Henry II & the meddlesome priest

During his testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning, James Comey said that President Trump told him that he’d hope Comey would drop the Michael Flynn investigation. Senator Angus King of Maine asked if Comey interpreted the President’s use of “hope” as an order, Comey replied, “It rings in my ear as kind of, ‘will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?'”

It’s an allusion to Henry II’s infamous outburst, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” The priest was Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, whom the king was frustrated with due to the priest’s refusal to give additional powers to the king. Henry’s knights took that statement to mean the king wanted Becket dead. So they murdered him near the altar of Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170.

Trump’s utterance isn’t as nefarious, but Comey’s reference was clear in what he thought Trump wanted. After all, Trump had demanded loyalty.

Is there any reason why the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement?

President Trump is set to make a decision this week on whether to stay in or pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump has called the agreement “a bad deal.” But as understood, the Paris agreement is a voluntary one. So if the agreement is voluntary–without incurring any penalty if the terms are not met–why is it a bad deal?

From Vox:

 [The Paris agreement] asks participants only to state what they are willing to do and to account for what they’ve done. It is, in a word, voluntary…

Here’s how the process works. Each participating country determines, on its own, the policies and emission reductions to which it is prepared to commit. It then submits a Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC — a set of emission targets and a plan to achieve them…

Trump can weaken the US NDC, without penalty. He can roll back all of Obama’s carbon regulations, without penalty. He can simply fail to meet the targets of the NDC, without penalty…

That means all talk of Paris being a “bad deal” for the US, or hurting US trade, or affecting the US coal industry in any way, is nonsense. Paris does not and cannot do any of those things. The US voluntarily offered up an NDC and can voluntarily offer up a different or weaker NDC any time it wants.

Montana GOP candidate body-slams Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs

Could the political climate continue to devolve? We are seemingly living in an alternative facts, fake news, post-factual alternate universe where the alt-right is position close to the seat of power. The media has been labeled as enemy of the people by the President, whose recklessness has trickled down to brazen acolytes like Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate in a special congressional election in Montana. Gianforte explicably attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. There were no video of the incident, but there is audio, which didn’t dissuade Gianforte’s campaign from releasing an alternate version of what happened:

“Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

Fortunately, journalistic integrity is still alive, and from Fox News no less.

Merriam Webster, who has been killing it on Twitter since Trump became president, had the best commentary:

Benjamin Wittes recounts what James Comey told him

This post by Benjamin Wittes on his Lawfare blog sheds light on the Comey firing. Wittes is a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He’s also a friend of Comey’s and has unique insights into what Comey faced from the Trump White House.

Wittes wrote:

 Comey understood Trump’s people as having neither knowledge of nor respect for the independence of the law enforcement function. And he saw it as an ongoing task on his part to protect the rest of the Bureau from improper contacts and interferences from a group of people he did not regard as honorable.

A very interesting and worthwhile read.

The daily headlines are starting to look like they came from an Alan Moore graphic novel

This is from today’s New York Times:

Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation

Seriously. Furthermore, the article features this photo:

As we know, the White House barred American journalists from President Trump’s meeting in the Oval Office with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. So photos from the meeting, including the one above, come exclusively from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So no American reporters allowed, yet Russian photographers were. In. The. White. House.

Trump White House cannot get its stories straight

Last week, it was the Comey firing. The explanations by Sean Spicer, Mike Pense, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders shifted on an hourly basis. Not to mention the bizarre reasoning that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave for justification of Comey’s dismissal–Hillary’s emails, really?–only to be upstage by Trump’s own admission.

This week, it’s the revelation that Trump disclosed classified intel about ISIS to the Russians. First H.R. McMaster declared the Washington Post story as “false,” but didn’t offer any explanation. Then in the early morning hours Trump tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to share “facts.” So now the White House staff is scrambling for a narrative. Congress can’t be sitting easy anymore and in fact key Republicans are now asking for more details.

Of course, the Russian disclosure was yesterday’s news. Today’s new crisis is the report that Trump had pressured Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, which the White House predictably has denied. Still, Comey apparently drafted a two-page account of the private meeting he had with Trump. These notes, one assumes, exist somewhere.

Internet privacy, like most things now, has been politicized

Last October, the Federal Communications Commission pushed through a set of privacy rulings that defined private information to include things like users’ locations, their browsing history, their financial and health information and the what they actually say inside the body of their emails and texts. These definitions are essentially a strike against the Internet Service Providers, since those informations are extraordinarily valuable to marketers — and potentially dangerous to consumers. Data on your online activities can be used to infer whether you have a particular health condition and what your finances are like and could be used to discriminate against you when it comes to applying for a job, trying to buy a house or getting credit.

However, last Thursday Senate Republicans passed S.J. Res. 34, which nullifies the FCC’s privacy ruling last year. The passage was voted along party line with Republicans favoring the repeal and Democrats opposing. The repeal gives ISPs the ability to sell consumer data to marketers unless consumers explicitly opt out. A similar bill will be going through the House, which will likely pass, again along party lines. The White House has issued a press release indicating President Trump will sign the bill into law.

FBI Director James Comey on Russian interference in 2016 election

I’m surprised that foreign interference in American elections has not happened before. A confluence of events and actors have to happen in order for this to take place–Putin, Trump, Hillary, Wikileaks, the Internet, social media–and that perhaps conditions were only ripe in 2016 and not once before in 230 years of U.S. history. However, the precedence is set and we should expect more in the future.

Elon Musk is serious about tunneling

So much so that there’s official merchandise for “The Boring Company.” Elon Musk tweeted this yesterday:

In January, Musk’s team began to dug a test trench 30 feet wide, 50 feet long and 15 feet deep at the SpaceX Los Angeles headquarters in the suburb of Hawthorne. The idea is to build a network of tunnels underneath the city that would allow people to travel underground. All this in response to Musk’s frustration with LA traffic:

Los Angeles city officials have not as of yet granted Musk permission to dig on public ground. But if he’s going to solve the traffic problem in LA, I say give let him go to town.