April 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Report: Blackwater founder secretly met with Putin associate to establish Trump-Moscow back channel (Catherine Garcia, 4/03/17, The Week)

The crown prince of Abu Dhabi helped arrange a clandestine meeting in the Seychelles islands between Erik Prince, the founder of the security firm Blackwater and a major Donald Trump supporter, and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin, nine days before Trump's inauguration in an apparent attempt to establish a back channel between Putin and Trump, several U.S., European, and Arab officials told The Washington Post. [...]

Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, regularly appeared on a radio program hosted by Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, and gave $250,000 to Trump's campaign. 

EXCLUSIVE: Controversial Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka Backed Violent Anti-Semitic Militia (Lili BayerApril 3, 2017, tHE fORWARD)

In a video obtained by the Forward of an August 2007 television appearance by Gorka, the future White House senior aide explicitly affirms his party's and his support for the black-vested Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda) -- a group later condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for attempting to promote an "essentially racist" legal order.

Asked directly on the TV interview program if he supports the move by Jobbik, a far-right anti-Semitic party, to establish the militia, Gorka, appearing as a leader of his own newly formed party, replies immediately, "That is so." The Guard, Gorka explains, is a response to "a big societal need."

A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy : Carter Page told BuzzFeed News that he had been in contact with at least one Russian spy working undercover out of Moscow's UN office in 2013. (Ali Watkins, 4/03/17, BuzzFeed)

The adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.

A court filing by the US government contains a transcript of a recorded conversation in which Podobnyy speaks with one of the other men busted in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, about trying to recruit someone identified as "Male-1." BuzzFeed News has confirmed that "Male-1" is Page.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


U.S. increasingly sees Iran's hand in the arming of Bahraini militants (Souad Mekhennet and Joby Warrick April 1, 20127, Washington Post)
Bahraini authorities on Sept. 30, 2015, uncovered a bombmaking facility at a warehouse in Nuwaidrat, Bahrain, that contained military-grade explosives as well as chemical precursors. (Ministry of the Interior of the Kingdom of Bahrain)
The men who built the secret bomb factory had been clever -- suspiciously so, Bahraini investigators thought, for a gang known mostly for lobbing molotov cocktails at police. The underground complex had been hewed, foot by foot, beneath the floor of a suburban villa, with no visible traces at street level and only a single entrance, hidden behind a kitchen cabinet.

But the real surprises lay inside. In one room, police found $20,000 lathes and hydraulic presses for making armor-piercing projectiles capable of slicing through a tank. Another held box upon box of the military explosive C-4, all of foreign origin, in quantities that could sink a battleship.

"Most of these items have never been seen in Bahrain," the country's investigators said in a confidential technical assessment provided to U.S. and European officials this past fall that offered new detail on the arsenals seized in the villa and in similar raids that have occurred sporadically over nearly three years. In sheer firepower, the report said, the caches were both a "game-changer" and -- matched against lightly armed police -- "overkill."

The report, a copy of which was shown to The Washington Post, partly explains the growing unease among some Western intelligence officials over tiny Bahrain, a stalwart U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf and home to the Navy's Fifth Fleet. Six years after the start of a peaceful Shiite protest movement against the country's Sunni-led government, U.S. and European analysts now see an increasingly grave threat emerging on the margins of the uprising: heavily armed militant cells supplied and funded, officials say, by Iran.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Trump Russia dossier key claim 'verified' (Paul Wood, 3/30/17, BBC News)

The BBC has learned that US officials "verified" a key claim in a report about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump's election - that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy. [...]

But sources I know and trust have told me the US government identified Kalugin as a spy while he was still at the embassy.

It is not clear if the American intelligence agencies already believed this when they got Steele's report on the "diplomat", as early as May 2016.

But it is a judgment they made using their own methods, outside the dossier.

A retired member of a US intelligence agency told me that Kalugin was being kept under surveillance before he left the US.

In addition, State Department staff who dealt with Russia did not come across Kalugin, as would have been expected with a simple diplomat.

"Nobody had met him," one former official said. "It's classic. Just classic [of Russian intelligence]."

Last month, the McClatchy news website said he was under "scrutiny" by the FBI as he left the US. They did not report, as my sources say, that he was a member of one of Russia's spying organisations, the SVR or GRU.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Top Obama Adviser Sought Names of Trump Associates in Intel (Eli Lake, 4/03/17, Bloomberg View)

[R]ice's multiple requests to learn the identities of Trump officials discussed in intelligence reports during the transition period does highlight a longstanding concern for civil liberties advocates about U.S. surveillance programs. The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice's unmasking requests were likely within the law.

...that by surveilling the espionage activities of the Russians you were guaranteed to gather up the Trumpies in the net.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Fifty Years Of Growth In American Consumption, Income, And Wages (Bruce Sacerdote, March 2017, NBER Working Paper No. 23292)

Despite the large increase in U.S. income inequality, consumption for families at the 25th and 50th percentiles of income has grown steadily over the time period 1960-2015. The number of cars per household with below median income has doubled since 1980 and the number of bedrooms per household has grown 10 percent despite decreases in household size. The finding of zero growth in American real wages since the 1970s is driven in part by the choice of the CPI-U as the price deflator; small biases in any price deflator compound over long periods of time. Using a different deflator such as the Personal Consumption Expenditures index (PCE) yields modest growth in real wages and in median household incomes throughout the time period. Accounting for the Hamilton (1998) and Costa (2001) estimates of CPI bias yields estimated wage growth of 1 percent per year during 1975-2015. Meaningful growth in consumption for below median income families has occurred even in a prolonged period of increasing income inequality, increasing consumption inequality and a decreasing share of national income accruing to labor.

Even more significantly, you need to work ever fewer hours to afford such.
Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


St Petersburg attacks: Isis celebrates explosions that killed 10 people (Andrew Griffin, 4/03/17, Independent)

Isis supporters are cheering what they claim is a terror attack, and sharing images of people caught up in and killed by the blasts.

The attacks come after waves of Isis propaganda that encouraged its supporters to launch strikes on Moscow. Isis propaganda shows bullet holes through Mr Putin's head as well as a poster circulated just days before the attack that showed a falling Kremlin and included the message "We Will Burn Russia".

Brothers in arms: Iraqi armed groups grow as Islamic State shrinks (John Davison, APRIL 3, 2017, Reuters)

For Iraqi police officer Jassem and his brothers, the battle against Islamic State is personal. The militants captured and beheaded their father, a Shi'ite militiaman, in 2014; before that, the family lost another son fighting the jihadists.

"We were able to identify my dad's body by the tattoo on his arm. The head wasn't found. They had also drilled holes in his hands and cut fingers off," 31-year-old Jassem told Reuters on the front line in Mosul as Iraqi forces battle with Islamic State in the city.

After the murder, Jassem's youngest brother signed up with the army and another joined a Shi'ite paramilitary group. With a further brother already with the Counter-Terrorism Service, that meant their mother had all four of her surviving sons at war.

"Mum wasn't happy," said Jassem, not giving his full name because he works in intelligence. But his brothers still answered the call to arms. "They said Iraq was falling apart, and they wanted to protect it," he said.

The family from southern Iraq - far from Mosul which lies near the country's northern border - is just one of many where entire sets of brothers have taken up arms against Islamic State out of revenge, duty or just to earn money.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are now set to drive the group from its stronghold of Mosul, taken in 2014 when the jihadists seized large areas of Iraq and Syria, proclaiming a caliphate.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


GM's super-quiet, super-cool military 4X4 (Peter Valdes-Dapena, April 3, 2017, CNN)

The big ZH2 is very quiet, but it's not completely silent. When it starts up there is a whoosh of air being sucked in. When it's moving, as it did recently through an off-road course at GM's Milford Proving Grounds, there is some noise from the tires, suspension, electric motors and splashing mud. But, compared to a rumbling diesel truck, it's nearly silent. In military parlance, there is minimal "accoustic signature."

Since the truck isn't burning any fuel, it doesn't give off much heat that could be picked up by heat-sensing night vision cameras. In other words, there's not much of a "thermal signature" either.

Added bonus: Soldiers can drink the exhaust.

"We're not doing it in this vehicle, but it is possible for us to take the exhaust gas from the engine, or the fuel cell, and actually create potable water," said Brian Butrico, with the U.S. Army's Research and Development and Engineering Command. "The soldiers can actually create their own drinking water as they're operating the vehicle."

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


How to Lose a Majority (Amy Walter, 4/01/17, Cook Political Report)

[I]f you look back at the last four midterm elections where the party in the White House lost control of one or both houses of Congress, you see that they share the following traits in common: the president has approval ratings among his own partisans under 85 percent and approval ratings among independents in the 30's or low 40s.  

For example, in November 2006, President George W. Bush's job approval ratings among his own party were 81 percent. Just 31 percent of independents gave him a positive job rating. His party lost 30 House seats - and control of the House. Four years earlier, in the 2002 midterms, Bush's job approval ratings among Republicans were a robust 91 percent and among independents they were at 63 percent. His party picked up eight seats in the House that year. We are less than 75 days into the Trump Administration and the president is flirting very close to the danger zone territory. The most recent Gallup survey put his approval ratings with Republicans at 85 percent, but he's sitting at just 33 percent with independents. If he drops a few points among GOPers, Trump's ratings today would look exactly like those of President Bush right before his party was routed in 2006. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


EU foreign ministers: Assad has no role in Syria's future (Deutsche-Welle, 4/03/17)

European Union foreign ministers said ahead of a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday that they see no future for President Bashar al-Assad in post-conflict Syria. The statements come after the United States suggested its approach to reaching peace in the region will change. [...]

[E]U foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said she believed it "would be impossible" to return to the status quo in Syria after peace is restored in the country.

"It seems completely unrealistic to believe that the future of Syria will be exactly the same as it used to be in the past," she said as she arrived for the EU foreign ministers' meeting.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM



[A] two-month WhoWhatWhy investigation has revealed an important reason the Bureau may be facing undisclosed obstacles to revealing what it knows to the public or to lawmakers.

Our investigation also may explain why the FBI, which was very public about its probe of Hillary Clinton's emails, never disclosed its investigation of the Trump campaign prior to the election, even though we now know that it commenced last July.

Such publicity could have exposed a high-value, long-running FBI operation against an organized crime network headquartered in the former Soviet Union. That operation depended on a convicted criminal who for years was closely connected with Trump, working with him in Trump Tower -- while constantly informing for the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and being legally protected by them.

Some federal officials were so involved in protecting this source -- despite his massive fraud and deep connections to organized crime -- that they became his defense counsel after they left the government.

In secret court proceedings that were later unsealed, both current and former government attorneys argued for extreme leniency toward the man when he was finally sentenced. An FBI agent who expressed his support for the informant later joined Trump's private security force.

In this way, the FBI's dilemma about revealing valuable sources, assets and equities in its ongoing investigation of links between the Trump administration and Russian criminal elements harkens back to the embarrassing, now infamous Whitey Bulger episode. In that case, the Feds protected Bulger, a dangerous Boston-based mobster serving as their highly valued informant, even as the serial criminal continued to participate in heinous crimes. The FBI now apparently finds itself confronted with similar issues: Is its investigation of the mob so crucial to national security that it outweighs the public's right to know about their president?

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Opening Day is comparable to Christmas morning (Brevan Pritchett, 4/03/17, iSportsWeb)

Do you remember as a little kid being giddy with excitement on December 24, Christmas Eve, as you knew the next day when you wake up there would be presents neatly wrapped under the tree? You couldn't sleep that night as you hoped to stay up late enough to hear Santa on the rooftop as he brought you toys and goodies. You even woke up at 4am to sneak downstairs, carefully maneuvering your way down the steps to not make them creak and wake your parents, to take an early peek at your loot. Now that your reminiscing on your childhood and that feeling, you will understand why that giddiness is boiling up inside you right now. That is because tomorrow is Opening Day for baseball and that feeling is just like Christmas morning.

The Dbacks announcers were doing a ticket promo yesterday and Greg Schulte (I think) mentioned that after the Opener you only had 80 more chances to come to a game....

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Donald Hall, The Art of Poetry No. 43 (Interviewed by Peter A. Stitt ISSUE 120, FALL 1991, Paris Review)

In 1975, after the death of his grandmother, Hall gave up his tenured professorship at Michigan and moved with his wife Jane Kenyon to the old family farm in New Hampshire. Since then he has supported himself through freelance writing. Sixteen years later, he continues to feel that he never made a better decision. It was at Eagle Pond Farm that the first two sittings of this interview were conducted in the summers of 1983 and 1988. A third session was held on the stage of the YM-YWHA in New York. [...]

HALL I remember the first time I saw Robert Frost. It was opening night and Theodore Morrison, the director, was giving an introductory talk. I felt excited and exalted. Nobody was anywhere near me in age; the next youngest contributor was probably in her mid-twenties. As I was sitting there, I looked out the big French windows and saw Frost approaching. He was coming up a hill and as he walked toward the windows first his head appeared and then his shoulders as if he were rising out of the ground. Later, I talked with him a couple of times and I heard him read. He ran the poetry workshop in the afternoon on a couple of occasions, though not when my poems were read, thank God; he could be nasty. I sat with him one time on the porch as he talked with two women and me. He delivered his characteristic monologue--witty, sharp, acerb on the subject of his friends. He wasn't hideously unkind, the way he looks in Thomson's biography, but also he was not Mortimer Snerd; he was not the farmer miraculously gifted with rhyme, the way he seemed if you read about him in Time or Life. He was a sophisticated fellow, you might say.

We played softball. This was in 1945, and Frost was born in 1874, so he was seventy-one years old. He played a vigorous game of softball but he was also something of a spoiled brat. His team had to win and it was well known that the pitcher should serve Frost a fat pitch. I remember him hitting a double. He fought hard for his team to win and he was willing to change the rules. He had to win at everything. Including poetry.

INTERVIEWER What was the last occasion on which you saw him?

HALL The last time I saw him was in Vermont, within seven or eight months of his death. He visited Ann Arbor that spring and invited me to call on him in the summer. We talked about writing, about literature--though of course mostly he monologued. He was deaf, but even when he was younger he tended to make long speeches. Anyway, after we had been talking for hours, my daughter Philippa, who was three years old, asked him if he had a TV. He looked down at her and smiled and said, You've seen me on TV?

Also we talked about a man--another poet I knew--who was writing a book about Frost. Frost hadn't read his poetry and he asked me, Is he any good? I told him what I thought. Then, as we were driving away, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw the old man, eighty-eight, running after the car--literally running. I stopped and he came up to the window and asked me please, when I saw my friend again, not to mention that Frost had asked me if his poetry was any good, because he didn't want my friend to know that he had not read his poetry. Frost was a political animal in the literary world. So are many of the best poets I run into and it doesn't seem to hurt their poetry.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Trump Is Wimping Out on Trade (Paul Krugman APRIL 3, 2017, NY Times)

[T]he executive orders in question were, to use the technical term, nothingburgers. One called for a report on the causes of the trade deficit; wait, they're just starting to study the issue? The other addressed some minor issues of tariff collection, and its content apparently duplicated an act President Obama already signed last year.

Not surprisingly, reporters at the event questioned the president, not about trade, but about Michael Flynn and the Russia connection. Mr. Trump then walked out of the room -- without signing the orders. (Vice President Mike Pence gathered them up, and the White House claims that they were signed later.)

The fiasco perfectly encapsulated what's looking more and more like a failed agenda.

Business seems to have decided that Mr. Trump is a paper tiger on trade: The flow of corporate relocations to Mexico, which slowed briefly while C.E.O.s tried to curry favor with the new president, has resumed. Trade policy by tweet, it appears, has run its course.

Investors seem to have reached the same conclusion: The Mexican peso plunged 16 percent after the election, but since Inauguration Day it has recovered almost all the lost ground.

Oh, and last week a draft proposal for revising the North American Free Trade Agreement circulated around Congress; instead of sweeping changes in what candidate Trump called the "worst trade deal" ever signed, the administration appears to be seeking only modest tweaks.

Even Paul Krugman gets to do victory laps on this clown.
Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


U.S. Inaction in Yemen Has Emboldened Iranian-Backed Houthi Rebels (Natalie Johnson, April 3, 2017, Daily Beacon)

Iranian strategy in Yemen is aimed at deterring Saudi influence in the region as part of an ongoing battle for regional dominance. Iran is carrying out a similar campaign in Syria, where it supports the Bashar al Assad regime to counter the Saudi-backed opposition and rebel groups.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute, said U.S. inaction has bolstered the Houthis and their Iranian backers. He said this effect was on display when Houthi rebels captured Yemen's capital of Sanaa in 2015.

"After a decade of receiving reward after defiance, Tehran calculates it faces no risk of retaliation for its aggression," Rubin told the Washington Free Beacon. "The Revolutionary Guard has defined the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden as its strategic boundaries and it remains determined to follow up its rhetoric with action."

The entire WoT has been about self-determination, which means empowering the Shi'a at the expense of the Salafi and secular dictators.