March 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Former CIA Director Michael Hayden slams pro-Trump media for peddling 'illegitimate' and 'non-fact based world view' (Oliver Darcy, Mar. 6th, 2017, Business Insider)

Hayden's comments came after it was reported a conservative radio host's comments aggregated by Breitbart inspired Trump to accuse former President Barack Obama of bugging phones at Trump Tower, a claim reportedly rejected as false by the FBI.

"You have a Breitbart news story essentially launching the Starfleet of the federal government about one of the most horrible political scandals in American history, if true," Hayden said, adding that it was "very troubling" the president seeming to value Breitbart reports over data compiled by intelligence agencies. [...]

The former four-star Air Force general said too that "there's an amazing consistency" on a number of subjects between the information disseminated by Russian outlets and conservative sources like the Drudge Report, radio and television host Sean Hannity, and Breitbart.

"There are powerful parallels between the Russian narrative and things being said," Hayden said, adding that the president also uses similar talking points.

The amazing part is, if you give Donald and company the benefit of the doubt, they are pro-Putin even without a quid pro quo.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


CNN/ORC poll: Most back special prosecutor for Russia investigation (Jennifer Agiesta, 3/06/17, CNN)

About two-thirds of Americans say a special prosecutor should investigate contacts between Russians and Trump campaign associates, according to a new CNN/ORC poll, and 55% say they are at least somewhat concerned by reports that some connected to the Trump campaign had contact with suspected Russian operatives.

The investigation should be public though.  A special prosecutor will take too long.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Why Trump's 'False Flag' Comment About Jews And Anti-Semitism Is So Dangerous (Sam Kestenbaum, March 6, 2017, The Tablet)

[I]n far-right, conspiracy-fixated circles, many believe the these anti-Semitic threats are in fact "false flags," nefariously carried out by Jews in order to tear down Trump.

Analysts call this Jewish "false flag" allegation one of the oldest -- and most effective -- anti-Semitic "dog whistles" out there: silent to most, but loud and clear to others.

"Most Americans don't acknowledge the meaning on a conscious level," said Chip Berlet, author of the 2000 book "Right-Wing Populism In America: Too Close For Comfort." "But a handful will hear Trump's words as an encouragement to act out against the people who they believe are behind the 'false flag subversions.'"

What exactly is a false flag?

It is a naval term originally -- describing when a ship would fly a flag other than its own to deceive an enemy. In more contemporary parlance, the term has taken off in conspiracist circles of all political persuasions.

Jews regularly find themselves accused of secretly carrying out attacks or orchestrating disasters -- 9/11, Sandy Hook, Charlie Hebdo, even the Holocaust -- to further their own goals.

Such views were once relegated to the fringe. But with Trump's rise -- and his coziness with such figures as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones -- these beliefs are in the mainstream.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


It Ain't Easy Getting a FISA Warrant: I Was an FBI Agent and Should Know (Asha Rangappa, March 6, 2017, Just Security)

There are two ways to obtain a wiretap - also known as electronic surveillance - on U.S. persons (citizens and permanent residents), and both include the courts. For criminal investigations, the FBI can seek a warrant under Title III of the U.S. criminal code by showing a federal court that there is probable cause to believe the target has engaged, or is engaging in, criminal activity. This is a fairly high standard because of a strong presumption in favor of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy, and requires a showing that less intrusive means of obtaining the same information aren't feasible.

The standard for electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes, though, is a little lower. This is because when it comes to national security, as opposed to criminal prosecutions, our Fourth Amendment rights are balanced against the government's interest in protecting the country. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows the FBI to get a warrant from a secret court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to conduct electronic surveillance on U.S. persons if they can show probable cause that the target is an "agent of a foreign power" who is "knowingly engag[ing] clandestine intelligence activities." In other words, the government has to show that the target might be spying for a foreign government or organization.

But even under this standard, it's not like the FBI can just decide to stop by a FISC to get a FISA warrant after going through the McDonald's drive-thru for lunch. To even begin the process leading to a FISA, the FBI has to follow several steps outlined in the Attorney General Guidelines, which govern FBI investigations. First, the FBI has to conduct a "threat assessment" in order to establish grounds for even opening an investigation on potential FISA subjects. If a threat exists, the FBI must then formally open an investigation into possible foreign intelligence activity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


This Father 3D Printed A Bionic Arm For His Infant Son, And Now Other Kids Can Have One  (Adele Peters 03.06.17, Co.Exist)

When Ben Ryan's son Sol was born, an injury during delivery led to a blood clot in his arm--and at the age of 10 days, the arm had to be amputated. After Sol left the hospital, the new parents learned that he couldn't get a prosthetic until he was a year old, and he probably couldn't get one that would let him grab or hold anything until he was three. [...]

At his kitchen table, Ryan--who is not an engineer, but likes building things--began mocking up a design for a device that would be light, attractive, customizable, and possible to introduce at a very young age, without parts that could cause a choking hazard.

Inspired by the way spiders' legs move through hydraulics, Ryan created a design for an arm filled with fluid that could open and close a gripping mechanism as the arm moves. At an innovation lab at a university near his home in the U.K., he 3D printed an early prototype. After watching videos online, he taught himself how to use Autodesk's free Fusion 360 software, and he refined the design.

The result is a prosthetic that can eventually be custom-designed for children and 3D printed within three days, versus the 10 weeks that it can take to get a custom prosthetic in the British health system currently. It will also be much cheaper. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Scarborough: Trump Presidency Is Sinking, The White House Is Going Down (Tim Hains, March 6, 2017, MSNBC)

'Morning Joe' host Scarborough warns President Trump that his administration is "sinking" and Mika Brzezinski says not to laugh, because it is not funny.

"The ship is going down," Scarborough said about the Trump administration. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Did Trump Just Declare War on the FBI? (Rob Garver, March 6, 2017, Fiscal Times)

[A]fter news of Comey's pushback surfaced, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked by George Stephanopoulos on ABC's Good Morning America if Trump accepted the FBI director's word on the subject.

"You know, I don't think he does, George," she replied. "I think he firmly believes that this is a storyline that has been reported pretty widely by quite a few outlets. The wiretapping has been discussed in The New York Times, BBC, Fox News and we believe that it should be looked at by the House Intelligence Committee."

The stories she cited, as Stephanopoulos pointed out immediately, do not actually back up Trump's claim that there was a presidential directive to place Trump Tower under surveillance. [...]

As one of the nation's top law enforcement officials, Comey is in what seems to be an untenable position. Being questioned by the president, however unfairly, will open up Comey and the agents who work for him to claims that other cases are being brought under dubious circumstances. For that reason, his resignation has become a real possibility.

If he doesn't resign, it's hard to see how he doesn't get fired. Given the extraordinary power of the FBI director, it would be difficult for the White House to fail to demand Comey's resignation. If the president really believes that Comey isn't speaking truthfully to the public, the only responsible step would be to immediately replace him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Searching for George W. Bush in his portraits of the soldiers he sent to war (Jonathan Malesic, March 03, 2017, America)

The exhibition turns one of the oldest conventions of portraiture on its head. For centuries, rulers commissioned portraits from the lowly. The sitter is the one with power, while the portraitist aims to convey the patron's invisible qualities: authority, wisdom, magnanimity. In this exhibition, however, the artist--once the most powerful man in the world--is trying to 

Bush accomplishes this by building a terrain of extremely thick layers of oil paint on the canvas or board. Doing so can lend either reality or surreality to the portraits, as scars are made palpable; facial folds are deepened; and the normally invisible injuries of guilt, depression and post-traumatic stress are inscribed on surfaces.

Lt. Col. David Haines appears as a fleshy, disembodied face that nearly fills the frame and merges with the turquoise background. Haines's eye sockets are deep--because Bush has dug them out and piled lighter shades around them. Thick waves and globs of paint cover his forehead, perhaps signaling an inner struggle.

One of the most affecting pieces, though, is one of the least textured. Petty Officer Chris Goehner, who worked with a medical trauma unit in Iraq, is painted entirely in red. Different tones and values rather than heaps of paint indicate the furrows in his brow and the terrified vulnerability of a man who suffered nightmares for years.

First Sergeant Robert Ferrara, who served a 23-year career in the Army, said in a recent interview in the exhibition gallery that Bush "captured everything about the way I was back then," before Ferrara began to heal from depression and survivor's guilt. Ferrara looks emotionally shattered in his portrait, which is incorporated into a triptych featuring dozens of service members in uniform. He stares into the far distance but seems to shrink from something nearby.

Ferrara never sat for a portrait--Bush works largely from photographs. He got to know the president through veterans' events at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex. Ferrara credits those programs with helping him to heal. At the exhibition, his wife Melissa compared him to the painting and said, "Look how far you've come."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


The Case for a Border-Adjusted Tax (ALAN AUERBACH and MICHAEL DEVEREUX, MARCH 6, 2017, NY Times)

In place of the old system, Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed adopting a tax -- the destination-based cash-flow tax -- that would be levied on the domestic cash flows of all businesses operating or selling here. (Your domestic cash flow is your revenues in the United States minus the wages, salaries and purchases you pay for in the United States.) This would mean introducing "border adjustments" to the current system -- exempting exports from tax, but taxing imports.

This reform should appeal broadly, to Democrats and Republicans alike. The border adjustments would strongly discourage the shifting of profits and activities offshore and eliminate incentives for corporate inversions. (The proposal would also eliminate incentives for companies to borrow excessively and strengthen the tax benefits for investing in plants and equipment.) But there remains much misplaced criticism of the reform and its potential, and much misunderstanding about who the winners and losers will be if it is adopted. [...]

Free-market critics of the tax have suggested that border adjustments are tariffs and would thus erect trade barriers. This is also untrue. The border adjustments would merely shift taxation from where products are made to where they are sold. This, again, would encourage companies to locate their productive activities and profits in the United States. (Countries around the world use such border adjustments every day as components of value-added taxes that are collected at the location of purchases rather than production.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Inside Trump's fury: The president rages at leaks, setbacks and accusations ( Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, Mar. 5th, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump, meanwhile, has been feeling besieged, believing that his presidency is being tormented in ways known and unknown by a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures -- not to mention the media, which he has called "the enemy of the American people."

That angst over what many in the White House call the "deep state" is fomenting daily, fueled by rumors and tidbits picked up by Trump allies within the intelligence community and by unconfirmed allegations that have been made by right-wing commentators. The "deep state" is a phrase popular on the right for describing entrenched networks hostile to Trump.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), an advocate of improved relations between the United States and Russia, said he has told friends in the administration that Trump is being punished for clashing with the hawkish approach toward Russia that is shared by most Democrats and Republicans.

"Remember what Dwight Eisenhower told us: There is a military-industrial complex. That complex still exists and has a lot of power," he said. "It's everywhere, and it doesn't like how Trump is handling Russia. Over and over again, in article after article, it rears its head."

The president has been seething as he watches round-the-clock cable news coverage. Trump recently vented to an associate that Carter Page, a onetime Trump campaign adviser, keeps appearing on television even though he and Trump have no significant relationship.

Stories from Breitbart News, the incendiary conservative website, have been circulated at the White House's highest levels in recent days, including one story where talk-radio host Mark Levin accused the Obama administration of mounting a "silent coup," according to several officials.

Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist who once ran Breitbart, has spoken with Trump at length about his view that the "deep state" is a direct threat to his presidency.

Advisers pointed to Bannon's frequent closed-door guidance on the topic and Trump's agreement as a fundamental way of understanding the president's behavior and his willingness to confront the intelligence community -- and said that when Bannon spoke recently about the "deconstruction of the administrative state," he was also alluding to his aim of rupturing the intelligence community and its influence on the U.S. national security and ­foreign policy consensus. [...]

The merriment came to a sudden end on Wednesday night, when The Washington Post first reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador despite having said under oath at his Senate confirmation hearing that he had no contact with the Russians.

Inside the West Wing, Trump's top aides were furious with the defenses of Sessions offered by the Justice Department's public affairs division and felt blindsided that Sessions's aides had not consulted the White House earlier in the process, according to one senior White House official.

The next morning, Trump exploded, according to White House officials. He headed to Newport News, Va., on Thursday for a splashy commander-in-chief moment. The president would trumpet his plan to grow military spending aboard the Navy's sophisticated new aircraft carrier. But as Trump, sporting a bomber jacket and Navy cap, rallied sailors and shipbuilders, his message was overshadowed by Sessions.

He is besieged and we're winning.