November 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Lebanon FM demands return of Hariri from Saudi Arabia : Questions raised in Lebanon about fate of its prime minister Saad Hariri, as his retirement from Riyadh coincided with the announcement in Saudi Arabia of 'anti-corruption' purge. (Middle East Online, 11/09/17)

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Thursday demanded the return of prime minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia, where he announced days ago his shock resignation.

"Today we demand the return to the nation of our Prime Minister Saad Hariri," tweeted Bassil.

The foreign minister is the son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who has not yet accepted Hariri's resignation and is awaiting his return before taking any decision.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Partisans Have Starkly Different Opinions About How the World Views the U.S. (Pew Research, 11/09/17)

For many years, Republicans and Democrats generally shared the same views about whether Russia represented a major threat to the U.S. In 2014, 58% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats said "growing authoritarianism in Russia" was a major threat and as recently as last year, 37% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans described "tensions with Russia" as a major threat.

But partisan differences increased sharply after the presidential election, amid reports that Russia interfered in the campaign. In January, 67% of Democrats and 41% of Republicans said Russia's power and influence were a major threat. These views have changed little since January; currently, 63% of Democrats and 38% of Republicans say Russia is a major threat to the U.S.

Partisanship and thought are ever strangers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


White House chief of staff tried to pressure acting DHS secretary to expel thousands of Hondurans, officials say (Nick Miroff, November 9, 2017, NY Times)

On Monday, as the Department of Homeland Security prepared to extend the residency permits of tens of thousands of Honduran immigrants living in the United States, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called Acting Secretary Elaine Duke to pressure her to expel them, according to current and former administration officials.

 Duke refused to reverse her decision and was angered by what she felt was a politically driven intrusion by Kelly and Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, who also called her about the matter, according to officials with knowledge of Monday's events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Fortunately, the Deep State stopped them.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


In China, Trump Places His Bets on Flattering Xi Jinping (MARK LANDLER, JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and JANE PERLEZ, NOV. 9, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's warm words, on a state visit to China replete with ceremony but short of tangible results, showed a president doubling down on his gamble that by cultivating a personal connection with Mr. Xi, he can push the Chinese leader to take meaningful steps on North Korea and trade.

In public, Mr. Trump projected an air of deference to China that was almost unheard-of for a visiting American president. Far from attacking Mr. Xi on trade, Mr. Trump saluted him for leading a country that he said had left the United States "so far behind." He said he could not blame the Chinese for taking advantage of weak American trade policy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Deep in Yemen war, Saudi fight against Iran falters (Noah Browning, 11/09/17, Reuters) 

More than two years into a war that has already left 10,000 dead, regional power Saudi Arabia is struggling to pull together an effective local military force to defeat the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that has seized large parts of Yemen.

The dysfunction is a reminder to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that his campaign to counter arch-enemy Iran in the Middle East, including threats against Tehran's ally Hezbollah, may be hard to implement.

During a rare visit to a large area of Yemeni territory controlled by the pro-Saudi government, journalists saw a patchwork of mutually suspicious army units, whose loyalty to disparate regions and commanders has hindered their war against Houthi fighters.

The Houthi are a nation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


The Strange Pleasure of Seeing Carter Page Set Himself on Fire (Rick Wilson, 11.08.17, Daily Beast)

Legal scholars watching Page's borderline insane interviews, reviewing his bizarre public statements and reading the wackadoodle transcripts of his testimony to congressional investigators have expressed various levels of shock. His testimony this week must have dismayed his friends in Trump world; a long, rambling, performance art piece before the House which confirmed key sections of the Steele Dossier and opened up entirely new venues for investigation.

The emerging paper trail of his forays into Russia has been an amazing mosaic of comic-opera misunderstandings, grand and petty corruptions, grade-school category errors, and fundamental delusions about Putin's kleptocracy. In short, Page is a perfect example of the ad-hoc weirdness of the Trump campaign, Trumpism's deep, misplaced love of Putin's Russia, and the power of magical thinking among the coterie of misfit toys Trump calls his advisors. Page is weird and wrong and in most campaigns he'd be the weirdest, wrongest dog in the pack. In Trump world, Carter Page is in the middle quintile.

A bizarre fascination with Russia as an ally shaped the view of many of Trump's foreign policy advisors like Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Stephen Miller, Seb Gorka and the rest of the Foreign Policy Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Want To Read Good. Yes, a meaningful fraction of it is informed by an alt-rightish belief that the U.S. and Russia are white Christian allies in the global war on Islam and brown people in general, but some of it is just their natural inclination toward nationalist authoritarianism.

It's easier to have sympathy for the guys--like Manafort--who were just looking to cash in on the Donald/Vlad relationship than for the guys driven purely by hatred of Muslims, Jews, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Bad News For House Republicans: Clinton Won't Be On The Ballot In 2018 (Harry Enten, 7/24/17, 538)

[M]idterm elections are different from those that take place in presidential election years. And midterm elections that take place with an unpopular president in office are very different from presidential election years that have two historically unpopular candidates at the top of the major-party tickets.

Republican congressional candidates in 2016 may not have gotten much help from Trump, but they got a big boost from someone else: Hillary Clinton. Clinton, it's easy to forget, was only modestly more popular than Trump. According to Gallup, Clinton had the second-worst unfavorable rating of any major-party presidential candidate in modern history, behind only Trump. In the 2016 exit polls, 55 percent of voters had an unfavorable view of Clinton.

Clinton's unpopularity turned out to be a key factor in 2016 congressional races. Unsurprisingly, people who had a favorable view of Clinton primarily voted for Democrats in House races, while people with a favorable view of Trump primarily voted for Republican candidates. But among the 19 percent of voters who had an unfavorable view of both presidential candidates, House Republican candidates won by a margin of 30 percentage points. (Some voters may have cast a ballot for a Republican House candidate in the belief that a House controlled by the GOP would balance Clinton's power after what most Americans thought would be a Clinton win.)

Next year, though, Clinton won't be on the ballot (although Trump continues to tweet about her). That could be a big problem for House Republican candidates, especially if Trump remains unpopular. That's because realistically, the only way for Democrats to take back the House is to run up huge margins among voters who don't like Trump.

In part because of Clinton's unpopularity, Democrats in 2016 won among voters who had an unfavorable view of Trump by only 50 percentage points. That may seem like a lot, but Democrats will need to do much better if they want to take back the House. Based on Trump's current approval rating, House Democratic candidates probably need to win Trump disapprovers by something close to a 70- or 75-point margin in 2018.1

Two surveys conducted this spring by SurveyMonkey for FiveThirtyEight suggest that Democrats may get the margin they need among Trump disapprovers to take back the House.

'Winning' Isn't Winning : If the American electorate continues to have a low opinion of the president, then Republicans should calculate that drag into their electoral expectations. (Kevin D. Williamson, November 8, 2017, National Review)

So, here's the math: Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, won nine out of ten votes among Virginians who approve of President Donald Trump. He lost nine out of ten votes among those who disapprove. He lost by nine points.

Trump's approval rating in Virginia is 42 percent. His approval rating nationally is lower than that -- about 38 percent. Trump partisans like to sneer at opinion polling and proffer the cliché that the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

Virginia governor-elect Ralph Northam, a Democrat, surely agrees.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Voters just sent a message: Republicans are way out of step on health care (Editorial Board, November 8, 2017, Washington Post)

The health-care message was hammered home in Virginia and Maine by huge electoral margins. In exit polls across the Old Dominion, 2 out of 5 voters identified health care as their top concern -- more than twice as many as named any other issue. Among those health-care voters, 77 percent favored the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports Obamacare and expanding Virginia's Medicaid program under the law; just 23 percent backed the Republican, Ed Gillespie, who opposes both.

In Maine, a referendum to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, which would extend health insurance to some 80,000 low-income adults, won in a landslide, 59 percent to 41 percent. That was a direct rebuke to the Republican governor, Paul LePage, who vetoed Medicaid expansion five times after it was approved, also five times, by the state legislature.

The outcome in Maine, which would become the 32nd state to expand Medicaid under Obamacare but the first to do so by referendum, may prompt similar ballot measures in other GOP-dominated holdout states. Nationwide, some 2.5 million uninsured adults who could gain access to Medicaid live in the remaining states that have balked at expansion; about 15 million Americans have signed up for Medicaid under the expansion. be crosswise with the electorate on the purposes for which government itself exists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Criticized for ship holdings, Ross owns more than previously known and the deals continue : Most of the 75 ships transport oil and gas products worldwide, presenting a conflict of interest for the commerce secretary as he negotiates trade deals. Records show 11 purchases since March. (Tom Scheck and Maria Curi, 11/08/17, American Public Media)

An APM Reports investigation reveals Ross has financial ties to 36 previously undisclosed ships that are spread among at least nine companies. Combined with the Russia-tied company -- Navigator Holdings Ltd. -- Ross has a financial interest in at least 75 ships, most of which move oil and gas products across the globe. The value of those ships stands to grow as Ross negotiates trade deals on behalf of the U.S. and advises on U.S. infrastructure policy. And one fund linked to Ross was still buying and selling ships after Ross was confirmed as Commerce secretary.

APM Reports compiled the list by combing through Ross' financial disclosure forms, relying on business filings in the U.S., Luxembourg, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, searches through shipping trade publications and through the internet domains of major shipping companies across the globe. [...]

Today as Commerce secretary, Ross is positioned to help shape the export practices of the U.S. He's forcefully advocated for reducing the nation's trade deficit across the globe, notably in China, Mexico and Canada. In May, he announced a deal that pushes China to buy more natural gas from U.S. exporters. A chief beneficiary of those increased exports is shipping.

Ross' first investments were stakes in Diamond S. Shipping, a crude oil carrier, and Navigator Holdings, a company that moves liquid petroleum products.

He invested at a time when the shipping industry appeared to have bottomed out after the Great Recession -- the industry had too many ships to move too few products. It was a classic investment strategy for Ross, who's made his money by buying and selling distressed companies in troubled sectors.

In 2002, for example, he scooped up steel companies LTV Corp., Acme Steel and Bethlehem Steel in bankruptcy. He cut costs by laying off workers, installing new work rules and stripping employee pension funds. Three years later, he sold the repackaged company for $4.5 billion, an investment strategy he used years later in the coal and textiles industries.

His hunch about shipping a few years later stemmed from the oil and gas boom in the U.S. A drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing in shale rock formations -- fracking -- in the U.S. produced large amounts of crude oil, natural gas and other petroleum products. His investment in Diamond S. Shipping and Navigator Holdings was a bet that energy exports would spur growth in the shipping industry.

"There is optimism that shale gas and oil will transform the U.S. economy and require unprecedented oceangoing capacity," Ross said at the Marine Money Asia Week forum in 2012.

Most of Ross' ships -- 80 percent -- move oil and gas products. But the stark reality is that Ross' investments haven't paid off.

The share price of Navigator Holdings declined 47 percent since it debuted in 2013 at $19 a share. His investment firm held a 61 percent stake in the company when Ross, the majority investor, took the company public in 2013, according to business filings.

Ross also shelved his attempts to take Diamond S. Shipping public in 2014 because he felt the stock price for the company was too low.

Shipping continues to have an overcapacity problem, according to Ben Nolan, managing director of Marine Transportation Research at Stifel Financial Group, and the sector is far from its high valuations of 15 years ago.

He said that while shipping is gradually recovering, many private equity investors who gambled on the industry five years ago have cut their losses. He said others, like Ross, continue to wait for the big return.

"A lot of the reason that they still have those positions is they anticipate at some point there is going to be a better exit," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Flynn worries about son in special counsel probe (Jim Sciutto and Marshall Cohen, 11/08/17, CNN)

Flynn's troubles extend to Congress, where his activities have attracted the attention of the House oversight committee. The panel's top Republican and Democrat made a stunning announcement in April after their own inquiry: Flynn likely broke federal law by taking a paid speaking engagement in Russia without US government approval, and he hid the payments from FBI investigators reviewing the security clearance he is afforded as a retired lieutenant general.

After that announcement, Flynn's attorney told CNN that Flynn wasn't hiding anything and that he had briefed the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency "both before and after" the trip to Moscow.
FBI investigators also have scrutinized a series of phone calls during the Trump transition between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the US at the time, Sergey Kislyak. The conversations centered on US sanctions against Russia and whether they would remain in place during the Trump administration.

When Trump took office in January 2017, Flynn served as his national security adviser, but he resigned after one month amid questions about the Kislyak calls and his other links to Russia.

The Logan Act, passed in 1799, bans private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, but it is hardly ever used in practice. More pressing for Flynn might be what he told the FBI about the calls.

CNN reported that Flynn initially told investigators sanctions weren't discussed but changed his answer to say he didn't remember. Mueller could use this to charge Flynn with making false statements -- the same charge that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to last month.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


RussiaGate Latest (WhoWhatWhy, 11/09/17)

Trump Aide Coordinated Moscow Trip with Campaign Officials

The transcript of Carter Page's testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, which includes details on his July 2016 trip to Moscow, has been made public Tuesday. Page, a former aide to then-candidate Donald Trump, initially claimed that the visit was unrelated to campaign business, but the newly-released records show that he had coordinated the trip with high-ranking Trump officials. Over email, Page informed then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and current White House communications director Hope Hicks that he met with Russian officials and said he had "insights and outreach" to share with the team.

Russian Twitter Backing for Trump Began Soon After Candidacy Announcement

Russian interference in the US election began just a few weeks after Donald Trump announced his bid for president. Analysis by the Wall Street Journal shows that these coordinated efforts were more strategic than previously thought, heavily skewing toward pro-Trump content by a 10:1 margin. Content critical of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican primarily contender Jeb Bush was generated at equal or greater margins.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Trump cooperates with Chinese effort to control image (Joe McDonald, 11/09/17, AP) 

U.S. President Donald Trump was a cooperative partner for Beijing's sweeping efforts to control the message of his heavily choreographed visit to China.

Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, took no questions at an event Thursday billed as a news briefing, a reduction of already minimal press interaction during previous visits by American leaders.

During a 2014 visit by then President Barack Obama, Xi took a symbolic single question from a reporter for a Chinese state newspaper. He brushed off an American reporter's question about whether Beijing might ease restrictions on journalist visas, saying vaguely that media outlets had to obey China's laws.

Trump, who has called the media the "enemy of the American people," also took no questions during an event at which Chinese companies signed contracts to buy American jetliners, soybeans and other goods. [...]

"Both of them are sensitive and vigilant about the media," said Zhang Lifan, an independent political analyst in Beijing. "They worry there might be some tricky questions that would embarrass them."