong-un and Donald Trump. Perhaps Dave could broker a peace deal between them. From the interview:

What made the time right to return to TV?

About six months ago I was polishing my collection of buffalo head nickels and I thought, “Geeze, there must be something else I can do with my life.” I spent a lot of time with Al Franken and I had seen and admired how his life has unfolded in clearly two different parts and two different areas and been beneficial to the culture in both incarnations. I’d done a few things with Al and so enjoyed them that I thought I wanted to do something else like this. A couple years ago, I went to India for National Geographic and the two influences made me think that perhaps there was more to television than what I had done for the last 30 years. The people at Netflix and Radical Media, we started chatting and I was very impressed by both organizations. The idea that it’s a just a commitment for six shows — it’s going to take up some time but it’s not going to be 10 hours a day, five days a week. The need to pursue something else and the way that this was made available as a possibility was irresistible, honestly.

Have you started looking at a guest list?

I want to talk to this Kim Jong-un because I see now where he’s just miniaturized a nuclear weapon that he’s going to put on his rockets I’d like to talk to this guy because, OK, the haircut. We get all of that. But honestly, what does he want? They have a missile they think can hit Chicago, what’s he pissed off at Chicago about? Are we at war with this guy? We put sanctions on him, he gets more pissed off. If Dennis Rodman goes over there, I ought to be over there. … I wouldn’t want to make it worse, but on the other hand, I don’t know that you can make it worse. OK, you’re building rockets; you’ve got nuclear capabilities; OK great. What, really, does that help?!

Is he in line with the type of guests you’re aiming for all six episodes?

I don’t know that he’d be the prototypical guest but by god, wouldn’t you like an hour to just look at this guy and talk to him and listen to him? Does he have kids? Does he have pets? Why does he want to behave like this? If he wants to be a hero, why not start trying to reunite the peninsula? Why not do something that has some humanity to it? I don’t get this.

You’ve interviewed Donald Trump a number of times over the years. Is he someone you’d like to speak with on this show?

Yes, I really would love to talk to him. That would be great because I think I have insight now that heretofore I did not have. I’m tired of people saying, “Can you believe he…” and “Oh my god, what has he done… .” I want to put an end to that. We all know that there’s something unique here. We don’t need to keep examining it day after day after day. What we need now is somebody like myself to sit down with him and calmly get him to sign some papers and then have him leave the White House.

Letterman previously discussed Donald Trump with New York Magazine. From that interview, picking up in the middle of an answer to a question:

…Trump’s the president and he can lie about anything from the time he wakes up to what he has for lunch and he’s still the president. I don’t get that. I’m tired of people being bewildered about everything he says: “I can’t believe he said that.” We gotta stop that and instead figure out ways to protect ourselves from him. We know he’s crazy. We gotta take care of ourselves here now.

How? Is comedy useful for that?
Comedy’s one of the ways that we can protect ourselves. Alec Baldwin deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sadly, he’s not going to get it from this president.

Can you explain that a bit more? How does satire protect us from Donald Trump?
The man has such thin skin that if you keep pressure on him — I remember there was a baseball game in Cleveland,Actually, it was the other way around. In a 2007 playoff game, a swarm of midges from Lake Erie caused Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain to blow the game with a few wild pitches. and a swarm of flies came on the field and the batters were doing this [mimes swatting at flies] while the pitcher was throwing 100 miles an hour. Well, that’s Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live. It’s distracting the batter. Eventually Trump’s going to take a fastball off the sternum and have to leave the game.

There’s this idea that reducing Trump to a punchline could make him seem harmless or helps to normalize him. Is there any validity to that argument?
I guess it’s a possibility. On the other hand, Donald Trump can be Donald Trump, but if he doesn’t help the people that need help, then he’s just a jerk. That press conference that he held berating the news media? I mean, how do you build a dictatorship? First, you undermine the press: “The only truth you’re going to hear is from me.” And he hires the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Steve Bannon, to be his little buddy. Bannon looks like a guy who goes to lunch, gets drunk, and comes back to the office: “Steve, could you have just one drink?” “Fuck you.” How is a white supremacist the chief adviser to our president? Did anybody look that up? I don’t know. How’s this interview going? Do you think you’re talking to a normal person here? Don’t I seem like I’m full of something?

Cutting Through Trump’s Game of Distraction

Guest Post by Sandra

It’s hard to tell if Trump and his administration really have an agenda. He won the presidency being “anti-everything,” but this “rage against the machine” attitude doesn’t really offer much as a guiding principle for policy making. This lackluster approach combined with the drama surrounding the Russia investigation, the President’s attacks on the media and his empty threats about North Korea give the impression of chaos and disorder, and subsequently, of inaction.

This can be seen clearly by the repeated failure of the new health care bill. Trump’s only promise was to repeal “Obamacare,” putting himself in line with this “anti-everything” approach, but because he and his advisers have no real plan for an alternative, the bills being drawn up in Congress are downright awful, leading them to stall and generating doubt about whether something will ever get done.

However, this illusion of inactivity does not tell the whole story. Things are getting done, albeit slowly, but more concerning, they are getting done with very little public attention. Without drifting too far into conspiracy theories, we have to wonder if this wasn’t the plan all along. We’re seeing a clear case of Noam Chomsky’s “anti-politics.” The happenings of Washington are so repulsive to the ordinary citizen that many are turning their backs on Washington, paving the way for corporate power to advance quietly in the background. Here is something the current government has done, the consequences of which should be concerning for those interested in preserving democracy.

The Financial CHOICE Act

Remember the 2008 financial crisis? Of course. Who could forget it? Well, after decades of deregulating Wall Street, the world paid a heavy price, and the response by the Obama administration was to push through new regulations to make sure nothing like that could ever happen again. The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, more commonly referred to as Dodd-Frank, was born from this idea. It includes countless new regulations for banks to prevent them from making overly risky loans that could lead to instability.

If you haven’t seen it already, the film The Big Short gives an entertaining, although disturbing, version of the events leading up to the crash, and if there is one big takeaway, it’s that the lack of oversight on the banks was a huge driver of what turned out to be the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The film is available on Netflix, which you can access even if you’re restricted by location.

However, the Dodd-Frank bill is not perfect. It includes over 20,000 pages of regulations, and it makes some pretty black and white distinctions among banks. Specifically, it outlines rules for banks based on the value of assets, not the level of risk. This has led many smaller community banks to speak out against the bill, saying it prevents them from being able to expand their business because they have to dedicate so many resources to regulation-related paperwork. Others say this is what the bill was supposed to do—limit risky loans—but others say it goes too far. Regardless, it is clear Dodd-Frank could use some reform.

And so Trump and his Republican House reformed it by passing the Financial CHOICE Act. In general, the bill is modest. It reduces some of the red tape banks need to cut through to grant loans, making it easier for them to provide capital to interested borrowers. But the concerning part of the bill is the reduction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This agency was created from Dodd-Frank and serves as a way for consumers to file complaints about banking fraud, to get information on the practices of other banks and to correct errors in reporting (specifically credit reporting).

In the new bill, the CFPB will be prohibited from banning “abusive” products, and it will have an entirely new leadership structure (a bipartisan committee of five people). Given the current state of Washington politics, the word “bipartisan” could easily be replaced with “do-nothing.” It’s hard to imagine the agency having any real direction without clear leadership from the top.

While Republicans are claiming the Financial CHOICE Act is a way to reduce unnecessary government regulation to help community banks, it’s hard to see how reducing the reach of the CFPB does that. One of the main reasons the 2008 crisis happened was that banks were able to operate largely in secret. They were using seriously questionable tactics, but no one was looking over their shoulder until it was too late. Had an agency like the CFPB existed during this time period, perhaps the damage would not have been so bad.

Reforming the CFPB and the Dodd-Frank bill shows a willingness in Washington to slowly drift back to the days where darkness clouded the banking industry, allowing it to do as it wishes while ordinary citizens bicker over daily controversies. The bill still needs to pass the Senate, but all signs point to a similar approach, and since Republicans have the majority, there might not be much hope of stopping it.

It is not a big leap to say we are in this political predicament because of the 2008 crisis. The consequences of decades of growing inequality and stagnant wage growth were unleashed with the banking collapse. Millions saw their futures disappear in a matter of minutes, and the anger arising from this has polarized even more what was already a divided country. But the answer to this is not more bank deregulation. However, with so many distractions going on in Washington, it is easy to see why this issue has not received much attention, but the potential consequences of this critical first step by Wall Street to return to the glory days of deregulation should be more than enough cause for concern. Much like a magician, Trump is using this “anti-everything” strategy to keep people focused elsewhere so that corporate America can continue its infiltration into politics and its seemingly endless expansion of power.

What do you think of the Financial CHOICE Act? Is it needed reform or a way to return power to the already mighty banks? Let us know by leaving a comment in the section below.

About the Author: Sandra is an alternative news blogger who focuses largely on politics. She is concerned the circus that Washington has become distracts us too much from the important issues. As such, she frequently writes about things such as bank regulation, internet privacy and security, and corporate power, as she considers these to be fundamental issues that few are talking about.

GAO To Investigate Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trips And Hotel Profits

The Government Accountability Office is going to investigate the security of classified information at  Mar-a-Lago and hotel profits. Reuters reports:

A U.S. government watchdog has agreed to review how classified information is kept secure at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the agency said on Monday, after Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the issue last month.

The Government Accountability Office’s review will examine whether Secret Service agents subject Mar-a-Lago guests to any security screening, and evaluate the expenses incurred by government employees who travel with Trump to Mar-a-Lago, according to a letter the agency sent the lawmakers on Friday.

The GAO will also check whether Trump has made any payments to the U.S. Treasury from profits at his hotels, the letter said. Trump’s lawyer pledged at a Jan. 11 news conference to donate Trump Hotel profits from foreign governments to the Treasury.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s handling of U.S. security information at Mar-a-Lago came under congressional scrutiny in February after photos taken by private guests in the club’s public dining area showed Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviewing documents following a North Korean missile launch.

The White House denied afterward that any classified material was present in the dining room.

This might turn out to be just one of several investigations into Donald Trump in the upcoming months. Last week I posted about a public corruption prosecutor hired to investigate Trump.

In somewhat related news today, Gallup reports that Donald Trump’s approval has hit a new low:

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating fell to 36% for the three-day period of March 24-26, following Republican House leaders’ failed effort to pass a new healthcare bill that would have replaced the Affordable Care Act.

Trump’s three-day reading prior to Friday’s events was 41%. His previous low point was 37%, recorded March 16-18. His highest reading was 46% in the week following his Jan. 20 inauguration, and he has averaged 42% for his term to date.

Trump’s current 36% is two percentage points below Barack Obama’s low point of 38%, recorded in 2011 and 2014. Trump has also edged below Bill Clinton’s all-time low of 37%, recorded in the summer of 1993, his first year in office, as well as Gerald Ford’s 37% low point in January and March 1975. John F. Kennedy’s lowest approval rating was 56%; Dwight Eisenhower’s was 48%.

Presidents George W. Bush (lowest approval rating: 25%), George H.W. Bush (29%), Ronald Reagan (35%), Jimmy Carter (28%), Richard Nixon (24%), Lyndon Johnson (35%) and Harry Truman (22%) all had job approval ratings lower than 36% at least once during their administrations.