April 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Twelve days of chaos: Inside the Trump White House's growing panic to contain the border crisis (David Nakamura, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim April 9, 2019, Washington Post)

Trump was souring again on Nielsen over her opposition to his demands that DHS reinstate the family separation policy that the president had reversed last summer after a political backlash. Trump considered firing her upon her return, aides said, and though he held off briefly, Nielsen's demise was sealed.

In the end, Trump chose not to close the border but instead turned his ire on his senior DHS leadership team: He forced out Nielsen and rescinded the Senate nomination of a career official to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Trump named CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to take over DHS in an acting capacity.

The goal, White House aides said, was to create a more assertive agency, but some administration officials are privately concerned that Trump, influenced by senior adviser Stephen Miller, a border hawk, will only hire "yes men" who will not stand up to a president whose orders have, in many instances, been blocked by federal courts.

Trump's increasingly erratic behavior over the past 12 days -- since he first threatened to seal the border in a series of tweets on March 29 -- has alarmed top Republicans, business officials and foreign leaders who fear that his emotional response might exacerbate problems at the border, harm the U.S. economy and degrade national security.

The stretch also has revealed that a president who has routinely blamed spiking immigration numbers on others -- past presidents, congressional Democrats, Mexican authorities, federal judges, human smugglers -- is now coming to the realization that the problems are closer to home. Though his aides have taken the fall, and it is unlikely that Trump will blame himself, the president is facing an existential political crisis ahead of his 2020 reelection bid over the prospect of failure on his top domestic priority.

"He was politically grandstanding for his base, for his reelection, and not thinking through a plan," said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who has met with White House senior adviser and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner to discuss immigration reform. "He has no plan except to talk about immigration as a political piñata to score points with the far right. But illegal immigration has increased in the two years he has been president."

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Understanding the Houthi Faction in Yemen (Sama'a Al-Hamdani, April 7, 2019, LawFare)

The Houthis emerged in Yemen as an opposition movement in the early 1990s; however, they did not present a significant military threat to the Yemeni state until the early 2000s. The group, originally organized as the "Believing Youth Group," claimed to "revive" Zaydism, a branch of Shiite Islam, and aimed to counter the increasing presence of Sunni Wahhabi schools in Sa'dah, the northern province of Yemen, and particularly in the city of Dammaj. As the organization grew, it planned insurgencies against the state and became known as "the Houthis," a reference to the family that led the movement. The Houthis fought six wars, called the Sa'dah wars, with the government between 2004 and 2010. These conflicts gave the rebel group combat experience and compelled them to build a military organization. However, their true rise to power occurred during and after the Arab Spring in 2011.

When the protests in Yemen began, the Houthis were present in "Change Square." After President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down and initiated a political transition after months of pressure, the Houthis participated in Yemen's National Dialogue Conference (NDC), where one of the eight committees formed was dedicated exclusively to addressing their grievances. The political process was fraught. Sana'a had never been host to so many dissenting groups in its modern history and the transition championed by the NDC was an unpopular departure from Yemen's traditionally decentralized, consociational mode of governance. In the absence of state control, a vacuum emerged that politically ambitious groups in the capital, including the Houthis, worked to exploit.

Eventually, in September 2014, the Houthis seized Sana'a, but this turn of events was anything but sudden. In the months before Houthi forces entered the capital, its militia threaded through the mountainous regions of Arhab and Amran, fighting several battles against rival military units headed by General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, the tribal and Islamist political coalition Islah, and independent Salafi fighters. When the Houthis entered Sana'a, it was reported that "not a single shot was fired." The takeover was slow moving and cushioned with political settlements, not only with the government but also with the Joint Meeting Party (JMP), a coalition of opposition political parties created in 2005.

The civil war expanded into a regional war with the intervention of the Arab coalition in 2015. Despite this increased pressure, the Houthis' political ambitions proved greater than expected and they quickly gained several advantages over other competing factions.

They had already captured the capital of Sana'a, where they seized control of all existing state institutions. They also benefited from the accumulated experience of Saleh, the ousted president of 33 years and the Houthis' former enemy. Saleh, became an unlikely ally who joined forces with the Houthis to retain his influence. As the Arab coalition ramped up their intervention, the Houthis also exploited the coalition's, turning it into one of their raisons d'etre.

Today, more than five years after taking Sana'a, the Houthis have complete control of the capital and the governorates of Amran, Dhamar, Rima, Ibb and al-Mahweet. They also control much of the northwest province of Hajjah, except near the Saudi border, and are present in the central province of al-Bayda. The war has devastated Sa'dah, the northern stronghold of the Houthis, but the province remains almost exclusively under their control.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Putin's Russia feels increasingly like a fortress under siege (Vladimir Kara-Murza, April 8, 2019, Washington Post)

Of all the ways that Putin's rule has transformed the country, perhaps the most troubling is its state-driven paranoia. It was also the most pervasive characteristic of the organization where Putin had spent his formative years, the KGB. In Putin's Russia, opposing the government is equated with betraying the country -- just what Nikitin was accused of when he published his report. In his own words, Putin views political opponents as "national traitors" who "scavenge at foreign embassies." Their goal, in his worldview (or, at least, in the depiction of his propaganda) is not to improve life in the country, but to advance the interests of their foreign puppeteers.

Last month, the chief of Russia's armed forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, took the accusation a step further, asserting that the U.S. Department of Defense had launched a new strategy code-named "Trojan Horse," which relies on "using the protest potential of the 'fifth column' in order to destabilize" the country from within ("fifth column" being a term from the Spanish Civil War describing saboteurs and hostile agents inside one's territory). Gerasimov went on to say that the United States is using "color revolutions" and "soft power" to topple governments it dislikes.

The general was only echoing his commander in chief. Speaking at the FSB's annual board meeting, Putin declared that foreign intelligence agencies are ramping up activities "on the Russian front" and claimed that, in 2018 alone, his former colleagues exposed nearly 600 foreign intelligence officers and their agents inside the country. The Kremlin leader urged his security services to be even more active, including by "increasing the security of national informational resources."

This work has already begun. Earlier this year, Russia's rubber-stamp legislature took up a bill that would disconnect the Russian Internet from the Web. The measure, proposed by KGB officer-turned-legislator Andrei Lugovoi -- who is wanted by British police over the 2006 fatal radioactive poisoning of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London -- would make Russia's online space autonomous from global networks, as has been done in China. The difference is that the Chinese Communist Party has been constructing that country's "Great Firewall" for years, since the beginnings of the Internet. It is highly doubtful a similar action could be taken in a country where the online space has been largely unfettered, and where 75 percent of the adult population use the Internet on a regular basis. A prominent Russian journalist has compared these attempts to "cutting electricity off all over the country . . . it is simply impossible." Last month, thousands of Russians rallied in downtown Moscow, in what became one of the largest opposition demonstrations in recent years, to denounce Kremlin attempts to "isolate Russia" and to demand online freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM



California Representative Devin Nunes is being mocked on Twitter after filing a $150 million lawsuit over a May 2018 story featuring the headline: "A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraiser event."

The article detailed a lawsuit by a former female employee of Alpha Omega, a Napa Valley winery, in which Nunes is an investor. The employee alleged that while working for the winery during a charity cruise she saw some of the guests using cocaine and procuring sex workers, some of whom were underage. Nunes was not apparently on the cruise or knew it was happening.

As a result of Monday's lawsuit against The Fresno Bee, the McClatchy Company and others, the hashtag #YachtCocaineProstitutes began trending on the social media platform on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Newly released testimony: Former top FBI lawyer says agency concerned Trump obstructed justice (KYLE CHENEY 04/09/2019, Politico)

James Baker, the former top lawyer of the FBI, told lawmakers last fall that there were widespread concerns inside the FBI that President Donald Trump had attempted to obstruct the bureau's investigation into his campaign's links to Russians, according to a newly released transcript of Baker's testimony.

Under questioning in 2018 from a Democratic committee lawyer, Baker described numerous officials who were distressed that the president may have obstructed justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. Baker said he had personal concerns and that they were shared by not just top FBI brass but within other divisions and at the Justice Department as well.

"The leadership of the FBI, so the acting director ... The heads of the national security apparatus, the national security folks within the FBI, the people that were aware of the underlying investigation and who had been focused on it," Baker said, running through a list of officials he said were worried that the president may have fired Comey to hinder the Russia investigation.

Baker said other FBI executives informed him that Justice Department officials raised concerns about obstruction by Trump as well.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Who's Afraid of Low Inflation? (DANIEL GROS, 4/09/19, Project Syndicate)

A year ago, the European Central Bank took advantage of a temporary uptick in prices to declare victory in its fight to bring eurozone inflation up to its target of "below, but close to, 2%." But the triumph proved short-lived. Headline inflation has since come down again, and core inflation, which strips out volatile energy prices, is back to about 1%. Yet this should not be a major concern for the ECB. 

The ECB's staff projections still see eurozone inflation reaching close to 2% by 2021-2022. But, having wrongly predicted a pickup in inflation for the past several years, these forecasts now have little credibility. This is apparent in financial-market expectations of eurozone inflation as measured by so-called inflation swap rates, which are stuck below 1% even five years into the future. And markets predict that euro-area inflation will still be below 1.5% a decade from now.

This puts the ECB in a quandary. The eurozone economy is weakening, which might further diminish inflationary pressures. But the ECB does not dare to restart its sovereign bond-buying program with the aim of providing additional economic stimulus, because national central banks in the eurozone already hold large amounts of their own governments' bonds. Making these central banks buy even more would put them in a very difficult position if any government were to experience financial stress. This is why the ECB has so far limited itself to announcing that it will continue to provide commercial banks with longer-term, three-year financing at ultra-low rates.

The ECB is not alone in facing unexpectedly low inflation. The Bank of Japan launched an even larger bond-buying program and capped interest rates at zero, and yet inflation remains minimal. And although inflation in the United States is much closer to 2%, it is still far lower than expected.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Let's Go Die Tonight: The Highwaymen, Bonnie and Clyde, and different approaches to teenage killers in movies. (Emina Melonic, 4/05/19, Splice Today)

Cinephiles will be familiar with Arthur Penn's 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the title roles. Here, Bonnie and Clyde have been placed permanently into an arena of American folklore. Their exploits were glorified and sexualized and they became American martyrs and symbols of anti-authoritarianism. In some instances, Penn took a comedic approach to the story, as well as many artistic liberties. For instance, in Penn's film, Hamer is captured, beaten, and humiliated by Bonnie and Clyde. None of that actually happened.

With The Highwaymen, Hancock is not discounting Penn's film. In fact, this earlier take on the story isn't even on Hancock's directorial radar. Rather, he takes a historical approach in order to shed light onto the men who went after the outlaws and what drove them to do that in the first place. It's not meant to be an antidote to Penn's film. Rather, we're becoming privy to the interior lives of Hamer and Gault in order to find the meaning in all of the evil and mayhem brought about by Bonnie and Clyde. Even the faces of the outlaws are purposely obscured throughout the entire film until the very end, revealing them as a couple of kids on a shooting spree.

It'd be too easy to categorize this film as a Western (since it deals with Texas Rangers) and yet it certainly has the elements of one--quiet men seeking justice, not following any kind of protocol, existing in a world of unspoken honor codes, and taking the law into their own hands. But reducing it to a Western genre would be a disservice, not only to the dazzling and expansive cinematography (which at times is reminiscent of the singular and beautiful work of Néstor Almendros) as well as the profound performances of both Costner and Harrelson as the lead characters.

Costner portrays Hamer as a loner, serious about justice, with no qualms about killing any perpetrator. His focus is solely on the innocents who were killed and isn't interested in how the outlaws are supposed to be captured. Gault's also concerned with justice but he audibly asks existential questions along their journey, whereas Hamer's interiority comes through his body language and silence. When Wade McNabb, one of the members of the gang gives clues to Hamer and Gault of Bonnie and Clyde's whereabouts, the rangers find him dead shortly after. Gault wonders whether they could've protected him but Hamer isn't interested in this reflection. "He made his own choices," Hamer responds.

It's a terrific film in its own right--an old-fashioned celebration of the manly virtues--but the contrast with the earlier film demonstrates how completely we've rejected the ethos of the 60s-70s.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


Factbox: Guilty pleas, indictments abound in Trump-Russia probe (Reuters, 4/09/19) 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election has ensnared dozens of people, including several advisers to President Donald Trump and a series of Russian nationals and companies. [...]

The following are those who have pleaded guilty or have been indicted in Mueller's inquiry. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Trump praises Egypt's Sisi despite concerns about human rights, Russian arms (Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, 4/09/19, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump praised his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a "great president" on Tuesday despite U.S. lawmakers' concerns about his record on human rights, efforts to keep him in office until 2034 and planned Russian arms purchases.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Cool roofs reduce urban heat; green ones, not so much (Cosmos, 4/09/19)

The term "cool roof" denotes one that reflects sunlight, thereby reducing local temperatures. This can be achieved by a simple low-tech fix - painting it a lighter colour. The effect is cumulative: the more cool roofs, the greater the albedo, and thus the more solar radiation reflected rather than absorbed.

This can potentially reduce urban temperatures, the researchers say, and may also lower building energy consumption for cooling, both of which are projected to increase in future due to a combination of rising temperature and increasing incomes.

The researchers found that over a summer season, the difference between simulated urban and rural temperature was 1.1 degrees Celsius on average, and 1.8  degrees when including only night times. The maximum difference was nine degrees.

"Our results suggest that the UHI contributes up to 40% of heat-related mortality over the summer period and that cool roofs implemented across the whole city [of Birmingham] could potentially offset 18% of seasonal heat-related mortality associated with the UHI," the researchers conclude.

The figure corresponds to 7% of the total heat-related mortality recorded during the study period.

During heatwaves, modelling suggested that cool roofs could reduce city-centre daytime air temperature by 0.5 degrees on average, up to a maximum of about three  degrees.

The researchers say cool roofs reduced average UHI intensity by about 23%, and reduced heat-related mortality associated with the UHI by about 25%, during a heatwave. They also found that temperature reductions varied according to the type of buildings on which cool roofs were applied.

Targeting only commercial and industrial buildings contributed more than half of the reduction for heatwave periods.

"Our modelling suggested that modifying half of all industrial/commercial urban buildings could have the same impact as modifying all high-intensity residential buildings in the West Midlands," the researchers note.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Why This Conservative Loves Baseball (JOHN DUNCAN • April 8, 2019, American Conservative)

Sometimes you can be in the right place at the right time.

For me, it was in the middle of the summer of 1958--a few days short of my 11th birthday.

I was at Bill Meyer Stadium to see our minor league Knoxville (Tennessee) Smokies, wearing my little league uniform as I had come straight from my own game. In a strange turn of events, Joe Seymour, the visiting team batboy, fell and broke his arm running to get a stretcher for a visiting team pitcher who had been hit in the head.

Very bad for them, very good for me. I took over as the visiting team batboy for that game and then the remaining half of the 1958 season. The next year, I became the home team batboy. Johnny Pesky, the Boston Red Sox icon, was the manager and the Smokies won the league championship.

I spent five and a half seasons as a batboy. I have jokingly said I should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, because I don't know of anyone else who was ever a batboy longer than I was. I hung on as long as I did because I didn't believe the team could have found anyone else to work as cheaply as I did. I worked for free in the first season and a half, and for $1.50 a game for all the remaining years.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


As Mueller release nears, White House renews attacks (JONATHAN LEMIRE, ZEKE MILLER and MARY CLARE JALONICK, 4/09/19, AP)

With the goal to discredit what's coming, Trump and his allies have unleashed a series of broadsides against Mueller's team and the Democrats pushing for full release of the final report. No longer is the president agreeing that Mueller acted honorably, as he did the day after the special counsel's conclusions were released. Instead, he's joining his allies in trying to undermine the integrity of the investigators and the credibility of their probe.

"You're darn right I'm going after them again," Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's attorneys, told The Associated Press. "I never thought they did their job in a professional manner. ... Only because there is overwhelming evidence that the president didn't do anything wrong, they were forced to admit they couldn't find anything on him. They sure tried."

After Washington waited nearly two years for Mueller to conduct his investigation, Barr released a letter last month stating that the special counsel found no evidence the Trump campaign "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. Moreover, while Mueller did not reach a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined that the president did not.

Mueller's team, which was barely quoted in Barr's letter, has made clear that it did not exonerate the president. And Democrats immediately called for Mueller to testify and for his entire 400-page report to be released.

Mr. Mueller's adherence to DOJ guidelines confused the Trumpbots.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Trump's Fed threats meet a firewall: GOP lawmakers (VICTORIA GUIDA, 04/08/2019, Politico)

GOP lawmakers -- who often showed little restraint in lambasting the Fed for near-zero interest rates in the Obama era -- are signaling publicly and privately their intent to keep politics out of the central bank. They generally support Chairman Jerome Powell, and many have expressed opposition to serious political meddling in setting rates. The lawmakers plan to press Trump nominees about their allegiance to the Fed's data-based approach, amid concern that the president wants the central bank to pursue policies that will goose the economy.

Rates have pretty consistently been artificially high for 30 years. Of course Janet Yellen would have had the leeway to lower them that Chairman Powell has not yet earned from inflation hawks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Three reasons why the Iraqi PM's visit to Iran is important (Hamidreza Azizi, April 8, 2019, Al Monitor)

First and foremost, the visit came amid increased pressure from the United States to limit Iran's influence in Iraq, giving the visit a symbolic aspect. Although the US administration agreed on March 20 to extend the sanctions waiver for Iraq, so it can import gas and electricity from Iran for a 90-day period, it has been pressuring Baghdad to eliminate its energy dependence on Tehran.

However, Iraq's parliamentary speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi said March 30 that his country needs at least three years to become "economically independent." Until then, Iraq needs to continue importing energy. Furthermore, Abdul Mahdi himself previously emphasized that his country is "not obliged" to abide by US sanctions against Iran. One of the main topics of discussion during both Rouhani's visit to Baghdad and Abdul Mahdi's visit to Tehran was how to bypass the sanctions in bilateral economic ties.

Apart from the sanctions, Washington has tried to dissuade Iraqi officials from expanding relations with the Islamic Republic by trying to depict Iran's role in Iraq as negative and destructive. Following Rouhani's visit to Iraq in March, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook claimed that Iran wants to turn Iraq into a province. Before Abdul Mahdi's departure to Tehran, Hook said Iran was responsible for the deaths of more than 600 American troops in Iraq.

Under such circumstances, Abdul Mahdi's visit and his expressed willingness to develop ties with the Islamic Republic were interpreted by the Iranian media as signs of Baghdad's indifference toward US positions. For instance, IRIB news agency, which is affiliated with Iran's state broadcaster, wrote that Abdul Mahdi's "visit to Iran has a special message for the United States." Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri expressed the same view. During his meeting with Abdul Mahdi April 7, he said, "The clear message is that despite the American hostilities, Tehran and Baghdad are determined to comprehensively expand their ties."

The diplomatic aspect of Abdul Mahdi's visit was no less important. Two days before his trip, he hosted a high-ranking Saudi delegation, headed by Saudi Trade Minister Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi. The Saudi official was not only tasked with reopening the Saudi Consulate in Baghdad after nearly three decades of closure, but also with strengthening economic ties between the two countries, including providing Iraq with $1 billion in loans. The visit, a clear sign of Riyadh's desire to initiate a rapprochement with Baghdad, was interpreted as being aimed at curbing Iran's influence in Iraq. 

However, not only did the Saudi charm offensive not affect Abdul Mahdi's bid for closer relations with the Islamic Republic, it apparently made him eager to play a mediating role between the two rivals. Upon the Iraqi leader's arrival in Tehran, the media reported that an Iraqi mediation plan was to be presented to Tehran. According to media reports, the plan has been in the works since Abdul Mahdi's visit to Egypt in March, and it will be discussed with Saudi officials during his visit to Riyadh next month.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM



When the U.K.'s largest subsidy-free solar farm opens later this year, there will be something a bit different about its panels: Unlike traditional panels that absorb energy on only one side, these panels will be absorbing sunlight from both sides.

The new solar farm in York, developed by Gridserve, uses "bifacial" modules, a technology that has become one of the fastest-growing trends in solar because it helps solar panels generate more electricity.

The 35-megawatt plant will generate enough power for 10,000 homes. "Bifacial panels are a no-brainer," says Toddington Harper, chief executive of Gridserve. "In our opinion, they will be the panel of choice for the utility-scale market." He estimates the solar farm will generate 20 percent more energy due to its combination of bifacial solar panels and trackers that enable each panel to follow the sun, compared with traditional static photovoltaic panels.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump pushed to close El Paso border, told admin officials to resume family separations and agents not to admit migrants (Jake Tapper, April 8, 2019, CNN)

Two Thursdays ago, in a meeting at the Oval Office with top officials -- including Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, top aides Jared Kushner, Mercedes Schlapp and Dan Scavino, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and more -- the President, according to one attendee, was "ranting and raving, saying border security was his issue."

Senior administration officials say that Trump then ordered Nielsen and Pompeo to shut down the port of El Paso the next day, Friday, March 22, at noon. The plan was that in subsequent days the Trump administration would shut down other ports.

Nielsen told Trump that would be a bad and even dangerous idea, and that the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has been very supportive of the President.

She proposed an alternative plan that would slow down entries at legal ports. She argued that if you close all the ports of entry all you would be doing is ending legal trade and travel, but migrants will just go between ports.

According to two people in the room, the President said: "I don't care." [...]

Behind the scenes, two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don't have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, 
"Sorry, judge, I can't do it. We don't have the room."

After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told. [...]

According to multiple sources, the President wanted families separated even if they came in at a legal port of entry and were legal asylum seekers. The President wanted families separated even if they were apprehended within the US. He thinks the separations work to deter migrants from coming.

Sources told CNN that Nielsen tried to explain they could not bring the policy back because of court challenges, and White House staffers tried to explain it would be an unmitigated PR disaster.

"He just wants to separate families," said a senior administration official.