December 16, 2017
DONALD V. JUSTICE:
The Justice Department invited a group of reporters to its offices on Tuesday night to view private text messages sent during the 2016 campaign by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, former investigators on the special counsel Robert Mueller's team, Business Insider has learned. [...]It is "highly unusual" for the DOJ to release private correspondences that are the subject of an ongoing investigation to Congress, let alone to the press, a source on one of the congressional committees investigating Russia's election interference told Business Insider on Wednesday.The source emphasized that none of the leaks came from Capitol Hill, which obtained the texts from the DOJ separately on Tuesday."It's appalling behavior by the department," said Matthew Miller, a former DOJ spokesman. "This is an ongoing investigation in which these employees have due-process rights, and the political leadership at DOJ has thrown them to the wolves so Rosenstein can get credit from House Republicans at his hearing today."One source close to the process who requested anonymity to discuss internal DOJ deliberations said the texts were given to reporters in case they did not leak in time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's public hearing on Wednesday morning."It is at least debatable whether it was appropriate to turn them over to the Hill in the middle of an ongoing investigation," Miller said. "Under no circumstances was it appropriate to leak them to the press."
SUBTLE AS A TRAINWRECK:
2017 Ninja Award, Least Inconspicuous Signs (Pitcher/Catcher).— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) December 16, 2017
Taillon & Cervelli--"Pickoff Sign." pic.twitter.com/0RltOPL7Kd
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents are arresting undocumented immigrants along the Southwest border at levels not seen since the end of Obama's administration, signaling that President Donald Trump is falling short on his promise to keep undocumented immigrants out.The agency released a report Friday that found that about 39,000 people were detained while trying to make their way into the U.S. hitting a level only seen under Former President Barack Obama. The number is up 12 percent from October and the highest it has reached since President Donald Trump's inauguration.
ALONG THE ANGLOSPHERE:
The more pertinent question may be how a musical that celebrates America, in the words of a dying Hamilton, as "a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints" will resonate in post-Brexit Britain more broadly. As in the U.S. productions, the U.K. cast features black and Asian actors in the leading roles, except for that of King George, who is played by the white actor Michael Jibson. The role of Hamilton went to Jamael Westman, a recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art whose mother was born in Ireland and whose father came from Jamaica. (A recent piece in a right-wing tabloid felt the need to clarify that the historic Hamilton, however, was "in fact white.") When his political rivals catch Hamilton in a scandal, they mock his origins with a faux-Caribbean patois that recalls the xenophobia of the Brexit campaign: "An immigrant embezzling our government funds . . . ya best g'wan run back where ya come from." And Miranda's hybrid score, bridging the Beatles with Beyoncé and Biggie Smalls, may play, right now, as the sonic analogue to Meghan Markle's engagement to Prince Harry, which has been treated in the tabloids as a progressive fantasy and a reactionary nightmare. "Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton" ran an absurd headlinein the Daily Mail.In some ways, though, "Hamilton" is surprisingly British in its sensibilities. Miranda grew up on the spate of U.K. imports that ruled Broadway in the nineteen-eighties--"Cats," "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Misérables." (The producer who brought those shows to New York, Cameron Mackintosh, is also the one taking "Hamilton" to the Victoria Palace Theatre, not far from other long-running Broadway transfers like "The Lion King," "Wicked," and "The Book of Mormon.") Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar" helped give Miranda the idea for a sung-through historical pop opera narrated by the hero's nemesis. (The original casting description for King George called him "Rufus Wainwright meets King Herod.") Miranda's George Washington gives a shout-out to Gilbert and Sullivan, dubbing himself "the model of a modern major general, / The venerated Virginian veteran whose men are all / Lining up, to put me up on a pedestal."And it's entirely possible that "Hamilton" will end up like "Les Mis"--playing endlessly, embraced around the world for its stirring romance, battles, and ballads, with little sense of the specific history it stages. (Off the top of your head: Which French revolution do Marius and his comrades join?) After Miranda's first musical, "In the Heights," opened in London and became a moderate success, he said that the story of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants in gentrifying Manhattan could transfer to the West End because "the specific problems of this community feel universal"--although the musical's book writer, Quiara Alegría Hudes, told me that the absence of a Puerto Rican diaspora community in London made that production feel like a story more about class than race. It could seem like a diminishment of "Hamilton" if its specific ideas--its redefinition of patriotism as pluralism, its elevation of hip-hop to the status of national chronicle, its championing of urban Hamiltonian federalism over louche Jeffersonian agrarianism--faded into generic universality. But, then, one could argue that that's what happens with Shakespeare, too: questions of leadership, nationalism, and military morality in "Henry V" still resonate in heightened, punchy verse, even if we can no longer tell the Earl of Westmoreland from the Duke of Exeter.
ISIS WAS A FUNCTION OF THE OCCUPATION:
The United Nation has said that it is "appalled" by a mass execution of prisoners in Iraq and called for an immediate halt to the death penalty in the country, citing flaws in the country's criminal justice system.Iraq's Ministry of Justice said 38 prisoners were executed on terrorism-related charges in the southern city of Nasiriyah earlier this week, but it gave no details of the prisoners' identities or the offences for which they were sentenced to death. [...]Iraqi courts are dealing with thousands of prisoners, including foreigners and hundreds of children, some as young as 13, who were detained in the past two years because they were suspected of being Isis fighters or supporters.Gruesome accounts of summary executions and the brutal torture of detainees suspected of being Isis fighters underscore the powerful impulse for revenge against the militants, who carried out atrocities in the areas they seized after 2014.UN human rights officials have said that speeding up the execution of accused militants could result in the deaths of innocent people. They warn that perceptions of injustice risk deepening the antagonism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and lay the foundation for another cycle of sectarian violence.Thursday's executions raised the number of people believed to have been executed this year to 106, Throssell said, but the actual number could be much higher.
DO LOSERS EVER BLAME THEMSELVES?:
Reasonable conservatives who take the Trump presidency as a whole have observed that there is a lot to like about this administration. On the domestic front, the Trump White House has either allowed hundreds of onerous regulations to expire or it has never implemented them in the first place. In concert with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the administration has aggressively confirmed conservative judges to federal judicial appointments. The administration is dismantling Obama-era abuses, ranging from the deconstruction of ObamaCare to the abandonment of Orwellian Title IX tribunals on American campuses. And Donald Trump's foreign policy is a laudable one, mostly because the president abandoned his populist blustering about the supposed costs of maintaining America's alliances and free-trade obligations.It isn't just the "Never Trump" right that has avoided introspective rumination on these particulars. The pro-Trump media world seems utterly bored by them. Unremarkably, the pro-Trump media landscape has devoted its attention to Donald Trump's chief concern: real or imagined slights to his ego.Average conservative voters have spent 2017 observing the arbiters of discourse on the right focus on the alleged wiring of Trump Tower by pro-Obama forces in the "deep state." They've bristled at the impunity with which Trump administration officials were supposedly "unmasked" by Obama officials like Susan Rice to achieve political ends. They've marveled at the injustice of allowing untold millions of illegal immigrants to steal the popular vote from Trump in 2016. They've been consumed with the nefarious conspiracy by Democrats, the press, foreign officials, and political consultants to misuse intelligence products to shackle the president. The FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA; all are in on the plot to undermine the Trump presidency from within. Establishment Republicans who have criticized Trump for threatening his Department of Justice or failing to condemn white nationalism with proper zeal are eager to see the president fail.Trump officials administer these agencies that are supposedly engineering these egregious violations of the public trust, and these agencies are overseen by GOP-dominated congressional committees. Why would any Republican be moved to vote for more Republicans if these are the results? These intractable obstacles in the way of Trump render their vote meaningless. A conservative might be tempted to wallow in despair.Of course, one could argue that Donald Trump cannot simultaneously be a successful president and be the victim of a remorseless campaign of sabotage orchestrated by Maoist insurgents weaving silently in and out of the bureaucracy. It's also not illogical to suggest that a competent president can overcome a bureaucratic culture arrayed in opposition to Republican policy objectives; it has been done before. For whatever reason, though, these arguments do not energize the pro-Trump conservative commentariat. After all, being buffeted by events beyond your control is, in a way, comforting. There is a perverse kind of freedom in lacking agency.
FERMI'S PORK BARREL:
On the other hand, it was as useful as a navy.The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.The shadowy program -- parts of it remain classified -- began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid's, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.
AS LONG AS YOU SHARE HIS HATREDS...:
A majority of President Donald Trump's supporters believe he should continue to serve as president even if it's proven that he conspired with Russia to sway the 2016 election, according to a recent survey conducted by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP).
HOW ELSE DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO READ? (self-reference alert):
[R]SS is now competing for my time with Twitter, Reddit, internal Verge chats, and other news sources. It's still an important place to check in on specific sites, but it's not where I see the pieces everyone else in my field has been reading and sharing. 2017 has highlighted the downsides of this sort of curated news, though. I'm not talking about the much-discussed ideological "filter bubble;" I probably encounter more ideas I disagree with on Twitter than in Feedly. But social curation (as well as automated algorithmic shuffling) tends to let a few big stories take up more space than I'd like. I need niche, non-important-seeming raw material in my media diet, and RSS is perfect for that.Even after all these years, I love Feedly. But it no longer feels like a space that I organize. It feels like just another feed.I also know that my situation is fairly unusual, though. Most people aren't scanning Twitter like a Bloomberg terminal for several hours a day, looking for news. As my colleague Dieter Bohn wrote all the way back in 2013, RSS is far more important for users who want to take in the equivalent of a digital newspaper at the end of the day, something that's difficult or impossible to do with a service like Twitter. So I'm curious -- how many people are still fully invested in the format, and how many have stopped tending their feed gardens?
IT'S ONLY GOOD NEWS TO THE 60%:
The announcement came on Saturday. Just three days before the Alabama special election that transfixed the nation, and on the same day that President Trump fact-checked the Washington Post's Dave Weigel, Iraq's prime minister declared victory in the war against ISIS. Iraq -- with indispensable American help -- has regained control of its cities and its border with Syria. ISIS has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.The victory isn't confined to Iraq. American-allied forces control ISIS's former capital in Syria, and the world's largest jihadist army is gone. Bands of insurgents still prowl the countryside, and ISIS cells exist across the world, but the war against the "caliphate" is over. It's been won.So why does no one seem to care?
THE MOST VISIBLE WIN HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BILL:
Republicans hope that would overshadow their embarrassing failure to repeal President Barack Obama's health law. Another flop would have infuriated GOP backers and donors already enraged by the Affordable Care Act debacle, fueling hard-right primary challenges against Republican incumbents or encouraging conservatives to stay home in November.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB!:
In its annual report on the state of global wealth, Credit Suisse says 1.1 million new millionaires were created in the U.S. in 2017. That brings the total number of millionaires in the U.S. up to approximately 15,356,000, or about one in every 20 Americans.The rise in the stock market is the biggest reason for the gains, which in turn were driven by both stronger underlying economic conditions and the prospect of lower taxes and deregulation, Credit Suisse reported.
ALL OF THE ABOVE:
In The Washington Post on Thursday, reporters Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker offer a stunning description of the president's curious incuriousness when it comes to the question of Russian interference in our elections. That's followed by a catalog of all the many ways in which the American president sought to appease the Russian dictator. [...]Presented with this list, the president's craven apologists insist he's right to try to find common ground with Russia. These are the same people who until recently were in full throat against Barack Obama for his overtures to Putin. More measured apologists say he's merely naïve, just as Obama and Bush were at the beginning of their terms. Yet the alleged naïveté never quits: Just this week, he asked for Putin's help on North Korea.The better explanations are: (a) the president is infatuated with authoritarians, at least those who flatter him; (b) he's neurotically neuralgic when it comes to the subject of his election; (c) he's ideologically sympathetic to Putinism, with its combination of economic corporatism, foreign-policy cynicism, and violent hostility to critics; (d) he's stupid; or (e) he's vulnerable to Russian blackmail.Each explanation is compatible with all the others. For my part, I choose all of the above -- the first four points being demonstrable while the last is logical. But let's have that conversation at another time. There's no need to obsess about electoral collusion when the real issue is moral capitulation.
BECAUSE HOUSES HAVE MIRRORS:
In 1968, Paul Davis, an ace political reporter and my colleague at The Tuscaloosa News, sniffed out that former Gov. George Wallace, bored with life as "senior adviser" to his wife, then Alabama's governor, was pondering a run for president. He was pressuring two local Democratic lawyers, Richard Shelby and Walter Flowers, to fly to California to sue the state for ballot position in its presidential primary. The dangling carrot, as for every Alabama law firm then, was the right to represent the state in highway condemnation proceedings."I wouldn't do it," Mr. Shelby, now the state's six-term senator, told me by telephone from Washington on Thursday.Mr. Shelby, who switched to the Republican Party in 1994, rebelled again last Sunday when he said on CNN that he would not vote for Roy Moore, the deeply flawed Republican candidate in the Alabama Senate race won by the Democratic dark horse, Doug Jones. [...]"I did what I needed to do," the senator said in his soft drawl. "I've known Roy Moore for a long time." Mr. Shelby had been warned that the candidate was considered unsound by "die-hard Republicans" in Gadsden, the town where the 30-something Mr. Moore allegedly cruised the mall for teenage girls. "When the story of the 14-year-old girl came out, I thought, 'my gosh,'" Mr. Shelby said. "That was kind of the tipping point for me." He added, "We wanted that Senate seat above everything, but there are some things we don't need in Alabama."Or in Washington. "I thought Roy Moore would be radioactive," Mr. Shelby said. "That theme ran right through the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate. They were all concerned about him coming here.""I took principle over politics," he added. "There comes a time when you have to stand up and I did and I hope I made a difference."
SHOULD NEVER HAVE CANCELLED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE:
The project, a co-production between Lionsgate Television and Universal Television, is inspired by the cult 1974 blaxploitation-themed TV movie Get Christie Love! and subsequent short-lived series, which also aired on ABC. With the big commitment and casting of Bunbury, the project is inching closer to a green light.
December 15, 2017
IF YOU'D COMMITTED TREASON YOU MIGHT TRY TO OBSTRUCT JUSTICE TOO:
Even before Trump took office in January, questions arose about the numerous links between his campaign and Russian officials. Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees are reportedly investigating whether campaign officials sought out cooperation with Russia or accepted offers of cooperation. Among the areas under scrutiny: whether the campaign secretly helped Russian "trolls" target specific voters with propaganda attacking the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in misleading Facebook ads and fake news stories.Yet out in the open and indisputable the entire time was Trump's daily praise of WikiLeaks in the final weeks of the campaign, starting right after the Oct. 7 release of the "Access Hollywood" tape that seemed capable of sinking his candidacy. That tape contained his boast that he could grab women by the genitals because of his celebrity. WikiLeaks began releasing a new batch of damaging-to-Democrats emails within an hour after the tape story broke, and Trump began talking up those emails in his campaign speeches days later."WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks," Trump proclaimed at a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, rally on Oct. 10, 2016."You see so much from these WikiLeaks," he told a Panama City, Florida, audience the next day."This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable," he said the following day at an Ocala, Florida, rally. "You've got to read it!"In total, Trump referred to WikiLeaks by name 137 times in public appearances and media interviews between Oct. 10 and Election Day, according to PolitiFact. There were another two dozen times when he referred to the emails but did not name the entity.During that whole time, Trump had access to U.S. intelligence stating that WikiLeaks was acting as an agent of Russian spy agencies, which had stolen the material from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee.
Donald Trump said Wednesday he would consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and lifting the sanctions against the country if he's elected president.
Donald Trump invited Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails on Wednesday, asking one of America's longstanding geopolitical adversaries to find "the 30,000 emails that are missing" from the personal server she used during her time as secretary of state.
"I will tell you this, Russia: If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," the Republican nominee said at a news conference in Florida. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."Trump's comments set off an immediate uproar from the Clinton campaign, which blasted the remarks as a threat to national security.
"This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent," Hillary for America policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
"Clearly the chances of sanctions being lifted on Russia have risen substantially," Charles Robertson, Renaissance Capital's global chief economist, said. "That would improve the investment climate for Russia."Russia's rouble currency and stocks gained on the Trump election victory. Ukraine's dollar-denominated bonds tumbled to multi-month lows, reflecting pessimism about what a Trump presidency means for the divided and indebted country.The Kremlin had been bracing for fraught relations if the White House had been won by Hillary Clinton - a politician Putin once accused of stirring up protests against him and who state media portrayed as an anti-Russian warmonger.Trump was portrayed in a more positive light. Putin described him as "very talented" and in Kremlin-backed media he was cast as a plucky political maverick.Still, few in Moscow had believed the Republican candidate would win, apart from a group of Trump-supporting nationalists who gathered in a Moscow bar decorated with a triptych of Putin, Trump and French Front National leader Marine Le Pen.Once it became clear he had won, Russia's parliament erupted in applause and Putin told foreign ambassadors he was ready to fully restore ties with Washington.
It was Dec. 29, 2016, and President Barack Obama had just imposed sanctions against Russia for that country's alleged interference in the election. [...]Ruddy said in an interview that he had a prior conversation in which Trump was "very excited" about the prospect of resetting relations with Russia. The issue didn't come up that day. Trump seemed relaxed, Ruddy said, and returned to the library, where he met with health care executives.That night, Trump stood with King and greeted reporters in the doorway of Mar-a-Lago's ornate stone entrance. He rejected the idea there was a need to punish Russia, saying, "I think we ought to get on with our lives."The next morning, the Obama White House announced it was imposing the new sanctions on Russian entities and individuals and ordered 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country.Russia "intended to influence the election, erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the U.S. government," the White House said in a statement.Many of Trump's top advisers were absent as the president-elect absorbed the news. The president-elect's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, was on vacation in Hawaii with his wife, Ivanka Trump. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in charge of the transition, was at home in Indiana and did not call into the foreign policy briefing on that day, a spokeswoman said.McFarland was slated to brief Trump, according to a schedule of his day provided to reporters. It is not known what they discussed.Like Flynn, McFarland supported the idea of resetting relations with Russia. A former foreign policy and Pentagon aide in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, she wrote in a 2013 Fox News commentary "Vladimir Putin is the one who really deserves that Nobel Peace Prize," referring to Russia's role in Syria at the time.At some point on Dec. 29, Flynn called McFarland to strategize a plan about what to tell Kislyak about the sanctions, according to court documents and people familiar with her role. The two "discussed that the members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation," according to court filings.Flynn then immediately called Kislyak, urging Russia "not escalate the situation," according to the documents. After he spoke to the Russian ambassador, he called back McFarland and briefed her on the discussion.
President Donald Trump's administration moved quickly to try and lift economic sanctions on Russia and other punishments former President Barack Obama had put in place as soon as it took office in January, according to multiple sources who have spoken with Yahoo News."There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions," according to Dan Fried, who retired in February as Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the State Department.Fried told veteran investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, a former national investigative correspondent for NBC News and Newsweek alumnus, that in the early weeks of the administration he got several "panicky" calls from U.S. officials. They asked: "Please, my God, can't you stop this?"
President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn told a former business associate that sanctions against Russia would be "ripped up" early in the new presidency, according to a whistle-blower's account made public on Wednesday.
On Thursday The New York Times revealed that over the summer Trump urged members of the Senate--including those leading the Senate Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation--to wrap up their investigations. [...]Writing about a rare private meeting between the president and his top law enforcement official in February, Comey said Trump tried to pressure him into "letting Flynn go." The request came after Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about contact he had had with the Russian ambassador. Trump made a similar request to him in a phone call, Comey said.During closed testimony before Burr's committee and in separate interviews with Mueller's legal team in June, two top Trump administration intelligence officials said the president approached them to defend him publicly against the investigations, multiple sources told CNN.Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers said Trump asked them to state publicly that his campaign did not work with Russia to interfere in the election. A report by The Wall Street Journal in June cited sources who said Trump also called Rogers to state publicly that there is no evidence his campaign colluded with Russia.Officials who spoke with The Washington Post in June said that Trump applied pressure to CIA Director Mike Pompeo in March when he kept Pompeo and Coats behind after a meeting to complain about Comey's handling of the Russia investigation. Coats reportedly told other officials that Trump had asked for an intervention. It is not known whether Trump asked Pompeo directly to intervene.Trump's request came after Comey testified before Congress that the FBI was investigating whether Trump's campaign worked with Russia during the election campaign."Who believes at this point he didn't obstruct justice?" former Department of Justice public affairs director Matthew Miller wrote on Twitter Thursday.
IT WASN'T EVEN HIM...:
"Making America Great Again" became a sort of Rorschach test in 2016. Some voters looked at "Trumpism" and saw a means of getting better health care, or better trade deals, or keeping their jobs. Some even looked at Trump and saw a pro-LGBTQ candidate in the same man evangelical Christians viewed as a hero in waiting. His opponents worried about the potential power of Trump's populist appeal, too. David Frum wrote in the Atlantic earlier this year that a populist agenda -- massive spending on infrastructure, combined with massive tax cuts and a heavily restrictionist immigration policy and economic protectionism -- would ensure Trump a second term in office.But Trump's own "Trumpism" seemed to die a rapid death when Trump entered office. While doing markedly little abroad to earn his campaign reputation as a foreign policy "dove," President Trump has supported a markedly unpopular health care policy and a tax bill aligned with long-standing GOP priorities while doing very little on trade. As Trump has jostled with journalists and black athletes on Twitter, the long-promised massive infrastructure investment has yet to take place, NAFTA remains intact, and China has yet to be named a currency manipulator. (And, of course, the wall remains unbuilt.)The "Trumpism" of the 2016 presidential campaign was thus largely imaginary, a selling point rather than an overarching policy.
DON'T TAX WHAT YOU DO WANT:
Not only are the Trump Organization's plans to develop a hotel here going nowhere, but prices are slumping for condos at Trump Tower and the Trump International Hotel and Tower.And golfers are shunning the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx, where revenue through mid-September had fallen by more than $1.1 million in the past two years, to $5.7 million, amid a 16% drop in rounds played.In addition, the Trump Organization, a perennial leader on the Crain's list of largest privately held companies, has fallen steeply in the rankings, to No. 40 from No. 3 last year, following the president's disclosures to federal regulators that revealed the organization's revenue is less than a 10th of what the firm had reported since at least 2010. [...]In addition to grappling with a crowded hotel and condo market and hostile political atmosphere here, several Trump Organization leaders are dealing with federal investigations. Executive Vice President Donald Trump Jr., who runs the family business with brother Eric, has been questioned by Congress over Russian interference in last year's election.Michael Cohen, a top Trump Organization lawyer, also was called to appear before Senate investigators about the Russia matter. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller reportedly wants to interview Rhona Graff, a Trump Organization senior vice president and the president's longtime personal assistant.Graff was the executive who typically reported Trump Organization revenue figures to Crain's, which relies on companies to self-report for the list. Last year's $9.5 billion in revenue reported by the organization looks preposterous in light of federal filings made by the president in the past year
KNOWING YOUR ALLIES:
The United States has provided military support to Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition of Arab states that entered the war in March 2015 to beat back what Saudi Arabia said is an Iranian proxy force. While analysts said at the outset of the conflict that the Saudi claims were exaggerated, most agree the war has driven Shiite Iran and the Houthis toward greater cooperation."Most people agree at this point that the Saudis are facing a legitimate security threat and that Iran is part of the problem," said April Alley, a Yemen researcher at the International Crisis Group.
THEY SOUND JUST LIKE 60% OF AMERICANS:
The main problem with this pseudo-scandal is that nobody has ever previously expected FBI agents not to privately express political viewpoints. Indeed, to prosecute liberal bias at agencies that lean rightward and kept the Republican nominee's very serious investigation private while publicizing the trivial investigation into the Democratic nominee is perverse in the extreme.There turns out to be another flaw in the "scandal." The main agent in question also wrote text messages criticizing Democrats, reports Del Quentin Wilber. His messages included calling Chelsea Clinton "self-entitled," and mocking Eric Holder. He wrote, "I'm worried about what happens if HRC is elected." Of course, we don't know the context of that any more than we know it for the other texts. If the administration had leaked these texts instead or in addition, the narrative would have been completely different.
WINNING THE WoT:
Lebanon's ability to survive the crisis sparked last month by the premier's now rescinded resignation has increased confidence in its economy, the governor of the country's central bank said Friday. [...]"The liquidity to fund the economy remained available because we maintained monetary stability during this crisis and even I think that after this crisis there will be more confidence," Riad Salameh said in an interview with AFP.
December 14, 2017
TAX WHAT YOU DON'T WANT:
A carbon tax is shorthand for a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide (or, in the case of fossil fuels, their carbon content before combustion) and other greenhouse gases. Such a tax is appealing because it serves the dual purpose of benefitting the environment and generating significant revenue to use to achieve other goals. According to a 2016 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, a greenhouse gas tax could yield $977 billion in revenue over a 10-year period, nearly equal to the JCT deficit estimate. Our own work with colleagues estimates that a carbon tax starting at about $25 per metric ton of CO2, rising at 5 percent per year over inflation, would gross over $110 billion the first year and over $1 trillion over 10 years while reducing U.S. CO2 emissions by over 50 percent by 2040 relative to a business-as-usual emissions projection. The policy would also reduce harmful air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, mercury, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides.One concern with the carbon tax is that it is regressive, meaning lower income households bear a larger burden of the tax as a fraction of their income than higher income households do. However, good policy design can offset this regressivity. In a recent paper, we model how the revenues from a carbon tax could be used in part to fund an expansion of the EITC, thus using a regressive tax to fund a progressive benefit. The EITC program has bipartisan support, is well-targeted to low- and moderate-income households, and is shown to strengthen work incentives. The EITC is a powerful anti-poverty tool, credited with reducing the number of people in poverty by 16 percent, and the number of children in poverty by 30 percent.
OTHER THAN THAT, HOW DID YOU ENJOY THE CRUISE, CAPTAIN SMITH...:
Trump favorability among Fox viewers (%):— Adrian Gray (@adrian_gray) December 13, 2017
THE NEW PLUMBERS:
Elation is in order because a gross national embarrassment has been narrowly avoided. But curb your enthusiasm because nationally, as in Alabama, most Republicans still support the president who supported the credibly accused child molester. Alabama, however, has perhaps initiated the inevitable sorting of Republicans who retain a capacity for disgust from the Vichy Republicans who have none. After the president's full-throated support of the grotesque, he should be icily shunned by all but his diehard collaborators. For example: When the president stages a signing ceremony for the tax legislation, no etiquette requires any Republican to be photographed grinning over his shoulder. Stay away.By basking in the president's approval, Moore became a clarifier. Henry Adams, great-grandson of the second president and grandson of the sixth, was unfair to the 18th when he wrote, "The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin." By joining Steve Bannon's buffoonery on Moore's behalf, the 45th president planted an exclamation point punctuating a year of hitherto unplumbed presidential depths. He completed his remarkably swift -- it has taken less than eleven months -- rescue of the 17th, Andrew Johnson, from the ignominy of ranking as the nation's worst president.
Republicans join push to lift secrecy around misconduct in Congress https://t.co/5k0W00UM0b— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) December 14, 2017
BUILDING THE SHI'A CRESCENT:
Lebanon on Thursday approved a first bid from an international consortium including France's Total, Italy's ENI and Russia's Novatek to explore for oil and gas off the country's Mediterranean coast.
NO LONGER RIDING THE CREST OF A WILD RAGING STORM...:
White House staffer and former reality TV star Omarosa Manigault-Newman announced her resignation on Wednesday in a departure that turned dramatic when she was forced to deny that she was fired and escorted off the premises by the Secret Service.Manigault-Newman, who worked on African-American outreach for President Trump, her former "Apprentice" boss, had been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for bragging of close ties with Louis Farrakhan, the African-American leader who has been accused of anti-Semitism for decades.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the incident recounted a "ruckus" on Tuesday night involving Omarosa, the reality TV villain turned the communications director of the White House's Office of Public Liaison. One White House official said she had even tried to "storm the residence" after learning that she was being forced out less than a year into Trump's White House tenure. She was ultimately thwarted by staff. Reports later emerged that she had to be escorted from the campus on Tuesday."It was actually the closest thing to reality TV [I'd experienced] since getting here," a White House official told The Daily Beast.
ALWAYS BET ON THE dEEP sTATE:
Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president -- and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality -- have impaired the government's response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized -- the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely. [...]Even before Trump was sworn in, a group of senators including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) had begun drafting legislation to impose further sanctions on Russia.In the ensuing months, McCain's office began getting private warnings from a White House insider. "We were told that a big announcement was coming regarding Russia sanctions," a senior congressional aide said. "We all kind of assumed the worst."Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had blocked the sanctions bill from moving forward at the behest of Tillerson, who kept appealing for more time to negotiate with Moscow.But after Comey's firing in early May, and months of damaging headlines about Trump and Russia, an alarmed Senate approved new sanctions on Russia in a 98-to-2 vote.Trump at times seemed not to understand how his actions and behavior intensified congressional concern. After he emerged from a meeting in Hamburg with Putin, Trump said he and the Russian leader had agreed upon the outlines of a cooperative cybersecurity plan.Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) described the proposed pact as "pretty close" to "the dumbest idea I've ever heard" and introduced additional provisions to the sanctions bill that would strip Trump of much of his power to undo them -- a remarkable slap at presidential prerogative.Then, in late July, new information surfaced about the extent of Trump's interactions with Putin in Hamburg that sent another wave of anxiety across Capitol Hill.At the end of a lavish banquet for world leaders, Trump wandered away from his assigned seat for a private conversation with the Russian leader -- without a single U.S. witness, only a Kremlin interpreter.A Trump administration official described the reaction to the encounter as overblown, saying that Trump had merely left his seat to join the first lady, Melania Trump, who had been seated for the dinner next to Putin. Whatever the reason, little over a week later both chambers of Congress passed the sanctions measure with overwhelming margins that would withstand any Trump veto.Trump's frustration had been building as the measure approached a final vote. He saw the bill as validation of the case that Russia had interfered, as an encroachment on his executive authority and as a potentially fatal blow to his aspirations for friendship with Putin, according to his advisers.In the final days before passage, Trump watched MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program and stewed as hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski declared that the bill would be a slap in the face to the president."He was raging," one adviser said. "He was raging mad."After final passage, Trump was "apoplectic," the adviser recalled. It took four days for aides to persuade him to sign the bill, arguing that if he vetoed it and Congress overturned that veto, his standing would be permanently weakened."Hey, here are the votes," aides told the president, according to a second Trump adviser. "If you veto it, they'll override you and then you're f---ed and you look like you're weak."Trump signed but made his displeasure known. His signing statement asserted that the measure included "clearly unconstitutional provisions." Trump had routinely made a show of bill signings, but in this case no media was allowed to attend.The reaction from Russia was withering. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev taunted the president in a Facebook post that echoed Trump's style, saying that the president had shown "complete impotence, in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive power to Congress."Putin, who had shown such restraint in late December 2016, reacted to the new sanctions with fury, ordering the United States to close two diplomatic properties and slash 755 people from its staff -- most of them Russian nationals working for the United States.Rather than voice any support for the dozens of State Department and CIA employees being forced back to Washington, Trump expressed gratitude to Putin."I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll," Trump told reporters during an outing at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. -- remarks his aides would later claim were meant as a joke. "We'll save a lot of money." [...]Aides attribute Trump's affection for Putin to the president's tendency to personalize matters of foreign policy and his unshakable belief that his bond with Putin is the key to fixing world problems.
WINNING THE WAR ON WAGES:
Firms that supply automated machines and other assembly line robots, including Rockwell Automation Inc. and Emerson Electric Co., have in recent weeks celebrated the tax reform provision, expecting increased revenue as clients order more products.John Stroup, the chief executive of Belden, discussed the capital expenditure provision with J.P. Morgan Vice President Ashwin Kesireddy earlier this month during an investor meeting."I would expect there to be an acceleration of capital investment in certain categories if, in fact, the tax plan is passed with the provisions you just mentioned," said Stroup. "There's already a number of factors why people are investing in automation as an example. This would just be another one where they could expense the investment and get the added benefit of the tax shield, which is substantial," he added.A similar exchange occurred on the last call with investors hosted by Emerson Electric, which produces robots and parts used on the factory floor, including machines used for automotive manufacturing. David Farr, the chief executive of the company, said he expects increased orders from his company's automation department if the tax bill passes with beneficial provisions on capital expenditures.The instant capital expenditure provision has been long sought and championed by the manufacturing industry.