November 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Trump's chief economist says we need more immigrant workers, not less (Lydia DePillis, 11/02/17,   @CNNMoney)

Trump's top economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, has long maintained that the U.S. should embrace more immigrant workers, not fewer.

While a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in 2013, Hassett wrote that the U.S. could add half a percentage point to economic growth by doubling the number of immigrants it lets into the country, especially if they come on employer-sponsored visas.

"Perhaps surprisingly for a country that has long thought of itself as a nation of immigrants, the U.S. falls far behind almost all the other countries in the number of immigrants it admitted in 2010 relative to its population size," Hassett wrote.
Hassett, who is now the chair of Trump's Council of Economic Advisers, reiterated that position just last week in testimony before the Joint Economic Committee.

"As an economist, if you want more output, you need more input, and labor is one of those inputs," Hassett responded. "For any economy, immigration is an important source of labor."

There is no economic case to be made for Donald's side.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Trump nominee Sam Clovis withdraws after Russia probe link (dEUTSCHE-wELLE, 11/02/17)

US President Donald Trump's nominee for the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) chief scientist withdrew from consideration for the post on Thursday after media reports linked him to an ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Alimony tax break killed in GOP tax plan (Jackie Wattles, November 2, 2017, CNN)

One tax break on the chopping block in the House Republicans' tax reform bill -- alimony payments.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


How Robots Will Help the U.S. Navy Avoid Future Collisions (PATRICK TUCKER, 11/02/17, Defense One)

Japanese, Chinese, and Norwegian shipbuilders have announced plans to build self-driving robotic vessels. Google, working with Rolls Royce, is applying its Google Cloud Machine Learning Engine to develop autonomous ship driving techniques that any number of companies might adopt. In many ways, a robot helmsman has it easier than a self-driving car, so long as everybody is broadcasting enough data to be detectable to everyone else.

One key takeaway from the fatal collisions is that the Navy's problems are very human in nature. Talking about the new report and its conclusions on Thursday, Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, said the Navy has too few people with too little training driving too few ships. There was, he said, too much pressure on the crewmen of ships in the Pacific to be everywhere at once, and that led to sailors steering ships and operating sensors and navigational equipment without proper training.

"These were fundamental mistakes of ship driving," he said, mistakes compounded by issues related to operational pressures.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Sessions under renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill (Manu Raju, Evan Perez and Marshall Cohen, 11/02/17, CNN)

There is interest from Democrats on both the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees for Sessions to formally clarify his remarks made before both committees given what's now known about his interactions with Papadopoulos, a Senate aide told CNN. The source said the request for clarification could take several forms, such as having Sessions testify again or submitting a clarification in writing, but that has not yet been determined.

On Wednesday, lawmakers from both parties said Sessions needs to explain the discrepancies. And Democrats were sharply critical.

"Jeff Sessions concealed his meetings with the Russians and he had an obligation to be more forthcoming about meetings that involved Papadopoulos," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Senate judiciary committee.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, said that despite Sessions' testimony before the panel earlier this year, "it turns out he was at this meeting with George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos proposed meeting with Putin and Trump. He didn't disclose that to the committee."

Heinrich added it calls into question "whether he is being honest and forthright with the committee and what does that mean for the highest law enforcement officer in the country?"

Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 in Republican leadership who serves on the intelligence and judiciary panels, said he was unaware of Sessions' attendance at that meeting until now.
He added: "I certainly think it's a legitimate area of inquiry" for lawmakers to pursue.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Mitch McConnell finally has something to brag about: Judicial appointments (Paul Kane November 2, 2017, Washington Post)

No Republican has voted against any of Trump's judicial nominees so far, and in some cases a handful or so of Democrats are willing to cross the aisle. On Tuesday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) joined two other Democrats and all 52 Republicans to confirm Amy Corey Barrett to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, after Republicans pounced on Democratic questioning about the University of Notre Dame law professor's Catholic faith.

And although McConnell hasn't done so yet, he has broad support in his caucus to abolish a traditional courtesy that allowed senators, even those in the minority, to block judicial appointments from their home states.

This man takes credit for Neil Gorsuch's appointment: Mitch McConnell

He's moving quickly. After this week, the Senate will have confirmed eight appellate-level judges, with enough time to move a couple more before the end of the year.

In contrast, in 2009, Obama's first year in office, he saw just three Circuit Court judges confirmed.

The one reason Evangelicals could vote for him is paying off thanks to Mitch. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM



As methods of gaining international recognition go, putting your sheep population to use is one of the more unusual. But in a country where there are seven sheep for every five humans, it might not be such a bad idea.

With a population of 70,000 sheep and just 50,000 people, the remote Faroe Islands have previously struggled to get international recognition on Google Maps. Wounded that their roadways haven't been documented for the rest of the world's perusal, one local resident (alongside the tourist board) decided it would be a good idea to employ the islands' woolly creatures in order to help visitors explore the landscape. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Special Report: Drowning in grain - How Big Ag sowed seeds of a profit-slashing glut (Rod Nickel, 9/27/17, Reuters) 

On Canada's fertile Prairies, dominated by the yellows and golds of canola and wheat, summers are too short to grow corn on a major scale.

Paul Gregoire, an Agronomic Research Specialist with Monsanto, examines corn on Monsanto's research farm near Carman, Manitoba, Canada August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Prong
But Monsanto Co (MON.N) is working to develop what it hopes will be North America's fastest-maturing corn, allowing farmers to grow more in Western Canada and other inhospitable climates, such as Ukraine.

The seed and chemical giant projects that western Canadian corn plantings could multiply 20 times to 10 million acres by 2025 - adding some 1.1 billion bushels, or nearly 3 percent to current global production.

The question, amid historically high supplies and low grain prices, is whether the world really needs more corn.

A global grains glut is now in its fourth year, with supplies bloated by favorable weather, increasingly high-tech farm practices and tougher plant breeds.

The bin-busting harvests of cheap corn, wheat and soybeans are undermining the business models of the world's largest agriculture firms and the farmers who use their products and services. Some analysts say the firms have effectively innovated their way into a stubbornly oversupplied market.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


U.S. Prosecutors Consider Charging Russian Officials in DNC Hacking Case (Aruna Viswanatha and  Del Quentin Wilber, Nov. 2, 2017, WSJ)

The Justice Department has identified more than six members of the Russian government involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee's computers and swiping sensitive information that became public during the 2016 presidential election, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Prosecutors and agents have assembled evidence to charge the Russian officials and could bring a case next year, these people said. Discussions about the case are in the early stages, they said.

If filed, the case would provide the clearest picture yet of the actors behind the DNC intrusion. U.S. intelligence agencies have attributed the attack to Russian intelligence services, but haven't provided detailed information about how they concluded those services were responsible, or any details about the individuals allegedly involved.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Inside the rise and fall of Gary Cohn's Fed dreams : President Donald Trump is set to nominate current Federal Reserve governor Jerome Powell to replace Janet Yellen. (BEN WHITE and NANCY COOK 11/02/2017, Politico)

The former Goldman Sachs president, now Trump's top economic adviser, was a front-runner for the Fed job until August, when he publicly broke with the president over his handling of fatal neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As recently as last month, the two still appeared at odds. Guests at a black-tie gala in Washington in mid-October honoring First Lady Melania Trump were treated to an awkward display between the two, as the president stared straight ahead and continued to make small talk with others while Cohn was trying talk to him, said an attendee.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


HOW EX-SPY CHRISTOPHER STEELE COMPILED HIS EXPLOSIVE TRUMP-RUSSIA DOSSIER : The man behind the infamous dossier that raises the possibility that Donald Trump may be vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail is Russia expert Christopher Steele, formerly of M.I.6. Here's the story of his investigation. (HOWARD BLUM, APRIL 2017, Vanity Fair)

In September 2015, as the Republican primary campaign was heating up, he was hired to compile an opposition-research dossier on Donald Trump. Who wrote the check? Simpson, always secretive, won't reveal his client's identity. However, according to a friend who had spoken with Simpson at the time, the funding came from a "Never Trump" Republican and not directly from the campaign war chests of any of Trump's primary opponents.

But by mid-June 2016, despite all the revelations Simpson was digging up about the billionaire's roller-coaster career, two previously unimaginable events suddenly affected both the urgency and the focus of his research. First, Trump had apparently locked up the nomination, and his client, more pragmatic than combative, was done throwing good money after bad. And second, there was a new cycle of disturbing news stories wafting around Trump as the wordy headline splashed across the front page of The Washington Post on June 17 heralded, INSIDE TRUMP'S FINANCIAL TIES TO RUSSIA AND HIS UNUSUAL FLATTERY OF VLADIMIR PUTIN.

Simpson, as fellow journalists remembered, smelled fresh red meat. And anyway, after all he had discovered, he'd grown deeply concerned by the prospect of a Trump presidency. So he found Democratic donors whose checks would keep his oppo research going strong. And he made a call to London, to a partner at Orbis he had worked with in the past, an ex-spy who knew where all the bodies were buried in Russia, and who, as the wags liked to joke, had even buried some of them.

'Are there business ties in Russia?" That, Steele would offer to Mother Jones, was the bland initial thrust of his investigation after he was subcontracted by Fusion for a fee estimated by a source in the trade to be within the profession's going rate: $12,000 to $15,000 a month, plus expenses.

Steele had known Russia as a young spy, arriving in Moscow as a 26-year-old with his new wife and thin diplomatic cover in 1990. For nearly three years as a secret agent in enemy territory, he lived through the waning days of perestroika and witnessed the tumultuous disintegration of the Soviet Union under Boris Yeltsin's mercurial and often boozy leadership. The K.G.B. was onto him almost from the start: he inhabited the spy's uncertain life, where at any moment the lurking menace could turn into genuine danger. Yet even at the tail end of his peripatetic career at the service, Russia, the battleground of his youth, was still in his blood and on his operational mind: from 2004 to 2009 he headed M.I.6's Russia Station, the London deskman directing Her Majesty's covert penetration of Putin's resurgent motherland.

And so, as Steele threw himself into his new mission, he could count on an army of sources whose loyalty and information he had bought and paid for over the years. There was no safe way he could return to Russia to do the actual digging; the vengeful F.S.B. would be watching him closely. But no doubt he had a working relationship with knowledgeable contacts in London and elsewhere in the West, from angry émigrés to wheeling-and-dealing oligarchs always eager to curry favor with a man with ties to the Secret Service, to political dissidents with well-honed axes to grind. And, perhaps most promising of all, he had access to the networks of well-placed Joes--to use the jargon of his former profession--he'd directed from his desk at London Station, assets who had their eyes and ears on the ground in Russia.

How good were these sources? Consider what Steele would write in the memos he filed with Simpson: Source A--to use the careful nomenclature of his dossier--was "a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure." Source B was "a former top level intelligence officer still active in the Kremlin." And both of these insiders, after "speaking to a trusted compatriot," would claim that the Kremlin had spent years getting its hooks into Donald Trump.

Source E was "an ethnic Russian" and "close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump."

This individual proved to be a treasure trove of information. "Speaking in confidence to a compatriot," the talkative Source E "admitted there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership." Then this: "The Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the WikiLeaks platform." And finally: "In return the Trump team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltic and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine."

Then there was Source D, "a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow," and Source F, "a female staffer" at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel, who was co-opted into the network by an Orbis "ethnic Russian operative" working hand in hand with the loquacious Trump insider, Source E.

These two sources told quite a lurid story, the now infamous "golden showers" allegation, which, according to the dossier, was corroborated by others in his alphabet list of assets. It was an evening's entertainment, Steele, the old Russian hand, must have suspected, that had to have been produced by the ever helpful F.S.B. And since it was typical of Moscow Center's handwriting to have the suite wired up for sound and video (the hotel's Web site, with unintentional irony, boasts of its "cutting edge technological amenities"), Steele apparently began to suspect that locked in a Kremlin safe was a hell of a video, as well as photographs.

Steele's growing file must have left his mind cluttered with new doubts, new suspicions. And now, as he continued his chase, a sense of alarm hovered about the former spy. If Steele's sources were right, Putin had up his sleeve kompromat--Moscow Center's gleeful word for compromising material--that would make the Access Hollywood exchange between Trump and Billy Bush seem, as Trump insisted, as banal as "locker-room talk." Steele could only imagine how and when the Russians might try to use it.

What should he do? Steele dutifully filed his first incendiary report with Fusion on June 20, but was this the end of his responsibilities? He knew that what he had unearthed, he'd say in his anonymous conversation with Mother Jones, "was something of huge significance, way above party politics." Yet was it simply a vanity to think that a retired spy had to take it on his shoulders to save the world? And what about his contractual agreement with Simpson? Could the company sue, he no doubt wondered, if he disseminated information he'd collected on its dime?

In the end, Steele found the rationale that is every whistle-blower's sustaining philosophy: the greater good trumps all other concerns. And so, even while he kept working his sources in the field and continued to shoot new memos to Simpson, he settled on a plan of covert action.

The F.B.I.'s Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Squad--"Move Over, Mafia," the bureau's P.R. machine crowed after the unit had been created--was a particularly gung-ho team with whom Steele had done some heady things in the past. And in the course of their successful collaboration, the hard-driving F.B.I. agents and the former frontline spy evolved into a chummy mutual-admiration society.

It was only natural, then, that when he began mulling whom to turn to, Steele thought about his tough-minded friends on the Eurasian squad. And fortuitously, he discovered, as his scheme took on a solid operational commitment, that one of the agents was now assigned to the bureau office in Rome. By early August, a copy of his first two memos were shared with the F.B.I.'s man in Rome.

"Shock and horror"--that, Steele would say in his anonymous interview, was the bureau's reaction to the goodies he left on its doorstep. And it wanted copies of all his subsequent reports, the sooner the better.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Trump's surprisingly good choice for Fed chair (Jeff Spross, November 2, 2017, The Week)

To begin with, Powell may be a Republican, but he was actually first nominated to the Fed's board of governors by President Obama in 2012, as part of a compromise with the congressional GOP. Before that, Powell had racked up a long career in private equity, served as a Treasury Department official under President George H.W. Bush, and did a stint at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a D.C. think tank. He's about as "safe" and nonideological a pick as they come.

Everyone also seems to agree that Powell's approach to interest rates will be almost indistinguishable from what Yellen would've done. "He's made relatively few public pronouncements on monetary policy since joining the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and the statements he has made don't indicate any major disagreements with Yellen," Matt Yglesias summed up at Vox.