Trump associates talk about the weather with Russian intelligence

It’s getting even more ridiculous with the Trump administration:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. During those calls, which led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.

Gee, I wonder why Russia wanted Trump to win the election? Of course you have to trust the NSA and the anonymous officials to fully believe this, but the fact that this is believable tells us exactly what type of world we’re living in. Still, at least we didn’t elect someone who had a private email server.

Interesting point

So, it seems that Michael T. Flynn likes calling up Russia:

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, cultivates close Russian contacts. He has appeared on Russia Today and received a speaking fee from the cable network, which was described in last week’s unclassified intelligence briefing on Russian hacking as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

It seems the Trump administration has commented on this:

A first Trump official confirmed that Flynn had spoken with Kislyak by phone, but said the calls were before sanctions were announced and didn’t cover that topic. This official later added that Flynn’s initial call was to express condolences to Kislyak after the terrorist killing of the Russian ambassador to Ankara Dec. 19, and that Flynn made a second call Dec. 28 to express condolences for the shoot-down of a Russian plane carrying a choir to Syria. In that second call, Flynn also discussed plans for a Trump-Putin conversation sometime after the inauguration. In addition, a second Trump official said the Dec. 28 call included an invitation from Kislyak for a Trump administration official to visit Kazakhstan for a conference in late January.

Nancy Letourneau makes an interesting point:

But it also reminded me of this from Julian Borger a few days ago:

The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.

It is very likely that the four members of Trump’s team that are referred to include Flynn, Manafort, Page and Cohen. Given that a U.S. official knows that Flynn had telephone contact with the Russian ambassador on Dec. 29th, it appears that the FBI got the warrant approved and has been surveilling these four men as recently as two weeks ago. That indicates that an investigation into the allegations made in the dossier is very much alive and ongoing. What happens to it after January 20th remains to be seen.

It could be that Flynn’s phone was being tapped. If so, we very well might soon know if the Trump official was telling the truth.

Update: It seems the Trump team is backtracking already:

Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s pick to be national security adviser, did speak to Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak by telephone on Dec. 29, the same day the Obama administration announced measures retaliating against Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign, two Trump transition officials confirm to NPR.

And there were multiple calls:

Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

That’s a lot of calls to set up a conversation.

Republicans don’t like democracy

It seems Russia is trying to undermine our democracy:

FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation.

In the closed-door Senate briefing, CIA officials said it was now ‘‘quite clear’’ that electing Trump was one of Russia’s goals, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

CIA and FBI officials do not think Russia had a ‘‘single purpose’’ by intervening during the presidential campaign, officials said. In addition to the goal of helping elect Trump, Putin aimed to undermine confidence in the US electoral system, intelligence officials have told lawmakers.

Donald Trump is having none of it:

‘‘I think it’s ridiculous,’’ Trump said in an interview with ‘‘Fox News Sunday,’’ his first Sunday news-show appearance since the Nov. 8 election. ‘‘I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. . . . No, I don’t believe it at all.’’

He knows better than the CIA, NSA, and FBI. He’s probably getting messages through his fillings.

In North Carolina Republicans are taking a stand:

Having lost the governorship of North Carolina, Republicans there are resorting to a novel strategy to subvert the will of the voters: They are trying to strip the new governor of some of his powers.

First, for weeks after the close election, Gov. Pat McCrory refused to concede to Attorney General Roy Cooper, demanding recounts and alleging, without evidence, widespread voting fraud. It didn’t get him anywhere. So on Wednesday, during a hastily convened special session, Republican lawmakers introduced bills to, among other things, require State Senate confirmation of cabinet appointments; slash the number of employees who report to the governor to 300 from 1,500; and give Republicans greater clout on the Board of Elections, the body that sets the rules for North Carolina’s notoriously burdensome balloting.

and:

In North Carolina, the federal court also struck down some state House and Senate districts, and those judges recently ordered new districts drawn and special elections held next year.

North Carolina Republicans have used the current districts to achieve veto-proof majorities in both chambers. In addition, they hold 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats. By contrast, statewide contests suggest a narrower gap between the parties. Two Republicans won statewide elections last month — President-elect Donald Trump with just under 50 percent of the vote and Sen. Richard Burr with 51 percent.

Expect more of this type of thing in the future. Our democracy is wandering in the wilderness.

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Republicans want to cut, Medicare, ACA, Medicaid, and Social Security

Let’s see what Republicans plan now that they hold the three parts of government:

Amid all the hand-wringing over Republican plans to eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the GOP has the knives out for Social Security too.

Johnson’s “Social Security Reform Act” changes the program’s benefit formula to provide modest benefit increases for the lowest-earning workers in the system— those who earned up to an annual average of about $22,105 over their lifetimes in inflation-indexed pay — with cuts for everyone else ranging from 17% to as much as 43%, compared with currently scheduled benefits, by 2080.

The act would cut way back on cost-of-living increases for retirees. It would do this by cutting out cost-of-living raises entirely for retirees earning adjusted gross income of more than $85,000 ($170,000 for couples) starting in December 2018, and using the chained consumer price index to calculate the COLA for all others. (The income threshold would be adjusted for inflation.)

Finally, the measure also raises the full retirement age, which is now pegged to reach 67 by 2022, to 69 by 2030. this means that workers taking early retirement, which is permitted as soon as age 62, would face a steeper cut in annual benefits for starting early.

Hey, that’s great news for all the working-class people that were so upset that they voted for Trump … if they wanted to make their lives worse.

Anyway, let’s move on to Russia:

Trump’s team lashed out at the agencies after The Washington Post reported that the CIA believed that Russia had intervened to undercut Clinton and lift Trump, and The New York Times reported that Russia had broken into Republican National Committee computer networks just as they had broken into Democratic ones, but had released documents only on the Democrats.

There are even some Republicans who say this is a bad thing:

The Republicans who lead the congressional committees overseeing intelligence, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security take the opposite view. They say that Russia was behind the election meddling, but that the scope and intent of the operation need deep investigation, hearings and public reports.

“We cannot allow foreign governments to interfere in our democracy,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and was considered by Trump for secretary of Homeland Security, said at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “When they do, we must respond forcefully, publicly and decisively.”

Of course Trump hasn’t been going to many of the intelligence briefings so he knows more about what’s going on than those that actually go. I assume that’s his argument.

Fun time to be an American and Trump isn’t even President yet.

Sweden rethinks neutrality

Things like this are making Sweden rethink its neutrality:

The Russian planes flew above southern parts of the Baltic Sea and east of Gotland.

A military spokesman told The Local that the planes had stayed in international airspace and that the Swedish air force had followed them only to inspect them more closely.

The past year has been one of heightened tensions between Sweden and its eastern neighbour, riddled with spy allegationssubmarine hunts and claims Russia rehearsed a military invasion of Gotland, strategically located in the middle of the Baltic Sea, back in March.

In September 2014 two SU-24 fighter-bombers allegedly entered Swedish airspace in what the former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called “the most serious aerial incursion by the Russians” in almost a decade.

The following month a foreign submarine was spotted in Swedish waters, although the Swedish military was unable to determine where it came from.

Well, they’re rethinking it a bit:

Since the Kremlin seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014, public opinion has shifted from broad opposition to Swedish membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to one in three Swedes now telling pollsters they favor joining.

How does Russia react?

After Swedish media gave broad coverage to rising pro-NATO sentiments, Russia’s ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, warned that Moscow might react militarily if Stockholm were to abandon neutrality and join the alliance.

“I don’t think it will become relevant in the near future, even though there has been a certain swing in public opinion. But if it happens there will be counter measures,” Tatarintsev told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in June. “Putin pointed out that there will be consequences, that Russia will have to resort to a response of the military kind and reorientate our troops and missiles. The country that joins NATO needs to be aware of the risks it is exposing itself to.”

Ah, that will help.

Russian rockets

I have to say that some of the Russian rockets look very nice (from here and here; via Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency):

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I especially like this one, it has that 1950s space vibe:

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And they actually work:

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Crimea and Ukraine

I haven’t said anything about what’s going on in the Ukraine since it’s a very confusing situation–for example, one of the reasons that ex-President Yanukovych turned to Russia was that the IMF was asking for so much before it offered assistance:

As IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde announced a team would travel to Kiev in coming days to assess the economic needs, fund spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters yesterday that Ukraine’s leadership is pledging “wide-ranging reforms.” Rice said he didn’t wish to “make comparisons between different governments.”

“I will be probably the most unpopular prime minister in the whole history,” Yatsenyuk told Parliament before being approved yesterday, heralding decisions on cuts in subsidies and welfare payments and later calling his job a “political kamikaze” mission. “But we will do everything possible to avoid default.”

The IMF has heard such promises before.

In loans dating back to 1994, “usually the IMF had made two quarterly disbursements and then stopped because the Ukrainian government has refused to comply with the IMF conditions,” said Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

He said he expects the fund in this negotiation “will be tough and demand very strict prior actions” before offering support.

Under a $16.4 billion loan in November 2008, when Yulia Timoshenko was prime minister, Ukraine pledged to let its currency float and to balance its budget, in part by raising energy prices.

The fund froze the loan after a year, ultimately canceling and replacing it with a $15.2 billion package in July 2010 with similar prescriptions under Yanukovych, who defeated Timoshenko in presidential elections. Disbursements on that program stopped the following year as the country again failed to meet conditions.

So, the IMF is saying that the Ukraine should implement austerity measures which have worked so well in Greece and Spain:

The unemployment rate is lowest in Austria and Germany at around 5 percent and stands at about 26 percent in Spain and 28 in Greece.

Youth unemployment, meanwhile, edged down marginally across Europe. The rate of jobless for those aged under 25 in the eurozone fell by 0.1 percentage points to 24 percent, a drop of 87,000. In the wider EU, the rate fell from 23.7 percent to 23.4 percent.

Youth unemployment was highest in Greece and Spain, where almost six out of ten under 25 are jobless, and lowest in Germany with a rate of only 7.6 percent.

There are also questions about some of the nationalists in Ukraine. Still, it seems that there has now be some sort of an invasion by Russia and this can’t be tolerated. There isn’t much that can be done short of war, but the world should start discussing them such as cutting Russia from the G8. Also, Russia shouldn’t get another Olympics–of course, this should have been true even before these events:

Just last Sunday night, Putin was sitting in Sochi’s Fisht Stadium for the Closing Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee, declared, “You send a powerful message from Sochi to the world: the message of a society of peace, tolerance and respect.”

The next night, more than 400 Russians were rounded up in Moscow, protesting prison terms for anti-Putin demonstrators. Later in the week, opposition leader Alexei Navalny was put under house arrest for two months.

and there should now be discussion for finding another location for the World Cup in 2018 (and the 2017 Confederation Cup). Really, the world should start planning to stop going to Russia if they don’t behave.

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