NEEDED: Better Quality Lies

The White House fired Steve Bannon today.

Well, not totally. He was removed from his controversial and wholly unwarranted seat on the National Security Council. Bannon has no, as in none, as in zero qualifications to sit on the NSC apart from the fact that he sets the white nationalist, xenophobic, anti-Islam agenda for the administration. This was clear from the beginning, especially when Bannon was given a permanent NSC role while people whose jobs are actually national security-related, like the chair of the JCS and the Director of National Intelligence, weren’t given permanent NSC seats (both, by the way, had their seats restored in today’s shakeup). Between the public/media criticism that attended Bannon’s initial NSC appointment and the appointment of new National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, a guy who, if nothing else, appears to take the professional conduct of the NSC seriously, there was no place there for Bannon anymore. He had to go.

Of course, the administration can’t say that. But the reason they’re giving for removing Bannon is so unbelievably lame that you have to wonder if these guys are even trying anymore:

A White House official said that Bannon was placed on the committee in part to monitor Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and never attended a meeting. He’s no longer needed with McMaster in charge of the council, the official said.

If there was anybody in the Trump administration whose views on the world, foreign policy, and national security aligned with Bannon’s, it was Michael Flynn. Moreover, Flynn was Trump’s Favorite General™, chosen to fill the most influential national security role in the administration despite myriad evidence to show that, temperamentally at least, he was a bad choice for the gig. He’s gone now, fired over meetings he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition that he apparently concealed/lied about, and now we’re told that Bannon was put on the NSC to “monitor” Flynn, as though the administration had concerns about him from the beginning.

What a crock of shit. If the administration had concerns about Flynn, serious enough that Bannon needed to be on the NSC to “monitor” him, why appoint him in the first place? Because Trump wanted him so badly? If that were the case, Trump probably wouldn’t have fired him so easily. Bannon is “no longer needed” with McMaster running the NSC probably because McMaster isn’t interested in turning the NSC in a ideologically-driven shop given over to pushing Bannon’s and Flynn’s pet theories about war with Islam, the global Legion of Doom amassing to destroy America, threats to Christendom and the white race, etc. So, in reality, it would be more accurate to say that Bannon is no longer, you know, wanted.

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These gasses aren’t going to light themselves

Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee (MOTTO: “Searching for Intelligence in the House of Representatives Since 1977”), contributed his best effort yesterday to the ongoing Republican war on objective reality. With the White House facing Congressional investigation over alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia and over President Trump’s thus-far completely unsupported accusation that the Obama administration eavesdropped on his campaign/transition team’s communications, Nunes learned a shocking fairly mundane bit of information and immediately took it to his committee for investigation ran to brief the White House and then helped them use this information to publicly obfuscate the investigations.

What Nunes found out–possibly based on “evidence” he was given by the Trump administration itself–was that members of Trump’s transition team did have some of their communications intercepted after the election. This obviously relates, but only superficially, to Trump’s allegations that his people were being spied upon by the Obama administration, which has gotten folded into the Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the Russia/election story. Given that Trump is the focus of that investigation, and Nunes is supposed to be the lead investigator, his decision to relay this information to the Trump White House, and then to the media, before the other members of his own committee was telling, to say the least.

Naturally, Trump later used Nunes’s information to claim he was vindicated on his wiretapping charges, but the truth is that one has nothing to do with the other. Some Trump communications may have been collected by the NSA because they involved foreign leaders, and the NSA works very hard to collect any communications involving foreign leaders. Nothing in what Nunes found actually supports the claim that Trump or his people were being wiretapped. Even Nunes isn’t really saying that it does, instead falling back on pedantic bullshit when asked if the Obama administration was spying on Trump’s transition: “It all depends on one’s definition of spying.” In fact, although he said he’d found evidence that Trump “communications” were collected, it now seems that what Nunes actually found was that conversations related to Trump were collected–or, in other words, that the NSA had captured conversations in which people in Trump’s circle were discussed, but didn’t participate themselves. If that’s all Nunes found, then it literally says nothing whatsoever about Trump’s spying claims.

(There may be– I say may be, because it seems like a bad idea to just trust Nunes on this–a problem with how the NSA/intelligence community handled whatever it collected. Information about Americans that’s picked up in this kind of surveillance is supposed to be “masked” absent probable cause, and that may not have been properly handled in this case. But that still doesn’t have anything to do with the accusation that Trump’s people were being directly monitored.)

But we’ve seen this game played out many times now, enough times to know that it doesn’t matter that Nunes still says there’s no evidence that the government wiretapped the Trump transition. It doesn’t matter that Nunes now says he probably shouldn’t have run to the White House and then the nearest TV camera with this information before he went back to the committee he’s supposed to be running. It doesn’t matter that to any objective observer, Devin Nunes has now shown that he’s incapable of investigating the Trump administration. All that matters is that the right-wing gaslighting Wurlitzer got enough fuel to keep churning out disinformation until the next big story breaks and knocks this one out of the public consciousness.

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Stealing money from Bad countries is OK, right?

Eli Lake, whose credibility fell off a wall and shattered sometime around 2003 and still hasn’t been put back together, despite the best efforts of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men,

lake

is very mad today because the United States is sending military aid to Iran (when we should be sending cruise missiles directly to downtown Tehran, amirite?). No, this isn’t like that time in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan illegally sold weapons to Iran because Israel wanted him to and so that he could use the proceeds to fund right-wing death squads in Central America. No, this time it’s Actually Bad! America is “inadvertently paying” for an increase in Iran’s military budget! Check it out:

It all starts with $1.7 billion the U.S. Treasury transferred to Iran’s Central Bank in January, during a delicate prisoner swap and the implementation of last summer’s nuclear deal to resolve a long-standing dispute about Iran’s arms purchases before the revolution of 1979.

For months it was unclear what Iran’s government would do with this money. But last month the mystery was solved when Iran’s Guardian Council approved the government’s 2017 budget that instructed Iran’s Central Bank to transfer the $1.7 billion to the military.

Oh damn, that’s incontrovertible right there! Sure, Iran’s total 2017 military budget, including the increase and going with Lake’s own figures, is about $19 billion, compared to somewhere just shy of $600 billion for the US, but…well, actually, that’s a really big difference. Anyway here’s the deal with that $1.7 billion: it’s not actually America’s money. Lake again:

Republicans and some Democrats who opposed Obama’s nuclear deal have argued that the end of some sanctions would help to fund Iran’s military. But at least that was Iran’s money already (albeit frozen in overseas bank accounts). The $1.7 billion that Treasury transferred to Iran in January is different.

A portion of it, $400 million, came from a trust fund comprising money paid by the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a U.S. ally, for arms sold to Iran before the 1979 revolution. Those sales were cut off in 1979 after revolutionaries took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held the American staff hostage for 444 days. The remaining $1.3 billion represents interest on the $400 million principle over more than 36 years.

You can probably already see the problem with Lake’s logic, but…you know what? It’s late, it’s Friday, so I’m going to farm this one out to Ali Gharib at LobeLog: Continue reading

Could you be a bit more specific?

This is some D-minus evangelizing, folks:

Last year, televangelist Jim Bakker prophesied that all sorts of bad things might happen on September 13 of that year, including typhoons, earthquakes, bombings, a financial collapse and/or an unspecified incident involving Pope Francis.

Since none of those prophesies ended up coming true, Bakker has now started making much vaguer predictions, including one he delivered this week while pitching his famous food buckets.

“I believe it’s time to hear from God and God has been speaking to me,” he said. “I walked out of my garage yesterday and as I’m walking and things happened and when one of those, you might call them crazy things, but God said, ‘A major event is about to take place.’ I knew that I knew that I knew. And every time that God ever speaks to me like that, something happens.”

I mean, Christ (sorry) Jim, I’m old enough to remember when you grifters used to put at least a modicum of effort behind these grifts. You’d at least predict something specific–an earthquake, volcano eruption, hurricane, anything. Sure, those are all going to happen inevitably so “predicting” them is meaningless, but it’s still better than “uh, God told me that something big is going to happen, eventually.” Wow, a major event of some kind will happen at a date TBD? No shit, Kreskin.

Are people really desperate enough to buy food buckets (my mouth is watering already) from a guy who can’t even put the bare minimum of effort toward scaring them into doing it?

bakker

You know what? Don’t answer that.

Marco Rubio and the problem of words and their meanings

I’m not a historian of American politics, but I pay a fair bit of attention to what goes on, and I honestly can’t think of any primary candidate who’s gotten more media traction without winning a single contest, or really having any expectations of winning any in the near future, than Marco Rubio. This is a guy who came in third in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, and is now preparing to declare victory if he finishes as low as third in South Carolina, but nonetheless he’s regularly treated as a, if not the, front runner for the GOP nomination. Part of that has to do with his accumulation of high profile endorsements from establishment Republicans who are desperate to derail Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, but part of it seems just to be our media’s own wishful thinking. Maybe, and this is a crazy thought I just had, but maybe we should wait until the guy actually wins something before we anoint him the next POTUS?

OK, with that rant out of the way, I have to say something about this:

He saved his harshest words for Obama, who he called “the worst president in 35 years” and “a bad commander in chief.”

“He’s gutting our military. That’s not an exaggeration,” Rubio said.

“We don’t need a Department of Education,” he added, to great applause from the audience. “We need a military.”

I’m sure this is part of Rubio’s standard stump speech, because the human brain can only memorize so many lines by rote, but I would pay real money (at least $20 and maybe as much as $25), if any member of our intrepid press corps would ask Rubio how Obama is gutting the military. Because this is what “gutting our military” looks like outside of the hermetically sealed no-fact zone that is the Republican primary: Continue reading

Does Ben Carson’s strangeness matter?

Hi, Dr. Nick Ben!

Hi, Dr. Nick Ben!

I make a lot of jokes about Ben Carson and how he’s a few cards short of a full deck. But look, the guy was a freaking neurosurgeon, so he must know something about something, right? Here’s what I think: the fact that people are justifiably questioning Ben Carson’s intelligence despite the fact that he’s literally a brain surgeon says something pretty important about Ben Carson, which is that, smart or not, he’s a profoundly strange dude who is running an almost surreal campaign for president.

Well, I should clarify that. It’s still not entirely clear that he is running for president, so much as he’s using the presidential campaign to get his book sales up. But holy shit is his campaign weird. Consider that there’s a scandal brewing over whether or not a presidential candidate who’s doing quite well in the polls tried to kill a guy when he was younger, and the candidate is the one insisting that he did. I’m sorry, but that’s pretty goddamn weird. There’s also a growing list of things about which he clearly doesn’t know anything, a list that may eventually be shortened to “everything apart from (we hope) brain surgery”:

Even his efforts to pretend to know something about these things, or to defend his ignorance, are pretty dumb and/or out there. Consider what he had to say about “stand your ground”: Continue reading