December 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Judging Bolsonaro: Brazil's judiciary will be a major check on the country's far-right president-elect (Ryan C. Berg, December 7, 2018 | Foreign Policy)

[T]he judiciary has proven so decisive in Brazilian affairs that critics and supporters alike often speak of the judicialização da política ("judicialization of politics"). For instance, the courts led the way to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the ban on corporate donations to election campaigns. They were also instrumental in bringing down former Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as part of the "Lava Jato" ("Car Wash") investigation, the largest anti-corruption campaign in the country's history.

The way Lava Jato unfolded is instructive. At first, Rousseff managed to appear beyond reproach from the campaign, which unfolded during her presidency. To meet a budget surplus target set by Congress, however, Rousseff fudged the books in an accounting sleight of hand involving loans from public banks.

The beginning of the end for Rousseff was a ruling in October 2015 by the Federal Court of Accounts (an auditing body) that the scheme was illegal and a violation of fiscal responsibility. As a partisan impeachment process proceeded through Congress, it turned out to be the legal ruling that was key to her downfall. It served as a constant justification for those voting in favor of impeachment, even if there were other, more partisan, motives for their moves.

It was the judiciary, too, that felled the immensely popular Lula, who was barred from running for president this year after the Supreme Court upheld the initial conviction against him for corruption. Despite his defiance, including a New York Times op-ed claiming that jailing him was akin to the military dictatorship's 1964 coup, Brazil's judiciary persisted.

Another telling fact about the Lava Jato process is that, rather than having its origins in one of Brazil's highest courts, the investigation started in Curitiba, a relatively minor Brazilian city, before wending its way through the country's judicial system. The popular head of the investigation, Sérgio Moro, was an unknown judge on the 13th Federal Court until 2014, when he began to publicize the sordid details of corruption in Brazilian politics--and not just among those in the ruling Workers' Party but politicians across the political spectrum. The elevation of Lava Jato from a provincial city to the highest courts in the country--without getting derailed by the many powerful enemies seeking to quash the investigation--speaks to the vigor of Brazil's judiciary from the top to the bottom.

Moro has since been tapped to join Bolsonaro's cabinet to fight organized crime and corruption. He has stated that he views joining the government as his best chance to ensure lasting progress in the fight against corruption. Moro has a wealth of political capital to wage his campaign, and he will most likely have high-level support for his efforts to strengthen judicial capacity. Bolsonaro himself understands how central this fight is to his electoral mandate. It is clear that a major part of why he won the presidency is that Brazilians were fed up with corruption and wanted a radical shakeup of politics in Brasília. The president-elect managed to parlay his untainted image, despite almost 30 years in politics, into one of an anti-corruption crusader unwilling to play politics as usual.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Republicans Kept Embarrassing Themselves While Trying to Get Google's CEO to Admit the Company Was Biased Against Conservatives (AARON MAK, DEC 11, 2018, Slate)

At the beginning of the hearing, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith tried to needle Pichai with a series of studies and statistics claiming to show suppression of pro-Trump viewpoints in Google search results. Smith cited a claim from conservative outlet PJ Media that 96 percent of results for a search on news about Trump were from left-wing media and findings from psychologist Robert Epstein that Google could have swung 2.6 million votes in Hillary Clinton's favor during the 2016 election. Pichai responded that Google had investigated the specific findings, which allowed him to pivot the line of questioning to a debate over the studies' methodologies all while maintaining that Google in no way discriminates against conservatives.

Later on, Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot brought up his own grievances, claiming that Google had given lower page ranks to positive coverage of bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and to the 2017 Republican tax cut. "I understand the frustration at seeing negative news.

I see it on me on Google," Pichai responded, performing a bit of rhetorical jiujitsu. "There are times you can search on Google, and page after page there is negative news, which we reflect." Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, later helped to underscore that point by complaining in jest that Breitbart and the Daily Caller seemed to dominate the first page of search results when he Googled himself.

These allegations of conservative bias also produced the hearing's most glaring gaffes--from the representatives. They played into criticisms that Congress lacks basic knowledge of the tech industry. In arguing that Google relies too heavily on "liberal" Wikipedia, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert admitted that his staff was altering his own Wikipedia page every night for two weeks, only to be rebuffed by the site's editors. (Wikipedia guidelines state that editing an employer's page is a "conflict of interest.") Iowa Rep. Steve King, after issuing several stern threats to impose regulations on Google to deal with political bias, ended his time asking why his granddaughter had come across a profane meme featuring his picture while using an iPhone. Pichai responded, "Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Gap continues to widen between Trump and intelligence community on key issues (Greg Miller, December 11, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump, for example, asserted in June that because of his administration's negotiations with Pyongyang, there is "no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." U.S. intelligence officials said that there is no such view among analysts.

Trump accused Iran of violating a 2015 nuclear agreement with the United States and other major powers despite assessments by U.S. spy agencies and allies that Tehran was in compliance. More recently, Trump has claimed that his decision to abandon the nuclear deal had forced Iran into regional retreat and led to turnover in the top ranks of its government. "They're a much, much different group of leaders," he said in June.

But CIA assessments do not describe any such shift, officials said, noting that Iran's religious rulers remain firmly entrenched and that the country continues to uses proxies to fuel conflict across the Middle East.

Perhaps most notably, Trump has repeatedly undercut the agency's assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was a contributing columnist for The Post.

The agency reached that conclusion with "medium to high confidence," terms that reflect a high degree of certainty. But Trump has described the CIA as having vague "feelings" on Mohammed's culpability, and when pressed on whether he thought the crown prince gave the order, said, "Maybe he did, maybe he didn't."

By contrast, senior lawmakers emerged from a session last week with CIA Director Gina Haspel saying the case against Mohammed was overwhelming. "There's not a smoking gun -- there's a smoking saw," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, referring to the alleged dismemberment of Khashoggi's corpse. [...]

One official said CIA employees were staggered by Trump's performance during a news conference with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in Helsinki earlier this year in which Trump treated denials by Putin as so "strong and powerful" that they offset the conclusions of the CIA.

"There was this gasp" among those watching at CIA, the official said. "You literally had people in panic mode watching it at Langley. On all floors. Just shock."

The disorienting impact of such statements has rippled beyond CIA headquarters even to stations overseas, where intelligence operatives have struggled to comprehend Trump's characterization of developments abroad.

"I think you definitely do see a bewilderment and a concern over the president's conduct and relationship to the intelligence community," said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who frequently visits with senior CIA officials on overseas trips.

Trump's disagreements are not driven by "questions about their methodology or differing interpretations of the same facts," Schiff said. "He wants to tell an alternate narrative."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


White Voters Without A Degree Remained Staunchly Republican In 2018 (Nathaniel Rakich and Julia Wolfe, 12/11/18, 538)

In 2016, educational divides emerged as one of the top explanations of voters' choices: White voters without a bachelor's degree made up the Republican base, while a coalition of nonwhite voters and white college graduates formed the Democratic base. The 2018 midterms seemed to continue what we saw in 2016: Districts with bigger black populations, Hispanic populations or college-educated non-Hispanic white populations tended to vote more Democratic, while non-college-educated white voters remained strongly loyal to the GOP. We found a clear negative relationship (R = -0.72) between the Democratic margin of victory in a district and the share of the district's population age 25 or older who are non-Hispanic white and lack a bachelor's degree -- a group that pundits often call the "white working class."

...isn't paying attention.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Beto O'Rourke beats Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in progressive group's straw poll (bRENDAN mORROW, 12/11/18, tHE wEEK)

A poll published Tuesday found that when it comes to the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, members of one progressive organization don't lean toward former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- they prefer Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas).

The one thing he has going for him is youth, which she checks.   

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Trump's Catastrophic Meeting with Chuck and Nancy (Martin Longman,  December 11, 2018, Washington Monthly)

Jerry Moran is a Republican senator from Kansas. He's obviously not pleased with Trump's performance. And it's not just that Trump voluntarily offered to take "the mantle" of responsibility for a government shutdown. He had invited the Democratic leaders to the White House because he needs their help and then he proceeded to spew a fire hydrant level of lies about the border wall and related topics that Schumer and Pelosi shot down with mocking contempt.

On several occasions, Pelosi begged Trump to stop forcing them to contradict him in public in front of the press before the negotiations could even begin, but he insisted on pressing on, only to get owned over and over again.

How could shutting down the government over his wall ever not be attributed to him?
Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Pelosi Questions Trump's 'Manhood' Following Contentious Oval Office Meeting (Alex Griswold, December 11, 2018, Washington Examiner)

Pelosi went from the White House to a Democratic caucus committee meeting, at which multiple outlets report that the soon-to-be speaker of the House went off on the president.

"It's like a manhood thing for him," the Washington Post quotes Pelosi as saying, citing a source in the room. "As if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing."

Has anyone ever accused him of being a man? His entire politics is that of cowardice.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


As Good an Attorney General as We're Likely to Get (Benjamin Wittes, 12/09/18, The Atlantic)

It is better to have an attorney general nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate in an undoubtedly legal fashion than to have an acting attorney general serving in circumstances of dubious legality.

It is better to have an attorney general who is steeped in the traditions and culture of the Justice Department than to have an acting attorney general who is understood at the department to be operating as the "eyes and ears" of a president who is busily attacking the institution.

It is better to have an attorney general who has run the department before and served with distinction in other senior roles within it than to have an acting attorney general whose experience is limited to a brief stint running a relatively sleepy U.S. Attorney's Office, and an even briefer stint as the chief of staff to the attorney general.

Read: Trump picks a Washington insider as his next attorney general

And it is better to have an attorney general with a long-standing professional reputation as a lawyer to protect than to have an acting attorney general who is professionally on the make and dependent on the president, and whose career has included no legal practice of any distinction but, instead, work for some rather shady outfits.

None of this is a character reference on behalf of Bill Barr, President Donald Trump's nominee to run the Justice Department. In fact, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about Barr's nomination.

They are, however, all reasons to be cautiously optimistic about his nomination. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Republicans Must Reject 'Russia Hoax' Conspiracies and Examine the Evidence (DAVID FRENCH, December 10, 2018, National Review)

The idea that the FBI used the Russia investigation to intervene in the election to hurt Trump and help Clinton has always strained credulity. After all, the Russia investigation remained secret during the election while the FBI not only publicly reopened the Hillary email investigation, it also confirmed the existence of an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation and exposed rifts with the Obama Department of Justice -- casting the FBI as heroically resisting Obama-administration pressure to avoid any "overt steps" in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign.

Publicly the FBI torpedoed Clinton. Privately it investigated the Trump campaign.

And now, with each new revelation from the Mueller investigation, we understand that claims of "entrapment" are increasingly bizarre. The more we learn about Trump World's contacts with Russians or Russian operatives, the more astounding it becomes. Consider this partial summary:

Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, lied to Congress about his contacts with a Russian government official as he tried to negotiate a Trump Tower Moscow deal deep into the 2016 presidential campaign.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has lied about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged asset of Russian intelligence.

Longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone (and Stone's sidekick, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi) allegedly tried to communicate with WikiLeaks, a "hostile intelligence service," to obtain advance information about Julian Assange's planned document dumps.

Donald Trump's son, campaign chairman, and son-in-law met with a purported Russian representative with the intention of receiving "official documents" as part of a "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about his own contacts with a professor who "claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials" and who claimed to have access to "dirt" on Hillary in the form of "thousands of emails."

Indeed, the list of known contacts between Russians and senior Trump officials (and Trump family members) keeps growing. In less partisan times they'd generate far more bipartisan concern. Even now, they should at the very least demolish the worst of the pro-Trump conspiracy theories.

Like your colleague. The poor Trumpbots are going to have trouble facing themselves, nevermind decent Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 AM


Jared Kushner did what? (Jennifer Rubin, December 10, 2018, Washington Post)

The Times article should be deeply troubling on multiple levels. First, it's obvious Kushner was as gullible and unsophisticated on foreign policy matters as his father-in-law, making him a sitting duck for manipulation by the Saudis ("The prince and his advisers, eager to enlist American support for his hawkish policies in the region and for his own consolidation of power, cultivated the relationship with Mr. Kushner for more than two years"). If you want to know how an administration could so naively and completely base its foreign policy on the Saudis and come to believe the kingdom was actually going to sponsor the peace process and get away with denying culpability in the gruesome murder of Khashoggi, one should start with the easily snowed Kushner.

Second, what in the world is a U.S. official doing advising a foreign leader on how to escape blame for the murder of a U.S. national, a crime so repulsive that a bipartisan push is underway in Congress to enact sanctions and end arms sales to the Saudis? Giving advice to Mohammed bin Salman under these circumstances demonstrates the sort of moral blindness we rarely witness (aside from Trump). "Success" -- letting MBS get away with murder -- would be a moral abomination quite apart from the foreign policy implications.

Third, Kushner -- whether because he has financial interests or because he's easily bamboozled -- has lost track of where his loyalties should lie. He owes the United States his undivided loyalty and should never be in a position in which he assumes defense of any foreign leader. He has created a classic conflict of interest in which we cannot determine if he is motivated solely by concern for U.S. foreign policy (which he foolishly and excessively tilted in the Saudis' direction) or because of personal loyalties or business interests.

...about its hatred of Muslims and democracy, so why wouldn't it ally with regimes that oppress Arabs?

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM


After Ayers Turns Down Chief of Staff Job, Trump Is Left Without a Plan B (Katie Rogers, Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni, Dec. 10, 2018, NY Times)

After Nick Ayers, the Georgia political operative who was the president's top pick, declined the job -- something of a plot twist in a presidency notorious for its episodic cliffhangers -- Mr. Trump is without a Plan B. Several of his aides expressed frustration that months of intense campaigning to replace John F. Kelly -- an effort led by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president's elder daughter and son-in-law -- resulted in yet another chaotic staffing scramble in a White House splintered by factions and rife with turnover.

The folks happy to oversee his removal are unacceptable to him.

'The bottom is going to fall out': White House reporter says Republicans are privately discussing abandoning Trump (Bob Brigham BOB BRIGHAM, 10 DEC 2018, Raw Story)

[A]s Chris Christie pointed out, the Mueller investigation, Southern District of New York, they probably have a lot more evidence than just the word of Michael Cohen and that has to worry the president," Stokols explained.

"Yes, he and Rudy Giuliani on some level believe they can continue to attack the investigators, to try and convince the public that there's something nefarious and something politically motivated about this," he noted. "But when all the facts are laid out and people can see the investigators' work, I think it's going to be very problematic for this president."

Republicans on Capitol Hill are also growing anxious.

"And there is some understanding, I think, inside the White House of just how dark it may be getting, especially in terms of conversations -- private conversations -- that people there are having with Republicans on the Hill who are starting to be concerned," Stokols reported.

"Republican lawmakers who are -- have a huge role to play in this if it goes forward -- are starting to tell me privately, some of them, that, you know, if there's obvious evidence, the bottom is going to fall out," he explained.

"They're not going to be able to stand by this White House and that's a looming problem for the president," he concluded.

Trump may even face a greater threat from the Southern District of New York investigations.

"It's much harder to stop what's happening in that office as opposed to with the special counsel's investigation," Stokols noted. "This train has left the station, there's really nothing that this White House can do about it."

"I think that's a source of frustration to the president. Also, it's difficult to politicize, it's difficult to go out and demonize that office because, as you pointed out already, that's a Trump appointee running that office," he added.

Trump has become increasingly concerned in recent weeks about what his administration is facing come January, when newly empowered Democrats are expected to unleash the full force of their oversight powers on the Trump administration.

Those include compelling Cabinet secretaries to testify, requesting the President's tax returns and scrutinizing some of his most controversial policy decisions. Trump often complained that Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, was not politically shrewd enough for the task.

The details of the President's discussions, which have not been reported on previously, reveal how close Ayers was to becoming chief of staff. He and Trump huddled several times over the last week in the residence of the White House, where they were afforded more privacy than in the staff-filled West Wing, but they ultimately could not agree to terms and Ayers declined the job.

Multiple sources familiar with Trump's mood told CNN he's frustrated with the Ayers process. One source described his mood as "super pissed." A second added he feels humiliated, a position he doesn't like to be in, because the President did not have a backup candidate prepared like he typically does when he's fielding people for jobs.

December 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Adapting to wildfires (Terry L. Anderson and Andrew J. Plantinga, December 9, 2018, washington Times)

The result of misguided policies is that the number of California homes built in the WUI grew by 34 percent between 1990 and 2010, bringing the total to nearly 5 million homes. Research published in Land Use Policy estimates that nearly 12 million acres of wild and agricultural lands in California will be replaced with houses by 2050. Nearly 1 million homes will be "in 'very high' wildfire severity zones." Regardless of the cause, wildfires will be more devastating than they have been.

Insurance companies are sending a clearer signal to homeowners regarding wildfire risk. State officials reported that non-renewals increased by 15 percent between 2015 and 2016 and that some premiums have increased five-fold. Such signals should encourage less development in the WUI.

Policies that require wildland-urban interface homeowners to support CAL-FIRE are another step in the direction of homeowner accountability. The third-largest source of funding for CAL FIRE is the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund. It required each WUI homeowner to pay a fee of $153.33 per year. Similarly, Santa Barbara's Wildlife Fire Suppression Assessment District requires 3,300 homes to pay only $65 per year for fire prevention services. The former, however, was suspended in 2018 until 2031, and the latter is tiny compared to fire prevention expenditures.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


What Good Did USA Today's Ambushing Kyler Murray Do Anyone? (CHARLES C. W. COOKE, December 10, 2018, National Review)

What, one has to ask, is the public-interest angle here? Fourteen-year-olds say stupid things constantly. Yes, all of them. What possible good can it do to punish them as adults for the thought crimes they committed as minors? Had Murray committed an actual crime -- say, shoplifting or joyriding or the like -- it would likely have been expunged from his record when he reached the age of majority, especially given how impressive a young man he has become in the interim. And even if it hadn't, the press would likely have been circumspect about bringing it up. But tweets? Apparently, we just Have to Know -- and on the day of his triumph, to boot.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


A Conservative Judge Torched Donald Trump's Latest Illegal Assault on Immigrants (MARK JOSEPH STERN, DEC 10, 20184, sLATE)

In a meticulous 65-page opinion, Bybee--a conservative George W. Bush appointee--explained that the president cannot rewrite a federal statute to deny asylum to immigrants who enter the country without authorization. His decision for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a twofold rebuke to Trump, halting the president's legal assault on asylum-seekers and undermining his claim that any judge who blocked the order is a Democratic hack. The reality is that anyone who understands the English language should recognize that Trump's new rule is illegal. Like so many of Trump's attention-grabbing proposals, this doomed policy should never have been treated as legitimate in the first place.

Kavanaugh, Roberts side with liberal judges on Planned Parenthood case (ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN 12/10/2018, Politico)

Chief Justice John Roberts and the newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, joined the court's four liberal jurists in turning away a pair of petitions from Kansas and Louisiana seeking the ban on abortion providers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


US starts to withdraw troops from Trump border mission (LOLITA C. BALDOR, 12/10/18, AP)

The U.S. this week will begin withdrawing many of the active duty troops sent to the border with Mexico by President Donald Trump just before the midterm election in response to a caravan of Central American migrants, U.S. officials said Monday.

About 2,200 of the active duty troops will be pulled out before the holidays, the officials said, shrinking an unusual domestic deployment that was viewed by critics as a political stunt and a waste of military resources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Accused Russian spy Maria Butina appears to reach plea deal (Sara Murray and Katelyn Polantz, December 10, 2018, CNN)

Maria Butina, an accused Russian spy who nuzzled up to the National Rifle Association before the 2016 election, appears to have reached a plea deal with the Justice Department, according to a new court filing in her criminal case.

Her attorneys and prosecutors filed a two-page request on Monday for a "change of plea" hearing before a federal judge as soon as Tuesday. "The parties have resolved this matter," the filing in DC federal court said Monday morning. Butina's case was brought by federal prosecutors in DC and not by Robert Mueller's team in the special counsel's office.

NRA leader, Jack Abramoff and GOP operative tied to alleged Russian spy Maria Butina have long history as foreign agents lobbying together (Anna Massoglia, December 10, 2018, Open Secrets)

In December 2015, Butina's Russian gun-rights organization called the Right to Bear Arms sponsored an NRA delegation to Moscow where attendees met with influential Russian officials including former deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin who had been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.

The convoy to Moscow included Keene, Trump campaign surrogate Sheriff David Clarke, president and CEO of the Outdoor Channel Jim Liberatore, soon-to-be NRA president Peter Brownell and NRA donors Jim Gregory, Arnold Goldschlager and Hilary Goldschlager.

Alexander Torshin -- a Russian politician and longtime associate of Butina who has since come under U.S. sanctions -- played a key role in the trip and, allegedly, Russia's decade-long operation infiltrating American conservative groups. A conservative Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV who has done business in Russia claims that he first introduced David Keene to Torshin in 2011 while Keene was NRA president.

Keene and Torshin quickly forged an alliance based on mutual interests.

"Just a brief note to let you know just how much I enjoyed meeting in Pittsburgh during the NRA annual meeting," Keene wrote in a 2011 letter later obtained by anti-corruption activists in Russia that extended a personal invitation to the NRA's conference the following year.

Keene added, "If there is anything any of us can do to help you in your endeavors . . . please don't hesitate to let us know."

"We will start organizing our own Russian NRA," Torshin tweeted shortly thereafter.

In 2011, Maria Butina became founding chair of a new Russian gun rights group called the Right to Bear Arms.

By 2013, Keene was introduced as an honored guest at the Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow. "There are no peoples that are more alike than Americans and Russians," Keene said. "We're hunters. We're shooters. We value the same kinds of things... we need to work together."

Erickson accompanied Keene to the 2013 conference, where he reportedly first crossed paths with Butina.

Senate intelligence and finance committees have reportedly requested documents on the NRA's connections to Russia, including documents related to whether the NRA took Russian money and the 2015 delegation. After spending a record $54.4 million to put President Donald Trump in the White House and support Republicans in Congress, the NRA's membership dues dropped precipitously the following year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


New Lawsuit Seeks to Expose How Giuliani Knew in Advance That Comey Would Reopen Clinton Probe (Matt Naham, December 10th, 2018, Law & Crime)

President Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani is the star of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's (CREW) lawsuit filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

CREW said, citing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that the point of this action was to find the "source of the leak of information to Rudolph Giuliani in October 2016 that then-FBI Director James B. Comey was going to reopen the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of personal email system." [...]

"In recent testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Mr. Comey confirmed that he had ordered a leak investigation after Mr. Giuliani's public statements indicated he had inside knowledge of the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton that appeared to stem from his communications with people in the FBI's New York field office," the filing continued.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Did Trump's enemies try to derail a trade deal with China? (DAVID P. GOLDMAN, DECEMBER 6, 2018, Asia Times)

The news has stunned financial market participants and policy analysts, for two reasons.

First, never before has the United States attempted the extraterritorial rendition of a foreign citizen - Meng is a Chinese national - in connection with sanctions violations. It has imposed travel and banking restrictions, but seeking an arrest warrant for this is entirely without precedent.

Earlier this year, the US government banned exports of US computer chips to the Chinese telecommunications equipment ZTE in retaliation for violations of sanctions against Iran, but sought no arrests.

Second, Meng was arrested on December 1, the day that President Trump and his economic team dined with President Xi Jinping and his advisers at the Group of 20 Summit in Buenos Aires. Trump has every interest in striking a deal with China that would enable him to declare some measure of victory in a trade war, and China has shown every indication that it is willing to make concessions to the United States on intellectual property protection, financial market opening and, at least in rhetoric, on industrial policy, while increasing its imports from the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Argentina and Trump's funny money (Jonathan Swan, Alayna Treene, 12/10/18, Axios)

And Macri told a story everyone in the room found hilarious. Here it is, as recalled by one source in the room and confirmed, in broad detail, by another source in the room and a third source briefed on the conversation:

When Macri was running for president, he got a phone call out of the blue. "This is Donald Trump," Macri told the people in the room, impersonating the future president and pretending to hold a phone to his head. "I've been watching you."

The call amazed Macri, he told listeners. "Trump goes on to say, 'I remember you fondly and I remember the business deal,'" one participant recalled. "And Macri says, 'Fondly? Fondly, you son of a gun?'"

Trump told Macri he would help him. "Yeah, yeah," Macri replied, as if he didn't think much of it at the time.

Some days after the call, a big FedEx envelope came in the mail with a check from Trump to Macri's campaign. One source thought the check was for $500; another thought $5,000.

Then came the punchline: Macri told the room that when his team went to deposit the check, it bounced.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM



WE'RE HEADING SOUTHEAST on Interstate 10, headed into Tucson, Arizona, when we pass the group of men in orange jumpsuits and hard hats working on the side of the highway. "Inmates Working," the sign on the back of the truck parked on the shoulder says. It's the sort of sight that can generate a swirl of curiosity, pity, and distaste in a person, but the robot doesn't register anything about who these men are. It's thinking about that parked truck and the rule buried in its code that says when it senses something on the shoulder, it's supposed to clear out of the right lane. Checking it has plenty of room, it makes a quick juke to the left, pulling its 18 wheels and four human passengers over the dashed white line.

This lane change is just one of a variety of impressive maneuvers TuSimple's self-driving truck executes during a 40-minute demo ride I took with the company's CTO, Xiaodi Hou, on a sunny Friday morning last month. Between a smooth merge onto the highway and an easy exit, it cruised steadily, adjusting its speed and position as necessary to accommodate its human-piloted neighbors.

Powering the impressive showing are the sensors studded around the truck, including two lidar laser scanners and a forward-facing radar. The key to the system, though, is the handful of cameras looking forward, to the side, and to the back. In an increasingly crowded robo-trucking field, TuSimple's bid to stand out hinges on those cameras, which Hou says let the vehicle see as far as 1,000 meters ahead--nearly triple the range claimed by by most of its competitors. With them, Hou is attempting to solve one of the most dastardly problems facing engineers who are trying to make vehicles that drive themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


House Republicans Took One Final Shot at Comey--and Discredited Themselves (WILLIAM SALETAN, DEC 10, 2018, Slate)

Strzok shouldn't have written those texts. You can't go around calling a dirtbag a dirtbag when part of your job is to investigate, in a publicly credible way, whether the dirtbag was involved in crimes. But it's been more than a year since the texts came out. Republicans have had three chances--the IG report, the July hearing, and Friday's hearing--to produce any evidence that Strzok's low opinion of Trump altered the investigations. Three times, they've swung and missed. They've struck out. 

Every step of the process has shown the House GOP to be faking it for political reasons.  Why should their last gasp be any different?

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Assad: Israel deliberately caused Syria to down Russian plane (Times of Israel, 12/10/18)

Syria's President Bashar Assad says Israel deliberately caused Syrian ground batteries to down a Russian transport aircraft during an Israeli airstrike on September 17.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Bug business: Cockroaches corralled by the millions in China to crunch waste (Thomas Suen, Ryan Woo, 12/10/18, Reuters) 

In the near pitch-dark, you can hear them before you see them - millions of cockroaches scuttling and fluttering across stacks of wooden boards as they devour food scraps by the tonne in a novel form of urban waste disposal.

The air is warm and humid - just as cockroaches like it - to ensure the colonies keep their health and voracious appetites.

Expanding Chinese cities are generating more food waste than they can accommodate in landfills, and cockroaches could be a way to get rid of hills of food scraps, providing nutritious food for livestock when the bugs eventually die and, some say, cures for stomach illness and beauty treatments.

On the outskirts of Jinan, capital of eastern Shandong province, a billion cockroaches are being fed with 50 tonnes of kitchen waste a day - the equivalent in weight to seven adult elephants.

The waste arrives before daybreak at the plant run by Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co, where it is fed through pipes to cockroaches in their cells.

Shandong Qiaobin plans to set up three more such plants next year, aiming to process a third of the kitchen waste produced by Jinan, home to about seven million people.

A nationwide ban on using food waste as pig feed due to African swine fever outbreaks is also spurring the growth of the cockroach industry.

"Cockroaches are a bio-technological pathway for the converting and processing of kitchen waste," said Liu Yusheng, president of Shandong Insect Industry Association.

Cockroaches are also a good source of protein for pigs and other livestock. "It's like turning trash into resources," said Shandong Qiaobin chairwoman Li Hongyi.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


THE SCIENTIFIC CASE FOR EATING BREAD (Markham Heid, December 8, 2018, Quartz)

[G]o digging through the published, peer-reviewed evidence on bread and human health, and most of what you'll find suggests that bread is either benign or, in the case of whole-grain types, quite beneficial.

"We have conducted several meta-analyses on whole-grain consumption and health outcomes like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature mortality," says Dagfinn Aune, a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. "When looking at specific sources of grains, whole-grain bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wheat bran were all associated with reduced risks."

Asked if bread should be considered a "junk" food, Aune says the opposite is true. "Whole-grain breads are healthy, and a high intake of whole grains is associated with a large range of health benefits," he says, citing links to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and mortality. In fact, his research has found that eating the equivalent of 7.5 slices of whole-grain bread per day is linked with "optimal" health outcomes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Mike Pompeo swaggers his way to failure (Jackson Diehl, December 9, 2018, Washington Post)

"Swagger" diplomacy sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Pompeo has made it his motto. He launched his Instagram account in September by rebranding State as "the department of Swagger." An op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal last month was laced with it, contemptuously dismissing congressional and media outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So was a speech he delivered last week in Brussels, in which he trashed the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Criminal Court, the Organization of American States, and, perhaps for good measure, the African Union.

The results? The Senate voted 63-to-37 to halt all U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's calamitous intervention in Yemen, with 14 Republicans joining all 49 Democrats. The head of the IMF coolly observed that Pompeo didn't know what he was talking about. And the European Union went ahead with plans to substitute euros for dollars in energy transactions, making it easier for the bloc to circumvent new U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Done With Michael Cohen, Federal Prosecutors Shift Focus to Trump Family Business (Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 9, 2018, NY Times)

At the time of the payments to the two women, Mr. Trump was the head of the company, and although he turned over its management to his elder sons, he still owns it through a trust. While the prevailing view at the Justice Department is that a sitting president cannot be indicted, the prosecutors in Manhattan could consider charging him after leaving office. It is also possible the prosecutors could seek his testimony before he leaves office if they continue the investigation into anyone else who might have had a role in the crimes, a person briefed on the matter said. [...]

In early September, before Mr. Cohen had completed his discussions with prosecutors and before the Southern District renewed its record request, Bloomberg reported that the Southern District was investigating Trump Organization executives other than Mr. Cohen. [...]

Mr. Cohen has told the Southern District prosecutors that he arranged the hush money to the two women at the direction of Mr. Trump. In the filing on Friday, the Southern District prosecutors put the weight of their office behind Mr. Cohen's admission, saying that "with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of" Mr. Trump. [...]

Mr. Cohen also pleaded guilty to "causing" an illegal corporate donation to Mr. Trump when he urged American Media Inc., which publishes The National Enquirer, to buy the rights to a former Playboy model's story of an affair with Mr. Trump. The deal effectively silenced the model, Karen McDougal, for the remainder of the campaign.

Mr. Cohen has also told the Southern District that Mr. Weisselberg, who is one of Mr. Trump's longtime loyalists, was involved in discussions about how to pay Ms. Daniels, according to a person briefed on the matter. Mr. Cohen linked him to the deal with American Media as well.

During the campaign, Mr. Cohen recorded a conversation he had with Mr. Trump about buying the rights to negative information American Media had collected on Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen told Mr. Trump, who did not know he was being recorded, that "I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up." The deal was signed by American Media and Mr. Cohen, according to court papers. But a person familiar with the arrangement said that Mr. Trump balked at reimbursing America Media, as had been agreed to, and the media company was never reimbursed in relation to Ms. McDougal.

But after the campaign, Mr. Weisselberg handled reimbursing Mr. Cohen for the payment to Ms. Daniels, according to people briefed on the matter. In early 2017, Mr. Cohen sought to recoup the $130,000 he paid out of his own pocket to Ms. Daniels as well as $50,000 he spent on a technology company in connection with the campaign, prosecutors have said.

Not only did the Trump Organization repay those expenses, but it agreed to pay taxes Mr. Cohen might have incurred on the reimbursements. This decision to "gross up" Mr. Cohen went against the Trump Organization's typical reimbursement practices, people briefed on the matter said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nick Ayers, Aide to Pence, Declines Offer to Be Trump's Chief of Staff (Maggie Haberman, Dec. 9, 2018, NY Times)

The decision leaves Mr. Trump to contend with fresh uncertainty as he enters the 2020 campaign amid growing danger from the Russia investigation and from Democrats who have vowed tougher oversight, and could even pursue impeachment, after they take over the House next month. [...]

[T]wo people close to Mr. Trump said that a news release announcing Mr. Ayers's appointment had been drafted, and that the president had wanted to announce it as soon as possible.

December 9, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM



"It certainly looks like they are the kind of offenses that would call for impeachment hearings into the conduct of the president of the United States," Bernstein told host Brian Stelter. "There's something much more important than just impeachment going on, and that is the fact that Donald Trump for the first time in his life is cornered," he said.

The journalist pointed out that the former businessman "always could bully his way out of a corner" when he was managing his private company. "He always could buy his way out, cheat his way out. He is boxed in by Mueller, and the people around him know that he is," Bernstein pointed out.

December 2018
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31