February 5, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Pentagon walks back Trump idea of using Iraq base to counter Iran (Jack Detsch, February 5, 2019, Al Monitor)

Top Donald Trump administration officials indicated today that US bases in Iraq would have little role in monitoring Iran-backed proxies after the president vowed in a TV interview that American troops would stay in the country to "watch" Iranian forces.

Iraqi political figures roundly criticized Trump in the wake of a Sunday interview on CBS' "Face the Nation." President Barham Salih, a longstanding American ally, called the potential action "unacceptable" and insisted the United States hadn't been granted permission by Baghdad to snoop on Iran.

Testifying before Congress today, just hours before Trump's State of the Union address, US Central Command chief Joseph Votel said that the Pentagon's mission focusing on the defeat of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) had not changed despite the administration's focus on curtailing Iran's use of Shiite proxy groups in the Middle East.

Even if he is a grotesquely incompetent and corrupt racist, it's at least mildly worrying that the military barely acknowledges that he's the commander-in-chief.  It's a constitutional crisis best solved by his removal.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Senate passes pro-Israel bill, measure also rebukes Trump (Patricia Zengerle, 2/05/19, Reuters) 

The U.S. Senate passed a Mideast policy bill on Tuesday including a measure that would allow states to penalize businesses that take part in boycotts of Israel and an amendment that breaks with President Donald Trump by opposing any plans for an abrupt withdrawal of troops from Syria.

Hard to know which part to enjoy more, the attack on Donald or on the Constitution.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


David Duke Has a New Favorite Candidate for 2020: Tulsi Gabbard (DAN SPINELLIFEBRUARY 5, 2019, mOTHER jONES)

On Twitter, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard embraced Gabbard as a "candidate who will actually put America First rather than Israel First." [...]

During her six years in Congress, Gabbard has drawn criticism for defending unsavory figures like Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who she defended against allegations that he had deployed chemical weapons against his own citizens in 2017. A year earlier, the congresswoman visited Assad in Syria during a trip that spawned a wide public backlash. As Mother Jones reported last month:

Gabbard was accompanied on the trip by two officials of a "political party and paramilitary organization founded in Lebanon in 1932, and currently actively engaged in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime," according to an investigation by the Daily Beast. Her office said the trip was sponsored by an Ohio-based group, but the funds came from one of the party officials who accompanied Gabbard, Bassam Khawam. Khawam, a longtime Assad ally in the United States, is an official in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which has a history of domestic violence at home in Lebanon, including the assassination of the country's first prime minister in 1951. More recently in Syria, the SSNP has sent between 6,000 and 8,000 fighters across the border, as the Daily Beast described it, "to help the Assad regime annihilate its opponents, to whom the SSNP officially refers as the 'Jews of the interior' and 'an essential arm of the racist Jewish enemy.'"

In case you were wondering about the oddly complimentary comments from the Right.
Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Customs And Border Protection Apologized After An Agent Questioned A BuzzFeed News Reporter About Trump Coverage (Ellie Hall, 2/05/19, BuzzFeed News)

A top official of the Customs and Border Protection apologized Tuesday to a BuzzFeed News reporter who was aggressively questioned by an agent about articles regarding President Donald Trump at a passport control checkpoint in a New York City airport.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM



BuzzFeed has posted the documents showing Michael Cohen and Felix Sater organizing a Trump Tower deal until June 14, literally as the news of the DNC hack broke. The documents show how closely those negotiations interacted with the June 9 meeting.

The Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr and Russians promising dirt was scheduled for 4PM (Rob Goldstone posted on Facebook that he was at Trump Tower at 3:57). Natalia Veselnitskaya ran a bit late, but they would have started the meeting by 4:10PM.

Four witnesses to the meeting (the four whose responses weren't coached by Trump Organization lawyers) said that the meeting ended with Don Jr saying that his father might or would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if he became President.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they'd revisit the topic. [...]

The meeting lasted somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes.

At about that time, Trump tweeted out a reference to Hillary's emails, invoking 823 staffers, which was a good ballpark estimate for how many staffers (including unpaid advisors) she really had at the time.

At that same time, Felix Sater texted Michael Cohen to tell him he was working on setting up Cohen's trip to St. Petersburg.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Holocaust scholars slam Netanyahu's deal with the devil (Akiva Eldar, February 5, 2019, Al Monitor)

Just over 18 months after starring at the leadership summit of the central European Visegrad Group in July 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will host the leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia Feb. 18-19 in Jerusalem. [...]

Yair Lapid, the chair of centrist Yesh Atid and a second-generation Holocaust survivor, was the only senior politician to speak out against the hosting of the summit in Israel. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had pushed through legislation degrading to victims of the Holocaust, he said. When this law was first debated in Poland in 2016, Yehuda Bauer, the pre-eminent Holocaust historian who serves as an academic adviser to Yad Vashem, told Haaretz that the legislation bordered on Holocaust denial. Lapid also pointed to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who had engaged last year in a campaign bordering on anti-Semitism. "This is a loss of all national pride and international damage," he tweeted Jan. 28. Lapid urged Netanyahu to curb his "lust" for campaign photo ops and forego hosting the summit. Nonetheless, let us not forget that Lapid himself was silent over reports of Israeli arms sales to despicable regimes accused of war crimes.

Retired Ambassador Colette Avital, the chair of the Israeli umbrella organization of Holocaust survivor groups, was less diplomatic. In an interview with Al-Monitor, she accused Netanyahu of providing a "seal of approval to leaders and regimes with neo-Nazi leanings, hurting Holocaust survivors and the memory of its victims." The former Labor Party Knesset member added, "Motivated by narrow interests, the prime minister is helping those rewriting history -- those who love Israel but hate the Jews."

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders' ex-ally converts to Islam (Al Jazeera, 2/05/19)

For years, Joram van Klaveren fought a relentless campaign in the Lower House against Islam in the Netherlands as a lawmaker for Wilders' party.

At the time, the "hardliner pleaded for banning the burqa and minarets, saying 'we don't want any Islam, or at least as little as possible in the Netherlands'," the daily tabloid Algemeen Dagblad (AD) said.

But the 40-year-old Van Klaveren said he had changed his mind halfway through writing an anti-Islam book.

The work "became a refutation of objections non-Muslims have" against the religion, he told the respected NRC daily on Tuesday.

"If everything I wrote up to that point is true, and I believe that, then I am a de facto Muslim," he told the NRC. [...]

Van Klaveren split with Wilders in 2014 after the PVV leader's controversial comments that year when asking supporters whether they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and the Netherlands".

Bigotry depends on ignorance.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Neomi Rao Says She Regrets Controversial College Writing on Date Rape (STEPHANIE MENCIMER, FEBRUARY 5, 2019, Mother Jones)

On Tuesday, during her confirmation to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Trump nominee Neomi Rao distanced herself from college writing in which she suggested that women who drink too much bear responsibility for any ensuing sexual assault. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee,  "When I was in college it was a time of exploration," and called her early work "idealistic." Rao said that in college, she had enjoyed commenting on events then taking place on campus, but now looking back at some of the things she had written, "I cringe."

"In the intervening two decades, I like to think thatI've matured as a thinker and a person," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Vegans are beefing with Hyundai over a Super Bowl ad that made fun of vegan dinner parties (Cleve R. Wootson Jr. February 4, 2019, Washington Post)

Nevermind the food; who would choose to spend time in their company?

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


How Putin will fight back as his Russian political monopoly shows the strain (Evgeny Pudovkin, 2/05/19, Independent)

Democracy in Russia is supposed to legitimise the ruling elite, at most test it. Since 2001, the president and the United Russia party have had little trouble beating their handpicked sparring partners.

But that political monopoly is now showing cracks, as Russia scrambles to find money for new infrastructure and the replenishment of financial reserves. Since last summer the government has increased VAT, raised the pension age, and slapped new taxes on the self-employed.  

The hike in the retirement age proved particularly toxic. Following the reform, the government, the United Russia party and even the presidency saw their approval ratings collapse to the lowest level since 2011-13, when Russia had its largest protests since the fall of the USSR.

It's not just the polls. Last autumn United Russia candidates suffered setbacks at the local elections held in a third of the country's regions. The ruling party lost four governor races to candidates from the left-wing Communist Party and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR). Both act as nominal opposition yet demonstrate loyalty to Putin, who is officially an independent but maintains links to the United Russia.

But while voters back the Communists or LDPR to punish United Russia, many of them don't see those parties as trustworthy mediators. Some 42% of Russians say no party speaks for their interests; 41% declared their wish for a new socialist party. More than a half opted for establishing a new centrist (28%) or a liberal (34%) party.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


STAY AT 17 INCHES. A GAME OF CATCH.THE NAME ON THE BACK.  (Chris Sperry , 12/09/19,  Baseball Thoughts)

[W]hen I returned to the convention hall thirty minutes before the lunch break ended, not only was my seat not available, barely any seats were available! I managed to find one between two high school coaches, both proudly adorned in their respective team caps and jackets. Disappointed in myself for losing my seat up front, I wondered what had pried all these coaches from their barstools. I found the clinic schedule in my bag: "1 PM John Scolinos, Cal Poly Pomona." It was the man whose name I had heard buzzing around the lobby two days earlier. Could he be the reason that all 4,000 coaches had returned, early, to the convention hall? Wow, I thought, this guy must really be good.

I had no idea.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung -- a full-sized, stark-white home plate.

Seriously, I wondered, who in the hell is this guy?

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he'd gotten on stage.

Then, finally ...

"You're probably all wondering why I'm wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital," he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. "No," he continued, "I may be old, but I'm not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I've learned in my life, what I've learned about home plate in my 78 years."

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. "Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?" After a pause, someone offered, "Seventeen inches," more question than answer.

"That's right," he said. "How about in Babe Ruth? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?"

Another long pause.

"Seventeen inches?"came a guess from another reluctant coach.

"That's right," said Scolinos. "Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?" Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. "How wide is home plate in high school baseball?"

"Seventeen inches," they said, sounding more confident.

"You're right!" Scolinos barked. "And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?"

"Seventeen inches!" we said, in unison.

"Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?"

"Seventeen inches!"

"RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?"

"Seventeen inches!"

"SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!" he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. "And what do they do with a a Big League pitcher who can't throw the ball over seventeen inches?" Pause. "They send him to Pocatello!" he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.

"What they don't do is this: they don't say, 'Ah, that's okay, Jimmy. You can't hit a seventeen-inch target? We'll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We'll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can't hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'"


"Coaches ..."


" ... what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him, do we widen home plate?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach's message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. "This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don't teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!"

Pause. Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag.

"This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?"

Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross.

"And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate!"

I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curveballs and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck...

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Trump's Options for Wall Shrink as Republicans Balk at National Emergency Declaration (Glenn Thrush and Emily Cochrane, Feb. 4, 2019, NY Times)

On Monday, the Senate formally adopted an amendment to a broader Middle East policy bill, 70 to 26, that rebuked the president for what Republicans saw as a precipitous withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Syria.

In December, Republican senators broke with him to call for the withdrawal of American support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, as they recoiled from his inaction in the face of the kingdom's murder of a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.

[T]he most important critic of the declaration is Mr. McConnell. "I don't think much of that idea," Mr. McConnell said last month when asked about the declaration. "I hope he doesn't go down that path."

Mr. McConnell, according to three people familiar with his thinking, has grown increasingly frustrated with the White House in recent days, telling associates that he thinks members of the president's staff have failed to adequately brief him on the legislative and political perils of moving ahead with a disaster declaration.

During his White House meeting, disclosed by The Washington Post, Mr. McConnell predicted that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have the House immediately pass a "resolution of disapproval" attempting to block him from using existing funding for the wall.

Any senator from either party could then demand a vote, because the resolution would be deemed "privileged." Mr. McConnell told Mr. Trump that he would have no choice but to schedule a floor vote on the measure within 15 days, and Republican aides have estimated that between three and 10 Republicans would side with the chamber's Democrats against Mr. Trump.

That would force the president into a politically costly effort to keep the Senate from overriding his veto of the resolution, even as Democrats moved to block him in the courts.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Personal incomes grow in NH (MICHAEL COUSINEAU, 2/04/19,  New Hampshire Union Leader)

A new report said New Hampshire enjoyed the seventh-highest per-capita personal income among the states in 2017 at $59,668, compared to the national average of $51,640.

The state saw a 13 percent gain between 2007 to 2017 after adjusting for inflation and during a time in which it recovered from the Great Recession, according to the report.

"I think most importantly it speaks to the dynamic nature and vibrancy of New Hampshire's economy," economist Brian Gottlob of Dover said Monday. "The state continues to develop and attract new and innovative companies and industries. That is really the key.

"Technologies change, business and even entire industries can come and go and any state that consistently is able to develop and/or attract new and innovative companies and industries is going to have an economy that continually adapts and reinvents itself even after recessions," Gottlob said.

What happens when you don't keep trying to mine coal.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


How Russia Hid Death Toll From Disastrous Syria Battle Until After Putin's Reelection (Reuters, Feb 05, 2019)

Gancherov's account is one of half a dozen instances Reuters has identified where the Kremlin-linked private military organization that recruited the fighters returned bodies more than seven weeks after the battle and with official documents bearing details that people who knew them say were incorrect.

According to relatives and a battlefield witness, the fighters all died in the clash in Syria's Deir al-Zor region, which took place overnight on Feb. 7.

Such practices, an unusual pattern for Russian fighters killed in Syria, would have helped conceal heavy casualties until after President Vladimir Putin's reelection in mid-March.

Moscow's message at the time was that the military campaign in Syria was a success with only modest human cost.

That details are emerging nearly a year after the Deir al-Zor battle indicates that Moscow may struggle to control its message about casualties abroad at a time when it is expanding its military activities in the Middle East and Africa.

About 100 Russian military contractors were killed in the Deir al-Zor battle, sources have said. The Russian foreign ministry has said that only a handful of Russian citizens were killed there and dismissed reports of heavy losses.

One misses having a president who was the pee-er rather than the pee-ed on.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


Trump Shouldn't Declare Emergency to Build Border Wall: CBS Poll (Mark Niquette, February 3, 2019, Bloomberg)

Two-thirds of Americans oppose President Donald Trump declaring a national emergency if Congress doesn't offer up the funds he wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, a CBS News poll released Sunday shows.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 AM


Al-Azhar's Imam calls on Muslims in the Middle East to 'embrace' Christians (MEM, 
February 4, 2019)

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque and university, called on Muslims in the Middle East to "embrace" local Christian communities, says Reuters. [...]

Sheikh Tayeb also called on Muslims in the west to integrate into their host nations and respect local laws.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


Don Jr. and Jared Kushner's congressional testimonies are finally going to Mueller (Greg Walters Feb 4, 2019, Vice News)

The handover could put President Trump's eldest son, Don Jr., in the hot seat. Democrats have signaled suspicions that Don Jr. may have been untruthful. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) has said she thinks Don Jr. lied to the committee "on at least two occasions."

Mueller has already slapped criminal charges on two people for making false statements to the committee in the course of its Russia investigation: President Trump's longtime attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, and former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone. [...]

Other members of Trump's inner circle who've appeared before the committee include:

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law
Brad Parscale, digital media director of the 2016 campaign
Keith Schiller, Trump's former bodyguard
Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater
Hope Hicks, former White House communications director
Felix Sater, a former Trump real estate associate
Steve Bannon, Trump's former White House chief strategist
Alexander Nix, former CEO of the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica
A total of 73 witnesses appeared before the committee, according to a report released this year by its former Republican leadership.

House intel committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has said for weeks that turning over transcripts to the special counsel's office would be one of his first moves after Democrats took control of the committee following November's midterm election.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 AM


Dems Prefer Electability in 2020 (Monmouth University, February 04, 2019)

The poll also asked registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents about their party's nomination process.  In considering who should be their party's standard bearer, a majority of 56% prefer someone who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues.  Just 33% say they would prefer a nominee who they are aligned with on the issues even if that person would have a hard time beating Trump.  Democratic women (61%) are more likely than men (45%) to say they would put their policy positions aside in order to get a nominee who could beat Trump.

"In prior elections, voters from both parties consistently prioritized shared values over electability when selecting a nominee. It looks like Democrats may be willing to flip that equation in 2020 because of their desire to defeat Trump. This is something to pay close attention to when primary voters really start tuning into the campaign," said Murray.

...is almost as useful as her gender and ethnicity

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Graham: There could be GOP 'war' over border wall (JORDAIN CARNEY, 02/04/19, The Hill)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned on Monday that there could be a "war" among Republicans if President Trump declared a national emergency to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. 

A party founded on fighting racism should welcome such a war.

Poll finds 43 percent of Republicans want a primary opponent for Trump (OWEN DAUGHERTY, 02/04/19, The Hill)

Forty-three percent of Republicans in the poll conducted by Monmouth University said they want to see a contested primary. Forty-nine percent of Republican respondents said they hope Trump will run unopposed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A Lobbyist At The Trump Tower Meeting Received Half A Million Dollars In Suspicious Payments (Emma Loop, Anthony Cormier, Jason Leopold, Tanya Kozyreva, John Templon, February 4, 2019, Buzz Feed News)

A Russian-born lobbyist who attended the controversial Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 received a series of suspicious payments totaling half a million dollars before and after the encounter.

Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet military officer turned Washington lobbyist, deposited large, round-number amounts of cash in the months preceding and following the meeting, where a Russian lawyer offered senior Trump campaign officials dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The lobbyist also received a large payment that bank investigators deemed suspicious from Denis Katsyv, whose company Prevezon Holdings was accused by the US Justice Department of laundering the proceeds of a $230 million Russian tax fraud.