Sunday, April 9, 2017

Last Call For Advising A Shakeup

Looks like former FOX talking head K.T. McFarland is out as Deputy National Security Adviser, having been given the ambassadorship to Singapore as a consolation prize.

K. T. McFarland has been asked to step down as deputy National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump after less than three months and is expected to be nominated as ambassador to Singapore, according to a person familiar with White House personnel moves.

The departure of the 65-year-old former Fox News commentator comes as Trump’s second National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, puts his own stamp on the National Security Council after taking over in February from retired General Michael Flynn.

McFarland proved not to be a good fit at the NSC, the person said, adding that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was involved in the decision as well.

Her removal follows a reorganization of the NSC in the past week that removed Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, from the principals committee, the Cabinet-level interagency forum that advises the president on pressing security matters.

Other officials, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were brought back onto the committee as “regular attendees,” reversing a move made in January. The changes were outlined in a presidential memorandum dated April 4.

Former Goldman Sachs executive Dina Powell stays on as another deputy national security adviser, and a second person is expected to be named to a similar role to replace McFarland.

Keep an eye on McMaster.  If Trump's response to his dismally low approval ratings is to start a war, McMaster and Homeland Security head John Kelly will be involved along with Defense Secretary Mattis, and right now, Trump's permanent focus on "winners" means if they deliver for him, they'll keep being the ones Trump listens to.

In other words, we may be approaching the point where Trump decides to surround himself with people who can actually attempt to carry out what he wants.  That's a problem.

Bitter Home Alabama, Con't

Yesterday I talked about the link between embattled Alabama GOP Gov. Robert Bentley's impeachment scandal and the move by the staffer he was having an affair with to close drivers' license offices in predominately black counties in the state in order to make it harder to get voter IDs.  Bentley is in a lot of trouble, and now the impeachment proceedings against him will get underway starting this week.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Saturday that impeachment proceedings against Governor Robert Bentley can start next week, halting a court order that had blocked hearings stemming from his relationship with a former aide.

Bentley, a 74-year-old Republican, has battled impeachment efforts over the last year and has defied calls from political leaders that he stand down.

The 7-0 decision by the high court allows impeachment proceedings to begin in the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee on Monday even as justices consider new filings in the case.

Bentley, who is in his second term, is accused of inappropriate use of state resources. His troubles began last year when recordings surfaced of him making suggestive remarks to a former adviser, Rebekah Mason, before his wife of 50 years filed for divorce in August 2015.

Bentley has denied having a physical affair with Mason, who is married. She resigned as questions about the pair's relationship began to dominate Alabama politics.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court stayed a temporary restraining order issued by a circuit court judge on Friday. The order had halted the impeachment process until hearings could be held on Bentley's claim that lawmakers did not give enough time to present an adequate defense.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones hailed the decision, saying in a statement, "This is a great day for the Constitution of Alabama."

The Judiciary Committee will make a recommendation to the full House on whether to impeach Bentley.

Even Republicans want Bentley gone, and it seems difficult to imagine how he survives this now that it's gotten to the point of actual impeachment proceedings being led by his own party, when that party has supermajorities in both the state House and Senate.  If they wanted Bentley to stay, they could have made this vanish at any point.

We'll see where this goes.

Sunday Long Read: The Man Who Can't Shut Up

Coming from North Carolina, being a college basketball fan is in my blood, I grew up in a place where the ACC Tournament meant elementary school teachers would bring out the TVs so we could watch for a while because nobody was paying attention to class anyway with one earbud hidden up our jacket sleeves for the second half of winter.

And the voice and face I've connected to college basketball all my life is ESPN's legendary broadcaster Dick Vitale, who has been the play-by-play firehose of praise for "diaper dandies"and "primetime players" since I could dribble a ball.  And in the age of social media, the 77-year-old Dickie V is even happier...and louder...than ever.

At Le Colonne, an Italian restaurant in Sarasota, Florida, there’s a young woman who sits near the outdoor hostess stand and sings karaoke. One Sunday night last month, she was drowned out by a bald man at a nearby table, who was performing his own hits from the ’80s, the ’90s, and today.

“Hi, everybody! Dick Vitale here. What a night in college hoops!”

For nearly four decades, Vitale has looked into the red light of an ESPN TV camera and spoken those words. Tonight, he was looking into his smart phone, recording a video for Instagram. Howie Schwab, the former ESPN producer and star of Stump the Schwab, held Vitale’s phone aloft. Lorraine, Vitale’s wife of 46 years, looked on with the indulgent expression of someone who has seen many dinners — and even life itself — come to a halt so her husband can talk.

To date, the marriage of 70-something sports announcers and social media has mostly been a loveless one. Brent Musburger told me his sons discourage him from logging on at night after he’s had a few drinks. But for Vitale, who is 77, social media provides two things he desperately craves.

One is a microphone that no producer can switch off. Vitale used to do color commentary only on college basketball. Now, he does color on his own life.

“Hey, baby,” Vitale said in a March Periscope video he recorded in the lobby of the Bellagio hotel. “Just arrived. Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas …” This is one of the more accomplished entries in the Vitale cinematheque. Another recent video had Vitale walking down his driveway in Sarasota while a camera swung around wildly as if it were attached to a linebacker’s helmet. “We laugh our asses off behind the scenes about how he uses the phone,” said Dave O’Brien, a frequent ESPN play-by-play partner.

The second thing Instagram and Periscope offer Vitale is more important. It’s a method for Vitale to absorb the adoration of the masses — to be held aloft digitally as he is by the Cameron Crazies. As Vitale told me, “I like the fact that I can exchange feelings with people.”

Vitale and his companions were dining in Sarasota on the first Sunday of the NCAA tournament. There were games on — including a thriller between North Carolina and Arkansas — but Vitale wasn’t watching. He seemed just as happy to meet fans. Some sports broadcasters skip restaurants to avoid the endless line of selfie seekers. Vitale eats every meal out, seven days a week, so he’ll never miss them.

On this night, Vitale brought autographed copies of his books to the restaurant, which he handed to startled admirers. “People come over and say hello,” he said. “I give ’em a book.”

One recipient was a middle-aged woman who stopped at our table after the appetizers had been cleared. She said her son had heard Vitale at one his many paid speaking gigs.

“Did he like me?” Vitale asked.

“He took a picture with you,” the woman said.

Lorraine Vitale had an idea. Vitale and the woman could take a picture, and the woman could text it to her son, thus completing a selfie circle of life in which everyone in the family had their picture taken with Dick Vitale.

Now, Vitale pointed to another woman three tables over who’d been eyeing him. “C’mere!” he said. The women told Vitale that she knew Steve Prohm, the basketball coach of Iowa State. She and Vitale took a picture, which she promised to send to Prohm, thus extending the Dickie V brand deeper into the heartland. “People are so nice,” Vitale said.

“One of the beauties of traveling and doing games with Dickie V,” said Musburger, “was the fact you never — as in ever — had to call ahead for a reservation at a restaurant. Dickie V would always lead the way. He would burst through the door, and everybody would look up and there would be smiles all around. Anybody and everybody would get us a table. Dickie V would obligingly sign all the autographs. Then it was 50–50 whether the restaurant would pick up the check or bring it to me.”

I really enjoyed this profile of the man.  He's been a part of my life since the amazing runs of the ACC teams of the early 80's, Michael Jordan and Dean Smith in 1982 and Jimmy Valvano and the Cardiac Pack the following year, and the eternal war between Duke and Carolina.  I got a kick out of this one, and yeah, I expect Dickie V will be back this winter for another season.

On And On To Pyonyang

Well now is where things start getting interesting on the North Korea front, as a carrier strike group anchored by the USS Carl Vinson is on its way to say hi to the neighbors.

A U.S. Navy strike group will be moving toward the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force, a U.S. official told Reuters on Saturday, as concerns grow about North Korea's advancing weapons program.

Earlier this month North Korea tested a liquid-fueled Scud missile which only traveled a fraction of its range.

The strike group, called Carl Vinson, includes an aircraft carrier and will make its way from Singapore toward the Korean peninsula, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity.

"We feel the increased presence is necessary," the official said, citing North Korea's worrisome behavior.

The news was first reported by Reuters.

In a statement late Saturday, the U.S. Navy's Third Fleet said the strike group had been directed to sail north, but it did not specify the destination. The military vessels will operate in the Western Pacific rather than making previously planned port visits to Australia, it added.

This year North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as April 15, the 105th birthday of North Korea's founding president and celebrated annually as "the Day of the Sun."

Oh good hooray!

Well at this point we've already shot at Syria, so we might as well be efficient and go harass North Korea while we're at it, right?

Look, I know this is saber-rattling at its finest and all, but frankly the odds of two unstable leaders with nuclear weapons having an incident that escalates very quickly should something go wrong is spectacularly high here.  Even if you're convinced Hillary would have taken the same actions, there's no way she would be as bugnuts as Trump is when it comes to being so obviously goaded into taking a stupid, dangerous action.

So yes, considering Trump has made the worst possible decision at every turn so far, I do not have a good feeling about this at all.
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