Confronted by numerous new revelations concerning his administration’s collusion with the Russians, Trump, staying true to form, indicates that he’s ready to give the Russians back their spying facilities in Maryland and New York

Now that all of the confusion over Trump’s mysterious early morning tweet has been cleared up by Sean Spicer, who explained to the American people that ““a small group of people” who knew “exactly what (the President) meant,” let’s move on to the other big news of the day… which is that the Trump administration, in spite of the fact that all 17 of America’s intelligence agencies are in agreement that the Russians interfered in our last election, has begun the process of handing two U.S. diplomatic compounds that had been seized by the Obama administration back to the Russians.

That’s right. The compound in Maryland, which, according to former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer John Schindler,‏ “was a RIS SIGINT site aimed at NSA & DoD facilities on the Chesapeake, may soon be reopened thanks to Trump. And, one would imagine, this would be done over the objections of the U.S. intelligence community, which, according to Schindler, had “wanted to close (this compound) for decades.” [SIGNIT is intelligence community slang for “signals intelligence,” or the gathering of intelligence by way of intercepted signals. RIS the Russian Intelligence Service.] But, I don’t guess we should be surprised. This is, after all, the same President who, the day after firing the man heading the FBI investigation into possible collusion between his campaign staff and the Russians, snuck Russia’s most senior U.S. spy into the White House, where he then proceeded to share classified information concerning the identity of an Israeli operative working inside ISIS.

Here, for what it’s worth, is the Russian tweet from last week that appears to have started the wheels turning in the Trump administration.

And, for what it’s worth, today’s news about Trump wanting to give the facilities in New York and Maryland back to the Russians broke on the same day that White House spokesperson Sean Spicer informed the press that, from now on, he would no long be taking questions about evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians… Oh, and we also learned that Congress is investigating the possibility of yet another undisclosed meeting between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian spymaster Sergey Kislyak. So, in just a matter of a few days, not only have we learned that the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner attempted to establish a secret communications channel with the Kremlin, and succeeded in meeting covertly with with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a sanctioned Russian bank, but now it looks as though our Attorney General might still be lying about the extent to which he interacted with Russians during the transition.

But, apparently, even if it’s all true, it’s nothing to really worry about… That’s right, after months of denying backchannel communications and collusion, it seems as though the administration is now taking a slightly different approach. Yesterday, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway referred to Kushner’s undisclosed backchannels with Russia as just something that happens during the “regular course of business.” And, meanwhile, on Fox News, Gregg Jarrett was explaining to the American people, if you can believe it, that “collusion is not a crime.” Here, if you need a good laugh, is the video.

So the bar is moving. While the White House is refusing to talk, the administration’s supporters are attempting to reframe the issue. No longer are they saying there was absolutely no collusion, but now they seem to be saying, “Sure there was collusion with the Russians, but so what?” And, not only was there collusion, and an attempt on the part of the administration to use a secure communications channel inside the Russian embassy in order to talk directly with the Kremlin without the knowledge of the U.S. government, but, guess what? We’re going to give the Russians back their spy compounds. Oh, and we’re also going to pull out of the Paris Accord. Sure, it means the end of the earth as we know it, but, on the plus side, the Russian oil companies will make out like bandits.

And, in spite of it all, Trump still has his supporters… Maybe he was on to something back during the campaign when he said that he could shoot someone and not lose any voters. I suspect, if we stay on this trajectory much longer, we may find out.

Lastly, here, because I can’t stop watching it, is video of Spicer attempting to do the impossible earlier today and explain away the President’s “covfefe” typo as a well thought out message to “a small group of people” who knew “exactly what he meant.” And, yes, this is what Spicer’s job has come to, standing in front of a small group of people who see him as a pathetic joke, and, with completely dead eyes, regurgitating whatever lies he’s been instructed to repeat, no matter how laughably ridiculous they may be.

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With England and the U.S. having been effectively sidelined, Germany emerges our next best hope

After Trump’s visit to the NATO headquarters in Belgium a few days ago, where he referred to the Germans as “very bad” for their trade practices and chastised his fellow heads of state for “not paying what they should be paying” on defense, I wasn’t all that surprised to see our long-time allies beginning to push back. I was, however, struck by how blunt German Chancellor Angela Merkel was this past weekend, when she said to the German press, “The times when we could fully rely on others have passed us by a little bit, that’s what I’ve experienced in recent days.” [German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel later echoed Merkel’s comment, adding that the U.S. was “dropping out as an important nation.” He went on to add, “Anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones, and who does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts, is putting peace in Europe at risk.”]

Trump, as you probably could have predicted, responded by doubling down on his claim that the “very bad” Germans had been taking advantage of us.

Yes, our leader has apparently not only chosen to ignore the unanimous finding of our nation’s 17 intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in our election, but he’s attacking those allies who, until recently, were aligned with us in standing up to Russian aggression.

Merkel, perhaps in response to Trump’s most recent Twitter storm, walked her comment back a bit earlier today, stating that “The trans-Atlantic partnership is of outstanding importance.” She then went on to add that she “merely meant to note that in view of the current situation there are more reasons… for us in Europe to take our fate into our own hands.”

Sean Spicer, for what it’s worth, also tried to gloss it over today in his White House press conference, saying that Trump’s relationship with Merkel is “fairly unbelievable.” I thin, however, we can all see what’s going on. Donald Trump, whether purposefully or not, is distancing us from our most trusted allies.

As former NATO envoy Ivo H. Daalder told The New York Times today, “This seems to be the end of an era, one in which the United States led and Europe followed” “Today,” he went on to say, “the United States is heading into a direction on key issues that seems diametrically opposite of where Europe is heading… The president’s failure to endorse Article 5 in a speech at NATO headquarters, his continued lambasting of Germany and other allies on trade, his apparent decision to walk away from the Paris climate agreement – all suggest that the United States is less interested in leading globally than has been the case for the lat 70 years.”

And, whether by design or not, all of this works to the advantage of Putin and Russians, who have long wanted to drive a wedge been the United States and its European allies.

So with post-Brexit England leaving the European Union, and Trump doing everything in his power to distance us from the other members of NATO, it looks as though Germany has taken on the job of global defender of liberty and democracy.

And I know it’s little consolation for those of us living under the shadow of Trump, but it would appear as though our President is bringing the people of Germany together in a way previously thought impossible. Here, in evidence of this, is recent footage of Merkel’s chief German rival, Martin Schulz, taking her side against Trump.

So, with the United States effectively abdicating its role as the leader of the free world, the baton has been passed to Germany… Here’s hoping they’re up to the task.

For what it’s worth, it looks like they’re off to a pretty good start, telling us today that they don’t want to have us anywhere near their upcoming election… And who can blame them, considering what happened here.

One last thing, it’s also been suggested that perhaps some of Trump’s anger toward Germany is due to the fact that their intelligence community has stepped up efforts in recent weeks to unravel Trump’s finances, especially as they relate to Russia, sharing whatever information the find with U.S. investigators… One can only hope.

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What’s the deal with the sheep “mowing” Ypsi’s Riverside Park?

If you live in Ypsi, chances are, over the last few days, your social media feeds have been filled with images and videos of sheep wondering across Riverside Park, adorably chewing up grass to the delight of young and old alike. Well, local filmmaker Dan Blakeney went one step further and didn’t just document the chewing, suckling and baaing, but actually interviewed the shepherd behind Project Mow, Yuko Frazier… Enjoy.

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Donald Trump’s “Fall of Western Civilization” tour

The big idea behind this, Trump’s first international trip, was to establish him as a legitimate statesman, and not just some detestable, thin-skinned, pussy-grabbing turd who lied himself into the most important job on earth with the assistance of the Russian mob. It was, of course, destined to failure, as Trump not only really is a detestable, thin-skinned, pussy-grabbing turd who lied himself into the most important job on earth with Putin’s help, but because, instead of surrounding himself with competent people who actually understand how government works, he’s chosen to rely on a cast of enablers, wealthy golfing buddies and dim-witted anti-government crusaders, none of whom could organize a small town Klan rally in rural Alabama, let alone run the most powerful government on earth. And, for this reason, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising to anyone that the trip has been a nightmare from start to finish.

And, for what it’s worth, I’m not just talking about the footage of Trump dancing awkwardly with a sword, or those photos of him rubbing the glowing orb, surrounded in the darkness by what appeared to be the board members of SPECTRE, or even the fact that we saw the First Lady slapping his sweaty, pink, little hand away from hers. Sure, any one of those things probably would have sunk the Obama administration, but that’s just bad optics. There were real, serious things that have happened on the trip as well… things that very well could, if allowed to fester, destabilize the international order.

Today, if you missed it, Donald Trump visited NATO headquarters in Belgium, where he not only failed to assure America’s allies of our commitment to NATO’s shared mutual defense pledge, and rebuked them for what he called their “chronic underpayments”, but apparently told a reporter from Der Spiegel that the Germans are “very evil”, in response to a line of questioning about the current trade imbalance between our countries… Oh, and news also broke that England, our closest ally, has, at least temporarily, stopped sharing intelligence with us in response to our pathetically undisciplined administration’s non-stop leaking of classified information. [Speaking of which, two days before, news had broken that Trump had boasted to the President of the Philippines about the presence of two U.S. nuclear submarines near North Korea.]

For those of you who enjoy visuals, here, if you haven’t seen it yet, is a little piece of footage from earlier today that pretty well sums up our President’s time in Brussels. In it, you can see Trump shoving aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro in order to take a position at the front of a group photo, and then straightening his jacket and settling into some kind of power pose, like a complete douchebag… And, no, this, like those things I mentioned above, isn’t just a case of bad optics. This is our President, like a preening sociopath, pushing aside the leader of a small Balkan country that just a few weeks ago joined NATO, despite threats of reprisal from the Kremlin. This is a key ally in our new cold war with Russia, and our President doesn’t even seem to understand that. Either that, or he’s purposefully working to undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of NATO. As the folks at Foreign Policy just wrote, Trump, consciously or not, handed Putin a win today by alienating allies and once again calling into question our resolve in this longstanding international partnership – the only international partnership, by the way, standing between Putin and world domination… Now here’s that video.

So don’t get caught up in all the stupid missteps and ridiculous comments; the footage of a seemingly terrified Steve Bannon surrounded by Muslims, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross happily commenting about the refreshing absence of protesters in Saudi Arabia, apparently unaware that protesting is punishable by death, the White House releasing statements about how Trump hopes to “promote the possibility of lasting peach” between Israelis and Palestinians while in the Middle East, and comments by the President that would seem to indicate he’s not even aware that Israel is technically in the Middle East. It’s all stupid, and funny, but it’s not important. What’s important is that our President is a pariah that our allies don’t want to even go near, and he apparently can’t help but undermine U.S. foreign policy wherever he goes, making the world a less safe place in the process.

Here’s hoping the indictments start coming out against him soon, before too much more damage can be done.

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The generals who serve Trump, why they do it, and at what cost

An interesting question was posed in the Washington Post today… “Is it still possible to honorably serve in the Trump administration?

The article was inspired in large part by a recent profile of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in the New Yorker, which included the following passage.

…When Mattis asked Michèle Flournoy, the former Undersecretary of Defense under Obama, to consider becoming his deputy, she was torn between her admiration for Mattis and her discomfort with the Trump Administration. “I lost a lot of sleep and felt sick to my stomach,” she told me. At Trump Tower, she was interviewed by a group of aides with no national-security experience. Among their first questions was “What would it take for you to resign?” Flournoy, alarmed, told Mattis that she couldn’t take the job.

Three months into the new Administration, the Pentagon is being run by a skeleton crew; career officers and civil servants are doing jobs that are supposed to be performed by political appointees. “It’s like going to work on a Sunday — there’s no one there,” the former defense official told me. “If my printer doesn’t work on Sunday, I’m screwed. That’s what the Pentagon’s like every day.”

Leon Panetta said that in normal times the Pentagon could probably carry on without a full complement of senior leaders — but, if there was a prolonged international incident, it would come under severe strain. “I’m worried about a crisis,” he said. “Whenever I had a crisis, I would gather my senior people together. If you recommend military action, you’ve got to think, What forces, what targets, what consequences? That requires a lot of thinking and a lot of smart people. Mattis is basically by himself”…

It’s a complicated question that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately… whether or not, if asked, I could bring myself to serve this administration. Thankfully, it’s a question that I’ll never have to answer in the real world. Many, like Mattis, however, are being put in that unenviable position, and, while part of me wonders why in the hell they’d concede to do such a thing, I respect them for it. As the author of the piece in the Washington Post concludes, we need people like Mattis in the administration to ensure that Trump’s “bad rhetoric” doesn’t find itself translated into “bad actions.” And, for this reason, the author and I agree, we should hope that more competent people come forward to sacrifice themselves for the good of the country.

Which brings me to yesterday’s Fresh Air segment with author and former Pentagon corresponded Tom Ricks on the generals serving under Trump, which goes into some depth about the generals serving under Trump, why they’re doing it, and the clear toll it’s taking on them. Here’s the audio, which I’d encourage you to listen to in it entirety, followed by a clip I thought you might find of interest.

GROSS: So we have several generals now in major positions of power in the Trump administration. The first general we had was Michael Flynn. He was forced out. But now there’s James Mattis, who’s secretary of defense’ H.R. McMaster, national security adviser who replaced General Flynn; and General John Kelly, who’s the head of homeland security.

One way of looking at this is to say this is pretty worrisome because – you know that old adage about if you go to see a surgeon, he’s going to recommend surgery because that’s what surgeons do? And it’s easy to think, if you have generals in charge of major portions of the government, they’re going to take us to war because that’s what generals do. They fight wars. You know these guys. So do you think that’s a logical conclusion to jump to?

RICKS: I do know these guys. And as you listed them, what struck me as I envisioned each is what a diverse group they are. General Flynn, I think, rose to levels above his level of competence, is a very naive man, not well-informed about the world despite being an intelligence officer. And I wasn’t surprised to see him flame out very quickly.

General Mattis is almost the opposite of General Flynn. Mattis, who’s now the secretary of defense, is one of the more thoughtful people I’ve ever met in uniform or out. And he is an example that goes against your surgeon’s analogy. Mattis has publicly advocated in the past for a bigger budget for the State Department. In fact, he said to Congress once, look, you can either increase the State Department’s budget, or you can buy more bullets for me because if you don’t increase your diplomacy, we’re going to have more fighting. I would rather have more diplomacy. Mattis is a very thoughtful man, and I think he’s handled the job very well.

McMaster is from a generation after Mattis. McMaster was a captain in the 1991 Gulf War and actually led a cavalry troop in one of the key battles in the ’91 war, which was very short but did have some battles, called the Battle of 73 Easting in which his unit attacked a much larger group of Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles and trucks and utterly destroyed it in about 20 minutes of fighting. McMaster, again, years later, was a colonel in Iraq and did an extraordinarily good job in departing from this very clumsy, stalemated operation that the American military generally was enforcing and operating on in Iraq and instead took a new counterinsurgency approach that proved very successful and became the model for what General Petraeus tried to do a year later.

It’s been sad for me to watch McMaster in recent weeks because he’s a thoughtful man as well – more emotional, more big and physical than Mattis but an intellectual himself. He wrote a very good book, called “Dereliction Of Duty,” about the Vietnam War and the failures of American generals to tell the truth to American politicians, especially President Lyndon Johnson. And so it’s almost Shakespearean to see McMaster in the White House as the national security adviser faced with the same situation, in many ways, that the Vietnam generals had. And when it’s his job to get up and speak truth to power, instead he appears, in recent days, to have stood up and shielded the president from the truth and dissembled about the truth rather than insisting on the truth. And I think that…

GROSS: Specifically, what are you referring to?

RICKS: I’m referring to after The Washington Post ran a story about a week ago saying that President Trump had blown an intelligence source in front of the Russians by talking about very secret intelligence on ISIS and about a very new thin bomb they had developed that could be put inside a laptop. And he had talked about the actual city where this information came from. McMaster got up and called the story false. And then the following day…

GROSS: He called the story that Trump had said this is false?

RICKS: Yeah. And then the next day, he got up, and he kind of quibbled on that a little bit. He said, well, he actually confirmed the facts of the story, but then said the premise of the story was false. I’d gone through the same situation with McMaster where I’d written a story about McMaster in Iraq in 2006 that put his unit in a very good light and him in a very good light about the work they had done in taking a new approach in fighting the war.

But there was one paragraph in it he disliked. He didn’t dispute the truth of it. He just disliked it, and so he called me and yelled at me for two days over the phone in Iraq to complain about it. And I heard that exact same tone when he got up at the White House and called the story false. He actually never said what he thought the wrong facts were, but he basically was saying I don’t like that story.

GROSS: Well, you wrote a column about this, and what he didn’t like about the article you wrote is that you criticized his unit for what it did before he took it over. So you weren’t criticizing him at all, but I – sounded to me like he didn’t like the idea of you criticizing, you know, the military. He didn’t want to break rank with that.

RICKS: That’s exactly right. He specifically wanted to defend his unit, his regiment and protect the morale of troops who he thought might be demoralized by seeing the previous tour of duty that they had criticized. I…

GROSS: And you think that’s what he’s doing now is trying to kind of protect the president or protect the morale of the administration.

RICKS: Yes. And I think he failed to see that his job is not to protect the president. It’s to protect the nation. And what I fear General McMaster has done in recent weeks by coming out and seeking to protect the president is not his job. He shouldn’t protect the president. He should protect the nation. And I fear that through his recent actions, he has enabled President Trump to continue to operate in this very reckless, ignorant way. Now, I think what McMaster thinks he’s doing is the best he can do in that situation. What I fear he doesn’t see is he’s enabling it to become worse.

GROSS: So you’ve written that you don’t think that McMaster will dutifully defend President Trump for long. Why do you think that?

RICKS: It’s a crushing burden to be in political power in Washington these days, and you see people almost lose their souls. I think Sean Spicer, the president’s spokesman in recent weeks has been pushed almost to the edge of a nervous breakdown from his public appearance. And he’s kind of lost a big part of his soul, and I think that’s true of some other people. And H.R. McMaster is a man of great soul, of great feeling. I remember talking to him in Iraq, and his voice would grow thick. And when he was kind of angry a little bit, he’d rolled his shoulders as he talked to you, almost as if to loosen up those back muscles.

And watching H.R. McMaster, an officer I do admire, over the last few weeks, I feel like I’ve seen him come out and give up a slice of his soul a few times. And I wonder how many more times he can do that before he just says I am becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution here…

Again, I’d encourage you to listen to the entire interview, as it’s absolutely fascinating. Ricks not only talks at length about these generals serving under Trump, but he also does a nice job of tying in Churchill and Orwell, who are the subjects of his new book, The Fight For Freedom… a book which, by the way, ends with the following, very timely passage: “The fundamental driver of Western civilization is the agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it, and that other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter.”

When Gross asks Ricks to elaborate on this quote, he says the following. “That’s my conclusion – that this is the essence of Western society, and, at its best, how Western society operates,” Ricks says. “You can really reduce it to a formula. First of all, you need to have principles. You need to stand by those principles and remember them. Second, you need to look at reality, to observe facts, and not just have opinions, and to say, what are the facts of the matter? Third, you need to act upon those facts according to your principles.” That’s Western civilization in a nutshell, and that’s what’s we’re now watching disappear right before our very eyes.

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