The Air Is Humming

A Broadway musical with singing and dancing rival street gangs was a monumentally bad idea, but that was West Side Story – music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins, and “inspired” by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet of all things – but this was 1957 – long before the Crips and Bloods and all the drive-by shootings. This wouldn’t play well in Chicago these days, or out here in South Central Los Angeles. The white gang – they’d be skinheads these days – was full of cute guys, who danced well. The Puerto Rican gang was full of cute guys too, who danced even better. They’d been classically trained. The whole thing was preposterous, but the music was good. The music was hopeful. Something was coming:

It’s only just out of reach
Down the block, on a beach
Under a tree
I got a feelin’ there’s a miracle due…

The air is hummin’
And something great is comin’!
Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach
Down the block, on a beach
Maybe tonight!

And then everyone who mattered died – but that propulsive song, a jazz riff with Puccini chord changes, lived on. Every generation needs some sort of song of hope – or maybe not. In 1979 the Eagles were singing that there was Gonna a Be a Heartache Tonight – “Somebody’s gonna hurt someone before the night is through” – and in 1980 Phil Collins’ first hit was about Something in the Air Tonight – “So you can wipe off that grin. I know where you’ve been. It’s all been a pack of lies.”

Maybe hope died in 1957, but the air is humming again:

Top executives at Cambridge Analytica touted their role in getting Donald Trump elected to America’s highest office, according to the latest undercover video released by Channel 4 News.

“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy,” Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix said in the video, adding that he’d met Trump “many times.” He pointed to his firm’s use of “unattributable and untraceable” information warfare as a key differentiator, which allowed them to influence campaigns while avoiding greater government scrutiny.

And there was this:

Conservative strategist Stephen K. Bannon oversaw Cambridge Analytica’s early efforts to collect troves of Facebook data as part of an ambitious program to build detailed profiles of millions of American voters, a former employee of the data-science firm said Tuesday.

The 2014 effort was part of a high-tech form of voter persuasion touted by the company, which under Bannon identified and tested the power of anti-establishment messages that later would emerge as central themes in President Trump’s campaign speeches, according to Chris Wylie, who left the company at the end of that year.

Among the messages tested were “drain the swamp” and “deep state,” he said.

Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Trump’s 2016 campaign, is now facing questions about alleged unethical practices, including charges that the firm improperly handled the data of tens of millions of Facebook users.

The walls are closing in, and then this happened:

A longtime analyst for Fox News is leaving the network, saying that he could not “in good conscience” remain with an organization that, he argued, “is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.”

In a searing farewell note sent to colleagues on Tuesday, Ralph Peters, a Fox News strategic analyst and a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, castigated the network for its coverage of President Trump and the rhetoric of its prime-time hosts.

“In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration,” Colonel Peters wrote in his message, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

“Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association,” he added. “Now I am ashamed.”

So he’s outta there:

Without citing them by name, Colonel Peters, 65, wrote that Fox News’s prime-time anchors “dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller.”

“I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove,” he wrote.

And there was the Fox response:

Fox News responded on Tuesday by saying it was “extremely proud of our top-rated prime-time hosts and all of our opinion programming.”

“Ralph Peters is entitled to his opinion despite the fact that he’s choosing to use it as a weapon in order to gain attention,” the network said in a statement.

They said he was just a little baby, pouting, but that seems odd:

Colonel Peters who appeared regularly on Fox News and the Fox Business Network – including as recently as Monday morning – spent more than two decades in the Army, eventually specializing in Russian intelligence. He began appearing as a television commentator in the late 1990s, and signed an exclusive contract with Fox in 2008.

Typically hawkish in his views, Colonel Peters supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was a strong proponent of confronting President Vladimir Putin of Russia. He was a fervent critic of former President Barack Obama, deriding his foreign policy as weak, and was briefly suspended by the network in 2015 after using a vulgarity to describe Mr. Obama during an appearance on Fox Business.

It seems he called Obama a “total pussy” who “doesn’t want to hurt our enemies” – and Fox News is a little sensitive about the word “pussy” – but there was this too:

An author of historical fiction and spy thrillers who writes a regular column in The New York Post, Colonel Peters gained notice in recent weeks after he called for an assault weapons ban in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

His position is that military weapons are for the military, not civilians, so Fox News should have seen this coming, and Kevin Drum adds this:

I’ve often wondered how long Republicans will tolerate President Trump’s war on the FBI. Conservatives love the FBI! It’s one thing to put up with Trump’s attacks on teachers or doctors or whoever else happens to catch his eye on a given day, but the FBI? Doesn’t that cause them at least a little bit of angst?

Funny you should ask. Lt. Col. Ralph Peters is a warmonger’s warmonger. As such, he fits in perfectly as a commentator on Fox News. But he’s finally decided he’s had enough and has decided to leave the network.

Drum, however, is not impressed:

Note that Peters didn’t quit when Tucker Carlson gave a platform to a congressman who thought ISIS was behind the Las Vegas shooting. He didn’t quit when Fox was reporting sympathetically about Trump’s response to white supremacists in Charlottesville. He didn’t quit over Benghazi. He didn’t quit over the birther conspiracy theories. He didn’t quit when Sean Hannity was peddling lies about the DNC murdering Seth Rich. He didn’t quit when Megyn Kelly and other were pushing racial hysteria over the New Black Panthers. He didn’t quit over the Shirley Sherrod affair.

I could go on, but that would be boring. The point is this: He didn’t care about all that other stuff. After all, lying about liberals is fine. It’s only when Fox started lying about the FBI and Vladimir Putin that he got upset.

That won’t do, but at least it’s something:

I normally think that when someone finally has a change of heart, we should be grateful. There’s no point in hammering them because they haven’t become full-on Bernie-Bros, after all. Just welcome them to the fold. I believe this about Peters too, but it’s hard to contain myself when, after a decade of taking their money, he finally pretends to have just noticed that Fox News is a lunatic propaganda machine, not a news outlet.

Still, welcome to the land of reality, Col. Peters. Obviously I’m saying that grudgingly, but I still mean it. I just wish that attacks on your own personal hobbyhorses hadn’t been the only thing that could get you to see the light.

As for that land of reality, the air was humming about that too:

Former CIA Director John Brennan blasted President Donald Trump on Saturday after he tweeted about the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, calling the President “a disgraced demagogue.”

“When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America … America will triumph over you,” Brennan, who was CIA head under President Barack Obama, tweeted.

When a normally careful and reticent former CIA director says such things, people do notice. The air hums, and that frees other voices:

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe reacted to Trump with a series of tweets Saturday afternoon in which he also called on Congress to protect Mueller’s Russia probe.

“Delusional Donald at it again,” McAuliffe wrote. “With all of the chaos at the WH someone forgot to put the safety lock on the play pen when they left for the weekend.”

“PS – Some advice: Change the channel from Fox News to basketball and stop putting yourself in even more legal jeopardy,” he tweeted.

That’s not going to happen. Trump ignores those safety locks on his play pen:

President Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers Tuesday when he congratulated Russian President Vladi­mir Putin on his reelection – including a section in his briefing materials in all-capital letters stating “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” according to officials familiar with the call.

Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow.

The president’s conversation with Putin, which Trump described as a “very good call,” prompted fresh criticism of his muted tone toward one of the United States’ biggest geopolitical rivals amid the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

He is putting himself in even more legal jeopardy:

Although the Trump administration has taken a tougher stance toward Russia recently – including new sanctions last week on some entities for election meddling and cyberattacks – the president has declined to forcefully join London in denouncing Moscow for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, this month. They remain critically ill.

And the air was humming:

The president’s tone drew a rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who wrote on Twitter: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election.”

McCain was not alone:

Putin’s latest consolidation of power came in what foreign policy analysts said was a rigged election in which he got 76 percent of the vote against several minor candidates. Some world leaders have hesitated to congratulate Putin, since his reelection occurred in an environment of state control of much of the news media and with his most prominent opponent barred from the ballot…

“It’s blatantly obvious that he has just an inexplicable level of support for President Putin,” said Julie Smith, a European security expert who served as deputy national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden. “You keep thinking it will change as he sees his own administration take action – that this never-ending well of support for Putin will somehow subside. It’s disheartening at a time when our transatlantic partners really need a boost. Europe is looking to us for leadership on Russia in particular, and they’re not getting it.”

Thomas Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, said Trump’s actions were “a sign he wants a pro-Russia foreign policy,” which conflicts with the harder line from his administration.

“Everyone is trying to figure out what does this mean,” Wright said. “Russia hawks say, ‘Pay attention to us, but not to the president or to the tweets.’ But the reality is, his reaction is policy. The fact that there hasn’t been a stronger sanctions response to the poisoning so far is policy.”

Perhaps he asked Putin if Putin could use some of that powerful nerve agent on Robert Mueller, on the sly, and solve that problem for him, but on CNN there was something in the air:

An exasperated Don Lemon on Tuesday ticked off the day’s headlines, marveling at the sheer absurdity of Donald Trump’s ongoing saga with adult film star Stormy Daniels, coupled with the president’s chummy relationship to Russian president Vladimir Putin and a host of other crises plaguing the United States.

“President Trump is facing lawsuits tonight from three women, a porn star, a playboy model, and a reality TV star, three different cases over his alleged relationship with three different women,” Lemon began Tuesday. “I mean, this is where we are right now.”

But the Putin thing bothered him the most:

“President Trump called Vladimir Putin today to congratulate him on his victory in what can only be called a rigged election,” Lemon explained. “We first found out from the Kremlin – by the way. What the president apparently didn’t do, according to [Press Secretary] Sarah Sanders, is condemn the nerve agent poisoning in the UK which the British and our government have blamed on Moscow.”

Lemon noted the president reportedly ignored advice from his national security advisers not to congratulate Putin for winning the “rigged” Russia election.

“But apparently a president who loves nothing more than to talk about his own electoral college triumph just couldn’t keep himself from congratulating the Russian dictator on his victory,” Lemon said.

Adding that his show will also report on the latest in “the hunt for a serial bomber in Austin, Texas,” Lemon let out a long sigh.

There’s a lot of that going around, and David Graham adds context:

The U.S. has tended to use a variety of measures to express disapproval of unfair elections. After Putin won Russia’s last presidential election, in 2012, for example, President Obama waited days before releasing a statement that said “the United States looks forward to working with the president-elect,” not mentioning Putin by name. The State Department “urged the Russian Government to conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations,” and congratulated the Russian people, rather than Putin, on completing the election. The election was held on a Sunday; not until Friday did Obama call Putin “to congratulate him on his recent victory.”

The following year, when Egypt’s Abdelfattah el-Sisi, the president of a key American ally, was reelected in flawed elections, Obama congratulated him. But he waited nearly two weeks to do so, and he pressed Sisi on human-rights issues during the congratulatory call. Even then, some Obama administration officials thought the statement was too close to endorsing the election.

Trump doesn’t know about such things, or if he does know, he doesn’t care:

Delayed phone calls, lawyerly phrasing of congratulations, stern messages delivered alongside good wishes: These are the sorts of diplomatic practices that veteran foreign-policy hands view as crucial, nuanced tools, and which Trump has clearly established he views as totally pointless. When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another repressive leader (and a tenuous American ally) won a flawed referendum granting him new power last year, Trump quickly called Erdogan to congratulate him and made no bones about electoral problems, scandalizing former diplomats. “There have been times when we have chosen not to criticize a foreign leader for violating democratic principles. I can’t think of the last time we’ve congratulated a leader for doing that,” Tom Malinowski, a former State Department official under Obama, told me.

There may come a time when more people than Ralph Peters are fed up with all this nonsense. It’s only just out of reach, for now, so far, but the air really is humming:

A judge ruled Tuesday that a former “Apprentice” contestant’s defamation lawsuit against President Trump may proceed, potentially allowing her lawyers to begin collecting evidence to support her claim that he forcibly kissed and groped her years ago.

The decision in the case brought by Summer Zervos came on the same day a former Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal, sued the publisher of the National Enquirer for the right to break her silence about the 10-month affair she says she had with Trump more than a decade ago.

The nearly simultaneous developments added to the political and legal challenges for the president, who has faced weeks of reports about his alleged affair with another woman, porn star Stormy Daniels, and his attorney’s effort to buy her silence.

At the track, that’s a trifecta. In hockey, that’s a hat trick – when a player scores three goals and fans go wild and throw their hats on the ice. For Donald Trump, this is nothing but trouble:

All three women are now seeking to tell their stories on their own terms. McDougal is scheduled to give an interview Thursday to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, while “60 Minutes” is scheduled to air an interview with Daniels on Sunday.

As she rejected Trump’s effort to block Zervos’ lawsuit from proceeding, New York Supreme Court Justice Jennifer G. Schecter cited precedent from the Paula Jones case against President Bill Clinton, which led to his impeachment in 1998.

“No one is above the law,” Schecter wrote. “It is settled that the President of the United States has no immunity and is ‘subject to the laws’ for purely private acts.”

He called Zervos a liar, over and over. That’s defamation. What can he say? He didn’t say that? That’s on tape. Can he say that’s protected free speech? The judge said no, words have consequences – and he started this, not her. Can he say he didn’t mean it? Everyone knows that was just for effect? No one takes what he says seriously? No one should? Trump cannot say no one should take him seriously. His presidency depends on people taking him seriously. He’s trapped:

Zervos has said that Trump kissed her against her will when she visited him at Trump Tower in December 2007, after she had left his show, and that he kissed her, groped her breast and “began to press his genitals against her” when they met for dinner later that month in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

She first spoke publicly in October 2016 at a news conference with other women accusing Trump of misconduct. She filed the defamation suit the following January, after Trump called the women “liars” and vowed to sue them.

Zervos’ attorneys have said that, in the legal process known as discovery, they would seek a deposition from Trump.

He now has to show exactly why he had the right to call this woman a liar. That’s the trap:

Marc Kasowitz and Michael Cohen, two of Trump’s personal attorneys, did not respond to requests for comment. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.

And there’s that other woman:

McDougal’s lawsuit is against American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, which she says paid her $150,000 in exchange for her silence.

McDougal is asking the court to declare her contract with AMI void, saying her story about the president “is core political speech entitled to the highest protection under the law.”

The lawsuit, in Los Angeles Superior Court, comes two weeks after Daniels sued Trump to invalidate her own confidentiality agreement. Daniels’s deal was with Cohen, who has said he “facilitated” a payment of $130,000 using his own money. Cohen has sought to keep Daniels quiet through private arbitration, alleging in a court filing that she could owe as much as $20 million for violating the agreement.

That’s not going well either, because Stormy is being stormy:

In an effort to build anticipation for the interview, her attorney, Michael Avenatti, on Tuesday released a 2011 report on the results of a polygraph test that Daniels took as part of a magazine interview about the alleged affair. The report says Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was being “truthful” in saying she and Trump had unprotected sex.

In an interview, Avenatti said he recently paid $25,000 for video footage of the polygraph exam “in order to avoid one or more third parties from obtaining the information and destroying it or using it for nefarious means.”

He posted an image from the video on Twitter of Daniels sitting in a chair and strapped to a polygraph machine.

“I am not going anywhere,” Daniels wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

Neither is Karen McDougal:

McDougal’s lawsuit in some respects echoes a complaint made to the Federal Election Commission by the government watchdog group Common Cause alleging that AMI coordinated with the Trump campaign when it negotiated a “catch and kill” agreement to ensure McDougal’s story was quashed. The complaint says the payments were intended to influence the election and should have been reported as in-kind campaign donations…

McDougal’s 10-month relationship with Trump remained a secret until May 2016, the lawsuit says, when another Playboy playmate alluded to the affair on Twitter, prompting McDougal to explore how she might tell her story about the Republican presidential nominee.

McDougal hired Keith Davidson, a Los Angeles lawyer. Over a dinner involving “multiple bottles of wine,” the suit says, Davidson told her that AMI had put $500,000 in an escrow account and that a seven-figure publishing deal awaited her.

He later acknowledged that there had been no such escrow payment, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges that Davidson was working with AMI executives to fool McDougal into signing a contract that was not in her interest, falsely allowing her to believe the tabloid would publish regular fitness columns under her name. It also alleges that Cohen was briefed on the deal.

Her own attorney, Keith Davidson, was working with Trump’s attorneys, and she says she can prove it, so all bets are off. And so on and so forth. That’s why Don Lemon was sighing. But things may be coming to a head. Something’s coming – just out of reach, down the block, on a beach, under a tree – or on national television. The air is humming.

Or this is like that Phil Collins song – “So you can wipe off that grin. I know where you’ve been. It’s all been a pack of lies.”

Either song will do.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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