September 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Exclusive: Rice told House investigators why she unmasked senior Trump officials (Manu Raju, September 13, 2017, CNN)

The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it's customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama's national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.

Rice's previously undisclosed revelation in a classified setting shines new light on a practice that had come under sharp criticism from the committee chairman, California Rep. Devin Nunes, and President Donald Trump, who previously accused Rice of committing a crime.

But her explanation appears to have satisfied some influential Republicans on the committee, undercutting both Nunes and Trump and raising new questions about whether any Trump associates tried to arrange back-channel discussions with the Russians.

The hilarious part of this attack has always been that the accusation by the Trumpbots--that the Obama Administration acquired damaging information about Donald and company by requesting the identity of those dealing with foreign agents--indicts the unmasked.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


The Marine Corps wants to 3D print cheaper drones : A new prototype scout drone can be printed for less than the cost of the latest iPhone (Kelsey D. Atherton, 9/13/17, Popular Science)

In three minutes, the Scout drone is assembled. One minute more, and it's airborne, tossed by a Marine. The flight is short, maybe 20 minutes at the most, but the information gained is valuable, a real-time video of just who or what, exactly, is behind that building a mile down the road. With the area surveilled, the aptly-named Scout drone flies back, and suffers a rough landing, snapping a wing. No matter. The squad can print another back at company HQ after the mission, and have it ready to go in a couple hours. [...]

[Corporal Rhet] McNeal was one of the people who submitted a proposal to last year's Marine Corps Logistics Innovation Challenge, a program designed to crowdsource ideas about 3D printing and wearable technologies. The "Make Your Corps" challenge asked entrants "With the right tools and instruction, what might a Marine make? Would these solutions improve warfighting capability, either while in garrison or forward deployed?"

For McNeal, the idea was a drone that did most of what the Raven did, but cost a fraction of the cost, and smaller form-factor that fit into flexible packs for transport. To find that idea, McNeal turned to Thingiverse, an online 3D printing commons. There, he found the Nomad design, a simple fixed-wing drone design by Alejandro Garcia. Garcia's Nomad, published under a Creative Commons license, is designed to carry a GoPro camera, a motor, and it's built from modular parts. That modular design means it's easy to reprint damaged components, and simple to collapse and reassemble when needed.

With a modified version of Garcia's design, McNeal was selected as one of the about 20 winners of the logistics challenge. In February, the Marine Corps partnered with Autodesk's Pier 9 residency program, and by the time the residency ended in June, McNeal had a new, 3D printed drone prototype, nicknamed "Scout. The end of the residency meant a prototype in hand and design files ready to send to his fellow Marines for feedback, testing, and refinement.

"The entire system is $615," says McNeal. "If a wing section breaks now instead of being $8000 it's like $8. That works out a lot better for us."

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Trump's closed-door rants on Comey and Mueller (Mike Allen, 8/13/17, Axios)

Behind the scenes in the West Wing, President Trump continues to rant and brood about former FBI Director Jim Comey and the Russia investigation that got him fired.

Trump tells aides and visitors that the probe now being run by special counsel Bob Mueller is a witch hunt, and that Comey was a leaker.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Trump's Moscow Tower and Back-Channel Ukraine Dossier: Both Began During the Election Evidence Suggests (Ryan Goodman, September 13, 2017, Just Security)

The Ukrainian proposal has been called a "peace plan" by some, but that is a misnomer. The proposal involved unwinding Russian sanctions on favorable terms to Moscow, and the use of derogatory information against the current Ukrainian leadership. The idea was hatched by Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko, who told the Times that he received encouragement for his plans from Putin's top aides. Discussing the terms of the proposal, Ukraine's Ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly said, "Such ideas can be pitched or pushed through only by those openly or covertly representing Russian interests." Cohen reportedly hand delivered the Ukraine dossier to then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in the White House in the week before Flynn's resignation. [...]

The discussions between Artemenko, Sater, and Cohen began long before January 2017, according to Artemenko. In an interview with a Ukrainian news outlet, Artemenko said that he began discussions with Cohen and Sater "at the time of the primaries, when no one believed that Trump would even be nominated." Talking Point Memo reported on this interview in February 2017 (see also Josh Marshall's assessment that the Ukrainian news outlet is a legitimate publication).

It would surely be significant for the special counsel and congressional investigations if Cohen's discussions involving the Ukraine plan began during the presidential election season. It is even more significant if, indeed, the plan came with Russian backing, as Artemenko and Ambassador Chaly both suggest. Even Cohen, in explaining the reason he met with Artemenko in January said Artemenko told him the proposal "was acknowledged by Russian authorities would create world peace."

It would also be significant that both deals involved Cohen and Slater in this time period. If the discussions on the Ukraine plan occurred during "the primaries, when no one believed that Trump would even be nominated," that would be much closer in time to the emails between Cohen and Sater on Trump Tower in Moscow. Those emails include Sater telling Cohen, "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. ... Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."

If the Ukraine discussions began in early 2016, other parts of the timeline also become significant. Those include bringing Paul Manafort onto the campaign in March 2016, with his ties to Ukraine including his work on the behalf of  the same pro-Kremlin political groups to which Artemenko belongs. The Trump team then changed the Republican party platform on Ukraine in July 2016, which they later denied. On July 30, Trump told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that he was open to recognizing Russia's control of Crimea.

Finally, it is worth considering why exactly the deal involving Trump Tower in Moscow discontinued.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


U.S. Household Incomes Rose to Record in 2016 as Poverty Fell (Sho Chandra and Jordan Yadoo, 9/12/17, Bloomberg)

Highlights of Income and Poverty (2016)

Median, inflation-adjusted household income increased 3.2% to $59,039 last year, from $57,230 in 2015
Median incomes for black and Hispanic households rose at more than double the rate of white households; female householders outpaced males
Poverty rate declined to 12.7% from 13.5%; represented 40.6 million Americans

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Trump's Voter Fraud Commission Clashes Over New Hampshire Count (DARTUNORRO CLARK, 9/12/17, NBC)

At the commission's second public meeting, Kris Kobach, the panel's vice chairman and Kansas' secretary of state, defended a claim he made last week that it was "highly likely" that votes cast by nonresidents of the state influenced the result, a charge that New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a member of the commission, dismissed.

...than putative conservatives cheering on Beltway bureaucrats telling our secretaries of state that he knows more than they do.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


ISIS's End-of-the-World Problem : The terrorist organization's apocalyptic prophecies aren't coming true. (Joshua Keating, 9/13/17, Slate)

In a gruesome video released November 2014, showing the beheading of American aid worker Peter Kassig along with 16 Syrian soldiers, the masked militant known as "Jihadi John" says to the camera, "Here we are, burning the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive."

That invocation of Dabiq was significant: In ISIS's apocalyptic propaganda, the otherwise unremarkable Syrian town of Dabiq was to be the site of a showdown with "Rome," the Christian invaders of the Middle East, which was to immediately precede the conquest of Constantinople, and then the Day of Judgment. ISIS named its English-language magazine after the city, which it captured in the summer of 2014, and heavily fortified the town, despite it having little strategic value. But in October 2016, ISIS lost Dabiq after a short battle with Turkish-backed rebels. The Day of Judgment hasn't happened yet.

Just because the war was unlosable doesn't mean the UR deserves no credit for winning it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Republican attempt to deflect Trump-Russia probes could backfire: sources (Mark Hosenball, 9/12/17, Reuters) 

Republican lawmaker Devin Nunes' investigation into whether Obama administration officials used classified intelligence reports to discredit Donald Trump's 2016 campaign team could backfire on the congressman - and the president, sources familiar with the reports said.

The reports contain no evidence that any aides to former Democratic President Barack Obama acted improperly, the sources said, but they do indicate some Trump associates may have violated an obscure 1799 law, the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with a foreign government that has a dispute with the United States.

All the Trumpies are just living down to their sordid reputations; Mr. Nunes ruined what had been a good one.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Robert Mueller Is 'Going For The Kill' In Trump Investigation: Report (Jason Le Miere, 9/13/17, National Memo)

Republicans with close links to the White House increasingly believe that special counsel Robert Mueller is "going for the kill" in his investigation into links between President Donald Trump and Russia, according to a report from Axios Tuesday.

Members of the GOP are said to have come to that stark conclusion based on Mueller's hiring of lawyers experienced in dealing with money laundering crimes and the Mafia, as well as the intensity of his pursuit of both witnesses and evidence. [...]

Mueller's probe appears to have stepped up in recent weeks. It was reported last month that he had impaneled a federal grand jury in Washington and has issued subpoenas related to a meeting Donald Trump Jr. held with a Russian-government-linked lawyer in June 2016. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, as well as his then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, were also at the meeting. Last week, Trump Jr. was interviewed behind closed doors by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Such is the scale of Mueller's investigation that legal fees for those coming under the probe's focus are mounting sharply, to the extent that outside legal defense funds could soon be necessary, Axios reports. More Trump aides are said to have lawyered up in response to a draft letter from Trump explaining his reasons for firing Comey, which was never sent and has not been published but has been obtained by Mueller. The letter was handed out to several White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, according to The New York Times.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


RT, Sputnik and Russia's New Theory of War (JIM RUTENBERGSEPT. 13, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin. Steltner, who has served for more than a dozen years as the spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor, resembles a detective out of classic crime fiction: crisp suit, wavy gray hair and a gallows humor that comes with having seen it all. There was the 2009 case of the therapist who mistakenly killed two patients in an Ecstasy-infused session gone wrong. The Great Poker Heist of 2010, in which masked men stormed a celebrity-studded poker tournament with machetes and made off with a quarter-million dollars. The 2012 episode involving the Canadian porn star who killed and ate his boyfriend and then sent the leftovers home in the mail. Steltner embraced the oddball aspect of his job; he kept a picture of Elvis Presley on the wall of his office.

But even Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. "They are demonstrating -- 'Save our children,' 'No attacks from immigrants on our children' and some things like that," Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office's fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor's supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin's tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three "Southern-looking men" -- by which she meant Arab migrants -- had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

Continue reading the main story
By then, however, the girl's initial story was taking on a life of its own within the Russian-German community through word of mouth and Facebook -- enough so that the police felt compelled to put out a statement debunking it. Then, over the weekend, Channel One, a Russian state-controlled news station with a large following among Russian-Germans, who watch it on YouTube and its website, ran a report presenting Lisa's story as an example of the unchecked dangers Middle Eastern refugees posed to German citizens. Angela Merkel, it strongly implied, was refusing to address these threats, even as she opened German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. "According to Lisa's parents," the Channel One reporter said, "the police simply refuse to look for criminals."

The following day in Berlin, Germany's far-right National Democratic Party held a protest at a plaza in Marzahn, a heavily Russian neighborhood. The featured speaker was an adult cousin of Lisa's, who repeated the original allegations while standing in front of signs reading "Stop Foreign Infiltration!" and "Secure Borders!" The crowd was tiny, not much more than a dozen people. But it was big enough to attract the attention of RT, Russia's state-financed international cable network, which presents local-language newscasts in numerous countries, including Germany and the United States. A crew from the network's video service, Ruptly, arrived with a camera. The footage was on YouTube that afternoon.

That same day, Sputnik, a brash Russian-government-run news and commentary site that models itself on BuzzFeed, ran a story raising allegations of a police cover-up. Lisa's case was not isolated, Sputnik argued; other refugee rapists, it warned, might be running free. By the start of the following week, protests were breaking out in neighborhoods with large Russian-German populations, which is why the local police were calling Steltner. In multiple interviews, including with RT and Sputnik, Steltner reiterated that the girl had recanted the original story about the kidnapping and the gang rape. In one interview with the German media, he said that in the course of the investigation, authorities had found evidence that the girl had sex with a 23-year-old man months earlier, which would later lead to a sexual-abuse conviction for the man, whose sentence was suspended. But the original, unrelated and debunked story continued circulating, drawing the interest of the German mainstream media, which pointed out inconsistencies in the Russian reports. None of that stopped the protests, which culminated in a demonstration the following Saturday, Jan. 23, by 700 people outside the Chancellery, Merkel's office. Ruptly covered that, too.

An official in the Merkel government told me that the administration was completely perplexed, at first. Then, a few days later, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a news conference in Moscow. Bringing up Lisa's story, he cast doubt on the official version of events. There was no way, he argued, that Lisa left home voluntarily. Germany, he suggested, was "covering up reality in a politically correct manner for the sake of domestic politics." Two days later, RT ran a segment reporting that despite all the official denials, the case was "not so simple." The Russian Embassy called Steltner and asked to meet, he told me. The German foreign ministry informed him that this was now a diplomatic issue.

The whole affair suddenly appeared a lot less mystifying. A realization took hold in the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the Chancellery: Germany had been hit.

One of the reasons it's impossible to have a meaningful discussion with the Trumpbots and Bernie bros is because they, quite literally, operate off of their own "facts," which bear no likeness to reality.