January 5, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Donald Trump, master revisionist: What he said about Afghanistan, and what it says about him (GARRY KASPAROV, JAN 04, 2019, NY Daily News)

Terrorists going into Russia wasn't even part of the Soviet Union's pretexts for invading Afghanistan in 1979. The Soviets went in to secure a much-hated pro-Kremlin Communist regime and to kill anyone who resisted. (The similarities with Vladimir Putin's bloody efforts in Syria today are notable.) The only talk about insurgents was of the local mujahideen variety that was waging guerilla war against the brutal Communist government, with American aid.

As for being "right to be there," the American President justifying the Soviet invasion of a neighboring country is very dangerous at a time when Putin is doing the very same thing.

Intent on vindicating his own hostile acts, Putin has been steadily rehabilitating the deeds of Joseph Stalin and other Soviet actions. After all, if the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan was wrong -- it was officially condemned "morally and politically" in the USSR in December 1989 -- what to make of Putin's invasions of neighboring Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014? With that in mind, the puppet Russian parliament has prepared a resolution declaring that the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan was lawful and just and is scheduled to vote on it on Feb. 15.

Just a coincidence? So where did the President get this idea that the Soviets were right to be in Afghanistan? Keen observers have noted that Trump's Twitter rants regularly regurgitate talking points from Fox News morning shows, but unless I've seriously underestimated the show, upcoming Russian parliamentary votes and Soviet history aren't much in the mix on "Fox & Friends."

The only beneficiary of Trump making this wild claim is the person who originated it: Vladimir Putin. State-controlled Russian media are delighted to have the American President's endorsement of the right to invade neighboring countries under the flimsiest of pretexts. Nor is this the first time Trump has shared an oddly specific non-sequitur in line with Kremlin talking points. Last summer he suddenly criticized new NATO member Montenegro, which was the target of a Russian coup plot in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Federal prison guards fume inmates get special holiday meals while they work without pay (PETER SBLENDORIO, 1/05/18,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

While federal prison officers worked through the holidays without pay, the inmates they guarded were treated to special yuletide meals, union officials reportedly fumed.

At the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex near Orlando, convicts dined on Cornish game hen and pie on Christmas and beef with black eyed peas and sweet desserts, according to USA Today.

"This is appalling," Joe Rojas, Coleman's union chief, told the newspaper. "We're not getting paid, and the inmates are eating steak. The inmates know what's going on; they know about the shutdown, and they are laughing at us."

After years of Trump's dire warnings, a 'crisis' has hit border but generates little urgency (Nick Miroff and David Nakamura, 1/05/19, The Washington Post)

In recent weeks, so many parents with children have been among the 2,000 unauthorized migrants who are being taken into federal custody each day that authorities have resorted to mass releases of families onto the streets of El Paso and other border cities. U.S. agents are bringing dozens of migrants coughing and feverish each day to clinics and hospitals after stays in jam-packed holding cells where children sleep on concrete floors and huddle in plastic sheets for warmth.

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will travel to New Mexico on Monday to the Border Patrol station where 8-year-old Felipe Alonso Gomez was detained before he died on Christmas Eve with flulike symptoms. But Democrats critical of the administration's treatment of migrant families have offered few solutions to stem the unprecedented influx of parents with children that is buckling the U.S. immigration system.

The government shutdown has made the strains worse. Many immigration judges have been furloughed, deepening dysfunction in a court system crippled by a backlog of nearly 1 million cases. Along the border, U.S. agents and officers are being forced to work indefinitely without pay. "Morale is down in the dumps," said one border agent in South Texas who was not authorized to speak on the record.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


The Border Wall: How a Potent Symbol Is Now Boxing Trump In (Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Peter Baker, Jan. 5, 2019, NY Times)

As Mr. Trump began exploring a presidential run in 2014, his political advisers landed on the idea of a border wall as a mnemonic device of sorts, a way to make sure their candidate -- who hated reading from a script but loved boasting about himself and his talents as a builder -- would remember to talk about getting tough on immigration, which was to be a signature issue in his nascent campaign.

"How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?" Sam Nunberg, one of Mr. Trump's early political advisers, recalled telling Roger J. Stone Jr., another adviser. "We're going to get him to talk about he's going to build a wall."

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Trump Keeps Giving Mueller Reasons to Pursue the 'Collusion' Probe (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, January 5, 2019, National Review)

[T]rump's remarks, echoing Russian propaganda about its aggression, are apt to be of interest to the special counsel. [...]

Just sticking with what we know (as if Mueller has no other information): Cronies of Putin told Trump-campaign officials that the Russian government wanted Trump to win the election. Trump recruited into his campaign the likes of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who had close ties and multi-million-dollar business dealings with Putin cronies, including leaders of the Kremlin-backed Ukranian political party that was largely responsible for the strife in Ukraine that has led to civil war and Putin's annexation of Crimea. Manafort, who became Trump's campaign chairman, offered briefings on the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch so close to Putin that the latter has interceded on Deripaska's behalf to protest U.S. travel restrictions. The Trump campaign also recruited as a foreign-policy adviser Carter Page, an obscure figure best known for being so sympathetic to the Kremlin, and so financially involved in the Russian energy sector, that Russian intelligence attempted to recruit him as an asset in 2013 (apparently unsuccessfully).

Meantime, top Trump-campaign officials elected to take a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at which they expected to receive incriminating information on Hillary Clinton that came straight from Russian-government files. The meeting was a bust -- the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, appears to have used it as an opportunity to lobby top Trump associates against the Magnitsky Act, a notorious pet peeve of Putin's. Yet the president's son, Don Jr., apparently at the president's urging, attempted to mislead the New York Times about the genesis of the meeting, coming clean only after learning that the Times had, and was about to publish, Trump Jr.'s emails detailing the expected transmission of campaign dirt about Clinton.

There is no known indication of any Trump-campaign participation in the hacking of Democratic email accounts. Nevertheless, Mueller is known to be investigating Trump associate Roger Stone, who is known to have communicated online with a hacker known as "Guccifer 2.0." An indictment filed by Mueller identifies a persona known as Guccifer 2.0 as a front for Russian military intelligence, responsible for hacking the emails of the Democratic National Committee, which were leaked to the media right before the 2016 Democratic convention.

In August 2016, weeks before WikiLeaks published the emails stolen from the account of Clinton-campaign chairman John Podesta, Stone posted a tweet that could be interpreted as (but did not necessarily indicate) foreknowledge of the Podesta hack. ("Trust me, it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel. #crookedHillary" [sic].) In October 2016, as WikiLeaks was preparing to publish the Podesta emails, Stone was in touch with Randy Credico, a left-wing radio host who credibly claimed to be in contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Stone described Credico as his "back-channel communication with Assange." Stone was also exchanging emails with Steve Bannon, then Trump's campaign manager. Stone tweeted on October 3, "I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #LockHerUp." WikiLeaks began publishing the Podesta emails on October 7.

It has been credibly reported that Mueller is investigating the controversial conservative writer Jerome Corsi over his contacts with Stone -- and has pressured Corsi to plead guilty to misleading the grand jury about them. Mueller is also investigating the efforts of a Republican activist, Peter Smith (who died in 2017), to locate through hackers the 33,000 emails Hillary Clinton purged from her private server system. Smith was not part of the Trump campaign, but he reportedly told people that Trump-campaign officials, including Flynn, were aware of his efforts and encouraged them.

Trump officials have denied these claims. But the allegation can come as no surprise since candidate Trump himself infamously exclaimed (at a July 2016 press conference): "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Why free-market economists aren't impressed with Trump's deregulation efforts (Scott Sumner, Dec 19, 2018, Market Watch)

In many cases, the regulations being removed are much more defensible than those being added, even from a free-market perspective.

In early October, the Treasury Department put into effect regulations that will restrict foreign investment in a wide range of fields, such as biotechnology and nuclear power generation. This could make it harder for startups to find financing, given how the biotech sector is increasingly dependent on inflows of money; Asian investors contributed nearly 50% of venture-capital investments in U.S. biotech companies during the first eight months of 2018.

The federal government has also increased the hurdles that companies must overcome to hire foreign workers, ranging from high-tech professionals to summer workers in hotels and restaurants. There is now much more paperwork, and work visas are being denied much more frequently.

A recent bill aimed at dealing with the opioid epidemic will also increase regulation. The New York Times reports new rules will require the U.S. Postal Service to collect the name and address of the sender as well as the sender's description of the contents of the package by the end of this year for all shipments from China and at least 70% of all international packages. It will have to do so for all international packages by the end of 2020.

All of these regulations, as well as the recent tariff rate increases, reflect a deep distrust of interactions with the rest of the world. Some of this involves suspicions about Chinese government spying, but the concerns go far beyond foreign policy, to broader issues of trade and immigration.

The specific areas of deregulation also raise some concerns. The Trump administration has trimmed regulations in areas such as energy production, labor rules and financial markets. Yet even free-market economists often favor regulation when there are negative effects from an activity, called "externalities", such as the environmental effects of burning coal.

The financial industry is especially problematic, as we saw during the 2008 financial crisis. In many cases, an economy is most efficient when operating under free-market principles, free of regulation. However, the financial sector is already heavily distorted by government backstops such as deposit insurance (through the FDIC), government-protected enterprises that purchase mortgages such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as an implicit policy of "too big to fail" -- the federal government's tendency to bail out big banks during a crisis. The Trump administration has not reduced these serious market distortions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Fact Check: Did the U.S. catch 4,000 terrorists at the southern border in 2018? (Julia Ainsley, 1/04/19, NBC News)

According to Justice Department public records and two former counterterrorism officials, no immigrant has been arrested at the southwest border on terrorism charges in recent years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Gavin McInnes Writes Letters to Neighbors to Take Down Anti-Hate Signs (Will Sommer, 01.04.19, Daily Beast)

Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes is still struggling to distance himself from his extreme image. After stepping down in November from the far-right group he created, McInnes now wants neighbors in his tony New York suburb to take down yard signs aimed at him and his former group. [...]

After the New York attack, one of McInnes's neighbors in the wealthy suburb of Larchmont proposed that residents buy "Hate Has No Home Here" signs as a quiet rebuke to McInnes and the Proud Boys. The signs, which feature the message in several languages, soon started appearing in Larchmont.

If you are pro-hate they obviously are an attack on you.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Former Weekly Standard staffers find new home at The Bulwark, a conservative site unafraid to take on Trump (Oliver Darcy, 1/04/19, CNN)

Starting Monday, Bill Kristol, a co-founder of The Weekly Standard, and Charlie Sykes, the former talk radio host and conservative commentator, will beef up The Bulwark, a conservative website that has until now served as an aggregator for Kristol's non-profit group, the Defending Democracy Together Institute.

"The Bulwark was an aggregator," Sykes told CNN in a phone interview Friday. "We are going to turn it into a full-fledged opinion news website, with really the core digital staff of The Weekly Standard."

"I think the need for a rational, non-Trumpist forum was more urgent than ever," Sykes added. "And I do think that contrary to some of the conventional wisdom, there is a market for center-right commentary that pushes back against Trumpism."

Sykes will serve as editor-in-chief, and Kristol will be an editor-at-large. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump claims support from past presidents for the wall: Clinton, Bush and Obama beg to differ (ANDREW RESTUCCIA, 01/04/2019, Politico)

President Donald Trump claimed without evidence on Friday that past presidents have privately confided to him that they regret not building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But at least three of the four living U.S. presidents -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama -- did no such thing.