May 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: 'I think Putin pays' Trump  (Adam Entous May 17, 2017, Washington Post)

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress -- House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy's assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Robert Mueller appointed special counsel to oversee probe into Russia's interference in 2016 election (MIKE LEVINE ADAM KELSEY  May 17, 2017, ABC)

"Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result," said Rosenstein in the statement.

Justice Department officials were in touch with Mueller within days of the firing of FBI Director James Comey last week. Comey confirmed in March that the bureau was actively investigating Russian influence and collusion with the Trump campaign.

As special counsel, Mueller can be expected to have the full powers and independent authority to exercise all investigative and prosecutorial functions of any United States attorney. These powers include the ability to take matters before a grand jury, issue subpoenas and assign federal agents to the case.

The White House was informed of the decision an hour before it was publicly announced Wednesday. Administration officials have previously said that they see no need for a special counsel. On Monday, White House Press secretary Sean Spicer said the investigations led by committees in the House and Senate, plus the FBI, were sufficient.

"I don't know why you need additional resources when you already have three entities," said Spicer.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Ajit Pai accidentally supports utility rules and open-access networks : Pai praises Clinton, whose FCC enforced open networks and boosted competition. (JON BRODKIN - 5/17/2017, Ars Technica)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is a big fan of former President Bill Clinton's approach to regulating Internet service. Pai has repeatedly said that the FCC should return to Clinton-era regulatory policy, and he claims that tomorrow's preliminary vote to reverse the classification of ISPs as "Title II" common carriers will achieve that goal.

Pai mentioned Clinton's regulatory policies five times in the speech in which he outlined his plan to deregulate broadband providers and eliminate the current net neutrality rules. Today's FCC should "embrace the light-touch approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress in [the Telecommunications Act of] 1996," he said. The policy set in place under Clinton "enabled the Internet to grow and evolve beyond almost anyone's expectations," Pai said.

But returning to 1990s-era Internet regulation would require more of the Title II utility-style regulation that Pai abhors, not less. If we had 1990s and early 2000s regulatory policy, Internet providers would be forced to open their networks to companies that want to resell Internet access, potentially unleashing a wave of competition in a market where today's consumers often have no choice of high-speed broadband providers.

"Without government oversight, phone companies could have prevented dial-up Internet service providers from even connecting to customers," technology reporter Rob Pegoraro wrote in The Washington Post last week in an article titled, "The Trump administration gets the history of Internet regulations all wrong." "In the 1990s, in fact, FCC regulations more intrusive than the Obama administration's net neutrality rules led to far more competition among early broadband providers than we have today.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Inside the US effort to keep laptop bomb intel secret (Evan Perez, May 16, 2017, CNN)

The intelligence behind the US ban on laptops and other electronics is considered so highly classified that CNN, at the request of US government officials, withheld key details from a March 31 story on the travel restrictions. [...]

The concern, US officials told CNN in late March, was that publishing certain information, including a city where some of the intelligence was collected, could tip off adversaries about the sources and methods used to gather the intelligence.

Over several days, US intelligence officials spent hours on conference calls making specific requests to CNN to withhold certain details of the intelligence information.

Those details included information that Trump reportedly shared in his Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Umami says its new veggie burger tastes like meat -- and bleeds like meat (David Pierson, 5/17/17, LA Times)

The cutting-edge patties are supplied by Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley startup which has raised $182 million in venture funding and counts Bill Gates as one of its earliest investors. The company's so-called Impossible Burger is made entirely from plants and is supposed to pack the sizzle and mouth feel of real meat, thanks to a special ingredient that makes the veggie burger seemingly bleed.

"Umami Burger is known for two things: innovation and taste," said Gregg Frazer, chief operating officer for Umami Burger. "Adding a superior product like the Impossible Burger only adds to our arsenal of delicious menu items and continues to put Umami Burger at the forefront of the gourmet burger industry."

For Impossible Foods, the goal isn't to satisfy vegans and vegetarians with a tasty new option. Rather, the company wants meat eaters to embrace the ersatz hamburger in the hopes it can lead to a reduction in the pollution and natural resources required of raising animals for meat -- and at the same time, reach a far bigger market than the 27 million Americans who say they largely shun meat in their diet.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago : We tested internet security at four Trump properties. It's not good. (Jeff Larson, ProPublica, Surya Mattu, Gizmodo, and Julia Angwin, ProPublica, May 17, 2017, ProPublica & Gizmodo)

Two weeks ago, on a sparkling spring morning, we went trawling along Florida's coastal waterway. But not for fish.

We parked a 17-foot motor boat in a lagoon about 800 feet from the back lawn of The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and pointed a 2-foot wireless antenna that resembled a potato gun toward the club. Within a minute, we spotted three weakly encrypted Wi-Fi networks. We could have hacked them in less than five minutes, but we refrained.

A few days later, we drove through the grounds of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with the same antenna and aimed it at the clubhouse. We identified two open Wi-Fi networks that anyone could join without a password. We resisted the temptation.

We have also visited two of President Donald Trump's other family-run retreats, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., and a golf club in Sterling, Virginia. Our inspections found weak and open Wi-Fi networks, wireless printers without passwords, servers with outdated and vulnerable software, and unencrypted login pages to back-end databases containing sensitive information.

The risks posed by the lax security, experts say, go well beyond simple digital snooping. Sophisticated attackers could take advantage of vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi networks to take over devices like computers or smart phones and use them to record conversations involving anyone on the premises.

"Those networks all have to be crawling with foreign intruders, not just ProPublica," said Dave Aitel, chief executive officer of Immunity, Inc., a digital security company, when we told him what we found.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM



With Smart Reply, Google is assuming users want to offload the burdensome task of communicating with one another to our more efficient counterparts. It's not wrong. The company says the machine-generated replies already account for 12 percent of emails sent; expect that number to boom once everyone with the Gmail app can send one-tap responses. In the short term, that might mean more stilted conversations in your inbox. In the long term, the growing number of people who use these canned responses is only going to benefit Google, whose AI grows smarter with every email sent.

Google's neural networks are already astoundingly capable of analyzing the context, word count, and sentence structure of an email. The technology can distinguish between simple categorical things like a note sent by a bot versus one sent by a dear friend. It handles yes, no questions with the ease of a human. But increasingly, Google's neural networks are getting better at the more nuanced side of language, too, determining if you're the type of person who regularly uses "thanks" or "thanks!" or if the context of a message is positive or negative.

These emotional subtleties are easy for a human to interpret, but it's more complicated for a machine, as Google research scientist Brian Strope and engineering director Ray Kurzweil, note in a blog post. A sentence like, "That interesting person at the cafe we like gave me a glance," is filled with linguistic landmines. For example, was the glance menacing? Or was it positive? With practice--ie: processing millions of emails daily-- the networks can eventually read these nuanced clues. "Given enough examples of language, a machine learning approach can discover many of these subtle distinctions," they write.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


As controversy swirls around Trump, Russia watches helplessly (Fred Weir, MAY 17, 2017, CS Monitor)

Kremlin watchers say they feel like helpless observers amid the firestorm of the Russia-related scandals engulfing the Trump administration. While the Kremlin tries to advance what Russian observers say are sincere efforts to establish normal dialogue with a new US president, it is taken in Washington to be further evidence of political collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia.

And instead of realizing the rapprochement it once hoped for with a Trump-led United States, the Kremlin now worries that Trump could set back US-Russian relations for decades.

The only guy who understands america less well than Vlad is Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Trump's presidency is beginning to unravel (David Ignatius, May 16, 2017, Washington Post)

Observing this White House in action is sometimes like watching a horror movie. The "good guys" (and yes, there are a few) keep falling through trap doors. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, whose credibility is precious, struggled Tuesday to defend Trump's actions in disclosing terrorism information as "wholly appropriate." He said the president hadn't even been aware of what country had provided the terrorism information. Israel, reportedly the source country, issued a statement endorsing its "intelligence-sharing relationship" with Trump.

If there's no problem here, why did Tom Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security, call the directors of the CIA and NSA to warn them about what the president had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak? [...]

Trump is a daily reminder of why presidents need protocols and talking points. When someone as inexperienced and impulsive as Trump tries to wing it, the result is chaos or worse. The Lawfare blog, one of the most fair-minded chroniclers of national security issues, reviewed the string of Trump's recent actions involving intelligence and asked whether he was violating his oath to "faithfully execute the Office of President." That's a polite way of asking whether he should be impeached.

The threat to Trump's presidency is deepening. His credibility is unraveling, with prominent Republicans now voicing concern about his erratic, impulsive decisions. Each new revelation builds the narrative of a man who has been trying to bully or cajole intelligence and law enforcement officials since his election. As one GOP veteran told me: "There are no guardrails for this president." was never ravelled.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


'No One in the White House Likes Or Respects Trump' (Daniel Halper, May 16, 2017, Free Beacon)

"No one in the White House likes or respects Trump."

Those are the words of a source with very close ties to a number of officials in the White House explaining the views of key personnel advising the president.

It's also the most helpful explanation of the dysfunction currently facing President Trump. [...]

Take Kellyanne Conway, Trump's final campaign manager. The co-host of Morning Joe said yesterday that, after defending her boss on live TV, Conway told Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough and company, "Blech. I need to take a shower." Conway, the hosts said, explained she was only doing the job for the money. She is now White House counselor--and works in an office once occupied by Valerie Jarrett.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Embroiled in controversies, Trump seeks boost on foreign trip (Steve Holland and Jeff Mason, 5/17/17, Reuters)

Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.

He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.

National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in "as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned," according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Former Israeli spymasters rip into Trump, say Israel must reassess intel sharing (Judah Ari Gross, 5/17/17,  The Times of Israel)

Shabtai Shavit, who led the Mossad in the 1990s, said that were he in charge of the intelligence organization today, he would not be inclined to share more information with his American counterparts.

"If tomorrow I were asked to pass information to the CIA, I would do everything I could to not pass it to them. Or I would first protect myself and only then give it, and what I'd give would be totally neutered," Shavit told The Times of Israel in a phone interview.

"If some smart guy decides that he's allowed to leak information, then your partners in cooperation will be fewer or just won't be at all," he warned. [...]

Another former head of the Mossad, Danny Yatom, said Israel should penalize the US over Trump's leak because his acts could endanger Israeli sources.

"We need to punish the Americans, it's possible, so that we don't put Trump in a position where he is again tempted, we need to abstain from transferring information to him, or to only give him partial information so that he can't endanger any source," said Yatom, who headed the spy agency between 1999 and 2001.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


The Comey Memo: The Allegation Is Serious, and There Is No Good Outcome (DAVID FRENCH, May 16, 2017, National Review)

The analysis here is pretty simple. If the memo exists, then there is compelling evidence that the president committed a potentially impeachable offense. Here is the alleged chain of events: First, Trump asked Comey to drop an investigation of a close former associate and a former senior official in his administration. Second, Comey refused. Third, weeks later Trump fired Comey. Fourth, Trump then misled the American people regarding the reason for the dismissal. Each prong is important, but it's worth noting that the fourth prong -- Trump's deception regarding the reason for Comey's termination -- is particularly problematic in context. Deception is classic evidence of malign intent. 

Donald Trump's Russia blunder is horrifying (Max Boot, May 16, 2017, USA Today)

In truth there was never much doubt that The Washington Post éxposé was accurate, given its depth of detail. If The Post got it wrong, why would security officials ask reporters to withhold details about the intelligence in question? But the White House felt compelled to send out national security adviser H.R. McMaster and his deputy, Dina Powell, to issue a non-denial denial, labeling the story false but disputing only assertions that ThePost didn't make -- for example insisting that Trump hadn't blown any ongoing military operations. Intelligence operations, well that's different. Only Fox News was convinced.

Then on Tuesday, having put his aides out on a limb, Trump sawed it off. In a series of tweets, he admitted that yes he had shared the information with the Russians but claimed it was proper to do so.

In a legal sense he's right: The president can declassify anything he wants. But in a larger moral and strategic sense, Trump committed a horrifying blunder that puts at risk at least one vital U.S. intelligence-sharing relationship (and likely more than one), threatens the life of a human asset, and ultimately endangers U.S. security by potentially cutting off valuable streams of intelligence about terrorist planning by the Islamic State of Iraq an Syria terrorist group.

Now the question is, why did he do it? I think there are three answers: Trump is boastful, ignorant, and inclined to see the Russians as friends rather than enemies. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Exhausted Republicans Are Getting Fed Up With The Chaos Coming From The White House : There's been widespread frustration with the lack of information coming from the White House, and several Republicans are making the political calculation that defending the president before they have all the facts may not be the best idea. (Tarini Parti, Alexis Levinson, Adrian Carrasquillo, 5/16/17, BuzzFeed)

Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a swing district in the Washington, DC, suburbs and is considered among the most vulnerable House Republicans in 2018, went as far as anybody in a statement, following the Washington Post report about Trump discussing classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office.

"Once again we are faced with inexplicable stories coming from the White House that are highly troubling," she said. "We need to have immediate classified briefings on what occurred at this meeting so that Congress can at least know as much as Russian leaders and know the impact on our national security, our allies, and our men and women protecting our country." [...]

"Sharing classified info to one of our enemies is a threat to our national security, troops on the ground & relationships w/ trusted allies," tweeted Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

And Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher, a former intelligence officer, in tweets called for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to get a transcript of the meeting. "While POTUS possesses the authority to disclose classified, even top secret, information, there's a separate question of whether he should," he said.

As members were still reeling from the potential classified disclosures, another crisis was already brewing. On Tuesday evening the New York Times reported that fired FBI director James Comey had created a detailed memo of his interactions with Trump and said the president asked him to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Several Republicans declined to comment on the matter, saying they had not had enough time to fully acquaint themselves with the facts of a story that had been published just an hour before.

Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz tweeted that his committee "is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready."

He has no constituency on the Hill.

GOP fears Trump will take the Republican Party down with him (Al Weaver, David M. Drucker, May 17, 2017, Daily Caller)

Republicans have grown accustomed to Trump's tumult, tending to downplay it because the president has weathered past challenges that might have sunk conventional politicians. But this is different, lawmakers and GOP strategists conceded Tuesday, in interviews with the Washington Examiner.

"You have this White House that is lurching from crisis to crisis, the image is of disarray - they can't get their hands around the basic day-to-day agenda, and define the progress they have made" Republican pollster David Winston said. "One of the things that the president has is the bully pulpit; the bully pulpit lets you drive the agenda and these crises haven't let the White House effectively get there."

"This is concerning and alarming," Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said flatly. "We're going to have to confront these issues as a Congress."

Republicans see red flags because foreign policy and national security are at the center of the crises that have engulfed Trump over the past seven days.

Concerns about Trump's fitness to serve as commander-in-chief has been a weak spot with independents and GOP voters outside of his loyal base. These voters form the backbone of the coalition that elected the president and Republican majorities in the House and Senate in November.

They had long ago resigned themselves to the constant tweeting and other uncomfortable aspects of Trump's unusual style.

But a belief that he is not competent to conduct foreign policy as fallout especially from his sharing classified intelligence with the Russians, could sunder the party's electoral coalition heading into 2018. [...]

"The last couple weeks have left a mark," a GOP consultant said, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. "The risks of going down the present path include diminished enthusiasm in the base, low fundraising and candidate recruitment problems in down ballot races."

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Inside the Oval Office with Trump and the Russians: Broad smiles and loose lips  (Philip Rucker and Karen DeYoung, May 16, 2017, Washington Post)

On May 2, eight days before Lavrov showed up at the White House, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin was on the phone with Trump and made a request. ­Putin had "new ideas" about stopping the civil war carnage in Syria, according to a senior U.S. official, and noted that his top diplomat, Lavrov, would soon be visiting the United States for a previously scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

"Will you see him?" Putin asked Trump, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

"Yes," Trump replied.

Lavrov's itinerary had him going nowhere near Washington -- 4,100 miles away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he and Tillerson would be attending a meeting of the Arctic Council, the group of countries that have territory in the Arctic region. Putin glossed over that detail with Trump, however, and once he agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Lavrov, the Russian minister changed his plans to jet first to Washington.

For the Kremlin, a private audience with the president was a major opportunity to show the world that U.S.-Russia relations were normalizing.

Since the crisis in Ukraine, when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and sent troops into breakaway eastern Ukraine, the United States has sought to show that it is not conducting "business as usual with Russian figures," said Andrew Weiss, a Russia specialist who is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

But Putin and his deputies, Weiss said, have "sought whenever they could to lessen that international isolation and demonstrate, 'See, we're back in the family of nations, and we're all going to get back to business again.' "

Happily the favor blew up in both their faces.
Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


FREE IRAN'S MANDELA, AYATOLLAH BOROUJERDI : The prominent cleric spent 11 years in prison for preaching religious tolerance, equality, and non-violence inside the repressive theocracy (Majid Rafizadeh, May 16, 2017, Tablet)

What sets Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi apart from other ruling clerics of Iran are the views and values he deeply adheres to. His beliefs have made him a target of continuous and excruciating methods of torture. He has been sentenced to be executed. So, what are these views and values?

Unlike Iran's other ruling clerics, Ayatollah Boroujerdi, 58, strongly believes in the separation of religion from the state. This bucks a traditional Shia view regarding the intersection of politics and religion. He also rejects the notion of velayat-e faqih, a clerical rule in politics that indicates an ayatollah or imam should preside over a nation. This alone creates a complete and violent rift between himself and the government.

To further strain matters between himself and a government focused on controlling the minds and beliefs of its captive population, Ayatollah Boroujerdi robustly supports religious freedom, opposes anti-Semitism, and established a movement in which people from different religions, including Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Baha'is, Sunni, and Shia, could gather together and celebrate peacefully. He has founded charities to help the poor regardless of their religious or political beliefs, and advocates for human rights, democratic values, peace, women's rights, social justice, freedom, and equality. His core philosophy is centered on opposing any form of violence. He has called for total acceptance and application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and he vehemently rejects terrorism and radical Islam.

Although Ayatollah Boroujerdi was not politically active, the government and dominant clergy establishment perceived him as a threat for his views and increasing popularity. The more support he gained, the larger the target on his back became. He was brought to Iran's Special Clerical Court, which according to Amnesty International is "a highly secretive body which reports directly to the supreme leader and is independent of the judiciary." He was denied access to a lawyer. He was harassed repeatedly and finally, in 2006, according to Amnesty International, he was sentenced to death after being found guilty on 30 ambiguous charges including "waging war against God" (moharebeh); acts against national security; publicly calling political leadership by the clergy (velayat-e faqih) unlawful.

Due to his popularity and pressure from the international community, the Iranian government reduced his death sentence to 11 years in prison. However, the threat of his execution still hangs over his head, as his sentence could change at any moment according to the whim of the clerical regime.

....dissent will be less threatening to the regime.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


To Resolve the Syrian Crisis, Partition Is Necessary (Carol E B Choksy and Jamsheed K Choksy, 5/09/17,  YaleGlobal Online)

Syria already has been de facto partitioned by the opposing forces of the civil war. No political leadership represents the many domestic factions, and none could control the territory militarily and politically, or run a national administration. Moreover, there is no currently-envisaged governing coalition that would be acceptable to the major international players. Consequently for Syria the solution must be multilateral negotiations leading to separation into geographically-discreet, self-governing regions based on communal affiliations. Indeed partition was first attempted under the League of Nations French Mandate of 1923-1946.

The Sunni Arab majority should hold the central and northern provinces or governorates of Homs (Hims), Hama, Idlib, Aleppo (Halab), Raqqa and Deir ez Zor (Dayr az-Zawr). Kurds could control the northeastern province of Hasaka. Alawites and Shiites could retain the Mediterranean coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus. Christians, Druze and the few remaining Jews can regain safety and security by sharing the southwestern and southern governorates of Rif Dimashq which surrounds Damascus, Quneitra (Qunaitra), Daraa (Dar'a) and Suwayda along the borders with Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Yezidis could gain a small enclave in Hasaka along the Syria-Iraq border. Each community could then rebuild its society and economy.

Population transfers are necessary, such as Kurds from Aleppo to Hasaka and Alawites from Damascus to Tartus, for separation to be achieved. But a bloodbath similar to what accompanied the partition of British India can be prevented if President Vladimir Putin's proposal that Russian, Iranian and Turkish forces act as enforcers is rejected - because they already have shown themselves to be brutally partisan. Russia's scheme would even bar the US-led international coalition from safeguarding anti-Assad forces and civilians or Israel from protecting itself within Syria. Coalition aircraft and troops are not permitted into the de-escalation zones, even though Russian forces already there as monitors have not stopped the fighting. Worse, Assad and the Islamists have reached a deal under which those terrorists are being relocated from the regime's areas like Damascus to provinces held by moderate rebels.The US and EU should push for a more viable plan rather than permit Moscow, Tehran and Ankara to stage a covert takeover of Syria which would certainly result in the decimation of Sunni opponents of Assad, Christians, Druz, Jews, Yezidis and Kurds.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Merkel's conservatives extend lead over Social Democrats: poll (Reuters, 5/17/17)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have extended their lead over the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) to 12 percentage points, a poll showed on Wednesday, almost four months before a federal election. [...]

The conservatives upset the governing SPD in an election on Sunday in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state and a longtime SPD stronghold that is seen as an indicator of the national electoral mood.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


The Comey Memorandum and the Take Care Clause (Andy Wright, May 17, 2017, Just Security)

From my old vantage point of White House Counsel's office, I want to focus on two particular issues: Trump's White House contacts policy and the Take Care Clause.

First, these reports would confirm the President personally interfered with Department of Justice investigation function in a particular matter directly related to the President and his associates. That would be a gross violation of the longstanding, bipartisan White House policy prohibiting such political meddling. The Trump White House contacts policy articulates the purpose "to ensure that DOJ exercises its investigatory and prosecutorial functions free from the fact or appearance of improper political influence." The policy does specifically contemplate the President's rare need to contact Department of Justice officials about pending matters, but only in rare circumstances that would likely involve the president's need for intelligence about national security threats. That is not the case here. Moreover, as a matter of basic prudence and good political sense, White House lawyers would categorically counsel against putting the President in any position vulnerable to an accusation he violated the White House agency contacts policy.  

Second, by interfering with a pending investigation of his campaign officials, business associates, and government appointees, the President would violate the Constitution.  Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution requires that the President "Take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." The President's obligations under the clause refer to a "law" to be "executed" "faithfully." As such, the President's Take Care obligations must meet the "law" at issue.  Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials derive law enforcement role from the President's constitutional Take Care Clause obligation. However, Congress created the Department, created the FBI, and established their investigative and prosecutorial responsibilities by means of legislation. Therefore, the President's constitutional obligations flow from the integrity of those functions as provided for by law, rather than the Department's position below the President on an organizational chart within the Executive Branch.

The opening paragraph of the first Article of Impeachment passed out of committee against President Richard M. Nixon stated that, "in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice."  Included in that Article was the allegation that Nixon had "interfered...with the conduct of investigations by...the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  Article II alleged Nixon had "failed to take care that the laws were faithfully executed by failing to act when he knew or had reason to know that close subordinates endeavored to impede and frustrate lawful inquiries by duly constituted...executive entities." The House's Articles of Impeachment against President Bill Clinton also accused him of violation of his Take Care Clause obligations, although without allegations of FBI meddling.

Impeachment is a political determination that is defined by a debate about the law. It is also a grave remedy in that it overturns an election result. There is no practical political will in Congress for impeachment at present. But Trump lit a fire of debate about the law that could ultimately inform impeachment deliberations.

If Mike Pence had been Nixon's vp he would have been removed much quicker.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


A Defense of Beauty and Excellence from the Classical Tradition (PAUL KRAUSE, 5/17/17, Crisis)

Even before Plotinus, Philo of Alexandria maintained the only true moral good was moral beauty. The understanding and draw to beauty was always a moral endeavor for Philo. The reverse of this was that the only moral evil was the privation of beauty, since the privation of beauty--by definition--would be a privation of goodness since goodness and beauty are intertwined as a whole body. The whole body suffers from the degradation and eventual privation of beauty, denying the body that certain light--a semi-beatific vision--which would otherwise draw all together in desire for the truth that emanates from beauty. [...]

The insistence that beauty draws people together rested upon the classical insight that humans are inherently social animals rather than solitary, weak, and individualistic as Thomas Hobbes or John Locke maintained. Since humans are social animals, made in love and for love--imago Dei--beauty has an essential role in the social relationship. (And love is, by definition, a social phenomenon that involves more than the self.) Beauty is the gateway to truth, since truth is beautiful. Beauty and truth are, by definition, good. As Plotinus ended, "The Good, which lies beyond, is the Fountain at once and Principle of Beauty: the Primal Good and the Primal Beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, Beauty's seat is there."

Catholics, best of all, understand the importance of the union of aesthetics with arête. Beauty, itself, demands a value judgement. There is nothing harsh or unfair with proclaiming this truth. That which is beautiful is good, and that which is ugly, as Plotinus recognized, is neither beautiful nor good. There are natural gradations of beauty. As Augustine explained, the gradations of beauty lift one up closer to Heaven and the Supreme Beauty that is God. This follows the insights of both Plato and Plotinus who recognized that the experience of even low beauty awakens an innate desire for greater beauty that drives one to greater excellence in search for beauty.

The revolutionary outlook of modernity rested in its separation of aesthetics and morality, and in doing so, made both beauty and morality necessarily relative and solipsistic. In its relativism, as Allan Bloom noted in The Closing of the American Mind, a degradation of rational cultivation that had been central to classical philosophy through Catholic philosophy occurred. Rational introspection to arrive at truth is only possible through the fully cultivated intellect, but the spirit of relativism and postmodernism have rendered such notions as impossible to ever attain. Relativism is the great embodiment of anti-intellectualism as Leo Strauss explained in Natural Right and History. And the slip into solipsism and atomizing individualism runs counter to the social and communitarian impulse of human nature and Catholic philosophy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Vt.'s Sanders Misses Filing Deadline (Jasper Craven, 5/17/17, VtDigger)

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., missed the May 15 deadline to submit documents detailing his finances during 2016, the latest move from a politician who has shown an aversion to sharing personal financial information.

Meanwhile, Vermont's other senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy, filed his report on time.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Handling of secret info raised questions during Trump transition - officials (JULIE PACE May 17, 2017, Times of Israel)

In the weeks before Trump took office, Obama administration officials were so concerned by the Trump transition team's handling of classified documents that they moved swiftly to exert more control over the sensitive materials, according to two former US officials.

The officials said transition officials removed classified materials from secure rooms and carried them between buildings in Washington without permission. Worried about keeping tabs on the highly sensitive material, the Obama administration officials set new limits on some classified information and explicitly barred Trump aides from viewing that material in their transition offices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Iranian Opposition Leader Musavi Announces Will Vote For Rohani (Radio Liberty, May 17, 2017)

Musavi is a popular reformist who was put under house arrest for his role in the months-long Green Movement street demonstrations after the contested 2009 presidential election.

His endorsement of Rohani comes two days after two other top reformists -- opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi and reformist former President Mohammad Khatami -- endorsed Rohani.

Though they have been banned from political activity and have not been seen in public for years, the three reformists remain popular with crowds at Rohani campaign events, which have loudly chanted their names.

Over the weekend, an immense roar came from the crowd when their images appeared on the screen at a rally.