March 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Tariffs should be part of U.S. trade policy, Trump foe Warren says (Pete Schroeder, 3/11/18, Reuters)

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


The Man Who Wouldn't Die : The plot to kill Michael Malloy for life-insurance money seemed foolproof--until the conspirators actually tried it (Karen Abbott, 2/07/12, SMITHSONIAN.COM )

The "Murder Trust," as the press would call them, now included a few other Marino's regulars, including petty criminals John McNally and Edward "Tin Ear" Smith (so-called even though his artificial ear was made of wax), "Tough Tony" Bastone and his slavish sidekick, Joseph Maglione. One night in December 1932 they all gathered at the speakeasy to commence the killing of Michael Malloy.

To Malloy's undisguised delight, Tony Marino granted him an open-ended tab, saying competition from other saloons had forced him to ease the rules. No sooner did Malloy down a shot than Marino refilled his glass. "Malloy had been a hard drinker all his life," one witness said, "and he drank on and on." He drank until Marino's arm tired from holding the bottle. Remarkably, his breathing remained steady; his skin retained its normally ruddy tinge. Finally, he dragged a grungy sleeve across his mouth, thanked his host for the hospitality, and said he'd be back soon. Within 24 hours, he was.

Malloy followed this pattern for three days, pausing only long enough to eat a complimentary sardine sandwich. Marino and his accomplices were at a loss. Maybe, they hoped, Malloy would choke on his own vomit or fall and slam his head. But on the fourth day Malloy stumbled into the bar. "Boy!" he exclaimed, nodding at Marino. "Ain't I got a thirst?"

Tough Tony grew impatient, suggesting someone simply shoot Malloy in the head, but Murphy recommended a more subtle solution: exchanging Malloy's whiskey and gin with shots of wood alcohol. Drinks containing just four percent wood alcohol could cause blindness, and by 1929 more than 50,000 people nationwide had died from the effects of impure alcohol. They would serve Malloy not shots tainted with wood alcohol, but wood alcohol straight up.

Marino thought it a brilliant plan, declaring he would "give all of the drink he wants...and let him drink himself to death." Kriesberg allowed a rare display of enthusiasm. "Yeah," he added, "feed 'im wood alcohol cocktails and see what happens." Murphy bought a few ten-cent cans of wood alcohol at a nearby paint shop and carried them back in a brown paper bag. He served Malloy shots of cheap whiskey to get him "feeling good," and then made the switch.

The gang watched, rapt, as Malloy downed several shots and kept asking for more, displaying no physical symptoms other than those typical of inebriation. "He didn't know that what he was drinking was wood alcohol," reported the New York Evening Post, "and what he didn't know apparently didn't hurt him. He drank all the wood alcohol he was given and came back for more."

Night after night the scene repeated itself, with Malloy drinking shots of wood alcohol as fast as Murphy poured them, until the night he crumpled without warning to the floor. The gang fell silent, staring at the jumbled heap by their feet. Pasqua knelt by Malloy's body, feeling the neck for a pulse, lowering his ear to the mouth. The man's breath was slow and labored. They decided to wait, watching the sluggish rise and fall of his chest. Any minute now. Finally, there was a long, jagged breath--the death rattle?--but then Malloy began to snore. He awakened some hours later, rubbed his eyes, and said, "Gimme some of th' old regular, me lad!"

The plot to kill Michael Malloy was becoming cost-prohibitive; the open bar tab, the cans of wood alcohol and the monthly insurance premiums all added up. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


The Republic of Baseball (Joseph Sobran, 3/11/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Ted Williams began his autobiography by saying that when he was a kid, his only ambition was to have people say, as we walked down the street, "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived." My own autobiography could start the same way. It would end differently, though.

In this I can confidently speak for millions of American males. Every little boy has his dreams of baseball glory from the first time he feels the delicious shock in the wrists of bat smashing ball and sees the ball rocket away into the outfield, faster and farther than he knew he could propel it. That's enough to keep him going through the long summers when he's picked last in the sandlot games, assigned to bat last, and ordered to play right field, where he gets yelled at by his teammates when he lets an easy grounder roll past him.

Not to play means missing out on the common experience of the male sex. And once you get into it, it's easy to get absorbed. In Ypsilanti, Michigan, I spent long winters studying baseball statistics to while away the endless cold grey days until the snow melted. Then, around mid March, we started our new season in the park, or any empty field. At that time of year it didn't feel good to connect. In the chill, hitting the ball stung your hands, and catching it hurt worse, so that you'd suck your breath through your chattering teeth. You tried to snag the ball in the webbing of your glove, even if you were a good fielder, because having it smack your palm was almost unbearable.

Our neighborhood games were played with no more than seven boys on a team: slow pitch, no catchers, no umpires. We'd lob pitches in so that everyone could hit and put the ball in play. Anyway, we were all afraid of fast pitching, though this fear was one of those things you didn't confess, like wetting the bed or getting beaten up by your sister.

But we had to face fast pitching in Little League, which turned out to be the fatal hurdle on my way to Cooperstown. [...]

Baseball is a deeply orderly game. The distinctiveness of its component actions -- pitching, hitting, fielding, and base-running -- makes them available to separate attention, measurement, analysis, and judgment. Every player's contribution to every play is recorded and given value. The statistics are rarely misleading. If you want to know who the American League's best second baseman of the Thirties was, well, as Casey Stengel used to say, "You could look it up." Try that with defensive linemen.

Other sports thrill; baseball also absorbs. It's the most discussable game, and it's the national pastime largely because we can talk about it so volubly long after we can play it. No other sport binds the generations the way baseball does.

Because it's so thoroughly recorded, baseball has a genuine history. It also has a continuity that the other major sports don't have. "The NFL keeps changing the most basic rules," Thomas Boswell observes. "Most blocking now would have been illegal use of the hands in Jim Parker's time. How do we compare eras when the sport never stays the same?" In fact, none of the other three sports is the same game it was as recently as the Fifties, for all sorts of reasons. Wilt Chamberlain's season scoring records will never be broken, simply because nobody will ever play against as many white players as Chamberlain did. (If you want a sure-fire laugh, ask a basketball fan whether Michael Jordan is as great as George Mikan.)

The statistical discreteness of individual performance, set against the game's stable history, gives achievement in baseball a permanence and stature other sports can seldom confer. And even racial integration hasn't devalued the records; in fact, most fans -- including experts -- doubt Henry Aaron was a greater slugger than the man whose supreme record he broke. Lawrence Ritter reckons that with as many times at bat as Aaron, Ruth would have hit 1,064 home runs. Be that as it may, heroism in baseball is more perduring than in other American sports, and does much to account for the splendid literature baseball has produced. Nearly every fan has read John Updike's description of Williams' last game.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


The Legend of Bo Jackson Lives On (Sam Mellinger, 3/11/18, The Kansas City Star)

When Bo's hip gave out on that carry down the sideline against the Bengals, Danny Duffy was 2. Still in diapers. And he's one of the older guys in here. How could he know?

Did he even know who Bo was? I asked.

"Bro," he said. "We all know."


"My uncle Josh was like 6 years older than me, and he would just wear me out with Bo Jackson stuff," Duffy said. "We'd play Tecmo Super Bowl, and Josh would always be Bo Jackson. I couldn't tackle him. He'd run back and forth all over the field, just zigzagging, and I couldn't do anything about it."

Uncle Josh sounds like a great man, and this is about when I start to feel like the age gap isn't as much. Or, maybe, YouTube and ESPN's You Don't Know Bo have just closed the gap.

"I've definitely searched 'Bo Jackson' a few times," said Nicky Lopez, a middle-infield prospect born in 1995. "Throwing out that runner from the warning track, the one he caught and then ran along the wall, just crazy plays you don't see normal people make. There was a story, I don't know if it's true, but of him hitting the scoreboard in Kansas City with a home run."

That story is absolutely true, by the way. I've heard it so many times. It was the day of his introductory news conference at Royals Stadium, and he hadn't picked up a bat in months. Nobody thought he'd swing. The Royals probably didn't want him to swing, but once he announced into the microphones he wanted to hit, there was no stopping him.

Avron Fogelman, at the time a part owner in the team and an avid memorabilia collector, watched from a suite as Bo hit the base of the scoreboard. Fogleman pointed at a staff worker.

"Go get me that ball!"

Then, Bo hit one even higher off the scoreboard. Fogleman found a second staff worker.

"Go get me that ball!"

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


White House scolds Cabinet officials after embarrassing ethics reports (Cristina Alesci, 3/11/18, CNN)

The White House held private meetings with four Cabinet-level officials last month to scold them for embarrassing stories about questionable ethical behavior at their respective agencies, sources familiar with the sessions tell CNN.

Internal watchdogs have launched at least nine audits, reviews or investigations across several Cabinet agencies, and stories about first-class travel, expensive office furniture, and internal strife have become commonplace.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt all met with officials from the White House counsel's office and the Cabinet liaison.
The meetings, held at chief of staff John Kelly's request, were intended to provide "a clear message that optics matter," the sources said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Edmund Burke's Counsel on Religious Liberty and Freedom (William F. Byrne, July 2012. Crisis Magazine)

One thing which made religion a key to virtue was the humility which Christianity promoted. Most of our political and social problems, Burke believed, stemmed ultimately from vanity, the chief of the vices. We must recognize that we are a part of an order greater than ourselves if our lives are to have meaning and virtue and if our society is to be a humane and stable one. One of the things which most appalled Burke about the French Revolution was its attack on the church. He recognized that this would doom the project, since "all other nations have begun the fabric of a new government, or the reformation of an old, by establishing originally or by enforcing with greater exactness some rites or other of religion."

Despite Burke's defense of church establishment, he was also a supporter of religious liberty. And, he bitterly attacked the anti-Catholicism laws imposed on Ireland. Such laws were eroding Irish society, destroying social and cultural bonds and transforming the population into an atomized mob ripe for rebellion. Government attacks on new and minority churches were bad enough, but attacking the major, ancestral church of a society was deadly. He warned against the promotion of a generic "Protestantism" understood as anti-Catholicism, pointing out that an atheist, with his rejection of all Catholic doctrine rather than just portions of it, is "the most perfect Protestant." In attacking Catholicism, government was attacking religion, piety, and, ultimately, society itself.

Notably, Burke displayed great respect for, and interest in, major non-Christian religions such as Hinduism and Islam. Indeed, in opposing the openly tyrannical governance of India by the fortune-seeking men of the East India Company, he noted that, in contrast, rule in traditional Islamic states (such as those they were supplanting) was--at least in theory--never arbitrary. This was because the prince's actions were constrained by Islamic law, and clerics had the moral authority to help check his excesses. 

... "In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier (Jane Meyer, Jan. 30th, 2018, The New Yorker)

Steele worked out of the British Embassy for M.I.6, under diplomatic cover. His years in Moscow, 1990 to 1993, were among the most dramatic in Russian history, a period that included the collapse of the Communist Party; nationalist uprisings in Ukraine, the Caucasus, and the Baltic states; and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin gained ultimate power in Russia, and a moment of democratic promise faded as the K.G.B.--now called the F.S.B.--reasserted its influence, oligarchs snapped up state assets, and nationalist political forces began to emerge. Vladimir Putin, a K.G.B. operative returning from East Germany, reinvented himself in the shadowy world of St. Petersburg politics. By the time Steele left the country, optimism was souring, and a politics of resentment--against the oligarchs, against an increasing gap between rich and poor, and against the West--was taking hold.

After leaving Moscow, Steele was assigned an undercover posting with the British Embassy in Paris, but he and a hundred and sixteen other British spies had their cover blown by an anonymously published list. Steele came in from the cold and returned to London, and in 2006 he began running its Russia desk, growing increasingly pessimistic about the direction of the Russian Federation.

Steele's already dim view of the Kremlin darkened in November, 2006, when Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian K.G.B. officer and a Putin critic who had been recruited by M.I.6, suffered an agonizing death in a London hospital, after drinking a cup of tea poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. Moscow had evidently sanctioned a brazen murder in his own country. Steele was put in charge of M.I.6's investigation. Authorities initially planned to indict one suspect in the murder, but Steele's investigative work persuaded them to indict a second suspect as well. Nine years later, the U.K.'s official inquiry report was finally released, and it confirmed Steele's view: the murder was an operation by the F.S.B., and it was "probably approved" by Vladimir Putin.

Steele has never commented on the case, or on any other aspect of his intelligence work, but Richard Dearlove, who led M.I.6 from 1999 to 2004, has described his reputation as "superb." A former senior officer recalls him as "a Russia-area expert whose knowledge I and others respected--he was very careful, and very savvy." Another former M.I.6 officer described him as having a "Marmite" personality--a reference to the salty British spread, which people either love or hate. He suggested that Steele didn't appear to be "going places in the service," noting that, after the Cold War, Russia had become a backwater at M.I.6. But he acknowledged that Steele "knew Russia well," and that running the Russia desk was "a proper job that you don't give to an idiot."

The British Secret Intelligence Service is highly regarded by the United States, particularly for its ability to harvest information from face-to-face sources, rather than from signals intelligence, such as electronic surveillance, as the U.S. often does. British and American intelligence services work closely together, and, while Steele was at M.I.6, British intelligence was often included in the U.S. President's daily-briefing reports. In 2008, Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, visited the U.K., and Steele briefed him on Russian developments. The following year, President Obama visited the U.K., and was briefed on a report that Steele had written about Russia. Steve Hall, a former chief of the C.I.A.'s Central Eurasia Division, which includes Russia, the former Soviet states, and the Balkans, told me, "M.I.6 is second only perhaps to the U.S. in its ability to collect intelligence from Russia." He added, "We've always coΓΆrdinated closely with them because they did such a great job. We're playing in the Yankee Stadium of espionage here. This isn't Guatemala."

In 2008, Steele informed M.I.6 that he planned to leave the service and open a commercial intelligence firm with Burrows. He left in good standing, but his exit was hastened, because M.I.6 regarded his plans as a potential conflict of interest. Launching the business was a risky move: London was filled with companies run by former intelligence officers selling their contacts and inside knowledge. To differentiate itself, Orbis, which opened its office in Mayfair, attempted to exploit Steele's Russian expertise. The strategy appears to have paid off. According to people with knowledge of the company, Orbis grossed approximately twenty million dollars in its first nine years. Steele now drives a Land Rover Discovery Sport, and belongs to a golf club. He also runs a bit, but the feats that kept him in shape while he was a spy--he ran six marathons and twenty-five half-marathons, and competed in a dozen Olympic-length triathlon events--have been replaced by the carrying of a briefcase. His free time is devoted largely to his family, which includes three cats, one of whom not long ago replicated the most infamous allegation in the Steele dossier by peeing on a family member's bed.

Orbis's clients are mostly businesses or law firms representing corporations. Burrows said that although the company has fewer than ten full-time employees, "we're a bit like the bridge on the Starship Enterprise--we're a small group but we manage an enormous ship." To serve its clients, Orbis employs dozens of confidential "collectors" around the world, whom it pays as contract associates. Some of the collectors are private investigators at smaller firms; others are investigative reporters or highly placed experts in strategically useful jobs. Depending on the task and the length of engagement, the fee for collectors can be as much as two thousand dollars a day. The collectors harvest intelligence from a much larger network of unpaid sources, some of whom don't even realize they are being treated as informants. These sources occasionally receive favors--such as help in getting their children into Western schools--but money doesn't change hands, because it could risk violating laws against, say, bribing government officials or insider trading. Paying sources might also encourage them to embellish.

Steele has not been to Russia, or visited any former Soviet states, since 2009. Unlike some of his former M.I.6 colleagues, he has not been declared persona non grata by Putin's regime, but, in 2012, an Orbis informant quoted an F.S.B. agent describing him as "an enemy of Mother Russia." Steele concluded that it would be difficult for him to work in the country unnoticed. The firm guards the identities of its sources, but it's clear that many Russian contacts can be interviewed elsewhere, and London is the center of the post-Soviet Russian diaspora.

Orbis often performs anti-corruption investigations for clients attempting internal reviews, and helps hedge funds and other financial companies perform due diligence or obtain strategic information. One Orbis client who agreed to talk to me, a Western businessman with interests in Russia and Ukraine, described Steele to me as "very efficient, very professional, and very credible." He said that his company had successfully cross-checked Steele's research with other people, adding, "I don't know anyone who's been critical of his work. His reports are very good. It's an absolute no-brainer that he's just a political target. They're trying to shoot the messenger."

Orbis promises confidentiality, and releases no information on its clientele. Some of its purported clients, such as a major Western oil company, are conventional corporations. Others are controversial, including a London law firm representing the interests of Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire victor of Russia's aluminum wars, a notoriously violent battle. He has been described as Putin's favorite oligarch. Steele's possible financial ties to Deripaska recently prompted Senator Grassley to demand more information from the London law firm. If a financial trail between Deripaska and Orbis can be established, it is likely to raise even more questions about Steele, because Deripaska has already figured in the Russia investigation, in an unsavory light. Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, has been accused of defrauding Deripaska's company while working for it in Ukraine. (Manafort has been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.) Even if Steele's rumored work for Deripaska is aboveboard, it illustrates the transition that he has made from the world of government service to the ethically gray world of commerce. Oligarchs battling other oligarchs provide some of the most lucrative work for investigators with expertise in Russia. Orbis maintains that, as long as its activities are limited to providing litigation support for Western law firms acting in Western courts, it is helping to settle disputes in a more civilized way than they would be in Russia. But Steele stepped into a murkier realm when he left M.I.6.

Republican claims to the contrary, Steele's interest in Trump did not spring from his work for the Clinton campaign. He ran across Trump's name almost as soon as he went into private business, many years before the 2016 election. Two of his earliest cases at Orbis involved investigating international crime rings whose leaders, coincidentally, were based in New York's Trump Tower.

Steele's first client after leaving M.I.6 was England's Football Association, which hoped to host the World Cup in 2018, but suspected dirty dealings by the governing body, fifa. England lost out in its bid to Russia, and Steele determined that the Kremlin had rigged the process with bribes. According to Ken Bensinger's "Red Card," an upcoming book about the scandal, "one of Steele's best sources" informed him that the Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Sechin--now the C.E.O. of the Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft--is suspected of having travelled to Qatar "to swap World Cup votes."

Steele appears to have spoken anonymously to the Sunday Times of London about the case. An "ex-M.I.6 source" who investigated the bidding process told the paper, "The key thing with Russia was six months before the bid, it got to the point where the country feared the humiliation of being beaten and had to do something. . . . Putin dragged in all sorts of capabilities." He added, "Don't expect me or anyone else to produce a document with Putin's signature saying 'Please, X, bribe Y with this amount in this way.' He's not going to do that."

Steele might have been expected to move on once his investigation of the bidding was concluded. But he had discovered that the corruption at fifa was global, and he felt that it should be addressed. The only organization that could handle an investigation of such scope, he felt, was the F.B.I. In 2011, Steele contacted an American agent he'd met who headed the Bureau's division for serious crimes in Eurasia. Steele introduced him to his sources, who proved essential to the ensuing investigation. In 2015, the Justice Department indicted fourteen people in connection with a hundred and fifty million dollars in bribes and kickbacks. One of them was Chuck Blazer, a top fifa official who had embezzled a fortune from the organization and became an informant for the F.B.I. Blazer had an eighteen-thousand-dollar-per-month apartment in Trump Tower, a few floors down from Trump's residence.

Nobody had alleged that Trump knew of any fifa crimes, but Steele soon came across Trump Tower again. Several years ago, the F.B.I. hired Steele to help crack an international gambling and money-laundering ring purportedly run by a suspected Russian organized-crime figure named Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. The syndicate was based in an apartment in Trump Tower. Eventually, federal officials indicted more than thirty co-conspirators for financial crimes. Tokhtakhounov, though, eluded arrest, becoming a fugitive. Interpol issued a "red notice" calling for his arrest. But, in the fall of 2013, he showed up at the Miss Universe contest in Moscow--and sat near the pageant's owner, Donald Trump.

"It was as if all criminal roads led to Trump Tower," Steele told friends.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Is Alex Vega the Biggest Star of Spring Training?: Vega's The Auto Firm supplies the boys of summer with their rides each spring. (Evan Bleier, 3/06/18, Real Clear Life)

Vega, 43, is the owner of The Auto Firm, an extremely popular customization shop located a relatively short drive away from South Beach in Miami. It's a location that's well known to prominent athletes ranging from Alex Ovechkin to Greg Norman, but is especially popular with pro baseball players and Vega's custom creations are annual attendees at spring training.

Starting in 2004 when he customized a Hummer for Alfonso Soriano after the ballplayer saw a model he had modified for Rick Ross and wanted a similar job, Vega has had a steady stream of work coming his way in advance of spring training each year.

Players want to show up with a ride that will impress their teammates and get people talking - look no further than the flame-throwing Lamborghini Yoenis Cespedes once brought to spring training - and those who don't have a car that's been given the Vega touch, want one.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


CNN's Jake Tapper just dropped knowledge about a Robert Frost poem (AMANDA, MARCH 7, 2018 , UV Index)