Friday, June 16, 2017

Money stolen by Russian mob linked to man sanctioned for supporting Syria's chemical weapons program

By Michael Weiss, CNN Investigates
Updated 7:50 PM ET, Fri June 16, 2017

An investment group that U.S. authorities say is run by Russian mobsters and linked to the Russian government sent at least $900,000 to a company owned by a businessman tied to Syria's chemical weapons program, according to financial documents obtained by CNN.

According to a contract and bank records from late 2007 and early 2008, a company tied to a state-backed Russian mafia group, according to U.S. officials, agreed to pay more than $3 million to a company called Balec Trading Ventures, Ltd — supposedly for high-end "furniture."

Wire transaction records seen by CNN confirm that at least $900,000 was transferred.

Both businesses are registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The company allegedly tied to Russian mafia was called Quartell Trading Ltd., and the U.S. Department of Justice claims it is one of the many vehicles into which millions of dollars of stolen Russian taxpayer money was laundered a decade ago in connection with the so-called "Magnitsky affair," perhaps the most notorious corruption case in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Balec Ventures is owned by Issa al-Zeydi, a Russian whom the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in 2014 for his connection to the Scientific Studies and Research Center, the hub of Syria's nonconventional weapons program, including its manufacture of Sarin and VX nerve agents and mustard gas.

(More here.)

It’s Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster vs. Putin ally Valery Gerasimov

The New Cold War Pits a U.S. General Against His Longtime Russian Nemesis

By Nathan Hodge in Moscow and Julian E. Barnes in Pabrade, Lithuania, WSJ
June 16, 2017 10:37 a.m. ET

A quarter-century after the Cold War ended, U.S. and Russian tank formations are once again squaring off.

This spring, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization moved armored forces to the Russian border, where they are conducting daily drills from Poland to Estonia. Less than 100 miles away, Moscow’s forces are preparing for large-scale maneuvers in the autumn, a demonstration of the country’s revitalized might, including new equipment and improved tactics meant to keep the West guessing in the event of a clash.

Facing off behind these front lines and shaping each side’s grand strategy are two of this generation’s most influential officers in Washington and Moscow: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

The two men’s lives have evolved in parallel. Both began their careers as junior armor officers at the height of the Cold War. Both were tested in irregular warfare against separatists and militant groups. Both have coped with the rise of disruptive battlefield technologies including drones, precision bombs and sophisticated new forms of propaganda.

(More here.)

In Scandinavia, a major divestment

Swedish Pension Fund Sells Out of Six Firms It Says Breach Paris Climate Deal

By REUTERS, JUNE 15, 2017, 2:21 P.M. E.D.T.

OSLO — Sweden's largest national pension fund, AP7, has sold its investments in six companies that it says violate the Paris climate agreement, a decision environmentalists believe is the first of its kind.

AP7, which provides pensions to 3.5 million Swedes, said on Thursday it had sold out of ExxonMobil, Gazprom, TransCanada Corp, Westar, Entergy and Southern Corp, and would no longer invest in companies that operate in breach of the Paris climate accord.

"Since the last screening in December 2016, the Paris agreement to the U.N. Climate Convention is one of the norms we include in our analysis," the company said in a statement.

AP7 said ExxonMobil, Westar, Southern Corp and Entergy had fought against introducing climate legislation in the United States. It also criticised Gazprom for looking for oil in the Russian Arctic and TransCanada for building large-scale pipelines in North America.

(More here.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Minnesota's cities and counties have embarked on a rare kind of collaboration

How this Upper Midwestern State Doubled Its Solar Capacity


Americans love solar. Almost 9 in 10 adults favor expanding it, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. But not everyone can put panels on their homes. For one thing, the upfront cost of solar can be prohibitive. For another, some people don’t have the space, or their rooftops may be too shady or may face the wrong direction, or they don’t even own their rooftops because they rent.

That’s where community shared solar comes in. Here’s how it works: Third parties set up solar panels on a parcel of land or rooftop. Households and businesses then share the electricity it produces through subscriptions. Community solar’s primary purpose is to give people access to solar power even if they cannot or prefer not to install it on their property.

As it turns out, the same things that make community solar ideal for households and businesses are what make it ideal for governments, too. Minnesota proved that last year when it roughly doubled its solar capacity thanks to a group of local governments in the greater Twin Cities metropolitan region. The solar boom in the state is largely the result of a 2013 law, which required Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, to create a third-party solar garden program. Inspired, a handful of cities and counties met in 2015 to discuss how they could take advantage of the program. The result was the Governmental Solar Garden Subscriber Collaborative.

For these localities individually, the cost of solar, as well as the time and staff needed to understand the financing and technology behind it, was a deal breaker. But as a collaborative, all the cities and counties had to do was subscribe. “They didn’t have to go through the hassle of managing an onsite installation,” says Trevor Drake, project manager at the Great Plains Institute, which provided organizing support to the group.

(More here.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

There are no jobs on a dead planet

Was President Trump right to withdraw from the Paris climate accord?

By: Dave Gardner and David Pico June 10, 2017 Colorado Springs Gazette

Dave Gardner directed the documentary "GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth" and hosts the syndicated radio series/podcast "Conversation Earth." David Pico is a published author and entrepreneur. Both live in Colorado Springs.

President Donald Trump's decision to renege on the Paris climate accord lets everyone down - U.S. citizens, the nations of the world and all our children.

It took the world a long time to take climate change seriously. It took the U.S. even longer. Getting 195 nations on board the Paris Agreement was a major milestone. The accord isn't enough to avoid significant climate disruption, but it is a step in that direction. Taking the next step is now a bigger leap.

Here, Trump cedes the very thing he wants - the U.S. being looked to as a leader. Failing to honor the accord, abdicating our responsibility, instead cements our place as a Third World country.

Around the world, many still prioritize economic growth ahead of ensuring a livable planet. Trump underscores that with every decision and pronouncement. His Paris announcement adds an exclamation point. This is not the path to a healthy economy. Healthy ecosystems are a fundamental requirement.

(Continued here.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Trump aimed to enlist top officials to have Comey curtail FBI investigation

Top intelligence official told associates Trump asked him if he could intervene with Comey on FBI Russia probe

By Adam Entous June 6 at 8:05 PM, WashPost

The nation’s top intelligence official told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to officials.

On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.

(More here.)

Monday, June 05, 2017

Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election

Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Sam Biddle, Ryan Grim
June 5 2017, 2:44 p.m. -- the Intercept

Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

NSA Report on Russia Spearphishing

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:
Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.
This NSA summary judgment is sharply at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial last week that Russia had interfered in foreign elections: “We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so.” Putin, who had previously issued blanket denials that any such Russian meddling occurred, for the first time floated the possibility that freelance Russian hackers with “patriotic leanings” may have been responsible. The NSA report, on the contrary, displays no doubt that the cyber assault was carried out by the GRU.

(More here.)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Bots, malware and fake news … oh my!

How the Trump-Russia Data Machine Games Google to Fool Americans

By Roger Sollenberger | June 1, 2017

A year ago I was part of a digital marketing team at a tech company. We were maybe the fifth largest company in our particular industry, which was drones. But we knew how to game Google, and our site was maxed out. We did our research and geared the content for the major keywords that we knew people used most frequently when they were shopping for drones or researching drones or looking for drone video. We knew our audience: their buying habits, their interests, ages, geography, etc., and soon our Google results were up there with a company that was literally an order of magnitude bigger than we were. A few months later, we were beating them at Google.

Our sales reflected this nearly immediately, but perhaps more importantly, we were perceived as being much bigger and more influential than we actually were. It was unfair and fair at the same time. It’s just how that game is played, everywhere.

But then the giants wised up, poured a ton of people and money into it and squashed us.

Thing is, it doesn’t take all that much to do what we did. Ask any digital marketer. You just need a little experience and a whole lot of time and money. I’m not going to get into the weeds of SEO (search engine optimization). But I am going to say something that sounds completely insane, and warn you that we’re in the middle of something we’ve never experienced in America: a full-on psychological war. And Google, of all places, is a main battlefield.

I’m going to show you one specific weapon in this war that’s being used against you and me and the United States right now: Google. There are other information weapons, such as bots and fake news sites, but other stories have those pretty well covered. But before we get started, though, two things to keep in mind:

First, most of us don’t even know we’re in this war yet. You don’t know when you’ve been wounded, when you’ve been killed. And that’s the whole point: You’re not supposed to.

Second, the attacks in this war aren’t aimed at your enemies. You attack your own side.

(More here.)

'Before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump'

The great British Brexit robbery: how the UK democracy was hijacked 

A shadowy global operation involving big data, billionaire friends of Trump and the disparate forces of the Leave campaign influenced the result of the EU referendum. As Britain heads to the polls again, is the UK electoral process still fit for purpose?

by Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian

This article is the subject of separate legal complaints on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Limited, and Sophie Schmidt.
“The connectivity that is the heart of globalisation can be exploited by states with hostile intent to further their aims.[…] The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty.” — Alex Younger, head of MI6, December, 2016
“It’s not MI6’s job to warn of internal threats. It was a very strange speech. Was it one branch of the intelligence services sending a shot across the bows of another? Or was it pointed at Theresa May’s government? Does she know something she’s not telling us?” — Senior intelligence analyst, April 2017
In June 2013, a young American postgraduate called Sophie was passing through London when she was called up by the boss of a firm where she’d previously interned. The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns. But all of this was still to come. London in 2013 was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. The world had not yet turned.

“That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,” a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. “It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.”

Was that really what you called it, I ask him. Psychological warfare? “Totally. That’s what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules.”

(More Here.)

Putin's internet threat: It's worse than you think

Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America

Massimo Calabresi
Updated: May 18, 2017, Newsweek

On March 2, a disturbing report hit the desks of U.S. counterintelligence officials in Washington. For months, American spy hunters had scrambled to uncover details of Russia's influence operation against the 2016 presidential election. In offices in both D.C. and suburban Virginia, they had created massive wall charts to track the different players in Russia's multipronged scheme. But the report in early March was something new.

It described how Russia had already moved on from the rudimentary email hacks against politicians it had used in 2016. Now the Russians were running a more sophisticated hack on Twitter. The report said the Russians had sent expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department. Depending on the interests of the targets, the messages offered links to stories on recent sporting events or the Oscars, which had taken place the previous weekend. When clicked, the links took users to a Russian-controlled server that downloaded a program allowing Moscow's hackers to take control of the victim's phone or computer--and Twitter account.

As they scrambled to contain the damage from the hack and regain control of any compromised devices, the spy hunters realized they faced a new kind of threat. In 2016, Russia had used thousands of covert human agents and robot computer programs to spread disinformation referencing the stolen campaign emails of Hillary Clinton, amplifying their effect. Now counterintelligence officials wondered: What chaos could Moscow unleash with thousands of Twitter handles that spoke in real time with the authority of the armed forces of the United States? At any given moment, perhaps during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, Pentagon Twitter accounts might send out false information. As each tweet corroborated another, and covert Russian agents amplified the messages even further afield, the result could be panic and confusion.

(More here.)

Friday, June 02, 2017

Putin Vows Military Response If Sweden Joins NATO

By Damien Sharkov On 6/2/17 at 5:25 AM Newsweek

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed deep opposition to the idea of Sweden joining NATO, calling its potential membership of the U.S.-led alliance a “threat” that would need to be “eliminated.”

“If Sweden joins NATO this will affect our relations in a negative way because we will consider that the infrastructure of the military bloc now approaches us from the Swedish side,” Putin told state news agency Itar-Tass. “We will interpret that as an additional threat for Russia and we will think about how to eliminate this threat.”

Russian officials have repeatedly treated NATO expansion near or at its borders as encroachment, rather than a desire by their smaller neighbors to deter Russian military incursion as sustained by Ukraine in 2014. Currently only Montenegro is on the list of countries to be inducted into NATO, as Sweden and neighbor Finland opt to stay non-aligned. Currently, three Baltic states and Poland are members of NATO on Russia's borders.

(More here.)

Thursday, June 01, 2017

We have met the enemy and he is us

The Daily 202: President Trump’s commitment to draining the swamp is being tested

By James Hohmann June 1 at 10:42 AM WashPost

President Trump is facing one of the clearest tests yet of his commitment to “drain the swamp,” a chant that echoed through his rallies in the final stretch of the 2016 race.

During the campaign, Trump railed against the influence of swamp-dwellers such as lobbyists, whom he accused of pulling the strings of his political rivals. He promised to curtail their influence and keep them from profiting from government.

But on Wednesday evening, the administration disclosed that it has granted ethics waivers to four former lobbyists now in the White House, allowing them to work on high-level policy issues of interest to their former clients. They are among 17 specific appointees who have been issued exemptions from conflict of interest rules in the first four months of the administration.

That’s the same number of ethics waivers that the Obama White House handed out — over eight years.

(More here.)

Mr. Popular … and no, we're not talking about Donald Trump

Inside Al Franken’s blood feud with Ted Cruz, ‘the guy who microwaves fish’ in the office

By Derek Hawkins June 1 at 5:36 AM, WashPost

There are few people in the halls of Congress who would dispute that the most hated man among them is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Since he took office in 2013, Cruz seems to have made only enemies. Although the Capitol, and the Senate in particular, is a place where civility and decorum are supposed to be the norm, many of Cruz’s detractors have not bothered to hold back.

He has been publicly called a “wacko bird” and a “jackass” by senior lawmakers. His fellow Texas senator, Republican John Cornyn, said it was a mistake for him to show up at the Republican National Convention last year. “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) once opined.

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

You can't buy love, but you can buy popularity

Nearly Half of Donald Trump's Twitter Followers Are Fake Accounts and Bots

By Ryan Bort On 5/30/17 at 4:43 PM Newsweek

Anyone can amass an exorbitant number of Twitter followers. You don't even have to be famous. All you have to do is pay for them. The comedian Joe Mande currently has a healthy 1.01 million followers, but his bio contains a caveat: "twitter is trash, facebook's the devil, i bought a million followers for like $400 none of this shit matters antarctica is melting."

Mande even explained the stunt last November in The New Yorker. "The simplest way to tell who’s winning the Twitter game is by counting followers," he wrote. "The biggest celebrity accounts—Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga—seem to have millions of followers. But in 2012 I learned that only a portion of those are real humans; some are 'bots,' artificially created to boost an account’s popularity. Immediately, I knew that I had found my calling."

Because Donald Trump is the president of the United States and the most famous person on the planet, one wouldn't think he would need to employ a bot to boost his Twitter following. It appears, however, he might have done just that. As screenwriter John Niven pointed out Tuesday morning, Trump's Twitter account saw an unusual spike in followers over the weekend, many of which appear to have been created artificially.

(More here.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

On climate change, the consequences of the president being wrong are hard to imagine

Three Republican EPA administrators: Trump is putting us on a dangerous path

By William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas and William K. Reilly
Washington Post, May 26

William D. Ruckelshaus was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 1970 to 1973 and 1983 to 1985. Lee M. Thomas was EPA administrator from 1985 to 1989, and William K. Reilly was EPA administrator from 1989 to 1993.

More than 30 years ago, the world was faced with a serious environmental threat, one that respected no boundaries. A hole in the ozone layer was linked to potential increases in skin cancer and blindness from cataracts. The ozone layer is a thin band of gas in the stratosphere that protects the Earth and humans from dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and it was slowly being destroyed by chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are man-made gases used as aerosol propellants and in refrigeration and cooling.

Despite early skepticism, the risk of a thinning ozone layer was such that an international U.N. conference was convened in Vienna to address this problem. The participating countries and international bodies, including the United States, the European Union and other major producers and users of CFCs, afterward met in Montreal to negotiate an agreement setting out a specific program to reduce the production and use of CFCs.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Trump Incidents lead to Frightening Conclusion

by Tom Maertens

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.

Less than four months into Donald Trump’s administration, a special counsel has been appointed to investigate whether the president colluded with Russia’s interference in the US election.

All 17 US intelligence agencies agree that Putin intervened to help Donald Trump get elected. The issue is whether Trump campaign officials committed crimes by cooperating with Russia.

Robert Mueller, the former FBI Director, will conduct the first investigation ever of a president and his staff suspected of colluding with a hostile foreign power, a charge that former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz termed “the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States." House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy was recorded saying that even he believed that Putin was paying off Trump.

Among those suspected of colluding was Trump’s national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign over his Russia ties — one of five Trump campaign officials who lied about their Russia contacts.

Trump admitted to Lester Holt that he fired FBI Director James Comey over his refusal to stop the investigation of Flynn. Comey made a record of their conversation, which confirmed Trump’s attempt to impede the investigation.

Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, has written that the Lester Holt interview is the Nixon tapes and the “18-minute gap” on steroids: that there is enough right there to start drafting several Articles of Impeachment. Tribe concluded that Trump’s interview itself constituted a series of high crimes and misdemeanors, in other words, an impeachable offense. It was subsequently revealed that Trump also attempted to use the director of national intelligence and the NSA director to refute Comey’s statement.

Trump compromised both the House and Senate Intelligence Committee investigations by enlisting their Republican Chairmen, Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), to rebut press stories about Russian interference. Earlier, he fired Preet Bahara and Sally Yates who were also conducting investigations into Russian interference.

Subsequently, Trump revealed top secret information to the Russian foreign minister, which threatened another country’s sensitive source, in violation of one of the more that 100 intelligence exchange agreements we have.

This is not Trump’s only problem. Sources within the White House report that Trump is displaying a noticeable mental decline, according to several national outlets including NPR and MSNBC. The New York Times reported from two advisers that Trump’s mood has become sour and dark, and he has turned against most of his aides — even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — describing them in a fury as “incompetent.” We have seen him lash out at foes, his repeated lying, including contradicting or denying past claims, and his peddling of conspiracy theories, including about Obama.

Trump recently complained that he has been treated more unfairly than anybody in history, giving credence to a comment from a White House source quoted in the Washington Post who questioned whether Trump was “in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion.’”

David Roberts in VOX suggested that “Trump is a hopeless narcissist with the attention span of a fruit fly, unable to maintain consistent beliefs or commitments from moment to moment, acting on base instinct, entirely situationally, to bolster his terrifyingly fragile ego.”

Others have cited symptoms of cognitive decline in Donald Trump's forgetfulness and use of filler words (“believe me") and non-specific nouns (like "thing" – over 100 times in a single press conference) his discomfort in reading, strange rants with limited and repetitive vocabulary or disjointed speech, and his short attention span. Some of his interviews, as with David Muir of ABC, have been almost incomprehensible word salads. He has demonstrated mood swings and irritability, as cited above, and lack of restraint. He can’t remember his own statements or what he told his staff to say, and ends up undermining them, as he did with the Comey firing. Some of Trump’s senior advisers reportedly fear leaving him alone in meetings with foreign leaders out of concern he might speak out of turn, according to the New York Times.

A petition at now has signatures from 55,000 mental health professionals who have declared that Trump is mentally ill and should be removed from office under the 25th amendment. They have cited an ethical “duty to warn” about Trump’s dangerous instability as reason to ignore the so-called “Goldwater Rule” of the American Psychiatric Association which calls for a physical exam before making a diagnosis.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote recently, “We can’t maintain the pretense that Trump is a sane and balanced adult, however much we’d like to.”

Also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Did Russians Target Democratic Voters, With Kushner’s Help?

By Kate Brannen On 5/23/17 at 6:40 AM, Newsweek

This article first appeared on the Just Security site.

In many respects, we’re all in the dark when it comes to the ongoing Russia investigations.

Behind closed doors, what are congressional and FBI investigators learning?

What new leads are being chased?

Who in Donald Trump’s orbit is under the microscope?

If there was “coordination” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, what form did that take?

While so much remains unanswered, the public has received several clues. We know, for example, that President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is being investigated, as is Trump’s former campaign aide and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Last week, new reporting shined a light on one focus of the congressional investigation: determining how the Russians knew which voters to target with their disinformation campaign. A report from TIME’s Massimo Calabresi on Thursday provided new details:
As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia’s role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica … and Breitbart News.
(More here.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

The case for impeaching Trump — and fast

This is the exact situation impeachment was meant for. Let's hurry up.

Updated by Matthew Yglesias @mattyglesias May 22, 2017, 8:30am EDT

Impeachment of an American president is a weighty measure that’s only been used a handful of times in our history. And on two of those occasions, the judgment of history has come down against the impeachers.

Andrew Johnson was an awful president, but the move by Radical Republicans in Congress to remove him from office reeked from top to bottom of an effort to resolve a policy dispute by ginning up a legal one — passing a law to bar Johnson from firing Cabinet secretaries and them impeaching him for breaking it. Bill Clinton’s impeachment, if anything, suffered from the opposite problem. The charges against him, even if you believed them, simply seemed to have too little to do with the duties and responsibilities of his high office. Republicans had hoped a sex scandal would damage Clinton’s approval ratings, it didn’t really, and then they went berserk.

The exception that proves the rule is Richard Nixon, whose misdeeds were legitimately “high crimes.” Nixon also went down at a period in American history when the ideological polarization of the parties was low — some of his staunchest policy allies were conservative Southern Democrats, while some liberal Republicans were sharp critics of his administration. His downfall represents a kind of founding myth of modern American civic culture, complete with a Robert Redford movie that reserves a key heroic role for conservative icon Barry Goldwater.

The question that faces Congress today is whether the Trump case is more like Nixon or closer to Clinton or Johnson. And the answer is that it’s a highly Nixonian situation. Donald Trump is charged with misconduct that is serious and directly relevant to his public office but that isn’t simply a reiteration of longstanding ideological disagreements in American life.

The impeachment tool is somewhat clumsy and rarely used, in part because of how clumsy it is. It’s not so much that presidential misconduct is rare as that replacing the incumbent president of the United States with his hand-picked vice president is rarely a reasonable remedy for anything controversial and significant. But it’s ideally suited to the particular moment in which the country now finds itself. Democrats have enormous disagreements with Mike Pence, but those disagreements are fundamentally unrelated to the core of Trump’s obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and financial conflicts of interest — for now, at least.

(More here.)

Trump, rattled by probes, seeks boost in foreign trip

While the trip may lift Trump’s spirits, it remains unclear whether the highly choreographed diplomatic excursion can do the same for a presidency facing investigations at home.

By Josh Dawsey,
05/22/2017 05:05 AM EDT

President Donald Trump seemed rattled before he left Washington Friday afternoon, two people who spoke with him last week said, as he wondered aloud how much investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election might damage his presidency.

One adviser said Trump said in a conversation last week that he felt that "there are a lot of people out to get him," musing that he should not have attacked the intelligence community so vociferously. An administration official who spoke to the president said he "seemed down more than angry," even though Trump defiantly tweeted that he was facing a “witch hunt.”

When Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip as president, his mood appeared to be looking up. He praised his accommodations, was offered his favorite delicacy – steak with ketchup – was draped in a gold medallion while receiving the country’s highest honor, and danced amid sword performers at a gala.

"You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible," Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in Saudi Arabia for a summit on fighting terrorism, told the U.S. leader on Sunday.

"I agree," Trump replied.

(More here.)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

At Fox News, Another Prominent Host Is Fired, and Another Week of Tough Headlines

Bob Beckel, second from left, with other hosts of “The Five” on Fox News. The network fired Mr. Beckel on Friday for making a racially insensitive remark to a black co-worker. Credit Fox News Channel.

For Fox News, it was another unkind week in an unkind year.

The network’s founding chairman, Roger E. Ailes, died on Thursday, sending a shock through a newsroom still reeling from a string of harassment scandals, lawsuits and high-profile departures. The threat of a federal investigation into the network’s financial practices has lingered.

And on Friday, another prominent on-air personality was abruptly tossed. Bob Beckel, a co-host of the prime-time talk show “The Five,” was fired after an African-American employee accused him of making a racially insensitive remark.

The drumbeat of tough headlines has taken a toll on morale at Fox News, with employees on and off camera describing a feeling of being under siege.

And after years as the undisputed king of cable news, Fox News ranked third in prime-time this week among the 25-54 age group most important to advertisers, finishing behind its rivals MSNBC and CNN. In total audience, MSNBC edged out Fox News in prime-time on three nights, an unsettling sign for an evening schedule scrambled by last month’s exit of Bill O’Reilly.

(More here.)

The Spring of G.O.P. Discontent


WASHINGTON — Now that Robert Mueller has been named special counsel, we can expect congressional Republicans to attempt a return to business as usual. Of course, that’s all relative: President Trump will presumably continue to issue Twitter attacks on the investigation, leaks about his behavior are likely to continue (see the news on Friday about his comments on James Comey to the Russians) and the topic of obstruction of justice will still occupy many blocks of cable programming.

Still, you could almost hear the sigh of relief coming from Speaker Paul Ryan’s office. The pressure is off Congress to bear down on Mr. Trump, allowing the Republicans to bear down on cutting taxes and gutting Obamacare. It might even be easier this time, with Mr. Trump distracted.

But they may soon find themselves wishing for the good old days of pure presidential chaos. They’re about to learn just how ill conceived and unpopular the Republican legislative agenda really is.

Four major items loom: taxes, health care, the budget and an infrastructure bill that the administration will reportedly be sending up to Congress soon. Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, said recently that the “principles” guiding the administration’s $1 trillion plan will be made public by the end of May.

(More here.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Fox News founder made this the hate-filled, moronic country it is today

On the Internet today you will find thousands, perhaps even millions, of people gloating about the death of elephantine Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The happy face emojis are getting a workout on Twitter, which is also bursting with biting one-liners.

When I mentioned to one of my relatives that I was writing about the death of Ailes, the response was, "Say that you hope he's reborn as a woman in Saudi Arabia."

Ailes has no one but his fast-stiffening self to blame for this treatment. He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America's vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we're that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans' worst fantasies about each other.

(More here.)

If you work for Trump, it’s time to quit

After the Comey firing and the Russia intel leak, the I’m-taking-one-for-the-team ship has sailed.

By Rick Wilson May 18 at 6:00 AM

Rick Wilson is a Republican consultant and a Daily Beast columnist.

I’ve been a Republican political consultant for almost 30 years, and I’ve dispensed a lot of private advice. But now it’s time for me to reach out publicly to my fellow Republicans working in the Trump administration.

We really need to talk.

Whether you’re a 20-something fresh off the campaign trail, or a seasoned Washington insider serving in the Cabinet, by now you’re painfully aware that you’re not making America great again; you’re barely making it to the end of the daily news cycle before your verbally incontinent boss, the putative leader of the free world, once again steers the proverbial car into a ditch. On every front, you’re faced with legal, political and moral hazards. The president’s job, and yours, is a lot harder than it looked, and you know the problem originates in the Oval Office.

You hate that people are shying away from administration jobs in droves: Just this week, in rapid succession, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Trey Gowdy withdrew their names from consideration as replacements for former FBI Director James Comey, the guy your boss fired. Whatever department you’re in, it’s a safe bet that it’s a whispering graveyard of empty appointments and unfilled jobs.

I know: Many of you serving in Cabinet, sub-Cabinet and White House roles joined Team Trump in good faith, believing you could help steady the ship, smooth the rough edges and, just maybe, put some conservative policy wins up on the board. You could see that President Trump’s undisciplined style was risky, but you hoped the big show playing over at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. would provide you with cover to work steadily and enthusiastically on the administration’s legislative priorities. Some of you even bought into the ‘Merica First new nationalism. Many of you quietly assured friends in the Washington ecosystem that Trump would settle into his job — after all, just a few days after taking office, he assured us, “I can be the most presidential person ever.”

(More here.)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Exclusive: Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians

Politics | Thu May 18, 2017 | 10:51am EDT

By Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel | WASHINGTON, Reuters

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We overanalyze Trump. He is what he appears to be.

There is no correct Theory of Trump.

Updated by David Roberts @drvox
May 12, 2017, 10:40am EDT, VOX

Why did Donald Trump fire FBI Director James Comey so abruptly, in such humiliating fashion, with no plan to communicate the reasoning behind the move and no list of replacements ready?

It is the question that launched a thousand think pieces. Even Trump surrogates were not prepared to answer it. Sean Spicer literally hid in the bushes (sorry, among the bushes).

The thing is, the answer is pretty obvious. The implications are terrifying, but the motivations are not complicated.

Trump did it because he was mad.

He was mad that people on his TV keep talking about the Russia investigation. He was mad Comey didn’t back him up on his ludicrous claims that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, even when people on his TV were criticizing him for it. He was mad Comey hasn’t been more loyal, convinced Comey was to blame for his bad ratings. So he fired Comey.

That’s the picture the Washington Post paints (with 30 sources!), as well as Politico. But it remains extremely difficult to accept or internalize.

(More here.)

The Terrible Cost of Trump's Disclosures

The consequences of the president’s reported divulgence of top-secret codeword information to the Russians are only beginning.

Eliot A. Cohen
May 15, 2017

If The Washington Post is right, President Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a jovial meeting in the Oval Office. Here is why this is appalling, beyond even this president’s usual standard.

Top secret codeword information is no joke

There are multiple flavors of intelligence classification, from “Confidential” (which is often in the public record already, just not acknowledged), to “Secret” (usually, though not always available if you know where to look—or are willing to wait a few days), to “Top Secret” which is beginning to be serious. The codewords, which security officials began using in World War II to protect signal intercepts (e.g. ULTRA), tell you whence the information was derived—so Top Secret/codeword material really has to be protected. Any of us who have had those kinds of clearances have gone through repeated trainings about how to safeguard such material (cover sheets, multiple envelopes, proper paragraph marking, etc.). And if you hope to keep your job and stay out of jail, you take it seriously. You do not have access to any and all compartments if you have a top-secret clearance. This, apparently, is some of the information that Trump blew.

The repeated spectacular breaks into the American security system by the Russians, among others, coupled with the ubiquity of personal information in the smartphone age, has caused some Americans to assume that secrets do not exist. They most certainly do. If someone finds out how you have gathered information, that artfully planted bug may go dead. Or a human agent may go dead. In the normal course of events, Donald Trump would never have been given a high-level security clearance because of his psychological profile and personal record, including his susceptibility to blackmail. But it will be even worse if his behavior convinces others, including those who work for him, that classification is meaningless.

(More here.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Crony capitalism is alive and well

Conservative Groups Pushing Trump to Exit Paris Climate Deal Have Taken Millions From Koch Brothers, Exxon

Thursday, May 11, 2017 By Graham Readfearn, DeSmogBlog | News Analysis

The "conservative groups" urging President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement have accepted tens of millions of dollars from groups linked to the billionaire petrochemical brothers Charles and David Koch, ExxonMobil, and the Mercer family.

More than 40 groups have co-signed an open letter urging Trump to keep his campaign promise and "withdraw fully from the Paris Climate Treaty."

The groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), The Heartland Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, claim failing to withdraw from the treaty could put Trump's policy agenda of promoting fossil fuels at risk.

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Putin’s leaky strategy

By Joe Scarborough May 6, WashPost

Russia has struck again. But this time, Vladimir Putin’s target was not a presidential runner-up in the United States but the next president of France.

Putin should have quit while he was behind.

Russia’s attack on last year’s American election may have dominated political headlines, but many agree with Democratic legend Willie Brown that “the Russians didn’t lose the election for Clinton. It was our own overconfidence.”

Whether Brown is right or not, this much is certain. Russia’s foreign electioneering is not the Machiavellian masterstroke that Putin’s admirers claim it up to be. Instead, Russia’s reckless gambit into U.S. politics has created a diplomatic backlash that has left Moscow more isolated than before Donald Trump’s election.

(More here.)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Going back to the Dark Ages and taking the children with them

The EPA just buried its climate change website for kids

By Juliet Eilperin May 6 at 7:00 AM
Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency has sidelined a website aimed at teaching schoolchildren about climate change, a public watchdog group has determined, as part of the agency’s efforts to align online content with the new administration’s values.

When the EPA announced on April 28 that its site was “undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt,” it pointed to a snapshot of the website as it looked on Jan. 19, the day before Trump took office.

While it made it clear that this snapshot would not be updated, the idea was to allow the public to see what was being changed under the new administration.

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A solution to plastic waste from India

She found a way to make plastic waste useful

Medha Tadpatrikar helped design a machine in Pune, India, that heats up plastic to convert it to fuel. The process is eco-friendly in more ways than one.

Chandana Banerjee
Christian Science Monitor

MARCH 30, 2017 PUNE, INDIA—In 60 cities in India, 16,876 tons of plastic waste are generated each day, according to data from the country’s Central Pollution Control Board. Multiply that by 365, and you have more than 6 million tons of plastic that end up in landfills a year.

Such figures were keeping Medha Tadpatrikar awake at night. She was also deeply troubled by an incident she had witnessed on a safari in India – a deer choking on a plastic packet that it had swallowed. “I realized how big this plastic problem is and how every creature on this earth is affected by it,” she says of the incident.

So Dr. Tadpatrikar resolved to find a way to make plastic waste useful. She and Shirish Phadtare started experimenting in Tadpatrikar’s kitchen, trying to “cook” plastic in a pressure cooker to create a practical fuel. “Plastic is made of crude oil, and we wanted to reverse the process to get usable oil,” Tadpatrikar explains.

After lots of kitchen R&D, some trial and error, and help from engineer friends, this experimenting duo has come up with an operation in the Pune, India, area that benefits the environment in several ways. They are indeed producing fuel, using a process that doesn’t emit toxic gases. And by pressing plastic waste into service, they’re reducing the amount of plastic headed toward landfills. Moreover, the oil itself is eco-friendly – a better choice than some of the other fuels that villagers living near Pune use. And when these villagers opt for the plastic-derived fuel, it means they aren’t depleting precious resources that are needed for other fuels.

(More here.)