December 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Judging Bolsonaro: Brazil's judiciary will be a major check on the country's far-right president-elect (Ryan C. Berg, December 7, 2018 | Foreign Policy)

[T]he judiciary has proven so decisive in Brazilian affairs that critics and supporters alike often speak of the judicialização da política ("judicialization of politics"). For instance, the courts led the way to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the ban on corporate donations to election campaigns. They were also instrumental in bringing down former Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as part of the "Lava Jato" ("Car Wash") investigation, the largest anti-corruption campaign in the country's history.

The way Lava Jato unfolded is instructive. At first, Rousseff managed to appear beyond reproach from the campaign, which unfolded during her presidency. To meet a budget surplus target set by Congress, however, Rousseff fudged the books in an accounting sleight of hand involving loans from public banks.

The beginning of the end for Rousseff was a ruling in October 2015 by the Federal Court of Accounts (an auditing body) that the scheme was illegal and a violation of fiscal responsibility. As a partisan impeachment process proceeded through Congress, it turned out to be the legal ruling that was key to her downfall. It served as a constant justification for those voting in favor of impeachment, even if there were other, more partisan, motives for their moves.

It was the judiciary, too, that felled the immensely popular Lula, who was barred from running for president this year after the Supreme Court upheld the initial conviction against him for corruption. Despite his defiance, including a New York Times op-ed claiming that jailing him was akin to the military dictatorship's 1964 coup, Brazil's judiciary persisted.

Another telling fact about the Lava Jato process is that, rather than having its origins in one of Brazil's highest courts, the investigation started in Curitiba, a relatively minor Brazilian city, before wending its way through the country's judicial system. The popular head of the investigation, Sérgio Moro, was an unknown judge on the 13th Federal Court until 2014, when he began to publicize the sordid details of corruption in Brazilian politics--and not just among those in the ruling Workers' Party but politicians across the political spectrum. The elevation of Lava Jato from a provincial city to the highest courts in the country--without getting derailed by the many powerful enemies seeking to quash the investigation--speaks to the vigor of Brazil's judiciary from the top to the bottom.

Moro has since been tapped to join Bolsonaro's cabinet to fight organized crime and corruption. He has stated that he views joining the government as his best chance to ensure lasting progress in the fight against corruption. Moro has a wealth of political capital to wage his campaign, and he will most likely have high-level support for his efforts to strengthen judicial capacity. Bolsonaro himself understands how central this fight is to his electoral mandate. It is clear that a major part of why he won the presidency is that Brazilians were fed up with corruption and wanted a radical shakeup of politics in Brasília. The president-elect managed to parlay his untainted image, despite almost 30 years in politics, into one of an anti-corruption crusader unwilling to play politics as usual.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Republicans Kept Embarrassing Themselves While Trying to Get Google's CEO to Admit the Company Was Biased Against Conservatives (AARON MAK, DEC 11, 2018, Slate)

At the beginning of the hearing, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith tried to needle Pichai with a series of studies and statistics claiming to show suppression of pro-Trump viewpoints in Google search results. Smith cited a claim from conservative outlet PJ Media that 96 percent of results for a search on news about Trump were from left-wing media and findings from psychologist Robert Epstein that Google could have swung 2.6 million votes in Hillary Clinton's favor during the 2016 election. Pichai responded that Google had investigated the specific findings, which allowed him to pivot the line of questioning to a debate over the studies' methodologies all while maintaining that Google in no way discriminates against conservatives.

Later on, Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot brought up his own grievances, claiming that Google had given lower page ranks to positive coverage of bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and to the 2017 Republican tax cut. "I understand the frustration at seeing negative news.

I see it on me on Google," Pichai responded, performing a bit of rhetorical jiujitsu. "There are times you can search on Google, and page after page there is negative news, which we reflect." Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, later helped to underscore that point by complaining in jest that Breitbart and the Daily Caller seemed to dominate the first page of search results when he Googled himself.

These allegations of conservative bias also produced the hearing's most glaring gaffes--from the representatives. They played into criticisms that Congress lacks basic knowledge of the tech industry. In arguing that Google relies too heavily on "liberal" Wikipedia, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert admitted that his staff was altering his own Wikipedia page every night for two weeks, only to be rebuffed by the site's editors. (Wikipedia guidelines state that editing an employer's page is a "conflict of interest.") Iowa Rep. Steve King, after issuing several stern threats to impose regulations on Google to deal with political bias, ended his time asking why his granddaughter had come across a profane meme featuring his picture while using an iPhone. Pichai responded, "Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Gap continues to widen between Trump and intelligence community on key issues (Greg Miller, December 11, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump, for example, asserted in June that because of his administration's negotiations with Pyongyang, there is "no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea." U.S. intelligence officials said that there is no such view among analysts.

Trump accused Iran of violating a 2015 nuclear agreement with the United States and other major powers despite assessments by U.S. spy agencies and allies that Tehran was in compliance. More recently, Trump has claimed that his decision to abandon the nuclear deal had forced Iran into regional retreat and led to turnover in the top ranks of its government. "They're a much, much different group of leaders," he said in June.

But CIA assessments do not describe any such shift, officials said, noting that Iran's religious rulers remain firmly entrenched and that the country continues to uses proxies to fuel conflict across the Middle East.

Perhaps most notably, Trump has repeatedly undercut the agency's assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was a contributing columnist for The Post.

The agency reached that conclusion with "medium to high confidence," terms that reflect a high degree of certainty. But Trump has described the CIA as having vague "feelings" on Mohammed's culpability, and when pressed on whether he thought the crown prince gave the order, said, "Maybe he did, maybe he didn't."

By contrast, senior lawmakers emerged from a session last week with CIA Director Gina Haspel saying the case against Mohammed was overwhelming. "There's not a smoking gun -- there's a smoking saw," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said, referring to the alleged dismemberment of Khashoggi's corpse. [...]

One official said CIA employees were staggered by Trump's performance during a news conference with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in Helsinki earlier this year in which Trump treated denials by Putin as so "strong and powerful" that they offset the conclusions of the CIA.

"There was this gasp" among those watching at CIA, the official said. "You literally had people in panic mode watching it at Langley. On all floors. Just shock."

The disorienting impact of such statements has rippled beyond CIA headquarters even to stations overseas, where intelligence operatives have struggled to comprehend Trump's characterization of developments abroad.

"I think you definitely do see a bewilderment and a concern over the president's conduct and relationship to the intelligence community," said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who frequently visits with senior CIA officials on overseas trips.

Trump's disagreements are not driven by "questions about their methodology or differing interpretations of the same facts," Schiff said. "He wants to tell an alternate narrative."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


White Voters Without A Degree Remained Staunchly Republican In 2018 (Nathaniel Rakich and Julia Wolfe, 12/11/18, 538)

In 2016, educational divides emerged as one of the top explanations of voters' choices: White voters without a bachelor's degree made up the Republican base, while a coalition of nonwhite voters and white college graduates formed the Democratic base. The 2018 midterms seemed to continue what we saw in 2016: Districts with bigger black populations, Hispanic populations or college-educated non-Hispanic white populations tended to vote more Democratic, while non-college-educated white voters remained strongly loyal to the GOP. We found a clear negative relationship (R = -0.72) between the Democratic margin of victory in a district and the share of the district's population age 25 or older who are non-Hispanic white and lack a bachelor's degree -- a group that pundits often call the "white working class."

...isn't paying attention.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Beto O'Rourke beats Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in progressive group's straw poll (bRENDAN mORROW, 12/11/18, tHE wEEK)

A poll published Tuesday found that when it comes to the Democratic presidential primary in 2020, members of one progressive organization don't lean toward former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- they prefer Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas).

The one thing he has going for him is youth, which she checks.   

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Trump's Catastrophic Meeting with Chuck and Nancy (Martin Longman,  December 11, 2018, Washington Monthly)

Jerry Moran is a Republican senator from Kansas. He's obviously not pleased with Trump's performance. And it's not just that Trump voluntarily offered to take "the mantle" of responsibility for a government shutdown. He had invited the Democratic leaders to the White House because he needs their help and then he proceeded to spew a fire hydrant level of lies about the border wall and related topics that Schumer and Pelosi shot down with mocking contempt.

On several occasions, Pelosi begged Trump to stop forcing them to contradict him in public in front of the press before the negotiations could even begin, but he insisted on pressing on, only to get owned over and over again.

How could shutting down the government over his wall ever not be attributed to him?
Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Pelosi Questions Trump's 'Manhood' Following Contentious Oval Office Meeting (Alex Griswold, December 11, 2018, Washington Examiner)

Pelosi went from the White House to a Democratic caucus committee meeting, at which multiple outlets report that the soon-to-be speaker of the House went off on the president.

"It's like a manhood thing for him," the Washington Post quotes Pelosi as saying, citing a source in the room. "As if manhood could ever be associated with him. This wall thing."

Has anyone ever accused him of being a man? His entire politics is that of cowardice.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


As Good an Attorney General as We're Likely to Get (Benjamin Wittes, 12/09/18, The Atlantic)

It is better to have an attorney general nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate in an undoubtedly legal fashion than to have an acting attorney general serving in circumstances of dubious legality.

It is better to have an attorney general who is steeped in the traditions and culture of the Justice Department than to have an acting attorney general who is understood at the department to be operating as the "eyes and ears" of a president who is busily attacking the institution.

It is better to have an attorney general who has run the department before and served with distinction in other senior roles within it than to have an acting attorney general whose experience is limited to a brief stint running a relatively sleepy U.S. Attorney's Office, and an even briefer stint as the chief of staff to the attorney general.

Read: Trump picks a Washington insider as his next attorney general

And it is better to have an attorney general with a long-standing professional reputation as a lawyer to protect than to have an acting attorney general who is professionally on the make and dependent on the president, and whose career has included no legal practice of any distinction but, instead, work for some rather shady outfits.

None of this is a character reference on behalf of Bill Barr, President Donald Trump's nominee to run the Justice Department. In fact, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about Barr's nomination.

They are, however, all reasons to be cautiously optimistic about his nomination. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


Republicans Must Reject 'Russia Hoax' Conspiracies and Examine the Evidence (DAVID FRENCH, December 10, 2018, National Review)

The idea that the FBI used the Russia investigation to intervene in the election to hurt Trump and help Clinton has always strained credulity. After all, the Russia investigation remained secret during the election while the FBI not only publicly reopened the Hillary email investigation, it also confirmed the existence of an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation and exposed rifts with the Obama Department of Justice -- casting the FBI as heroically resisting Obama-administration pressure to avoid any "overt steps" in the Clinton Foundation investigation during the campaign.

Publicly the FBI torpedoed Clinton. Privately it investigated the Trump campaign.

And now, with each new revelation from the Mueller investigation, we understand that claims of "entrapment" are increasingly bizarre. The more we learn about Trump World's contacts with Russians or Russian operatives, the more astounding it becomes. Consider this partial summary:

Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, lied to Congress about his contacts with a Russian government official as he tried to negotiate a Trump Tower Moscow deal deep into the 2016 presidential campaign.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has lied about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged asset of Russian intelligence.

Longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone (and Stone's sidekick, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi) allegedly tried to communicate with WikiLeaks, a "hostile intelligence service," to obtain advance information about Julian Assange's planned document dumps.

Donald Trump's son, campaign chairman, and son-in-law met with a purported Russian representative with the intention of receiving "official documents" as part of a "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about his own contacts with a professor who "claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials" and who claimed to have access to "dirt" on Hillary in the form of "thousands of emails."

Indeed, the list of known contacts between Russians and senior Trump officials (and Trump family members) keeps growing. In less partisan times they'd generate far more bipartisan concern. Even now, they should at the very least demolish the worst of the pro-Trump conspiracy theories.

Like your colleague. The poor Trumpbots are going to have trouble facing themselves, nevermind decent Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 AM


Jared Kushner did what? (Jennifer Rubin, December 10, 2018, Washington Post)

The Times article should be deeply troubling on multiple levels. First, it's obvious Kushner was as gullible and unsophisticated on foreign policy matters as his father-in-law, making him a sitting duck for manipulation by the Saudis ("The prince and his advisers, eager to enlist American support for his hawkish policies in the region and for his own consolidation of power, cultivated the relationship with Mr. Kushner for more than two years"). If you want to know how an administration could so naively and completely base its foreign policy on the Saudis and come to believe the kingdom was actually going to sponsor the peace process and get away with denying culpability in the gruesome murder of Khashoggi, one should start with the easily snowed Kushner.

Second, what in the world is a U.S. official doing advising a foreign leader on how to escape blame for the murder of a U.S. national, a crime so repulsive that a bipartisan push is underway in Congress to enact sanctions and end arms sales to the Saudis? Giving advice to Mohammed bin Salman under these circumstances demonstrates the sort of moral blindness we rarely witness (aside from Trump). "Success" -- letting MBS get away with murder -- would be a moral abomination quite apart from the foreign policy implications.

Third, Kushner -- whether because he has financial interests or because he's easily bamboozled -- has lost track of where his loyalties should lie. He owes the United States his undivided loyalty and should never be in a position in which he assumes defense of any foreign leader. He has created a classic conflict of interest in which we cannot determine if he is motivated solely by concern for U.S. foreign policy (which he foolishly and excessively tilted in the Saudis' direction) or because of personal loyalties or business interests.

...about its hatred of Muslims and democracy, so why wouldn't it ally with regimes that oppress Arabs?

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM


After Ayers Turns Down Chief of Staff Job, Trump Is Left Without a Plan B (Katie Rogers, Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni, Dec. 10, 2018, NY Times)

After Nick Ayers, the Georgia political operative who was the president's top pick, declined the job -- something of a plot twist in a presidency notorious for its episodic cliffhangers -- Mr. Trump is without a Plan B. Several of his aides expressed frustration that months of intense campaigning to replace John F. Kelly -- an effort led by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president's elder daughter and son-in-law -- resulted in yet another chaotic staffing scramble in a White House splintered by factions and rife with turnover.

The folks happy to oversee his removal are unacceptable to him.

'The bottom is going to fall out': White House reporter says Republicans are privately discussing abandoning Trump (Bob Brigham BOB BRIGHAM, 10 DEC 2018, Raw Story)

[A]s Chris Christie pointed out, the Mueller investigation, Southern District of New York, they probably have a lot more evidence than just the word of Michael Cohen and that has to worry the president," Stokols explained.

"Yes, he and Rudy Giuliani on some level believe they can continue to attack the investigators, to try and convince the public that there's something nefarious and something politically motivated about this," he noted. "But when all the facts are laid out and people can see the investigators' work, I think it's going to be very problematic for this president."

Republicans on Capitol Hill are also growing anxious.

"And there is some understanding, I think, inside the White House of just how dark it may be getting, especially in terms of conversations -- private conversations -- that people there are having with Republicans on the Hill who are starting to be concerned," Stokols reported.

"Republican lawmakers who are -- have a huge role to play in this if it goes forward -- are starting to tell me privately, some of them, that, you know, if there's obvious evidence, the bottom is going to fall out," he explained.

"They're not going to be able to stand by this White House and that's a looming problem for the president," he concluded.

Trump may even face a greater threat from the Southern District of New York investigations.

"It's much harder to stop what's happening in that office as opposed to with the special counsel's investigation," Stokols noted. "This train has left the station, there's really nothing that this White House can do about it."

"I think that's a source of frustration to the president. Also, it's difficult to politicize, it's difficult to go out and demonize that office because, as you pointed out already, that's a Trump appointee running that office," he added.

Trump has become increasingly concerned in recent weeks about what his administration is facing come January, when newly empowered Democrats are expected to unleash the full force of their oversight powers on the Trump administration.

Those include compelling Cabinet secretaries to testify, requesting the President's tax returns and scrutinizing some of his most controversial policy decisions. Trump often complained that Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, was not politically shrewd enough for the task.

The details of the President's discussions, which have not been reported on previously, reveal how close Ayers was to becoming chief of staff. He and Trump huddled several times over the last week in the residence of the White House, where they were afforded more privacy than in the staff-filled West Wing, but they ultimately could not agree to terms and Ayers declined the job.

Multiple sources familiar with Trump's mood told CNN he's frustrated with the Ayers process. One source described his mood as "super pissed." A second added he feels humiliated, a position he doesn't like to be in, because the President did not have a backup candidate prepared like he typically does when he's fielding people for jobs.

December 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Adapting to wildfires (Terry L. Anderson and Andrew J. Plantinga, December 9, 2018, washington Times)

The result of misguided policies is that the number of California homes built in the WUI grew by 34 percent between 1990 and 2010, bringing the total to nearly 5 million homes. Research published in Land Use Policy estimates that nearly 12 million acres of wild and agricultural lands in California will be replaced with houses by 2050. Nearly 1 million homes will be "in 'very high' wildfire severity zones." Regardless of the cause, wildfires will be more devastating than they have been.

Insurance companies are sending a clearer signal to homeowners regarding wildfire risk. State officials reported that non-renewals increased by 15 percent between 2015 and 2016 and that some premiums have increased five-fold. Such signals should encourage less development in the WUI.

Policies that require wildland-urban interface homeowners to support CAL-FIRE are another step in the direction of homeowner accountability. The third-largest source of funding for CAL FIRE is the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund. It required each WUI homeowner to pay a fee of $153.33 per year. Similarly, Santa Barbara's Wildlife Fire Suppression Assessment District requires 3,300 homes to pay only $65 per year for fire prevention services. The former, however, was suspended in 2018 until 2031, and the latter is tiny compared to fire prevention expenditures.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


What Good Did USA Today's Ambushing Kyler Murray Do Anyone? (CHARLES C. W. COOKE, December 10, 2018, National Review)

What, one has to ask, is the public-interest angle here? Fourteen-year-olds say stupid things constantly. Yes, all of them. What possible good can it do to punish them as adults for the thought crimes they committed as minors? Had Murray committed an actual crime -- say, shoplifting or joyriding or the like -- it would likely have been expunged from his record when he reached the age of majority, especially given how impressive a young man he has become in the interim. And even if it hadn't, the press would likely have been circumspect about bringing it up. But tweets? Apparently, we just Have to Know -- and on the day of his triumph, to boot.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


A Conservative Judge Torched Donald Trump's Latest Illegal Assault on Immigrants (MARK JOSEPH STERN, DEC 10, 20184, sLATE)

In a meticulous 65-page opinion, Bybee--a conservative George W. Bush appointee--explained that the president cannot rewrite a federal statute to deny asylum to immigrants who enter the country without authorization. His decision for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a twofold rebuke to Trump, halting the president's legal assault on asylum-seekers and undermining his claim that any judge who blocked the order is a Democratic hack. The reality is that anyone who understands the English language should recognize that Trump's new rule is illegal. Like so many of Trump's attention-grabbing proposals, this doomed policy should never have been treated as legitimate in the first place.

Kavanaugh, Roberts side with liberal judges on Planned Parenthood case (ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN 12/10/2018, Politico)

Chief Justice John Roberts and the newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, joined the court's four liberal jurists in turning away a pair of petitions from Kansas and Louisiana seeking the ban on abortion providers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


US starts to withdraw troops from Trump border mission (LOLITA C. BALDOR, 12/10/18, AP)

The U.S. this week will begin withdrawing many of the active duty troops sent to the border with Mexico by President Donald Trump just before the midterm election in response to a caravan of Central American migrants, U.S. officials said Monday.

About 2,200 of the active duty troops will be pulled out before the holidays, the officials said, shrinking an unusual domestic deployment that was viewed by critics as a political stunt and a waste of military resources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Accused Russian spy Maria Butina appears to reach plea deal (Sara Murray and Katelyn Polantz, December 10, 2018, CNN)

Maria Butina, an accused Russian spy who nuzzled up to the National Rifle Association before the 2016 election, appears to have reached a plea deal with the Justice Department, according to a new court filing in her criminal case.

Her attorneys and prosecutors filed a two-page request on Monday for a "change of plea" hearing before a federal judge as soon as Tuesday. "The parties have resolved this matter," the filing in DC federal court said Monday morning. Butina's case was brought by federal prosecutors in DC and not by Robert Mueller's team in the special counsel's office.

NRA leader, Jack Abramoff and GOP operative tied to alleged Russian spy Maria Butina have long history as foreign agents lobbying together (Anna Massoglia, December 10, 2018, Open Secrets)

In December 2015, Butina's Russian gun-rights organization called the Right to Bear Arms sponsored an NRA delegation to Moscow where attendees met with influential Russian officials including former deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin who had been under U.S. sanctions since 2014.

The convoy to Moscow included Keene, Trump campaign surrogate Sheriff David Clarke, president and CEO of the Outdoor Channel Jim Liberatore, soon-to-be NRA president Peter Brownell and NRA donors Jim Gregory, Arnold Goldschlager and Hilary Goldschlager.

Alexander Torshin -- a Russian politician and longtime associate of Butina who has since come under U.S. sanctions -- played a key role in the trip and, allegedly, Russia's decade-long operation infiltrating American conservative groups. A conservative Nashville lawyer named G. Kline Preston IV who has done business in Russia claims that he first introduced David Keene to Torshin in 2011 while Keene was NRA president.

Keene and Torshin quickly forged an alliance based on mutual interests.

"Just a brief note to let you know just how much I enjoyed meeting in Pittsburgh during the NRA annual meeting," Keene wrote in a 2011 letter later obtained by anti-corruption activists in Russia that extended a personal invitation to the NRA's conference the following year.

Keene added, "If there is anything any of us can do to help you in your endeavors . . . please don't hesitate to let us know."

"We will start organizing our own Russian NRA," Torshin tweeted shortly thereafter.

In 2011, Maria Butina became founding chair of a new Russian gun rights group called the Right to Bear Arms.

By 2013, Keene was introduced as an honored guest at the Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow. "There are no peoples that are more alike than Americans and Russians," Keene said. "We're hunters. We're shooters. We value the same kinds of things... we need to work together."

Erickson accompanied Keene to the 2013 conference, where he reportedly first crossed paths with Butina.

Senate intelligence and finance committees have reportedly requested documents on the NRA's connections to Russia, including documents related to whether the NRA took Russian money and the 2015 delegation. After spending a record $54.4 million to put President Donald Trump in the White House and support Republicans in Congress, the NRA's membership dues dropped precipitously the following year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


New Lawsuit Seeks to Expose How Giuliani Knew in Advance That Comey Would Reopen Clinton Probe (Matt Naham, December 10th, 2018, Law & Crime)

President Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani is the star of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's (CREW) lawsuit filed on Monday in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

CREW said, citing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that the point of this action was to find the "source of the leak of information to Rudolph Giuliani in October 2016 that then-FBI Director James B. Comey was going to reopen the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of personal email system." [...]

"In recent testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, Mr. Comey confirmed that he had ordered a leak investigation after Mr. Giuliani's public statements indicated he had inside knowledge of the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton that appeared to stem from his communications with people in the FBI's New York field office," the filing continued.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Did Trump's enemies try to derail a trade deal with China? (DAVID P. GOLDMAN, DECEMBER 6, 2018, Asia Times)

The news has stunned financial market participants and policy analysts, for two reasons.

First, never before has the United States attempted the extraterritorial rendition of a foreign citizen - Meng is a Chinese national - in connection with sanctions violations. It has imposed travel and banking restrictions, but seeking an arrest warrant for this is entirely without precedent.

Earlier this year, the US government banned exports of US computer chips to the Chinese telecommunications equipment ZTE in retaliation for violations of sanctions against Iran, but sought no arrests.

Second, Meng was arrested on December 1, the day that President Trump and his economic team dined with President Xi Jinping and his advisers at the Group of 20 Summit in Buenos Aires. Trump has every interest in striking a deal with China that would enable him to declare some measure of victory in a trade war, and China has shown every indication that it is willing to make concessions to the United States on intellectual property protection, financial market opening and, at least in rhetoric, on industrial policy, while increasing its imports from the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Argentina and Trump's funny money (Jonathan Swan, Alayna Treene, 12/10/18, Axios)

And Macri told a story everyone in the room found hilarious. Here it is, as recalled by one source in the room and confirmed, in broad detail, by another source in the room and a third source briefed on the conversation:

When Macri was running for president, he got a phone call out of the blue. "This is Donald Trump," Macri told the people in the room, impersonating the future president and pretending to hold a phone to his head. "I've been watching you."

The call amazed Macri, he told listeners. "Trump goes on to say, 'I remember you fondly and I remember the business deal,'" one participant recalled. "And Macri says, 'Fondly? Fondly, you son of a gun?'"

Trump told Macri he would help him. "Yeah, yeah," Macri replied, as if he didn't think much of it at the time.

Some days after the call, a big FedEx envelope came in the mail with a check from Trump to Macri's campaign. One source thought the check was for $500; another thought $5,000.

Then came the punchline: Macri told the room that when his team went to deposit the check, it bounced.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM



WE'RE HEADING SOUTHEAST on Interstate 10, headed into Tucson, Arizona, when we pass the group of men in orange jumpsuits and hard hats working on the side of the highway. "Inmates Working," the sign on the back of the truck parked on the shoulder says. It's the sort of sight that can generate a swirl of curiosity, pity, and distaste in a person, but the robot doesn't register anything about who these men are. It's thinking about that parked truck and the rule buried in its code that says when it senses something on the shoulder, it's supposed to clear out of the right lane. Checking it has plenty of room, it makes a quick juke to the left, pulling its 18 wheels and four human passengers over the dashed white line.

This lane change is just one of a variety of impressive maneuvers TuSimple's self-driving truck executes during a 40-minute demo ride I took with the company's CTO, Xiaodi Hou, on a sunny Friday morning last month. Between a smooth merge onto the highway and an easy exit, it cruised steadily, adjusting its speed and position as necessary to accommodate its human-piloted neighbors.

Powering the impressive showing are the sensors studded around the truck, including two lidar laser scanners and a forward-facing radar. The key to the system, though, is the handful of cameras looking forward, to the side, and to the back. In an increasingly crowded robo-trucking field, TuSimple's bid to stand out hinges on those cameras, which Hou says let the vehicle see as far as 1,000 meters ahead--nearly triple the range claimed by by most of its competitors. With them, Hou is attempting to solve one of the most dastardly problems facing engineers who are trying to make vehicles that drive themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


House Republicans Took One Final Shot at Comey--and Discredited Themselves (WILLIAM SALETAN, DEC 10, 2018, Slate)

Strzok shouldn't have written those texts. You can't go around calling a dirtbag a dirtbag when part of your job is to investigate, in a publicly credible way, whether the dirtbag was involved in crimes. But it's been more than a year since the texts came out. Republicans have had three chances--the IG report, the July hearing, and Friday's hearing--to produce any evidence that Strzok's low opinion of Trump altered the investigations. Three times, they've swung and missed. They've struck out. 

Every step of the process has shown the House GOP to be faking it for political reasons.  Why should their last gasp be any different?

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


Assad: Israel deliberately caused Syria to down Russian plane (Times of Israel, 12/10/18)

Syria's President Bashar Assad says Israel deliberately caused Syrian ground batteries to down a Russian transport aircraft during an Israeli airstrike on September 17.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Bug business: Cockroaches corralled by the millions in China to crunch waste (Thomas Suen, Ryan Woo, 12/10/18, Reuters) 

In the near pitch-dark, you can hear them before you see them - millions of cockroaches scuttling and fluttering across stacks of wooden boards as they devour food scraps by the tonne in a novel form of urban waste disposal.

The air is warm and humid - just as cockroaches like it - to ensure the colonies keep their health and voracious appetites.

Expanding Chinese cities are generating more food waste than they can accommodate in landfills, and cockroaches could be a way to get rid of hills of food scraps, providing nutritious food for livestock when the bugs eventually die and, some say, cures for stomach illness and beauty treatments.

On the outskirts of Jinan, capital of eastern Shandong province, a billion cockroaches are being fed with 50 tonnes of kitchen waste a day - the equivalent in weight to seven adult elephants.

The waste arrives before daybreak at the plant run by Shandong Qiaobin Agricultural Technology Co, where it is fed through pipes to cockroaches in their cells.

Shandong Qiaobin plans to set up three more such plants next year, aiming to process a third of the kitchen waste produced by Jinan, home to about seven million people.

A nationwide ban on using food waste as pig feed due to African swine fever outbreaks is also spurring the growth of the cockroach industry.

"Cockroaches are a bio-technological pathway for the converting and processing of kitchen waste," said Liu Yusheng, president of Shandong Insect Industry Association.

Cockroaches are also a good source of protein for pigs and other livestock. "It's like turning trash into resources," said Shandong Qiaobin chairwoman Li Hongyi.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


THE SCIENTIFIC CASE FOR EATING BREAD (Markham Heid, December 8, 2018, Quartz)

[G]o digging through the published, peer-reviewed evidence on bread and human health, and most of what you'll find suggests that bread is either benign or, in the case of whole-grain types, quite beneficial.

"We have conducted several meta-analyses on whole-grain consumption and health outcomes like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature mortality," says Dagfinn Aune, a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. "When looking at specific sources of grains, whole-grain bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wheat bran were all associated with reduced risks."

Asked if bread should be considered a "junk" food, Aune says the opposite is true. "Whole-grain breads are healthy, and a high intake of whole grains is associated with a large range of health benefits," he says, citing links to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and mortality. In fact, his research has found that eating the equivalent of 7.5 slices of whole-grain bread per day is linked with "optimal" health outcomes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Mike Pompeo swaggers his way to failure (Jackson Diehl, December 9, 2018, Washington Post)

"Swagger" diplomacy sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Pompeo has made it his motto. He launched his Instagram account in September by rebranding State as "the department of Swagger." An op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal last month was laced with it, contemptuously dismissing congressional and media outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So was a speech he delivered last week in Brussels, in which he trashed the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Criminal Court, the Organization of American States, and, perhaps for good measure, the African Union.

The results? The Senate voted 63-to-37 to halt all U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's calamitous intervention in Yemen, with 14 Republicans joining all 49 Democrats. The head of the IMF coolly observed that Pompeo didn't know what he was talking about. And the European Union went ahead with plans to substitute euros for dollars in energy transactions, making it easier for the bloc to circumvent new U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Done With Michael Cohen, Federal Prosecutors Shift Focus to Trump Family Business (Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 9, 2018, NY Times)

At the time of the payments to the two women, Mr. Trump was the head of the company, and although he turned over its management to his elder sons, he still owns it through a trust. While the prevailing view at the Justice Department is that a sitting president cannot be indicted, the prosecutors in Manhattan could consider charging him after leaving office. It is also possible the prosecutors could seek his testimony before he leaves office if they continue the investigation into anyone else who might have had a role in the crimes, a person briefed on the matter said. [...]

In early September, before Mr. Cohen had completed his discussions with prosecutors and before the Southern District renewed its record request, Bloomberg reported that the Southern District was investigating Trump Organization executives other than Mr. Cohen. [...]

Mr. Cohen has told the Southern District prosecutors that he arranged the hush money to the two women at the direction of Mr. Trump. In the filing on Friday, the Southern District prosecutors put the weight of their office behind Mr. Cohen's admission, saying that "with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of" Mr. Trump. [...]

Mr. Cohen also pleaded guilty to "causing" an illegal corporate donation to Mr. Trump when he urged American Media Inc., which publishes The National Enquirer, to buy the rights to a former Playboy model's story of an affair with Mr. Trump. The deal effectively silenced the model, Karen McDougal, for the remainder of the campaign.

Mr. Cohen has also told the Southern District that Mr. Weisselberg, who is one of Mr. Trump's longtime loyalists, was involved in discussions about how to pay Ms. Daniels, according to a person briefed on the matter. Mr. Cohen linked him to the deal with American Media as well.

During the campaign, Mr. Cohen recorded a conversation he had with Mr. Trump about buying the rights to negative information American Media had collected on Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen told Mr. Trump, who did not know he was being recorded, that "I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up." The deal was signed by American Media and Mr. Cohen, according to court papers. But a person familiar with the arrangement said that Mr. Trump balked at reimbursing America Media, as had been agreed to, and the media company was never reimbursed in relation to Ms. McDougal.

But after the campaign, Mr. Weisselberg handled reimbursing Mr. Cohen for the payment to Ms. Daniels, according to people briefed on the matter. In early 2017, Mr. Cohen sought to recoup the $130,000 he paid out of his own pocket to Ms. Daniels as well as $50,000 he spent on a technology company in connection with the campaign, prosecutors have said.

Not only did the Trump Organization repay those expenses, but it agreed to pay taxes Mr. Cohen might have incurred on the reimbursements. This decision to "gross up" Mr. Cohen went against the Trump Organization's typical reimbursement practices, people briefed on the matter said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nick Ayers, Aide to Pence, Declines Offer to Be Trump's Chief of Staff (Maggie Haberman, Dec. 9, 2018, NY Times)

The decision leaves Mr. Trump to contend with fresh uncertainty as he enters the 2020 campaign amid growing danger from the Russia investigation and from Democrats who have vowed tougher oversight, and could even pursue impeachment, after they take over the House next month. [...]

[T]wo people close to Mr. Trump said that a news release announcing Mr. Ayers's appointment had been drafted, and that the president had wanted to announce it as soon as possible.

December 9, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM



"It certainly looks like they are the kind of offenses that would call for impeachment hearings into the conduct of the president of the United States," Bernstein told host Brian Stelter. "There's something much more important than just impeachment going on, and that is the fact that Donald Trump for the first time in his life is cornered," he said.

The journalist pointed out that the former businessman "always could bully his way out of a corner" when he was managing his private company. "He always could buy his way out, cheat his way out. He is boxed in by Mueller, and the people around him know that he is," Bernstein pointed out.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


2018 Was a Record Year for School Gun Violence -- and it Wasn't Even Close (DANIEL POLITI, DEC 09, 2018, Slate)

It already seemed obvious that 2018 was a particularly bad year for gun violence in schools. But data cited by advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise are truly staggering. According to research by the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School there were 94 school shooting incidents in 2018, which is almost 60 percent higher than the previous record of 59 that had been set in 2006. The NPS database dates back to 1970 and documents any instance in which a gun is "brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason."

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and transition (Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Carol D. Leonnig December 9, 2018, Washington Post)

The Russian ambassador. A deputy prime minister. A pop star, a weightlifter, a lawyer, a Soviet army veteran with alleged intelligence ties.

Again and again and again, over the course of Donald Trump's 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit.

Some offered to help his campaign and his real estate business. Some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent. Repeatedly, Russian nationals suggested Trump should hold a peacemaking sit-down with Vladi­mir Putin -- and offered to broker such a summit.

In all, Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and presidential transition, public records and interviews show.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Comey Says FBI Looked Into Possible 'Connection' Between Four Trump Campaign Associates and Russia in 2016  (Erin Banco & Betsy Woodruff, 12.08.18, Daily Beast)

The FBI's scrutiny of Donald Trump's wider presidential campaign team over fears of collusion with Kremlin election-meddling began as far back as the summer of 2016, according to the former FBI Director James Comey.

Comey revealed in testimony to congressional investigators that four Americans somehow connected to the campaign, but not Trump himself, had come into the FBI's sights in late July, well before polling day.

The details were made public for the first time on Saturday when the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees released the transcript of Friday's seven-hour, closed-door interview with Comey.

Comey's statements provide new information about the timing of the federal government's probe into the 2016 presidential battle between Trump and Democrat Party nominee Hillary Clinton, and could offer new clues about what's coming down the pipeline from the Department of Justice. [...]

Representatives in the closed-door interview posed several questions to Comey about the special counsel's investigation into obstruction. At one point Gowdy asked Comey about his termination from the FBI.

"He is entitled to his opinion, but to the extent--because he also stated that he is also a witness in the investigation," said Cecilia Bessee, a lawyer for the FBI present at the interview.

"Which investigation is he a witness in?" Gowdy asked.

"To the special counsel," Bessee said, switching her phrasing on Comey's witness status. "He said he is a potential witness."

"Well, you just said witness," Gowdy said. "Is there an obstruction of justice investigation?"

"I believe there is an investigation that the special counsel is looking into," Bessee said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Fruscella & Moore: An Important Find : a review of Tony Fruscella & Brew Moore Quintet  (Doug Ramsey, 12/08/18, Rifftides)

Fruscella was one of the young lions of the New York jazz scene in the late 1940s and early '50s. Moore was active in New Orleans in the early forties--he later called it his "training ground--then in New York. Later, he was in demand in San Francisco. Peripatetic throughout his career, Moore worked in Paris for a time with drummer Kenny Clarke, moved to Copenhagen, back to New York, then to Copenhagen again, where he died in 1973 after falling down a flight of stairs. Like Moore and so many others of their jazz generation, Fruscella had drug problems and died in 1969.

The intimacy of Fruscella's tone and phrasing made him an attraction during his New York period in the fifties and helped inspire Atlantic Records to record him. The 1955 sessions resulted in the album Tony Fruscella, which became  an underground favorite and was finally reissued as a 12-inch LP thirty years later. The "new" Fruscella-Moore album just issued was also recorded in 1955. The rhythm section was New York stalwarts Bill Triglia, piano; Teddy Kotick, bass and Bill Heine, drums. Preparation for the March, 1954, date was informal, as the preponderance of blues indicates. The two takes of "Bill Triglia's Original," with its interesting middle section, constitute an interesting compositional exception. The individuality and inventiveness of the soloists and are what matter here. We may learn nothing dramatically new about Fruscella and Moore, but we are rewarded with an hour of their music that until now has been all but unknown. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


The ignored story of 'America's biggest serial killer' (George F. Will, December 7, 2018, Washington Post)

Recently in Texas, Samuel Little, 78, has been confessing to about 90 murders spanning 35 years. Now serving three life sentences for the murders of three Los Angeles women during the 1980s, he has been giving police details that seem to validate his claim to have killed in at least 14 states. A Texas district attorney says "we anticipate that Samuel Little will be confirmed as one of the most prolific serial killers in American history," and the New York Times observes, "How a serial murderer could go on killing for years, apparently without anyone noticing a pattern, seems perplexing."

That Gosnell could have been a much more prolific killer than Little is not perplexing, for two reasons. People who should have known did not want to know because knowing would have forced them to answer questions about when in an infant's gestation it is preposterous to deny that a baby is present. And given that most "reproductive rights" militants oppose restrictions on late-term abortions because pre-born babies supposedly have no more moral significance than tumors, Gosnell sincerely thought he was doing nothing wrong in guaranteeing dead babies for those who paid for late-term abortions. This is why, in the movie and as actually happened, a female prosecutor is accurately warned by her supervisor that she would be characterized as "the prosecutor who went after reproductive rights."

No one knows how many -- certainly hundreds, probably thousands -- spinal cords Gosnell snipped before the 2010 raid on his "clinic." Law enforcement came looking for illegal drugs. They also found jars of babies' feet, fetal remains in toilets and milk cartons, and a pervasive smell of cat feces -- in a facility that had not been inspected for 17 years. Pennsylvania nail salons receive biennial inspections.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Comments on Abortion in the New York Times (Michael Gerson, July 17, 2009, Washinton Post)

The New York Times Magazine printed a candid interview with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, including this portion:

Q: "Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid abortions for poor women?"

Justice Ginsburg: "Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae -- in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion."

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


A New Moral Imagination on Immigration (Pramila Jayapal, NY Review of Books)

During the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the demand for labor in this new, growing nation meant that almost anyone who arrived here was allowed into the country with just a physical exam--unless they fell into a few deeply exclusionary categories. Before 1921, the only immigration laws that existed were ones that restricted Chinese people from immigrating (repealed only in 1943), as well as excluding most other Asians and certain categories of people such as prostitutes, those with "dangerous and loathsome contagious disease," or "the insane." Later, in 1921 and 1924, quotas were established based on race and nationality, heavily favoring immigrants from Western Europe. 

But because there were few laws and little bureaucratic control over who came and stayed, undocumented immigration was the norm for generations. As much as "amnesty" has become a dirty word today, amnesties were applied to waves of European immigrants who were here without proper authorization. The 1929 Registry Act, for example, allowed "honest law-abiding alien[s] who may be in the country under some merely technical irregularity" to register as permanent residents if they could prove they had been here since 1921 and were of "good moral character."  

It wasn't until 1965 that the national-origin quota system was abolished and replaced with a system whereby immigrants were admitted on the basis of relationships to immediate family members or employers. The last major overhaul of the immigration system to increase legal admissions caps, in 1990, focused largely on employment-based visas.

Complex and multifaceted as our history on immigration is, it is marked by two deep traditions that are at war with each other. One is inextricably bound up with bigotry, while the other is tied to the spirit of generosity and renewal of a country that is always being shaped by those who come here. This battle has to be fought in every generation, and it has never been easy. [...]

As America grows and ages, our economy needs immigrants to replenish America's work force as baby-boomers age. In the fast-growing industries of domestic care, home health aides, nursing assistants, and personal care aides, immigrants make up the vast majority of workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that in those industries alone, from 2016 to 2026, the US will need workers to fill 1.2 million jobs. Yet our legal immigration system is groaning under the weight of outdated category caps that simply don't meet the needs of our economy or our people. The number of visas for nonagricultural workers (such as construction workers, housekeepers, or forest workers) is stuck at the 1990 level of 66,000 visas--even though our economy requires millions. Just last year, more than 3.9 million US citizens and permanent residents who had applied legally for their closest family members--parents, spouses, children, and siblings--were in an immigration processing "backlog" that could take decades to clear. (Contrary to the "chain migration" narrative, these immediate family members are the only ones eligible to migrate via the family-based system.)

There is also still bipartisan consensus that we must fulfill our moral and legal obligations (under US and international law) to take asylum seekers and refugees from around the world. Refugees and asylum seekers are often fleeing the very forces of oppression, war, and dictatorship that threaten the world's safety, including America's. In some cases, the United States has been complicit in propping up foreign leaders that become dictators, or in fostering economic conditions that lead to devastation. In all cases, consigning millions of people to refugee camps with little freedom, dire living conditions, and no hope of determining their own futures becomes a moral question for all nations, including those that seek to lead the world. Despite statements to the contrary from this White House, the US ranks only fiftieth in the world for welcoming refugees, and leaders from all faiths (including evangelicals) have emphasized the need to strengthen, not cut, our refugee resettlement program. 

It is critical that Americans understand that there currently is no orderly, functioning process for people to come to America. Under Presidents Reagan and Bush, there were superficial, temporary fixes, such as legalizations or "amnesties" for those who were undocumented at the time. But without underlying reform so that the system functions, we were bound to end up in the same place again. Most Republicans--and too many Democrats--have given in to the simplistic narratives supplied by anti-immigrant forces, throwing billions of taxpayer dollars into mass deportations, a vast labyrinth of expensive private prisons, and a border that is already one of the most secure and militarized in the world. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM

90-10 NATION:

An Issue Americans Agree On: Investing in Public Health (Brian C. Castrucci , 12/05/19, Governing)

For state and local leaders who want to pursue a bipartisan agenda, including the 20 new governors who will take office in 2019, a new national survey shows that investing in public health is not only smart policy but also good politics. In a rare level of consensus across political affiliation, geography, gender, race, income and education, 89 percent of Americans said they believe that public health departments play an important role in the health of their communities.

Commissioned by the de Beaumont Foundation, the poll also finds that 66 percent of voters believe every community should have basic public health protections and that 57 percent are willing to pay higher taxes to ensure that everyone has access to those services.

Voters placed a particular emphasis on stopping the spread of communicable diseases, bringing other government agencies together in emergencies, protecting environmental quality and supporting child and maternal health. Expressing support for these basic public health protections were overwhelming majorities of African-Americans (85 percent), liberals (78 percent), Hispanics (75 percent), mothers (74 percent), working-class people (72 percent) and Northeasterners (71 percent), along with slimmer majorities of conservatives (55 percent), white men (53 percent) and fathers (51 percent).

The electorates of developed democracies require health care as a core governmental function.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


John Kelly Was a Bully, Bigot, and Liar for Trump. Goodbye and Good Riddance. (Mehdi Hasan, December 9 2018, The Intercept)

Kelly, lest we forget, arrived at the White House from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where he had quickly and proudly built a reputation "as one of the most aggressive enforcers of immigration law in recent American history," to quote from a scathing evaluation of his six-month tenure in charge of DHS by the New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer. On Kelly's watch, wrote Blitzer, "immigration arrests in the U.S. increased by forty per cent and DHS became one of the few branches of the federal government that has been both willing and able to execute Trump's policy priorities."

In March 2017, while defending Trump's 'Muslim ban', Kelly had threatened to walk out of a meeting with Arab-American and Latino groups in Michigan. In April 2017, in a speech in Washington D.C., the DHS Secretary had told members of Congress to either change the country's immigration laws or "shut up and support the men and women on the front lines." In May 2017, at a Coast Guard ceremony, the retired general was caught on a hot mic telling Trump, who was holding a ceremonial sword, that he should "use that on the press, sir."

SO WHY did anyone with functioning eyes or ears assume he would do anything different at the White House? Why did political and media elites pretend he would be a sober and moderate figure, a check or restraint on the president, rather than Trump's nasty and brutish mini-me?

How else are we supposed to describe his gaffe-laden, controversy-filled 17 months in charge? This was a chief of staff who told Fox News that "the lack of the ability to compromise led to the Civil War," while praising the pro-slavery Confederate general Robert E. Lee as an "honorable man"; who protected and promoted White House staff secretary Rob Porter -- a man accused of domestic abuse by both of his ex-wives -- and described him as a man of "true integrity and honor, and I can't say enough good things about him"; who repeatedly misled the press about what he knew about Porter and when he knew it, which led to one of his White House colleagues calling him a "big fat liar"; who claimed the "vast majority" of undocumented immigrants "don't integrate well" and "don't have skills"; who described immigrants who were eligible for DACA but had failed to apply for it as "too lazy to get off their asses"; who said he wanted to reduce the number of refugees admitted into the United States to "between zero and one"; who defended the separation of migrant children from their parents on the grounds that the kids would be "put into foster care or whatever" and bragged that the "big name of the game is deterrence"; who signed a "Cabinet order" authorizing the (potentially illegal) use of lethal force by troops at the border; who lamented that women were no longer treated as "sacred and looked upon with great honor" but who was also accused of suggesting women were more emotional than men; who breached security protocols by firing White House aide Omarosa Manigault in the Situation Room and threatening her in the process; who boasted to Manigault on a secret recording that everyone in the White House "works for me and not the president"; who made a series of false accusations against black member of Congress, Frederica Wilson, and then swore he would "never apologize" for lying about her; and who shamelessly allowed Trump to use his dead son to attack former President Barack Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Why Trump is likely to be indicted by Manhattan US Attorney (Andrew McCarthy, 12/09/18,  Fox News)

The major takeaway from the 40-page sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors Friday for Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney, is this: The president is very likely to be indicted on a charge of violating federal campaign finance laws.

It has been obvious for some time that President Trump is the principal subject of the investigation still being conducted by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Cohen earlier pleaded guilty to multiple counts of business and tax fraud, violating campaign finance law, and making false statements to Congress regarding unsuccessful efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Yes, Cohen has stated he did the hands-on work in orchestrating hush-money payments to two women who claim to have had sexual liaisons with Trump many years ago (liaisons Trump denies).

But when Cohen pleaded guilty in August, prosecutors induced him to make an extraordinary statement in open court: the payments to the women were made "in coordination with and at the direction of" the candidate for federal office - Donald Trump.

Prosecutors would not have done this if the president was not on their radar screen. Indeed, if the president was not implicated, I suspect they would not have prosecuted Cohen for campaign finance violations at all. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Why the global suicide rate is falling (The Economist, Nov 30th 2018)

Policy also plays a role. When Mikhail Gorbachev introduced restrictions on alcohol in the Soviet Union in 1985, consumption and suicide both plunged; something similar has happened since Vladimir Putin introduced new rules in 2005. Restricting access to easy means to kill oneself can make a big difference because suicide is a surprisingly impulsive act. Of 515 people who survived the leap from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971, 94% were still alive in 1978--which suggests that a suicide postponed is likely to be a suicide prevented. The banning of toxic pesticides has had a clear impact on rates in countries such as South Korea and Sri Lanka. Selling paracetamol and aspirin in only very small quantities has also been shown to reduce rates. Investing in health services--particularly palliative care, which helps make life tolerable for the sick--can make a difference. And if America restricted gun ownership, rates would almost certainly crash. America's rate is twice Britain's (which has tight gun controls), half America's suicides are by firearm, and the difference in rates between states, which range from 26 per 100,000 each year in Montana to five in Washington, DC, is largely explained by variations in levels of gun ownership.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM



Alternate theories abound, but the game evolved from a game called "totum" or "teetotum," often played in England and Ireland around Christmastime, writes David Golinkin, a conservative rabbi and professor at Jerusalem's Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, in an article for the My Jewish Learning website. By 1720, the game was known as "T-totum" or "teetotum," and by 1801, the four letters on the top stood for English words. There was a German equivalent too, where the spinning top was called "torrel" or "trungl" in German, and "fargl," "varfl" or "dreidel" in Yiddish. This spread continued: An Eastern European game emerged, based on the German version. And when Hebrew was revived as a spoken language, some called the spinning top a "sevivon."

Put simply, the game of chocolate gambling that American Jews know and love was a product of cultural assimilation, which is ironic, because Hanukkah's history details a civil war between two factions of Jews fighting over just that: assimilation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM




McLaughlin: I'm giving the government a lot of credit here, but it could have just taken the Justice Department this long to develop a case in a way they think could stand up in court. But the timing of it is just bizarre. In a normal administration -- and I worked in a bunch of normal ones -- what happens is you have the national security advisor convene around a table in the White House Situation Room representatives from every major agency to discuss the pros and cons of a step like this. Instead, what we have here looks like three parts of the U.S. government operating without talking to each other: the Justice Department, the White House and the trade negotiators. ouse and touse and the trade negotiators.


Absolutely. There is ample evidence that, like most major Chinese companies, it is closely aligned with the military and security services and working to assist their intelligence collection and influence missions while pursuing -- very successfully -- legitimate business objectives. And there is also no doubt that China's trade practices are unfair and in need of reform. But while these issues justify pushing back on national security grounds, they are not persuasive reasons to arrest a prominent foreign national. That requires evidence of criminal behavior.


Well, many sanctions violations do not have criminal penalties. More likely, they result in fines and denial of trade, as with another Chinese telecom company, ZTE. One possibility is that she is being charged under a provision that requires foreign companies selling to Iran to have less than 10 percent U.S. components in their products. Or perhaps there is some espionage violation that will be charged. We'll have to wait and see.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


What 2018 Tells Us About 2020 (Charles E. Cook, Jr., December 7, 2018, Cook Political Report)

Keeping in mind that Trump received just 46 percent of the popular vote in 2016 and how little he has attempted to expand his base beyond that point, a president of 20 months who has yet to see a Gallup weekly job-approval rating above 45 percent--which also happens to be his approval rating in the networks' exit poll, with 54 percent disapproving--is very, very vulnerable.

Consistently, Gallup polling has shown a ratio of at least 1.4 voters strongly disapproving his performance for each one who strongly approves, and in the exit poll, 46 percent strongly disapproved while just 31 percent strongly approved. These are very troubling signs. Two years ago, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 4 points among independents while Republican House candidates topped their Democratic rivals by 6 points among independents. In this year's midterms, the 30 percent of the electorate that described themselves as independents voted for Democrats by a 12-point margin, 54 to 42 percent,

Maybe Trump can squeeze out another Electoral College majority while losing the national popular vote, but the popular-vote advantage of 9.4 million that Democrats had in House races this year dwarfs the 2.9-million edge that Clinton had in 2016. Democrats may find a way to blow this upcoming election, but it would take considerable effort to do so.

He's 72. His immigration and trade restrictions are making the strongest economic recovery in US history shaky and it was the only thing propping his approval ratings around 40%. He faces indictment, personally and/or as the Trump Organization. He faces impeachment. His next two years will be even more frustrating than the past two and he already hates the job. Like Truman and LBJ he could either lose NH or come so close to doing so that even he could read the writing on the wall.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


A look back at the Willie Horton ad (CARL M. CANNON, 12/08/18, Orange County Register)

Amid the coverage and commentary commemorating the passing of George H.W. Bush, it was nice of the media to debunk the 1992 New York Times front page story characterizing the 41st president as being flummoxed by a supermarket scanner. Written by a reporter who wasn't present at the event, it was -- in today's parlance -- fake news.

It was even classier for former Newsweek editor Evan Thomas to reiterate his mea culpa for his magazine's bizarre 1987 cover story calling an acclaimed war hero a "wimp."

It would have been far better, however, had the record finally been corrected about the Bush campaign's much-maligned "Willie Horton ad." Instead, the nation's most prominent news outlets doubled-down on a slander that is now 30 years old: namely, that under the spell of Rasputin-like political operative Lee Atwater, Bush ran a dirty campaign with racist overtones to get elected president. [...]

The Bush campaign entered the fray in June after an authoritative piece on Dukakis' furlough program, "Getting Away With Murder," ran in Reader's Digest. Atwater and Roger Ailes, who ran the media operation for Bush, knew it was an explosive issue. They also knew it was delicate: Horton is African-American and his victims were white.

Ailes forbade the campaign from releasing Horton's photograph. When the campaign produced its now-famous Massachusetts prison "revolving door" ad, it was filmed in Utah, in sepia tones, and the inmates appeared to be white, black, and Hispanic. Earlier, two conservative provocateurs, Larry McCarthy and Floyd Brown, produced a low-budget ad showing Horton's picture and mentioning his name. Democrats pounced. This is racist, they said. Some of the media followed suit and some didn't, although with each passing year, the "vile" Willie Horton ad narrative entrenched itself more deeply in the collective memories of Democrats and the media.

Those closest to the case were the most nonplussed by this characterization. Dane Strother, a former Eagle-Tribune reporter who became a Democratic political consultant, told me race was never an issue when Dukakis' furlough program came under scrutiny. "It wasn't about racism," he said. "That didn't come up. Not ever."

One reason was that as the paper dug deeper into the story, they found other victims of crimes, not all of them white, and other furloughed prisoners who'd committed violent crimes, not all of them black.

Among the details unearthed by the Eagle-Tribune was that of the 80 prisoners listed as "escaped" by the state, all but four were on furlough when they disappeared.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Why Liberalism's Critics Fail: a review of  Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen  (Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, Summer 2018, Modern Age)

The main body of thought overlooked by anti-liberalism of all sorts, then, from Deneen's gentle communitarianism to fascism and communism, is economics after the 1860s and an economic history after the 1940s that uses economics. Deneen, like most of our deep social thinkers, has not opened a book of economics since Marx or of economic history since Polanyi. Like most intellectuals, therefore, he does not understand how a market economy works and what its actual history has been. The facts and logic adduced from the elderly or tertiary books on which he relies are regularly nonfacts, nonlogic, fake news.

Deneen believes, on the contrary, that the poor have become immiserated. But, like Marx, he is mistaken. "Inequality" is the fashionable cry, which of course Deneen echoes. But according to careful statistical studies, world inequality among individuals has declined radically in the past thirty years. And even in rich countries, the inequality we hear so much about has been grossly mismeasured. For example, measures of inequality of wealth, such as Thomas Piketty's, ignore the largest source of modern wealth: human capital. For another example, the alleged decline of the middle class in the U.S. turns out to be mostly a rise into the upper middle class, not a fall into social classes C, D, and E. For still another--the examples are legion--the quality of goods has risen sharply, making "stagnant" money earnings more valuable. Think, to take a plebian example, of modern auto tires or, of course, the amazing power of the modern smartphone, owned now even by the plebes.

During all the millennia before 1800, income per person in today's prices for the average human bumped along at about $2 or $3 a day. It was tough, at the present level of Mali and Afghanistan or of the hard-socialist regimes. Furthermore, hierarchy prevailed. Born a milkmaid, you died a milkmaid. Doubly tough. Your smart option therefore was to look inside, following Stoic and Christian and Buddhist teaching, to take up your cross, or prayer wheel, and quit whining. You'll get pie in the sky when you die, and anyway you might acquire along the way true enlightenment.

By now, however, income per person in the same prices is about $33 a day worldwide, the condition of Brazil. And the liberalism invented in the eighteenth century has partly eroded hierarchy, the condition of Australia. This amazing fact is unknown by most intellectuals damning capitalism and is unappreciated by them even when by some chance they catch wind of it.

One is led to wonder if the two events are connected, the Great Enrichment and the inclusive liberalism Deneen dislikes. They are. In a country like Japan or Sweden or the U.S. that has embraced liberalism most warmly, incomes per person as a whole-population average have risen from the old and ancient $2 or $3 a day to anything from $90 to $120, and much more if the person is highly skilled--sufficient, say, for a condo on Printer's Row in Chicago and a trip to watch birds in Antarctica. The increase is 3,000 percent in the median or average. And the poorest have gained the most. The very rich get another diamond bracelet. Splendid. But the poor get food, housing, antibiotics, and education denied to most people during all of history but the liberal era. By now, descendants by the billions of illiterate slaves and milkmaids have acquired the instruments for full human flourishing. They may not all take it. But that merely suggests that we join Deneen in preaching to them to leave off reality TV and Fritos and get to work on their Greek and Beethoven piano sonatas.

Yet the fact that liberalism resulted in billions of people having full lives does not move Deneen, or other right conservatives and left environmentalists, who fiercely attack a "consumerism" that has in truth characterized human life always. Deneen will have none of it. He wants us to go back to Brook Farm. my grandfather who worked 16 hours a day in the coal mine and died at 42....

Glad they finally posted this because it's the best review I've read of Mr. Deneen's book.

Russ Roberts had a, typically, good conversation with him, EconTalk Podcast: Patrick Deneen on Why Liberalism Failed (Russ Roberts, Jul 9 2018)

Political Scientist and author Patrick Deneen of the University of Notre Dame talks about his book Why Liberalism Failed with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. By liberalism, Deneen means the modern enterprise--the push for self-actualization free of the constraints of tradition, family, and religion that typifies modern culture. He argues that both the left and the right have empowered the state and reduced liberty. He argues for a smaller, more local, more artisanal economy and a return to the virtues of self-control and self-mastery.

Does liberalism deserve to be saved?: Patrick Deneen asserts that the natural endpoint of liberalism is desire rampant and tyrannical, while Jonah Goldberg argues that these outcomes are not liberalism, but its betrayal. (Nathanael Blake, June 28, 2018, Catholic World Report)

The authors agree that liberalism, understood as it is broadly instantiated in the liberal, democratic capitalist West, is in crisis, but diverge regarding its nature and their prescriptions.

Goldberg claims that the happy combination of political liberty, representative government, free markets and technological creativity resulted in what he considers the "Miracle" of liberal democratic capitalism, which has provided previously unimaginable wealth, comfort, freedom and security. But if this is so, then why is the liberal West in danger of committing suicide? He asserts that it is not only because complacency, boredom and ingratitude induce us to forget how much liberalism has done for us, but also because liberalism is unnatural.

We may live in a liberal culture and polity, but we have not significantly evolved from our tribal, stone-age ancestors. Tribal chiefs and divinely-ordained leaders are more natural for us than democratic self-government and freedom. Liberalism, in Goldberg's account, does not give us an all-encompassing identity that provides a sense of meaning. And so many people are readily tempted back to our natural tribalism, which promises to reunite the fragments of the fractured liberal self.

Although Deneen is not insensate to the positives of liberalism, from rising standards of living to the freedoms liberal regimes promise, he fears that as liberalism becomes more dominant and therefore more pure, the blessings that it has provided will either be lost or prove not to be worth their price. The core of Deneen's argument is that liberalism carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction, and thus is failing because it has triumphed--it betrays itself as it fulfills itself. As liberalism muscles out older traditions and practices that had restrained its excesses, it becomes increasingly self-destructive and, ironically, illiberal. At the heart of this phenomenon is liberalism's determination to liberate human appetite.

For Deneen, liberalism is primarily a philosophy of individual emancipation, with an emphasis on human control of nature as a means to achieve this. Instead of controlling our appetites, we indulge them. Instead of seeking our place in family, community and creed, we seek liberation from their constraints. Instead of accepting a place in the order of the cosmos, we seek dominance. Technological prowess is put in the service of fulfilling our desires. But the scientifically-aided liberation of human appetite makes us slaves to our passions, unable to sate our inflamed desires.

And in the end, it makes us slaves to the state as well. 

The implicit core of this critique is that Man was better off when he was a slave to an economic master than as a "slave" to a participatory republic (if we allow the epithet).  One would bet that the actual men of the former would all prefer the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Horror and Eternity (Scott Beauchamp, Summer 2018, Modern Age)

Carpenter's The Thing strongly echoes the same themes first put forth by the American master of nihilist horror, H. P. Lovecraft. It isn't a stretch to say that most contemporary horror as we encounter it in movies and on television was influenced by Lovecraft's disdainful, almost paranoid hatred for the world as it is. French novelist Michel Houellebecq writes in his book-length appreciation of Lovecraft, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life:

Few beings have ever been so impregnated, pierced to the core, by the conviction of the absolute futility of human aspiration. The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition towards chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and stripped of meaning as the unfettered movement of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure "Victorian fictions." All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact, and radiant.

Lovecraft's wholly materialistic fiction, his disgust at being fettered by the vicissitudes of the natural world, is made radiant with the knowledge that, though things exist, their existence is entirely arbitrary. He gets us coming and going, in other words. He's disgusted by the sheer fact of existence, and simultaneously horrified that it carries no meaning beyond itself. This is the pure nihilism of gore and the animating pathos of films such as Hostel and Saw.

When it comes to this kind of horror, human institutions are merely a thin film protecting us from the truly revolting nature of life. Materialist horror operates by peeling back the pathetically flimsy protections of culture to reveal the naked and vast horror of what it considers pure existence. The horror itself results from life being completely denuded of its mystery, or perhaps from finding mystery to be an inadequate illusion we use to spare ourselves from the bare facts of existence. There's something pornographic in this compulsion to expose in nihilistic horror. Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han defines the erotic against the pornographic as something that interrupts, tarries, and holds us at a distance, while the pornographic presents itself as bare fact delivered directly and without intermediary. Narrative is erotic, but facts are pornographic. The supernatural suggests a distance between subject and object, but the aptly named "torture porn" of films like Saw collapse the space between meaning and existence, reducing both to a false equivalency: a severed limb shown in close up is the totality of meaning in the universe.

Opposing The Thing, the bare fact, is The Presence. Kirk's fiction is rich with it. Though his output was relatively modest, comprising in total some twenty-two stories along with three novels that were written predominantly in short bursts throughout the '60s and '70s, Kirk's fiction burns even more incandescently for its brevity and focus. Collected and recollected in books such as Ancestral Shadows and The Surly Sullen Bell, Kirk's fiction isn't always easy to acquire. Special orders and calls to book dealers are occasionally necessary for a few of the more rare collections, yet he always remains timely: the dynamics of The Presence being echoed in both the subject matter of the works themselves and their occasionally enigmatic physical existence, suggesting a constant interplay between the ephemeral and eternal.

Kirk's fiction is suffused with The Presence. You find it sensed by both the older man and younger boy in "An Encounter by Mortstone Pond." The Presence haunts Stoneburner in "What Shadows We Pursue." We're almost tricked into thinking the eponymous Presence has betrayed itself by materializing in "Uncle Isaiah." Old House of Fear is absolutely permeated with Presence. But what is it? It might help to think of The Presence as the exact inverse of The Thing. If The Thing is horrible because it exists, and because it implies a nihilistic void in which the material world is all that exists, then The Presence is summarized by T. E. Hulme's phrase "Nothing suggests itself." The Presence, a sense of something that can't quite be acquired by the senses, intimates a metaphysical order lying outside the material world that also gives that world coherence.

The horror of The Thing is a plaintive howl of nihilism. The horror of The Presence is a humbling challenge to our pragmatic, everyday experience of the world. The Thing is disgusting, but The Presence is awful in the traditional sense of the word, as being full of awe. It unsettles and challenges while offering a terrible glimpse of the sublime. A few contemporary cinematic examples of this school of horror can be found in The Sixth Sense, The Others, and perhaps surprisingly The Exorcist.

45 years later, "The Exorcist" retains its ability to shock: The audience is forced to undergo horror in order to clarify the issue of good and evil in our fallen world. (Titus Techera, 12/03/18, Catholic World Report)

The spiritual crisis of evil is about God and the devil in a spiritual war for our souls. But there is a worldly dimension to this crisis. We see Regan's mother and her friends--successful, upper-class people with social and artistic pretensions, who nonetheless have something wrong with them that goes beyond sins and crimes we have learned to tolerate. They are respectable, but irresponsible. A socialite party, with its levity, is interrupted by a girl who is possessed, but no one can cares to notice; it is a rebuke of the preference for respectability over a moral effort to protect the innocent.

The exorcist of the title, Father Merrin (played wonderfully by Max von Sydow), only comes to the possessed girl in the third act. Exorcism is not our first idea--it is, in fact, our last resort. This is not merely a description of our liberal, secular society, but also of Church practice, which requires adequate scientific investigation before addressing the issue of possession. At the same time, the story uses this to dramatize how incredible evil is in the literal sense--we cannot believe what we are seeing, we do not know how to deal with it.

The story establishes two further points related to this problem. First, the beginning of the movie, which would seem to have nothing to do with the story of modern America, deals with the ancient past--the archaeological digging up of an ancient idol in the Middle East. We take a scientific attitude to old ideas about evil, thinking they cannot have any power now. We take a progressive view of power: we moderns have far more power now than has ever existed before, so what is there to fear? As a society, we have achieved unimagined powers; but individually, each one of us remains mortal and vulnerable and limited.

Second, Father Merrin himself has little doubt about the true character of the problem he is facing. He is able to explain to Father Karras that the experience of evil befalling a child, perhaps our greatest fear, is about desperation, which would make us "see ourselves as ugly and animal; to make us reject the possibility that God could love us." Redemption would seem impossible if we gave in to that desperation.

ACF Middlebrow #19: The Exorcist (Titus Techera,  December 1, 2018, ACF Podcast)
The podcast turns to horror, Catholic and scientific. I am joined by veteran and writer Scott Beauchamp to talk about William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist and about Russell Kirk's views on horror -- having read his very humanistic essay on horror in Modern Age. We talk about body horror as a way of confronting evil, of raising existential questions: Is being human special, after all, or just another meaningless accident? Next week, we turn to the scientific horror for comparison-The Thing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


The U.S. may not 'believe' in climate change. But we're the only one doing something about it (Jon Gabriel, Dec. 8, 2018, USA Today)

Nineteen nations "believe" in climate change. How are they backing up their statement of faith?

China was praised for signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement and in Argentina reaffirmed its commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, however, China increased those emissions by 1.7 percent.

India, the fourth largest source for CO2, saw their emissions grow by 4.6 percent in 2017. Luckily for them, they too were praised for signing that "nonbinding communiqué."

Overall, the European Union raised their CO2 output by 1.5 percent.

France, home of the Paris Agreement, is leading the diplomatic effort to save the planet. They increased their greenhouse gas emissions by 3.6 percent.

Pollution in France will likely rise further this year from the burning cars alone. French President Emmanuel Macron announced a sharp increase in gas and diesel taxes last month. This sparked the largest riots seen in Paris in nearly 50 years as yellow-vested citizens blockaded roadways, burned vehicles and damaged artwork and infrastructure.

If the nations paying lip service to climate change aren't meeting their goals, imagine how poorly the oil-drilling, coal-mining Americans must be doing. President Donald Trump was pilloried for withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and for being only G20 leader who refused to sign the climate change statement in Argentina.

From 2016 to 2017, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.7 percent. Emissions from large power plants declined 4.5 percent since 2016, and nearly 20 percent since 2011. All without signing a piece of paper in Paris or Buenos Aires.

December 8, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


John Kelly, Trump's Chief of Staff, to Leave White House (Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 8, 2018, NY Times)

While Mr. Trump is eager for Mr. Ayers to join that list, it is unclear whether the aide, who lacks experience in government beyond his stint with Mr. Pence, is what the president needs in the top West Wing post as he heads into what allies expect will be the most tumultuous year yet of his presidency. [...]

When it became clear that Mr. Trump, who has an unusual affinity for Mr. Ayers, was leaning toward him to replace Mr. Kelly, several top aides told the president that they took issue with it and that it could lead to a staff exodus.

If Mr. Ayers accepts the job, his appointment would be seen inside the White House as a coup for Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who clashed with Mr. Kelly and are seen as close to Mr. Ayers. The view inside is that they are now "running the building," one of the president's allies said. [...]

Mr. Kelly's departure is expected to have a ripple effect across the upper echelons of the West Wing staff, as well as in Mr. Trump's cabinet. One of the biggest question marks is the fate of Kirstjen M. Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security. Ms. Nielsen has clashed repeatedly with Mr. Trump, and at times relied on Mr. Kelly, who was previously her boss at the agency, to defend her.

For weeks, Mr. Trump has been offering her position to other people. At one point, Mr. Trump even broached the possibility that Thomas P. Bossert, a former homeland security adviser, would return and run the agency. But Mr. Bossert, who was forced out of the administration after John R. Bolton became national security adviser, made it clear he would not accept the position.

The ceaseless West Wing backbiting that captures headlines has belied the reality of working there, which is that aides form tight cliques and burrow into those friendships to endure the chaos of the work environment.

Other protégés of Mr. Kelly like Zachary D. Fuentes, the deputy chief of staff, are also seen as particularly vulnerable without Mr. Kelly in the top job. Mr. Fuentes, who has earned ridiculing nicknames, including "Zotus" (a play on Potus, short for president of the United States) and "prime minister," for his large ego, has already approached other departments in the administration for a position, but has cultivated few allies. Mr. Trump continues to blame him and Mr. Kelly for letting him miss a World War I battlefield commemoration outside Paris because of bad weather.

The White House communications office, which Mr. Trump has complained about for two years, is also set to undergo a restructuring. The overlap in officials has bred chronic confusion. 

Because of his personality and politics, Donald began his presidency with incompetents manning every cabinet department and the chief aide positions.  And as things have deteriorated and the jobs became even more undesirable the quality has gone even further downhill--in January 1 there will be no one in the Administration who anyone thinks could be an effective president in his own right.  [Contrast with W, in particular, who had Rumsfeld, Cheney, Ashcroft, etc.]

As Impeachment/indictment gears up, he needs not just a first-rate legal team and political shop but staff he can leave governance too.  He has none of the three. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


'Siege warfare': Republican anxiety spikes as Trump faces growing legal and political perils (Robert Costa and Philip Rucker, December 8, 2018, Washington Post)

A growing number of Republicans fear that a battery of new revelations in the far-reaching Russia investigation has dramatically heightened the legal and political danger to Donald Trump's presidency -- and threatens to consume the rest of the party as well.

President Trump added to the tumult Saturday by announcing the abrupt exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, whom he sees as lacking the political judgment and finesse to steer the White House through the treacherous months to come.

Trump remains headstrong in his belief that he can outsmart adversaries and weather any threats, according to advisers. In the Russia probe, he continues to roar denials, dubiously proclaiming that the latest allegations of wrongdoing by his former associates "totally clear" him.

But anxiety is spiking among Republican allies, who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad.

Richard Nixon not only emblemized the Republican Party for a quarter century but had built up a colossal store of good will within it and debts from its members.  But, eventually, carrying his water just got to be too big an ask and they bailed. 

Donald Trump has always opposed the party, hates it today and owes his election to congressmen and governors who dragged him in on their coattails. No one, outside a Klavern or militia, owes him anything. The GOP will not hesitate to cut him loose when nut-cutting time comes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Wisconsin Republicans Are Shooting Themselves In the Foot: My friend Scott Walker should not sign the power-grabbing legislation. (Charles J. Sykes, 12/06/18, The Atlantic)

The Wisconsin GOP's lame-duck power play was not the death of democracy. But it was bad enough: petty, vindictive, and self-destructive. It was, as the saying goes, worse than a crime. It was a blunder. [...]

Truth be told, Republicans can mount a case for all of this, starting with precedent. Eight years ago, Democrats under former Governor Jim Doyle tried to use a lame-duck session to ratify state-employee union contracts that would have greatly limited Walker's flexibility. Republicans remember how the Democrats, desperate for a win, brought back a disgraced state representative named Jeff Wood to vote on the contracts. Wood was actually still serving a jail term for his repeated drunk-driving arrests and used his work-release privileges to cast a crucial vote. (The measure ultimately failed in the state Senate.)

Republicans can also argue that they were merely affirming the powers of a co-equal branch of government (something their counterparts in Washington might wish to emulate.) Their case, however, is weakened by their lack of concern for excessive executive powers prior to the November 6 election. In any case, they have big majorities in both legislative chambers and will be able to provide a powerful check on the incoming governor after he is sworn in, even without the last-minute legislation. In other words, the lame-duck bill only marginally increases their preexisting legislative clout.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


The walls are closing in on 'individual #1' (EDWARD LUCE, 12/08/18, Financial Times)

Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is methodically lining up his targets for what increasingly looks like a recommended indictment of Mr Trump for more than one federal crime. On Friday, "individual #1", as Mr Trump is called in the filings, was implicated in a federal crime in the sentencing reports for Michael Cohen, his estranged personal lawyer, and Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman.

The filings were heavily redacted. But even from what was visible, they establish connections between the Russian government and people around Mr Trump from as early as November 2015 -- eight months before he took the Republican nomination. The chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, once said that Mr Trump "had more Russia connections than Aeroflot". Mr Mueller has by no means finished mapping them out. "Individual #1" also directed Mr Cohen to break federal election laws in the payment of hush money to two women.

The looming denouement of Mr Mueller's investigations coincide with the Democratic takeover of the US House of Representatives, which formally starts in early January. Mr Trump remains fixated before then on securing funding for his border wall. But the walls closing in on his presidency are more tangible than the one on the Mexican border.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


The Wooing of Jared Kushner: How the Saudis Got a Friend in the White House (David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti, Dec. 8, 2018, NY Times)

The prince and his advisers, eager to enlist American support for his hawkish policies in the region and for his own consolidation of power, cultivated the relationship with Mr. Kushner for more than two years, according to documents, emails and text messages reviewed by The New York Times.

A delegation of Saudis close to the prince visited the United States as early as the month Mr. Trump was elected, the documents show, and brought back a report identifying Mr. Kushner as a crucial focal point in the courtship of the new administration. He brought to the job scant knowledge about the region, a transactional mind-set and an intense focus on reaching a deal with the Palestinians that met Israel's demands, the delegation noted.

Even then, before the inauguration, the Saudis were trying to position themselves as essential allies who could help the Trump administration fulfill its campaign pledges. In addition to offering to help resolve the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the Saudis offered hundreds of billions of dollars in deals to buy American weapons and invest in American infrastructure. Mr. Trump later announced versions of some of these items with great fanfare when he made his first foreign trip: to an Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The Saudis had extended that invitation during the delegation's November 2016 visit.

"The inner circle is predominantly deal makers who lack familiarity with political customs and deep institutions, and they support Jared Kushner," the Saudi delegation wrote of the incoming administration in a slide presentation obtained by the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, which provided it to The Times. Several Americans who spoke with the delegation confirmed the slide presentation's accounts of the discussions.

The courtship of Mr. Kushner appears to have worked. [...]

"Kushner made clear his lack of familiarity with the history of Saudi-American relations and he asked about its support for terrorism," the team noted in the slide presentation prepared for Riyadh. "After the discussion, he expressed his satisfaction with what was explained about the Saudi role in fighting terrorism" and what the Saudis said was their international leadership in fighting Islamist extremism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


John Kelly Was Supposed to Bring Credibility to the White House. He Failed. (FRED KAPLAN, DEC 08, 2018, Slate)

[N]o tears should be shed for Gen. Kelly. Yes, he was lauded in the early months of his term as one of the "grown-ups in the room," the man who not only blocked Bolton but got rid of Steve Bannon and his white-nationalist sidekick, Sebastian Gorka. Kelly also talked a good game on broader issues, particularly immigration. In his confirmation hearing for secretary of homeland security, a job he held before Trump moved him to the White House, Kelly assured senators that he would speak "truth to power"; said that a wall on the Mexican border would not halt drug trafficking; disputed Trump's description of illegal immigrants as rapists and killers, saying most of them came here for "economic opportunity and to escape violence"; and firmly opposed the idea of detaining them without trial, noting, "I'm pretty committed to the Constitution."

Yet once installed at DHS, Kelly enforced Trump's crackdown on undocumented immigrants with gusto, and as chief of staff, he defended the separation of families. His intolerance of foreigners extended well beyond "illegals," opining in a behind-closed-doors meeting last year that the number of refugees to be let in to the United States should be reduced to "somewhere between zero and one."

Finally, he adopted--or maybe revealed that he shared--Trump's contempt for democratic institutions. In a speech at George Washington University in April, Kelly lambasted congressional critics of the crackdown on once-protected DACA children, saying that "they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines." At a press conference in August 2017, he took questions only from reporters who knew Gold Star families, saying, "We don't look down upon those of you that haven't served," but "we're a little bit sorry for you, because you'll never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our servicemen and women do."

When Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, criticized Trump for his insensitive phone call to a constituent whose husband had been killed in battle, Kelly denounced her as an "empty barrel" and told a story about a self-serving speech she'd given at the dedication of an FBI building--a story that a video of her speech revealed was false. Kelly never corrected the record. When a reporter asked White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the contradiction, Sanders said it was "highly inappropriate" to question a four-star general. Kelly never dissociated himself from that absurd statement either--though others did. Another retired four-star general, David Petraeus, said on a weekend talk show, "We in uniform protect the rights of others to criticize us."

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM



The potential innocent explanations for Donald Trump's behavior over the last two years have been steadily stripped away, piece by piece. Special counsel Robert Mueller and investigative reporters have uncovered and assembled a picture of a presidential campaign and transition seemingly infected by unprecedented deceit and criminality, and in regular--almost obsequious--contact with America's leading foreign adversary.

A year ago, Lawfare's Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic outlined seven possible scenarios about Trump and Russia, arranged from most innocent to most guilty. Fifth on that list was "Russian Intelligence Actively Penetrated the Trump Campaign--And Trump Knew or Should Have Known," escalating from there to #6 "Kompromat," and topping out at the once unimaginable #7, "The President of the United States is a Russian Agent."

After the latest disclosures, we're steadily into Scenario #5, and can easily imagine #6.

The Cohen and Manafort court documents all provide new details, revelations, and hints of more to come. They're a reminder, also, that Mueller's investigation continues alongside an investigation by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that clearly alleges that Donald Trump participated in a felony, directing Cohen to violate campaign finance laws to cover up extramarital affairs.

Through his previous indictments against Russian military intelligence and the Russian Internet Research Agency, Mueller has laid out a criminal conspiracy and espionage campaign approved, according to US intelligence, by Vladimir Putin himself. More recently, Mueller has begun to hint at the long arm of that intelligence operation, and how it connects to the core of the Trump campaign itself. that the Trump family never learned anything else.

'No Vacancies' for Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start, and Was First Accused of Bias (Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder, Aug. 27, 2016, NY Times)

She seemed like the model tenant. A 33-year-old nurse who was living at the Y.W.C.A. in Harlem, she had come to rent a one-bedroom at the still-unfinished Wilshire Apartments in the Jamaica Estates neighborhood of Queens. She filled out what the rental agent remembers as a "beautiful application." She did not even want to look at the unit.

There was just one hitch: Maxine Brown was black.

Stanley Leibowitz, the rental agent, talked to his boss, Fred C. Trump.

"I asked him what to do and he says, 'Take the application and put it in a drawer and leave it there,'" Mr. Leibowitz, now 88, recalled in an interview.

It was late 1963 -- just months before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act -- and the tall, mustachioed Fred Trump was approaching the apex of his building career. He was about to complete the jewel in the crown of his middle-class housing empire: seven 23-story towers, called Trump Village, spread across nearly 40 acres in Coney Island.

He was also grooming his heir. His son Donald, 17, would soon enroll at Fordham University in the Bronx, living at his parents' home in Queens and spending much of his free time touring construction sites in his father's Cadillac, driven by a black chauffeur.

"His father was his idol," Mr. Leibowitz recalled. "Anytime he would come into the building, Donald would be by his side."

Over the next decade, as Donald J. Trump assumed an increasingly prominent role in the business, the company's practice of turning away potential black tenants was painstakingly documented by activists and organizations that viewed equal housing as the next frontier in the civil rights struggle. [...]

Looking back, Mr. Trump's response to the lawsuit can be seen as presaging his handling of subsequent challenges, in business and in politics. Rather than quietly trying to settle -- as another New York developer had done a couple of years earlier -- he turned the lawsuit into a protracted battle, complete with angry denials, character assassination, charges that the government was trying to force him to rent to "welfare recipients" and a $100 million countersuit accusing the Justice Department of defamation.

When it was over, Mr. Trump declared victory, emphasizing that the consent decree he ultimately signed did not include an admission of guilt.

But an investigation by The New York Times -- drawing on decades-old files from the New York City Commission on Human Rights, internal Justice Department records, court documents and interviews with tenants, civil rights activists and prosecutors -- uncovered a long history of racial bias at his family's properties, in New York and beyond.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


Falling for "Les Fake News," Trump Spreads Lie French Protesters Chant His Name (Robert Mackey, December 8 2018, The Intercept)

Writing on Twitter, the president claimed, falsely, that the protests had been inspired by his opposition to the Paris climate accord and the phrase "We want Trump" rang out on the streets.

In fact, the president was misled by a viral hoax, in which video of British white supremacists chanting his name last year was posted on Twitter this week with a false caption, incorrectly describing the scene as one unfolding in France.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Trump's favorite pollster was the least accurate in the midterms (Harry Enten, 12/08/18, CNN)

The fact that Rasmussen has a better approval rating for the President than other pollsters isn't new. This is why we've seen Trump mention Rasmussen many times. That leads to the media pointing out that other pollsters are far more pessimistic about his standing with voters.

But the average isn't always right. Before last month, there was no way to really know if the average was biased against Trump. It was conceivable that Rasmussen Reports was right. Maybe their likely voter screen was somehow picking up something true about the electorate that other pollsters were missing. Remember, pollsters did somewhat underestimate Trump in the 2016 election.

The midterm elections prove that at least for now Rasmussen is dead wrong and traditional pollsters are correct.

In the final three weeks before the midterm, 16 different pollsters released generic congressional ballot polls. Some of those pollsters, including Rasmussen, released multiple polls. In total, there were 32 generic ballot polls put out.
The generic ballot isn't a perfect estimate of the House popular vote because often pollsters don't mention the specific candidates running in each district and some districts don't feature candidates from both parties running. Still, these factors tend to cancel each other out nationally and are only worth a point or 2 at the very most. They don't excuse Rasmussen's midterm performance.

Rasmussen's final poll was the least accurate of any of the 32 polls. They had the Republicans ahead nationally by one point. Democrats are currently winning the national House vote by 8.6 points. That's an error of nearly 10 points.
Of course, it's possible for any pollster to have one inaccurate poll. Fortunately, for statistical purposes, Rasmussen released three generic ballot polls in the final three weeks of the 2018 campaign.

And then the Bubble wonders why reality doesn't comport with Trump worship.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


My Saturday in Paris with the gilets jaunes (Gavin Mortimer, December 8, 2018, Spectator)

Crossing the Pont des Arts I spotted a Father Christmas in a yellow vest walking briskly along the river path. Under the bridge and out of sight of the police, Santa Claus stripped. I watched as he stuffed his outfit into his haversack and then strolled out wearing black jeans and a black hooded top. He was in his late twenties, clean cut, sporting a short back and sides; there was a touch of the military about his bearing as I tailed him towards the Louvre. [...]

As we approached the Place de la Madelaine the slogans on the boarded-up shops proliferated: 'Looting=Social Justice', 'Neither Patrie [Patriotism] or Patron [boss]', 'Banksters go to Hell', 'Neither Macron, nor Marine [Le Pen]', 'Vive Le Vandalisme' and on the shuttered entrance to the Chanel shop, 'A perfume of Victory'.

Another line of police vans barred the entrance to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, home to President Macron (and the British Embassy). Close by, a group of smiling gilets jaunes had established a command post and were distributing leaflets to anyone interested. I took one. It was entitled 'Let's Put an end to Poverty' and it called on the proletariat to abolish wages, state and money. 'We should have only one wish,' concluded the tract, 'the death of commodity'.

For an hour or so I hung around the Place de la Madelaine, making small talk with one or two gilets jaunes, most of whom seemed to be here to socialize as much as to demonstrate. Their jackets carried a range of messages, mostly about social justice and inequality; I saw a couple emblazoned with the slogan: 'Don't touch our cops'.

Then the atmosphere began to change. From the direction of Opera came a crowd of three or four hundred, few of whom were wearing yellow. Many had face masks, hoods or hats pulled down low. A few sported gas masks and moved with a testosterone strut. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


US companies forked over a record amount of tariffs in October ($6.2 billion!) because of Trump's trade war (Bob Bryan, 12/08/18, Business Insider)

The cost of President Donald Trump's trade war is starting to pile up.

Trump has cheered billions "pouring into the coffers of the USA," but new data shows companies' costs starting to reach new records:

In October, US companies paid $6.2 billion in tariffs, up from $4.4 billion in September and just $3.1 billion in October 2017.

That's a 104% year-over-year increase, despite just a 13% jump in the value of imports, according to data compiled by Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, a pro-free trade group, and research firm The Trade Partnership.

The total payments in October is the largest monthly tariff collection amount in history, according to the groups.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Young Muslims challenge the old guard at Britain's mosques (The Economist, Dec 6th 2018)

Younger Muslims tend to prefer younger, British-born imams such as Mr Sidat. Mr Timol says that many of Britain's 1,700-odd mosques have already been forced to bring in second, English-speaking imams, if only to stop their youthful congregants leaching away. These younger imams are more likely to have been to university, and to have had other jobs before becoming imams. Mr Sidat worked at ey as an accountant. Another wanted to be a sports coach. This gives them a worldliness that aspirational young Muslims appreciate.

Mr Sidat argues that his generation is also more accepting of gay or alcoholic Muslims. He gives advice to both. In his sermons he urges Muslims to understand local English culture better, particularly their neighbours' obsessive attachments to dogs, pubs and gardening.

In a recent survey, the Muslim Council of Britain (mcb), an umbrella group, found that the biggest complaint among mosque-goers was the lack of facilities for women and young people. About a quarter of Britain's mosques do not accommodate women at all, and they are often excluded from the management of mosques. The mcb has conceded that this is unacceptable. It has just launched its first six-month programme to train a cohort of 20 women to take leadership roles. The mcb sees this as part of a campaign to improve the running of mosques, utilising the professional skills of young Muslims, male and female. Thus disruption comes to British Islam.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Trump can't do anything right -- even his coverups are incompetent (Max Boot, December 7, 2018, Washington Post)

This week, another coverup blew up in the president's face when CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed senators on the mountain of evidence implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) emerged to say, "If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes," while Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R., S.C.), a master of the one-liner, said there was a "smoking saw."

This was a reference to the lame line from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who kept claiming he had not seen any "smoking gun" to link the crown prince to the crime. Mattis was just telling Trump what he wanted to hear. The president has been saying that maybe the crown prince knew about Khashoggi's murder and "maybe he didn't" -- "we may never know all of the facts."

No one expects Donald to tell the truth but a General lying to Congress is a different matter.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Edmund Burke and the Calculation of Man (Bradley J. Birzer, 12/07/18, Imaginative Conservative)

As Edmund Burke began to wind down his very long letter--that which would become 1790's Reflections on the Revolution in France--he returned to the question of first principles and right reason, especially in regard to the nature of the human person. At his best and most natural, Burke argued, men understood themselves as spirited and not as mere passive members of a republic. A safe republic relied upon the natural habits and goodness of a man's soul, as much as a man's soul found itself safe and secure in a well-ordered republic. Burke, unlike Jean-Jacques Rousseau, did not believe man perfectable, but he did believe that through virtue and habit, a man could attenuate his darkest longings. Counter-Rousseau, Burke was an ancient as well as a Christian in his understanding of human nature, in private and in public. As Plato had so often argued, the order of the soul and the order of the commonwealth are inseparable one from the other. If the republic is disordered, man will attempt to live by whatever means necessary, even ill ones. If the soul is disordered, man cannot hope to govern himself or others, thus rendering a republic decrepit and corrupt.

As Burke looked across the English Channel, he saw the revolutionaries of France behaving in dangerously idiotic fashion.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


2 More Immigrants Say They Worked for Trump Despite Lacking Legal Status (Miriam Jordan, Dec. 7, 2018, NY Times)

Two more immigrant women who worked at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey said on Friday that they were undocumented at the time and that golf course management knew it. One of the women said that she was allowed to submit fraudulent documents by the employee who interviewed her for the job.

The two women's accounts came a day after a Guatemalan woman, Victorina Morales, told The New York Times that she has worked without legal status as a housekeeper at the club for the past five years. She said she had decided to come out of the shadows because of President Trump's negative public comments about undocumented immigrants and what she said were even more demeaning words directed at her from her supervisor at the club.

[Read: Making President Trump's Bed: A Housekeeper Without Papers]

Millions of undocumented workers are employed in service, agriculture and landscaping, among other fields. But the latest revelations from both a current employee and several former workers at the New Jersey facility mark one of the first times that such vulnerable workers have elected to speak publicly about their employment at a company owned by the Trump Organization.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


The Special Counsel's Cohen Sentencing Brief Is Ominous for Trump (DAVID FRENCH, December 7, 2018, National Review)

 I want to focus on a different document: the special counsel's sentencing memo outlining Cohen's cooperation with the Special Counsel's Office. This document may well outline the roadmap for an impeachment count against the president that is based on recent presidential precedent.

The Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon articles of impeachment (Nixon resigned before he was impeached) contain common obstruction-of-justice claims -- namely that the president participated in an effort to provide false testimony to investigators.

For example, the Nixon articles of impeachment accused the president of

approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings.

The Clinton articles of impeachment repeatedly allege that the president "corruptly encouraged" witnesses to make false statements in a federal civil action and that he "made false and misleading statements to potential witnesses in a Federal grand jury proceeding in order to corruptly influence the testimony of those witnesses."

If you read the special counsel's Cohen memo, you'll note that the special counsel takes pains to note that Cohen's false statements to investigators were "deliberate and premeditated" and "did not spring spontaneously from a line of examination or a heated colloquy during a congressional hearing." His lies were in a "written submission" and a "prepared opening statement." These lies were allegedly told to "minimize the links" between the Moscow Trump Tower project and Trump himself.

Also -- and this is crucial -- the memo notes that Cohen has been cooperating in describing the "circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries" [emphasis added].

In plain English, this means that it is highly likely that senior Trump officials reviewed Cohen's prepared, false testimony before he lied to Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Ammon Bundy Quits Militia Movement in Solidarity With Migrant Caravan (Eric Levitz, 12/08/18, New York)

[T]his being 2018, Bundy naturally just disavowed the militia movement in solidarity with the migrant caravan, suggested that nationalism is actually the opposite of patriotism, and said that Trump's America resembles nothing so much as 1930s Germany.

Last week, Bundy posted a video to Facebook in which he criticized President Trump for demonizing the Central American migrants who were traveling in a caravan to seek asylum in the United States.

"To group them all up like, frankly, our president has done -- you know, trying to speak respectfully -- but he has basically called them all criminals and said they're not coming in here," Bundy observed. "What about individuals, those who have come for reasons of need for their families, you know, the fathers and mothers and children that come here and were willing to go through the process to apply for asylum so they can come into this country and benefit from not having to be oppressed continually?"

Bundy went on to observe that "faith is the opposite of fear" and that "we have been asked by God to help, to be welcoming, to assist strangers, to not vex them." He also provided his viewers with a quick fact-check of the president's claims that liberal billionaire George Soros had orchestrated the caravan, and that there were terrorists embedded among the migrants.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Man Who Drove Into Crowd Convicted of First-Degree Murder (Denise Lavoie, 12/07/18, AP)

A man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia was convicted on Friday of first-degree murder for killing a woman in an attack that inflamed long-simmering racial and political tensions across the country.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Iran's Rouhani denounces US sanctions as 'economic terrorism' (Al Jazeera, 12/08/18)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has denounced US President Donald Trump's decision to reimpose economic sanctions against Tehran, calling it a form of "economic terrorism".

Speaking at a regional security conference in Tehran on Saturday, Rouhani said the United States' intensions against Iran were "evident" when Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

"The unjust and illegal American sanctions against the Iranian nation is a clear example of terrorism," he told the gathering, which was attended by top legislative officials from Iran, China, Russia, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

...that the US had declared war on Japan prior to December 7th.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


A Presidency Without Humor (Bret Stephens, Dec. 7, 2018, The New York Times)

As with September's memorial services for John McCain, expressions of mourning for George H.W. Bush -- extolling the 41st president's humility, loyalty, temperance, decency, bravery and devotion to public service -- have contained thinly veiled rebukes of the current president. The sharpest one, I thought, came in Alan Simpson's splendid eulogy at Washington National Cathedral.

"He never lost his sense of humor," the former senator from Wyoming said of his friend of more than 50 years. "Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life. That's what humor is. He never hated anyone. He knew what his mother and my mother always knew: hatred corrodes the container it's carried in."

Did Donald Trump catch any of this as he sat there in the first pew? Lindsey Graham, the episodically spineful Republican from South Carolina, has claimed that, in private, the 45th president is "funny as hell" and has "a great sense of humor." If so, it's a better kept secret than his tax returns.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Dana Carvey Remembers George Bush, From Muse to Friend (Dana Carvey, Dec. 7, 2018, NY Times)

Later that day, my wife and I accompanied the president and the first lady to the Kennedy Center, where outstanding artists were awarded for their contributions to the arts. (Another generous gesture from the president -- my work was done, but we were still hanging out.)

The recipients that year included Lionel Hampton, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. We settled into our box seats high up in the theater, and I noticed that all four of us had a Secret Service agent seated behind us. I asked Barbara Bush about it, and she said that it was standard protocol since, "you know, Lincoln."

During a break in the show, I happened upon Newman, who had apparently referred to Vice President Dan Quayle in some derogatory manner in the press.

"I'm trying to avoid him," he said. "He knows I think he's a moron." Just then Quayle approached, and Paul skedaddled back to his seat.

Just as the show ended, Walter Cronkite, the host, looked up to the balcony where we all were sitting and, in his booming voice, congratulated President Bush "on behalf of a grateful nation" for his 50 years of public service. Then the entire audience stood up, faced us and gave him a loud, lengthy ovation.

It seemed to catch the president off guard. The Secret Service whisked us away to a small elevator, and I looked up to see the president with tears running down his cheeks. No one said a word. My wife and I had known the Bushes for only 30 hours, and there we were, sharing this intimate family moment.

And so began my lucky 25-year friendship with "Barbara and George." My wife and I happily received Christmas cards every year, as well as other postcards and letters. When I had a health scare in 1998, President Bush wrote to me to ask: "Can I do anything Dana? We've got great doctors right here in Houston." When we did charity events together, I did my Ross Perot impression for him, and he would always laugh.

On Election Day in 2004, I got a surprise call. Again, the voice was familiar.

"Hi, Dana. George Bush here. How ya doing?"

"Hi, Mr. President. Uh, isn't your son running for re-election today?"

"Yeah. But how are you doing?"

"I'm fine thanks. How's the election looking?"

"Don't know yet. But Bar and I saw you on some 'S.N.L.' reruns last night and wondered how you were doing."

That was who he was. Always making sure everybody else was O.K.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Mueller's Roadmap: Major Takeaways from Cohen and Manafort Filings (Ryan Goodman and Andy Wright, December 8, 2018, JustSecurity)

Here are eight major takeaways from what these developments:

1. SDNY Prosecutors named the President of the United States as a direct participant, if not the principal, in felonies

"The Department of Justice today, in the most explicit terms, said the President of the United States committed two felonies. Just said it. Came out and said it. Campaign violations. ... It's just plain as day," Jeffrey Toobin said live on CNN. Toobin is basically right, and that's the legal, political, and ethical bombshell of this day in history.

More specifically, the flagship U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York walked right up to the line of accusing Donald Trump (identified as "Individual 1") in a federal court filing of complicity and conspiracy in Cohen's felony campaign finance crimes related to the payment of hush money to women to squash sex stories. Specifically, the SDNY states:

During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories - each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 - so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1. As a result of Cohen's actions, neither woman spoke to the press prior to the election.

Trump is no mere accomplice, but is alleged to have directed the criminal activity. And this is no minor crime. The SDNY submitted to the court that "the nature and seriousness of the offenses" should "weigh heavily in favor of a substantial term of imprisonment." And as though they were speaking about Trump himself, the prosecutors state that the "two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency," "deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election," and should be met with a stiff penalty "to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful." That language is not reserved for Cohen, but presumably applies to the individual who directed Cohen's activities as well if not more so. [...]

2. Other Trump Campaign and Trump Organization officials may face criminal charges for the hush money scheme

The key allegation against the President also refers to "one or more members of the campaign," which suggests more indictments for the hush money scheme may still be in the offing. This also raises the prospect that we may soon see the prosecution of the campaign itself as an organization -- "United States vs. Trump Campaign" -- even if a sitting president (United States vs. Donald J. Trump) cannot be indicted. Something similar holds true for other executives in the Trump Organization and the company itself. The SDNY memo states that executives engaged in a scheme to create fraudulent payments to reimburse Cohen for his payoffs for the two women. It states, for example, that "Executives of the Company agreed to reimburse Cohen ... the Company then falsely accounted for these payments as 'legal expenses.' In fact, no such retainer agreement existed and these payments were not 'legal expenses' - Cohen in fact provided negligible legal services to Individual-1 or the Company in 2017."

3. The Special Counsel ties Trump directly to possible Russia collusion

The Special Counsel's sentencing memorandum for Cohen very deliberately tells the public that Trump himself was caught up in the connections to and embrace with Russia, and some of those actions were in fact the candidate's idea. The Special Counsel's memo says that it was Trump's idea to initiate contact with the Kremlin in the early stages of the campaign, and that he tasked his fixer, Cohen, to begin that process as early as September 2015. This information should now inform how we think about other subsequent events in the Trump-Russia timeline. At least some Russian overtures should be seen as a potential second step (a receptive response) in the two side's engagement, not the first step (an initial overture or invitation).

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Robots or humans: the choice for companies (Steve LeVine, 12/08/18, Axios)

Over the coming years, the workplace in the U.S. and other advanced economies will see increased automation, and corporate leaders will face a stark choice: whether to keep humans in the mix or let them go. And if it's the former, to what degree?

The point of an economy is not to create (preserve) labor; it is to create wealth more efficiently.  The distribution of that wealth is a political question.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Israel rejects international immigration pact (Danny Zaken, December 7, 2018, Al Monitor)

Like other right-wing governments in the West, Israel will not be participating in the international conference in Morocco this month where the United Nations will present the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. [...]

Netanyahu first announced his opposition after the newspaper Israel HaYom revealed that Israel planned to take part in the initiative. The paper's reporting generated a reproach from the right. Israeli opponents of migration believe that the country's very participation in the initiative would be a step too far. A major reason behind this opposition is the supposedly liberal character of the initiative, which blurs distinctions between illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

One of those issues that illustrates the gulf between Judaism and Zionism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Why does Le Carré gets a prime BBC slot? Because he loathes the West (Rod Liddle, Dec. 8th, 2018, The Spectator US)

I can't imagine another elderly or dead white, public school-educated, heterosexual male writer whose stories would be deemed admissible for a BBC adaptation these days. Certainly not Orwell or Waugh or even Martin Amis. John le Carré makes the cut not because of the brilliance of his prose or his plots but because of his fashionable world viewpoint: a revulsion for the West and what it has, in its wickedness, done to other countries. Le Carré loathes the West -- and, of course, by extension, Israel.

The perception that each side is as morally bad as the other, except that the West (because of its wealth and hegemony) is even more cynical, accords entirely with current liberal sensibilities. No matter that it is palpably wrong and a kind of convenient and frankly cowardly evasion of the truth. The imprecation that we should not judge foreign cultures or governments or institutions -- and that in every case our own perfidies easily outweigh those that have been ranged against us -- is the dominant paradigm.

But to my mind there is a fairly simple morality in the Cold War, for example: an ossified and paranoid authoritarian regime responsible for the mass murder of its own citizens was eventually, mercifully, defeated by the contradictions in its own system and the resolve and determination (and wealth) of democratic countries. There are, I would suggest, few shades of grey in the falling of the Berlin Wall and the emptying of the gulags. It is pretty straightforward as to where the rectitude lay, no?

The literary world is fond of its revisionism, mind, even if in the past those cast out into the wilderness were handed their exit visas more because of the style of their writing than because of their political affiliations. Both John Steinbeck and (even more so) Sinclair Lewis were denuded of their fashionability very quickly after their deaths because, while both men were certainly left of centre, the rather journalistic style they deployed had ceased to please in the decade of the nouveau roman and the likes of Robbe-Grillet. You can still find Steinbeck on some GCSE English courses, but only the simple novellas, such as Of Mice and Men. Sinclair Lewis seems to be gone for good, which I think a bit of a shame.

Today the style of writing is less important than the political affiliations and politics of the writer. Few literary greats have been defenestrated quite as quickly as John Updike, for example, who was being hauled from his plinth even before his death from cancer in 2009. Updike's problem was to have written from deeply within his time and from the standpoint of a white male heterosexual: that don't cut no ice no more. He's a privileged sexist bigot now.

Much the same odium has fallen on Saul Bellow -- in my opinion almost Updike's equal as the greatest American novelist of the second half of the 20th century. And it is happening to Philip Roth too. They will be replaced by authors who have far less literary merit but look a little different and are more attuned to the political zeitgeist. Happy reading.

...than listening to his characters whinge about playing second fiddle to America, so nothing is worthwhile.

December 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


Trump's trade war has cost the S&P 10% this year, JP Morgan estimates (Bob Pisani, 12/07/18, CNBC)

J. P. Morgan's Marko Kolanovic released his 2019 outlook this morning]  "The risk that many market participants underestimated this year was the destabilizing impact of the US administration's trade policies...these policies might have erased up to ~10% of S&P 500 value this year."

A 10 percent reduction in the S&P 500 due to trade policy incoherence is a bold call, but it may not be far from the truth. Consider what happened Friday morning. Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow appeared on CNBC at 9:05 a.m. ET saying President Trump would consider extending the 90-day tariff truce with China if "good" progress was made on the negotiations.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose over 100 points in the following few minutes after those remarks aired.

Then, Peter Navarro, the director of the White House National Trade Council, appeared on CNN a little after 10 a.m. ET and fielded a question about whether the U.S. would walk away if China trade talks were not resolved in 90 days. Navarro answered that the U.S. would move forward with raising tariffs.

The Dow and the S&P, which were already off their highs, promptly dropped after those remarks and kept dropping.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


What Do Americans Make? The Stormy Kromer! (Jim Vinoski, 9/19/18, Forbes)

The Stormy Kromer hat was named for its inventor, railroad engineer George "Stormy" Kromer. He wanted a warm winter hat that wouldn't fly off in the wind on the trains, and asked his wife Ida to add an ear flap to a baseball hat. When he began wearing his, demand from his friends and colleagues pushed him into full-scale production. He eventually opened a production plant in Milwaukee, where 25-30 workers helped make the hats. In 2001, with sales dwindling, the company announced that they were going to stop making their iconic Blizzard Cap.

Jacquart Fabric Products was founded in Ironwood, Michigan, at the very western end of the Upper Peninsula near Lake Superior, in 1958 by Bob Jacquart's father, Robert R. Jacquart. The business began as a bank deposit bag maker, and eventually began producing a variety of sewn products such as duffle bags, boat covers, and upholstery. The company went into full-scale manufacturing just about the same time overseas competition (primarily from China) was heating up; they focused on products that Chinese producers couldn't do, such as on demand pet beds, RV awnings and canopies for playground equipment. "In most cases, we can ship the same day" Jacquart says. (The threat was and remains very real; a Munsingwear factory in town shut down and its production went to China in 1987.)

Jacquart was at a restaurant one day in 2001 when his friend and local bike and ski shop owner Mark Fitting approached him and insisted he "do something" about his winter hat supplier ceasing production. Jacquart told him, "Get me the number and I'll buy the company!" By the time he made it back to his office, the number was on his desk. He called and discovered that the two main Stormy Kromer retailers, and 80% of the tiny business's customer base, were located in his immediate vicinity, in western Upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin. Jacquart saw the business as an excellent fill-in item, and brought its production to Ironwood.

In addition to location, because of their focus on viable domestic sewn goods manufacturing, "we were uniquely positioned to take over the business," says Jacquart. Production of the hats is anything but simple, and is still very manual. Piece cutting and embroidering are the only automated steps; the rest is machine sewn by individual operators. (The only fully automated item the company makes is a can wrap.) On a 6-panel hat with a visor and a retracting ear flap, that means lots of individual sewing steps. All of this was an excellent fit with Jacquart's existing operation.

The complexity of the hat is what makes automation difficult (which is not entirely a bad thing in an area in need of jobs). Jacquart sits on the Board of Trustees of Michigan Tech University and once asked the former dean of technology there to have a team come up with a way to make the hats robotically. Their study concluded that it couldn't be done economically.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Nadler: I'm ending investigation into FBI, DOJ when I become chairman (OLIVIA BEAVERS, 12/07/18, The Hill)

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who stepped outside of the ongoing closed-door interview with former FBI Director James Comey, told reporters Friday that he plans to end the probe come January.

"Yes, because it is a waste of time to start with," Nadler said in response to a question about whether he would end the probe. Nadler characterized the Republican investigation as a political sideshow that aims to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"The entire purpose of this investigation is to be a diversion of the real investigation, which is Mueller. There is no evidence of bias at the FBI and this other nonsense they are talking about," he continued.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Ocasio-Cortez Threatens To Retaliate Against Trump Jr. Over Meme, Twitter Explodes With Accusations Of Ethics Violations (RYAN SAAVEDRA, December 7, 2018, Daily Wire)

Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threatened to use the powers of her elected office to retaliate against Donald Trump Jr. on Friday after the president's son posted a meme trolling her on his personal Instagram account.

"I have noticed that Junior here has a habit of posting nonsense about me whenever the Mueller investigation heats up," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. "Please, keep it coming Jr - it's definitely a "very, very large brain" idea to troll a member of a body that will have subpoena power in a month."

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Comey faces off with GOP over Clinton emails, alleged bias (Mary Clare Jalonick, December 7, 2018, AP)

After the questioning was underway, some Republicans signaled they were unhappy with Comey's level of cooperation. California Rep. Darrell Issa said Comey had two lawyers in the room, his personal lawyer and a lawyer from the Justice Department. He said the department lawyer repeatedly instructed Comey not to answer "a great many questions that are clearly items at the core of our investigation."

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Breaking: Federal Prosecutors say Donald Trump Directed Michael Cohen to Commit Crimes: The president's former lawyer provided credible information related to the Russia investigation, but still faces years in prison. (HANNAH LEVINTOVA, DECEMBER 7, 2018, Mother Jones)

The two Friday memos include a number of new revelations about Trump's actions during the 2018 campaign to insulate himself from news of his affairs, and about efforts by Russian representatives to court the Trump campaign.

New York prosecutors more clearly tied the six-figure hush payments to two women--adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal--directly to Trump, noting that Cohen admitted that he issued the illegal funds "at the direction of" the future president. This means that federal prosecutors believe Trump directed Cohen to break the law, which itself can be a criminal act. The filing also describes how the president's company was involved in the payments.

Mueller's memo details a 2015 conversation between Cohen and a Russian national "who claimed to be a 'trusted person' in the Russian Federation." This person offered the Trump campaign "political synergy" and "synergy on a government level" and repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Putin, noting that the meeting could have a "phenomenal" impact on politics, and also on Trump's Moscow tower venture. The person boasted there is "no bigger warranty in any project" than Putin's buy-in. Cohen told the special counsel he did not take this person up on their invitation, in part because he was already working on the Moscow tower with another contact who had Russian-government connections.

The memo also notes that Cohen shared with them useful information about "discrete Russia-related matters" that Cohen had gleaned by way of regular conversations with Trump Organization executives during the election. This appears to further contradict Trump's statements during the campaign that he had no business interests in Russia while running for president.

Federal Prosecutors 'Concluded that President of the United States Committed a Felony' (Matt Naham, December 7th, 2018, Law & Crime)

One of the details that immediately jumped off the pages of Southern District of New York (SDNY) prosecutors' Friday sentencing memo for Michael Cohen has to do with "Individual-1," also known as President Donald Trump.

Prosecutors were pretty open about who Individual-1 was from the start and how he came to "direct" Cohen to commit felonies:

On approximately June 16, 2015, Individual-1, for whom Cohen worked at the time, began an ultimately successful campaign for President of the United States. Cohen had no formal title with the campaign, but had a campaign email address, and, at various times advised the campaign, including on matters of interest to the press. Cohen also made media appearances as a surrogate and supporter of Individual-1. During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories - each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 - so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments.

Then came to key line: "In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1."

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Rex Tillerson Breaks His Silence: Trump Is Impulsive, Hates Reading, and Floated Illegal Plans  (HANNAH LEVINTOVA, DECEMBER 7, 2018, Mother Jones)

On Thursday evening, Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state and Exxon Mobil CEO, sat down for an interview with CBS's Bob Schieffer in Houston. It was Tillerson's first public appearance since being fired by Donald Trump in March after months of tension, and when it came to discussing his points of disagreement with the president, Tillerson did not mince words. 

"So often, the president would say, 'Here's what I want to do, and here's how I want to do it,'" Tillerson recalled, according to the Houston Chronicle, "and I would have to say to him, 'Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can't do it that way. It violates the law.'"

"I think he grew tired of me being the guy every day who told him he can't do that," Tillerson said.

Asked if he believed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election--a charge that Trump continues to cast doubt on--Tillerson said, "There's no question" that it did, citing the evidence presented by US intelligence agencies. Tillerson also discussed the president's tendency to act on impulse rather than reading things like briefing reports before making decisions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Can Nikki Haley Emerge From the Trump Administration Unscathed?: In an interview with The Atlantic, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the UN made the case for a values-driven foreign policy, and acknowledged daylight between her and the president. (URI FRIEDMAN, 12/07/18, The Atlantic)

A 46-year-old, exceedingly popular Republican politician, Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants and a former South Carolina governor who is often discussed as a potential presidential candidate. Her reflection on her tenure at the UN, and the moral calling that she felt underpinned it, was a vivid reminder that the president's America First vision isn't necessarily the settled future of the Grand Old Party. It was also an object lesson in how Haley, perhaps more skillfully than any other top administration official, has navigated major differences with Trump while cultivating common ground. And she's done it representing him at an organization he once denounced as no friend to the United States.

"The most dangerous thing we can ever do is show a blind eye to any sort of human-rights violations," Haley told me, arguing that promoting American values overseas is in the core interest of the United States. "Because if [the violation] threatens people, it threatens the world."

In her first public comments on the Khashoggi killing, for example, she rejected the idea that the apparent state-sponsored murder of the journalist by Saudi Arabia, a longtime ally, placed the United States in the binary position of having to choose between its interests and its values--as the president has suggested in insisting that any U.S. response to the Khashoggi case must not disrupt an alliance that is critical to American economic and security interests. Employing remarkably forceful language for a hard-liner on Iran, she maintained that Washington could simultaneously consider Saudi Arabia its "complete partner when it comes to fighting Iran" and convey the message that "we're not going to continue to be your partners if you continue to use thuggish behavior."

"You have Saudi government officials that did this in a Saudi consulate" in Turkey, Haley told me. "We can't give them a pass," she added, "because that's not who America is." That's why the Trump administration has sanctioned 17 Saudi officials accused of involvement in the murder and is "asking for accountability," she explained, and "we need to continue to do it until we get it."

Asked about accountability for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who, at least according to senators briefed by the CIA this week, was likely behind the hit, Haley said, "I think all of that, the administration needs to decide." She did not specify the additional steps she would like the White House to take.

But while Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have avoided calling out MbS, as the crown prince is known, citing a lack of clear proof of his complicity in the extrajudicial killing, Haley didn't reference the intelligence community's findings or lack thereof. Instead, she simply noted bin Salman's status as the kingdom's de facto ruler to make the point that the buck stops with him.

"We can't condone [the Khashoggi murder], we can't ever say it's OK, we can't ever support thuggish behavior, and we have to say that," Haley told me.

At the United Nations, Haley has argued that prioritizing rights issues can avert conflict that endangers Americans and people around the world. She has sought to introduce debate on human rights into the UN Security Council, a body that is intended to focus on matters of peace and security, for this reason.

"You look at Syria," she observed, citing a conflict she has spent considerable time on, whether in visiting refugee camps, raising alarms about a (so far averted) Syrian government offensive against the rebel-held province of Idlib, or unsuccessfully seeking the renewal of a mechanism for holding perpetrators of chemical-weapons attacks accountable (Russia nixed it). "Everybody talks about how long this war has been. What started that war? That handful of teenagers was out there doing what every teenager does--spray-painted something on a wall, and even though it wasn't that bad, the government officials don't just go and say something to them; they beat them, they bloody them, they pull their nails out and return them to their parents. Their parents go out to the streets, the country rises up, the government oppresses them, conflict happens. It always happens."

As Haley sees it, whenever people feel stripped of freedom and opportunity, they instinctively challenge their government in order to reclaim control over their lives. "And if a government doesn't value human life," she said, "then they will do something to their people that the whole world will have to pay attention to." Haley has argued that the peril extends beyond those under the dictator's thumb. In 2017, after a North Korean missile test, she drew a direct connection between the nuclear threat from Pyongyang and the government's ghastly human-rights record. "Depravity toward one is a sure sign of willingness to do much more harm," she warned at the time.

"I think those freedoms are every person's God-given right, regardless of where they were born and raised, regardless of their religion, regardless of their ethnicity or gender," said Haley, who was raised Sikh but converted to Christianity as an adult. (During her confirmation hearing, Haley traced her focus on human rights to her love of her family's and America's "immigrant heritage" and to her decision as governor to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse.) "It doesn't cost us anything to fight for democracy, to fight for human rights, and to fight for the dignity of people ... We have to understand the leverage we have: that when we call out a country or we call out a wrong, everyone takes notice."

What Next for Nikki Haley (Charlie Sykes, 12/06/18, TWS)

On today's Daily Standard Podcast, senior writer Michael Warren joins host Charlie Sykes to discuss the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush and his legacy, the state of the economy, and what's next for outgoing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Trump praises Israel as 'your country' to American Jews (JTA and TOI STAFF, 12/07/18, Times of Israel)

"I want to thank Vice President Mike Pence," Trump said Thursday at one of two White House Hanukkah parties. "A tremendous supporter -- a tremendous supporter of yours. And Karen. And they go there and they love your country. They love your country. And they love this country. That's a good combination, right?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


UN rejects US-drafted resolution to condemn Hamas (Al Jazeera, 12/07/18)

The United Nations General Assembly has rejected a United States-sponsored resolution seeking to condemn Hamas, the Palestinian group administering the besieged Gaza Strip. [...]

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, an independent online news publication, said the failure of the proposal was significant.

"This resolution was really just an attempt to weaponise the UN against the Palestinian people, against their legitimate rights," he told Al Jazeera.

"The resolution itself was just transparently Israeli talking points - it didn't mention the military occupation, the siege of Gaza, Israel's daily attacks against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. I think the world saw through it and they rightly rejected it."

The Gaza Strip, home to two million Palestinians, has been under a crippling Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

In 2006, Hamas beat Fatah in parliamentary elections in the Gaza Strip and, a year later, fighting between the rival factions broke out.

When Hamas eventually took control, Israel responded by enforcing a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza and banning its residents from working in Israel.

Egypt followed suit, effectively sealing the Strip - often described as the world's largest prison - from the outside world.

Gaza's continued isolation has devastated its economy, impoverished its population and left 60 percent without jobs, adequate electricity and health services.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Robert Mueller's Bigger Collusion Picture Is Starting to Emerge (JOHN REED, DEC 06, 2018, Slate)

A former U.S. intelligence officer with experience in Eastern Europe told me using such deals to draw in potential assets would be typical Russian intelligence tradecraft: "I do believe this is about business in Russia or in places Russia has influence. That's how you pull someone in, by making them offers that are harder and harder to refuse. ... This is all about trading favors for future Russian spoils."

Last spring, it was reported that Mueller has been looking into a proposed peace deal between Ukraine and Russia that made its way to Flynn in his role as national security adviser. The proposal was reportedly brought to Flynn's attention via Trump's ex-personal attorney Michael Cohen and former Trump business affiliate Felix Sater. That plan, nominally put forward by a Ukrainian lawmaker representing a pro-Russia political movement with reported ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was skewed heavily in Russia's favor. The plan called for Ukraine to hold a referendum on whether Crimea should be leased to Russia for 50 to 100 years in exchange for Russian forces leaving eastern Ukraine. The Times further reported that the plan may have also involved the release of compromising material on Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected following the 2014 revolution that ousted Ukraine's pro-Russia President and Manafort client Viktor Yanukovych. The plan's blatantly pro-Russia tilt along with the involvement of several Americans with connections to Russia raised concerns that the plan had actually come from Moscow. Last week, Mueller revealed that Cohen and Sater were working together during the 2016 presidential campaign to advance Trump's efforts to develop property in Moscow and that Cohen lied about it to Congress.

Trump's history here is worth remembering. The president has long wanted to do business in Russia, he has a long history of traveling to the country as a high-profile American, and there have been a large number of people linked to the intelligence services and Mafia buying his and his family members' real estate properties and working with him.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Meet the New Permian, It's Double the Size of the Old One (Kevin Crowley, December 6, 2018, Bloomberg)

The Permian's Delaware Basin, the less drilled part of the giant West Texas and New Mexico oil field, holds more than twice the amount of crude as its sister, the Midland Basin, the U.S. Geological Service said Thursday.

The Wolfcamp Shale and Bone Spring rock formations in the Delaware hold an estimated 46.3 billion barrels, the scientists said in their first assessment of the area. In addition, it holds about 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, about 18 times the amount in the Midland Basin, which is more heavily drilled and better known.

The Midland and Delaware estimates are the USGS's "largest continuous oil and gas assessments ever released," Dr. Jim Reilly, the organization's director, said in a statement. The amount consists of "undiscovered, technically recoverable resources," the USGS said.

Remember Hubbert's peak?  That was fun.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Documents Point to Illegal Campaign Coordination Between Trump and the NRA (MIKE SPIES, DECEMBER 6, 2018, Mother Jones)

The National Rifle Association spent $30 million to help elect Donald Trump--more than any other independent conservative group. Most of that sum went toward television advertising, but a political message loses its power if it fails to reach the right audience at the right time. For the complex and consequential task of placing ads in key markets across the nation in 2016, the NRA turned to a media strategy firm called Red Eagle Media.

One element of Red Eagle's work for the NRA involved purchasing a slate of 52 ad slots on WVEC, the ABC affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, in late October 2016. The ads targeted adults aged 35 to 64 and aired on local news programs and syndicated shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. In paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Red Eagle described them as "anti-Hillary" and "pro-Trump."

The Trump campaign pursued a strikingly similar advertising strategy. Shortly after the Red Eagle purchase, as Election Day loomed, it bought 33 ads on the same station, set to air during the same week. The ads, which the campaign purchased through a firm called American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG), were aimed at precisely the same demographic as the NRA spots, and often ran during the same shows, bombarding Norfolk viewers with complementary messages.

The two purchases may have looked coincidental; Red Eagle and AMAG appear at first glance to be separate firms. But each is closely connected to a major conservative media-consulting firm called National Media Research, Planning and Placement. In fact, the three outfits are so intertwined that both the NRA's and the Trump campaign's ad buys were authorized by the same person: National Media's chief financial officer, Jon Ferrell.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Tucker Carlson says Trump is 'not capable' and hasn't kept his promises (Deanna Paul, December 6, 2018, Washington Post)

Carlson said he cannot stand Trump's self-aggrandizement and boasting. Then, when asked whether Trump has kept his promises, the usually quick-witted and long-winded Carlson had just one word: "No." [...]

"His chief promises were that he would build the wall, defund Planned Parenthood and repeal Obamacare, and he hasn't done any of those things," Carlson said, adding that those goals were probably lost causes. Trump, he said, doesn't understand the system, and his own agencies don't support him.

The White House Has No Plan for Confronting the Mueller Report (ELAINA PLOTT, DEC 6, 2018, The Atlantic)

"Answering those questions was a nightmare," he told me. "It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days."

There are numerous other reasons no response plan has been produced, White House sources said, including the futility of crafting a strategy that Trump will likely ignore anyway. There have also been few frank conversations within the White House about the potential costs of Mueller's findings, which could include impeachment of the president or the incrimination of his inner circle. Those close to Trump have either doubled down on the "witch hunt" narrative, they said--refusing to entertain the possibility of wrongdoing--or decided to focus on other issues entirely. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer has even taken to treating the probe like a game: On Wednesday he tweeted a (quickly deleted) link where followers could place bets on "how many tweets containing #mueller" the president will send "before the investigation is up."

Attempting to plan "would mean you would have to have an honest conversation about what might be coming," a former senior White House official, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told me.

Imagine being left defending Little Finger even after these cretins have bailed?

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


Trump ally who served on voter integrity panel expresses concern about fraud in North Carolina (Sean Sullivan, December 6, 2018, Washington Post)

Kris Kobach, an ally of President Trump who served on a voter integrity panel, expressed worry Thursday that Republican fraud might have tainted a North Carolina congressional election, becoming one of the most prominent members of the GOP to publicly express alarm about the race.

"Based on what I have read, I am very concerned that voter fraud did occur," Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 AM


Exodus from Ukip continues as more senior figures quit over Tommy Robinson links (Jon Stone, 12/07/18, Independent)

More senior figures have left Ukip as the party continues to implode in a row over its association with far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

David Coburn, Ukip's long-serving Scottish leader, quit on Friday morning, accusing the party of promoting "English nationalism" and anti-Islamic politics.

He was closely followed to the exit door by former leader Paul Nuttall, who said dealing with Mr Robinson was a "catastrophic error"

No surprise, the Trumpbots love him.

December 6, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Trump did not know about Huawei extradition request before Xi dinner: source (Reuters, 12/06/18) 

President Donald Trump did not know about a U.S. request for the extradition of Huawei's chief financial officer from Canada before he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping over dinner last weekend, a White House official said on Thursday.

Why would anyone trust him with information useful to our enemies?

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert just said some very questionable things about George Soros (The Week, 12/06/18)

On Thursday, the congressman appeared on Fox Business' Varney and Co. to discuss the rapidly plummeting stock market. Google's parent company Alphabet was among the businesses that saw diminishing shares in the past few days, and Gohmert suggested that was because "Google has repeatedly sold their souls" and invaded user privacy. He then compared that to the surveillance state George Orwell envisioned in his novel 1984.

Discussing Orwell soon reminded Gohmert of "another George," he said. Just like how Google was "born in a free country" but shifted to "oppress others," the Hungarian-born liberal philanthropist George Soros is "supposed to be Jewish" but went on to "damage" Israel, Gohmert alleged. Without any form of proof, Gohmert then claimed that Soros, who received a suspected pipe bomb in the mail in October and is frequently the target of anti-Semitic smears, "turned on fellow Jews and helped take the property that they own."

If he's only a pretend Jew then is he absolved of eating Christian babies?

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Trump Personally Employs Undocumented Immigrants? That May Be a Federal Crime (Colin Kalmbacher, December 6th, 2018, Law & Crime)

President Donald Trump has long employed undocumented immigrants at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a New York Times report. This arrangement may run afoul of federal law.

A mid-afternoon Thursday exposé identified two of the undocumented women by name.

Victorina Morales, the report notes, has made Trump's bed, "cleaned his toilet and dusted his crystal golf trophies." The second woman, Sandra Diaz, no longer works at the golf club but had similar duties during her three-plus years there.

Per the Times:

[Diaz] said she washed and ironed Mr. Trump's white boxers, golf shirts and khaki trousers, as well as his sheets and towels. Everything belonging to Mr. Trump, his wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, was washed with special detergent in a smaller, separate washing machine, she said.

Substantial media attention has focused on the stark divide between Trump's personal employment of undocumented immigrants compared to his campaign rhetoric and governing priorities. Morales herself noted that disconnect.

"We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money," she told the Times. "We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation."

Aside from the disconnect between the Trump administration's approach to illegal immigration and the apparent reality at his club, there could be a federal crime afoot here, too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Explainer: What is an inverted yield curve? (Reuters, 12/06/18) 

Shorter-dated securities are highly sensitive to interest rate policy set by a central bank such as the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Longer-dated securities are more influenced by investors' expectations for future inflation because inflation is anathema to bond holders.

So, when the Fed is raising rates, as it has been for three years now, that pushes up yields on shorter-dated bonds at the front of the curve. And when future inflation is seen as contained, as it is now because higher borrowing costs are expected to become a drag on the economy, investors are willing to accept relatively modest yields on long-dated bonds at the back end of the curve.

The deflationary epoch is driven by the free movement of goods and people (and the decline in labor costs as a function of off-shoring, integration and technology).

Donald and his war on trade and immigration represent a temporary inflationary aberration.  The Fed is fighting him prophylactically with rate hikes and the market is responding logically in pricing securities.

Donald can either abandon his Nationalist policies and get credit for extending the Bush/Obama recovery or he can set up his successor for an easy first term.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Migrants tend to be healthier, live longer: study (Reuters, 12/06/18) 

Migrants tend to be healthier than the residents of wealthy countries they travel to, such as the United States, and often help fight diseases by becoming healthcare workers in those nations, according to a study published on Wednesday.

Populist arguments that migrants pose a health risk and a burden to health systems are myths used to drive anti-immigrant sentiment, the report published by University College London and the Lancet medical journal concluded. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Volkswagen Will Stop Making Gas Powered Cars in 2026: More Automakers Have More Plans to Sell Electric Cars, And the luxury electric-SUV market is really heating up. (CHRIS MORRIS December 5, 2018, Fortune)

Volkswagen, which has been increasingly shifting its focus to electronic vehicles, says it will stop making gas-powered cars entirely in 2026.

Michael Jost, who heads strategy for the automaker, made the announcement at a conference at the company's Wolfsburg, Germany headquarters Tuesday, saying "in the year 2026 will be the last product start on a combustion engine platform".

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


We finally found election fraud (Jennifer Rubin, December 5, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump and his kangaroo court -- the Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity -- never found evidence of widespread voter fraud, the sort of fraud by impersonation that the Republican Party's voter-ID laws are supposed to combat. That's not for lack of trying, but as we've seen in study after study, voter-ID laws are a solution in search of a problem -- and a means of deterring traditionally Democratic constituencies from voting. [...]

Now, however, we have a big, ugly and blatant example of what is very likely election fraud. And strangely, Trump and the rest of the Republicans are silent, which is hardly surprising given that the alleged fraud may have put Republican Mark Harris in the House to represent North Carolina's 9th Congressional District.

The Post reported on a GOP operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, who allegedly ran an operation to collect absentee ballots (which they are not permitted to do) and discard them.

On Monday, the board issued a subpoena to the Harris campaign, according to campaign attorney John Branch. The board is expected to issue one soon to Red Dome Group, a GOP consulting firm based in the suburbs of Charlotte that hired Dowless, according to two people familiar with the probe. . . . 

Investigators with the bipartisan state elections board -- which last week voted unanimously to delay certifying the race -- have identified hundreds of potential witnesses to interview, many of them voters whose absentee ballots were never turned in, according to the people familiar with the probe. That raises the possibility of a weeks-long investigation and an uncertain start date for the next congressman from the 9th District.

The absentee ballots, wouldn't you know, are disproportionately from African American neighborhoods.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


India to import Iranian oil using rupee payment mechanism: source (Reuters, 12/06/18) 

India will import crude oil from Iran using a rupee-based payment mechanism, an industry source told Reuters on Thursday, adding that 50 percent of those payments will be used for exporting items to Tehran.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Saudi-funded lobbyist paid for 500 rooms at Trump's hotel after 2016 election (David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell, December 5 , 2018, Washington Post)

Lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump's election in 2016 -- paying for an estimated 500 nights at the luxury hotel in just three months, according to organizers of the trips and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

At the time, these lobbyists were reserving large numbers of D.C.-area hotel rooms as part of an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington -- then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed, according to veterans and organizers. ][...]

Some of the veterans who stayed at Trump's hotel say they were kept in the dark about the Saudis' role in the trips. Now, they wonder if they were used twice over: not just to deliver someone else's message to Congress, but also to deliver business to the Trump Organization.

December 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


George H.W. Bush's public rejection of the NRA exemplified his commitment to 'duty, honor and country' (Michael E. Diamond, 12/05/18, NBC News)

Bush, an avid hunter, had been a lifetime member of the NRA. Like many of his generation, the NRA to him was an organization dedicated to the promotion of hunting and firearm training. But during his political rise, that version of the NRA fundamentally changed, and Bush was wise enough to see it.

Just days before the deadly Oklahoma City bombing, where a domestic terrorist targeted federal agents and killed 168 people, the NRA sent out a fundraising letter in which NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre referred to federal agents as "armed terrorists dressed in Ninja black ... jack-booted thugs armed to the teeth who break down doors, open fire with automatic weapons and kill law-abiding citizens."

The "jack-booted thugs" imagery has long been associated with Nazi storm troopers. The letter showed just how far the NRA was sliding into lunatic conspiracy territory, but the organization's refusal to recant LaPierre's words in the wake of the bombing six days later seemed to be the last straw for Bush. He reacted by publicly resigning his membership.

His letter to the organization stated that "your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us."

Bush was of an era where it was important to recognize who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. Comparing U.S. law enforcement to Nazis while advocating for irresponsible gun policy would have been tough for a guy like Bush to swallow. So he didn't.

That awareness of good and evil also led Bush to stand in opposition to the regime in Moscow, which at the time restricted peoples' access to free markets, free press and individual liberties. And while not much has changed in terms of Moscow's hostility to those ideals, one thing absolutely has changed: Vladimir Putin's Russia loves America's NRA.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM



On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. "They're beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again," the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn't expand Trump's coalition. "He doesn't detract from it, but he doesn't add anything either," the source said. Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had been privately asking advisers if Pence could be trusted, and that outside advisers have been pushing Nikki Haley to replace Pence.

Nikki 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


George H.W. Bush got to hear his own eulogy before he died. His reaction was priceless. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr., December 5, 2018, Washington Post)

In George H.W. Bush's final days, Jon Meacham -- the Bush biographer, presidential historian and one of four people chosen to eulogize the 41st president -- decided to share the words of his speech with its subject.

And the ailing Bush responded in characteristically self-deprecating fashion:

"That's a lot about me, Jon."

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


People Are Angry About Amazon Sharing This Local News Story About A Delivery Driver Losing Weight (Remy Smidt, 12/03/18, BuzzFeed News)

On Monday afternoon, the Amazon News Twitter account shared a local news story about a woman named Jackie Crow.

Crow, a delivery driver in Kansas City, Kansas, lost weight by working out while making deliveries. People were critical of the tweet.

"So this is Amazon health care," one person said. "Alright. I'm gonna allow my prime membership to expire," another person responded.

In addition to working for the company, Crow also works at her family's restaurant, Wilson's Pizza and Grille, according to a September story published by KSHB. BuzzFeed News reached out to Crow for comment.

"I wear long sleeves in the hot sun and sometimes I'll park a longer distance from a house so I can jog a longer distance," Jackie said of the workout.

The local news segment shows Crow getting out of a car and jogging up to a door, package in hand.

Not everyone found the story to be "feel good."

"This isn't the feel good piece you think it is!" one person said in response to the company sharing the story.

Nathan Fielder responded to the tweet too. He noted that on an episode of his show, Nathan for You, one of his comedic schemes involved a moving company attempting to cut its cost of labor by tricking people into moving things as part of a fake fitness program called "The Movement."

The point, of course, is that jobs that require moving are genuine fitness programs.  That's why we hate them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Prosecutors ramp up foreign lobbying probe in New York (ERIC TUCKER, DESMOND BUTLER and CHAD DAY, 12/05/18, AP)

Spinning off from the special counsel's Russia probe, prosecutors are ramping up their investigation into foreign lobbying by two major Washington firms that did work for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigation had been quiet for months since special counsel Robert Mueller referred it to authorities in Manhattan because it fell outside his mandate of determining whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia.

But in a flurry of new activity, Justice Department prosecutors in the last several weeks have begun interviewing witnesses and contacting lawyers to schedule additional questioning related to the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs, the people familiar with the inquiry said [...]

In New York, Mueller's referral prompted a fresh look at the lobbying firms of Washington insiders Tony Podesta and Vin Weber, who have faced scrutiny for their decisions not to register as foreign agents for Ukrainian lobbying work directed by Manafort.

Podesta is a longtime Democratic operative whose brother, John Podesta, ran Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign; Weber is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota. Neither man has been charged with any crimes. Their firms have defended the decisions by saying they relied on the advice of outside attorneys.

Mueller's referral also involved Greg Craig, a former White House counsel for President Barack Obama. Craig supervised a report authored on behalf of the Ukrainian government, and Mueller's team has said Manafort helped Ukraine hide that it paid more than $4 million for the work. CNN reported in September that prosecutors were weighing charges against Craig.

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Trump On Coming Debt Crisis: 'I Won't Be Here' When It Blows Up (Asawin Suebsaeng & Lachlan Markay, 12.05.18, The Daily Beast)

The friction came to a head in early 2017 when senior officials offered Trump charts and graphics laying out the numbers and showing a "hockey stick" spike in the national debt in the not-too-distant future. In response, Trump noted that the data suggested the debt would reach a critical mass only after his possible second term in office.

"Yeah, but I won't be here," the president bluntly said, according to a source who was in the room when Trump made this comment during discussions on the debt.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Spotify just released this year's most-streamed artists and yeah, they're all male (LAURA BYAGER, 12/05/18, Mashable)

Spotify just released the most-streamed artists list and yeah, they're all dudes. The most streamed artist is Drake, thanks to his Scorpion album, followed by Post Malone, and late rapper XXXTentacion. Number four is Columbian singer J Balvin and last on the top five is last year's most played artist, Ed Sheeran. 

The exact same thing was the case in 2017, where the top five artists were also all male.

No women are to be found in the most-streamed groups category either. The top five groups are Imagine Dragons, BTS, Maroon 5, Migos, and good old Coldplay, last year's most streamed group.

In a separate category, most-streamed female artists has Ariana Grande at the top, followed by Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


NH receives federal approval for wider federal trade zone service area (DOUG ALDEN, 11/19/18,  New Hampshire Union Leader)

New Hampshire has received federal approval to expand foreign trade zone service areas in the state, allowing more businesses access to benefits that include lessening duties on imported goods.

Geno Marconi, director of the New Hampshire Port Authority, said the Federal Trade-Zone Board approved the state's application to modify the boundaries and reorganize the coverage area.

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One state for all: The only alternative to Israeli apartheid (Haidar Eid, 3 December 2018 13:, Middle East Eye)

It is high time that Palestinians start moving away from racist solutions that do not meet their inalienable right to self-determination, namely the two-state solution

This alternative solution should be encouraged by liberals and leftists alike, by those who were involved in anti-apartheid activities. If the world learned anything from the South African experience, it was that race, ethnicity and religion should not be the only determinants of one's citizenship, and that separation does not guarantee security as defined by the powerful party, in this case Israel. 

The first to call for this solution have been Palestinians who see clearly the complexities of their reality, and who recognise that a Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, even in the best case, could hardly constitute a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian problem. Rather, it would only contribute towards a solution for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza - about 35 percent of the Palestinian people. 

Such a move would necessarily lead to a permanent fragmentation of the Palestinian community, and to the perpetuation of the problems of the many Palestinians who live outside of this limited state. As historian Benedict Anderson showed, all nations are "imagined communities", and borders can be drawn to encompass and exclude any number of individuals, both between and within geopolitical entities.

The combination of political vision and practical measures on various fronts - the West Bank and Gaza, 1948 Palestine, the Arab world, and the international solidarity community - is the necessary precondition for the materialisation of any solution. Yet, thanks to the Oslo Accords, we have reached an impasse: either a Bantustan, or nothing. 

Nevertheless, a "third way" is available. It is high time that Palestinians start moving away from solutions that do not meet their inalienable right to self-determination, namely the two-state solution. 

As more people are recognising the futility - not to say absurdity - of attempting to partition Palestine, there is an urgent need for a new vision to bring about decolonisation and justice in historic Palestine. This vision must be committed to the struggle for Palestinians' internationally stipulated rights; it must be humanist and genuine in its attempt to provide a just solution to the Palestine question. 

Palestinian rights will never be realised outside the framework of a unitary state with equality for all its citizens. This is the only way forward.

The Israeli vision is also one state, but with Arabs as a permanently oppressed majority.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


First ever sun-dimming experiment will mimic volcanic eruption in attempt to reverse global warming (Josh Gabbatiss, 12/04/18, The Independent)

The team will use a balloon suspended 12 miles above Earth to spray tiny chalk particles across a kilometre-long area, with the intention of reflecting the Sun's rays away from the planet.

In doing so, they will attempt to replicate on a small scale the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.

During this event, the volcano spewed 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, creating a haze that cooled the planet by 0.5C for around 18 months - returning the Earth to its pre-industrial temperature.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


GOP senators come out and say it: The Trump administration is covering up Khashoggi's killing (Aaron Blake, December 4, 2018, Washington Post)

In remarks after a briefing from CIA Director Gina Haspel, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) suggested there is no plausible way that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn't order the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, and said that the evidence is overwhelming.

This is completely contrary to the narrative that has been put forward by President Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Trump has said it's unknowable whether the crown prince was actually behind it -- despite the CIA concluding this with "high confidence" -- while Pompeo said last week that there was no "direct reporting" implicating him.

Graham said Tuesday that you'd have to be "willfully blind" to not know Mohammed was responsible -- a clear rebuke of Trump's argument that this whole thing resides in some kind of gray area.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Cuba to finally give citizens internet access on their phones as government launches 3G service (Tim Wyatt, 12/05/18, The Independent US)

People in Cuba will soon be able to access the internet from their mobile phones for the first time after the government announced it would launch a 3G service.

The president of the state telecoms company, Mayra Arevich, announced on television on Tuesday evening that the long-awaited service would begin on Thursday.

Cuba is one of the last countries on earth to join the mobile internet. Citizens of the repressive Caribbean country have only been able to get online via fixed connections to their homes from last year.

The regime has also been opening state-owned internet cafes since 2013 and WiFi hotspots in public places since 2015.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Mueller says Michael Flynn gave 'first-hand' details of Trump transition team contacts with Russians (Dan Mangan & Kevin Breuninger, 12/04/18,

Mueller in a sentencing memo said Flynn's "substantial assistance" to his probe warrants a light criminal sentence -- which could include no jail time for the retired Army lieutentant general.

That assistance, which includes 19 interviews with Mueller's team and Justice Department attorneys, related to a previsouly unknown "criminal investigation," as well as to Mueller's long-running probe of the Trump campaign's and transition team's links or coordination with the Russian government.

"The defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials," the memo says.

December 4, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


My Prozac Economics Lecture: Showing Students What They'd Earn if Their FICA Taxes Were Put in the S&P (T. Norman Van Cott , 11/26/18, FEE)

What if students, instead of being legally obligated to pay Social Security taxes, had the option of putting and holding those funds in the stock market?

The discussion is organized around the following question: What if students, instead of being legally obligated to pay Social Security taxes, had the option of putting and holding those funds in the stock market?

To this end, it should be noted that the average annual return in the stock market since 1928, as measured by the S&P 500 index, is 9.8 percent (not that the return every year is 9.8 percent, mind you--just that over the last 90 years, annual returns average out to 9.8 percent). Then pick an annual starting salary students might earn. Say it's $35,000, and assume it rises by 3 percent a year. Under this latter assumption, the salary never rises above the current $127,400 maximum taxable annual income.

Assume the person intends to work 41 years. Then at the end of the first year of employment, his/her $4,340 Social Security tax for the year ($35,000 x 12.4 percent) is invested in an S&P 500 index fund and held for the following 40 years at the 9.8 percent average return. What will it equal at the end of 40 years? Believe it or not, $182,634. That's right; just the first year's tax will grow to $182,634. The second year's tax ($4,470), held for 39 years, will grow to $171,316, and so on.

Making these calculations by hand is tedious, to say the least. For example, the growth in the first year's tax is the answer to $4,340 x (1.098)40. The second year's tax follows from $4,470 x (1.098)39 and so on. Don't despair. Websites like this enable you to make the calculations quite easily by plugging in the numbers.

Thus, if the student never saved another penny in his/her whole life, just the first two years of Social Security taxes invested under the above conditions would grow to $353,950, more than one-third of a million dollars, when they retired 41 years after graduation.

If the student's Social Security taxes for the first 10 years of working life were invested at the S&P 500's 9.8 percent return, he/she would have a $1,391,844 portfolio at the end of 41 years; the first 20 years of taxes would grow to $2,126,777; the first 30 years of taxes grows to $2,514,569; and for the entire 40 years, it's $2,718,713.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Japan Needs to Change its Attitude to Foreigners (Editorial Board, December 4, 2018, Bloomberg)

A bill approved by the lower house of the Diet would open Japan's doors to two types of foreign workers. Lower-skilled laborers in 14 sectors would for the first time be able to apply for five-year visas after demonstrating a good command of Japanese. And highly skilled workers would be eligible for work visas that can be renewed indefinitely, could bring their families with them, and could apply for permanent residency after 10 years. The government aims to push the bill through the upper house before the current session ends.

It's a good plan, as far as it goes. There's no question Japan needs the newcomers. At just above 2 percent, the country's unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since the early 1990s; labor shortages are acute in several industries, including construction and nursing care. The longer-term picture is even more worrying. Recent forecasts predict that the population will shrink to two-thirds its current size by 2065. By then, one in four Japanese will be over age 75.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has made progress in getting more women and senior citizens back into the workforce, and is working to nudge up the fertility rate. It's also allowed in more foreigners than many realize, partly through a technical internship program meant to impart skills that workers can take back to their home countries. The new bill is an acknowledgment that such measures won't be nearly enough to stop Japan's working-age population from imploding. There's widespread opposition to mass immigration, so the admission is brave.

The good thing about such a population collapse will be that such nations can offer housing in order to lure the young.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Everyone loves Paul Volcker. Everyone is wrong (Jeff Spross, December 4, 2018, The Week)

Yes, Volcker successfully tamed inflation. The question is whether there was a better way to do it than setting off a massive recession. At the time, America was dealing with oil shocks, a broken consumer price index, the fallout from funding the Vietnam War, the end of the Bretton Woods system, and a new political enthusiasm for massive tax cuts for the wealthy. Any combination of these factors could have been driving the price spiral.

But Volcker's solution destroyed the American working class for a generation. Unemployment peaked as high or higher than in the Great Recession. Unions, already in decline, went into free fall. Volcker explicitly viewed breaking the power of organized labor as a critical piece of his anti-inflation crusade. "The standard of living of the average American has to decline," Volcker declared shortly after becoming Fed Chair. Trace the modern trends in wage stagnation and inequality, and they lead back to Volcker's recession.

There's also the lesson Volcker taught the Fed. In many ways, the institutional culture of the Fed remains fixated on the moral narrative of the 1970s inflation and guided by Volcker's tough-love disciple. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, Volcker's successor, argued that keeping workers "traumatized" was key to restraining prices.

In free market nations, inflation is just a function of wage pressure.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Abortion rates continue downward trend, hitting lowest numbers since Roe v. Wade was decided: CDC (CHEYENNE HASLETT Nov 21, 2018, ABC News)

From 2006 until 2015, the total number of reported abortions decreased by 24 percent -- from more than 840,000 in 2006 to about 638,000 in 2015, the report found.

The CDC also focused on two other measures that reached their lowest level over the same time period: the total number of abortions in the population, or the abortion rate, which decreased 26 percent, and the proportion of all pregnancies that end in abortion rather than birth, or the abortion ratio, which decreased 19 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Subpoenas issued to Trump Organization in emoluments lawsuit (Jan Wolfe, 12/04/18, Reuters)

Among other documents, the attorneys general are seeking revenue statements and tax returns from the Trump Organization entities.

Ignoring the subpoenas would result in a finding of contempt of court, said George Brown, a professor at Boston College Law School.

The development "brings us closer to judicially enforced discovery about the Trump empire," said Brown. "It will probably tell us a lot we don't know because nobody is going to hide that stuff in the face of a subpoena."

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Stock Market Drops 700+ Points As Trump Declares Himself 'Tariff Man' (BEN SHAPIRO, 12/04/18, Daily Wire)

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Mueller Is Laying Siege to the Trump Presidency (Mikhaila Fogel & Benjamin Wittes, 12/0/18, The Atlantic)

No, Mueller and his forces are not a Mongol horde, but the Trump White House is very much under siege.

Mueller's army isn't the only force encircling Trump's fortress, but it is the largest and most active force, and it actually has several distinct encampments. One contingent of Mueller's forces is charged with investigating efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 election. In this capacity, the special counsel's office has indicted individuals associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm that has spread disinformation and propaganda on social media. His office also indicted 13 members of the Russian military intelligence organization, the GRU, in connection with deliberately hacking into the Democratic National Committee server and passing the fruits of that hack to WikiLeaks "to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election."

The immediate threat this particular force poses to the castle right now involves its evident interest in Roger Stone and the group of people around him. The GRU indictment does not name Stone, but he has publicly admitted that he is the person referred to in the indictment "who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump" and who corresponded with a fake hacktivist persona used by the Russians.

This front of the siege has become hot in recent months and will likely remain an area of intense activity over the coming weeks. Recently, Jerome Corsi publicly shared a draft statement of offense in connection with a plea agreement offered him by the special counsel's office. The document details contact between Corsi and an individual reported to be Stone regarding WikiLeaks' planned release of the hacked material. Moreover, in the coming weeks, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is expected to rule on whether Andrew Miller, another Stone associate, is obligated to testify before Mueller's grand jury. Miller had appealed a contempt citation, contending that Mueller's appointment was unconstitutional. Stone and Corsi both seem to expect indictments.

This front is likely to remain active and to generate big news events. But note as well if and when either man or both face charges, that will not be the sky falling for Trump any more than last week's Cohen plea was. It will be just another set of stones blasted out of the city walls.

Last week's events revealed another force surrounding the castle, also under Mueller's command: the investigation of Trump's efforts to do financial business in Russia. The president, while insisting there was "NO Collusion with Russia," admitted that he "lightly looked" into building a tower in Moscow months into the 2016 campaign. Trebuchets from the Cohen front sounded into Friday evening, when Cohen's lawyers filed a sentencing memorandum as a follow-up to the guilty plea. In the memo, Cohen's legal team said that Cohen "remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1," another euphemism for Trump. It's unclear to what extent this investigation is one and the same with the main Mueller collusion force, but it is evidently an active matter, too.

Mueller's forces also include a major encampment focused on obstruction of justice. This force has so far not done anything the public can see, but it may be getting ready to launch some kind of report against the castle. And this report, whenever it materializes, may prove devastating. But note that the day such a report is completed will also not be the "big one"--the cataclysmic event that causes the house of cards to collapse. After all, any report would likely have to undergo a lengthy approval process, either from within the Justice Department or by the courts, or both. It might have to be approved by Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, before being released. It may have significant classified components. Even if the findings in this report are of bombshell proportions, given that it is unlikely Mueller will reject Office of Legal Counsel guidelines against the indictment of a sitting president, the damage that bombshell will inflict will ultimately be determined by Congress, and its detonation would likely be substantially delayed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Republicans Finally Have an Election Fraud Scandal (Pema Levy, December 4, 2018, Mother Jones)

[T]here is one place where there is a strong possibility of fraud in the 2018 midterms, and so far, none of these Republicans have mentioned it. In North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, the state election board has refused to certify the results of the election as it investigates the possibility that fraud helped Republican Mark Harris defeat Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of more than 280,000 cast.

Thus far, there is evidence of tampering with absentee ballots in Bladen County, a large rural county in the southeast corner of the state. One woman recounted in a sworn affidavit that a woman had collected her absentee ballot before it was sealed in its envelope; another voter also recalled in an affidavit a woman picking up her ballot. In North Carolina, it is illegal for anyone but the voter to turn in his or her absentee ballot. Some affidavits fingered a local Republican operator, Leslie McCrae Dowless, Jr., who worked as on behalf of the Harris campaign, according to the Charlotte Observer. The Washington Post reported Monday that according to one sworn affidavit from a former friend of Dowless, "he oversaw a crew of workers who collected absentee ballots from voters and updated the Harris campaign on the numbers."

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Majority of Voters Back National Health Plan -- Unless It's Called 'Single Payer' (YUSRA MURAD, November 29, 2018, Morning Consult)

As they deliberate messaging tactics, a new Morning Consult/Politico survey suggests that while describing the controversial health policy as "Medicare for all" is a crowd pleaser, Democrats should avoid calling it a "single-payer" plan.

The survey of 1,957 registered voters asked respondents about their support for a system where all Americans would get their health insurance from the government, labeled as Medicare for all, single payer, universal health care or socialized medicine. While not truly synonymous, the terms are often used interchangeably to describe a national health plan that guarantees coverage for each resident.

According to the messaging test in the survey, "Medicare for all" has the highest favorability, with 58 percent of registered voters saying they would back such a plan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


It's Actually Not a "Good Time" for a Government Shutdown (JIM NEWELL, DEC 03, 2018, Slate)

The Democratic takeover of the House makes it more pressing for Trump that he get the wall money he wants right now--and less likely that he gets it. His chances of constructing the wall of his dreams will be shot once Democrats take control of the chamber. But if there's a protracted government shutdown that carries through the holidays, it will be resolved by that new House Democratic majority anyway--and after the already unpopular president has taken a hit by shutting down the government over the unpopular issue of a border wall.

In other words, congressional Republicans will be spending these next several weeks finding the president an out.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


The Battle over Conservative Masculinity, from Bush I to Trump (DAVID FRENCH, December 3, 2018, National Review)

After Bush's death, this almost 40-year-old clip of Bush on CBS's Face the Nation rocketed around the Internet. In it, Bush presents the best answer I've ever heard to the charge that he was too nice. [...]

Here was his answer, and it's brilliant:

I equate toughness with moral fiber, with character, with principle, with demonstrated leadership in tough jobs where you emerge not bullying somebody, but with the respect of the people you led. That's toughness. That's fiber. That's character. I have got it. And if I happen to be decent in the process, that should not be a liability.

As we raise our sons, who is the better model? Is it the "wimp" who enlisted in the Navy at age 18, became one of the service's youngest aviators, was shot down over the Pacific and rescued, went on to a lifetime of public service (including the presidency), led the nation in war, and managed the fall of the Soviet Union with calmness, ending a great-power conflict without triggering a cataclysm? Is it the beloved husband (of one wife for more than 70 years) and father -- a man of real faith?

Or is it the "tough guy" who ducked his war, paid off porn stars, gloried in his adultery, married three women, built a business empire in part through nepotism and "suspect" tax schemes, bankrupted casinos, and now adopts his aggressive posture mainly through public insults and angry tweets? This isn't the masculinity that we should respect. And it's hardly "manly" to defend behavior that is barely removed from the posturing and strutting of the schoolyard bully.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Senior aides push back on Trump's claim that China agreed to cut auto tariffs (JIM PUZZANGHERA, DEC 03, 2018, LA Times)

[T]rump's top economic advisors made clear Monday that no agreement to reduce and remove the tariffs yet existed, despite Trump's boast.

"We don't yet have a specific agreement on that, but I will just tell you ... we expect those tariffs to go to zero," Larry Kudlow, Trump's top economic advisor, told reporters in a conference call from the White House. [...]

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin gave mixed messages, appearing to confirm the auto tariff cut but then backing off.

"There is an immediate focus on reducing auto tariffs," Mnuchin told reporters. "There's a lot of work to be done over the next 90 days."

White House trade advisor Peter Navarro also wouldn't confirm China was lifting auto tariffs. He told NPR that the issue "certainly came up in discussions" between Trump and Xi.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


Why Michael Cohen, Trump's Fixer, Confessed to It All (Benjamin Weiser, Dec. 3, 2018, NY Times)

Of all of President Trump's former associates who have come under scrutiny in the special counsel's Russia investigation, his former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, has undertaken perhaps the most surprising and risky legal strategy.

Mr. Cohen has twice pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to a litany of crimes, and he has volunteered information to the special counsel and other agencies investigating Mr. Trump and his inner circle. He did all this without first obtaining a traditional, ironclad deal under which the government would commit to seeking leniency on Mr. Cohen's behalf when he is sentenced on Dec. 12.

Mr. Cohen has concluded that his life has been utterly destroyed by his relationship with Mr. Trump and his own actions, and to begin anew he needed to speed up the legal process by quickly confessing his crimes and serving any sentence he receives, according to his friends and associates, and analysis of documents in the case.

He has told friends that he is mystified that he is taking the fall for actions he carried out on behalf of Mr. Trump, who remains unscathed. Still, he is resigned to accepting responsibility. [...]

Surprisingly, Mr. Cohen entered his plea without a traditional cooperation deal in which the Southern District would write to the judge and seek leniency when he was finally sentenced.

Cooperating witnesses are often not sentenced until investigations are completed, months or even years later. Mr. Cohen was concerned that signing a deal would delay his sentencing, his lawyers explained in their filing on Friday.

"He respectfully declined to pursue conventional cooperation so that his sentencing proceeding would go forward as scheduled," wrote the lawyers, Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester, both former Southern District prosecutors.

December 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Legal Experts Pummel Rudy Giuiliani's Defense of Trump's Controversial Roger Stone Tweet (Colin Kalmbacher, December 3rd, 2018, Law & Crime)

Julie Rendelman is a former prosecutor and currently a defense attorney working in New York City. She also serves as an analyst on the Law&Crime Network. Rendelman thinks both Trump and Giuliani blew it here.

"Trump's tweet regarding Roger Stone is simply one of a growing number of comments by Trump designed to send a message of intimidation and bullying to those who might cross him," she told Law&Crime. "Giuliani's response is, as usual, a poorly communicated attempt to give an innocent explanation for Trump's tweet. And as we see time and time again, it appears to have backfired."

Robert Bianchi is also a former prosecutor as well as a national legal analyst and host on the Law&Crime Network. Bianchi said that Giuliani that himself, back in his prosecutor days, likely would have made easy work out of Trump's perceived message for Stone.

"Poppycock," Bianchi said of Giuliani's excuse. "When Giuliani was U.S. Attorney he would indict in a flash someone communicating with a witness-arguing it was to embolden them to stay the course and not cooperate."

Bianchi went on to note that Trump's presidential prerogatives only sweeten the potential pot here.

"Not to mention the person tweeting is under investigation and has the power to pardon, which he, Trump, in plain sight has stated is on the table. Add those comments up and it is clear to all but the dumbfounded what is cute by half and you will get burned."

Perhaps further complicating matters for himself and the 45th president, Roger Stone appears to have signaled that he received the presidential message of encouragement loud and clear.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Unplug Electric Vehicle Subsidies and Let Consumers Decide (Nicolas Loris, December 03, 2018, Daily Signal)

Electric vehicle handouts subsidize the wealthiest Americans and, despite their being advertised as a more "climate-friendly" option, they produce next to no climate benefit for the planet.

Trump does not quite have the power to cut GM's current electric vehicles subsidies full stop. But he could play an important role in the future of the targeted tax subsidy.

Both federal and state governments have generous handouts for electric vehicles. The federal tax credit extends up to $7,500 and applies to the first 200,000 electric vehicles per manufacturer, and then a phaseout of the credit begins.

Tesla is in the phaseout period now, and General Motors Co. is close to hitting the 200,000 mark.

Congress is considering a larger package to revive and extend special tax breaks that use the tax code to pick winners and losers.

Some members want to include a permanent extension of the $7,500 tax credit and to lift the 200,000 cap. An unlimited subsidy would be a massively expensive bill for taxpayers and a win for cronyism that awards money based on preferential treatment, rather than the competitive process.

Furthermore, extending the subsidy would continue to take decision rights away from car buyers and leave them in the hands of the federal government.

Use a hammer, not a scalpel.  Government can do destruction well, but surgery poorly. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


PODCAST: Remembering 41 (Hosted by Charlie Sykes, 12/03/18, Weekly Standard)

On today's Daily Standard Podcast, editor-at-large William Kristol and national correspondent Andrew Ferguson join host Charlie Sykes to remember President George H.W. Bush. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Ex-Marine admits he lured Seth Rich conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman to a hotel parking garage, then shot him (Rachel Weiner, December 3, 2018, Washington Post)

A man who worked as an investigator for conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman will serve nine years in prison for shooting and wounding his ex-boss in a complicated plot involving a fake FBI exposé. [...]

Burkman told The Washington Post in March that he hired Doherty, a onetime Marine, to investigate the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. Burkman, a Republican lobbyist, has enmeshed himself in a conspiracy theory that Rich was killed for handing Democratic emails over to WikiLeaks. Law enforcement has deemed the homicide a botched street robbery, and Rich's family has repeatedly sued right-wing news outlets for falsely reporting otherwise.

Doherty was supposed to build a psychological profile of Rich's possible killer, but Burkman said in March that he and Doherty quickly came to loggerheads over control of the project. Burkman fired Doherty in July 2017.

In court, Eastman described the plot Doherty executed months later and how police tracked him down. Doherty sent Burkman emails pretending to have information "detrimental to the FBI." Burkman paid Doherty $15,000 and arranged to pick up the documentation from under a traffic cone at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington on March 13.

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Wall Street rises as industrials, tech bounce on trade truce (Shreyashi Sanyal, 12/03/18, Reuters) 

Trade-sensitive industrial and technology stocks pushed Wall Street higher on Monday after the United States and China agreed on a temporary trade detente, hopes of which had driven the market last week to post its biggest gain in nearly seven years.

...were to drop all opposition to the free movement of goods and people and join the TPP and CETA and add the UK to the CMUSA. Simply by undoing his own unforced errors he'd get a boom he could claim credit for.  All he needs to do is become Bizarro-Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Right-left rift tops ethnic tensions as biggest source of polarization in Israel (RAOUL WOOTLIFF, 12/03/18, Times of Israel)

A growing fissure between the right and left has catapulted political rifts into becoming the most powerful source of tension in Israeli society, leapfrogging long-held divisions between Jews and Arabs, a new poll of attitudes from across the widening political spectrum has found.

In 2012, just nine percent of Jewish Israelis identified the right-left divide as the worst rift in the country. Today, that number stands at 36%, according to a poll released on Monday by the Israel Democracy Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


A comprehensive guide to the new science of treating lower back pain: A review of 80-plus studies upends the conventional wisdom. (Julia Belluz,  Jul 27, 2018, Vox)

The big takeaway: Millions of back patients like Ramin are floundering in a medical system that isn't equipped to help them. They're pushed toward intrusive, addictive, expensive interventions that often fail or can even harm them, and away from things like yoga or psychotherapy, which actually seem to help. Meanwhile, Americans and their doctors have come to expect cures for everything -- and back pain is one of those nearly universal ailments with no cure. Patients and taxpayers wind up paying the price for this failure, both in dollars and in health.

Thankfully, Ramin finally discovered an exercise program that has eased her discomfort. And to this day, no matter how busy her life gets, she does a series of exercises every morning called "the McGill Big Three" (more on them later). "With very rare exceptions," she says, "I find time to exercise, even when I'm on the road."

More and more people like Ramin are seeking out conservative therapies for back pain. While yoga, massage, and psychotherapy have been around for a long time, there was little high-quality research out there to understand their effects on back pain, and doctors sometimes looked down on these practices. But over the past decade, that's changed.

To learn more, I searched the medical literature on treatments for lower back pain (the most common type) and read through more than 80 studies (mainly reviews of the research that summarized the findings of hundreds more studies) about both "active" approaches (yoga, Pilates, tai chi, etc.) and passive therapies (massage, chiropractics, acupuncture, and so on). I also talked to nine experts and researchers in this field. (For more detail on our methods, scroll to the end.)

What I found surprised me: Many of these approaches really do seem to help, though often with modest effects. But when you compare even those small benefits with the harm we're currently doing while medically "treating" back pain, the horror of the status quo becomes clear. "No one dies of low back pain," one back pain expert, University of Amsterdam assistant professor Sidney Rubinstein, summed up, "but people are now dying from the treatment."

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Qatar: We're quitting OPEC in 2019 (Middle East Eye, 3 December 2018)

Qatar said on Monday it was quitting OPEC from January to focus on its gas ambitions, taking a swipe at the group's de facto leader Saudi Arabia and marring efforts to show unity before this week's meeting of exporters to tackle an oil price slide.

Doha, one of OPEC's smallest oil producers but the world's biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter, is embroiled in a protracted diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states.

Qatar said its decision was not driven by politics but in an apparent swipe at Riyadh, Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi said: "We are not saying we are going to get out of the oil business but it is controlled by an organisation managed by a country." He did not name the nation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Robot Janitors Are Coming to Mop Floors at a Walmart Near You (Pavel Alpeyev, December 3, 2018, Bloomberg)

The world's largest retailer is rolling out 360 autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in some of its stores in the U.S. by the end of the January, it said in a joint statement with Brain Corp., which makes the machines. The autonomous janitors can clean floors on their own even when customers are around, according to the San Diego-based startup.

Walmart has already been experimenting with automating the scanning of shelves for out-of-stock items and hauling products from storage for online orders. Advances in computer vision are also making it possible to use retail floor data to better understand consumer behavior, improve inventory tracking and even do away with checkout counters, as Inc. is trying to do with its cashierless stores. Brain's robots are equipped with an array of sensors that let them to gather and upload data.

"We can take anything that has wheels and turn it into a fully autonomous robot, provided that it can go slow and stopping is never a safety concern," said Brain Chief Executive Office Eugene Izhikevich. "And it's more than just navigation. It is to robots what Android operating system is to smartphones."

Brain doesn't make its own hardware, focusing instead on developing software -- BrainOS -- that endows machines with autonomy in closed environments. At first, the machines were need to be operated by humans, who "teach" the layout of the space that needs cleaning. After that the robots can perform the task autonomously.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Rich Americans Rank Financial Security Over Love in Relationships (Lananh Nguyen, November 30, 2018, Bloomberg)

When looking for a partner, 56 percent of affluent Americans want someone who provides financial security, versus 44 percent who want to be "head over heels" in love, according to more than 1,000 respondents surveyed by Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Edge. Of those polled, 63 percent said they preferred a career-focused partner over a socially conscious mate.

"There's a level of realism" for couples who face economic uncertainty and a lack of financial planning, said Aron Levine, head of consumer banking and Merrill Edge, which offers online investing. "How do you keep the love of your life if you can't pay for a vacation?" he said in an interview in New York.

Family Structure: The Growing Importance of Class (Isabel V. Sawhill, January 16, 2013, Brookings)

Nearly fifty years later, the picture is even more grim--and the statistics can no longer be organized neatly by race. In fact, Moynihan's bracing profile of the collapsing black family in the 1960s looks remarkably similar to a profile of the average white family today. White households have similar--or worse--statistics of divorce, unwed childbearing, and single motherhood as the black households cited by Moynihan in his report. In 2000, the percentage of white children living with a single parent was identical to the percentage of black children living with a single parent in 1960: 22 percent.

What was happening to black families in the '60s can be reinterpreted today not as an indictment of the black family but as a harbinger of a larger collapse of traditional living arrangements--of what demographer Samuel Preston, in words that Moynihan later repeated, called "the earthquake that shuddered through the American family."

That earthquake has not affected all American families the same way. While the Moynihan report focused on disparities between white and black, increasingly it is class, and not just race, that matters for family structure. Although blacks as a group are still less likely to marry than whites, gaps in family formation patterns by class have increased for both races, with the sharpest declines in marriage rates occurring among the least educated of both races. For example, in 1960, 76 percent of adults with a college degree were married, compared to 72 percent of those with a high school diploma--a gap of only 4 percentage points. By 2008, not only was marriage less likely, but that gap had quadrupled, to 16 percentage points, with 64 percent of adults with college degrees getting married compared to only 48 percent of adults with a high school diploma. A report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia summed up the data well: "Marriage is an emerging dividing line between America's moderately educated middle and those with college degrees." The group for whom marriage has largely disappeared now includes not just unskilled blacks but unskilled whites as well. Indeed, for younger women without a college degree, unwed childbearing is the new normal.

These differences in family formation are a problem not only for those concerned with "family values" per se, but also for those concerned with upward mobility in a society that values equal opportunity for its children. Because the breakdown of the traditional family is overwhelmingly occurring among working-class Americans of all races, these trends threaten to make the U.S. a much more class-based society over time. The well-educated and upper-middle-class parents who are still forming two-parent families are able to invest time and resources in their children--time and resources that lower- and working-class single mothers, however impressive their efforts to be both good parents and good breadwinners, simply do not have.

The striking similarities between what happened to black Americans at an earlier stage in our history and what is happening now to white working-class Americans may shed new light on old debates about cultural versus structural explanations of poverty. What's clear is that economic opportunity, while not the only factor affecting marriage, clearly matters.

Love without responsibility and obligation is mere self-indulgence.  It's no surprise it doesn't work.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Saudi dissident sues Israeli software firm for helping Riyadh spy on him (Middle East Eye, 3 December 2018)

A Saudi dissident is suing the NSO group, alleging that Israeli software company helped Riyadh hack his phone to spy on correspondence with Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist murdered by the kingdom's operatives two months ago.

Omar Abdulaziz, a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia's government and its powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, lives in exile in Canada.

His lawsuit, filed in Montreal, follows other suits charging the Israeli company with similarly helping controversial governments in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico spy on dissidents, activists and journalists.

The NSO group is licensed to sell its technology to foreign powers by the Israeli government, and its ties with Gulf Arab countries is evidence of growing relationships between those states and Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Washington Post tripled Yemen coverage after Khashoggi's death (Cockburn, 29 November 2018 , Spectator USA)

At the time of printing, the Post had published 879 posts featuring the word 'Yemen' on in 2018. Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018 - 59 days ago. In the 59 days preceding his death, the Post had published 100 posts containing 'Yemen'.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


RIP, The Vishnu: He was the kindest, most decent man I've ever known (Christopher Buckley, 2 December 2018, Spectator USA)

As a boy, one of his nicknames - he had several - was 'Have-Half,' after his habit of always sharing half his sandwich with whoever was there. Another was 'Poppy,' followed years later by the somewhat more exotic 'Vishnu.'

'Have-Half' remained apt later in his life. As vice president, Mr Bush would stay over in Washington for Christmas rather than go home to Houston, so that his Secret Service detail could spend the day with their families. When, a few years ago, the two-year-old child of one of his Secret Service agents was stricken with cancer, Mr Bush shaved his own head bald in solidarity.

There are dozens, scores, hundreds such stories about George Herbert Walker Bush's noblesse oblige -or as he called it, 'noblesse noblige.' [...]

He was, to use a term that has suffered of late from desuetude, a Christian gentleman. Paradigmatically so. His love was total, unconditional. He embodied Shakespeare's admonition that 'Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.' His soul was visible on his sleeve. And in his pocket there was always a handkerchief, usually damp.

I was present in 2004 at the National Cathedral in Washington when Mr Bush, struggling through his eulogy to Ronald Reagan, came close to breaking down. I'd seen him lose it so many times. He'd choke up during the playing of the National Anthem at a baseball game. The Navy Hymn brought forth Niagara falls. For a flinty New England blueblood Yankee, George Bush had the tear ducts of a Sicilian grandmother.

In November 1992 I phoned him at Camp David. It was a few days after his mother Dorothy had passed away. Just weeks before, he'd lost the presidency to a governor of Arkansas. Talk about a dark, drizzly November of the soul.

Dorothy Bush's funeral was the next day. I asked if he was going to give a eulogy.

'God no,' he said. 'I couldn't do it. I'd choke up. I would be permanently ensconced as a member of the Bawl Brigade.' The Bawl Brigade is Bush-speak for members of the family who cry easily. It constitutes a majority of Bushes.

He told me, 'I'd love to, but I know my limitations. I even choked up here at Camp David last night. We had our choir singing. We had a little vespers program with Amy Grant. It was so beautiful, and I found myself choking up. We had a bunch of friends up here and "Oh God," I said, "please hold back the floods."'

That was my Vishnu. I'm struggling now to hold back my own floods, but I'm also pinching myself, contemplating my amazing good fortune in having known this splendid man.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


'Twists but no plot': Trump's diminishing foreign travel reflects a president scaling back foreign ambition (David Nakamura and John Hudson December 2, 2018, Washington Post)

Trump returned to Washington on Sunday after a relatively subdued two-day visit to the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, where he announced modest breakthroughs on trade but chose to avoid provocative meetings with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

His performance -- coupled with his listless two-day visit to Paris days after the midterms, during which he skipped a visit to an American cemetery and appeared isolated from other world leaders -- has created the impression of a president scaling back his ambitions on the world stage amid mounting political crises. [...]

For Trump, there appears to be diminishing bandwidth to focus on foreign affairs, given that he is weighing a Cabinet shake-up and has threatened a partial government shutdown this month over border wall funding.

Furthermore, the Democrats' looming takeover of the House has posed new dangers for the White House in the form of potential subpoenas and investigations. And bombshell revelations last week involving former Trump associates in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election have rattled the White House.

Donald who?

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Alan Dershowitz says he's still advising Jeffrey Epstein (Jonathan Swan, 12/03/18, Axios)

Behind the scenes: While he was allegedly raping teenage girls, Epstein cultivated cozy relationships with America's elites.

Bill Clinton flew on Epstein's plane, nicknamed the "Lolita Express," numerous times, according to flight logs.

And Donald Trump, in a profile with New York magazine written several years before the police caught up with Epstein, praised his friend as a "terrific guy." "It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do," Trump said of Epstein, "and many of them are on the younger side."

Dershowitz was also friendly with Epstein before the broader public knew he was a pedophile.

December 2, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


The Lawfare Podcast: Special Edition: Michael Cohen's Trump Tower Moscow Plea (Mikhaila Fogel, November 29, 2018, Lawfare)

Thursday saw another plea deal from Michael Cohen: this time with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress regarding how long into the 2016 campaign the Trump Organization sought to build Trump Tower in Moscow and who exactly knew about the efforts. The criminal information validates to a remarkable degree a May 2018 report from Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold of BuzzFeed News, chronicling the details of Michael Cohen and associate Felix Sater's efforts to cement the real estate deal. 

Immediately after new of the plea broke, Benjamin Wittes sat down with Cormier, Susan Hennessey and Paul Rosenzweig to discuss the story, the implications of the plea for the Mueller investigation, and who just might have legal exposure and for what.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


China Is Inching in the Right Direction: Never mind "Thucydides's trap." Today's rising power seems to have taken history's lessons to heart. (John Micklethwait, November 30, 2018, Bloomberg)

China's biggest handicap is its public inability to admit that it has done anything wrong, when on issues like intellectual property it obviously has. This not only makes other countries and businesspeople cross, it leaves the Chinese mystified with what the famous British philosopher Monty Python might call the bleedin' obvious.

For instance, Chinese officials seem perplexed: Why haven't American companies rushed to defend the multilateral trading system against Trump's rampages? The answer is fairly simple: Western CEOs are privately fed up with the way China treats them -- the artificial barriers, the ownership restrictions, the intellectual property theft and the repeated delays in opening up markets. Anything Trump can do to prize open China is welcome -- as long as he does not go too far.

However, there are two promising signs that China is becoming more skillful. First, China's rhetorical defense is increasingly anchored in the multilateral system. Even a year ago, China seemed bent on replacing the "Western" Bretton Woods institutions set up at the end of World War II with regional bodies of its own creation. But at this month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Xi specifically called for countries to uphold a rules-based order led by the World Trade Organization. And in recent weeks he has condemned the law of the jungle and beggar-thy-neighbor policies -- and warned about globalization being at a crossroads.

Second, China increasingly stresses that opening up its economy is in its own interest. Earlier this month Xi promised to import $30 trillion worth of goods. And China has promised to push ahead much more quickly with opening up industries, including financial services.

Of course, China has muttered about opening up before and done very little, but there is a difference now. China's economy is in transition. The next phase of its growth, officials say, will come from services and personal consumption. It would much rather suck in foreign capital than add yet more debt and government stimulus. And talking about the benefits of opening up China gives Xi more room to retreat gracefully. Domestically, he can portray "concessions" to Trump as long-promised reforms that will make China stronger (which is probably true anyway).

There is a useful prompt for this -- with another historical echo. Dec. 18 is the 40th anniversary of the third plenary session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, which was the moment in 1978 Deng Xiaoping started opening up China's economy. Xi is likely to unveil a series of commemorative reforms; foreign banks that have been waiting to take bigger stakes in their Chinese joint ventures may well find the approval process is speeded up. 

So China is inching in the right direction. Its task is made harder by Trump's enormous unpredictability. His tweets do not just move markets, but also the heart rates of Chinese civil servants who have to interpret his intentions to President Xi.

In Beijing, debate rages about what the U.S. president actually wants.

One school of thought is that the self-styled artist of the deal will settle for any agreement where he can proclaim victory. Some Chinese see the renegotiation of Nafta as an example of that: Trump made a lot of noise, but not much changed. They hope that Trump can be assuaged by personal flattery -- not least from his very good friend, Xi Jinping -- and that he can be persuaded to sign a deal quickly.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


The Patrician President and the Reporterette: a Screwball Story (Maureen Dowd, Dec. 2, 2018, NY Times)

Nobody understood our relationship -- least of all us.

It was, admittedly, odd.

"I like you,'' the first President Bush wrote me once, after he was out of office. "Please don't tell anyone."

In decades of correspondence, he tried to figure out why we stayed in touch, beginning one note "Darn you Maureen Dowd" and mischievously observing in another, "Sometimes I found it better around my family to go 'Maureen who?'"

At times, typing on what he called "my little IBM,'' he signed off "Con afecto, GB,'' or if I was writing critically about his sons, "Con Afecto, still, just barely though! gb.'' Or "Love" scratched out and replaced with the handwritten rebuke, "not quite there yet." [...]

"We have a love-hate relationship,'' he told me when I ran into him in 2001 at a book party in Georgetown. "I talk to my shrink about it." He knew that I knew he was kidding; he avoided introspection at all costs, often ending debates in the White House by saying "I'm president and you're not."

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


In U.S. Media, Israel Is Untouchable: You can attack the Palestinians in America uninterrupted, call to expel them and deny their existence. Just don't dare say a bad word about Israel, the holy of holies. (Gideon Levy, Dec 02, 2018, Ha'aretz)

In a matter of hours, the skies collapsed into well-orchestrated hysteria. Seth Mandel, editor of the Washington Examiner, accused Hill of having called for Jewish genocide; Ben Shapiro, an analyst on Fox News, called it an anti-Semitic speech; Consul Dani Dayan tweeted that Hill's remarks were like a "swastika painted in red," the Anti-Defamation League said they were tantamount to calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. The inevitable outcome was not long in coming and CNN fired the rebel analyst on the very same day.

How dare he? What was he thinking? Where did he think he's living, in a democracy with free speech or a country where dialogue about Israel is under the serious censorship of the Jewish establishment and Israeli propaganda? Hill tried to claim that he's opposed to racism and anti-Semitism and his remarks were intended to support the establishment of a binational, secular and democratic state. But he didn't stand a chance.

In the heavy-handed reality that has seized control over dialogue in the United States, there's no room for expressions that may offend the Israeli occupation. On a liberal day it's permissible to say "two states" as long as you do it in a whisper.

What would have happened if Hill had called for the establishment of a Jewish state between the Jordan and the sea? He would have safely continued holding down his job. Rick Santorum, the former senator, said in 2012 that "no Palestinian" lives in the West Bank. Nobody thought of firing him. Even Hill's critic, Shapiro, has called in the past for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the territories (he backtracked on it a few years later) and nothing happened to him.

You can attack the Palestinians in America uninterrupted, call to expel them and deny their existence. Only don't dare to touch Israel, the holy of holies, the country that exists above suspicion.

Essentially, the Holocaust absolves Israel of behaving any better than the Jews were treated.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


For Netanyahu's Supporters, Bribery Allegations Only Serve to Support His Narrative (Ravit Hecht, Dec 03, 2018, Ha'aretz)

It's not just that the police recommendations submitted on Sunday to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery won't affect Netanyahu's supporters in the short term.

If anything, they will strengthen his hold on his base by dint of his most effective mechanism of recruitment and control, namely the narrative whereby the media is persecuting him.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Netanyahu's supporters in the Likud party and on the right automatically belittle each and every one of the cases in which he is embroiled. Cases 4000 - involving Elovitch - and 2000, both dealing with his relations with the media, are no different.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Stunned Parisians clean up posh central district after worst riots since 1968 (Richard Lough, Geert De Clercq, 12/02/18, Reuters)

"Macron has a problem on his hands. Everyone's fed up. He's got to listen more," said Amaya Fuster, eyeing graffiti daubed on a Printemps department store window that read: "There's enough money in the coffers of businessmen. Share the riches!"

Authorities said violent groups from the far right and far left as well as "thugs" from the suburbs had infiltrated the yellow vests movement in Paris on Saturday.

There were signs that some of the hardcore troublemakers were part of the anarchist and anti-capitalist movement: banks, insurance companies, upmarket private homes and cafes and glitzy boutiques were among the properties smashed up and looted.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Dem Congresswoman Joins Migrant Caravan for Border Crossing, Helps Five Asylum Seekers Enter U.S. (Aryssa Damron, December 2, 2018, Free Beacon)

Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) joined the migrant caravan on Saturday in their attempt to cross the border, condemning President Donald Trump for "creating the crisis." She said she was able to help five asylum seekers gain access to the United States.

"I was able to successfully assist 5 asylum seekers - 2 unaccompanied minors, a mother and her 9 year old child, and a young man with a serious medical condition - into the United States," she wrote in a tweet.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


'You belong': Threatened Muslim child receives 500 interfaith letters of support (Aysha Khan, 11/30/18, RNS) 

When a 10-year-old Muslim girl looked in her classroom cubby one Friday morning last month, she found a note there with the words, "You're a terrorist," scribbled in childish, all-capital letters. The next week, a message appeared, saying, "I will kill you."

"She was visibly upset -- she was crying," her uncle Jamaal Siddiqui told CBS Boston. "Just the thought of that makes me feel sick to my stomach."

The letters stopped after Hemenway Elementary School officials and police in Framingham, Mass., began investigating the possible hate crime.

After the threatening notes were discovered, civil rights advocates from the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked the public -- particularly interfaith allies -- to rally in support of the young student by sending encouraging messages.

Now, two weeks after receiving the threat, the fifth-grade student at Hemenway Elementary in Framingham, Mass., has stacks upon stacks of letters of support from all over the country, waiting to be read.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Regev in east Jerusalem: Palestinians don't have deep roots here (Yishai Porat,   08.02.18 , Ynet)

Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev asserted Wednesday that the Palestinians don't have roots in east Jerusalem. 

"No matter how deep they can dig, the Palestinians will not find a single Palestinian coin here," Regev said at a ceremony to launch a preservation project of an ancient Yemenite synagogue in Silwan (Kfar HaShiloach) in east Jerusalem, which was destroyed 80 years ago.

"This region knew many occupiers and rulers, but no one has succeeded in cutting off the deep roots of the Jewish people. It's always exciting to walk these streets, where Jews walked 3000 years ago."

"Our right to this land is a subject of constant discussion in recent days, in which we must explain the obvious--the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people alone. Only the Jewish people are entitled to national rights between the river and the sea," she said, referring to the criticism over the controversial Nationality Law.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Under Trump, the Swamp Is Draining: A grifter president has inspired an elite housecleaning. (Ross Douthat, Dec. 1, 2018, NY Times)

[T]here is one odd way in which Trump's supporters have gotten what they wanted. Trump isn't draining the swamp himself, but the shock of his ascent has created swamp-draining conditions -- in which other corruptions have suddenly been exposed, and there have been many deserved falls from grace.

This exposure has vindicated some of the public cynicism that made Trump's rise possible -- because in many cases the newly-exposed scandals were open secrets, known to those in the know, and in some cases they were as baroquely grotesque as any Reddit fantasy. (Like, what if Harvey Weinstein's whole movie empire was just a procurement agency, and what if he hired ex-Mossad agents to stalk one of the stars of "Charmed" ... ?)

The story of rich-guy pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, just written up in exhaustive detail by The Miami Herald, is a perfect example -- a pedophilia scandal hidden in plain sight, in which a wealthy abuser got off with a slap on the wrist because he had a bipartisan group of allies and there was an incentive not to embarrass the powerful people who might have frequented his parties or taken rides on his plane. A crucial player, the prosecutor who let Epstein slide, is now the Trump administration's labor secretary -- but instead of being a seedy Trumpworld figure, Alexander Acosta is an eminently respectable, big-law figure. Not a grifter; just an exemplar of the American elite.

As, of course, is Epstein's pal Bill Clinton, who hasn't been exposed in the Trump era so much as finally acknowledged, by a growing number of liberals, as a sexual predator who survived impeachment because the establishment went into a panic about the specter of puritanism and either smeared or ignored the women credibly accusing him. Not a grifter, the ex-president; just a pillar of the establishment who happened to have a plausible rape accusation lying there in plain sight all the time.

Some of these scandals might have come out under any president, and Clinton was overdue for a feminist reassessment. But Trump has clearly been a catalyst: The sense of moral crisis created by his ascent, the sense of moral outrage felt by women, especially, and the finger-pointing within a divided, freaked-out establishment has made it easier to acknowledge rot in meritocracy, and to purge the grossest examples from our entitled class.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


How George Bush Befriended Dana Carvey, the 'S.N.L.' Comedian Who Impersonated Him (Sarah Mervosh, Dec. 1, 2018, NY Times)

It was December 1992, and Mr. Bush, who had been defeated by Bill Clinton, was on his way out of the White House. He summoned his staff to the East Room for a formal Christmas greeting. But when "Hail to the Chief" began to play, it was not Mr. Bush who entered the room, but Mr. Carvey.

The crowd roared in surprise.  [...]

When the president took the lectern -- "I don't dare move my hands," he said -- he thanked Mr. Carvey for visiting the White House.

"Dana has given me a lot of laughs," Mr. Bush said. "He said to me on the phone, 'Are you sure you really want me to come there?' And I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'I hope I've never crossed the line.' I knew exactly what he meant and as far as I'm concerned, he never has."

"The fact that we can laugh at each other," Mr. Bush said, "is a very fundamental thing."

In his life after the White House, Mr. Bush continued to embrace the comedian's impression of him, even referencing it in his eulogy to former President Gerald R. Ford in 2007. He also stayed in touch with Mr. Carvey over the years.

In an interview this year, Mr. Carvey told Conan O'Brien, the late-night host, that Mr. Bush wrote him notes at important moments in Mr. Carvey's life and even called him on Election Day in 2004. "We had so many warm moments with them," he said. "It was a different time. It wasn't scorched-earth angry politics."

In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Carvey said that "it was an honor and a privilege to know and spend time with George H.W. Bush for over 25 years."

"When I think of those times what I remember most is how hard we would laugh," he said. "I will miss my friend."

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


George H.W. Bush: A presidential fishing tale (Angus Phillips,  December 25, 1999, Washington Post)

As soon as I heard the elevator hit the landing below, I heard footsteps from the direction we'd just left. It was the President, in monogrammed, sky blue pajamas and fleece-lined leather slippers, and he had in hand a sheaf of papers that he was waving. He was hollering for the just-departed butler and issuing instructions on what to do with the papers, which for all I know may have been orders to bomb Moscow.

But when he came around the corner all he saw was a middle-aged sportswriter in a Batman baseball cap, the only one I could find that didn't have some logo on it. I spread my arms in a classic pose that said: "I am unarmed. I mean you no harm."

But if he was the least concerned, he didn't show it. I guess presidents see a lot of unexpected things, because he sized me up instantly as someone who couldn't do whatever it was that needed to be done with those papers, and he turned on his heel, still waving them overhead. As he strode back to his bedroom, he declared: "Big fish to catch today. Big fish!"

The butler soon reappeared, saying coffee was ready downstairs at the South Entrance. There were lots of Secret Service people there, and about 10 minutes later the President appeared, tackle box and rods in hand. He greeted me as if nothing had happened, which of course, it hadn't.

We had a great day fishing.

The president caught several largemouth bass on rubber worms. Late in the day, he hooked one with some weight to it, but when he got it to the surface it turned out to be a big, slimy carp. Glenn Peacock, our guide, tried to cut the line with his pocket knife. He didn't want the world to see a professional bass guide landing a carp for the President.

But Bush wouldn't hear of it and landed the fish with great fanfare. "I haven't seen either of you catch anything this big," he said, holding it high, and from that point on crowed about his great success outfoxing "the wily Potomac carp."

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


George H.W. Bush had a love of sports and an affinity for at least one sportswriter (Thomas Boswell, December 1, 2018, Washington Post)

One day nearly 30 years ago, I got a call at home from the sports department of The Washington Post.

"You said not to give your home phone number to anybody," a young news aide said. "But can I give it to the president?"

"The president of what?" I said.

"The United States."


A few minutes later, President George H.W. Bush called. We had chatted a bit at All-Star Games and baseball functions when he was vice president for eight years. Now he was president. While fishing in the South, he had heard, to his delight, that there was decent bass fishing near the White House. Was it true?

"Where are you, Mr. President?" I asked.

"In the Oval Office," he said.

I told him that, if he looked over his shoulder, he could almost see that fishing spot. I would get The Post's outdoors writer, Angus Phillips, to call him with the details. [...]

If any man, certainly any president, believed in reciprocity, it was this gracious gentleman for whom I was suddenly glad that I had voted. Over time, my wife and I were invited to a horseshoe-pitching contest at the White House and other sports-themed events, including a mixed-doubles tennis match with "the boys" -- that would be George W. and Jeb -- who played a spirited match with Chris Evert and Pam Shriver as their partners.

After tennis, everybody was invited back for dinner. After dessert, we were told: "Oh, go anywhere you want. Everybody wants to see the [White] House." My wife asked whether we could see the Lincoln bedroom. "Sure."

I'm not certain how many people have stolen the breakfast menu off the pillow in the Lincoln bedroom. Not saying my wife did. I did mention hidden cameras at the time. She said: "Who pays for all this stuff? The public. Us."

One day in 1990, a long white limo pulled up in front of our house -- the first and last time that has happened. A man delivered an envelope. "Knowing what a great baseball fan you are, I wanted you to have the enclosed Topps George Bush baseball card. Only 100 were made. Best wishes, George Bush."

What struck me was that, as the captain of a Yale baseball team that played for the national championship in both 1947 and 1948, a team that included three future major leaguers, Bush could emphasize whatever he wanted in the statistics and honors on the back of the card. Included was his .251 career batting average in 175 at-bats, plus his .133 average (2 for 15) in "postseason," a number that couldn't possibly have pleased him. No mention of being captain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Democrats, Trump spar over border wall funding ahead of possible government shutdown (BENJAMIN SIEGEL Dec 2, 2018, ABC News)

It all comes down to the wall.

Washington is on the brink of another government shutdown, with Democrats and Republicans sparring over funding President Donald Trump's signature (and unfulfilled) campaign promise, with government funding set to expire on Dec. 7 at midnight.

Trump wants $5 billion in funding to construct a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border as part of any agreement to sign a package of the remaining funding bills yet to be signed into law for the next fiscal year.

"There is a possible shutdown if we don't get the wall," Trump said Thursday as he departed the White House for the G-20 Summit in Argentina. "If we don't get border security, possible shutdown."

America just overwhelmingly rejected his Nationalism.

Democrats can pass a Republican budget or dare him to leave them to write one in 2019.

It's a lose-lose situation for Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


'Your time is up': Opposition calls on PM to resign after bribery recommendation (MICHAEL BACHNER, 12/02/18, Times of Israel)

Political rivals of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday called on him to resign and urged immediate elections after Israel Police's bombshell recommendation for a bribery indictment against the premier in the Bezeq corruption probe, known as Case 4000.

Investigators said Sunday they believed there was enough evidence to bring Netanyahu to trial on charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust and fraudulently accepting benefits. It is the third case in which police have recommended bribery charges against the prime minister.

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that "Netanyahu has to go before he destroys law enforcement bodies to save his own skin. The Israeli nation deserves clean leadership."

There's no evidence they want it.

Israel's Netanyahu is no stranger to scandals -- he has a lengthy list (Associated Press,  Feb. 14, 2018)

Here is a look at some of the scandals that have plagued Netanyahu, his family and his confidants over the years.

During his first term in office in the 1990s, Netanyahu was suspected of engineering the short-lived appointment of a crony as attorney general in exchange for political support from the Shas party. Prosecutors called Netanyahu's conduct "puzzling," but stopped short of filing charges.

During that same stint as prime minister, Netanyahu and his wife Sara were suspected of taking gifts he received from world leaders - items considered state property. The Netanyahus also were suspected of accepting favors from a contractor. Both cases were closed without charges.

Netanyahu was suspected of double billing travel expenses and using state funds to cover travel for his family in the 2000s, while he was finance minister and opposition leader. After a lengthy investigation, the attorney general dismissed the case.

Sara Netanyahu has faced repeated allegations of mistreating household help. During their first term in office, the family's nanny said she was fired by Netanyahu's wife for burning a pot of vegetable soup. The young woman said she was thrown out of the family's home without her clothes or passport, and later was ordered to pick up her belongings dumped outside the front gate. Netanyahu's office said the woman was fired because she was prone to violent outbursts.

More recently, a Jerusalem labor court awarded $30,000 in damages to a former employee of the first lady who claimed he faced yelling and unreasonable demands. Last month, a recording emerged of Sara Netanyahu screaming at an aide as she complained that a gossip column about her did not mention her educational credentials.

In 2016, an official expense report found that Netanyahu spent more than $600,000 of public funds on a six-day trip to New York, including $1,600 on a personal hairdresser. Three years earlier, he was chided for spending $127,000 in public funds for a special sleeping cabin on a flight to London. Netanyahu said he was unaware of the cost and halted the practice. He also halted purchases at his favorite Jerusalem ice cream parlor that year after a newspaper reported his office ran up a $2,700 bill, mostly for vanilla and pistachio.

Israel's attorney general announced last fall that he is considering charging Sara Netanyahu with graft, fraud and breach of trust for alleged overspending of over $100,000 in public funds on private meals at the prime minister's official residence. At the same time, the attorney general dismissed allegations that the Netanyahus used government money to buy furniture for their private beach house and used state funds to pay for medical care for Sara Netanyahu's late father.

Last month a recording surfaced of Netanyahu's eldest son, Yair, joyriding with his wealthy buddies to Tel Aviv strip clubs in a drunken night out in a taxpayer-funded government vehicle. The 26-year-old Netanyahu has drawn criticism over the years for living a life of privilege at taxpayers' expense, hobnobbing with ultra-rich donors and making crude social media posts, all while never holding down a job.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a Netanyahu confidant, was suspected in a long-running corruption case of illicitly receiving money and laundering it through shell companies in eastern Europe. In 2012, Israel's attorney general dismissed the most serious charges, saying the case would be virtually impossible to prove. A report at the time said he noted that key witnesses lived outside the country, that Lieberman's lawyer had invoked the right to remain silent, and that two key witnesses had died while a third had disappeared. Lieberman was indicted on lesser graft charges. That case forced him to step down as foreign minister, but he was ultimately cleared and returned to the post a year later.

David Bitan, one of Netanyahu's closest allies, resigned as coalition whip in December due to suspicions that he accepted bribes as a municipal politician. Bitan has invoked his right to remain silent during repeated police interrogations.

December 1, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


'I Love You, Too': George Bush's Final Days (Peter Baker, Dec. 1, 2018, NY Times)

George Bush had been fading in the last few days. He had not gotten out of bed, he had stopped eating and he was mostly sleeping. For a man who had defied death multiple times over the years, it seemed that the moment might finally be arriving.

His longtime friend and former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him.

Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open. "Where are we going, Bake?" he asked.

"We're going to heaven," Mr. Baker answered.

"That's where I want to go," Mr. Bush said.

Barely 13 hours later, Mr. Bush was dead. The 41st president died in his home in a gated community in Houston, surrounded by several friends and members of his family. As the end neared on Friday night, his son George W. Bush was put on the speaker phone to say goodbye. He told him that he had been a "wonderful dad" and that he loved him.

"I love you, too," Mr. Bush told his son.

Those were his last words. [...]

Mr. Bush did not get out of bed the last few days. Former President Barack Obama visited him on Tuesday while in town for an event with Mr. Baker. [...]

Ronan Tynan, the Irish tenor, had called earlier in the day to ask if he could drop by, and when he showed up, Ms. Becker asked him to sing to the president. Mr. Tynan sang two songs, the first "Silent Night" and the second a Gaelic song.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Rest in Peace: George H.W. Bush, a conservative at heart (Washington Examiner, December 01, 2018)

Character and comportment are part of conservatism. On those scores, Bush was a role model for the Right.

Bush was no pushover. In fact, in 1980, Bush was perhaps the most notoriously combative of the Republican presidential candidates. But he was thoroughly decent. When he lost his cool on reporters, he wrote personal notes of apology. When he lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, he was impeccably polite and gracious in defeat.

Bush was also a family man. Everyone, including politicians and journalists, who got to see behind the scenes on his life saw that. In his old age, Bush basked in the payoff of his lifelong dedication to his family. Having leaders who can shine as examples of family men and women is valuable to the country.

And even among the Greatest Generation, Bush stood out as a man of public service. He was a member of Congress, and ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, director of the CIA, vice president, and president. He was also a combat veteran and a legitimate war hero.

Decency, dedication to family, service to country. These are all virtues that conservatives, along with most non-conservatives, hold dear.

But there was a deeper conservatism in Bush's way of seeing the world. Specifically, he knew politics and government weren't everything.

Bush fought hard on politics, but he tried not to let those fights define his relations with his adversaries.

When he left office, Bush declined to insert himself into the middle of political fights. He didn't stay out of the public square. He spoke up on political and diplomatic issues, but mostly just offering his opinion when asked. Where he really asserted himself was in volunteering and rallying the public to charitable giving.

He teamed up with Bill Clinton to raise money for victims of the devastating 2004 tsunami and then Hurricane Katrina. He served on the board of his church and chaired the Thousand Points of Light foundation, which aimed to highlight the noble works of private individuals. That foundation sprung from Bush's speech at the 1988 convention.

"We're a nation of community," he said, listing voluntary organizations: "the Knights of Columbus, the Grange, Hadassah, the Disabled American Veterans, the Order of Ahepa, the Business and Professional Women of America, the union hall, the Bible study group, LULAC, 'Holy Name' -- a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky."

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Party celebrating Rudy Giuliani nixed because no one wants to go (BRIAN NIEMIETZ  and CHRIS SOMMERFELDT, 12/01/18,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Plans for a party celebrating the 25-year anniversary of Rudy Giuliani becoming the mayor of New York City are "fizzling out" because the 74-year-old politico is "too toxic," according to a source who was invited.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Some 2020 warning signs Elizabeth Warren needs to pay attention to -- stat (Harry Enten, 12/01/18, CNN)

Warren's performance in 2018 was one of the weakest for a Democratic Senate candidate. I created a simple statistical formula explaining the results of the 34 Senate races with at least one Democrat (or independent who caucuses with the Democrats) and one Republican. Controlling for a state's weighted average partisanship and incumbency, Warren's performance was the sixth worst of all Democrats. She did 7 points worse than expected. (For comparison, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders outperformed their baselines by 9 and 12 points respectively.)

It's not the only bad number for Warren published this week. A UMass/YouGov study of Massachusetts Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents finds former Vice President Joe Biden at 19% to Sanders' 14% to Warren's 11% in a hypothetical Democratic presidential primary. A large 27% answered "don't know." YouGov's polling does not meet CNN's standards because it doesn't use probability sampling.

Of course, it's very early in the 2020 Democratic primary process, which is probably why 27% of Massachusetts Democrats don't know who they support.

Yet you would think that candidates who just ran major statewide races in their home states would be favorites in their home states. In this case, Warren isn't only not in first place, but she's also not even in second place. A full 89% of Massachusetts Democrats are not behind her at this point.

The lack of home state love should, in theory, be worrisome for Warren. These are the voters who know her best. If she is underperforming with them, then it follows that she may do worse than expected when exposed more fully to Democrats nationally.

Even this early, eventual nominees are usually winning in hypothetical primary polling in their home states. Ronald Reagan was winning among California Republicans in 1980, Bill Clinton was winning among Arkansas Democrats in 1992, Bob Dole was crushing the field among Kansas Republicans in 1996 and the list goes on. The one poll taken this year of a hypothetical 2020 Delaware Democratic presidential primary had Biden ahead by nearly 40 points.

One of the first signs that Sanders was going to perform better in 2016 than early national polling indicated was that he was beating Clinton in 2014 Vermont polling. This was when he was stuck in the single digits nationally.

In the podcast linked below, Ron Brownstein quite dismissive of her candidacy.  As he points out, white liberals who cast themselves as the leaders of people of color do not fare well.  On that end of the Democratic spectrum--where Progressives want to spend the whole election confronting Donald's racism--she is an inferior choice to Kamala Harris or Cory Booker. Meanwhile, if Democrats want to reassure potential swing voters, she obviously can't compete with the avuncular Joe Biden, nor even the John Hickenlooper types.


Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


How Devin Nunes Helped Robert Mueller (DAVID R. LURIE, NOV 30, 2018, Slate)

 Incoming Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff has made it clear that one of the first items on the new majority's agenda next year will be to forward those transcripts to the special counsel. Those transcripts will likely be accompanied by expressions of concern regarding the veracity of the testimony of several witnesses, in light of facts that have recently come to light, including as a result of Mueller's recently filed charging documents in the Cohen case and other cases.

The irony of this new situation is that, as Susan Hennessey has observed, outgoing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Rep. Mike Conaway (who purportedly led the Russia inquiry after Nunes' quasi-recusal), lead interrogator Trey Gowdy, and the other GOP members of the committee may, wholly unintentionally, prove to have been devastatingly effective questioners in the service of future false-statement prosecutions.

This is because, as the House Intelligence Committee majority's publicly released report indicates, the GOP appears to have all but openly encouraged its witnesses to deny any and all potential wrongdoing, regardless of the plausibility of their denials. Thus, the GOP members and their staffs appear to have been singularly uninterested in testing the veracity of witnesses' testimony or even inquiring into elemental questions, such as whether Donald Trump Jr. called his father regarding his Trump Tower meeting with representatives of the Russian government, or whether Blackwater founder Erik Prince lied regarding yet another Trump Tower meeting, this one including Don Jr. and, among others, representatives of two Gulf states.*

As a result, some witnesses affiliated with Trump and his campaign may have been lulled into thinking they could lie with particular impunity. It is therefore possible, if not likely, that a fairly substantial number of witnesses, including possibly the president's eldest son, will soon find themselves facing the unusual prospect of being criminally charged for lying before a House panel that all but welcomed their dishonesty.

And as Mueller's prior felony charges for lying against individuals including Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Alex van der Zwaan have demonstrated, the threat of such criminal liability can often be just what it takes to induce liars to tell important truths to investigators.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


'They had us fooled': Inside Payless's elaborate prank to dupe people into paying $600 for shoes (Kristine Phillips November 30, 2018, Washington Post)

A mini-runway, lined with stiletto heels, glistens in bright fluorescent lighting. Shoes of various types sit neatly in individual glass shelves. A statue of an angel carrying several shopping bags stands in the middle as Los Angeles fashionistas mill about, trying on shoes, posing on the red carpet, drinking champagne served in tall, slender glasses.

It was a private launch party of a new luxury brand of shoes called Palessi, designed by Italian designer Bruno Palessi.

"I would pay $400, $500. People are going to be like, 'Where did you get those? Those are amazing,' " a woman said as she tried on a pair of bright-gold sneakers with leopard prints.

The woman was not actually buying a Palessi because there's no such brand, and there's no Bruno Palessi.

There is, however, Payless ShoeSource, a discount shoe retailer hoping to shake things up through an elaborate -- and expensive -- advertising prank to attract new customers and change the perception that the company sells cheap, unfashionable shoes.

"We felt like this campaign would be a great way to get a lot of people to consider Payless again, and to realize it's more than just a shoe store in the mall," said Sarah Couch, Payless's chief marketing officer.

But the prank also points to a reality about the human mind: Consumers are not capable of discerning the quality and value of the things they buy, said Philip Graves, a consumer behavior consultant from Britain. Slap a fancy-sounding European label on $30 shoes, and you have an illusion of status that people will pay an exorbitant amount of money for.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


George Bush and the Price of Politics: For every compromise he made to political expedience on the campaign trail, in office he ultimately did the right thing. (Jon Meacham, Dec. 1, 2018, NY Times)

His guests were just about everything George H.W. Bush had never been, and never could be: ideological, hard edged and spoiling for a partisan revolution. It was the spring of 1989, and Newt Gingrich, a young congressman from Georgia, had been elected the House Republican whip, a key leadership post in the Washington of the 41st president. Mr. Bush, who was more comfortable in the fading moderate precincts of the Republican Party, didn't know Mr. Gingrich well, but the perennially hospitable president invited him and Vin Weber, the Minnesota Republican congressman who had managed Mr. Gingrich's whip campaign, down to the White House for a beer. The conversation was pleasant, but the visitors felt there was something Bush was not quite saying. Mr. Weber decided to put the question to the president directly.

"Mr. President, you've been very nice to us," Mr. Weber said as they were preparing to leave. "Tell us what your biggest fear is about us."

"Well," Mr. Bush answered, "I'm worried that sometimes your idealism will get in the way of what I think is sound governance." In the most polite way possible, in a single sentence, Mr. Bush had summarized his anxiety that when politics and principle clashed, politics was going to win.

Mr. Weber recalled that he appreciated the president's use of the word "idealism" -- he hadn't said "extremism" or "partisanship," though that was what he meant. The two congressmen represented a harsh new kind of politics that would, in five years' time, lead to the first Republican takeover of the House in four decades. By then George Bush would be back in Texas, a one-term president done in by the right wing of his own party -- a conservative cabal that rebelled against Mr. Bush's statesmanlike deal with Democrats to raise some taxes in exchange for spending controls to rein in the deficit. [...]

As an 18 year old, he volunteered for hazardous duty as a carrier-based naval aviator in World War II. As commander in chief, nearly half a century later, he, with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and building on the work of presidents of both parties down the decades, ended the deadliest standoff in human history, the Cold War. Before he got to the White House, a nuclear Armageddon between America and the Soviet Union was always a possibility; after him, it was unthinkable.

On the home front, his 1990 budget agreement codified controls on spending and created the conditions for the elimination of the federal budget deficit under his successor, Bill Clinton. He negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and passed historic clean-air legislation. It's virtually impossible to imagine a Republican president doing so much today.

It's an inescapable fact of history, though, that as Bush struggled to govern like Ike, the world around him was beginning to resemble a Joe McCarthy rally. In the Bush years conservative Republicans girded for total war, talk radio was on the rise, cable news shows were busy turning politics into a kind of professional wrestling for wonks, and populists such as Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan -- forerunners, in their way, of Donald J. Trump -- were waiting for their chance to pounce. (Mr. Bush did think an overture from Lee Atwater, his campaign manager, to consider Mr. Trump for the 1988 vice-presidential nomination the most puzzling of notions. "Strange," Mr. Bush told his diary. "Unbelievable.")

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


Baseball 'held a special place' in Bush's life (Richard Justice, 10/29/17,

Once when George and Barbara Bush were taking in a game in what became their regular seats behind home plate at Minute Maid Park, Drayton McLane, who owned the Astros at the time, threw out a question.

"George," he asked, "what was your favorite day at the White House?"

Bush smiled and said he wasn't sure there'd been a single one. However, a couple days later, McLane received a package.

Inside was a large framed photograph of Bush standing between Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams in the Rose Garden. The photo was autographed by all three men, and Bush had attached a note:


You asked about my favorite day at the White House. This was it.

-- George

McLane cherishes that photograph because he believes it -- and the story behind it -- speak volumes about the 41st president of the United States.

"Here's what's amazing about that," McLane said. "President Bush said he was so nervous the day those two guys visited the White House."  [...]

Bush became a favorite son of Texas A&M and made frequent appearances at Aggie games. And some at the school believe Bush played a significant role in the women's basketball team winning the 2011 National Championship.

"Here's the story," former A&M athletics director Bill Byrne said. "President Bush and Barbara would sometimes sit in a small suite I had at our home football games.

"It was not long after we'd hired Gary Blair to be our women's basketball coach, and Gary was obsessed with recruiting a player named La Toya Micheaux from the Houston area.

"Gary was trying to get her away from LSU and asked if he could bring her by my booth before a game."

La Toya is the daughter of a legendary University of Houston men's player, Larry Micheaux, a member of the Phi Slamma Jamma era of UH basketball.

"So here we are, a couple of hours before a game, and Gary nonchalantly sticks his head in the door and sees the Bushes," Byrne remembered.

George and Barbara say hello, and in walks Larry Micheaux behind Gary.

"Larry Micheaux! Phi Slamma Jamma!" Bush shouts. "What a team you guys had."

And then La Toya appears behind her father.

"And you must be Larry's daughter," Bush says. "Barbara and I have been talking about how much we're looking forward to watching you play for the Aggies."

All these years later, Bryne still laughs at the story.

"That was the end of La Toya's recruiting," he said. "There was no chance she was going to go any place else. And she opened doors for us into the Houston area we hadn't been able to open. And from her coming to Texas A&M in 2005 had to have played a role in us winning the National Championship in 2011.

"That championship raised the profile of the school in so many ways, and it's not a stretch to trace it back to George and Barbara Bush making Larry and La Toya feel special."

Byrne has another point to make.

"When the president and Barbara came to a football game, they insisted on arriving early and leaving early," Byrne said. "Because they have Secret Service protection, they didn't want to disrupt traffic.

"There were times when the game was tight in the fourth quarter, and we'd ask them to stay. No, they didn't want to disrupt anyone else from getting home." [...]

When the Washington Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI in 1992, Bush wanted to do more than honor the hometown team with the traditional Rose Garden ceremony.

So he invited the Redskins to come later in the day and to bring their families and stay over for a cookout and round of horseshoes. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and his players and staff stayed late into the night playing a very loud, very competitive round of horseshoes.

"The horseshoe tournament came down to two Redskins against President Bush and his partner, a Secret Service agent," former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly said.

On the next-to-last throw of the night, one of the Redskins players -- possibly linebacker Monte Coleman -- made a leaner, which appeared to have won the tournament.

Bush had the final throw of the night.

"We're thinking, `Wow, there's some pressure on the president," Casserly said. "Then it hits us what we've just said. Pressure? Are you kidding me? This guy knows what real pressure is."


"President Bush threw a ringer to win the tournament," Casserly said. "No one believes the story, but I was there. It happened."

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


George H.W. Bush, 1924 - 2018: What it was like to work for the man.   (ANDREW FERGUSON, 12/01/18, Weekly Standard)

Late one afternoon I got a call from a higher-up in the White House (I had lots of higher-ups).

"What do you know about the battle of Guadalcanal?" he asked.


"I figured," he said. He told me a gathering of Marines who fought at Guadalcanal was to be held the next morning at the Iwo Jima memorial, across the river in Arlington, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the battle. Campaign strategists had appropriated the ceremony as a fitting occasion to reacquaint Americans with the fact that their president was a war hero. And I was to write his remarks.

One of the White House's tireless, endlessly resourceful researchers came to my rescue and deep into the night we learned everything we could about the battle of Guadalcanal. The first thing we learned was that it wasn't a battle--more like a campaign, six months long, to dislodge an entrenched army from an island the Japanese saw, correctly, as the key to their defense of the Pacific. No sooner had the Marines landed than the American fleet was hammered by the Japanese from the sea and air, forcing a hasty retreat and leaving the Marines with only sporadic resupply as they engaged the enemy. Our attacks involved not only air assaults but episodes of savage hand-to-hand combat in the steaming jungles and along the jagged hillsides. As the months wore on, as their fellow soldiers watched from around the world, the scope of the fighting grew to legendary proportions. The researcher unearthed a bit of doggerel that had circulated among troops in the Pacific and even Europe: "Say a prayer for your pal on Guadalcanal."

My higher-up had told me the speech had two requirements. The first was political. The campaign strategists insisted it contain a reference to the heroes of the Gulf War--the year before Bush had commanded the war with great subtlety and courage, but voters seemed to have forgotten it and they needed reminding. The second condition came from the president: no sentimental stuff. Not gonna make me cry! I didn't know whether "say a prayer" would make the cut.

The president arrived in Arlington the next morning. Under a brilliant sun hundreds of Marine veterans were spread across the hillside that slopes gently away from the statue of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. They gave Bush a splendid ovation. For forty years, much longer than my (then) lifetime, the president of the United States had been a veteran of World War 2. No matter what happened in November, Bush would be the last of them, and the thought lent a special poignancy to the event. [...]

Bush had revised the remarks that morning and worked on them some more on the drive from the White House. The aide who rode with him in the limousine told me the president liked the speech, including the old bit of doggerel. "It doesn't get too emotional," the aide said.

Bush delivered it with a few of his usual improvisations--shout outs to a clergy member, hat tips to other honored guests. He praised the courage of the men who hadn't made it off the island fifty years earlier and, by implication, the courage of the men who sat before him now, who had survived, only to continue the bloody hopscotch from island to island for three more years

"There was a rhyme passed around during those dark months that I'm sure many of the marines here remember . . . Every Marine who wasn't fighting on the island knew the lines. 'Say a prayer for your pal on Guadalcanal.'"

At the words many of the men roared approval; others rose and applauded, obviously pleased. I stood off to the side behind a rope line, feeling an intruder.

They are nearly all of them gone now, of course. And Bush joins them. No one could ask for a greater honor than serving such a man, and by extension serving them too.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM



Here are the four key developments we learned about this week:

Mueller has identified collusion. In the draft plea agreement provided to Jerome Corsi, Mueller details how Roger Stone, who Mueller notes was in frequent contact with Donald Trump and senior campaign officials, directed Corsi to connect with WikiLeaks about the trove of stolen materials it received from Russia. Corsi subsequently communicated back to Stone WikiLeaks' release plan. Laid bare, this means that a Trump associate engaged with a Russian-affiliated organization to learn about its plans to disseminate information the Trump campaign knew had been stolen by a foreign adversary, all for the purpose of benefitting Trump. That is collusion.

Key takeaway: Mueller has evidence that the Trump team in fact colluded with Russia. They coordinated with WikiLeaks, which they knew was a Russian front, about the release of the emails, which they knew had been stolen by Russia.

Trump is compromised by a hostile foreign power. Michael Cohen's plea revealed that Trump repeatedly lied during the campaign about Russia's financial leverage over him. While Trump falsely claimed to have no business ties to Russia during the campaign, the Trump Organization was having discussions with high-ranking Kremlin officials to build a lucrative Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump's team even tried to bribe Russian President Vladimir Putin by offering him a $50 million penthouse. Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, then lied to Congress about the discussions to hide them from investigators.

Key takeaway: Trump knowingly and repeatedly lied to the American people about a business deal he was negotiating with the Kremlin during the campaign. Worse, Trump gave the Russians leverage over him because they knew he was lying and helped him do so. We now have direct evidence that the president of the United States is compromised by a hostile foreign power. People have wondered why the American president has kowtowed to Putin rather than standing up for America's interests. Now we know.

Trump is engaged in a vast cover-up. The events of this week further demonstrate that Trump is engaged in a vast effort to cover up his actions during the campaign and is working aggressively to obstruct and undermine the investigation. We now know that:

Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress to protect Trump.

Trump illegally put in charge of the Justice Department a political crony who had previously outlined a strategy to shut down the investigation.

Trump's legal team sought to use Paul Manafort's cooperation with the Mueller investigation to gain information on the direction of the investigation.

Trump's legal team has established joint-defense agreements with 32 individuals, indicating the breadth of their concern. Trump has encouraged others to lie and deceive investigators, dangling pardons to those who obstruct the investigation.

Key takeaway: Trump is acting guilty. You don't work this hard to obstruct an investigation and engineer a vast cover-up if you're innocent. Trump is trying to hide even more damning evidence that he and his campaign conspired with the Russian attack on our democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Does 'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' Make Satanists Look Bad? (Wired, 12/01/18)

THE NEW NETFLIX series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a dark comedy about a teenage witch who engages in devil worship and human sacrifice. Screenwriter Rafael Jordan enjoyed the show, but notes that not everyone was so fond of it.

"People that actually identify as pagans or wiccans or Satanists did not appreciate it," Jordan says in Episode 337 of the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast. "They basically thought it cast them in a pretty bad light, and perpetuated misconceptions about Satanism."

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


How a future Trump Cabinet member gave a serial sex abuser the deal of a lifetime (JULIE K. BROWN, NOV. 28, 2018, Miami Herald)

A decade before #MeToo, a multimillionaire sex offender from Florida got the ultimate break.

On a muggy October morning in 2007, Miami's top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, had a breakfast appointment with a former colleague, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Lefkowitz. 
It was an unusual meeting for the then-38-year-old prosecutor, a rising Republican star who had served in several White House posts before being named U.S. attorney in Miami by President George W. Bush.

Instead of meeting at the prosecutor's Miami headquarters, the two men -- both with professional roots in the prestigious Washington law firm of Kirkland & Ellis -- convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away. For Lefkowitz, 44, a U.S. special envoy to North Korea and corporate lawyer, the meeting was critical.

His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls -- with the help of young female recruiters -- to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found.

The eccentric hedge fund manager, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, was also suspected of trafficking minor girls, often from overseas, for sex parties at his other homes in Manhattan, New Mexico and the Caribbean, FBI and court records show.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.

But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck -- an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein's crimes and the number of people involved.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal -- called a non-prosecution agreement -- essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein's sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.

The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to "any potential co-conspirators'' who were also involved in Epstein's crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein's various homes or on his plane.

As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls -- or anyone else -- might show up in court and try to derail it.
This is the story of how Epstein, bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system, and how his accusers, still traumatized by their pasts, believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them.

"I don't think anyone has been told the truth about what Jeffrey Epstein did,'' said one of Epstein's victims, Michelle Licata, now 30. "He ruined my life and a lot of girls' lives. People need to know what he did and why he wasn't prosecuted so it never happens again."

Now President Trump's secretary of labor, Acosta, 49, oversees a massive federal agency that provides oversight of the country's labor laws, including human trafficking. He also has been on a list of possible replacements for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned under pressure earlier this month.

...but is it just the dirt he has on Donald that's letting him keep his Cabinet post?

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Lopez Obrador Spells Trouble for Mexico: His personalistic presidency threatens years of hard-won institutional gains. (Shannon K O'Neil, November 30, 2018, Bloomberg)

Over the last three decades Mexico has changed. What was once a closed commodity-driven economy is now open, globally competitive and dominated by manufacturing. A nation once known for its few haves and many have-nots has seen extreme poverty fall to 2.5 percent, infant mortality cut to a third, average lifespans rise by a decade, and the number of years children stay in school grow by half. Politically, decades of one-party rule ended in competitive if at times messy democracy.

This slow-moving transformation also embodies a bigger achievement: a shift away from informal, personalistic, and centralized power through the strengthening of institutions. Pushed by opposition politicians, civil society organizations, investigative journalists, entrepreneurs and the decisions of millions of business owners, workers, and voters, Mexico has become a place with a diverse and increasingly independent private sector, with greater transparency and access to information and incipient but growing political checks and balances.

Mexico's transformation hasn't been all good, and the good parts have been uneven. Crime, violence, and corruption (or at least public awareness of it) have surged, affecting everyday life for too many. Economic growth, access to healthcare, quality education, and jobs with benefits diverge dramatically between the north and the south: In Nuevo Leon, home to Mexico's industrial center, fewer than 2 in 10 citizens live in poverty, similar to their nearby Texan counterparts; in the South, nearly 8 in 10 face this daily economic hardship.

And the transformation remains incomplete. NAFTA helped open up Mexico to international markets, but it did little to take on the monopolies and oligopolies that drove up prices at home and made it hard for the less-connected to get ahead.  Recent structural reforms are beginning to chip away at these barriers: Financial reform has increased access to credit, telecom reform has lowered prices, energy reform has brought new finds and more stable supplies, anti-trust crusaders have taken on unfair business practices, and education reform is just beginning to better prepare Mexico's youth for 21st century jobs.

Political institutions also have a ways to go. Power still matters too much. And rule of law in particular remains weak.

Yet the Fourth Transformation doesn't look to build on this base, making the benefits, such as they are, more inclusive and widespread. Instead, it looks to roll back the institutional gains so important to Mexico's transformation, as Lopez Obrador -- a leader obsessed with his place in history -- pushes a return to the more personalistic approach of the past.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


1991 Gulf War looms large over Bush's Mideast legacy: The events of Washington's first armed conflict with Saddam Hussein have helped shape the region's last three decades (HUSSAIN AL-QATARI and JON GAMBRELL, 12/01/18, AP)

On the outskirts of Kuwait City, the love Kuwaitis have for former US President George H.W. Bush could be seen in 2016 on a billboard one Bedouin family put up to announce their son's wedding.

That son being Bush al-Widhan, born in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War that saw US-led forces expel the occupying Iraqi troops of dictator Saddam Hussein.

"He was a real man, a lion," said Mubarak al-Widhan, the father of the Kuwaiti Bush, of the American president. "He stood for our right for freedom, and he gave us back our country."

With Bush's death Friday, his legacy across the Middle East takes root in that 100-hour ground war that routed Iraqi forces. That war gave birth to the network of military bases America now operates across the Persian Gulf supporting troops in Afghanistan and forces fighting against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

However, Bush ultimately would leave the Shiite and Kurdish insurgents he urged to rise up against Saddam in 1991 to face the dictator's wrath alone, leading to thousands of deaths.

America nearly always goes to war to vindicate the principals of the Founding:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

And we generally achieve the core goal of the war quite easily.

Unfortunately, we then seek to abandon the unwanted duty rather too quickly, often sowing the seeds for the next war or making the gains transitory.

Thus, we defeated the Confederacy, but allowed the South to segregate; won WWI for the Allies, but then failed to strip them of their colonies; crushed the Nazis and Japs, but left the Soviet Union in place; stopped North Korean aggression but left the regime in place; Vietnamized the war successfully, but then withdrew our support; drove Saddam out of Kuwait but failed to establish Kurd, Shi'a and democratic Sunni governance in a former Iraq; removed Saddam from power, but refused to allow the sorts of reprisals that de-Baathification required; and while we have routed ISIS without losing an American life, we continue to dodge our obligation to remove Assad.

Once is a mistake, two hundred years is just our reality.  We can be rallied to war when our sensibilities are offended (the Crusader State of Walter McDougall's formulation), but we don't have much stomach for being the aggressor.  And, because of the democratic nature of the state and the armed forces, the demand to bring the boys home always prevails (back to our Promised Land).

As a result, the End of History comes to everyone, just much more slowly than it might have with more steadfast help and with tragic results in the meantime.

(N.B. Arguably, the manner in which GHWB oversaw the end of the Cold War without bloodshed was a great achievement, though, even if true, that must be balanced against failing to push to topple the PRC during Tiananmen Square.)

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Bush, a president who grappled with Jewish leaders, engineered rescue of Jews (RON KAMPEAS, 12/01/18, Times of Israel)

In 1991, Bush lashed out at pro-Israel activists who had flooded Congress in response to the president's reluctance to approve loan guarantees requested by Israel to help absorb hundreds of thousands of Jews from the just-collapsed Soviet Union.

Bush called himself "one lonely guy" battling "a thousand lobbyists on the Hill." Jewish leaders saw the insinuation that the pro-Israel community was possessed of a power sinister enough to unsettle the leader of the free world as borderline anti-Semitic. The "one lonely guy" comment haunted Bush thereafter, with even Republican Jews apt to use the first Bush presidency as a signifier of how far they had traveled in attracting Jewish support.

Yet, that was hardly the whole story. Less remembered was how, as Ronald Reagan's vice president, Bush quietly helped engineer some of the pivotal moments in the effort to bring Jews out of the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Syria.

"When you add up the Jews he saved, he will be a great tzaddik," Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League's former national director, said in 2013, using the Hebrew word for "righteous man."

Bush was deeply involved in foreign policy as vice president, and Jewish leaders said he helped orchestrate the dramatic seder hosted by Secretary of State George Schultz at the American embassy in Moscow in 1987.

He also ignored advice from much of his national security team in 1991 - the very period that he was in the throes of his most difficult arguments with Jewish leaders - and approved American overtures to the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia that resulted in Operation Solomon, which brought 15,000 Jews to Israel. Among other things, Bush secured a "golden parachute" for Mengistu Haile Mariam, the dictator who was already plotting his escape to luxurious exile in Zimbabwe.

Bush was also instrumental in persuading Hafez Assad, the Syrian dictator, to allow young Jewish women to leave Syria for New York so they could be matched with men in the Syrian Jewish community.

While some of these actions were secret at the time, Bush was averse to claiming responsibility even in subsequent years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Trump aides caught in web of deception over Russia contacts (ERIC TUCKER, 12/01/18, AP)

One lied about his knowledge of Russian-hacked emails, another about a Russian real estate deal, a third about dialogue over sanctions with a Russian ambassador.

A pattern of deception by advisers to President Donald Trump, aimed at covering up Russia-related contacts during the 2016 campaign and transition period, has unraveled bit by bit in criminal cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The lies to the FBI and to Congress, including by Trump's former fixer and his national security adviser, have raised new questions about Trump's connections to Russia, revealed key details about the special counsel's findings and painted a portrait of aides eager to protect the president and the administration by concealing communications they presumably recognized as problematic.

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The false statements cut to the heart of Mueller's mission to untangle ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and to establish whether they colluded to sway the election.