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.