July 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM

THE TIES THAT BIND:


Posted by orrinj at 8:14 PM

DONALD WHO?:

U.S. Agency Promoting Trade With Iran Despite Trump Opposition (Adam Kredo, July 24, 2017, Free Beacon)

A July report released by USDA praises the Obama administration's efforts to open trade with Iran following the landmark nuclear agreement that dropped major sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The report contradicts White House policy on Iran, which has taken an increasingly hardline against increased relations with Iran under President Donald Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM

IT'LL NEVER FLY, ORVILLE:

SCOTLAND SETS NEW WIND ENERGY RECORD (KATE WHEELING, 7/24/17, Pacific Standard)

In the first six months of 2017, Scotland set a new wind power record, solidifying the country's role as a leader in renewable energy. In June alone, the nation's wind turbines generated over one million megawatt hours of electricity--enough to power 118 percent of Scottish households. 

Over the last six months, wind energy has supplied 57 percent of the country's total energy needs, including electricity consumption from homes, businesses, and industry. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM

THE PRODUCTIVITY BOOM:

The US produces 40% more factory output today vs. 20 years ago with 5M fewer workers. (Mark J. Perry, 7/24/17, AEI Ideas)

 The chart above shows that over the last 20 years, the real value of US manufacturing output has increased by 40% (and by $544 billion in 2009 dollars). During the same period, factory employment in the US decreased by 29% (and by 5.1 million jobs). US manufacturing output was near a record high last year at $1.91 trillion, just slightly below the 2007 level of $1.92 trillion, and will likely reach a new record high later this year.

So that's the real story of US manufacturing and the loss of jobs: We'll likely produce a record level of manufacturing output this year, with fewer than 12.5 million factory workers - the same manufacturing employment as in the early 1940s. The US will produce about four times more factory output this year than in the 1940s with about the same number of factory workers! And it's that phenomenal increase in factory worker productivity, thanks to innovation and advances in technology, that explains most of the manufacturing job losses over time. 

Less work.  More wealth.  That's what passes for a crisis at the End of History.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM

FUN WHILE IT LASTED:

In 47 states, a smaller part of the population now approves of Trump than voted for him (Philip Bump July 24, 2017, Washington Post)

Donald Trump eked his way into the White House last fall on the strength of 78,000 votes in three states. He lost the popular vote by about two percentage points, earning the support of just under 46 percent of voters who cast a ballot.

Since Nov. 8, polling has consistently shown that an even smaller percentage of the country thinks the president is doing a good job. The most recent weekly approval rating average from Gallup, for example, has Trump at 39 percent approval -- seven percentage points lower than the support he got at the ballot box.

On Monday, Gallup offered a more detailed set of data. Using interviews conducted over Trump's first six months in office -- during which his approval slipped slightly nationally -- Gallup determined the average approval in each of the 50 states.

In 17 states Trump's approval rating was at or above 50 percent. In 31 states, more people disapproved of his job performance than approved. [...]

If Trump were to win only states where he had at least 50 percent approval in the first six months of this year, he'd end up with 99 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the presidency. (As we've seen so often before, not many people live in the big states Trump won in 2016.)



Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM

REFUSING TO LEGISLATE FROM THE BENCH:

Mass. Supreme Court Rules State Officers Can't Hold People on ICE Detainers (Madeleine Weast, July 24, 2017, Free Beacon)

The Massachusetts Supreme Court on Monday ruled that state law does not allow local officials to detain illegal immigrants and others at the request of federal immigration authorities.

Federal immigration detention orders are not enough for state officers to hold individuals, according to the court ruling.

"Nothing in the statutes or common law of Massachusetts authorizes court officers to make a civil arrest in these circumstances," the ruling stated. [...]

"Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigrations detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody," the court ruled.

The court left it up to the legislature to change the law if state lawmakers see fit, writing that it is not the court's place to create or define a new authority for officers to arrest and detain people under federal immigration law.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM

LOW REGARD FOR BEAUREGARD:

White House Floats Rudy Giuliani As Attorney General (Benjamin Hart, 7/24/17, New York)

After President Trump trashed Jeff Sessions on Twitter Monday morning, the White House appeared to twist the knife into the "beleaugured" attorney general even harder by leaking the name of a possible replacement: Rudy Giuliani.

Axios's Mike Allen reports that "President Trump is so unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he has raised the possibility of bringing back Rudolph Giuliani to head the Justice Department, according to West Wing confidants."

Now he's just testing how little self-respect the AG actually has.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM

WELFARE QUEENS:

Jonathan Gruber disputes idea that mortgage interest deduction boosts homeownership (Joseph Lawler, Jul 24, 2017, Washington Examiner)

The tax deduction for mortgage interest does not increase homeownership, according to a new study based on an experiment in Denmark.

That finding, which is highly relevant for the tax reform that Republicans are currently mulling that could curb the deduction over the housing lobby's objections, comes from a working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research Monday. The paper, which has not gone through peer review, is co-authored by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, often referred to as the architect of Obamacare.

The mortgage interest deduction "has a precisely estimated zero effect on homeownership, even in the very long run," concludes the study, written by Gruber and economists from Princeton and the University of Copenhagen.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM

BY THEIR DEFENSE OF SEXUAL ASSAULT SHALL YE KNOW THEM:

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows takes a seat at the top table (Al Weaver | Jul 24, 2017, Washington Examiner)

After the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape was leaked to the press, setting off scandalized and electorally dangerous discussion about Trump's treatment of women, Republicans of many stripes, especially those facing tough re-election battles, abandoned Trump. But Meadows and his wife stayed on board, literally and figuratively. Debbie Meadows boarded a "Women for Trump" bus with 10 other wives of congressmen, and defended the candidate. Trump and the White House have not forgotten this, and are unlikely ever to do so.

"We will always remember how tenacious and loyal Mark and Debbie Meadows were, especially after Oct. 7. They're definitely members of what we call the 'Oct. 8th coalition,'" said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, in an interview.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM

THERE'S REALLY NO BAD REASON TO FIRE HIM:

Forget Russia. I'd fire Jeff Sessions over civil forfeiture. (Glenn Harlan Reynolds, July 24, 2017, USA Today)

Under "civil forfeiture," law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. ("Legal fiction" sounds better than "lie," but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It's also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny.

As Drug Enforcement Agency agent Sean Waite told the Albuquerque Journal, "We don't have to prove that the person is guilty. ... It's that the money is presumed to be guilty."

"Presumed to be guilty." Once in America, we had a presumption of innocence. But that was inconvenient to the powers that be.

As the party platform said : "[W]e will reform the civil asset forfeiture system to protect people and remove perverse incentives for law enforcement to 'police for a profit.'"

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM

MOUTHING THE BOSS'S TALKING POINTS:

Putin told Trump that Russian hackers were too good to get caught: report (ROBIN EBERHARDT,  07/24/17, The Hill)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told President Trump that Russian hackers wouldn't have gotten caught if they did hack Democratic groups because they're too skilled at spying, the New York Times reported Monday.

Trump has since repeated the claim, according to White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Dude, no one flies Aeroflot.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM

NOTHING COSTS MORE THAN IT USED TO, NOR EVER WILL:

U.S. Inflation Remains Low, and That's a Problem (BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, JULY 24, 2017, NY Times)

The Federal Reserve thinks modest inflation has important economic benefits, and it has aimed since 2012 to keep prices rising at an annual pace of 2 percent. The problem is that the Fed is on track to fail for the sixth straight year. Inflation has been stubbornly sluggish.

A little inflation can brighten the economic mood, causing wages and corporate profits to rise more quickly. Economists like to point out that this is an illusion. If everyone is making more money, then no one can buy more stuff. Prices just go up. But the evidence suggests people enjoy the illusion and, importantly, they respond to the illusion by behaving in ways that increase actual economic growth, for example by working harder.

When our biggest problem is that technology and trade are creating too much wealth too cheaply for prices to go up, it's no wonder our partisan differences are so trivial.

After 40 years of this though, it would be helpful if the Fed admitted they won the war on inflation and prepared people for neoliberal/neoconomic reality.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM

HILLARY HAD THE ONLY SECURE SERVER IN DC:

EXCLUSIVE: FBI Seized Smashed Hard Drives From Wasserman Schultz IT Aide's Home (Luke Rosiak, 07/23/2017, Daily Caller)

FBI agents seized smashed computer hard drives from the home of Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's information technology (IT) administrator, according to an individual who was interviewed by Bureau investigators in the case and a high level congressional source.

Pakistani-born Imran Awan, long-time right-hand IT aide to the former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman, has since desperately tried to get the hard drives back, the individual told The Daily Caller News Foundation's Investigative Group.

The congressional source, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, confirmed that the FBI has joined what Politico previously described as a Capitol Police criminal probe into "serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network" by Imran and three of his relatives, who had access to the emails and files of the more than two dozen House Democrats who employed them on a part-time basis.

Thankfully, they're government drives so they're only 80mb.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM

THANKS, DONALD:

Trump's First 6 Months Were Terrible, But He Got 3 Things Right (DEREK CHOLLET, JULY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Three areas stand out. Let's start with the easy one: the leadership of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the performance of the U.S. military. Mattis has become the go-to talking point for Republicans trying to defend Trump, and is the life-preserver for observers and allies worried about the direction of the United States. Heaping praise on him has become a cliché. Is he the second coming of General George Marshall? No. But we're lucky he's there.

Mattis gets credit mainly because his first six months at the Pentagon have been the most "normal" part of the Trump national security effort. [...]

In his revealing recent interview with the Islander, a high school newspaper in Washington state, Mattis was asked about the differences between the Obama and Trump approaches to the Middle East. "I think the two administrations are more variations on a theme than they are dramatically different approaches," he said. In the same interview, Mattis expressed admiration for Hillary Clinton's accomplishments as Secretary of State, such as her diplomacy that led to crippling sanctions against Iran, which brought it to the negotiating table. It is worth asking what would be different in defense policy today if Clinton were sitting in the Oval Office. I think that so far, the answer is not a lot.

The most notable shift in military policy under Trump has been the ceding of virtually all decision-making authorities to the Pentagon. This inclination to delegate doesn't stem from an informed consideration of the proper civilian-military balance on decisions about the use of force. It is simpler. Congenitally uninterested in details and allergic to accountability, Trump is ceding authority on military decisions not necessarily to help things go right, but to give himself an out if things go wrong. Military leaders understand this risk -- and cringe watching the president go after his own law enforcement leaders (many of whom were and are their close colleagues around the Situation Room table), knowing they could be next. If he'll throw Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the bus, then no one is safe.

A second policy area that's still good is counterterrorism cooperation with key partners. It is easy to lose sight of this amid the pileup of talk about how bad things are going with allies, especially in Europe. But counterterrorism officials on both sides of the Atlantic say that relationships remain unchanged, and that they are still sharing information, coordinating activities, and disrupting plots. [...]

A third part of Trump's foreign policy that at least one can say the Trump administration is giving it a try, although it is too soon to conclude that it's going well, is diplomacy. This may seem preposterous. As I have argued before, despite high hopes for success, Rex Tillerson is off to the worst start of any modern secretary of state, suffering from a self-generated quintuple whammy of problems with a gutted budget, lack of personnel, no apparent influence over big White House decisions (despite a lot of time invested in building a relationship with Trump), little juice with allies or Capitol Hill, and anemic leadership. For the most part, Tillerson treats career diplomats like they are Siri -- there to provide information when asked. Despite all this, there are signs that on certain issues, the Trump team is ready to give diplomacy a chance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM

...AND CHEAPER...:

The future of hydrogen fuel (Alan Finkel, 7/23/17, Cosmos)

When the hydrogen is used for stoves, or space heating, the only combustion product is water vapour! So what's standing in the way of this utopian fuel? Problem one is that producing hydrogen from electricity is only 70% efficient, so you need a very cheap electricity supply. It could be coming.

As our electricity is increasingly sourced from wind and solar, the amount available will often exceed the electrical load. Owners of the generators will seek an economically worthwhile purpose for this excess, such as charging batteries, desalinating water, or making hydrogen.

Problem two is that the current large-scale electrolysis units are so expensive that the cost of producing hydrogen is several times more than natural gas. But one thing we know for sure is that as manufacturing volumes increase, costs come down. We've seen it already in related industries. Wind turbine prices have halved in the past five years and solar prices have dropped even faster. Similar cost reductions are likely for electrolysis units.

Problem three is that steel pipes - a major part of the current gas delivery infrastructure - aren't suited to transporting hydrogen. They become brittle because the hydrogen molecules work their way into the spaces between the iron atoms and eventually cause cracks to form.

Fortunately, modern piping used for gas distribution is mostly made from polypropylene and does not suffer from this problem. Hydrogen can be mixed at up to 10% with the methane in the existing gas distribution network without any risk of corrosion nor need to change the nozzles on stoves or space heaters. Above 10% hydrogen concentration it's easier to commit and convert all gas appliances to run on pure hydrogen.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM

LIBERALS VS ROE:

The unspeakable evil of the Tennessee eugenics program (Matthew Walther, July 24, 2017, The Week)

[T]here is actually nothing amusing about Judge Sam Benningfield's standing order signed on May 15 awarding inmates 30 days worth of credit toward their jail sentences if they agree to undergo a sterility-inducing procedure -- a vasectomy for male offenders, a Nexplananon implant for females. Both procedures are available free of charge courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Health.

This is not some kind of innovative crime-reduction plan. It is eugenics.

How exactly it is possible for a judge in a general sessions court with juvenile jurisdiction to impose this order and arrange the gratis performance of these operations with state funds is a question best left to legal experts. The ACLU has released a statement denouncing the program as "unconstitutional." The local district attorney has called it "concerning," citing the difficulties of reversing a procedure undergone by impressionable young offenders looking for a speedy way out of their difficulties. But I am not interested in the constitutionality of the program.

It is evil. [...]

The closest we ever come to having it out about birth control is when the question of eugenics is raised. But the two questions cannot be separated from one another given the history of what used to be the contraceptive movement in this country. I will never understand why reputable mainstream politicians eagerly receive awards from Planned Parenthood, an organization founded by a woman who explicitly recommended the enforced sterilization of those she considered "unfit" or "feeble-minded" or "idiots." It would take an act of willful obtuseness to pretend that the practice of hawking free contraception and abortion today can be neatly separated from the ideology out of which the practice arose. Contraception and sterilization are eugenics.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, would certainly agree with Judge Benningfield about our moral duty to prevent those convicted of crimes from having children. "I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically," she once told an interviewer. "Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they're born. That to me is the greatest sin that people can commit."

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM

A BAROQUE LAUNDROMAT:

The Trump-Russia problem no one's talking about (Edward Burmila, July 24, 2017, The Week)

In 2004, President Trump paid $41.35 million for a Palm Beach, Florida, mansion formerly owned by Abe Gosman, a health-care executive. Dubbed "Maison de L'Amitie," the property at 515 N. County Road was classic Trump -- huge, flashy, and resplendent in the "late Baroque brothel" style he favors. It is unclear how much time Trump or his family spent living in the property, being only one of many under his control at the time.

Barely four years later and without having made improvements, Trump sold the property to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. The sale to Rybolovlev, who made billions in an unglamorous industry by cornering the Asian market in potash (a fertilizer) with his company Uralkali, raised eyebrows for two reasons. First, the purchase price of $95 million was not only by far the most ever paid for a home in swanky Palm Beach, but also more than twice what Trump paid four years earlier. More curiously, Rybolovlev has never seen or visited the property -- not before he agreed to pay that staggering price, nor since the sale was completed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM

HE'S NOT A REPUBLICAN:

Trump rebukes Republicans who do 'very little to protect their President' (The Week, July 23, 2017)
 
President Trump ended his weekend lamenting in the third person the lack of support he has from his fellow members of the GOP.

His biggest problem--other than what he is--was always going to be that he ran behind the party everywhere, making him indebted to them, not vice versa.



Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM

LAZINESS IS ALWAYS EPIDEMIC:

This Isn't the First U.S. Opiate-Addiction Crisis (Stephen Mihm, 7/23/17,  Bloomberg)

The first great U.S. opiate-addiction epidemic began much the same way, with medications handed out by well-meaning doctors who embraced a wondrous new class of drugs as the answer to a wide range of aches and pains.

The pharmacologist Nathaniel Chapman, writing in 1817, held up opium as the most useful drug in the physician's arsenal, arguing that there was "scarcely one morbid affection or disordered condition" that would fail to respond to its wonder-working powers. That same year, chemists devised a process for isolating a key alkaloid compound from raw opium: morphine.

Though there's some evidence that opiate dependency had become a problem as early as the 1840s, it wasn't until the 1860s and 1870s that addiction became a widespread phenomenon. The key, according to historian David Courtwright, was the widespread adoption of the hypodermic needle in the 1870s.

Before this innovation, physicians administered opiates orally. During the Civil War, for example, doctors on the Union side administered 10 million opium pills and nearly 3 million ounces of opium powders and tinctures. Though some soldiers undoubtedly became junkies in the process, oral administration had all manner of unpleasant gastric side effects, limiting the appeal to potential addicts.

Hypodermic needles, by contrast, delivered morphine directly into a patient's veins with no side effects, yielding immediate results. As Courtwright notes: "For the first time in the entire history of medicine near-instantaneous, symptomatic relief for a wide range of diseases was possible. A syringe of morphine was, in a very real sense, a magic wand."

An enthusiastic medical profession began injecting morphine on a vast scale for all manner of aches and pains, much the way that a more recent generation of doctors began prescribing Oxycontin and other legal drugs in a reaction against widespread undertreatment of pain.

Wounded veterans became addicts, but so, too, did people suffering from arthritis. Women also became addicts en masse, thanks to the practice of treating menstrual cramps -- or for that matter, any female complaint of pain -- with injections of morphine.

Skeptics in the medical profession warned about the dangers of administering too much morphine. Yet these warnings generally fell on deaf ears. Some of the problem lay with the doctors themselves.

One well-regarded doctor put it this way: "Opium is often the lazy physician's remedy."

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM

BUSH LITE:

Obama Faulted the Bush Administration for Failing Nuclear Workers in 2008 (Susan Crabtree , July 24, 2017, Daily Beacon)

A whistleblower is making some of the same complaints against the Obama administration over its record of providing congressionally mandated payouts to nuclear workers as Barack Obama did about the George W. Bush administration's.

Obama, when he was a senator in the middle of his White House bid, admonished the Bush Labor Department over complaints of bureaucratic bungling and intentional efforts to deny or drag out payouts to workers who lost their health building the nation's Cold War nuclear arsenal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM

SELF-DETERMINATION WINS:

Why Ukrainian forces gave up Crimea without a fight - and NATO is alert (Pavel Polityuk and Anton Zverev, 7/24/17, Reuters)

Russia's actions were not the only factor in the Crimean events. Ukraine's military had suffered years of neglect, there was a power vacuum in Kiev after the government was overthrown, and many Crimean residents felt more affinity with Moscow.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM

KNOWING YOUR ALLIES:

Hezbollah says seizes strategic valley from militants at Syria-Lebanon border (Reuters, 7/24/17)

The Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah said it had advanced from several directions in the Wadi al-Kheil valley in Juroud Arsal, a barren mountainous border zone that has served as a base for militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The advance gave Hezbollah control over what had been "the most important base for Nusra Front" in the area, Hezbollah's military media unit said in a statement.

The offensive, launched on Friday by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, has so far focused on militants from al Qaeda's former Syria branch, previously called the Nusra Front.

Hezbollah has reported rapid advances against Nusra fighters. The next target will be territory held by Islamic State militants, local media have reported.

July 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM

LAUGHINGSTOCK:

Scaramucci quotes anonymous source on Russian hacking, then admits Trump was the source (Sonam Sheth , 7/23/17, Business Insider)

"You know, somebody said to me yesterday -- I won't tell you who -- that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those e-mails, you would have never seen it," Scaramucci told "State of the Union" host Jake Tapper.

"You would have never had any evidence of them, meaning that they're super confident in their deception skills and hacking," Scaramucci continued. "My point is, all of the information isn't on the table yet. But here's what I know about the president --"

"Well, wait, wait, wait," Tapper interjected.

"Let me finish. Let me finish," Scaramucci said, before letting Tapper cut in.

"Well, you're making a lot of assertions here," Tapper said. "I don't know who this anonymous person is that said, if the Russians had actually done it, we wouldn't have been able to detect it, but it is the unanimous --"

"How about it was -- how about it was the president, Jake?" Scaramucci said. "I talked to him yesterday. He called me from Air Force One. And he basically said to me, 'Hey, you know, this is --maybe they did it. Maybe they didn't do it'."

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM

INFLATION HOPES ARE A BUBBLE:

No-show inflation poses conundrum for US Fed (AFP, 7/23/17)

In the normal course of events, as an economy recovers and hiring increases, that brings with it rising wages and inflation, which in turn prompts the central bank to hike lending rates to keep prices in check while still allowing economic growth to continue.

But despite nearly seven years of uninterrupted job creation and a very low unemployment rate of 4.4 percent, inflationary pressures and wage gains show little sign of life.

The central bank is running out of explanations. [...]

Inflation is not simply weak -- it is deserting the battlefield altogether.

The "core" measure of the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index -- the Fed's favorite inflation indicator -- has been below the central bank's two percent target for five years.

Last month, the headline PCE price index contracted for the second time in 2017.

The Consumer Price Index also came in flat in June after contracting in May, dragging the 12-month measure down more than a full percentage point in the last four months.

[Economist Diane Swonk] said another explanation is price competition among online retailers, which also has been persistent in other advanced economies like Japan and Germany.

Every megatrend mitigates against prices going up--technology, trade, immigration, demographics, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM

WHAT VLAD WAS BUYING:

The Magnitsky Affair and Russia's Original Sin : Sergei Magnitsky's death at the hand of the state exposed the rot at the heart of Moscow. Its ripple effects have shaped Russian foreign and domestic policy ever since. (ANNA ARUTUNYAN, JULY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Americans may have been shocked that, by his own account, the son of a U.S. presidential candidate found himself being hectored by a group of shady Russians about an 8-year-old case he had likely never heard of. Donald Trump Jr. had come to the meeting last June, after all, baited by promises of something much better: compromising material about Hillary Clinton. Yet the fact that a Russian lawyer reportedly spent what face time she had with Donald Trump's campaign lobbying for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act should not surprise anyone who has spent the past decade observing her country. What Trump Jr. found himself unexpectedly ensnared by last year was, in a way, the original sin of Vladimir Putin's Russia. Before there was Syria, before Ukraine, before election meddling, there was the case of the murdered lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Compared with the other, more recent ugly episodes in U.S.-Russia relations, the ripple effects of the Magnitsky affair have been less discussed, at least in the West. But the story of the $230 million stolen from Russian taxpayers, the lawyer who died in prison for uncovering the scam, and the sanctions and countersanctions that ensued is a case study in the dynamics of modern Russia: how the tangled web of greed, opportunism, corruption, and fatal negligence that sits at the heart of the Russian government not only shapes policy but sometimes drives it outright. The episode derailed the country's foreign and domestic policy for years, poisoned relations between Russia and the United States, and created a moral vacuum that, in the years since, has corroded Putin's regime from within. As the latest revelations from the Trump scandal show, it continues to exert a gravitational pull on Russian politics and Moscow's relations with Washington today. [...]

Having little faith the case would be brought to justice in Russia, Browder sought justice in America, lobbying hard for Congress to punish those involved. "I've spent every day thinking what I could have done that could have saved [Magnitsky's] life," Browder told me in 2011. In December 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act barring U.S. entry and prohibiting the use of American banks for those alleged to be involved -- the number currently stands at 44 -- along with other Russians seen as violators of human rights. A victory? Not quite. Given Russia's track record at the time -- and, in particular, the high-placed protection those involved in the Magnitsky affair enjoyed -- there was a slim chance that the perpetrators would be brought to justice. But the Magnitsky Act dashed any hopes outright.

The move infuriated Putin, who earlier that year had returned for a third presidential term despite a mass protest wave questioning his legitimacy. And it was easy to see why. The ban was a direct blow to Putin's power base: The kleptocratic elite was used to enjoying Western real estate, vacations, medical service, and even its legal system -- while plundering public coffers back home.



Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM

LAUGHINGSTOCK:

Donald Trump has been asked to make a 'dummy' State visit to Britain this year (SIMON WALTERS, 7/22/17,  THE MAIL ON SUNDAY)

Donald Trump has been asked to make a 'dummy' State visit to Britain this year to show he can avoid embarrassing the Queen.

He has been invited to come for brief talks with Theresa May - but with none of the Royal pomp and circumstance he wanted.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM

THAT'S HILLARY'S ENTIRE LEGACY RIGHT THERE...:

Trump had 'The Art of the Deal.' Now Democrats say their economic agenda is 'A Better Deal.' (Ed O'Keefe and David Weigel, July 22, 2017, Washington Post)

The rollout comes as Democrats continue to struggle to sell a coherent message to voters. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 37 percent of Americans said that the party "currently stands for something," while 52 percent said it "just stands against Trump." The same poll found that Trump's overall approval rating has deteriorated to 36 percent -- making him the most unpopular president of the modern era at this point in his presidency. 

Those findings resonate with party leaders who are still stunned by Trump's come-from-behind victory last year.

"When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don't blame other things -- Comey, Russia -- you blame yourself," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview previewing the new plan. "So what did we do wrong? People didn't know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that."

...she managed to be more unpopular than the second most unpopular major party nominee ever.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM

HE'S NOT A REPUBLICAN:

Why are Republicans trouncing Democrats in fundraising? (Byron York, Jul 22, 2017, Daily Examiner)

The Republican president has a job approval rating around 40 percent. The GOP has an unfavorability rating around 56 percent. And Republicans trail Democrats by nine points in an average of "generic ballot" polls.

All of which makes it notable that the Republican National Committee is trouncing the Democratic National Committee when it comes to raising money, especially from small donors.

The numbers are striking. In June, the RNC raised $13.5 million to the DNC's $5.5 million.

For 2017 so far, the RNC has raised $75.4 million to the DNC's $38.2 million.

This is exactly the same as Republicans down ballot running so far ahead of him in November. By virtue of basically ignoring everything he espouses they've managed to distance the party even further from him.  He's sui generis.

That's why he's so easily impeachable as well.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM

LITTLE FINGER'S PLAYHOUSE:

Inside the 24 hours that broke Sean Spicer : Trump's beleaguered press secretary had been in better spirits recently. Then Scaramucci had an Oval Office meeting. (JOSH DAWSEY 07/21/2017, Politico)

After he found out about Scaramucci's appointment, Bannon had a very "aggressive" confrontation with Trump that some in the West Wing viewed as remarkable, people with direct knowledge of the encounter said. Another person familiar with the encounter said Bannon's behavior was "embarrassing."

"There were a lot of people in the White House that didn't want this," one senior White House official said. "It happened because the family wanted it and because Trump wanted it."

Spicer agonized Thursday night and thought Scaramucci might still be kept out. Putting Scaramucci over Spicer would diminish his standing in the West Wing and prove another humiliation.

He went into the White House on Friday morning, saying he needed to see the president -- who was also talking to Scaramucci. Spicer was weighing his options and wanted to see what job Scaramucci would get before deciding whether to resign. After Scaramucci's position as communications director was announced in a larger senior staff meeting, Spicer returned to the Oval Office separately, told the president he disagreed with the pick and quickly resigned, people briefed on the encounter said.

Trump was taken aback and told Spicer to stay on board. Scaramucci and Spicer could work together, Trump said. "It would all work out, we'll all be on the same team," said a person who was told of Trump's comments. But Scaramucci was going to be in charge and report directly to the president.

Spicer saw it as a personal affront to work for Scaramucci and told the president that it couldn't work. Spicer had expected to evolve into more of a full-time communications director role because he was essentially no longer the public-facing press secretary, having turned over the podium.

Spicer returned angrily to the press office, but put on a happy face for a brief resignation meeting, convened by Priebus. He even gave Scaramucci a half-hug.

Spicer had suffered other indignities: He was left out of a papal visit, and criticized by his boss for being played by a woman on TV and for his suits, and he was mocked for huddling with his team near some bushes as reporters demanded answers about FBI Director James Comey's firing. But even some of Spicer's sharpest critics said he would land on his feet because he had good instincts as a strategist and was well connected in Washington, after serving years as a top official at the Republican National Committee.

Aides sympathetic to Spicer said he had an impossible job. It was difficult to respond to Trump's misstatements without contradicting him. No communications plan could stay on track because of the president's Twitter finger. And the warring factions of the White House made it impossible to ever know exactly what was going on.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM

LAUGHINGSTOCK:

These are the tweets Donald Trump's new communications director doesn't want you to see
(Greg Evans, 7/22/17, Independent)



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