April 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Since 9/11, Far-Right Hate Groups Killed Almost as Many Americans as Radical Islamists (Eric Pianin, April 12, 2017, Fiscal Times)

Since 9/11, almost as many Americans have died at the hands of far-right-wing extremists as have been killed by radical Islamists - 106 and 119, respectively - a new report by the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office shows.

The GAO also said that despite more than $50 million being spent by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2016 to counter the growth of violent extremism in the U.S., there is no mechanism in place to measure whether efforts apart from surveillance and law enforcement have been effective.

Of the 85 violent extremist attacks since Sept. 12, 2001, which resulted in 225 deaths, 62 - or 73 percent - were by far-right groups or individuals, the GAO report says.

While more of the 225 deaths were attributed to radical Islamists, the GAO said that 41 percent of those killings happened in a single incident, the 2016 attack on a club in Orlando. The shootings at the Pulse nightclub left 49 dead and 53 wounded.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


STEVE BANNON IS LOSING TO THE GLOBALISTS (John Cassidy, April 6, 2017, The New Yorker)

The Times story goes on:

Mr. Bannon has also been at odds with Gary Cohn, the president's national-economics adviser. Mr. Cohn is close with Mr. Kushner, who has said privately that he fears that Mr. Bannon plays to the president's worst impulses, according to people with direct knowledge of such discussions.

Moreover, Mr. Bannon's Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing's only leading man. Several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda--and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the "President Bannon" puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows and Twitter.

For students of White House infighting, dynastic regimes, and Trump's mental makeup, there is enough material in those two paragraphs to support several interpretations of what's happening. One is that the Crown Prince, Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has had enough of Bannon's right-wing-revolutionary shtick; while Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs, never had much sympathy for it to begin with. And Papa Don has never have gotten over the February 13th cover of Time magazine, which featured a close-up shot of Bannon and the headline "The Great Manipulator."

Other readings could be offered, of course, and some of them may be more accurate. But the real import of Bannon's departure from the N.S.C. goes beyond personalities and palace intrigue. It confirms a trend we've seen developing for weeks now: the Trump Administration's globalists, such as Kushner and Cohn, are growing in influence, while the nationalists--led by Bannon--are on the defensive.

...but for Jews to be doing the crushing--playing into every conspiracy theory these guys believe in--is especially satisfying.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Trump won't rule out second Yellen term, signaling drift to the mainstream (Howard Schneider, 4/12/17, Reuters)

President Donald Trump signaled on Wednesday he could be moving closer to the mainstream on monetary policy, saying he had not ruled out reappointment of Janet Yellen to a new four-year term as Fed chair as he considers his choices for the central bank.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Ahmadinejad to run in Iran presidential election, defying Ayatollah's orders (Deutsche-Welle, 4/12/17)

Election officials in Tehran appeared stunned on Wednesday as Iran's former firebrand president submitted the necessary paperwork to run as a candidate in next month's presidential election.

Anything that splits the Right further is good for our ally.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Tillerson: 'The Reign of the Assad Family Is Coming to an End' (Charles Fain Lehman, April 12, 2017, Free Beacon)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear on Wednesday that the United States will not support the continued rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Tillerson's comments came after meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Tillerson and Lavrov said in a joint press conference that Syria was a major subject in their discussions.

"Clearly, our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end," Tillerson said. "And they have again brought this on themselves with their conduct of the war these past few years."

In fairness, he was pushing on an open door in Moscow.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


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

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.

What does this look like in practice?  Well, say, hypothetically, that a group of U.S. persons seem to have not infrequent contact with diplomats known to be Russian spies, whom the FBI are already monitoring.  (Pro-tip: While it's possible that such contacts could be accidental - I mean, hypothetically, the Trump inner circle could be a riot to hang out with socially - spies, particularly Russian ones, are pretty good at what they do and don't spend time with people unless there's a good reason.) The FBI might determine that, if the U.S. persons have access to classified information or could otherwise be "developed" for intelligence purposes by a foreign spy service, a significant enough threat exists to open an investigation - this would require at least one layer of approval within the FBI, and possibly more if the investigation concerns high-profile individuals.

The case still wouldn't be FISA bound. FISA warrant investigations can't be opened "solely on the basis of First Amendment activities," so mere fraternization, even with sketchy people, wouldn't be enough.  The FBI would have to gather evidence to support a the claim that the U.S. target was knowingly working on behalf of a foreign entity. This could include information gathered from other methods like human sources, physical surveillance, bank transactions or even documents found in the target's trash.  This takes some time, and, when enough evidence had been accumulated, would be outlined in an affidavit and application stating the grounds for the FISA warrant. The completed FISA application would go up for approval through the FBI chain of command, including a Supervisor, the Chief Division Counsel (the highest lawyer within that FBI field office), and finally, the Special Agent in Charge of the field office, before making its way to FBI Headquarters to get approval by (at least) the Unit-level Supervisor there. If you're exhausted already, hang on: There's more.

The FISA application then travels to the Justice Department where attorneys from the National Security Division comb through the application to verify all the assertions made in it. Known as "Woods procedures" after Michael J. Woods, the FBI Special Agent attorney who developed this layer of approval, DOJ verifies the accuracy of every fact stated in the application. If anything looks unsubstantiated, the application is sent back to the FBI to provide additional evidentiary support - this game of bureaucratic chutes and ladders continues until DOJ is satisfied that the facts in the FISA application can both be corroborated and meet the legal standards for the court.  After getting sign-off from a senior DOJ official (finally!), a lawyer from DOJ takes the FISA application before the FISC, comprised of eleven federal district judges who sit on the court on a rotating basis. The FISC reviews the application in secret, and decides whether to approve the warrant.

Now, it's true that since its inception in 1978, the FISC has approved the vast majority of the over 25,000 FISA applications it has reviewed - some estimates put the number at over 99 percent. But that's not surprising given the extensive process described above. In fact, if some reports are true that the initial FISA applications submitted to the FISC were rejected, prompting the FBI and DOJ to change its targets to the Russian banks doing business with Trump associates rather than the associates themselves (which would only require showing probable cause that the banks are a "foreign power," which by definition they are), then a FISA application for Trump Tower, if one exists, would have been subject to even more scrutiny than would normally be the case.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Wal-Mart to Discount One Million Online Items Picked Up in Stores (Matthew Boyle, April 12, 2017, Bloomberg)

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will offer discounts on more than a million online-only items that customers then pick up at stores, part of an effort by the world's largest retailer to challenge Amazon.com Inc.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


New Front In White House Civil War as Kushner Asserts Authority at NSC (Adam Kredo, April 12, 2017, Free Beacon)

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner is leading an unprecedented effort to meddle in the White House's National Security Council, causing mayhem for senior staff who say the president's son-in-law is interfering in key foreign policy debates, according to Trump administration officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

Kushner has taken aggressive action to micro-manage the NSC, overshadowing even recently installed National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, according to sources both inside and outside the White House who described Kushner's behavior as highly unusual and damaging to the country's national security infrastructure.

Never before has a White House permitted such a figure to intervene in the NSC...

At least not since last week.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Kellyanne Conway is upset about people going on TV and saying things 'that just aren't true' (Becca Stanek, 4/12/17, The week)
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway unintentionally had the crowd cracking up during her interview Wednesday with journalist Michael Wolff at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Conway, who defended demonstrably false claims about President Trump's inauguration crowd size as "alternative facts" during a television interview, aired her grievances Wednesday about the dishonesty she claimed runs rampant in the media. "You can turn on the TV -- more than you can read in the paper because I assume editors are still doing their jobs in most places -- and people literally say things that just aren't true," Conway said. When the audience laughed out loud, Conway responded with a smile and a nod.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Trump's budget director on what's on, and off, the table for cuts (John Harwood, 4/12/17, CNBC.com)

HARWOOD: He over and over went to West Virginia, went to rural parts of Kentucky and Ohio, said, "I'm going to take care of you guys." He didn't say, "I'm going to get rid of the Appalachian Regional Commission."

MULVANEY: Yeah, and my guess is he probably didn't know what the Appalachian Regional Commission did.  [...]

HARWOOD: And what about the goal of eliminating the debt, which President Trump at one point said he would do at the end of his second term?

MULVANEY: It's fairly safe to assume that was hyperbole.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Donald Trump's Unexamined Life (Steven Nadler, APR 12, 2017, Project Syndicate)

[A]  central lesson from the Euthyphro is that there are two types of ignorance: ignorance of whether an action is right or wrong; and ignorance of what one does and does not know about right and wrong.

This latter form of unawareness - ignorance of one's own ignorance - is Trump's most troubling characteristic. Many of Trump's specific policy proposals are worrisome enough in themselves; but they are even more worrisome in light of what he has said (viva voce and via Twitter) about a host of domestic and international issues.

Trump has revealed a profound lack of understanding of complex policy matters: national security, foreign affairs, immigration, taxation, economic inequality, health care, education, the environment, trade, abortion, religious rights, free expression, and much else. Not surprisingly, his administration's approach to most of these issues so far has been just plain wrong - even impious.

Like Euthyphro, Trump does not just think that he knows what he knows, and that what he knows is sufficient for sound decision-making; he is absolutely sure of it. This self-assuredness suggests that he has rarely, if ever, stopped to consider what he does not know. He seems to be incapable of engaging in the kind of introspective reflection that would reveal gaps in his own understanding - the first step toward expanding one's knowledge of an issue.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


The Syrian Airstrike & Sovereign Responsiblity (Marc LiVecche, April 12, 2017, Providence)

On the question of the strike's legality, I admit to an initial, immediate, and rather spontaneous response--a bit like a gag reflex--at Christian carping over whether punishing someone for gassing children is on the legal up-and-up. My native, knee-jerk response is, frankly, I don't care. This is an admittedly insufficient. Laws ought to be followed. But, of course, this begs the question. History is full of examples when what is lawful ought not, in fact, to be followed--the racial laws of Nazis Germany and apartheid South Africa spring to mind. This is to stress that when the moral and the legal conflict, one sticks with the moral.  [...]

But on the point of this being the first attack against Bashar al-Assad, we need to linger. There are those who focus their ire on the bare fact of US government intervention into the affairs of another sovereign state. This objection emerges from a very particular, and to the Christian mind inadequate, view of sovereignty. As James Turner Johnson notes in his Sovereignty: Moral and Historical Perspectives, following the Peace of Westphalia of 1648--that set of international agreements that brought the Thirty Years' War to an end and upon which is built the notion of the modern state--the idea of sovereignty has been firmly linked to the state and the international system based on states. While an oversimplification, two essential characteristics of such an understanding of sovereignty include, first, the possession of an independent territory over which one rules, and for which, second, the ruler therefore enjoys the right of defense. Territorial integrity, then, is the primary concern.  For the Christian this won't do--nor, really, has it ever done.

Sovereignty involves something more than simply running a country--and regardless of whether the ruler is running it well or into the ground. What's missing is the classic just war tradition's emphasis on sovereignty as responsibility for the common good--for the care of the political community over which there is no one greater charged with the cultivation and defense of basic civic peace characterized by justice and order. Sovereignty is not a cover under which individuals or regimes can brutalize their own people with impunity. The Christian tradition provides the means by which we can judge good government from bad and to encourage the former and critique--and resist--the latter. judge It is a perverse view of sovereignty that grants legitimacy to one such as Bashar al-Assad.

It's a couple centuries too late to quibble over Westphalian legality.  The reality is that, for the English-Speaking world in particular, every claim of sovereignty requires that the government be consensual and even that may be insufficient if we determine that the elected government does not vindicate its citizens' God-given rights.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page (Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous April 11, 2017, Washington Post)

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page's communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. 

Whitewater! Rose Law Firm! Susan Rice! Tea Pot Dome!

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Tillerson Asks Why U.S. Taxpayers Should Care About Ukraine (Nick Wadhams  and John Follain, April 11, 2017, Bloomberg)

With one offhand remark, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left European diplomats befuddled at a gathering in Italy.

"Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?" Tillerson asked foreign ministers discussing Russia's intervention there at a Group of Seven gathering Tuesday in Lucca, Italy.

One is not American because one pays taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


For Putin, Syria has gone from being an asset to a dangerous liability (Owen Matthews, 15 April 2017, The Spectator)

Assad was not the only one to be surprised (or rather, not entirely surprised -- the US gave the Russians 90 minutes warning under an early-warning protocol established four years ago, and the Russian general staff apparently alerted the Syrians immediately). The Kremlin was shocked too. Russia's political elite had convinced itself that Trump's election would bring in a golden new era of non-intervention. 'An America that minds its own business is an America that suits us,' State Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov told me after Trump's inauguration. Some Russian politicians fantasised that Trump and Putin would strike some kind of grand bargain that would leave Moscow a free hand in Ukraine and its near abroad in exchange for Putin's support in Syria and Iran.

But with Trump's bombing of a regime airbase this week, Syria suddenly went from being an asset to Russia to being a dangerous liability. Instead of being a diplomatic multipurpose tool, the fallout from Trump's Syria raid now threatens a series of Russian vital interests. First, America and Britain are talking about renewed and broader sanctions as punishment for Moscow's support for Assad -- just as the Kremlin was hoping to fracture Europe's unanimity on renewing its set of Crimea-related sanctions. Second, the raid signalled a breakdown in a new relationship with Trump on which Putin had -- and perhaps still has -- put high hopes.

And most devastatingly of all for Russia, the cruise missiles that streaked into the sky last week served as a kind of salute to a quiet palace coup inside the White House. The isolationist Steve Bannon -- an admirer of Putin's style of muscular conservatism and -follower of the Kremlin-favoured Eurasian philo-sopher Alexander Dugin -- was ousted from the National Security Council, while many of Trump's new intelligence chiefs and generals are notably hawkish on Russia. Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who ran the Russia portfolio at the US oil giant Exxon before becoming its chief executive and has a close personal relationship with Putin's ally Igor Sechin, was vocal in his criticism of Moscow's support for Assad at the G7 meeting. In short, Trump's team has turned out to be anything but pro-Kremlin -- and with allegations of Russian electoral interference swirling, Russia has become politically toxic in Washington.

Putin doesn't really care about Assad; Russia has no vital interests there. The so-called 'Russian naval base' at Tartus is in reality a 300-yard-long strip of shallow quayside with a fuelling station and a garrison of 30. Rather, Syria is important to the Kremlin as a symbol, the place where Putin drew his own red line and where he finally stood up to the world.

It would have been bad enough for Russia had our luring them in just gotten them nothing; much worse, they fought the Salafi for us and made themselves the target going forward.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Iraq's Shiite clerics show no love for Assad (Ali Mamouri, April 11, 2017, Al Monitor)

In fact, Sadr's stance on the Syrian regime is not new, as other clerics have criticized the Syrian regime for its atrocities against its own people. They have also criticized Shiite militias for backing Assad in the fight against the Syrian opposition.

After the popular uprising against Assad when it broke out in March 2011, Sadr expressed his support in a November statement. Despite accusations that the Sadrist Movement, which is highly influential among Iraqi Shiites, was taking part in the Syrian conflict, he has denied any involvement by members of his party. He has also voiced his disapproval of other Shiite militias going to Syria to fight for Assad.

Sadr has expelled a number of fighters from his armed factions for having fought in Syria. Most recently, Sa'ad Swar, a former leader in Jaish al-Mahdi, announced his defection and formed Jaish al-Mou'mal in 2016 to fight in Syria and Iraq. Iran has used the defections as leverage to persuade more members to leave the Sadrist Movement in an attempt to weaken the party, especially after Sadr had voiced opposition to Iran's regional policy. Many factions have split from the Sadrist Movement, including Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the former Hezbollah al-Nujaba.

Many prominent Najaf clerics have never supported the Syrian regime, with some even forbidding their followers to fight in Syria. Four prominent Najaf clergymen -- Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Sheikh Ishaq al-Fayyad, Seyed Mohammad Sa'id al-Hakim and Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi -- were quoted by Asharq Alawsat as adopting a unified stance in 2013: "Individuals who go to Syria for jihad are disobeying the commands of religious authorities." In Qom, no prominent clerics have issued fatwas in support of sending Shiite fighters to Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Iranian conservative coalition at risk of collapse (Rohollah Faghihi, April 11, 2017, Al Monitor)

Many figures among conservative and hard-liners are in favor of Raisi and are urging other candidates to stand aside in support of him. Prior to his appointment as custodian of the Imam Reza shrine, Raisi held a series of senior positions in the judiciary over the past three decades. However, it seems that some of his fellow conservative candidates aren't eager to leave the competition. For instance, Mostafa Mirsalim, a former minister of culture during the 1989-1997 presidency of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a member of the Islamic Coalition Party, registered to run in the elections on April 11 and announced that he is not in agreement with JAMNA and will stay in the game. And on April 9, Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a senior member of the Islamic Coalition Party, said that if no consensus is achieved within JAMNA, Mirsalim will not stand aside.

Of note, the conservatives are worried about a repeat of the 2013 presidential elections, which saw Rouhani elected with the backing of the Reformists, and where the conservative camp was hit by disagreements that saw multiple conservative contenders being fielded rather than a single consensus nominee.

At present, the conservatives have started efforts to portray Raisi as the one who has the greatest chance of winning the election. Meanwhile, reports of the appointment of members of the hard-line Endurance Front to key positions in Raisi's campaign have led to speculations that his chances of winning are decreasing.

The Endurance Front, with Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi as its spiritual head, is known for its hard-line views. The faction does not enjoy broad popular support among supporters, as Mesbah Yazdi does not see many conservatives as genuinely conservative and revolutionary. The representative of Mesbah Yazdi in the 2013 elections was Saeed Jalili, the former head of Iran's nuclear negotiation team, who only obtained 4 million votes against Rouhani, who got 19 million. In keeping with the Endurance Front strategy, Raisi also declared that he has entered the race as an independent. Local media, meanwhile, have quoted Mesbah Yazdi as telling Raisi not to join JAMNA.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Trump just made some very strange comments about Stephen K. Bannon (Aaron Blake April 11, 2017, Washington Post)

In a brief exchange with the New York Post's Michael Goodwin on Tuesday, Trump seemed to deliberately place Bannon at arm's length, suggesting that his role as an adviser has been oversold and even appearing to threaten Bannon's job.

Goodwin says he asked Trump if he still has confidence in Bannon, who is reportedly feuding with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. And Trump didn't exactly disabuse Goodwin of the idea that Bannon is embattled. In fact, he did quite the opposite.

"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist, and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary."

Ouch. Bannon joined the campaign in August for the lion's share of the general election, taking on the role of campaign CEO. He and Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager, were the titular heads of the campaign. Trump then kept Bannon on as his chief political adviser in the White House, serving alongside chief of staff Reince Priebus.

In his comments to Goodwin, Trump also nodded to the tensions that exist in the White House and appeared to place the onus on Bannon to make things right -- or else.

"Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will," Trump said.

Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


CNN Exclusive: Classified docs contradict Nunes surveillance claims, GOP and Dem sources say (Jim Sciutto, Manu Raju and Eric Bradner, 4/11/17, CNN)

After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN.

And all it cost was his credibility.