February 8, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Her Title: Cryptologic Technician. Her Occupation: Warrior. (Richard A. Oppel Jr., Feb. 8, 2019, NY Times)

Given who she really was, military officials had little choice in how it described Shannon Kent. They said only that she was a "cryptologic technician," which anyone might assume meant that her most breakneck work was behind a desk.

In reality, she spent much of her professional life wearing body armor and toting an M4 rifle, a Sig Sauer pistol strapped to her thigh, on operations with Navy SEALs and other elite forces -- until a suicide bombing took her life last month in northeastern Syria. [...]

Cryptology is code breaking; sigint is signals intelligence, like intercepting and interpreting phone calls and other communications; humint is human intelligence, the art of persuading people, against their instincts, to provide information.

At 35, Shannon Kent was expert in all three. Her husband credits a knack for gleaning information picked up from her father, a lifelong police officer.

"She understood how all the pieces came together," he said. "She wasn't just relying on local informants. She knew how to fill in the gaps through her knowledge of different intelligence capabilities. She was kind of a one-stop-shop for finding bad guys."

Chief Kent spoke a half-dozen Arabic dialects and four other languages. She was one of the first women to complete the rigorous course required for other troops to accompany Navy SEALs on raids. She could run a 3:30 marathon, do a dozen full-arm-hang pull-ups and march for miles with a 50-pound rucksack.

She did this while raising two boys, now ages 3 and 18 months, and, for a time, battling cancer.

She used her five overseas combat deployments to master the collection of human intelligence, gaining the trust of tribal leaders, merchants, and local government officials who confided in her, often at great risk to themselves.

That is the kind of mission she had been on Jan. 16, when a bomber killed her and three other Americans at a restaurant in Manbij, Syria. The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack. She became the first female service member to die in Syria since American forces arrived in 2015.

Chief Kent, whose memorial service will be Friday at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., enlisted for the same reasons and around the same time as many of her female peers, after the Sept. 11 attacks. (Her father, a New York State Police commander, and her uncle, a firefighter, both responded on 9/11.)

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


The National Enquirer Picked the Wrong Man to Bully (Timothy L. O'Brien, February 8, 2019, Bloomberg)

There's another important wrinkle here: Pecker is a longtime friend, political supporter and confidant of President Donald Trump, and Bezos, Amazon and the Washington Post have been repeated targets of the president's ire. Trump has complained that Amazon gets preferential tax and postal rates; in December the U.S. Postal Service proposed rate hikes on shipping services Amazon and other companies use after Trump ordered an audit of the agency's rates (the USPS has said the proposed hikes were not in response to Trump's criticisms of Amazon). The Washington Post, of course, has published seminal and award-winning coverage of Trump's political and business dealings as well as his shortcomings, legal perils, and personal life.

Pecker guided the Enquirer's coverage of Trump down a very different path than the Post. Back in the summer of 2015, shortly after Trump announced his presidential bid, Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, met with Pecker to talk about how best to bury negative news stories about Trump's extramarital relationships with women. Pecker, who entered into a cooperation agreement with authorities in 2018 that granted him immunity from prosecution, has told law enforcement officials that he agreed to purchase possibly damaging stories about Trump and never publish them in the Enquirer -- a practice known as "catch and kill." Among those stories were accounts of Trump's sexual encounters with a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal. Cohen's payments to McDougal (and to another woman, a former porn star named Stormy Daniels) triggered a federal investigation of possible campaign finance fraud.

Pecker may be sitting on years of Enquirer stories about Trump that were never published and would presumably be of interest to authorities. It's not clear if Bezos's revelations on Thursday night will complicate matters for Pecker.

Under AMI's own agreement to assist law enforcement, the company won't be prosecuted and must cooperate for three years. Signed last September, the agreement clearly states that if the company engages in any criminal acts after that date then it could be prosecuted for "any federal criminal violation" that authorities already know about. That fact, Trump's presence, and all of the other very obvious politics floating around this collision of money, power and gossip, may explain why AMI tried to wring a false statement out of Bezos in exchange for not publishing the new photos. Specifically, AMI demanded, per Bezos's Medium post, that he assert publicly that he has "no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI's coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces."

Ah, but AMI has tried to bully the wrong person. Bezos is the world's richest man, he has ample resources and a spine, and he's willing to put his own reputation in play before the Enquirer does -- in order to make a point and to discover how the publication got his texts and photos.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


NFL lessons to learn from Patriots' title run; a new hiring trend? (Bucky Brooks, 2/08/19, NFL.com)

3) Place greater value on intelligence than athleticism.

During my scouting days, the Patriots were one of the franchises that placed significant emphasis on acquiring college graduates and former team captains on draft day. The thought behind the strategy was to add as many smart, tough-minded players to the roster as possible, because it enabled the coaches to put more on their plate when it came to learning schemes and responsibilities.

Now, there isn't a documented correlation between book smarts and football intelligence, but it is sensible to believe great students in the classroom will be able to take information dispensed by coaches and routinely apply it to the field. That's why I wasn't surprised to read in Peter King's postgame column that the Patriots were able to execute plays on the game-winning drive that weren't included in the Super Bowl LIII game plan or practiced in the weeks leading up to the game. It takes a group of high-IQ players to process and flawlessly execute an in-game adjustment without having practice reps to commit it to memory. The Patriots' collective intelligence gave McDaniels enough confidence to make a radical change on the fly and it ultimately helped the team win another title.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots' individual and collective intelligence show up in their ability to execute complex schemes that change weekly. New England is one of the few teams that morphs its defensive fronts each week between a variety of 3-4 and 4-3 alignments which complicate things for the offense. In addition, the Patriots will combine their multi-faceted fronts with exotic pre-snap disguises and post-snap movements that require players to fully comprehend the coverage concepts. Not to mention, they have to understand the defensive coordinator's motives for using those tactics in games.

Against the Rams, the Patriots threw out a variety of pre-snap disguises and exotic looks to confuse Jared Goff and Sean McVay. The "AFC" (automatic front and coverage) calls and post-snap movement disrupted the flow of the Rams' offense and kept them guessing throughout the game. In addition, the Pats' utilization of more zone coverage -- as opposed to their traditional man-to-man tactics -- threw a wrench into L.A.'s plans. None of those tactics could be executed without a group of high IQ defenders with the capacity to process a vast amount of information without it affecting their individual and collective execution of their assignments.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Kagan in Supreme Court says condemned Jews and Muslims need choice of clergy (JTA, 8 February 2019)

"A Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites," Kagan, who is one of the court's three Jewish justices, wrote, according to The New York Times. "But if an inmate practices a different religion -- whether Islam, Judaism or any other -- he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side."

She called that "profoundly wrong" and said it violated the constitutional ban on establishing a state religion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Free Money Didn't Help People Find Jobs, Finland Says (Kati Pohjanpalo, February 8, 2019, Bloomberg)

According to a preliminary assessment published on Friday by the social services agency Kela, the recipients of the monthly stipend spent on average about half a day more in employment per year than the control group.

"On the basis of an analysis of register data on an annual level, we can say that during the first year of the experiment the recipients of a basic income were no better or worse than the control group at finding employment in the open labor market," said Ohto Kanninen, Research Coordinator at the Labour Institute for Economic Research.

The recipients did however report "less stress symptoms as well as less difficulties to concentrate and less health problems than the control group," said Minna Ylikanno, lead researcher at Kela. "They were also more confident in their future and in their ability to influence societal issues."

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Days After Its Disastrous British Launch, Turning Point Has Already Lost One Of Its Star Recruits (Alex Spence, Mark Di Stefano, 2/08/19, BuzzFeed News)

They were here to start a culture war, and Charlie Kirk was looking forward to the backlash.

"There will be retaliation, there will be protest," the 25-year-old founder of Turning Point USA, a right-wing student organisation with close links to Donald Trump, said in London recently as he described plans for an assault on British university campuses. "You will see that it takes individuals to go straight into the fire to start a movement."

But already some of the Tory activists Kirk recruited to launch Turning Point in the UK are having second thoughts about its war on "cultural marxism", according to several people familiar with their internal discussions. Within days of the launch, one of the "influencers" tapped to front the campaign has distanced himself from the group, BuzzFeed News has learned.

"There was a sense of people realising, 'Who are these cranks?'," one source said. [...]

Turning Point USA claims to be the biggest student organisation in America, with a presence on 1,400 college and high school campuses, around 120 staff, and an annual budget of $15 million. In Kirk's telling, he started the group in his parents garage as a teenager in Chicago and grew it to be a powerful political force through sheer grit and hard work. As it rapidly expanded, Kirk himself was portrayed as a conservative "boy wonder"; he is a favourite of Fox News and is close to the Trump family.

Owens joined Turning Point as head of communications in November 2017 and is now its joint public face with Kirk. The 29-year-old had previously run an anti-Trump website called Degree 180 but went through a profound political transformation and became a passionate advocate for the president, publishing stridently conservative videos on a YouTube channel called "Red Pill Black".

Her fame went mainstream when Kanye West tweeted: "I love the way Candace Owens thinks." Owens argues that the left has done nothing to help ethnic minorities and launched a "Blexit" campaign aimed at convincing African-Americans to join the Republican party. [...]

Asked by a member of the audience about nationalism in Western politics, Owens brought up Adolf Hitler. "I actually don't have any problems at all with the word 'nationalism'," Owens said. "I think that the definition gets poisoned by elitists that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don't want... Whenever we say nationalism, the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler."

"He was a national socialist," she continued. "But if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalise."

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


New Trump Probe Looks a Lot Like a RICO Investigation (Barbara McQuade, 02.08.19, Daily Beast)

According to reports in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, a grand jury in the Southern District of New York recently issued a subpoena to the Trump inaugural committee, seeking documents relating to donors and spending. According to reports, the subpoena indicates that prosecutors are investigating conspiracy against the United States, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and violations of campaign finance and inaugural committee laws. In addition, CNN has reported that federal prosecutors in Manhattan have expressed interest in interviewing executives from the Trump Organization.

It is impossible to know exactly what the federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating, but the wide array of crimes brings to mind a case that was prosecuted in Detroit when I served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and several of his associates were convicted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as RICO.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


'Death to America' aimed at Trump, not American nation, Iran leader says (Reuters) 

Iranians will chant "Death to America" as long as Washington continues its hostile policies, but the slogan is directed at President Donald Trump and U.S. leaders, not the American nation, Iran's supreme leader said on Friday.

Wall Street Journal: White House requested plans last year from Pentagon to attack Iran (Devan Cole,  January 13, 2019, CNN)

The White House's National Security Council asked the Pentagon last year for plans for launching a military attack against Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported early Sunday, citing current and former US officials.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Justice Department decision to issue legal opinion long sought by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson draws criticism (Tom Hamburger February 7, 2019, Washington Post)

The Justice Department's decision last month to release a legal opinion that could further restrict Internet gambling is drawing fire from state attorneys general and former department officials amid questions about casino magnate Sheldon Adelson's long-standing push for the move.

The legal opinion, which was posted online during the partial government shutdown, reversed a 2011 Justice Department interpretation of the Wire Act that effectively gave the states a green light to authorize lotteries and other forms of online gambling.

The change was long sought by Adelson, a major Republican donor who spent more than $20 million to back Donald Trump's campaign in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Rosenstein did not want to write memo justifying Comey firing - new book (Jon Swaine,  8 Feb 2019, The Guardian)

McCabe recalls Rosenstein being "glassy-eyed", visibly upset and sounding emotional.

"He said it wasn't his idea. The president had ordered him to write the memo justifying the firing," McCabe writes. Rosenstein said he was having trouble sleeping, McCabe writes. "There's no one here that I can trust," he is quoted as saying.

McCabe's book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, is due on sale later this month. A copy was obtained by the Guardian prior to its release.

The account supports reports last year that Rosenstein was left "shaken" by his role in Comey's firing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


UN official lauds ongoing reform agenda in Somalia  (Xinhua, 1/31/19) 

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo wrapped up her two-day visit to Somalia on Thursday, praising the government's ongoing reform agenda.

DiCarlo expressed UN's strong support for implementation of the milestones set out in the government's roadmaps on inclusive politics, security and justice, economic recovery, and social development.

"Somalia has made significant progress and, despite the obstacles, there is a strong political will to build a stable future for the Somali people," DiCarlo said in a statement issued at the end of her visit to Somalia.

DiCarlo called on Somali leaders to prioritize good governance, human rights, and women's rights, and to complete the constitutional review.

"As we approach elections in 2020, the UN stands ready to continue to support Somalia and its people to achieve its goals," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


A 'Green New Deal' Is Far From Reality, but Climate Action Is Picking Up in the States (Brad Plumer, Feb. 8, 2019, NY Times)

In Maine, the new governor, Janet Mills, a Democrat, has vowed to restore incentives for rooftop solar and to boost wind power locally -- moves that had been stymied by her Republican predecessor.

In New Mexico, another Democrat, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, is backing a bill requiring electric utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, keeping pace with neighbors like Colorado and Nevada. (Nevada voters in November approved their own requirement for 50 percent renewables by 2030.)

The most striking development, though, has been the array of governors who are now floating plans for their states to get 100 percent of their electricity from zero-carbon sources. Legislators in California and Hawaii have already set deadlines for utilities to meet this target by 2045. In recent months, the governors of Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and New York have pledged to pursue similar goals.

These states are all venturing into uncharted territory, and there's no guarantee they will succeed. As states rely on ever-larger amounts of wind and solar power, it becomes more challenging to juggle these intermittent sources. Getting all the way to 100 percent zero-carbon electricity, experts say, could require extensive new nationwide transmission lines, novel energy storage techniques or help from untested technologies like advanced nuclear power.

For now, states are experimenting with varied approaches. Hawaii, for example, wants to meet its goal entirely through renewable energy. In New Jersey, by contrast, Gov. Philip D. Murphy signed legislation to keep his state's nuclear plants open as part of a broader low-carbon portfolio. And New York is soliciting bids for large new offshore wind farms.

Electricity is responsible for about one-third of America's carbon dioxide emissions. To go further, states will also have to clean up the cars and trucks on their roads, which account for another third.

In December, nine Eastern states and the District of Columbia announced they would work together to put a price on emissions from transportation fuels and invest the revenue in lower-carbon solutions, potentially including mass transit, electric buses or new charging stations to make it easier for people to own plug-in vehicles.

Some of the states involved, like Pennsylvania and Maryland, are in danger of missing their self-imposed climate goals unless they can halt the stubborn rise in driving emissions.

While the finer details of the policy will be hashed out this year, the states are modeling their efforts after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system in the Northeast that auctions a steadily dwindling supply of carbon pollution permits to power plants and uses the revenue to invest in efficiency and clean energy programs.

"Transportation is going to be even more complex than electricity -- there are so many moving parts," said Vicki Arroyo, the executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, which has been working closely with the states on the initiative. But, she said, referring to Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont, "It's notable that we have three Republican governors here who are committed to stepping up on this."

Simple economics is driving the conversion of the world economy.  If Democrats want to speed it they should just raise taxes on consumption, which is less sexy, but more effective.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Trump furious after Schiff hires former NSC aides to help oversee his administration (Kaitlan Collins, Manu Raju and Kevin Liptak, February 7, 2019, CNN)

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has hired officials with experience at the National Security Council to help with his panel's oversight of President Donald Trump's administration, according to a committee aide.

The aide declined to say how recently the newly hired officials worked at the council, whether they served under Trump or to identify the individuals. But the move appears to have enraged the President and some members of his senior staff, who view the move as an intrusion. It comes as Democrats prepare to wield new investigative power after winning a House majority in 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Frank Robinson I knew: The proudest, orneriest, most competitive man in baseball (Thomas Boswell, February 7, 2019, Washington Post)

Frank always loved teaching, especially hitting. He kept his hands off Cal Ripken Jr.'s mechanics for years -- Gene Mauch once said, "Someday Cal will have the worst swing in the Hall of Fame" -- out of deference to Cal's lifelong batting teacher, his dad. In 1991, Ripken went to Robinson for help. He had the best offensive year of his life and won his second MVP award.

The flip side is that Robinson had teams that underperformed because, when it came to modern thinking, he was a defiant, "gut instinct" dinosaur. When his teams were out of the hunt, he lost some interest and held court in his office.

Perhaps the lesson should be: Analytics are great, but leadership is real, too. Ask the military academies whether they believe it's all just numbers.

Sometimes, when he managed the Nats, we had rambling talks. He despised the PED cheaters who broke the records of him and his friends, especially Hank Aaron, who had faced death threats while chasing Babe Ruth's homer mark.

Because he could be so cantankerous and didn't care what you thought, Robinson was exciting to cover. He grasped the concept of an "adversarial relationship" with the press. That didn't mean he liked it. Once, after I criticized his managing, he made a sweeping gesture of stabbing himself in the back as he passed me. And he wasn't smiling.

Put all those qualities together, and it may be easier to understand why teammates loved him, foes feared him, umpires and writers respected him but his colleagues in the sometimes-devious world of front-office politics did not.

Robinson and the Nats, for example, ended with a bitter split. The Nats weren't generous; Frank -- shock -- didn't leave quietly. "He's not a guy who endears himself," a Nats exec said, missing his own half-compliment.

Frank always evoked strong feelings. As a teen, I detested him. When I watched my Senators play the Orioles in D.C., he hit a three-run homer in the first inning to end the game before it began -- every time, it seemed. He was the ferocious five-tool superstar my team never had.

Then, as I grew up, all that flipped. Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics became the first African American coach in any major U.S. pro sport. Eight years later, Robinson, who was Russell's basketball teammate at McClymonds High in Oakland, broke the managerial color barrier in Major League Baseball. That two close friends could face challenges so similar with such dignity and honesty was impressive. But that they did it so uncompromisingly, never turning away from the firsthand hard truths they had learned about race in America, made them two of my heroes.

For me, Russell and Frank Robinson were the next step after Jackie Robinson. Because he had laid the groundwork, they didn't have to turn the other cheek. They could be their entire selves -- or close to it. Remembering what social progress looked like then is a reminder of why it's worth battling to keep and extend now.

Frank Robinson always had the severe comportment, the hard eye for enemies, the basic sense of right and wrong of a pioneer. He walked into a room, and others stood up straighter, heads higher. Now, we bow our heads in respect.