October 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Congressman: Holocaust Survivor Is a Nazi Collaborator Who Organized Charlottesville Rallies (Jeremy Stahl, 10/07/17, Slate)

Rep. Paul Gosar is pushing a couple of conspiracy theories popularized by 9/11 Truther Alex Jones about the August white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. Specifically, the U.S. Congressman from Arizona is suggesting that the rallies were pushed as false flag operations by Democratic fundraiser George Soros. Gosar also said that he believed that Soros--who as a 14-year-old Jew in Nazi-occupied Hungary pretended to be Christian in order to not be sent to a concentration camp--was a Nazi collaborator.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


The Man Who Would Be Kempton : The undiminished quality of George Will's stuff. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 10/16/17, Weekly Standard)

George Will is part of the furniture of Washington life and as close to a national celebrity as punditry will allow. He has been famous for so long--he's figured in episodes of Seinfeld and The Simpsons ("The George Will?" says an awed friend of Lisa's) and has been the subject of a sketch on Saturday Night Live and made a character in Doonesbury, back when both were sort of funny--it's sometimes easy to forget he's here. But you don't forget for long.

For instance: His column this May asserting that President Trump suffered from a mental "disability" was one of the most republished columns of his career, propelled by the combined accelerant of Twitter, Facebook, and vast clouds of anti-Trump animus. His columns are routinely among the top five "most read" stories on the Washington Post website the day they appear. When, last year, he offhandedly told a meeting of the Federalist Society that he had dropped his Republican party registration, political outlets from the Post to Politico wrote it up as news. Under contract to Fox News, he engaged in a televised argument with Bill O'Reilly, then the network's premier star, that became, as the kids don't say but should, a YouTube sensation.

It also got him fired. Will called O'Reilly a liar and O'Reilly saw his liar and raised him a hack, and the spectacle of two of his stars squabbling so unnerved Roger Ailes, the overlord of Fox News, that he phoned Will and instructed him to declare a truce. Recall President Muffley's famous reproach in Dr. Strangelove. "Gentleman, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

"I think he didn't think I was a good team player," Will says, "and he was right. I'm not a good team player." Will left Fox and joined the other team, MSNBC, where he can unfurl his anti-Trump colors to cheers instead of dirty looks.

"The usual trope about Fox is that it's been bad for journalism but good for conservatism, and that's exactly wrong," he says. "They've got some really first-class journalists over there. But it's been calamitous for conservatism. When Sean Hannity is the face of conservatism you're in deep trouble."

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Conservatives Need a Remedial Course in Sovereignty (John Fonte, 10/3/2017, American Greatness)

If Henninger sees a certain transcendent quality in Trump's vision of sovereignty, he is right to do so. After all, Donald Trump is not the first American president to portray our sovereignty (our independent self-government) in transcendent terms. On June 30, 1826, a week before he died, John Adams chose the words "Independence Forever" to be read to his fellow citizens celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1826.  

President Trump told the U.N. delegates that the United States would not impose its way of life on others, but to "let it shine as an example for everyone to watch." He advocated "strong sovereign nations" as political entities in which "people take ownership of their future," "control their own destiny," exercise "responsibility," and "allow individuals to flourish."

Trump's muscular language reveals a decidedly republican concept of sovereignty. The emphasis is on citizens taking "ownership" of their own nations. This theme is directly connected to the idea of active and responsible citizenship, an idea that did not originate with Bannon or other Trumpists, but--as Hillsdale College government professor Thomas G. West explains in his brilliant new book, The Political Theory of the American Founding--was an idea central to the natural rights philosophy of our Founding Fathers.

Further, citizens expect leaders of sovereign nations to be accountable. Trump's speech notes that the "two core sovereign duties" of nations are "to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation." These sovereign duties represent the "vision" of the United Nations and are the "foundation for cooperation and success." Clearly, those nations explicitly condemned in the president's U.N. address--North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela--violate one or more of those core sovereign duties.

The American vision of sovereignty is, of course, far more transcendent than the Right's, which would apply it only at home.  It is precisely because we define sovereignty as self-government that we do not recognize states that do not provide it to have any other rights. So where nationalists want us to be isolationist we are perforce cosmopolitan, forcing the End of History on everyone.

THE CAUSE OF MANKIND : The American Revolution changed the world, and it isn't finished yet. (SEAN COLLINS, SEPTEMBER 2017, GET SPIKED)

In Israel's eyes, it is hard to overstate the momentous, world-historical import of the American Revolution. It 'commenced the demolition' of a world of 'kings, aristocracy, serfdom, slavery, and mercantilist colonial empires'. More than simply the overthrow of an external colonial power, the revolution's 'political and institutional innovations grounded a wholly new kind of republic embodying a diametrically opposed social vision built on shared liberty and equal civil rights'. The American Revolution ushered the world towards modernity - becoming, in Israel's words, 'the crucible of democratic modernity' - by 'offering a new kind of polity starkly contrasting with the ancien regime monarchical-aristocratic political and social system dominating Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia' as well as 'the vast, exploitative colonial empires that... overshadowed the globe'.

Which is wrong, as to cause, but right, as to effect.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Poll Shows Trump Dipping to 32 Percent Approval (Benjamin Hart, 10/07/17, New York)

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released on Friday found that President Trump has a 32 percent approval rating, with 67 percent of respondents disapproving of the job he's doing as president. And it reported that only 67 percent of Republicans approve of his performance, down significantly from 80 percent in the same poll in March.

It's no mean feat to drive your numbers that low with the economy this strong.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Hamas arrests senior Islamic State leaders in Gaza -- report (Times of Israel, October 7, 2017)

Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip have arrested four senior Islamic State members, including the group's leader in the coastal enclave, media reports said Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Russia strikes kill 120 IS fighters, over 60 'foreign mercenaries' in Syria (AFP, October 7, 2017)

Some 120 Islamic State fighters and 60 foreign mercenaries were killed in a series of Russian air strikes in Syria over the past 24 hours, the defense ministry in Moscow said on Saturday.

As the UR's critics constantly pointed out, Vlad wanted no part of fighting Salafi when he got lured into Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


The Trump-Russia dossier: why its findings grow more significant by the day (Julian Borger, Saturday 7 October 2017, The Guardian)

It was reported this week that the document's author, former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele, has been interviewed by investigators working for the special counsel on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are, meanwhile, asking to see Steele to make up their own mind about his findings. The ranking Democrat on the House committee, Adam Schiff, said that the dossier was "a very important and useful guide to help us figure out what we need to look into".

The fact that Steele's reports are being taken seriously after lengthy scrutiny by federal and congressional investigators has far-reaching implications.

Originally commissioned by a private firm as opposition research by Donald Trump's Republican and then Democratic opponents, they cite a range of unnamed sources, in Russia and the US, who describe the Kremlin's cultivation over many years of the man who now occupies the Oval Office - and the systematic collusion of Trump's associates with Moscow to help get him there.

The question of collusion is at the heart of the various investigations into links between Trump and Moscow. Even a senior Republican, Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, admitted this week it was an open question.

The Steele Report, Revisited (John Sipher, Sep. 11th, 2017, Slate)

One clue as to the credibility of the sources in these reports is that Steele shared them with the FBI. The fact that the FBI reportedly sought to work with him and to pay him to develop additional information on the sources suggest that at least some of them were worth taking seriously. At the very least, the FBI will be able to validate the credibility of the sources, and therefore better judge the information. As one recently retired senior intelligence officer with deep experience in espionage investigations quipped, "I assign more credence to the Steele report knowing that the FBI paid him for his research. From my experience, there is nobody more miserly than the FBI. If they were willing to pay Mr. Steele, they must have seen something of real value."

As outsiders without the investigative tools available to the FBI, we can only look at the information and determine if it makes sense given subsequent events. Steele did not have the benefit of knowing Trump would win the election or how events might play out. In this regard, does any of the information we have learned since June 2016 assign greater or less credibility to the information? Were the people mentioned in the report real? Were their affiliations correct? Did any of the activities reported happen as predicted?

The most obvious occurrence that could not have been known to Orbis in June 2016, but shines bright in retrospect is the fact that Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 election to help Donald Trump, as the U.S. intelligence community itself later concluded. Well before any public knowledge of these events, the Orbis report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to reportedly discuss the receipt of stolen documents. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate.

The U.S. government only published its conclusions in January 2017, with an assessment of some elements in October 2016. It was also apparently news to investigators when the New York Times in July published Donald Trump Jr.'s emails arranging for the receipt of information held by the Russians about Hillary Clinton in a meeting that included Manafort. How could Steele and Orbis know in June 2016 that the Russians were working actively to elect Donald Trump and damage Hillary Clinton unless at least some of its information was correct? How could Steele and Orbis have known about the Russian overtures to the Trump Team involving derogatory information on Clinton?

We have also subsequently learned of Trump's long-standing interest in, and experience with Russia and Russians. A February New York Times article reported that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Trump's campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian officials in the year before the election. The Times article was also corroborated by CNN and Reuters independent reports. And even Russian officials have acknowledged some of these and other repeated contacts. Although Trump has denied the connections, numerous credible reports suggest that both he and Manafort have long-standing relationships with Russians, and pro-Putin groups. Last month, CNN reported on "intercepted communications that US intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort ... to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton's election prospects" including "conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians."

We learned that when Carter Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, he met with close Putin ally and chairman of the Russian state oil company, Igor Sechin. A later Steele report also claimed that he met with parliamentary secretary Igor Divyekin while in Moscow. Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff reported in September 2016 that U.S. intelligence sources confirmed that Page met with both Sechin and Divyekin during his July trip to Russia. What's more, the Justice Department obtained a wiretap in summer 2016 on Page after satisfying for a court that there was sufficient evidence to show Page was operating as a Russian agent.

While the Orbis team had no way to know it, subsequent reports citing U.S. officials claimed that Washington-based diplomat Mikhail Kalugin was an undercover intelligence officer and was pulled out of the Embassy and sent home in summer 2016.

The Orbis documents refer repeatedly to Manafort's "off-the-books" payments from ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Russian party, and Russian concerns that it may be a vulnerability that could jeopardize the effort. According to the Orbis report, the Russians were concerned about "further scandals involving Manafort's commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine." And, indeed, there have been further scandals since the Orbis reports were written. Those include Manafort being compelled in June to register retroactively as a foreign agent of a pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine, and special counsel Robert Mueller's and the New York attorney general's office reported investigation of Manafort for possible money laundering and tax evasion linked to Ukrainian ventures.

We do not have any reporting that implicates Michael Cohen in meetings with Russians as outlined in the dossier. However, recent revelations indicate his long-standing relationships with key Russian and Ukrainian interlocutors, and highlight his apparent role in a previously hidden effort to build a Trump tower in Moscow. During the campaign, those efforts included email exchanges with Trump associate Felix Sater explicitly referring to getting Putin's circle involved and helping Trump get elected.

Further, the Trump administration's effort lift sanctions on Russia immediately following the inauguration seems to mirror Orbis reporting related to Cohen's alleged promises to Russia, as reported in the Orbis documents. A June Yahoo News article by Isikoff described the administration's efforts to engage the State Department about lifting sanctions "almost as soon as they took office." Their efforts were halted by State Department officials and members of Congress. Following the inauguration, Cohen was allegedly involved, again with Felix Sater, in back-channel negotiations seeking a means to lift sanctions via a semi-developed Russian-Ukrainian plan--which also included the hand delivery of derogatory information on Ukrainian leaders. This also would fit with Orbis reporting related to Cohen.

The quid pro quo as alleged in the dossier was for the Trump team to "sideline" the Ukrainian issue in the campaign. We learned subsequently that the Trump platform committee changed only a single plank in the 60-page Republican platform prior to the Republican convention. Of the hundreds of Republican positions and proposals, they altered only the single sentence that called for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and "providing lethal defensive weapons" to the Ukrainian military. The Trump team reportedly changed the wording to the more benign, "appropriate assistance."

Consider, in addition, the Orbis report saying that Russia was utilizing hackers to influence voters and referring to payments to "hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign." A January Stanford study found that "fabricated stories favoring Donald Trump were shared a total of 30 million times, nearly quadruple the number of pro-Hillary Clinton shares leading up to the election." Also, in November, researchers at Oxford University published a report based on analysis of 19.4 million Twitter posts from early November prior to the election. The report found that an "automated army of pro-Trump chatbots overwhelmed Clinton bots five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election." In March 2017, former FBI agent Clint Watts told Congress about websites involved in the Russian disinformation campaign "some of which mysteriously operate from Eastern Europe and are curiously led by pro-Russian editors of unknown financing."

The Orbis report also refers specifically to the aim of the Russian influence campaign "to swing supporters of Bernie Sanders away from Hillary Clinton and across to Trump," based on information given to Steele in early August 2016. It was not until March 2017, however, that former director of the National Security Agency, retired Gen. Keith Alexander, in Senate testimony said of the Russian influence campaign, "what they were trying to do is to drive a wedge within the Democratic Party between the Clinton group and the Sanders group." A March news report also detailed that Sanders supporter's social media sites were infiltrated by fake news, originating from "dubious websites and posters linked back to Eastern Europe," that tried to shift them against Clinton during the general election.

John Mattes, a former Senate investigator who helped run the online campaign for Sanders, said he was struck by Steele's report. Mattes said, Steele "was writing in real time about things I was seeing happening in August, but I couldn't articulate until September." It is important to emphasize here that Steele's source for the change in plan was "an ethnic Russian associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump [who] discussed the reaction inside his camp."

A slew of other revelations has directly tied many of the key players in the Trump campaign--most notably Manafort, Page, Cohen, and Michael Flynn--who are specifically mentioned in the Orbis reports to Russian officials also mentioned in the reports. To take one example, the first report says that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was responsible for Russia's compromising materials on Hillary Clinton, and now we have reports that Michael Cohen had contacted Peskov directly in January 2016 seeking help with a Trump business deal in Moscow. This was after Cohen received the email from Trump business associate Felix Sater saying "Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this."

To take another example, the third Orbis report says that Manafort was managing the connection with the Kremlin, and we now know that he was present at the June 9, 2016 meeting with Trump, Jr., Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Rinat Akhmetshin, who has reportedly boasted of his ties to and experience in Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence. According to an Aug. 21 New York Times story, "Akhmetshin told journalists that he was a longtime acquaintance of Paul J. Manafort."

The Orbis reports chronicle, and subsequent events demonstrate, that the Russian effort evolved over time, adapting to changing circumstances. When their attack seemed to be having an effect, they doubled down, and when it looked like negative media attention was benefiting Clinton, they changed tactics. The Orbis reports detail internal Kremlin frictions between the participants as the summer wore on. If the dossier is to be believed, the Russian effort may well have started as an anti-Clinton operation, and only became combined with the separate effort to cultivate the Trump team when it appeared Trump might win the nomination. The Russian effort was aggressive over the summer months, but seemed to back off and go into cover-up mode following the Access Hollywood revelations and the Obama administration's acknowledgement of Russian interference in the fall. Perhaps they realized they might have gone too far and were possibly benefitting Clinton.

However, when Trump won, they changed again and engaged with Ambassador Kislyak in Washington to get in touch with others in the Trump transition team. As this process unfolded, control of operation on the Russian side passed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the FSB, and later to the presidential administration.