February 4, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Canada and Mexico Prepare for Life After NAFTA: Canada and Mexico aren't bending to U.S. demands, because they've got alternative trading partners. (KEITH JOHNSON, BETHANY ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN | JANUARY 29, 2018, Foreign Policy)

Even as the Trump administration continues to try to compel its neighbors to accept a revised trade deal on its own terms, Canada and Mexico are forging ahead with new trade pacts of their own. That's a sign of how much the global economy has changed since NAFTA was written a quarter-century ago, and of continued global momentum for multilateral free trade agreements despite President Donald Trump's "America first" trade skepticism.

Canada and Mexico signed on last week to a new Trans-Pacific Partnership with nine other Pacific Rim nations, a massive trade pact that doesn't include the United States after Trump withdrew soon after taking office. Last fall, Canada's trade accord with the European Union went into effect -- something the United States has yet to achieve. Mexico expects to revise its own trade deal with the European Union this spring.

And Mexico and Canada are both taking part in yet another free trade bloc, the Pacific Alliance, which now encompasses Colombia, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand.

It could actually be healthy when the next president seeks admission to existing free trade blocs on their terms instead of ours. It is a surrender of sovereignty but the one necessary one.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


How Twitter Bots and Trump Fans Made #ReleaseTheMemo Go Viral : Russian bots and their American allies gamed social media to put a flawed intelligence document atop the political agenda.  (MOLLY K. MCKEW February 04, 2018, Politico)

In the space of a few hours on January 18, #releasethememo exploded on Twitter, evolving over the next few days from being a marker for discussion on Nunes' memo through multiple iterations of an expanding conspiracy theory about missing FBI text messages and imaginary secret societies plotting internal coups against the president. #releasethememo provided an organizational framework for this comprehensive conspiracy theory, which, in its underpinnings, is meant to minimize and muddle concerns about Russian interference in American politics.

The rapid appearance and amplification of this messaging campaign, flagged by the German Marshall Fund's Hamilton68 dashboard as being promoted by accounts previously linked to Russian disinformation efforts, sparked the leading Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to write a letter to Twitter and Facebook asking for information on whether or not this campaign was driven by Russian accounts. Another report, sourced to analysis said to be from Twitter itself, identified the hashtag as an "organic" "American" campaign linked to "Republican" accounts. Promoters of #releasethememo rapidly began mocking the idea that they are Russian bots. (There are even entirely new accounts set up to tweet that they are not Russian bots promoting #releasethememo, even though their only content is about releasing the supposed memo.)

But this back and forth masks the real point. Whether it is Republican or Russian or "Macedonian teenagers" -- it doesn't really matter. It is computational propaganda -- meaning artificially amplified and targeted for a specific purpose -- and it dominated political discussions in the United States for days. The #releasethememo campaign came out of nowhere. Its movement from social media to fringe/far-right media to mainstream media so swift that both the speed and the story itself became impossible to ignore. The frenzy of activity spurred lawmakers and the White House to release the Nunes memo, which critics say is a purposeful misrepresentation of classified intelligence meant to discredit the Russia probe and protect the president.

And this, ultimately, is what everyone has been missing in the past 14 months about the use of social media to spread disinformation. Information and psychological operations being conducted on social media -- often mischaracterized by the dismissive label "fake news" -- are not just about information, but about changing behavior. And they can be surprisingly effective.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


ADL Chief Suggests Israel Deporting African Migrants Would Appear Racist (JTA, 2/04/18) 

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, likened African migrants in Israel to the "Dreamers" at the heart of a contentious U.S. immigration debate and suggested that deporting them would make Israel appear racist.

"African refugees, who seem like the Dreamers in the U.S. -- young people who by dint of their parents' decisions have grown up in this country -- who speak fluent Hebrew, when you start physically picking them up and sending them over the border back to South Sudan or Rwanda all the while, while you don't do the same to Ukrainians or Eastern Europeans who overstay their visas, guys, this is not going to end well," Greenblatt said Wednesday at the annual conference of Israel's Institute for National Strategic Studies.

Such is an ethnostate.

Maine Town Manager Fired After Calling For White Ethnostate (Sam Kestenbaum, 1/23/18, The Forward)

A town manager in Maine was fired from his job this week after it emerged that he is the founder and leader of New Albion, a group that calls for racial separatism and opposes people "from different cultures" coming to northern New England.

Jackman town manager Tom Kawczynski hoped to turn large sections of of New England into "a preserve for western culture first and foremost, and a nation where white identity will not just be tolerated but welcomed explicitly as such," according to a social media post.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Against Overclassification (David French, February 2, 2018, National Review)

Here's a shocking idea. Let's see the transcript. Let's see what McCabe actually said. And while we're at it, let's see the other relevant documents -- like the FISA applications themselves -- with only the lightest and most necessary of redactions. At the very least disclosing the relevant portions of the McCabe transcript won't threaten national security in the slightest, and it would have the salutary effect of exposing one or more of our "public servants" as partisan liars.

Knowledge is power, and there is no doubt that Washington likes to hoard power. I reviewed vast amounts of classified information during my military career, and I can assure you that only the smallest fraction of that information was truly dangerous. Most of it was classified by default -- some of it classified (believe it or not) simply because of the kind of computer a soldier used when he sent the email. 

The result is a lack of public accountability. The result is a breach of public trust. Public officials can say what they wish about some of the most contentious issues in American life while being reasonably sure that no one will ever be able to check their work. And if someone does, they can scream "leaker!"

To be clear, I'm not advocating for self-help. I'm not advocating for leaking. Public officials have an obligation to follow the law. I am advocating for reform. It's time to carefully reconsider the extent to which we wall off information from the public and the extent to which we permit public officials to hide their bias, incompetence, and sometimes even malice behind that red "classified" stamp.

Mr. French mentions several problems with classification, but we'd emphasize them differently:

(1) Obviously, the biggest is that closely held "information" is not submitted to the marketplace of ideas and is, therefore, never tested for veracity/utility in the manner we universally recognize is most effective.  

(2) The fact of being "classified" lends a certain cache to the "information" that, by the standard above, is least reliable, when, in reality, the information available from open sources, which is rigorously dissected and contested ought to be lent particular credence and the classified looked at askance.

(3) These effects are exacerbated by the power relationship that Mr. French cites.  The aura of power associated with access to classified "intelligence" discourages those who hold it from ever allowing it to be validated by others.

(4) Of course, not all classified intelligence is intrinsically useless.  And that accurate information which contradicts conventional wisdom is particularly valuable.  Unfortunately, when it is kept classified we keep the general population ignorant and decisions uninformed. In essence, we render even solid intelligence useless by classifying it.

Take just four instances of these problems at work: two American, one fictional, one Soviet:

(1) How Baseball Betrayed Cuba's Covert Ops: American intel looked for telltale diamonds (ADAM RAWNSLEY, War is Boring)

[N]BC's Tom Brokaw recalled a briefing he'd received in advance of a trip to Nicaragua by one of the maestros of Iran-Contra, U.S. Marine Corps colonel Oliver North. Writing in The New York Times, Brokaw said North excitedly pointed out baseball diamonds in grainy satellite footage of what he alleged was a Cuban training camp in Nicaragua.

"Nicaraguans don't play baseball," North told Brokow in an apparent attempt to cast himself as Kissinger at Cienfuegos. "Cubans play baseball!"

Of course, both the Cubans and Soviets supported the Sandanista government in Nicaragua. But as Brokaw quickly realized, North's contention was astonishingly ignorant of the country's long history of baseball fandom. "His declaration will come as a surprise to the Nicaraguans who have made it to the major leagues," Brokaw wrote.

(2) As Michael Beschloss explained in his terrific book, Mayday, it was largely because of intelligence gathered by U2 flights that Ike was able to trust his instincts that the USSR was much weaker than it claimed and not to launch a costly and unnecessary military build-up to "match" them.  In effect, he cashed in a Peace Dividend that resulted in our nostalgia for the economy of the 50s.  But because he did not share with the American people (and the world) just how trivial a threat the Soviets represented, we were prey to the hysteria of folks like JFK and the John Birch Society and the rest, with myriad awful results: crediting communism as a workable system; doubting democratic capitalism, wasting money on a military we did not need, getting embroiled in wars of no strategic significance, etc.

The result, after twenty years of this was that:

 In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, [Henry] Kissinger shared a 
    failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite--notably excepting the scholar and former 
    head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard 
    Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald 
        -Robert D. Kaplan, Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism (Atlantic Monthly, June 1999)

(3) John LeCarre is generally tedious, because of his hatred of America, but Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy nicely illustrates the points here.  Recall that the Source Merlin material is only circulated amongst a select group of the highest-ranking officials at the Circus, so no one who would actually understand the material ever gets to tell them it's all useless, until George Smiley gets ahold of it.

(4) We in the West like to credit Mikhail Gorbachev for initiating the reforms that toppled the USSR, even giving him a cuddly nickname, "Gorby." But the truth is that he was trying to save a Soviet system that only his predecessor, Yuri Andropov, genuinely understood had failed completely.  Why only he?  Because as head of the KGB he had access to global information sources, the mere perusal of which would have put his peers in the gulag.  Even other Soviet leaders shared the same failure of analysis as the foreign-policy elite cited by Mr. Kaplan. We perhaps saw this most famously when Nikita Khruschev refused to believe that the kitchen Richard Nixon showed him was typical of our middle class.

We can multiply these tragi-comic examples out endlessly--keeping the Venona intercepts secret is another good example--but the overarching principle is the same in all of them: secrecy is harmful to precisely those it is putatively intended to protect.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Man in wedding feud reported father, brother as terrorists (AP, 2/04/18)

A Clackamas, Oregon, man has pleaded guilty to placing calls to airports in Nevada and Texas, reporting his father and brother as terrorists because they got an invitation to a family wedding and he didn't.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


How a U.S.-Backed University in Vietnam Unleashed Old Demons: Former Senator Bob Kerrey thought he could help heal the wounds of war. Instead, he reopened them. (ISABELLE TAFT February 04, 2018, Politico)

Kerry announced that the president of the university would be Dam Bich Thuy, the former general director of ANZ Vietnam, the national branch of the Australian bank, who had been one of the first Vietnamese students to study as a Fulbright scholar in the United States. The chairman of the board of trustees would be former Senator Bob Kerrey, who served in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL and was known in the Senate as a strong supporter of U.S.-Vietnam reconciliation. Kerrey came on stage to accept a certificate from Ho Chi Minh City officials.

In the audience, Ton Nu Thi Ninh, whose 20-year diplomatic career included a post as Vietnam's ambassador to the European Union, was aghast. On February 25, 1969, Kerrey led an operation in the Mekong Delta village of Thanh Phong, aiming to kill local Viet Cong leaders.

His Navy team reported they had killed 21 Viet Cong, which earned Kerrey a Bronze Star; in fact, at least 20 women, children and elderly men lay dead in the village. Not a single Viet Cong fighter was killed. The deaths were unknown until 2001, when the New York Times Magazine and "60 Minutes II" published an account of the events. At the time, some, including the Vietnamese government, called for Kerrey to be charged with war crimes. He apologized, and the outcry subsided, as American commentators, including then-Senator John Kerry, largely concluded that Bob Kerrey himself was a victim of an unjust war. As a high-level Vietnamese official, Ninh had met Kerrey before and says she welcomed his involvement in education initiatives. But she was shocked that he had accepted a top leadership position at a university meant to symbolize newly warm ties between Vietnam and America.

"How can those closely involved in this choice be so insensitive?" Ninh said in an interview in January. "We set the past aside and we move forward. We want to make friends, but not everything goes."

Within days, Ninh's shock was echoed in the fiercest public discussion of the war that Vietnam has witnessed in the age of social media. A reporter who studied journalism in the United States as a Fulbright scholar wrote an article on the Vietnamese news site Zing recounting Kerrey's actions in Thanh Phong. That was followed by an avalanche of coverage and sometimes tense commentary on Facebook, which is a relatively new platform for discourse in Vietnam beyond the strictly controlled state media; some people joked that FUV should be called "unfriend university." "One need only sit for a few minutes in a cafĂ© to hear competing lines of argument" on the issue, wrote Bao Ninh, a veteran and author of the novel The Sorrow of War. 

On one side of the debate were those who, like Ninh, argued that Kerrey's appointment betrayed a callous disregard for Vietnamese suffering during the war and an erasure of the memory of those who had been killed. "Please tell me the name of any prestigious university in this world, where a killer in cold blood of women and children--he admitted it and he is not charged for it--could be the president," Bao Anh Thai, a Ho Chi Minh City lawyer, wrote on Facebook. 


Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


More U.S. Milk Will Be Coming From Robots (Lydia Mulvany, 2/04/18, Bloomberg News)

The robots are coming -- this time, to a dairy farm near you.

It wasn't long ago that cow-milking robots were a novelty in the U.S., but today, automation is showing up on more farms.

One of the big factors spurring the trend: more than half of all workers on dairy farms are immigrants, and the Trump Administration's hard-line policy stances are signaling that labor could be even harder to come by. Robots can cut the number of workers on a dairy farm by 50 percent. [...]

Currently, fewer than 5 percent of U.S. dairy farms use robots. That number will probably increase by 20 percent to 30 percent a year for the foreseeable future, according to Chad Huyser, vice president for North America at Lely, a manufacturer of milking robots based in Pella, Iowa. Globally, robotics for dairy farming is already a $1.6 billion industry, a number that will continue to grow, according to a January report by market researcher IDTechEx.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Coffee Becoming The New Soda (Caitlin Dewey, 2/04/18, The Washington Post)

[A]s incongruous as Dr Pepper may seem in a lineup of trendy, third-wave coffee roasters, analysts say the acquisition fits into the push to transform your morning cup of java into a worthy soda alternative. Since mid-2015, when Starbucks rolled cold brew out to all of its U.S. stores, beverage companies have been jousting to invent a coffee drink that clearly telegraphs as "afternoon refreshment."

The reasons are twofold, said James Watson, a Rabobank senior beverage analyst.

For starters, young people are less likely to make their own coffee at home before heading out, which has shifted back the hour of the average coffee break.

In 2010, for instance, the National Coffee Association found that only 1 in 10 coffee-drinkers had a cup at lunch. That figure had risen to 1 in 4 by 2016.

On top of that, consumers of all ages have begun turning away from soft drinks -- creating both a crisis for soda-makers and an opportunity for virtually everyone else in the caffeinated beverage industry.

"We're seeing these coffee drinks now that actually resemble soda," Watson said. "It's a way to get into the segment, because coffee is natural and healthy and tracks with consumer trends."

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


How #ReleaseTheMemo Could Undermine DOJ in FOIA Cases : If the president authorizes the release of a House memo about the FBI, some plaintiffs suing for Justice Department records could get a boost. (Cogan Schneier | January 30, 2018, National Law Journal)

Bradley Moss of the Law Office of Mark S. Zaid in Washington, D.C., said Trump's explicit authorization for the memo's release, and the fact that it's based on DOJ material, could amount to "official acknowledgement" of the records some of his clients are suing for, including the FISA application and a summary of the dossier.

That would mitigate federal agencies' refusal to confirm or deny the existence of certain records. Moss said the situation presents a unique legal wrinkle when it comes to FOIA cases.

"There's no real precedent here," Moss said. "This is going to be uncharted waters."

Under FOIA case law, the government can be compelled to release information that has already been officially disclosed by the executive branch. Courts have not recognized congressional reports or statements as "official disclosure" under FOIA law.

Trump's signature could create an exception to that rule, Moss said. 

"This kind of blurs the lines a bit," Moss said. "We don't really know how the court will view it."

Moss said he has two pending cases that may be influenced by the memo's release. One, on behalf of USA Today reporter Brad Heath and the James Madison Project, seeks a copy of any application to the FISA court to collect information related to the Trump Organization, Trump's campaign or people associated with Trump, and any order approving that application. The case is pending in the federal district court in Washington, D.C.

Another, filed on behalf of Politico reporter Josh Gerstein and the James Madison Project, seeks the disclosure of a two-page synopsis outlining the contents of the dossier, as well as any determination by federal agencies as to its validity and records of efforts to investigate it. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta of the District of Columbia granted summary judgment on behalf of the government in that case Jan. 4, and it's now on appeal before the D.C. Circuit.

No good purpose is served by concealing evidence of Donald's collusion from the public.  Release all the FISA warrants and the results of the surveillance. We are entitled to know of all the contact they had with Vlad.