February 8, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Oligarch met with top Russian official after Trump aide 'offered briefings' (Alec Luhn, 8 FEBRUARY 2018, The Telegraph)

A Russian deputy prime minister secretly met with oligarch Oleg Deripaska to discuss US relations after Paul Manafort reportedly offered Mr Deripaska briefings on the Trump campaign, according to videos discovered by a Russian opposition activist. 

While a recorded snippet of Mr Deripaska's alleged conversation with Sergei Prikhodko, deputy prime minister and head of the government executive office, does not specifically mention Donald Trump, the fact of their meeting on a yacht raises further questions of collusion with Vladimir Putin's government.  [...]

Mr Prikhodko has been a key Kremlin figure. A diplomat who became an aide to president Boris Yeltsin in 1997, he was in charge of foreign policy in Putin's first administration and served as a presidential aide until 2012.

Mr Deripaska hired Mr Manafort on a $10 million annual contract in 2006 after the Washington insider proposed a campaign to "greatly benefit the Putin government" by influencing US politics and media, Associated Press reported last year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


House Intel Republicans plan to wall off their aides from Democratic staffers (OLIVIA VICTORIA GAZIS, February 8, 2018, cbs NEWS)

[S]ome Republican committee members deny knowing anything about it, while strongly suggesting the division is the brainchild of the committee's chairman, Devin Nunes, R-California.

"I'm not part of that decision," said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. "You've got to talk to Devin. I don't know what they're trying to do one way or the other."

"I swear to God I didn't know that," said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Florida, when asked about the plan. While acknowledging a wall might not be constructive for the committee's work, he said, "The level of trust and the level of everything down there is - it's poison. It's absolute poison down there."

Rooney said one reason for the tension is an erosion of trust, exacerbated by an ongoing ethics investigation into the "entire Republican staff," including "the woman up front that answers the phone" for alleged leaks. He later added that the matter was being handled by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Apocalypse Not (Bret Stephens FEB. 8, 2018, NY Times)

In 1919, the director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines offered a dire warning for the future. "Within the next two to five years the oil fields of this country will reach their maximum production, and from that time on we will face an ever-increasing decline."

Nearly a century later, in July 2010, The Guardian ran a story with an ominous headline: "Lloyd's adds its voice to dire 'peak oil' warnings." Citing a report by the storied London insurer, the newspaper warned that businesses were "underestimating catastrophic consequences of declining oil," including oil at $200 a barrel by 2013, a global supply crunch, and overall "economic chaos."

I thought of these predictions on seeing the recent news that the United States is on the eve of breaking a 47-year production record by lifting more than 10 million barrels of crude a day. That's roughly twice what the U.S. produced just a decade ago, and may even put us on track to overtake Saudi Arabia and even Russia as the world's leading oil producer. As for global production, it rose by some 11 percent just since the Lloyd's report, and by almost 200 percent since 1965.

Call it yet another case of Apocalypse Not. In his fascinating new book, "The Wizard and the Prophet," Charles C. Mann notes that President Roosevelt -- Teddy, not Franklin -- called the "imminent exhaustion" of fossil fuels and other natural resources "the weightiest problem now before the nation." Prior to that, Mann adds, there were expert forecasts that the world would soon run out of coal. Later on, the world became fixated on the fear of running out of food in the face of explosive population growth.

Dairy Co-op Sends Farmers Suicide Hotline Numbers After Milk Prices Plummet (Rob Wolfe , 2/07/18, Valley News)

With milk prices declining to levels seen 20 years ago, the dairy co-op Agri-Mark this month sent farmers phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines and other mental health services along with the latest market forecasts.

The regional cooperative, which serves the six New England states plus New York, notified members in a Feb. 1 letter that prices for milk -- usually the largest part of dairy farmers' revenues -- were forecast to fall for the third year in a row in 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


'It's Bad': Omarosa Cries Through Description of Trump White House on 'Celebrity Big Brother' (Matt Wilstein, 02.08.18, Daily Beast)

"I felt like it was a call to duty," Manigault says, whispering for some reason despite the plethora of microphones and cameras. "I felt like I was serving my country, not serving him."

"Like, I was haunted by tweets every single day," she adds, dramatically. "Like, what is going to tweet next?" Positioning herself as a defender of decency, Manigault says she tried to be the person who would question the president, but everyone around him started "attacking" her instead. [...]

When Mathews asks, "Should we be worried?" Manigault nods emphatically. When he says he wants her to tell him it's going to be OK, she says, "No, it's going to not be OK. It's not." She looks down as she adds, "It's so bad."

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


The Mysteries of the Trump-Russia Investigation: Known Unknowns (Kate Brannen, February 8, 2018, Just Security)

[W]hile Mueller's team toils away in secrecy, investigative reporters have also been digging over the past year and they repeatedly unearth new information that shows a clear pattern of Russian officials approaching various members of the Trump campaign and being met with open arms.

First, there's Donald Trump Jr. After being offered dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Russian official in June 2016, Trump Jr. responded, "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer." Following that exchange, Trump Jr. set up a meeting in Trump Tower with a "Russian government attorney" and others with suspected ties to the Russian government. The meeting was also attended by Paul Manafort, a long-time associate of Trump and who was at the time the Trump campaign's chairman, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. When it became clear the New York Times was going to publicly disclose that the meeting took place, the president himself helped concoct a cover-up story, which was given to the Times.

Next, you've got George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. [...]

Whatever his position, Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that the Russians had political dirt on Clinton. When Australian officials passed this information on to the U.S. government, it triggered the FBI to open its investigation into Russian interference and whether the Trump campaign played any role in it. Papadopoulos' plea agreement revealed how enthusiastically Papadopoulos was pursuing a relationship with the Kremlin on behalf of the Trump campaign; how a top Trump campaign official encouraged him in this endeavor, and how he later lied to FBI investigators about these interactions in an effort to cover them up.

Not to be overlooked is Manafort, whose true role in all of this is yet to be revealed. But we do know his ties to Kremlin-linked oligarchs stretched way back and was at the center of his years of work in Ukraine. While working on the Trump campaign, Manafort reportedly told an intermediary that "private briefings" could be arranged for his former client and Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

There's also Kushner, who in December, discussed setting up "a secret and secure communications channel between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin." And multiple reports indicate that Flynn's calls with Kislyak were at the direction of Kushner. And there is his national security questionnaire -- known as an SF-86 -- which Kushner has had to update multiple times because he failed to disclose multiple foreign contacts, including with Russian officials during the campaign. It wasn't until Kushner filed a second addendum that he disclosed the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

Finally, there's Carter Page, who also served as a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign. In 2013, Page had been targeted by Russian spies working in New York City and was eventually confronted about his interactions with them by the FBI. In the spring of 2016, Trump named Page as one of his few foreign policy advisers in an interview with the Washington Post. While working for the campaign in July 2016, Page traveled to Moscow and met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Andrey Baranov, Rosneft's head of investor relations. And as the Nunes memo revealed, the FBI obtained permission from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on Page not once, but four times, starting in October 2016. This means the Justice Department had to demonstrate probable cause to think that Page was "knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of" Russia.

The pattern is quite clear: When Russian officials approached Trump campaign members, they were all too happy to oblige them: They took secret meetings with them; they offered information; they expressed enthusiasm at Russia's offer to help them win the election. So, now we know Russian intelligence was taking every opportunity it could to infiltrate the campaign. And we also know that it met little resistance in its efforts to do so.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Trump's foes have blocked his agenda (Vladimir Isachenkov, 2/08/18, Associated Press)
President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia remains open to cooperation with Washington even though President Donald Trump's political foes in the U.S. have tried to prevent him from fulfilling his campaign promises.

Asked at a forum of foreign policy experts if Russia is annoyed with Trump's unpredictability, Putin said that it's linked to a "strong resistance inside the country."

Russia rejoiced at Trump's victory in the 2016 U.S. election, but its hopes for repairing ties with his administration have been shattered by congressional and FBI investigations into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia.

Speaking at the Valdai forum in Sochi, Putin said Trump's political adversaries "haven't allowed him to fulfill any of his election platforms and plans."

Besides lifting sanctions and the rest, it's worth recalling that Donald even said he might not defend a NATO ally if Vlad attacked.

Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM


Confronted on CNN, Holocaust-denying GOP House candidate calls Shoah 'poppycock' (ERIC CORTELLESSA, 2/08/18, Times of Israel)

An outspoken Holocaust denier and anti-Semite poised to become the Republican nominee for a US House seat reiterated his vitriolic views on Thursday, when he was confronted by on CNN.

In a six-minute segment with Alisyn Camerota during the news network's morning program, Arthur Jones, a former chair of the American Nazi Party, dismissed the Holocaust as "poppycock" and a "scam," blamed the pro-Israel lobby for miring America in endless Middle East wars, and said the Jews controlled the nation's government, its economy and the media.

MAGA, baby.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM

4 Of Our Biggest Global Problems Are Big Business Opportunities (BEN SCHILLER, 2/08/18, Co.Exist)

When the United Nations set out its Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, it was detailing not only an agenda for government and aid groups, but also one for business. Covering everything from global hunger to gender equality, the SDGs are a rich diet of opportunity. They show ways for companies to make money and to become engines of progress in the world.

A new report reframes the 17 SDGs along these lines, helping companies that say they want to enact an SDG agenda. It comes from Sustainia, a Danish think tank, as well as DNV GL, a Norwegian company, and the United Nations Global Compact, which works to bring companies into the SDG process. The report focuses on four SDGs that need most attention and some of the boldest action: inequality, responsible consumption, climate change, and oceans management.

Key to the report is the idea that companies can do more than be responsible actors. They can actually create solutions that improve lives and develop new markets. In other words, being responsible isn't some moral choice, but rather it's smart strategic planning. "Responsible and sustainable business is no longer a small niche industry. Rather, these markets have the potential to be the key drivers of business growth in the coming decades," the report says.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Globally, gas car phaseout gains momentum: Europe and Asia lead push to replace traditional cars with electric and hybrid ones amid climate and pollution concerns. (Bailey Bischoff, FEBRUARY 8, 2018, CS Monitor)

First, it was low emission zones - laws restricting where polluting vehicles can go within a town or city. In Europe more than 200 such zones have been established. Now, national governments are poised to take the next step in the fight against air pollution: limits on the sales of gas and diesel vehicles.

In the Netherlands, the government is pushing forward a plan to end the sales of gas and diesel vehicles by 2030. France and Britain have announced similar plans for 2040. In Norway, which has strong targets for getting gas and diesel cars off the road, 2017 was the first year in which electric and hybrid vehicle sales exceeded 50 percent of total sales. India says it will electrify all new vehicles as soon as 2030. With an expanding electric car market, falling battery prices, and an increasing number of regulations, electric vehicles could replace petrol-powered ones faster than anticipated, some experts say.

China, the world's largest automobile-producing country, has yet to enforce a ban, but Chinese officials are expected to follow their international counterparts and have hinted at the creation of a timetable for phasing out the production of gas and diesel vehicles. Even now, China has asked automakers to ensure that 10 percent of car sales are electric vehicles by 2019.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM

THE lEFT IS THE rIGHT (profanity alert):

The Left's War Against The New York Times : The paper has been accused of everything from electing Trump to normalizing neo-Nazis. Are its liberal critics right or unreasonable? (GRAHAM VYSE, February 8, 2018, New Republic)

The Times has flourished under Trump, witnessing a surge in digital subscriptions and regularly breaking major news about the administration and the Russia inquiry (not to mention #MeToo). Yet liberal criticism of the Times has also intensified, especially on social media. Not a day passes, it seems, without a prominent Twitter user complaining that the Times is biased against the left, too friendly to Trump and his supporters, or engaging in false equivalences between Democrats and Republicans.

Reporter Michael Schmidt was criticized for not asking more follow-up questions during an impromptu sit-down with Trump in December. His colleague Richard Fausset was accused of normalizing a neo-Nazi in his profile of an Ohio white nationalist the month before. Critics frequently charge that the Times is preoccupied with giving a voice to Trump supporters or even just saying something nice about the president, and the paper has openly struggled with how to cover racists. Broader criticisms go to questions of framing and context--whether news analysis of Trump is too gentle, like when Peter Baker described the president's "reality-show accessibility," or why the Times' mobile phone push notifications seem strangely favorable to the White House. And then there's the steady moan about the Times opinion section--not just stalwarts like Brooks and Ross Douthat, but Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss, both of whom joined the paper last year from The Wall Street Journal.

"I think there's been a lot more anger from the grassroots against the Times," Willis told me. "They're able to be more vocal about it because of social media and Twitter specifically." Sean McElwee, a socialist policy analyst and columnist at The Outline, said this anger sometimes "unites everyone from a deeply anti-imperialist socialist to someone who works at a center-left think tank."

Ideologues don't want news; they want their hands held. Thus their respective bubbles.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM


Obamacare Enrollment Holds Steady Despite Republican Efforts (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar And Kevin S. Vineys, 2/07/18, Associated Press)

Call it the political equivalent of a death-defying escape: former President Barack Obama's health care law pulled in nearly 11.8 million customers for 2018, despite the Republican campaign to erase it from the books.

An Associated Press count found that nationwide enrollment was about 3 percent lower than last year. California, with more than 1.5 million sign-ups, was the last state to report, announcing its numbers on Wednesday.

Sixteen states increased their enrollment from last year, according to AP's analysis. Six of those were carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while 10 went for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

However, of the total number of people signed up this year about 6 in 10 live in states that went for Trump, according to the AP's analysis.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 AM


Shorter Workweek Trial A Success (LARISSA KYZER, February 08, 2018 , Icelandic Review)

An experimental project to see how shortening the workweek for state and municipal employees has been a success thus far, RÚV reports. In fact, the City of Reykjavík and the BSRB union report that not only are sick days are down and employee satisfaction up among individuals who participated in the trial, but there has also been no loss of productivity as a result of curtailed hours on the job.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 AM


The Justice Department Has Apparently Debunked the GOP's Phony Uranium One Scandal : A bad week for Republican talking points. (DAN FRIEDMAN, FEB. 6, 2018, Mother Jones)

As I explained last year, the allegations, which first surfaced in a 2015 New York Times story, never made much sense:

The Uranium One sale was unanimously approved by [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS], which is made up of representatives from nine separate federal agencies and chaired by the Treasury Department. The State Department was just one of the member agencies. By all accounts, Clinton's role was nominal. In practice, Jose Fernandez, then the assistant secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs, represented the State Department on CFIUS. He told the Times that Clinton "never intervened with me" on any matter the panel considered. It's not even clear if Fernandez briefed Clinton about the uranium deal. And [Frank] Giustra, the Clinton Foundation donor at the center of the Times story--who was responsible for $140 million of the $145 million in reported contributions--said he had sold his share of Uranium One three years before the Russian deal. Giustra said he never mentioned the deal to Clinton, whom he met at charity events.

In October, a story in a The Hill newspaper revived the issue by suggesting that a whistleblower--Campbell--had acted as an FBI informant when the bureau prosecuted Vadim Mikerin, an executive with a subsidiary of the same company that later bought Uranium One, for a scheme involving bribery and kickbacks related to trucking of Uranium. The article suggested the Justice Department failed to provide information about the prosecution to the State Department and other agencies that could have blocked the Uranium One sale.

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to call for a special counsel to investigate the Uranium One case. House Republicans went even further, painting the whistleblower as key to exposing Clinton's ties to Uranium One. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) told Fox News in October that Campbell could implicate Hillary Clinton in corruption.

"We have the money that went to Bill Clinton for the speech, the half a million dollars, millions of dollars to the foundation from sources connected with Uranium One," DeSantis said. "And then you have the approval of the deal on the CFIUS board which Hillary Clinton was a member of in 2010. So, we do have the quid, we have the quo. This informant I believe would be able to link those two together, because he was right at the heart of a lot of what was going on at the time."

But we now know that in a December 15, 2017, briefing to House oversight committee staff, Justice Department officials apparently knocked down this claim. The officials said that "at no point did [the individual] provide any allegation of corruption, illegality, or impropriety on Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, President Clinton, the Uranium One deal, or CFIUS," Cummings and Schiff wrote. "They also confirmed that there were 'no allegations of impropriety or illegality' regarding Secretary Clinton in any of the documents they reviewed."

The officials also revealed in the briefing that "career attorneys initially planned to build their case against Mikerin based on evidence provided by this individual.  However, they began to have 'serious credibility concerns' because of 'inconsistencies' between the individual's statements and documents they obtained as part of the investigation," the letter says.

The letter says that House oversight committee chairman Trey Gowdy, after months of unexplained delay, has scheduled an interview with Campbell this week. The Democrats asked in their letter that the interview be transcribed.

You do have to admire the stamina with which Donald's nativist defenders move from one imploded lunacy to the next in a desperate attempt to prop him up. No personal humiliation is too great if there's a chance to get at immigrants and Muslims.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 AM


White House officials knew about Porter's abuse allegations and scrambled to protect him (Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Dan Merica,  February 7, 2018, CNN)

Porter's ex-wives detailed the allegations to the FBI over the course of a routine background check, they told CNN's MJ Lee on Wednesday. A year into the administration, Porter does not hold a security clearance.

By early fall, it was widely known among Trump's top aides -- including chief of staff John Kelly -- both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff.

Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter's standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week's State of the Union address. He traveled instead of Kelly to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 AM


More than 100 pro-Assad forces killed in thwarted attack: U.S. official (Reuters, 2/08/18) 

More than 100 fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were killed overnight when U.S. coalition and coalition-backed local forces repelled their attack in eastern Syria, a U.S. official said on Thursday.