Too Fast and Too Furious

Universal Pictures has been around since 1912 and they still know how to make money. They’re “universal” after all. They tap into the zeitgeist. They monetize that zeitgeist. They made a lot of money with a series of smashing-car movies about illegal street racing and daring heists and international espionage – The Fast and the Furious (2001) and then Fast and Furious (2003) and then The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) and then Fast and Furious (2009) and then Fast Five (2011) and then Fast and Furious 6 (2013) and then Furious 7 (2015) and then The Fate of the Furious (2017) – and in 2015 it was Fast and Furious: Supercharged – the snazzy ride at their theme park attached to their studios on the other side of the hill out back, on the edge of Burbank. Visitors can also tour the Bates Motel from Psycho – because creepy psychotic murderers are universal too. Universal Pictures is now owned by Comcast through the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group division of its wholly owned subsidiary NBCUniversal – as in NBC News and MSNBC and CNBC – because the news comes fast and furious too. The zeitgeist – the “time ghost” – the spirit of the times – is all about massive wrecks of all sorts with a little bit of international espionage thrown in, with a clearly psychotic character thrown in here and there. Universal Pictures lets the public wallow in that, and enjoy that. NBCUniversal does the same thing with the news.

That’s fine in the movies. The news is another matter. There’s nothing to enjoy. There are too many massive wrecks. There are too many borderline psychotic characters in positions of power. That’s no fun, and this was a day of massive wrecks, or wrecks waiting to happen:

With just one month until a scheduled sit-down with North Korea’s leader, President Donald Trump hasn’t set aside much time to prepare for meeting with Kim Jong Un, a stark contrast to the approach of past presidents.

“He doesn’t think he needs to,” said a senior administration official familiar with the President’s preparation. Aides plan to squeeze in time for Trump to learn more about Kim’s psychology and strategize on ways to respond to offers Kim may make in person, but so far a detailed plan hasn’t been laid out for getting Trump ready for the summit.

Even with North Korea threatening to scrap the meeting over long-planned U.S.-Korean military exercises, Trump’s aides in the White House and State Department are continuing to prepare briefing material in advance of the June 12 summit in Singapore. When asked Wednesday if he thinks Kim is bluffing, Trump responded, “We’ll see what happens.”

Those aides in the White House and State Department are tearing their hair out. They see a massive wreck coming. They’re probably hoping that Kim does call the whole thing off. They have a borderline psychotic to deal with, on our side too, and there was this:

President Trump referred to some undocumented immigrants as “animals” on Wednesday and suggested the Justice Department investigate the Democratic mayor of Oakland, Calif., for her role in tipping off the community about an impending federal enforcement raid in February…

During the roundtable, which focused on California’s role as a “sanctuary state” that allows local officials to withhold some information on immigrants from federal authorities, Trump said his administration was aggressively deporting those here illegally who commit violent crimes.

“We have people coming into the country – or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them – but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump said. “These aren’t people. These are animals.”

He opened his campaign for the presidency in 2015 by saying that they were all rapists and drug dealers and murderers – and some, he supposed, were good people, maybe – and now they’re all animals. They’re not people at all. He was kind of foaming at the mouth. He was furious, and now those Republicans who have to snag at least a few Hispanic votes in the upcoming midterm elections, to survive, are tearing their hair out. They have a borderline psychotic on their side too. What are they supposed to say now? You know you’re all just animals – and rapists and drug dealers and murderers too – so vote for us because at least we’re honest about it?

This is a wreck. Trump has thrown away the Hispanic vote, and then there’s that business with the mayor of Oakland:

Schaaf, whose warning to the community came in the form of a tweet, has defended her action, saying the warning was within the law. “I was sharing information in a way that was legal and was not obstructing justice,” she said a few days after the incident, “and it was an opportunity to ensure that people were aware of their rights.”

Trump’s move to encourage the nation’s top law enforcement officer to investigate a Democratic politician was viewed by some as an attempt to weaponize the Justice Department against his political opponents, with critics calling it an abuse of power.

That’s another wreck waiting to happen, not exactly Norman Bates with a knife sneaking up on the pretty naked lady in the shower at the Bates Motel, but close enough. This is the blindfolded lady in a toga with those scales. Trump’s going to knife her.

But there was a wreck in real time:

The Senate Intelligence Committee has determined the U.S. intelligence community was correct in assessing Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the aim of helping then-candidate Donald Trump, contradicting findings House Republicans reached last month.

“We see no reason to dispute the intelligence community’s conclusions,” the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said Wednesday in a joint statement with his vice chair, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who added: “Our staff concluded that the conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”

And that means those other guys were fools, or tools:

The Senate committee’s findings clash with the House GOP’s determination that the intelligence community did not follow its own best practices in concluding the Kremlin favored Trump in the election. The dispute – and the questions it now raises about which record of events is most accurate – could complicate the Republican Party’s messaging heading into the 2018 election season.

That’s an understatement:

Trump has taken umbrage at the intelligence community’s determination that the Kremlin favored his candidacy over Clinton’s. The president cheered the House Intelligence Committee’s report, claiming on Twitter it vindicated him by finding there was no evidence his campaign colluded with Russia.

Although the Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to weigh in on the collusion allegations, Burr and Warner have hinted for days that their panel’s interim findings on the intelligence community would depart from those reached by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. “I’m not sure that the House was required to substantiate every conclusion with facts,” Burr told reporters last week, promising the Senate panel would “have the facts to show for” its conclusions.

Burr, the Republican here, wasn’t playing nice, nor was his Democratic partner:

Warner said Monday, “Everyone that we’ve ever had testify still stands by the full findings of the ICA,” referring to the intelligence community’s assessment. “We’ve had all the Obama officials; we’ve had all the Trump officials. Every person,” he added.

Asked Wednesday about the discrepancy between the two panels’ conclusions, Rep. Devin P. Nunes (R-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee’s chairman said, “That’s nice.” He declined to elaborate.

Devin Nunes was sneering. He has President Trump and House Speaker Ryan on his side. Burr has the entire intelligence community and all that evidence on his side. The Republicans have a wreck on their hands here, and add one additional complication:

The Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that the Russian government apparently used the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Documents suggest the Kremlin used the NRA to offer the campaign a back channel to Moscow – including a potential meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin – and might have secretly funded Trump’s campaign, the committee said. One of the Russians named in the report even bragged she was part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia….

The NRA spent a record $30 million on Trump and the FBI is reportedly investigating whether any of the money came from Russia.

That would be quite illegal. Some would say that looks a bit like treason. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by a Republican, because the Republicans still do control the Senate for now, gave the FBI what they have so far – but both President Trump and Vice President Pence just addressed the NRA convention in Dallas, telling those folks they’re both behind them all the way. Republicans may have a wreck on their hands here too.

And the news kept coming fast and furious:

President Trump’s financial disclosure, released on Wednesday, included for the first time repayment of more than $100,000 to his personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, in 2017, raising questions about whether Mr. Trump’s sworn filing from a year ago improperly omitted the debt.

In a highly unusual letter, the Office of Government Ethics alerted the Justice Department on Wednesday to the omission, telling Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, that the ethics office had determined “the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported as a liability.”

That’s a criminal referral. The Office of Government Ethics, created just after that Watergate mess, was telling Rosenstein a crime seems to have been committed here:

Mr. Trump’s financial disclosure, released by the Office of Government Ethics, did not specify the purpose of the payment. However, Mr. Cohen has paid $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen has said he made the payment shortly before the 2016 election as hush money for Ms. Clifford, who goes by the stage name Stormy Daniel…

The hush payment has been a source of controversy for Mr. Trump, who initially said on Air Force One that he was unaware of the payment to Ms. Clifford before acknowledging its existence in a series of Twitter posts this month. Mr. Trump said that he repaid a $130,000 payment that Mr. Cohen made to Ms. Clifford just days before the presidential election in 2016 and suggested that the payment by Mr. Cohen to the actress could not be considered a campaign contribution…

Under federal law, an official who “knowingly and willfully falsifies information” on a financial disclosure could face criminal charges.

It looks like a quite illegal campaign contribution, compounded by knowingly and willfully lying about it, but the rest of this item is about the rest of the financial disclosure. Trump’s businesses are tanking, which might explain what Bess Levin explains here:

When Donald Trump announced on Sunday night that he was riding to the rescue of Chinese electronics maker ZTE, more than a few people, including those who work for him, were shocked. For one thing, Trump has long-claimed that China “is raping us” through unfair trade practices, and stealing American jobs. For another, the U.S. and Beijing are currently locked in tense negotiations to avoid a protracted trade war, thanks to the president’s decision to slap Chinese imports with a vast array of tariffs. For yet another, just a month prior, Trump’s own Commerce Department had banned shipments of American technology to ZTE for seven years, saying that the company violated American sanctions against countries including Iran and North Korea and lied about punishing employees for doing so. As a result, ZTE halted major operating activities – an outcome you’d have expected to please the president, considering he’d just imposed aluminum and steel tariffs on “national security” grounds, and ZTE was threatening national security.

So it was a bit odd to see Trump pull a complete 180, suddenly insisting that the company and its 75,000 Chinese jobs must be saved, though to be fair, tweeting “Look, China just pumped $500 million into a Trump Organization project so I had to do them a solid” might not have gone over so well.

That’s the story here:

According to multiple news outlets, the president’s total about-face on China came just 72 hours after the developer of a theme park outside Jakarta, known as MNC Lido City, with whom the Trump Organization has an agreement to license its name, signed a deal to receive $500 million in Chinese government loans, in addition to another $500 million from government banks. According to Agence France-Presse, the Trump Organization will rake in almost $3.7 million in licensing and consulting payments from Lido, along with another project in Bali. The company will also earn management fees, and be “eligible for additional unspecified incentives.”

ZTE was threatening national security and Trump’s businesses are tanking. This could help fix Trump’s bottom line, but maybe this loan was just a coincidence, or this is another massive wreck – Trump accepted a bribe. It doesn’t matter. The appearance of accepting a bribe is enough. This is a wreck.

And the news kept coming fast and furious:

An intermediary of a Russian oligarch and associates of then-U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump coordinated responses to revelations of a meeting in which Trump’s eldest son expected to get “dirt” on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, documents released by a U.S. Senate panel showed on Wednesday.

Many of the documents made public by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley focused on the June 9, 2016, meeting at the Trump Tower in New York between Donald Trump, Jr. and Nataliya Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer and acknowledged Kremlin informant.

The meeting is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

This was devastating:

The thousands of pages of emails, text messages, congressional testimony and other documents released by Grassley, a Republican, provide fresh evidence of coordination between associates of Trump and Russians with ties to President Vladimir Putin’s government.

Moreover, the documents suggest that the coordination continued after Trump’s inauguration. Days after he was named White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci offered to work with Rob Goldstone, an intermediary for a Russian oligarch, to counter “pressure on all sides.”

“If we remain consistent and united I don’t envision any issues we can’t ride out,” Scaramucci wrote in a July 23, 2017, email to Goldstone, a publicist who represents singer Emin Agalarov, the son of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov.

Chuck Grassley is a Republican of course, which compounds this wreck:

Among the documents released on Wednesday were transcripts of closed-door interviews with Goldstone, and other participants in the Trump Tower meeting, including Trump Jr., Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, and Ike Kavaladze, a U.S.-based Agalarov representative.

Also present were Trump’s son-in-law and close aide Jared Kushner, and senior campaign aide, Paul Manafort, both of whom declined committee interviews…

Emails and texts showed coordination – and a hint of panic – as Goldstone, Emin Agalarov, and Trump Organization lawyers sought to contain the fallout after the meeting was revealed by emails released by Trump Jr. and the New York Times published an account on July 8, 2017.

But that’s not all:

Donald Trump Jr. made several mysterious phone calls to blocked numbers before and after the Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

The phone calls were revealed in a report released by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday – part of a whirlwind day of revelations about the investigations into Trumpland. We learned, among other things, that the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign was deeper than previously known, and that there are millions of dollars more in suspicious financial dealings by Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

But the newly revealed actions of Trump Jr. may prove the most significant discovery, even if at the moment those actions raise more questions than answers. On the day he arranged the meeting the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, Trump Jr. placed two calls to blocked numbers. After the meeting ended without the promised dirt, Trump Jr. placed another call to a blocked number.

That smells:

When asked if his father used a blocked number on any phone, Trump Jr. told the committee: “I don’t know.” Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, on the other hand, testified that Trump’s “primary residence has a blocked [phone] line.”

Asked directly if he had told his father about the meeting, Trump Jr. said, “I never discussed it with him at all.”

No one believes that for a moment. Mueller probably has the phone records anyway, but the even worse wreck was this:

Weeks after the Trump Tower meeting, the FBI opened its investigation into the Trump campaign – an investigation that was more advanced than previously known, according to the New York Times.

Operation “Crossfire Hurricane” began in August 2016 and saw federal agents obtain phone records and other documents through a secret type of subpoena. At least one government informant met with Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. FBI agents even considered interviewing Page, Papadopoulos, campaign manager Paul Manafort, and national security adviser Michael Flynn as the election was ongoing.

Far from trying to undermine Trump’s chances, the FBI chose not to interview the Trump team for fear of the investigation leaking.

Contrary to Republican claims that Christopher Steele’s dossier kicked off the investigation, the Times reported his memos languished at the FBI for months before making it to the Trump investigators.

Trump was in trouble long before Steele compiled his dossier, and there’s this:

The Senate Judiciary documents also show that Goldstone’s patrons, the Agalarov family, reached out to the Trump campaign earlier than previously known.

Right before Super Tuesday in February 2016 – when most primaries were held – Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. and his father’s personal assistant, Rhona Graff, to pass along a message of support from Agalarov.

That looks bad, and all of this is less than half of the news the broke fast and furious in one single day. Action movies should be fast and furious. The news is another matter, and the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reports on how some of the public reacts to all the action:

They see the Russia investigation as President Trump does, as a witch hunt that has expanded far beyond its initial mandate with the explicit aim of delegitimizing or perhaps even overturning his 2016 election victory.

Yet these most steadfast of Trump supporters, who were among those gathered here Tuesday night as part of a focus group evaluating public opinion, said the president should not fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a view shared by the Trump critics around the table.

“People would be suspicious,” said Betsy Novak, 55, a greenhouse worker who voted for Trump.

“It would be hiding something,” said Curt Hetzel, 48, a shipping and receiving manager who also voted for Trump.

“Politically, it would be a terrible idea,” said yet another Trump backer, Sam Goldner, 25, a warehouse manager.

They know a massive wreck when they see one coming, but it’s all a wreck:

Though the group was quick to give Trump credit for the steady economy, job growth and changes to the tax code, they also blamed the president for a host of national ailments – from racial unrest to a decline in credibility and an intentional blurring of the truth by disputing facts.

All 12 of the assembled voters said they were following news about the Mueller probe, and their views of the special counsel were colored by their feelings about the president. Those who oppose Trump described Mueller as “intelligent,” “respected,” “smart,” “diligent” and “unstoppable.” But Trump’s supporters called the former Marine Corps captain and FBI director “unethical,” “desperate,” “partisan” and “a liar.”

They’ll never agree, but there’s this:

Some of the Trump backers showed flashes of dissatisfaction with the president. Asked to describe him in one word, Hetzel chose “egotistical,” explaining, “He’s so used to just getting his way.”

Hetzel and other Trump backers agreed that their biggest disappointment in the president has been his tweets and decisions to engage on what they see as petty issues.

“It’s almost childish,” Hetzel said. “You’re a 70-something-year-old man and you’re president of the United States. You should be a little more mature and pick better subjects to be tweeting about.”

That’s the spirit of the times – it’s all about massive wrecks of all sorts with a clearly psychotic character thrown in here and there. Universal Pictures lets the public wallow in that, and enjoy that. That’s what their Fast and Furious franchise is all about. They nailed it. They’ve made a lot of money, but real life is another matter. Nothing in real life should be this fast and furious, but it is. Sit down, buckle up, and hang on.

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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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