Monday, January 16, 2017

Betting Odds and What Experts Say about Trump's Upcoming 4-Year Term

Will Donald Trump Be Impeached Or Resign?

BY BOBBY ILICH, International Business Times

Donald J. Trump is just eight days away from being sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States. Yet even as Inauguration Day draws closer, the billionaire businessman continues to be a lightning rod for controversy as he skirts conventional presidential protocol in a manner that confounds ally and foe alike.

His behavior before and after the November election has led some to joke, or actually believe, that Trump doesn't want to be president, and that he would prefer a return to running his business and promoting his brands. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed Trump, who lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, with just a 37 percent favorable rating, particularly low numbers for an incoming president.

(Continued here.)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Did Trump make a deal with Russian government before the election?

Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele's frustration as FBI sat on Donald Trump Russia file for months

Steele was so concerned by revelations he worked without payment after Trump's election victory in November

Kim Sengupta, Defence Editor, The Independent

Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump’s alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.

Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries.

However, say security sources, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

[…]

In the same month Mr Steele produced a memo, which went to the FBI, stating that Mr Trump’s campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party’s election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.

(The article is here.)

Friday, January 13, 2017

A worrisome sign of what's to come: It ain't normal, folks…

The Arctic sea ice collapse is happening before our eyes

Rafi Letzter, Business Insider
Jan. 10, 2017, 1:36 PM

As 2016 wound down and winter kicked into gear in the Northern Hemisphere, an ominous trend began in the Arctic: sea ice dipped to levels far below normal.

Less of the northern ocean was covered in ice than scientists had ever seen in the satellite record.

The trend began in earnest back in November, when hot air in the far north began cooking the oceans, curbing the formation of ice. Growth sped up a bit in December, so the gap between what satellites saw and what's normal shrank. But the ice cap was still missing enough ice to cover 23 US states, a record-breaking total.

Now it's 2017. New year, same story. The Arctic sea ice is far behind where it should be, and behind anything scientists have ever seen in the Arctic.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Not IF but WHEN

The day after the 2016 election I predicted that Donald Trump would not make it through four years of office. Now I believe it is a 99% chance he will not last the full term.

Richard Nixon was impeached by the House for lying. He resigned before he could be convicted by the Senate. Bill Clinton was impeached by the House for lying. But he survived the full conviction vote in the Senate.

It is clear that Donald Trump thinks nothing of lying. He may be a successful businessman, he may have family that love him, he may have many loyal and competent employees in his many businesses. And no doubt he will have many supporters in Congress, among his soon-to-be Cabinet members and on his White House staff.

But it is clear he has no concept of the truth and little idea or care of how his decisions affect others. This is the textbook definition of psychopathy.

Further, what is becoming more and more known about his personal life and his business dealings will not be accepted by the American people and ultimately Congress.

Whether Donald Trump chooses to resign before impeachment or after impeachment, or whether he will choose to go through the impeachment trial in the Senate is anyone's guess. This we do know, however: that no matter how he exits he will declare it a victory.

It is not a matter of IF but WHEN.

— Leigh Pomeroy

Trump Dossier Spotlights Russian History of ‘Kompromat’

Diplomats, politicians and bureaucrats have been embarrassed by leaks of compromising material

By Nathan Hodge and Thomas Grove, Wall Street Journal
Jan. 11, 2017 4:46 p.m. ET

MOSCOW—The public airing of a dossier Tuesday on President-elect Donald Trump casts a spotlight on Russia’s dark art of kompromat, the practice of collecting compromising material on prominent individuals for the purposes of blackmail.

The dossier is packed with unverified allegations, including a claim that Russian officials obtained evidence of Mr. Trump with prostitutes and kept the information in reserve as potential blackmail.

Mr. Trump has dismissed the reports. “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday. “One last shot at me.”

The Kremlin has denied any link to the dossier, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the reports “pulp fiction,” according to Russian news agencies.

(More here.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

More GOP hypocrisy: Fiscal conservatism takes a back seat

GOP House rules prohibit measuring how repealing Obamacare will affect the federal deficit.

Mankato Free Press Editorial Staff

The Republican majority in the U.S. House took a step backward from fiscal responsibility when it approved rules for the next two years that would prohibit the Congressional Budget Office from estimating the impact on the federal deficit of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The rules were approved by a 234-190 vote, with three Republicans voting with all Democrats against the plan to prohibit the fiscal oversight of repeal. All of Minnesota’s Republican representatives voted to remove the fiscal analysis.

For years, the “Rules of the House of Representatives” required the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to estimate the impact of any legislation that might cost more than $5 billion of the next 40 years, an amount that is miniscule when compared to the $3.5 trillion annual federal budget.

Yet, the latest rules exempt analysis of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The CBO’s analysis done last June shows repealing the affordable care act would increase the federal deficit anywhere from $135 billion to $350 billion over the next 10 years. When the CBO estimated implementation of the act, it determined it would actually reduce the federal deficit due to taxes it would collect and Medicare payments it would corral.

(More here.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dear President-elect Trump, President Obama, Members of the US Congress, and Global Leaders:

We, the undersigned members in the business and investor community of the United States, re-affirm our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy. Cost-effective and innovative solutions can help us achieve these objectives. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness. We pledge to do our part, in our own operations and beyond, to realize the Paris Agreement’s commitment of a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

We call on our elected US leaders to strongly support:
  1. Continuation of low-carbon policies to allow the US to meet or exceed our promised national commitment and to increase our nation’s future ambition
  2. Investment in the low carbon economy at home and abroad in order to give financial decision-makers clarity and boost the confidence of investors worldwide
  3. Continued US participation in the Paris Agreement, in order to provide the long-term direction needed to keep global temperature rise below 2°C
(For more information go to lowcarbonusa.org.)

US businesses: We want the economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy

Donald Trump urged to ditch his climate change denial by 630 major firms who warn it 'puts American prosperity at risk'

Ian Johnston, The Independent

More than 630 companies and investors have called on Donald Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress to continue the move to a low-carbon economy, warning that failing to do so would “put American prosperity at risk”.

The US President-elect has talked about scrapping the United States’ international commitments to tackle global warming, such as the Paris Agreement, dismissed climate change as a hoax, and appointed a string of climate science deniers to senior positions in his administration.

His election has been described as a “very big challenge” to the world’s efforts to address the problem by UK Climate Change Minister Nick Hurd.

In a joint statement, leading companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, General Mills, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Unilever, appealed to Mr Trump to reconsider his apparent views.

(More here.)

Monday, January 09, 2017

A key difference between two presidents

The irreversible momentum of clean energy

Barack Obama, Science magazine

Abstract

Private-sector incentives help drive decoupling of emissions and economic growth.

The release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) due to human activity is increasing global average surface air temperatures, disrupting weather patterns, and acidifying the ocean (1). Left unchecked, the continued growth of GHG emissions could cause global average temperatures to increase by another 4°C or more by 2100 and by 1.5 to 2 times as much in many midcontinent and far northern locations (1). Although our understanding of the impacts of climate change is increasingly and disturbingly clear, there is still debate about the proper course for U.S. policy—a debate that is very much on display during the current presidential transition. But putting near-term politics aside, the mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean-energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue and that the economic opportunity for our country to harness that trend will only grow. This Policy Forum will focus on the four reasons I believe the trend toward clean energy is irreversible.

(The article is here.)

Will a crucial ocean current shut down?

The Atlantic Ocean and an Actual Debate in Climate Science

ROBINSON MEYER
JAN 7, 2017, The Atlantic

[…]

About 30 years ago, climate researchers became concerned that AMOC [Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a.k.a. the Gulf Stream] could suddenly shut down as a result of anthropogenic climate change. The “paleoclimatic record”—that is, what the planet’s geology and fossil record reveal of previous global climates—showed that the AMOC has rapidly collapsed in the past. “Rapidly” here means “within the span of a human lifetime.”

[…]

This week, the consensus on AMOC was challenged again. A team of researchers have showed in Science Advances that a popularly used climate model may significantly overestimate the stability of AMOC. Once you account for this bias, AMOC proves much more likely to collapse, they argue. And this collapse could happen without any freshwater injection from Greenland.

In other words, they show that the stress of global warming can push AMOC into collapse all by itself in at least one model. Freshwater doesn’t need to pour in from Greenland for AMOC to fall apart; simply increasing the temperature of the ocean can do it.

(The article is here.)

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Definite proof that man-made climate change is not happening!

The crack in this Antarctic ice shelf just grew by 11 miles. A dramatic break could be imminent.

By Chris Mooney
Washington Post, January 6 at 4:30 PM

An enormous rift in one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves grew dramatically over the past month, and a chunk nearly the size of Delaware could break away as soon as later this winter, British scientists reported this week.

If this happens, it could accelerate a further breakup of the ice shelf, essentially removing a massive cork of ice that keeps some of Antarctica’s glaciers from flowing into the ocean. The long term result, scientists project, could be to noticeably raise global sea levels by 10 centimeters, or almost four inches.

It’s the latest sign of major ice loss in the fast warming Antarctic Peninsula, which has already seen the breakup of two other shelves in the same region, events that have been widely attributed to climate change.

The crack in the ice shelf, known as Larsen C, has been growing at an accelerating rate. Since the beginning of December, it has grown about 11 miles in length, after extending 13 miles earlier in the year. In total, the rift has grown about 50 miles since 2011 (it’s almost 100 miles long in total), and has widened to well over 1,000 feet. Now, only 12 miles of ice continue to connect the chunk with the rest of the ice shelf.

(Continued here.)

Friday, January 06, 2017

Trump hasn't drained the swamp; he's only adding to it

by Tom Maertens, Vox Verax co-editor

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11.

One of Donald Trump’s regular refrains on the campaign trail was that he would “drain the swamp” — eliminate the corrupting influence of lobbyists and money in politics.

The votes had barely been counted when Trump’s children wandered into the swamp, attempting to sell access to their father for a million dollars a pop, another Trump-style “charity.” Trump’s son Eric planned to auction off coffee with his sister, Ivanka, and offered a hunting trip with his brother, Donald Jr., for “only” $500,000.

Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has opened a lobbying office with another ex-campaign worker in the same building as Trump’s transition team. Politico reported that they already brokered Trump’s meeting with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

Is there any doubt they are selling access to Trump?

Trump has stocked his cabinet with top donors, so far including five billionaires and six other people worth tens or hundreds of millions who used their resources to get special favors from Trump. According to Sen. Bernie Sanders, 17 of Trump’s appointees have more money than the bottom 43 million American households combined.

That includes billionaire investor Carl Icahn as a special adviser on regulation. Icahn already had a hand in picking Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt is pro-Big Oil and has sued the EPA repeatedly for its efforts to stop air and water pollution, positions likely to benefit the oil refineries Icahn owns.

Wilbur Ross, a billionaire named to head the Commerce Department, made his fortune buying and dismantling distressed industrial corporations. This guy is going to save manufacturing jobs?

Betsy DeVos, a billionaire nominated to head the Department of Education, is opposed to public schools; she was a leading proponent of charter schools in Michigan.

Andrew F. Puzder, another billionaire, chosen for secretary of labor, is a fast-food executive who was fined for failing to pay overtime and who opposes raising the minimum wage.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson was chosen as secretary of state after a career spent supporting fossil fuel. He has long-time connections with Russia, and recent revelations from the secret Panama papers show he was a director of one of Putin’s shadow corporations.

Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee as Treasury secretary and a former Goldman Sachs executive, was part owner of IndyMac bank which foreclosed on 36,000 homeowners during the housing crisis despite receiving $900 million in federal bailout money. Additionally, Bloomberg is reporting that the bank is being investigated for possible fraud because of a $230 million hole in its balance sheet.

Another Trump appointee is Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) selected to run Health and Human Services. The WSJ has documented dozens of stock trades Price made in the last four years in 40 health-related companies, while sitting on several committees that shape health care policy, including chairing the House Budget Committee.

Price sponsored nine bills and co-sponsored 35 others that could potentially affect the value of his stocks. A 2012 law — Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act — bars members from using non-public information for personal benefit. Five thousand doctors signed a petition opposing his nomination.

Among Trump’s other appointees are conspiracy theorists such as Steve Bannon, his chief of staff, who is the leader of the racist, white-supremacist website, Breitbart.com, and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security adviser, who claimed in an on-line post that the New York Police Department had evidence linking Hillary Clinton to “sex crimes with minors.” “U decide,” Flynn wrote, calling the post a “must-read.”

Flynn also claimed that Islamists infiltrated across the Mexican border en masse, guided by Arabic-language signs Flynn claimed to have seen himself.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Trump’s pick for interior secretary, told voters in 2014 that Clinton was the real enemy, “the Antichrist.”

The biggest problem is Donald Trump himself who is temperamentally unsuited to be president. His attention span is limited to 140-characters, usually chest-thumping, messages: in one week, he tweeted a nuclear arms race challenge to Putin, threatened a trade war with China, and attempted to intrude into a U.N. vote on Israeli settlements.

He is so desperate for adulation that he looks ready to abandon NATO allies and national interests for some praise from Putin.

Equally problematic, as the New York Times has written editorially, “Trump lies the way other people breathe.”

As Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said: “We have an incoming president who has kind of the maturity of a 5-year-old, warped by a massive ego.”

Thursday, January 05, 2017

As the U.S. government moves into denial, the science says otherwise

Earth's Oceans Are Steadily Warming

ROBINSON MEYER, JAN 4, 2017, The Atlantic

It’s sometimes said that modern science spends too much time on the documentation of a new trend and too little time on the replication of old ones. A new paper published Wednesday in the open-access journal Science Advances is important just because it does the latter. In fact, it sheds light on the scientific process in action—and also reveals how climate-change denialists can muddy that process.

Here’s the big takeaway from the new study: Across the planet, the ocean surface has been warming at a relatively steady clip over the past 50 years.

This warming trend shows up whether the ocean is measured by buoy, by satellite, or by autonomous floating drone. It also shows up in the global temperature dataset created and maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In fact, the warming shows up in both datasets in essentially the same way. This is important because it confirms the integrity of the NOAA dataset — and adds further evidence to the argument that ocean temperatures have steadily warmed this century without a significant slowdown.

(More here.)

How a KGB Assassin Used the Death of His Child to Defect

Bogdan Stashinsky was forced to work for the KGB against his will and became one of the most wanted assassins in the world. This is the story of how he put it all on the line to escape.

By Serhii Plokhii, Poltico.com
January 05, 2017

Shortly before 5:00 a.m. on August 10, 1961, Bogdan Stashinsky was waiting near his apartment building in Moscow to be picked up by his case officer, Yurii Aleksandrov. Before leaving, he put his household effects in order and destroyed the list of code phrases that he and his wife Inge had used in their correspondence over the past six months, he in Moscow where the KGB kept an eye on him and she in East Berlin where she had gone to have their newborn son. The only incriminating evidence remaining was what he carried on him—the identification papers and documents, issued in the names of his numerous aliases that he was taking to Berlin against the orders of his case officer. If they were discovered, the KGB would have no doubt about his real intentions.

He was risking his life to escape the suffocating embrace of the KGB, the ultra-secretive Soviet spy agency that had ensnared him when he was 19 years old and made him one of the highest-profile assassins in the world.

The story of Stashinsky’s defection from the KGB—which has never before been told in such detail—started when he fell in love with Inge Pohl, an East German woman, in the spring of 1957. A son of Ukrainian patriots, and forced to spy on the anti-Soviet underground under the threat that his entire family would be arrested for helping the nationalist underground, he was now in his seventh year of working for the Russian security agency. In the fall of 1957, he had ambushed the editor of a Ukrainian émigré newspaper on the stairs of a Munich office building and killed him with a top secret spray gun that fired cyanide. Two years later, in October 1959 he scored an even bigger success, assassinating the top leader of the Ukrainian resistance hiding in Munich, Stepan Bandera, in the same way. He had told Inge nothing about his work for the KGB.

(More here.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Stop calling the Syrian conflict a ‘civil war.’ It’s not.

Residents of Aleppo, Syria, flee advancing government troops on Dec. 13, 2016 (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Doing so gives the Assad regime a veneer of legitimacy and has serious impact on international accountability.

By Hanin Ghaddar December 14, 2016, WashPost

Hanin Ghaddar is the inaugural Friedmann Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute.

In the past five years, Syria has become many things: a refugee crisis, a regional quagmire, a western nightmare, a terrorist haven, a Russian power play and the core of Iran’s ambitions. To the international community, however, it’s a civil war. The United Nations, Western governments, media and European Union all refer to the Syrian conflict this way. In December 2015, Secretary of State John F. Kerry emphasized the need to “end the nation’s civil war.” In September this year, the New York Times published a long explainer on the conflict, answering, among other questions, “What is the Syrian civil war?”

These simplifications are inaccurate and dangerous. They absolve the international community of responsibility, and give Bashar al-Assad a veneer of legitimacy. They liberate Russia and Iran — actively involved with troops in the conflict — from culpability. And they allow internal terrorist groups to justify their involvement and violence.

There is no doubt that civil war is one of the many layers of the Syrian conflict. Local factions are fighting each other. In truth though, this is a war on the people of Syria, carried out by the Assad regime and his allies.

(More here.)

How some Republicans learned to stop worrying and love Julian Assange

By Aaron Blake January 4 at 12:10 PM, WashPost

Sean Hannity once said that Julian Assange was waging “war” on the United States and should be arrested. Sarah Palin once said he had “blood on his hands.”

That was then. Today, both Hannity and Palin think Assange's document-leaking website, WikiLeaks, is doing the Lord's work. Apparently, something has changed.

And they're not alone. Increasingly, members of a Republican Party that once denounced Assange for exposing U.S. military secrets are praising him for leaking the Democratic Party's secrets. Even President-elect Donald Trump is now citing Assange as an authority.

After Assange leaked U.S. diplomatic cables — some of them containing sensitive information — Hannity in 2010 wondered aloud how the Obama administration hadn't brought him to justice, and accused Assange of putting the lives of American allies “at risk.”

(More here.)

A digital form of scientific book burning

Wisconsin censors climate science on its DNR website

Paul Huttner January 3, 2017, Minnesota Public Radio

Recently the State of Wisconsin scrubbed climate change-related information on a Department of Natural Resources website. The changes delete accepted climate science, and remove reference to human-caused climate change and effects in the Great Lakes.

The revised Wisconsin DNR website scrubs reference to “human activities” as a cause of climate change. It also removes reference to climate change causes and effects. The revised page specifically removes the words “climate change” and “climate” from the DNR website. They also removed several climate related links.

[…]

The Wisconsin DNR’s website assertion that the reasons for climate change in Wisconsin are “being debated” is ludicrous. That statement is provably false with scientific certainty. The National Climate Assessment and numerous other sources document human-caused climate change in Wisconsin, the Midwest, and the USA.

In fact, Wisconsin is among the fastest warming states in the USA, according this Climate Central report.

[…]

The intentional removal by the Wisconsin DNR of thoroughly researched, tested and accepted climate science is disturbing. To this meteorologist it looks a lot like a digital form of scientific book burning.

(The article is here.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Another point of view on the purported Russian hacking

U.S. Intelligence Got the Wrong Cyber Bear

Bloomberg View
JAN 2, 2017 11:58 AM EST
By Leonid Bershidsky

Leonid Bershidsky is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.

The "Russian hacking" story in the U.S. has gone too far. That it's not based on any solid public evidence, and that reports of it are often so overblown as to miss the mark, is only a problem to those who worry about disinformation campaigns, propaganda and journalistic standards -- a small segment of the general public. But the recent U.S. government report that purports to substantiate technical details of recent hacks by Russian intelligence is off the mark and has the potential to do real damage to far more people and organizations.

The joint report by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a catchy name for "Russian malicious cyber activity" -- Grizzly Steppe -- and creates infinite opportunities for false flag operations that the U.S. government all but promises to attribute to Russia.

The report's goal is not to provide evidence of, say, Russian tampering with the U.S. presidential election, but ostensibly to enable U.S. organizations to detect Russian cyber-intelligence efforts and report incidents related to it to the U.S. government. It's supposed to tell network administrators what to look for. To that end, the report contains a specific YARA rule -- a bit of code used for identifying a malware sample. The rule identifies software called the PAS Tool PHP Web Kit. Some inquisitive security researchers have googled the kit and found it easy to download from the profexer.name website. It was no longer available on Monday, but researchers at Feejit, the developer of WordPress security plugin Wordfence, took some screenshots of the site, which proudly declared the product was made in Ukraine.

(Continued here.)

The future of energy is in the future, not in the past

Understand the Energy Department Before Closing It

DEC 30, 2016 7:30 AM EST
By Noah Smith, Bloomberg View

When you hear the name “Rick Perry,” you might recall that time during the 2012 Republican presidential primary race where he forgot the name of a government agency he wanted to eliminate. After saying he wanted to ax the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education, he blanked on the third. Later in the debate, he said that his forgotten target for destruction was the Department of Energy.

A responsible leader doesn’t forget the name of a government agency that he wants to shut down. A responsible leader studies the department in detail, learning all of the things that it does, and thinks about how things would change if the department were abolished. And so for Perry, that “oops” moment was enough to persuade voters that he lacked the firm grasp of the facts needed in a presidential candidate. He soon abandoned the race.

But it seems like in the Republican Party of 2016, leaders are not rewarded for being responsible and informed. Instead, the party’s leaders are rewarded for finding new targets, justified or not, for the outrage of their voter base.

(More here.)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Israel should not tell the U.S. what to do

Bibi Netanyahu Makes Trump His Chump

Thomas L. Friedman — DEC. 28, 2016
New York Times

[LP note: Friedman's latest book, Thank You for Being Late, for anyone who wants to know what's really going on in the world today — no, not just political stuff but technology and, indeed, the future. Anytime I can read a book and learn something, I'm impressed. I'm just a quarter thru Thank You, and already I'm very impressed.]
For those of you confused over the latest fight between President Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, let me make it simple: Barack Obama and John Kerry admire and want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. I have covered this issue my entire adult life and have never met two U.S. leaders more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy.
[Key point:]
President-elect Donald Trump — who could be a fresh change agent — is letting himself get totally manipulated by right-wing extremists, and I mean extreme. His ambassador-designate to Israel, David Friedman, has compared Jews who favor a two-state solution to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis. I’ve never heard such a vile slur from one Jew to another.
(More here.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Scientists to Trump and the GOP: Respect Science

An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump and the 115th Congress

Thousands of scientists have joined in an open letter calling on the incoming Trump administration and 115th Congress to ensure that science continues to play a strong role in protecting public health and well-being.

The letter, whose signers include 22 Nobel Prize winners, asks the Trump administration and Congress to take action in four areas: creating "a strong and open culture of science"; ensuring that public safeguards such as the Clean Air Act remain strongly grounded in science; adhering to high standards of scientific integrity and independence; and providing adequate resources to enable federal scientists to do their vitally important jobs.

(More here.)

Will a GOP presidency sink the economy again?

Bad News for America’s Workers

by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Joseph E. Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001 and the John Bates Clark Medal in 1979, is University Professor at Columbia University, Co-Chair of the High-Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress at the OECD, and Chief Economist of the Roosevelt Institute.

NEW YORK – As US President-elect Donald Trump fills his cabinet, what have we learned about the likely direction and impact of his administration’s economic policy?

To be sure, enormous uncertainties remain. As in many other areas, Trump’s promises and statements on economic policy have been inconsistent. While he routinely accuses others of lying, many of his economic assertions and promises – indeed, his entire view of governance – seem worthy of Nazi Germany’s “big lie” propagandists.

Trump will take charge of an economy on a strongly upward trend, with third-quarter GDP growing at an impressive annual rate of 3.2% and unemployment at 4.6% in November. By contrast, when President Barack Obama took over in 2009, he inherited from George W. Bush an economy sinking into a deep recession. And, like Bush, Trump is yet another Republican president who will assume office despite losing the popular vote, only to pretend that he has a mandate to undertake extremist policies.

The only way Trump will square his promises of higher infrastructure and defense spending with large tax cuts and deficit reduction is a heavy dose of what used to be called voodoo economics. Decades of “cutting the fat” in government has left little to cut: federal government employment as a percentage of the population is lower today than it was in the era of small government under President Ronald Reagan some 30 years ago.

(Continued here.)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Russian Fights for Stalin’s Victims

[LP note: I'm currently reading Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and other writings. That history is behind us, but what's scary is that it could pop up again anytime — and in fact still does, albeit on a smaller scale. Solzhenitsyn writes about the motivations of the Bluecaps, the state interrogators, whose job it was to carry out orders to imprison and torture those whom the state determined to be treasonous or, in the least, troublesome. Solzhenitsyn posits: How could they do what they did to their fellow citizens?]

Nearly 80 years ago, Joseph Stalin’s secret police shot the great-grandfather of Denis Karagodin. Now he has shaken Russia with a landmark investigation

By James Marson, WSJ
Dec. 16, 2016 9:00 a.m. ET

Denis Karagodin is unearthing some uncomfortable truths buried for decades in a trash-strewn ravine on the outskirts of the Siberian town of Tomsk.

Nearly 80 years ago, Joseph Stalin’s secret police shot his great-grandfather Stepan and dumped the body here. Now Mr. Karagodin has shaken Russia with a landmark investigation that he says has unmasked all those involved in the killing.

“They buried him here and thought the story was over,” says Mr. Karagodin, a fast-talking 34-year-old who shares the intense eyes that stare out from photographs of his great-grandfather. Stepan was a victim of the Soviet dictator’s Great Terror against so-called enemies of the people. He had been charged with spying for Japan, but in 1955, after Stalin’s death, Stepan’s name was cleared. “With that, they thought that the matter was settled,” said Mr. Karagodin. “I wanted to show that it wasn’t.”

He spent five years tracking down documents in the archives of the security service and other state agencies. His research allowed him to piece together a chain of orders that incriminate, he says, some 30 people, from Stalin right down to the three alleged executioners.

The investigation broke new ground in Russia, where the state—led for 17 years by the ex-KGB colonel Vladimir Putin—largely glosses over the crimes of the Stalin era. The Kremlin venerates the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II and the industrialization that took place under Stalin; it largely ignores the many millions who were killed or exiled for ideological reasons during his reign.

(More here.)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The U.S.S.R. Fell … and the World Fell Asleep

Twenty-five years after the Soviet Union ceased to exist, plenty of repressive regimes live on. Today, the free world no longer cares.

By Garry Kasparov, WSJ
Updated Dec. 16, 2016 6:56 p.m. ET

A quarter-century ago, on Dec. 25, 1991, as the last Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev, resigned after a final attempt to keep the Communist state alive, I was so optimistic for the future. That year and the years leading up to that moment were a period when anything felt possible. The ideals of freedom and democracy seemed within the reach of the people of the Soviet Union.

I remember the December evening in 1988 when I was having dinner with friends and my mother in Paris. My family and I still lived in Baku, capital of the then-Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, where I was raised, but I had become accustomed to unusual freedoms since becoming the world chess champion in 1985. I was no longer accompanied by KGB minders everywhere I went, although my whereabouts were always tracked. Foreign travel still required special approval, which served to remind every Soviet citizen that this privilege could be withdrawn at any time.

My status protected me from many of the privations of life in the Soviet Union, but it did not tint my vision rose. Instead, my visits to Western Europe confirmed my suspicions that it was in the U.S.S.R. where life was distorted, as in a funhouse mirror.

(More here.)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Putin Is Waging Information Warfare. Here’s How to Fight Back.

By MARK GALEOTTI, DEC. 14, 2016
NYT

PRAGUE — Welcome to 21st-century conflict, more Machiavellian than military, where hacks, leaks and fake news are taking the place of planes, bombs and missiles. The Russian interference in the United States presidential election is just a taste of more to come.

How can countries protect themselves from such methods? As with nuclear weapons, deterrence is better than confrontation. The United States and its allies in the West need to find a way to discourage Russia, the leading practitioner of this kind of political warfare, from striking first.

With nuclear weapons, deterrence relies on demonstrating the possession of similar capabilities — and the will to use them. This won’t work with political warfare.

It is not as though the United States hasn’t dabbled in destabilization and disinformation campaigns. But these tactics are less likely to work in Russia, where the news media is mostly state-controlled, the security apparatus quickly stamps out political threats, and citizens have few illusions about their leaders. (For example, when the Panama Papers revealed that President Vladimir V. Putin’s cronies had secret bank accounts, most Russians simply shrugged, unsurprised.) All that such efforts would do is show Russians that Mr. Putin is right to say the West is no better than him.

(More here.)

Vladimir Putin wants a new world order. Why would Donald Trump help him?

By Fareed Zakaria Opinion writer December 15 at 9:45 PM, WashPost

Put his campaign rhetoric, tweets and appointments all together, and we’re getting a sense of U.S. foreign policy under Donald Trump. The president-elect has consistently signaled that he wants to be accommodating toward Russia and get tough on China. But that sees the world almost backward. China is, for the most part, comfortable with the U.S.-led international system. Russia is trying to upend it.

It’s ironic that Mitt Romney has been passed over for secretary of state just as his key foreign policy judgment is being vindicated. Romney famously said in 2012 that Russia was the United States’ “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” President Obama mocked the claim, and others — myself included — thought it was an exaggeration. We were wrong; Romney was right.

Obama’s rationale for contradicting Romney was that Russia was a “regional power,” one in economic decline. That made it a nuisance but not a grave global threat. This is an accurate reading of Russia’s position, which has only gotten worse since 2012. The country’s economy has actually shrunk for two years now. The Economist points out that, over the past decade, state spending has risen from 35 percent of gross domestic product to a staggering 70 percent. The ruble has collapsed. The country’s sovereign debt is now rated as junk by Moody’s.

But under President Vladi­mir Putin, Russia has found a way to assert itself geopolitically, despite its economic weakness. It has done so by using effectively what strength it has, such as its still-formidable military and intelligence services as well as its veto in the U.N. Security Council. Most ambitiously and devastatingly, it has found a way to leverage its strength dramatically using cyberwarfare.

(More here.)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Will the Trump administration be hostile to science?

Why I’m trying to preserve federal climate data before Trump takes office

By Eric Holthaus December 13, Washington Post

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist and journalist focused on weather and climate. He lives in Tucson, Ariz.

President-elect Donald Trump has been a purveyor of conspiracy theories when it comes to climate science for years. He’s called human-caused climate change a Chinese hoax and refused to acknowledge the existence of the California drought, promising farmers there that, as president, he would “open up the water.” He’s vowed to eliminate the EPA and the Energy Department and “cancel” the Paris Agreement.

Since the election, Trump has been relentlessly converting those anti-science messages into action, wrongly believing that doubling down on fossil fuel production will help boost long-term economic growth. (That Trump’s pick for secretary of state — ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson — is among the least extreme of his appointments is chilling.)

According to a Sierra Club report, when he assumes the presidency on Jan. 20, Trump will be the only head of state in the world to deny mainstream climate science — and yes, that even includes Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

(Continued here.)

Monday, December 12, 2016

I miss the days when climate change was just about weather, not elections

Check out this great cartoon from Wiley and NON SEQUITUR that appeared on Sunday.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Donald Trump Fuels Rift With CIA Over Russian Hack

President-elect denounces the agency’s finding of Moscow’s role in the election

By Shane Harris, WSJ
Updated Dec. 11, 2016 8:29 p.m. ET

President-elect Donald Trump escalated a fight with the U.S. intelligence community on Sunday by denouncing its findings of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, setting up an extraordinary rupture between a soon-to-be president and his national-security establishment.

Mr. Trump, in a televised interview, denied the likelihood that Russia directed cyberattacks related to the U.S. election, despite contrary findings by the nation’s intelligence officials and rising concern among lawmakers, who want the allegations investigated.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Mr. Trump said, in a Fox News interview, of the Central Intelligence Agency’s recent assessment that Russia ordered the hacks to boost the Republican’s chances of winning the White House. Earlier, his transition team said the CIA had botched its analysis of Iraq’s program of weapons of mass destruction in 2003, implying the agency couldn’t be trusted now.

(More here.)

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Back to the Dark Ages, when Galileo's hypothesis was a crime

Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.

By CORAL DAVENPORT and ERIC LIPTON
DEC. 7, 2016, New York Times

President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change — and much of the E.P.A. itself.

Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt has been in lock step with those views.

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” he wrote in National Review earlier this year. “That debate should be encouraged — in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

(Continued here.)

Pascal's wager and climate change

Many people have heard of Pascal's wager, but not many know it under this name. Pascal's argument goes as follows (my poor synopsis):

I have two choices: Whether to believe in God or not to believe in God.
  • If I believe in God and live life accordingly, and the Christian God exists, I go to heaven and win.
  • If I believe in God and live life accordingly, and the Christian God does not exist, I neither win nor lose.
  • If I do not believe in God and live life accordingly, and the Christian God exists, I lose because I go to hell.
  • If I do not believe in God and live life accordingly, and the Christian God does not exist, I neither win nor lose.
Thus, argues Pascal, it's better to believe in God and live life accordingly, because that way you will possibly win and not lose.

Some have argued that recognizing the science of climate change is the same way. To wit:
  • If we recognize the science of climate change and act accordingly, and the science is correct, we avoid its possible drastic consequences.
  • If we recognize the science of climate change and act accordingly, and the science is incorrect, we neither win nor lose.
  • If we do not believe the science of climate change and act accordingly, and the science is correct, we lose because the planet devolves into a hellish nightmare.
  • If we do not believe the science of climate change and act accordingly, and the science is incorrect, we neither win nor lose.
Of course, those who believe that climate change science is bunk have argued against this line of reasoning. But then, as Vox Verax has said time and again, belief is too often stronger than evidence-based logic: It's one of the conundrums of human nature.

— LP

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Trump flunks his first foreign policy test

By David Ignatius Opinion writer December 6 at 7:30 PM, WashPost

Whatever else future historians say about Donald Trump’s early foreign policy moves, they’re likely to note the erratic and, in many ways, self-defeating nature of the president-elect’s initial dealings with China, the country many analysts view as the United States’ most important long-term rival.

Devising a wise strategy for challenging China’s ascendancy in Asia is arguably the top foreign policy task for a new president. But if Trump planned to take a tougher stance, this was a haphazard way to do it. The president-elect instead stumbled into a pre-inaugural foreign flap, insulting Beijing and causing it to lose face, without having a clear, well-articulated plan for what he seeks to accomplish.

Worse, Trump’s fulminations about China come just as his plan to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership is undermining the United States’ standing with allies in Asia. Trump, in effect, is ceding economic ground to China at the very moment he claims to be taking a harder line. Is this a cool, calculating strategy from the dealmaker? It looks to me more like a hot mess.

Trump’s phone call Friday with Taiwan’s president needn’t have created this crisis. The Chinese at first seemed willing to give the inexperienced Trump a pass — blaming the precedent-altering call on “petty” maneuvering by Taipei. Beijing presumably recognized that this wasn’t the time to pick a fight, and Trump should have adopted the same stance.

(More here.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste

By Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward December 5 at 6:47 PM WashPost

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

The study was produced last year by the Defense Business Board, a federal advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey and Company. Based on reams of personnel and cost data, their report revealed for the first time that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580 billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management.

(More here.)

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Victory of ‘No’

The GOP’s unprecedented anti-Obama obstructionism was a remarkable success. And then it handed the party to Donald Trump.

By Michael Grunwald, Politico.com
December 04, 2016

On January 29, 2009, the whittled-down and beaten-up Republican minority in the House of Representatives gathered for a strange celebration of defeat.

The Democrats had just drubbed them at the polls, seizing the White House and a 79-seat advantage in the House. The House had then capped President Barack Obama’s first week in office by passing his $800 billion Recovery Act, a landmark emergency stimulus bill that doubled as a massive down payment on Obama’s agenda. Even though the economy was in freefall, not one House Republican had voted for the effort to revive it, prompting a wave of punditry about a failed party refusing to help clean up its own mess and dooming itself to irrelevance.

But at the House GOP retreat the next day at a posh resort in the Virginia mountains, there was no woe-is-us vibe. The leadership even replayed the video of the stimulus vote—not to bemoan Obama’s overwhelming victory, but to hail the unanimous partisan resistance. The conference responded with a standing ovation.

“I know all of you are pumped about the vote,” said Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip. “We’ll have more to come!”

The Republicans were pumped because they saw a path out of the political wilderness. They were convinced that even if Obama kept winning policy battles, they could win the broader messaging war simply by remaining unified and fighting him on everything. Their conference chairman, a then-obscure Indiana conservative named Mike Pence, underscored the point with a clip from Patton, showing the general rallying his troops for war against their Nazi enemy: “We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time! We’re going to go through him like crap through a goose!”

(More here.)

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Last Diplomat

TM note: Terrific reporting. I know most of the Americans mentioned, including Robin Raphel, and I think these reporters got it right.

As Robin Raphel worked for the State Department in Pakistan, her brand of traditional diplomacy ran into the new realities of covert surveillance. The collision turned her life upside down.

By Adam Entous and Devlin Barrett, WSJ

Just before 8 on the morning of Oct. 21, 2014, Robin Raphel climbed into her Ford Focus, put her purple briefcase on the passenger’s seat and began the 20-minute drive from her house in Washington to her office at the State Department.

It was a routine Tuesday. The main event on her schedule was a staff meeting.

Raphel swiped her badge at the revolving security door and headed to her office where she placed her briefcase on the floor and sat down to check her email. Later, as she joined her colleagues in a conference room to discuss office schedules, her mobile phone, which she had left at her desk, began to ring. It was Slomin’s Home Security.

When she didn’t pick up, the operator called her daughter Alexandra, who raced to the house to check the doors and windows. When Raphel returned to her desk, the phone rang again. It was Alexandra, in a panic.

Burglars hadn’t set off the alarm. It was the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Raphel grabbed her purse and ran out. She left behind her purple briefcase—one she had bought at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad—with a bag of carrots and a Rubbermaid container full of celery sticks inside.

As she pulled up to her yellow-brick house, Raphel saw agents going in and out the front door, walking across the oriental rugs she had trundled back from tours in South Asia. They boxed up her two computers, Alexandra’s iPad and everything else electronic. In the basement, they opened the drawers of a mahogany file cabinet she had picked up during a posting in London. They pulled out a stack of files.

(Continued here.)

Friday, December 02, 2016

The more things change, the more they stay the same

by Leigh Pomeroy
Dec 1, 2016

It is now several weeks following the unexpected result of the presidential election. Both those who celebrated and those who decried its outcome have mostly settled back into their normal lives and the annual challenge of the not-as-long-drawn-out-as-the-campaign Christmas shopping season.

Few predicted Mr. Trump’s victory, including the once infallible number-cruncher Nate Silver and his vaunted website, FiveThirtyEight. Yet one young tour manager in Italy did. Let me explain.

My wife and I took a nine-day tour to Tuscany just before the election. It was blessed by fine weather, and we hit all the highlights of the nearby areas, including Florence, Siena and Pisa as well as the less well known sights of Cinque Terre, Lucca and San Gimignano. Despite being fall, it was still tourist high season, and we were surprised not only at the crowds but at the large number of Chinese among them. This shows you how the world is changing.

While Italy was essentially a U.S. campaign-free zone, I was still curious as to how the Italians were viewing the circus going on in this country. Towards the end of our stay, I finally got up the courage to ask our young tour manager, Alice (pronounced “A-li’-chay”), what she thought.

“You are about to make a big mistake,” she warned. “You are about to elect another Berlusconi. Don’t elect a businessman.” She was referring to the former playboy businessman Silvio Berlusconi, who served three terms as Italian prime minister between 1994 and 2011, when he resigned from office due to poor performance of the economy and amidst charges of corruption, conflicts of interest and sexual improprieties. In 2012 he was convicted of tax evasion.

I was struck by Alice’s comment in two ways. First, at the time Hillary Clinton was leading comfortably in nearly all the polls and appeared to have the election well in hand. Second, that Alice compared Mr. Trump to Mr. Berlusconi so readily, but then I guess that’s how anyone might view an election in another country — that is, comparing it to the circumstances one knows.

Of course, Alice turned out to be presciently correct, at least on the election part. We’ll see as to the other.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump the president-elect is evolving to be somewhat different than Mr. Trump the candidate. The boisterous, populist bellicosity has mostly been toned down, and he seems to be backing off from some of his more extreme policy stances.

Though I did not vote for him, I agree with him on several issues, like not privatizing Social Security and Medicare and looking harder at international trade agreements before accepting them lock, stock and barrel.

One of the great ironies of Mr. Trump’s “build the wall” position is that, by pushing for and signing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mrs. Clinton’s husband exacerbated the problem of illegal immigration from Mexico. That’s because NAFTA encouraged the export of cheap grain, particularly corn, to Mexico, thus forcing small Mexican farmers off land that was no longer profitable into the cities looking for work. When there was none to be had, they then looked north to the United States for economic opportunity.

At one time the border between the U.S. and Mexico was more porous. Mexican workers could come across and return home fairly easily, resulting in a freer-flow of labor. But because of NAFTA more Mexicans were coming and staying. As a result, the U.S. tightened its border policies to clamp down on illegal immigration. Yet this only made matters worse as once in the U.S. no one wanted to return home to Mexico then attempt to come back again.

Unlike the European Union, which encourages the free-flow of both goods and labor, NAFTA promoted only the free-flow of goods. The consequence is that NAFTA benefitted large agricultural producers and manufacturers in the U.S., but it hurt laborers in both countries, just as many of its critics had warned.

So to a certain extent NAFTA led to Mr. Trump’s election. That said, a wall is not a practical solution from a humane, environmental and economic point of view. A more practical solution is to pursue another of Mr. Trump’s proposed policies: Renegotiate NAFTA.

I am writing this on Thanksgiving Day, so I’m thinking about what I should be thankful for: First, that the godawful campaign is over. Second, that money didn’t win the election, as Mrs. Clinton outspent Mr. Trump by about two-to-one. And third, that it appears we will have yet another peaceful transition of power on Jan. 20 for the 44th consecutive time, if my counting is correct.

Also published in the Mankato Free Press here.