August 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Hezbollah chief says ready to battle IS on Lebanon-Syria border (AFP August 5, 2017)

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Friday he was ready to launch an offensive against the Islamic State terror group on the Lebanon-Syria border, days after forcing Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch from the area.

In a televised speech broadcast on the Hezbollah terror group's Al-Manar television channel, Nasrallah also demanded news within days about the fate of nine Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by IS in 2014.

Nasrallah said "eliminating" IS from the mountainous area known as Jurud along the Lebanon-Syria border "is in the interests of both Lebanon and Syria."

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


This Trump real estate deal looks awfully like criminal tax fraud : Two tax lawyers break down the president's sale of two condos to his son. (David Herzig and Bridget Crawford August 4, 2017, Washington Post)

According to a recent story by ProPublica and the Real Deal, in April 2016 a limited liability company managed by Trump sold two condominium apartments to a limited liability company managed by Eric Trump. They were on the 13th and 14th floors of a 14-story, full-service, doorman building at 100 Central Park South in Manhattan. This is a prime Midtown neighborhood, yet the sale price for each condo was just $350,000. Although the condition and square footage of apartments 13G and 14G are not readily known, a popular real estate website shows that G-line apartments on both the fifth and eighth floors are one-bedroom, one-bath units of just over 500 square feet. Two years before the Trump transaction, apartment 5G sold for $690,000. Maybe the two units in question were in terrible shape, but two months before the sale to Eric Trump's LLC, they were advertised for $790,000 (on the 13th floor) and $800,000 (on the 14th floor), according to ProPublica.

If a sale between a parent and child is for fair market value, it does not trigger a gift tax. But if a parent sells two expensive condominiums to his son at a highly discounted price, for example, then the parent makes a taxable gift in part. In that case, the seller must pay a gift tax of up to 40 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Obama and Trump: Polar Opposites (Nancy LeTourneau, August 4, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Today is Barack Obama's 56th birthday, and so there's a lot of chatter about him. As a result, I just read a story about his relationship with the secret service (and other staffers) that I hadn't heard before. It comes from Michael Lewis, who spent 6 months hanging around Obama to write a profile in Vanity Fair back in 2012. You can watch him tell the story at about 26:30.

Here's a transcript provided by Jason Cham: [...]

"The Secret Service that protect him love him. He wears this watch that's this goofy looking watch. It looks like a scuba diving watch. Its got all the knobs and you look over it and you expect to see an odometer on it. It is so out of character because everything about him is so spare and minimalist. At some point I said, 'You know, your watch just doesn't fit you. It is an odd thing that you have that watch. That watch is a geeky, dorky watch. And you're kind of cool and that's kind of odd.' And he said, 'I'll tell you about this watch. When I was running the campaign-the first campaign-Michelle and I just started inviting the Secret Service in. They weren't getting fed when they were watching me. So we would have them in.' And they said-I don't know if I can say this-previous Presidents didn't treat them that way. And the Secret Service pooled their money to give him this watch. And he wore it because of that.

"He has that kind of loyalty. Not just from the people who protect him but the people who work for him feel that way too. He creates-and I watched him do this for me-a safe place for people to operate in. They don't feel like they are going to be backstabbed or they are going to be subject to the whims of some kind of whimsical leader. They feel safe with him.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


How a poet brought the Statue of Liberty to life : Esther Schon, biographer of Emma Lazarus, talks about what she means today. (Randy Dotinga, AUGUST 4, 2017, CS Monitor)

While Lazarus wrote her poem "The New Colossus" before the statue came to the US in the late 19th century, it took years for the words to be inscribed and decades to become famous. These gaps allow modern-day critics like White House policy adviser Stephen Miller to dismiss the poet's words as an irrelevant add-on, as he did during a now-famous press conference.

The critics, says Schon in an interview with the Monitor, are wrong.

Q: How did Emma Lazarus come to transform the meaning of the Statue of Liberty?

At first, the statue was ostensibly a tribute to Franco-American friendship. Édouard de Laboulaye [a French political thinker known as the  "Father of the Statue of Liberty"] wanted to honor the American emancipation of the slaves and show that it came out of the French Enlightenment.

The Americans revealed what they thought of the statue by not donating to a fund to pay for a pedestal. As part of an effort to raise money, Emma Lazarus wrote the poem to be auctioned off at an art exhibition, and it was published the following month in early 1884 by a small magazine.

She reinvisioned the statue as a Mother of Exiles. For her, the statue was an emblem of the nation's mission to welcome and absorb immigrants and to flourish with their arrival.

Q: What happened to the poem after she wrote it?

It wasn't well known even after the inscription was installed in the statue in 1903, 15 years after she died at the age of 38. But in the 1930s, pro-immigrationists realized the poem was an eloquent statement of their cause. Since then, the poem and the statue have been inextricably linked.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Iran hawks, Bannon loyalists booted in White House purge (Laura Rozen, August 3, 2017, Al Monitor)

A civil war for the soul of the Donald Trump administration has emerged into the open, pitting a motley array of anti-globalists and Iran hawks against more moderate national security professionals.

Among them are NSC senior director for intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was removed Aug. 2; NSC senior director for the Middle East Derek Harvey, who was asked to resign last week; and NSC director for strategic planning Rich Higgins, reportedly for writing and circulating a bizarre memo alleging a conspiracy of globalists, leftists and Islamists trying to undermine Trump, according to The Atlantic.

The arrival on Monday of new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who previously served as Trump's secretary of homeland security, appears to have bolstered the authority of national security adviser H.R. McMaster to make such firing decisions, which he has long sought. Combined, the personnel moves aim to bring more coherence and discipline to a sometimes chaotic, unpredictable foreign policy-making process that has often seemed undermined by competing power centers inside the administration as well as by Trump's own personality.

Though McMaster officially removed Bannon from the NSC principals committee after taking over from Mike Flynn in February, recent reports and sources indicate that Bannon has continued to operate a kind of parallel power center that has drawn in fringe thinkers who favor regime change in Tehran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Donald Trump, meet the Founding Fathers :  On one level, it seems individuals are thwarting the president's legislative agenda. But seen more broadly, it's America's system of governance that the president is running up against. (Francine Kiefer, AUGUST 4, 2017, CS Monitor)

[I]n the broadest sense, the resistance he's encountering is due to America's system of governance. The story of his early presidency might easily be called "Donald Trump meets the Founding Fathers," as a beginner politician runs up against the checks and balances that are designed to prevent tyranny and forge consensus.

Trump and his team are "surprised at the intransigence and resistance they're meeting, when in fact, every other president has met them," says Don Ritchie, former Senate historian. This outsider White House "didn't anticipate these things because they hadn't experienced these things," as former governors or legislators, like other presidents and senior White House officials.

During the honeymoon phase of a new administration, presidents can make significant headway. Barack Obama and George W. Bush scored some major legislative wins, when their parties, too, controlled both the House and Senate.

By the first August recess, a Democratic Congress had passed President Obama's big economic stimulus package, confirmed a Supreme Court justice, and was deep into the policy weeds of health care, which would become law early the next year. In his first year, President Bush got a $1.35 trillion tax cut and Congress passed landmark education reform with bipartisan support. [...]

The common notion is that it's presidents versus the opposition party in Congress, "but it's really presidents versus Congress as an institution," says Mr. Ritchie, the former Senate historian, recalling President Kennedy's observation that he didn't realize how powerful Congress was until he was no longer just one of its 535 members.

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


U.S. employers add 209,000 jobs in July; unemployment rate ticks down to 4.3%  (Samantha Masunaga, 8/04/17, LA Times)

With jobs numbers coming in slightly above expectations and wage growth and the unemployment rate charting nearly lateral moves, Joseph Seydl, capital markets economist with J.P. Morgan Private Bank, described the report as "business as usual."

"There's a demand for labor, but it's not overheating on the wage front," he said.

If he can only preserve complete stasis for a couple more years his presidency will have been a success at the expense of only the failure of his agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


The Email That Gives Away The Pro-Trump Media's Seth Rich Game (Matt Gertz, August 4, 2017, Media Matters)

Wheeler's lawsuit reveals that Butowsky's concern with the Rich investigation had little to do with getting elusive justice for the murdered DNC staffer. It was a political operation aimed at protecting the president from the Russia scandal -- one that Fox was eager to support.

Butowsky made that clear in an email he sent to a list of Fox staff hours before the's story's publication. "One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails," he wrote, "and there was no collusion like trump with the Russians." The pro-Trump press had been searching for a way to defuse the collusion bomb, and Butowsky hoped he had found it.

In the days that followed, pro-Trump Fox hosts Steve Doocy, who had received Butowsky's email, and Sean Hannity, the most prominent champion of Rich conspiracy theories, promoted the story using Butowsky's language (emphasis added):

May 16: Doocy reports, "For a long time on the internet and elsewhere, he has been rumored to have been the one who gave WikiLeaks the DNC emails. So, if that is true, and we don't know yet, it looks like Russia didn't give it to WikiLeaks. It was Seth Rich, perhaps."

May 16: Hannity claims that "explosive developments" in the Rich story "could completely shatter the narrative that in fact WikiLeaks was working with the Russians, or there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians."

May 18: Hannity claims: "If Rich, in fact, was WikiLeaks' source for DNC email leaks, it would confirm Russia was not involved. ... Wouldn't that blow the Russian collusion narrative that the media has been pushing out of the water?"

May 19: Hannity claims: "What if it was somebody that was so disgruntled in the DNC at how they cheated Bernie and how the fix was in, if that turned out to be true that somebody did that, wouldn't that completely wipe out the entire Russia lie we've heard for months and months?"

The lawsuit also adds new details that suggest that the story, published amid a slew of negative stories about the president and Russia, was deliberately timed to blunt the Russia debacle...

Someone has to lead the sheep.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Trump Blames Congress for Deteriorating Relationship with Russia (Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/04/17)

US President Donald Trump on Thursday lashed out at Congress for the country's deteriorating relationship with Russia, which he characterized in a tweet as "at an all-time and very dangerous low."

He added, "you can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us HCare!" referencing the failure of the Senate to pass legislation overhauling the Affordable Care Act.