Daily Bread for 11.18.17

Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will bring a mix of rain, sleet, and snow (but with little or no accumulation). Sunrise is 6:51 AM and sunset 4:28 PM, for 9h 36m 40s of daytime. The moon is new today. Today is the three hundred seventy-fourth day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

On this day in 1928, Steamboat Willie premiers at Universal’s Colony Theater in New York City. On this day in 1930, a police raid a Beloit home: “federal agents and county deputies raided Otto Matschke’s home, north of Beloit, and seized an illegal still and 300 gallons of contraband moonshine.”

Recommended for reading in full —

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions mocks concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and his Federalist Society audience laughs:

Ken Dilanian and Carol E. Lee report Kushner failed to disclose outreach from Putin ally to Trump campaign:

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, failed to disclose what lawmakers called a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” involving a banker who has been accused of links to Russian organized crime, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

An email chain described Aleksander Torshin, a former senator and deputy head of Russia’s central bank who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as wanting Trump to attend an event on the sidelines of a National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 2016, the sources said. The email also suggests Torshin was seeking to meet with a high-level Trump campaign official during the convention, and that he may have had a message for Trump from Putin, the sources said….

A Washington Post editorial reminds Puerto Rico is still in the dark:

THE DEPARTURE from Puerto Rico this week of the Army general who led the military’s response to Hurricane Maria is being depicted as a sign the island is no longer in crisis mode but instead is transitioning to long-term recovery. No matter what terms are used, it is clear there are still enormous problems in Puerto Rico, with far too many people living in conditions that simply would not be tolerated on the mainland. More than ever, the people of Puerto Rico must not be forgotten. Those charged with rebuilding the island need to show they are up to the task and not repeat the mistakes that marked the initial response to the catastrophic storm.

It has been nearly two months since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, yet the majority of the island’s 3.4 million residents are still without electricity in what ranks as the largest blackout in U.S. history. No one has a clear handle on when the lights will be back on. Other problems include damaged homes, people in shelters, lack of access to clean water and, the New York Times reported, fears of a full-fledged mental-health crisis….

(Emphasis added.)

Rosie Gray and Mackay Coppins write Conservatives Reap the Whirlwind of Their War on the Media:

All news is “fake news”—at least if you’re a diehard Roy Moore supporter.

With sexual misconduct allegations continuing to mount against the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, Moore has defied calls to drop out of the race by advancing an audacious conspiracy theory—that partisan fabulists in the mainstream media are working with his enemies in the political establishment to wage a nefarious smear campaign against him. Not long ago, such claims likely would have backfired. But in the Trump era, anti-press sentiment has reached a fever pitch on the right—something candidates like Moore are eagerly exploiting.

Moore has not directly denied many of the specific allegations. Instead, he has sought to cast himself as the victim of a witch hunt and sow just enough doubt in the stories to muddy the waters in voters’ minds.

“Their only response to this is really to find other villains in the process to take the heat off of them,” said the Republican strategist John Brabender, a former Rick Santorum campaign adviser. The two villains they have chosen are The Washington Post and other mainstream outlets, to “discredit the messenger,” Brabender said, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment, “to make the point that this is really just elitist establishment figures who never wanted Roy Moore”….

Let’s Meet the Argentine King of Gypsy Jazz:

Daily Bread for 11.17.17

Good morning.

Whitewater’s Friday will be rainy with a high of forty-three. Sunrise is 6:50 AM and sunset 4:29 PM, for 9h 38m 42s of daytime. The moon is new, with 0.8% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred seventy-third day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

On this day in 1968, NBC broadcasts the Heidi Game: “The Heidi Game or Heidi Bowl was an American Football League (AFL) game played on November 17, 1968, between the Oakland Raiders and the visiting New York Jets. The game was notable for its exciting finish, in which Oakland scored two touchdowns in the final minute to win the game 43–32, but got its name for a decision by the game’s television broadcaster, NBC, to break away from its coverage of the game on the east coast to broadcast the television film Heidi, causing many viewers to miss the Raiders’ comeback.”

On this day in 1861, the 4th Wisconsin Infantry reconnoiters Virginia’s eastern shore: “The 4th Wisconsin Infantry was among Union forces assigned to an expedition in Accomac County, Virginia. The regiment’s historian wrote, “The Fourth and a battery [of light artillery] and small cavalry force, embarked on an expedition to the eastern shore of Virginia, where they remained, encountering some severe marching through the mud and flooded roads, under the command of General Lockwood, until the 9th of December.”

Recommended for reading in full — 

Rebecca Ballhaus and Peter Nicholas report Special Counsel Mueller Issued Subpoena for Russia-Related Documents From Trump Campaign Officials (“Senate committee also pressures Kushner lawyer to turn over more documents”):

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in mid-October issued a subpoena to President Donald Trump’s campaign requesting Russia-related documents from more than a dozen top officials, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena, which requested documents and emails from the listed campaign officials that reference a set of Russia-related keywords, marked Mr. Mueller’s first official order for information from the campaign, according to the person. The subpoena didn’t compel any officials to testify before Mr. Mueller’s grand jury, the person said.

The subpoena caught the campaign by surprise, the person said. The campaign had previously been voluntarily complying with the special counsel’s requests for information, and had been sharing with Mr. Mueller’s team the documents it provided to congressional committees as part of their probes of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump campaign is providing documents in response to the subpoena on an “ongoing” basis, the person said.

A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.

Mr. Mueller and congressional committees are investigating whether Trump associates colluded with Russian efforts to interfere in the election. Mr. Trump has denied collusion by him or his campaign, and Moscow has denied meddling in the election….

Karoun Demirjian reports Senate Judiciary panel: Kushner had contacts about WikiLeaks, Russian overtures he did not disclose:

President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner received and forwarded emails about WikiLeaks and a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” that he kept from Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, according to panel leaders demanding that he produce the missing records.

Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell on Thursday charging that Kushner has failed to disclose several documents, records and transcripts in response to multiple inquiries from committee investigators.

In the letter, Grassley and Feinstein instruct Kushner’s team to turn over “several documents that are known to exist” because other witnesses in their probe already gave them to investigators. They include a series of “September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks,” which the committee leaders say Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official. Earlier this week, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. revealed that he had had direct communication with WikiLeaks over private Twitter messages during the campaign.

[Donald Trump Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks during 2016 campaign]

Committee leaders said Kushner also withheld from the committee “documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ ” that he had forwarded to other campaign officials. And they said Kushner had been made privy to “communications with Sergei Millian” — a Belarusan American businessman who claims close ties to the Trumps and was the source of salacious details in a dossier about the president’s 2013 trip to Moscow — but failed to turn those records over to investigators.

Samuel Osbourne reports Trump Organization worth one tenth of value previously reported:

The Trump Organization in New York is reportedly worth one tenth of the value it previously claimed.

Donald Trump‘s family business had previously ranked near the top of Crain’s New York Business list of largest privately held companies.

But this year it has fallen from number three to number 40 after the President disclosed the organisation’s revenue to federal regulators.

While the Trump Organization claimed $9.5bn (£7.2bn) in sales last year, Mr Trump’s public filings suggest revenues of less than a tenth of that amount, between $600m (£450m) and $700m (£530m).

(Trump as a fraud, yet again. See also The Case Of Wilbur Ross’ Phantom $2 Billion.)

The Economist lists The Trump administration’s latest misdemeanours:

AN ADVISER allegedly involved in a plot to force a migrant to return to his home country. An attorney-general who seems conveniently forgetful when testifying before Congress. A president’s son exchanging messages with an agent of a hostile foreign power. In past administrations any of these things would have caused shock, hand-wringing and, probably, Congressional hearings and sackings. But it’s just another week in Donald Trump’s America.

On November 11th the Wall Street Journal reported that Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, is looking into allegations that Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s former national-security adviser, was involved in a plan to return Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania, to the Turkish government in exchange for $15m. Turkey accuses Mr Gulen of masterminding last year’s failed coup (charges the cleric denies) and has long sought his return….

Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas specialising in national-security law, says the allegations against Mr Flynn provide “the first clear prospect of state criminal charges”. The alleged plot was cooked up in New York; Mr Trump can only pardon federal crimes, and thus would be unable to offer Mr Flynn the same lifeline he could offer Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Rick Gates, a lobbyist, whom Mr Mueller has indicted on federal charges.

Spain’s found a new use for an abandoned nuclear power plant:

Its construction started in the 70s, but it was stopped in 1982 before the plant was operative. Nowadays the government means to reuse the plant as a fish farm.

 

Policies & Actions

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Yesterday’s post, The Winnowing Transition, offers thoughts on the last several years in Whitewater, and a look ahead to the next several. The key point is that we’re in a transitional time, where many who were politically prominent a decade ago no longer are, and few who are prominent now will come through the next seven to ten years successfully.

A few more observations —

1. Policies, Actions. In a time of transition, where many have faded and others will, it’s more useful to focus on policies & actions than officeholders. The important questions will be what someone believes and what will he or she do.

In 2007, when I began writing, Whitewater’s city notables were at their high water mark, and conditions for them were seemingly stable. Most of them assumed they’d easily outlast a critic, and imagined – or at least declared – no end to their own prospects. Focusing on specific officeholders mattered more in conditions where an official’s tenure might yet be lengthy.

Weak policies (revealed to be even more so by economic conditions after 2008) came to take a toll, and over time officials’ prospects became weaker and the accuracy of criticism clearer. There might have been an effective break with the past between 2010-12, perhaps, but Whitewater’s officials didn’t make that complete break.

(As a policy matter, a complete break was needed; as a cultural matter it was more than even those who knew better could manage. Indeed, Whitewater’s policymakers have been laughably slow to admit their own mistakes, and delusionally stubborn in the face of repeated errors. See The Last Inside Accounts and The Dark, Futile Dream.)

Over time, a critic’s position has proved the stronger. See Measuring the Strength of a Position.

Who’s going or who’s arriving now matters less than what someone believes and what will he or she do. More of the same will prove worse than useless.

2. Many Options. There’s a common technique among those with an Old Whitewater outlook that every choice is between their way and chaos. This was especially true ten years ago: officials convinced others that the choice was between the official view and disaster/chaos/cannibalism/killer bees. That’s never been true: there are many kinds of conservatives, many kinds of moderates, etc.

It served small, smug notables to shout that it was a choice between their way and utter madness. One can sell slop if customers believe the only alternative is sludge.

3. Challenges Ahead. We have at least this many risks before us: harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities, harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby, and an unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

4. Some, Yet Few. There are some – yet few – officials now serving who, if they so decide, could help Whitewater during the rest of this (sometimes difficult & painful) transition.

Not most, to be sure, but a few.

Nationally and locally, it will be a tough slog. Now and always, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Whitewater.

Daily Bread for 11.16.17

Good morning.

Here in Whitewater, we’ll have an increasingly sunny day with a high of forty. Sunrise is 6:49 AM and sunset 4:30 PM, for 9h 40m 45s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 3.3% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred seventy-second day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

On this day in 1896, the first Rural Free Delivery route in Wisconsin is established.

Recommended for reading in full — 

Alan Rappeport and Thomas Kaplan report Tax Bill Thrown Into Uncertainty as First G.O.P. Senator Comes Out Against It:

The House is set on Thursday to pass its own version of the tax bill, which would cut taxes by more than $1.4 trillion over 10 years and broadly rewrite the business tax code. But as with the health care debate earlier this year, the Senate emerged as the inconstant ally in President Trump’s pursuit of a major legislative accomplishment in his first year.

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, came out against both chambers’ tax plans on Wednesday, saying that the bills favored corporations over small businesses and other so-called pass-through entities, whose owners pay taxes on profits through the tax code for individuals.

“These businesses truly are the engines of innovation and job creation throughout our economy, and they should not be left behind,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, neither the House nor Senate bill provide fair treatment, so I do not support either in their current versions.”

Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee have voiced their own concerns about the tax overhaul and have not committed to voting for the tax bill….

Josh Dawsey and Matthew Nussbaum report on Tee times, smoothie diets, and fat paychecks: A look inside post-Trump life:

Steve Bannon now only flies by private plane — and has his own small security team that surrounds him 24 hours a day.

Reince Priebus spends Friday afternoons at the swanky Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria, sipping Heineken on the patio and trying to break 90 over 18 holes. He is charging at least $50,000 to give private talks about the White House to CEOs and carries a phone that seems to ring non-stop.

Michael Flynn, meanwhile, floats in a sort of legal purgatory, with his siblings setting up a defense fund to help him foot the bill and TV cameras swarming outside his house, representing another group of White House aides who live in fear of the footsteps of prosecutors and early-morning knocks on the door.

Standing on a stage at the Midtown Manhattan Hilton in the early hours of Nov. 9 almost a year ago, basking in his surprise victory, Donald Trump name-dropped each man. In the days and weeks that followed, he would appoint each to senior White House roles. Their days in the White House are long gone….

Jeffrey Toobin asks Is Tom Cotton the Future of Trumpism?:

In recent weeks, several Republican Senators have denounced Trump for his intemperance and his dishonesty. Jeff Flake, of Arizona, and Bob Corker, of Tennessee, condemned Trump and announced that they would not seek re-election in 2018. Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, whose term is not up until 2020, said that, by threatening journalists, Trump was violating his oath to defend the Constitution. Cotton has made a different bet, offering only the gentlest of criticisms of the President. When, in the course of several weeks of conversations, I asked Cotton about one or another of Trump’s controversial statements or tweets, he always responded in the same manner. “The President puts things sometimes in a way that I would not,” he said in early October. “But he was still nominated by our voters and elected by the American people to be our President, and if we want him to accomplish our agenda we need to set him up for success.”

Even Trump’s latest political traumas have not shaken Cotton’s faith in him. Following the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former campaign adviser Rick Gates, last week, Cotton urged a prompt resolution of the investigation into the Trump campaign, but he did not call for the removal of Robert Mueller, the special counsel. “What’s in the best interest of everyone is for these inquiries to move forward, and to follow them to their proper conclusion as quickly as possible,” Cotton said.

Roby Brock, who hosts the leading public-affairs television program in Arkansas, told me, “From the beginning, Tom could play to both the establishment and the Tea Party. Everyone recognizes he’s got a firm set of conservative principles, but that makes him a polarizing figure. There are a lot of people here, too, who hate him and think he’s the Antichrist. The only thing everyone agrees on is that he wants to be President someday.” To make that next leap, Cotton expresses the militarism, bellicosity, intolerance, and xenophobia of Donald Trump, but without the childish tweets. For those who see Trump’s Presidency as an aberration, or as a singular phenomenon, Cotton offers a useful corrective. He and his supporters see Trump and Trumpism as the future of the Republican Party….

(There are many who will do their best to assure Trumpism has no future in any political party.)

Updated: Earlier today, I posted a story in this space (excerpt & video) from 10.31 of Al Franken questioning a Facebook executive (Facebook’s general counsel). Now, one reads that Franken’s the subject of a harassment claim (something unknown to me when drafting today’s post, while sorting through saved articles of interest to offer as Daily Bread excerpts).

For reporting on the claim about Franken, see this story from J. Freedom du Lac, Lindsey Bever, and Michelle Ye Hee Lee in the Washington Post.

I’ve pulled the Franken video – he questioned Facebook’s general counsel ably about Russian advertising, but there’s more important news about Franken today. Franken’s questioning of Facebook executives doesn’t, indeed cannot, justify possible misconduct elsewhere.

I’m sure that this hasn’t happened to any of the poised and impressively coordinated regular readers of FW (each with cat-like reflexes), but What Happens if You Accidentally Damage or Destroy a Priceless Work of Art in a Museum?:

Quick Note on Comments

Someone wrote me today and asked why comments were off on a post from last week. She asked if I had turned comments off to avoid criticism on the subject (the post was about Mitt Romney).

The way FW is set up, comments turn off after automatically after five days, for all posts.

Some blogs have a method for readers’ comments, some don’t. For sites satisfied that they effectively filter trolls, comments are manageable and welcome. That’s always been the case here – spam and trolls have been manageable. (Large commercial sites, by contrast, struggle with spam and trolls despite their best efforts.) In Whitewater, too, I’ve always received more email messages than comments, although that seems unexpected to me (comments would seem easier).

In any event, I welcome readers’ comments and email.

As for the Romney post, well, if I were going to receive a lot of criticism, it would be funny if a Romney post bothered people the most (Romney’s incident with his dog notwithstanding).

Seamus Romney

The Winnowing Transition

The Scene from Whitewater, WisconsinToday’s a good day to post about the transition through which Whitewater is now going. It’s a winnowing transition, in which many political and economic positions formerly popular are slowly being swept away. (There are, in fact, few leading public officials even from a decade ago still around. Those who are operate in conditions of constraint that would have seemed impossible to imagine ten years earlier.)

1. Whitewater’s near-term outlook seems one of stagnation (and so relative decline).

2. Stagnation and relative decline are not unending – they’re usually transitional. Local political & economic failures, and the resulting (truly regrettable) economic hardship will make the city’s reduced property values attractive to larger-scale, private investment. That’s not our best outcome, to be sure, but those who wanted a better outcome would not have chosen as town notables chose a decade ago.

Bumbling boosterism brought us here.

One can be confident that we’ll pull out of this, but it may be seven to ten years until we see that kind of change.

3. Big Ticket Public Projects Haven’t Stopped Short Term Distress. They’ve been no more than ornaments to the pride of self-promoting notables. The Bridge to Nowhere, TID 4 spending, Innovation Center, WEDC expenditures, Innovation Express, pricey infrastructure spending over modest improvements: bunk & junk, all of it.

4. Political Boosterism’s Almost Finished in Whitewater. It’s simply no longer realistic: aged residents’ unfounded nostalgia and wishful thinking aren’t policies. They’re delusions.

5. There Are Still Risks, Even While Notables’ Boosterism Wanes. I’ve mentioned three risks for Whitewater (and like places) in a post entitled The Somber Trio:

Harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities,

Harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, and

Unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby.

There’s a fourth, making this a Somber Quartet:

An unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

Public officials who advance Trumpist views, or cater to them as a balancing act between factions, advance or appease a malevolent ideology. They’re not owed their catering or balancing. If balancing bad ideas with good was tolerable before, it’s not now – the risk is too great to be endured without reply.

6. Charity Endures. For all the political changes sure to come, charity remains a good. Find a good cause, and make it your own.

7. Treading Water Isn’t Swimming. Staying afloat isn’t the same as truly swimming, just as surviving isn’t the same as prospering. One would prefer a community of those who swim & those who prosper, over those who float and merely survive. The goal should be to help people swim, rather than merely boast that a few are good swimmers.

In conditions of stagnation, many officials are treading water more than they’re swimming. There is this one truth and consolation, though, about officials who are merely treading water: as they weren’t moving competently or productively, their departures are inconsequential when compared with a competent or productive person. In this way, personnel departures matter less; there’s hardly a need to see this as troublesome.

8. Better, After. We’ve some difficult times ahead, nationally and locally, but on the other side of this winnowing transition we’ll find a happier and more dynamic country and city.

Daily Bread for 11.15.17

Good morning.

Midweek in Whitewater will be cloudy with a high of forty-eight. Sunrise is 6:48 AM and sunset 4:31 PM, for 9h 42m 51s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 7.8% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred seventy-first day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

Whitewater’s Parks & Rec Board meets at 5:30 PM, her Planning Commission Housing Subcommittee at 6:00 PM, and the Police & Fire Commission at 6:30 PM.

On this day in 1864, Gen. Sherman’s forces begin their March to the Sea: “more formally known as the Savannah Campaign, [it] was a military campaign of the American Civil War conducted through Georgia from November 15 to December 21, 1864 by Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army. The campaign began with Sherman’s troops leaving the captured city of Atlanta on November 15 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21. His forces destroyed military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property and disrupted the Confederacy’s economy and its transportation networks. Sherman’s bold move of operating deep within enemy territory and without supply lines is considered to be one of the major achievements of the war.”

Georgia O’Keeffe is born on this day in 1887: “Georgia O’Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie. She studied at the Chicago Art Institute from 1904 to 1905. In 1907 she relocated to New York to study at the Arts Students League with William Chase. In 1926 she unveiled her now famous flower paintings. She received much of her artistic inspiration from her surroundings in New Mexico, where she settled permanently in 1946. O’Keeffe was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. Georgia O’Keeffe died in 1986 in Santa Fe. [Source: Wisconsin Women: A Gifted Heritage]”

Recommended for reading in full — 

Matt Apuzzo and Nicholas Fandos report Jeff Sessions Denies Lying to Congress on Contacts With Russia:

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday denied, again, lying to Congress about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. He said he had forgotten about a campaign round-table in which an aide played up his Russian connections and suggested arranging a meeting for Donald J. Trump in Moscow.

But even as Mr. Sessions remained hazy on the details, he was adamant that he had swiftly rejected the aide’s suggestion.

“I have always told the truth,” Mr. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee, adding that he stood by his previous testimony because “I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports.”

Mr. Sessions, a former senator and an architect of President Trump’s policies on trade and immigration, was supposed to be an influential force in the administration. Instead, he has twice amended his sworn testimony, creating a distraction for the White House and renewing questions about whether the Trump administration is concealing its connections with Russia….

(There’s our politics, about the United States Attorney General: ‘Denies Lying…on Contacts with Russia…’)

Fred Barbash reports Fox News’s Shepard Smith debunks his network’s favorite Hillary Clinton ‘scandal,’ infuriates viewers:

Fox News anchor Shepard Smith debunked what his own network has called the Hillary Clinton uranium “scandal,” infuriating Fox viewers, some of whom suggested that he ought to work for CNN or MSNBC.

Smith’s critique, which called President Trump’s accusations against Clinton “inaccurate,” was triggered by renewed calls from Republicans on Capitol Hill for a special counsel to investigate Clinton.

Fox News, along with Trump and his allies, have been suggesting for months a link between donations to the Clinton Foundation and the approval of a deal by the State Department and the Obama administration allowing a Russian company to purchase a Canada-based mining group with operations in the United States….

(Smith: an honest man in a room of liars.)

Dominic Tierney observes ‘Human Rights Are Largely Irrelevant to the Emerging Trump Doctrine’:

Donald Trump is the first president in modern history who barely pays lip service to the promotion of universal human rights. On his grand tour of Asia, he stopped in Vietnam, where he failed to press the regime on what Human Rights Watch calls a “dire” lack of individual freedoms. Senator John McCain tweeted: “@POTUS in #Danang & no mention of human rights – Sad.” Instead, Trump prioritized trade and lauded the Vietnamese president for doing “an outstanding job.” Then Trump was off to Manila, where Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, is accused of fighting the drug trade through a campaign of extrajudicial killings. Trump claimed he had a “great relationship” with Duterte, and according to a Philippine spokesman, never mentioned human rights at all.

Sure, there’s usually a gap, and sometimes an enormous chasm, between U.S. ideals and the reality of American foreign policy. And over the decades, the centrality of human rights in U.S. diplomacy has waxed and waned. Washington is selective in its outrage: fixating on the sins of its enemies, and forgiving the failings of its friends. At times of grave threat, Americans have sometimes trampled over human rights, interning Japanese-Americans and carpet-bombing enemy civilians in World War II, for example. After cutting a deal with a Vichy French regime in North Africa, Franklin Roosevelt quoted a Balkan proverb: “My children, you are permitted in time of great danger to walk with the Devil until you have crossed the bridge.”

But human rights have always been woven into the fabric of U.S. foreign policy. In his inaugural address in 1977, Jimmy Carter declared: “Our commitment to human rights must be absolute.” In reality, Carter ignored human rights violations by the Shah of Iran, a key U.S. ally, who was subsequently overthrown in the 1979 revolution. But Carter pressured right-wing dictatorships to reform, and negotiated the return of the Panama Canal to Panama because it was the right thing to do. (To the chagrin of one Republican senator, who said: “It’s ours. We stole it fair and square.”)

Later presidents wrestled with the promotion of American ideals in an imperfect world. Ronald Reagan castigated the Soviet Union for its failure to protect individual rights. His successor, George H. W. Bush, was a foreign-policy realist, but still promised a “new world order” based on “peace and security, freedom, and the rule of law.” Despite his wariness about wading into military quagmires, Bill Clinton used force, at least in part, to protect human rights in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. In 1999, he declared: “Where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so”….

(Trump is an autocrat who cares for liberty neither at home nor abroad. He stands outside – and opposed – to America’s political and philosophical commitment to liberty for all.)

Philip Bump reports One of the busiest websites in the U.S. in 2016 regularly linked to Russia propaganda:

By July 2016, according to the analysis site SimilarWeb, Matt Drudge’s link-aggregation site Drudge Report was the second-most-visited on the Internet in the United States. Over the course of the month — the month of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions and the month of the leak of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee — SimilarWeb estimates that Drudge had 1,472,220,000 page views. That’s 1.4 billion, the equivalent of 47 views of the Drudge Report every second of every minute that month.

Being the second-most-visited site, incidentally, means that Drudge had more page views than Yahoo, Disney (including ABC and ESPN) and Time Warner. It had more than the New York Times and The Washington Post, combined — with enough space left over to also outpace Hearst….

DrudgeReportArchives captures an image of the Drudge Report every two minutes, as it has for 16 years. We ran a script that checked the first update to Drudge Report after 9 a.m. on every day of the past decade, counting the number of times Drudge linked to Infowars, RT or Sputnik. Over that period, excluding the two standing links to Infowars, we tallied more than 1,000 links to those sites.

Drudge started linking to Infowars in 2010. His first link to RT was that same year. Sputnik News wasn’t created until November 2014; Drudge’s first link to that site came later that month….

(Matt Drudge battens on the ignorance of readers who think Sputnik is actual journalism. There’s a term for those readers: they’re called Trump supporters)

There are ‘healthful’ breakfast foods with more sugar than a donut:

Daily Bread for 11.14.17

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be cloudy with a high of forty-three. Sunrise is 6:46 AM and sunset 4:31 PM, for 9h 45m 00s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 14.2% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred seventieth day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

On this day in 1851, Moby-Dick is published in the United States.On this day in 1861, Frederick Jackson Turner is born in Portage.

Recommended for reading in full —

Julia Ioffe reports The Secret Correspondence Between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks (“The transparency organization asked the president’s son for his cooperation—in sharing its work, in contesting the results of the election, and in arranging for Julian Assange to be Australia’s ambassador to the United States”):

Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)

The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”

The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States….

(WikiLeaks: a tool of Putin in the service of Trump’s campaign.)

Matt Zapotosky reports Sessions considering second special counsel to investigate Republican concerns, letter shows:

The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.

The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.

In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel”….

(Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare ponders this news, and concludes it may portend either political prosections or simply a bureaucratic method of avoiding a political prosecution. See a Twitter thread where Wittes offers his analysis.)

Nicholas Fandos writes What to Watch For as Jeff Sessions Testifies About Russia Contacts:

….Mr. Sessions has twice told lawmakers under oath that as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign, he did not communicate with Russians to aid Mr. Trump’s candidacy, nor did he know of other members of the campaign who had.

His challenge on Tuesday will be to try to square those comments with recent revelations that at least one member of the campaign’s foreign policy council, which Mr. Sessions led, and another foreign policy adviser, had informed Mr. Sessions about their discussions with Russians at the time.

Mr. Sessions has already had his statements undercut once. After telling senators at his confirmation hearing in January that he had not had any contacts with Russians, it was revealed that Mr. Sessions held multiple meetings with a Russian ambassador during the campaign.

Now, Mr. Sessions must contend with comments he made last month, in another hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did,” Mr. Sessions told senators when asked whether he believed members of the campaign had communicated with Russians.

Democrats on the committee put Mr. Sessions on alert in a letter last week, saying that they would want clarification on “inconsistencies” between those statements and those of the two campaign advisers, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, who have acknowledged having contact with Russians….

Eliot Higgins reports The Russian Ministry of Defence Publishes Screenshots of Computer Games as Evidence of US Collusion with ISIS:

On the morning of November 14th 2017 the Russian Ministry of Defence published multiple posts in Russian, Arabic, and English on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, claiming to show “irrefutable evidence” of collusion between the US and ISIS combat units:

Unfortunately for the Russian MoD, eagle-eyed Twitter users immediately spotted some problems with the images. One image claimed to show an ISIS convoy leaving Abu Kamel on November 9th, 2017:

What this in fact showed was a cropped screenshot from the mobile phone game AC-130 Gunship Simulator, specifically a screenshot from a promo video for the game:

A side by side comparison of the Russian MoD image and the mobile phone game screenshot shows they are identical, with even part of the text from the promo video reading “DEVELOPMENT FOOTAGE. THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. ALL CONTENT SUBJECT TO CHANGE.” visible in the cropped image used by the Russian MoD as their “irrefutable evidence”….

(If you’ve not had a chance to visit Higgins’s Bellingcat website – with some of the best online digital forensics available anywhere – there’s no better time than now.)

One has to be careful not to Get Lost in a Giant Bamboo Labyrinth:

Film: Tuesday, November 14th, 12:30 PM @ Seniors in the Park: Baby Driver

This Tuesday, November 14th at 12:30 PM, there will be a showing of Baby Driver @ Seniors in the Park, in the Starin community building.

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail. Baby Driver is “part heist/car chase/romance/music video.”

Edgar Wright directs the one hour, fifty-two minute film, starring Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, and Jon Hamm. The film carries an R rating from the MPAA.

One can find more information about Baby Driver at the Internet Movie Database.

Enjoy.

Daily Bread for 11.13.17

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be partly cloudy with a high of forty-three. Sunrise is 6:45 AM and sunset 4:32 PM, for 9h 47m 10sm of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 23.1% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred sixty-ninth day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

Recommended for reading in full —

Craig Gilbert writes Rural Wisconsin voters swung for Trump and change, but found frustration:

Richland Center – It was just over a year ago that this rural battleground region swung hard for Donald Trump in a clamor for political change.

But today that frustration with politics appears undiminished by his election and is aimed in all directions — including Trump’s.

“We’re wasting so much time,” said Trump voter Robin DeFabbio, interviewed at Kelly’s Coffee House here.

She’d like Trump’s staff to take his Twitter account away.

“He’s like a very bad child,” she said, “that I’m glad I didn’t raise”….

(See also Rural America Turns Against Trump.)

Rob Glaser asks How Many Prongs in Mueller’s Investigation of Trump-Russia?:

How many strands are there to the Trump-Russia investigation?

Here are 5 strands that we know are under investigation as of today:

Manafort/Gates: The investigation and indictment of Manafort and Gates for myriad financial and other crimes related to actions they hid and lied about in support of Russia and Russian-controlled political groups;

Papadopolous: The indictment and guilty plea of George Papadopolous for lying to investigators about his contacts with Russia;

Flynn: The investigation and impending indictment of Mike Flynn for myriad crimes related to actions he hid and lied about in support of Russia and Russian-controlled political groups (and other countries such as Turkey);

Comey: The firing of James Comey while he was attempting to investigate the Trump-Russia connection; and

Russian Hacking into politically relevant troves of documents (DNC, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager), the release of those documents, and other types of interference in the 2016 Presidential Election….

Evelyn Farkas writes With Manafort, It Really Is About Russia, Not Ukraine:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, insists that indictments against Paul Manafort and Richard Gates have “nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity.” Administration officials dismiss the alleged criminal activity by Mr. Manafort, formerly President Trump’s campaign chairman, as being merely about money-laundering and Ukraine — but not Russia, the focus of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

But Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine, which began in 2006, has always in a real sense been about Russia — and may also have been about the campaign.

Mr. Manafort didn’t go to Ukraine to advance the interests of democracy, Western Europe or the United States. He was there to help an increasingly corrupt Russia-friendly politician, who became a Kremlin puppet during the time Mr. Manafort worked for him. In the context of the standoff between democracy and autocracy, his legal and potentially illicit activities demonstrate that he ultimately took a side….

Tim Alberta reports on The Education of Betsy DeVos:

“She can talk about bureaucracy and how constraining it is for her, but a Republican-controlled Congress rejected her budget proposals. She can’t fill her senior staff slots. Morale is terrible at the department,” says Thomas Toch, the director of FutureEd, an independent education think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “And I’ll tell you, in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long. And for my money, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if she left. I think she’s been probably one of the most ineffective people to ever hold the job.”

That assessment was somewhat harsher than those I heard from a handful of department employees. They were startled by DeVos’ nomination and remain uninspired by her command of internal processes. Yet the response to most questions about the department’s vitality is a collective shrug—the implication being that DeVos has realized she can only do so much, and has shown neither the appetite nor the ability to do more.

What were the biggest volcano eruptions in recorded history?

Daily Bread for 11.12.17

Good morning.

Sunday in Whitewater will see a mix of rain & snow in the morning, with a high of thirty-eight. Sunrise is 6:44 AM and sunset 4:33 PM, for 9h 49m 24s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 32.2% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred sixty-eighth day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

On this day in 1942, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (part of the larger Guadalcanal campaign) begins: “In the resulting battle, both sides lost numerous warships in two extremely destructive surface engagements at night. Nevertheless, the U.S. succeeded in turning back attempts by the Japanese to bombard Henderson Field with battleships. Allied aircraft also sank most of the Japanese troop transports and prevented the majority of the Japanese troops and equipment from reaching Guadalcanal. Thus, the battle turned back Japan’s last major attempt to dislodge Allied forces from Guadalcanal and nearby Tulagi, resulting in a strategic victory for the U.S. and its allies and deciding the ultimate outcome of the Guadalcanal campaign in their favor.”

On this day in 1863, the 33rd Wisconsin Infantry leaves for the South: “It would go on to serve in Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana. It participated in the sieges of Jackson and Vicksburg, the Red River Expedition, the Battle of Nashville, the siege of Spanish Fort and the capture of Fort Blakely. It would lose 202 men during service. Three officers and 30 enlisted men were killed. Two officers and 167 enlisted men died from disease.”

Recommended for reading in full —

David Frum observes These Are Not The Actions of an Innocent Man (“Trump’s after-the-fact complicity in Russia’s election meddling is abundantly clear”):

“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that.”—Donald Trump on Vladimir Putin, en route to Hanoi, November 11, 2017.

So, to put it bluntly: At this point in the proceedings, there can be no innocent explanation for Donald Trump’s rejection of the truth about Russian meddling in last year’s elections. Earlier, it may have been suggested, sympathetically, that the case had not yet been proven. That Trump’s vanity blocked him from acknowledging embarrassing facts. Or—more hopefully—that he was inspired by some Kissingerian grand design for a diplomatic breakthrough. Or that he was lazy. Or stubborn. Or uninformed. Or something, anything, other than … complicit. Not anymore.

As yet, it remains unproven whether Trump himself was personally complicit in Putin’s attack on U.S. democracy as it happened during last year’s presidential campaign. What is becoming ever-more undeniable is Trump’s complicity in the attack after the fact—and his willingness to smash the intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies in order to protect Putin, Russia, and evidently himself….

Sarah Kendzior asks Voter ID laws, hackers, gerrymandering – just how much can a democracy take?:

On July 3, a group of Georgia voters filed a lawsuit against state officials following the discovery that their voting machines were deeply vulnerable to hackers and had possibly been breached.

This information was not news to the sued officials: a cybersecurity expert had discovered and reported breaches in August 2016, and even more vulnerabilities were reported in March 2017 – but nothing was done to fix them. Instead, elections were held in Georgia with ostensibly faulty equipment, making the results of both the November 2016 election and a high-profile special congressional election in June 2017 questionable.

Were Georgia’s elections compromised?

We will never know, because on July 7, 2017, a computer server critical to the lawsuit was destroyed. It’s not clear who ordered the data wipe, but it occurred on the watch of Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a defendant in the lawsuit and a Republican running for governor in 2018. And it makes any forensic investigation of the machines now impossible.

The Georgia election server attack barely made the news – distracted as we were by nuclear threats, treasonous officials, and neo-Nazi rallies – but this quiet scandal is both a devastating reminder of unanswered questions about the 2016 election and a harbinger of threats to come….

Rebecca Ruiz reports Antidoping Officials Obtain Trove of Russian Lab Data:

The World Anti-Doping Agency, the global regulator of drugs in sports, said Friday it had obtained a digital trove of information that could greatly expand revelations about Russia’s state-sponsored doping program. The massive scheme has corrupted the results of several Olympics and has imperiled the country’s eligibility for the coming Winter Games in South Korea.

The agency said that its investigations department had been in possession since late October of an electronic file that was long considered a final piece of the puzzle revealing the contours of the doping system. The agency said in a news release that it was confident that the file contained “all testing data” from January 2012 to August 2015 — thousands of drug screenings run on Russian athletes.

“This evidence could be another mother lode and potentially open a new dimension to the gravity of the fraud perpetrated by the Russia doping conspiracy,” Travis T. Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said Friday. “Clean athletes expect and deserve justice and the whole truth being brought to light.”

The database, which the Russian authorities were unwilling to share with antidoping investigators, arrived through a whistle-blower, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity….

For an excellent documentary on sports doping under Putin, there’s Icarus from Netflix:

James Gorman reports Lab Chimps Are Moving to Sanctuaries — Slowly:

Bo, the leader of his group, looks around his new home. Bo and his companions were lucky to have been kept together in a group that proved to be stable and friendly. Credit Melissa Golden for The New York Times.

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. — On the 16-hour ride from Louisiana, Bo looked out the window, took in the scenery, dozed and relaxed.He was traveling with five other male chimps from the New Iberia Research Center in Lafayette, La., where they had been members of a colony of nearly 200 animals kept for biomedical and other research.

During the ride, some of the other chimps hooted, restless and unsettled. Not Bo. “He’s the best,” said the driver of the truck.

The animals arrived at Project Chimps, a sanctuary at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 100 miles north of Atlanta, at 6:30 a.m. one day last spring. As the sanctuary staff began to open the truck and move the chimps’ cages inside the facility, the occupants hooted and screamed, anxious and uncertain about what was going on….

Currently, about 547 chimps are still held at research institutions, according to ChimpCARE, a site that tracks all chimps in the United States. Some of them are owned or supported by the N.I.H., and some are owned by research institutes like New Iberia, which is part of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

All the government chimps are headed to Chimp Haven, a sanctuary in Keithville, La., where they will have a full social life and room to roam outdoors.

Some critics say the process has been unnecessarily slow, but both Chimp Haven and the N.I.H. say transfers are moving more quickly now. The sanctuary has accepted 14 chimps in the past two months and is expecting more before the end of the year.

Chimp Haven, with a staff of 50, more than 200 chimps and a 30-year history, has had a lot of experience caring for retired chimps. They are kept in mixed groups of various sizes and their social interactions monitored….

Great Big Story tells of Making South Korea’s Secret Sauce:

In Korea, the secret sauce has long been gochujang. From kimchi to bibimbap to Korean BBQ, gochujang is a favorite among chefs everywhere, and is poised to soon become as big as Sriracha. In Korea, no one makes it better than Seo Youngsoon. She’s been stirring up the stuff for the past 40 years, using traditional techniques passed down from generation to generation. By teaching others how to make the sauce using traditional methods, she is helping preserve a recipe that epitomizes Korean gastronomy and culture.

Daily Bread for 11.11.17

Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will be cloudy with a high of thirty-eight. Sunrise is 6:43 AM and sunset 4:34 PM, for 9h 51m 39s of daytime. The moon is a waning crescent with 42.5% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred sixty-seventh day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

On this day in 1918, at eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, fighting between the Allies and Germany stopped as those nations reached an armistice. Katie Mettler describes How Veterans Day went from celebrating world peace to thanking armed forces (“The original intent, established in the wake of World War I, was to celebrate world peace. Then the wars never ended, so Veterans Day changed.”). On this day in 1964, the Rolling Stones play at the Milwaukee Auditorium.

Recommended for reading in full — 

Sometimes a monkey vouches for the organ grinder:

Alex Luhn reports US embassy hires security firm of former Russian spy who worked with Putin:

The US embassy in Moscow is to be guarded by a company owned by a former head of KGB counter-intelligence who worked with British double agent Kim Philby and young Vladimir Putin, after cuts to US staff demanded by Russia.

Elite Security Holdings was awarded a $2.83 million contract to provide “local guard services for US mission Russia,” which includes the Moscow embassy and consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, according to a post on a US state procurement website.

The contract and background of the firm came to light in a Kommersant newspaper report on Friday….

(One should ask this question: if somehow the Trump Administration were on the very payroll of the Russian government, what would it be doing that it’s not doing now?)

Leonid Bershidsky contends Putin’s Trolling of the West Is Not Just a Tactic (“Meddling with Western elections looks like a mistake, but it’s part of a grim, lonely long game”):

….The path of the global troll, the global joker, the eternal challenger is a lonely one, though it fits the Russian character and its love of winning as an underdog. Putin appears to get phantom pains where G8 meetings, high-level diplomacy and soulful conversations with Western leaders used to be.

His circle is by now resigned that any Western assets they might own are threatened, but, as Russia settles into its new role, the billionaires and managers who remember Putin’s previous long game get uncomfortable tinges when sanctions are stepped up and old business partners no longer want to drink together. These twinges of regret, as well as the Kremlin’s feverish attempts to maintain a semblance of diplomatic contact, may look to Westerners as signs of remorse and attempts to find a face-saving way out.

They probably aren’t: The evolution of Putin’s views is irreversible, and Russia’s capacity to take pain is constantly underestimated. Putin clearly believes it’s higher than his Western adversaries think, and it’s not clear at this point who’s right.

The best Western response to Putin’s game is to prove that democratic institutions still work, that they still reflect what people want from government, that the West can still be an example and a moral compass to the developing world and eventually to Russians. So far, the U.S. and the U.K. are failing this test. Continental Europe is doing better, although its weaknesses are also there for the world to see. Putin’s strategy is to frame the divisions and failures as an existential crisis, and he’s not necessarily losing — yet….

Mark Galeotti (whose assessment Bershidsky mentions) writes with a contrary view in How Putin could yet save Britain from Brexit:

….To portray Putin as the masterful geopolitical chess-player has become a familiar cliche. But in recent years, Putin seems to have become increasingly insulated from bad news and critical opinions, and has made serious mistakes as a result. In particular, he and his cronies time and again have shown themselves unable to understand democratic societies, and the resilience that lies beneath the surface of fractiousness and short-termism.

If Putin ever deluded himself that his campaign of hacksdisinformation, covert political donations and other gambits was going to allow him to shape the western political agenda, he ought now to be having second thoughts. Admittedly Russian meddling has managed to worsen existing political and social tensions throughout the west, from playing to an Islamophobic nativism in Europe, to the populist resentments that fuelled the Trump campaign.

Yet to what real advantage? Nato has regained its focus on the challenge from the east and is now spending more on defence. Key European leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are unequivocal about Moscow being a dangerous influence. Investigations, rumours and court cases are boxing in Donald Trump. Even the Brexit vote, which undoubtedly delighteda Kremlin eager to see Europe divided and discordant, now looks open to question….

Tech Insider explains How a ‘firenado’ forms:

On Romney

I promised in comments this week that I’d take a look at old posts that mentioned Mitt Romney. Romney may run for the U.S. Senate from Utah (if Sen. Hatch retires), so he’s still relevant to future political developments.

I’ll list the titles of some old Romney-related posts, with a short summary from them, and evaluate each from this vantage, of late-2017.

(Disclosure: I’m a libertarian, from a libertarian family, although no longer a member of the Libertarian Party itself. I voted for Gary Johnson when Romney ran in 2012.

More generally, there are different kinds of libertarians, just as there are different kinds of conservatives or liberals. I’d be considered a bleeding-heart libertarian, where adherents seek a synthesis of arguments for economic liberty and social justice. Examples of this approach include John Tomsai’s Free Market Fairness, Matt Zwolinski’s essays, or the Bleeding Heart Libertarian blog.  The examples don’t imply complete agreement, yet do accurately present basic tenets.)

Bain’s Not Romney’s Weakness, It’s His Strength, 1.12.2012:

“Predictably, opportunistic GOP rivals want to attack Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital as proof that he’s heartless, greedy, etc. This is unsurprising, as these GOP rivals (except Ron Paul) don’t favor free and voluntary markets, they favor particular businesses (those that contribute to their campaigns, first and foremost)….His work at Bain is probably the best thing Romney has ever done, and surely better than his time as governor of Massachusetts. For that matter, it’s better than any public work either his GOP rivals or Pres. Obama has done.

Why is that? It’s because the market is a place of peaceful, voluntary transactions between parties for mutual benefit. Romney didn’t confiscate anyone’s earnings through taxes, impose regulations on others, or start any wars while he was at Bain Capital. (He made two of those three mistakes while governor, but his rivals can say no better for their time in state or federal office.)”

I’d say this is easily my most controversial opinion about Romney, likely with many (after all, it was other Republican nomination rivals who first criticized Romney over Bain, as my post mentions). Still, I’ll not shy from controversial. The post captures a belief that I still hold strongly, in free and voluntary markets as an alternative to state power. Not perfect, but better than the alternatives, to my mind.

Looking at the reference to Obama, I’d not now say that Romney’s private career was better than Pres. Obama’s public one.  I think I could fairly say that about Romney’s GOP rivals, and now certainly Trump, but it’s a clear overstatement concerning Obama’s full time in office.

One can see, nationally and in this small town, how many big-government conservatives there are, demanding more and more for their favored businesses and associates. There are, it seems, very few small-government conservatives left.

I’d say big government conservatives are like locusts, eating whatever they find, but that would be unfair: I know of no case in which a locust ever stuffed itself into morbid obesity while insisting that business subsidies were an expression of free-market principles.

Does Mitt Romney Really Want to be President of the United States?, 9.18.2012:

About Romney’s remarks to a Boca Raton fundraiser: “Here was Romney in his element, in a money-man’s version of sitting at the end of a bar and philosophizing. That’s not a bad life, and in his investments, Romney’s created many opportunities for himself and others. There’s nothing wrong — there should be nothing wrong — with that pursuit.

It’s not, however, a life suited to politics. America has had many wealthy politicians, but among those of any success, they have all – I truly think all – shown more understanding of ordinary people than Romney shows. Without that understanding and empathy, Romney’s useless to his political party, or any political party. (Reagan and Kemp, for example, deeply believed in the talents of people generally.)

There’s much that’s good about a life spent in the boardroom. Romney should have stayed there.

I’ll stand by this: a preference for private enterprise does not mean a necessary suitability of private men for public life. Not every successful private man or woman is a good fit for a public role. Romney is an incomparably better man than Trump (even considering that to be better than Trump’s no difficult feat). Nonetheless, he wan’t suited for easy movement in public life the way other Republicans (Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan) were.

In any event, Romney’s lack of a personal touch would matter less as a senator than as a presidential candidate or president.

Reason’s Interactive Nanny of the Month: Obama v. Romney, 10.1.2012:

[Quoting approvingly Reason‘s description] So will you vote for the the pro-drug war, pro-smoking ban, pro-health insurance mandate, pro-Patriot Act candidate who supports cracking down on medical marijuana and online poker? Or maybe you’ll pull the lever (well, click the screen) for the pro-drug war, pro-smoking ban, pro-health insurance mandate, pro-Patriot Act candidate who supports cracking down on medical marijuana and online poker.

All this seems quaint now, but quaint only if that term means lacking a sense of how dark our politics would soon become. I’d happily take either Obama or Romney over Trump. Thinking in 2012 that Romney and Obama were more of the same obscured fundamental difference between them, but (far worse) failed to see how much more dangerous our politics would become.

Which Romney for Wisconsin?, 10.4.2012:

Romney doesn’t need to win Wisconsin to help WISGOP candidates, but he needs to bring the race closer than it is now. He’ll only be able to bring the race closer if he presents himself each remaining day as he did in last night’s [note: that is, the first] debate.

An easy prediction, indeed: if Romney kept up a strong performance, likely he would have done himself some lasting good. He didn’t, and he didn’t.

Here we are, five years on, with something far worse before us. As what’s before us is worse, so many have tried to offer better: a Resistance and Opposition suited to these difficult days.

Update, 11.10.17, on Romney – he makes the right call on Roy Moore. Romney’s opinion should be universal; within his party, it’s not. (See The Disorder of (Alabama) Republicans).

 

Daily Bread for 11.10.17

Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will be mostly cloudy with a high of thirty-three. Sunrise is 6:41 AM and sunset 4:35 PM, for 9h 53m 56s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 52.4% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred sixty-sixth day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

On this day in 1871, Stanley finds Livingstone. On this day in 1834, the Wisconsin Territory sees its first sale of public land.

Recommended for reading in full — 

Anna Nemtsova reports How Putin’s Using Hungary to Destroy Europe:

BUDAPEST—Russian President Vladimir Putin has some key allies in the European Union. In some countries, they are outliers, even fringe elements. In some, like France and the Netherlands, they made impressive bids for power before, finally, they failed. But in Hungary, a nation of about 10 million people east of Austria, west of Ukraine, and north of the Balkans, Putin’s soulmate is the prime minister, Viktor Orban.

As with so many Putin allies and apologists (including in the United States) Orban made the fight against immigration a centerpiece of his agenda. And he then went one better by identifying another Hungarian as the personification of evil “liberalism”….

Moscow officials applauded Orban, welcoming the fences Hungary installed on its frontiers to stop refugees, and especially praising Budapest’s criticism of European democracy.

The Kremlin has spent a lot of energy trying to discredit EU policies in the Baltics, in the Balkans, and in Western Europe, but there was no need to convince the Hungarian leader, as Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orban were thinking along the same lines, and Orban has garnered a lot of local backing for his ideas….

Ryan Goodman observes Ability to Charge Flynn Strengthens Case of Obstruction of Justice against Trump:

Special Counsel Bob Mueller has now gathered sufficient evidence to indict Michael Flynn and Flynn’s son, according to NBC News. An indictment of Flynn—and even simply having sufficient evidence to indict him—greatly strengthens the case of obstruction of justice against the President.

Why? Former federal prosecutor and Just Security’s Alex Whiting explained this summer in a piece, “As Collusion Evidence Emerges, Obstruction Allegations Begin to Look More Damaging.” Here’s Professor Whiting’s point:

Despite the old adage that “the cover-up is always worse than the crime,” obstruction charges will be harder to prove if in fact there were no improprieties to hide.

Read Whiting’s article for his full analysis including how prosecutors generally think about tactical choices in such cases. In his piece, Alex focuses more on the “collusion” charges as the potential underlying cover up. But who could have anticipated the avalanche of legal problems that Flynn would face, as outlined in the NBC news story—plus recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris on Flynn’s potential role in seeking Hillary Clinton’s emails from Russians and Harris’s subsequent report that Mueller directly turned his investigation’s attention to Flynn’s potential role in those efforts.

What’s more, as the NBC story explains, an indictment of Flynn would implicate the President more directly….

Andy Kroll writes Ready for Trump TV? Inside Sinclair Broadcasting’s Plot to Take Over Your Local News (“Its mix of terrorism alerts, right-wing commentary, and “classic propaganda” could soon reach three-quarters of US households”):

….After Carson dropped out of the race in March 2016, Sinclair threw its weight behind Trump. A Politico story detailed how Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, speaking in a postelection off-the-record session, described an arrangement where Sinclair had aired interviews with candidate Trump without commentary in exchange for greater access to the campaign. “It’s math,” Kushner reportedly said, boasting about the benefits of reaching Sinclair’s massive audience. While Sinclair says Kushner was describing a standard offer made to both campaigns to conduct extended interviews with local anchors, a Washington Post analysis found that Sinclair stations ran 15 “exclusive” interviews with Trump, 10 with running mate Mike Pence, and 10 more with campaign surrogates. By contrast, the company’s stations aired zero interviews with Hillary Clinton, five with Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton’s pick for vice president, two with Chelsea Clinton, and none with any other top surrogates. According to the Post, Sinclair higher-ups suggested questions with a strongly anti-Clinton bent to local reporters.

Just before the campaign, Sinclair took steps to expand its style of news online. In August 2015, the company bought the name and technology from the remains of a failed San Francisco startup, Circa News. The new venture’s announcement promised an “independent digital news site” for readers who “value raw content, differing perspectives, and personalization.” Circa would produce stories for the web and video segments for Sinclair’s stations.

Sinclair’s pick to run Circa was a former Washington Times editor named John Solomon, who has a conservative slant and a history of writing stories damaging to Democratic politicians. Ten current and former Circa staffers told me that Solomon pitched the new venture as a down-the-middle, nonpartisan news organization: “BuzzFeed with a brain,” is how one remembers Solomon putting it. But as the presidential campaign ramped up, staffers, who asked to remain anonymous because they signed nondisclosure agreements or fear retribution, say Circa adopted a notable rightward tilt and an increasingly hostile stance toward Clinton. Solomon hired a former Republican National Committee spokesman named Raffi Williams to be a political reporter, though he previously had little formal journalism experience. Williams, the son of former NPR reporter turned Fox News pundit Juan Williams, is now a spokesman at Secretary Ben Carson’s Department of Housing and Urban Development….

Bryan Behar writes This is Still America, Dammit:

Let me start with the one piece of good news that’s come out of the first year of the Trump Era. Yes, there is some good news. In fact, there would be two pieces had I had the forethought to invest my life savings in Zantac and brownie mix stock about 9 months ago. Oh well. We still have 3 more years. Or 3 more days. Depending on how moved Robert Mueller is by the evidence. Or this article. But preferably the evidence.

For me, the one piece of news that can almost be characterized as positive is that for the first time in my nearly 52 years, I’ve been forced to think about what it means to be quintessentially American. And what it means for our government to behave in ways that are consistent with our longest-held and most deeply-cherished beliefs and norms. Throughout my life (and I suspect most people’s), the ability to go about our days blindly and complacently, eating pork rinds and drinking Dr. Pepper, without ever needing to think too deeply about the American experiment was a luxury that came from a basic, bipartisan stewardship that was always brought to the Oval Office.

Sure, there have been shifts in policy and philosophy between subsequent administrations. But never have before have I been forced to ask, “is this how we do things in America?” I’ve never had to confront and ponder what makes us distinctly American until I felt that those most fundamental underlying principles were being challenged and threatened from within our own government. Every day. Many times a day. Even sometimes at night. And always on Twitter….

Bosun the French Bulldog sometimes surprises himself:

When you see yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning #?

A post shared by Bosun the Frenchie (@bosunthefrenchie) on

The Disorder of (Alabama) Republicans

At the Washington Post Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites report that Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32:

Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore.

It was early 1979 and Moore — now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat — was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing.

“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’ ” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.”

Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did….

Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star followed up to see what GOP officials in Alabama thought of these allegations. Here’s one of several, all along similar lines —

There they are: men for whom no crime is greater than their party, no injury more important than their ambitions.

Daily Bread for 11.9.17

Good morning.

Thursday in Whitewater will be partly cloudy with a high of thirty-eight. Sunrise is 6:40 AM and sunset 4:36 PM, for 9h 56m 15s of daytime. The moon is a waning gibbous with 64.9% of its visible disk illuminated. Today is the three hundred sixty-fifth day.Days since Trump’s election, with 11.9.16 as the first day.

Whitewater’s Community Involvement and Cable Television Commission is scheduled to meet at 5 PM. Two items on tonight’s agenda tell Whitewater’s tale. Item 2 asks “Approval of August 17th Minutes – October 19th cancelled due to lack of quorum.” When even a community involvement meeting is cancelled for lack of a quorum, one knows all one needs to know about current conditions. Item 5 shows how, even when the commission cannot muster a quorum, some residents will waste time of trivial matters. Item 5 is unintentionally funny: “2nd Discussion of commission name after review of ordinance (Requested by Stewart).”  The name’s not the pressing problem, for goodness’ sake. (It’s not as though the commission is called the Dog-Eating Club, after all. That, admittedly, would be a bad name for a group trying to spur community participation.) Oh, brother: a second discussion of a minor detail explains in part why Whitewater’s aged leadership can’t inspire a new generation to embrace community involvement.

On this day in 1620, the passengers and crew of the Mayflower first see present-day Cape Cod. On this day in 1968, an earthquake shakes Wisconsin: “one of the strongest earthquakes in the central United States occurred in south-central Illinois. Measured at a magnitude of 5.3, press reports from LaCrosse, Milwaukee, Port Washington, Portage, Prairie Du Chien, and Sheboygan indicated that the shock was felt in these cities. [Source: United States Geological Survey]”

Recommended for reading in full —

Denise Clifton reports Putin’s Trolls Used the Texas Church Massacre to Sow More Chaos (“How the Kremlin keeps exploiting Twitter to attack America”):

False information inundated social media after Sunday’s mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Russian trolls were in the thick of it.

Conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich led the way, falsely branding shooter Devin Patrick Kelly as a member of the far-left antifa movement, and the Russian media outlet RT America had the lie posted on Facebook for five hours, according to BuzzFeed. The hashtags #antifa, #sutherlandsprings and #texas were three of the top 10 recorded over the weekend by Hamilton 68, a nonpartisan research project that tracks Russian influencers on Twitter in real time.

Much of last week’s congressional hearings focused on Russia’s interference operations on Facebook during the 2016 election, when Kremlin-planted ads and fraudulent posts reached upwards of 130 million users. But disinformation attacks by Putin’s trolls seeking to sow chaos in American politics have continued apace ever since—and Twitter continues to provide an optimal platform for them, according to researchers….

Pema Levy and Dan Friedman report  3 Times Jeff Sessions Made False Statements to Congress Under Oath (“His denials about Russian contacts don’t match up to new revelations”) [listing here just one of the three occasions from the story]:

Here are the three moments in which Sessions appeared not to tell the truth to the Senate:

1/10/17: At Sessions’ confirmation hearing for his nomination to be attorney general, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Sessions a lengthy question about contacts between Trump campaign surrogates and Kremlin affiliates:

FRANKEN: CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that, quote, “Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say, quote, “There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”

Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

SESSIONS: Sen. Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have—did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.

But Sessions did communicate with the Russians. As detailed by the Washington Post in March, Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (Later, a third meeting with Kislyak came to light.) Further, Sessions may not have been aware of an ongoing stream of communications between Russians and campaign surrogates, but it’s clear from the revelations by Papadopoulos and Page that he knew of at least a few instances —not to mention his own meetings with the Russian ambassador.

Kevin Poulsen reports an Exclusive: Russia Activated Twitter Sleeper Cells for Election Day Blitz:

As U.S. polling places opened last Nov. 8, Russian trolls in St. Petersburg began a final push on Twitter to elect Donald Trump.

They used a combination of high-profile accounts with large and influential followings, and scores of lurking personas established years earlier with stolen photos and fabricated backgrounds. Those sleeper accounts dished out carefully metered tweets and retweets voicing praise for Trump and contempt for his opponent, from the early morning until the last polls closed in the United States.

“VOTE TRUMP to save ourselves from the New World Order. Time to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN,” read one. “Last chance to stop the Queen of Darkness! Vote Trump!” urged another.

The Daily Beast analyzed a dataset of 6.5 million tweets containing election keywords like “Hillary” and “Trump” that was collected over 33 hours last Nov. 7-9 by Baltimore-based data scientist Chris Albon.

The data are not comprehensive—only tweets with one of the keywords were collected, and limitations in Twitter’s API prevent a full capture even of those. But they represent a significant sampling of Election Day Twitter.

By filtering for the 2,752 users identified by Twitter as Russian troll accounts—a list the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released last week—we isolated 80 accounts dishing Election Day agitprop and reconstructed the big finish to Russia’s months-long active measures campaign….

David Alexander reports The Case Of Wilbur Ross’ Phantom $2 Billion:

Fresh off a tour through Thailand, Laos and China, United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr. picked up the phone on a Sunday afternoon in October to discuss something deeply personal: how much money he has. A year earlier, Forbes had listed his net worth at $2.9 billion on The Forbes 400, a number Ross claimed was far too low: He maintained he was closer to $3.7 billion. Now, after examining the financial-disclosure forms he filed after his nomination to President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, which showed less than $700 million in assets, Forbes was intent on removing him entirely.

Ross protested, citing trusts for his family that he said he did not have to disclose in federal filings. “You’re apparently not counting those, which are more than $2 billion,” he said. When asked for documentation, the 79-year-old demurred, citing “privacy issues.” Told that Forbes nonetheless planned to remove him from the list for the first time in 13 years, he responded: “As long as you explain that the reason is that assets were put into trust, I’m fine with that.” And when did he make the transfer that allowed him to not disclose over $2 billion? “Between the election and the nomination.”

So began the mystery of Wilbur Ross’ missing $2 billion. And after one month of digging, Forbes is confident it has found the answer: That money never existed. It seems clear that Ross lied to us, the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with Forbes since 2004. In addition to just padding his ego, Ross’ machinations helped bolster his standing in a way that translated into business opportunities. And based on our interviews with ten former employees at Ross’ private equity firm, WL Ross & Co., who all confirmed parts of the same story line, his penchant for misleading extended to colleagues and investors, resulting in millions of dollars in fines, tens of millions refunded to backers and numerous lawsuits. Additionally, according to six U.S. senators, Ross failed to initially mention 19 suits in response to a questionnaire during his confirmation process….

(Imagine the character flaw that would cause a man worth 700 million to insist falsely that he was worth nearly 3 billion. Wonder if there’s anyone else with that same flaw…)

Filmmaker Victoria Fiore reveals A Toxic, Closed-Off City on the Edge of the World:

Every day for two years, filmmaker Victoria Fiore tried to gain access to a toxic, closed city in Siberia with no ground transportation connections to the rest of the world. Located nearly 250 miles north of the polar circle, Norilsk is home to 177,000 people, many of whom are employed by the world’s largest mining and metallurgy complex, Norilsk Nickel. It spews more than two million tons of gas into the atmosphere per year. As a result, life expectancy in Norilsk is ten years shorter than Russia’s average (and twenty years shorter than that of the U.S.).

After a dozen failed attempts at a visa and multiple trips to Moscow to meet with mining representatives—who were, in turn, holding meetings with the FSB, the successor to the KGB—Fiore was finally granted entry into the industrial wasteland. She was stunned to find that the residents of Norilsk were proud to call it home. Her short documentary, My Deadly Beautiful City, captures what Fiore describes as “the hypnotic mysticism of a city on edge of the world.”

“It is really impossible to emphasize just how otherworldly this place was,” Fiore told The Atlantic. Despite its well-documented health concerns, including rates of cancer two times higher than the rest of Russia, “most people, including the city’s nuns and head doctors, claim that those from Norilsk have better health,” Fiore said. “And this is without mentioning that all nature in a radius almost the size of Germany is dead from severe air pollution. I already knew that the people of Norilsk loved their hometown, but I didn’t expect them to so openly contradict medical findings.”

Making the film caused Fiore to become concerned about the long-term effects of alternative facts. “If we are fed a narrative for long enough,” she said, “it becomes true.”

For more haunting images of life in Norilsk, Fiore recommends Russian photographer Elena Chernyshova’s World Press Photo Award-winning series. This film was originally produced for the New York Times Op-Docs.