Saturday, July 30, 2016

By November, Russian hackers could target voting machines

If Russia really is responsible, there's no reason political interference would end with the DNC emails.

Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His latest book is Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.

Russia was behind the hacks into the Democratic National Committee’s computer network that led to the release of thousands of internal emails just before the party’s convention began, U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded.
The FBI is investigating. WikiLeaks promises there is more data to come. The political nature of this cyberattack means that Democrats and Republicans are trying to spin this as much as possible. Even so, we have to accept that someone is attacking our nation’s computer systems in an apparent attempt to influence a presidential election. This kind of cyberattack targets the very core of our democratic process. And it points to the possibility of an even worse problem in November — that our election systems and our voting machines could be vulnerable to a similar attack.
If the intelligence community has indeed ascertained that Russia is to blame, our government needs to decide what to do in response. This is difficult because the attacks are politically partisan, but it is essential. If foreign governments learn that they can influence our elections with impunity, this opens the door for future manipulations, both document thefts and dumps like this one that we see and more subtle manipulations that we don’t see.

(More here.)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Clinton and the Russia Threat

By Anne Applebaum Columnist July 28 at 8:22 PM, WashPost

Vladimir Putin is not a Bond villain, the Kremlin is not Spectre and, in the real world, we don’t need Daniel Craig to push back against Russia’s hybrid foreign policy. But we do need to elect Hillary Clinton for president. If we don’t, as we learned in recent days, we’ll be led by a man who appears bent on destroying the alliances that preserve international peace and American power, a man who cheerfully approves of hostile foreign intervention in a U.S. election campaign. And please remember: If that’s how he feels about Russia, there’s no guarantee that he’ll feel any different about China or Iran.

We also need a President Clinton to distance herself from the current administration, at least in this sense: President Obama has consistently refused to take seriously Russia’s hybrid foreign policy, a strategy that mixes normal diplomacy, military force, economic corruption and a high-tech information war.

This hybrid strategy needs a complex response. The reinforcement of NATO that began a few years ago was an important change but is insufficient: A further empowered alliance will help deter a devastating military conflict in Europe. At the same time, a crackdown on corrupt oligarchs, not just from Russia but also from around the world, could help stem the flows of illicit money that distort the politics of many developing countries and, increasingly, the United States and Europe, too.

The information war matters as well, particularly because the tactics are unfamiliar, at least to us: Americans aren’t used to the idea that foreign governments might use hacked emails for the purpose of distorting their politics. In fact, the Russian government has been playing similar games for years. Back in 2007, Russian hackers launched a major attack on Estonian government and commercial websites — including banks, the defense ministry, the parliament — in apparent revenge for a decision to move a Soviet war memorial. In 2014, hackers attacked Ukraine’s national election commission, three days before people went to the polls, in an attempt to disrupt the vote. In a report to be published next week, the Center for European Policy Analysis (where I am a senior adjunct fellow) documents Russian disinformation tactics in Europe, ranging from far-right websites in Poland to assistance for an anti-European Union referendum campaign in the Netherlands.

(More here.)

Islamic State Threat in Europe Shifts

Some U.S. officials see terror group benefitting from smaller attacks while continuing to plot

By Julian E. Barnes in Brussels and Benoit Faucon in London, WSJ
July 28, 2016 1:08 p.m. ET

The mushrooming of small-scale terror attacks in Europe has allowed Islamic State and its adherents to keep people here on edge without having to train and equip teams to pull off highly sophisticated operations.

Indeed, some U.S. officials say they believe some of the simpler attacks on softer targets of the type seen recently will prove to have been directed by Islamic State, not just inspired by the group.

“We know there is a command and control structure behind some of these attacks,” said a U.S. official. “Islamic State has filled up the pipeline with militants in Europe.”

According to U.S. officials the smaller attacks may be designed to overwhelm law-enforcement and intelligence services—helping operatives planning a bigger attack to move around undetected.

U.S. military officials have insisted for months that the greater frequency of attacks in Europe is a response to the pressure Islamic State is feeling in Syria and Iraq as it has lost territory in its self-declared caliphate.

Other U.S. officials have dismissed that theory, however, noting that Islamic State’s plotting predates its recent losses. These officials said the frequency and scale of the recent attacks reflects Islamic State adapting to new obstacles.

(More here.)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Meet Luca, the Ancestor of All Living Things

Nicholas Wade, NYT

A surprisingly specific genetic portrait of the ancestor of all living things has been generated by scientists who say that the likeness sheds considerable light on the mystery of how life first emerged on Earth.

This venerable ancestor was a single-cell, bacterium-like organism. But it has a grand name, or at least an acronym. It is known as Luca, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, and is estimated to have lived some four billion years ago, when Earth was a mere 560 million years old.

The new finding sharpens the debate between those who believe life began in some extreme environment, such as in deep sea vents or the flanks of volcanoes, and others who favor more normal settings, such as the “warm little pond” proposed by Darwin.

The nature of the earliest ancestor of all living things has long been uncertain because the three great domains of life seemed to have no common point of origin. The domains are those of the bacteria, the archaea and the eukaryotes. Archaea are bacteria-like organisms but with a different metabolism, and the eukaryotes include all plants and animals.

(More here.)

Not the ’60s: Apocalypse Then and Now

By TODD GITLIN, NYT, JULY 23, 2016

ACCEPTING his party’s nomination Thursday night, Donald J. Trump used the phrase “law and order” four times. So as not to leave any doubt, he shouted it out: “I am the law and order candidate.”

Mr. Trump had recently told The Times that he was borrowing his model from Richard M. Nixon’s victorious run in 1968. “What Nixon understood is that when the world is falling apart, people want a strong leader whose highest priority is protecting America first,” he said. “The ’60s were bad, really bad. And it’s really bad now. Americans feel like it’s chaos again.”

Mr. Trump is not alone in making use of the facile notion that history is repeating itself. Pundits reach for the same comparison, and reporters do too, hoping to sound historically expert. Commentators are looking for bearings in what appears to be a universe atilt. There are precedents for everything, but the disconcerting truth is that America’s political situation is downright weird today — too weird to be flattened into historical parallels, though as always there are precedents to study and weigh.

The feeling that “the world is falling apart” is easy to come by. It was surely how I felt in 1968 as a 25-year-old working for an underground newspaper in San Francisco, as unthinkable event followed unthinkable event. But as Tolstoy did not say, all chaotic times are chaotic in their own way. On the heels of the huge 1967 riots, and the police and National Guard killings that followed them, the upheavals of 1968 included the Tet offensive, the abdication of a president and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, police shootouts with Black Panthers, the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the deadly riots afterward, as well as rising street crime. They were, in sum, many orders of magnitude more grave and violent than what we experience now. American casualties in Vietnam reached their peak in 1968 — 16,889 dead — in a war fought by draftees amid huge and growing antiwar protests.

(More here.)

The Long War on Terror

David Rieff, NYT

In the wake of the mass casualty attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Orlando, Fla., and Nice, France — as well as numerous smaller ones by so-called lone wolves — it is simply a fact that no public space anywhere in the world can be considered safe. To the contrary, the tempo of these attacks is rising. President Obama may have been right when he said in February 2015 that terrorism did not pose an “existential threat to the United States or the world order.” But this is cold comfort. People are afraid, and they have every reason to be. At the same time, this legitimate fear seems to be poisoning our politics both in the United States and in Europe, feeding the demagogues and shaking our institutions.

What can be done in response? To answer that question, it is first necessary to face what can’t. Not all these attacks can be stopped. It is one thing to increase security at ports and airports — and even there, as the attacks on airports in Brussels and Istanbul show, such measures are hardly foolproof. But there is simply no way to police every subway station, cafe and public square from Berlin to Honolulu. So the one sure thing is that these attacks will continue. Even assuming that the Islamic State can be defeated in Syria and Iraq, the group’s efforts to inspire people via the internet to carry out attacks on their own are likely to continue to resonate.

This is not something to which people are going to simply resign themselves. To the contrary, every attack makes the demagogues’ arguments seem more credible. It seems only a matter of time before one of the extreme right-wing populist parties in Western Europe comes to power. (Arguably, one already has in Hungary.) To be sure, the danger of terrorism is not the only thing that has fueled their rise. But whether terrorism does or doesn’t represent an existential threat, it has engendered a level of existential dread that, mixed with the dislocations of mass migration in Europe and the discrediting of the political elite throughout the developed world, cannot be wished away.

(More here.)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Colombia's Epic War with the FARC

Deep in their jungle hideout, hard-line FARC rebels are so worried about the peace process that some vow to prolong the world’s oldest armed conflict

By Kejal Vyas | Photographs by Carlos Villalon for The Wall Street Journal

CALAMAR, Colombia—For years now, the guerrillas of the so-called First Front of the FARC rebel group survived aerial bombings and firefights, measly rations and nightly battles with armies of red ants that crawled into their makeshift jungle beds.

But for them and many of the 6,800 FARC combatants scattered across Colombia’s hinterland, a new and, in some ways, more daunting phase lies just ahead: peace. “Our world is about to be turned upside down,” said Carolina Torres, 37, a guerrilla for 22 years who serves as a nurse in the First Front.

The Colombian government is closing in on a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, to end their half-a-century conflict. But now some rebels are saying they will not demobilize.

Fifty-two years after the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, took up arms, the guerrillas who once dreamed of seizing power are at a crossroads as their commanders close in on a peace deal with their onetime sworn enemy, Colombia’s government. Both sides agreed last month, after 3½ years of negotiations in Cuba, to a permanent cease-fire as part of a blueprint for the FARC’s demobilization, which would help end the world’s oldest-running armed conflict.

In peace, the group’s supreme leaders—some of them communists schooled in the old Soviet Bloc—will lead a new political party. But the grunts who for years skirmished with antiguerrilla troops fear the prospect of disarming and reintegrating into mainstream society, dozens of rebels told The Wall Street Journal during a recent week of discussions in their jungle camp here in this country’s southeast.

(More here.)

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Crisis of Political Islam

First Egypt and now Turkey show the perils of ideological religious parties (and strongman rule), but other Muslim countries are faring better with democracy

By Yaroslav Trofimov, WSJ
July 22, 2016 5:44 p.m. ET

In 1999, a former mayor of Istanbul named Recep Tayyip Erdogan was imprisoned and banned from politics for life for reciting a poem. “Our minarets are our bayonets, our domes are our helmets, our mosques are our barracks,” the incriminating lines went. “My reference is Islam. If I am not able to speak of this, what is the use of living?”

The ban on Mr. Erdogan didn’t stick. Now Turkey’s president (and prime minister for 11 years before that), he is presiding over a nationwide purge of suspected enemies after the failure last week of a military coup against his government.

For decades, in much of the Middle East, Islamist politicians like Mr. Erdogan weren’t able to speak out—and, when they did, they frequently faced a prison cell or a hangman’s noose. From Algeria to Egypt to Turkey, the apparatus of the state repeatedly unleashed repression—of varying degrees of harshness—to marginalize political Islam, crushing democratic freedoms while offering the excuse of preserving secular values. The West, preferring the autocratic devils it knew over the Islamists it didn’t, often concurred.

In response, many of the Islamist movements that sprang up under the influence of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood—groups that include Mr. Erdogan’s party—have gradually embraced the language of pluralism and the idea of democratic politics and elections. Crucially, however, these modern Islamists have often viewed democracy not as a value in itself but merely as a tactic to bring about a “true” Islamic order. To them, the voting booth was simply the most feasible way to dismantle the postcolonial, secular systems that, in the eyes of their followers, had failed to bring justice or development to ordinary Muslims.

(More here.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Donald Trump’s Remarks Rattle NATO Allies and Stoke Debate on Cost Sharing

By SEWELL CHAN, NYT, JULY 21, 2016

LONDON — Donald J. Trump’s statement that the United States might not come to the defense of NATO allies that do not foot their share of the bill fueled anxiety on Thursday in a Europe that is already deeply unsettled about Russia’s assertive posture, Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union and the rise of inward-looking populist and nationalist parties.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Trump suggested that if elected president he would use a country’s level of military spending as a factor in deciding whether the United States would honor its commitment to defend any member nation that comes under attack. While President Obama and other American officials have also pressed European countries in recent years to increase military spending in line with their commitments to NATO, Mr. Trump more explicitly linked financial considerations to the strategic response he would order as president in the event of an attack by Russia.

His comments left some European officials concerned that the United States under Mr. Trump would edge away from the security guarantees that Washington has provided to the Continent since World War II. But they also stoked the debate over cost sharing after years in which Europe had been slow to meet its commitments on military spending.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general and a former prime minister of Norway, said that he “will not interfere in the U.S. election campaign,” but made clear that he was alarmed by Mr. Trump’s remarks.

“Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO,” he said in a statement. “This is good for European security and good for U.S. security. We defend one another. We have seen this in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of European, Canadian and partner-nation troops have stood shoulder to shoulder with U.S. soldiers.

(More here.)

Vox Verax announces new logo

Vox Verax logo
Thanks to cartoonist and designer Tom Q. Johnson, Vox Verax now has its first ever logo.

Thanks, Tom, for your help!

Confession: 'I put lipstick on a pig'

DONALD TRUMP’S GHOSTWRITER TELLS ALL

“The Art of the Deal” made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth—and regrets it.

By Jane Mayer, New Yorker

Last June, as dusk fell outside Tony Schwartz’s sprawling house, on a leafy back road in Riverdale, New York, he pulled out his laptop and caught up with the day’s big news: Donald J. Trump had declared his candidacy for President. As Schwartz watched a video of the speech, he began to feel personally implicated.

Trump, facing a crowd that had gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower, on Fifth Avenue, laid out his qualifications, saying, “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ” If that was so, Schwartz thought, then he, not Trump, should be running. Schwartz dashed off a tweet: “Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ”

Schwartz had ghostwritten Trump’s 1987 breakthrough memoir, earning a joint byline on the cover, half of the book’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar advance, and half of the royalties. The book was a phenomenal success, spending forty-eight weeks on the Times best-seller list, thirteen of them at No. 1. More than a million copies have been bought, generating several million dollars in royalties. The book expanded Trump’s renown far beyond New York City, making him an emblem of the successful tycoon. Edward Kosner, the former editor and publisher of New York, where Schwartz worked as a writer at the time, says, “Tony created Trump. He’s Dr. Frankenstein.”

(Continued here.)

Mother Nature continues to thumb nose at GOP climate change denials

First Half of 2016 Blows Away Temperature Records: Heat drops after El Niño but remains at record global highs

By Andrea Thompson, Climate Central on July 19, 2016

The first half of 2016 has blown away temperature records, capped off by a record hot June, once again bumping up the odds that 2016 will be the hottest year on record globally, according to data released Tuesday.

The monthly numbers from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts the planet on track to surpass 2015 as the hottest on record.

“2016 has really blown that out of the water,” Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said.

While 2016 has gotten a boost from an exceptionally strong El Niño, the record temps are mostly the result of the excess heat that has built up in Earth’s atmosphere due to accumulating greenhouse gases. That heat is raising global sea levels, disrupting ecosystems and leading to more extreme weather events.

Every month this year has been record warm globally. Several months early in the year were among the first ever recorded to exceed 1°C (1.8°F) above average.

(Continued here.)

Government funded research for business profits

By TOM MAERTENS
Mankato Free Press

One of Ronald Reagan’s zombie theories is the claim that “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Similar free market cultists assert that government threatens our economic security, and that innovation and economic growth are produced by creative geniuses in places like Silicon Valley.

In reality, government was pivotal in the development of the computer industry, the pharmaceutical-biotech industry, information technology, jet aircraft, communication satellites, nanotech and green technology, along with the aviation/space and defense industries.

The case of Apple, the most valuable corporation in the world, is illustrative.

According to Mariana Mazzucato (The Entrepreneurial State), there are 12 key enabling technologies in Apple’s signature products — the iPod, iPad, and iPhone — including microprocessors (CPUs), dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), micro hard-drive storage, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), lithium-ion batteries, digital signal processing, the Internet and the Internet languages (HTTP & HTML), cellular technology and networks, the Global Positioning System (GPS), click-wheel navigation & multi-touch screens, and artificial intelligence with a voice-user interface (i.e., Apple’s Siri).

Every one of those technologies was funded with government money, says Mazzucato, frequently through partnerships with research organizations like Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel and others.

It was DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) which developed the Internet, first called ARPANET, and the USG which orbited and maintains the 31 satellites that constitute NavStar (the GPS) at a cost of $700 million per year. CERN, The European Organization for Nuclear Research, played a major role in developing HTTP and HTML.

The USG founded SEMATECH and then gave it $500 million to develop semiconductors. Additionally, the Strategic Computing Initiative provided $1 billion to computer researchers.

Apple also received money from the SBA’s Innovation Research Program, which gives $2 billion a year in direct funding to commercialize new technologies.

In addition, the USG negotiates open markets abroad for U.S. products and protects intellectual property, both vital to Apple’s success.

Beyond that, Apple received billions in tax incentives from the state of California, and hundreds of millions in tax incentives from North Carolina, Texas, Nevada, and Oregon, and benefits from government-provided transportation and communications infrastructure.

Despite decades of government support, Apple claims it is not a U.S. corporation and pays almost no U.S. corporate taxes.

The government was critical to innovations in other fields, as well. R&D magazine found that 77 of the 88 most important innovations between 1971 and 2006 were fully funded by the government.

The seventeen National Laboratories, supported by DOE, developed the world’s fastest semiconductors, the most powerful lasers, nuclear power, maglev technology, clean energy tech, and other innovations. DOD has invested tens of billions more.

National Science Foundation grants developed the algorithm that led to Google’s success (J. Battelle, The Search, 2005). NSF also created the National Nanotech Initiative, funded at $1.8 billion per year.

Likewise, most of the really innovative new drugs were developed by publicly funded laboratories, according to Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health fund 26 research centers that have played a role in virtually every bioscience and pharmaceutical breakthrough.

NIH awarded 500,000 grants to more than 325,000 researchers, a total of $624 billion, between 1976 and 2010.

Similarly, the UK Medical Research Council funded the discovery of molecular antibodies, the basis of the biotech industry.

Big Pharma does research but directed principally at tweaking existing products so they can (re-)patent them, writes Mazzucato, despite justifying high drug prices as necessary to fund R&D. Their most profitable drugs are the result of the Orphan Drug Act which subsidizes otherwise unprofitable drugs that target rare diseases; this helped create Biogen, Amgen, Genzyme and Genentech.

Surprisingly, because of the Bayh-Dole Act (1980), researchers can patent the results of government-funded research, in effect privatizing the profits from taxpayer investments.

Patents encourage venture capital investing, which usually comes late in the commercialization process, typically 15-20 years after government investment enables the key developments.

Inevitably, any organization that attempts innovative research risks failures: the government had Solyndra; Apple had the Lisa.

Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens) has written about free markets that “The most important economic resource is trust in the future … which is constantly being threatened by thieves and charlatans” and for which the market itself offers no protection.

It is government that brings law and order to society, including regulating markets and sanctioning cheaters and provides infrastructure.

The reality is that without government, there would be no orderly markets, and no Apple or Silicon Valley.

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 counterterrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He lives in Mankato.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A great excuse to go home and take a nap

Soaring Temperatures Will Make It Too Hot to Work, UN Warns

Jessica Shankleman
Kambiz Foroohar
Bloomberg, July 18, 2016

Searing temperatures caused by climate change may cost global economies more than $2 trillion by 2030, restricting working hours in some of the poorest parts of the world, according to United Nations research.

As many as 43 countries, especially those in Asia, including China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, will experience declines in their economies because of heat stress, says Tord Kjellstrom, a director at the Health and Environment International Trust, based in Nelson, New Zealand. As a result, China’s gross domestic product would be reduced 1 percent and Indonesia’s by 6 percent by 2030.

Extreme heat in Southeast Asia already curbs annual working hours by 15 to 20 percent, and that figure could double by 2050 as climate change progresses, according to the paper published in Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Health on Tuesday.

The study was one of six papers published by the UN university in Kuala Lumpur detailing the impact of climate change on human health. From 1980 to 2012, it said about 2.1 million people worldwide died as a direct result of almost 21,000 natural catastrophes such as floods, mudslides, extreme heat, drought, high winds or fires. The cost of those disasters exceeded $4 trillion, a sum comparable to the current GDP of Germany.

(Continued here.)

Coal: Another plant bites the dust

Great River Energy to retire North Dakota coal plant

In a July 2016 air quality report, Ceres and the Bank of America identified Great River Energy as the second highest carbon emitter, and the third worst mercury emitter, among the nation’s largest power companies <mjbradley.com/benchmarking-air-emissions>. A stunning 97 percent of Great River Energy’s generation came from burning coal in 2014. (Source: Fresh Energy)

Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio · July 15, 2016

Great River Energy announced Friday it will retire a small coal-fired power plant near Bismarck, N.D., by May 2017, because it's become too expensive to run.

The Stanton Station is one of several power plants that generates electricity for Great River Energy's 1.7 million Minnesota consumers. The 189-megawatt plant had not been slated for retirement, according to Great River Energy's latest resource plan with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. However, utility officials said low prices in the regional energy market drove the decision.

"After careful consideration of several alternatives, it became clear that retiring the plant was in the best interest of our member cooperatives," David Saggau, Great River Energy's president and CEO, said in a news release.

Officials said Stanton has not been running at full capacity lately because of the economic conditions that made it cheaper to get electricity from the utility's other plants or purchase it from elsewhere.

Environmental groups hailed the planned retirement. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign says it would be the 237th coal plant to be retired since 2010. The group has targeted coal plants because of their contribution to carbon emissions linked to climate change.

(Continued here.)

Vast Purge in Turkey as Thousands Are Detained in Post-Coup Backlash

By TIM ARANGO, CEYLAN YEGINSU and BEN HUBBARD, NYT, JULY 18, 2016

ISTANBUL — The Turkish government’s crackdown after a military coup attempt widened into a sweeping purge on Monday, cutting a swath through the security services and reaching deeply into the government bureaucracy and the political and business classes.

The sheer numbers being detained or dismissed were stunning: nearly 18,000 in all, including 6,000 members of the military, almost 9,000 police officers, as many as 3,000 judges, 30 governors and one-third of all generals and admirals, as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s own military attaché.

The magnitude of the backlash by Mr. Erdogan suggested that the depth of support for the coup was far greater than it initially appeared, or that the president was using the opportunity to root out all perceived adversaries, or both.

As hopes faded that Mr. Erdogan would try to use the moment to unite the country, instead taking a security-first approach, Western allies began to express alarm at what looked like score-settling. On Monday in Brussels, Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, urged Turkey — a member of NATO and a candidate for membership in the European Union — to show restraint and preserve the rule of law.

(More here.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Cure for Trumpism

The case for a conservative politics that stresses the national interest abroad and national solidarity at home.

By ROSS DOUTHAT and REIHAN SALAM, NYT, JULY 15, 2016

WHEN Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination on Thursday in Cleveland, it will represent a stunning moment in American politics — the triumph of a raw populism, embodied by a shameless demagogue, over both the official establishment and the official ideology of a major political party.

We didn’t see Trump’s apotheosis coming. But in our 2008 book, “Grand New Party,” we pointed out that despite its “party of the rich” reputation, the Republican Party increasingly depended on mostly white working-class support, even as its policy agenda was increasingly unresponsive to working-class voters’ problems and concerns.

Now Trump has brought this tension fully into the open and ruthlessly exploited it. His primary-season base was more working class and less religious and libertarian than is usual for Republican nominees, and his campaign trafficked in overtly populist rather than ideologically conservative appeals: protectionist talk on trade and immigration, an “America First” foreign policy vision, a promise to protect Social Security and Medicare and an unsubtle emphasis on white identity and white nostalgia.

Of course Trumpism is also a celebrity-driven cult of personality, forged by its leader’s unique reality-television appeal. This has made it relatively easy for the Republican Party’s leaders to hope that his campaign is sui generis, that when he loses in November (as most of them still expect) there won’t be a coherent Trumpism after Trump.

In the short term, they might be right: In 2018 and 2020, Republican politics might return to an uneasy normalcy.

(More here.)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Obama’s Whac-A-Mole strategy

By Fareed Zakaria Opinion writer July 14 at 7:58 PM, WashPost

It has become conventional wisdom to note that President Obama has failed in his efforts to extricate the United States from military conflicts in the Middle East. Having promised to end these wars, he has in the past year expanded U.S. interventions in Iraq, Syria and other countries. The troop drawdown in Afghanistan has slowed to a trickle. “Obama’s legacy,” says Gene Healy of the Cato Institute, is clear: “endless war.” The New York Times’ Mark Landler noted in May that Obama had just “passed a somber, little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.”

But these characterizations treat all military activity as alike, in a way that blurs rather than sharpens the picture. When Obama entered the White House, about 180,000 U.S. troops were engaged in active military combat in two theaters, Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal of both wars was to establish political order in these countries — to create functioning liberal democracies.

(More here.)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How the CIA Hoodwinked Hollywood

Since its inception, the agency has wooed filmmakers, producers, and actors in order to present a rosy portrait of its operations to the American public.

Nicholas Schou, The Atlantic
7:00 AM ET

The CIA has a long history of “spooking the news,” dating back to its earliest days when the legendary spymaster Allen Dulles and his top staff drank and dined regularly with the press elite of New York and Washington, and the agency boasted hundreds of U.S. and foreign journalists as paid and unpaid assets. In 1977, after this systematic media manipulation was publicly exposed by congressional investigations, the CIA created an Office of Public Affairs that was tasked with guiding press coverage of intelligence matters in a more transparent fashion. The agency insists that it no longer maintains a stable of friendly American journalists, and that its efforts to influence the press are much more above board. But, in truth, the intelligence empire’s efforts to manufacture the truth and mold public opinion are more vast and varied than ever before. One of its foremost assets? Hollywood.

The agency has established a very active spin machine in the heart of the entertainment capital, which works strenuously to make sure the cloak-and-dagger world is presented in heroic terms. Since the mid-1990s, but especially after 9/11, American screenwriters, directors, and producers have traded positive portrayal of the spy profession in film or television projects for special access and favors at CIA headquarters.

Ever since its inception in 1947, the CIA has been covertly working with Hollywood. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the agency formally hired an entertainment industry liaison and began openly courting favorable treatment in films and television. During the Clinton presidency, the CIA took its Hollywood strategy to a new level—trying to take more control of its own mythmaking. In 1996, the CIA hired one of its veteran clandestine officers, Chase Brandon, to work directly with Hollywood studios and production companies to upgrade its image. “We’ve always been portrayed erroneously as evil and Machiavellian,” Brandon later told The Guardian. “It took us a long time to support projects that portray us in the light we want to be seen in.”

(More here.)

Meet the GOP, where up is down, down is up, black is green and dirty is clean

Republican platform declares coal is clean

By Rebecca Leber on Jul 11, 2016

The Republican platform committee met in Cleveland the week before the Republican National Convention to hammer out the party’s policies in a Trump era. Not to be outdone by Democrats, who approved the party’s strongest platform language yet on climate change this weekend, Republicans have gone as far as possible in the other direction — by endorsing coal as clean.

After a unanimous vote on Monday, the RNC’s draft platform officially declares coal “an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.”

David Barton, a delegate from Texas, proposed the single-word edit to the RNC’s already-glowing list of adjectives on coal in its platform draft. “I would insert the adjective ‘clean’ along with coal, particularly because the technology we have now,” was Barton’s reasoning.

(More here.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership threatens to undermine good food and farm movements

Selling Off the Farm: Corporate Meat's Takeover Through TTIP

By Sharon Anglin Treat Shefali Sharma
Published July 11, 2016, by Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Citizens in both the European Union (EU) and the United States (U.S.) are demanding a healthier, more just and more sustainable food system. As parties negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), proposed trade rules threaten to undermine the good food and farm movements on both sides of the Atlantic. The negotiations are taking place at a formative time: consumer interest in locally grown, organic and minimally-processed food is expanding in both regions, along with public policy supporting these consumer choices. At the same time, globalisation and an increasingly concentrated and vertically integrated agricultural sector are pushing food production, in particular the meat sector, toward increasing overall production through industrialised systems located where labour is cheap and environmental and animal welfare standards are weak or non-existent.

If agreed to, TTIP would be the largest and most comprehensive bilateral trade agreement ever signed, as well as a blueprint for future international agreements. Consequently, TTIP not only threatens current efforts in the EU and U.S. to build a healthier, more compassionate and more sustainable food system, but the trade deal could also expand factory farming worldwide by harmonising standards of two of the largest meat markets (U.S. and EU) and setting the terms for global standards in future trade deals. Eliminating all tariffs on agricultural products in the market-access chapter as proposed would favor ever cheaper production methods. Likewise, TTIP’s focus on reducing or eliminating regulatory differences and protections—“regulatory harmonisation”—would promote cheaper industrialised practices prevalent in the U.S. and increasingly prevalent in the EU. As a result, TTIP is likely to stand in the way of much-needed regulatory reform in the U.S. as well as proposals in the EU that seek to address climate change, animal welfare and the role of GMOs in the food system.

(Continued here.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

International tribunal rejects Beijing’s claims to South China Sea

By Simon Denyer and Emily Rauhala, WashPost, July 12 at 5:45 AM

BEIJING — An international tribunal has ruled that China does not have historic rights to justify its expansive claims to the South China Sea, in a major blow to Beijing.

China has repeatedly made it clear it will not accept, recognize nor implement Tuesday’s ruling on the South China Sea, the hotly contested waterway that contains some of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

But the verdict, which came in strongly in favor of the Philippines and against China, will nevertheless undermine its claim to sovereignty under the nine-dash line which it draws around most of the South China Sea.

(More here.)

Monday, July 11, 2016

What Trump and the G.O.P. Can Agree On: Tax Cuts for the Rich

By PATRICIA COHEN, NYT
JULY 10, 2016

In some important ways, the House Republicans’ new plan to overhaul the tax code has more in common with proposals from the candidates who lost their party’s presidential nomination than those from Donald J. Trump, the one poised to win it.

Like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the Republicans boast that most Americans will be able to file their taxes on a postcard.

Like the former Florida governor Jeb Bush, they would eliminate deductions for interest payments for businesses and allow them to immediately write off all capital investments.

Like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, they would no longer tax a company’s foreign profits.

But most significant, the blueprint, shepherded by Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the House speaker, embraces a transformational shift promoted by both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, but not Mr. Trump: a move away from taxing income to a system that basically taxes consumption.

(More here.)

China’s Menacing Words for a Boat in Disputed Waters: ‘Get Out!’

Fishermen in Subic Bay, the Philippines, say Chinese ships have harassed them in the South China Sea. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times.

By JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ, NYT, JULY 11, 2016

SCARBOROUGH SHOAL, South China Sea — We could see the glistening turquoise waters in the distance, a haven where deep-sea waves soften and, fishermen say, the grouper and snapper could feed a village for eternity.

But guarding the waters, the mouth of Scarborough Shoal, was a 130-foot Chinese Coast Guard ship. If we were to get more than a glimpse of this speck of coral and rock — the latest potential point of contention between China and the United States in the South China Sea — our boat would have to be quick.

Capt. Alex O. Tagapan, who usually takes tourists on sightseeing cruises, steered toward the entrance of the boomerang-shaped atoll and accelerated. Turning to a small statue of Santo Niño de Cebú, a patron saint of the Philippines known for miraculous powers, he prayed.

Within minutes, the Chinese sent a speedboat painted with the coast guard’s red stripes racing toward us. “Get out! Get out!” a man on the boat wearing a bamboo hat and an orange vest shouted in English, waving his arms.

Over the past two years, China has worked to strengthen its claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea, dredging sand to turn scattered reefs and atolls into islands despite protests from neighbors and the United States.

Now, China is said to be considering plans to build Scarborough Shoal into an island, too, an effort that would be its most ambitious and provocative yet. China would gain an outpost on the eastern side of the sea, more than 530 miles from its mainland but just 140 miles from the Philippines.

That could bolster China’s claim to the sea, including oil exploration and fishing rights, and could substantially extend its radar, air and missile coverage, including over United States forces in the Philippines.

Last month, I set out to see this patch of water, which has inspired bluster from two superpowers but which Charles Darwin once described in almost poetic terms: “a hundred fathoms, colored blue.”

(More here.)

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Hello, Congress? Anybody home?

'Hot, wet and wild' 2016 weather as US has warmest June

By SETH BORENSTEIN
Jul. 7, 2016, AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — America's warm, wild and costly weather broke another record with the hottest June, federal meteorologists say. And if that's not enough, they calculated that 2016 is flirting with the U.S. record for most billion-dollar weather disasters.

The month's average temperature in the Lower 48 states was 71.8 degrees, 3.3 degrees above normal, surpassing the Dust Bowl record set in 1933 by a couple tenths of a degree, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday. Every state in the nation was warmer than normal in June, with Utah and Arizona having their hottest Junes.

"2016 has been hot, wet and wild for the contiguous U.S.," NOAA climate scientist Jake Crouch said Thursday.

The nation had its third hottest first half of the year. June's record heat is from a combination of natural variability and long-term global warming, Crouch said. Records go back to 1895.

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Chilcot delivers crushing verdict on Blair and the Iraq war

Long-awaited report says UK chose to join invasion before peaceful options for disarming Saddam had been exhausted

The Guardian

Sir John Chilcot has delivered a devastating critique of Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, with his long-awaited report concluding that Britain chose to join the US invasion before “peaceful options for disarmament” had been exhausted.

The head of the Iraq war inquiry said the UK’s decision to attack and occupy a sovereign state for the first time since the second world war was a decision of “utmost gravity”. He described Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, as “undoubtedly a brutal dictator” who had repressed his own people and attacked his neighbours.

But Chilcot – whom Gordon Brown asked seven years ago to head an inquiry into the conflict – was withering about Blair’s choice to join the US invasion. Chilcot said: “We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

The report suggests that Blair’s self-belief was a major factor in the decision to go to war. In a section headed Lessons, Chilcot writes: “When the potential for military action arises, the government should not commit to a firm political objective before it is clear it can be achieved. Regular reassessment is essential.”

The report also bitterly criticises the way in which Blair made the case for Britain to go to war. It says the notorious dossier presented in September 2002 by Blair to the House of Commons did not support his claim that Iraq had a growing programme of chemical and biological weapons.

(More here.)

Washington's poodle

Chilcot Report on Iraq War Offers Devastating Critique of Tony Blair

By STEVEN ERLANGER and STEPHEN CASTLE
New York Times, JULY 6, 2016

LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain went to war alongside the United States in Iraq in 2003 on the basis of flawed intelligence that went unchallenged, a shaky legal rationale, inadequate preparation and exaggerated public statements, an independent inquiry into the war concluded in a report published on Wednesday.

The long-awaited report by the Iraq Inquiry Committee, led by John Chilcot, takes up 12 volumes covering 2.6 million words, four times longer than “War and Peace,” and took seven years to complete, longer than Britain’s combat operations in Iraq. It concluded that Mr. Blair and the British government underestimated the difficulties and consequences of the war and overestimated the influence he would have over President George W. Bush.

The result amounts to a broad indictment of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war that overthrew Saddam Hussein and its aftermath, and it portrays Mr. Blair as trying without success to restrain Mr. Bush, to push him to obtain full United Nations Security Council authorization and to warn about the difficulties of the war — and deciding to go to war alongside Washington nonetheless.

Judging that Britain should stand by the United States, Mr. Blair told Mr. Bush in a private note as early as July 28, 2002, “I will be with you, whatever.” Mr. Blair knew by January 2003 that Washington had decided to go to war to overthrow Mr. Hussein and accepted the American timetable for the military action by mid-March, pushing only for a second Security Council resolution that never came, “undermining the Security Council’s authority,” the report concludes.

(Continued here.)

The monster in the burning room: What the candidates won't talk about

Climate change: the missing issue of the 2016 campaign

Guardian US survey reveals anger of voters as election year debate fails to deal with concerns over the gathering global disaster

by Ed Pilkington and Mona Chalabi
Tuesday 5 July 2016
Voices of America from The Guardian

The race for the White House is failing to grapple with the key issues of the day, especially the urgent need to combat climate change before atmospheric changes become irreversible, a slice of the American electorate believes.

As the primary election season turns toward a head-to-head between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there is increasing anger and frustration over the nature of the contest. A Guardian call-out to online readers in the US asking them to reflect on the race so far was met by a barrage of criticism on the tone and substance of the world’s most important election – with the two main parties, individual candidates and the media all coming under heavy fire.

The Guardian asked readers to identify the “one issue that affects your life you wish the presidential candidates were discussing more”. Resoundingly, the largest group of participants pointed to climate change.

Of the 1,385 who responded to the call-out – from all 50 states – one in five expressed discontent at the relative silence from candidates around a subject that they believed to be of supreme and epochal importance. They noted that much of the Republican debate has either focused on blatant denial that climate change even exists or on how to unpick Barack Obama’s attempts to fight global warming, while on the Democratic side both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have raised the issue but have rarely pushed it to the top of the political agenda.

(Continued here.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

No matter how hard you try, coal is not the answer

Piles of Dirty Secrets Behind a Model ‘Clean Coal’ Project

A Mississippi project, a centerpiece of President Obama’s climate plan, has been plagued by problems that managers tried to conceal, and by cost overruns and questions of who will pay.

By IAN URBINA, JULY 5, 2016, New York Times

DE KALB, Miss. — The fortress of steel and concrete towering above the pine forest here is a first-of-its-kind power plant that was supposed to prove that “clean coal” was not an oxymoron — that it was possible to produce electricity from coal in a way that emits far less pollution, and to turn a profit while doing so.

The plant was not only a central piece of the Obama administration’s climate plan, it was also supposed to be a model for future power plants to help slow the dangerous effects of global warming. The project was hailed as a way to bring thousands of jobs to Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, and to extend a lifeline to the dying coal industry.

The sense of hope is fading fast, however. The Kemper coal plant is more than two years behind schedule and more than $4 billion over its initial budget, $2.4 billion, and it is still not operational.

The plant and its owner, Southern Company, are the focus of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, and ratepayers, alleging fraud, are suing the company. Members of Congress have described the project as more boondoggle than boon. The mismanagement is particularly egregious, they say, given the urgent need to rein in the largest source of dangerous emissions around the world: coal plants.

The plant’s backers, including federal energy officials, have defended their work in recent years by saying that delays and cost overruns are inevitable with innovative projects of this scale. In this case, they say, the difficulties stem largely from unforeseen factors — or “unknown unknowns,” as Tom Fanning, the chief executive of Southern Company, has often called them — like bad weather, labor shortages and design uncertainties.

(Continued here.)

Monday, July 04, 2016

Review: ‘Bush,’ a Biography as Scathing Indictment

Jean Edward Smith (Credit Rick Haye)

By PETER BAKER, NYT
JULY 3, 2016

For George W. Bush, the summer already looks unbearable. The party he gave his life to will repudiate him by nominating a bombastic serial insulter who makes the famously brash former president look like a museum docent by comparison. And a renowned presidential biographer is weighing in with a judgment that makes Mr. Bush’s gentleman’s Cs at Yale look like the honor roll.

If Mr. Bush eventually gets a more sympathetic hearing by history, as he hopes, it will not start with Jean Edward Smith’s “Bush,” a comprehensive and compelling narrative punctuated by searing verdicts of all the places where the author thinks the 43rd president went off track. Mr. Smith’s indictment does not track Donald J. Trump’s, but the cumulative effect is to leave Mr. Bush with few defenders in this season of his discontent.

Mr. Smith, a longtime academic and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, made a name for himself in part with masterly biographies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant, offering historical reassessments of underrated presidents who looked better with the passage of time. With “Bush” he sticks to the original conventional assessment, presenting a shoot-from-the-hip Texan driven by religiosity and immune to the advice of people who knew what they were talking about.

While not a fresh portrait, it is one worth debating at a time when the political class is struggling to understand the meaning of Mr. Trump’s rise. Mr. Trump’s name appears nowhere in “Bush,” but it is clear the populist revolt that propelled him to the verge of the Republican nomination had its roots in Mr. Bush’s presidency, so much so that he easily overcame the former president’s brother Jeb. Mr. Trump rejects much of what George W. Bush stood for, from the war in Iraq and more forgiving immigration policies to free trade and the very notion of compassionate conservatism.

(More here.)

Friday, July 01, 2016

Why the White House claims on drone casualties remain in doubt

By Greg Miller, WashPost
July 1 at 3:11 PM

After a conspicuous lull in the CIA drone campaign in early 2011, the agency’s aircraft roared back to life in mid-March that year, with a multi-missile barrage near a remote village in Pakistan.

The strike at Datta Khel came one day after CIA contractor Raymond Davis was released from a Pakistani jail, and was quickly followed by reports that at least two dozen people — and perhaps as many as 44 — were killed.

Five years later, the true toll of that drone assault remains a mystery. A Taliban commander, Sherabat Khan Wazir, was reportedly among those killed. But the U.S. government has never explained who else died at Datta Khel, whether any of them were civilians, or how it made that determination.

The White House’s long-awaited release Friday of new details about the U.S. drone campaign did little to change that.

(More here.)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Still doubt man-made climate change? Read this letter to Congress

June 28, 2016

Dear Members of Congress,

We, as leaders of major scientific organizations, write to remind you of the consensus scientific view of climate change.

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. This conclusion is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

There is strong evidence that ongoing climate change is having broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health. For the United States, climate change impacts include greater threats of extreme weather events, sea level rise, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems. The severity of climate change impacts is increasing and is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades. (1)

To reduce the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced. In addition, adaptation is necessary to address unavoidable consequences for human health and safety, food security, water availability, and national security, among others.

We, in the scientific community, are prepared to work with you on the scientific issues important to your deliberations as you seek to address the challenges of our changing climate.

American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Chemical Society
American Geophysical Union
American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Meteorological Society
American Public Health Association
American Society of Agronomy
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
American Society of Naturalists
American Society of Plant Biologists
American Statistical Association
Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography
Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium
Botanical Society of America
Consortium for Ocean Leadership Crop Science Society of America
Ecological Society of America
Entomological Society of America
Geological Society of America
National Association of Marine Laboratories
Natural Science Collections Alliance
Organization of Biological Field Stations
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society for Mathematical Biology
Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
Society of Nematologists
Society of Systematic Biologists Soil Science Society of America
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
________________________________

(1) The conclusions in this and the preceding paragraph reflect the scientific consensus represented by, for example, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the U.S. National Academies, and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Many scientific societies have endorsed these findings in their own statements, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, American Statistical Association, Ecological Society of America, and Geological Society of America.

In Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, Suspects Have the ‘Right to Remain Silent—Forever’

A surge in killings of suspected criminals since the crime-buster was elected president offers a glimpse of what may lie ahead

By Trefor Moss, WSJ
June 30, 2016 1:51 a.m. ET

MANILA—Jimmy Vosotros was found dead along a highway on the Philippine island of Cebu last month, his hogtied body wrapped like a mummy in garbage bags and packing tape and a rope around his neck.

A message left at the scene invoked this country’s man of the moment: President Rodrigo Duterte. “I’m a bandit, Du30,” it said, using common shorthand for the man driving a law-and-order push.

The killing, and others recently, offers a glimpse of what may be to come in this fast-growing country, a crucial U.S. ally in Asia.

Mr. Duterte, the long-serving mayor of Davao City in the southern Philippines, was sworn in as president on Thursday, having comfortably won elections in early May after pledging to wipe out criminals. He advocates the killing of suspected lawbreakers and has publicly backed vigilante death squads estimated to have killed over 1,000 people in Davao.

“Kill them all,” Mr. Duterte told a rally in March, referring to criminals and suspects. “When I become president I’ll order the police and the military to find these people and kill them.” During the campaign, Mr. Duterte said 100,000 Filipinos would die during the coming purge.

(More here.)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Ken Starr’s Squalid Second Act

Mimi Swartz, NYT, JUNE 27, 2016

Houston — EDWIN EDWARDS, the colorful former governor of Louisiana, had a favorite quote often attributed to the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu: “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”

I thought of this again last week as Hillary Clinton absorbed a fresh attack on her record from Donald J. Trump. Amid that, I wondered whether she’d had a chance to savor the fall of the Clintons’ nemesis, Ken Starr, and appreciate its ironies. In a political campaign as relentlessly nasty as this one, it must be hard to steal a moment of peace, much less schadenfreude.

By the time of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the dependably Republican Mr. Starr had built a prestigious career as an attorney, appellate judge and solicitor general under President George H. W. Bush. Then, in 1994, a congressional committee made Mr. Starr a special prosecutor to investigate the Clintons’ involvement in the Whitewater real estate venture and, juicier, the death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, a Clinton confidant.

Mr. Starr aspired higher and wanted to go deeper. Soon, his brief had expanded to investigating the sex life of a young woman named Monica Lewinsky. Relying on covert recordings of her confessions, Mr. Starr’s report read at times like a steamy romance novel: “She unbuttoned her jacket; either she unhooked her bra or he lifted her bra up; and he touched her breasts with his hands and mouth …”

(More here.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The State Department’s Dissent Memo on Syria: An Explanation

The Interpreter By MAX FISHER, NYT, JUNE 22, 2016

On Thursday, The New York Times obtained a draft version of a State Department memo that sharply criticizes the Obama administration’s Syria policy and calls for limited military strikes against that country’s government. The memo, signed by 51 diplomats, was sent through an agency “dissent channel” that was established during the Vietnam War to air internal criticism.

Because the memo is written by and for government officials, its language can be difficult to parse. What follows is an annotation of 10 key lines, many of which were marked SBU, for “sensitive but unclassified” (U is unclassified).

Discussion of the memo has focused on the dissenters’ indictment of their own leader’s policy. Many of their points have been debated inside the administration for years, and there are complicated arguments on both sides.

While their proposed solution excludes some significant points, there is a core truth in this document: Current policy has little answer for how to break out of a status quo that is disastrous and steadily getting worse.

(More here.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Clinton honesty ravaged by the right

By Tom Maertens

Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee, and the right-wing noise machine has already ramped up its long-running smear campaign against the Clintons, the most vilified and lied about politicians in U.S. history.

The campaign was intended to discredit Bill when he was governor of Arkansas and seen as a possible future president.

Among the charges fabricated by the so-called “Arkansas Project,” and amplified by the right wing echo chamber, were claims that Bill Clinton was guilty of murder, drug smuggling, arms trafficking, and of fathering a child by a black prostitute. *

Much of the campaign was bankrolled by Richard Mellon Scaife, a paranoid billionaire who told the now-defunct George magazine that at least 60 people associated with the Clintons had “mysteriously disappeared.”

After the ’94 elections, when the GOP took control of the House, Clinton became the target of the scorched-earth partisanship of Newt Gingrich, resulting, by some counts, in seventeen congressional investigations.

Then Kenneth Starr was appointed independent counsel and relentlessly pursued Clinton for six years through a chain of phony scandals labeled Whitewater, including Filegate, Chinagate, Travelgate, Troopergate, cattle futures, the Marc Rich pardon and others.

When he came up empty, Starr used the Whitewater mandate to conduct a rolling investigation into Bill Clinton’s sex life, employing dozens of FBI agents, which Starr described in salacious detail in his final report.

Clinton’s lies about his relationship with Monica Lewinski became the basis for impeachment. He was acquitted but cited for contempt of court and paid a $90,000 fine.

The six-year, $80 million dollar witch hunt backfired badly: Clinton's popularity reached 73 percent. He left office with a 66 percent approval rating, higher than Ronald Reagan’s and the highest since FDR.

In addition, the hypocrisy of Clinton’s leading inquisitors became public: Newt Gingrich had adulterous affairs during his first two marriages; his replacement as Speaker, Bob Livingstone, had multiple infidelities and resigned; Henry Hyde, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, admitted to a five-year affair; and Dan Burton, another hardliner, confessed to fathering a child out of wedlock. Subsequently, it turned out that Dennis Hastert was a serial child molester.

Hillary Clinton was not cited for anything. Those manufactured scandals have nonetheless been used to create an aura of corruption around Hillary, as are “Benghazi” (investigated by eight Congressional committees), and the death of Vince Foster, which Trump called “fishy” (five official investigations concluded it was a suicide, reported the Washington Post).

The latest Clinton “scandal” is about Hillary using a private server for official but unclassified e-mails. She has said it was a mistake and that she regrets having done it. Several law-enforcement officials told the Wall Street Journal this month that they don’t expect any criminal charges to be filed as a result of the investigation.

For the sake of comparison, there was virtually no reaction to the revelation that 88 Bush administration officials used a private e-mail server at the Republican National Committee for official government communications, according to TIME magazine — a violation of the Presidential Records Act. AP reported that as many as 22 million emails were deleted from the RNC server.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has acknowledged using a non-State system during his entire time in office. Nobody demanded an investigation of Powell.

After 30 years of Clinton “scandals,” critics cannot point to a single instance of purposeful wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton. As Kevin Drum wrote in Mother Jones, “there's almost literally nothing to any of these ‘scandals;’ we also know exactly how they were deliberately and cynically manufactured at every step along the way.”

Is Hillary trustworthy? Jill Abramson, a former editor of the New York Times, followed Hillary — skeptically — for 30 years. She concluded in the Guardian that Hillary is basically honest. Kevin Drum, writing in Mother Jones, concluded the same.

Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, is repeating the Big Lie, claiming Hillary belongs in jail.

It is Trump who has the honesty problem, and who is being sued by 5,000 people for fraud. As the Washington Post editorialized this month, “Trump Lies and Lies and Lies Again.” Timothy Egan (New York Times) labeled him as “surely the most compulsive liar to seek high office.”

The non-partisan PolitiFact determined that 76 percent of Trump’s statements are lies, and awarded his campaign statements 2015’s Lie of the Year. The Washington Post Fact Checker found that 70 percent of Trump’s statements that it reviewed are blatant lies.

Hillary’s real “offenses” are being a Democrat and a woman who wants to be president.

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. He lives in Mankato.

Sources:

*The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason, 2001

The Clinton Wars, by Sydney Blumenthal, 2003

Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, by David Brock, 2002

A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President, by Jeffrey Toobin, 2012

Also published in the Mankato Free Press, Wednesday, June 22, 2016