August 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


One year into the FBI's Russia investigation, Mueller is on the Trump money trail (Evan Perez, Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz, August 3, 2017,  CNN)

Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said.

One year after the FBI opened an investigation, the probe is now managed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Donald Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate, according to two law enforcement sources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Putin's interference in our election clearly backfired (MARC A. THIESSEN, AUGUST 03, 2017, Washington Post)

[R]ussia's election meddling has boxed Trump in to this aggressive stance for the foreseeable future. Trump's best defense against charges of collusion with Russia is: Look at my policies. There has been no president this tough on Moscow since Ronald Reagan. Even if Trump wanted to pursue detente with Russia, he cannot, because any concessions to Putin will be seen through the prism of the Russia investigation. Every step taken that benefits Moscow will cost him politically at home, while tough stances will insulate him from accusations that he is Putin's puppet.

Third, Russia's election meddling has achieved something no Russian leader has previously been able to do: It has turned Democrats into modern-day Cold Warriors. In 2012, after Mitt Romney called Russia our No. 1 geopolitical foe, Democrats cheered Barack Obama for mocking him by saying, "The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back." Today, five years later, Democrats are suddenly channeling their inner Reagan.

It's ironic. During the Cold War, when the Kremlin was throwing people into the gulag and threatening the United States with nuclear annihilation, many Democrats were all for accommodating Moscow. They opposed the Reagan defense buildup, the Strategic Defense Initiative and aid to anti-Soviet freedom fighters and chafed when Reagan declared the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire."

But the Kremlin finally crossed a line when it messed with Hillary Clinton's campaign. None of this is what Putin was hoping for when he decided to interfere in the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


A letter from H.R. McMaster said Susan Rice will keep her top-secret security clearance (Sara A. Carter, 8/03/17, Circa)

Almost one month after it was disclosed that former President Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice was unmasking members of President Trump's team and other Americans, Trump's own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, sent an official letter giving her unfettered and continuing access to classified information and waiving her "need-to-know" requirement on anything she viewed or received during her tenure, Circa has confirmed.

The undated and unclassified letter from McMaster was sent in the mail to Rice's home during the last week of April. [...]

"Basically, this letter which was signed in the last week of April undercuts the president's assertion that Susan Rice's unmasking activity was inappropriate. [...]," said a senior West Wing official, who was shown the document by Circa and verified its authenticity. 

Duh? No one takes Donald seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


The Ugly History of Stephen Miller's 'Cosmopolitan' Epithet : Surprise, surprise--the insult has its roots in Soviet anti-Semitism. (JEFF GREENFIELD August 03, 2017, Politico)
When TV news viewers saw Trump adviser Stephen Miller accuse Jim Acosta of harboring a "cosmopolitan bias" during Wednesday's news conference, they might have wondered whether he was accusing the CNN White House reporter of an excessive fondness for the cocktail made famous on "Sex and the City." It's a term that's seldom been heard in American political discourse. But to supporters of the Miller-Bannon worldview, it was a cause for celebration. Breitbart, where Steve Bannon reigned before becoming Trump's chief political strategist, trumpeted Miller's "evisceration" of Acosta and put the term in its headline. So did white nationalist Richard Spencer, who hailed Miller's dust-up with Acosta as "a triumph."

Why does it matter? Because it reflects a central premise of one key element of President Donald Trump's constituency--a premise with a dark past and an unsettling present. [...]

One reason why "cosmopolitan" is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which "the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded." It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with "bourgeois Western influences." Not so incidentally, many of these "cosmopolitans" were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into "unmasking" the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

What makes this history relevant is that, all across Europe, nationalist political figures are still making the same kinds of arguments--usually but not always stripped of blatant anti-Semitism--to constrict the flow of ideas and the boundaries of free political expression.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM



"The Right Stuff" is often called a historical epic, but it's a film that defies labels, just like its star, actor-playwright Sam Shepard, who died last week at 72. Based on New Journalism pioneer Tom Wolfe's book about the Mercury 7 program and the early days of the space race, the movie mixed a satire of patriotism with a rugged individualistic sensibility that has been both esteemed and parodied. This combination of elements was never again captured onscreen. It worked because of Shepard's portrayal of test pilot Chuck Yeager, which embodied the mysterious quality alluded to in the title of Wolfe's book. [...]

"The Right Stuff" is one of the great movies of the 1980s. The cast is impeccable, the script and direction by Philip Kaufman are up to the task, and the score, by Bill Conti of "Rocky" fame, is one of the best of its era. But it's the story of Shepherd's Yeager that secures "The Right Stuff" a spot in America's film canon. Shepard's Yeager is stout, his chemistry opposite Barbara Hershey as Glennis Yeager is just about perfect, and his interplay with The Band's Levon Helm as Yeager's best friend Jack Ridley is palpable: the two look and sound as if they just walked in off the taxiway into the Happy Bottom Riding Club.

Shepard's performance as Yeager put to film one of humankind's great achievements, juxtaposed with a storyline that was also a metaphor of the end of the West. In Wolfe's account, translated to the big screen by Kaufman, the rugged element typified by Shepard was polished out of the Mercury 7 program. This marked the end of the frontier not just as a historical event (that had already happened at the end of the 19th century) but as a way of living and thinking. And it happened, ironically, just as America was reaching for the greatest frontier of all. Countless classic westerns, including "Shane," "The Wild Bunch," "The Shootist," "The Gunfighter" and "Unforgiven," have all dealt with this theme, to varying degrees. It is embedded in the genre itself. But not many movies have conveyed it as viscerally as "The Right Stuff," which extended the idea of the end of the West into the mid-20th century and showed it playing out through the space program, the media, and the characters' personalities. Shepard's Yeager was the heart of it all. The character didn't change, but the world around him did.

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


First Golfer: Donald Trump's relationship with golf has never been more complicated (Alan Shipnuck, August 1st, 2017, Sports Illustrated)

Playing golf with the 45th President of the United States offers a revealing character study of him. Donald Trump's private clubs are where he feels most comfortable, and holding court with members and guests and employees is an important part of the ritual--in the pro shop, at the driving range and especially on the 1st tee, where Trump traditionally announces the teams for a friendly wager and will typically take the best player available for his partner. Some earnest person in the group will typically keep score, though the terms of the match are usually unstated and Trump's interest in the ebb and flow of the match is modest at best. Yet he somehow knows when his putt is meaningful, and he attempts those putts with a certain amount of fanfare.

SI spoke with numerous people who have teed it up with Trump over the years and all report that he doesn't play a round of golf so much as narrate it, his commentary peppered with hyperbole. "Is this not the most beautiful asphalt you've ever seen in your life?" he'll say of an ordinary cart path. At the turn he'll ask, "Have you ever had a better burger?" Years ago Trump was mid-round when he took a long call from Mark Burnett, the producer of The Apprentice. He put down his phone just long enough to play his shots, at one point saying, "Wait one second here while I blast this 250-yard 3-wood." Trump also lavishes attention on his playing partners. "We didn't talk any business because there wasn't time," says Ernie Els, who last February played golf alongside Trump and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. "He was more focused on making sure me and the Japanese prime minister had a good time. He kept on the two of us, making sure we had a proper introduction, making conversation, just being a good host."

Trump always takes a cart and a caddie, whom he pays well. He insists on driving. Recent footage that showed him navigating his cart across a green at his club in Bedminster, N.J., generated horror in the golf press, but this is old news at Trump's clubs, where he has been known to drive onto tee boxes too. [...]

Trump will sometimes respond to a shot he duffed by simply playing a second ball and carrying on as if the first shot never happened. In the parlance of the game, Trump takes floating mulligans, usually more than one during a round.  [...]

During election season, Bedminster morphed into a kind of permanent campaign rally site. Trump posters and bumper stickers were plastered across the property, and an anti-Hillary shrine was built in a bar in the men's locker room. The club held a Ryder Cup-style competition in which the teams wore either red or black Make America Great Again hats. At most other golf courses in America the TV is tuned to Golf Channel, on mute, but throughout last summer and fall, the television in Trump Bedminster's shop was on Fox News, with the sound blaring. As President, Trump has already made four visits to the club. He has his own cottage adjacent to the pool; it was recently given a secure perimeter by the Secret Service, leading to the inevitable joke that it's the only wall Trump has successfully built. Chatting with some members before a recent round of golf, he explained his frequent appearances: "That White House is a real dump."

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Exclusive: top FBI officials could testify against Trump : The acting head of the bureau told top officials to prepare. (Murray Waas  Aug 3, 2017, Vox)

Shortly after the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller in May, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told several of the highest-ranking managers of the bureau they should consider themselves possible witnesses in any investigation into whether President Donald Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, according to two senior federal law enforcement officials.

McCabe has told colleagues that he too is a potential witness in the probe of whether Trump broke the law by trying to thwart the FBI's Russia investigation and the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Two senior federal law enforcement officials have told me that the new revelations illustrate why they believe the potential case against Trump is stronger than outsiders have thought.

"What you are going to have is the potential for a powerful obstruction case," a senior law enforcement official said. "You are going to have the [former] FBI director testify, and then the acting director, the chief of staff to the FBI director, the FBI's general counsel, and then others, one right after another. This has never been the word of Trump against what [James Comey] has had to say. This is more like the Federal Bureau of Investigation versus Donald Trump."

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Those Calls to Trump? White House Admits They Didn't Happen (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, AUG. 2, 2017, NY Times)

Has President Trump told you about the time the head of the Boy Scouts called to say his was the best speech ever delivered to the more than century-old organization? What about when the president of Mexico picked up the telephone to let him know that his tough enforcement efforts at the border were paying off handsomely?

The anecdotes, both of which Mr. Trump told over the last week, were similar in that they appeared to be efforts to showcase broad support for the president when his White House has been mired in turmoil. But they also had another thing in common, the White House conceded on Wednesday: Neither was true.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, confirmed at her daily briefing what the Boy Scouts and the Mexican government had already asserted publicly, which is that neither phone call that Mr. Trump referred to had occurred.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Rouhani vows to end isolation amid fresh US sanctions (Al Jazeera, 8/03/17)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed to continue his efforts to end the country's isolation as he was sworn in for a second term, a day after US President Donald Trump signed a bill increasing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

"We will never accept isolation," Rouhani told a packed audience of Iranian political and military officials in Tehran on Thursday.

"The nuclear deal is a sign of Iran's goodwill on the international stage," he said, referring to the 2015 agreement to curb its atomic programme in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

The US agreed the deal with world powers including  Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany.

Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate who has faced fierce criticism from conservatives for his efforts to rebuild ties with the West, issued a call for unity.

"I declare once again that with the election concluded, the time for unity and cooperation has begun," he said. 

"I extend my hand to all those who seek the greatness of the country."

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Trump Hits New Low With White Non-College Voters (Danielle Kurtzleben, 8/03/17, NPR)

Because of their stalwart support of Trump, especially as opposed to their college-graduate peers, whites without college degrees (or "blue-collar whites" or "working-class whites") became an obsession during the presidential election. Indeed, whites without a college degree have sharply shifted Republican over the last two presidential election cycles.

But last week, that support slipped. The poll, conducted July 27 through Aug. 1, showed that only 43 percent of non-college white Americans say they approve of Trump, compared to 50 percent who disapprove, yielding a net approval of -7 points.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Humans cause most self-driving car accidents (Kia Kokalitcheva, 8/03/17, Axios)

[H]umans will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future. A closer look at those accident reports reveals stark differences between how self-driving cars interpret the rules of the road and how humans behave behind the wheel. For example, human drivers make sudden lane changes or run red lights -- not the way self-driving cars are taught to behave on the road. These awkward interactions between self-driving and human-driven cars will probably result in more fender-benders as more autonomous vehicles arrive on the roads.

The self-driving cars were at fault in only four incidents, and in autonomous mode in only one of those four. In six out of the 10 incidents in which the cars were in manual mode (with human drivers in control) at the time of the collision, the cars were previously in autonomous mode until drivers took over for safety reasons.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Confusion, anger inside Fox News over lack of answers in network's Seth Rich probe (Oliver Darcy, 8/02/17, CNNMoney)

A person with knowledge of the situation told CNN that employees have been left puzzled as to why no one has been held accountable for one of Fox News' most high-profile mistakes.

"No one knows," the person said. "This is like a huge question mark internally. This is a giant mystery."

When the story was deleted in May, a statement was left in its place that said the network would "continue to investigate" the situation and "provide updates as warranted." More than two months have gone by, but no updates have been made available. After Wheeler's lawsuit was filed on Tuesday, Jay Wallace, Fox News' president of news, said the network's probe was still ongoing. [...]

According to half a dozen people spread throughout Fox News who spoke with CNN, all this has left employees at the network wondering what is going on with the investigation -- and why there has not been an announcement either of disciplinary action or a finding that there was no wrongdoing.

"People need to start getting canned over the [Seth Rich] thing," an employee told CNN. "What a mess." [...]

"It stirs up the same embarrassment as when the story first got peddled," added another on-air personality. "It makes people doubt Fox."

That said, employees recognize the secretive nature that has characterized the probe into the Rich story, and lack of disciplinary action, seems to fit into the normal operating procedures for Fox News.

"I think the lack of transparency is not that surprising," the senior Fox News employee said. "But it really forces the question, how much journalistic integrity does Fox News really have? Because most other news outlets, these situations come up, but they are dealt with appropriately. People are held accountable. People are fired, they are disciplined or whatever. But this is like classic Fox. No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true."

CNN held people accountable for a true story, improperly sourced.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


MORE UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS, FEWER DUIS : A study finds fewer drug and drunk-driving arrests as the immigrant population increases. (TOM JACOBS, 8/02/17, Pacific Standard)

Pandering politicians regularly insist that undocumented immigrants are a danger to society.

"They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime," Donald Trump famously declared in announcing his candidacy for president. A decade earlier, Iowa congressman Steve King said 13 Americans die each day as a result of undocumented drunk drivers.

A just-released study suggests such claims are hacia atrĂ¡s--exactly backwards. Looking at state-level data, it finds three major drug-related problems are apparently mitigated as the population of undocumented immigrants grows.

Specifically, states with an increasing concentration of non-citizen residents lacking proper papers experienced "reductions in drug arrests, drug overdose deaths, and DUI arrests," writes a research team led by sociologist Michael Light of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


McMaster ousts fourth Flynn, Bannon ally from National Security Council in recent weeks (Peter Weber, 8/02/17, The Week)

On Wednesday night, the White House announced that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the head of the National Security Council's intelligence programs, had been sacked, the latest of what The New York Times calls National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster's "slow-motion purge of hard-line officials" at the NSC, especially those appointed by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, and allied with White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and his antiglobalist views. [...]

McMaster had tried to fire Cohen-Watnick earlier this year, but was blocked by Bannon and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner; Kushner, who is also Trump's son-in-law, dropped his objection this week, The New York Times reports. Cohen-Watnick gained some notoriety for briefing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on classified information about incidental surveillance of Trump campaign officials.