Thursday, May 30, 2019

Stormy Weather

Looks like this week we're returning to normal late May weather in the Sonoran Desert, dry and in the 90s or even low 100s.  It's been abnormally cool and wet since December.  Here are some pictures from the last storm to come through a few days ago.



Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Billy Buck

Bill Buckner passed away yesterday at the age of 69 (oh, that sounds so young!) from Lewey Body Dementia, a nasty disease for both the sufferer and their loved ones, and one our family has had experience with.

Though Buckner had a 20 year major league career, gathering more than 2700 hits, he is best remembered for a play that went horribly wrong in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, when the Red Sox seemed on the verge of their first World Championship since 1918.  I will always remember that excruciating inning which ended with me on the floor, face down in front of the TV, reaching out to shut the device off (this was before the age of remote controls), and then laying there motionless for some time before dejectedly going off to bed.

Bill Buckner took a lot of blame from Red Sox fans for his miscue in letting that ground ball bounce through his legs, yet the bulk of the blame lay elsewhere, with Sox pitchers Calvin Schiraldi and Bob Stanley who let a sure victory get away and, most of all, in the failure of Sox manager John McNamara.  Buckner was a hurting ballplayer by then, particularly defensively, with damaged ankles limiting his flexibility.  Yet when the left-handed hitting Buckner batted in the top of the 8th against against Mets lefthander Jessie Orosco, a specialist in retiring left handed hitters, McNamara did not pinch hit for him. 

Entering the 1986 World Series, Bill Buckner had only two hits, both singles, in 18 at bats against Orosco in his career.  He'd already faced Orosco twice in the Series, in the 8th inning of Game 2 getting a bloop single to short right field, and in Game 4 hitting a weak bouncer to Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez.  And it wasn't as if Buckner was otherwise hitting well.  So far in the playoffs plus the last five games of the regular season, Bill had only 14 hits in 85 at bats, a .165 average, with one extra base hit, a double, and two walks, one intentional.

Buckner swung at the first pitch and lofted an easy pop fly to center field.

During the season, McNamara had often put the slick fielding Dave Stapleton in as a defensive replacement for Buckner in the late innings but this night he failed to do so even as the Sox entered the bottom of the 10th inning with a 5-3 lead.  Bill was in the wrong place at the wrong time due to his manager's inaction.

What is often lost in the debacle of Game 6 is the key role Bill Buckner played in the most important stretch of the regular season for the Red Sox in 1986.

As of August 30, the Sox were in first place but had played mediocre ball for more than a month going 19-25, including losing 5 of their last 6 games, cutting their lead, which once stood at 8 games, to 3 1/2 over the Toronto Blue Jays and 5 1/2 over the Yankees.  Buckner was having a below average season with ten homers, 79 ribbies, and a slash line of .259/.300/.391.  We all feared another late season collapse.

Starting that day, the Sox turned it around, winning 12 of 13, and by September 12 had a ten game lead and could glide through the rest of the season.  In those thirteen games, Bill Buckner went 21 for 55 with five doubles and six home runs (he hit only 18 the entire season), and walked six times (he had only 40 base on balls in all of 1986), along with driving in 19 runs.  His slash line was .382/.444/.745.

Bill and Red Sox fans slowly made their peace with each other, with Bill returning briefly to close out his career with the Sox in 1990 and making a couple of other appearances, but it was winning the World Series in 2004 that made it easier for everyone.  I'm happy Bill got to enjoy this moment in Fenway, throwing out the first pitch in the 2008 season:





Monday, May 27, 2019

Johnnie D Hutchins



It was the photo that caught my attention.  I'd been looking for something else when coming across it on Reddit.  Struck by its clarity and perspective, seemingly taken from the viewpoint of the chickens in the bare dirt yard; the adult man and woman, along with six children, five girls and a boy, posed in front of a rough wooden unpainted home, far enough away that their features were indistinct, and accompanied by this inscription, I decided to find out more:
"Family of Seaman 1/C Johnnie D Hutchins who was mortally wounded on September 4, 1943 when he turned LST-473 from the path of Japanese torpedo.  He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.  Family home, Lissie, Texas, 1944."
Johnnie D Hutchins was born during 1922 in Weimar, Texas, a town of about 1,000 inhabitants halfway between Houston and Austin, one of eight children (a daughter died in 1941 before this photo was taken).  Soon thereafter the family moved to Lissie, a smaller town, about 40 miles closer to Houston, where Johnnie graduated from Eagle Lake High School.  His father, Johnnie Marion Hutchins, was a farm laborer, his mother Cally Drue Cooper.

Graduating from Eagle Lake, where he played on the football team, Johnnie worked at a shipyard on the Houston Ship Channel before enlisting in the Navy in November 1942. After training he was sent to the Pacific Theater, where on September 4, 1943 Seaman First Class Hutchins found himself on LST (Landing Ship, Tank) - 473 carrying troops of the Australian 9th Division, along with its normal complement of 163 naval officers and crew, as it approached Lae, New Guinea.  His ship was part of a small flotilla of six LSTs, three minesweepers, and two subchasers, which came under heavy attack by Japanese dive bombers and torpedo planes.
LST 473 Pic.jpg
(LST-473 in the South Pacific)

Japanese Val dive bombers scored two direct hits on Johnnie's LST, killing six Americans, wounding 31 (including 18 Australian soldiers) and igniting fires, just as the helmsman and Johnnie spotted a torpedo heading directly towards the craft.  One bomb hit the pilot house, wounding the helmsman and throwing him clear from the structure. Hutchins, also in the pilot house, was badly wounded in his torso and tossed to the deck.  Struggling to his feet, he reached the helm as the torpedo continued to close.  Grasping the wheel he turned it to the right, causing the torpedo to miss the 328 foot vessel with little room to spare, saving countless lives.  By the time his shipmates reached him Johnnie was dead, his hands still tightly gripping the spokes.  The crew were able to extinguish the fires from the two bombs and save the boat.



Along with saving lives, Hutchins' action preserved LST-473 which went on to participate in four more Pacific operations including landings at Leyte (October 1944) and Lingayen Gulf (January 1945).
http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/16/1016047304.jpg(Bomb damage, LST-473)

On May 2, 1944 the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer U.S.S. Johnnie D Hutchins, his mother christening the ship with the help of Johnnie's 17-year old fiancee, Ruby Mae Butler.  On September 21, 1944 at a public ceremony at the Houston Coliseum, Admiral AC Bennett presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Johnnie's family.  The Hutchins family used the death benefit of $475.20 to purchase the home they rented.

After the war, Johnnie's body was returned from New Guinea and reburied at Lakeside Cemetery in Eagle Lake.  He has not been forgotten.  Eagle Lake named a street after him and, in 2000, surviving shipmates from LST-473 gathered at the cemetery for a memorial service.  A building at the Naval Air Station in Dallas is named after him.  In 2017 the Texas Legislature passed a bill designating Alt US-90 within Wharton County as Johnnie David Hutchins Memorial Highway.

In 2001, the family donated his Medal of Honor to the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans, where it is on display.  In 2012, Johnnie's brother Harold, who was only five when Johnnie died, recorded this brief oral history for the National WW2 Museum (the video also shows what an LST looked like as well as Japanese bombers).

In 1947, Johnnie's dad passed away from a heart attack at the age of 51.  I've been unable to find out more about his mother.  Johnnie's fiancee, Ruby Mae, a member of the Texas Cowgirls singing group, worked on bombers during WW2 and learned to fly, married in the late 1940s, became a registered nurse, and died in 2008.

 Ruby Mae <I>Butler</I> Covington(Ruby Mae Butler Covington)



Saturday, May 25, 2019

Traffic Jam

Climbers waiting to summit Mt Everest last Wednesday.

Climbers had to queue for hours to reach the summit of Mount Everest on Wednesday

The traffic jam has been so bad that climbers have waited for hours near the summit before reaching the top.  Several have died from exhaustion and dehydration during the wait.  This does not look like fun and excitement.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Uptown

What is now Broadway and 84th St. on the west side of Central Park in New York City.  Photo taken in 1879.  Though this area of Manhattan looks relatively flat today, that look required the removal of many hills on the island.  Photo from reddit.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Mr Consistency

Mel Ott swing sequence 1

I've written about the remarkable baseball career of Steady Eddie Collins with its consistently high level of performance over the years.  I came across another example recently, a player I've long known about but never really thought about it Collins-like terms - Mel Ott.

Growing up in the 1950s with a father who was a New York Giants fan, I certainly knew about Ott - the great slugger for the team in the 1930s, retiring with 511 home runs, at that time the National League record.  Ott first appeared with the Giants as a 17-year old rookie in 1926, retired from the team in 1947 and was a regular from 1928 through 1945.  But it was hard for me to see him as a consistently great player throughout that period when his performance varied from seasons like 1929 (42HR/151RBI/.328BA/1.084OPS) and 1936 (33/135/.328/1.036) to years like 1933 (23/103/.283/.834), 1940 (19/79/.289/.864) and 1943 (18/47/.234/.810).  Moreover, as I learned from reading Bill James in the 1980s, much of his home run total resulted from playing in the uniquely favorable home park configuration of the Polo Grounds where he mashed a remarkable 63% of his homers, using his unique leg kick batting style (see above), and despite not being a big player, even for that era, standing 5'9" and weighing 170.

What caused me to relook at Ott's career was some research on career WAR (Wins Above Replacement).  WAR is a far from perfect analytical tool but it does provide a decent starting point for comparative research as long as you are aware of its limitations.

There have been 19,519 major league players since 1871 and only 31 have accumulated at least 100 WAR over the course of their careers (Albert Pujols being the newest member of the club).  Looking at the data I realized Ott was #22 with 107.8 WAR (all figures based on the Baseball-Reference definition of WAR).

The top five in career WAR are Babe Ruth (182.4), Walter Johnson (164.3), Cy Young (163.6), Barry Bonds (162.8) and Willie Mays (156.4).  Illustrating the dominance of Babe Ruth in baseball history, the difference between the Babe and Ott is greater than that between Ott and the #715 player in career WAR, Bobby Thomson, who hit the famous home run for the Giants in the 1951 playoff against the Dodgers.

I decided to take a deeper look at Ott's career and quickly realized that one aspect I'd underestimated was the impact on his traditional states of his career starting in the high offense context of the National League in the late 1920s and very early 1930s, a context that soon changed when league offense first tapered, and then dropped, off the cliff during the war years (1942-45), so that his comparative performance throughout his career actually remained strong.

As mentioned above, Ott was a regular player for 18 seasons; 1928 through 1945.  In every one of those years he finished in the top ten in On Base + Slugging Percentage.  Even in 1943 when he hit only .234 with 18 homers, he was 8th in the league, and he finished in the top five on 13 occasions, including in 1945, his last year, when he was 3rd!

Ott also finished in the top ten in each of those seasons in adjusted OPS (15 times in top 5), home runs (16 times in top 5), and AB/HR (15 times in top 5).  His lowest adjusted OPS was 134 (meaning 34% better than the average) and his highest 178.

He was also in the top ten for 16 years in On-Base %, Slugging, and Walks.

Ott was consistent in other aspects of his work, hitting .305 in night games and .304 during the day.  He hit .302 against flyball pitchers and .300 against groundball hurlers; .302 against power tossers and .300 against finesse pitchers.

His batting average was .306 in April, .300 in May, and .302 in both June and July.  August (.330) and September(.284) showed some variation.

Mel hit between .289 and .317 against each of the seven opposing teams during his career (an unusually small variation) and between .288 and .325 (including .297 in the Polo Grounds) in seven of the nine ballparks he played in during his career.  The two exceptions were the Philadelphia Phillies parks of the era - Baker Bowl with its short right field fence, very inviting for a lefty hitter like Ott, until 1938, and Shibe Park for the remainder of his career.  At Baker Bowl, Ott assembled Ruthian stats, in 119 games hitting 40 home runs, driving in 161, hitting .415 with an OPS of 1.282.  But in 71 games at Shibe, Mel failed to hit a homer, drove in only 33, batting .220 with an OPS of .605.

And how about the Polo Grounds as home park and all those home runs?  Mel hit 323 of his 511 taters in his home park but what the Polo Grounds gave in four-baggers it took away in doubles and triples.  Ott had 181 doubles and 21 triples in his home park but 306 doubles and 51 triples on the road, giving a total of 525 extra base hits in New York and 545 in away games.  He also hit .311 on the road compared to .297 at home and, in another example of consistency played 1367 games at home and 1363 away.

My dad was right - Mel Ott was a great ballplayer.

By all accounts, Mel was a soft-spoken and nice guy who, after his playing and managerial days were over, was having a successful career as a baseball broadcaster for the Detroit Tigers.  Unfortunately, in November 1958 he was back home in Louisiana and driving on a fog-bound road at night when an oncoming car crossed over the center line and hit his car head on.  Mel died a week later at the age of 49.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Failing To Square The Circle


"Today, every Republican and conservative wants to say he would have been one of the Republicans (there were many) who supported the Civil Rights Act — more Republicans did than Democrats, as people versed in GOP historical apologetics often note. Yet every conservative Republican also wants to say that he would have had the foresight to support the principled conservative Goldwater . . . who opposed the Civil Rights Act. Squaring that circle was challenging then, as it is now, but while Goldwater’s principles and record on civil rights allowed him to escape some historical obloquy for his stance, others who lacked those credentials were haunted ever since. When in doubt, do the right thing."

Dan McLaughlin in National Review, May 5, 2016 
An astute observation by McLaughlin.  I've seen versions on this in various conservative publications, emphasizing the oft-ignored truth that a greater percentage of Congressional Republicans voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act than Congressional Democrats.  At the same time, Barry Goldwater, the torchbearer of modern political conservatism, opposed the bill.  And, though McLaughlin does not mention it, the type of Republicans, moderates from the northeast and midwest, who voted in support of the bill are almost extinct today.

I consider the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), America's two greatest legislative achievement during the 20th century.  The need to treat black Americans the same as other Americans was overwhelming, something that finally needed to be addressed by this country, after centuries of slavery, followed by a century of legal and de facto discrimination after the Civil War.  While Martin Luther King Jr, the Freedom Riders, and many others who risked their lives created the sense or moral rightness and urgency that generated public support, the person most responsible for their passage was President Lyndon B Johnson.

On the Republican side, Goldwater was not a segregationist.  He supported the integration of Phoenix schools, even helping to fund the lawsuit, and with a senior aide who happened to be a black woman, integrated the U.S Senate cafeteria in the 1950s.  However, as a conservative he felt certain provisions of the 1964 proposal, specifically regarding privately owned facilities, were unconstitutional.

In current conservative circles there is an effort to rewrite history by conflating 1960s Republicans with conservatives, which is historically wrong.  The GOP, at least in Congress, was predominantly moderate, with many so moderate that today's Republicans would consider them RINOs (Republicans in name only).  Most of the much smaller conservative community of the time opposed the Act; some because of Goldwater's reasons, but some also because they failed to appreciate the plight of blacks in segregated America, and the urgent need for action.  William Buckley, the publisher of National Review, and conservatism's leading intellectual light, was in the latter category, something for which he apologized for years later.  Many modern conservatives still need to face into this, and try to understand why they got this issue so wrong.

At the time, there was still a substantial faction of Congressional Democrats from the South unalterably opposed to integration and voting rights for blacks.  Today they are often described as conservatives but, in many instances, that is not accurate in the context of the times.  In fact, the man referred to as the "Dean" of the Senate, Richard Russell of Georgia who served from 1933 until 1971, was a New Deal Populist.  His only issue with New Deal programs was to make sure blacks did not get full access to their benefits.  Recently, I saw an interview with American neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, in which he spoke about his views on domestic policy and it was startling to discover he was really a New Dealer, supporting FDR's social programs as long as white people were the primary beneficiaries, just as Senator Russell did.

Senator Russell was also Lyndon Johnson's mentor during his time in Congress.  It is difficult for conservatives, President Kennedy's enthusiastic and worshipful supporters so resentful of LBJ, and modern progressives to credit LBJ; crude, untruthful, corrupt, vicious, and vulgar (as so well documented in Robert Caro's massive biography), whose disastrous and deceptive decision-making precipitated the Vietnam fiasco (for more read Dereliction of Duty), and whose hubris led to the launching the Great Society with all its deleterious consequences, with also being the instrument to accomplish these two monumental legislative landmarks.

The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were effective in transforming America.  That they were not even more so is due to the Supreme Court's continuing refusal to enforce the specific language in the Act forbidding discrimination based upon race.

What these Acts mean in the context of today's politics is more difficult because context has changed so much in a half century.  To illustrate, I'm so old I was liberal back when we believed in freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, tolerance, and equality under the law.  And it's why I'm not a progressive today.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Let's Live For Today

The Grass Roots were one of those faceless 60s bands.  They had several Top 20 hits like Midnight ConfessionsTemptation Eyes, and Sooner Or Later, but I could not have picked them out of a lineup.  There's a good reason for that - the band was a concoction by producer Lou Adler and the songwriting duo of PF Sloan and Steve Barri (also responsible for Eve Of Destruction by Barry McGuire, Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers, and You Baby by The Turtles), who were on the prowl for existing bands willing to change their name to The Grass Roots and record Sloan/Barri songs.  They went through two abortive starts before, in 1967, persuading the band 13th Floor to change its name and even then, LA studio musicians (known as The Wrecking Crew) did much of the performing on the records.

I didn't care much for most of the band's music except for their first hit, Let's Live For Today, which was not composed by Barri and Sloan but was originally an Italian song for which Michael Julien wrote English lyrics.  Released in May 1967, Let's Live For Today made the Top Ten.


The guitarist in the 13th Floor and for The Grass Roots until the spring of 1969 was Creed Bratton.  If you've ever watched The Office you know Creed Bratton.  In that series Creed Bratton plays a very weird character named Creed Bratton who used to perform with The Grass Roots.  Apparently the real Creed is different from the character Creed Bratton who is completely amoral, may have murdered a man, and is likely insane.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Avebury Redux

Related image
An update of a post from 2016:

Located in the United Kingdom, Avebury is not as well known outside England as its neolithic cousin, Stonehenge, which is twenty miles to the south.  Today, Avebury is a small village that looks the same as it did when THC and two friends were there in 1978.  We were in the midst of a bicycle tour which started with us embarking from London on the train with our bicycles and disembarking in Oxford.  We'd ridden up into the Cotswold Hills, staying a night at Stow-On-The-Wold (English villages have wonderful names!), and then headed south via Cirencester to Avebury (stopping to see the ruins of a Roman villa at Chedworth).  After Avebury, we headed to Winchester where my friends took a train back to London and I headed west for the Mendip Hills, Glastonbury and Bath.

Arriving at Avebury late afternoon, we inquired at the local pub, The Red Lion, (located where the roads intersect in the center in the photo above) whether there was a B&B in the village.  We were informed there was but the lady who ran it was not taking in boarders at this time, though we were given directions to our home down the street and told we were welcome to talk with her.  I don't remember her name (though I do remember she had red hair) and though she confirmed what we were told in the pub, she seemed to realize we had few alternatives and decided to take us in.  I think we paid $7 a night.
https://www.londontoolkit.com/Images/avebury_red_lion.jpg(The Avebury pub from londontoolkit.com)


UPDATE: Going through some things we brought with us when we moved to Arizona, I found a small address book that I used in the late 1970s and early 80s and it had the name of the woman who gave us accommodations in Avebury!  She was Heather Peak-Garland and her home was Saint Andrews Cottage on the High Street.  An internet search found a picture of her from 2010 and her hair was still red! A bequest by the sister of Heather Peak-Garland, pictured, has made it possible for bells in Avebury to be restoredHeather was 86 and still active as of a February 2017 article in the Telegraph UK on the local scandal that happened when the National Trust began closing the toilets early at its museum and tourists began urinating on the ancient stones. 

Retired farm worker and bellringer Heather Peak-Garland, 86, who has lived in Avebury all her life, also blamed the National Trust.
She said: "There's nowhere in the main streets that you can go to the toilet and it is terribly uncomfortable at times.
"I don't see it too often because I haven't been well but it is terrible when it's solstice and things like that.
I really think you have to blame the National Trust. They get all these people to come to the village and don't look after them.

"On the plus side, the wildflowers near the stone circle no longer grow and perhaps weeing on them might make them grow," she quipped.
I hope she's still with us.

Over the next couple of days we explored the Avebury stone circle, walked up to the ancient Ridgeway Track looming above the village, saw West Kennet Long Barrow and visited the mysterious Silbury Hill.  I seem to also remember we met some bloke at the Red Lion who took us back to his place to listen to music and drink more beer.

Avebury was constructed during the third millennium BC.  It's a henge consisting of a large circular bank, about 1,100 yards in circumference, along with an internal ditch perhaps 12-15 meters wide the outlines of which can be seen in the picture at the top.  Within the henge is a large stone circle.
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Z4KEE4rBh-w/T2ufF79hgYI/AAAAAAAADwc/qHjjBmtFNi8/s1600/20100709_Avebury_53bg.jpg
(from Gazette and Herald UK)
http://www.gazetteandherald.co.uk/resources/images/3629393.jpg?display=1&htype=0&type=mc3

Leaving the henge in a southeasterly direction is a 2.5 kilometer long thoroughfare bordered by large stones (only a few of which remain), known today as West Kennet Avenue and traces of a similar avenue leading to the southwest have also been found.
http://c8.alamy.com/comp/E4T167/west-kennet-avenue-avebury-E4T167.jpg
Lying to the southeast, about 1 1/2 miles from the village, Silbury Hill is a 131 foot high artificial hill, constructed of chalk rubble and earth a bit earlier than the Avebury circle.  The purpose of Silbury Hill as well as the rest of the Avebury complex remains a riddle, but the amount of labor and time required to construct all of it would have been enormous and indicates the agricultural society of that time had enough wealth and central authority to commit such a large amount of its resources to a generations long project.

(Silbury Hill from dorwynmanor)

http://dorwynmanor.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Silbury-Hill-near-Avebury-001.jpghttp://www.megalithic.co.uk/a558/a312/gallery/England/Wiltshire/Avebury/Silbury_Hill/IMG_6335silburyHill.jpgBy the time Britain's Iron Age began around 800 BC, the Avebury complex was no longer in use for whatever purpose it was originally constructed.  During the Roman occupation of Britain (43AD - 410AD), the site attracted tourists.  It then disappears from until showing up in some 10th century Anglo-Saxon records.  Eventually the area became associated with the works of the Devil and in the 14th century the demolition of the stone circle and avenue began by local villagers.  It continued sporadically reaching a peak of destruction in the early 18th century before preservationists were able to halt this activity.

Below is a sketched reconstruction of the original monument by the 18th century antiquarian William Stukeley, who played a key role in saving what was left.  (From ancient-wisdom.com)http://www.ancient-wisdom.com/Images/countries/English%20pics/aveburystukeley.jpg

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Rebel Yell

During the Civil War many Union soldiers remarked in letters home and later in memoirs about the spooky Rebel Yell, which attacking Confederates used to instill courage in themselves and terror in the other side.  The Rebel Yell made quite an impression by the number of references to it.  But what did it sound like?

This video by the Museum of the Confederacy discusses the effort to reconstruct the yell.  Their recording is indeed spooky - it sounds like hounds closing in on the kill or a pack of coyotes celebrating a kill in the early morning hours, a sound we've gotten used to since moving to Arizona.


And, of course, we have Billy Idol's own version of the Rebel Yell.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"It Was Just '66 And Early '67"

The Limey, Steven Soderbergh's 1999 film, remains relatively unknown, sandwiched between two of his hits, Out of Sight (excellent, and the best movie made by both George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) and Erin Brockovich (mediocre), but is worth watching.  Terence Stamp plays Wilson, a career criminal from Britain, recently released from his third stint in prison, and come to America to seek vengeance for the death of his daughter, a daughter who turned him in because of his refusal to change his ways.

Wilson's ultimate target is Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), a jaded Hollywood record producer with a much younger girlfriend, the replacement for Wilson's daughter after her death, who now dabbles in drug deals to support his lavish lifestyle.  In one scene, Valentine's girlfriend asks him what the Sixties were like and in response he offers a soundbite of the superficially profound insights of that decade, and then admits even that was limited in time; "It was just '66 and early '67.  That's all it was".

Soderbergh cleverly uses casting and editing (a lot of cross-cutting and time shifts) to show the wreckage of the 60s.  In Stamp's case he uses footage from the 1967 film Poor Cow, in which he appears, looking young and optimistic, singing a Donovan song, in contrast to the white-haired, craggy, and deadened spirit we see now.  With Fonda (59 at the time of filming), we have one of the icons of the 60s, always associated with Easy Rider, now vainly cleaning the whitened teeth embedded within his plastic surgery face as he muses about the '60s from his perch atop the Hollywood Hills.  Here's the scene:



Intricately plotted, with striking cinematography, and Stamp cutting like a knife through the screenplay, The Limey is both violent and poignant, with some unexpected twists.

As an insight into the scrambled nature of THC's mind, the title line of this post popped into my head when my iPod shuffle brought up Monday, Monday by The Mommas & Pappas, released in March 1966, a song emblematic of that brief time Terry Valentine refers to in The Limey.


1966 was also the year of Sunshine Superman, Good Vibrations, and Revolver.  By early 1967 we see the first of the darker themed American bands appearing on the scene.  On January 4, The Doors released their first album.  First cut, first side:

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Obstruction?

I've gone back through the first section of Volume 2 of the Mueller Report, concerning potential obstruction by the President with the FBI investigation, to get a better feel for the sequence of events from the beginning of January 2017 until the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel on May 17, 2017.  Stripping out excess verbiage and reorganizing the events in the report into chronological order is a device helpful in dealing with voluminous amounts of information.  I've tried not to leave out anything material, or distort anything excerpted from the report.  The outline concentrates on what Donald Trump knew, and was telling people, at the time.

Except where noted, this timeline is based on the information presented in the Mueller Report.  All quotes, except where otherwise noted by use of brackets or otherwise indicated, are directly from the Mueller Report.   The major exception are events added, from other sources, for the period from May 10 through 17.

In effect, what you see below is the prosecution's best case regarding the events.  It takes at face value the narrative presented by Mueller without providing any opportunity for Trump or other participants to provide more context or information that counters what is set forth in the report.

January 6
Trump is briefed by Intelligence Community leaders on assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Following this briefing, FBI Director Comey has a private one on one meeting with the President-elect to tell him of "unverified, personally sensitive allegations compiled by Steele".  Comey assures Trump the FBI is not investigating him personally; "Comey recalled he did not want the President-elect to think of the conversation as a 'J Edgar Hoover move' ".  [Comey does not mention anything regarding the origins of the dossier.]

January 10
Widespread media reports (led by Buzzfeed and CNN) that Comey briefed Trump on the Steele Dossier.

January 11
Trump meets with Intelligence Community leaders expressing his concern about the leaks and asks them whether they can refute the allegations. [Remember that Trump knew then, what we all now know, the allegations he was briefed on were false.]

January 13
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence opens investigation into possible Russian election interference.

January 25
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence opens investigation into possible Russian election interference.

January 26
Acting AG Yates contacts WH General Counsel McGahn to discuss Flynn and possible lying.

McGahn reports Yates conversation to Trump who directs him to look into the matter.

WH Chief of Staff Priebus "recalls that the President was angry with Flynn in light of what Yates had told the White House and said, 'not again, this guy, this stuff'".

Trump meets with advisers and asks their opinions of Comey.  Consensus is "not positive" but Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats supports Comey and urges Trump to meet with him face to face.

January 27
Trump invites Comey to dinner that evening.  Trump tells Comey he is thinking of ordering FBI to investigate the dossier allegations against him.  Comey recommends he not issue the order because it would give the incorrect impression he is under investigation.  According to Comey, Trump says "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty".  Comey tells him, "You will always get honesty from me."

February 2
Senate Judiciary Committee opens investigation into possible Russian election interference.

February 6
Flynn and Trump talk.  According to Flynn, "President was upset" with him.

February 13
Flynn resigns.  Trump, "We'll give you a good recommendation.  You're a good guy.  We'll take care of you."

February 14
Trump has lunch with Chris Christie.  Tells Christie, "Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over".  Christie disagrees.  Trump asks Christie to reach out to Comey.  Christie does not.

Trump meets alone with Comey.  Regarding Flynn, Trump says, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.  He is a good guy.  I hope you can let that go."  Comey agrees Flynn is "good guy" but will not commit to ending the investigation.

March 1
News of possible recusal by AG Sessions breaks.

March 2
Trump has McGahn call Sessions to ask him not to recuse, but Sessions recuses.

March 3
A furious Trump tells McGahn he wishes Roy Cohn was his lawyer [Cohn, who worked for Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, represented Trump on many matters early in his business career], lamenting he does not have his own lawyer now.  Says Robert F Kennedy and Eric Holder protected their presidents.

March 4
Trump asks Sessions to reverse recusal.  Compares him unfavorably to Robert F Kennedy and Eric Holder.

March 9
Comey briefs Gang of Eight (Congressional leaders and heads of intelligence committees) about the FBI investigation on Russia and on subjects of that investigation.

Prior to March 20 Testimony of Comey
Trump expresses frustration with advisers about Comey "for too frequently making headlines and for not attending intelligence briefings at the White House" and that he suspects him of leaking.  According to McGahn, Trump thought Comey was acting like "his own branch of government".

March 20
In congressional testimony, Comey publicly confirms Russia investigation.  Comey declines to answer question about whether Trump is under investigation.  He also says, regarding the President, "we have briefed him in great detail on the subjects of the investigation and what we're doing."

March 21
Following Comey testimony, press reports suggest Trump is under investigation.  Trump is upset, described as "beside himself".  At urging of Trump, McGahn tries to have Comey or DOJ correct misperception that Trump is under investigation.

McGahn says Asst AG Boente tells him "it is not sustainable for Comey to stay as FBI Director for next four years".  McGahn tells Trump of the comment.

March 22
According to Coats (DNI), but not Pompeo (CIA), Trump asks them to publicly say there is no link between him and Russian interference in election.  They do not.

March 23
Trump calls Coats to complain again about Comey.  Coats says to let things run their course.

March 26
Trump calls NSA Director Rogers complaining that all this has made relations with Russia difficult.  Said news stories are inaccurate and asks if he could refute them.  Though he takes no action, Rogers does not see this as order and later testifies he had "never been directed to do anything he believed to be illegal, immoral, unethical, or inappropriate" and did "not recall feeling pressure to do so". 

March 30
Trump calls Comey:
According to Comey's contemporaneous record of the conversation, the President said "he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult".  The President asked Comey what could be done to "lift the cloud".  Comey explained "that we were running it down as quickly as possible and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work".  Comey also told the President that congressional leaders were aware that the FBI was not investigating the President personally.  The President said several times, "We need to get that fact out".  The President commented that if there was "some satellite" (which Comey took to mean an associate of the President's or the campaign) that did something, "it would be good to find that out" but that he himself had not done anything wrong and he hoped Comey "would find a way to get out that we weren't investigating him".
March 31
News reports that Flynn has offered to testify in exchange for immunity.  Trump tweets "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt . . ."

Late March/Early April
Trump asks KT McFarland to pass message to Flynn telling him Trump feels bad for him and he should stay strong.

April 11
Trump calls Comey again, asking he get the word out he is not personally under investigation.  Later that day, Trump tells advisers he has twice recently reached out to Comey, and tells McGahn that Comey indicated the FBI could make such a statement if DOJ approved.

Prior to May 3 Testimony of Comey
Leading up to Comey's next testimony to Congress, Trump tells advisers to work with Comey to make public he is not under investigation.  According to McGahn, the "President said that it would be the last straw if Comey did not take the opportunity to set the record straight . . .".

May 3
In public testimony, Comey refuses to answer questions about whether the FBI had "ruled out the president of the United States."  Trump is furious over this response and with Sessions, and once again with advisers brings up Robert Kennedy and Eric Holder as examples of attorneys who protected their presidents.

May 4
Steve Bannon says Trump brought up Comey at least eight times in conversations that day, each time saying, "He told me three times I'm not under investigation.  He's a showboater".  Bannon tells Trump that firing Comey will not end investigation.

May 5
Trump tells advisers he definitely wants to fire Comey.  Asks Stephen Miller to prepare letter.  Trump wants letter to start, "While I greatly appreciate you informing me that I am not under investigation concerning what I have often stated is a fabricated story on a Trump-Russia relationship, please be informed that I, and I believe the American public - including D's and R's - have lost faith in you as Director of the FBI."   Draft prepared by Miller tracks this language.

May 8
Trump meets with McGahn, Preibus, Miller, and others regarding firing Comey.  Trump reads them first paragraph of draft letter.  McGahn says he is meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein to find out what they think.

According to McGahn, Sessions and Rosenstein criticize Comey and don't object to replacing him.  Their reaction gives McGahn "peace of mind" that the firing is not an act of obstruction.

At a meeting late that afternoon, Trump tells Rosenstein to draft a memo and to "put the Russia stuff in the memo" [that he has been repeatedly told he is not under investigation]; Rosenstein says no and Trump says "he would appreciate it if Rosenstein put it in his letter anyway".

Rosenstein tells DOJ colleagues "his own reasons for replacing Comey were not the President's reasons".

May 9
Letter from Sessions recommending Comey removal and memo from Rosenstein setting out grounds for removal [but not making recommendation].  White House counsel office says Miller draft "should not see light of day".  Trump again asks Miller to draft letter mentioning Russia.  It is unclear from the Mueller report how the final text of the letter was drafted:
I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated from office, and removed, effective immediately.

While I greatly appreciate your informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.

It is essential we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.
Trump summons McCabe, who will be acting FBI Director, to the White House.  McCabe in response to question from Trump, says he knows the president is not under investigation.  McCabe says he has been closely involve with the Russia investigation and it will continue.

May 10
Trump meets with Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister:
I just fired the head of the FBI.  He was crazy, a real nut job.  I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That's taken off . . . I'm not under investigation".  The President never denied making those statements, and the White House did not dispute the account, instead issuing a statement that said: "By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.  The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it." 
May 11
In an interview with Lester Holt, "The President affirmed that he expected the new FBI Director to continue the Russia investigation".

Later, after watching the Holt interview, the President tweets, "Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election."

These next entries are NOT in the Mueller report:

May 10
McCabe opens FBI obstruction investigation regarding President Trump. 


May 11
McCabe testifies in the Senate and Sen Rubio asks "“has the dismissal of Mr. Comey in any way impeded, interrupted, stopped, or negatively impacted any of the work, any investigation, or any ongoing projects at the Federal Bureau of Investigation? and McCabe responds "there has been no effort to impede our investigation to date."

May 12
McCabe meets with Rosenstein and recommends appointment of Special Counsel.

May 15
McCabe and Rosenstein talk again about Special Counsel.

May 16
Rosenstein brings Robert Mueller to the White House to meet with Trump as potential FBI Director.  However, by statute the FBI Director is eligible to serve only one term, for a maximum of ten years.  At the end of Mueller's earlier ten-year tenure as FBI Director it was extended for two years by a special Congressional Act and new legislation would be required if he was to be reappointed.  Trump, Rosenstein, and Mueller converse in the Oval Office.  It is not known whether the legal impediment to Mueller's appointment is raised.  McCabe has recently published a book in which he writes that Robert Mueller temporarily left his cell phone behind after meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office and that the phone “later had to be retrieved.”"

May 17
Rosenstein announces he has appointed Mueller as Special Counsel.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
My thoughts:

Just as during the campaign we saw the difference between amateurs (Trump Jr and Kushner have an unproductive meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian) and professionals (the Clinton campaign works through four layers of cut-outs to successfully get damaging, though inaccurate, information on Trump from the Russians which they leak to the media and inject into the FBI and DOJ via their contacts), we see the same play out from January through mid-May now that Trump is president.  A more cautious person, someone more experienced in Washington, might have better controlled himself, and not have fallen into the traps as Trump did.  On the other hand, Trump's naivete about the process and frequently expressed frustrated reaction to the FBI's continued refusal to state publicly what he has been repeatedly assured in private - that he personally is not under investigation, along with his suspicion that those in the intelligence community are leaking information, in some instances false information, suspicions that have since proved well-founded, actually help his case that he was not involved in obstruction.

There has been a lot of commentary since release of the Mueller report that Trump's staff saved him from some of his worst instincts.  I think that true in some instances, but on two critical matters they failed him.  The first is with whatever advice he was getting to keep Comey in office as of January and to not remove him shortly thereafter. The longer Comey was there the worse things became.  The second was persuading the President to not follow his instincts in making it clear that Comey's firing was because he refused to state publicly what he was telling the President privately.  Instead the final letter inaccurately assigned the blame for the firing to Sessions and Rosenstein, an inaccuracy the President is responsible for as the one who signed the letter, but was also insisted upon by his advisors.

The historical references employed by Trump and Comey are also interesting.  On three occasions, Trump accurately complains that he does not have a lawyer willing to protect him as Robert F Kennedy did his brother, and Eric Holder performed for Obama; in fact, Holder openly described himself as President Obama's "wingman".

Comey in his testimony regarding the January 6 meeting claims "he did not want the President-elect to think of the conversation as a 'J Edgar Hoover move', a reference to the FBI Director's implied threats to Presidents (particularly JFK, LBJ, and Nixon) to release damaging information if he did not get his way.  It would be interesting to get Trump's take on this, particularly since he was schooled on politics by Roy Cohn, who knew Washington and was a cynical manipulator, well acquainted with Hoover's methods.  What did Trump think when just a couple of days after a "confidential" briefing by the FBI Director, he saw details of the salacious allegation spread across the news media; allegations he knew, and we now know, to be false?  Did he think what Comey was up to was precisely what Hoover used to do?

According to Comey's own testimony, on January 27 he tells Trump, "You will always get honesty from me."  At the same time, he was repeatedly telling Trump he was not under investigation personally, Comey was leaking damaging information to his allies in the press and documenting his actions in memos to file.  In retrospect, Comey's assurances that the President was not "personally" under investigation was misleading because what was really going on was an FBI investigation that Comey hoped would eventually lead to the President.

Finally, it is very strange that Rosenstein arranged for Mueller to visit the White House supposedly to be interviewed for the FBI Director position at a time when Rosenstein must have already known he was going to appoint Special Counsel and Mueller would be named to the position.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Koji At Sunset


The Musical Box

I've been waiting here for so long
And all this time that passed me by
It doesn't seem to matter now
You stand there with your fixed expression
Casting doubt on all I have to say
 
One of the more bizarre and beautiful songs from a band that specialized in 'em, Genesis - or, more accurately, the version of the band before Peter Gabriel left the group and when Phil Collins was just the drummer.  After Gabriel's departure they became a much more commercially successful and more conventional pop band.  But not nearly as interesting.

While bizarre it actually tells a coherent story if you listen carefully.  And it ends with a dramatic climax. Following the band's cut is a piano instrumental by Massimo Bucci.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Willie Turns 88

Image result for willie mays
Willie Mays turns 88 today.  My favorite athlete (and my dad's - I always think of him when I remember Willie - dad raised me in the Church of Willie Mays), Willie is slowing down, losing his vision to glaucoma, but still likes hanging out in the manager's office before San Francisco Giants home games.  Happy birthday, Willie.  My posts on Willie.

Sorry, Big Papi but you're #2.

And Larry, you're #3.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Last Sinking

Two days later, on May 7, 1945, the final German surrender occurred and the European portion of the Second World War would end.  The prior day, May 4, Admiral Karl Doenitz, former commander of the German navy, and now, after his appointment by Hitler just before the Fuhrer's suicide on April 30, head of government for the crumbling Third Reich, wired his U-boat fleet instructing them to cease all attacks on Allied shipping as of 8am on May 5 and return to home port.

On this day in 1945 a German U-boat would sink an American ship a few miles off Point Judith, Rhode Island, the last sunk by the Germans during the war, and the last lost by the Allies in the Atlantic.

At 540pm on May 5, the SS Black Point passed about three miles from the Coast Guard Station at the Point Judith Lighthouse on the Rhode Island coast.  The 5,353 ton collier was carrying 7,759 tons of coal from Newport News, Virginia, leaving on May 2, to Weymouth, Massachusetts.  The Black Point carried Captain Charles Prior and 45 men under his command, including seven officers, 33 crewmen, and five armed guards (Black Point was armed with a 6-pounder and two .30 caliber guns).

The Black Point left its protective convoy escort after passing New York Harbor and was not zig zagging while traveling in presumably friendly waters with its crew looking forward to docking in a few hours.

As he was about to enter the sighting into the Station logbook, Boatswain's Mate Joe Burbine heard an explosion and saw the Black Point had stopped.  The last 50 feet of the 396 foot ship had disappeared and four of the crew were already dead.  A half hour later the Black Point rolled over and sank.  Twelve of the 46 man crew went down with the ship.  The survivors, including Captain Prior, were picked up by the Norwegian ship Scandanavia and the Yugoslav ship Karmen.

SS Black Point
The Black Point

In an interview in 2000, one of the survivors, purser Luke Pelletier, described what happened as he stood up from dinner to head aft:

Just as Pelletier and the second engineer stood up, the torpedo struck the engine room and knocked them both back down.

"I ran out to the catwalk aft, and there was no ship left there," he said.

The blast tossed one of the Armed Guard off the stern.

"He landed on the catwalk bleeding", Luke Pelletier said.  "We hauled his ass back.  Then they tried to launch the lifeboats, and it didn't go well."  . . . "One of them went straight down".

Pelletier got aboard a raft mounted on tracks so it could slide straight into the water.  But it stuck, its tracks corroded. "The raft wouldn't budge.  The boatswain finally got it loose.  There were 17 of us in the raft, including the captain."
At 720pm a Coast Guard frigate and two Navy destroyer escorts arrived in the area and began searching for a submarine.  Seven other ships joined the search in the next few hours.  At 1143pm, two of the American vessels made sonar contact at a depth of 100 feet.  Dropping depth charges brought oil, wood, and life jackets to the surface.  Early the next morning an oil slick was identified and more depth charges dropped.  At 1045am, the U-boat was declared sunk, its entire crew of 56 perishing.

A diver was dispatched and found the wreck, which had large holes in the bow and bodies visible inside.  The vessel was identified as the U-853.  The U-boat was helmed by 24 year old Captain Helmut Fromsdorf.  No one knows whether he received Donitz's order, or why he risked attacking in such shallow water near the coast and did not try to flee the area after sinking Black Point.  At the time of his attack, a half-dozen other U-boats were motoring towards American ports to surrender after receiving Donitz's message.

Fromsdorf had served on the U-853 since June 1943, initially as 1st Watch Officer.  He took command of the boat in September 1944 after commander Helmut Sommer was killed when two American aircraft caught the boat on the surface and strafed it.

U-853 began its final cruise in North American waters when it arrived off Nova Scotia on April 20 after leaving Stavenger, Norway on February 24.  On April 23, the USS Eagle, a naval patrol craft, was snapped in half by an explosion and sank, with only 14 of its 63 man crew surviving.  It is believed the U-853 was responsible for the sinking.  Because the U-853 log book has never been recovered the boat's movements between April 23 and May 5 remain unknown.

The Black Point was constructed in 1918 and was originally named Fairmont.  After briefly being used by the Navy in WW1 it was transferred back to its owner and renamed Nebraskan.  In 1927 it was sold to CH Sprague & Son in Boston and renamed Black Point.

The wrecks of both vessels remain off Point Judith.

SS Black Point Casualties

William Antilley  Abiline, Texas

Geo. P. Balser  Queens Village, NY

Leo H. Beck  St. Louis, MO

Milton Matthews  St. Louis, MO

Laurel F. Clark  Brinkman, Oklahoma

Cleo Hand  Hazelhurst, GA

Robert L. Korb  Newport News, VA

Ansey L. Morgan  Virginia

Marvin A. Mertinek  Warda, Texas

Richard C. Shepson  So. Boundbrook, NJ

Reino Lindstrom Finland

Naval Armed Guard

Lonnie Whitson Lloyd

 Lonnie Whitson Lloyd Served on:
SS Mormacdale
SS Expositor
HMCS Trillum
USS Pontiac
SS Joseph P Bradley
SS Eugene Hale
SS Black Point

Friday, May 3, 2019

Cacti

Since moving to Arizona, THC has learned a bit about cactus, including that cacti is its plural.

We have seven varieties of cactus on our property and this time of year is when it blooms.

Saguaro


The Saguaro is the largest cactus in the Americas and is only found in Sonora and Arizona, where it is the official state wildflower. Its arms only start appearing when it is 75 to 100 years old and the plant can live for several hundred years.  Ours may be about 300 years old.

Organ Pipe

The Organ Pipe is a relatively rare cactus and protected by law.  Southern Arizona is home to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  The plant takes 150 years to mature.

Barrel



The origin of the name should be obvious from its shape.


Cholla

Don't get too close to this one or the next on the list as their needles are hard to see and extend out further than you think.

Pencil Cholla


Totem Pole
 

Prickly Pear


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Questions About The Russian Collusion Story

There are many unanswered questions about the Russia Collusion story, mostly for the investigators now that we know the Trump campaign was not coordinating its activities with the Russians and the Steele Dossier could not be verified. What is remarkable is how little we would have ever known about the pre-election investigation, the dossier, and even the Clinton email investigation, if Hillary Clinton had won the election. I’d like some answers. And they better get cracking! If it isn’t completely wrapped up by the summer of 2020 and Trump loses the election, this whole matter will disappear like it never happened.

For more background on the Russia Collusion story see my prior posts.

The questions are broken down into five categories;

The FBI Investigation (July 2016-May 2017)
Obama Administration Surveillance Programs 
Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian Interference (Jan. 2017)
Mueller Investigation (May 2017-March 2019
Clinton Email Investigation (2015-6)
The last is included as part of the Russia collusion story because many of the same players at the FBI and DOJ were involved in both, and without Clinton being cleared in that matter the 2016 election might have played out very differently.

The FBI and Intelligence Community Investigation 

Did the FBI and DOJ really begin their investigation of the Trump campaign and Russian collusion on July 31, 2016? Was there a preliminary investigation already under way? Was the CIA undertaking any relevant activity prior to that date? According to the Mueller Report it was information obtained from a friendly foreign government in late July 2016 regarding George Papadopolous’ (P) discussion in May 2016 regarding Russia having damaging emails regarding Hillary Clinton that initiated the investigation. The Mueller Report mentions no U.S. government activity prior to that date.

In April 2017 The Guardian (UK) reported that "British spies were first to spot Trump team's ties with Russia".   According to the article, the agencies became aware in the  fall of 2015  of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.  It claims that several other western agencies developed similar information but " at no point" carried "out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information".  What information was spotted by the British?  Was there any targeted operation against Trump by any western intelligence agency?  How and when was this information conveyed to the U.S.?

Who is Joseph Mifsud? Mifsud, a professor in London, approached P in March 2016 shortly after it was announced P was a Trump foreign policy advisor. In April, Mifsud told P the Russians had damaging emails regarding H Clinton. It is likely that some intelligence service became aware of this conversation leading to two Australians reaching out to meet with P the following month. If so, how did they become aware? Was Mifsud a Russian intelligence asset? Was he working for American or another Western intelligence service? Was he a freelancer trying to puff up his importance? Did the FBI really not learn about P’s information regarding Clinton until late July 2016?

According to the Mueller Report, when Mifsud was interviewed by the FBI on February 10, 2017 he denied telling P anything about the Clinton emails and even denied knowing anything about them at that time.  The Mueller Report does not characterize his response as false and he faced no criminal false statement charges.  Why?

Is it true that two military personnel at the U.S. Embassy in London (Terrance Dudley and George Baker) were with the Defense Intelligence Agency and reached out to P on May 6, 2016? If so, why?
How did P’s meeting with Australian Erika Thompson on May 6, 2016 come about? Was Thompson associated with Australian intelligence? Why did she introduce P to Alexander Downer? Although it is obscured by the language in the Mueller Report it appears it was at this meeting, and not the Downer meeting on May 10, that P mentioned the Clinton emails, though even this is unclear.

Did Australian diplomat Alexander Downer approach P on behalf of an intelligence service? At their May 10, 2016 meeting did P mention the Clinton emails?

P believes his conversation with Downer was recorded.  Does a recording exist of the conversations with Downer or Thompson?

How was Downer or Thompson's conversation with P described in the July 26 memo to the U.S. government which started the official investigation?

Why was Bill Priestap, senior FBI official and Peter Strozk’s boss, in London at the same time as P’s meetings with Thompson and Downer?

What, if any, connections did Felix Sater have with Russian, American or other friendly government intelligence services?  Is Sater the "Individual 2" referenced multiple times in the charging statement regarding Michael Cohen?  It was Sater who approached the Trump Organization in September 2015 on behalf of Russian investors about pursuing a Trump Tower project in Moscow.  There are conflicting reports on Sater's intelligence connections.  In 1998 Sater pled guilty to criminal charges filed by the United States and agreed to cooperate with the government.  The cooperation agreement is signed on behalf of the government by Andrew Weissman, who was Mueller's chief deputy in the Russian collusion investigation.

Under what circumstances did the Obama DOJ admit Natalia Veselnitskaya into the U.S.? Was she under surveillance while in the U.S.? Veselnitskaya, who met with Trump Jr and Kushner at the Trump Towers, was banned from the U.S. and needed special approval from DOJ to enter.

Was any government agency or individual aware of the Trump Towers meeting of June 2016 before it occurred?

Did, as has been widely reported, Glenn Simpson meet with Veselnitskaya on the same day as the Trump Towers meeting, both before and after the meeting? If so, what was the purpose of the meeting? Were Simpson and Fusion GPS retained by Veselnitskaya to lobby on behalf of a Putin connected oligarch?

What communications regarding the alleged Trump campaign/Russia connection did Glenn Simpson, Nellie Ohr, or anyone else associated with Fusion GPS have with DOJ or the FBI prior to the 2016 election? Nellie Ohr is the wife of senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr; a Russian expert, she was hired by Fusion GPS.

What is the accurate date on which Nellie Ohr obtained a ham radio license? Is there anything relevant about the date, or the use of the ham radio?

Did Stefan Halper reach out to P and Carter Page on behalf of an American intelligence service?  If so, was, as his first attempt to reach out to Page prior to July 31, 2016, as Page has asserted?

When did the Intelligence Community first become aware of any of the allegations contained in the Steele Dossier?

What occurred during the two meetings between Christopher Steele and Michael Gaeta of the FBI, the first in Rome in June 2016 and the second in London on July 5?

Was, as has been reported, Serge Millian a source for the dossier?  Did Millian approach Papadopolous in October 2016 as P has claimed?  If so, why?

What information, other than the Steele Dossier, was used to obtain the FISA warrant on Carter Page?

What did the FBI know about the source of funding for the Steele Dossier and when did it learn it?

What type of verification did the FBI and DOJ have regarding the allegations in the Steele Dossier at the time it applied for the FISA warrant, and upon each of the three subsequent applications for its renewal?

What was the role of current FBI GC Dana Boente in the approval of the Page FISA Warrants?

There are reports that the FISA Court denied three FISA applications related to the Russia investigation during 2016. Is this correct and, if so, on whom were they sought and why were they denied?

Why didn't the Obama Administration provide a defensive briefing to Candidate Trump in 2016?  Defensive briefings are designed to alert officials of potential intelligence breaches within their staffs.  For instance, when the intelligence community discovered that Sen Diane Feinstein's long-time staffer was also a long-time Chinese spy, she was privately briefed and the staffer dismissed.  Was the failure to do so based upon intelligence community suspicions that Trump was directly involved with Russia?  If so, what was the evidence that prompted this suspicion and how, and by whom, was the evidence evaluated?

On November 17, 2016 NSA Director Mike Rogers went to see President-elect Trump at Trump Towers, without informing DNI Clapper. On November 18 it was announced the Trump Transition Team was moving its operations from the Towers to New Jersey. Were these events connected? What was the substance of the Rogers discussion with Trump?

Who leaked to the media the contents of Michael Flynn’s call with Russian Ambassador Kislyak? This leak was of classified information and illegal.

Is it true that, at some point between January 6 and January 10, 2017, DCI Clapper leaked to the media that President-elect Trump had been briefed on the Steele Dossier, a leak which triggered widespread media reporting on the dossier?

Is it correct that the FBI agents who interviewed Michael Flynn believe he was not lying? Why was there a three week interval between their interview and their 302 memo? Were there any prior drafts of the memo? FBI agents do not record interviews, instead summarizing them later in what is called a 302 memo.

At their dinner meeting on January 26, 2017 why did Comey try to dissuade President Trump from asking the FBI to investigate the allegations made in the Steele Dossier?

Obama Administration Surveillance Programs

Were the FBI and NSA using access to the Section 702 database in order to illegally obtain information on domestic political opponents of the Obama Administration from 2012 until early 2016? If so, who were the contractors who had access to the information, who were the targets, and how was the information used? Several conservative publications have speculated, or even asserted, there was a linkage between the documented Section 702 abuses (85% of certain searches done improperly at NSA, and FBI contractors having improper access to data on Americans, as confirmed by a 2017 FISA Court ruling) and whether the purpose of at least some of the illegal data collection was for use against political opponents and also linked to the alleged widespread “unmasking” by Obama administration officials. To date, I have seen no credible documents establishing this linkage but it is important to find out the answers to these questions.

Did “unmasking” of communications regarding political opponents of the Obama Administration occur in 2016? Usually when confidential intelligence reports are circulated within the government, the identity of any U.S. citizens inadvertently picked up while surveillance of non-Americans was occurring would be redacted. It has been widely reported that in the last year of the Obama Administration there was a high volume of requests for unmasking the identity of Americans.

Was Samantha Power telling the truth when she said she did not make unmasking requests that are shown as being under her name in official records? If so, who did? According to documents, former UN Ambassador Power made more than 200 requests for unmasking but she denied making such requests in Congressional testimony.

What did Strozk’s August 2016 text stating “the White House is running this” refer to?

What was the purpose of President Obama’s January 2017 directive widening the scope of those who could see intelligence information?

Why did NSA Susan Rice write a memo to herself at 1215pm on January 20, 2017 regarding a Jan 5, 2017 meeting involving President Obama, Rice, and the Intelligence Community about the Russia investigation, the focus of which was to tell the IC to operate “by the book”?

In March 2017 then House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes stated that after reviewing intelligence reports:
1.) …”On numerous occasions the [Obama] intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
2.) “Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration; details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.”
3.) “Third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition members were unmasked.”
4.) “Fourth and finally, I want to be clear; none of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities.
Are these assertions correct?

Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian Interference (January 2017)

Did President Obama’s desire to obtain Russian support for the Iran nuclear deal and his Syrian policy affect his reaction, or lack thereof, to Russian efforts to influence Americans, efforts reported publicly in a lengthy article in the New York Times in June 2015?

The January 2017 Intelligence Assessment states that at a specific point the Russians switched supporting Trump to damaging the anticipated Clinton presidency. When did that occur and why did they make that assessment?

Why was the FBI and CIA conclusion made with high confidence while the NSA with only moderate confidence?

In selecting the analysts for the assessment was the normal process followed? There are reports DNI Clapper did not follow the normal process.

The January 2017 Intelligence Assessment states that Russia’s 2016 effort to impact the election was a continuation of a pattern from the Soviet Union and since the establishment of Russia in 1991. What are the details of those earlier efforts? What evidence does the FBI, CIA, and NSA have regarding Russian attempts to influence the 2008 and 2012 elections?

The Mueller Investigation 

What did Andrew Weissman know about the source of funding for the Steele Dossier and when did he learn it? It has been reported that Weissman was part of a DOJ briefing on the dossier in the fall of 2016, months before Mueller was appointed Special Counsel.

Same question for Robert Mueller about what he knew about the dossier and when.

The day before Rosenstein announced he was appointing Special Counsel and that it would be Mueller, he brought Mueller to the White House to meet with Trump. Is it true that the President was told Mueller was a potential candidate as FBI Director? If so, was the President told that Congress would have to pass special legislation to allow the appointment? Was there any discussion of Russia or the Comey firing at the meeting? When did Rosenstein decide to appoint Special Counsel and decide it would be Mueller? Did Rosenstein and Mueller have any discussions, directly or indirectly, regarding that decision prior to the meeting with the President? Is it true that, as described in McCabe’s recent book, Mueller left his cell phone in the President’s office and had to return later to retrieve it? If so, did the device record anything while it was left in the office?

Did Rosenstein ever consider recusing himself from the investigation since he was a potential fact witness in any obstruction case involving the President?

Why did Rosenstein not consider Mueller’s long and close relationship with Comey as grounds for not appointing him as Special Counsel?

Why did Mueller appoint Weissman as his chief deputy in light of his Democratic partisanship and ethical record in such a politically charged investigation?

What efforts were made to try to validate the Steele Dossier?

Why did the Mueller Report not directly address the accuracy of the allegations in the Steele Dossier or even mention it in Volume I of its report? Did Mueller conclude that the dossier was not relevant to Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election?

What did Peter Strozk mean in his May 2017 text to Lisa Page, regarding whether he should take Mueller’s offer of a job, when he wrote, “there’s no big there there”?

Was James Comey interviewed by the Mueller investigation? If so, was the interview recorded and/or transcribed?

Same questions regarding Stefan Halper, Christopher Steeler (and his contractors), Glenn Simpson, Peter Strozek, Andrew McCabe, Carter Page, Brennan, Clapper, FBI GC Baker, Nellie and Bruce Ohr.

An inquiry into every document requested from DOJ, the FBI, or the Special Counsel since January 20, 2017 until the submission of the Special Counsel report to include when the request was made; when it was fully responded to, if it was partially responded to what was omitted, what was the legal basis for any failure to fully respond, and who was responsible for making such determination.
Did anyone on the Mueller team tip off CNN regarding the raid on Roger Stone’s house?

Why did Mueller not seek a renewal of the FISA Warrant on Carter Page when it expired in September 2017?

Did Mueller seek other FISA warrants during his investigation? If so, on whom, and were they approved or denied?

Clinton Email Investigation

After President Obama stated on national TV that Hillary Clinton had not committed a crime, did DOJ consider appointing a Special Counsel to conduct the investigation? Did any DOJ or FBI official make, or discuss, such a recommendation, or the appropriateness of the President’s remarks regarding an ongoing investigation?

Did DOJ ever consider bringing charges against Hillary Clinton or anyone associated with her for the destruction of emails?

Why were potential fact witnesses like Cheryl Mills allowed to sit in on interviews of other fact witnesses?

Why were the four references to Hillary Clinton’s “grossly negligent” handling of emails in Director Comey’s draft of his statement on the conclusion of the email investigation deleted in the final version and why was the phrase “extremely careless” substituted for “grossly negligent”? Did Comey receive any instructions or guidance from DOJ that “grossly negligent” was not sufficient to justify charges?

Why, if the statute under which Clinton was being investigated did not require intent in order to violate, did Comey interpret it as requiring intent? Did he receive any guidance from DOJ in support of that conclusion?

Is it correct, as reported, that when AG Lynch announced she would not make the decision on the Clinton investigation she already knew Comey would not recommend charges?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Khrushchev Reflects

"Most of all the blood.  My arms are up to the elbows in blood."

- Nikita Khrushchev's (1894-1971) response to playwright Mikhail Shatrov when asked during his retirement what he regretted.

"Paradise is a place where people want to end up, not a place they run from.  What kind of socialism is that?  What kind of shit is that, when you have to keep people in chains?  What kind of social order?  What kind of paradise?"

- From tapes recorded by Khrushchev in his retirement.  This passage was not included in the transcribed memoir his son helped to smuggle to the West and published in 1970 as Khrushchev Remembers; it came to light in 1990 when the full tapes became available.
Both quotes are from Red Plenty, one of two outstanding books I've read in recent years on the post-Stalin Soviet Union.  I thought it an appropriate day to post this since today is International Workers Day; first proclaimed in 1904 by the Sixth Conference of the Second International, a convening of European socialist and communist parties.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B0628-0015-035, Nikita S. Chruschtschow.jpg

Red Plenty (2010), by the English novelist Francis Spufford, is set in the years between Stalin's death (1953) and the end of the Khrushchev "thaw" in the late 1960s.  It tells the story of the brief era when, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet economy was growing faster than any other country except Japan, Khrushchev was promising Soviet living standards would exceed the U.S. by 1980, and a fully planning, fully centralized economy embracing the capabilities of the new field of computing  made it seem possible, before it all came crashing down.

The brilliant accomplishment of Red Plenty stems from Spufford being a fine writer who concocted what he calls "faction", a mixture of fact and fiction.  We meet fictional young idealists, factory managers, and party strivers, along with Khrushchev, Alexei Kosygin, and other apparatchiks which allows him to tell a story with heavy doses of economic theory in an entertaining and instructive way.  Because it is set in the post-Stalin era with The Terror and spectre of mass murder or the gulag no longer hangs over everyone, the complete failure of the Soviet planing system makes for an even more powerful tale.

Through his deft storytelling, Spufford demonstrates that the more centralized a society is at the top, the more vulnerable it is to small mishaps at the bottom which can ripple back through the entire system.  And he sums up the deterioration of the system:
Stalin had been a gangster who really believed he was a social scientist.  Khrushchev was a gangster who hoped he was a social scientist.  But the moment was drawing irresistibly closer when the idealism would rot away by one more degree, and the Soviet Union would be governed by gangsters who were only pretending to be social scientists.
The book is only 300 pages and also has 50 pages of the best footnotes I've ever read (one of the quotes is from there).

These reviews capture the unique aspects of Red Plenty:
"I finished it in awe, not merely at Spufford's Stakhanovite research, but at his skill as a novelist, his judgement as a historian and his sheer guts in attempting something simultaneously so weird and yet so wonderful." - The Sunday Times (UK)

Everyone knows the economic central planning in the Soviet Union was a failure . . . Few will expect to pick up a longish book on the topic by a non-economist and devour it almost in a sitting.  But that is what you have in store with Red Plenty.  It is part detective story - who or what is killing the Soviet economy? - and part a brilliantly clear explanation of some very intricate history and economics." - The Economist
Khrushchev personified the new generation raised by Stalin after he wiped out the old Bolsheviks and anyone else with broader intellectual horizons and experience of the world outside the Soviet Union.  Poorly educated, resentful of the bosses, crude and violent, Nikita initially brought into Stalin's view of the world.  During the Great Purge he personally oversaw the actions in the Ukraine, approving close to 50,000 executions.  During the war he was political director in Stalingrad during the battle, ruthlessly driving the military commanders and not hesitating to demand executions.  As he rose after the war, he joined the Politburo, participating in the increasingly bizarre parties at the Supreme Leader's dacha where he demanded his subordinates dance with each other as he ridiculed them, constantly reminding them that when he was gone, "the capitalists will drown you like little kittens".

Underestimated by his opponents, he outmaneuvered them all after Stalin's death and by 1957 was the new Supreme Leader.  Most surprisingly, in March 1956 he denounced Stalin and his crimes (though not Lenin's) at the Party Congress while later that year he ruthlessly suppressed the rebellion in Hungary.  But within the Soviet Union the last of the gulag prisoners were released and some literature critical of Stalin was allowed to be published.

Unlike both his predecessors and successors he believed a nuclear war was unwinnable, but his recklessness provoked crises in Berlin and Cuba.  He seemed to have some sense that changes were needed in the system but, like Stalin, he was a devotee of Lysenko's crackpot theories on genetics and agriculture.  While a continued apostle of centralized planning he was prone to frequent temperamental eruptions as his own thinking was disorganized and chaotic.

He strikes me as a man with some insight into the problems inherent in the Soviet system but without the intellectual tools to figure out a solution.  It was as much his increasingly erratic behavior as much as his anti-Stalinism that lead to his removal in October 1964.  Even some of those who supported his limited opening of society approved the Politburo action because of the unpredictability of his behavior.  In a change from Stalin times, instead of being exiled or jailed, Khrushchev was merely moved to a smaller dacha, given a smaller car, and watched carefully.

The other book I'd strongly recommend is Russia And The Idea Of The West (2000) by Robert English, the story of the evolution of Soviet reformers in the post-Stalin era and the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev.  Stalin's isolation of the Soviet Union was so effective that the ignorance of the rest of the world by those in power and the next rising generation during the 1950s and 1960s is quite striking.  English shows how the "new thinking" allowed under Khrushchev continued to evolve even during the more repressive regime that followed his overthrow and the determination of Gorbachev and others to end the confrontation with the West which they, unlike the Left in Europe and America, viewed as the fault of the Soviet Union.