July 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


THANKS, OBAMA : U.S. Commandos Running Out of ISIS Targets (Kimberly Dozier, 07.05.17, Daily Beast)

U.S. special operations forces have removed roughly 50 top ISIS leaders off the battlefield since President Donald Trump took office, down from 80 killed in the last six months of the Obama administration, according to figures obtained by The Daily Beast.

"The pace and the way they have gone about going after these HVT's [High-value targets] hasn't changed," said coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon of the U.S. special operations' campaign to take ISIS commanders off the Iraqi and Syrian battlefields.

Those closest to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have been hit hardest. "Most of them were killed in the last year of the Obama administration," he said. "If there was a block chart of Baghdadi and all of his bubbas, we are hitting the fifth- and sixth-string leaders of the organization." [...]

The White House has asked defense officials to come up with new ideas to help brand the Trump campaign as different from its predecessor, according to two U.S. officials and one senior administration official. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive debates.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Fed-Up Reform Leaders Are Thinking Twice About Their Donations To Israel (Ben Sales, July 5, 2017, JTA)

Like many liberal Jewish leaders, Messinger is angry about the recent Israeli Cabinet votes to suspend the expansion of a non-Orthodox prayer area at the Western Wall and to give Israel's Chief Rabbinate sole authority over official Jewish conversions performed in the country.

The votes have outraged American Jewry's organizational elite, which sees them as a betrayal of Jewish pluralism and of Israel's symbolic obligations to non-Orthodox Jews around the world. With limited leverage, Jewish leaders and pundits are now suggesting that they use the power of the purse to get their point across. Pundits have dared American Jews to stop giving money to Israeli causes -- from tourist attractions to hospitals -- and its national carrier. And Reform officials have called on their members to redirect their money to groups that advance their ideals.

American Jews may not vote in Israel, but they do give money there. According to a 2014 analysis by the Forward, American Jewish groups give nearly $1.8 billion to Israel each year.

"My original gut reaction when I read about what happened was to say, 'The heck with this,'" said Henry Levy IV, treasurer of the Union for Reform Judaism, or URJ. "Why should I give my money to Israel if they don't want to recognize me as a Jew, much less believe in egalitarian prayer? My only vote is with my pocketbook. I don't have a vote as an Israeli."

Levy will not be suspending his giving to Israel, but he and Messinger are two of several active Reform Jewish donors who will be reapportioning their Israel philanthropy. A handful of members of URJ's Oversight Committee -- a 35-member body mostly elected from among the organization's 253-member board -- told JTA that they would be giving more to nonprofits that champion pluralism rather than large, general-interest Jewish fundraising bodies.

Michael Price, a retired musical theater producer from Connecticut, gave frequently over the past six decades to his local Jewish federation, an umbrella for expansive Jewish giving. No more, he says. He's going to donate more to Reform institutions in the U.S. and around the world, as well as to liberal Zionist organizations like the New Israel Fund and J Street, the dovish pro-Israel lobby.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


CNN Warns It May Expose an Anonymous Critic if He Ever Again Publishes Bad Content (Glenn Greenwald, July 5 2017, The Intercept)

Several of the objections made to CNN's conduct here appear to be false. That includes the claim by the president's son, Donald Trump, Jr., that the user threatened by CNN is 15 years old (the CNN reporter, Andrew Kaczynski, said the Reddit user is an adult). The claim that CNN "blackmailed" the user into apologizing -- expressed by a Twitter hashtag, #CNNBlackmail, that still sits at the top of trending topics on the site -- seems dubious at best, since there is no evidence the user spoke to CNN before posting his apology (though CNN itself says it contacted the user the day before he posted his apology, which presumably means he knew CNN had found out his name when he posted it).

But the invalidity of those particular accusations does not exonerate CNN. There is something self-evidently creepy, bullying, and heavy-handed about a large news organization publicly announcing that it will expose someone's identity if he ever again publishes content on the internet that the network deems inappropriate or objectionable. Whether it was CNN's intent or not, its article makes it appear as if CNN will be monitoring this citizen's online writing, and will punish him with exposure if he writes something they dislike.

There is also something untoward about the fact that CNN -- the subject of the original video -- was the news outlet that uncovered his identity. That fact creates the appearance of vengeance: If you, even as a random and anonymous internet user, post content critical of CNN, then it will use its vast corporate resources to investigate you, uncover your identity, and threaten to expose you if you ever do so again.

While the guy did post publicly, it certainly seems reasonable to want to protect someone so apologetic and obviously disordered from the storm that would follow exposure. The question is whether the press ought to be so considerate or not.  

One is reminded of poor Billy Sipple. Maybe sometimes we just don't need to know everything the press discovers.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' sets viewership mark after tweets  (AP, 7/05/17) 

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski reached their biggest audience ever when they talked Friday about President Donald Trump's tweets about their show.

The Nielsen company said Wednesday that 1.66 million people watched the MSNBC morning show the day after the tweets. That narrowly beat the show's previous record, which came the day after Trump was elected last year.

...is killing him in.

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


NPR Tweeted The Declaration Of Independence And Some Trump Supporters Were Offended : "Literally no one is going to read 5,000 tweets about this trash." (Julia Reinstein, 7/05/17, BuzzFeed)


Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


It's Not Just Mike Pence. Americans Are Wary of Being Alone With the Opposite Sex. (Claire Cain Miller, JULY 1, 2017, NY Times)

Many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations, the poll found. Around a quarter think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Nearly two-thirds say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it's unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.

Why would you ever except for illicit purposes?
Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Pro-Trump Group Stumbles in Health Plan Push (Rebecca Berg, July 05, 2017, Real Clear Politics)

A nonprofit group formed to boost President Trump's agenda has emerged badly bruised from its first major political battle, raising questions about the organization's effectiveness moving forward. [...]

Since it was established earlier this year, America First Policies has sought to fill a void as the administration's external muscle, aggressively promoting the president's agenda and pressuring lawmakers to back it. But the group, like the administration it is designed to promote, has taken some time to find its footing.  

You can either be pro-Donald or pro-Republican, not both.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


ISIS Hits Iran : Terror Comes to the Islamic Republic (Ariane M. Tabatabai, 7/04/17, Foreign Affairs)

For Iran, ISIS was an entirely different beast from previous Sunni groups because it controlled territory and resources, created real chaos in Iran's neighborhood, harbored a strong anti-Shia stance, put Iran on its target list, tried to create an offshoot in Iran, and displayed barbarism rare even for terrorist groups.

As the group gained strength, Iran quickly deployed the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force to Iraq and then to Syria, where those troops were later joined by the country's military. The regime was initially reluctant to publicize its presence in Iraq and Syria. But with the Iranian public more anxious about the group's presence in Iran's neighborhood and the international community increasingly involved, Iran began to do so--effectively. Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani became an icon when his photos with various Iraqi and Syrian forces were made public on Instagram and other platforms. Today, Soleimani is widely popular. He has managed to make the Guards, which have typically been viewed fairly negatively, more popular too.

Tehran also made use of its connections with various groups on the ground, including the Shia militias and the Kurds, as well as Baghdad and Damascus. Through its own version of the U.S. "Train Advise Assist" program, Tehran helped support and equip the anti-ISIS forces. And it beefed up its defenses and its counter-messaging efforts at home by emphasizing development in predominantly Sunni border areas (which had previously been ignored by Tehran), working with local Sunni clerics and leaders to undermine ISIS' message, and appointing a minister to oversee religious minority affairs.

These efforts were fairly successful. Approximately one year before the twin attacks in Tehran last month, Iran's ministry of intelligence and security had uncovered and foiled an ISIS plan to hit 50 different targets in the capital. Details of the plot were released later: It involved 600,000 euros, 100 kg of explosives, and a number of operatives. Later, Iranian officials stated that they had dismantled a network of over 1,000 operatives in the country. ISIS had even reportedly tried to create an offshoot in Iran to increase its effectiveness in the country. 

Given that, for three years, ISIS had reportedly placed Iran among its top three targets, it is impressive that there have been no major incidents until now--especially given some shortcomings in Iran's counterterrorism efforts. [...]

The Tehran attacks only make it clearer that ISIS is not containable. The Iranian public already saw ISIS as a major threat. Now it has proof. In some ways, this will allow the government to justify its activities in Iraq, Syria, and potentially Afghanistan--where the ISIS offshoot the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province (ISKP) has been gaining ground, which the Iranians saw as a threat when NATO didn't. The increasingly unpopular Iranian intervention in Syria may gain momentum as a result of the attacks too. And the Guards can enjoy unprecedented popularity.

Against this backdrop, Iran is boosting its counterterrorism operations at home and abroad. Since the twin attacks in Tehran, the government has already killed the assailants, arrested a number of other suspected operatives, and quietly beefed up its counterterrorism efforts in Sunni-majority areas, such as Sistan-Balochistan, where the Guards killed the leader of Ansar al-Furqan, a Sunni terrorist group, last week. The Guards also launched missile strikes targeting what they described as ISIS headquarters in the ISIS-controlled Syrian town of Deir ez-Zour. The missile launches are the most visible action Iran has taken against ISIS yet in a campaign that has become increasingly public. And the missile strikes serve a dual purpose: They allow Tehran to deter ISIS as well as the country's Gulf Arab neighbors, whom Iranian leaders believe can only be held back by Iran's missile program.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Here's something Americans can actually agree on (Sam Ori, July 5, 2017, MarketWatch)

Whether you are looking at oil, natural gas or the electricity grid, an energy system whose costs and benefits were once concentrated in just a few regions of the country has transformed into one whose presence is much more widely distributed. This democratization of energy production has already had important impacts.

First, America's new energy landscape has been a big benefit for local economies. A recent paper co-authored by my colleague Michael Greenstone, for example, found that communities in the regions where shale-oil and gas drilling takes place profit to the tune of $1,900 per household, annually. Those benefits include a 6% increase in average income driven by wage growth and royalty payments, a 6% increase in housing prices, and a 10% increase in employment.

This finding aligns with a number of analyses that have explored the local impact of renewable energy investment. While the build-out of wind generation has been geographically diverse, more than 70% of wind farms are located in low-income, rural areas throughout the West and Midwest. The $100 billion that has poured into wind generation over the past decade has injected new funding into public finances in these communities and provided a much-needed source of additional income to farmers at a time of low commodity prices.

Yet, as important as the economic impacts have been, the biggest implication of these changes to the U.S. energy system could be their effect on our politics. For much of the past 50 years, U.S. energy politics have been driven by regional interests -- from the oil patch and coal country in particular. But there are signs this is beginning to change as energy production becomes less concentrated and more distributed.

In 2015, for example, a bill that secured historic five-year extensions of tax credits for wind and solar power while also opening global markets to shale-oil drillers received strong support from both parties. This kind of compromise on energy policy would likely not have been possible if Republicans felt unsafe supporting strong renewable subsidies or if Democrats were unable to support a policy that led to more shale drilling. More recently, after a draft White House budget showed it would gut the Energy Department's renewables office by 70%, six Republican senators from across the country called on President Trump to maintain funding for the agency.

Given the expected growth in renewable energy investment and shale drilling in the coming years, this could be the beginning of a much broader alignment on energy policy. As communities in states across the country find that they have a common set of economic interests and policy objectives, they will become an increasingly potent force with skin in the game on big issues. And while policies focused more specifically on climate change are likely to remain more divisive, it should not be lost on anyone that many of the fuels at the forefront of this revolution--wind, solar and natural gas--offer important environmental and climate benefits.

The incentives for cooperation are aligning across states as geographically and politically diverse as, for example, Texas and California around renewables and Pennsylvania and North Dakota around natural gas. At least on energy policy, we may be about to become a country that's much more united than divided.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Savers left in the red after a decade of low interest rates (Phillip Inman, 5 July 2017 , The Guardian)

It has been a difficult decade for savers. For 10 years they have suffered falling or ultra-low interest rates, leaving them in the red on their deposit accounts when they might reasonably have expected a modest gain.

The last time the Bank of England put up interest rates was on 5 July 2007. But the financial crash put paid to further rises. In the next 20 months it tumbled to 0.5% and then further in the wake of last year's Brexit vote to 0.25%. [...]

Today almost £180bn of cash savings sits in non-interest-bearing accounts and the few people who shop around earn just 0.4% on money in instant access accounts and 0.9% on notice accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Trump Wants a Do-Over in Europe : But the president's upcoming trip offers ample opportunity for fresh trouble. (THOMAS WRIGHT, July 04, 2017, Politico)

President Donald Trump is hoping Europe will give him a second chance.

This week, he heads to Poland at the invitation of its president and to participate in a regional infrastructure summit and to Hamburg, Germany, for the G-20 summit. The trip offers the chance for redemption after a catastrophic visit to Brussels in June that left the NATO alliance hanging by a thread because of his refusal to endorse Article 5, NATO's mutual defense clause.

The reality is that Donald was handed such a strong economy that he can save his presidency pretty easily by just reversing everything he ran on and governing as a Republican, as his 6 immediate predecessors did.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Former Number 10 aide calls for closer ties as executives meet at Chevening (George Parker and Jim Pickard, 7/05/17, Financial Times)

Theresa May has been urged by her former policy chief to step up her links with business leaders, amid an acceptance in Number 10 that the prime minister was cut off from corporate advice on Brexit before last month's election.

John Godfrey, Mrs May's recently departed policy director and a former executive at Legal and General, the insurer, has proposed that a rotating cast of senior executives be assembled to meet the prime minister on a quarterly basis. This would be backed by standing committees conducting detailed work on issues facing industry.

Mr Godfrey's comments reflect a view in Mrs May's inner team that, before the election, the prime minister was a remote figure to the business community; she held several private dinners for corporate leaders and their spouses but little more.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Volvo: Gas cars are history after 2019 (Sherisse Pham, July 5, 2017, CNN Money)

The Swedish automaker is slamming on the brakes on vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines, announcing that every car it makes from 2019 onward will have an electric motor.

The move makes Chinese-owned Volvo the first traditional carmaker to fully embrace electric and hybrid production.

"This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car," Volvo's president Håkan Samuelsson said in a statement Wednesday.