February 28, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


Kushner's Business Got Loans from Companies After White House Meetings: Apollo, the private equity firm, and Citigroup made large loans last year to the family real estate business of Jared Kushner, President Trump's senior adviser. (JESSE DRUCKER, KATE KELLY and BEN PROTESSFEB. 28, 2018, NY Times)

Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House.

Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris.

The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner's family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.

Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world's largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo's real estate lending arm, securities filings show.

It was one of the largest loans Kushner Companies received last year. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.

That loan was made in the spring of 2017, shortly after Mr. Kushner met in the White House with Citigroup's chief executive, Michael L. Corbat, according to people briefed on the meeting. The two men talked about financial and trade policy and did not discuss Mr. Kushner's family business, one person said.

There is little precedent for a top White House official meeting with executives of companies as they contemplate sizable loans to his business, say government ethics experts.

"This is exactly why senior government officials, for as long back as I have any experience, don't maintain any active outside business interests," said Don Fox, the former acting director of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration and, before that, a lawyer for the Air Force and Navy during Republican and Democratic administrations. "The appearance of conflicts of interest is simply too great."

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 PM


AP-NORC Poll: Most Americans say Trump is racist (AP, 2/29/18) 

Fifty-seven percent of all adults, including more than 8 in 10 blacks, three-quarters of Hispanics and nearly half of whites, said they think Trump is racist.

To be fair, that's only because of his comments and actions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


BETRAYAL: Trump Says Government Should 'Take The Guns First, Go Through Due Process Second' (BEN SHAPIRO, February 28, 2018, Daily Wire)

After Vice President Mike Pence explained that Republicans in Congress wanted legislation that could allow friends and family members to apply to a court to suspend Second Amendment rights for the dangerously mentally ill, and stated that with such due process, Second Amendment rights would not be endangered, Trump stepped in.

Or, Mike, take the firearms first, and then go to court. Because that's another system, because a lot of times, by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court to get the due process procedures, I like taking the guns early, like in this crazy man's case that just took place in Florida. ... To go to court would have taken a long time. So you could do exactly what you're saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


With AR-15s, Mass Shooters Attack With the Rifle Firepower Typically Used by Infantry Troops (C. J. CHIVERS, LARRY BUCHANAN, DENISE LU and KAREN YOURISH FEB. 28, 2018, NY Times)

When a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, he was carrying an AR-15-style rifle that allowed him to fire upon people in much the same way that many American soldiers and Marines would fire their M16 and M4 rifles in combat.

Since 2007, at least 173 people have been killed in mass shootings in the United States involving AR-15s, according to a New York Times analysis. The grim list includes crimes in Newtown, Conn.; Las Vegas; San Bernardino, Calif.; and now Parkland, Fla.

The main functional difference between the military's M16 and M4 rifles and a civilian AR-15 is the "burst" mode on many military models, which allow three rounds to be fired with one trigger pull. Some military versions of the rifles have a full automatic feature, which fires until the trigger is released or a magazine is empty of ammunition.

But in actual American combat these technical differences are less significant than they seem. For decades the American military has trained its conventional troops to fire their M4s and M16s in the semiautomatic mode -- one bullet per trigger pull -- instead of on "burst" or automatic in almost all shooting situations. The weapons are more accurate this way, and thus more lethal.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Trump Stuns Lawmakers With Seeming Embrace of Gun Control Measures (MICHAEL D. SHEAR, FEB. 28, 2018, NY Times)

In a remarkable televised meeting in the Cabinet Room, the president appeared to stun giddy Democrats and stone-faced Republicans by calling for comprehensive gun control that would expand background checks, keep guns from the mentally ill, secure schools and restrict gun sales from some young adults.

To the surprise of many in the room, Mr. Trump urged the bipartisan lawmakers to start with a bipartisan bill put forward in 2013 by Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a Democrat, and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, a Republican. That bill died months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after intense Republican opposition.

Mr. Trump repeatedly suggested that the dynamics had changed, in part because of his leadership in the White House, a sentiment that the Democrats in the room readily agreed with as they saw the president supporting their ideas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Trump top communications aide Hicks resigns: White House (Steve Holland, 2/28/18, Reuters) 

Hope Hicks, one of U.S. President Donald Trump's longest-serving, most trusted aides, is resigning from her job as White House communications director.

Next comes the perp walk.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


America is a safer place when 80,000 NRA members are taken off the street (Andrew Masterson, 2/28/18, Cosmos)

Led by Anupam Jena of the Harvard Medical School, a team of researchers has determined that nationwide the number of people turning up to hospital with gunshot wounds dips by one-fifth during the days on which the NRA holds its national convention.

The gun lobby organisation's annual get-togethers are massive three day events that the NRA itself claims attract "over 80,000 patriots" and 800 exhibitors. The 2018 event will be held in Dallas, Texas, in May.

To find out what effect, if any, might arise from the temporary absence of 80,000 gun enthusiasts from their normal lives, Jena and his colleagues examined some 76 million insurance claims for hospital visits related to gunshot wounds from 2007 and 2015.

They discovered that, averaged out, gun-related injuries each day came in at 1.5 per 100,000 people - except on NRA convention days, when the rate dropped to 1.25.

"Fewer people using guns means fewer gun injuries, which in some ways is not surprising," says Jena.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Father Of FL Shooting Survivor Says He Edited Email Used To Discredit CNN (Bob Eller, February 28, 2018, TPM)

The father of a Florida shooting survivor acknowledged Tuesday he omitted words in an email he sent media outlets accusing CNN of using scripted remarks at a town hall on guns and school safety.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Armed social studies teacher arrested after shooting at Georgia high school (WGNO, FEBRUARY 28, 2018)

Fifty-three-year-old Jesse Randall Davidson, a social studies teacher who also serves as the play by play voice for the Dalton High School football team, fired at least one shot before barricading himself inside a classroom, according to the Dalton Police Department.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Oakland Mayor Proud She Tipped off Immigrants About ICE Raid (Avichai Scher, 2/28/18, The Forward)

The mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, said Tuesday that she was proud of warning the public about Immigration and Customs Enforcement's plans to conduct a raid on undocumented immigrants in the Bay Area.

Schaaf, who is Jewish, announced in front of TV cameras on Saturday that she had "multiple credible sources" claiming that ICE was planning to make arrest in the Oakland area. She said she felt an ethical duty to warn those potentially affected.

ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan criticized her actions, saying they were politically motivated and endangered ICE officers.

Schaaf defended her actions in an interview with The Washington Post, saying that she is committed to resisting the Trump administration's immigration policies, even if it means jail time.

"I consider myself a law-abiding citizen. I consider myself a believer in an American democracy that moves towards a more just society. And I definitely consider myself part of the resistance," she said.

It's what any decent person would do.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Dick's Sporting Goods CEO on decision to no longer sell assault-style rifles: 'We don't want to be a part of this story' (DAVID CAPLAN KATIE KINDELAN, Feb 28, 2018, abc)

"Based on what's happened and looking at those kids and those parents, it moved us all unimaginably," company Chairman and CEO Edward Stack said today on "Good Morning America," referring to the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 14 students and three educators.

"To think about the loss and the grief that those kids and those parents had, we said, 'We need to do something,'" Stack, whose father, Dick, started the business 70 years ago, explained. "And we're taking these guns out of all of our stores permanently."

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Trump's Fantasies Meet the Harsh Reality of His Presidency: He got rich by spinning a false narrative about himself. That strategy isn't working in the White House. (JEET HEER, February 28, 2018, New Republic)

Trump's daydream of rushing into a school during a mass shooting, so at odds with his admitted squeamishness, "was equal parts hilarious and human," wrote Washington Post columnist Daniel Drezner. "The truth is that we all want to be the hero of our own story. If something bad is going down, we like to imagine doing the right thing.... For Trump to try to envision himself--and, it should be noted, others in the room--as heroes is about as normal a human response as I've seen from Trump."

What sets Trump apart is not that he's a hero in his own mind, but that he's a public fantasist, given to loudly extolling embellished or entirely imagined achievements. Earlier this year, ahead of his first presidential physical, Trump said, "I was always the best athlete, people don't know that. But I was successful at everything I ever did and then I run for president, first time--first time, not three times, not six times. I ran for president first time and lo and behold, I win. And then people say, 'Oh, is he a smart person?' I'm smarter than all of them put together, but they can't admit it." 

The best athlete, always successful, the smartest person, a hero who would charge unarmed at a mass shooter. In seeing himself in these terms, Trump recalls Walter Mitty, the nebbish lead character of James Thurber's classic 1942 story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," who keeps escaping from the everyday drudgeries by imagining himself as a brain surgeon, wartime pilot, and other heroic pursuits. The difference between Trump and Mitty is that the fictional character kept his reveries private, while the president constantly blurts them out. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


In Honduras, U.S. envoy Haley tempers Trump threat over drug trafficking (Michelle Nichols, 2/28/18, Reuters) 

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley pledged on Tuesday to raise the problem of drug trafficking at the United Nations after visiting Honduras and Guatemala this week and appeared to finesse a threat made by President Donald Trump to cut aid over the flow of drugs into the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 AM


Palantir deployed a predictive policing system in New Orleans that even city council members don't know about (Ali Winston  Feb 27, 2018, The Verge)

The program began in 2012 as a partnership between New Orleans Police and Palantir Technologies, a data-mining firm founded with seed money from the CIA's venture capital firm. According to interviews and documents obtained by The Verge, the initiative was essentially a predictive policing program, similar to the "heat list" in Chicago that purports to predict which people are likely drivers or victims of violence.

The partnership has been extended three times, with the third extension scheduled to expire on February 21st, 2018. The city of New Orleans and Palantir have not responded to questions about the program's current status.

Predictive policing technology has proven highly controversial wherever it is implemented, but in New Orleans, the program escaped public notice, partly because Palantir established it as a philanthropic relationship with the city through Mayor Mitch Landrieu's signature NOLA For Life program. Thanks to its philanthropic status, as well as New Orleans' "strong mayor" model of government, the agreement never passed through a public procurement process.

In fact, key city council members and attorneys contacted by The Verge had no idea that the city had any sort of relationship with Palantir, nor were they aware that Palantir used its program in New Orleans to market its services to another law enforcement agency for a multimillion-dollar contract.

Even James Carville, the political operative instrumental in bringing about Palantir's collaboration with NOPD, said that the program was not public knowledge. "No one in New Orleans even knows about this, to my knowledge," Carville said.

More than half a decade after the partnership with New Orleans began, Palantir has patented at least one crime-forecasting system and has sold similar software to foreign intelligence services for predicting the likelihood of individuals to commit terrorism.

Even within the law enforcement community, there are concerns about the potential civil liberties implications of the sort of individualized prediction Palantir developed in New Orleans, and whether it's appropriate for the American criminal justice system.

"They're creating a target list, but we're not going after Al Qaeda in Syria," said a former law enforcement official who has observed Palantir's work first-hand as well as the company's sales pitches for predictive policing.

157 people were murdered in New Orleans last year, none by Al qaeda.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 AM


Mueller team asks about Trump's Russian business dealings as he weighed a run for president (Kara Scannell, Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger and Jim Sciutto, 2/27/18, CNN)

Questions to some witnesses during wide-ranging interviews included the timing of Trump's decision to seek the presidency, potentially compromising information the Russians may have had about him, and why efforts to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow fell through, two sources said.

The lines of inquiry indicate Mueller's team is reaching beyond the campaign to explore how the Russians might have sought to influence Trump at a time when he was discussing deals in Moscow and contemplating a presidential run. [...]

Investigators asked one witness when Trump became serious about running for President, a person familiar with the matter said, adding that investigators seemed very interested in when Trump actually decided to run and how that coincided with his business ventures.

The source said the witness told Mueller's team his impression was that Trump was serious about running back in 2014. Trump tweeted earlier this month that he "didn't know" that he was going to run for president in 2014.

This witness was also asked whether Russians had been seen in the office at Trump Tower New York prior to 2015. The answer was no.

Questions have also touched on the possibility of compromising information that Russians may have or claim to have about Trump, according to two sources familiar with the matter. That subject matter echoes claims in a controversial dossier written by a former British spy who was paid by an opposition research firm underwritten by Trump's Democratic opponents.

The FBI should have paid Christopher Steele for doing their job.
Posted by orrinj at 3:35 AM


The Deep State Takes Out the White House's Dark Clown Prince (Rick Wilson, 02.27.18, Daily Beast)

If you've ever filled out a form SF-86 for a U.S. government security clearance, you'll know the hassle of dealing with the sheer volume of information it entails. Listing contacts, personal, financial, and travel information in enormous, painstaking detail isn't trivial, and even small errors will get the form kicked back to you or your clearance rejected. Applicants are required to spell out in great detail the specifics of foreign travel and overseas contacts. Investigators need to know where you've made your money and to whom you have debts.

I did it in my early twenties when my life was relatively uncomplicated, and it was still a pain in the ass. It's not easy, and it's not supposed to be.

It's even harder when you're a corrupt, entitled snake who repeatedly lies about your finances to federal investigators and serves as a living, breathing poster child for privileged venality. It's even harder when you've rather clumsily attempted to use both your familial relationship and proximity to the president of the United States to save your family's failing real estate empire.

All of which helps explain Jared Kushner's very bad day on Tuesday. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 AM


Moosylvania: When Cartoon Comedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis Collided: Even the threat of nuclear war wouldn't stop Bullwinkle creator Jay Ward from his mission. (Steve Huff, 2/28/18, Real Clear Life)

After a flood of fan mail, the show's creators decided to make Moosylvania real. Ward leased a tiny Minnesota island right on the border for $1500, then conspired with one-time Rin Tin Tin publicist Howard Brandy to petition the White House for statehood. He and Brandy would deliver this petition in person, in a van, in costume.

Ward and Brandy would cross the country in a colorful panel van. They would stop in several cities to collect signatures supporting the cause. The president would then declare Moosylvania--"the Only State in the Union With an Entirely Non-Resident Population"--the 52nd state (Puerto Rico, as far as Ward was concerned, was number 51).

As Jay Ward was readying his goofy campaign to create a state so tiny it would make Rhode Island look like Texas, Washington D.C. was an unhappy place. In the fight against communism, the Kennedy Administration had pulled the trigger on invading Cuba's Bay of Pigs in May 1961. That, like many of Bullwinkle's schemes, was a very bad idea.

Had so many Cuban exiles and CIA advisors not been killed, it would have been a tragic comedy of errors worthy of Jay Ward Productions. Instead, it was just tragic. Public opinion of the president had dropped and tension between the USSR and the United States, a permanent undercurrent in relations between the countries, was beginning its rise to the breaking point it would reach that fall.

The moment those tensions began to edge toward nuclear war might be debatable, but Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko's big lie to the UN on September 21, 1962 is good as any.

Gromyko insisted that "any sober-minded man knows that Cuba is not...building up her forces to such a degree that she can pose a threat to the United States or...to any state of the Western Hemisphere."

Of course, Cuba was doing just that. President Osvaldo Dorticos hinted as much when he addressed the United Nations on October 8, saying that if his country was "attacked, we will defend ourselves."

"I repeat," he said, "...We indeed have our inevitable weapons..."

The following day, President Kennedy signed off on a U-2 spy plane mission to Cuba.

On October 10, The Amarillo Globe-Times advised Bullwinkle fans of the show's "zany creator" and his plans to secure Moosylvania statehood. The paper quoted Jay Ward, who said the island's non-existent residents had "stood quietly as Congress has passed them over in order to grant statehood to such fledgling territories as Hawaii and Alaska."

Ward said that neither the theoretical Moosylvanians nor the moose and squirrel had ever raised "their voices to cry out at this injustice being done them." The article then said fans could write the Sunset Boulevard address of Statehood for Moosylvania. They would receive a pamphlet about the glories of the island and "a dandy little yellow lapel pin and a decal for your car."

The following day Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Luke Feck weighed in. He wrote that in addition "to the thorny problems of Cuba, Berlin and how to redecorate Lincoln's bedroom, I add the flea bite of a plea for admission into the Union by the Unincorporated Territory of Moosylvania."

The nation held its breath.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 AM


What I Learned Watching 'Back to the Future' With Ronald Reagan (MARK WEINBERG,  February 27, 2018, Politico)

As Marine One took off, the feeling set in that everything was back to normal. On the helicopter with the Reagans were the president's personal aide, Jim Kuhn, his army aide, a physician, two Secret Service agents--and me. After we landed at Camp David, we traveled in a mini-motorcade to Aspen Lodge, and just before the president entered, someone suggested that he might prefer a quiet evening off instead of inviting the rest of us over for the usual movie showing. None of us wanted to tempt fate or tax Reagan, who was already in his mid-70s, as he continued to recover his surgery.

Nothing doing. "No, no," the president said. "I've been looking forward to this and want you all to come."

"Yes sir," we said almost in unison, and that was that. Even though the "call time" for the movie was 8:00 p.m. as usual, we gathered at the front door of Aspen at 7:45. It was a typically warm, muggy July evening. As always, Reagan opened the door at 7:50.

The lights dimmed, and the movie started.

The Reagans were looking forward to seeing Back to the Future, maybe because its star, Michael J. Fox, was already well known for playing a precocious Republican teenager on one of their favorite television shows, "Family Ties," then entering its fourth season. Fox played Alex P. Keaton, the son of two aging hippie parents growing up with his two sisters--and in the final seasons, a brother--in suburban Ohio. Young Alex, to the bafflement of his liberal mother and father, had grown up into a staunch conservative, fond of quoting the economist Milton Friedman (a Reagan favorite), wearing tailored suits and carrying his schoolwork in a briefcase.

In the film, which had just been released three weeks earlier, Fox plays Marty McFly, a high school student from a loving but struggling family. Through his friendship with a local scientist, inventor and all-around eccentric, Doc Brown, Marty is transported from the present year of 1985 back to 1955 in a time machine made from a converted DMC DeLorean sports car. As he adjusts to the shock of living in his hometown of Hill Valley, California, 30 years in the past--and falls in with a younger but no less wacky Doc Brown--Marty's unexpected mission is to help the teenage incarnations of his parents meet each other and fall in love and then, as the title suggests, return successfully to the year 1985.

Both Reagans appeared engrossed in Back to the Future, often laughing heartily. The president got a kick out of the fact that when Marty first goes back to 1955 and walks past Hill Valley's movie theater, the marquee shows Cattle Queen of Montana, the 1954 film starring Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan. [...]

Six months later, on February 4, 1986, President Reagan channeled Doc Brown in his State of the Union address, as he exhorted Americans to remember that the sky--not the street--was the limit.

"Never has there been a more exciting time to be alive," the president said, "a time of rousing wonder and heroic achievement. As they said in the film Back to the Future, 'Where we're going, we don't need roads.'"

That was how Ronald Reagan saw America. It is how those of us who knew him and loved him see it still.

February 27, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Kushner's overseas contacts raise concerns as foreign officials seek leverage (Shane Harris, Carol D. Leonnig, Greg Jaffe and Josh Dawsey February 27, 2018, Washington Post)

Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.  [...]

H.R. McMaster, President Trump's national security adviser, learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report. The issue of foreign officials talking about their meetings with Kushner and their perceptions of his vulnerabilities was a subject raised in McMaster's daily intelligence briefings, according to the current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Within the White House, Kushner's lack of government experience and his business debt were seen from the beginning of his tenure as potential points of leverage that foreign governments could use to influence him, the current and former officials said.

They could also have legal implications. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has asked people about the protocols Kushner used when he set up conversations with foreign leaders, according to a former U.S. official.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


AI software is more accurate, faster than attorneys when accessing NDAs (JASON TASHEA, FEBRUARY 26, 2018, ABA Journal)

In a new AI-versus-lawyer matchup, the lawyers were bested when trying to accurately spot issues in non-disclosure agreements.

Tasked with spotting issues in five real NDAs from companies including Cargill and Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the software from LawGeex outperformed the attorneys with an average of 94 percent accuracy, according to their study. The attorneys had an average accuracy rate of 85 percent.

The attorneys assessed all five NDAs in an average of 92 minutes, while the software took only 26 seconds.

"Participating in this experiment really opened my eyes to how ridiculous it is for attorneys to spend their time (as well as their clients' money) creating or reviewing documents like NDAs which are so fundamentally similar to one another," Grant Gulovsen, a participating attorney, said in a statement. "Having a tool that could automate this process would free up skilled attorneys to spend their time on higher-level tasks without having to hire paralegal support."

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Liberty is Meaningless without Responsibility (Tyler Brandt, 2/27/18, FEE)

Liberty and responsibility are inseparable. At first glance, this might seem like a paradox due to responsibility being an inherent constraint on liberty. Responsibility is the absence of flexibility and free-flowingness. However, those who truly want liberty also want the self-responsibility entailed.

If they do not pick up the burden of being responsible, then the world falls into a chaotic place.

In each person being their own master, that person also has to accept that the actions they take produce real consequences. That person then has to choose carefully what actions they take as they are the owner of the consequences. Without a fair sense of responsibility, self-directed individuals would not be able to produce a prosperous society.

Having to carry the burden of consequences forces each individual to pick up their own weight and make each corner of their world a better place. For if they do not pick up the burden of being responsible, then the world falls into a chaotic place, a place of disregard. It is in this sense that responsibility is a necessary component of liberty.

A fair bit of confusion here, because the author mistakes liberty for freedom, which republicanism fortunately does not

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


The strength of the West: curing hypochondria (Michael Shoebridge, 2/28/18, ASPI Strategist)

Measures of economic, technological and military strength show that Western liberal democracies are prospering and growing--from a very high base. IISS's The Military Balance 2018 data shows that the US, other NATO members, Japan, South Korea and Australia made up over 60% of planned global defence expenditure in 2017, with Russia and China combined making up less than 14% (leaving aside whether real or PPP measures are most representative). Western countries continue to innovate and adapt at a tempo as fast as at any time in the last 150 years. If this is decline, I want more.

On the flip side, it's true that China's rapid development over recent decades has enabled the Chinese government to lift millions of its people out of poverty. Good. Growth has also allowed China to invest in a range of military systems that give it an ability to project power in its own territory, its neighbours' territories and into disputed areas between them--like the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

Along with this, China and Russia (and even more obviously Iran and North Korea) have more than their share of weaknesses and vulnerabilities that undermine their strengths.

You wouldn't know this by listening to commentators and former politicians, whose historical determinism seems more Marxist than Karl's own. They outline the inevitability of China's rise, along with the equally inevitable decline of the decadent, distracted West. 'Resistance is useless' seems to be the T-shirt they think we need. Luckily that's not true.

China now, as throughout its history, has multiple internal tensions and pressures. Like the Qin, Han or Manchu emperors of the past, Chinese leaders fear that internal tensions could lead to social and political unrest that will end their rule. They continue to feel insecure about their borders. An abbreviated list of some of the major pressures the Communist Party leadership confronts includes:

*Unrest driven by ethnic differences between Han Chinese populations and local populations like Uyghurs and Tibetans
*Corruption and fraud that takes people's savings and brings the party into disrepute
*Air, water and land pollution and contamination affecting human and environmental health
*Bad debts in a financial system distorted by government requirements to take on bad loans and prop up state-owned businesses
*Excess capacity in construction and manufacturing that creates the conditions for unrest as people lose jobs
*Growing social media connectivity that absorbs growing amounts of state resources and people to control and censor so that debates don't threaten Communist Party rule
*A rapidly ageing population that doesn't have the means to support itself in retirement owing to the lack of a social safety net
*The potential collapse of North Korea, whether through its own contradictions or miscalculated military action, causing millions of hungry, desperate North Koreans to move into China, combined with environmental damage from North Korean use of nuclear weapons.

Russia is even more troubled and a weaker state by most measures. Space prevents a longer list, so let's simply note the following: corruption; political repression; economic weakness; a declining, ageing population; chronic health problems including alcoholism and depression; and tensions with most of its neighbours--which include China, the Balkans, Central Asia and Western Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


NSA Boss Suggests Trump Lets Putin Think 'Little Price to Pay' for Messing With U.S. (Andrew Desiderio, 02.27.18. Daily BVeast)

Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, told a Senate panel Tuesday that the Trump administration is not doing enough to counter Russia's attempts to meddle in future U.S. elections through the use of cyberattacks.

"Clearly, what we've done hasn't been enough," Rogers bluntly declared during a Senate armed services committee hearing.

In particular, Rogers said the administration's decision to not immediately implement congressionally mandated sanctions against Russia sends a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin can continue to wage cyber warfare against the U.S. and other countries.

"Not just the sanctions but more broadly, my concern is, I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion there's little price to pay here, and that therefore I can continue this activity," Rogers told Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

If there weren't universal agreement with them, the obvious disdain of his own cabinet for Donald would be a national crisis.

How Trump's 2020 campaign manager is connected to the Russia scandal: Parscale is linked to Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that has become a focus of the Trump-Russia investigation. (Sean Illing, 2/27/18, vox.com)

Cambridge Analytica is a data company that specializes in what's called "psychographic" polling, which means it uses data collected online to create personality profiles for voters. It then uses that information to target individuals with content tailored to their specific profile.

Last December, Mueller requested that Cambridge Analytica turn over internal documents as part of his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

The thread connecting Russia, the Trump campaign, and Cambridge Analytica is Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser who was forced to resign after he reportedly lied to Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about his phone conversations with a Russian envoy in 2016.

A series of reports last July by the Wall Street Journal's Shane Harris, Michael Bender, and Peter Nicholas revealed that Peter Smith, a pro-Trump GOP operative, sought to acquire 30,000 deleted emails from Hillary Clinton's private server. Two of the groups Smith reached out to had connections to Russia.

Smith told Harris that he was in regular contact with Flynn, who at the time was still working closely with Trump's campaign. Harris also reported on intelligence assessments that outlined the efforts of Russian hackers to retrieve Clinton's emails and pass them on to Flynn, who would then share them with the Trump campaign.

Via an August 2017 Associated Press report, we also know that Flynn was later forced to disclose "a brief advisory role with a firm related to a controversial data analysis company that aided the Trump campaign."

That "data analysis" company was Cambridge Analytica.

We don't know what data Flynn might have shared with the Russians (or vice versa). Nor do we know if -- or to what extent -- the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians to help their disinformation operation.

What we do know is that Russia was actively meddling in the 2016 presidential election in order to help Trump win the White House. We also know that part of its operation relied on manipulating Facebook's algorithms to target specific voters.

And this is precisely the sort of work that Cambridge Analytica and Brad Parscale were hired to perform for the Trump campaign.

Given all we know, Donald should be expected to hire staff Vlad has approved.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


As anti-Semitic incidents in US soar, ADL says Trump is part of the problem : Jonathan Greenblatt: US president's Twitter account has 'emboldened and given encouragement to the worst anti-Semites and bigots' (ERIC CORTELLESSA, 2/27/18, tIMES OF iSRAEL)

"Something has changed with the way that strains of intolerance have moved from the shadows and seeped into the mainstream," said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL's CEO. "And then not being called out by people at the highest levels of authority in a way that happened before."

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One of the reasons such vitriol has reached a new plateau of public discourse, Greenblatt said, is that it's frequently disseminated by US President Donald Trump on social media.

"I think what's new is today we have a situation where literally the presidential Twitter account is retweeting memes that originate on sub-reddits that are developed by some of the worst segments of society," Greenblatt went on. "The president's retweeting of white supremacists and anti-Semitic memes during the campaign and, more recently, sharing tweets from a UK racist group -- those are alarming. Those tweets and rhetoric have emboldened and given encouragement to the worst anti-Semites and bigots."

They're his core support.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


U.S. consumer confidence rises to highest level since November 2000 (Paul Wiseman, 2/27/18, The Associated Press)

The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index rose to 130.8 in February, highest since November 2000 and up from 124.3 in January.

The business research group's index measures consumers' assessment of current conditions and their outlook for the next six months. They feel better about today's economy than they have since March 2001. Their outlook also improved.

Tax cuts passed into law last year are starting to show up in workers' paychecks. "As people slowly absorb the details of the tax reform package, opinion polls suggest that it is becoming significantly more popular," Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities, wrote in a research note.

A strong job market is boosting confidence. The unemployment rate has stayed at a 17-year low 4.1%.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


Obama: My White House 'Didn't Have a Scandal That Embarrassed Us' (Alex Griswold, February 27, 2018, Free Beacon)

"One of the things I'm proud of in my administration was the fact that--and I think these things are connected--we didn't have a scandal that embarrassed us," he then said.

"There were mistakes, we'd screw up. But there wasn't anything venal in eight years. I know that seems like a low bar," Obama said to laughter.

"Generally speaking, you didn't hear about a lot of drama inside our White House," he continued, insisting it was because he selected people with the right temperament.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


Amazon is already trying to disrupt health care (Tami Luhby, February 27, 2018, CNN Money)

The Basic Care line, which has its own page within the Amazon site, offers a range of products, including ibuprofen, allergy medicine, laxatives, hair regrowth treatments and nicotine gum.

Prices for many items are significantly cheaper than traditional pharmacies, such as CVS (CVS), Walgreens (WBA), Rite Aid (RAD) -- even Walmart, analysts at Raymond James said in a December report. For instance, Basic Care ibuprofen cost $7.50 for 500 tablets, while Walmart (WMT) charged $8.23 and Walgreens $15.49. A bottle of Basic Care laxatives cost $7.39, compared to $8.04 at Walmart and $11.99 at CVS. [...]

Amazon is also trying to convince the medical community to buy commonly used products -- such as rubber gloves, syringes, gauze, surgical gowns, stethoscopes and dental bibs -- from its AmazonBusiness site, which launched three years ago. It brought on Chris Holt, who has long worked in the health care supply chain field, to lead the health care initiative. In addition to employing a sales team, the division has been attending industry conferences and events to raise its profile.

While this business line isn't as complex as pharmaceuticals, it still required Amazon to get licenses in various states before it could sell certain medical supplies. This set off a flurry of speculation that the company was moving one step closer to selling prescription drugs, but an Amazon spokesperson clarified that the licenses were for products, not medication.

Amazon is betting that those who buy supplies for medical practices -- as well as for educational and government offices -- will be comfortable shopping online. Its business site offers additional functions, such as allowing multiple users on a single account, requiring approvals from supervisors and enforcing spending limits. But it also allows users to quickly compare prices for a variety of vendors.

"We want to create an experience similar to the way people shop at home," said Lori Torerson, an Amazon spokeswoman.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


HERE'S MORE EVIDENCE THAT AN ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN WOULD DECREASE SCHOOL-SHOOTING DEATHS: Research suggests other forms of gun control constitute an ineffective response. (TOM JACOBS, 2/27/18, Pacific Standard)

"Assault weapons bans reduced the number of school shooting victims by 54.4 percent," Mark Gius of Quinnipiac University writes in the journal Applied Economics Letters. "All other gun-control laws--concealed-carry laws, private-sale background checks, and federal dealer background checks--had no statistically significant effect on school shootings."

Gius has received positive attention from conservative media for previous studies finding concealed-carry laws and assault weapons bans do not have a significant effect on a state's gun-related murder rate. (In many states, handguns are responsible for far more deaths than assault rifles.)

But his subsequent research shows mass shootings are a different matter.

In a 2014 study that analyzed data covering the years 1982 to 2011, he found "both state and federal assault weapon bans have statistically significant and negative effects on mass shooting fatalities."

In addition, he found the federal ban, which was in place from 1994 to 2004, was linked to fewer injuries from mass shootings. State-level bans were not, which suggests they are less effective in preventing harm (not surprisingly, since determined shooters can easily bring such weapons across state lines).

Gius' 2017 study focused exclusively on school shootings. Focusing on the years 1990 to 2014, he examined the effect of the federal assault weapons ban, federal background checks for gun purchases from dealers (in effect from 1994), and three types of state-level laws: assault weapons bans, "concealed carry" laws, and background checks for gun sales made by one individual to another individual.

"The only gun control measure that had a statistically significant effect on the number of school shooting victims was the assault weapons ban," he writes. "When the assault weapons ban, state or federal, was in effect, the number of school shooting victims was 54.4 percent less than (when it was not in effect)."

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


The Market Dogs That Didn't Bark (ANATOLE KALETSKY, 2/27/18, Project Syndicate)

[T]he world economy is now firing on all cylinders. Every region is now following the US post-2008 roadmap of aggressive monetary stimulus and bank recapitalization, but with long delays that have ranged from three years in Japan and China to six years in Europe and even longer in large emerging economies such as India, Russia, and Brazil.

Whatever else one thinks of them--obviously Left and Right hate them both--W and the UR will be remembered historically for teaming up to avoid economic catastrophe when the sub-prime loan fraud scandal caused a credit crunch that would have caused a depression in prior decades. Thankfully, W had Ben Bernanke in position at that moment.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM



Even among some of Donald Trump's allies, there is a sense of astonishment at the White House's handling of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. "It's like no one took down the Gambino family," Steve Bannon told Chris Whipple in a book adaptation the Hive published this week. "Mueller's doing a roll-up just like he did with the Gambinos. [Paul] Manafort's the caporegime, right? And [Rick] Gates is a made man!" Indeed, Mueller, who led the F.B.I. takedown of the infamous crime family in the early 1990s, famously cutting a deal with Sammy the Bull to flip on mob boss John Gotti, appears to be executing what some have called a "Gambino-style roll-up." 

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


U.S. To Overtake Russia As Top Oil Producer Share (Radio Liberty, February 27, 2018)

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the United States will overtake Russia as the world's biggest crude oil producer by 2019 at the latest, as U.S. shale output continues to grow.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 AM


Trump said he would charge a gunman. Here's what he's actually done in the face of danger. (Eli Rosenberg, February 26, 2018, Washington Post)

And given Trump's public track record in the face of proximate danger, his words instead ended up underscoring a separate truth: His actions have, at times, read differently than his tough talk.

The most frightened that Trump has ever seemed in public was perhaps a moment during a campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, in March 2016.

The then-candidate was in the midst of speaking about manufacturing, when a man hopped the barrier behind him and rushed the stage. Trump stopped speaking, looked nervously behind him and grabbed and started to duck behind his lectern.

He was then swarmed by Secret Service agents, who steadied him.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 AM


How One Man Invented the Conservative Movement (Lee Edwards, 2/27/18, Daily Signal)

Beginning in 1955, National Review provided a public platform for the champions of libertarian thought like Max Eastman and Frank Meyer, traditionalist ideas like Russell Kirk, and uncompromising anti-communism like Whittaker Chambers.

With Frank Meyer's help, Buckley developed the idea of fusionism, a blending of the three major strains of conservatism, and persuaded conservatives to stop fighting each other and focus on the real enemies--Soviet communism abroad and overweening federal government at home.

Buckley took as his model the liberal New Republic. In a memorandum for investors, he called his new publication "a formative journal" that would "change the nation's intellectual and political climate" just as the Nation and the New Republic helped usher in "the New Deal revolution."

The time was right, he said, for a magazine--and a movement--that would oppose ever bigger government, expose eager social engineers, and challenge those who counseled coexistence with communism, intellectual conformity, the elimination of the market economy, and world government.

National Review was only the first political step by Buckley to build a movement. Next came the formation of Young Americans for Freedom that served as the ground troops for Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater's "glorious disaster" in the 1964 presidential election and Ronald Reagan's capture of the presidency in 1980.

Buckley was also a founder of the Conservative Party of New York that nominated and helped elect James Buckley in 1970 to the Senate. Undoubtedly, his most audacious political act was to run in 1965 for mayor of New York City, the citadel of liberalism.

In that race, he threw down a conservative gauntlet to demonstrate that conservatism was not dead and buried, despite the overwhelming Goldwater defeat, but very much alive. He presented a conservative alternative to working-class Irish and other ethnic Catholics repelled by the ever more liberal policies of the liberal Democrats who dominated New York City politics.

On Election Day, an impressive 13.4 percent (341,226) of the electorate voted for Buckley. Political analyst Kevin Phillips, author of the landmark work, "The Emerging Republican Majority," cited Buckley's vote as a "harbinger" of the new majority that elected Richard Nixon in 1968.

The apogee of Buckley's political efforts came in 1980 with the election of Reagan as the most conservative president in modern times. By his own admission, Reagan had learned much of his conservatism by reading National Review and forging a close friendship with its editor-turned-presidential adviser.

He'd have been proud of this podcast.
Posted by orrinj at 3:07 AM


Governor Ridicules Trump's Plan For Arming Teachers To His Face (Tommy Christopher, February 27, 2018, National Memo)

[W]ashington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee quickly shut him down, telling Trump exactly what his constituents think of that plan.

Trump claimed only a "very small" number of teachers would be armed. But Inslee pointed out that Trump had recommended 20 percent of all teachers be given weapons.

"I have listened to the people who would be affected by that," Inslee said. "I have listened to the biology teachers, and they don't want to do that at any percentage."

He recalled "the first-grade teachers who don't want to be pistol-packing first-grade teachers." And he noted that law enforcement officers don't have the time or ability to spend months training teachers to use guns.

"Educators should educate, and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first-grade classes," Inslee said.

And he suggested that "we need a little less tweeting here, and a little more listening.

February 26, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


False Reports of Gunfire at J.F.K. Airport Offer a Real Case Study in Security (MICHAEL WILSON and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN, AUG. 18, 2016, The New York Times)

As a human stampede tore its way through a terminal at Kennedy International Airport, a Transportation Security Administration agent running along was heard screaming, "There's a bomb!" Another agent yelled, "Someone's been shot!"

Some passengers found their way to the tarmac, scurrying underneath a parked jet toward a different, safe terminal -- only to be refused entry by a police officer. As other officers in the New York airport's police command center tried to determine what was going on, they were unable to gain immediate access to most of the video feeds from the terminal's security cameras, which are operated by American Airlines.

The chaos on Sunday night followed what appeared to be two false alarms of a gunman in the airport's terminals.

And yet, with no loss of life or serious injuries, the bizarre episode is being seen as something of a gift, giving officials a case study in airport security and the gaps within. The events of that night also offer a clinic in the human capacity for panic -- the stunning effect, on a population that has more information than ever at its fingertips, of essentially shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Trump vs. Mueller is a battle for America's soul (Max Boot, February 26, 2018, Washington Post)

During the Vietnam War, when most of his classmates were avoiding the draft, he volunteered for the Marine Corps and earned numerous decorations leading a rifle platoon in fierce combat. Returning home, he became a prosecutor and eventually ran the Justice Department's criminal division. In the 1990s Mueller went into private practice. It was lucrative, but he hated it. Watching the spike of drug-driven murders in the District of Columbia, he volunteered to become a line prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office. It was as if a retired general had volunteered to serve as a private in wartime.

Later, as FBI director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Mueller became the embodiment of the old-school G-man who only wore a white shirt with a red or blue tie -- never a blue shirt, because that would signal dangerous frivolity. He "avoided the limelight" and "frustrated his speechwriters by crossing out every 'I' in speeches they wrote for him. It wasn't about him, he told them: 'It's about the organization.' "

Mueller embodies the ideals of probity, service and self-sacrifice that trace back to the Pilgrims who came to America in search of a "city upon a hill." The Puritans preached devotion to the Almighty and had nothing but contempt for vanity and luxury -- no blue shirts for them. Over the centuries, their religious fanaticism leached away, leaving behind in American culture a residue of obligation to serve not just God but also mankind [...]

Trump combines the hedonism of the 1970s with the bigotry and sexism of the 1950s: the worst of both worlds. His consciousness was not raised in the 1960s, but his libido was. He did not take part in the civil rights or antiwar movements and won five draft deferments -- including one for "bone spurs" -- so that he could devote his life to the pursuit of women and wealth. He later said that fear of catching a sexually transmitted disease was "my personal Vietnam."

Trump is the embodiment of what Christopher Lasch in 1979 called the "new narcissist" who "praises respect for rules and regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply to himself"; whose "emancipation from ancient taboos brings him no sexual peace"; and whose "cravings have no limits," because he "demands immediate gratification and lives in a state of restless, perpetually unsatisfied desire." A product of the "me decade," Trump is a "me first"-- not "America first" -- president whose speeches are full of exaggerated or falsified self-praise.

Mueller is the best of America; Trump the worst.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


It's sickening to call cop in school shooting a coward: Law enforcement instructor (Tim Vogt, Feb. 26, 2018, USA Today)

I am a full-time law enforcement instructor teaching basic students as well as experienced officers in advanced training programs. Before this position, I was a sworn law enforcement officer. I have been in the law enforcement field for 10 years. In my career, I have responded to shots-fired calls and have been involved in shots-fired incidents. I have walked alone at night in pursuit of drug smugglers. I have responded and assisted county and state police officers on emergency calls ranging from high-speed pursuits with violent felons, to burglaries and assaults in progress, to violent domestic assaults. On some of these calls, I was by myself and the first on scene. I have attended multiple active shooter training programs. Luckily, I have never needed to fire my pistol or long arm at another human being. There is my career disclaimer. [...]

For all of the commentators and politicians to so easily refer to this man as a coward is sickening and should be condemned in the strongest terms. Maybe we should change the famous verse to, "Let him who has never been shot at criticize those making $40,000 a year who also choose not to be shot at." 

I ask all of these "courageous" commentators and politicians to place themselves in this officer's shoes. Do you know how you would react when the rounds start flying near you? Have all of you been in a building while real shots are being fired at you? I have not, so please fill me in. Do you know how that incredible sound affects your brain and your body? Have you been trained in any way to understand the physiological effects on the human body during and after a shooting incident? Have you felt your heart pound out of your chest while someone is killing people around you, with a weapon that you can't possibly match in fire power? 

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is no. And to all of those officers who speak as if they wouldn't hesitate in a similar situation, and so flippantly dismiss this man's actions, you better have the applicable warrior credentials. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


Supreme Court rejects Trump over 'Dreamers' immigrants (Reuters, 2/26/18) 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt a setback to President Donald Trump, requiring his administration to maintain protections he has sought to end for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally into the United States as children.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


NRA battles Florida Republicans over gun crackdown (Matt Dixon, Feb. 26th, 2018, Politico)

The National Rifle Association, equipped with a vaunted political email list and support from passionate single-issue voters, is gearing up to take on Florida Gov. Rick Scott and GOP leaders as they tee up a rarity in Florida lawmaking: gun control legislation.

The central question for Republicans as the state's legislative session enters its final weeks is whether the NRA, which opposes the GOP-written measures, will get rolled by a collection of lawmakers it helped get elected. [...]

Among other things, the separate plans put forward by GOP leaders and Scott would increase the age to buy all guns to 21. The Legislature's plan includes a three-day waiting period for military-style semi-automatic weapons like AR-15s. Scott opposes plans to arm trained school staff, which the NRA supports. Both proposals ban "bump stocks," which allow semi-automatic weapons to mimic the firing speed of fully automatic weapons.

The NRA opposes each proposal, but it's unclear if the organization has the juice needed to torpedo the leadership-driven bills.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


India should never be a digital colony like Europe: Naspers CEO Bob van Dijk (Biswarup Gooptu, Madhav Chanchani, Arijit Barman|Feb. 26th, 2018, Economic Times)

CEO Bob van Dijk talked to ET's Biswarup Gooptu, Madhav Chanchani & Arijit Barman about the company's next big bets. Excerpts: [...]

ET : Any emerging tech you are interested in? 

BvD: We are extremely excited about the potential of blockchain to change how the Internet is governed. We are excited about the technology, excited about the governance models. We are very interested just because of the disruptive nature of It. I think it can really transform the way people interact with Internet. There are questions about scalability. So there's a lot of work that needs to be done.

ET: There is an ongoing debate about having a level-playing field, capital dumping by global majors. Your thoughts?

BvD: India needs to make sure that it builds an ecosystem for the success of local businesses. If I am blunt about it, I think Europe is a digital colony of the US. Europe has nothing. There's no decision-making in search, content, social or video, which basically means there is no ecosystem of capable Internet entrepreneurs or professionals. It's a disaster. To me, this means that in the next 10 years nothing else will happen either, because you need to have that core ecosystem. I think, If I were your Prime Minister, I would have that bent of mind. I don't think it means throwing out foreign capital. You want capital and you want skill. That's smart. But in the process, you should try to avoid becoming the Europe of the Internet, where the decisions are made, and all the key talent is elsewhere, and all you have are the sales and the execution here. I think that would be a very dangerous outcome. Europe doesn't have a big tax base. Who pays taxes there? None of the tech giants does, and there is no ecosystem of entrepreneurs. So, it will be a decade of nothing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Manafort's LA bankruptcy fight may offer new avenue for Mueller probe (Nathan Layne, Feb. 26th, 2018, Reuters) 

Reuters has found new information about Manafort's handling of the loan and its potential link to the bankruptcies as Special Counsel Robert Mueller seeks to pressure Manafort to cooperate with his investigation into Trump's campaign team and possible collusion with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. 

At issue is whether the failure to disclose a loan from a lender that was also the main creditor in the California bankruptcy cases represented an illegal concealment of material information.

Reuters has also learned that over the past several months Mueller has begun focusing on Jeffrey Yohai, Manafort's former son-in-law and his partner in four California property deals that failed and were placed in bankruptcy, as a potentially valuable witness in his probe.

Last week Mueller filed new criminal charges against Manafort and Rick Gates, a former business partner who served as Trump's deputy campaign manager. The California bankruptcies might be yet another avenue of inquiry for Mueller's team, said Frank Figliuzzi, who was assistant director of counterintelligence for the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Mueller until 2012.

"It's all about increasing pressure on Manafort to cooperate," he said

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


CPAC's disastrous, misguided embrace of Marion Le Pen (Dan Hannan, 2/26/18, Washington Examiner)

Here's a list of political stances that cluster together in several populist European parties. Tell me whether you think they count as far-left, far-right, or neither.

admiration for Vladimir Putin;

higher taxes for the rich;

hostility toward immigration;

assertion of national sovereignty;


more welfare spending;


suspicion of financiers;

obsessive hatred of George Soros;

mild dislike of Jews;

pronounced dislike of Muslims;

family values.

In Continental Europe, that cocktail of views defines you as "far-right." And sure enough, you hear it often from, for example, the nationalist politicians affiliated to Marine Le Pen's bloc in the European Parliament. But I'm not sure that "far-right" is an accurate way to describe them.

Many of these politicians see themselves as the authentic champions of industrialized labor. They march on May Day under red flags. They dislike kings and aristocrats and businessmen, and detest the liberal capitalism of the English-speaking democracies.

The reason they are called "far-right" is that "right-wing," in modern European parlance, simply means "bad guys." Since these guys are double-plus bad, the reasoning runs, they must be even further to the Right than conservatives.

But there is nothing conservative about them. 

To embrace Donald is to drink the cocktail.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM


Israel's military courts 'humiliating charade' for Palestinians (Jaclynn Ashly , 2/26/18, Al Jazeera)

Across from the home of imprisoned Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi in Nabi Saleh, the red-tiled roofs of Israel's illegal Halamish settlement dot the adjacent hilltop.

Residents of Halamish, along with some 600,000 other Israelis, reside in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law. Despite living on occupied Palestinian territory, settlers are subject to Israeli civil law, while Palestinians to Israeli military law.

A person's nationality and ethnicity determines which set of laws applies to who in the West Bank, rights groups have noted. [...]

Under a dual legal system, Palestinians facing Israel's military courts - run by Israeli soldiers and officers - receive far harsher sentences than a settler who commits the same crime and is tried in a civil court; some are not punished at all.

Palestinians are tried in military courts as adults at the age of 16, while the majority of Israelis at 18.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 AM


WFB Today (RICHARD BROOKHISER, February 16, 2018, National Review)

Buckley wrote about Trump the politician once, in an article for Cigar Aficionado, which ran in the spring of 2000 after Trump's brief pursuit of the nomination of the Reform party, Ross Perot's then-rudderless vehicle. Buckley ID'd Trump as a demagogue, narcissist division. "When he looks at a glass," Buckley wrote, "he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America." This was a political as well as a personal judgment: Trump sought office not to accomplish anything, but to advance and gratify himself. Candidate Trump had issues in 2000, and more in 2016, and beyond. But Bill knew his man. They had been fellow New Yorkers for decades. Bill did not regularly read Page Six, but his wife Pat did. Bill had observed every step of Trump's public career. He knew Trump was gilt all the way down.

Trump's first-year accomplishments testify to the conservative movement's momentum. After he stopped talking about the Supreme Court's power to write bills, or appointing his sister to it, he turned judicial nominations over to conservatism's legal infrastructure and to Mitch McConnell, and produced a string of good ones. The tax bill reflected years of Paul Ryan's, and other congressmen's, thoughts and hopes. Candidate Trump's foreign policy might be summarized as, Every Yazidi for himself (a position Buckley embraced at the end of his life); President Trump, taking counsel of his generals, has been more proactive. Where conservatives had not done their homework -- as in thinking about how to replace Obamacare rather than merely attack it -- Trump came up empty-handed.

That is Trump's business, and America's. But what has Trump done to conservatives?

One of Trump's abilities, which he possesses at the level of genius, is finding and naming the weaknesses of enemies: Low-Energy Jeb, Little Marco, Crooked Hillary. Related is his ability to create weaknesses in his supporters. A weak man needs weak supporters; strong ones might make him feel insecure, or differ with him. And so, whether from design, or simply because it is the way things work, Trump's conservative admirers have had to abandon and contradict what they once professed to hold most dear.

The most egregious example is the religious Right. The religious Right is the latest version of an old model of American politics, variously incarnated by Puritans, abolitionists, and William Jennings Bryan. It, like its predecessors, has argued that America and individual Americans need to have a godly or at least moral character to thrive. Now the religious Right adores a thrice-married cad and casual liar. But it is not alone. Historians and psychologists of the martial virtues salute the bone-spurred draft-dodger whose Khe Sanh was not catching the clap. Cultural critics who deplored academic fads and slipshod aesthetics explicate a man who has never read a book, not even the ones he has signed. Followers of Harry Jaffa, the most important Lincoln scholar of the last 60 years, rally round a Republican who does not know why the Civil War happened. Straussians, after leaving the cave, find themselves in Mar-a-Lago. Econocons put their money on a serial bankrupt.

Admiring Trump is different from voting for him, or working with him. Politics is calculation; "to live," Whittaker Chambers told Buckley, who quoted it ever after, "is to maneuver." But to admire Trump is to trade your principles for his, which are that winning -- which means Trump winning -- is all.

In three years (maybe seven), Donald Trump will no longer be president. But conservatives who bent the knee will still be writing and thinking. How will it be possible to take them seriously?

February 25, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Utah teacher shoots herself in the leg while at school (Michele Richinick, 9/12/14, MSNBC)

A teacher in Utah accidentally shot herself in the leg Thursday inside an elementary school building.
Just before 9 a.m., Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery accidentally discharged her gun while using a faculty restroom at Westbrook Elementary School in Taylorsville, the principal said in a letter to students' parents. The incident occurred before school hours, and no children nor staff were present. The teacher was in legal possession of her gun on school property.

Michael Piemonte was attending a concealed-carry class with his wife Alison in central Ohio's Fairfield County over the weekend. Such classes are required for anyone wanting carry a concealed weapon in the state.

There were 29 students in the lecture-type class, Piemonte said. He was sitting in the front row.

While the instructor was demonstrating a self-defense techniques, the gun went off.

Colleagues and parents on Thursday remembered Philando Castile as an ambitious man who served as a role model for hundreds of children before he was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota.

Idaho State University teacher accidentally shoots self in class (CBS News, 9/14/14)

An Idaho State University instructor was wounded in the foot after a concealed handgun in the person's pocket discharged during a chemistry lab session with students in the room, school officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Will suburbs where Trump struggled come through for Gov. Scott Walker in 2018 race? (Craig Gilbert, 2/23/18, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

WEST BEND - This community 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee has voted three times for Scott Walker by colossal margins.  

But in a special election for state Assembly last month, it did something almost unheard of.  

West Bend voted Democratic.

Was it a suburban alarm bell for the GOP?  Or a mere blip?

The battle for the suburbs is central to the 2018 election, thanks largely to President Donald Trump's weakness among college-educated voters. But roughly eight months out, the political signposts often seem in conflict with other.

Republicans can take hope from a growing economy and improving perceptions of the party's end-of-the-year federal tax cut.

But Democrats are buoyed by their strong performance in special elections around the country -- including in two Republican-leaning legislative districts in Wisconsin last month.   

"There are real forces that are quite discernible, but they are pointing in different directions," said Charles Franklin, professor and pollster for the Marquette Law School.

Signs abound that Trump is a political drag on his party among suburbanites, especially those with college degrees. 

But in Wisconsin, many of the same suburbs where Trump ran poorly in 2016 have a robust history of support for Gov. Scott Walker, who heads the GOP ticket this fall.

If you used Trump's performance as a guide, you would expect Republicans to struggle in these communities. If you used Walker's performance (and he's the one on the ballot), you'd expect them to flourish.  

Nowhere is that dichotomy sharper than in the state's biggest concentration of suburban votes, the conservative "WOW" counties north and west of Milwaukee (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington).  This is some of the most Republican turf in America.

Donald was the only nominee--with the possible exception of Ted Cruz--who could underperform that badly against Hillary.

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Trump's Takeover of Conservatism Is Complete and Total: At this year's CPAC, the room for criticizing the president was vanishingly small. (TIM ALBERTA, February 25, 2018, Politico)

Charen's outpouring of dissent accentuated how quickly and completely CPAC has become a pro-Trump gathering, just two years removed from him skipping the event because of a planned walk-out among conservatives who opposed his candidacy. Late Friday morning, with a standing-room-only ballroom full of conservative activists thundering down applause, Trump told of the "horrendous" immigrants taking advantage of our visa lottery system. He warned of dangerous and unproductive people arriving via "chain migration." And then, underscoring these threats, the president dusted off "The Snake," a ballad he often recited on the campaign trail, which likens immigrants welcomed by America to a venomous serpent that bites and kills the woman who took it in.

It seemed to set a tone. Gaffney, invited back to CPAC after being banished from the event for years, warned that most of the Chinese nationals in the United States are here to spy on Americans. A short while later, Rick Ungar, a left-wing radio host whom Schlapp invited for a panel discussion, was booed when he described a naturalization ceremony--and again when he said that Mexican immigrants have "more in common" with conservatives than liberals. That night, Schlapp's communications director, Ian Walters, stunned attendees of the event's trademark Ronald Reagan Dinner by saying the Republican National Committee elected Michael Steele as chairman in 2009 "because he's a black guy."

All of this in one day--and less than 24 hours after the Trump administration changed the mission statement of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency to remove the phrase, "a nation of immigrants."

"None of this happens in a vacuum," Steele told me Saturday morning, still visibly upset by Walters' remark. Steele said that Schlapp had apologized to him but then pointed to Steele's criticisms of Trump and the Republican Party. "And I'm like, 'Yeah? What the hell does that have to do with what your guy said from the podium last night?' He was twisting it back on me," Steele said. "There are people who have an attitude regarding race in this party that needs to be cleansed out. Otherwise this party will die from it."

Posted by orrinj at 2:13 PM


The racist history of the 'crisis actor' attacks on Parkland school shooting survivors (Michael E. Miller, February 23, 2018, Washington Post)

False rumors that the Little Rock Nine were paid protesters even forced the NAACP to issue a statement condemning the stories as "pure propaganda." The students were not, in fact, "imported" from the North, said the NAACP's Clarence A. Laws, but rather the children of local residents, including veterans.

When Princeton history professor Kevin M. Kruse pointed out the parallel between Parkland and Little Rock earlier this week, his tweet went viral.

"It's funny," Kruse told The Washington Post on Thursday. "I'm teaching a class right now that does deep dives into three historical moments as a way to teach students how to use documents, and the first one we're doing is on Little Rock. ... So when the 'these students must be paid' thing came up in the news, it took me a day and then I was like, wait a minute, I just read about this."

But the practice of dismissing witnesses to major historical events as mere paid actors goes back much further than the Little Rock Nine.

"It's a theme that crops up throughout civil rights history," said Kruse. "Back then, it was an assumption that African Americans in the South couldn't possibly be upset. They must have been stirred up from the outside, either paid to do this or inspired to do this by propaganda. They couldn't have come up with this on their own.

"I think this is what we see in the Parkland case today," he added. "There's a belief that somehow these 17- or 18-year-olds who witnessed a school shooting ... who saw their friends die, somehow could not have been motivated to respond to that on their own, that they would need some sort of outside direction for that protest to take shape."

The crisis actor slur dates back to shortly after the Civil War, when former slaves who testified before Congress were slandered by Southern politicians as stooges paid to lie about their experiences, according to Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


Moscow mired in Syria as Putin's gameplan risks a deadly ending: Russian leader's gamble backing Bashar al-Assad increasingly looks miscalculated (Martin Chulov, 24 Feb 2018, The Observer)

Nearly 18 months into Russia's intervention to prevent Assad's defeat at the hands of rebel groups that were advancing on his heartland areas of Latakia and Tartous, it is increasingly unclear just how Moscow will recoup its investment in the world's most complex and intractable conflict.

While it no longer appears Assad is in danger of falling, what remains of Syria looks nothing like the prewar country he used to rule. Central authority in the once-rigid police state has been subsumed several times over - first by opposition groups, and then by regional players also increasingly invested in shaping postwar outcomes in their own interests, which only partly align with what Putin wants. Protagonists on both sides are drowning in a swamp they did not see ahead.

Putin, in particular, is learning that Syria in its present form is ungovernable. His December claim of "victory" at a Russian airbase near Idlib has been followed by a dizzying series of events which, on the contrary, have drawn Russia further into the war. At the same time they have exposed the Assad regime's near-total dependence on proxy support to hold its positions, let alone secure more gains. [...]

"The only winner so far is Iran," said Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat who defected from the regime in mid-2013. "It achieves what it wants without too much noise. Iran enjoys Russian-American conflict because it makes Russia more dependent on Iran to survive."

The clash between the US and Russian mercenaries sent to Syria was kept quiet by Moscow, which - in different circumstances - would have complained bitterly if 200 of its citizens had been killed by a rival power. For Putin to admit even that the men were there would have belied his claim of victory and withdrawal from a war that no longer needed him. Acknowledging they were advancing on an oil refinery held by US Kurdish proxies would have been an equally tough sell, at a time when securing Syria from the threat of terrorism and US hegemony remains the official narrative.

US intelligence officials believe the company that recruited the Russians - the Wagner Group - is controlled by a Putin confidant, Yevgeniy Prigozhin.

Also staking its claim in Deir ez-Zor is Iran, with which Russia has partnered to ensure that what remains of the anti-Assad opposition can no longer win the war. Russian officials have complained to counterparts in Turkey that Iranian aims are increasingly at odds with their own.

A senior Turkish diplomat told the Observer Moscow feels especially threatened by what it sees as Iran's determination to build a state security structure in Damascus modelled on its Revolutionary Guard Corps - the most powerful institution in Tehran 40 years after the Islamic Revolution. "But how can they stop them?", the diplomat said. "Putin won't have it his own way from here. And we can see [the Russians] getting irritated by it."

The Christian-Shi'a alliance rolls on...

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


Why having police in schools is a problem, in 3 charts (Dara Linddara, Oct 28, 2015, Vox)

3) The biggest effect of school resource officers: Students get criminally charged for "disorderly conduct"

It's easy to assume that a school that has a police officer on the grounds every day must have such big issues with crime that the officer is necessary. But that isn't always the case.

A 2009 study by Matthew Theriot of the University of Tennessee compared student arrest and court records from one group of schools that had a school resource officer stationed on school grounds with those of schools that didn't. Controlling for socioeconomic status, the researcher found that there wasn't much difference in serious crime between the schools that had SROs and the schools that didn't. Students at policed schools were much more likely to get arrested than students at unpoliced schools, but they weren't any more likely to actually be charged in court for weapons, drugs, alcohol, or assault. (In other words, students at policed schools were much more likely to get arrested in cases where there wasn't enough evidence to actually charge them with a crime.)

The exception: Students at policed schools were almost five times as likely to face criminal charges for "disorderly conduct" (which apparently didn't rise to the level of an assault). In other words, when there was a police officer roaming the halls, students were much more likely to be arrested and brought into court for behavior that was disruptive, but not violent.

This is exactly the problem that's led some juvenile judges to speak out against putting police in schools. The chief judge of the juvenile court in Clayton County, Georgia, who's become an outspoken opponent of police in schools, saw that when police were placed on school grounds in his county, 11 times as many students ended up in juvenile court. He told Congress at a 2012 hearing that "the prosecutor's attention was taken from the more difficult evidentiary and 'scary' cases -- burglary, robberies, car thefts, aggravated assaults with weapons -- to prosecuting kids that are not 'scary,' but made an adult mad."

I can think of at least five teachers who would like to have shot me (not counting the Mother Judd).

I Was a Marine. I Don't Want a Gun in My Classroom. (ANTHONY SWOFFORD, FEB. 24, 2018, NY Times)

Before the United States Marine Corps allowed me to carry a live M-16 assault rifle, I went through hundreds of hours of firearms training. Classroom sessions devoted to nomenclature, maintenance and basic operation accounted for more than two weeks of study before I even set eyes on ammunition. For weeks, I carried an M-16 without a magazine -- a dummy weapon, basically. I secured it with a padlock overnight while I slept in the barracks, and unlocked it each morning before chow.

Only at the shooting range was I allowed to check out magazines and ammo from the armory. The first day at the range I spent 12 hours disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the weapon. I had to do this blindfolded. I had to do this while a drill instructor hurried me, yelling that enemies were at the gate. I had to do this while fellow Marines wept nearby from doing hundreds of burpees as punishment for not being able to reassemble their weapons fast enough.

The military issue M-16 is the model for the AR-15 assault rifle that the accused shooter used to kill 17 people this month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The shooter bought the weapon lawfully. He received zero hours of mandated training. There is no reason that any civilian, of any age, should possess this rifle.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


I'm Glad I Got Booed at CPAC (MONA CHAREN, FEB. 25, 2018, NY Times)

I was surprised that I was even asked to speak at CPAC. My views on Trump, Roy Moore and Steve Bannon are no secret. I knew the crowd would be hostile, and so I was tempted to pass.

But too many of us have given up the fight. We've let disgust and dismay lead us to withdraw while bad actors take control of the direction of our movement. I know how encouraged I feel whenever someone simply states the truth, and so I decided to accept CPAC's invitation.

Like the Republican Party, CPAC has become heavily Trumpified. Last year, they invited alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos (and withdrew the invitation only after lewd tapes surfaced). This year, in addition to the president and vice president, CPAC invited Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Matt Schlapp, CPAC's chairman, described her as a "classical liberal" on Twitter. This is utter nonsense. Ms. Maréchal-Le Pen is a member of the National Front party, and far from distancing herself from her Holocaust-denying, anti-Semitic and racist grandfather, she has offered him a more full-throated endorsement than her aunt has. "I am the political heir of Jean-Marie Le Pen," Maréchal-Le Pen told the Washington Post last year. "He was a visionary. He was right about a lot of things."

So it has come to this: a conservative group whose worst fault in years past may have been excessive flat tax enthusiasm now opens its doors to the blood and soil nationalists of Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


NRA cites policy barring foreign funds to fend off Russia questions  (PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON,  February 23, 2018, mCcLATCHY)

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is probing Russian influence on the election, sought the documents after McClatchy reported last month that the FBI was investigating whether a top Russian banker, Alexander Torshin, may have illegally funneled money to the group. Torshin is a lifetime NRA member who has attended several of the organization's national conferences.

The NRA was the biggest financial backer of Donald Trump's Republican presidential campaign, spending at least $30 million on his behalf - nearly triple what it spent to support Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. [...]

Torshin hosted an elite NRA delegation, which included a past NRA president and a top fundraiser for the organization, in Moscow in December 2015, and attended the NRA's convention in May 2016 where Trump received the NRA's coveted endorsement. During the convention, Torshin had a brief conversation with then-candidate Trump's eldest son, Donald Jr., and reportedly tried to set up a meeting during the campaign between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. [...]

In his Feb. 2 letter to the NRA, Wyden had asked for any documents or information about possible Russian contributions by Torshin or other Russians to the NRA or intermediaries aimed at helping Trump win the 2016 elections. The senator's letter stated that, as McClatchy and several other news outlets had written, "Torshin has reported links to money laundering."

El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, last year wrote that Spanish authorities investigating Russian money-laundering operations in Spain planned to arrest Torshin in 2013 during a scheduled visit, but he was apparently tipped off and canceled his trip. Another Russian businessman, who was heard talking to Torshin on numerous tapes in the hands of Spanish authorities, has pleaded guilty to a money laundering scheme and was imprisoned for his crimes. [...]

Torshin, who has attended several NRA national conventions going back at least to the 2013 event in Houston, was instrumental in founding a pro-gun group in Russia called Right to Bear Arms. An early meeting of the group, held in the fall of 2013, was attended by NRA leader David Keene, who helped cement the NRA's ties to Torshin. Keene was also a leader of the NRA delegation that visited Moscow for a week of lavish meals and at least one meeting with a high-level Russian official in late 2015.

...for the Trumpbots to convince themselves that all the ties between Donald, the Right, Vlad and money-laundering were just a never-ending series of coincidences and you're forced to conclude that they are malevolent, rather than just naive.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


CNN Poll: Trump approval slides, matches lowest point of presidency (Jennifer Agiesta, 2/25/18, CNN)

President Donald Trump's approval rating in a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS stands at 35%, down five points over the last month to match his lowest level yet.

The slide follows a January bump in approval for the President, a finding that appeared connected to a bullish stock market and strong reviews for the economy. His new rating matches a December poll, which marked his lowest approval rating in CNN polling since taking office in January 2017.

The President also earns his lowest rating yet among Republicans, though he is still viewed positively among his own partisans. Overall, 80% of self-identified Republicans say they approve of the President, one point below his previous low mark of 81%, hit in late September of last year. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Going Rogue at CPAC: Mona Charen Slams Sexist Hypocrisy and Racism at CPAC; Calls invitation of Le Pen a 'Disgrace' (ALICE B. LLOYD, 2/24/18, Weekly Standard)

On Friday night, still high on the rhetoric of the French far-right, attendees booed the claim that Mexicans coming to America have more in common with conservatives than liberals and shouted down a suggestion that Republicans, like Democrats, ought to recruit voters at naturalization ceremonies. Then, when THE WEEKLY STANDARD's Fred Barnes pointed out that many Mexican immigrants share these values, he likewise drew ire from the crowd.

By Saturday afternoon, the convention audience had dwindled to "diehards," according to the man working media registration. And Charen was ready to take the stage.

In an email on Friday night, Charen explained to me that "There remains a sizable contingent of conservatives in America who have not drunk the Trump kool aid and they are very thin on the ground at CPAC." She continued: "I feel an obligation as one of the only Trump critics on the program to express dismay at some of the invitations CPAC has extended." [...]

"This is the party that endorsed the Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama, even though he was a credibly-accused child molester," she said. "You cannot claim that you stand for women and be all right with that."

At this statement, two young men thunderously applauded, while many more booed and shouted, "Not true! Not true!" (From my vantage, I did not see any of the young women in the audience reacting audibly.)

Later, the discussion turned to talk about the influence of sex panic on young men. And Charen turned her attention to Le Pen. "Speaking of bad guys," she said, "there was quite an interesting person who was on this stage the other day. Her name is Marion Le Pen. Why was she here?"

Boos and grumbles rose from the crowd. "Why are you here?!" a male voice boomed.

"She's a young, no-longer-in-office politician from France. I think the only reason she was here is that she's named Le Pen. And the Le Pen name is a disgrace. Her grandfather is a racist and a Nazi." Here, a smattering of applause swelled to battle the boos, and Charen strained to talk over them. "The fact is she stands for him. The fact that CPAC invited her was a disgrace."

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


An Enemies List Is Not a Philosophy (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, February 25, 2018, National Review)

Conservatives used to boast that the Right has ideas, while the Left has only an enemies list. There was a time when that was true, but it isn't true anymore. [...]

Republicans have never been entirely immune to that sort of thing, of course: "Pink right down to her underwear," welfare queens, etc. Republican appeals to our baser instincts have historically been couched in expressions of nationalism. T. Boone Pickens, visiting the offices of National Review, flew into a rage when I suggested that his plan to mandate the use of natural gas in trucking was in fact a plan to put a whole lot of money into the pockets of T. Boone Pickens, thundering: "You must be in favor of foreign oil!" Donald Trump's early focus on the issue of illegal immigration was clever in that it offers the combination of a real issue -- illegal immigration is a genuine problem, as is the persistence of poorly assimilated immigrant ghettos around the country -- while also appealing to the strain of xenophobia that has always been associated with populist politics in the United States, currently most energetic on the right side of the political spectrum. (But it is by no means exclusively a right-wing phenomenon: Senator Bernie Sanders, the grumpy Muppet socialist from Vermont, talked a great deal like Trump on immigration during the Democratic primary, denouncing the "open borders" view as a billionaires' plot to undermine the American working man.) But from the 1980s until approximately the day before yesterday, the Republican party was an instrument of the conservative movement. It was the inverse of the Democratic party, in which various intellectual tendencies and political constituencies serve the party and are dominated by it. The Republican party was more strongly an ideological organization, the Democratic party more strongly a collection of interest groups. (Of course both parties are both things, but the GOP has long been the more ideologically rigorous of the two.) The Republican party had invective, of course, but it also had ideas, and, especially in the 1980s, a lively and enriching transatlantic relationship with conservatives in the United Kingdom. Intellectuals such as Milton Friedman and Jeane Kirkpatrick were enormously influential figures, especially for young conservatives, and the most prominent spokesman for conservative views was William F. Buckley Jr.

Rick Brookhiser is right to insist that the emergence of Fox News as the Right's loudest voice was a "gigantic mistake, frenzied and stupefying." It has left the Right angrier and less intelligent -- and it has made the Right more like the Left in its instinctive reliance on the enemies-list model of politics. You've seen how this works by now, I'm sure. The Parkland students get some predictably good press for this gun-control rally, and Fox News jackasses like David Clarke see the shadowy hand of George Soros. The special counsel hands down another passel of criminal indictments against Trump's campaign executives, and the real story is all about . . . Hillary Clinton. The enemies list is long: "elites," Washington insiders, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Bill Kristol, the Deep State, Barack Obama, out there, somewhere, scheming . . .

Conservative critics of Trump receive a constant complaint: "You don't know who your friends are or, even worse, who the enemy is." Warming to the "moral equivalent of war" -- in this case, the Cold War -- they insist that we must smile and nod and happily swallow whatever unsalted s**t sandwich is being served up today because to do anything else is to give aid and comfort to the "cultural Marxists," one of the most ridiculous bits of voguish new terminology on the right. For them, it's always the end of the country, the republic hanging by a thread. It's a fundamentally unserious view of the world that serves mainly to provide its adherents with a form of emotional catharsis that is not at its root about politics at all. They get a frisson of virility when they hear the president -- the president of the United States of America -- describe his political rivals as "treasonous." The idea that opposition to the Big Boss is opposition to the nation itself -- that to criticize the Big Boss is treason -- is a very ancient superstition, and a very stupid one.

But these are stupid times, especially for Republicans, who in their pursuit of fleeting political advantage must pretend to be something other than what they are and pretend that Trump is something other than what he is. The easiest way to get through that is to do what the Left has been doing since the 1950s -- convince yourself that the alternative is Hitler. (And, hey, if you read Dinesh D'Souza, you know that George Soros was a Nazi, right? And Soros is behind . . . everything.) And that works, if you don't think too hard about it, which doesn't seem to be an obviously pressing problem for Sean Hannity and his ilk. But as Republicans work their way down their enemies list, they ought to stop, if only for a moment, to ask what it is they are working their way towards. This year at the annual CPAC conference, the president and the vice president shared billing with Marion Maréchal-Le Pen of the French fascist political dynasty. Funny that some of her admirers on the American right such as the gentlemen at Breitbart are fond of denouncing their critics as "Vichy" conservatives. If you're looking for the road to Vichy, ask the Le Pens -- they know the way, if that's the way you want to go.

It is wrong though to say that the Right and Left aren't idea-based as well; it's just that they can't honestly state those ideas because they are so repellant to Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Why companies are abandoning the NRA (Danielle Wiener-Bronner, February 25, 2018, CNN Money)

Delta (DAL) is ending discounted rates for members of the organization. United Airlines (UAL) will no longer offer discounts on flights to the NRA annual meeting.

Enterprise Holdings, which runs the Enterprise, Alamo and National car rental groups, will end the discount deal it has with the NRA. So will Avis Budget Group (CAR), which owns Avis and Budget, and Hertz (HTZ).

Similarly, insurance giant MetLife (MET) is ending its discount program for NRA members.

The First National Bank of Omaha pledged to stop issuing an NRA-branded Visa card.

The National Rifle Association released a statement on Saturday saying companies "have decided to punish NRA membership in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice."

"In time, these brands will be replaced by others who recognize that patriotism and determined commitment to Constitutional freedoms are characteristics of a marketplace they very much want to serve," the NRA said.

At this point, businesses that work with the NRA are putting their relationships with customers at risk, said William Klepper, a professor at the Columbia Business School.

"Boards and their CEOs ... are saying, 'This is bad for business,'" he said.

Consumers are focusing their attention on businesses that work with the NRA, but gunmakers are losing customers, too.

After hearing from their clients, the giant investment management company BlackRock (BAAPX) told gunmakers that it wants to understand their response to the shooting.

The firm is the largest shareholder in weapons manufacturers Sturm Ruger (RGR) and American Outdoor Brands (AOBC). It is the second-largest shareholder in Vista Outdoor (VSTO), which makes sporting goods and guns.

Its questions are certain to let the gun companies know they're paying attention.

Bank of America (BAC) also said it will question gunmakers.

The bank plans "to engage the limited number of clients we have that manufacture assault weapons for non-military use to understand what they can contribute to this shared responsibility," it said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Fla. shooting survivor defends officer who did not enter shooting scene (JOHN BOWDEN, 02/24/18, The Hill)

"He -- just like every other police officer out there at heart -- is a good person. He didn't take action in this event, and I can't explain why ... there are no words to explain why he wouldn't take action to take out this individual, but I think it's a good example of if he didn't take action and four others didn't, I mean, who does?" student David Hogg said in an interview on MSNBC.

Hogg was referencing Scot Peterson, the  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resource officer and Broward County Sheriff's deputy who has been the subject of criticism for failing to enter the building and defend students during the shooting. 

"Who wants to go down the barrel of an AR-15, even with a glock? And I know that's what these police officers are supposed to do, but they're people too," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Gun owners turn on Donald Trump over plans to bring in tighter restrictions (Maya Oppenheim, 2/24/18, The Independent)

Donald Trump's proposal to introduce modest gun control measures in the wake of the Florida shooting has enraged gun owners and gun lobbying groups. [...]

Gun Owners of America released an alert earlier this week making a plea for its 1.5 million members to call the White House and "Tell Trump to OPPOSE All Gun Control!" [...]

The [NRA] is strongly opposed to raising the legal age for the purchase of long guns from 18 to 21 and has firmly disputed expanding background checks in the past.

The NRA spend more than $5m lobbying for guns rights in 2017, according to OpenSecrets.org. The group lobbied for bills to repeal bans on gun silencers, reduce the amount of information available for background checks, and make concealed-carry permits valid across the country, among other things.

They'd have been better off buying Trump Steaks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Stepping up protest against Israel, fuming church leaders shutter Holy Sepulchre (SUE SURKES, 2/25/18, Times of Israel)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Sunday closed its doors until further notice as church leaders angrily retaliated against what they see as a "systematic campaign" by Israel to harm the Christian community in the Holy Land.

Flanked by Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land Francesco Patton and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus lll read out a statement and then locked the ancient doors of the church in Jerusalem's Old City.

"We will decide when and how the church will re-open," he said, likening Israeli policies to anti-Semitic laws enacted against Jews in Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Ruffo: 'NAFTA will survive, because the economy wins' (Al Jazeera, 2/25/18)

Talks are running behind schedule and some officials believe the longer they last, the less likely it is that Trump will dump NAFTA, which he has threatened to do if the overhaul of the accord does not benefit the US.

Negotiators had wanted to wrap up talks by March to avoid them being politicized by Mexico's July presidential election.

But officials have already raised the possibility that they will run past Mexico's vote, and some say they could continue at a technical level for several months if necessary.

A US official noted "there has never been a hard deadline", and among Mexicans following the process, belief is growing that lobbying efforts by US business leaders and politicians to preserve NAFTA have been gaining traction.

"NAFTA will survive, because the economy wins out in the end. The bosses of the big firms are making the argument for us," said Ernesto Ruffo, a Mexican senator from the border state of Baja California. "That's why we're onto the seventh round."

February 24, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


CPAC speaker Mona Charen stuns with fiery rebuke of Trump, Le Pen Gabby Morrongiello | Feb 24, 2018, Washington Examiner)

Mona Charen, a National Review writer and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, was asked during a panel about the Left's treatment of women what has left her most fired up in the Trump era.

"I'm actually going to twist this around a bit and say that I'm disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women," she said. [...]

"This was a party that was ready to ... endorse Roy Moore for Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester," Charen said.

"You cannot claim that you stand for women, and put up with that," she told the crowd, as several members of the audience shouted, "Not true!"

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM

THE MIGHTY RUSSIAN WAR MACHINE (extended profanity alert):


Recordings have emerged in which Russian mercenaries subjected to a joint U.S. strike that killed dozens of their comrades describe the incident as "a total f[***]-up."

Polygraph.info, a Voice of America project, published three recordings, which it received from a source close to the Kremlin. The source said that the recorded phone calls were made by personnel from CHVK Wagner, a Russian private military company. 

There's nothing more amusing than folks who think Vlad is winning.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Michael Steele Responds to Racial Insult Hurled by CPAC Communications Director  (Davis Richardson, 02/23/18, Observer)

Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) communication director Ian Walters sparked controversy with a racially charged insult hurled at former RNC chair Michael Steele on Friday night.

"We elected Mike Steele as chairman because he was a black guy, that was the wrong thing to do," Walters told hundreds of conservatives during the conference's Ronald Reagan dinner as guests at tables gasped in shock.

"I wanted to talk to [CPAC chair] Matt Schlapp first, but I think it's painfully stupid what he said," Steele told Observer. "If he feels that way I'd like him to come say that to my face. And then I'd like him to look at my record and see what I did. I can't believe an official of CPAC would go onstage in front of an audience and say something like that. I've been a strong supporter of CPAC for many years and I thought they raised them better than that here."

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


How Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi built a dynasty -- in fantasy football (Andy McCullough, FEB 23, 2018, LA Times)
One day last December, Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi composed a text message to a select number of his players. The 16th week of the NFL season had come to a close, and Zaidi intended to gloat. Only kings understand each other, so Zaidi sent the group the iconic image of Michael Jordan holding three fingers aloft, a fitting symbol for a different sort of three-peat.

"The telling of the story of this dynasty," Zaidi said recently, as he reclined in the desk chair of his office overlooking Camelback Ranch, "is long overdue."

For three consecutive seasons, the Dodgers have permitted Zaidi to enter their fantasy football league. He has captured the title each year. His performance invites shaking heads, grumbling praise and begrudging respect. He frustrates some. He awes others. "The Bill Belichick of fantasy football," outfielder Joc Pederson called him.

The players appear unsure how to unseat Zaidi. They have changed the draft rules to thwart his tactics. They have accused him of partnering with his similarly gifted brother. Pederson has begged him to retire.

His boss, Andrew Friedman, suggested Zaidi should spend more time on his actual profession. His ace, Clayton Kershaw, insisted they cannot boot Zaidi from the league until he had been dethroned. Another offered a more proactive solution.

"I'm not trying to kick him out," third baseman Justin Turner said. "I'm trying to figure out a way to steal his laptop, so I can have his program."

The proliferation of fantasy sports extended into baseball clubhouses long ago. The intra-team leagues are ubiquitous, with players vying for cash and clout, and the participants can be as intense as the average consumer. Some sneak out of the dugout on Sundays to check their phones for updates. One Dodger negotiated a trade during batting practice before Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

Zaidi rules his organization's league like the henhouse fox. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


How Trump won with America's losers (Andrew Gimson, February 23, 2018, Conservative Home)

Frum remarks, in his Acknowledgments: "No single person could possibly plumb the foulnesses of the Trump presidency." In this book he gives a more than adequate summary of Trump's foulnesses. One's appetite sickens as one is reminded of them. While Gibbon left "all licentious passages...in the obscurity of a learned language", Frum gives them in plain English.

But how gloomy should all this make us? Conservatives are naturally tempted to be cultural pessimists. The world is not what it was, is quite clearly going to the dogs.

And yet the American Republic has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity to regenerate itself. Things have often been pretty bad in the past - a point Frum seldom acknowledges. Every president arrives in Washington promising to bring about "a new birth of freedom".

Barack Obama has wonderful manners, an ability to behave with grace and restraint on any occasion. Trump, with his ability to behave like an oaf on any occasion, is a corrective to that.

But I am allowing myself to get blinded by personal antipathy. Frum himself claims, after describing how so many Republicans first attacked and then for the sake of their own advancement made their peace with Trump, that the President has "ripped the conscience out of half of the political spectrum and left a moral void where American conservatism used to be".

That is overdrawn. Trump will inspire a reaction too. Reputable Republicans and Democrats will work out how to frame an appeal to the whole nation, and not just to the prosperous half of it. This will entail a recognition that some of the issues on which Trump campaigned, from immigration to decrepit infrastructure to the condition of the working class, were well chosen, and need careful attention.

In my opinion (which like many of my opinions could turn out to be sadly mistaken), the great American Republic will emerge stronger from this presidency, its institutions strengthened by the exertions required to restrain and correct Trump's excesses, its constitution vindicated, its political parties brought closer to the people they claim to represent. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Russia stumbles in the fog of Syrian war (Pavel K. Baev, February 21, 2018, Brookings)

Syria is a security paradox for Russia vis-à-vis the United States, as Moscow seeks simultaneously to maintain military cooperation and defeat presumed U.S. political intentions in this messy conflict. This odd pattern was tested on February 7, when a heavy U.S. air and artillery strike destroyed a grouping of pro-government forces advancing to capture an oil plant to the east of the Euphrates. Russian social networks exploded with rumors about hundreds of casualties among mercenaries from the so-called "Wagner group," and a few cases were reliably confirmed. The official position, however, remains complete denial of the first major direct clash between Russian and U.S. forces in Syria, which allows Moscow to act as if there's been no damage in relations.

U.S. President Donald Trump called Putin on February 11, but the brief readout contained no mention of Syria. While there is some outcry in Damascus, calling the move a U.S. "war crime," Putin can't join in: U.S. command used the de-conflicting communication channel to warn its Russian counterparts about the forthcoming strike and make sure there were no Russian forces in the vicinity. It's illegal in Russia to employ private defense contractors, so the Russian Defense Ministry cannot possibly admit that the mercenaries of the "Wagner group" were deployed in large numbers to compensate the withdrawal of regular troops after Putin's declaration of "victory."

Useful as it may be to pretend that the war business in Syria goes as usual, Moscow can hardly hope that its eroded positions would go unnoticed by the antagonists who are busy advancing theirs. Russia still has important assets in Syria and is exploiting the confusion in U.S. policy around the Iraq/Syria war zone. Its own policy, however, is distorted by a series of new challenges, which test its staying power. Putin thought that he figured out a proper balance of key drivers in the convoluted war, but its new mutation has caught him unprepared. The space for maneuvering between regional adversaries is narrowing, and Moscow can neither take sides nor secure its own ground.

The war was always a lose-lose for Putin, who--like his fans on the Right--never understood it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Lawyer for Susan Rice: Obama administration 'justifiably concerned' about sharing intel with Trump team (KYLE CHENEY, 02/23/2018, Politico)

A lawyer for President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, told Congress late Friday that the outgoing administration was fearful of sharing classified intelligence with members of the incoming Trump team, especially Rice's successor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM



The alt-right purports to defend the identity and interests of white people, who it believes are the compliant victims of a century-long swindle by liberal morality. Its goals are not conventionally conservative. It does not so much question as mock standard conservative positions on free trade, abortion, and foreign policy, regarding them as principles that currently abet white dispossession. Its own principles are not so abstract, and do not pretend to neutrality. Its creed, in the words of Richard Spencer, is "Race is real. Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity." The media take such statements as proof of the alt-right's commitment to white supremacy. But this is misleading. For the alt-right represents something more nefarious, and frankly more interesting, than white identity politics.

The alt-right is anti-Christian. Not by implication or insinuation, but by confession. Its leading thinkers flaunt their rejection of Christianity and their desire to convert believers away from it. Greg Johnson, an influential theorist with a doctorate in philosophy from Catholic University of America, argues that "Christianity is one of the main causes of white decline" and a "necessary condition of white racial suicide." Johnson edits a website that publishes footnoted essays on topics that range from H. P. Lovecraft to Martin Heidegger, where a common feature is its subject's criticisms of Christian doctrine. "Like acid, Christianity burns through ties of kinship and blood," writes Gregory Hood, one of the website's most talented essayists. It is "the essential religious step in paving the way for decadent modernity and its toxic creeds."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


MUELLER TIGHTENS THE NOOSE, AND BREAKS RICK GATES: Hours after Mueller brought new charges, Manafort's business partner is pleading guilty--and likely turning state's evidence. (ABIGAIL TRACY, FEBRUARY 23, 2018, Vanity Fair)

The breaking of Rick Gates represents a dramatic escalation of Mueller's probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. While the White House previously said it was unconcerned by the possibility that Gates would sing, the former campaign official was present at several critical junctures of the Trump-Russia affair. As deputy campaign chairman, Gates was on board during Don Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, as well as for the campaign surrogates' meeting with Russian officials during the Republican National Convention, when the decision was made to change the language in the official Republican platform to make it more sympathetic to Russian interests. And he remained on the Trump team throughout the transition period, when Jared Kushner and other campaign officials made contact with Russians, including Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Vnesheconombank Chairman Sergey Gorkov.

While he previously pleaded not guilty, yesterday's indictment raised the stakes for Gates, who was reportedly struggling to pay his legal bills and concerned about the effect a drawn-out court battle would have on his family. In the new charges, Mueller accused Manafort and Gates of orchestrating a decade-long money-laundering scheme in which they allegedly lied on their income tax returns and committed bank fraud to secure loans. While they did not directly involve the Trump campaign, the fresh charges indicated that Mueller was ratcheting up the pressure on both Manafort and Gates to cooperate with the F.B.I. in the ongoing investigation--an effort that clearly paid off. Both former campaign aides faced de facto life sentences for the charges, according to Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. "This is pretty raw criminality," Cotter told The Washington Post. "According to the indictment, these are two fellows on a multi-year tear of lying to every bank they could find about their income. To a federal prosecutor, it's fairly crude. It's extensive and bold and greedy with a capital 'G,' but it's not all that sophisticated."

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Trump Recites Inflammatory, Anti-immigrant 'Snake' Song (Agence France-Presse, 2/23/18)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday recited the lyrics of a song seen as anti-immigration called "The Snake" to drive home his point about restricting immigration -- an inflammatory move that harkened back to his days on the campaign trail. [...[

"Trump's snake story is vicious, disgraceful, utterly racist and profoundly un-American," tweeted Steve Schmidt, a former campaign aide for president George W Bush.

They did bury the lede though: "Donald Manages to Reads Something"
Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM

NO TICKEE, NO WASHEE (profanity alert):

Trump's Russian Laundromat: How to use Trump Tower and other luxury high-rises to clean dirty money, run an international crime syndicate, and propel a failed real estate developer into the White House. (CRAIG UNGER, July 13, 2017, nEW rEPUBLIC)

In 1984, a Russian émigré named David Bogatin went shopping for apartments in New York City. The 38-year-old had arrived in America seven years before, with just $3 in his pocket. But for a former pilot in the Soviet Army--his specialty had been shooting down Americans over North Vietnam--he had clearly done quite well for himself. Bogatin wasn't hunting for a place in Brighton Beach, the Brooklyn enclave known as "Little Odessa" for its large population of immigrants from the Soviet Union. Instead, he was fixated on the glitziest apartment building on Fifth Avenue, a gaudy, 58-story edifice with gold-plated fixtures and a pink-marble atrium: Trump Tower.

A monument to celebrity and conspicuous consumption, the tower was home to the likes of Johnny Carson, Steven Spielberg, and Sophia Loren. Its brash, 38-year-old developer was something of a tabloid celebrity himself. Donald Trump was just coming into his own as a serious player in Manhattan real estate, and Trump Tower was the crown jewel of his growing empire. From the day it opened, the building was a hit--all but a few dozen of its 263 units had sold in the first few months. But Bogatin wasn't deterred by the limited availability or the sky-high prices. The Russian plunked down $6 million to buy not one or two, but five luxury condos. The big check apparently caught the attention of the owner. According to Wayne Barrett, who investigated the deal for the Village Voice, Trump personally attended the closing, along with Bogatin.

If the transaction seemed suspicious--multiple apartments for a single buyer who appeared to have no legitimate way to put his hands on that much money--there may have been a reason. At the time, Russian mobsters were beginning to invest in high-end real estate, which offered an ideal vehicle to launder money from their criminal enterprises. "During the '80s and '90s, we in the U.S. government repeatedly saw a pattern by which criminals would use condos and high-rises to launder money," says Jonathan Winer, a deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement in the Clinton administration. "It didn't matter that you paid too much, because the real estate values would rise, and it was a way of turning dirty money into clean money. It was done very systematically, and it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold but no one is living in them." When Trump Tower was built, as David Cay Johnston reports in The Making of Donald Trump, it was only the second high-rise in New York that accepted anonymous buyers.

In 1987, just three years after he attended the closing with Trump, Bogatin pleaded guilty to taking part in a massive gasoline-bootlegging scheme with Russian mobsters. After he fled the country, the government seized his five condos at Trump Tower, saying that he had purchased them to "launder money, to shelter and hide assets." A Senate investigation into organized crime later revealed that Bogatin was a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York. His family ties, in fact, led straight to the top: His brother ran a $150 million stock scam with none other than Semion Mogilevich, whom the FBI considers the "boss of bosses" of the Russian mafia. At the time, Mogilevich--feared even by his fellow gangsters as "the most powerful mobster in the world"--was expanding his multibillion-dollar international criminal syndicate into America.

Trump Tower meeting with Russians 'treasonous', Bannon says in explosive book (David Smith, Jan 2018, tHE gUARDIAN)

Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon has described the Trump Tower meeting between the president's son and a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic", according to an explosive new book seen by the Guardian.

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: "They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV." [...]

"Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s[**]t, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up "in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people". Any information, he said, could then be "dump[ed] ... down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication". [...]

Bannon has criticised Trump's decision to fire Comey. In Wolff's book, obtained by the Guardian ahead of publication from a bookseller in New England, he suggests White House hopes for a quick end to the Mueller investigation are gravely misplaced.

"You realise where this is going," he is quoted as saying. "This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f[**]g Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner ... It's as plain as a hair on your face."

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


2018's Most Sinful States in America (Adam McCann, 2/21/18, Wallet Hub)

Red states and blue states may like to point to one another as the source of all that is wrong with the U.S., but the truth is that each of the 50 states has its own virtues and vices. For example, Vermont has the worst drug use problem. And it certainly comes as no surprise that Nevada is the most gambling-addicted.

But the cost of state sins is something we have to share as a nation. Gambling alone costs the U.S. about $5 billion per year. That's nothing compared to the amount of money we lose from smoking, though - over $300 billion per year. Harmful behavior on the individual level can add up to staggering economic costs on a national scale.

Some states are more well-behaved than others. In order to determine the states that most give in to their desires, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 38 key indicators of immorality. Our data set ranges from violent crimes per capita to excessive drinking to share of the population with gambling disorders. Read on to see the full ranking, insight from a panel of experts, and a full description of our methodology.

Source: WalletHub

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


NRA backlash: Major bank and car-rental giant are ending partnerships (MIKE MURPHY & EMMA COURT, 2/23/18, MarketWatch)
Companies may be starting to rethink their ties to the National Rifle Association in the wake of last week's massacre at a Florida high school, with a major bank, insurer and car-rental giant announcing they were dropping partnership programs with the NRA.

First National Bank of Omaha, the nation's largest privately owned bank, said Thursday it will not renew its contract with the NRA for a branded Visa card.

"Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA," a bank spokesman said in a statement. "As a result, First National Bank of Omaha will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card."

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Parkland shooting survivor's family shops doctored emails with CNN to media outlets (Eliza Relman , 2/24/18, Busdiness Insider)

"In my interview with CNN, I had talked about arming the teachers, if they were willing to arm themselves in the school, to carry on campus," Haab told Carlson. "And they had -- she had taken that, of what I had briefed on, and actually wrote that question out for me."

CNN says that Stevenson and Colton agreed on one question that Colton would ask, but that Haab's father, Glenn Haab, intervened, sending a lengthy speech (see below) that he wanted Colton to read, which included three questions for lawmakers.

Stevenson responded that the speech was "way too long" and that Colton "needs to stick" to the question they agreed on. Glenn then responded that he and his son "are not actors" and that Colton would not participate in the town hall if he could not read the full speech.

On Friday afternoon, Fox News and the HuffPost reached out to CNN to verify emails between the Haabs and Stevenson that they received from Colton.

A CNN source provided Colton's version of the emails, as well as their versions of all of the communications between the Haabs and CNN, to Business Insider.

In CNN's version of one email, Stevenson told Glenn that Colton needed to stick to a question that he and Stevenson "discussed on the phone that he submitted." But in the version of the email provided by Colton to Fox and HuffPost, the phrase, "that he submitted" is deleted.

According to the metadata of the Word document containing the email that was provided to Fox, it appears that Glenn last edited it.


February 23, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Trump Calls Americans Who Came Here Through Visa Lottery 'Horrendous' (Eric Levitz, 2/23/18, New York)

"Lottery, think of the lottery. You have a country, they put names in, you think they're giving us their good people?" Trump asked rhetorically. "So we pick out people, then they turn out to be horrendous and we don't understand why."

This is, of course, not how the diversity visa lottery works. Every year, the United States reserves 50,000 visas for prospective immigrants from nations that have not sent many immigrants to America in the past (in many cases, because those nations were barred from sending immigrants to the U.S. for much of the 20th century, due to explicitly racist immigration laws). Millions of people apply for those slots, and the field is winnowed through a lottery. But these immigrants are self-selected (not appointed by their governments as Trump suggests), and must meet America's stringent education and work experience requirements for all newcomers, and then undergo vetting by the State Department before entering the country (as opposed to being immediately flown to the United States, no questions asked, as Trump implies).

Anyhow, in these remarks, Trump argues that the winners of the diversity lottery "turn out to be horrendous" - meaning, once they arrive in this country and become American residents or citizens, they reveal themselves to be universally horrible.

Where do the Trumpbots go to buy back their souls?

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


SHOCK POLL: Two-Thirds Of Americans Support Stricter Gun Control Measures (JOSEPH CURL, February 23, 2018, Daily Wire)

In a surprisingly balanced national survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans say they support stricter guns laws -- with nearly half of Republicans agreeing.

A new Morning Consult/Politico poll of 1,992 registered voters found that 64% "strongly support" or "somewhat support" "stricter gun control laws in the United States." Just 30% "strongly oppose" or "somewhat oppose."

The poll was far more balanced than many done by biased liberal organizations such as NBC and CNN, which often survey far more Democrats than Republicans. The breakdown of the Morning Consult/Politico poll was 33% Democrat, 33% Republican, 34% independent, although those surveyed were self-identified as such.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


How Manafort's inability to convert a PDF file to Word helped prosecutors: Former Trump campaign manager allegedly emailed doctored docs to his assistant. (TIMOTHY B. LEE - 2/23/2018, aRS tECHNICA)

In 2016, Manafort allegedly wanted to create a fake profit-and-loss statement for his company, Davis Manafort Partners, in order to inflate his income and qualify for a loan.

"Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000," the indictment claims. "Gates converted that .pdf into a Word document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered the Word document by adding more than $3.5 million in income."

Then, according to the indictment, Manafort "sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the Word document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort."

By sending these documents back and forth by email, Manafort and Gates made it easy for prosecutors to pinpoint exactly who changed the documents and when.

...the chance he understands the technology he uses approaches zero.

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


The 'scripted' town-hall question: A CNN non-scandal (Erik Wemple, February 23, 2018, Washington Post)

[A] top CNN producer -- Stevenson -- took the initiative to contact Haab, who had gotten on the network's radar via previous interviews, including one with "Fox & Friends." "If Coach [Aaron] Feis had had his firearm in school that day, I believe that he could most likely have stopped the threat," said Haab.

Stevenson asked Haab what he'd like to address at the town hall, and what questions he wished to pose to politicians.

In an email offering four questions, Haab had included this: "Have we thought about having a class for teachers who are willing to be armed trained to carry on campus?" According to a CNN source, Stevenson discussed the whole thing with Haab in a phone call. CNN's plan was to have Haab preface that question with the observation he'd already made on "Fox & Friends," such that Haab would face Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) with these words:

Senator Nelson, if Coach Feis had had his firearm in school that day, I believe that he could have most likely stopped the threat. Have we thought about having a class for teachers who are willing to be armed trained to carry on campus?

According to the CNN source, Glenn Haab, the boy's father, intervened toward the end of the process, insisting that Colton Haab present some "background" thoughts to precede his question at the town hall. "We are not actors nor do we read from a script," wrote Glenn Haab in an email to Stevenson. "The short background before each question is extremely relevant to each question. "I[f] you want Colton only to read this one short question - we are not the right people for your town hall meeting."

Years ago, the proto-Erik Wemple Blog covered municipal politics in the District of Columbia. A critical part of the assignment was attending community events and debates in which organizers would place a microphone in an aisle and invite attendees to step up and ask a question. Perhaps the most commonly repeated refrain from such events came from the moderator: "Sir, could you please get to your question?"

Indeed: When they're given the floor, people tend to filibuster. And when they're not filibustering, they're repeating the same question asked by the person before them. Or they're asking about something entirely foreign from the topic at hand. This isn't to criticize such folks, who are almost invariably well-meaning, engaged citizens.

Yet CNN is a television outlet. It had two hours to pull off its town hall. That it worked with a high-school student to winnow his thoughts into one simple and powerful question for a Democratic senator sounds like the inverse of a scandal...

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Rick Gates, Trump Campaign Aide, to Plead Guilty in Mueller Inquiry and Cooperate (MARK MAZZETTI and MAGGIE HABERMAN, FEB. 23, 2018

The deal comes as the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has been raising pressure on Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort with dozens of new charges of money laundering and bank fraud that were unsealed on Thursday. Mr. Mueller first indicted both men in October, and both pleaded not guilty.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Trump slams Florida deputy on duty: "He didn't have the courage" (Zachary Basu, 2/23/18, Axios)

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:35 AM


A Stroll With Albert Jay Nock (Robert Thornton, 2/23/18, Imaginative Conservative)

A civilized society, wrote Albert Jay Nock, is one which "organizes a full collective expression of mankind's five fundamental social instincts: the instincts of workmanship, of intellect and knowledge, of religion and morals, of beauty and poetry, of social life and manners." When societies have gone on the rocks, "it was invariably the collective overstress on one or more of these fundamental instincts that wrecked them." American society, he wrote from Brussels in 1931, is trying to force the whole current of our being through the narrow channel set by one instinct only: the instinct of acquisition and expansion. A society that gives play to only this instinct "must inevitably be characterized by a low type of intellect, a grotesque type of religion, a fictitious type of morals, an imperfect type of beauty, and an imperfect type of social life and manners. In a word, it is uncivilized."

The trouble with our civilization, Nock declared, is that it makes exceedingly limited demands on the human spirit and the qualities that are distinctly and properly humane. We have been trying to live by mechanics alone, the mechanics of pedagogy, politics, industry, commerce. Instead of experiencing a change of heart, we bend our wits so as to devise changes in mechanics. But, continued Nock, "a nation's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that it possesseth; that it is the spirit and manners of a people, and not the bewildering multiplicity of its social mechanisms that determine the quality of its civilization."

The sort of people he admired were those he found himself among many years ago in New England. Writing in 1930, he observed that New Englanders "like to work, and they are prosperous but they refuse to be dominated by their business" and "resent an over-big rush of trade as keenly as the rest of America grabs for it, and cajoles and lies and grovels for it." Nock felt privileged "to sojourn among such people" and had "enormous admiration for their independence, self-respect and insight into the real values of life."

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 AM


N.H. House Rejects Campus Guns (Valley News, February 22, 2018)

New Hampshire House lawmakers on Thursday rejected an attempt to allow pistols and revolvers on public college campuses, while the state Senate agreed to consider giving school boards explicit authority to ban firearms.

February 22, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


14 major milestones along the brief history of 3D printing (Luke Dohrmel, 2/22/18, Digital Trends)

3D printing is one of the most revolutionary technologies of the 21st century. Giving everyone from engineers and doctors to DIY enthusiasts and small business owners the ability to transform virtual ideas into physical objects, it promises to change life as we know it.

If you don't know your laser sintering from your Shapeways or your bioprinting from your RepRaps, read on. These are the milestones we've passed so far on the road to making 3D printing a reality!

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Two top White House advisers may leave over tensions with Trump: sources (John Walcott, 2/22/18, Reuters) 

The current and most potent irritant, they said, is Kelly's effort, supported by McMaster, to prevent administration officials who have been unable to obtain permanent high-level security clearances from having access to the government's most closely held secrets.

Under pressure to act last week, Kelly strengthened the security clearance process in response to a scandal involving Rob Porter, a former official accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives. Staffers whose interim clearances have been pending since June would have them revoked on Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


NRA chief singles out Soros, Bloomberg as 'socialists' (JTA, February 22, 2018)

"Every time in every nation in which this political disease rises to power," LaPierre told the CPAC conference on Thursday, describing socialism, "its citizens are repressed, their freedoms are destroyed, and their firearms are banned and confiscated, and it's all backed in this country by the social engineering and the billions of people like George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer and more."

Soros is a hedge fund trader who has been prominent in backing Democratic policies, but also is known for promoting free markets overseas, particularly in formerly communist countries. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, has taken a lead in recent years in promoting gun control, but also has a pro-business reputation cultivated through his eponymous news service.

Steyer, also a hedge funder, for decades has been involved in Democratic politics, with much of that focus on the environment. Last year he launched a movement to impeach President Donald Trump.

All three are Jewish. [...]

"Saul Alinsky would be proud" of gun control activists, LaPierre said, referring to the Jewish community worker who authored a how-to book on social activism

Did they open the day with the Horst Wessel?
Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Mueller Adds Tax, Bank Fraud Charges Against Manafort, Gates (David Voreacos  and Andrew M Harris, February 22, 2018, Bloomberg)

Prosecutors say that more than $75 million flowed through offshore accounts controlled by Manafort. Manafort, with Gates's help, laundered more than $30 million in income that he had concealed from the U.S. Treasury Department and Justice Department, they said. Gates collected about $3 million in income that he, too, concealed, they said.

"Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work," the new indictment said. "From approximately 2006 through the present, Manafort and Gates engaged in a scheme to hide income from United States authorities, while enjoying the use of the money."

How money laundering works in real estate (Philip Bump January 4, 2018, Washington Post)

"You realize where this is going," Bannon reportedly told Wolff. "This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f--ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner. ... It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner s---." [...]

Real estate, it seems, is central to the charge Bannon made, given the involvement of Kushner and Trump Jr. in the industry. In light of that, we contacted Chris Quick, a retired FBI special agent who specialized in financial crimes and now runs a private investigative firm in South Carolina. He walked us through how money laundering works in the real-estate industry and how others may be implicated in that criminal activity.

"With any money laundering, you're trying to make the illegally gotten money look legitimate," Quick said. "So in the simplest terms, if you have real estate, you're going to buy a piece of property with the illegal funds, hang on to it -- or have rental income from it, so that rental income is legitimate -- and eventually when you sell the real estate, you get your proceeds out of it and by all accounts it appears to be a legitimate transaction." According to U.S. law, any financial transaction of more than $10,000 involving illegal funds counts as money laundering.

Is Money-Laundering the Real Trump Kompromat? (DAVID A. GRAHAM  JAN 19, 2018, The Atlantic)

Perhaps the most interesting thread is Simpson's suggestion that the Trump Organization could have been used by Russians to launder money--an arrangement that would have both allowed Kremlin-linked figures to scrub cash and would have created possible blackmail material over the now-president, since the Russian government would be aware that a crime had been committed.

"I've felt all along in the Russia investigation that the most important issues were those that had the potential of exerting a continuing influence over the administration and over U.S. policy," Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told me Friday. "And if the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization, the Russians would know it, the president would know it, and that could be very powerful leverage."

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Sheriff: Deputy never entered school in shooting  (AP, 2/22/18) 

A Florida sheriff says the deputy who was on duty at a high school where 17 people were massacred waited outside the building for about four minutes without ever going in.

Why Armed Guards at Schools Won't Work (CLIFTON LEAF, 2/22/18, Forbes)

[T]he presence of armed guards tends to dramatically increase the likelihood of violence and injury during a robbery, as the Center for Investigative Reporting found when it analyzed detailed FBI crime incident reports from 2007 to 2011--which the group got through a Freedom of Information Act request. In robberies where there were no guards present, there were violent events (such as the firing of a weapon or injury of a customer or employee) in 4% of cases. When an armed guard was on duty, that rate more than tripled, to 12.8%.

So what's surprise No. 3? Armed guards aren't nearly the kind of deterrent that many think they are. For evidence, consider the most armed and armored kind of bank repository there is: the armored car. These same FBI statistics paint a fairly frightening picture here too. In 2016, no fewer than 36 of these tank-like vehicles were robbed at gunpoint (see pages 9 and 10).

Arming teachers in the classroom will cost kids' lives  (BRANDON FRIEDMAN  FEB 22, 2018, NY daily News)

There were armed guards at Columbine, the Pulse nightclub and in Las Vegas at the time of the massacre. At Parkland too. Time and again, armed civilians or security guards are out-maneuvered, out-gunned and too inexperienced. It's difficult for a rational person to reach a state where they can go toe-to-toe with an armed psychopath who has nothing to lose. I was professionally trained and still almost blew it at the moment of truth.

If armed security guards often don't stop shootings, teachers have no chance.

How Australia All But Ended Gun Violence: People Just Handed Over 51,000 Illegal Firearms in Australia ( CLIFTON LEAF February 20, 2018, Forbes)

Within just weeks of that tragedy, elected officials in each of Australia's six states and two mainland territories--pressed forward by police chiefs across the continent and by the then-newly elected prime minister--banned semi-automatic and other military-style weapons across the country. The federal government of Australia prohibited their import, and lawmakers introduced a generous nationwide gun buyback program, funded with a Medicare tax, to encourage Australians to freely give up their assault-style weapons. Amazingly, many of them did. (Simon Chapman, an emeritus professor in public health at the University of Sydney, and an influential proponent of the original firearms legislation, has a very good summary here. You can also read his free ebook here.)

A land of roughneck pioneers and outback settlers, Australia had never embraced much government regulation and certainly not about their guns. This was a land of almost cartoonish toughness and self-reliance, home of Crocodile Dundee and Australian rules football. Here even the kangaroos box. But Port Arthur had followed too many prior deadly shooting sprees and Australians were clearly sick to death of them.

So what happened after the assault-weapon ban? Well therein lies the other half of the story twist noted above: Nothing.

Nothing, that is, in a good way.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns: They weren't the first victims of a mass shooting the Florida radiologist had seen--but their wounds were radically different. (HEATHER SHER, 2/22/18, The Atlantic)

As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history simply read "gunshot wound." I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunshot wounds, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.

In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.

I was looking at a CT scan of one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, with extensive bleeding. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?

The reaction in the emergency room was the same. One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle which delivers a devastatingly lethal, high-velocity bullet to the victim. There was nothing left to repair, and utterly, devastatingly, nothing that could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.

A year ago, when a gunman opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, hitting 11 people in 90 seconds, I was also on call. It was not until I had diagnosed the third of the six victims who were transported to the trauma center that I realized something out-of-the-ordinary must have happened. The gunshot wounds were the same low velocity handgun injuries as those I diagnose every day; only their rapid succession set them apart. And all six of the victims who arrived at the hospital that day survived.

Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks through the victim's body that are roughly the size of the bullet. If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and they do not bleed to death before being transported to our care at a trauma center, chances are, we can save the victim. The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different; they travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than, and imparting more than three times the energy of, a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun. An AR-15 rifle outfitted with a magazine cartridge with 50 rounds allows many more lethal bullets to be delivered quickly without reloading.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


'France first', far right's Marechal-Le Pen says in comeback speech (Reuters, 2/22/18) 

France should follow U.S. President Donald Trump's lead and fight for "France first", Marion Marechal-Le Pen, seen as a potential leader of France's far right, told U.S conservatives on Thursday in her first public appearance in months.

Just in case anyone was still deluded about his politics.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Trump Says He May Pull Immigration Enforcement From California (Justin Sink  and Toluse Olorunnipa, February 22, 2018,  Bloomberg)

Take ours too.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


No, a new court filing doesn't suggest that Michael Flynn is about to be exonerated (Philip Bump February 22, 2018, wASHINGTON pOST)

Evidence that could aid the defense could be impeachment evidence -- evidence undermining the testimony of a witness -- or exculpatory, meaning that it shows that the defendant might be innocent. The question is whether the Brady standard applies only to trials and not plea deals; Justice Clarence Thomas, for one, believes that it does.

"The Supreme Court has found before that for a plea case the government can require the defendant to sign in the plea agreement they're not entitled to impeachment evidence," Simpson said. Sullivan's previous version of his standing Brady order demanded that prosecutors turn over favorable evidence in plea cases and trial cases.

"In November, before Flynn was ever charged, he revised that order to try to reflect this sort of nuance in the Supreme Court holdings," Simpson explained. "He said, okay, in all trial cases, government, you've got to go ahead and hand over any favorable material. In plea cases, you have to hand over anything exculpatory." In other words, instead of requiring that prosecutors hand over both impeachment and exculpatory evidence in plea cases, they needed only to hand over exculpatory evidence.

The problem arose on Dec. 12 of last year, shortly after Sullivan took over Flynn's case. His clerks filed his standing Brady order -- but filed the old version, not the version that was updated in November. That mistake was uncovered and, last week, the new version of the standing Brady order was filed. In making the change, the error was noted:
"After this case was randomly assigned to the Court on December 7, 2017," the docket reads, "such an order was entered on December 12, 2017. Unfortunately, the prior version of the order was inadvertently entered rather than the Court's current version."

The current version actually demands less of federal prosecutors, Simpson notes. Before last week's filings, the government would have had to turn over impeachment evidence to Flynn's team as well as exculpatory evidence; now any impeachment evidence that might exist could be withheld.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM



Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


The CNN town hall on gun control was a failure. And that's good for our democracy. (Lili Loofbourow, February 22, 2018, The Week)

There's perhaps no better illustration of the staged political theater we've grown accustomed to than the "listening session" the president held with educators and students compared to the town hall later that same day. The former was a pathetically sanitized affair. [...]

The 2.5-hour town hall, mediated by CNN's Jake Tapper, was a stunning contrast. For one thing, it gave grieving students, parents, and teachers in Florida a forum to confront lawmakers and corporate interests as equals. The result was electrifying and substantive: Murdered teen Jaime Guttenberg's father asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to admit that guns were a problem. Ashley Kurth, a culinary arts teacher at Stoneman Douglas who sheltered 65 students during the shooting and identified herself as a Trump voter, asked whether the president's suggestion that teachers be armed meant she now had to train and wear a Kevlar vest in addition to educating her students. (Rubio said he did not support the proposal.)

Perhaps the most dramatic moment came when high schooler Cameron Kasky asked Rubio whether he would, in future, reject donations from the National Rifle Association. "That's the wrong way to look at it," Rubio hedged, "people buy into my agenda." In the ensuing exchange, Kasky persisted: "In the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?" Rubio, who said he supported raising the age at which you can buy a gun from 18 to 21, refused to reject NRA funds: "I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda," he concluded, lamely. The teen drove the ugly contradiction at the heart of Rubio's answer home: "Your agenda is protecting us, right?" he said.

Judging by reactions online, viewers were stunned by this exchange. People were certainly impressed by Kasky's poise and persistence (especially given his youth). But we're also just totally unused to platforms where follow-up questions like these are asked, let alone answered. It felt, in a very small way, revolutionary. That's partly due to the kids' lack of deference. It is genuinely unusual to see citizens treat their public servants as public servants, but Kasky and the other students behaved as though the idea of public service was more than a polite fiction.

The format even seemed to give the politicians a way to talk to each other. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Rubio appeared to have a genuine (if heated) exchange of ideas over how to move forward with shared legislation. It may have been theater, but it felt like we were witnessing a conversation between them that they would not otherwise have had.

That doesn't mean anything was solved. There are hard limits to what this kind of spectacle can do. Any hope of converting Rubio (or NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, who sternly condescended to the bereaved crowd in a tornado of deflection) was slim. Within a couple of hours of that town hall, Rubio was already walking back any hope of progress.

But spectacles like these aren't actually about producing his moment of conversion. They're about producing ours.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


Giving Alaskans Free Money Didn't Stop Them From Working (Ben Leubsdorf, Feb 20, 2018, WSJ)

The annual payments made to every Alaska resident out of the state's oil wealth haven't reduced how many of them are employed, according to a new study, potentially alleviating one concern about the idea of guaranteeing every citizen a government-paid basic income.

"We speak to one part of this debate, which is, could this have a huge negative effect on labor supply?" said University of Chicago economist Damon Jones, who co-authored the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper circulated this month with Ioana Marinescu, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania.

People having more money to spend appeared to stimulate the economy, and offset the fact that some people may have been inclined not to work due to the payments. "Those forces seem to be canceling out," Mr. Jones said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


At CNN town hall, Florida shooting survivors and parents confront Marco Rubio and the NRA (Marwa Eltagouri and Keith McMillan February 22, 2018, Washington Post)

When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) brought up a concept that would allow police to temporarily seize a gun-owner's weapons, Stoneman Douglas student Ryan Deitsch told him, "that feels like the first step of a 5k run."

"This issue will take more than a 5k run," Rubio answered.

Judging by their applause and boos, what the heartbroken parents and classmates of the victims wanted was a commitment to more-immediate action. They wanted a clear directive that guarantees children won't ever fear being murdered in their school's halls.

Many asked Rubio, who has recently become the face of lawmakers' inaction on stricter gun regulations, questions they felt should have clear-cut answers seven days after one of the nation's worst school shootings.

"Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week," Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Jaime in the shooting, told Rubio. She had been running down the hallway when she was shot in the back, Guttenberg said.

"Were guns the factor in the hunting of our kids?" Guttenberg asked.

"Of course they were," Rubio responded. But he said a "better answer" than banning assault weapons is to "make sure that dangerous criminals, people that are deranged cannot buy any gun of any kind."

Rubio said he would support a law that makes it illegal for 18-year-olds to purchase rifles, as well as the banning of bump stocks and expanded background checks. He said he pushed for a $50-million-a-year threat-assessment fund so states could identify people who could potentially commit mass shootings, and stop them.

Rubio also said he's reconsidered his position on magazine-clip size limits, saying that they might not help prevent a shooting, but could lower the number of lives lost in one.

This is how you get people to take you seriously as a potential president.  
Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM



A nonpartisan expert who independently reviewed the Medicare Extra plan said it could provide Democrats with a middle way to achieve their longstanding goal of coverage for all.

"It's an attempt to capture the enthusiasm for a single-payer system among the Democratic base, but trying to create a more politically and fiscally realistic roadmap," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

To be sure, taxes would rise and the federal government would take on a larger role.

"It is in some ways 'repeal and replace,' but from the left rather than the right," Levitt added.

Medicare Extra envisions a complex transition that would take the better part of a decade. Among its major elements:

--All U.S. citizens and lawful residents would be automatically eligible for coverage.

--Preventive care, treatment for chronic disease, and generic prescription drugs would be free. Dental, vision and hearing services would be included.

--Low-income people would pay no premiums or copays. Premiums and cost-sharing would be determined according to income for everyone else.

--Employers would have the option of maintaining their own plans or joining Medicare Extra. Workers could pick the government plan over their employer's. The proposal would preserve the tax-free status of employer-provided health care, subject to a limit.

--Seniors with private Medicare Advantage insurance plans through Medicare would be able to keep similar coverage, although the program would be redesigned and called "Medicare Choice." Seniors would gain coverage for vision, dental and hearing services not now provided by Medicare. Long-term care services would be covered.

--Government would negotiate prices for prescription drugs, medical devices and medical equipment.

All developed democratic electorates agree health care is a right, but universal HSAs would provide that while making succeeding generations universally wealthier as well.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


McMaster could leave WH after months of tension with Trump (Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen, Elise Labott, Kaitlan Collins and Jamie Gangel, 2/22/18, CNN)

While administration officials have privately said the preference is to move McMaster into a position within the Army or Defense Department that qualifies as a promotion, some within the Pentagon feel he has become politicized in the White House and have expressed reservations about him returning to the military in a prominent role. Some defense officials caution that the President could also go as far as not to offer him a fourth star and force him to retire. [...]

The two have never gotten along, and Trump continues to chafe at McMaster's demeanor when he briefs him, feeling that he is gruff and condescending, according to a source who is familiar with his thinking. 

He prefers the briefing style of someone like CIA Director Mike Pompeo or Defense Secretary James Mattis, who patiently answer his questions, regardless of the premise. McMaster, meanwhile, is the person who delivers the news that Trump doesn't want to hear on a daily basis, according to the senior Republican source.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM


Why Economists Are Worried About International Trade (N. GREGORY MANKIW FEB. 16, 2018, NY Times)

 In a model pioneered by my Harvard colleague Marc Melitz, when a nation opens up to international trade, the most productive firms expand their markets, while the least productive are forced out by increased competition. As resources move from the least to the most productive firms, overall productivity rises.

A skeptic might say that all this is just theory. Where's the evidence?

One approach to answering this question is to examine whether countries that are open to trade enjoy greater prosperity. In a 1995 paper, the economists Jeffrey D. Sachs and Andrew Warner studied a large sample of nations and found that open economies grew significantly faster than closed ones.

A second approach is to look at what happens when closed economies remove their trade restrictions. Again, free trade fares well. Throughout history, when nations have opened themselves up to the world economy, the typical result has been an increase in their growth rates. This occurred in Japan in the 1850s, South Korea in the 1960s and Vietnam in the 1990s.

These results, while suggestive, come with a caveat. Trade restrictions often accompany other government policies that interfere with markets. Perhaps these other policies, rather than trade restrictions, impede growth.

To address this problem, a third approach to measuring the effects of trade, proposed by the economists Jeffrey A. Frankel of Harvard and David C. Romer of the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on geography. Some countries trade less because of geographic disadvantages.

For example, New Zealand is disadvantaged compared with Belgium because it is farther from other populous countries. Similarly, landlocked nations are disadvantaged compared with nations with their own seaports. Because these geographic characteristics are correlated with trade, but arguably uncorrelated with other determinants of prosperity, they can be used to separate the impact of trade on national income from other confounding factors.

After analyzing the data, Mr. Frankel and Mr. Romer concluded that "a rise of one percentage point in the ratio of trade to G.D.P. increases income per person by at least one-half percent." In other words, nations should take the theories of Smith, Ricardo and Melitz seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 AM


Putin's useful idiots (Dana Milbank, February 20, 2018, Washington Post)

The phrase "useful idiots," often attributed to an earlier Vladimir, referred to Westerners who had been successfully manipulated by Soviet propaganda. But even Lenin would have to smile at the way Putin exploited Americans in 2016 to support Trump, or at least to oppose Hillary Clinton. Mueller's indictment is full of nauseating detail about how Putin made fools of Americans.

They attracted more than 100,000 followers to a Twitter account falsely claiming to be controlled by the Tennessee Republican Party, @TEN_GOP, and got hundreds of thousands of online followers for groups they created such as "Army of Jesus" and "South United."

They paid Americans to build a cage on a flatbed truck and to wear a Clinton-in-prison-garb costume. To whip up anti-Muslim fervor to Trump's benefit, they created a Facebook group called "United Muslims of America" and promoted a rally called "Support Hillary. Save American Muslims," at which they recruited an actual American to hold a sign saying, "I think Sharia Law will be a powerful new direction of freedom."

They promoted Trump-friendly hashtags (#MAGA, #Hillary4Prison), created pro-Trump accounts ("Trumpsters United") and paid for election ads saying, among other things, "Vote Republican, vote Trump, and support the Second Amendment!" and "Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is."

Putin's meddling, now exposed, should shame us and unify us in a response. But that won't happen, because the most useful idiot of all happens to be the president, who is focused only on himself.

"Post admits Trump useful!"

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 AM


Trump Loses It After Being Named Worst President Ever (Tommy Christopher, 2/22/18, Shareblue.com)

Presidents Day was not kind to Trump. Survivors of the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting continued to shame him, and Trump shamed himself by golfing just miles away from where one of the teenagers slain in the tragedy was being put to rest.

But worse than that for Trump's fragile ego was the fact that a national organization of political scientists announced that Trump had been ranked the worst president of all time in their survey of experts, which included Republicans.

On Tuesday morning, Trump responded with a Twitter meltdown in which he took repeated shotsat President Obama, who was ranked first among living presidents, and lied his way through a raft of issues that are getting under his skin.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 AM


Questions Swirl as Melania Trump's Parents Obtain Green Cards (EMILY COCHRANE, FEB. 21, 2018, NY Times)

The parents of the first lady, Melania Trump, have obtained lawful permanent residency in the United States, a lawyer for the couple confirmed Wednesday, but it remains unclear how or when the couple received their green cards.

AP: Melania Trump was an undocumented working model in '96 (William Cummings, 11/04/16, USA TODAY)

Melania Trump, the wife of the Republican nominee Donald Trump, was paid for 10 modeling jobs in the United States in 1996 before obtaining the necessary documents to legally work in the country, the Associated Press reported Friday.

February 21, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


How Billy Graham and George W. Bush Connected on Faith  (Parade, NOVEMBER 14, 2017)

[I]n the spring of 1984, when he heard the aptly named Arthur Blessitt proselytizing on local radio, Bush was intrigued. At the time, oil prices had started to crater, jeopardizing his business, and Laura had made repeated pleas for him to stop drinking. Blessitt, a traveling preacher who gained renown as a sort of folk hero among the evangelical community for dragging a twelve-foot wooden cross across the country and throughout much of the world, was in town for a week of speeches at Midland College's Chaparral Center. Through a friend, Bush arranged to have a private meeting with Blessitt at his hotel.

Bush was forthcoming with Blessitt, who while pledging his discretion, implored him to follow the path of Jesus. "I encouraged him to tell his wife and his friends what was in his heart," Blessitt wrote of their encounter on his website. "I told him he needed now to grow in the Lord and to study the word of God and be open to his testimony. I told him I would not to get up and announce in the meeting about him being saved."

Whether Bush was actually saved by the meeting remained to be seen. He and Blessitt never spoke again, nor did Bush show any outward signs of religious conversion.

A different spiritual mentorship, though, began again a year later, in the frigid Maine waters not far from the family warmth and tradition of Walker's Point. It spoke volumes about George W.'s rarefied life that it came from Billy Graham--and perhaps it was prophetic. Graham, a friend of George and Barbara's, had offered spiritual and political counsel to every U.S. president since Harry Truman. He and Ruth, his wife of forty-two years, were guests of the vice president and second lady during the Bushes' annual August reunion in Kennebunkport, where they took part in a frenzy of activities--golf, tennis, swimming, and anything else that may have a competition attached--that typified a Bush summer get-together.

One afternoon George W. and Graham took a walk on the beach, then ventured into the dark, heaving Atlantic Ocean. While it wasn't a baptism, it stirred something in Bush. Graham remembered little of what was said as they swam but recalled, "It was just two people. That was our beginning."

Their relationship developed during Graham's visit. One evening, in the expansive living room at Walker's Point as the waves steadily crashed into the rocky shore outside, Graham lectured the assembled Bush clan in a private Bible study. George, his mother, Dorothy, and Graham sat on a couch. "They say you have to be born-again to go to heaven," the vice president challenged Graham. "My mom, who I'm confident will go to heaven, will say that she's not born-again. Billy, what do you say?"

"I had a born-again experience," Graham replied. "But I needed it, and your mom didn't."

George W., who stood in the back of the room sipping wine, thought, Wow, that's a good answer. It wasn't an epiphany, but he started listening more intently to Graham throughout the evening.

The following day, Graham "saddled up" to George W. during a walk and asked, "Do you mind if I send you a Bible?"

"No, I'd be honored," Bush said. As he recalled thirty years later, "There was no lecture, no grabbing of the shoulders. And I started reading it. It was the beginning of me reading the Bible. A religious walk began, and still goes on today."

Graham had the advantage of seeing Bush around the larger Bush family, providing insight into his character. "Billy Graham was watching the interplay of [George W.] and his family, and he asked, 'Do you have the right relationship with God?'" said Karl Rove.

It was a question Bush carefully considered, taken as much by Graham's message as he was its messenger. "The man is powerful and humble," he said of Graham. "The combination of wisdom and humility was so inspiring to me individually that I took up the Bible in a more serious and meaningful way."

Forever after, he remained grateful to Graham, who "planted a seed in my heart, and I began to change."

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Trump's former bodyguard makes $15,000 a month from a GOP 'slush fund' (Christina Wilkie, 2/21/18, CNBC.com)

Within weeks of leaving his job as director of Oval Office operations, Schiller's private security firm, KS Global Group, began collecting $15,000 a month for "security services" from the Republican National Committee.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Iranian authorities, Sufi leader move toward reconciliation (Al-Monitor, February 21, 2018)

After spiraling tensions and the deadly clashes, it seems that both sides have adopted a softer tone to achieve a resolution. Nour Ali Tabandeh, the Gonabadi grand master, issued a statement Feb. 20 expressing regret over the death of police and Basij forces.

He addressed his followers in his statement, saying their travel to Tehran to stage a protest was not right. "If you are worried about my health and you want to come to Tehran, [I should say] thank God I'm well and there is no concern about that. ... [Do] not come to Tehran during this period," Tabandeh said.

Adopting a conciliatory tone, Tabandeh added, "Fortunately, now that the country is in the hands of leaders who believe in God and the Prophet [Muhammad], it would be good if they attempt to eliminate the hostilities that can lead to these kinds of painful clashes."

Seemingly addressing those reportedly among his followers who were behind the killing of the security personnel, Tabandeh noted, "Everyone should know that only those who observe Sharia and spiritual orders are considered dervishes, and they are the real dervishes."

Adopting the same soft tone, Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli seemed to want to distance "real" Gonabadis from the violence, claiming on Feb. 21 that those who clashed with police were not dervishes.

He stated, "We know the dervishes as a wise, logical and moderate current. ... We don't attribute Monday's events on Pasdaran Street to this current."

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


The Pardon Boomerang: Why Trump Associates May Need to Decline Any Offer of a Pardon (Ryan Goodman, February 21, 2018, Just Security)

The framework in which Kushner and others must operate is fairly well set. A president's pardon power applies only to federal crimes. Anyone pardoned for federal offenses would, accordingly, remain liable for state crimes that cover the same underlying conduct. Professor Jed Shugerman has led the way in describing the large set of potential state-level offenses that could apply to conduct related to the Russia investigation--including financial crimes and criminal invasion of privacy for abetting the distribution of stolen emails. Accept a pardon for money laundering under federal law? Look out for prosecutions under state money laundering statutes.

But this is not simply about the residual power of a state attorney-general to prosecute in the wake of a presidential pardon. What Trump campaign affiliates have to fear is that acceptance of a pardon could add booster rockets to the state prosecutors' efforts for closely related state crimes. Officials like New York's Schneiderman may feel they have an ace in hand if they can walk into a state courthouse with a defendant's admission of guilt implied by having accepted a presidential pardon. This get-out-of-federal-jail card comes at a price.

In a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1915, Burdick v. United States, the Justices stated that individuals have a right to refuse a pardon because "acceptance" of one carries with it a "confession of guilt." Over the years, many federal courts have relied on Burdick for this proposition, the most recent including the Arizona court in upholding President Trump's pardon of former sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


A Train That Inspired a 'Thomas the Tank Engine' Character Is Turning 100 (NATASHA FROST, FEBRUARY 21, 2018, Atlas Obscura)

The Talyllyn Railway is Britain's oldest continuously operated narrow gauge railway, founded in 1866 to ferry slate and passengers 7.25 miles from the quarries above the remote Welsh village of Abergynolwyn to the main station at Twywn. Douglas the train was originally built in 1918 for the Airservice Construction Corps--for the first 28 years of its service, it was used by Britain's Royal Air Force, before beginning service at the Talyllyn Railway in 1954.

The railway has been run by volunteers for many years, among them the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, the creator of the Thomas the Tank Engine books. Many of the stories and trains from the series were inspired by real-life events from this very junction, including curmudgeonly Duncan.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


How Billy Graham's legacy lives on in American life (David Mislin, 2/21/18, The Conversation)

In the 1950s, however, religious language found its way into government and politics, due in no small part to Billy Graham.

In 1953, at the strong encouragement of Graham, President Dwight Eisenhower held the first National Prayer Breakfast, an event that brings together political, military and corporate leaders in Washington, D.C., usually on the first Thursday of February.

In the following years, Eisenhower signed a bill placing the phrase "In God We Trust" on all American currency and the phrase was adopted as the first official motto of the United States.

Both of these developments reflected the desire to emphasize Americans' religious commitment in the early years of the Cold War. Historians such as Jonathan Herzog have chronicled how leaders such as Eisenhower and Graham stressed the strong faith of the nation in setting the U.S. apart from the godlessness of Soviet communism. But, there were domestic concerns as well. Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse has shown that religious language was not merely rhetoric against communism.

Indeed, this belief in American religiosity had emerged over several decades. Conservative businessmen had allied with ministers and evangelical leaders such as Billy Graham, to combat the social welfare policies and government expansion that began with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. These wide-ranging programs, designed to tackle the Great Depression, irked many conservatives. They objected to government intervention in business and Roosevelt's support for labor unions.

As Kruse notes, this alliance of conservative business leaders and ministers linked "faith, freedom, and free enterprise."

To be sure, Billy Graham was not singularly responsible for all of these developments. But as his biographers have noted, he loomed large in the religious politics of the 1950s.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Devin Nunes begs Russian bots to make his tweet go viral (The Week, 2/21/18)

While retweeting an article by The Federalist about the ongoing investigations into Russian election meddling, Nunes quipped: "PS-if you are a Russian Bot please make this go viral."

At least he knows what he is and who shares his aims.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


Right-Wing Media Uses Parkland Shooting as Conspiracy Fodder (MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUMFEB. 20, 2018, NY Times)

On Tuesday, the president's son Donald J. Trump Jr. liked a pair of tweets that accused David Hogg, a 17-year-old who is among the most outspoken of the Parkland students, of criticizing the Trump administration in an effort to protect his father, whom Mr. Hogg has described as a retired F.B.I. agent.

Mr. Hogg, the high school's student news director, has become a sensation among many liberals for his polished and compelling television interviews, in which he has called on lawmakers to enact tougher restrictions on guns. Just as quickly, Mr. Hogg attracted the disdain of right-wing provocateurs like The Gateway Pundit, a fringe website that gained prominence in 2016 for pushing conspiracies about voter fraud and Hillary Clinton.

In written posts and YouTube videos -- one of which had more than 100,000 views as of Tuesday night -- Gateway Pundit has argued that Mr. Hogg had been coached on what to say during his interviews. The notion that Mr. Hogg is merely protecting his father dovetails with a broader right-wing trope, that liberal forces in the F.B.I. are trying to undermine President Trump and his pro-Second Amendment supporters.

Others offered more sweeping condemnations. Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist behind the site Infowars, suggested that the mass shooting was a "false flag" orchestrated by anti-gun groups. Mr. Limbaugh, on his radio program, said of the student activists on Monday: "Everything they're doing is right out of the Democrat Party's various playbooks. It has the same enemies: the N.R.A. and guns."

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM


Mueller's Move on Ex-Skadden Lawyer Puts Heat on Manafort, Gates (David Voreacos  and Stephanie Baker, February 20, 2018, Bloomberg

Van der Zwaan was an associate in the London office of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom. The information doesn't say whether he is cooperating with prosecutors or why he allegedly lied to the government.

Last year, van der Zwaan married the daughter of Russian oligarch German Khan, according to the London Tatler. Khan is a shareholder of Alfa Group, a Russian banking and investment concern, and a board member at LetterOne Holdings, the investment vehicle set up by the founders of Alfa Group. A spokesman for Khan didn't immediately provide a comment.

Neither van der Zwaan nor his lawyer immediately responded to calls and emails seeking comment.

In a statement, Skadden said: "The firm terminated its employment of Alex van der Zwaan in 2017 and has been cooperating with authorities in connection with this matter."

The case against van der Zwaan shows that Mueller is proceeding methodically and increasing pressure on key witnesses, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement. The case "sends a signal to both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates: cooperate or risk greater trouble in the future."

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 AM


Trump orders ban on gun 'bump stock' devices (Al Jazeera, 2/21/18)

US President Donald Trump has called for a ban on bump stocks, a device that allows a semiautomatic rifle to fire at the rate of a machine gun.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 AM


Russian Twitter Bots Boosted Anti-Islam Activists As Well As Trump (Josh Nathan-Kazis, February 20, 2018, The Forward)

The Russian troll farm indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the 2016 election also used its Twitter bots to boost the message of a handful of prominent anti-Muslim extremists, including right-wing Jewish activist Pamela Geller.

The Russian-operated bots promoted tweets and articles by Geller, Robert Spencer and Frank Gaffney, all of whom are identified as anti-Muslim extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

February 20, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Trump's Miss Universe Gambit (Jeffrey Toobin, Jan. 21st, 2018, The New Yorker)

he first-round results of the 2013 Miss Universe pageant seem to have come as a surprise to some of the competition's judges, who thought that they would declare the finalists. The seven judges of the pageant's preliminary round were charged with winnowing eighty-six contestants to fifteen finalists. Divided into two groups, they had brief conversations with each of the contestants, who then paraded onstage, first in bathing suits, then in evening gowns. The judges--including public-relations professionals, a modelling entrepreneur, and a fashion reporter--rated each woman on such qualities as "appearance" and "personality," after which the ballots were whisked away. "They told us not to share how we voted with each other, but we did anyway," one of the preliminary judges told me. When the finalists were announced, he said, the winners included several who hadn't been selected. "I was shocked," the judge told me. "I didn't know what had happened. I felt ridiculous." The contestants were not so naïve--they understood who was in charge.

From 1996 to 2015, Donald Trump co-owned the Miss Universe Organization, which also included the Miss U.S.A. and Miss Teen U.S.A. pageants. A day or two before a pageant began, Trump would casually visit the contestants while they conducted their final rehearsals. Former contestants told me that Trump would circulate among the young women, shaking hands and chatting with each of them, periodically turning to speak with Paula Shugart, the president of the Miss Universe Organization, who followed him at a discreet distance. (Paula Shugart declined to comment.) Adwoa Yamoah, who competed as Miss Canada in 2012, told me, "He made comments about every girl: 'I've been to that country.' 'We're building a Trump Tower there.' It was clear the countries that he liked did well. He'd whisper to Paula about the girls, and she'd write it down. He basically told us he picked nine of the top fifteen." Kerrie Baylis, who was Miss Jamaica in 2013, described a similar scene and added that, when the finalists were announced, "the list looked like the countries that Donald Trump did business with, or wanted to do business with." Shi Lim, who competed that year as Miss Singapore, told me, "The finalists were picked by Trump. He was really in charge. We called it the Trump card." (A Miss Universe spokeswoman said that the pageant rules allowed the company's staff, including Trump, to participate in naming the finalists.)

Trump has long viewed his businesses as mutually reinforcing, with all the products--from hotels to steak, vodka to golf resorts--complementing one another. As he said in the introduction to the first episode of "The Apprentice," the reality-television show that made him a global celebrity, "I've mastered the art of the deal and have turned the name Trump into the highest-quality brand." Trump often staged the Miss Universe pageant in cities where he had other business interests, and finalists usually came from countries where Miss Universe had strong television ratings. Under Trump, the pageant was held twice in Las Vegas, twice in Florida, and twice in Puerto Rico. In the other years, Trump kept the pageant true to its origins as a swimsuit competition by setting the ceremony in warm-weather locations like Panama City, São Paulo, Quito, and Mexico City. (Although interest in beauty pageants has faded in the United States, it remains high in Latin America.) Only once did Trump steer the pageant away from temperate environments--in November, 2013, when Miss Universe took place in Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Survey: Small-Business Confidence Hits Record High After GOP Tax Reform (Conor Beck, February 20, 2018, Free Beacon)

Small-business confidence in the U.S. has skyrocketed this year due to the recently enacted tax reform law, according to a new survey.

The latest CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey, released on Tuesday, found that its Quarter One Small-Business Confidence Index increased from 57 to 62, an all-time high and the largest movement between quarters since the survey began last year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


INTERVIEW: How Protestants Made the Modern World (Eric C. Miller | February 20, 2018, Religion & Politics)

In his latest book, Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World, historian Alec Ryrie takes on a formidable challenge: how to survey the history and assess the significance of a centuries-long and worldwide religious tradition. [...]

R&P: The subtitle of your book states that Protestants "made the modern world." How? 

AR: The Protestant Reformation is a huge event in the history of the modern world. You can find its fingerprints almost everywhere. But I'm not just saying that this is a really big thing that is woven deeply into the story. I'm saying that there are some specific parts of modern life that derive directly from the Protestant Reformation. We couldn't have these features if it hadn't happened. In the book, I pick out three in particular.

The first is free inquiry. It's not quite the idea of freedom of speech, but it is the idea that nobody can compel anyone else to think something. In the end, no intellectual authority can force you to think that you are wrong. There's nobody who stands authoritatively between you as a human being and God. That's Martin Luther's great insight, and that refusal to accept human authority over other people's minds is something that he established--despite himself. He was not out to create an age of intellectual freedom, but nonetheless, that's what he produced.

The second is what I would call--and I use this term warily--democracy. Not that Luther or the early Protestant reformers were democrats in any sense. They would have been horrified by the notion. But the idea that the individual believer has a right--even a responsibility--to stand up against a tyrannical or an anti-Christian ruler is implicit in Protestantism from the beginning. It led Protestants who really wanted nothing more than to live in peace into a series of religious wars and revolutions against leaders with whom they could not live on religious terms. They developed new political theories, and carved out a theory of defiance against anti-Christian secular authority, as well as an insistence that they should be able to legitimate and even create appropriate government. You can see how that might have led to theocracies, and there are times--famously in Puritan New England--when Protestantism seemed to be moving in that direction. But in practice it tends to go another way.

Which brings me to the third feature, which is the notion of limited government. It's the idea that a ruler, no matter how legitimate, has jurisdiction only over outward things, over practicalities, over people's bodies but not their souls. There are certain spheres where the authority of the government simply does not apply. And it creates a sense that even the godliest government should be strictly limited in the amount of authority that it can exercise over people.

That combination of free inquiry, democracy, and limited government is pretty much what makes up liberal, market democracies. It runs the modern world. And though it seems obvious to us that liberty and equality should go together, it is not at all an obvious combination. It is that distinct heritage of Protestantism in holding those models together that is its most significant contribution to the modern world. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


CPAC 2018: Marion Marechal-Le Pen, Marine's hardline niece, to share stage with US conservatives (ZDeutsche-Welle , 2/20/18)

Marion Marechal-Le Pen, the niece of far-right National Front leader Marine, will speak at CPAC, taking the stage after US Vice President Mike Pence. Moderate Republicans have expressed concern at the invite.

May as well just go whole hog and hold the conference in a beer hall...

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


They lived in limbo in Australian offshore camps for years. Now they call the US home. (Shirin Jaafari, 2/19/18, PRI's The World)

[I]n 2016, Australia and the US agreed to a deal. The US would consider resettling about 1,200 refugees from Australia's detention centers in exchange for Australia taking refugees, mostly from Central America, who are trying to come to the US.

Anne Richard, former US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, oversaw and signed the deal. She says while on a trip to South Asia, a reporter had asked her about Australia's standing as a refugee destination.

"I said it was slipping as a refugee destination in part because of their policy to push back boats."

In 2013, Australia adopted a policy by which it would turn around or tow boats that carried migrants headed for its shores.

Richard's comments launched a series of meetings between her and Australian officials. Shortly after those meetings, Richard says, the Australians came to her with a proposal.

"We were surprised by it," she recalls. "Their proposal was not something that we had heard about in advance."

But it was good timing.

"President Obama wanted us to bring more refugees to the United States," Richard says. "He wanted a significant increase in the number of refugees we were bringing in every year. So, this fit in with the overall policy."

These discussions were happening around the time when thousands of refugees were dying trying to make it to Europe. At the time when the body of a lifeless, Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the shores of Turkey and made global headlines.

"The whole world woke up to the fact that there were massive numbers of people uprooted and on the move," Richard explains. So the US wanted to help.

Related: How Eaten Fish survived four years in refugee detention with his cartoons, social media and a network of activist friends

A year later, the two countries reached a deal.

Richard says the details of the deal remain classified but "the overall impetus on the part of the US was, 'We will take these people. We will take large numbers of people from Australia, but [Australia] should do a number of things.'"

One thing that we do know Australia had to do in return: accept refugees from Central America.

Why Central America? Because of what's known as a protection transfer arrangement.

Before the talks with Australia, there had been a spike in gang violence in Central America. People from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were desperate to flee. Many wanted to come to the US.

To help manage the situation, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations and the Costa Rican government negotiated an agreement. It went something like this: Residents of one of the countries in the northern triangle (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala) who approached the UN or the US embassy in their home country and said they had been targeted by gangs and feared for their life, could be relocated to the safety of Costa Rica and be interviewed for possible relocation to the US.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Netanyahu confidant said poised to sign deal to turn state's witness (TOI STAFF and RAOUL WOOTLIFF, 2/20/18, Times of Israel)

A longtime confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau is expected to sign a deal to turn state's witness in the coming hours in the corruption investigation known as Case 4000, Hadashot TV news reported Tuesday, as the Israeli leader released a new video denying the " simply baseless" allegations against him.

Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber is a suspect in Case 4000, which involves suspicions Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch gave Netanyahu and his family positive coverage at his Walla news site in exchange for the advancement of policies benefiting the telecommunications giant.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


5 clues to Mueller's roadmap (Mike Allen, 2/20/18, Axios)

He's moving fast. The indictment is a sneak peek at the level of sweep and color we can expect in a final report, and is a mammoth accomplishment just nine months after Mueller was appointed. A source familiar with the investigation told me it won't take years, like Ken Starr's probe of Bill Clinton.

He's using the full reach of federal power, including the intelligence agencies, whose sources and methods were reflected in the indictment. CNN contributor Garrett Graff, who wrote a bookabout Mueller as FBI director, told me: "[T]he main (and ongoing) surprise is the strength and breadth of this investigation."

He's signaling quantity: MSNBC contributor Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, told me: "Friday'sindictment established the legal architecture for possible future charges. Once you've established there was a conspiracy, you can charge anyone who was aware of the conspiracy and took an overt action to further it." Miller also expects tax charges.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Focus on Dreamers breeds resentment from other immigrants here illegally (CINDY CARCAMO and BRITTNY MEJIA, FEB 18, 2018, LA Times)

The 39-year-old put in long hours for little pay as an office manager at a clothing wholesaler. He paid his taxes and hoped that after many years of waiting, there would come an immigration reform that would grant him a pathway to becoming an American citizen. [...]

Now [Sam Paredes] watches as the White House and Congress continue to grapple and negotiate and argue -- but at least talk about -- the future of the so-called Dreamers.

"I'm very bitter. These DACA kids definitely have this sense of entitlement," Paredes said. "People fought for them and they got DACA and they got their work permit and then they went to sleep, instead of working to fight for the rest of us." [...]

[T]he focus on Dreamers has caused tension between those in the community who can qualify for DACA and those who cannot.

Alessandro Negrete, 35, was getting ready for a night out in downtown Los Angeles recently when one of his friends worried aloud about Trump taking away the protection he got from the DACA program.

Negrete, a public relations worker, was 3 months old when a smuggler carried him from Mexico into the United States. Too old now to apply to become a Dreamer, he said he cannot help but feel resentment at how much attention the plight of this one segment of the immigrant community is receiving while people like him seem to get so little.

"You think you have it hard?" he angrily told his friend. "You at least have legal status. For some people like me, my mom and some of my neighbors, we don't have [that]."

Earlier this month, Hilario Yanez, a DACA recipient and immigrant rights activist, went on the TV show "Fox & Friends" and expressed his support for Trump's legislation, stating that he believed the president has shown "leadership and compassion toward" him and other Dreamers.

"Here's a guy who wants to provide a pathway to citizenship for myself and really make a difference in my life," said Yanez, a technology analyst at Accenture Technology in Houston.

Yanez drew praise from many conservative immigration hawks -- including right-wing media outlets, such as Breitbart.

At the same time it sparked outrage in the immigrant rights movement, with some saying that Yanez embodies the extreme stereotype of entitlement among some DACA recipients.

The last generation always hates the next.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


Tax Overhaul Gains Public Support, Buoying Republicans (BEN CASSELMAN and JIM TANKERSLEY, FEB. 19, 2018, NY Times)

The tax overhaul that President Trump signed into law now has more supporters than opponents, buoying Republican hopes for this year's congressional elections.

The growing public support for the law coincides with an eroding Democratic lead when voters are asked which party they would like to see control Congress. And it follows an aggressive effort by Republicans, backed by millions of dollars of advertising from conservative groups, to persuade voters of the law's benefits.

That campaign has rallied support from Republicans, in particular. But in contrast with many other issues -- including Mr. Trump's job approval rating -- it also appears to be winning over some Democrats. Support for the law remains low among Democrats, but it has doubled over the past two months and is twice as strong as their approval of Mr. Trump today.

They made exactly the same mistake as the GOP on Obamacare, tying their opposition to the performance of the economy in the middle of a global boom. Even if you assume there is some economic drag from both--which we do not--it can hardly be enough to counteract the rest of the forces acting on the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM


Exclusive: Mueller's interest in Kushner grows to include foreign financing efforts (Shimon Prokupecz, Kara Scannell and Gloria Borger, 2/19/18, CNN)

This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner's discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China.

US officials briefed on the probe had told CNN in May that points of focus related to Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, included the Trump campaign's 2016 data analytics operation, his relationship with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Kushner's own contacts with Russians.

Mueller's investigators have been asking questions, including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner's conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 AM


Turkish Advance Stumbles in Syria's Afrin (Middle East Online, 2/20/18)

The Turkish operation in Afrin is not going well -- not at all. Militarily, it has been almost one month since operations started yet Kurdish troops are still deeply entrenched in Afrin. There are no signs that they are about to go anywhere anytime soon.

The Turkish-backed forces have been unable to penetrate or weaken -- let alone take -- the contested Kurdish city west of the Euphrates River. Kurdish warriors have put up a brave resistance, fighting from caves, tunnels and mountains.

To them, this is a matter of life or death but to Turkish forces it is an uphill battle in rugged and unfamiliar territory, one that is looking more difficult than they had expected or been told by the Turkish government.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 AM


'Black Panther' Review: This Deeply Conservative Movie Makes Captain America Look Like A Neo-Marxist Stooge (PAUL BOIS, February 19, 2018, Daily Wire)

"Black Panther" stresses the importance of fatherhood.
"Black Panther" highlights the pain of lost heritage.
"Black Panther" emphasizes the need for strong families.
"Black Panther" pays tribute to the power of tradition.
"Black Panther" denigrates the destructiveness of ethnocentrism.
"Black Panther" endorses Plato's concept of the philosopher king.
"Black Panther" favors national sovereignty over one-world governments.
"Black Panther" celebrates masculinity.
"Black Panther" sticks it to Marxist revolutionary psychopaths.
"Black Panther" has a unifying message: "we are one tribe."

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 AM


Top officials, executives revealed as arrested suspects in Bezeq graft probe (Times of Israel, 2/20/18)

Among those arrested and ordered held for five days were Shaul Elovitch, the owner of the Walla news website and the controlling shareholder of Israel's largest telecom company Bezeq, his wife Iris, and his son Or.

Also held were the director general of the Communications Ministry Shlomo Filber, former Netanyahu family spokesman Nir Hefetz, Bezeq CEO Stella Handler and senior Bezeq executive Amikam Shorer.

Netanayhu and his wife Sara are also expected to be questioned in the probe. Known as Case 4000, it revolves around a suspected quid pro quo deal between Elovitch and Netanyahu that would have seen the prime minister granted positive media coverage in exchange for financial benefits for Bezeq.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 AM


Michael Moore Participated In Russia-Sponsored Anti-Trump Rally (Derek Hunter,  PM 02/19/2018, Daily Caller)

Progressive director Michael Moore participated in an anti-Trump protest in New York that was organized by Russians, according to information released Friday by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The archetypal "useful idiot."

February 19, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


IS claims responsibility for church shooting in Russia (Times of Israel, 2/19/18)

 The Islamic State terror group on Monday claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on churchgoers in Russia's predominantly Muslim Dagestan region.

At least five people were killed and four wounded when a gunman opened fire with a hunting rifle on people leaving a Sunday service at a Russian Orthodox church in the Dagestan city of Kizlyar.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


A Better Way to Protect Mueller (NEAL K. KATYAL and KENNETH W. STARR, FEB. 19, 2018, NY Times)

As acting attorney general, Bork appointed a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski. He then issued a regulation that "the president will not exercise his constitutional powers to effect the discharge of the special prosecutor or to limit the independence that he is hereby given." It went on to specify that the special prosecutor could be terminated only for "extraordinary improprieties," and even then, Nixon could do it only with a "consensus" of the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairmen and ranking members of the chambers' judiciary committees. Bork codified these restrictions in federal regulations, and told the news media that Nixon had agreed to them.

With doubts sown about Nixon's commitment to the rule of law, Bork devised a solution that brought the branches of government together; rather than waiting for Congress to regulate the firing of prosecutors, he seized the initiative and invited Congress in from the start. His maneuver deftly sidestepped the most serious constitutional problems with legislation, because the executive branch voluntarily was bringing Congress into the picture. Unfortunately, the Bork regulations have lapsed.

Both of us have been head of the solicitor general's office, where Bork served. But more important, each of us has struggled with these problems for a long time. One of us, Mr. Starr, investigated President Bill Clinton under the Independent Counsel Act; the other, Mr. Katyal, drafted the special counsel regulations in the Clinton administration that now govern the appointment of Mr. Mueller. We come at this from different sides of the aisle but share the conviction that President Trump's Justice Department should issue modern-day Bork regulations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Jazz Icon Sonny Rollins on the Difference Between Knowing and Believing: RealClearLife caught up with the world's greatest improviser. (Justin Joffe, 2/18/18, RealClearLife)

To commemorate Rollins' seminal 1957 album, Way Out West, which receives a deluxe vinyl reissue this week, RealClearLife caught up with the world's greatest improviser over the phone.  Without ever dipping into sentiment or maudlin remembrance, he offered his thoughts on the power that spiritual thinking, and how when you've been around long enough you don't just believe anymore--you know. [...]

We just covered an exhibit at the Rubin Museum about the second Buddha, Padmasambhava, whose disciples projected his treasure teachings into the future. They would hide his messages in art about him, scrolls and whatnot. So years after he wasn't around anymore, people would be discovering his teachings.

I've been interested in these thoughts early on. I remember getting involved with the Rosicrucians, which is not Eastern, though they claim to be from way back. They're a European mystical organization. That was my first attempt to understand and read some of this stuff. Then I went into Buddhism. But mainly, I study yoga, and consider myself a yogi. I'm in sympathy and empathy with a lot of Buddhist philosophy and thought, but I was never... because it's really the same thing.

What I discovered it this, Joffe--that there's only one truth. That's all. And that goes to all human endeavors on this planet. There's a lot of different sects, but the truth is the same. One of my favorite things I believe in is the Golden Rule, and recently somebody sent me something that goes like this--what you do not wish upon yourself, do not do to others. You know who said that? Confucius. It goes back forever. As long as human beings been out here, some people have seen the light, and that's the truth. It's one resolve down to one truth. So that's where I'm at.

But I'm still studying, I'm still learning. I'm reading Swami Vivekananda now, who was a very wise man that was here in the States around the end of the 19th Century. You know, I'm on the wrong side of 87, and right now I'd rather give.

In giving, be it your time to me or your archives to the Schomburg, you don't ever seem to be sentimental about your career. When recently asked about your playing alone on The Williamsburg Bridge, you resisted the bait to get sentimental. That was learning who you were for me as a kid because I watched The Simpsons and Bleeding Gums Murphy played on the Springfield Bridge, a story I soon found out was plucked directly out of your mythology. Few people have been able to assert themselves into our subconscious so directly, and that's a gift, too.  How do you do so without being overly sentimental about old memories and stories?

Life goes by so fast, and there's so much to learn. As a musician, that takes most of your life, when you're trying to learn to be a performer. It takes up a lot of your life. You really don't have a lot of time to meditate and contemplate, things just happen. At this stage in my life, I don't have to think too much about any of that stuff. But I did have to live more of a sentimental life when I had to think about making a new record, getting a magazine cover and stuff. That's fine. This was my karmic journey, this was me. I was born Sonny Rollins to go through my karma and live the life that I've lived. I understand that now, and I accept everything, because I believe in karma, and I'm sure you do, too.

Well, you believe in reincarnation, too.

Oh, definitely.

Have you thought about how you might exist in the air or the electrons of a next life?

No, I don't think too much about that, because that's not my business. If I'm gonna waste my time on Earth thinking about what I'm gonna come back as, a man or an animal, that's wasting my time on Earth. And it's short. Life is short. We don't have a lot of time out here. My time out here has to be The Golden Rule, I know what I'm supposed to do now. I have to be a kind person, I have to give more than take, and that's hard in this world.

By the way, I don't believe in reincarnation, I accept reincarnation. I don't believe, I know. That's a better way to put it. I often wish I'd said that when I've talked to people. Do you get my mind there?

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 AM


Tools of Trump's Fixer: Payouts, Intimidation and the Tabloids (JIM RUTENBERG, MEGAN TWOHEY, REBECCA R. RUIZ, MIKE McINTIRE and MAGGIE HABERMANFEB. 18, 2018, NY Times)

As accounts of past sexual indiscretions threatened to surface during Donald J. Trump's presidential campaign, the job of stifling potentially damaging stories fell to his longtime lawyer and all-around fixer, Michael D. Cohen.

To protect his boss at critical junctures in his improbable political rise, the lawyer relied on intimidation tactics, hush money and the nation's leading tabloid news business, American Media Inc., whose top executives include close Trump allies.

Mr. Cohen's role has come under scrutiny amid recent revelations that he facilitated a payment to silence a porn star, but his aggressive behind-the-scenes efforts stretch back years, according to interviews, emails and other records.

They intensified as Mr. Trump's campaign began in the summer of 2015, when a former hedge-fund manager told Mr. Cohen that he had obtained photographs of Mr. Trump with a bare-breasted woman. The man said Mr. Cohen first blew up at him, then steered him to David J. Pecker, chairman of the tabloid company, which sometimes bought, then buried, embarrassing material about his high-profile friends and allies. [...]

An examination of the efforts to shield Mr. Trump from aspects of his own past shows how Mr. Cohen maneuvered in the pay-to-play gossip world -- populated by porn stars and centerfold models, tabloid editors and lawyers with B- and C-list entertainment clients -- that came to unusual prominence in an American presidential election.

Mr. Cohen exploited mutual-self interest. By heading off trouble involving Mr. Trump's history with women, he accrued loyalty points, the ultimate currency with Mr. Trump. He dealt with lawyers who could win fat cuts of any settlements women might reach with American Media or with Mr. Trump. [...]

After Mr. Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006, the role that Mr. Trump wanted him to play was clear: a combination of aggressive spokesman and lieutenant who would take on the real estate mogul's antagonists. It was a job Roy Cohn, a New York lawyer best known for advising Senator Joseph McCarthy, had done decades earlier for Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen's work for his boss was often a mystery even to others in his office, but his devotion was clear.

In talking with Mr. Cohen, Mr. Frommer mentioned Mr. Pecker. Years earlier, Mr. Frommer had sold American Media the exclusive rights to a suggestive photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger -- which it did not publish -- and he knew the company's chief executive.

Mr. Frommer recalled Mr. Cohen's saying, "Yeah, I know Pecker." Mr. Frommer added, "That's where the conversation calmed down."

Mr. Pecker and Mr. Trump, a staple of the American gossip media since the 1980s, have a friendship that goes back decades. The relationship benefited Mr. Trump throughout the campaign as The Enquirer lionized him and hammered rivals like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and, finally, Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Cohen formed his own bond with Mr. Pecker, keeping in touch with him and Dylan Howard, a top executive, throughout the campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 AM


Tulip mania: the classic story of a Dutch financial bubble is mostly wrong (Anne Goldgar, 2/12/18, The Conversation)

Tulip mania wasn't irrational. Tulips were a newish luxury product in a country rapidly expanding its wealth and trade networks. Many more people could afford luxuries - and tulips were seen as beautiful, exotic, and redolent of the good taste and learning displayed by well-educated members of the merchant class. Many of those who bought tulips also bought paintings or collected rarities like shells.

Prices rose, because tulips were hard to cultivate in a way that brought out the popular striped or speckled petals, and they were still rare. But it wasn't irrational to pay a high price for something that was generally considered valuable, and for which the next person might pay even more.

Tulip mania wasn't a frenzy, either. In fact, for much of the period trading was relatively calm, located in taverns and neighbourhoods rather than on the stock exchange. It also became increasingly organised, with companies set up in various towns to grow, buy, and sell, and committees of experts emerged to oversee the trade. Far from bulbs being traded hundreds of times, I never found a chain of buyers longer than five, and most were far shorter.  [...]

When the crash came, it was not because of naive and uninformed people entering the market, but probably through fears of oversupply and the unsustainability of the great price rise in the first five weeks of 1637. None of the bulbs were actually available - they were all planted in the ground - and no money would be exchanged until the bulbs could be handed over in May or June. So those who lost money in the February crash did so only notionally: they might not get paid later. Anyone who had both bought and sold a tulip on paper since the summer of 1636 had lost nothing. Only those waiting for payment were in trouble, and they were people able to bear the loss.

No one drowned themselves in canals. I found not a single bankrupt in these years who could be identified as someone dealt the fatal financial blow by tulip mania. If tulip buyers and sellers appear in the bankruptcy records, it's because they were buying houses and goods of other people who had gone bankrupt for some reason - they still had plenty of money to spend. The Dutch economy was left completely unaffected. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 AM


The One Big Question Settled by the Russia Indictment (Adam Serwer, Feb. 16th, 2018, The Atlantic)

"I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point; not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say 'Oh, Russia interfered,'" Trump said. "It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey."

Over the past year, Russia's interference in the 2016 election, and the federal investigation into that interference and the possibility that the Trump campaign had abetted it, have been a sore spot for the president. He's called the Russia investigation a "hoax," a "political witch hunt" and "fake news." He said it was a "joke," a "ruse," and "phony." "The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign," Trump insisted. Even after January of 2017, when American intelligence agencies released a report concluding that Russia had interfered in the election on Trump's behalf, both the president and his allies continued to insist that the story was untrue. In his confirmation hearing to be attorney general, Jeff Sessions would not even acknowledge that Russia had interfered. "I have done no research into that. I know just what the media says about it," Sessions testified.

Trump allies weren't the only ones expressing skepticism over the Russia story. "There has been a very extreme dearth of evidence to actually support the claims that have come from the U.S. government," the journalist Glenn Greenwald told Democracy Now in January of 2017. "Unfortunately, there is very little skepticism being applied to the agencies that have repeatedly misled and deceived and lied to the American public."

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russian nationals associated with the Internet Research Agency, better known as the Russian "Troll Farm," on charges related to interfering with the 2016 election, leaves little doubt as to the Kremlin's intentions. 

Mr. Mueller essentially nuked a gnat. No serious person questioned any of this.

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 AM


Trump lashes out over Russia probe in angry and error-laden tweetstorm (Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker February 18, 2018, Washington Post)

In a string of 10 Twitter messages -- which began after 11 p.m. Saturday and ended around noon Sunday, and which included profanity and misspellings -- Trump opened a window into his state of mind, even as Trump's representatives at a global security conference in Germany advised jittery allies to generally ignore the president's tweets.

Trump's latest attacks built on remarks last week in which he misrepresented the evidence revealed by Mueller. He tweeted falsely, "I never said Russia did not meddle in the election." He blamed President Barack Obama's administration for doing "nothing" to stop the intrusion. Trump rebuked national security adviser H.R. McMaster for publicly saying the evidence of Russian interference was "incontrovertible."

And he held the FBI responsible for last week's devastating shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 dead. Trump tweeted that the bureau was committing so many resources to the Russia probe that it missed "all of the many signals" about the shooter.

One topic Trump avoided in his missives was punishment of Russia. [...]

Trump sent the messages from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., where he was ensconced for two days. He spent much of the time watching cable news, venting to friends about the Russia investigation and complaining that it has been driving so much press coverage, according to people who have spoken to him. The president also surveyed Mar-a-Lago Club members about whether he ought to champion gun control measures in the wake of last week's school massacre in nearby Parkland, telling them that he was closely monitoring the media appearances by some of the surviving students, according to people who spoke with him there.

February 18, 2018

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Why Putin hates Hillary: Behind the allegations of a Russian hack of the DNC is the Kremlin leader's fury at Clinton for challenging the fairness of Russian elections. (MICHAEL CROWLEY and JULIA IOFFE, 07/25/2016, Politico)

When mass protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin erupted in Moscow in December 2011, Putin made clear who he thought was really behind them: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

With the protesters accusing Putin of having rigged recent elections, the Russian leader pointed an angry finger at Clinton, who had issued a statement sharply critical of the voting results. "She said they were dishonest and unfair," Putin fumed in public remarks, saying that Clinton gave "a signal" to demonstrators working "with the support of the U.S. State Department" to undermine his power. "We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs," Putin declared.

Five years later, Putin may be seeking revenge against Clinton. At least that's the implication of the view among some cybersecurity experts that Russia was behind the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee's email server, which has sowed confusion and dissent at the Democratic National Convention and undercut Clinton's goal of party unity.

While Donald Trump's budding bromance with Vladimir Putin is well known -- the two men have exchanged admiring words about each other and called for improved relations between Washington and Moscow -- Putin's hostility towards Clinton draws less attention.

Former U.S. officials who worked on Russia policy with Clinton say that Putin was personally stung by Clinton's December 2011 condemnation of Russia's parliamentary elections, and had his anger communicated directly to President Barack Obama. They say Putin and his advisers are also keenly aware that, even as she executed Obama's "reset" policy with Russia, Clinton took a harder line toward Moscow than others in the administration. And they say Putin sees Clinton as a forceful proponent of "regime change" policies that the Russian leader considers a grave threat to his own survival.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


'He's scared out of his mind': Ex-official nails Trump over blaming FBI for shooting to deflect from Russia probe (Tom Boggioni, 18 FEB 2018, Raw Story)

"Joy, let's distill down what that late night tweet really says after some cheeseburger induced coma after 11:00PM last night," [former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi] explained. "The president puts this squarely on FBI. Here's what he's telling parents of America, 'hey, our gun violence problem would go away if the FBI would just leave me alone.' That is what he's saying."

"He's saying the FBI is spending too much time on the Russian threat while he is spending zero time addressing the gun violence threat," he continued. "He's choosing to ignore what the FBI actually does for a living. He's choosing to ignore the fact that the local police visited this guy 39 times in response to 911 calls. Social services for the county had to do an assessment of this. Everyone in the school saw the warning signs and indicators, yet he decides not to address the mental health issues, not to propose solutions on making it easier to deny an assault weapon purchase because you have mental health issues."

"Instead he 's defending himself from the FBI," the disgusted FBI man stated. "Why? He's read the 32-page indictment Mueller issued on Friday and he knows there's electronic intercepts of Russian officials. He's scared out of his mind and playing with the parents of America this morning."

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They Always Wanted Trump (GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI, November 07, 2016, Politico)

It was supposed to be Jeb Bush, if you asked Democratic honchos in mid-2015, except when it was always supposed to be Scott Walker. Eventually, they insisted, it was always supposed to be Rubio.

But it was never supposed to be Trump.

Clinton circles' initial planning for Bush began even before Democrats' wipeout in the 2014 midterms. In an October 31, 2014 memo, informal confidant and longtime friend Sidney Blumenthal mapped out a "CONFIDENTIAL" path for Clinton, which she then forwarded to aides Nick Merrill, Brynne Craig, Huma Abedin, Philippe Reines and Cheryl Mills, with the note: "Worth discussing elements." Mills then forwarded the note to campaign manager-in-waiting Mook and Podesta.

"The Republican presidential campaign will begin on November 5th," Blumenthal wrote. "If Jeb Bush doesn't run, there is no viable establishment candidate. If he does run, he will be subjected to an unprecedented assault that might culminate in a splintered party, even a third party."

Around that time, an increasingly politically engaged Clinton started telling friends and political advisers that she expected something close to a classic battle about the economy against the Republican establishment's choice.

Six months later, Clinton associates' wariness of Bush and his likely financial firepower was still acute: Democratic pollster Celinda Lake wrote to Clinton adviser Minyon Moore to warn her that she'd been testing Bush's economic message for a client. "It has been remarkably strong. Getting even half of african americans and democrats and two thirds of latinos. Some thought it ended too harsh. But the perspective on the economy has really worked. Now we didn't tell people this was from bush. But it's a warning."

So to take Bush down, Clinton's team drew up a plan to pump Trump up. 

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Mueller's indictment only scratches the surface of a widespread conspiracy (Randall D. Eliason, February 16, 2018, Washington Post)

[A]lthough there is no crime called collusion, in criminal law, working with others toward an unlawful end is known as conspiracy. And conspiracies to defraud the United States under 18 U.S.C. 371 include those that impair, obstruct, or impede lawful government functions such as carrying out a federal election. That is the legal theory that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has used to charge the Russian defendants. Although this indictment charges only Russians with taking part in that conspiracy, the same charge would potentially apply to any American co-conspirators. [...]

Once an indictment is returned, the grand jury's work on the charged offenses must cease. If the investigation is not yet complete, prosecutors could choose to bring an initial indictment against Russian participants while continuing the grand jury investigation against others.

That procedure could make sense. Friday's indictment sets a dramatic stage for anything that will follow. It provides the most detailed public account to date of the activities that Mueller is charged with investigating, and puts to rest any notion that there is "no there there." It also lets other potential targets know that Mueller's knowledge of Russian interference is extensive, and that the wisest course may be to cooperate rather than to try to obfuscate or obstruct.

Bringing the first major indictment against only Russian individuals is also a brilliant rebuttal to those who argue (without basis ) that Mueller's inquiry may be politically motivated. It allows Mueller to reveal the breadth and seriousness of the misconduct without any distracting political sideshows. Surely the condemnation of the conduct set forth in Friday's indictment will be bipartisan and overwhelming. That will give Mueller's investigation considerable momentum and should provide substantial political insurance against any potential moves to fire the special counsel.

If the investigation into election meddling remains ongoing, then a superseding indictment could later add additional co-conspirators and charges. On that point, it is interesting to note the indictment's allegation that the defendants conspired not only with each other , but also with "others known and unknown to the Grand Jury."

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A Carnival cruise in the South Pacific descended into violent anarchy (Avi Selk, February 18, 2018, wASHINGTON pOST)

The trouble started after the Carnival Legend, which can carry more than 2,000 people, set sail from Melbourne to the French territory New Caledonia last week -- though there are disputes of exactly when and why it all began.

"This is all over a thong [flip-flop sandal] -- not a foot, a thong being stepped on," a passenger told the radio station 3AW, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The thong's trampler apologized, the man said, but its owner threatened retaliation, and the groups began to feud.

Others, however, said a single family of about two dozen people seemed intent on provoking conflicts -- spitting in the pool, screaming in the smoking area and fighting with passengers and staff over any provocation.

"They were looking for trouble from the minute they got on the ship," Kellie Peterson told 3AW. "Anyone and everything. They even picked on a 16-year-old boy because they thought he looked at them."

After several days at sea, chaos broke out on the pool deck. It's not clear what caused the dispute, though one passenger told News.com.au that it went on for 45 minutes, some of which was recorded. Children watched from behind a row of sun chairs as dozens of adults shouted on the far end of the deck. A man got into a brief shoving match with a uniformed staff member -- a prelude of the melee to come.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Carnival confirmed "several instances [of] extremely unruly behavior" on the ship.

Some passengers described it more as a state of constant fear.

Peterson told 3AW that security warned her, her husband and their three young children not to travel the decks alone. Lisa Bolitho said she and her son simply locked themselves inside their cabin, according to the Australian Associated Press.

"We've all made several complaints, saying kids were scared," Bolitho said. "The captain said, 'What do you want me to do about it -- throw them overboard?' "

The skirmishes escalated for several days at sea, passengers said, until a massive brawl broke out in the ship's nightclub early Friday morning.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Why Vietnam Isn't Talking About 1968: Fifty years after a turning point in the Vietnam War, the country's communist government is stamping out public discussion of painful memories. (BENNETT MURRAY, February 15, 2018, Politico)

Throughout the battle for Hue, 216 American troops, mostly Marines, were killed as they fought house to house. The communists fought hard, "grabbing them by the belt buckle," as they described their strategy--that is, staying as close to the American lines as possible to prevent artillery strikes. The North Vietnamese army listed 2,400 killed, while South Vietnam recorded 452 soldiers dead. Although the communist forces were eventually forced to abandon Hue, their ability to hold on to the city for as long as they did undermined the Johnson administration's claims that an American victory was in sight.

Duc recalls that while many in Hue were unhappy with the American presence in Vietnam, the residents largely welcomed the American intervention in the battle, which drove off the communists from the city until their ultimate return in 1975. "The Americans were the saviors in that particular case, saving the city and saving others," he says, adding that Hue was a center of scholarship and debate that tended to shun both foreign interventionism and communist totalitarianism.

Claims of mass civilian killings by the communists in Hue have been shoved under the rug in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government only vaguely admits to "mistakes" committed during the battle and fiercely refuses to characterize the events as "massacres," as is common outside Vietnam. The first reports of such killings originated from U.S. government studies conducted in the immediate aftermath of the battle. Mass graves were discovered around the city--many for victims of the crossfire and bombings that flattened Hue, while other people were found bound and executed, in some cases evidently buried alive. The official South Vietnamese estimate for extrajudicial killings carried out by the communists was 4,856, while Douglas Pike, a U.S. foreign service officer who documented the battles, estimated 2,800.

Mark Bowden, author of the 2017 book Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, the most authoritative history of the battle, says he estimates about 2,000 killings took place in pre-planned "purges" of citizens working for the southern regime, though he believes the true number will never be known. "Certainly, everyone I interviewed, people who fought for the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese army or civilians--no one denied it had happened. The only dispute seems to be over how many," Bowden says.

In a country marred with a 2,000-year history of bloody wars against foreign invaders, the fratricidal nature of the killings made the communists "much more cruel than ISIS," says Truong Van Quy, a 74-year-old Hue resident who makes his living teaching guitar. [...]

Nguyen Quang A, the communist turned dissident, contrasts the Vietnamese government's unwillingness to acknowledge the past with the long reconciliation following the American Civil War. Such healing, he points out, takes time even in democratic societies--"still there are problems" between the northern and southern United States, he says.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Florida GOP in crisis as major donor threatens to pull money over guns (Caroline Orr, February 17, 2018, ShareBlue)

Al Hoffman Jr., a Florida-based real estate developer who previously served as the National Finance Chairman for the Republican National Committee (RNC), told GOP leaders in an email Saturday that he will no longer support them until they take action on gun violence, the New York Times reported.

"I will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons," Hoffman wrote, according to the Times. "Enough is enough!"

Hoffman has donated millions of dollars to GOP causes and politicians, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott -- a top recipient of NRA donations who maintains an "A+" rating from the NRA's Political Victory Fund -- and the Senate Leadership Fund, a group focused on defending Republicans' majority in the Senate.

But after Wednesday's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida, Hoffman issued an ultimatum to Republicans.

According to the Times, the GOP donor pledged "that he would not give money to Mr. Scott, who is considering a campaign for the Senate in 2018, or other Florida Republicans he has backed in the past, including Representative Brian Mast, if they did not support new gun legislation."

And he's not stopping there. Hoffman also said he plans to reach out to other top donors to convince them to join him in closing their checkbooks until Republicans step up to the plate.

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A former Russian troll speaks: 'It was like being in Orwell's world' (Anton Troianovski February 17, 2018, wASHINGTON pOST)

[4]3-year-old Marat Mindiyarov, a teacher by training, spoke by phone with The Washington Post on Saturday from the village outside St. Petersburg where he lives. Mindiyarov worked in a department for Russian domestic consumption. When he took a test in December 2014 to move to the factory's "Facebook department" targeting the U.S. market, Mindiyarov recalled, he was asked to write an essay about Hillary Clinton. Here are lightly edited excerpts of the conversation.

What was your first reaction when you heard about the Mueller indictment?

I congratulate America that they achieved something -- that they put forward an indictment rather than just writing about this. I congratulate Robert Mueller.

How did you end up at the troll factory?

I worked there from November 2014 to February 2015. I ended up there totally by accident -- I happened to be unemployed, and this place had work right by my house. So I went there. I realized quickly that this was the kind of place where I only wanted to spend enough time until I got my salary and I could leave.

How did it feel inside?

I arrived there, and I immediately felt like a character in the book "1984" by George Orwell -- a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white. Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line. The volumes were colossal -- there were huge numbers of people, 300 to 400, and they were all writing absolute untruths. It was like being in Orwell's world.

What sorts of untruths did you write?

My untruths amounted to posting comments. I worked in the commenting department -- I had to comment on the news. No one asked me my opinion. My opinions were already written for me, and I had to write in my own words that which I was ordered to write.

For example?

When I was there, there were sanctions [by the European Union and the United States in response to Russia's intervention in Ukraine] and the ruble started falling. I was writing everything that was the opposite: how wonderful our life was, how wonderful it is that the ruble was strengthening, and that kind of absurdity. That sanctions were going to make us stronger and so on and so forth.

Imagine Donald stamping on your keyboard...forever...

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


What Popper Saw in Churchill: The Anglo-American Tradition of Liberty: A View from Europe by João Carlos Espada.  (DANIEL J. MAHONEY, University Bookman)

The Portuguese political theorist João Espada has written a most thoughtful and instructive book on the political and intellectual resources that inform the Anglo-American tradition of liberty. His is a "continental" perspective marked by great admiration for the sobriety and liberty that animate the political practice of the English-speaking peoples. His guides are a wide-ranging group of theorists and statesmen who illuminate the "law-abiding and moral-abiding ways of life" that to date have prevented the collapse of Anglo-American liberty into full-fledged epistemological and moral relativism, the bane of continental rationalism (and irrationalism) for two centuries.

To begin with, Espada aims to unravel the "British mystery," how Lockean rationalism in Great Britain avoided giving rise to an "adversarial project" that deduced "political schemes from rival first principles" and that ceaselessly worked to upend "existing ways of life ... because they had not been designed by 'Reason.'" Espada's book is an eloquent defense of practical reason against a rationalism that paradoxically gives way to limitless relativism. He does not reject Locke's ideas about natural rights or even the resort to the first principles of liberty. But he refuses efforts to reinterpret them "as a radical project for the entire redesign of society--politically, socially, and morally." In this regard, he takes his bearing from the great Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke. Burke refused to see the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as a radical innovation and interpreted it primarily as a recovery of old liberties under threat from monarchical absolutism. Modern liberty, in Burke's view, builds on moral and political traditions that antedate the Enlightenment. Burke's great insight was to see that nothing decent and humane could be built on the thin and self-destructive reed of the human will. An ethos of duty and obligation must inform even the freest way of life.

As Irving Kristol, another major influence on Espada has argued, liberty thrives only when it avoids confronting and eroding the moral capital and moral contents that predated modern liberty and from which it gradually emerged. Liberty understood as radical autonomy or pure will inevitably gives rise to tyranny or nihilism or both. One might say that the Burkean appropriation and modification of Lockean liberty allowed it to avoid the rise to extremes. Tradition and liberty reinforced each other and thus worked against the illusion that a free society could arise from a tabula rasa, from a revolutionary "year zero" that aimed to destroy the moral capital and humane inheritance of the Christian West. As the historians Elie Halévy and Gertrude Himmelfarb have both argued, England created a remarkably dynamic and innovative society while avoiding the "Revolution" that would wreak such havoc on France and much of continental Europe. Locke was imbibed on an empty stomach in continental Europe, as the philosopher Anthony Quinton has argued, while the English appropriated him soberly for their own conserving and reforming purposes. They tamed Locke and made him a servant of a broad tradition of Western liberty.

...lay in the recognition that faith precedes reason and the choice of liberty over freedom. It's why the culture is Anti-Intellectual and skeptical to its core.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Is Russia attempting to erase Crimean Muslim culture? (Mansur Mirovalev, 2/18/18, Al Jazeera)

The restoration is part of Kremlin's broader campaign of pressure on the Crimean Tatar community that includes abductions, arrests, searches and sentences of up to 15 years in jail for alleged "terrorism" and membership in "radical" religious groups.

"Assimilation, erasure of historic memory are revenge for political disloyalty, for reluctance to obey," Gulnara Bekirova, an historian and the host of television shows on ATR, a Tatar-language television network that criticised Moscow's actions in Crimea, told Al Jazeera.

Shortly after the annexation, Moscow banned ATR and several other media outlets. It made Tatar-language kindergartens bilingual and reduced Tatar classes in public schools to two voluntary hours a week.

Such lessons "are number seven or eight on the schedule, in such conditions, one just does not attend", political activist Seitumer Seitumerov told Al Jazeera.

He fled Crimea for mainland Ukraine after the owner of a restaurant he managed was arrested and charged with "extremism."

Moscow introduced history textbooks that describe how Crimean Tatars pillaged Russia, enslaved and sold tens of thousands of captives, and obediently served Ottoman sultans - the tsars' archenemies.

Meanwhile, Kremlin-controlled media stoke anti-Tatar sentiments. 

Some ethnic Russians accuse Tatars of plotting to massacre the pro-Moscow population that mostly voted for Crimea's "return to Russia" during the March 2014 "referendum".

Donald Trump: Ban all Muslim travel to U.S. (Jeremy Diamond, 12/08/15, CNN)

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called Monday for barring all Muslims from entering the United States. [...]

Trump, who has previously called for surveillance against mosques and said he was open to establishing a database for all Muslims living in the U.S., made his latest controversial call in a news release.

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All 66 passengers, crew feared dead in Iranian plane crash (Reuters, 2/18/18)

The ATR-made plane was on a flight to the southwestern city of Yasuj and a spokesman for the airline said there were 60 passengers and six crew aboard.

"All...on board were unfortunately killed," Aseman spokesman Mohammad Taqi Tabatabai told state television.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Intel just put a quantum computer on a silicon chip (Tristan Greene, 2/15/18, Next Web)

The researchers used a special type of qubit (the quantum version of a classical computer's bits) called spin qubits to run two different quantum algorithms on a silicon chip.

Other quantum systems, like Intel's breakthrough 49-qubit computer, rely on superconductive materials and near perfect-zero temperatures. A spin qubit doesn't require either, it's an electron that's been agitated by microwave pulses.

While other quantum systems are closer to being useful, the idea here wasn't to create a better computer but one that would work with existing infrastructure. Intel, it's worth mentioning, is the world leader in silicon chip sales.

According to a white paper published by the team:

In this context, quantum-dot-based spin qubits could have substantial advantages over other types of qubit owing to their potential for all-electrical operation and ability to be integrated at high density onto an industrial platform.

These two-qubit systems are merely experimental at this point. The researchers, by running quantum algorithms on the devices, have proven the concept works. It'll take more experimentation to develop systems at the range where they'll be more powerful than regular computers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


What's the immigration status of Melania Trump's parents? (Glenn Kessler February 13m, 2018, Washington Post)

As for her parents, Viktor Knavs is a former member of the Yugoslav Communist Party who worked as the chauffeur for the mayor of his home town, Sevnica, and eventually became a successful car salesman. He was born in 1944, making him two years older than the president. Amalija Knavs was a pattern maker at a textile factory. They are now said to be retired.

According to various news reports, the Knavses have been living in the United States at least a year and probably much longer -- possibly since the mid-2000s. Since Melania Trump moved into the White House, some reports have suggested they live there. Other reports have said they split their time between the D.C. area, Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower and Bedminster, N.J. They apparently help take care of Barron Trump, the president's 11-year-old child.

"The hyperinvolved Slovenian grandparents currently live with their daughter and grandson in the Trump Tower penthouse and spend most weekends with the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago, or at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey," Politico reported in June.

The White House initially refused to comment on their immigration status. "I don't comment on her parents, as they live private lives and are not part of the administration," said Stephanie Grisham, spokeswoman for the first lady.

Here are the possible options, according to immigration experts.

Legal permanent residence

They could be here on an IR-5 visa, meaning they are legal permanent residents because they are the parents of a U.S. citizen. Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California at Davis Law School, believes this is the most likely option, even though the administration's immigration proposal would limit family visas to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, ending "extended-family chain migration."

"If I were advising Trump, Melania's parents would be admitted as immigrants as the immediate relative of a United States citizen if they were planning on moving here permanently, especially given the fact that there is talk to eliminate this basis for immigration," said Matthew L. Kolken, a Buffalo immigration attorney.

No worries; they're white...

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


  U.S., Georgian Officials Discuss Defense Ties In Munich (Radio Liberty, February 18, 2018)

Mattis "praised Georgia's continuing service as the largest non-NATO force contributor and per-capita contributor alongside U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recognizing that this service has come at the price of 32 Georgian service members' lives and 290 more wounded," [Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White] said.

She added that Mattis discussed the "significant progress in Georgia's defense reforms and U.S. security assistance to Georgia's armed forces, including the ongoing partnership to enhance combat readiness and institutional capacity via the Georgia Defense Readiness Program."

Mattis also reaffirmed Washington's continued support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

February 17, 2018

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In defense of Amy Wax's defense of Bourgeois Values (Jonathan Haidt, 9/02/17, Heterodox Academy)

The most intellectually exciting project I've done in the last ten years was to moderate a bipartisan working group composed of 14 of America's top experts on poverty. We worked together for 15 months to analyze the existing research literature and write up a set of principles and proposals that we thought would actually work to reduce poverty and increase economic mobility. Our report, sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, was published in December 2016.

In poverty debates, scholars on the left generally emphasize economic and structural causes, including systemic or structural racism, and there is a lot of evidence that these causes matter. Scholars on the right, in contrast, generally emphasize the importance of personal responsibility, the cultivation of virtues and skills, and the benefits of marriage, and there is a lot of evidence that these factors matter a great deal too. In fact, research by one of our members (Richard Reeves) shows that for children born into the bottom quintile of the income distribution, if their parents are married, they are just about as likely to end up in the top quintile as to remain in the bottom. It's not quite that simple; marriage doesn't create perfect mobility by itself, but its antipoverty effects are very large.

It was thrilling to moderate the group because after some tensions in the early meetings, the group settled into an extremely productive relationship that allowed the insights of each side to emerge, get refined by challenge, and then contribute to an emerging and novel approach. Viewpoint diversity allowed us to see the full problem of American poverty and then offer a far more comprehensive set of remedies than if we had all been on the same political side.

Our group almost hit an impasse: some of the scholars on the left were hesitant to say that marriage itself matters (as opposed to long-term committed cohabitation); some scholars on the right were hesitant to say that long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) were a powerful way to break the cycle of poverty.  We finally agreed to say both, and we developed a clear formulation about the importance of creating better environments in which to raise children. We agreed to urge the importance of "delayed responsible parenting." We knew that marriage promotion interventions are generally unsuccessful, but given the huge importance of marriage for the outcomes of children, we thought it was urgent to try to change social norms in poor communities. Here is how we put it (with emphasis on culture added):

So what can be done? We've said that marriage matters. But past government efforts to encourage unmarried parents to marry have not proven very effective. Promoting marriage to strengthen American families isn't primarily an issue of specific policies or programs in any case: it's in large part a question of culture. Political leaders, educators, and civic leaders--from both the political left and right--need to be clear and direct about how hard it is to raise children without a committed co-parent. We've effectively reduced major public health problems, such as smoking and teen pregnancy, through changes in cultural attitudes facilitated by public information campaigns. According to a review of the research by contraception expert Adam Thomas, mass media campaigns about the consequences of unprotected sex have reduced unplanned pregnancies. We propose a campaign of similar scope to emphasize the value of committed coparenting and marriage. It's not a small thing for leaders to be clear in this way--cultural norms are influenced by the messages leaders send. Major cultural norms have been changed many times before when leaders expressed firm and unequivocal views about even entrenched cultural attitudes, including norms surrounding civil rights and gay rights. Presidents, politicians, church leaders, newspaper columnists, business leaders, educators, and friends should all join in telling young people that raising kids jointly with the children's other parent is more likely to lead to positive outcomes than raising a child alone.

In other words, Wax was correct, based on the available evidence and expert opinion, to argue that "a strong pro-marriage norm" would reduce poverty and blunt or reverse the pernicious social trends she described at the beginning of her article.

In our report we drew heavily on the work of Belle Sawhill, a widely respected expert on child poverty at the Brookings Institution. Sawhill herself had recently argued for the importance of culture change, and of having kids at the right time, to reduce poverty:

The genie is out of the bottle. What we need instead is a new ethic of responsible parenthood. If we combine an updated social norm with greater reliance on the most effective forms of birth control, we can transform drifters into planners and improve children's life prospects... The drifters need better educational and job opportunities, but unless we come to grips with what is happening to marriage and parenting, progress will be limited. For every child lifted out of poverty by a social program, another one is entering poverty as a result of the continued breakdown of the American family. If we could turn back the marriage clock to 1970, before the sharp rise in divorce and single parenthood began, the child poverty rate would be 20 percent lower than it is now....

We need more (and better quality) child care and a higher minimum wage, as well as serious education and training for those who are struggling to care for their families. But government alone can't solve this problem. Younger people must begin to take greater responsibility for their choices. The old social norm was, "Don't have a child outside of marriage." The new norm needs to be, "Don't have a child until you and your partner are ready to be parents." Whether or not it was a realistic norm in the past, it is now -- precisely because newer forms of contraception make planning a family so much easier.

Again, marriage, and norms promoting marriage-like behavior, are among the most powerful known antidotes to American poverty.

Ultimately, all of us, including Sawhill and Wax, are building on the insights of sociologist (and later Senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his  famous report on the state of black families, which he wrote while working for the Labor department during the Johnson administration. What is less widely known is that Moynihan wrote a private memo in a format suitable for his boss (Willard Wirtz, the Secretary of Labor) to give to President Johnson, underlining the absolute urgency of re-tooling federal policy to promote and not undermine marriage and family stability among African Americans. Moynihan argued that the decline of marriage was the "master problem," the "principal cause" of the problems facing Black America, and he predicted that African Americans would not be able to attain equality if this problem was not addressed.

Unfortunately, Moynihan was roundly condemned as a racist for his analysis of the black family and the importance of marriage, and his advice was largely ignored. He was socially shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard. It wasn't until several decades later that sociologists began saying (quietly) that he was probably right. Now Wax is being pilloried for broaching the same topic -- for saying that marriage and culture really really matter, and that some norms, some cultures, are more conducive to success in modern America than others. Does anyone seriously believe that all cultures are equal-either morally (including the culture of Nazi Germany) or as packages of norms and practices that are likely to lead to success?

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Trump Wants to Make America White Again (STEVE PHILLIPS, FEB. 15, 2018, NY Times)

The White House is assertively working to make America white again, and Democrats are too afraid to speak that truth. The aggressive pace of deportations of immigrants of color, the elimination of the DACA program protecting immigrant children and the proposals propounded by the anti-immigration voices in the administration will all have the undeniable effect of slowing the rapid racial diversification of the United States population. [...]

The pro-white preferences of Donald Trump and his administration, especially when it comes to immigration, are legion. From the day he opened his presidential campaign in 2015 by demonizing Mexicans to the enthusiasm generated by the calls for building a wall along the Mexican border to aggressively ramping up deportations of immigrants of color to eliminating DACA to vulgarly denigrating African nations and Haiti, this administration has been quite clear about its preference for white people.

It should be no surprise, then, that the immigration policies championed by the White House would all have the effect of reducing the number of people of color coming into the country. A recent study by The Washington Post found that the administration's proposals to curtail legal immigration by limiting family reunification would slightly delay the date when whites become a minority. "By greatly slashing the number of Hispanic and black African immigrants entering America, this proposal would reshape the future United States," the economist Michael Clemens said.

"Decades ahead," he added, "many fewer of us would be nonwhite or have nonwhite people in our families."

The administration's focus is not random. Nor is it illogical, if one's goal is to maximize the influence of white people. 

That and his Islamophobia are why the 20% support him no matter the immorality and illegality.

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Desperately Seeking God (Emina Melonic, 2/17/18, Splice)

Although question of God is implicitly present in most of his films, it is in his trilogy, which is composed of Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), and Silence (also 1963), that Bergman explores the presence and absence of God in our lives. Here we'll look at the first film in that trilogy, Through a Glass Darkly. [...]

Morality is not part of this strange family, and even Martin, who sees the inevitability of the coming chaos, is more medically and psychological oriented than existentially and theologically. And yet, without ever telling us, Bergman shows the great themes of Christian faith.

Despite the fact that Karin's suffering from a medically categorized illness, her madness is relatable. This is why the film functions on two levels: psychologically (dealing with family relations) and theologically (dealing with an individual's relation to God). Karin may see God as an ugly and frightening spider who's trying to penetrate her, but even this bizarre experience with faith reveals a mystical quality about Karin's desire to know God and to unite with him.

David, Martin, and Minus are not mad in the clinical sense but each one of them has a distant and remote relationship with God. They're desperately seeking to communicate with each other but the entirety of their being is stuck in an in-between state unable to make concrete decisions, especially the ones about the possibility of knowing God. What binds them together, paradoxically and hopelessly, is Karin's madness.

And yet, as the three men try to relate to Karin and her chaotic consciousness, they're moving toward God. Their only connection to God the Father is Karin, who's the conduit or a spiritual vessel. But since Karin's visions are unreliable, their knowledge of God will not only be limiting but also devoid of meaning. They do know, however, that part of the human condition is the journeying from one reality to the next, and at some point, we have to make a choice which reality we wish to be part of. 

The single great theme of Western (mostly Anglospheric) theology, art and philosophy is simply that: "we have to make a choice which reality we wish to be part of." We choose Christianity because it is the beautiful reality.

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Russian Influence Campaign: What's in the Latest Mueller Indictment (Sarah Grant, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn, Matt Tait, Benjamin Wittes, February 16, 2018, LawFare)

The indictment discusses three distinct stages of the Internet Research Agency's operation: a planning stage in 2014; an operational stage that began in 2015 and became increasingly direct and aggressive throughout the 2016 campaign; and a curious third stage involving money laundering and bank fraud that allegedly began in mid-June 2016.

Efforts began by May 2014, when the indictment says the Internet Research Agency had decided to "interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election." Initially this involved several employees traveling to the United States--ostensibly on vacation but in fact covertly gathering intelligence. Those defendants allegedly gathered information and generated reports for the agency, which reimbursed their travel expenses. By June 2014, the indictment says, the organization was taking active steps to obscure its finances and control.

The indictment doesn't shed light on why the Internet Research Agency might have chosen to meddle in the 2016 election in 2014--long before either Clinton or Trump announced their intent to run. But notably, the dates in the indictment coincide with the Ukrainian Maidan revolution of early 2014. Amid unrest against Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-aligned politician who was president of Ukraine at the time, Russian officials accused the United States of covertly supporting Ukrainian protesters and seeking to undermine the Kremlin's influence in the region. So a reasonable person might wonder, reading the indictment, whether the beginning of the operation was a retaliation for perceived U.S. meddling in Ukraine.

The operational stage of the influence campaign began around 2015 with a series of fake social media accounts, each designed to look like a U.S. citizen or political group, according to the indictment. The Internet Research Agency allegedly began purchasing advertisements to promote its fraudulent political groups on social media, spending thousands of dollars a month. Over time, the accounts attracted hundreds of thousands of followers.

But in April 2016, this operation became more aggressive, according to the indictment. On April 6, 2016, shortly after Trump clinched the Republican nomination, the group began spending money to promote content explicitly supporting Trump's candidacy and opposing Clinton's. 

The Indictment of Russia's Super PAC and the Open Question of Trump Campaign Complicity (Bob Bauer, February 16, 2018, Just Security)

In imagining what the next turn in this investigation might reveal, it is important to pay close attention to the indictment's account of Russian intelligence-gathering in the United States. Like any organization spending substantial sums on a political objective, they worked hard to master the American electoral terrain and figure out what worked and what didn't. The Russian operatives were learning about "purple states" from American sources. This was a sophisticated enterprise. It in this context that the Russian meeting with the campaign staff in Trump Tower, and later Donald Jr.'s communications with WikiLeaks, assumes greater significance. It was much to the advantage of the Russians' "Project Lakhta" to have explicit and implicit blessing from the candidate. The Project management would also have benefited from receiving from the candidate and his campaign any signals useful in perfecting their program. Some of these signals have come to light, such as Donald Jr.'s recommendation to WilkiLeaks for a late summer release of the stolen emails.

The record is not yet clear on all that the Trump campaign may have communicated about what it hoped to gain from Moscow's intervention. Steve Bannon, interviewed for hours by Mueller, has publicly discounted the chance that the president would not have known about the June 2016 visit from Kremlin emissaries to Trump Tower. It has been reported that the president directed the misrepresentation the facts of the meeting, but it is not yet clear what level of knowledge he had in advance of the meeting or, if afterwards, when. But, beginning with the Papadapolous encounter with Russians telling him of thousands of stolen Clinton emails, through the Trump Tower meeting and the Donald Jr. contacts with WikiLeaks, the Russians unquestionably appreciated that the Mr. Trump was glad to have their help.

The indictment situates these contacts within the wider and mostly clandestine intelligence gathering operation that the Russians conducted to achieve the most effective possible impact on the presidential campaign. The Russians were more transparent in their direct encounters with the national Trump campaign. And the campaign was not "unwitting." Those on its staff who were engaged in direct discussions with Kremlin representatives were not low-level grassroots organizers, but included the then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, a veteran of five presidential campaigns, and the president's own son-in law. The Russians were explicit about their aims when they needed to be, and the Trump team responded favorably. 

The Contours of a Potential Collusion Case Are Beginning to Emerge (JEREMY STAHL, FEB 16, 2018, Slate)

• On Thursday evening, CNN reported that Rick Gates was likely nearing his own plea deal with Mueller's investigators. Gates was the deputy to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and both men were indicted last year by Mueller. If Gates flips, he will have to either testify against Manafort--tightening the noose around the neck of Trump's heavily Russia-connected former deputy--or provide new and damning information against the campaign.

• The indictment says that the Russians sought to infiltrate the Trump campaign: "Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities."

• The indictment mentioned that there are unnamed co-conspirators "known and unknown to the Grand Jury." Pinedo might be one of these figures, but that leaves an open question as to who the others are.

• The Russians were not initially sophisticated in their knowledge of American politics, to the point that they sought out American political actors to learn the basics:

In order to collect additional intelligence, Defendants and their co-conspirators posed as U.S. persons and contacted U.S. political and social activists. For example, starting in or around June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, posing online as U.S. persons, communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. During the exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on "purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida." After that exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators commonly referred to targeting "purple states" in directing their efforts.

• The Russians appeared to start to develop a deeper sophistication around U.S. politics in the spring and summer of 2016. This coincided with the same brief period that Manafort was in charge of the Trump campaign. The Russian efforts included purchasing political ads for Trump and against Clinton on social media starting in April, staging pro-Trump rallies and false flag "pro-Hillary" events starting in June, and doing the sort of low stakes political dirty tricks that have been a mainstay of the Republican Party for decades.

For his part, former CIA Director John Brennan speculated on Friday that it would emerge that U.S. persons had actively conspired with the Russians. "While some may have been unwitting, I do think that some individuals maybe were knowledgeable about what they were doing and basically strayed from what they should have been doing," he told MSNBC.

February 16, 2018

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American Nationalists Are Awfully Quiet about Russia: Its government attempted to meddle in our elections and is planning on doing so again in this year. Where is the outrage? (Jonah Goldberg, February 16, 2018, National Review)

[N]ationalists of all stripes have pinned some of their hopes on the idea that Donald Trump could serve as a useful champion for their particular kind of nationalism. Indeed, they are often quick to say that their real passion is for the nationalist cause and not the flawed vessel that is Trump.

So here's what I'm confused about. It seems to me that virtually every understanding of nationalism is rooted in the idea that the nation should be jealously defended from foreign interference, aggression, and insult. Even purely symbolic disrespect should quicken the blood of every true nationalist.

In ancient Greece, the Trojan War was waged over a romantic squabble. Modern Greece and the Balkan nation of Macedonia have nearly come to blows in recent years because the Greeks believe the name "Macedonia" is their historic property. Every learned American patriot knows that the Barbary Wars were fought on the nationalistic battle cry "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."

Meanwhile, it is now an accepted fact that the Russian government attempted to meddle in our elections and is planning on doing so again in 2018 and beyond. Members of the Trump administration, with the notable exception of the president himself, are unequivocally blunt about this. But where is the outrage from the nationalist caucus?

Putin is white and represses minorities. The Right has no differences with him.

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The Vietnam War's Great Lie : How the Communists and Pham Xuan An won the propaganda war. (Luke Hunt, February 13, 2018, The Diplomat)

Measuring the overall success of what the Communists called their "general offensive-general uprising" strategy is a subject of endless debate. But as for the anticipated rebellion - the South Vietnamese every-person instinctively throwing off the shackles of U.S. neocolonialism - Dang and his compatriots were clearly very wrong.

The southern populace didn't rise up, but still, it was quite a fight. When the Tet Offensive launched on January 30, more than 100 cities across South Vietnam - including Saigon - and military outposts came under attack. The worst of the fighting was in Hue, where 150 Marines died and around 5,000 North Vietnamese soldiers were killed, mainly in airstrikes.

During the brief occupation of the ancient capital, the Communists proved how nasty they could be.

The bodies of more than 2,800 people were discovered, and another 3,000 residents of Hue were missing. They also set about razing Hue's treasured heritage; palaces, temples, and monuments from the distant past were leveled.

But the counteroffensives were as vicious as they were successful. As the attacks subsided, the U.S. intensified its Phoenix Program, designed by the CIA to neutralize the infrastructure of the Viet Cong and its political wing, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, through "infiltration, capture, counterterrorism, interrogation, and assassination."

It proved highly successful, neutralizing 81,740 suspected Viet Cong operatives, informants, and supporters. Of them, somewhere between 26,000 and 41,000 were killed between 1965 and 1972, many after Tet.

The initial Tet attacks were followed by two other waves, in May and August, and because of this Communist forces stayed entrenched close to the cities during the interlude between these rolling campaigns.

This tactic, driven by decisionmaking in Hanoi, proved lethal for Viet Cong survivors because it allowed South Vietnamese and U.S. troops to leapfrog over Communist positions and attack their main forces that were dug in from the rear.

The Communist ranks were devastated, especially the southern fighters. 1969 and 1970 were dark years, during which resentment of Hanoi burbled among southern leaders who felt they had been cannon fodder for Hanoi's quixotic plans.

But public opinion in the United States of what the Tet Offensive meant reflected a different perspective of a complicated reality: the yawning gap between what their own leaders were saying about an enemy on the ropes and the waves of Communist attacks that rippled across South Vietnam, and across their TV screens. Far from impending defeat, there seemed to be a Communist soldier under every rock.

That's where An, who had a college education and interned with U.S.-based newspapers a decade earlier, stepped in. He sought to reinforce an American public in its mistaken belief that the Viet Cong remained a strong, viable force capable of defeating the mighty U.S. military.

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Trump Campaign Staffers Pushed Russian Propaganda Days Before the Election: Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump Jr. pushed messages from an account operated from Russia's 'troll farm'--including allegations of voter fraud a week before Election Day. (BETSY WOODRUFF, BEN COLLINS, KEVIN POULSEN, SPENCER ACKERMAN, 10/08/17, Daily Beast)

Some of the Trump campaign's most prominent names and supporters, including Trump's campaign manager, digital director, and son, pushed tweets from professional trolls paid by the Russian government in the heat of the 2016 election campaign. [...]

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn retweeted the Russian-backed troll account at least once. His son, Michael Flynn Jr., retweeted the account 34 times before it was removed from Twitter in August for its ties to Russian propaganda.

The account notably pushed for Flynn's reappointment as Trump's national security adviser, a job Flynn lost after press revelations that he'd lied about his telephone discussions with the Russian ambassador after the election hacks. It also repeatedly pushed Breitbart-backed talking points, including a fake news story about a gang rape in Twin Falls, Idaho, that merited dozens of articles from Breitbart News.  

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Stream the "Complete" John Coltrane Playlist: A 94-Hour Journey Through 700+ Transformative Tracks (Open Culture, February 16th, 2018)

A narrative of Coltrane as a kind of musical messiah explains the literal veneration of his work by the Church of Saint John Coltrane, but it is only one convenient means of Coltrane appreciation. In truth, his oeuvre is too vast and varied in scope to neatly sum up in any fully satisfying way. We might just as well start at the beginning, when Coltrane was a mostly unknown, but very hip, sideman, playing with the greats throughout the fifties. "From his Bird-emulating beginnings to his flights into the unknown in his last years," writes Fernando Ortiz, compiler of the "Complete" John Coltrane playlist above, "the standard of his music and his passion are always at the top or very close to it."

Comprising over 700 tracks, "or four straight days of listening," this playlist list is still "far from perfect," Ortiz admits, "since it is subject to availability and to the non-systematic approach to data on Spotify, but it's not that far this time."

...no studio recording he made between 1955 and 1965 is missing (his previous years are well represented, starting with his 1946 recordings while in the Navy), which includes all his studio work as a leader during those years, as well as all his recordings as a sideman with Miles and Monk.

The weighting toward live recordings, "both from official and bootleg sources," provides a very multifaceted view of the artist's onstage development, and the inclusion of box sets like Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings offer panoramic surveys of his studio work. While we don't get everything here, and some of the omissions are key, you will, if you spend quality time delving into this treasure house, understand why the name Coltrane conjures such intensity of awe, praise, and devotion.

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Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels (Middle East Online, 2/16/18)

Fighters from the Islamist Nureddine al-Zinki rebel group "fired on a car as it was crossing one of their checkpoints in the village of Al-Huta after midnight," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"Abu Ayman al-Masri, a top commander of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), was in the car and was killed," the Britain-based war monitor said. [...]

HTS is dominated by members of Al-Qaeda's onetime Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.

According to the Observatory, Masri was in charge of education services for foreign members of the organisation.

He had previously served as a military trainer for new recruits.

"Abu Ayman was a member of Al-Qaeda international," the Observatory said, adding that he had fought with the organisation in Afghanistan.

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Mueller Has Interviewed Trump Legal Team's Former Spokesman (Betsy Woodruff, 02.16.18, Daily Beast)

The New York Times reported last month that Corallo's conversation with Mueller would likely involve topics related to potential obstruction of justice. [...]

"To people who know him, his choice to leave was unavoidable on a moral and professional level," one of his longtime friends told The Daily Beast at the time.

Corallo has long been plugged in to Washington's conservative legal circles. He was a spokesperson for John Ashcroft during his time as Attorney General, and is also a longtime friend and spokesperson for Blackwater founder Erik Prince.

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Is Donald Trump a Traitor?(James Risen, Feb. 16th, 2018, The Intercept)

Most pundits in Washington now recoil at any suggestion that the Trump-Russia story is really about treason. They all want to say it's about something else - what, they aren't quite sure. They are afraid to use serious words. They are in the business of breaking down the Trump-Russia narrative into a long series of bite-sized, incremental stories in which the gravity of the overall case often gets lost. They seem to think that treason is too much of a conversation-stopper, that it interrupts the flow of cable television and Twitter. God forbid you might upset the right wing! (And the left wing, for that matter.)

But if a presidential candidate or his lieutenants secretly work with a foreign government that is a longtime adversary of the United States to manipulate and then win a presidential election, that is almost a textbook definition of treason.

In Article 3, Section 3, the U.S. Constitution states that "treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

Based on that provision in the Constitution, U.S. law - 18 U.S. Code § 2381 - states that "[w]hoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere" is guilty of treason.  Those found guilty of this high crime "shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States."

Now look at the mandate given to former FBI Director Robert Mueller when he was appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was acting in place of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself because of his role in the Trump campaign and the controversy surrounding his own meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

On May 17, 2017, Rosenstein issued a letter stating that he was appointing a special counsel to "ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election." He added that Mueller's mandate was to investigate "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." Rosenstein noted that "[i]f the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters."

How closely aligned is Mueller's mandate with the legal definition of treason? That boils down to the rhetorical differences between giving "aid and comfort, in the United States or elsewhere" to "enemies" of the United States and "any links and/or coordination" between the Russian government and Trump campaign aides related to "the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election."

Sounds similar to me.

As a practical matter, the special counsel is highly unlikely to pursue treason charges against Trump or his associates. Treason is vaguely defined in the law and very difficult to prove. To the extent that it is defined - as providing aid and comfort to an "enemy" of the United States - the question might come down to whether Russia is legally considered America's "enemy."

Russia may not meet the legal definition of an "enemy," but it is certainly an adversary of the United States. It would make perfect sense for Russian President and de facto dictator Vladimir Putin to use his security services to conduct a covert operation to influence American politics to Moscow's advantage. Such a program would fall well within the acceptable norms of great power behavior. After all, it is the kind of covert intelligence program the United States has conducted regularly against other nations - including Russia.

Throughout the Cold War, the CIA and the KGB were constantly engaged in such secret intelligence battles. The KGB had a nickname for the CIA: glavnyy vrag or "the main enemy." In 2003, I co-authored a book called "The Main Enemy" with Milt Bearden, a retired CIA officer who had been chief of the CIA's Soviet/Eastern European division when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. The book was about the intelligence wars between the CIA and the KGB.

Today's cyber-spy wars are just the latest version of "The Great Game," the wonderfully romantic name for the secret intelligence battles between the Russian and British empires for control of Central Asia in the 19th century. Russia, the United States, and other nations engage in such covert intelligence games all the time - whether they are "enemies" or simply rivals.

In fact, evidence of the connections between Trump's bid for the White House and Russian ambitions to manipulate the 2016 U.S. election keeps piling up. Throughout late 2016 and early 2017, a series of reports from the U.S. intelligence community and other government agencies underlined and reinforced nearly every element of the Russian hacking narrative, including the Russian preference for Trump. The reports were notable in part because their findings exposed the agencies to criticism from Trump and his supporters and put them at odds with Trump's public dismissals of reported Russian attempts to help him get elected, which he has called "fake news."

In addition, a series of details has emerged through unofficial channels that seems to corroborate these authorized assessments. A classified NSA document obtained by The Intercept last year states that Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, played a role in the Russian hack of the 2016 American election. In August, a Russian hacker confessed to hacking the Democratic National Committee under the supervision of an officer in Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, who has separately been accused of spying for the U.S. And Dutch intelligence service AIVD has reportedly given the FBI significant inside information about the Russian hack of the Democratic Party.

On February 16, just hours after this column was published, the special counsel announced indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian entities for meddling in the U.S. election. The special counsel accused them of intervening to help Trump and damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. The indictments mark the first time Mueller has brought charges against any Russians in his ongoing probe.

Given all this, it seems increasingly likely that the Russians have pulled off the most consequential covert action operation since Germany put Lenin on a train back to Petrograd in 1917.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


In the service sector, time is a better measure of productivity (Diane Coyle JANUARY 30, 2018, Financial Times)

The retail sector made massive strides in productivity during the 1990s, mainly thanks to the use of the new information and communication technologies in logistics. Perhaps automation has further to go in terms of delivering products to the supermarkets. But what would higher productivity look like in terms of actually getting groceries into customers' shopping bags?

The answer might well lie with Amazon's experimental store, Amazon Go. Customers put what they want in their bags and walk through a turnstile. A proliferation of cameras -- and an algorithm -- watch them, add up their bills and charge it to them. There is no checkout process at all.

This is spot on. In many retail industries, higher productivity means faster service. There are many routine services where getting more for less requires less time to be spent performing them. This applies to parts of many sectors of the economy. There are past examples -- think of the impact of the washing machine on doing the laundry or the ATM on taking money out of the bank -- but now we are seeing much more automation in new areas such as legal search, scrutiny of medical tests and buying train tickets online. There is surely much further to go as artificial intelligence advances.

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Robert Mueller charges Russian 'troll farm' with election interference (Russell Brandom,  Feb 16, 2018, The Verge)
Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed conspiracy and fraud charges against 13 Russian nationals and three organizations. The group is charged with defrauding the United States as part of a campaign to influence the US election.

Ten of the defendants were allegedly employed by the Internet Research Agency, a "troll farm" funded by the Russian government for disinformation efforts. "Defendants, posing as US persons and creating false US personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences," the indictment reads. "They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump."

Prosecutors seem to have had access to internal communications within the Internet Research Agency. In one instance on September 14th, an IRA employee managing the "Secured Borders" Facebook group was criticized for having too few posts criticizing Hillary Clinton. According to the indictment, a supervisor told him "it is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton" in future posts.

In another incident in August, the group wired money to the United States, instructing a contractor to "build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform."

Russian troll farm, 13 suspects indicted for interference in U.S. election (Sari Horwitz, Devlin Barrett and Craig Timberg February 16, 2018, Washington Post)

By February 2016, the suspects had decided whom they were supporting in the 2016 race. According to the indictment, Internet Research Agency specialists were instructed to "use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump -- we support them.)"

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Donald Trump, a Playboy Model, and a System for Concealing Infidelity (Ronan Farrow, Jan. 21st, 2018, The New Yorker)

In June, 2006, Donald Trump taped an episode of his reality-television show, "The Apprentice," at the Playboy Mansion, in Los Angeles. Hugh Hefner, Playboy's publisher, threw a pool party for the show's contestants with dozens of current and former Playmates, including Karen McDougal, a slim brunette who had been named Playmate of the Year, eight years earlier. In 2001, the magazine's readers voted her runner-up for "Playmate of the '90s," behind Pamela Anderson. At the time of the party, Trump had been married to the Slovenian model Melania Knauss for less than two years; their son, Barron, was a few months old. Trump seemed uninhibited by his new family obligations. McDougal later wrote that Trump "immediately took a liking to me, kept talking to me - telling me how beautiful I was, etc. It was so obvious that a Playmate Promotions exec said, 'Wow, he was all over you - I think you could be his next wife.' "

Trump and McDougal began an affair, which McDougal later memorialized in an eight-page, handwritten document provided to The New Yorker by John Crawford, a friend of McDougal's. When I showed McDougal the document, she expressed surprise that I had obtained it but confirmed that the handwriting was her own.

The interactions that McDougal outlines in the document share striking similarities with the stories of other women who claim to have had sexual relationships with Trump, or who have accused him of propositioning them for sex or sexually harassing them. McDougal describes their affair as entirely consensual. But her account provides a detailed look at how Trump and his allies used clandestine hotel-room meetings, payoffs, and complex legal agreements to keep affairs--sometimes multiple affairs he carried out simultaneously--out of the press.

On November 4, 2016, four days before the election, the Wall Street Journal reported that American Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, had paid a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for exclusive rights to McDougal's story, which it never ran. Purchasing a story in order to bury it is a practice that many in the tabloid industry call "catch and kill." This is a favorite tactic of the C.E.O. and chairman of A.M.I., David Pecker, who describes the President as "a personal friend." As part of the agreement, A.M.I. consented to publish a regular aging-and-fitness column by McDougal. After Trump won the Presidency, however, A.M.I.'s promises largely went unfulfilled, according to McDougal.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


White House left feeling rudderless as Trump hangs back in crisis: After failing to arrest and even extending the scandal over a senior aide's clearance status amid domestic abuse allegations, the president took a low-key approach on the Florida shootings. (NANCY COOK, 02/15/2018, Politico)

The White House was slow to respond to the Parkland school shooting in any expansive way in the first several hours, waiting until overnight to make any formal statements beyond telling reporters the president was "aware" and monitoring the situation.

The hesitance followed a week in which the president did nothing to calm the furor surrounding the revelation that a former top aide was allowed to keep working in the West Wing and handling sensitive information without a full security clearance because of allegations of past domestic abuse. The scandal led to criticism about how it was handled by Trump's chief of staff John Kelly and cast doubt about his tenure.

In both cases, the president seemed to hang back behind staff decisions rather than taking decisive action to look engaged and involved. The response underscored the extent to which this White House, which is eternally engulfed by dramas -- many of Trump's own making -- remains rudderless in a crisis and curiously flat-footed when true emergencies like the latest Florida shooting arise.

All of the success this past year has been a function of that rudderlessness. The last thing we need now is him trying to lead anything.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 AM


EPA: Pruitt faced profanities from fellow passengers when he flew coach (BRANDON CARTER, 02/15/18, The Hill)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that Administrator Scott Pruitt faced profanities and confrontations while traveling after controversy surrounding his use of first-class flights.

The director of the EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement, Henry Barnet, told Politico that Pruitt was "approached in the airport numerous times" and had profanities "yelled at him" during his travels. [...]

The EPA's defense of the administrator's traveling habits comes after The Washington Post reported Sunday that Pruitt frequently flies first class on official trips, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

CBS News reported late Tuesday that Pruitt flew business class in June on an Emirates flight back from Italy after obtaining a waiver to rules that require official travel to be on United States-flagged airlines.

On Tuesday, Pruitt blamed his first-class flying on interactions that have "not been the best."

He told the New Hampshire Union Leader that his security detail dictated his travel choices, and he played no role in the decisions.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 AM


China has boosted its huge stash of U.S. government debt (Daniel Shane, 2/16/18, CNNMoney)

China's holdings of U.S. government debt swelled to $1.18 trillion by the end of 2017, up $127 billion from a year earlier, according to Treasury Department data published Thursday. That's an annual increase of 13%, the biggest since 2010. [...]

Last month, Bloomberg reported that China was looking to cut back on the amount of U.S. government debt it buys, citing unidentified sources. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 AM


Trump blames grieving classmates for not stopping Florida shooter (Matthew Chapman, FEBRUARY 15, 2018, ShareBlue)

Thursday morning, Trump criticized the people of Parkland for not "reporting" the gunman to the authorities.

"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior," he wrote. "Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

This degree of victim-blaming is particularly galling, because this was a case in which many people suspected he was a risk and took action to keep others safe.

As even Trump noted, Nikolas Cruz, the suspect, has a social media profile that fetishizes guns and killing. He was expelled for disciplinary issues, including threatening students.

School administrators warned teachers to "keep an eye" out for him, and he was banned from carrying a backpack onto the premises. Cruz even boasted in a YouTube comment that he was going to be a "professional school shooter," prompting a fellow user to file a report with the FBI, but nothing came of it.

The problem is not, as Trump claims, that people didn't do anything. They did. It didn't prevent Cruz from obtaining a deadly weapon and murdering his former classmates.

According to law enforcement, Cruz purchased his AR-15 legally a year ago, in a state where gun laws are relatively lax.

White House refuses to release photo of Trump signing bill to weaken gun law (LAURA STRICKLER, 2/15/18,  CBS NEWS)

A little over a month after his inauguration, on Feb. 28, 2017, President Trump signed HJ Resolution 40, a bill that made it easier for people with mental illness to obtain guns. CBS News then asked the White House to release the photograph of Mr. Trump signing the bill, making the request a total of 12 times.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders finally responded to repeated emails and phone calls with a one-line note on April 19, 2017, writing to CBS News, "We don't plan to release the picture at this time."

A White House photographer confirmed to CBS News that there are photos of the bill signing. Those photos won't be seen unless the Trump administration releases them, though, because the White House is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. 

February 15, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 PM


Exclusive: A top Trump campaign adviser close to plea deal with Mueller (Katelyn Polantz and Sara Murray, 2/15/18, CNN)

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case.

Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a "Queen for a Day" interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Porn Star Stormy Daniels Has 'Monica Lewinsky Dress' To Prove Alleged Trump Affair (AMANDA PRESTIGIACOMO, February 15, 2018, Daily Wire)

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


The Apotheosis of Donald J. Trump: What evangelicals gain and lose doing business with the president. (ERICK W. ERICKSON, 2/15/18, Weekly Standard)

Brody and Lamb's book highlights everything wrong with the morphing of American evangelicalism into a post-Jesus cult of personality looking for salvation delivered by politicians--including its hypocrisy and sophistry regarding Trump and morality. The authors quote one evangelical leader saying that evangelicals' relationship with the president is authentic, not transactional. But a few chapters earlier, the same individual described a conference call he led with the Trump campaign's evangelical advisers just after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about assaulting women. During that call, "all of us agreed to stand behind the candidate." After all, Trump "had sacrificed his entire life, in my viewpoint, and supported us. How could we not support him?"

We can wink-wink at Trump's misdeeds because he does good things for us. The authors actually write that "when assessing the faith of Donald Trump, the significance of the Neil Gorsuch nomination cannot be underestimated." Really? That is essential to assessing Trump's faith? More than his sexual proclivities and adulteries, which are barely touched upon in the book? In a few spots in the book, the authors blame American culture for Trump's sexual ethics, and in one passage, they even find a way to implicate evangelicals in Trump's sexual behavior. Follow the twisted logic: First, Brody and Lamb quote another biographer who says that "Clint Eastwood, James Bond, and Hugh Hefner" are the figures who dominate Trump's self-image. Then we are told that Trump boasted about being a womanizer roughly around the same time that Pierce Brosnan's first James Bond movie came out. And who do we have to thank for Bond's having a place in Trump's mind? "Americans--including evangelicals--fund these culture-shaping products with their book purchases and ticket sales." So if you've ever seen a Bond movie, you've contributed to the culture that made Trump Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


I Win My Long-Run Gas Price Bet (Bryan Caplan, 2/15/18, EconLog)

In July of 2008, the average U.S. price of regular gasoline was $4.062.  As usual, global hysteria followed.  And as usual, I was unperturbed.  So unperturbed, in fact, that I made the following bet with Tyler Cowen and David Balan:
I will bet $100, even odds, that the U.S. price of gas (including taxes) in the first week of January, 2018 will be $3.00 or less in 2008 dollars.

A subsequent clarification specified that the bet was on the price of regular gasoline.

Today, the January CPI arrived, allowing us to finally resolve this ten-year bet.  In 2008, the US CPI stood at 215.3.  In the third quarter of 2017, it hit 244.7.  Since then, there has been further inflation of 0.3%, bringing us to 245.3, for a grand total of 13.9% inflation during this period.  For me to win, then, the average price of regular gasoline in January 2017 must be less than $3.417.

So where are we now?  In January of 2018, the average price was a mere $2.555.  I have therefore won this bet by a margin of over 25%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Steve Bannon met with Mueller multiple times over the past week (HALLIE JACKSON, 2/15/18, NBC)

Bannon spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with the team led by Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as other issues that have arisen around the probe.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Report: Alleged school shooter trained with "Republic of Florida" white supremacists (fAST cOMPANY, 2/15/18)

Nikolas Cruz, who allegedly killed 17 people at a Florida high school on Wednesday, trained with a white supremacist group called Republic of Florida, the group's leader, Jordan Jereb, told the Anti-Defamation League Thursday.

Jereb said Cruz was "part of our organization" and took part in "paramilitary" training with the group in the Tallahassee area. "He probably used that training to do what he did yesterday," Jereb said. "Nobody I know told him to do that, he just freaked out."

The ADL called on the group after seeing self-described Republic of Florida members claiming on 4chan that Cruz had been a member. The ADF says ROF describes itself as a "white civil rights organization fighting for white identitarian politics." The group wants to create a "white ethnostate" in Florida, ADF said.

Mass shootings are getting deadlier. And the latest ones all have something new in common: The AR-15 (Matt Pearce, FEB 14, 2018, la tIMES)

As of this week, seven of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history have all happened since 2007. The Parkland massacre is now the eighth-deadliest attack.

The nation's mass-shooting problem seems to be getting worse. And the latest, most serious shootings all seem to have one new thing in common: the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.

The AR-15 typically has large magazines, shoots rounds at higher velocities than handguns, and leaves more complex wounds in victims.

In each one of the older shootings on the 10-deadliest list -- including the 2007 attack on Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., that left 32 victims dead -- the shooters carried handguns. (The exception is the 1984 San Ysidro massacre, where the gunman also used a shotgun and an Uzi semiautomatic carbine.)

But in all of the latest incidents -- Newtown, Conn., in 2012; San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015; Orlando, Fla., in 2016; Las Vegas, 2017; Sutherland Springs, Texas, 2017 -- the attackers primarily used AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.

FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump (PETER STONE AND GREG GORDON, January 18, 2018, McClatchy)

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It's unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller's sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump's campaign, has been heating up.


EACH NEW BREAKING news situation is an opportunity for trolls to grab attention, provoke emotions, and spread propaganda. The Russian government knows this. Fake-news manufacturing teenagers in Macedonia know this. Twitter bot creators know this. And thanks to data-gathering operations from groups like the Alliance for Securing Democracy and RoBhat Labs, the world knows this.

In the wake of Wednesday's Parkland, Florida school shooting, which resulted in 17 deaths, troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts.  [...]

While RoBhat Labs tracks general political bots, Hamilton 68 focuses specifically on those linked to the Russian government. According to the group's data, the top link shared by Russia-linked accounts in the last 48 hours is a 2014 Politifact article that looks critically at a statistic cited by pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Twitter accounts tracked by the group have used the old link to try to debunk today's stats about the frequency of school shootings.

Another top link shared by the network covers the "deranged" Instagram account of the shooter, showing images of him holding guns and knives, wearing army hats, and a screenshot of a Google search of the phrase "Allahu Akbar." Characterizing shooters as deranged lone wolves with potential terrorist connections is a popular strategy of pro-gun groups because of the implication that new gun laws could not have prevented their actions. On Thursday President Trump tweeted as much: "So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior."

Meanwhile, some accounts with large bot followings are already spreading misinformation about the shooter's ties to far-left group Antifa, even though the Associated Press reported that he was a member of a local white nationalist group. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


U.S. court says Trump travel ban unlawfully discriminates against Muslims (Reuters, 2/15/18) 

The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals became the second federal appeals court to rule against the ban, which was announced by Trump in September. The Supreme Court has allowed the restrictions to go into effect while litigation challenging the policy continues. The high court is due in April to hear arguments on the legality of the ban and to issue a ruling by the end of June.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Is US pressure pushing Taliban toward peace? (Deutsche-Welle, 2/15/18)

In an unusual move, the Afghan Taliban issued a letter Wednesday addressing directly the "American people" and urging them to put pressure on their government to withdraw from conflict-stricken Afghanistan. The letter was addressed to "the American people, officials of independent non-governmental organizations and the peace loving Congressmen." [...]

"This letter is a unique move by the Taliban. It is the first time the group has expressed its willingness to engage in peace talks and has called on the people of the United States to push their government to work on a mechanism for peace with the Taliban," said Faiz Mohammad Zaland, a Kabul University lecturer and an expert on the Taliban. [...]

Observers in Afghanistan see the latest move by the Taliban as a reaction to increased US airstrikes against the group and pressure on Pakistan to take action against extremist outfits operating from its soil. "The Taliban are aiming to ease the pressure on Pakistan and buy time against the US airstrikes in Afghanistan," Yonus Fakur, a Kabul-based political analyst, told DW.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Republican lawmaker clashes with Sessions over sentencing reform bill (Sarah N. Lynch, 2/15/18, Reuters)

In unusually strong language, committee Chairman Charles Grassley said he was "irritated" by a letter Sessions sent on Wednesday condemning the legislation, which Grassley has championed and which has received wide bipartisan support.

Grassley's comments came as the committee was preparing to edit and approve a sentencing reform bill that aims to lessen prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and would give federal judges more discretion over sentencing. [...]

As a senator and now attorney general, Sessions' criminal justice policy views have often been out of step with many of his fellow conservatives, and the American mainstream more broadly.

He is a champion of mandatory minimum sentences that many say disproportionately affect minority communities and wrongfully incarcerate low-level offenders for lengthy sentences.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Andrew Johnson's failed presidency echoes in Trump's White House (Donald Nieman, 2/13/18, The Conversation)

Who's the most vulgar, racist, thin-skinned, vituperative U.S. president?

As a historian of Reconstruction, I've always believed that it was Andrew Johnson. However, considering his astonishing first year in office, I'd contend President Donald Trump may soon own this dubious distinction. [...]

Through bold assertion of executive authority, Johnson quickly reconstructed state and local governments in the South. Because African-Americans were excluded from the process, these regimes were controlled by Southern whites, most of whom had been loyal Confederates. Predictably, they adopted laws designed to keep African-Americans in a servile position.

Southern officials also stood by and even abetted whites who unleashed a wave of violence against former slaves. For example, in July 1866, New Orleans police participated in a massacre that left 37 African-Americans and white Unionists dead and more than 100 wounded.

Unlike today's Republicans, most of whom have become more loyal to Trump, Reconstruction-era Republicans pushed back against Johnson. They viewed emancipation as a crowning achievement of Union victory and were determined to ensure that former slaves enjoyed the fruits of freedom. Although they hoped to avoid conflict with the president, in early 1866, they adopted measures designed to establish color-blind citizenship and protect former slaves from injustice.

Like Trump, Johnson's instinct was to attack rather than negotiate. A states' rights Democrat and proponent of white supremacy, Johnson rebuffed Republicans' efforts at compromise. He responded to Republican civil rights legislation with scathing veto messages. In September 1866, he toured the North, leveling personal attacks against congressional leaders and seeking to rally voters against them in the midterm elections.

Growing up poor and illiterate, Johnson had developed a deep hostility for African-Americans, believing that they looked down on people like him. [...]

While lauded by white Southerners, he was reviled by African-Americans and most Northerners for disgracing the office of the presidency. Thomas Nast, the popular political cartoonist, lampooned him, the press chastised him and private citizens expressed their disgust.

Commenting on Johnson's electioneering tour of the North, Mary Todd Lincoln said acidly that his conduct "would humiliate any other than himself."

Congressional Republicans overrode Johnson's vetoes and tied his hands on matters of policy. In 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him but the Senate fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority necessary to remove him from office.

As his term came to an end in 1869, his successor, Ulysses Grant, refused to ride to the inauguration in the same carriage as the disgraced Johnson, who then declined to attend the ceremony.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Russian toll in Syria battle was 300 killed and wounded: sources (Maria Tsvetkova, 2/15/18, Reuters) 

About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were either killed or injured in Syria last week, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Anthony Scaramucci and the Trump B-Team Plot 'Revenge'  (LACHLAN MARKAY, ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, SAM STEIN, 02.14.18, Daily Beast)

Chief among Kelly's public detractors this week has been Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director whom Kelly and Trump canned in late July on Kelly's first --and Scaramucci's eleventh--day on the job.

In the aftermath of allegations that former White House staff secretary Rob Porter abused his two ex-wives, Scaramucci took aim at Kelly's insistence that the White House had acted swiftly to oust the embattled aide. Kelly "almost certainly knew" about the allegations long before he claimed, Scaramucci declared on Twitter on Tuesday. "Inexcusable," he wrote. "Kelly must resign."

Scaramucci was not randomly lashing out. In fact, five sources in and outside of the White House familiar with their conversations, tell The Daily Beast that he's been in direct contact with Trump over at least the last month.

Three of those sources, one a White House official and the others close Trump allies, told The Daily Beast that Scaramucci received phone calls from President Trump in January, just as the former comms chief began going on TV to bash former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon for the scorched-earth interview he gave for Michael Wolff's book on the Trump White House. (Bannon and Scaramucci, for their part, had previously feuded.)

Though Scaramucci had left the White House on such bad terms that the president earnestly asked if he was "on drugs," Trump was pleased by the cable hits. He called Scaramucci to discuss and review them, knowledgeable sources say. And in at least one conversation, he told Scaramucci that he wasn't brutal enough in his criticisms of Bannon.

The dialogue continued from there. A source with knowledge of the exchange said Scaramucci told the president that he would be sending his tweets critical of Kelly. After they touched base, Scaramucci put out his social media missive calling for the chief of staff's ouster. One West Wing official simply dubbed this saga, "The Mooch's revenge."

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Senators Strike Bipartisan Deal on Immigration Despite Veto Threat (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, FEB. 14, 2018, NY Times)

A broad bipartisan group of senators reached agreement Wednesday on a narrow rewrite of the nation's immigration laws that would bolster border security and resolve the fate of the so-called Dreamers, even as President Trump suggested he would veto any plan that does not adhere to his harder-line approach. [...]

"The president's going to have a vote on his concept. I don't think it will get 60 votes," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a member of the group, adding: "The bottom line then is: What do you do next? You can do what we've done for the last 35 years -- blame each other. Or you can actually start fixing the broken immigration system. If you came out of this with strong border security -- the president getting his wall and the Dream Act population being taken care of -- most Americans would applaud."

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


The most underrated argument for single-payer health care (Ryan Cooper, Feb. 15th, 2018, The Week)

If there's one constant in modern American life, it's paperwork and bills -- and it's rarely worse than it is for health care. If you need some medical procedure, you are virtually guaranteed several hours of tedious form-filling, made much worse by the knowledge that if you mess up, your insurance might not cover it, and the provider will take you for all you've got.

Eradicating this needless anxiety is perhaps the most underrated argument for Medicare for all. Universal health care would make living in American society tremendously simpler and less stressful. Even for upper-middle-class people who would pay stiffly higher taxes, the price would be well worth it.

I recognize this is not necessarily a typical interaction with the health care system, but: I got a robocall from CVS on Tuesday to tell me my meds (metformin) should be running low; Press #1 to fill the prescription; Press #1 to receive a text when it's ready; Charge: $0.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


CNN Exclusive: At least 100 White House officials served with 'interim' security clearances until November (Jim Acosta, February 14, 2018, CNN)

Nearly a year into President Donald Trump's administration, senior-level staffers -- including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Rob Porter -- remained on interim clearances even as other senior advisers were granted full security access, according to information obtained by CNN from a US government official. [...]

Some officials who started on January 20, 2017, and were without permanent clearances by November include a special assistant to the president for national security affairs and the National Security Council's senior director for international cybersecurity.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Memory, Sex and the Making of the "New Man" (Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Feb. 5th, 2018, Crisis)

Just as memory anchors each person's individual story, history plays the same role for cultures, nations and communities of faith. History is our shared memory. When we Christians lose a strong grasp of our own history--our own unique story and identity--others will gladly offer us a revised version of all three--a version that suits their own goals and bigotries, and not necessarily the truth. And then some very ugly things can happen. A community dies when its memory fails. So our memory as a Christian people matters. And I want to recall one particular piece of our history as Christian men, because it speaks to us right here, today.

Exactly 900 years ago, in A.D. 1118-19, a small group of men came together in Jerusalem to form a religious community. They were pilgrims. The First Crusade had retaken the city from Muslim rule in 1099. The men, who were all from Europe's knightly order, had come looking for a life of common prayer and service. They got both, but not in the way they intended.

As warriors, the men had skills. As knights, they came from respected families with important connections. The roads leading to Jerusalem and other holy sites were infested with brigands and Muslim raiders that would rob, rape, murder or abduct many of those making the journey. The Christian rulers of the city needed help in protecting the travelers. The men had taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Patriarch of Jerusalem. And their first task, under obedience, was to patrol the roads.

They began that work with nine men too poor to afford anything more than the clothes they were given by pilgrims. Twenty years later, the Holy See approved the rule of their religious community, the Poor Brothers of the Order of the Temple of Solomon--the Knights Templar. The Templars went on to become the most effective Christian fighting force in the Holy Land for nearly 200 years. They had dozens of recruiting and support communities throughout Europe. And they were so successful that they were finally persecuted and suppressed through the jealousy of the French king.

A lot of nonsense--some of it vindictive, some of it ridiculous, much of it just false--has been written about the Templars. If you want facts, read Malcolm Barber's The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple, or the work of Jonathan Riley-Smith or Thomas Madden. Or read St. Bernard of Clairvaux's great reflection on the Templars, "In Praise of the New Knighthood." But pay special attention to that expression "the new knighthood."

Knighthood in medieval Europe began as a profession of heavily armed male thugs--men obsessed with vanity, violence, and rape. It took the Church and royalty centuries to tame and channel it. But it provided the animating ideal at the core of the Templars: to build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity, and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak. The ideal of this "new knighthood" was often ignored or betrayed. Then and now, humans are sinners--all of us. But the astounding thing is how much more often and how much more fruitfully the ideal was embraced, pursued and actually lived by the brothers, rather than abused.

My point is this. C.S. Lewis described Christianity as a "fighting religion." He meant that living the Gospel involves a very real kind of spiritual warfare; a struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us. Our first weapons should always be generosity, patience, mercy, forgiveness, an eagerness to listen to and understand others, a strong personal witness of faith, and speaking the truth unambiguously with love. For the Christian, violence is always a last and unwelcome resort. It's to be used only in self-defense or in defending others. But at the same time, justice and courage are also key Christian virtues. And I think they have a special meaning in the life of the Christian man.

Men need a challenge. Men need to test and prove their worth. Men feel most alive when they're giving themselves to some purpose higher than their own comfort. This is why young men join the Marines or Rangers or SEALs. They do it not despite it being hard, but exactly because it's hard; because it hurts; because they want to be the best and earn a place among brothers who are also the very best. Men joined the early Capuchins and Jesuits not to escape the world but to transform it; to convert the world by demanding everything a man had--every drop of his energy, love, talent and intelligence--in service to a mission bigger and more important than any individual ego or appetite.

This is why the ideal of knighthood--despite all the videogame fantasies and freemason conspiracies that the modern world tries to attach to it--still has such a strong hold on the hearts and imaginations of men. As men, we're hardwired by nature and confirmed by the Word of God to do three main things: to provide, to protect, and to lead--not for our own sake, not for our own empty vanities and appetites, but in service to others. [...]

[T]he "new knighthood" St. Bernard once praised never really disappears. It's new and renewed in every generation of faithful Catholic men. And brothers, that means us. It's a vocation that belongs to us, and nobody else. The rules of our order--all 22 of them--were written down 500 years ago by the great Catholic humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam, in his book, The Manual of a Christian Knight. It's a dense text for the modern reader, but here's the substance of what he says:

Rule 1: Deepen and increase your faith.
Rule 2: Act on your faith; make it a living witness to others.
Rule 3: Analyze and understand your fears; don't be ruled by them.
Rule 4: Make Jesus Christ the only guide and the only goal of your life.
Rule 5: Turn away from material things; don't be owned by them.
Rule 6: Train your mind to distinguish the true nature of good and evil.
Rule 7: Never let any failure or setback turn you away from God.
Rule 8: Face temptation guided by God, not by worry or excuses.
Rule 9: Always be ready for attacks from those who fear the Gospel and resent the good.
Rule 10: Always be prepared for temptation. And do what you can to avoid it.
Rule 11: Be alert to two special dangers: moral cowardice and personal pride.
Rule 12: Face your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
Rule 13: Treat each battle as if it were your last.
Rule 14: A life of virtue has no room for vice; the little vices we tolerate become the most deadly.
Rule 15: Every important decision has alternatives; think them through clearly and honestly in the light of what's right.
Rule 16: Never, ever give up or give in on any matter of moral substance.
Rule 17: Always have a plan of action. Battles are often won or lost before they begin.
Rule 18: Always think through, in advance, the consequences of your choices and actions.
Rule 19: Do nothing--in public or private--that the people you love would not hold in esteem.
Rule 20: Virtue is its own reward; it needs no applause.
Rule 21: Life is demanding and brief; make it count.
Rule 22: Admit and repent your wrongs, never lose hope, encourage your brothers, and then begin again.

Maleness, brothers, is a matter of biology. It just happens. Manhood must be learned and earned and taught. That's our task. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 AM


Steven Pinker: Identity Politics Is 'An Enemy of Reason and Enlightenment Values': A conversation with the renowned psychologist on reason, identity politics, and humanism. Plus, what does he think Trump should read? (ADAM RUBENSTEIN, 2/15/18, Weekly Standard)
Renowned professor of psychology at Harvard and a prolific writer, Steven Pinker is the author of several prize-winning books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature. This week Pinker releases a new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. I [...] chatted over email with Professor Pinker and asked him some questions on his new book and contemporary politics. [...]

AR: There is, as you recognize a "liberal tilt" in academia. And you write about it: "Non-leftist speakers are frequently disinvited after protests or drowned out by jeering mobs," and "anyone who disagrees with the assumption that racism is the cause of all problems is called a racist." How high are the stakes in universities? Should we worry?

SP: Yes, for three reasons. One is that scholars can't hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, "He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that." In The Blank Slate I argued that leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement). The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research. (Despite the highly publicized follies of academia, it's still a more disinterested forum than alternatives like the Twittersphere, Congress, or ideologically branded think tanks.) In particular, many right-wingers tell each other that the near-consensus among scientists on human-caused climate change is a conspiracy among politically correct academics who are committed to a government takeover of the economy. This is sheer nonsense, but it can gain traction when the noisiest voices in the academy are the repressive fanatics.

February 14, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


'Skinny' immigration plan gains traction in the Senate (Susan Ferrechio, Feb 14, 2018, Washington Examiner)

A "skinny" version of immigration reform with language that's scaled back from President Trump's preferred bill is emerging as the only measure that could possibly win enough votes to pass the Senate, which was still struggling on Tuesday to find a consensus.

Republicans and Democrats said Tuesday that a plan that pairs legal protection for so-called "Dreamers" with significant border security funding might have the momentum to win 60 votes in the Senate.

Such a bill would exclude reforms sought by Trump to end chain migration and the visa lottery system, issues that have divided the two parties and have made it impossible to find agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Putin cancels key appearances due to ill health for first time in years (Oliver Carroll, 2/14/18, The Independent)

For the first time in years, Vladimir Putin has cancelled several public appearances due to illness - prompting speculation about the long-term durability of a leader feted for his virility.

On Monday, there was no visit to Sochi. Today, there was no discussion of microelectronics in the Kremlin. Tomorrow, the President will not make an appearance at the "Mentor 2018" forum in Moscow. And next week, he will not travel to the Russian Far East.

During his last public appearance, at the culmination of the Kremlin's "Leaders of Russia" talent competition, the President showed obvious signs of illness. His voice was weak and crackly and he coughed throughout. The Independent saw a similar picture when it accompanied Mr Putin on a campaign visit in Siberia last week. The President struggled with public speeches, made mistakes and seemed unfocussed.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Third White House official resigns after being told he wouldn't qualify for full clearance (ANDREW RESTUCCIA 02/14/2018, Politico)

George David Banks, who had served since February 2017 as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy, told POLITICO that he was informed by the White House counsel's office Tuesday that his application for a permanent clearance would not be granted over his past marijuana use.

Like an estimated three dozen others in the White House, Banks had been working on an interim security clearance while the administration determined the status of his full clearance.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 AM


Christopher Steele is a hero - and Americans owe him their thanks (Christian Caryl February 14, 2018, Washington Post)

We know that he spent two decades as an officer in Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, sometimes known as "MI6"), where he enjoyed the highest esteem from his own bosses as well as his counterparts in the U.S. intelligence community. We know that he spent long stints in Russia, where he built up his knowledge of the country and language and cultivated a wide-ranging network of contacts. At one point he ran the SIS Russia Desk.

And we know that one of his SIS jobs included working in Afghanistan with British and U.S. special forces who were hunting down terrorists. This is a man who put his own life on the line for the sake of his country's close alliance with the United States -- a man who, in July and October 2016, correspondingly saw it as a matter of duty to approach old colleagues in the FBI when he realized he had stumbled onto a breathtaking threat to U.S. national security.

We also know that Steele investigated the case of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian defector who was assassinated -- allegedly by the Kremlin -- with a deadly radioactive poison in London in 2006. Steele knows only too well what happens to people who get in Putin's way. Yet even this awareness didn't divert him from his path as he began to expose the Trump-Russia nexus. There was a reason why he and his family went into hiding when his name was first made public last year.

The risks are real. Some Moscow-watchers have followed the grim fates of a number of senior Russian officials who were likely involved in Operation Donald Trump. In early 2017, Oleg Erovinkin, an aide to Gazprom CEO Igor Sechin (arguably the second-most powerful man in Russia), mysteriously died in the back of his car. (Steele's reporting offers considerable detail about Page's links with Gazprom, Russia's energy giant.) After Steele took his reporting to the FBI, two key officials in the cyber department of the FSB (Russia's security service, and a successor of the KGB), as well as another cybersecurity expert, were arrested and spirited away. They haven't been heard from since.

This, too, suggests just how high the stakes are -- so much higher than the world of Washington's petty partisan crusades. This is the world of Kremlin intrigue, where mysterious deaths are a common tool of statecraft. This is the world that Christopher Steele had to plumb, at considerable personal risk to himself, to chart Trump's illicit entanglements.

That the Republicans are so determined to destroy Steele's reputation certainly isn't making life easier for him. Happily, he doesn't have to do much to prevail against them. He merely has to endure. The truth will find a way. The members of Trump's party who are smart enough to understand this must be terrified.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


Can Netanyahu Survive? (GREGG CARLSTROM, February 13, 2018, Politico)

After a long probe, investigators recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery in two separate cases. In one, dubbed "Case 1000," he allegedly received lavish gifts--cigars, champagne, tailored suits--from wealthy businessmen, in exchange for political favors. The police estimated the value of the gifts at one million shekels, or $282,000. The other ("Case 2000") involves the publisher of Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest paid daily newspaper. Netanyahu is accused of colluding with the media mogul, trading favorable coverage for a law that would have helped Yediot's bottom line. [...]

[F]or now, the question of survival remains political rather than legal: Can he maintain his coalition? A decade ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was accused of taking bribes, could not. It was in fact Netanyahu, who was opposition leader at the time, who spent months campaigning mercilessly against his rival. "A prime minister who is sunk up to his neck in investigations has no moral and public mandate," he said. 

As we've seen from the Trumpbots, folks who are morally compromised enough to desire an ethno-state can hardly object to some pocket-lining.

(*) Thanks, Clovis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


White House reels as FBI director contradicts official claims about alleged abuser (Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey February 13, 2018, Washington Post)

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau had completed a background report on then-staff secretary Rob Porter last July and closed out the case entirely last month. Wray's account is at odds with White House claims that the investigation required for Porter's security clearance was "ongoing" until he left his job last week, after his two ex-wives publicly alleged physical and emotional abuse. [...]

The Porter drama has become all-consuming, creating an atmosphere of chaos and infighting reminiscent of the "Game of Thrones" stage early in Trump's presidency -- and distracting from the administration's budget and infrastructure agenda.

Inside the West Wing, a growing number of aides blamed Trump's second White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, for the bungled handling of the allegations against Porter. Trump in recent days has begun musing about possible replacements, according to people with knowledge of the conversations. [...]

[K]elly does not enjoy the confidence of an increasing number of his subordinates, some of whom said they believe that the retired four-star Marine Corps general has misled them.

Kelly is "a big fat liar," said one White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. "To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty."

This portrait of the West Wing in turmoil is based on interviews with more than a dozen top White House officials and outside advisers and confidants, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution. [...]

"Credibility is the coin of the realm for any White House chief of staff, and it's especially important in a White House where truth was the first casualty and credibility has been the second," said Chris Whipple, who wrote a book about chiefs of staff.

The internal animus is not limited to Kelly. White House counsel Donald McGahn and deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin are also facing scrutiny over how Porter managed to work at the White House -- and hold an interim security clearance -- for more than a year despite the allegations of abuse during his two marriages.

...'til the last Know-Nothing is gone.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


In Trump's first year, U.S. agency doubles solar investments abroad (Nichola Groom, 2/14/18, Reuters) 

The United States government doubled its financial support for solar power projects overseas last year under a climate-friendly investment policy written in the last days of the Obama administration, according to a Reuters review of government documents.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 AM


Controversy in Iran over Rouhani's call for referendum (Al-Monitor, February 13, 2018)

Despite the hard-liner attacks, conservative analyst Amir Mohebian said Feb. 13, "A referendum is a constitutional article, but I assume that the opponents [of Rouhani] don't want this [kind of measure] to turn into a normal procedure [for how to resolve political deadlocks]."

It appears that what the conservatives are really worried about is the possibility that Rouhani may attempt to revise the constitution to decrease Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's power.

Rouhani has responded to the criticisms, referring to the 1979 referendum on whether to establish an Islamic Republic: In that vote, 98% voted in favor of abolishing the monarchy.

"[In 1979], people recognized the right path, which was the path of independence and [not allowing other countries] to meddle with our destiny. If you now ask people whether they want independence or foreigners' meddling [in the country's affairs], 98.2% will say that they want independence. This figure doesn't change. If we ask people whether they want freedom or tyranny, the same percent [of people] will vote for the Islamic Republic [again]," he said on Feb. 13.

Rouhani also emphasized that he, as president, has the responsibility and duty of implementing the constitution.

February 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Trump pitches plan to replace food stamps with food boxes (HELENA BOTTEMILLER EVICH, 02/12/2018, Politico)

The Trump administration is proposing to save billions in the coming years by giving low-income families a box of government-picked, nonperishable foods every month instead of food stamps. [...]

The proposal, buried in the White House's fiscal 2019 budget, would replace about half of the money most families receive via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, with what the Department of Agriculture is calling "America's Harvest Box." That package would be made up of "100 percent U.S. grown and produced food" and would include items like shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruits and meats, and cereal.

We're agnostic on the idea, but glory in the thought of the Right's reaction if Michelle proposed doing shopping for Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


FBI's Wray contradicts White House on Porter background check (Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton, 2/13/18, Reuters) 

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday contradicted the White House version of events surrounding the background check for a former top aide accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives, increasing pressure on the White House to explain what happened.

Wray, in testimony on Capitol Hill, said the agency completed in late July a background check for security clearance for then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned under pressure last Wednesday amid the abuse allegations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


The Anglosphere: A Viable Global Actor or Simply a Culture? (SAMUEL GREGG, 2/02/15, Library of Law & Liberty)

With some significant qualifications, I would submit that a core Anglosphere group of nations continues to exist as a discernible global political player. Whether this is reinforced or weakens over time, however, is going to depend upon the choices made by the leaders of core Anglosphere countries.

Let's start by identifying some of the qualifications. In the first place, we should not exaggerate the prominence of particular elements often associated with Anglosphere countries. Much is made, for instance, of the strong influence of common law in these nations. Historically speaking, the English legal system does possess a strong common law element that has profoundly shaped most English-speaking peoples' legal systems and is not often found outside the English-speaking world.

We should recall, however, that the absolute sovereignty of Parliament had long placed considerable checks upon the influence of precedent and case law in the English, Scottish, Australian, and New Zealand legal systems. Over time, the common law element in English law has also been shaped and modified by constitutional law, chancery law, and even canon law. In more recent decades, England's and Scotland's legal systems have been very influenced by laws and regulations proceeding from Britain's membership of the European Union. Court decisions in the United States and Canada have likewise constrained (and, in some cases, terminated) the influence of precedents embodied and developed through case law.

Second, Anglosphere nations are generally viewed as being more committed to the market economy and economic liberty than to the neo-corporatist and social democratic policies and institutions that prevail on the Continent. There is much truth to this. Even today, the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation's 2014 Index of Economic Freedom lists five former British colonies--Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada--and one former part of Great Britain (Ireland) in the world's top 10 freest economies. The same index, however, also underscores that, economically speaking, Denmark and Chile are freer than the two biggest Anglosphere nations: the United States and Britain. In November 2014, a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) illustrated that the United States is now the world's second biggest social spender in terms of percentage of annual GDP, exceeded only by France.

While the core Anglosphere nations seem to share a stronger and more persistent belief in markets than Continental Western Europeans, they have differed as to how to apply market-orientated approaches to international economic policies. Even before Barack Obama's election as President, Australia and New Zealand had shown a far more consistent commitment to promoting global free trade and reducing subsidies than the United States, resulting in at times significant bilateral tensions. In the late 1980s, for example, the Australian government was so frustrated by the damage that U.S. agricultural subsidies inflicted upon Australian farmers that it contemplated raising with its U.S. counterparts the possibility of discontinuing the joint intelligence facilities located in Northern Australia--facilities that remain crucial to Washington's capacity to engage in global intelligence surveillance.

In terms of foreign and defense policy, the English-speaking nations were, as Andrew Roberts has written, the main bulwark of opposition to Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Soviet Communism over the course of World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. In the case of the last-mentioned, this was underscored by numerous intelligence-sharing arrangements, security treaties such as ANZUS, not to mention the oft-cited Special Relationship between Britain and America. These constructs remain largely in place today.

They have not, however, always translated into the type of concrete commitments desired by some participating members. Though there was considerable pressure from the United States, British and Canadian troops did not fight in Vietnam. Nor did the alliances always hold up under the force of domestic political pressures. In the 1980s, for instance, a very serious rift developed between New Zealand on the one hand, and America and Australia on the other, over New Zealand's adoption of nuclear-free policies--so much so that the "NZ" in "ANZUS" effectively became inoperative for a significant time. Canada did not formally participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 on the grounds that it believed such a war required an explicit United Nations authorization, a view rejected by the United States, Britain, and Australia at the time. (Some Canadian personnel did assist in training Iraqi forces after the invasion, and Ottawa contributed financially to postwar reconstruction efforts.)

All these qualifications remind us that today's core Anglosphere is not an entity similar to that of the Roman Empire or the British Empire. Nor is it a type of American dominion, even though the United States easily outweighs all other core Anglosphere nations put together in terms of economic and military strength. The same qualifications illustrate that the national interests of, for instance, Britain are not identical to those of America, which in turn are not precisely the same as those of Canada, New Zealand, or Australia.

At the same time, a considerable degree of what might be called commonality of purpose has persisted across the core Anglosphere nations. In the realm of economics, for instance, a certain commitment to market-based policies has tended to prevail among core Anglosphere nations, and in ways that often transcend internal ideological divisions. As the historian William Hay has argued, Britain's and America's turn to the market economy under conservative leaders in the 1980s was decisive in diminishing the influence of Keynesian and corporatist policies and structures throughout much of the world. To this one could add that such views were quickly embraced--and, in some respects, more radically--by New Zealand and Australia, notably under the auspices of Labor governments. Even today, interest groups that push for corporatist or protectionist policies arguably find it harder to gain political traction in core Anglosphere countries than their counterparts in Western European nations. One even hears figures as rooted in the American Left as President Obama praising entrepreneurship and publicly affirming free trade less grudgingly than, for instance, France's President François Hollande.

Concerning foreign and defense policy, the core Anglosphere nations--especially the United States, Britain, and Australia (including when the center-left has been in power)--have generally been more willing to not only deploy military force but to do so in concert with each other than most Continental countries. Generally the latter seem more inclined to put their trust in international organizations and international treaties, perhaps because many of them were left physically devastated by two world wars in the space of less than 30 years in ways that core Anglosphere nations were not.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


Israel Police Recommend Charging Netanyahu With Bribery In Two Cases (Josh Breiner, 2/13/18, Haaretz)

This is a developing story. Israel Police will recommend indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two corruption investigations.

The two cases are the so-called Case 1000 - in which Netanyahu is suspected of accepting lavish gifts from wealthy benefactors in return for advancing their interests - and Case 2000, which alleges that Netanyahu tried to strike a deal that would have provided him with positive coverage in Israel's second largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, in exchange for hurting its free rival, Israel Hayom.

The publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes, will also be charged, as will Arnon Milchan, who allegedly provided Netanyahu with gifts. Netanyahu will address the public in a live broadcast at 8:45 P.M.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


Chinese Factory Creating 'Smart' Sexbots (PAUL BOIS, February 2, 2018, Daily Wire)

A company in China is seeking to revolutionize the booming sexbot trade by making their silicone companions have conversations and even do household chores.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 PM


3 Trump properties posted 144 openings for seasonal jobs. Only one went to a US worker. (Alexia Fernández Campbell, 2/13/18, @vox.com)

President Donald Trump's businesses don't seem too concerned about "America First."

A Vox analysis of hiring records for seasonal workers at three Trump properties in New York and Florida revealed that only one out of 144 jobs went to a US worker from 2016 to the end of 2017. Foreign guest workers with H-2B visas got the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


'Anglo-American' Is a Common Legal and Historical Term, It Is Not a 'Dog Whistle' (Charles C. W. Cooke, February 12, 2018, National Review)

Here's Senator Obama in 2006, arguing in favor of habeas corpus on the Senate floor:

The world is watching what we do today in America. They will know what we do here today, and they will treat all of us accordingly in the future--our soldiers, our diplomats, our journalists, anybody who travels beyond these borders. I hope we remember this as we go forward. I sincerely hope we can protect what has been called the "great writ"--a writ that has been in place in the Anglo-American legal system for over 700 years.

And here's Obama during the 2008 campaign, making broadly the same point:

But Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for more than a decade, said captured suspects deserve to file writs of habeus corpus.

Calling it "the foundation of Anglo-American law," he said the principle "says very simply: If the government grabs you, then you have the right to at least ask, 'Why was I grabbed?' And say, 'Maybe you've got the wrong person.'"

The safeguard is essential, Obama continued, "because we don't always have the right person."

And here's Obama as president, at it again:

Obama would not say whether it could be achieved within the first 100 days of his term, citing the challenge of creating a balanced process "that adheres to rule of law, habeas corpus, basic principles of Anglo-American legal system, but doing it in a way that doesn't result in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up.

This usage -- which is precisely the same as Sessions's -- is common, it is quotidian, it is downright normal. It is found in legal textbooks, in works of history, and in Supreme Court opinions alike. More important, it's extremely useful. We need a term that means "long within the unusual legal tradition that predated the independence of this nation," and "Anglo-American" works perfectly in that role. If we allow it to be taken from us by the hysterical and the unlettered, we'll be considerably worse off for it.

In fairness, it's the opposite usage, but Beauregard may well have meant to invoke the basic idea.
Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Rouhani suggests direct public vote to end political gridlock (Al Monitor, Feb. 13th, 2018)

Rouhani continued, "If we have differences on two issues, or the factions have differences, or they are fighting, bring the ballot box out and according to Article 59 of the constitution, whatever the people have decided, implement that. Our constitution has this capacity, and we must act within the capacity of our constitution." Rouhani's Twitter account also later tweeted this segment of the speech.

Rouhani, who has been opposed by the country's hard-liners and unelected officials since first taking office in 2013, has faced stiff resistance in introducing social and economic reforms, despite his re-election in 2017. His comments about a direct vote are an indirect criticism of the Guardian Council, a 12-member body that vets candidates who run in Iran's elections and vets laws passed by Iran's parliament. The supreme leader selects six members of the council. The other six are elected by parliament among nominees recommended by the head of the judiciary, who himself is appointed by the supreme leader.

Unlike the hard-liners in unelected positions, Rouhani and other moderates and Reformists have relied on elections to stay in power. This is why in earlier parts of the speech, Rouhani asked the Guardian Council to make participation and running in elections easier. "To protect the system and the revolution, we have no other path than the participation of the people. And if our revolution has remained, it is because of elections."

He continued, "We have to ease the path to elections for the people." Rouhani means the path to running as candidates, not necessarily voting, given that in Iran voting falls on a Friday, which is the equivalent of a Sunday in the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


TRUMPONOMICS: Feds Just Made History In Tax Collection. Here Are The Numbers. (JAMES BARRETT February 13, 2018, Daily Wire)

The economy is surging, unemployment's near a 45-year low, wages are up by nearly 3% -- and the federal government is enjoying the fruits of all that "Trump Boom" labor. According to the Monthly Treasury Statement released this week, the federal government just raked in more in taxes in the first four months of the fiscal year than any other year, broke the January record for tax collection, and ran a surplus for the first time in months.

In the month of January, which reflects some of the changes from the GOP's $1.5 trillion tax cut bill, the U.S. Department of the Treasury collected just over $361 billion (approx. $361,038,000,000) in total tax revenues, a record for the month of January.

While the feds collected $361 billion, they managed to spend about $49 billion less: $312 billion (approx. $311,802,000,000). That $49 billion surplus helped chip away at the deficit from the previous months of fiscal year 2018, which now stands at almost $176 billion ($175,718,000,000) for this fiscal year.

As CNS explains, the total tax revenues collected in the first four months of FY2018 (approx. $1,130,550,000,000) are the most ever collected in the same period.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


'Colossal' American oil boom could spoil OPEC's plans (Ivana Kottasová, February 13, 2018, CNN Money)

This is the kind of stuff that keeps OPEC up at night.

The oil cartel and key ally Russia have spent more than a year trying to drain the world of excess supply. But the International Energy Agency warned Tuesday that a "colossal" oil boom in the United States could ruin their efforts.

The Paris-based agency said that a massive increase in output means the U.S. will soon be producing more oil than Saudi Arabia. It could soon challenge Russia for the global crown.

The manic American pumping, which the IEA estimates will average 10.4 million barrels a day this year, could cause a glut to return to global markets.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


A Whirlwind Envelops the White House, and the Revolving Door Spins (PETER BAKER, FEB. 12, 2018, NY Times)

The doors at the White House have been swinging a lot lately. A deputy chief of staff moved on. A speechwriter resigned. The associate attorney general stepped down. The chief of staff offered to quit. And that was just Friday.

All of that came after the departure of Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who cleared out his office last week amid accusations of spousal abuse. The White House had overlooked reported problems with his security clearance last year in part, officials said, because of a reluctance to lose yet another senior aide, particularly one seen as so professional and reliable.

More than a year into his administration, President Trump is presiding over a staff in turmoil, one with a 34 percent turnover rate, higher than any White House in decades. He has struggled to fill openings, unwilling to hire Republicans he considers disloyal and unable to entice Republicans who consider him unstable. Those who do come to work for him often do not last long, burning out from a volatile, sometimes cutthroat environment exacerbated by tweets and subpoenas. [...]

Grueling in the best of times, an administration job now seems even less appealing to many potential recruits. Republican operatives said they worry not only about the pressure-cooker, soap-opera atmosphere and the danger of being drawn into the special counsel investigation of Russia's election interference but also about hurting their careers after the White House.

"There isn't a huge appetite from many Republicans on the outside to explore job opportunities in this administration," said Ryan Williams, a former spokesman for Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee. "While there are a lot of vacancies and usually a position in the White House is one of the most prestigious jobs in Washington, that's just not the feeling with this administration, given the turmoil and the chaos."

The dregs are the best they can hope to hire.
Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM


New Book's "Case Against Education" Is a Persuasive One (Logan Albright
Feb. 12th, 2018, FEE)

We know that more educated people tend to make more money, and it's easy to use that statistic as a defense of the education system, but Caplan's thesis is that a significant portion of the salary bonus for graduates comes not from increased ability. Instead, it is the result of what he calls "signaling." In other words, having a degree demonstrates to employers that you know how to follow orders, work hard, and finish what you've started, all valuable skills in the workplace. People with lower levels of education may well have these skills too, but a degree provides a convenient way for employers to separate the wheat from the chaff in a competitive labor market.

Viewed in this light, the idle musings of politicians for universal college enrollment actually constitute a nightmare scenario. In a world where everyone has a bachelor's degree, employers will look for graduate degrees to determine who is really willing to go the extra mile and work the hardest. Everyone will have to put in more time, money, and effort towards obtaining more educational credentials, only to end up exactly where they were before the well-intentioned degree inflation took place.

It's an arms race where everybody loses, and there's no reason it will stop at college degrees. The same do-gooders who made it possible for everyone to have a bachelor's degree will soon want to give everyone a Ph.D. Children used to start school at six years old. Then kindergarten kicked in at five. Then pre-K at four. Pretty soon, babies just out of the womb could be shuttled into formal education programs in the hope of getting a leg up on the increasingly stiff competition. And remember that this competition is not about who knows the most or can do the best job, it's simply about who has the most impressive credentials.

What are the implications of this observation? Caplan argues that the education system fails to actually teach anything very useful and that we, therefore, shouldn't pour billions of taxpayer dollars into it. As a society, it's a waste of money. It's also a huge waste of time to have children spend so many years in school when they could be doing something more productive.

The apparent paradox is this: while education may pay for an individual student, if everyone consumed less education, society would be no worse off either in terms of useful skills or premium wages. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 AM

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 AM


Russia accuses United States of undermining Syria integrity: RIA (Reuters, 2/13/18) 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that in Syria the United States has been acting unilaterally in a "dangerous way", undermining the country's integrity, RIA news agency said.

It's fun watching Vlad realize how far in over his head we lured him.

U.S. Strikes Killed Scores of Russia Fighters in Syria, Sources Say (Stepan Kravchenko , Henry Meyer , and Margaret Talev, February 13, 2018, Bloomberg)

U.S. forces killed scores of Russian contract soldiers in Syria last week in what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former foes since the Cold War, according to a U.S. official and three Russians familiar with the matter.

More than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base and refinery held by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, two of the Russians said.

February 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Former Senior FBI Official Is Leading BuzzFeed's Effort to Verify Trump Dossier : Anthony Ferrante coordinated the U.S. government's response to Russian election interference. Now he's helping a news site defend itself from a Russian billionaire's lawsuit. (JANA WINTER, FEBRUARY 12, 2018, Foreign Policy)

Ferrante, a former top FBI official who previously served as director for cyber incident response at the U.S. National Security Council during the Barack Obama administration, is now at FTI Consulting, where he is leading the effort. 

Ferrante joined the FBI as a special agent in 2005, and he was assigned to the bureau's New York field office, where he worked on cyber threats to national security. In 2006, he was selected as a member of the FBI's Cyber Action Team, a group of experts who deploy globally to respond to critical cyber incidents.

As a top FBI cybersecurity official tasked to the White House, Ferrante was in charge of coordinating the U.S. government response to Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, among other responsibilities. Prior to joining the NSC in 2015, Ferrante was chief of staff for the FBI's cyber division at headquarters under then-Director James Comey. Ferrante, still working for the FBI but at the White House, stayed in his position as director for cyber incident response at the NSC through the Trump administration, until April 2017, when he left to join FTI.

At FTI, Ferrante launched what's now been a months-long stealth effort chasing down documents and conducting interviews on the ground in various countries around the world. His team directed BuzzFeed lawyers to subpoena specific data and testimony from dozens of agencies or companies across the country and assembled a cyber ops war room to analyze that data, according to sources familiar with the work.

BuzzFeed is being sued for libel by Russian technology executive Aleksej Gubarev, who argues that the news organization was reckless in publishing a series of memos written by former British spy Christopher Steele. Those memos -- part of a so-called dossier of information about Trump -- include unverified claims that servers belonging to a company owned by Gubarev were used to hack the Democratic Party's computer systems during the 2016 campaign.

BuzzFeed's outside attorneys initially hired FTI to verify aspects of the dossier specifically pertaining to the Gubarev lawsuit, but its scope has since expanded. "If it's fact, it's not libel, that's the idea," one source told FP.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Sessions Praises Sheriffs For Upholding 'Anglo-American Heritage' Of Policing (Cristina Cabrera, February 12, 2018, TPM)

"The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement," Sessions said. "We must never erode this historic office."

Sessions' phrasing deviated from his prepared remarks as published by the Justice Department, where the line was "The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage."

Even his staff can't hold back his racism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Minister: Russia won't abide Iran's presence in Syria for long (Times of Israel, 2/12/18)

Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a member of the high-level security cabinet, cautiously predicts Moscow will ultimately seek to uproot the growing Iranian military presence in Syria. [...]

"As for the Russians, they served for a certain time as 'boots on the ground,' a player in the field who is doing the dirty work. 

Russians killed in clash with U.S.-led forces in Syria, say associates (Maria Tsvetkova, 2/12/18, Reuters) 

Russian fighters were among those killed when U.S.-led coalition forces clashed with pro-government forces in Syria this month, former associates of the dead said on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


The Effects of Sanctuary Policies on Crime and the Economy (Tom K. Wong, January 26, 2017, Center for American Progress)

To understand the effects of having a sanctuary policy, we statistically match counties based on a broad range of demographic characteristics and then compare sanctuary counties to nonsanctuary counties to better understand the effects that sanctuary policies have on a local jurisdiction.

The data are clear: Crime is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties. Moreover, economies are stronger in sanctuary counties--from higher median household income, less poverty, and less reliance on public assistance to higher labor force participation, higher employment-to-population ratios, and lower unemployment.

Among the main findings:

There are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

Median household annual income is, on average, $4,353 higher in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

The poverty rate is 2.3 percent lower, on average, in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

Unemployment is, on average, 1.1 percent lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

While the results hold true across sanctuary jurisdictions, the sanctuary counties with the smallest populations see the most pronounced effects.

Altogether, the data suggest that when local law enforcement focuses on keeping communities safe, rather than becoming entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts, communities are safer and community members stay more engaged in the local economy. This in turn brings benefits to individual households, communities, counties, and the economy as a whole.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Digital darwinism opens the door to an age of assistance (Brian Solis, 2/12/18, Next Web)

For business transformation to succeed, the whole of innovation must be greater than the progress of its parts. But in an era of digital Darwinism, as technology and society evolve faster than many businesses can keep up, it may be up to the "parts" to lead the way toward holistic business transformation. Digital Darwinism doesn't discriminate in selecting which companies survive, thrive or fade. Outcomes are dependent on the impact of business efforts. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Top Justice Department official Brand quit partly over fear she might be asked to oversee Russia probe (JULIA AINSLEY, 2/12/18, NBC News)

The Justice Department's No. 3 attorney had been unhappy with her job for months before the department announced her departure on Friday, according to multiple sources close to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.

Brand grew frustrated by vacancies at the department and feared she would be asked to oversee the Russia investigation, the sources said.

Brand Loyalty (Julian Sanchez, Feb. 12th, 2018, JustSecurity)

[I]t's helpful to appreciate two things about Rachel Brand.

The first is that Brand had a solid bipartisan reputation as a conservative lawyer of professionalism and integrity. When confirmed to her post last May, she won praise from Clinton Administration veteran Jamie Gorelick, as well as Barack Obama's former acting solicitor general, Neal Kaytal. When I first encountered Brand, in her previous role as a Republican member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board during the Obama administration, she was as consistent as she was vocal in her disagreement with those of us who believed government surveillance in the name of the War on Terror had gone too far. Yet she also impressed me as a serious and fair-minded advocate for her positions, and many of my colleague in civil society have expressed public disappointment at her impending departure.

The second thing to understand is that if you squint at Brand's resumé, it resolves itself like a Magic Eye stereogram into a single bold-faced, all-caps sentence, which reads: "MY LIFE'S AMBITION IS A SENIOR POST AS A POLITICAL APPOINTEE AT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT." At Harvard Law School she joined the conservative Federalist Society, and after graduating won a coveted Supreme Court clerkship under Justice Anthony Kennedy. When Elizabeth Dole was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, Brand served as general counsel to her exploratory committee, and would later join the judicial advisory committee for Sen. John McCain's campaign. She was on the transition team for the George W. Bush administration, which she would later join, spending five years as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy. Decamping to the private sector, she spent a few years at the firm WilmerHale, returned to public service as a member of the PCLOB, worked at the the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as chief counsel for regulatory litigation, and finally found herself back at Main Justice as one of the early appointees of the fledgling Trump Administration. All of which is to say: This is not the profile of a person who arrives two rungs south of attorney general at the age of 44, then departs after less than a year on the job because she has suddenly realized the private sector pays better.

It should be no surprise, then, to find there's more to this story than a hidden passion for Wal-Mart. As NBC News reported Monday, citing sources close to Brand, the Associate AG "had been unhappy with her job for months," having grown both "frustrated by vacancies at the department" and afraid she would be forced to take up Rosenstein's burden of supervising--and so potentially being ordered to dismiss--Robert Mueller.

The most obvious and immediate inference to draw from this is that Brand, surely as well positioned as anyone to read the writing on the wall, has not been reassured by the White House's repeated assertions that neither Mueller nor Rosenstein are on the chopping block. She regarded it as likely she'd be faced with the Hobson's choice of executing an order to sack Mueller, and in the process immolating her reputation for probity, or defying a Republican president and being sacked herself, which however popular it might make her with MSNBC hosts, would play poorly in the conservative legal circles where she'd built her career.

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Glenn Simpson Has Given Us a Russiagate Road Map (Bob Dreyfuss, JANUARY 26, 2018, The Nation)

At the very start, Simpson points out that his Fusion GPS investigation didn't start by looking only at Trump-Russia. It began, he said, by compiling data on Trump's overseas business deals, tax disputes, "labor practices around his factories," his bankruptcies, and his business partners. And what popped up early on was Trump's connection to Felix Sater, whose company, Bayrock, "was engaged in illicit financial business activity and had organized crime connections." (As The Nation reported in September, it was Sater who in November 2015 wrote Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, "Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.... I will get all of [Vladimir] Putins [sic] team to buy in on this.")

"We also had sort of more broadly learned that Mr. Trump had long time associations with Italian organized crime figures," Simpson told HPSCI, based on his research. "And as we pieced together the early years of his biography, it seemed as if during the early part of his career he had connections to a lot of Italian mafia figures, and then gradually during the nineties became associated with Russian mafia figures."

In his testimony, Simpson didn't provide details to back up his charges about Trump's alleged ties to the mob. However, over the past two years, numerous articles have drawn connections between Trump, his businesses, and both Italian and Russian organized crime. During the primary campaign, Senator Ted Cruz talked about Trump's "business dealings with the mob, with the mafia," and Politifact backed him up. In May 2016, David Cay Johnston, writing in Politico, penned a lengthy piece on the subject. And as recently as November, a joint NBC/Reuters investigation tied Trump to mobsters and other criminals in connection with the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. In his just-released testimony, as we shall see, Simpson refers several times to Trump's possible money-laundering ties to Russians in Panama and elsewhere.

The mastermind of Russia's approach to the 2016 election, according to Simpson, didn't reside within Russia's foreign-intelligence service, the SVR. Instead, he said, it was run by Sergei Ivanov, "the head of the presidential administration" (that is, Putin's chief of staff). "As I dug into some of the more obscure academic work on how the Kremlin operates by some of the more distinguished scholars of the subject, I found that Ivanov is, in fact, or was at the time, in fact, the head of a sort of internal kind of White House plumber's operation for the Kremlin and that he seemed to have the kind of duties that were being described in [the dossier]." (By "White House plumbers," of course, Simpson is making an analogy to President Richard Nixon's Watergate team, nicknamed "the plumbers" because their initial job was to find and plug the sources of leaks from the White House.)

According to Simpson, Russian organized crime is far more sophisticated than the Italian version, especially when it comes to money laundering, with closer ties to major businesses, especially in real estate. Asked whether Fusion GPS found any evidence that Trump was linked to such money-laundering activity, Simpson was cautious. "'Evidence,' I think, is a strong word. I think we saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering.... various criminals were buying [Trump's] properties." One of them, a major Russian organized-crime figure, "was running a high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower, while he himself was a fugitive for having rigged the skating competition at the Salt Lake [City] Olympics and a bunch of other sporting events engaged in rigging." When Trump went to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, this gangster was in the VIP section "with Mr. Trump and lots of other Kremlin biggies." Simpson said that the individual was called "Taiwanchik," an apparent reference to Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov, who, according to the Moscow Times, is an alleged gangster sought by the United States.

Trump's various golf resorts were the subject of intense scrutiny by Simpson. Taking note of statements by Eric Trump that the golf-course projects benefited from Russian investments, Simpson began digging. "So we were able to get the financial statements. And they don't, on their face, show Russian involvement, but what they do show is enormous amounts of capital flowing into these projects from unknown sources and--or at least on paper it says it's from The Trump Organization, but it's hundreds of millions of dollars. And these golf course [sic] are just, you know, they're sinks. They don't actually make any money," said Simpson. "If you're familiar with Donald Trump's finances and the litigation over whether he's really a billionaire, you know, there's good reason to believe he doesn't have enough money to do this and that he would have had to have outside financial support for these things."

Which raises two questions: Did Trump, knowingly or unknowingly, help Russians launder money through investing in his golf resorts? And did those investments obligate Trump to shadowy Russian interests or make him vulnerable to blackmail? [...]

Gradually, Simpson and Steele concluded that a pattern was emerging. "Back then we had what appeared to be credible allegations of some sort of a pattern of surreptitious contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian people either working for the government or acting on behalf of the Russian Government," said Simpson. "I think that the evidence that has developed over the last year, since President Trump took office, is that there is a well-established pattern of surreptitious contacts that occurred last year that supports the broad allegation of some sort of an undisclosed political or financial relationship between The Trump Organization and people in Russia."

Under questioning by Representative Adam Schiff, the Democrat who is the ranking minority member on HPSCI, Simpson began to lay out detailed recommendations on which people, which bank records, which real estate transactions, ought to be mined for potentially incriminating information--including in connection with Trump's golf resorts and other properties in Panama, Toronto, and elsewhere.

It's not that hard, Simpson said. "I'm trying to think of the creative way to do this. I mean, as you may know, you know, most of these transactions are cleared through New York. And the other sort of central place for information is SWIFT in Brussels. But I would go for the clearing banks in New York that cleared the transactions," said Simpson. "And there's--again, it's these sort of intermediary entities that have no real interest in protecting the information, and all you have to do is ask for it and they just sort of produce it by rote. So we've done a lot of money laundering investigations where we go to the trust companies and the clearing entities."

When Schiff ended his round of questioning, Representative Tom Rooney, a Republican from Florida, picked up the thread. This hilarious exchange followed: "All those questions that Mr. Schiff asked about, you know, with the subpoena power and where we would go if we wanted to find out about Scotland and Panama and Toronto and Ireland, and you were talking about like the brokers and I guess the banks in Switzerland and New York, my only question is, why didn't you do that?" asked Rooney. Answered Simpson: "I don't have subpoena power."

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His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming (KEVIN ROOSE, FEB. 10, 2018, NY Times)

"All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society," Mr. Yang, 43, said over lunch at a Thai restaurant in Manhattan last month, in his first interview about his campaign. In just a few years, he said, "we're going to have a million truck drivers out of work who are 94 percent male, with an average level of education of high school or one year of college." [...]

To fend off the coming robots, Mr. Yang is pushing what he calls a "Freedom Dividend," a monthly check for $1,000 that would be sent to every American from age 18 to 64, regardless of income or employment status. These payments, he says, would bring everyone in America up to approximately the poverty line, even if they were directly hit by automation. Medicare and Medicaid would be unaffected under Mr. Yang's plan, but people receiving government benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could choose to continue receiving those benefits, or take the $1,000 monthly payments instead.

The Freedom Dividend isn't a new idea. It's a rebranding of universal basic income, a policy that has been popular in academic and think-tank circles for decades, was favored by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the economist Milton Friedman, and has more recently caught the eye of Silicon Valley technologists. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen have all expressed support for the idea of a universal basic income. Y Combinator, the influential start-up incubator, is running a basic income experiment with 3,000 participants in two states. [...]

Critics may dismiss Mr. Yang's campaign (slogan: "Humanity First") as a futurist vanity stunt. The Democratic pipeline is already stuffed with would-be 2020 contenders, most of whom already have the public profile and political experience that Mr. Yang lacks -- and at least one of whom, Senator Bernie Sanders, has already hinted at support for a universal basic income.

Opponents of universal basic income have also pointed to its steep price tag -- an annual outlay of $12,000 per American adult would cost approximately $2 trillion, equivalent to roughly half of the current federal budget -- and the possibility that giving out free money could encourage people not to work. These reasons, among others, are why Hillary Clinton, who considered adding universal basic income to her 2016 platform, concluded it was "exciting but not realistic."

"In our political culture, there are formidable political obstacles to providing cash to working-age people who aren't employed, and it's unlikely that U.B.I. could surmount them," Robert Greenstein, the president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research group, wrote last year.

But Mr. Yang thinks he can make the case. He has proposed paying for a basic income with a value-added tax, a consumption-based levy that he says would raise money from companies that profit from automation. A recent study by the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning policy think-tank, suggested that such a plan, paid for by a progressive tax plan, could grow the economy by more than 2 percent and provide jobs for 1.1 million more people.

"Universal basic income is an old idea," Mr. Yang said, "but it's an old idea that right now is uniquely relevant because of what we're experiencing in society."

You do have to means-test though and accompany it with a conversion to consumption taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 AM


Darkness At Nunes: Inside The House Intelligence Disaster (Jeff Stein, February 12, 2018, Newsweek)

"Nut job" has clung to Nunes's reputation as long as he's been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI, in Washington-speak). Or at least among Democrats (and some Republicans) who have decried Nunes's transformation of a once bipartisan national security panel into a GOP platform to attack Democrats.

Janz thinks he knows why: Nunes's mentorship by Michael Flynn, the now disgraced former Trump national security adviser. "I know that they had a pretty close relationship," he said. Nunes served on the executive committee of the Trump transition team with Flynn, he noted, which was headed by Vice President Mike Pence, "and it seems to me like he never left. He's still on that team."

A descendent of Portuguese Azorean immigrants, Nunes grew up on a Central Valley, California farm and concentrated on water issues when he came to Congress in 2003. But his fundraising prowess for fellow Republicans endeared him to Representative Paul Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner, who in 2013 anointed him chairman of the intelligence panel.

Like many hawks back then, Nunes was in awe of Flynn, who had won praise for revolutionizing the hunt for terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. "This guy was one of the best intelligence officers in several generations," Nunes told me in a December 23, 2016 interview. "I don't know if you've ever met him, but Flynn is extremely smart. He really is top notch."

Nunes was speaking fives months after Flynn had startled many former military officers by leading "Lock her up" chants against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention. It was also two years after the Obama White House has forced Flynn's resignation as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. "What happened," Nunes told me, "is...he went out and said a lot of things that Obama didn't like..."

But that's not close to the full story on Flynn, whose battlefield talents didn't transfer well to running the DIA from 2012 to 2014. Not only were his executive skills lacking, according to many observers, including former Army general and Secretary of State Colin Powell, he quickly developed a reputation for indulging in conspiracy theories--or " Flynn facts," his aides derisively called them.

But Nunes embraced them. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 AM


Iran's Rouhani to visit India (Middle East Online, 2/12/18)

 Iran's President Hassan Rouhani will visit India this week for three days, local media reported on Monday.

Rouhani is due to leave for India on Thursday to discuss "the latest regional and global developments", the semi-official ISNA news agency said.

He was invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, ISNA said.

India and Iran have collaborated on key projects, most notably the Chabahar port in southeastern Iran that was inaugurated in December.

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 AM


Giving up control of Brussels mosque, Saudi Arabia sends a signal (Alissa de Carbonnel, Stephen Kalin, 2/12/18, Reuters) 

Saudi Arabia has agreed to give up control of Belgium's largest mosque in a sign that it is trying to shed its reputation as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.

February 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


The mysterious oppo researcher working in the White House lawyer's office: Michael Roman, best known as a shadowy operative who oversaw a research unit for the Koch network, now occupies an unusual and undefined role in the Trump administration (NANCY COOK 02/11/2018, pOLITICO)

Few people in or close to the White House have any idea what Michael Roman does all day.

Officially, Roman works as a special assistant to the president and director of special projects and research, a vague title that reveals almost nothing. He earns $115,000 a year for this work, according to White House salary records, and keeps an office inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

He reports to White House counsel Don McGahn, who represented the conservative Koch network as a lawyer during the period when Roman was working for the Kochs' Freedom Partners group as head of research -- a $269,000-a-year job that involved tracking the activities of Democratic political organizers and donors.

Roman, whose 25-person intelligence-gathering unit was officially disbanded by the Kochs in 2016, was hired by Donald Trump's campaign to oversee poll-watching in the final weeks before the election and was among a handful of unannounced hires who quietly joined the White House soon after Trump's inauguration.

He's not involved in the kind of advance work that researchers hired by previous administrations have handled, according to interviews with half a dozen current and former White House officials and advisers.

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Trump Praises Senate Candidate Who Spoke At Rally With Holocaust Denier (Aiden Pink, 2/11/18, The Forward)

President Donald Trump wrote a tweet on Sunday praising Rep. Lou Barletta, who is running in the Republican primary for a Senate race in Pennsylvania and has been dogged by criticism for his repeated run-ins with Holocaust deniers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Kim Yo-Jong, Sister of a Dictator, Gets Celebrity Treatment from U.S. Media (ETHAN EPSTEIN, 2/11/18, Weekly Standard)
It's likely that only the most hardcore Vogue readers remember it--and presumably Anna Wintour and company are hoping that even they will one day forget it--but back in 2011, the venerable fashion magazine posted a glowing profile of Asma al-Assad. Yes, that Asma al-Assad: the wife of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has murdered hundreds of thousands of people--largely civilians, and some by chemical weapons--over the past several years while stamping out a rebellion. Even worse, as leaked emails later showed, Asma herself cheered along the slaughter; she was no mere bystander. Shortly after publication, however, "A Rose in the Desert" disappeared. (It's available now thanks only to the Wayback Machine.)

It's possible--likely even--that some American media outlets will soon have to pull a similar trick. For their coverage this weekend of the visit by Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, to the Pyeongchang Olympics is eerily reminiscent of Vogue's hagiography of the brutal dictator's wife.

Kim Yo-jong is no mere spectator to her brother's misrule of North Korea. She's an elite member of his regime, as director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers' Party of Korea. There she oversees the propaganda regime that constitutes a key component of the enslavement her country's people. She's also a member of the Politburo. But don't just take it for me--Kim is personally sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for her role in sustaining North Korea's oppressive regime.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM

JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON: 1969-2018  (Nick Allen, February 11, 2018, Balder & Dash)

The son of one of Iceland's first IBM computer programmers, Jóhannsson was born on September 19, 1969 in Reykjavik, Iceland. While in university, Jóhannsson studied languages and literature, and started off his musical career as a guitarist for various indie bands. Jóhannsson idea of music's potential, in terms of arrangement and composition, expanded as he grew into the artist's collaborative scene. In 1999, he co-founded the Apparat Organ Quartet, which featured four organists and a drummer, earning comparisons to Goblin, Wagner, and Kraftwerk. This group was an extension of an artist think tank/record label that he founded in the same year called Kitchen Motors. The group held the values that he would carry into his compositions across all mediums, of "breaking down barriers between forms, genres and disciplines," according to his official website. 

Jóhannsson made his first contribution to the world of film scoring with the 2000 movie "The Icelandic Dream," writing music for film from that point on. At the same time, he was working on his own music, releasing his first solo album in 2002, "Englaborn." Other solo projects of note include 2006's "IBM 1401: A User's Manual," which had a sixty-piece orchestra accompany computer melodies made by his father thirty years ago.  [...]

With 2016's "Arrival," Jóhannsson was involved with the film early into its production process in the film about a woman communicating with alien beings who randomly show up on Earth. Like how John Williams created an unforgettable presence out of the aliens in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Jóhannsson helped design the soundscape for the extraterrestrials of "Arrival," particularly by using human voices of no discernible language. True to his other projects, he worked with sound recording technologies to create an arrangement that mixed natural and manipulated string instruments, to create the sense of an orchestra that is not of this world. 

As with these film scores and others, Jóhannsson took care to package them as standalone pieces. Always worth hearing in as loud a room as possible, he was able to make them separate from the images that inspired them, as if able to tell a story of their own. His score for "Arrival" in particular has the unusual seal of approval from prestigious classical music label Deutsche Grammophon, who also released his 2016 work, "Orphee." 

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


Putin's Sochi and Hitler's Berlin: The Love Affair Between Dictators and the Olympic Games. (Garry Kasparov, 02.07.14, Daily Beast)

Putin also wanted the Sochi Olympics to be his Peter the Great moment, the beloved Soviet summer resort town turned into an international jewel the way Saint Petersburg was built into an Imperial capital practically from scratch. It can even be said that, like Peter's endeavor, Putin's transformation of Sochi relied on a serf labor force. Foreign leaders coming to cheer by Putin's side at the opening ceremony, photos with all the Russian medal winners, it is easy to see the attraction. Putin also hoped to drum up some patriotic pride with a big circus to serve with thick black bread. This is the sort of delusion that sets in when a despot confuses himself with the state after too long in power. Absent the feedback mechanisms of a free media and real elections, he begins to believe his glory is the country's glory, that what makes him happy also makes the people happy.

There is a distinction here between Sochi 2014 and the Summer Games in Moscow in 1980 and Beijing in 2008. In those cases, the authoritarian propaganda machine was in the service of promoting the achievements of a country and a system. They were dedicated to the greater glory of Communism, the Totalitarian State, the superiority of the system and the athletes it produced. Nobody remembers who presided over the 2008 Games in Beijing and only a few might recall Brezhnev in Moscow. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Russian Olympic Committee never appears on TV or anywhere else, nor does the director of the Sochi Games. No, this spectacle is clearly about the ambitions and hubris of one ubiquitous man, something it has in common with the Summer Games held in Berlin in 1936.

I will detour for a moment because this where I often see interviewers and pundits roll their eyes. The phrase "Putin is no Hitler!" forms on their lips before the word "Berlin" is completed. It is a fascinating development in historical ignorance that nearly any mention of Hitler or the Nazis is now ritually scoffed at, from professional journalists to anonymous tweets. "Godwin's Law," which doesn't even say what most wits seem to think it says, is immediately invoked, as if the slow and public evolution of a German populist politician into history's most infamous monster is beyond rational contemplation. [...]

The International Olympic Committee is an eager partner in all of this and also has a long and dark history. After the triumph of Berlin, for example, the next Games were planned for Tokyo and Rome. New IOC President Thomas Bach's strained protests about how foreign leaders protesting Sochi are "inserting politics into sport" ignore that fact that selling a huge platform for propaganda and corruption to a dictatorship is also "playing politics." By Bach's dubious rationale, the IOC would award the Games to North Korea as long as the venues were adequate and the fees were paid promptly.

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


Sanctions relief, not more sanctions, may be the best way to promote reform in Iran (Connor Dilleen, 1/31/18, The Strategist)

In Rouhani, Iran has a president who appears broadly receptive to change and reform. He was returned to government in 2017 by a significant margin after having overseen the negotiation and implementation of the JCPOA. While some observers argue that he's not actually the moderate political voice that he's often portrayed as, his relatively restrained response to last year's protests suggests that he's understands the need for economic reform and an anti-corruption strategy in Iran.

After the JCPOA came into effect, Iran's national economic performance improved: growth increased from -1.8% to over 4% in a year. But significant structural issues will prevent further gains and limit the extent to which improvements in national economic performance translate into better living standards across Iran.

Within Iran, the issue of renewed US sanctions distracts from the economic problems that Rouhani's government needs to solve. More importantly, the US position on Iran and the JCPOA risks empowering hardline elements in Iran who oppose the agreement and who are quick to blame Rouhani for failing to deliver on promised economic improvements. It's not surprising that some in Iran see the hand of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad behind the protests. Iran's ongoing economic malaise feeds the hardliners' narrative that engagement with the West isn't in Iran's interests and that Rouhani can't improve the economy.

Time to bomb Iran: love bomb them.  Help them get the economy growing and the international integration going at such a pace that there's no turning back.
Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM



House Intelligence Committee Chairman and GOP Congressman Devin Nunes, who co-authored the memo alleging bias in the FBI Russia probe and championed its release, has created his own news and media website. 

...best to ignore it.

Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM


UnHerd's optimists: the thinkers insisting we've never had it so good (Oliver Kamm, 02 February 2018, UnHerd)

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Scoop: Rob Porter telling different story than John Kelly (Jonathan Swan, Mike Allen, 2/11/18, Axios)

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter is telling associates that some senior White House officials strongly encouraged him to "stay and fight," and claims he "never misrepresented anything" to Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Former Qaeda leader in Syria 'welcomes' Israeli airstrikes  (DOV LIEBER, 2/11/18, times of Israel)

In a rare public expression of support for Israel by a radical Islamist figure in Syria, a former leader in al-Qaeda's Syrian militia on Saturday welcomed Israeli airstrikes against Syrian and Iranian targets in the country after an Iranian drone infiltrated Israeli airspace, and called on the Jewish state to quickly "uproot" Iran from its northern neighbor. [...]

Hamwi was a founder of the Nusra Front in 2012. In July 2015, the jihadist group said it dismissed him for not falling in line with the group's internal politics.

He is now reportedly affiliated with the hardline Islamist group Ahrar il-Sham.

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Funny people are also more intelligent, according to new research (Lowri Dowthwaite, 10/19/17, The Conversation)

Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people, particularly those who enjoy dark humour, have higher IQs than their less funny peers. They argue that it takes both cognitive and emotional ability to process and produce humour. Their analysis shows that funny people have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and they score lower in mood disturbance and aggressiveness.

Not only are funny people smart, they're nice to be around. Evidence suggests that having a good sense of humour is linked to high emotional intelligence and is a highly desirable quality in a partner. Evolutionary psychologists describe humour as a "heritable trait" that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates. In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.

In psychology we use the term "positive humour style" to refer to people who use humour to enhance relationships and reduce conflict. This type of humour is associated with relationship satisfaction, extroversion and high self-esteem. Having a humorous outlook on life is also a good coping strategy. It helps people better manage stress and adversity.

There's a reason ideologues are humorless: they don't engage in thought.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Beer Cheese Buttermilk Biscuits (Garden & Gun, January 17, 2018)


2 cups flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

12 tbsps. (1½ sticks) cold, unsalted butter, diced

½ cup cold buttermilk, shaken

2 eggs, one reserved for egg wash

4 oz. beer cheese, room temperature

1 tbsp. water


Preheat oven to 425°F.

Put the flour and baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hooks. With the mixer set on low, add in the butter and mix until the butter is broken up into little balls.

Whisk the butter­milk, one egg, and beer cheese in a measuring cup. Add it to the flour and butter mixture, still mixing on low speed.

Once mixed together, remove the dough from the bowl and knead it on a floured board. Roll the dough out into a 10 x 5-inch rectan­gle. The dough should be around ½-inch thick. With a sharp, floured knife, cut the dough lengthwise in half and then across in quarters, making 8 rough rectangles.

Separate the second egg, place the white in a small dish, and add the water to make an egg wash. Arrange the rectangles on a baking sheet and brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until brown and somewhat puffy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


G.O.P. Squirms as Trump Veers Off Script With Abuse Remarks (JONATHAN MARTIN and ALEXANDER BURNS, FEB. 10, 2018, Washington Post)

The president's seeming indifference to claims of abuse infuriated Republicans, who were already confronting a surge of activism from Democratic women driven to protest, raise money and run for office because of their fervent opposition to Mr. Trump.

"This is coming, this is real," Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump's former chief strategist, said recently about the female-fueled wave of liberal energy.

Mr. Trump's remarks illustrated a broader problem: Republican congressional leaders and strategists have pleaded with lawmakers and candidates to stay focused on economic growth and December's tax cuts, a message they hope will be their salvation before the elections in November. But that may be little more than fantasy in a campaign that will turn more on the president's conduct than any policy issue.

His comments on Friday, the first he had offered since images emerged of one of Mr. Porter's former wives bearing a black eye, were the culmination of a week's worth of politically ill-advised steps that suggest that the president and his lieutenants cannot stop themselves from blunting positive political momentum. By the weekend, Mr. Trump's State of the Union address, strong employment and wage figures as well as the onset of tax cuts seemed washed away by the latest White House controversy.

The frustration in the Republican political class is bursting forward.

"For members or anybody else who cares about keeping control of Congress, if you find yourself talking about anything but the middle-class tax cut, shut up and stop talking," fumed Corry Bliss, who runs the primary House Republican "super PAC," the Congressional Leadership Fund. "Any time spent on TV talking about anything but how we're helping the middle class is a waste of time and does nothing to help us win in 2018."

Republicans have grown accustomed to the president's lack of discipline and inability to reliably carry a message. But operatives overseeing the midterm effort and some lawmakers facing difficult re-elections are growing more alarmed that Mr. Trump's fixation on the Russia inquiry, personal slights and personality clashes inside and outside his White House are only encouraging his congressional and conservative news media allies to swerve off message.

Gillibrand: If Trump wants due process, we'll have hearings on allegations against him (JACQUELINE THOMSEN - 02/10/18, The Hill)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) went after President Trump on Saturday for his tweet questioning a lack of "due process" in abuse claims, saying that Congress could hold hearings about sexual misconduct allegations against him if he wanted due process.

No fair taking him at his word!

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


The Case for a Big, Beautiful Military Parade : Few of the troops serving today have experienced the adulation and respect that can come from a major, national-level parade. (CHARLIE DUNLAP, FEB 9, 2018, The Atlantic)

Having served almost 35 years in uniform, I'm convinced that a national-level parade can help address the much-discussed civilian-military "gap," aid recruiting, and--most importantly--give all Americans the chance to come together as one nation. Couldn't America use more of those kinds of opportunities these days?

Analysts across the political spectrum are concerned that with only 0.43% of Americans serving on active duty, the divide between the military and the society it serves is widening.

Indeed, in 2010 former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that with military bases being concentrated in just a few states, and with the shuttering of many military facilities in the northeast and on the west coast, a "void of relationships and understanding of the armed forces [has been left] in their wake." Consequently, Gates warned that "there is a risk over time of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally, and geographically have less and less in common with the people they have sworn to defend."

Accordingly, isn't anything we can do to re-acquaint Americans with their military (and, perhaps even more importantly, vice versa), a worthy investment for American democracy?

What about the cost? Americans love parades--and advertisers do too. Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade attracts 3.5 million attendees, and almost 50 million television viewers. The TV advertising revenue alone was worth more than $41 million in 2016. The Rose Bowl parade has a much smaller crowd, but nearly the same number of television viewers. CNBC says that participation in that parade "comes with a hefty price tag, but corporate sponsors say the chance to get their company's message out to millions is worth the expense."

Let's get specific: even if the military parade was on the scale of the 1991 effort (estimated to cost around $20 million today), that's a miniscule part of what the Department of Defense already spends on advertising. In 2016 the Government Accountability Office said that the Obama Administration was requesting almost $575 million for the Pentagon "to conduct advertising intended to increase awareness of military service and ultimately generate leads for potential recruits." Obviously, the existing DoD advertising budget can easily cover the event.

And "increasing [the] awareness of military service" is important these days. Last October it was reported that Army recruiters found that of the 33.4 million Americans in their target age group, "only 1.7 million of those young people are of the high quality" the military wants, and "just 136,000" of them "would even be interested in joining the Army."

Maybe they need more "awareness" about military service. Young people often seek "deeper social connections" and have a "need to be part of something bigger than themselves." The military can uniquely provide that. As one expert put it, there "is nothing in the civilian workforce that can approximate the bonding that occurs in the wardroom, ready room, or foxhole." Those in uniform get through hardships, he says, because "they are all in it together." The "mutual self-sacrifice, teamwork, and covering each other's six" he explains, "contribute to individual bonding, unit cohesion, and, ultimately ... camaraderie." For lots of young people that could be exactly what they want.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Suppression Backfires As 'Democratic Memo' Rockets On Internet (Caroline Orr, February 11, 2018, Share Blue)

Almost immediately after the White House made its announcement on Friday evening, Google searches for the phrase "Democratic memo" spiked to a new high, reflecting a surge of interest in the topic.

The Associated Press reported on the announcement at 7:49 PM. Within the next 11 minutes, interest in the Democratic memo reached "peak popularity," as indicated by a value of 100 on Google Trends' search monitor, which tracks patterns in Google searches over time.

Trump appears to have triggered a phenomenon known as the Streisand effect, which describes a scenario in which an effort to hide or censor a piece of information backfires and ends up publicizing the information more widely.

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Mattis Goes Nuclear: Trump's secretary of defense has recently adopted some dubious and dangerous ideas about nuclear strategy. (FRED KAPLAN, FEB 07, 2018, Slate)

Mattis owns a famously vast library, and he has said that, in coming to his new views on nuclear matters, he read many books on the subject. This kind of scholarly rigor has served him well in the past, but when Mattis commanded troops in Iraq, he saw connections between the battles he was fighting and the campaigns he'd studied in the classic volumes on strategy--because those volumes were based on what has actually worked and not worked across centuries of real warfare. If Mattis ever finds himself staring down the abyss of a nuclear war, he's likely to find the books he's consumed nearly useless; the scenarios they spin, however tightly, have no grounding in reality, as no one has ever fought this kind of war.

In a fundamental sense, Mattis seems to know this. At the hearing, he quoted a line from the Nuclear Posture Review stressing that the United States would use these weapons only "in the most extreme circumstances." He also noted that he never says "nuclear strategy" but rather "nuclear deterrence strategy," suggesting that the main goal is to deter nuclear war, not to fight one. This is assuring, but he also said that a deterrent isn't credible unless your opponent believes that you would actually use it--in other words, that you would retaliate to a nuclear strike with a nuclear counterstrike--and that, to foster this impression, you need plans and weapons that enable you to do this.

The reason nuclear deterrence has historically failed is because of our failure to use our own weapons to deter others.  Had we used our nukes to regime change the USSR there seems little doubt that no one else would have nukes now.  North Korea affords a golden opportunity to make the point now. Take out Pyongyang now and people will take just the threat seriously next time.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


P.G. Wodehouse: Balm for the Modern Soul (Dean Abbott, Imaginative Conservative)

[G]rasping Wodehouse's unique power demands understanding this context. Behind the hostility to the notion of escape lie two ideas. First is the assumption that Modern Man must be strong enough within himself to bear the weight of the impersonal purposeless universe, strong enough to look into the void, strong enough to accept that the prison is all there is. Second, and more relatable to contemporary people, is the idea that modern consumers need no consolation beyond what they find in the endless stream of gadgetry and entertainment that flows their way. Modern Man, we are told, does not need consolation in the face of the void, not because he does not fear it, but because he does not notice it.

The reality is that modern people, even if they are unconscious of it, require consolation, a buffer against and an escape from the disappointment and turmoil of earthly life, as much as people in any other period ever did--quite possibly more so. People in the old world, at least, could admit without shame their need for consolation. We are denied even that.

Art, including the literary arts, has always been one of man's chief sources of this necessary consolation. What Wodehouse offers in this regard is entirely unique. The consoling power of his work arises not so much from the humor as from the detail in which he renders his worlds. Had Wodehouse merely been funny, the consolation, the reprieve from the troubles of mundane life, would have been lesser.

In these books, we experience the direct opposite of the real world, where sin permeates the creation. Instead, Wodehouse beckons us into worlds where humor, not loss, is woven through the underlying fabric of reality. In the real world, only a tragic view of life ultimately makes sense of our experience. In Wodehouse's worlds, that view would be nonsensical, out of step with how things really are. The power of Wodehouse's stories is in their implied guarantee that no matter how much of a mess we wade through in the middle, everyone will be happy at the end, because indeed this is a world of unshakeable happiness.

As with any novelist, a large part of world-building consists of choosing and relaying to the reader the right details of the time and place where the story is set. When Wodehouse began publishing in the early years of the twentieth century, his stories were set in the early years of the twentieth century. When Wodehouse died in 1975, his stories were set in the same era. While the rest of the world moved through time, his characters did not. This quality of being frozen, changeless, beyond time and its ravages, offers to the reader the consolation of being able to step out of this time-bound world into one in which human beings are not subject to the passing hour, one that has about it the quality of the eternal.

The physical setting of the stories matters, too. The spacious rooms at Blandings Castle, situated in a place called Shropshire that, although it shares the name of the county in the west of England, can only be a brighter, happier version of the real thing, invite us in. The country home of Bertie's Aunt Dahlia, at which nighttime shenanigans are sure to ensue, sparks in us a longing for those places, though they exist not in this world. This longing, insofar as we are capable of believing it will be fulfilled, is itself a kind of consolation.

Beyond this consolation, the works of Wodehouse address in a special way the problem of human pain, suffering, and evil. Theologians and philosophers, especially those in the Christian tradition, have wrestled for millennia with the questions of theodicy, specifically "why do bad things happen if God is loving". These thinkers have offered their answers, some profound.

Wodehouse offers no answers. None of his work is philosophically probing in the normal sense. But, that doesn't mean the experience of reading Wodehouse has nothing to offer us on this question. Rather than formulate for us an abstract answer, Wodehouse shows us what a world in which evil were absent might look like.

Just finished Code of the Woosters, in which a considerable amount of the comedy consists of various attempts to steal an antique cow-creamer, without any sense that such behavior is actually wrong, certainly not evil.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


ACT/SAT for all: A cheap, effective way to narrow income gaps in college (Susan M. DynarskiThursday, February 8, 2018, Brookings) 

[I]n a dozen states, the ACT or SAT is now given in school, for free, on a school day during school hours. In most cases, the ACT or SAT replaces the standardized test that students would otherwise take in high school, so there is no additional time spent testing. This is an attractive feature, given the widespread backlash against perceived over-testing in schools.[2]  Sitting for the test is also required, which means that students can't opt out because of low expectations - whether theirs or those of the adults around them.

In Michigan, in 2007, the ACT became part of the test required of juniors in the public schools. As a result of this shift in policy, the share of Michigan's high school students taking a college entrance exam rose from 54 percent to nearly 99 percent. The growth was even sharper among low-income students, of whom only 35 percent were previously taking the test.

Joshua Hyman, an assistant professor at University of Connecticut, studied the effects of this new policy while he was a graduate student at the University of Michigan.[3] Hyman analyzed the test scores and college attendance of all public, high school students in Michigan, before and after the ACT was made universal. This research was made possible by an ongoing partnership with the state of Michigan, which was launched with funding from the Institute of Education Sciences.

The results were surprising. Thousands of academically talented students in Michigan had not been taking the ACT (or the SAT, which Hyman also tracked). For every 1,000 students who scored high enough to attend a selective college before testing was universal, another 230 high scorers were revealed by the new policy.[4] Among low-income students, the effect was even more dramatic: for every 1,000 low-income students who had taken the test before 2007 and scored well, another 480 college-ready, low-income students were uncovered by the universal test.

As a result of this policy, more low-income students went to and graduated from four-year colleges.

The story in Michigan is echoed in other states and school districts that have made the ACT or SAT mandatory. In Maine,[5] Illinois,[6] and Colorado,[7] researchers have shown that a universal test uncovers many academically able students.

Something similar happened in Broward County, Florida when the district started screening all of its second graders for its gifted program.[8] While the Broward district is overwhelmingly low-income, black and Hispanic, its gifted program was filled with upper-income, white students when it relied on teacher and parent referrals to fill seats. A universal screening program tripled the share of black and Hispanic children who were identified as gifted.

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Russian plane 'crashes' after taking off from Moscow  (James Rothwell, 11 FEBRUARY 2018, BBC)

The  Saratov Airlines An-148 jet, was en route to the city of Orsk when it vanished from radar. 

Russian news agencies reported 65 passengers and 6 crew were on board, and that the plane crashed in the Ramensky district outside Moscow. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


The way the two wings root on any dictator who hates the opposing party is just another function of their sameness.
Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Key Aide Couldn't Get A Security Clearance -- Under A President Who Likely Couldn't Either (S.V. Date, 2/10/18, Huffington Post)

[K]elly received word last fall that Porter had failed his security clearance investigation because of the domestic abuse reports. Porter at that time told Kelly he would leave the White House in December but agreed to stay at Kelly's urging, the Republican said on condition of anonymity.

It's just a question of how long Donald wants to torture the General.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Tillerson travels to Middle East to talk post-IS stability (Laura Rozen February 7, 2018, aL mONITOR)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey next week, on a trip focused on stabilization and reconstruction after the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State (IS), US officials and diplomats tell Al-Monitor. [...]

After first visiting Cairo, Tillerson will attend two conferences being held in Kuwait on Feb.12-14: the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq and the Ministerial Meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat IS, according to US Ambassador to Kuwait Lawrence Silverman.

Cairo, of course, houses one of the regimes we'll remove before our work in the Arab world is done.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Friend or foe? Assad quietly aids Syrian Kurds against Turkey (Laila Bassam, Tom Perry, 2/11/ 19, Reuters) 

Syria's U.S.-backed Kurds are getting indirect help from an unlikely source in their war against Turkey in the northwestern region of Afrin: President Bashar al-Assad.

Pro-government forces and Kurdish-led forces have fought each other elsewhere in Syria and Damascus opposes the Kurds' demands for autonomy. But in Afrin they have a common enemy and a mutual interest in blocking Turkish advances.

February 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 PM


Wait nearly over for Golden Rice release in Bangladesh: Beta carotene-rich grain key to fight vitamin-A deficiency (Reaz Ahmad, 05 February, 2018, UNB) 

Bangladeshi rice scientists have advanced a beta carotene-rich rice to a varietal release stage, heralding a new era in fight against vitamin-A deficiency (VAD).

They said the wait is nearly over for release of Golden Rice, a long touted remedy to VAD. 

According to the World Health Organization's global VAD database, one in every five pre-school children in Bangladesh is vitamin A-deficient. Among the pregnant women, 23.7 percent suffer from VAD.

Upon receipts of positive outcome from two successive years of 'confined' field trials, the breeders at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) have just gone for a final cycle of multi-location field trials and sought regulatory approval from the government for an 'unconfined' field test prior seeking variety release approval. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM



For more information, contact:

Richard Grisham, Chief Marketing Officer

Mike Suszek, License Relations and Digital Content Manager

T.J. Lauerman, Community Manager


OOTP 19 screenshots: https://www.dropbox.com/home/OOTP%2019/Screenshots
OOTP 19 teaser trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-2mRthJ5Zc

January 26, 2018

Out of the Park Baseball 19 Releases Worldwide on March 22, 2018

OOTP 19 features dramatic 3D enhancements, a redesigned interface, new scouting systems, ultra-realistic artificial intelligence, 2018 Opening Day rosters, and more!

Available For Pre-Order Now With 10% Discount & Early Access

Out of the Park Developments, an official licensee of MLB.com, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and MiLB.com, today announced that Out of the Park Baseball 19 will be released on March 22, 2018. OOTP 19 offers dozens of exciting new features and deep improvements to its award-winning gameplay.

Out of the Park Baseball 19 includes:
    • New 3D stadiums and player models with improved on-field movements, including running, sliding, jumping, and throwing.
    • New in-game screen design for an optimized virtual dugout.
    • 2018 roster sets with all Opening Day MLB rosters, as well as the complete minor league system from Triple-A to rookie leagues as well as the Arizona Fall League. All major league (and over a thousand minor league) player ratings will be based on the popular ZiPS player projection system. The 8 international leagues, as well as independent minor leagues in the US, also return this year with accurate rosters.
    • Rewritten scouting reports that give a more detailed and realistic look at players.
    • New tournament modes! Create a standalone tournament bracket and draw any teams in history into it. The possibilities are endless!
    • Ultra-realistic AI roster management and in-game decisions.
    • A reworked ratings module.
    • User voting for end-of-season awards
    • Many more improvements, including:
      • Redesigned interface, with the ability to choose between 6 different fonts
      • 800 custom team logos for fictional leagues
      • Improved Manager Home screen, with a more customizable layout and new widget options
      • A new stat -- RA9-WAR (WAR based on runs allowed) -- for pitchers
      • Delayed substitutions for injured players
      • And more to be announced prior to release
    This summer, Out of the Park Developments will unveil an exciting new online mode called PERFECT TEAM. An open Beta will happen this spring, and the company will announce more information soon.

    Customers can pre-order OOTP 19 for $35.99, a 10% discount off its full retail price. All pre-order purchases include access to the Gold Master version on March 19, three days ahead of the official launch on March 22. 

    OOTP 19 can be pre-ordered through this link:

    OOTP 19 runs on PC/Mac/Linux and, like last year, it features the American League and National League logos, the World Series trophy, official logos and jerseys for all 30 MLB teams, over 150 Minor League Baseball league and team logos, and historical MLB logos.

    OOTP creator Markus Heinsohn conducted an interview for the Out of the Park Developments blog which can be read here: http://blog.ootpdevelopments.com/an-interview-with-ootp-creator-markus-heinsohn/

    A look back at OOTP 18

    2017 was a record-setting year for Out of the Park Developments, which boasted more than 120,000 players of OOTP 18 around the world. More than 3.5 million hours of the game were played on Steam, which equals 405 years. A record peak of 1,147 concurrent players was set on Nov. 9 on Steam, and South Korea is now number two in total sales, surpassing Canada.

    The most-accomplished Achievement in OOTP 18 was a five-game team winning streak and the three rarest achievements were a player hitting 4 home runs in a game (accomplished by 0.4% of users), a pitcher tossing a perfect game (0.5%), and a hitter having 10 or more RBI in a game (0.6%).

    Quotes from OOTP Developments executives

    "After nearly 20 years of development, we're still finding ways to make Out of the Park Baseball even better," said lead developer, lifelong baseball fan, and Out of the Park Developments CEO Markus Heinsohn. "We can't wait for our fans to see what we have in store this year."

    "Out of the Park Baseball is unique. Its high quality, delivered over two decades, has created generations of loyal fans who recognize it as the gold standard of sports strategy games," said Out of the Park Developments CMO Richard Grisham. "Out of the Park Baseball 19 is our best version yet, purpose-built for those fans. We couldn't be more excited for it."

    About Out of the Park Developments 

    Out of the Park Developments is the developer of the award-winning OOTP and MLB Manager series of baseball management simulations, Franchise Hockey Manager, and Beyond the Sideline Football. German-based OOTP Developments was founded by Markus Heinsohn and Andreas Raht in 1999. OOTP Developments has consistently produced games that have met with critical acclaim, including winning Metacritic's coveted "PC Game of the Year" for the 2016 version of OOTP and "Game of the Year" for the 2007 edition of OOTP, which remains the second highest-rated PC game on Metacritic of all time. Further information on the company and its games is available from the OOTP Developments website,http://www.ootpdevelopments.com

    Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


    We Should Care About What Happened to Carter Page (Eli Lake, February 9, 2018, Bloomberg)

    The current debate over Page is whether the FBI overreached by seeking a warrant to spy on him from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the end of 2016. Republicans claim the FBI improperly relied on the opposition research dossier. Democrats say the Republican memo omits information that would discredit the GOP's case.

    But that misses a broader and more important point. It's a scandal that the public has known for more than a year that the FBI suspected Page of being a foreign agent in the first place. He has yet to be charged with a crime, but his reputation is in tatters because an element of the bureau's investigation into Russia's influence over the 2016 election has been publicly reported.

    Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


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    Just stimulate by using the money to pay off educational and mortgage debt.
    Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


    Alarm over white supremacist candidates in US (Patrick Strickland , 9 Feb 2018, Al Jazeera)

    Arthur Jones, a Holocaust denier who is known for white supremacist advocacy, is poised to become the Republican nominee for an Illinois congressional seat. 

    The Illinois Republican Party has condemned Jones and disavowed his campaign, telling local media that "there is no room for Neo-Nazis in American politics". 

    In Wisconsin, Paul Nehlen, who has decried supposed Jewish control of media, is challenging a Republican incumbent for a seat later this year.

    Although Nehlen has little chance of beating incumbent Paul Ryan, who is the Republican Speaker of the House, in the primary runoff, and Jones is almost sure to lose to his Democratic opponent, critics say their presence in the Republican Party is indicative of a worrying trend.

    Jared Holt, a researcher and writer at Right Wing Watch, a watchdog group, explained that fringe candidates attempt to infiltrate mainstream politics in almost every cycle, but argued that 2018 "is a bit different".

    "Fringe candidates have made a lot more noise and have been more transparent with their fringe world view and alliances with extremists than we've seen in prior cycles," he told Al Jazeera.

    Although these candidates may have little chances of making it to office, Holt added that their rhetoric and publicity "still effectively shift the 'Overton Window' in a way that drags the right further towards the fringes and gradually works to make Republican voters more open to the ideas of the alt-right".

    Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


    Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


    Fox News Executive VP Rails Against Diversity Of US Olympians: "Darker, Gayer, Different" (Paul Farhi, 2/10/18, MediaMatters)

    Fox News' John Moody, who serves as the network's executive vice president and an executive editor, criticized the diversity of Team USA in an op-ed a day before the 2018 Winter Olympics were scheduled to open in PyeongChang, South Korea.

    Moody decried the strides Team USA has made toward diversity of its athletes in a February 7 op-ed published on FoxNews.com. Though this is Team USA's most diverse delegation of athletes ever, as The Washington Postreported, the U.S. Olympic Committee still has a lot of progress to make: Out of 243 athletes, two men are openly gay, "10 are African American -- 4 percent -- and another 10 are Asian American. The rest, by and large, are white." Moody suggested without basis that the focus on diversity may cost Team USA medals, and speculated that athletes were given spots on the team that they didn't earn during their trials, because of their race.

    ...like Bruce Jenner?

    Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


    Nationalists' Immigration Policies Are Self-Defeating (Alice Calder & Donald Boudreaux, February 09, 2018, Real Clear Policy)

    Western countries are facing structural problems that immigration can solve. These include flagging social security institutions, revenue problems associated with aging populations, and a dearth of much-needed skills. Healthy levels of immigration help satisfy all three, resulting in a net good for a nation.

    Both low- and high-skilled immigration have been shown to benefit the U.S. economy. A 2013 Congressional Budget Office analysis found that a proposed bipartisan bill to increase legal immigration significantly would have increased the average wage by 0.5 percent by 2033 and GDP by 5 percent. High-skilled immigrants, in particular, help accelerate innovation, bringing much-needed skills in the science and technology fields.

    Immigrants not only increase the number of people employed; they also increase worker productivity in general. A study from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that immigrants stimulate investment, in turn producing efficiency gains and boosting income for immigrants and natives alike.

    None of the above is to say that immigration is completely without cost. It is true that immigration can harm the job prospects of unskilled workers. Statistics vary, but in the short term, immigration can negatively affect the wages of natives with no more than a high school-level education.

    In general, however, immigration clearly benefits society as a whole. Just as we shouldn't shun new technologies that increase productivity and prosperity on a wide scale -- while also, as a side-effect, reducing demand for certain workers -- we should not forego the huge positives of immigration. In effect, rejecting immigrants to protect the wages of some native workers ends up punishing many more.

    Immigration also benefits immigrants' home countries, especially developing countries.

    We ought not discount the degree of nihilism that drives such politics.  These are groups that have essentially given up because of demographics and want to bring everything crashing down with them rather than adapt emotionally.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


    Alternative take: The total volume of US trade reached a record high in December, reflecting strength in the US economy (Mark J. Perry, February 8, 2018, AEIdeas)

    As I have done in the past, I present an alternative measure of monthly international trade in the top chart above, where instead of subtracting imports from exports, I add those two terms together to measure the monthly dollar volume of total international trade activities. Because both exports ($203.4 billion) and imports ($256.5 billion) reached all-time record highs in December, the total trade volume also set a new monthly record high of $459.9 billion. It really doesn't make sense to treat international transactions as a positive contribution to the US economy when an American company sells its goods overseas, but as a negative contribution when a US company buys foreign inputs. Both activities -- buying imports and selling exports -- are important economic transactions and contribute to the total volume of trade each month.

    As Mercatus Center senior research fellow Dan Griswold explained back in 2011 (my emphasis):

    Politicians and commentators love to focus on the trade deficit, as though it were a scorecard of who is winning in global trade, but the real measure is the total volume of trade. As economies expand, so does trade, both imports and exports. Exports help us reach new markets and expand economies of scale, while imports bless consumers with lower prices and more choices, while stoking competition, innovation, and efficiency gains among producers.

    Despite all of the almost universally negative media reports about America's "trade deficit" problem, Dan Griswold makes a very important, but almost universally overlooked, point that expanding exports and imports (and total trade activities) to record highs in December should be viewed as a sign of economic strength for the US, not a sign of economic "deterioration."

    While Donald's economic Nationalism has understandably worried free markets, it's general failure has been a huge boon.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


    We All Live on Campus Now (Andrew Sullivan, 2/09/18, New York)

    Over the last year, the most common rebuttal to my intermittent coverage of campus culture has been: Why does it matter? These are students, after all. They'll grow up once they leave their cloistered, neo-Marxist safe spaces. The real world isn't like that. You're exaggerating anyway. And so on. I certainly see the point. In the world beyond campus, few people use the term microaggressions without irony or an eye roll; claims of "white supremacy," "rape culture," or "white privilege" can seem like mere rhetorical flourishes; racial and gender segregation hasn't been perpetuated in the workplace yet; the campus Title IX sex tribunals where, under the Obama administration, the "preponderance of evidence" rather than the absence of a "reasonable doubt" could ruin a young man's life and future are just a product of a hothouse environment. And I can sometimes get carried away.

    The reason I don't agree with this is because I believe ideas matter. When elite universities shift their entire worldview away from liberal education as we have long known it toward the imperatives of an identity-based "social justice" movement, the broader culture is in danger of drifting away from liberal democracy as well. If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large. What matters most of all in these colleges -- your membership in a group that is embedded in a hierarchy of oppression -- will soon enough be what matters in the society as a whole.

    And, sure enough, the whole concept of an individual who exists apart from group identity is slipping from the discourse. 

    We can argue about the degree to which friend Sullivan has practiced identitarianism to advance Social Justice, but not deny it entirely. He is right to be horrified by what he has helped promote.
    Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


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    Trump's Loyalty Tests Are Uniquely Corrupting (David French, February 9, 2018, National Review)

    There's a three-step process to moral corruption. 

    First, there are lots of folks in Washington who are struggling to make the best of the Trump presidency. He might be a personal disaster, they reason, but we can still get some decent policies passed.

    Second, everyone knows that Trump demands loyalty. Everyone knows he's remarkably thin-skinned (even as he fires more than his share of verbal broadsides). So they know that any public critique carries with it a risk of being shut out -- of losing the president's ear and losing the ability to influence his policy-making. 

    Third, so even while he does things they'd publicly condemn in any other president, politician, or public figure, they'll often stay largely quiet. Sometimes they'll even grant "sex mulligans" or praise his crass and crude public manner as "authentic." Thus, they retain their access. They retain their influence.

    Not only is this process cowardly on its own terms, it's remarkably short-sighted.

    We retain some limited sympathy for those reluctantly defending him because they feel they need to use him to advance the GOP agenda, but none for the enthusiasts who are all either anti-immigration, anti-Islam or, most often, both.
    Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


    Trump concocted a story about a border agent's death. The truth won't catch up. (Dana Milbank Opinion writer February 9, 2018, Washington Post)

    This is the autopsy of a lie.

    On the night of Nov. 18, Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez was found dying on the side of an interstate in West Texas. There were immediate signs it had been an accident. Martinez's partner, Stephen Garland (who suffered a head injury and doesn't recall the incident), had radioed for help, saying he thought he ran into a culvert.

    But President Trump and his allies saw an opportunity to whip up anti-immigrant fervor. At a Cabinet meeting Nov. 20, Trump announced, with cameras rolling, that "we lost a Border Patrol officer just yesterday, and another one was brutally beaten and badly, badly hurt. . . . We're going to have the wall." He also issued a similar tweet.

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, offered a reward "to help solve this murder" and to "help us catch this killer."

    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) declared the incident "a stark reminder of the ongoing threat that an unsecure border poses."

     Rogelio Martinez. (Reuters)
    And then there was Fox News, reporting that "a border patrol agent was brutally murdered" and going with the headline "Border Patrol agent appeared to be ambushed by illegal immigrants, bashed with rocks before death." Fox News host Tucker Carlson reported that Martinez was "attacked at the border in the most gruesome possible way."

    The FBI swung into action, mobilizing 37 field offices, and this week it announced its findings. Although the investigation "has not conclusively determined" what happened, "none of the more than 650 interviews completed, locations searched, or evidence collected and analyzed have produced evidence that would support the existence of a scuffle, altercation, or attack on November 18, 2017."

    Donald's words to live by: "All this was inspired by the principle - which is quite true in itself - that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation."

    Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


    How AI Can Transform Health Care Security Problems into Opportunities (Robert Lord and Dillon Roseen, FEB. 8, 2018, New America)

    A look at the numbers shows the punishing need for health care security professionals. A 2016 Institute for Healthcare Technology survey found that 72 percent of health care organizations in Georgia had more than 50 job openings. Healthcare IT News reported that "demand for skilled IT professionals is expected to continue to grow, with three areas most in demand: electronic medical record systems, cybersecurity, and system integration." Reinforcing this concern, CIO magazine wrote that "health care is continuing to experience a shortage of qualified health IT staff that, in the view of some observers, is growing worse," with one-third of managers reporting they had to postpone or scale back an IT project because of inadequate staffing. "Tens of thousands of jobs are going to be needed, and we don't have the people for it," said Frank Myeroff, president of Direct Consulting Associates, a health IT staffing firm.

    Further complicating the workforce shortage? Information security analysts can be expensive; such workers commanded a median annual wage of $92,000. Health systems, many of them resource-challenged nonprofits, must compete for these skilled workers against the deep pockets of corporate giants that seek them out in increasing numbers. And even as squeezed hospitals attempt to cut costs by replacing highly paid consultants with cheaper in-house staff, they continue to invest heavily in technology. Clearly, the growing need for professional information security analysis represents a serious challenge for many health systems, a problem many health care executives are likely to understand all too well.

    And yet, much of the actual work of information security analysis in a health care environment, such as meticulously checking access logs to prevent and respond to unauthorized entry, can be automated--if you have the proper tools. 

    Labor has no value.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


    Bad info from Spirit Air led me to flush pet hamster down airport toilet, student says (DAVID OVALLE, February 08, 2018, Miami Herald)

    They're gonna need bigger toilets for the peacocks.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


    Iran-Backed Militias 'Used U.S.-Made Tanks' Fighting IS In Syria (Radio Liberty, February 10, 2018)

    The Pentagon says Iranian-backed militias fighting Islamic State (IS) extremists in Syria used Abrams tanks that the U.S. military had originally provided to the Iraqi Army. [...]

    The Iranian-backed Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are legally considered by Iraq to be part of the Iraqi Security Forces, [Pentagon spokesman Eric] Pahon said. 

    Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


    GOP Senate candidate defends sharing tweet that called for ban on mosques: 'So what?' (Andrew Kaczynski, 2/10/18, CNN)

    Gary Emineth, a Republican candidate for US Senate in North Dakota, defended in a radio interview Friday sharing an image on Twitter that said no more mosques should be built in the United States.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


    Trump Won't Release Other Memo As Is (Karoun Demirjian, Rosalind S. Helderman and Matt Zapotosky , 2/09/18, The Washington Post)

    "I'm not surprised," said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., in a statement. "Those on the side of truth don't fear transparency."

    Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement: "The president's double standard when it comes to transparency is appalling. The rationale for releasing the Nunes memo, transparency, vanishes when it could show information that's harmful to him. Millions of Americans are asking one simple question: what is he hiding?" The Nunes memo refers to the GOP memo, which was produced by the staff of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

    A department spokeswoman declined to comment. Justice officials had raised national security concerns about the Republican memo before having seen it, but after Wray reviewed a copy, the FBI indicated publicly that it was concerned about the document's accuracy.

    The memo can't possibly be as damaging to Donald as the Nunes one was, so getting him to hide it is even better.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


    L.A. federal judge rules that a key tool in Trump's immigration crackdown effort is illegal  (Joel Rubin, FEB 09, 2018,  Los Angeles Times)
    A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that police departments violate the Constitution if they detain inmates at the request of immigration agents, marking the latest legal setback for the Trump administration's plans to identify and deport immigrants in the country illegally.

    In his order issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. found that a now-defunct policy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department violated the constitutional rights of inmates who were kept in custody at the behest of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

    Birotte's strongly worded order bolstered similar previous court rulings, which found police cannot legally honor such detainer requests from ICE.

    "The LASD officers have no authority to arrest individuals for civil immigration offenses, and thus, detaining individuals beyond their date for release violated the individuals' Fourth Amendment rights," Birotte wrote.

    The Sheriff's Department has not delayed releasing inmates on ICE's behalf since 2014 and none of California's 58 sheriffs are willing to fulfill the ICE requests. 

    Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


    Israel launches 'large-scale' strikes in Syria after drone infiltration (TOI STAFF and AGENCIES, 2/10/18, Times of Israel)

    Israel's military attacked 12 Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria on Saturday in a new wave of strikes it described as a 'large-scale' attack, following exchanges of fire earlier in the day sparked by an Iranian drone infiltration from Syria.

    The military called the drone infiltration a "severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty" and said Iran would be held responsible for its outcome, marking a dramatic escalation in tensions along its northern border.

    The morning's clashes also saw the crash of an Israeli F-16 jet after it was targeted by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles.

    Turkey detains 31 suspected Islamic State members: Anadolu  (Reuters, 2/10/18) 

    Turkish police have detained 31 suspected Islamic State members in Istanbul who were preparing to launch an attack, state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday.

    February 9, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


    A second White House aide has resigned amid past domestic abuse allegations, which he denies (Washington Post, February 9, 2018)

    The abrupt departure of speechwriter David Sorensen comes after his former wife claimed that he was violent and emotionally abusive during their turbulent two-and-a-half-year marriage -- allegations that he vehemently denied.

    ..is just a way to attack Donald.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


    Analysis Refutes Criminal Referral of Christopher Steele (Senator Dianne Feinstein, February 9, 2018)

    The following analysis rebuts a series of claims in the Grassley-Graham criminal referral:

    1.      The criminal referral is not based on any allegation that Steele lied or misrepresented facts about Carter Page or what is included in the Steele dossier. In fact, neither provide any evidence that any of the information in Steele's dossier is wrong. Instead, the referral is limited to a single baseless allegation: that Steele lied about his contacts with the press.

    2.      The criminal referral omits key facts. The Department of Justice has provided documents regarding its interactions with Mr. Steele to the Judiciary Committee both before and after the criminal referral was made. Despite this, the Majority did not modify the criminal referral and pressed forward with its original claims, which do not take into account the additional information provided after the initial January 4 referral.

    Instead of providing a comprehensive analysis, the criminal referral selectively focuses on some facts while omitting others.

    For example, the criminal referral includes incomplete and misleading allegations regarding an October 19, 2016, report that Mr. Steele received from a "friend of the Clintons."[1]

    The criminal referral alleges that Mr. Steele was using this additional reporting from "the Clinton friend" as the basis for his own work - implying there was no independent investigative work done by Steele. The criminal referral fails to address the fact that 14 of the 17 memos in the Steele dossier published by Buzzfeed were created by Mr. Steele before this October 19 report. It would have been impossible for Mr. Steele to include information that he received in an October 19 report from "a friend of the Clintons" in his 14 earlier reports, which date back to June 20, 2016.

    3.      The criminal referral fails to make a case that Christopher Steele lied to the FBI. The referral states that "it appears that either Mr. Steele lied to the FBI or the British court, or that the classified documents reviewed by the Committee contain materially false statements."[2] These allegations are made regarding Mr. Steele's interactions with the press and whether he lied about those interactions to the FBI.

    18 U.S.C. § 1001, the legal authority cited by the criminal referral, provides that: "[W]hoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" shall be punished accordingly.

    ·         Importantly, the criminal referral fails to identify when, if ever, Mr. Steele was asked about and provided a materially false statement about his press contacts.

    ·         Tellingly, it also fails to explain any circumstances which would have required Mr. Steele to seek the FBI's permission to speak to the press or to disclose if he had done so.

    Rather, the criminal referral cites occasions where Mr. Steele spoke to the press at the end of September 2016. Specifically, it focuses on a Yahoo News article written by Michael Isikoff.

    If Mr. Steele had been asked by the FBI about his contacts with Mr. Isikoff for this September article, and if he had spoken with this reporter, then he should have disclosed that fact.[3] But the criminal referral provides no evidence that Steele was ever asked about the Isikoff article, or if asked that he lied.

    It is also important to note, that in October 2016, the FBI learned that Mr. Steele had disclosed "his relationship with the FBI" to a reporter, David Corn.[4] Because of this, the FBI then suspended its relationship with Mr. Steele and informed the FISA court of these developments in its renewal requests.[5]

    ·         The FBI made clear, however, that it still considered Steele's reporting to be reliable regardless of his contacts with the press.[6]

    ·         The FISA court granted three renewals after having been informed of Steele's contacts with the press.[7]

    Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


    Dozens of Trump officials still lack full security clearance (Jim Sciutto, Gloria Borger and Zachary Cohen, 2/09/18, CNN)

    Thirty to 40 White House officials and administration political appointees are still operating without full security clearances, including senior adviser to President Donald Trump Jared Kushner and -- until recently -- White House staffer Rob Porter, according to a US official and a source familiar with the situation. [...]

    [S]everal sources, including intelligence officials who have served previous Democratic and GOP administrations, describe the backlog as very unusual and make clear that the process should have been completed after a year in office.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


    The facts behind Trump's repeated claim about Hillary Clinton's role in the Russian uranium deal (Michelle Ye Hee Lee, October 26, 2016, Washington Post)

    The story starts with Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining financier and donor to the Clinton Foundation; Giustra's company, UrAsia; and Uranium One, a uranium mining company headquartered in Toronto.

    In 2007, Giustra sold UrAsia to Uranium One, which was based in South Africa and chaired by his friend, Ian Telfer. Giustra said he sold his personal stake in the deal in fall 2007, shortly after the merger with Uranium One, in the midst of Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign and before Clinton realized Barack Obama would win the nomination and she would become his secretary of state.

    In 2009, Russia's nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, began buying shares in Uranium One as a part of a larger move to acquire mines around the world. Rosatom first bought a 17 percent share of Uranium One, which has holdings in the United States. In 2010, the Russians sought to increase their share to 51 percent. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the deal. In 2013, Russia assumed 100 percent ownership.

    The deal gave Russia control of about 20 percent of U.S. uranium extraction capacity, according to a 2010 CNN article about the deal. In other words, Russia has rights to the uranium extracted at those sites, which represents 20 percent of the U.S. uranium production capacity.

    The State Department was one of nine agencies comprising CFIUS, which vets potential national security impacts of transactions where a foreign government gains control of a U.S. company. It was established by Congress in 2007 after the controversy over the planned purchase of seaports by a company in United Arab Emirates. The other agencies were the departments of Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, Energy and Homeland Security, and two White House agencies (Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Office of Science and Technology Policy).

    The CFIUS can approve a deal, but only the president can suspend or stop a transaction. If the committee can't come to a consensus, a member can recommend a suspension or prohibition of the deal, and the president makes the call.

    Due to confidentiality laws, there are few details made public about the deal or about Clinton's role in it, factcheck.org found. The Clinton campaign said Clinton herself was not involved in the State Department's review and did not direct the department to take any position on the sale of Uranium One. Matters of the CFIUS did not rise to the level of the secretary, the campaign said.

    Jose Fernandez, then-assistant secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs, sat on the committee. Fernandez told the Times: "Mrs. Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter." Fernandez did not respond to our requests for comment.

    "Hillary's opposition [to the Uranium One deal] would have been enough under CFIUS rules to have the decision on the transaction kicked up to the president. That never happened," Schweizer wrote in "Clinton Cash."

    At the time the sale was underway, the Obama administration was attempting to "reset" its relations with Russia, with Clinton leading the effort as secretary of state. But there is no evidence approval of the sale was connected to the reset policy. The national security concern that the United States faced when CFIUS considered the deal concerned American dependence on foreign uranium sources, the Times reported.

    Yet the Uranium One deal was not on the radar of Michael McFaul, even though he was aware of many CFIUS cases in his role as the National Security Council's senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs from 2009 to 2012 (and as a prime architect of the administration's reset policy). McFaul, now senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, said Fernandez could not "dictate the outcome of any decision single-handedly," as he was one of nine members.

    "Knowing how the CFIUS process works and how the bureaucracy at the State Department works, I cannot imagine that such an issue would be reviewed by the secretary of state. There is a hierarchy in place precisely to protect the secretary's time for only the most important of issues and meetings," McFaul said.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


    Marco Rubio Defends Democratic Colleague Over Misleading Fox News Report (Nick Visser, 2/09/18, Huffington Post)

    [A]s the Fox News story eventually acknowledges, Waldman informed the intelligence committee about the messages months ago, and the communication appears to fall in line with Warner's duties on the intelligence committee.

    Rubio pointed this out in his tweet Thursday.

    "Sen. Warner fully disclosed this to the committee four months ago," he wrote on Twitter, with a link to the article. He continued to note that the text messages have had "zero impact on our work." [...]

    Warner and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the intelligence committee, told Fox News in a joint statement that the pair had been working together "in a bipartisan way" from the beginning of the investigation and slammed the release of "incomplete information" as unacceptable.

    Rubio has also been one of a handful of congressional Republicans to defend special counsel Robert Mueller as many of his colleagues have launched blistering attacks about Mueller's Russia investigation, including the president. In a December interview with Florida's News-Press, Rubio defended Mueller's reputation and said he believed the "best thing" would be for the investigation to be completed "as thoroughly and as completely as possible."

    "From his reputation and everything I know about him, I remain convinced that when this is all said and done, Mueller is going to only pursue things that are true, and he will do it in a fair and balanced way," Rubio said.

    The Trumpbots barely had time to try and pump this.
    Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


    Devin Nunes is investigating me. Here's the truth. (Jonathan M. Winer February 8, 2018, Washington Post)

     In 2009, I met and became friends with Steele, after he retired from British government service focusing on Russia. Steele was providing business intelligence on the same kinds of issues I worked on at the time.

    In 2013, I returned to the State Department at the request of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whom I had previously served as Senate counsel. Over the years, Steele and I had discussed many matters relating to Russia. He asked me whether the State Department would like copies of new information as he developed it. I contacted Victoria Nuland, a career diplomat who was then assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and shared with her several of Steele's reports. She told me they were useful and asked me to continue to send them. Over the next two years, I shared more than 100 of Steele's reports with the Russia experts at the State Department, who continued to find them useful. None of the reports related to U.S. politics or domestic U.S. matters, and the reports constituted a very small portion of the data set reviewed by State Department experts trying to make sense of events in Russia.

    In the summer of 2016, Steele told me that he had learned of disturbing information regarding possible ties between Donald Trump, his campaign and senior Russian officials. [...]

    In late September, I spoke with an old friend, Sidney Blumenthal, whom I met 30 years ago when I was investigating the Iran-contra affair for then-Sen. Kerry and Blumenthal was a reporter at The Post. At the time, Russian hacking was at the front and center in the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails of Blumenthal, who had a long association with Bill and Hillary Clinton, had been hacked in 2013 through a Russian server.

    While talking about that hacking, Blumenthal and I discussed Steele's reports. He showed me notes gathered by a journalist I did not know, Cody Shearer, that alleged the Russians had compromising information on Trump of a sexual and financial nature.

    What struck me was how some of the material echoed Steele's but appeared to involve different sources.

    On my own, I shared a copy of these notes with Steele, to ask for his professional reaction. He told me it was potentially "collateral" information. I asked him what that meant. He said that it was similar but separate from the information he had gathered from his sources. I agreed to let him keep a copy of the Shearer notes.

    Given that I had not worked with Shearer and knew that he was not a professional intelligence officer, I did not mention or share his notes with anyone at the State Department. I did not expect them to be shared with anyone in the U.S. government.

    But I learned later that Steele did share them -- with the FBI, after the FBI asked him to provide everything he had on allegations relating to Trump, his campaign and Russian interference in U.S. elections.

    ...is that to be anti-Putin is to be anti-Donald.


    Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


    Anti-Semitic Soros Conspiracy Theory Posted by Notable Christian Zionist (Avichai Scher, 2/09/18, tHE fORWARD)

    An official from Christians United for Israel posted an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about George Soros, according to Jewish Currents.

    Dumisani Washington, the diversity and outreach coordinator for Christians United for Israel, used his personal Facebook page to post a conspiracy theory about Soros that has been widely debunked but has become prominent recently as part of a wider demonization of Soros. The posts have been deleted at the request of Christians United for Israel.

    The posts, apparently spurred by Soros's criticism of President Donald Trump, accused Soros of getting rich off of having been a Nazi collaborator, and trying to destabilize civilization. Washington groups Soros with Isis, North Korea, Globalists (a common anti-semitic dog whistle), feminists, and Iran as being "bitterly opposed to President Trump."

    Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM



    THE UNITED STATES intelligence community has been conducting a top-secret operation to recover stolen classified U.S. government documents from Russian operatives, according to sources familiar with the matter. The operation has also inadvertently yielded a cache of documents purporting to relate to Donald Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

    Over the past year, American intelligence officials have opened a secret communications channel with the Russian operatives, who have been seeking to sell both Trump-related materials and documents stolen from the National Security Agency and obtained by Russian intelligence, according to people involved with the matter and other documentary evidence. The channel started developing in early 2017, when American and Russian intermediaries began meeting in Germany. Eventually, a Russian intermediary, apparently representing some elements of the Russian intelligence community, agreed to a deal to sell stolen NSA documents back to the U.S. while also seeking to include Trump-related materials in the package.

    Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


    Sources: Chief of Staff John Kelly expressed to President Trump willingness to resign (JONATHAN KARL, CECILIA VEGA, JOHN SANTUCCI  Feb 9, 2018, ABC)

    Several Trump confidantes reached by ABC News said the president is considering multiple names as possible Kelly replacements, among those, top economic adviser Gary Cohn, Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney and Rep. Mark Meadows.

    We'd need one heck of a lot more tiki torches...

    Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


    Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


    Pharma furious after being "blindsided" in budget deal (Caitlin Owens, Bob Herman, 2/09/18, Axios)

    The pharmaceutical industry is livid about a surprise change to Medicare drug policy that was slipped into the Senate budget deal. The bill would close the Medicare Part D "donut hole" in 2019, a year earlier than previously scheduled, and force drug companies to shoulder most of the cost.

    Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


    California police worked with neo-Nazis to pursue 'anti-racist' activists, documents show : Officers expressed sympathy with white supremacists and sought their help to target counter-protesters after a violent 2016 rally, according to court documents (Sam Levin,  9 Feb 2018, The Guardian)

    California police investigating a violent white nationalist event worked with white supremacists in an effort to identify counter-protesters and sought the prosecution of activists with "anti-racist" beliefs, court documents show.

    The records, which also showed officers expressing sympathy with white supremacists and trying to protect a neo-Nazi organizer's identity, were included in a court briefing from three anti-fascist activists who were charged with felonies after protesting at a Sacramento rally. [...]

    The TWP is "intimately allied with neo-Nazi and other hardline racist organizations" and "advocates for racially pure nations", according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Its leaders have praised Trump, and the group claimed to bring more than 100 people to the Charlottesville white supremacist rally, where a counter-protester was killed.

    In one phone call with Doug McCormack, identified by police as the TWP affiliate who acquired the permit for the Sacramento rally, CHP investigator Donovan Ayres warned him that police might have to release his name in response to a public records requests. The officer said he would try to protect McCormack.

    "I'm gonna suggest that we hold that or redact your name or something until this gets resolved," Ayres told McCormack, adding that he didn't know who had requested records of the permit and noting, "If I did, I would tell you."

    Ayres's reports noted that McCormack was armed at the rally with a knife.

    The officer's write-up about an African American anti-fascist activist included a photo of him at the hospital after the rally and noted that he had been stabbed in the abdomen, chest and hand.

    Ayres, however, treated the protester like a suspect in the investigation. The police investigator recommended the man be charged with 11 offenses, including disturbing the peace, conspiracy, assault, unlawful assembly and wearing a mask to evade police. [...]

    Officers also worked with TWP member Derik Punneo to try to identify anti-fascist activists, recordings revealed. Officers interviewed Punneo in jail after he was arrested for an unrelated domestic violence charge. Audio recordings captured investigators saying they brought photos to show him, hoping he could help them identify anti-fascist activists.

    The officers said, "We're pretty much going after them," and assured him: "We're looking at you as a victim."

    Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


    Breaking with tradition, Trump skips president's written intelligence report and relies on oral briefings (Carol D. Leonnig, Shane Harris and Greg Jaffe February 9, 2018, Washington Post)

    For much of the past year, President Trump has declined to participate in a practice followed by the past seven of his predecessors: He rarely if ever reads the President's Daily Brief, a document that lays out the most pressing information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies from hot spots around the world.

    Trump has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues in the Oval Office rather than getting the full written document delivered to review separately each day, according to three people familiar with his briefings. 

    Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump's preferred "style of learning," according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

    Of course, he'd be better informed if he just read the Times, Post & Journal, but he doesn't do that either. To be fair though, an accurate perception of reality might cause a psychic break.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM



    The new budget deal, which Congress passed early Friday morning after a brief shutdown overnight, reinstates a tax on oil to help pay for spill clean-ups.

    The nine cents-per-barrel tax on both domestic crude and imported petroleum products, which lapsed in December, generated $500 million a year, on average, in federal revenue and was the main source of funding for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM



    Individuals with a history of beating up their romantic partners are not supposed to be allowed to obtain the top security clearance required for the job Porter was awarded. As White House staff secretary, Porter would go on to become one of the most quietly powerful men in President Donald Trump's administration, controlling the flow of information that landed on Trump's desk, according to media reports. Righthand man to Chief of Staff John Kelly, Rob Porter was thought of as above the fray of White House drama, a "master of discretion."

    Doing that job without proper security clearances borders on impossible, said a former senior White House official who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about an internal matter, and Porter's temporary clearance should not have allowed him to view sensitive documents he would need to keep paper flowing. In at least one case, Porter requested documents but was refused, because he did not have clearance, according to the former White House official. The situation raises questions about whether the White House allowed Porter to handle highly classified information -- Porter's reported temporary clearance should not, for instance, have allowed him access to "top-secret" material.

    At the time that Porter was denied the documents last summer, the source said, the reason for the lack of clearance -- the abuse allegations -- was known to White House officials.

    Yet Porter remained in his position, operating on an interim clearance and accumulating more and more responsibilities even as high-level officials learned about his former partners' allegations of abuse.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


    Kelly offers account of Porter exit that some White House aides consider untrue (Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey February 9, 2018, 

    White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly on Friday morning instructed senior staff to communicate a version of events about the departure of staff secretary Rob Porter that contradicts the Trump administration's previous accounts, according to two senior officials.

    During a staff meeting, Kelly told those in attendance to say he took action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning abuse allegations from two ex-wives were credible, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because discussions in such meetings are supposed to be confidential.

    "He told the staff he took immediate and direct action," one of the officials said, adding that people after the meeting expressed disbelief with one another and felt his latest account was not true.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


    Trump Wishes Former Aide Well After Accusations Of Domestic Violence (Scott Horsley, 2/09/18, NPR)

    "We wish him well," Trump told reporters during a hastily arranged photo opportunity in the Oval Office. [...]

    "He says he's innocent and I think you have to remember that," Trump said.

    The president used similar language in November to discuss charges of sexual misconduct against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

    "He totally denies it," Trump said of Moore. "He says it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him."

    Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


    Why I Am Leaving the F.B.I. (JOSH CAMPBELL, FEB. 2, 2018, NY Times)

    One of the greatest honors of my life was walking across the stage at the F.B.I. Academy and receiving my special agent badge from the director at the time, Robert Mueller. After 21 weeks of intensive training, my class swore an oath and became federal agents entrusted with the solemn duty of protecting Americans and upholding the Constitution.

    After more than a decade of service, which included investigating terrorism, working to rescue kidnapping victims overseas and being special assistant to the director, I am reluctantly turning in my badge and leaving an organization I love. Why? So I can join the growing chorus of people who believe that the relentless attacks on the bureau undermine not just America's premier law enforcement agency but also the nation's security. My resignation is painful, but the alternative of remaining quiet while the bureau is tarnished for political gain is impossible.

    A small number of my current and retired colleagues have said that we should simply keep our heads down until the storm passes. I say this with the greatest respect: They are wrong. If those who know the agency best remain silent, it will be defined by those with partisan agendas.

    F.B.I. agents are dogged people who do not care about the direction of political winds. But to succeed in their work, they need public backing. Scorched-earth attacks from politicians with partisan goals now threaten that support, raising corrosive doubts about the integrity of the F.B.I. that could last for generations.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:36 AM


    How soaring U.S. oil exports to China are transforming the global oil game (Henning Gloystein, 2/09/18, Reuters) 

    First, sharp drops in U.S. imports of crude oil eroded the biggest market that producers like OPEC had relied on for many years. Now, surging U.S. exports - largely banned by Washington until just two years ago - challenge the last region OPEC dominates: Asia.

    U.S. oil shipments to China have surged, creating trade between the world's two biggest powers that until 2016 just did not exist, and helping Washington in its effort to reduce the nation's huge trade deficit with China.

    The transformation is reflected in figures released in recent days that shows the U.S. now produces more oil than top exporter Saudi Arabia and means the Americans are likely to take over the No.1 producer spot from Russia by the end of the year.

    The tradingest presidency ever.

    February 8, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


    Oligarch met with top Russian official after Trump aide 'offered briefings' (Alec Luhn, 8 FEBRUARY 2018, The Telegraph)

    A Russian deputy prime minister secretly met with oligarch Oleg Deripaska to discuss US relations after Paul Manafort reportedly offered Mr Deripaska briefings on the Trump campaign, according to videos discovered by a Russian opposition activist. 

    While a recorded snippet of Mr Deripaska's alleged conversation with Sergei Prikhodko, deputy prime minister and head of the government executive office, does not specifically mention Donald Trump, the fact of their meeting on a yacht raises further questions of collusion with Vladimir Putin's government.  [...]

    Mr Prikhodko has been a key Kremlin figure. A diplomat who became an aide to president Boris Yeltsin in 1997, he was in charge of foreign policy in Putin's first administration and served as a presidential aide until 2012.

    Mr Deripaska hired Mr Manafort on a $10 million annual contract in 2006 after the Washington insider proposed a campaign to "greatly benefit the Putin government" by influencing US politics and media, Associated Press reported last year.

    Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


    Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


    House Intel Republicans plan to wall off their aides from Democratic staffers (OLIVIA VICTORIA GAZIS, February 8, 2018, cbs NEWS)

    [S]ome Republican committee members deny knowing anything about it, while strongly suggesting the division is the brainchild of the committee's chairman, Devin Nunes, R-California.

    "I'm not part of that decision," said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. "You've got to talk to Devin. I don't know what they're trying to do one way or the other."

    "I swear to God I didn't know that," said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Florida, when asked about the plan. While acknowledging a wall might not be constructive for the committee's work, he said, "The level of trust and the level of everything down there is - it's poison. It's absolute poison down there."

    Rooney said one reason for the tension is an erosion of trust, exacerbated by an ongoing ethics investigation into the "entire Republican staff," including "the woman up front that answers the phone" for alleged leaks. He later added that the matter was being handled by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

    Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


    Apocalypse Not (Bret Stephens FEB. 8, 2018, NY Times)

    In 1919, the director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines offered a dire warning for the future. "Within the next two to five years the oil fields of this country will reach their maximum production, and from that time on we will face an ever-increasing decline."

    Nearly a century later, in July 2010, The Guardian ran a story with an ominous headline: "Lloyd's adds its voice to dire 'peak oil' warnings." Citing a report by the storied London insurer, the newspaper warned that businesses were "underestimating catastrophic consequences of declining oil," including oil at $200 a barrel by 2013, a global supply crunch, and overall "economic chaos."

    I thought of these predictions on seeing the recent news that the United States is on the eve of breaking a 47-year production record by lifting more than 10 million barrels of crude a day. That's roughly twice what the U.S. produced just a decade ago, and may even put us on track to overtake Saudi Arabia and even Russia as the world's leading oil producer. As for global production, it rose by some 11 percent just since the Lloyd's report, and by almost 200 percent since 1965.

    Call it yet another case of Apocalypse Not. In his fascinating new book, "The Wizard and the Prophet," Charles C. Mann notes that President Roosevelt -- Teddy, not Franklin -- called the "imminent exhaustion" of fossil fuels and other natural resources "the weightiest problem now before the nation." Prior to that, Mann adds, there were expert forecasts that the world would soon run out of coal. Later on, the world became fixated on the fear of running out of food in the face of explosive population growth.

    Dairy Co-op Sends Farmers Suicide Hotline Numbers After Milk Prices Plummet (Rob Wolfe , 2/07/18, Valley News)

    With milk prices declining to levels seen 20 years ago, the dairy co-op Agri-Mark this month sent farmers phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines and other mental health services along with the latest market forecasts.

    The regional cooperative, which serves the six New England states plus New York, notified members in a Feb. 1 letter that prices for milk -- usually the largest part of dairy farmers' revenues -- were forecast to fall for the third year in a row in 2018.

    Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


    'It's Bad': Omarosa Cries Through Description of Trump White House on 'Celebrity Big Brother' (Matt Wilstein, 02.08.18, Daily Beast)

    "I felt like it was a call to duty," Manigault says, whispering for some reason despite the plethora of microphones and cameras. "I felt like I was serving my country, not serving him."

    "Like, I was haunted by tweets every single day," she adds, dramatically. "Like, what is going to tweet next?" Positioning herself as a defender of decency, Manigault says she tried to be the person who would question the president, but everyone around him started "attacking" her instead. [...]

    When Mathews asks, "Should we be worried?" Manigault nods emphatically. When he says he wants her to tell him it's going to be OK, she says, "No, it's going to not be OK. It's not." She looks down as she adds, "It's so bad."

    Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


    The Mysteries of the Trump-Russia Investigation: Known Unknowns (Kate Brannen, February 8, 2018, Just Security)

    [W]hile Mueller's team toils away in secrecy, investigative reporters have also been digging over the past year and they repeatedly unearth new information that shows a clear pattern of Russian officials approaching various members of the Trump campaign and being met with open arms.

    First, there's Donald Trump Jr. After being offered dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Russian official in June 2016, Trump Jr. responded, "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer." Following that exchange, Trump Jr. set up a meeting in Trump Tower with a "Russian government attorney" and others with suspected ties to the Russian government. The meeting was also attended by Paul Manafort, a long-time associate of Trump and who was at the time the Trump campaign's chairman, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. When it became clear the New York Times was going to publicly disclose that the meeting took place, the president himself helped concoct a cover-up story, which was given to the Times.

    Next, you've got George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. [...]

    Whatever his position, Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 that the Russians had political dirt on Clinton. When Australian officials passed this information on to the U.S. government, it triggered the FBI to open its investigation into Russian interference and whether the Trump campaign played any role in it. Papadopoulos' plea agreement revealed how enthusiastically Papadopoulos was pursuing a relationship with the Kremlin on behalf of the Trump campaign; how a top Trump campaign official encouraged him in this endeavor, and how he later lied to FBI investigators about these interactions in an effort to cover them up.

    Not to be overlooked is Manafort, whose true role in all of this is yet to be revealed. But we do know his ties to Kremlin-linked oligarchs stretched way back and was at the center of his years of work in Ukraine. While working on the Trump campaign, Manafort reportedly told an intermediary that "private briefings" could be arranged for his former client and Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

    There's also Kushner, who in December, discussed setting up "a secret and secure communications channel between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin." And multiple reports indicate that Flynn's calls with Kislyak were at the direction of Kushner. And there is his national security questionnaire -- known as an SF-86 -- which Kushner has had to update multiple times because he failed to disclose multiple foreign contacts, including with Russian officials during the campaign. It wasn't until Kushner filed a second addendum that he disclosed the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

    Finally, there's Carter Page, who also served as a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign. In 2013, Page had been targeted by Russian spies working in New York City and was eventually confronted about his interactions with them by the FBI. In the spring of 2016, Trump named Page as one of his few foreign policy advisers in an interview with the Washington Post. While working for the campaign in July 2016, Page traveled to Moscow and met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Andrey Baranov, Rosneft's head of investor relations. And as the Nunes memo revealed, the FBI obtained permission from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on Page not once, but four times, starting in October 2016. This means the Justice Department had to demonstrate probable cause to think that Page was "knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of" Russia.

    The pattern is quite clear: When Russian officials approached Trump campaign members, they were all too happy to oblige them: They took secret meetings with them; they offered information; they expressed enthusiasm at Russia's offer to help them win the election. So, now we know Russian intelligence was taking every opportunity it could to infiltrate the campaign. And we also know that it met little resistance in its efforts to do so.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin says Trump's foes have blocked his agenda (Vladimir Isachenkov, 2/08/18, Associated Press)
    President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia remains open to cooperation with Washington even though President Donald Trump's political foes in the U.S. have tried to prevent him from fulfilling his campaign promises.

    Asked at a forum of foreign policy experts if Russia is annoyed with Trump's unpredictability, Putin said that it's linked to a "strong resistance inside the country."

    Russia rejoiced at Trump's victory in the 2016 U.S. election, but its hopes for repairing ties with his administration have been shattered by congressional and FBI investigations into the Trump campaign's ties with Russia.

    Speaking at the Valdai forum in Sochi, Putin said Trump's political adversaries "haven't allowed him to fulfill any of his election platforms and plans."

    Besides lifting sanctions and the rest, it's worth recalling that Donald even said he might not defend a NATO ally if Vlad attacked.

    Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM

    "FAKE NEWS!"

    Confronted on CNN, Holocaust-denying GOP House candidate calls Shoah 'poppycock' (ERIC CORTELLESSA, 2/08/18, Times of Israel)

    An outspoken Holocaust denier and anti-Semite poised to become the Republican nominee for a US House seat reiterated his vitriolic views on Thursday, when he was confronted by on CNN.

    In a six-minute segment with Alisyn Camerota during the news network's morning program, Arthur Jones, a former chair of the American Nazi Party, dismissed the Holocaust as "poppycock" and a "scam," blamed the pro-Israel lobby for miring America in endless Middle East wars, and said the Jews controlled the nation's government, its economy and the media.

    MAGA, baby.

    Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM

    4 Of Our Biggest Global Problems Are Big Business Opportunities (BEN SCHILLER, 2/08/18, Co.Exist)

    When the United Nations set out its Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, it was detailing not only an agenda for government and aid groups, but also one for business. Covering everything from global hunger to gender equality, the SDGs are a rich diet of opportunity. They show ways for companies to make money and to become engines of progress in the world.

    A new report reframes the 17 SDGs along these lines, helping companies that say they want to enact an SDG agenda. It comes from Sustainia, a Danish think tank, as well as DNV GL, a Norwegian company, and the United Nations Global Compact, which works to bring companies into the SDG process. The report focuses on four SDGs that need most attention and some of the boldest action: inequality, responsible consumption, climate change, and oceans management.

    Key to the report is the idea that companies can do more than be responsible actors. They can actually create solutions that improve lives and develop new markets. In other words, being responsible isn't some moral choice, but rather it's smart strategic planning. "Responsible and sustainable business is no longer a small niche industry. Rather, these markets have the potential to be the key drivers of business growth in the coming decades," the report says.

    Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


    Globally, gas car phaseout gains momentum: Europe and Asia lead push to replace traditional cars with electric and hybrid ones amid climate and pollution concerns. (Bailey Bischoff, FEBRUARY 8, 2018, CS Monitor)

    First, it was low emission zones - laws restricting where polluting vehicles can go within a town or city. In Europe more than 200 such zones have been established. Now, national governments are poised to take the next step in the fight against air pollution: limits on the sales of gas and diesel vehicles.

    In the Netherlands, the government is pushing forward a plan to end the sales of gas and diesel vehicles by 2030. France and Britain have announced similar plans for 2040. In Norway, which has strong targets for getting gas and diesel cars off the road, 2017 was the first year in which electric and hybrid vehicle sales exceeded 50 percent of total sales. India says it will electrify all new vehicles as soon as 2030. With an expanding electric car market, falling battery prices, and an increasing number of regulations, electric vehicles could replace petrol-powered ones faster than anticipated, some experts say.

    China, the world's largest automobile-producing country, has yet to enforce a ban, but Chinese officials are expected to follow their international counterparts and have hinted at the creation of a timetable for phasing out the production of gas and diesel vehicles. Even now, China has asked automakers to ensure that 10 percent of car sales are electric vehicles by 2019.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM

    THE lEFT IS THE rIGHT (profanity alert):

    The Left's War Against The New York Times : The paper has been accused of everything from electing Trump to normalizing neo-Nazis. Are its liberal critics right or unreasonable? (GRAHAM VYSE, February 8, 2018, New Republic)

    The Times has flourished under Trump, witnessing a surge in digital subscriptions and regularly breaking major news about the administration and the Russia inquiry (not to mention #MeToo). Yet liberal criticism of the Times has also intensified, especially on social media. Not a day passes, it seems, without a prominent Twitter user complaining that the Times is biased against the left, too friendly to Trump and his supporters, or engaging in false equivalences between Democrats and Republicans.

    Reporter Michael Schmidt was criticized for not asking more follow-up questions during an impromptu sit-down with Trump in December. His colleague Richard Fausset was accused of normalizing a neo-Nazi in his profile of an Ohio white nationalist the month before. Critics frequently charge that the Times is preoccupied with giving a voice to Trump supporters or even just saying something nice about the president, and the paper has openly struggled with how to cover racists. Broader criticisms go to questions of framing and context--whether news analysis of Trump is too gentle, like when Peter Baker described the president's "reality-show accessibility," or why the Times' mobile phone push notifications seem strangely favorable to the White House. And then there's the steady moan about the Times opinion section--not just stalwarts like Brooks and Ross Douthat, but Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss, both of whom joined the paper last year from The Wall Street Journal.

    "I think there's been a lot more anger from the grassroots against the Times," Willis told me. "They're able to be more vocal about it because of social media and Twitter specifically." Sean McElwee, a socialist policy analyst and columnist at The Outline, said this anger sometimes "unites everyone from a deeply anti-imperialist socialist to someone who works at a center-left think tank."

    Ideologues don't want news; they want their hands held. Thus their respective bubbles.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:49 AM


    Obamacare Enrollment Holds Steady Despite Republican Efforts (Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar And Kevin S. Vineys, 2/07/18, Associated Press)

    Call it the political equivalent of a death-defying escape: former President Barack Obama's health care law pulled in nearly 11.8 million customers for 2018, despite the Republican campaign to erase it from the books.

    An Associated Press count found that nationwide enrollment was about 3 percent lower than last year. California, with more than 1.5 million sign-ups, was the last state to report, announcing its numbers on Wednesday.

    Sixteen states increased their enrollment from last year, according to AP's analysis. Six of those were carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while 10 went for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

    However, of the total number of people signed up this year about 6 in 10 live in states that went for Trump, according to the AP's analysis.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:46 AM


    Shorter Workweek Trial A Success (LARISSA KYZER, February 08, 2018 , Icelandic Review)

    An experimental project to see how shortening the workweek for state and municipal employees has been a success thus far, RÚV reports. In fact, the City of Reykjavík and the BSRB union report that not only are sick days are down and employee satisfaction up among individuals who participated in the trial, but there has also been no loss of productivity as a result of curtailed hours on the job.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:44 AM


    The Justice Department Has Apparently Debunked the GOP's Phony Uranium One Scandal : A bad week for Republican talking points. (DAN FRIEDMAN, FEB. 6, 2018, Mother Jones)

    As I explained last year, the allegations, which first surfaced in a 2015 New York Times story, never made much sense:

    The Uranium One sale was unanimously approved by [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS], which is made up of representatives from nine separate federal agencies and chaired by the Treasury Department. The State Department was just one of the member agencies. By all accounts, Clinton's role was nominal. In practice, Jose Fernandez, then the assistant secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs, represented the State Department on CFIUS. He told the Times that Clinton "never intervened with me" on any matter the panel considered. It's not even clear if Fernandez briefed Clinton about the uranium deal. And [Frank] Giustra, the Clinton Foundation donor at the center of the Times story--who was responsible for $140 million of the $145 million in reported contributions--said he had sold his share of Uranium One three years before the Russian deal. Giustra said he never mentioned the deal to Clinton, whom he met at charity events.

    In October, a story in a The Hill newspaper revived the issue by suggesting that a whistleblower--Campbell--had acted as an FBI informant when the bureau prosecuted Vadim Mikerin, an executive with a subsidiary of the same company that later bought Uranium One, for a scheme involving bribery and kickbacks related to trucking of Uranium. The article suggested the Justice Department failed to provide information about the prosecution to the State Department and other agencies that could have blocked the Uranium One sale.

    Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to call for a special counsel to investigate the Uranium One case. House Republicans went even further, painting the whistleblower as key to exposing Clinton's ties to Uranium One. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) told Fox News in October that Campbell could implicate Hillary Clinton in corruption.

    "We have the money that went to Bill Clinton for the speech, the half a million dollars, millions of dollars to the foundation from sources connected with Uranium One," DeSantis said. "And then you have the approval of the deal on the CFIUS board which Hillary Clinton was a member of in 2010. So, we do have the quid, we have the quo. This informant I believe would be able to link those two together, because he was right at the heart of a lot of what was going on at the time."

    But we now know that in a December 15, 2017, briefing to House oversight committee staff, Justice Department officials apparently knocked down this claim. The officials said that "at no point did [the individual] provide any allegation of corruption, illegality, or impropriety on Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, President Clinton, the Uranium One deal, or CFIUS," Cummings and Schiff wrote. "They also confirmed that there were 'no allegations of impropriety or illegality' regarding Secretary Clinton in any of the documents they reviewed."

    The officials also revealed in the briefing that "career attorneys initially planned to build their case against Mikerin based on evidence provided by this individual.  However, they began to have 'serious credibility concerns' because of 'inconsistencies' between the individual's statements and documents they obtained as part of the investigation," the letter says.

    The letter says that House oversight committee chairman Trey Gowdy, after months of unexplained delay, has scheduled an interview with Campbell this week. The Democrats asked in their letter that the interview be transcribed.

    You do have to admire the stamina with which Donald's nativist defenders move from one imploded lunacy to the next in a desperate attempt to prop him up. No personal humiliation is too great if there's a chance to get at immigrants and Muslims.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:40 AM


    White House officials knew about Porter's abuse allegations and scrambled to protect him (Kaitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak and Dan Merica,  February 7, 2018, CNN)

    Porter's ex-wives detailed the allegations to the FBI over the course of a routine background check, they told CNN's MJ Lee on Wednesday. A year into the administration, Porter does not hold a security clearance.

    By early fall, it was widely known among Trump's top aides -- including chief of staff John Kelly -- both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff.

    Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter's standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week's State of the Union address. He traveled instead of Kelly to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. 

    Posted by orrinj at 3:36 AM


    More than 100 pro-Assad forces killed in thwarted attack: U.S. official (Reuters, 2/08/18) 

    More than 100 fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were killed overnight when U.S. coalition and coalition-backed local forces repelled their attack in eastern Syria, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

    February 7, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


    Friends of the Court: A Suggestion for the FISA Court on the Nunes Memo (Benjamin Wittes, February 7, 2018, LawFare)

    In last week's special edition of the Lawfare Podcast, I had the following exchange with David Kris, the country's leading authority on FISA, concerning whether there was any way to make public whatever discussion takes place between the FISC and the government on this matter:

    Wittes: [I]f I were at either DOJ in your former position, that is head of NSD, or at the [FBI], I'd be looking at this and saying "wait a minute, the House Intelligence Committee isn't ultimately the actor who gets to decide whether our warrant application was defective. That job belongs to the FISC." My temptation would be to file a public document with the FISC saying, "Of course the Justice Department and the FBI is prepared to answer any questions or provide any information that the court might need in response . . . to this disclosure by the president and by the House intelligence committee," and allow the FISC to use that if it so chose to maybe issue a one sentence order that says, "no thanks. We're good"--or else to give the FISC the opportunity, by filing that, to say something in public. I'm wondering how plausible you think this is?

    Kris: I think that's quite plausible. But first I think it is very likely that the government was updating the court across these four renewals that have been disclosed . . . as to the changing nature of the situation . . . and I would further imagine that now, the government is either on its way to the court or thinking about how to go to the court to officially advise the court of this memo (which I'm sure the judges have read in the newspaper). . . . So I would expect first that the government has provided notice updates as things evolve, which is the normal thing to do, and that they will now have to go to the court and . . . have some formal vehicle for acknowledging this and giving the court an opportunity to weigh in. The part that I don't know, and I think is part of a larger challenge here, is whether and to what extent any or all of that, either the fact of the interaction with the court and the fact of the court's response, or even the substance of it will be made public. This is part of a conundrum that the government is in here, similar to one that it's faced in, . . . for example, the Snowden situation, where certain information is made public and then in order to provide a fuller picture, the government is forced to exacerbate the classification problem and release further information that would be classified and it has to pay a price then in sources and methods. . . . That balance between those competing interests puts the government in a little bit of a box. . . . It may be easier to solve in correspondence with the court, and I can imagine ways the court could go public with a statement that didn't compromise sources and methods, so there may be a way out of it here. But it's part of a larger problem that can't be ignored whenever these types of situations come up.

    Sophia Brill, writing on Lawfare Tuesday, was thinking along similar lines. Her post outlines several procedural mechanisms by which the court could publicly issue an order addressing the Nunes memo's claims. Such a disclosure would be highly unusual, she acknowledges--but "the FISC is uniquely positioned to resolve this question [of whether the allegations in the Nunes memo are true] while still avoiding the hemorrhaging of additional classified information."

    Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


    Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


    Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


    Dissecting the Grassley-Graham Letter's Criticisms of the Carter Page FISA Application (Ryan Goodman, February 7, 2018, JustSecurity)

    There are three ways in which the Grassley-Graham letter goes even further than the Nunes memo in its criticisms of the FBI's handling of the FISA application.

    First, the letter states that the FISA application did not include any "meaningful corroboration" of the Steele dossier allegations against Page, and that Comey's response to the criticism in closed session was not to refer to other forms of corroboration, but instead to depend on Steele's general reliability. It is hard to know how to evaluate the two senators' claim of lack of "meaningful" corroboration, since there may have been ample other evidence about Page's recent relationships with Russian agents. By late October 2016, when the FISA application was submitted, Page's unusual trip to Russia while a member of the Trump campaign was well known. The Nunes memo itself seems to suggest that around this time, the Steele dossier was at least "minimally corroborated." And, in response to the release of the Nunes memo, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)stated, "Only very select parts of what Christopher Steele reported related to Carter Page were included within the application, and some of those things were already subject to corroboration."

    What's more, Page's own testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, which occurred two months before the senators' letter, corroborated parts of the Steele' dossier. For more on this, read Natasha Bertrand's "Carter Page's testimony is filled with bombshells--and supports key portions of the Steele dossier." Since Grassley and Graham's ultimate claim involves concerns about Steele's credibility, one would have expected them at least to address the subsequent corroboration by Page, even if not other aspects of the dossier that may have also been validated (see John Sipher's two articles at Just Security). That said, the FBI may have been unaware of some of the corroborating details about Page in late October when DOJ applied to the FISA court.

    The Grassley-Graham memo also includes an important line that the FBI itself came to the determination that "[Steele's] reporting is credible." We should all remember that is now a part of the public record. Grassley and Graham attempt to tar the entire Steele dossier with the suggested that James Comey told Congress the dossier is "salacious and unverified." That is the same foul committed by the Nunes memo, and smacks of bias. Here's the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFacts ruling:

    "Comey's careful phrasings in four portions of his testimony indicate that he meant only that portions of it were "salacious and unverified." The memo twists Comey's words in an effort to leverage his stature to undercut the dossier."

    Second, the Grassley-Graham letter states that "the bulk of the application consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the Steele dossier. The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations..." Note that the second sentence does not say the dossier failed to contain additional information that implicated Page, only that it did not contain additional information corroborating the specific allegations in the Steele dossier. Nevertheless, it is important that the senators claim that the Steele dossier and other information that Steele provided the FBI constituted "the bulk of information" in the original application (elsewhere they describe the Steele information as "a significant portion" of the FISA application).

    But what about that forest? What's publicly known about Page suggests there may have been ample reason for the Justice Department to seek a surveillance warrant and for federal judges to authorize and reauthorize it. Nothing in the letter changes that fact. Indeed, not even Gowdy is now willing to say that the initial FISA order was unjustified.

    Gowdy--sig. drafter of #NunesMemo--now can't even say surveillance was unjustified.

    Q: "Was that justified, that surveillance?

    Gowdy: "We'll never know because the application contained three parts" including "other information they had on Carter Page" pic.twitter.com/p1to43kpKP

    -- Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) February 4, 2018

    That's an especially important sign since Gowdy says he was "intricately involved" in  drafting the Nunes memo and Nunes gave Gowdy the exclusive responsibility of viewing the underlying classified information on behalf of the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee. Why could Gowdy not say the surveillance warrant was unjustified? Because of "other information they had on Carter Page," Gowdy told CBS's Face the Nation. The senators' letter itself is also inconsistent in this regard. Having said the Steele dossier constituted "the bulk of information" in the original application, the letter refers elsewhere to "a total of four FISA applications relying on the dossier to seek surveillance of Mr. Carter Page, as well as numerous other FBI documents relating to Mr. Steele."

    Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


    Court upholds $25 million settlement in suits against Trump University (Bob Egelko, February 6, 2018, SF Chronicle)

    A federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld a $25 million settlement Tuesday to students of the now-defunct Trump University, who said they were charged up to $35,000 and promised the secrets of real estate success but were given little more than sales pitches to take more seminars.

    The settlement of two class-action suits and a third suit by the state of New York against Donald Trump's school was reached six weeks after the 2016 presidential election and was approved by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of San Diego.

    President Trump has agreed to pay the settlement, but after Curiel refused to dismiss the suit in July 2016, Trump, as a candidate, called the Indiana-born judge a "hater" and a Mexican who was biased against him because of his plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. [...]

    The settlement will allow the students to recover about 90 percent of what they paid, said their lawyers, who did not charge them a fee and will not share in the payment. 

    Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM

    IN FOR A PENNY, IN FOR THE POUNDING (profanity alert):


    For weeks, Donald Trump has been souring on his Chief of Staff John Kelly because of his controlling ways and rising public profile. And now Kelly is in the midst of a bonafide crisis, one that exacerbates the president's own #MeToo problems. On Tuesday, Kelly strongly defended White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter against disturbing allegations, first published in the Daily Mail, that he abused his ex-wives. Kelly's decision to back Porter has left many people inside the White House angry, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. On Wednesday afternoon, Porter resigned. Axios reported Kelly wanted Porter to "stay and fight."

    General Kelly has already shown us what he is.

    Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


    Israel Fired On Syrian Military Positions, Damascus Claims (JTA, 2/07/18)

    The Syrian military accused Israel of firing on its positions near Damascus, calling it a "new Israeli aggression."

    "This morning, Israeli warplanes fired several missiles from Lebanese airspace on one of our military positions in the Damascus countryside," Syria's army said in a statement broadcast on state media. 

    Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


    Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


    'Grassroots' Media Startup Redfish Is Supported by the Kremlin (CHARLES DAVIS, 02.01.18, Daily Beast)

    Redfish, a Berlin-based media collective, launched with a promise to deliver "radical, in-depth grassroots features," with professional graphics, filed everywhere from Eastern Europe to South America. Its first report, on a fire at a public housing development in England that killed over 70 people, has been praised by Vice, as a "fantastic example of amateur community-produced media."

    But Redfish does not appear to be as independent and community-based as its branding suggests. Its reports are the product of an in-house team of staff correspondents and producers, most of whom last worked for Russian government media. And by the time that documentary on Grenfell Tower was discovered by Vice, it had been airing for weeks as an "exclusive grassroots report" on RT, Moscow's state-supported television network.

    Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


    Gorka Joins Outlet That Published "Ten Things I Hate About Jews" (Eli Clifton, February 7, 2018, LobeLog)

    Sebastian Gorka's role as a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump ended in August 2017. A series of investigative articles tied him to Vitezi Rend, a Hungarian group the State Department characterized as collaborating with the Nazis. He'd also endorsed a racist and anti-Semitic militia in Hungary in a 2007 television interview.

    A favorite of Beltway institutions like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Heritage Foundation before he joined the Trump campaign, Gorka became the president's attack dog on cable news interviews. He eventually departed the White House under questionable circumstances: he says he resigned, other sources say he was fired.

    Now he has drifted to the fringes of the alt-right with his new job as a contributor at The Rebel, an online Canadian publication with a long history of anti-Semitism, extremism, and Islamophobia.

    Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


    Trump immigration plan could keep whites in U.S. majority for up to five more years (Jeff Stein and Andrew Van Dam February 6, 2018, Washington Post)

    President Trump's proposal to cut legal immigration rates would delay the date that white Americans become a minority of the population by as few as one or as many as five additional years, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

    The plan, released by the White House last month, would scale back a program that allows people residing in the United States to sponsor family members living abroad for green cards, and would eliminate the "diversity visa program" that benefits immigrants in countries with historically low levels of migration to the United States. Together, the changes would disproportionately affect immigrants from Latin America and Africa.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:35 AM


    Macron to visit Corsica as demands for greater autonomy gain weight (Angelique Chrisafis, 6 Feb 2018, The Guardian)

    The question of what status should be granted Corsica - an island of 330,000 people that lies closer to Italy than mainland France - has long vexed Paris but has been brushed under the carpet by successive French presidents.

    The 40-year Corsican "national liberation" campaign of bombing and violence targeting French infrastructure, ended in 2014 when armed separatists announced an "end to military operations". But since then, Corsican nationalists seeking greater autonomy from the French state have had their best-ever performance in elections.

    The Pè a Corsica (For Corsica) alliance has two-thirds of the seats in the regional assembly.

    February 6, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


    The Congressman Who Infuriates the President (NATASHA BERTRAND, 2/06/18, The Atlantic)

    A GOP aide who requested anonymity to speak freely about the investigation said he doesn't think Trump "has ever faced an adversary quite like Schiff, and it's freaking him out."

    "First off, he's a skilled prosecutor with an acid tongue, and a command of all the facts including the most deeply held classified information," the aide told me. "Second, he's not in leadership and therefore doesn't have to consider being at the negotiating table like [Chuck] Schumer or [Nancy] Pelosi do. Third, he's got a squeaky clean record (wouldn't have ascended to that position if he didn't) and comes from a district where when Trump lashes out at him, it only makes him more powerful and popular."

    Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


    Trump's 'marching orders' to the Pentagon: Plan a grand military parade (Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker February 6, 2018, Washington Post)

    Trump has long mused publicly and privately about wanting such a parade, but a Jan. 18 meeting between Trump and top generals in the Pentagon's tank -- a room reserved for top secret discussions -- marked a tipping point, according to two officials briefed on the planning.

    Surrounded by the military's highest ranking officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford, Trump's seemingly abstract desire for a parade was suddenly heard as a presidential directive, the officials said.

    "The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France," said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. "This is being worked at the highest levels of the military."

    If only Richard Libertini were still around to play him in the movie...

    Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


    Hero or hired gun? How a British former spy became a flash point in the Russia investigation. (Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman, February 6, 2018, Washington Post)

    The FBI investigators treated Steele as a peer -- a Russia expert so well-trusted that he had assisted the Justice Department on past cases and provided briefing material for British prime ministers and at least one U.S. president. During intense questioning that day in Rome, they alluded to some of their own findings of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign and raised the prospect of paying Steele to continue gathering intelligence after Election Day, according to people familiar with the discussion.

    But Steele was not one of them. He had left the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, seven years earlier and was now working on behalf of Fusion GPS, a private Washington research firm whose work at the time was funded by Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party.

    The meeting in Rome captured the unusual and complicated role of Steele, who wrote memos that came to be known as the dossier and who has become the central point of contention in the political brawl raging around the Russia inquiry by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

    Those who believe Steele consider him a hero, a latter-day Paul Revere who, at personal risk, tried to provide an early warning about the Kremlin's unprecedented meddling in a U.S. campaign. Those who distrust him say he is merely a hired gun leading a political attack on Trump.

    Steele himself struggled to navigate dual obligations -- to his private clients, who were paying him to help Clinton win, and to a sense of public duty born of his previous life.

    Sir Andrew Wood, a British former diplomat and friend of Steele, said he urged him in the fall of 2016 to alert the authorities. "The right sort of people" needed to be told, Wood said he told Steele. "My opinion was, 'You don't have a choice. At least, you don't have an honorable choice.' " [...]

    He was steeped in Russia early on after being recruited to Britain's elite spy service from Cambridge University. He spent two decades working for the famed MI6 spy agency, including a stint in his mid-20s in Moscow, where he served undercover in the British Embassy.

    When he returned to work for the agency in London, he provided briefing materials on Russia for senior government officials and led the British inquiry into the mysterious 2006 death in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB official and Putin critic.

    In 2009, after more than two decades in public service, Steele turned to the private sector and founded a London-based consulting firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, drawing on the reputation and network he developed doing intelligence work.

    Among those who have continued to seek his expertise is Steele's former boss Richard Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004.

    In an interview, Dearlove said Steele became the "go-to person on Russia in the commercial sector" following his retirement from the Secret Intelligence Service. He described the reputations of Steele and his business partner, fellow intelligence veteran Christopher Burrows, as "superb."

     Sir Richard Dearlove, a former head of MI6, called Steele the "go-to person on Russia." (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire via Associated Press)
    In one of his first cases as a private consultant, Steele worked closely with the FBI in its investigation of corruption at FIFA, the powerful worldwide soccer governing body. Steele, who at the time was working for the English Football Association, shared his research with top officials at the Justice Department. U.S. officials eventually charged 14 top soccer executives and their associates with wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering.

    Steele and Burrows soon amassed a group of clients that included multinational companies and wealthy business titans, including some Russians, according to people familiar with their work.

    Steele continued to feed information to the U.S. government, passing along intelligence he gathered about Ukraine and Russia for corporate clients in 2014 and 2015 to a friend at the State Department, according to former assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland. "He offered us that reporting free, so that we could also benefit from it," she said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."

    In June 2016, Steele was contacted by Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and co-founder of Fusion GPS. Simpson and Steele had been introduced by a mutual friend in 2009 who knew that they shared a near-obsessive interest in Russian organized crime and that they had worked together on previous cases.

    Now Simpson had an intriguing offer: Would Steele's firm help research Trump's ties to Russia? [...]

    Most of Simpson's research was based on scouring public records, court filings and media reports from around the world.

    Steele brought far more: He was able to tap a network of human sources cultivated over decades of Russia work. He moved quickly, reaching out to Russian contacts and others he referred to as "collectors" who had other sources -- some of whom had no idea their comments would be passed along to Steele.

    His sources included "a close associate of Trump," as well as "a senior Russian foreign ministry figure" and a "former top-level Russian intelligence officer," both of whom Steele indicated had revealed their information to a "trusted compatriot," he later reported to Fusion GPS.

    Just weeks after taking the case, Steele told friends that the initial intelligence he had gathered was "hair-raising." [...]

    Steele told Simpson of his plan to meet with the FBI, describing it as an obligation rooted in his past work for the British government.

    " 'I'm a former intelligence officer, and we're your closest ally,' " Steele told Simpson, according to testimony Simpson later gave to the House Intelligence Committee. " 'You know, I have obligations, professional obligations. If there's a national security emergency or possible national security issue, I should report it.' "

    Simpson said he did not question Steele's judgment: "He's the spy," Simpson said. "I'm the ex-journalist."  [...]

    In late July, Steele told friends he was rattled when WikiLeaks released thousands of internal Democratic National Committee emails on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, material that U.S. law enforcement officials said was hacked by Russia. Then Trump -- who had repeatedly praised Putin on the campaign trail -- publicly called on Russia to hack and release a cache of missing Clinton emails.

    Steele, who had researched Russian attempts to interfere in European elections for another client, began to fear that the Americans were not taking the Kremlin's efforts seriously enough, associates said.

    Stage Two of Memogate (Nancy LeTourneau, February 6, 2018, Washington Monthly)

    According to a source familiar with the matter, however, Steele's "memorandum" was actually a handwritten note on a copy of Shearer's report that outlined its origin--the "foreign sub-source" who had been in touch with Shearer. The note identified Shearer as a contact of Sidney Blumenthal's, a longtime associate of the Clintons. It also explained that Steele had obtained the document via Winer, who had gotten it from Shearer.

    What Steele added to Shearer's report were the names of sources, along with a note that the author had ties to Blumenthal. That's it.

    One can only assume that Carter invented the line about Steele using part of Shearer's memo in his own dossier, because nowhere is that corroborated in the Grassley memo or in any other reporting. As a matter of fact, here is how the Guardian characterizes the handoff from Steele to the FBI:

    The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016.

    It was handed to them by Steele - who had been given it by an American contact - after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources.

    The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

    As for the FBI's take on the Shearer memo, here is where things stand:

    ...the Guardian has been told the FBI investigation is still assessing details in the "Shearer memo" and is pursuing intriguing leads.

    Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


    The case for automating leadership (Johan Aurik, 1/19/18, WEF)

    What if leaders knew as much about their organisations as Google knows about them? By deploying appropriate technologies, it is possible today for organisations to capture data on practically every interaction and consolidate every performance metric in an organisation.

    Analytic tools powered by AI can rapidly probe the resulting mountains of data to identify correlations and make accurate, useful predictions. By applying such technologies, companies can essentially automate many operational decisions, freeing leaders to focus more on areas where human judgement is clearly required.

    Automating management offers decisive advantages. As the system knows exactly what everyone is working on and what is being produced, accountability is clear. Performance evaluation can be grounded in contextually relevant data, rather than subjective inference. Coaching and feedback can be automated, tailored to the individual, and delivered exactly when required, making the dreaded annual review cycle obsolete.

    All information can be made available to anyone in the organisation who needs it, and collaboration tools can allow instantaneous communication around a single real-time version of the truth.

    Dependencies become much clearer, as the impact of actions in one part of the organisation on another are immediately evident. Peer pressure can drive compliance to process and motivate people to meet their commitments. On a day to day basis, the organisation can be made to largely run itself.

    So, is this science fiction? The New York Times best-seller The Decoded Company describes how a company named Klick has made technology and culture inseparable. A Canadian digital agency specialising in healthcare, Klick has pioneered applying digital technology to 1) provide real-time coaching to enable talent and to automate processes 2) use data as a sixth sense to inform decision-making, and 3) create a talent-centric organisation.

    At the core of Klick's culture and systems is clarity of roles and tasks. A platform developed by the company keeps all its leaders and employees informed on the progress of work and clearly specifies who is accountable for what.

    There is a culture of hyper-transparency, where an entire project team can comment on every aspect of their project. Performance feedback happens every week. And every transaction, interaction, input and outcome is stored in a 'Wisdom Layer' of data that enables "gut feel" to be combined with data to inform rich insights. AI brings predictive insights to inform the company whether a contract will be profitable or a recruit will be successful.

    This experiment in automating and augmenting practically every aspect of a company has yielded remarkable efficiencies. Klick, an organisation of 700 people, has just five people in finance, no HR department, no annual review process, and remarkably few administrative assistants. It has sustained a consistent 40% annual growth rate, high levels of profitability, less than 3% voluntary attrition (in an industry where rates are typically near 20%), and public recognition for its contributions to broader society.

    Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


    The 'Deep State' Conspiracy Is How Fascists Discredit Democracy : The efforts to call into question the motivations of top officials at the FBI are creating a constitutional crisis. (Glenn Carle, 02.06.18, Daily Beast)

    I never saw an officer's personal views interfere with how the agency performed its duties. Personal political opinions, like cellphones and football pools, are left out of the office. This commitment and motivation is why we spend our careers working for a fraction of what our peers in the private sector earn.

    Nor do the CIA or the FBI as institutions have political agendas. The idea of the "Deep State" opposing elected leaders and the rule of law is--I will be blunt here--a fascist concept, which is intended to discredit the institutions of democracy. It is done, precisely, so that a "Leader" can represent the "people" without the encumbrance of law or representative institutions.

    Most CIA and FBI officers share my alarm that such a distorting and harmful term has even entered American political discussions. Those who use the term "Deep State" frankly disqualify themselves from public life in a democracy.

    If anything, the Nunes memorandum shows how carefully the FBI, CIA, and Department of Justice protect an individual from any official abuse. The memorandum notes that at least five senior officials, from three separate departments, on seven different occasions, every 90 days, had to review the FBI's request to investigate Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That was before they passed the request to the separate Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that grants or denies the requests. And all of this occurred each time after officers in the rank and file of the FBI had themselves judged that there was sufficient probable cause of espionage activity to merit the request.

    I have lived this process. Its multiple levels of review make it just about certain that FISA requests are based on solid concern about foreign intelligence activity.

    So, I can state with confidence that the reaction in the FBI and the CIA to the Nunes memorandum will be disdain for what Madison calls, the "vicious arts" in it. It will be seen for what it truly is: an attempt to protect what appears to be the Trump entourages' ties to Russian intelligence. And there will be irritation at the groundless slurs it casts on FBI officers, and anger at the harm it could cause the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Justice.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


    Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


    GOP Senate office rips Trump nominee: 'Cynics and nuts' will have hard time securing confirmation (Nathan McDermott, 2/06/18, CNN)

    CNN's KFile reported on Monday that Leandro Rizzuto Jr., Trump's nominee to be the US Ambassador to Barbados and several other Caribbean countries, frequently retweeted conspiracy theories and rumors about Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife Heidi, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

    A spokesperson for Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse's office joked in a statement Tuesday that the Senate should probably know Rizzuto's views on the moon landing and warned that "cynics and nuts" would probably face a difficult confirmation process.

    Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


    Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary Conservative Lawyer : A new book illustrates how Alexander Hamilton used British legal traditions and the American judiciary to give a distinctive constitutional form to a new republic. : a review of Kate Elizabeth Brown's Alexander Hamilton and the Development of American Law (2017) (Samuel Gregg, February 5th, 2018, Public Discourse)

    In Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (1985), the historian Forrest McDonald underlined how conscious America's Founders were of what McDonald called "The Rights of Englishmen." McDonald especially had in mind the link made by many prerevolutionary Americans between liberty and property. But McDonald went on to stress how British constitutional arrangements, legislation, and common law shaped the same Americans' use of their property and liberties during the colonial period to a greater extent than they perhaps realized. [...]

    Hamilton's project is usually portrayed as implemented through his political writings, advice tendered to President George Washington, and critical pieces of financial and economic legislation. Kate Elizabeth Brown's Alexander Hamilton and the Development of American Law (2017), however, highlights the extent to which Hamilton used British legal traditions and America's federal and state courts to achieve many of his aims. In doing so, Brown argues, Hamilton revealed himself not just "as a constitutional strategist" of the first order but also as a conservative innovator--one less nationalistic than is often supposed.

    As Brown describes it, Hamilton's legal expertise proved especially relevant as he pursued five goals. These were: establishing a robust federal judicial power, enhancing federal executive power, creating a commercial republic, protecting the federal government's fiscal powers, and securing basic liberties such as due process, trial by jury, and press freedoms.

    There were, Brown states, two primary legal sources on which Hamilton drew to realize these ends. The first of these was Anglo-American common law. Among other things, common law emphasizes judges reflecting on judicial precedents to apply established principles consistently across time to address unresolved questions, especially when legislation is ambiguous or silent on the matter under consideration. [...]

    The second reference point for Hamilton, Brown maintains, was the British constitutional tradition. Hamilton was an unabashed promoter of Britain's post-Glorious Revolution constitutional arrangements at a time when many Americans were suspicious of anything associated with Britain. Hamilton, by contrast, saw this heritage as the basis for what Brown calls "a restorative approach to the American constitutional system."

    Had George understood that we just wanted our rights as Englishmen, the whole disaster could have been avoided.
    Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


    North Korean State Media: 'Old Lunatic' Trump 'Cannot Deodorize Nasty Smell From His Dirty Body' (Joe DePaolo, February 6th, 2018, Mediate)

    According to CNN's Will Ripley, North Korean state media took a shot on Trump's hygiene on Tuesday -- saying that the president "cannot deodorize [the] nasty smell from his dirty body."

    Genesis 6:12

    Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


    Thriller spins true yarn of Jewish athlete-turned-WWII-assassin: 'The Catcher Was a Spy' sees Paul Rudd playing Moe Berg, the genius baseball catcher who goes to Europe to kill a German scientist before the Reich becomes an atomic superpower (JORDAN HOFFMAN, 2/06/18, Times of Israel)

    When we first meet Moe Berg in 1938, he's already an outcast on his current team, the Boston Red Sox. He's old, he isn't the best player, but he's all-seeing from his position calling the pitches as a catcher, and cocky when his instincts are proven correct.

    He speaks a slew of languages, reads foreign newspapers, appears on radio quiz shows (and blows everyone away) but reveals nothing about himself. He doesn't socialize with the rest of the team, and some think he may be a "left-handed batter," code for a homosexual.

    Later, we'll see that even in this bigoted era, Berg prefers absolute privacy than defending himself against this charge. (As it happens, he lives with a woman without being married, an ignoble thing for this time period, but certainly "preferable" to the other claim.) There are implications that Berg's self-perception as an outsider springs from his earliest days on a baseball team, the only Jew on a church-organized squad.

    Berg joins baseball's most notable figures, like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, on a goodwill tour of Japan. His stats didn't really merit it, but the Princeton graduate who later attended Columbia Law School and the Sorbonne had a reputation among sportswriters as being "the Professor."

    Japanese was one of the few languages his didn't speak, but the wags thought he did, so he ended up on the trip. He brought a small movie camera with him and, seizing an opportunity, he shot footage of an air field from the roof of a hospital. He had a hunch this could come in handy down the line. 

    While Moe took surreptitious photos of Tokyo that Jimmy Doolittle studied before bombing it, his brother was sent to Nagasaki to study A-bomb victims.

    Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


    'Junk' political news shared more widely by Trump backers, study finds (February 06, 2018, McClatchy)

    Backers of President Donald Trump are sharing more "junk" political news - ideologically extreme, conspiratorial, sensationalist and phony information - over Twitter and Facebook than all other groups combined, significantly magnifying the polarization in the American electorate, according to an analysis by British researchers.

    Rather than obtaining news over social media from mainstream outlets, these Americans shared posts from 92 Twitter accounts of fringe groups such as "100PercentFEDUp," "Beforeitsnews," "TheAngryAmericans" and "WeArethenewmedia" during the three months before Trump's first State of the Union address, the Oxford University researchers reported.

    The study, which culled data from hundreds of thousands of social media accounts, found similar patterns among Facebook users.

    One can hardly expect them to read genuine news without totally decompensating.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


    Bob Mueller's Investigation Is Larger--and Further Along--Than You Think (ARRETT M. GRAFF, 02.05.18, Wired)

    Right now, we know it involves at least five separate investigative angles:

    1. Preexisting Business Deals and Money Laundering. Business dealings and money laundering related to Trump campaign staff, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former campaign aide Rick Gates, are a major target of the inquiry. While this phase of the investigation has already led to the indictment of Gates and Manafort, it almost certainly will continue to bear further fruit. Gates appears to be heading toward a plea deal with Mueller, and there is expected to be a so-called "superseding" indictment that may add to or refine the existing charges. Such indictments are common in federal prosecutions, particularly in complicated financial cases where additional evidence may surface. Mueller's team is believed to have amassed more than 400,000 documents in this part of the investigation alone. There have also been reports--largely advanced through intriguing reporting by Buzzfeed--about suspicious payments flagged by Citibank that passed through the accounts of the Russian embassy in the United States, including an abnormal attempted $150,000 cash withdrawal by the embassy just days after the election.

    2. Russian Information Operations. When we speak in shorthand about the "hacking of the election," we are actually talking about unique and distinct efforts, with varying degrees of coordination, by different entities associated with the Russian government. One of these is the "information operations" (bots and trolls) that swirled around the 2016 election, focused on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, possibly with the coordination or involvement of the Trump campaign's data team, Cambridge Analytica. [...]

    3. Active Cyber Intrusions. Separate from the trolls and bots on social media were a series of active operations and cyber intrusions carried out by Russian intelligence officers at the GRU and the FSB against political targets like John Podesta and the DNC. We know that Russian intelligence also penetrated the Republican National Committee, but none of those emails or documents were made public. This thread of the investigation may also involve unofficial or official campaign contacts with WikiLeaks or other campaign advisers, like Roger Stone, as well as the warning--via the Australian government--that former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos appeared to have foreknowledge of the hacking of Democratic emails. [...]

    4. Russian Campaign Contacts. This corner of the investigation remains perhaps the most mysterious aspect of Mueller's probe, as questions continue to swirl about the links and contacts among Russian nationals and officials and Trump campaign staff, including Carter Page, the subject of the FISA warrant that was the focus of the Nunes memo. Numerous campaign (and now administration) officials have lied about or failed to disclose contacts with both Russian nationals and Russian government officials, from meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to government banker Sergey Gorkov to the infamous Trump Tower meeting arranged by Donald Trump Jr. with Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya.

    At least two members of the campaign--Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn--have already pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about these contacts. But many other Trump aides face scrutiny, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. Some of these contacts may go back years; Page himself originally surfaced in January 2015 as "Male #1" in the indictment of three Russian SVR agents, working undercover in New York City, who had tried to recruit Page, an oil and gas adviser, as an intelligence asset, only to decide that he was too scatterbrained to be a useful source.

    5. Obstruction of Justice. This is the big kahuna--the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice by pressuring FBI director James Comey to "look past" the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn and whether his firing in May was in any way tied to Comey's refusal to stop the investigation. This thread, as far as we know from public reporting, remains the only part of the investigation that stretches directly into the Oval Office. It likely focuses not only on the President and the FBI director but also on a handful of related questions about the FBI investigation of Flynn and the White House's statements about the Trump Tower meeting. The president himself has said publicly that he fired Comey over "this Russia thing."

    There's fresh reason to believe that this is an active criminal investigation; lost amid the news of the Nunes memo on Friday was a court ruling in a lawsuit where I and a handful of other reporters from outlets like CNN and Daily Caller are suing the Justice Department to release the "Comey memos": The ruling held that, based on the FBI's private testimony to the court--including evidence from Michael Dreeben, one of the leaders of the special counsel's office--releasing the memos would compromise the investigation. "Having heard this, the Court is now fully convinced that disclosure 'could reasonably be expected to interfere' with that ongoing investigation," the judge wrote in our case.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


    Help Trump climb down from the wall (IJuan Williams, 2/06/18, The Hill)

    With the growing influence of Hispanic voters in southwestern states like Arizona, where Sen. Jeff Flake is retiring and Sen. John McCain is in poor health, Republicans are hesitant to embrace the label of the "party of the wall."

    In Nevada, Sen. Dean Heller -- arguably the most vulnerable Republican senator up for re-election this year -- is no fan of the wall.

    Heller can see that Democrats are targeting his state and congressional districts where the Latino population has increased in recent years. A wall will not help Republicans hold those seats.

    Former Ariz. Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), who also served as Obama's Homeland Security secretary, gave the Democrats a good line for political advertising in the southwest when she famously said, regarding a border wall: "Show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder."

    Another problem for Republicans is that much of the land along the U.S.-Mexico border is privately owned, meaning the Trump administration would have to assert sweeping new eminent domain powers to seize the land and build the wall on it.

    This kind of unprecedented government land grab would tie the government up in years of costly litigation as landowners fight back in the courts.

    And then there is the fact that Trump is not getting help to pay for the wall from Mexico.

    Whenever Trump says that Mexico will eventually pay for the wall, former Mexican President Vincente Fox tweets back: "We are not paying for that stupid f-in wall."

    For Christians, no amount of money wasted on the wall is too much to pay for citizenship for 11 million neighbors.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:39 AM


    Is Faith Gaining Ground In American Music? Interview With 'Rock Gets Religion' Author Mark Joseph (CHRISTIAN TOTO February 5, 2018, Daily Wire)

    What do Alice Cooper, Chance the Rapper and Katy Perry have in common -- besides selling millions of records?

    Author Mark Joseph points to their faith and how it washes over their musical contributions. Joseph's new book, "Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil's Music," connects the disparate talents in ways you might not expect.

    It's there all the same, just like how God's influence can be seen across music genres in the most unlikely of places. [...]

    "These are guys who are really struggling to express their faith," says Joseph, promoting his third book examining the intersection between God and music. "The Bible talks about working on your faith with fear and trembling."

    "Rock Gets Religion" introduces us to names big and small whose art reflects their faith journeys. For some, the conflict between a secular music world and God became too much. Others navigated the thorny path between music fame and honoring God. No two stories are the same. The themes are unmistakably similar, Joseph says. That leaves some Christians unsure how much to embrace them.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:31 AM


    Gene Sharp: freedom is out of the bottle (MANUEL NUNES RAMIRES SERRANO 5 February 2018, OpenDemocracy)

    Hardly a revolutionary, Gene Sharp will be remembered as an inspiration for countless revolutions. A lifelong advocate of non-violent resistance, Sharp believed that the road towards freedom cannot be paved with violence. His strategy, outlined in "From Dictatorship to Democracy", has been adopted by insurgents everywhere. From the resistance in the Burmese jungles to protestors in Ukraine; from dissidents in Cairo to activists in the outskirts of Luanda. All of them have benefited from Gene´s Sharp ability to explore dictators' worst nightmares.

    Sharp reasoned that autocracies are vulnerable because dictators are never as strong as they think. And people are never as weak as they think they are. Standing on the shoulders of Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he suggested that non-violent action is a viable alternative to violent conflict. Not for any moral reasons, but because when we choose violence we fight with our enemy´s best weapons; violence generates violence. Far from being a pacifist, he recognized that limited violence against dictatorial forces may sometimes be unavoidable. However, we should never rely on it deliberately.  

    The central point of his philosophy is that non-violent resistance draws its strength from human nature. From our capacity to fight for what we believe in and be stubborn. But he was quick to point out that there´s no such thing as a universal formula to challenge oppression. Strategies vary from region to region and from case to case.

    The tactics adopted in the Burmese jungles differed substantially from the ones used during the pro-democracy uprising in Egypt.

    ...cost Egyptians their democracy and the Rohingya their own state.  Indeed, the effectiveness of non-violence depends not on the non-violent themselves but on the violence of those they are making demands of.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:24 AM


    Was Alexander Hamilton a Great Man? (William Murchison, 2/06/18, Imaginative Conservative)

    In an era of sublime confusion regarding the Republic's purposes, if any, one can do worse than hark back to Hamilton, who had a crystal-clear vision of the kind of nation he wished the United States to become. McDonald writes:

    His vision was grander [than that of the other Founding Fathers]: he sought to transform the American people into free, opulent, and law-abiding citizens, through the instrumentality of a limited republican government, on the basis of consent, and in the face of powerful vested interests in the status quo. The others were content merely to effect a political revolution. He set out to effect what amounted to a social revolution.

    The revolution would proceed in accordance with Hamilton's own values. His notion was that money should become the agent of transformation--in McDonald's words, "the universal measure of the value of things." So consecrated, money would make society "fluid and open to merit;" industry would become "both rewarding and necessary." And America's greatness would be guaranteed.

    An audacious, even a presumptuous, design. Hamilton was, at all events, in no doubt as to what should be done. As McDonald points out, "his true genius...was for running things, for organizing and regularizing human activity and establishing procedures whereby work could most effectively be done."

    The Hamilton known to schoolboys is something of a haughty aristocrat. And in fact his social design called for the best men to run the country. Yet these would be men raised up by their own merits, not by birth or preferment. McDonald tells us that Hamilton hated "the American system of pluralistic local oligarchies [that] made everyone dependent upon those born to the oligarchy. He hated the narrow provincialism that the system nourished and fed upon." Not least did he resent the system's failure to reward hard work.

    What was wanted, then, was "efficient fiscal machinery," beneficial to all; so crucial to life and to government that "it would be almost impossible to dismantle the machinery short of dismantling the whole society."

    Accordingly, as Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton worked to have the federal government assume the debts of the states. The public debt, as a whole, would not be paid off quickly; rather, payments would be stretched out over time in order to expand the supply of money. Mere paper would thus become a form of capital. A mint and a national bank were likewise wanted, and in due course Hamilton procured their establishment. No laissez faire economist like his contemporary Adam Smith, Hamilton sought government protection and subsidies for American industry. He believed, to be sure, in what we should nowadays call private enterprise. In McDonald's words, Hamilton thought that

    The function of government should be to promote a general spirit of improvement. It should reward productivity and punish dissipation, idleness, and extravagance. Taxes should be designed to encourage industry, never to impede it. Regulation of productive activity should be confined to inspection to prevent frauds and ensure the highest quality and marketability of products. [...]

    To Hamilton's opponents, McDonald concedes nothing. The great man is right, all the rest are wrong. Well, in fact, the anti-Hamiltonians often wound up looking foolish--as when, to cite only one instance, they too fervently backed revolutionary France and Burke's "red fool fury of the Seine." It is easy to see, in retrospect, that Hamilton's desire for well-mannered but non-deferential relations with Great Britain was far the wiser policy.

    On the other hand, the bitter agrarian opposition to Hamilton's policies merits, at the very least, an attempt at understanding. Hamilton made it clear by 1791 that "the aim of his program as a whole was the abandonment of the leisurely, agrarian life-style to which Americans had long been accustomed." And why not? shrugs McDonald. The agrarian life-style was oppressive and somnolent. Through com­merce and manufacturing, Hamilton wished to "liberate and energize" America. Whether America wished, in just this way, to be liberated and energized was a question that scarcely bothered him. Yet, in fact, attachment to agrarian values is an enduring facet of the American character. Hamilton--and McDonald--would have performed a greater service had they not contemptuously waved aside such values as beneath the attention of intelligent men.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:20 AM


    Trump's Lawyers Want Him to Refuse an Interview in Russia Inquiry (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and MAGGIE HABERMAN, FEB. 5, 2018, NY times)

    Lawyers for President Trump have advised him against sitting down for a wide-ranging interview with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to four people briefed on the matter, raising the specter of a monthslong court battle over whether the president must answer questions under oath.

    His lawyers are concerned that the president, who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators. 


    February 5, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 9:18 PM


    Nunes: Fine, the FBI Didn't Lie, But Its Font Was Too Small (Jonathan Chait, 2/05/18, New York)

    As the [Post's] Ellen Nakashima reported, the application to wiretap Page did disclose that one of the sources of intelligence to generate suspicion that Page might be acting illegally came from a political source. It was mentioned in a footnote on the FISA application. Nunes was asked about this on Fox & Friends. He did not deny the point. Instead he insisted that it wasn't good enough because the disclosure was merely a footnote.

    Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


    Why Carter Page Was Worth Watching: There's plenty of evidence that the former Trump campaign adviser, for all his quirks, was on suspiciously good terms with Russia. (LUKE HARDING February 03, 2018, Politico)

    This was a strange business--Kremlin officers careening around Manhattan, spycraft involving fake umbrellas, and an American intelligence source who spent more time in Moscow than his Russian handlers. Plus espionage professionals who turned out to be suffering from ennui.

    The American willing to provide information to Putin's foreign intelligence officers rented a working space at 590 Madison Avenue. The building was linked by a glass atrium to a well-known New York landmark, Trump Tower. The atrium had a pleasant courtyard, with bamboo trees, where you could sit and drink coffee. Next door was a franchise of Niketown.

    From the atrium you could take the elevator up to the Trump Tower public garden on the fourth floor, with its sparrows and maple trees. The din from West 57th Street meant the garden wasn't exactly tranquil. Or you could queue up with Japanese and German tourists at the Trump Tower basement restaurant and salad bar. Failing that, there was Starbucks on the first floor.

    Male-1 had a name. At this point few had heard of him. He was Carter Page. 


    Page is a balding figure in his mid-forties, with buzz-cut hair and the super-lean physique of a cyclist or fitness fanatic. When not on his Cannondale mountain bike, he is typically dressed in a suit and tie. When he is nervous, he grins. One person who met him around this period described the encounter as "excruciating." Page was "awkward" and "uncomfortable" and "broke into a sweat."

    Page's résumé was curious, too. He spent five years in the navy and served as a Marine intelligence officer in the western Sahara. During his navy days, he spent lavishly and drove a black Mercedes, according to a friend from his academy class, Richard Guerin.

    He was smart enough to get academic qualifications: fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, master's from Georgetown University, a degree from New York University's business school. And a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

    This, it transpired, was hard won. Page's British academic supervisors failed his doctoral thesis twice, an unusual move. In a report they described his work as "verbose" and "vague". Page responded by angrily accusing his examiners of "anti-Russian bias".

    Page's apparent Russian sympathies were evident from much earlier. In 1998 Page spent three months working for the Eurasia Group, a strategy consulting firm. Its founder, Ian Bremmer, later described Page as his "most wackadoodle alumnus." Page's vehemently pro-Kremlin views meant that "he wasn't a good fit," Bremmer said.

    In 2004 Page moved to Moscow, where he became an energy consultant with Merrill Lynch. As Page tells it, it was while working as an investment banker that he struck up a relationship with Gazprom. He advised Gazprom on transactions, including a deal to buy a stake in an oil and gas eld near Sakhalin, the desolate island on Russia's Pacific coast. He bought Gazprom shares.

    According to Politico, few people in Moscow's foreign business community knew of him. Those who did were underwhelmed. "He wasn't great and he wasn't terrible," his former boss, Sergei Aleksashenko, said, adding that Page was "without any special talents or accomplishments," "in no way exceptional," and "a gray spot."

    Three years later, Page returned to New York and to his new office next to Trump Tower. From there he set up a private equity business, Global Energy Capital LLC. His partner was Russian--a wealthy former Gazprom manager called Sergei Yatsenko. Did Yatsenko know Podobnyy and Sporyshev? Or indeed other members of Russia's underground espionage community?

    In the worsening dispute between Putin and the Obama administration, Page sided with Moscow. He was against US sanctions imposed by Obama on Russia in the wake of Crimea. In a blog post for Global Policy, an online journal, he wrote that Putin wasn't to blame for the 2014 Ukraine conflict. The White House's superior "smack-down" approach had "started the crisis in the first place," he wrote.

    Page's rampant pro-Moscow views were at odds with the US State Department under Clinton and with almost all American scholars of Russia. After all, it was Putin who had smuggled tanks across the border into eastern Ukraine. Not that Page's opinions counted for much. Global Policy had a small circulation. It was edited out of Durham University in the north of England.

    His relationship with the journal fizzled out when he wrote an opinion piece lavishly praising a pro-Russian candidate ahead of the U.S. presidential election--Trump.

    And then something odd happened.

    In March 2016 candidate Trump met with the Washington Post's editorial board. At this point it seemed likely that Trump would clinch the Republican nomination. Foreign affairs came up. Who were the candidate's foreign policy advisers? Trump read five names. The second was "Carter Page, PhD." Given Trump's obvious lack of experience of world affairs, this was a pivotal job.

    One former Eurasia Group colleague said he was stunned when he discovered Page had mysteriously become one of Trump's foreign policy advisers. "I nearly dropped my coffee," he told me. The colleague added: "We had wanted people who could engage in critical analysis of what's going on. This is a guy who has no critical insight into the situation. He wasn't a smart person."

    Page's real qualification for the role, it appeared, had little to do with his restless CV. What appeared to recommend him to Trump was his boundless enthusiasm for Putin and his corresponding loathing of Obama and Clinton. Page's view of the world was not unlike the Kremlin's. Boiled down: the United States' attempts to spread democracy had brought chaos and disaster.

    Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


    The Nunes memo wasn't meant to win over everyone -- just 34 senators (Max Boot, 2/04/18, Washington Post)

    The case against the FBI that's being assembled by Trump and his minions is not designed to convince dispassionate observers. It's only supposed to give the thinnest of cover to true believers -- and at least 34 senators -- to do what they are predisposed to do anyway, i.e., protect the president at all costs.

    The Nunes memo is a modern-day version of the jury nullification that O.J. Simpson's legal team sought to inspire. (I'm grateful to Eric Felten of the Weekly Standard for the analogy.) Johnnie Cochran and company spun an elaborate conspiracy theory about how the Los Angeles Police Department supposedly framed their client. They were helped by minor procedural errors in the handling of evidence and by previous racist remarks from one of the detectives, just as Trump is helped by minor FBI missteps such as the Strzok texts and the alleged failure to alert a judge about Steele's Democratic Party funding.

    It was never clear why the LAPD would be eager to frame a local celebrity for murder, just as it's not clear why the FBI -- full of white, middle-age, conservative agents -- would want to frame a Republican president. And, of course, the supposed police conspiracy could not possibly account for the mountain of evidence against Simpson, just as the supposed FBI conspiracy cannot possibly account for the undeniable reality that the Russians really did intervene in the election to help elect Trump and that there are numerous documented links between the campaign and the Kremlin.

    But in Simpson's case, it didn't matter: The overwhelmingly African American jury bought the argument because jurors knew the experience of police brutality and sympathized with the defendant. Likewise, today it doesn't matter to the president's acolytes that the case for an anti-Trump conspiracy is so flimsy. They are simply looking for an excuse to exonerate him, evidence be damned. 

    Donald is identity politics for ofays.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


    The Times Asks Court to Unseal Documents on Surveillance of Carter Page (CHARLIE SAVAGE and ADAM GOLDMAN, FEB. 5, 2018, NY Times)

     The New York Times is asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to unseal secret documents related to the wiretapping of Carter Page, the onetime Trump campaign adviser at the center of a disputed memo written by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee.

    The motion is unusual. No such wiretapping application materials apparently have become public since Congress first enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. That law regulates electronic spying on domestic soil -- the interception of phone calls and emails -- undertaken in the name of monitoring suspected spies and terrorists, as opposed to wiretapping for investigating ordinary criminal suspects.

    Normally, even the existence of such material is a closely guarded secret. While applications for criminal wiretaps often eventually become public, the government has refused to disclose the contents of applications for intelligence wiretaps -- even to defendants who are later prosecuted on the basis of information derived from them.

    But President Trump lowered the shield of secrecy surrounding such materials on Friday by declassifying the Republican memo about Mr. Page, after finding that the public interest in disclosing its contents outweighed any need to protect the information. Because Mr. Trump did so, the Times argues, there is no longer a justification "for the Page warrant orders and application materials to be withheld in their entirety," and "disclosure would serve the public interest."

    Secrets almost never serve the public interest.  It's not the breaking of the Enigma device they're hiding.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


    Half of Iran wants to drop headscarf laws: government report (Deutsche-welle, 2/05/18)

    President Rouhani released a study showing how drastically public attitude towards mandatory Islamic dress has changed in the past decade. Nearly half of Iranians believe that wearing a hijab should be a private choice. [...]

    The study compares data from 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2014 -- and illustrates the staggering decline in support for the legal restrictions on women's clothing, one of the major changes pushed during the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

    According to the Center for Strategic Studies, which operates as part of the Iranian president's office, in 2006, 34 percent of Iranians believed that the government should not be allowed to dictate what women wear. [...]

    Another interesting data point shows the drop in support for even more restrictive religious clothing. In 2006, 54 percent of those questioned thought that women should wear a chador, a garment that wraps around the entire body, revealing only the face.

    By 2014, however, that number had dropped to 35 percent.

    Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


    5 charts show why the South is the least healthy region in the US (Jay Maddock, February 5, 2018, The Conversation) 

    Top 10Bottom 10
    1. Massachusetts41. Georgia
    2. Hawaii42. Kentucky
    3. Vermont43. Oklahoma
    4. Utah44. South Carolina
    5. Connecticut45. Tennessee
    6. Minnesota46. West Virginia
    7. Colorado47. Alabama
    8. New Hampshire48. Arkansas
    9. Washington49. Louisiana
    10. New York50. Mississippi

    Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


    Iran could be winner, U.S. a loser from UAE-Qatar tensions (Noah Browning, 2/04/18, Reuters) 

    The increase in tension, seven months after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed travel and trade sanctions on Qatar over accusations -- denied by Doha -- that it supports terrorism and regional rival Iran, has alarmed Washington.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


    McCain, Coons to introduce new immigration bill that omits wall funding: report (JULIA MANCHESTER,  02/04/18, The Hill)

    Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.) will introduce immigration legislation on Monday in an effort to reach a budget deal before the federal government's current funding runs out on Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported.

    The bipartisan piece of legislation provides recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, commonly known as "Dreamers," an opportunity for citizenship while ordering a study to figure out what border security measures are needed, according to the Journal.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:42 AM


    After Embarrassing Memo Flop, Trump White House Goes Into Hiding (Tommy Christopher, February 4, 2018, Shareblue)

    [T]here were conspicuously few White House officials willing to defend that view on Sunday.

    Just days after Trump's first State of the Union address, not a single White House official was booked to appear on any of the five major Sunday news programs, a rarity for any weekend. Even rarer, though, is the fact that no other Cabinet official, agency representative, or spokesperson appeared on any of the shows.

    The only appearance by a Trump official anywhere on cable news this weekend was Kellyanne Conway, who only ventured as far as the friendly turf of Fox & Friends Sunday, where she still managed to make a mess of her interview.

    Devin Nunes tried to discredit the FBI. Instead, he proved it's onto something. (Asha Rangappa February 4, 2018, The Washington Post)

    The point of the memo written by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and released Friday afternoon was supposed to be to expose corruption at the highest levels of the FBI. But what the memo actually did -- albeit surely not intentionally -- was exactly the opposite. In a brief 3½ pages, Nunes managed to confirm that the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties with Russia has a very solid basis and that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III must keep looking into the case.

    As a former special agent for the FBI working on counterintelligence, I used to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, so I'm familiar with the procedures Nunes implies the FBI abused in this case. To initiate surveillance on former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page in October 2016, the government would have had to demonstrate that Page was "knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of" Russia. Importantly, the "knowingly" requirement applies only to "U.S. persons" such as Page, not to foreign nationals -- which means the government had a slightly higher burden in his case. It takes months and even years to obtain enough relevant evidence for a FISA application, which can include details from physical surveillance, phone and financial records, items recovered from the target's trash and intelligence obtained from other sources. So the FISA application would probably have outlined the bureau's efforts going all the way back to 2013, when Page was approached by the FBI, which warned him, based on recordings of Russian intelligence officers, that he was being targeted for recruitment as a Russian spy. (That same year, Page also reportedly wrote in a letter to an academic publisher that he was an "informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.") In counterintelligence investigations, this kind of interview would have been intended to "neutralize" the Russians: The idea is that anyone who was being unwittingly developed as a spy, as Page appeared to be, would be dismayed to realize what was happening and would immediately cease further contact with their intelligence contacts.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:37 AM


    Islamic State threatens Iran from 'Tora Bora' borderlands (Babak Dehghanpisheh, 2/05/18, Reuters) 

    Islamic State may be on the wane in Iraq and Syria but for Iran, the threat is still strong, centered on Kurdish communities along the Iraq-Iran border where militants have operated in recent years.

    The locals even have a nickname for the area, "Tora Bora", after the mountain hideout al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden fled to after the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, a senior Iraqi security official in the border region said. [...]

    The clash and discovery indicate that Islamic State still has the ability to penetrate the tightly controlled security net of the Islamic Republic, which has largely managed to avoid the devastation wrought by the group in neighboring countries.

    February 4, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


    Canada and Mexico Prepare for Life After NAFTA: Canada and Mexico aren't bending to U.S. demands, because they've got alternative trading partners. (KEITH JOHNSON, BETHANY ALLEN-EBRAHIMIAN | JANUARY 29, 2018, Foreign Policy)

    Even as the Trump administration continues to try to compel its neighbors to accept a revised trade deal on its own terms, Canada and Mexico are forging ahead with new trade pacts of their own. That's a sign of how much the global economy has changed since NAFTA was written a quarter-century ago, and of continued global momentum for multilateral free trade agreements despite President Donald Trump's "America first" trade skepticism.

    Canada and Mexico signed on last week to a new Trans-Pacific Partnership with nine other Pacific Rim nations, a massive trade pact that doesn't include the United States after Trump withdrew soon after taking office. Last fall, Canada's trade accord with the European Union went into effect -- something the United States has yet to achieve. Mexico expects to revise its own trade deal with the European Union this spring.

    And Mexico and Canada are both taking part in yet another free trade bloc, the Pacific Alliance, which now encompasses Colombia, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand.

    It could actually be healthy when the next president seeks admission to existing free trade blocs on their terms instead of ours. It is a surrender of sovereignty but the one necessary one.

    Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


    How Twitter Bots and Trump Fans Made #ReleaseTheMemo Go Viral : Russian bots and their American allies gamed social media to put a flawed intelligence document atop the political agenda.  (MOLLY K. MCKEW February 04, 2018, Politico)

    In the space of a few hours on January 18, #releasethememo exploded on Twitter, evolving over the next few days from being a marker for discussion on Nunes' memo through multiple iterations of an expanding conspiracy theory about missing FBI text messages and imaginary secret societies plotting internal coups against the president. #releasethememo provided an organizational framework for this comprehensive conspiracy theory, which, in its underpinnings, is meant to minimize and muddle concerns about Russian interference in American politics.

    The rapid appearance and amplification of this messaging campaign, flagged by the German Marshall Fund's Hamilton68 dashboard as being promoted by accounts previously linked to Russian disinformation efforts, sparked the leading Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to write a letter to Twitter and Facebook asking for information on whether or not this campaign was driven by Russian accounts. Another report, sourced to analysis said to be from Twitter itself, identified the hashtag as an "organic" "American" campaign linked to "Republican" accounts. Promoters of #releasethememo rapidly began mocking the idea that they are Russian bots. (There are even entirely new accounts set up to tweet that they are not Russian bots promoting #releasethememo, even though their only content is about releasing the supposed memo.)

    But this back and forth masks the real point. Whether it is Republican or Russian or "Macedonian teenagers" -- it doesn't really matter. It is computational propaganda -- meaning artificially amplified and targeted for a specific purpose -- and it dominated political discussions in the United States for days. The #releasethememo campaign came out of nowhere. Its movement from social media to fringe/far-right media to mainstream media so swift that both the speed and the story itself became impossible to ignore. The frenzy of activity spurred lawmakers and the White House to release the Nunes memo, which critics say is a purposeful misrepresentation of classified intelligence meant to discredit the Russia probe and protect the president.

    And this, ultimately, is what everyone has been missing in the past 14 months about the use of social media to spread disinformation. Information and psychological operations being conducted on social media -- often mischaracterized by the dismissive label "fake news" -- are not just about information, but about changing behavior. And they can be surprisingly effective.

    Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


    ADL Chief Suggests Israel Deporting African Migrants Would Appear Racist (JTA, 2/04/18) 

    Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, likened African migrants in Israel to the "Dreamers" at the heart of a contentious U.S. immigration debate and suggested that deporting them would make Israel appear racist.

    "African refugees, who seem like the Dreamers in the U.S. -- young people who by dint of their parents' decisions have grown up in this country -- who speak fluent Hebrew, when you start physically picking them up and sending them over the border back to South Sudan or Rwanda all the while, while you don't do the same to Ukrainians or Eastern Europeans who overstay their visas, guys, this is not going to end well," Greenblatt said Wednesday at the annual conference of Israel's Institute for National Strategic Studies.

    Such is an ethnostate.

    Maine Town Manager Fired After Calling For White Ethnostate (Sam Kestenbaum, 1/23/18, The Forward)

    A town manager in Maine was fired from his job this week after it emerged that he is the founder and leader of New Albion, a group that calls for racial separatism and opposes people "from different cultures" coming to northern New England.

    Jackman town manager Tom Kawczynski hoped to turn large sections of of New England into "a preserve for western culture first and foremost, and a nation where white identity will not just be tolerated but welcomed explicitly as such," according to a social media post.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


    Against Overclassification (David French, February 2, 2018, National Review)

    Here's a shocking idea. Let's see the transcript. Let's see what McCabe actually said. And while we're at it, let's see the other relevant documents -- like the FISA applications themselves -- with only the lightest and most necessary of redactions. At the very least disclosing the relevant portions of the McCabe transcript won't threaten national security in the slightest, and it would have the salutary effect of exposing one or more of our "public servants" as partisan liars.

    Knowledge is power, and there is no doubt that Washington likes to hoard power. I reviewed vast amounts of classified information during my military career, and I can assure you that only the smallest fraction of that information was truly dangerous. Most of it was classified by default -- some of it classified (believe it or not) simply because of the kind of computer a soldier used when he sent the email. 

    The result is a lack of public accountability. The result is a breach of public trust. Public officials can say what they wish about some of the most contentious issues in American life while being reasonably sure that no one will ever be able to check their work. And if someone does, they can scream "leaker!"

    To be clear, I'm not advocating for self-help. I'm not advocating for leaking. Public officials have an obligation to follow the law. I am advocating for reform. It's time to carefully reconsider the extent to which we wall off information from the public and the extent to which we permit public officials to hide their bias, incompetence, and sometimes even malice behind that red "classified" stamp.

    Mr. French mentions several problems with classification, but we'd emphasize them differently:

    (1) Obviously, the biggest is that closely held "information" is not submitted to the marketplace of ideas and is, therefore, never tested for veracity/utility in the manner we universally recognize is most effective.  

    (2) The fact of being "classified" lends a certain cache to the "information" that, by the standard above, is least reliable, when, in reality, the information available from open sources, which is rigorously dissected and contested ought to be lent particular credence and the classified looked at askance.

    (3) These effects are exacerbated by the power relationship that Mr. French cites.  The aura of power associated with access to classified "intelligence" discourages those who hold it from ever allowing it to be validated by others.

    (4) Of course, not all classified intelligence is intrinsically useless.  And that accurate information which contradicts conventional wisdom is particularly valuable.  Unfortunately, when it is kept classified we keep the general population ignorant and decisions uninformed. In essence, we render even solid intelligence useless by classifying it.

    Take just four instances of these problems at work: two American, one fictional, one Soviet:

    (1) How Baseball Betrayed Cuba's Covert Ops: American intel looked for telltale diamonds (ADAM RAWNSLEY, War is Boring)

    [N]BC's Tom Brokaw recalled a briefing he'd received in advance of a trip to Nicaragua by one of the maestros of Iran-Contra, U.S. Marine Corps colonel Oliver North. Writing in The New York Times, Brokaw said North excitedly pointed out baseball diamonds in grainy satellite footage of what he alleged was a Cuban training camp in Nicaragua.

    "Nicaraguans don't play baseball," North told Brokow in an apparent attempt to cast himself as Kissinger at Cienfuegos. "Cubans play baseball!"

    Of course, both the Cubans and Soviets supported the Sandanista government in Nicaragua. But as Brokaw quickly realized, North's contention was astonishingly ignorant of the country's long history of baseball fandom. "His declaration will come as a surprise to the Nicaraguans who have made it to the major leagues," Brokaw wrote.

    (2) As Michael Beschloss explained in his terrific book, Mayday, it was largely because of intelligence gathered by U2 flights that Ike was able to trust his instincts that the USSR was much weaker than it claimed and not to launch a costly and unnecessary military build-up to "match" them.  In effect, he cashed in a Peace Dividend that resulted in our nostalgia for the economy of the 50s.  But because he did not share with the American people (and the world) just how trivial a threat the Soviets represented, we were prey to the hysteria of folks like JFK and the John Birch Society and the rest, with myriad awful results: crediting communism as a workable system; doubting democratic capitalism, wasting money on a military we did not need, getting embroiled in wars of no strategic significance, etc.

    The result, after twenty years of this was that:

     In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, [Henry] Kissinger shared a 
        failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite--notably excepting the scholar and former 
        head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard 
        Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald 
            -Robert D. Kaplan, Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism (Atlantic Monthly, June 1999)

    (3) John LeCarre is generally tedious, because of his hatred of America, but Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy nicely illustrates the points here.  Recall that the Source Merlin material is only circulated amongst a select group of the highest-ranking officials at the Circus, so no one who would actually understand the material ever gets to tell them it's all useless, until George Smiley gets ahold of it.

    (4) We in the West like to credit Mikhail Gorbachev for initiating the reforms that toppled the USSR, even giving him a cuddly nickname, "Gorby." But the truth is that he was trying to save a Soviet system that only his predecessor, Yuri Andropov, genuinely understood had failed completely.  Why only he?  Because as head of the KGB he had access to global information sources, the mere perusal of which would have put his peers in the gulag.  Even other Soviet leaders shared the same failure of analysis as the foreign-policy elite cited by Mr. Kaplan. We perhaps saw this most famously when Nikita Khruschev refused to believe that the kitchen Richard Nixon showed him was typical of our middle class.

    We can multiply these tragi-comic examples out endlessly--keeping the Venona intercepts secret is another good example--but the overarching principle is the same in all of them: secrecy is harmful to precisely those it is putatively intended to protect.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


    Man in wedding feud reported father, brother as terrorists (AP, 2/04/18)

    A Clackamas, Oregon, man has pleaded guilty to placing calls to airports in Nevada and Texas, reporting his father and brother as terrorists because they got an invitation to a family wedding and he didn't.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


    How a U.S.-Backed University in Vietnam Unleashed Old Demons: Former Senator Bob Kerrey thought he could help heal the wounds of war. Instead, he reopened them. (ISABELLE TAFT February 04, 2018, Politico)

    Kerry announced that the president of the university would be Dam Bich Thuy, the former general director of ANZ Vietnam, the national branch of the Australian bank, who had been one of the first Vietnamese students to study as a Fulbright scholar in the United States. The chairman of the board of trustees would be former Senator Bob Kerrey, who served in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL and was known in the Senate as a strong supporter of U.S.-Vietnam reconciliation. Kerrey came on stage to accept a certificate from Ho Chi Minh City officials.

    In the audience, Ton Nu Thi Ninh, whose 20-year diplomatic career included a post as Vietnam's ambassador to the European Union, was aghast. On February 25, 1969, Kerrey led an operation in the Mekong Delta village of Thanh Phong, aiming to kill local Viet Cong leaders.

    His Navy team reported they had killed 21 Viet Cong, which earned Kerrey a Bronze Star; in fact, at least 20 women, children and elderly men lay dead in the village. Not a single Viet Cong fighter was killed. The deaths were unknown until 2001, when the New York Times Magazine and "60 Minutes II" published an account of the events. At the time, some, including the Vietnamese government, called for Kerrey to be charged with war crimes. He apologized, and the outcry subsided, as American commentators, including then-Senator John Kerry, largely concluded that Bob Kerrey himself was a victim of an unjust war. As a high-level Vietnamese official, Ninh had met Kerrey before and says she welcomed his involvement in education initiatives. But she was shocked that he had accepted a top leadership position at a university meant to symbolize newly warm ties between Vietnam and America.

    "How can those closely involved in this choice be so insensitive?" Ninh said in an interview in January. "We set the past aside and we move forward. We want to make friends, but not everything goes."

    Within days, Ninh's shock was echoed in the fiercest public discussion of the war that Vietnam has witnessed in the age of social media. A reporter who studied journalism in the United States as a Fulbright scholar wrote an article on the Vietnamese news site Zing recounting Kerrey's actions in Thanh Phong. That was followed by an avalanche of coverage and sometimes tense commentary on Facebook, which is a relatively new platform for discourse in Vietnam beyond the strictly controlled state media; some people joked that FUV should be called "unfriend university." "One need only sit for a few minutes in a café to hear competing lines of argument" on the issue, wrote Bao Ninh, a veteran and author of the novel The Sorrow of War. 

    On one side of the debate were those who, like Ninh, argued that Kerrey's appointment betrayed a callous disregard for Vietnamese suffering during the war and an erasure of the memory of those who had been killed. "Please tell me the name of any prestigious university in this world, where a killer in cold blood of women and children--he admitted it and he is not charged for it--could be the president," Bao Anh Thai, a Ho Chi Minh City lawyer, wrote on Facebook. 


    Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


    More U.S. Milk Will Be Coming From Robots (Lydia Mulvany, 2/04/18, Bloomberg News)

    The robots are coming -- this time, to a dairy farm near you.

    It wasn't long ago that cow-milking robots were a novelty in the U.S., but today, automation is showing up on more farms.

    One of the big factors spurring the trend: more than half of all workers on dairy farms are immigrants, and the Trump Administration's hard-line policy stances are signaling that labor could be even harder to come by. Robots can cut the number of workers on a dairy farm by 50 percent. [...]

    Currently, fewer than 5 percent of U.S. dairy farms use robots. That number will probably increase by 20 percent to 30 percent a year for the foreseeable future, according to Chad Huyser, vice president for North America at Lely, a manufacturer of milking robots based in Pella, Iowa. Globally, robotics for dairy farming is already a $1.6 billion industry, a number that will continue to grow, according to a January report by market researcher IDTechEx.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


    Coffee Becoming The New Soda (Caitlin Dewey, 2/04/18, The Washington Post)

    [A]s incongruous as Dr Pepper may seem in a lineup of trendy, third-wave coffee roasters, analysts say the acquisition fits into the push to transform your morning cup of java into a worthy soda alternative. Since mid-2015, when Starbucks rolled cold brew out to all of its U.S. stores, beverage companies have been jousting to invent a coffee drink that clearly telegraphs as "afternoon refreshment."

    The reasons are twofold, said James Watson, a Rabobank senior beverage analyst.

    For starters, young people are less likely to make their own coffee at home before heading out, which has shifted back the hour of the average coffee break.

    In 2010, for instance, the National Coffee Association found that only 1 in 10 coffee-drinkers had a cup at lunch. That figure had risen to 1 in 4 by 2016.

    On top of that, consumers of all ages have begun turning away from soft drinks -- creating both a crisis for soda-makers and an opportunity for virtually everyone else in the caffeinated beverage industry.

    "We're seeing these coffee drinks now that actually resemble soda," Watson said. "It's a way to get into the segment, because coffee is natural and healthy and tracks with consumer trends."

    Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


    How #ReleaseTheMemo Could Undermine DOJ in FOIA Cases : If the president authorizes the release of a House memo about the FBI, some plaintiffs suing for Justice Department records could get a boost. (Cogan Schneier | January 30, 2018, National Law Journal)

    Bradley Moss of the Law Office of Mark S. Zaid in Washington, D.C., said Trump's explicit authorization for the memo's release, and the fact that it's based on DOJ material, could amount to "official acknowledgement" of the records some of his clients are suing for, including the FISA application and a summary of the dossier.

    That would mitigate federal agencies' refusal to confirm or deny the existence of certain records. Moss said the situation presents a unique legal wrinkle when it comes to FOIA cases.

    "There's no real precedent here," Moss said. "This is going to be uncharted waters."

    Under FOIA case law, the government can be compelled to release information that has already been officially disclosed by the executive branch. Courts have not recognized congressional reports or statements as "official disclosure" under FOIA law.

    Trump's signature could create an exception to that rule, Moss said. 

    "This kind of blurs the lines a bit," Moss said. "We don't really know how the court will view it."

    Moss said he has two pending cases that may be influenced by the memo's release. One, on behalf of USA Today reporter Brad Heath and the James Madison Project, seeks a copy of any application to the FISA court to collect information related to the Trump Organization, Trump's campaign or people associated with Trump, and any order approving that application. The case is pending in the federal district court in Washington, D.C.

    Another, filed on behalf of Politico reporter Josh Gerstein and the James Madison Project, seeks the disclosure of a two-page synopsis outlining the contents of the dossier, as well as any determination by federal agencies as to its validity and records of efforts to investigate it. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta of the District of Columbia granted summary judgment on behalf of the government in that case Jan. 4, and it's now on appeal before the D.C. Circuit.

    No good purpose is served by concealing evidence of Donald's collusion from the public.  Release all the FISA warrants and the results of the surveillance. We are entitled to know of all the contact they had with Vlad.

    February 3, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 10:21 PM


    Carter Page Touted Kremlin Contacts in 2013 Letter (MASSIMO CALABRESI and ALANA ABRAMSON, 2/03/18, time)

    Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page bragged that he was an adviser to the Kremlin in a letter obtained by TIME that raises new questions about the extent of Page's contacts with the Russian government over the years.

    The letter, dated Aug. 25, 2013, was sent by Page to an academic press during a dispute over edits to an unpublished manuscript he had submitted for publication, according to an editor who worked with Page.

    "Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month, where energy issues will be a prominent point on the agenda," the letter reads.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


    Kashyap Patel, Main Author of Secret Memo, Is No Stranger to Quarrels (KATIE ROGERS and MATTHEW ROSENBERG, FEB. 2, 2018, Washington Post)

    As a lawyer in Florida, Mr. Patel, 37, entered and then dropped out of a charity bachelor auction featuring some colleagues after a blogger pointed out that his license to practice in the state appeared out of date. In 2016, as a counterterrorism prosecutor for the Justice Department, he was berated by a federal judge who then issued an "Order on Ineptitude" directed at the entire agency.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


    AN ARCTIC SPY MYSTERY : An arrest in Moscow shakes Norway's far north (Anton Troianovski, FEBRUARY 3, 2018, Washington Post)
    KIRKENES, Norway

    Frode Berg volunteered in a soup kitchen in rural Russia. He helped organize an annual cross-border festival and ski race. His congregation supported a new church in a Russian town just over the boundary line that divides East from West.

    Then the Russians arrested him and accused him of being a spy.

    That an espionage mystery is unfolding here on the Arctic frontier confounds residents who didn't expect to be swept up in the confrontation between Russia and the West. On the snowbound shore of an icy fjord, a three-decade experiment in building cross-border ties independent of geopolitics now hangs in the balance.

    Accusations that a retired border inspector was spying have jolted Kirkenes, Norway.
    No one in this Barents Sea port town, a 15-minute drive from the Russian border, seems to know why the police arrested Berg, a 62-year-old retired border inspector, near Moscow's Red Square in December. His lawyers say Berg stands accused of mailing envelopes with cash and spy instructions addressed to a Moscow woman named Natalia and now faces a virtually certain espionage conviction.

    "I can guarantee you that he is not a spy," said Kirkenes Mayor Rune Rafaelsen. "What I'm wondering is, has someone used him?"

    The case has received scant international attention, in part because the Norwegian government has resisted the entreaties of Berg's friends to bring more public pressure to bear on the Kremlin. But it has jolted Kirkenes, where residents say that Berg personified this remote region's efforts to foster bonds even after geopolitical tensions spiked in recent years.

    Did Russian spies set up Berg to provoke an international incident with Norway, a front-line member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?

    Did Norwegian intelligence use Berg as an unwitting courier in an operation gone wrong? Or -- in a scenario that Berg's friends categorically rule out -- did he truly lead some kind of double life?

    Which is must see tv.

    Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


    Syria rebels shoot down Russian jet, kill pilot - monitor (deutsche-Welle, 2/03/18)

    Syrian opposition fighters downed a Russian warplane near the town of Maaret al-Numan in the northwestern province of Idlib on Saturday, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

    [I]t later emerged that the Russian pilot had been killed by rebel fighters after he resisted capture by opening fire with his pistol. "The pilot was killed as he fought Islamist rebels who had shot down his plane and were taking him captive," Rahman said.

    Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


    Christ Vs. The Crowd: An Interview With Professor Jordan Peterson (David Gornoski,  01/30/2018, Daily Caller)

    Today, we see clearly that the ancient world's antidote to chaos -- collective violence against an innocent person (or at least, no more guilty than anyone else for social tensions) -- is nothing more than crowd madness and scapegoating. We are able to see this because of the lens the Bible provides us after two millennia of its narrative and ethic clarifying our perspective.

    In the Gospels, as René Girard helps us see, we have the inauguration of a personhood revolution in which every human being is made to be a sacred temple deserving of love and respect. In the Gospel accounts of his passion, Jesus wrestles the camera of mythic history away from the persecuting collective always searching for a scapegoat and undresses the crowd of all its power. It is not the gods or, in our modern case, ideology, that demands coercion and violence but petty, crowd-possessed people blinded by fear and envy.

    It is in that vein that Peterson's "12 Rules for Life" strikes such a powerful chord in our cultural moment. Each of the 12 axioms center on self-sacrifice rather than sacrifice of someone else -- a radical new antidote for chaos much more dangerous and powerful than the old antidote of violent sacrifice that shaped our ancestral roots.

    Peterson's defiance of victim-garbed collective aggression is in service to Jesus's personhood revolution: the simple notion that instead of sacrificing your neighbors and blaming them for the chaos you feel, it is better to sacrifice your own pride, clean your own room and resist the urge to reciprocate aggression and insult to those who seek to harm you. In short, it is better that we stop unconsciously imitating Caiaphas because the old pharmakos prescription is past its expiration. We no longer need to cling to our collective group identities (race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) to shape laws as a tool of vengeance against those we fear and hate. We can instead crucify the monster inside us.

    What made the West great was this simple truth. God desires mercy, not sacrifice. That the individual human being is sacred in body, mind, speech and, by extension, the fruits of his or her labor. That no ideology or witch hunt can repeal the beauty and dignity of the individual, no matter who they are.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


    Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


    STRATEGIC REALIGNMENT: The Indo-Pacific Moment (APARNA PANDE, 2/03/18, American Interest)

    India's growing economic and security relationships and interest in the Indo-Pacific region are aligned with its deepening partnership with the United States. Two years after signing the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision of 2015, India is a member of the Quad (a strategic grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia) and there is talk about making the grouping something more than an annual talk shop.

    India, the United States, and Japan already participate in the annual Malabar naval exercises, and Australia may soon join them. While the symbolism of annual joint military exercises under Malabar should not be underestimated, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has rightly noted, the Quad should in addition include technology sharing, military training and strategic planning, while helping to build military-to-military institutional relationships between India and the United States. This is something Washington shares with its close allies in both Europe and Asia, but which is still being built with India.

    Yet the two countries have undeniably made great strides already. From being "estranged" democracies during the Cold War, India and the United States today share, in the words of Secretary Tillerson, a "growing strategic convergence." From having almost no military relations during the Cold War, India is today a Major Defense Partner of the United States. From $20 billion in bilateral trade in the year 2000, today the two countries' trade flows stand at $115 billion.

    Ever since 1947, Indian leaders have sought recognition for India, based on their belief in its civilizational greatness and the role it is destined to play on the global stage. For most of that time, American leaders have not shared that vision, or even understood what India wanted, given the preoccupations of the Cold War, priorities in other regions of the world, and Washington's convoluted relationship with Pakistan.

    Today, however, the United States views India as a potential regional security provider and seeks to build India's security capacity through commercial and defense cooperation between the two militaries.

    When it looks at the Indo-Pacific, Washington sees India and the United States as the two "bookends of stability," in Tillerson's words, two "natural allies" who share a commitment to "upholding the rule of law, freedom of navigation, universal values, and free trade." The recent National Security Strategy for 2017 also spoke of America seeking to support India's "leadership role" in the Indo-Pacific region.

    The Best American President India's Ever Had (Ashok Malik, 11/03/09, Forbes)

    The prime minister had Bush over for lunch, also inviting the parliamentary leader of the opposition BJP as well as his Foreign Ministry team. At the Leadership Summit dinner, Bush shared the high table with Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party and India's most powerful individual politician. It was a thanksgiving moment--a gesture to the man widely seen as the best American president India has ever had.

    The emblem of India's fascination with Bush is, of course, the game-changing civil nuclear cooperation agreement that he pushed through between 2005 and 2008. He put his weight behind persuading Capitol Hill, the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency to, in Singh's words, "end India's nuclear apartheid," learn to live with its nuclear weapons and permit it civilian nuclear commerce.

    Yet, in a country where he consistently had high--70% and more--opinion ratings almost through his eight years in the White House, Bush's reputation is more than the sum of his gifts. India's ambitious and recognition-hungry middle classes and its business and foreign elites have found themselves completely in tune with his instincts.

    In his speech in New Delhi, Bush seemed to see India exactly as Indians imagine it to be: "A vibrant, modern nation built on an ancient civilization"; "a force for stability and peace in one of the most strategically important regions in the world."

    On both protectionism and Afghanistan, he echoed Indian sentiment. He thought the recovery from the recession wouldn't be easy but warned against import tariffs--which so worry Indian IT service providers that have clients in the United States--and said his instincts were still with free trade.

    On the war against terrorism--which has consumed the Bush legacy--he was categorical that it was an "ideological struggle," made no distinction between Al-Qaida and the Taliban, hoped the "free world" would not "lose its nerve" and warned "I don't think you can negotiate with extremists." In India's dreams, this is the AfPak briefing note Barack Obama will read.

    As more than one person in his audience observed, Bush was different from American/Western visitors who either talked down to Indians, sometimes inadvertently, or sought to clumsily second guess them. Bush did neither.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


    Amid stock market selloff, U.S. profit forecasts rise (Caroline Valetkevitch, 2/02/18, Reuters) 

    Forecasts for earnings, one of the fundamental factors that drives stock prices, are rising fast as analysts factor in benefits from the U.S. tax overhaul.

    Optimism over forecasts has caught the attention of anxious investors, who hope that strong earnings can support lofty stock valuations and offset the concerns over rising bond yields and the pace of Federal Reserve rate hikes. Rising interest rates in general mean higher borrowing costs for companies.

    This week, fears of higher rates overwhelmed the upbeat profit picture as the benchmark S&P 500 stock index .SPX fell 3.9 percent and raised some concern about a deeper pullback.

    "This uptick in bond rates has everybody nervous obviously," said Gary Bradshaw, portfolio manager at Hodges Capital Management in Dallas, Texas.

    "But we step back and look, and so far earnings have been awful good. Even though you have seen rates move up some here, they are still very low, inflation is still low," he said.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


    Connecticut paper claps back at Rhode Island paper's dis (AP, 2/02/18)

    The biggest newspapers in Connecticut and Rhode Island are feuding over which state is worse.

    The Hartford Courant in Connecticut wrote a scathing editorial after The Providence Journal in Rhode Island published an editorial calling its New England neighbor struggling, and blasting its business climate as enormously difficult.

    Of course, they're inferior to New England, but that's too high a bar.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


    Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


    Carter Page, Ex-Trump Aide Once Shunned by Right, Is Back at the Center of the Russia Case (ALI WATKINS, FEB. 2, 2018, NY Times)

    In 2013, Mr. Page struck up a professional friendship with the operative, Victor Podobny, who was working undercover in New York City. Mr. Page -- who at the time did not have any role in American government -- gave documents to Mr. Podobny about the energy sector.

    Mr. Podobny was picked up by the authorities on a tapped phone calling Mr. Page an "idiot" to his Russian intelligence colleagues. He was charged by the Justice Department and spirited back to Moscow before he could be arrested. Mr. Page was questioned by law enforcement officials about his contacts but never charged in the case.

    Mr. Page has openly acknowledged he is the unnamed male referred to in federal court documents about Mr. Podobny.

    A dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative hired to investigate Mr. Trump's links to Russia, claimed that Mr. Page maintained deep ties to the Kremlin, including with officials sanctioned by the United States.

    Mr. Nunes's memo claims that the dossier, whose research was funded in part by Democrats, was improperly used to justify surveilling Mr. Page after he had cut ties with Mr. Trump. But the memo left out that the research was initially funded by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website.

    Mr. Page's mannerisms amid the unfolding Russia investigations have emerged as a sort of Washington sideshow. Despite being under scrutiny by federal and congressional investigators as a possible agent of Russia, Mr. Page has waged a near-constant public affairs campaign, appearing on TV news shows and engaging with reporters, sometimes with obscure GIFs or movie clips.

    For months, Mr. Page showed up regularly, uninvited and unannounced, at the secure offices of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, where he dropped off documents he had compiled himself. One was his own dossier in which he claimed he was the victim of a hate crime by the Hillary Clinton campaign because he was a Catholic and a man.

    ...that last line shows anybody can do it with these laughingstocks.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM

    PARTICULARLY WHEN THEIR FATHER...(self-reference alert):

    Technology Adds to Bedtime Distractions (Kelly Burch, 2/02/18, Valley Parents)

    When it comes to the many battles between teenagers and their parents, sleep is often at the top of the list, especially with teens constantly plugged in to technology. Parents get frustrated when they wake in the middle of the night and see the tell-tale glow emanating from their child's room long after lights-out. Teens become irritated when they're told to go to sleep when they're still feeling wide awake, or to hand over devices that are their lifelines to their social circles. Yet everyone is cranky when mornings devolve as tired teens who were up too late scrolling struggle to get out the door on time.

    "Being sleep deprived has negative consequences in terms of mood and school performance, driving safety," said Dr. Brooke Judd, the section chief of sleep medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. [...]

    The addition of technology -- particularly smartphones and tablets -- has made an already fraught situation even more difficult, adding a behavioral aspect to the physiological reasons teens are going to bed late.

    "They might be tired, but become very involved in using their devices, phones or the internet," Judd said. "Then they're more voluntarily delaying their sleep."

    Whether it's stress from interpersonal relationships or worry about the news alerts that they see online, technology use can ramp teens up at a time when they should be unwinding.

    "Anybody who is getting more emotionally activated, (will find) it harder to get to sleep in general," Judd said.

    Another important issue is the fact that the light from screens and tablets can activate the brain, delaying production of melatonin, a hormone that helps facilitate sleep. Although people have spent time unwinding in front of screens for generations, the blue light given off by LED devices suppresses melatonin more than any other type of light. The effect is even stronger when the light source is held close to your eyes, as phones and tablets often are, Judd said.

    Although Americans -- and teens in particular -- are loathe to put down their devices, Judd said doing so is essential for establishing healthy sleep habits.

    "We say try to eliminate screen use in terms of tablets, phones and other devices that are close to your eyes after 9 p.m.," she said. "That is partially to minimize the effect that that light has on altering the circadian rhythms, but also to provide some wind-down time away from the devices."

    Judd, who has raised three teenagers, does not allow her kids to use devices in their beds.

    "I feel very strongly about enforcing that it's important to get enough sleep, which is really difficult with (modern) lifestyles," she said.

    Rather than enforcing a specific bedtime -- which might be met with resistance -- Judd recommends that parents keep an open dialogue with their teens about the importance of healthy sleep habits.

    "A teenager naturally wants to have more control over these personal decisions, and truly may not be sleepy at (the) same time as their parents," she said. "You can't force someone to fall asleep, so instead of enforcing bedtime, promote the habits that will help them be able to get enough sleep."

    ...sleeps 8:30 to 4:30....

    Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


    Schools Consider Later Start Times  (VALLEY PARENTS, 2/02/18)

    There is one especially compelling reason to give later start times a second look: They have been shown to reduce the number of car accidents involving young drivers.

    In 2015, the National Highway Safety Administration commissioned a study to examine the connection between car accidents and early start times. The research showed that when high school start times in one county in North Carolina were moved from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. there was a 14 percent decrease in accidents involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers over the course of the day.

    Dr. Brooke Judd, the section chief of sleep medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said that the issue of early high school start times and their effect on sleep is especially important in a rural area like the Upper Valley, where many high schoolers commute long distances to school.

    "It can be really challenging for kids coming from far away for early school start times," she said. "It can become very easy to get very sleep deprived."

    With an estimated 16.5 percent of fatal accidents involving drowsy drivers, having later school start times could very well save a life.

    "I don't think adults understand that there is this natural shift to fall asleep later, and this may require some adjustments on the other end," Judd said.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


    Why did a congressman give a Holocaust denier a ticket to the SotU? : Chuck Johnson, who was given pass to speech by Matt Gaetz, has been banned from numerous platforms for online harassment of others (JTA, 2/03/18)

    Gaetz, speaking on the Fox Business Network, also denied that Johnson had denied the Holocaust.

    "Some of the claims against Mr. Johnson are not accurate," he said in an interview captured by Mediaite. "He's not a Holocaust denier, he's not a white supremacist. Those are unfortunate characterizations of him, but I did not know he was as perhaps as infamous and controversial as he was when he came by to my office. ... He was a polite and just entirely appropriate guest I thought."

    Johnson denied the Holocaust in an "Ask Reddit" session from January 2017. (The sub-Reddit that hosted the session, "altright," has since been banned by Reddit because its members practiced "doxxing," publishing personal information about enemies -- a practice that Johnson has indulged and which contributed to his notoriety. The exchange has been captured elsewhere, including here at the Little Green Footballs blog.) He also praised Holocaust deniers like David Irving and David Cole.

    Asked about the "Jewish Question" and the Holocaust, Johnson replied, "I do not and never have believed the 6 million figure. I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic. I think the Allied bombing of Germany was a war crime. I agree with David Cole about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real. I read the German War (highly recommend), Bloodlands, Mein Kampf, and all of David Irving." He added: "But I support Israel as a Jewish state and Zionism as a concept. I'm pro-ethno state, generally."

    Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


    Romney Is Already Being Considered for a Republican Leadership Position (ELAINA PLOTT AND MCKAY COPPINS  FEB 2, 2018, The Atlantic)

    Mitt Romney hasn't even officially announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, yet Republican leadership is already seeing stars.

    According to a Republican donor with direct knowledge, Senate GOP leaders have expressed an early interest in having Romney succeed Colorado Senator Cory Gardner as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The role involves leading the Senate GOP's fundraising arm and helping recruit and vet prospective GOP candidates for the upper chamber. A Republican source close to Romney confirmed that the idea of the Utah Republican taking over the NRSC has generated chatter in recent weeks.

    On Thursday afternoon, Gardner placed a call to a GOP donor, and said that he and Senate leadership "liked Romney" for the NRSC post. "It made perfect sense to me," said the source, who requested anonymity to share details of the private conversation. "He's got the stature and a virtually unmatched fundraising base to draw upon. And he's running because he wants a national platform to help the party anyway."

    The key will be to jettison the Donald-Lite primary-version of Mitt and run as the Governor.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


    Thoughts on the Nunes Memo: We Need to Talk About Devin (Quinta Jurecic, Shannon Togawa Mercer, Benjamin Wittes, February 2, 2018, Lawfare)

    [L]et's briefly put aside the reality that the memo is probably neither a complete nor a fair account of the FBI's handling of the Page matter. For a moment, let's assume that every fact in the memo is true and that the memo contains all relevant facts on the matter--in other words, that it is entirely accurate and not selective. What would that mean?

    As the document tells the story, on Oct. 21, 2016, the Justice Department and FBI successfully applied for a FISA warrant against Carter Page from the FISA court. Presumably, though the memo does not state this explicitly, it did so under Title I of FISA, as Page is a U.S. citizen and the warrant seems to have been an individualized one directed at him. The initial warrant was renewed three times, once every 90 days, each time requiring renewed showing of probable cause that Page was acting as the agent of a foreign power.

    FISA warrants must be approved by both the FBI and the Justice Department. On behalf of the FBI, then-Director James Comey signed three warrants and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein eached signed at least one warrant on behalf of the Justice Department. (Based on the 90-day clock, the renewals took place in January, April and July of 2017. Given who was in office at the relevant times, it seems likely that Comey and Yates signed off on the initial warrant in October 2016; that Comey and Yates signed off on the first renewal in January 2017; that Comey and Boente signed off on the second renewal in April 2017; and that McCabe and Rosenstein signed off on the third renewal in July 2017. Note that by the time of second and third renewals, and perhaps even by the time of the first renewal, the dossier--which Buzzfeed published on Jan. 10, 2017--was a matter of intense public controversy. What's more, incoming President Trump had been briefed on the dossier on Jan. 6, 2017, by FBI Director Comey. So to the extent that the FBI relied on Steele material in the renewals, it did so knowing it was invoking material that was already publicly controversial.

    Individual complaints listed in the Nunes memo include:

    The memo reports that the Steele dossier was an "essential" part of at least the initial FISA application. Although the initial FISA application does include the fact that Steele was working for a "named U.S. person," the memo claims that neither the initial application nor any of the applications for renewal mentioned his connections to the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, which were indirectly funding his efforts through the law firm Perkins Coie. That law firm had hired the firm Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump, and Fusion GPS then retained Steele.

    The memo also asserts that the FBI "authorized payment" to Steele for his information on the Trump campaign. This fact was also not included in any of the FISA applications.

    The memo also claims that the initial FISA application "cite[s] extensively" a Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff on Carter Page's July 2017 trip to Moscow but "inaccurately assesses" that Steele did not provide information on his work to Isikoff. Also on the subject of Steele's media contacts, the memo states that the FBI cut ties with Steele after discovering that he had discussed his relationship with the FBI with journalist David Corn, the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones.

    According to the memo, Steele maintained contact with then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr before and after he was terminated as a source. The FBI reportedly failed to include in the FISA warrant renewals that Steele had told Ohr that he "was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president." Furthermore, Ohr's wife was an employee of Fusion GPS, cultivating opposition research on the Trump campaign. The memo reports that Ohr's relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was not disclosed to the FISC.

    The memo quotes FBI Assistant Director Bill Priestap, head of the bureau's counterintelligence division, as saying that the Steele dossier was in its "infancy" when the first FISA warrant application was submitted. A later source validation report conducted by the FBI assessed Steele's report as "minimally corroborated." In January 2017, Comey briefed President-Elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier even though it was "salacious and unverified." The memo asserts that Deputy Director Andrew McCabe testified before the House intelligence committee that no surveillance warrant from the FISA court would have been sought without the Steele dossier information.

    The FISA warrant application reportedly mentions George Papadopoulos, and the memo says that while there was no established "cooperation or conspiracy" between Carter Page and Papadopoulos, the Papadopoulos intelligence triggered the FBI counterintelligence investigation run by Peter Strozk. Strzok was then reassigned by the special counsel's office for text messages exchanged with FBI lawyer Lisa Page; text messages that demonstrate extensive discussions about the Mueller investigation, orchestrating leaks to the media and discussing a meeting with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to discuss an "insurance" policy against Trump's election.

    To all of which, a reasonable person must ask: Huh? Indeed, if the above makes for difficult reading from which no particularly strong, let alone scandalous, narrative thread emerges, that's because the points recounted (assuming they are true) don't make out a coherent complaint.

    To the extent that the complaint is that Page's civil liberties have been violated, the outraged are crying crocodile tears. For one thing, it is not at all clear that Page's civil liberties were, in fact, violated by the surveillance; the memo does not even purport to argue that the Justice Department lacked probable cause to support its warrant application. It does not suggest that Page was not, after all, an agent of a foreign power. What's more, the only clear violation of Page's civil liberties apparent here lies in the disclosure of the memo itself, which named him formally as a surveillance target and announced to the world at large that probable cause had been found to support his surveillance no fewer than four times by the court. Violating Page's civil liberties is a particularly strange way to complain about conduct that probably did not violate his civil liberties.

    To the extent the complaint is that the FBI relied on a biased source in Steele, the FBI relies every day on information from far more dubious characters than former intelligence officers working for political parties. The FBI gets information from narco-traffickers, mobsters and terrorists. Surely it's not scandalous for it to get information from a Democrat--much less from a former British intelligence officer working for Democrats, even if he expresses dislike of a presidential candidate.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


    Twin States' Destiny Is Demographics (Valley News, February 02, 2018)

    A study commission convened a couple of years ago noted in its final report that between 1960 and 1990, the state prospered from net in-migration as people "voted with their feet" to live in the Granite State. The average annual population increase was 16,744 people in those years, 78 percent of whom came from somewhere else, mainly Massachusetts. After that, in-migration slowed considerably and young people continued to leave, with alarming implications as the baby boom generation hit retirement age. "If this demographic trajectory proceeds unchecked," the report warned, "it will mean decades of constrained economic growth, significant shifts in the composition of the demand for public services and private sector goods and services, and a public sector facing fiscal challenges."

    Interestingly, in-migration to New Hampshire rebounded sharply between July 2016 and July 2017, with 4,700 more people moving in than leaving. But it is considered unlikely to will rebound to 20th-century levels on its own.

    Of course, attracting people, especially young people, to Vermont and New Hampshire will require more than simply better telling what the states have to offer (which is considerable in terms of jobs and quality of life). And it's important to remember that New England's cold climate will inevitably limit the appeal among people accustomed to milder weather. But Scott is on to something when he pinpoints lack of affordability as a barrier to attracting newcomers, repatriating former Vermonters and keeping young people at home.

    Lack of affordable housing and a housing mix that does not match well with developing demographic trends is just one obstacle in both states. The vexing nature of the demographic problem is well illustrated by the education situation in Vermont, where the combination of declining student enrollment and rising costs has produced considerable pressure to consolidate services and cut costs. But little is more important to young families who are thinking of moving than the quality of the schools where they might be going. At the same time, education taxes have a real impact on affordability, so there is a needle to be threaded here to refill the state's classrooms.

    ...is that across the developed world, immigrants will be able to write their own tickets in a few years, because we need them more than they need us.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


    Gov. Unveils Income Tax Reforms (Elizabeth Gribkoff, 2/02/18, VtDigger)

    The Tax Department announced a plan on Friday to reduce the state tax burden on Vermonters who will be adversely impacted by a change in the federal tax law.

    The plan would return an estimated $30 million in tax revenue to Vermont residents that would otherwise fill the state coffers in fiscal year 2019.

    The Scott administration's proposal is in keeping with the governor's commitment to hold the line on tax increases.

    The Agency of Administration Secretary Susanne Young said the plan will "insulate Vermonters as much as possible from the inadvertent tax hikes created by the federal tax reform."

    The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the standard deduction but eliminated personal exemptions. Since the state's tax code is closely tied to federal standards, Vermont taxpayers now cannot claim personal exemptions on their state taxes. That means about half of Vermont taxpayers will pay significantly more in taxes.

    Young said the Vermonters most impacted by changes to the federal tax code are "primarily middle-income families with children."

    Married couples filing jointly and residents with incomes of between $50,000 and $300,000 will see the biggest tax increases if no changes are made to the state tax system.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM

    TO BE FAIR...:

    Justice Dept. told court of source's political influence in request to wiretap ex-Trump campaign aide, officials say (Ellen Nakashima February 2, 2018, Washington Post)

    [I]ts central allegation -- that the government failed to disclose a source's political bias -- is baseless, the officials said.

    The Justice Department made "ample disclosure of relevant, material facts" to the court that revealed "the research was being paid for by a political entity," said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity.

    "No thinking person who read any of these applications would come to any other conclusion but that" the work was being undertaken "at the behest of people with a partisan aim and that it was being done in opposition to Trump," the official said.

    ...no one has accused Nunes of having any idea what was in the application and he acknowledges his ignorance before going on to pretend that he has some idea.

    This is, of course, why Donald would have declassified the applications and released them if they weren't damning. Instead, he let this poor flack make himself a laughingstock. 

    Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


    A Deep Dive into Jordan Peterson's Channel 4 Interview (Uri Harris, 2/02/18, Quillete)

    So what are Peterson's views, and why did Newman consider them so controversial? He laid them out in part towards the end of the interview, when they were discussing lobsters:

    Peterson: "[T]he reason that I write about lobsters is because there's this idea that hierarchical structures are a sociological construct of the Western patriarchy. And that is so untrue that it's almost unbelievable. And I use the lobster as an example, because we diverged from lobsters in evolutionary history about 350 million years ago, common ancestor. And lobsters exist in hierarchies, and they have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy, and that nervous system runs on serotonin, just like our nervous systems do. And the nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it's part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural construction, which it doesn't."

    Newman: "Let me just get this straight. You're saying we should organise our societies along the lines of the lobsters?"

    Peterson: "I'm saying that it's inevitable that there will be continuity in the way that animals and human beings organise their structures. It's absolutely inevitable, and there's one third of a billion years of evolutionary history behind that. That's so long, that a third of a billion years ago, there weren't even trees. It's a long time. You have a mechanism in your brain that runs on serotonin that's similar to the lobster mechanism that tracks your status, and the higher your status the better your emotions are regulated. So as your serotonin levels increase, you feel more positive emotion and less negative emotion."

    Newman: "So you're saying like the lobsters, we're hardwired as men and women to do certain things, to sort of run along tramlines and there's nothing we can do about it?"

    Peterson: "No, I'm not saying there's nothing we can do about it, because it's like in a chess game, right, there's lots of things you can do, although you can't break the rules of the chess game and continue to play chess. Your biological nature is somewhat like that, it sets the rules of the game, but within those rules you have a lot of leeway. But one thing we can't do is say that hierarchical organisation is a consequence of the capitalist patriarchy, it's like that's patently absurd. It's wrong. It's not a matter of opinion, it's seriously wrong."

    Newman interprets Peterson as suggesting we should use lobsters as a model for human society, but that's not what he's doing. Rather, he's searching for the origins of our social hierarchies. Several thinkers--from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Herbert Marcuse--have argued that modern human civilization, especially capitalism, has made humans competitive and status-seeking, causing them to form systems of domination against their true nature. These ideas are popular with parts of the political left, but Peterson argues they're false; human hierarchies rely on similar biological mechanisms to lobsters, which we diverged from hundreds of millions of years ago, so they can't possibly be the result of something that began a few hundred years ago. To truly understand our social hierarchies, we need to understand our biology, which forms the basis for our culture.

    And it's not just hierarchies. Earlier in the interview, Peterson argues that men and women on average exhibit distinct personality differences, and that these become most clear in places like Scandinavia where people are most free to choose their occupation. Here also it's clear Peterson is referring to biology, although he doesn't say so directly. This brings us to the core of the disagreement between Peterson and Newman: the role biology plays in human society, and the constraints it sets on it. Peterson's views--as he lays out in the interview--are well-known: he believes that biology plays an important role in human behaviour, not just with respect to hierarchies, but also how men and women differ in their interests, and he believes that attempts to force equality of outcomes are harmful to men, women, and society. It's these views, quite clearly, that Newman finds problematic.

    Newman's view--and the general attitude towards Peterson--demonstrates what psychologist Steven Pinker wrote about in The Blank Slate fifteen years ago, where he argued that any suggestion that biology plays a role in human social behaviour is often met with derision and hostility, despite the abundant evidence that biology and culture each play a role. As Pinker wrote in the introduction:

    My goal in this book is not to argue that genes are everything and culture is nothing--no one believes that--but to explore why the extreme position (that culture is everything) is so often seen as moderate, and the moderate position is seen as extreme.

    Peterson is considered 'controversial' because he suggests that human social behaviour, including career choices, are determined by a combination of biology and culture, and that the biological differences between men and women influence their choices. The view he's opposing, which Newman appeared to hold, is that human social behaviour is determined entirely by culture, and that any differences in outcomes between men and women are due to culturally-imposed barriers.

    And that view is wrong to precisely the same degree as the biological (material) determinism ideology of the New Atheists he also jousts with.

    Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


    Even If the Nunes Memo Were True, So What? It Wouldn't Matter. (David Atkins, February 3, 2018, Washington Monthly)

    [T]he one thing that keeps jumping out at me in all this is that it wouldn't even matter if all Nunes' claims were true and honestly argued. The underlying investigation is still completely valid, and no one's civil rights were violated. It's a point made very well at the Lawfare Blog:

    To all of which, a reasonable person must ask: Huh? Indeed, if the above makes for difficult reading from which no particularly strong, let alone scandalous, narrative thread emerges, that's because the points recounted (assuming they are true) don't make out a coherent complaint.

    To the extent that the complaint is that Page's civil liberties have been violated, the outraged are crying crocodile tears. For one thing, it is not at all clear that Page's civil liberties were, in fact, violated by the surveillance; the memo does not even purport to argue that the Justice Department lacked probable cause to support its warrant application. It does not suggest that Page was not, after all, an agent of a foreign power. What's more, the only clear violation of Page's civil liberties apparent here lies in the disclosure of the memo itself, which named him formally as a surveillance target and announced to the world at large that probable cause had been found to support his surveillance no fewer than four times by the court. Violating Page's civil liberties is a particularly strange way to complain about conduct that probably did not violate his civil liberties.

    To the extent the complaint is that the FBI relied on a biased source in Steele, the FBI relies every day on information from far more dubious characters than former intelligence officers working for political parties. The FBI gets information from narco-traffickers, mobsters and terrorists. Surely it's not scandalous for it to get information from a Democrat--much less from a former British intelligence officer working for Democrats, even if he expresses dislike of a presidential candidate.

    It's remarkable. Few want to go down the road of making this argument because it's much easier to point to the myriad inaccuracies in the memo. That makes sense, but ignoring the thrust of the memo's implication is a problem. Either the Republican argument is riotously funny, or it's deeply chilling-and it's hard to know which.

    Nunes and crew are trying to maintain that if, say, a politically liberal FBI agent got information from a credible source who also happened to be politically liberal about potential criminal activity by a conservative target and obtained a surveillance warrant based on that information, then everything that came by way of that surveillance would be fruit of a rotten tree.


    God bless Sean Hannity.

    Devin Nunes's Nothingburger (Bret Stephens, 2/03/18, NY Times)

    The important questions [...] are:

    First, did the F.B.I. have solid reasons to suspect that people in Donald Trump's campaign had unusual, dangerous and possibly criminal ties to Moscow?

    Second, did this suspicion warrant surveillance and investigation by the F.B.I.?

    The answers are yes and yes, and nothing in the Nunes memo changes that -- except to provide the president with a misleading pretext to fire deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and discredit Robert Mueller's probe.

    Let's review. Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman until August 2016, is credibly alleged to have received $12.7 million in "undisclosed cash payments" from then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian stooge. Had Manafort not been exposed, he might have gone on to occupy a position of trust in the Trump administration, much as Reagan campaign manager Bill Casey wound up running the C.I.A. He would then have been easy prey to Russian blackmail.

    George Papadopoulos, the young adviser who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the F.B.I., spent his time on the campaign trying to make overtures to Russia. In May 2016 he blabbed to an Australian diplomat that Moscow had political dirt on Hillary Clinton -- information that proved true and was passed on to U.S. intelligence. This was the genesis of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation, as the Nunes memo itself admits.

    And then there's Carter Page, the man at the center of the Nunes memo. By turns stupid (his Ph.D. thesis was twice rejected), self-important (he has compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr.), and money-hungry (a suspected Russian agent who tried to recruit him in 2013 was recorded saying he "got hooked on Gazprom"), Page happens also to be highly sympathetic to the Putin regime. The Russian phrase for such characters is polezni durak -- useful idiot. No wonder he was invited to give a commencement speech at a Russian university in the summer of 2016. That's how assets are cultivated in the world of intelligence.

    Given the profile and his relative proximity to team Trump, it would have been professionally negligent of the F.B.I. not to keep tabs on him. 

    February 2, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


    The Big Flaw in the Memo : It may have just confirmed a key New York Times scoop. (David French, February 2, 2018, National Review)

    At the end of last year, the New York Times published a furiously contested scoop claiming that the investigation actually began not because of the Steele dossier but rather because George Papadopoulos had popped up on the FBI's radar. Here's the Times:

    During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia's top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. . . . 

     . . . Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians' role.

    The Times claimed that this information "led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia's attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump's associates conspired."

    Well, if the newly released Nunes memo is correct, House Republicans and the Trump administration just confirmed the Times'scoop. In the process, they blew up their core argument against the investigation. The investigation isn't the fruit of the poisonous dossier (though the dossier did play a role); it existed before the dossier.

    Nunes memo aims at Russia probe, backfires on Trump and GOP (Noah Bookbinder, Norman Eisen and Caroline Fredrickson, Feb. 3, 2018, USA Today)

    When the House Intelligence Committee finally did its dramatic reveal of the so-called Nunes memo, several things were immediately clear -- and all were bad for committee chairman Devin Nunes and President Trump , the man his efforts were ultimately intended to benefit.   [...]

    [T]o the extent the document contained any surprises, it was the degree to which it actually undermined the attacks that the president and his allies had been advancing.

    One such assault has claimed that the "Steele dossier," opposition research compiled by the private firm Fusion GPS at the behest of the Clinton campaign, served as the basis for the investigation into the Trump campaign and surveillance of a former campaign aide. However, the Nunes memo says information about Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos -- not the Steele dossier -- "triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 . . . ." Whether that was intended or not, it undercuts the claim that the Russia investigation is based upon the dossier.

    Most importantly, the Nunes memo fails utterly at Trump's reported purpose in urging its release: to lay the groundwork for firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller's investigation and is key to protecting that investigation going forward.

    The memo says almost nothing about Rosenstein. It notes that he was one of five Justice and FBI officials to sign applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for warrants to wiretap former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. 

    One of the others who took the same action was Dana Boente, whom Trump appointed acting attorney general after he fired Obama-administration holdover Sally Yates. Boente, incidentally, was recently chosen to become general counsel of the FBI -- a decision that hardly seems consistent with a sincere belief that the Justice Department under his watch abused the surveillance process. The memo's only other reference to Rosenstein is that a department attorney who met with Fusion GPS officials also did some work with Rosenstein -- a factoid with little if any relevance. 

    The Nunes Memo Lands With a Dud (Matt Lewis, 02.02.18 , Daily Beast)

    Perhaps the most important substantive detail to emerge from the memo put together by House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) is the admission that it was George Papadopoulos--not the Steele dossier--which triggered the investigation. This, however, was an admission against interest.

    Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


    Joe Arpaio pleads ignorance after giving interview to anti-Semitic weekly. It was his fifth. (Eli Rosenberg, February 1, 2018, Washington Post)

    On Thursday, Joe Arpaio, the contentious former sheriff who is running for a Senate seat in Arizona, took to Twitter to clarify news reports circulating about an interview he did with an anti-Semitic publication known for attempting to sow doubt about the Holocaust.

    "It was brought to my attention I gave interview to publication that supports antisemitism," Arpaio, a Republican, wrote about his latest interview with the American Free Press, which occurred in January. "I was unaware and don't support that view point."

    But it was at least Arpaio's fifth interview with the weekly, which traffics in stories like "Meet The Man Who Invented The Holocaust," about Nobel Peace Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

    Jews are just another other.

    Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


    Trump and GOP Could Be Paralyzed Without a DACA Fix (A.B. Stoddard, February 02, 2018, RCP)

    No one is entertaining a government shutdown over the issue, but Republicans know as soon as they pass another short-term funding bill days from now -- to a hail of scorn from lawmakers in both parties even as they vote for it -- they will have to deal with DACA this month. And if Democrats continue to vote to fund the government, instead of shutting it down, the hot potato is back in the lap of the majority party and the administration that set the March 5 deadline. 

    Sen. James Lankford, a conservative who has worked on the issue for months, conceded lawmakers could not reach a unified position at the GOP retreat and he would encourage President Trump to extend the deadline. Sen. John Thune, a member of leadership, admitted Trump's sweeping plan was untenable. "I think that if we can solve DACA and border security, that may be the best we can hope for," he said, adding that the two-part plan would be a "fallback position that can pass the House, the Senate and get signed," and conceded if "other issues enter into that conversation, it gets more complicated." Sen. Marco Rubio had issued a similar warning Wednesday. 

    Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM



    The courts repeatedly approved warrants to collect intelligence on a Trump staffer because of his ties to Russia, based in part on information from a long-time reliable FBI source. However, the investigation was initially opened because Australian Intelligence tipped off the FBI about George Papadopoulos's ties to Russia.

    It's a confession.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM

    F x GOOGLEPLEX (self-reference alert):


    The amazing thing is how much more self-indulgent Finnegan's Wake is....

    Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


    Muslim voters say they want to participate, not 'infiltrate' (Riham Feshir, Feb 1, 2018, MPR)

    Caucus training has been a longstanding practice in faith organizations. It aims to educate church, mosque and synagogue attendees on how the process works.

    Minister JaNaé Bates, spokesperson for ISAIAH, said the training is nonpartisan -- the idea that the message has somehow changed to encourage one religious group to take over one political party isn't true.

    "Because in this particular training you have this white Catholic woman in a Vikings shirt and a black Muslim man facilitating a training -- it just incited the deepest amount of contempt for people who are really just trying to engage in politics," Bates said. "Muslim Americans have just as big of a right and responsibility to participate in the political process as anyone else."

    Bates said faith groups have trained more than 1,000 people this year. The representatives' remarks seem to have energized more voters to turn out for caucusing. A phone bank Thursday night aims to reach an additional 3,000 voters.

    "This notion to infiltrate -- this word that's getting thrown around, that Muslim people want to infiltrate the political system -- I would just challenge people to really consider, what is the difference between infiltrating and participating in the political arena?" she said. "We need to really talk about what we're saying and what we mean. Because words do have power, but the reality is, you can't infiltrate a system that's open to the public."

    Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


    Who is Carter Page? Subject Of Nunes Memo Has Ties To Russia -- And Spies  (Nicole Goodkind, 2/02/18,  Newsweek)

    Page's work in Russia began in the late 1990s, when he briefly worked for the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm that advises banks and multinational corporations. He left abruptly after three months.  

    "It was very clear he was ideologically very strongly pro-Kremlin, which wasn't at all clear when he interviewed. As a result, he wasn't a good fit at Eurasia Group," Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, told The Guardian in 2017.

    Bremmer even called Page "the most wackadoodle" Eurasia Group alum on Twitter.

    Page would go on to get an MBA from New York University and work at Merrill Lynch, including at their Moscow office between 2004 and 2007. While there, he claimed to have worked on billions of dollars worth of transactions with Gazprom, a state-owned oil and gas company. Individuals involved in the trades have downplayed his role.

    But investment banking wasn't Page's only contact with Russia: A Russian spy tried to recruit Page as an asset in 2013. Page--who says he thought the spy was a businessman--provided him with publicly available energy-related documents.

    The man and two other operatives later decided that while "enthusiastic," Page was an "idiot," and not worth their time. That spring, Page had his first brush with FBI counterintelligence agents, who interviewed him about his contacts. The Russians were charged in a criminal case in 2015, though Page was not identified as their object of interest until April 2017.

    When questioned by The Wall Street Journal about his 2013 meeting with investigators, Page said that he discussed his research on international politics "at length" and criticized the U.S. government's treatment of Russia.

    Page began advising the Trump campaign in 2016. Then, the newly minted foreign policy advisor flew to Moscow that July to deliver a speech at Russia's New Economic School. This, too, caught the eye of the FBI. Page delivered a blistering critique of U.S. foreign policy.

    "Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change," he said. 

    On the other hand, he was on the lower end of wackadoodle on Donald's staff.
    Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


    Release the Second Memo: How Democrats should respond to the release of the classified Nunes talking points. (JONATHAN ZASLOFF, JAN 31, 2018, Slate)

    How can Democrats respond? There is one path of maximal resistance that would likely be highly contentious but also highly effective: Use the Constitution to play tit for tat.

    The speech or debate clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 6, Clause 1) provides that "for any Speech or Debate in either House, [members of Congress] shall not be questioned in any other Place." An unbroken two-centuries-old tradition has rightfully interpreted this provision as forbidding prosecution or lawsuits against a legislator for speeches made on the floor or in committee.

    Democrats must make clear that if the memo is released, they will take to the floor or the committee and release their own memos into the record, relying on and quoting confidential information if need be. If such information reveals that President Trump obstructed justice, or that the Trump Organization is propped up by laundered Russian money, or White House aides lied to law enforcement, or Jared Kushner agreed to lift Russian sanctions in exchange for Russian election assistance, or anything else, then so be it. The threat to reveal a truth far more damaging than Nunes' cooked-up memo might get Trump and the Republicans to reconsider their game of high-stakes chicken with the rule of law. And Democrats will be immune from any legal retribution.

    February 1, 2018

    Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


    Twitter Has Doubled The Number Of People It Says Interacted With Kremlin-Linked Trolls (Alex Kantrowitz, 1/31/18, BuzzFeed News)

    Twitter on Wednesday said it notified 1.4 million people in the US that they engaged with Kremlin-linked troll accounts during the 2016 US election. That's more than double the 677,775 people Twitter initially said it would notify earlier this month. [...]

    Twitter said the people it notified had either retweeted, quoted, replied to, mentioned, or liked the Internet Research Agency's content.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


    Jews worry US focus on Islamic terror a way to avoid home-grown white supremacy (CATHRYN J. PRINCE, 1 February 2018, Times of Israel)

    It is right-wing extremists such as Luke and Page who commit the most murders of any domestic extremist movement in the United States, according to a newly released Anti-Defamation League report "Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2017." Additionally, a second new report published this week by the ADL's Center on Extremism shows a sharp uptick in white supremacist propaganda on US college campuses during the fall 2017 semester. There were 147 incidents in 2017, compared with 41 in 2016 -- a 258 percent increase.

    In the last decade alone white supremacists committed 274, or 71%, of the 387 total extremist-related killings.  By comparison, Islamist extremists committed 26% of killings and left-wing extremists committed 3%.

    "It's true that much of the public discussion has focused on foreign terrorism and less attention has been paid on white supremacists. One of our efforts is to remind everybody of the realities of the threat and that we don't have the luxury to focus on one threat over another," said Oren Segal, director of the ADL's Center on Extremism.

    And while Donald Trump's campaign and election, as well as Heather Heyer's August 2017 murder by white supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr., brought the issue to the forefront, the numbers started climbing a quarter century ago.

    As the ADL's report, "A Dark and Constant Rage: 25 Years of Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States" notes, today's right-wing violence wormed its way into America's underbelly long ago.

    "The report is deeply concerning, but sadly it's not surprising. This is the reality faced by many communities across the country -- Jewish, Muslim, Sikh. So it's galvanized not just the Jewish community and it shows we all need to be re-engaged with this issue," said Barbara Weinstein, associate director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

    Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


    Reports: Israel bombed Islamic State positions in southern Syria  (JUDAH ARI GROSS, 1 February 2018, 7Times of Israel)

    Syrian media reported that Israel targeted several positions belonging to an Islamic State group affiliate in southern Syrian on Thursday.

    The alleged airstrikes were said to have taken place during an offensive by rebel groups against the Islamic State-affiliated group, known as the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, in the area around the city of Daraa.

    Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


    Rising White House fear: Nunes memo is a dud (Jonathan Swan, 2/01/18, Axios)

    Inside the Trump administration, sources who've been briefed on the Nunes memo expect it will be underwhelming and not the "slam dunk" document it's been hyped up to be.

    What we're hearing: There is much more skepticism inside the administration than has been previously reported about the value of releasing the memo, according to sources familiar with the administration discussions. [...]

    [T]here are a number of people in the White House who are fairly underwhelmed, and there's internal anxiety about whether it's worth angering the FBI director and intelligence community by releasing this information.

    The bigger problem is that they are calling attention to the case for surveilling Donald and his team. If the FBI were the anti-Trump outfit of the Right's fever dreams they'd support releasing it.

    Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


    Sonny Rollins Bridge from Sonny Rollins Bridge Project on Vimeo.

    Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


    GOP Rep. Defends Holocaust Denier He Invited to SOTU: 'He's Not a Holocaust Denier' (Caleb Ecarma, February 1st, 2018, Mediate)

    Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who is a fan-favorite of the conspiracy-minded right, defended the racist troll he invited to Tuesday's State of the Union on Fox Business Network by saying "he's not a holocaust denier" -- even though he is literally a holocaust denier. [...]

    [G]aetz's claim that Johnson isn't a holocaust denier is entirely false, and he is very "guilty of the things" people accuse him of being. The self-declared "journalist" -- he's not -- has a history of repeatedly using the n-word on Twitter, a site he is now banned from after asking his followers for money to help him "take out" a leading Black Lives Matter activist.

    From there, his history somehow gets worse.

    Johnson has explicitly denied the fact that Nazi Germany killed millions of Jews in the Holocaust, outlining his thoughts on the genocide when asked on a Reddit AMA for comment on "the Holocaust, WW2, and the JQ [Jewish Question]":

    "I do not and never have believed the six million figure. I think the Red Cross numbers of 250,000 dead in the camps from typhus are more realistic. I think the Allied bombing of Germany was a ware crime. I agree with David Cole about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real. I read the German War (highly recommend), Bloodlands, Mein Kampf, and all of David Irving."

    When answering the bit about the "Jewish Question" -- which is an alt-right term referencing the conspiracy theory that Jews control the world -- Johnson said, "I support Israel as a Jewish state and Zionism as a concept. I'm pro-ethno state, generally."

    Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


    Donald Trump Snags 45.6M For 1st State Of The Union (Dominic Patten, January 31, 2018, Deadline)

    Barack Obama had just more than 48 million total viewers for his first SOTU in 2010 on 11 outlets, and nearly 52 million watched George W. Bush's post-9/11 first SOTU in 2002 on eight outlets. Adding to the con column, Trump did not beat the 45.8 million who tuned in for Bill Clinton's first SOTU on ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN in 1994.

    Which means Trump's initial SOTU, the third longest in history, is now also the least watched address in nearly a quarter of a century.

    Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


    A Dangerous Course Israel Should Avoid (DANNY YATOM and AMNON RESHEF, FEB. 1, 2018, NY Times)

    It is no accident that none of the proposals suggests annexing the entire West Bank. Even the most zealous legislators realize that absorbing all of the West Bank's 2.7 million Palestinians would threaten Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state.

    Consequently, those seeking to block prospects for separation from the Palestinians into two states look for a "luxurious annexation": absorb as much of the land, with as little of the population, as possible. [...]

    The physical barriers required to prevent residents of Areas A and B from filtering into Area C en route to Israel would be a security nightmare. The perimeter of each of the 169 Palestinian islands would have to be treated as an international border. To separate the annexed land from the islands they encircle, 1,200 miles of new barriers would be required, along with hundreds of security gates that would allow controlled Palestinian movement from one enclave to another or from their enclaves to land of theirs in Area C (where 75 percent of the land is owned by Palestinians). The cost of building such a barrier system would be about $10 billion, and constructing the gates, along with associated security measures, would cost far more.

    Palestinians would view Israeli annexation as a game-changer, foreclosing the option of a viable Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority would collapse, and Israel would have to impose martial law and provide basic services to all Palestinians in the West Bank. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has estimated the annual cost of social security alone for Palestinians at $6 billion. The yearly cost of health, education and other government services could be $5 billion more.

    With the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian-Israeli security coordination would vanish. Many of the Palestinian troops would turn their weapons on Israelis, and the Palestinian street would most likely explode. This would leave Israel's military and its domestic security agency, Shin Bet, to take full security responsibility not just in the newly annexed Area C, but also for the millions of Palestinians in Areas A and B, where Palestinian security agencies now operate in close coordination with the Israel Defense Forces.

    This, in turn, would necessitate an increase in the I.D.F.'s presence throughout the West Bank; the standing army could not do the job alone and a mobilization of reserves would be required. This, too, would tax the Israeli economy and severely diminish military preparedness for other security threats, most directly from Syria, where Iran seeks to establish a presence, and Lebanon, where Hezbollah has become more experienced at combat.

    Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


    D-H Radiologists Reveal Saint-Gaudens Sculptures (EmmaJean Holley, 2/01/18, Valley News)

    Some century-old mysteries have been solved -- and at least one new one has been opened -- since the radiology department at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center received an unusual request a little over a year ago.

    The request came from Rick Kendall, superintendent of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, in Cornish. He wanted to know: If a CT scanner can show what's inside the human body, could it also show what's inside a hunk of plaster? Could they try?

    The short answer to his question is on view in the main rotunda of the Lebanon campus in a display called "Lincoln in Negative Space: The Intersection of Imaging and Art."

    Those hunks of plaster contain original molds that Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the noted 19th-century sculptor and a central figure in the Cornish Colony of artists and writers, used to cast his pieces. Like many sculptors, he would preserve his molds for future reference by sealing them between two plaster halves, said Henry Duffy, curator of the historic site.

    "In Saint-Gaudens' day, they would use strips of burlap or cheesecloth soaked in plaster that would be wrapped around and harden to make a seal that you have to break open to get out what's in there," Duffy said. But art historians have been unwilling to break open the molds, because of their historical significance. Since Saint-Gaudens died in 1907, others could only guess as to what was inside.

    "We didn't know if it would work. Maybe it wouldn't read anything, and be blank," said Duffy. "It was essentially a shot in the dark on our part."

    Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


    Mueller Zeros In on Story Put Together About Trump Tower Meeting (JO BECKER, MARK MAZZETTI, MATT APUZZO and MAGGIE HABERMANJAN. 31, 2018, NY Times)

    Aboard Air Force One on a flight home from Europe last July, President Trump and his advisers raced to cobble together a news release about a mysterious meeting at Trump Tower the previous summer between Russians and top Trump campaign officials. Rather than acknowledge the meeting's intended purpose -- to obtain political dirt about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government -- the statement instead described the meeting as being about an obscure Russian adoption policy.

    The statement, released in response to questions from The New York Times about the meeting, has become a focus of the inquiry by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors working for Mr. Mueller in recent months have questioned numerous White House officials about how the release came together -- and about how directly Mr. Trump oversaw the process. [...]

    The latest witness to be called for an interview about the episode was Mark Corallo, who served as a spokesman for Mr. Trump's legal team before resigning in July. Mr. Corallo received an interview request last week from the special counsel and has agreed to the interview, according to three people with knowledge of the request.

    Mr. Corallo is planning to tell Mr. Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, according to the three people. Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting -- in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians -- "will never get out." That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice, the people said.

    Posted by orrinj at 3:26 AM


    Working, Beating Hearts Will Soon Be 3D-Printed From Patients' Own Cells (ADELE PETERS, 2/01/18, Fast Company)

    Inside a lab that will open in a couple of months in Chicago, a biotech startup will soon begin perfecting the process of 3D-printing human hearts that could eventually be used in transplants.

    "What this is set up to do is to make a patient-specific, fully functioning heart that's viable for transplant, using the patient's own cells," says Stephen Morris, founding partner and CEO of the startup, Biolife4D.