Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 17th, 2017

Evelyn Farkas was the Pentagon’s top Russia expert. Now she wants Trump independently investigated.

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Also read David Frum’s article blogged in the previous post. Ezra Klein writes in Vox:

From 2012 to 2015, Evelyn Farkas served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. Since leaving office, she’s been raising the alarm that there was more to the strange relationship between Trumpland and Russia than the public knew. Maybe even much more. This week, she was proven right.

We spoke Wednesday, and the relief was evident in her voice. Far from being concerned over the new revelations, she’s comforted that the ties are finally being made public and broad pressure is finally being applied for more investigations. “I didn’t think it would happen this fast,” she says.

The investigation we need, Farkas continues, is the equivalent of running “a security clearance on the president.” The core question is, “Are you susceptible to blackmail from a foreign entity or individual?”

Farkas, who served as the executive director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, thinks Congress needs to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate Russia’s ties to the Trump administration and role in the election. In this interview, which is edited for length and clarity, she explains why.

Ezra Klein: What’s your level of alarm after the resignation of Michael Flynn?

Evelyn Farkas:It’s lower than it’s been since the summer, when I was first made aware of all this stuff. I’m like, finally, everybody else sees it! Seriously.

The reason I was so upset last summer was that I was getting winks and hints from inside that there was something really wrong here. I was agitated because I knew the Clinton campaign and the world didn’t know. But I didn’t think it would happen this fast. I didn’t think Flynn would survive a year, but I thought it would be most of the year.

The fact that Flynn is gone is constructive from the perspective of US foreign policy. He was getting it wrong on combating terrorism and Russia. So I feel relieved that he will not be whispering his policy prescriptions in the president’s ear.

On the bigger issue, the intelligence community, the bureaucracy, patriotic Americans, and some members of Congress are making it impossible for the White House to sweep whatever they are trying to hide under the rug. And the White House is clearly trying to hide something, or the president would have said, on day one, that he would support the investigations that began under his predecessor.

Ezra Klein: The piece of this I keep coming back to is Trump’s own actions. He’s a guy with very few consistent and clear policy positions, particularly on foreign policy. But he has always had very specific, very hard-line pro-Russian policies — questioning NATO, altering the GOP platform to be friendlier to Russia on Ukraine. And he has surrounded himself with staffers like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who are unusually closely tied to Russia. That behavior is what, to me, creates a context that makes these contacts between his associates and Russian intelligence really unnerving.

Evelyn Farkas: It is unusual. His personnel choices line up with his words on Russia. This is the only place where we haven’t seen Trump contradict himself, but we still don’t know exactly what his policy will be. We know he’s inclined to be friendly to Putin, to cooperate with Putin, but he hasn’t articulated specifics.

Ezra Klein: Where does an investigation like this go? What do you think the investigators are looking for? . . .

Continue reading.

It’s getting pretty damn explicit and overt.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 8:13 pm

Three Reasons to Reject Trump’s Criticism of Intelligence Leaks

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This one’s important. David Frum (a conservative) writes in the Atlantic:

It’s a rare event when President Trump tweets approvingly of a journalist, but yesterday Eli Lake of Bloomberg View gained that unusual honor.

Pretty obviously, the president had not actually read the underlying column, which opens with a summary of Trump’s most egregious untruths, to build to the observation: “for a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it’s strange that Flynn’s ‘lie’ to Pence would get him fired.”  (Trump also missed Lake’s early-off-the-blocks reporting on Russian responsibility for the DNC and DCCC hacks.  )

Yet Lake’s core point has been seized upon by those looking to distract from what Trump himself called “the Russia connection.” Following Donald Trump, the House Oversight Committee’s chairman, Jason Chaffetz, has insisted that it is the leaker, not the leaks, that merits investigation. That line has been adopted by the administration’s favored talkers in the media, led—naturally—by Sean Hannity.

These talkers argue that what we are seeing here is a slow-motion coup d’etat: lawless leaks by politicized intelligence officers aimed at destroying the elected president of the United States.

Here are three reasons to reject this claim:

1) When Russian spies hacked Democratic emails, and then posted those emails via WikiLeaks, the Trump campaign and its friends noisily insisted that it didn’t matter how information came into the public domain, but only whether the information told Americans something important about a would-be president.

“I love WikiLeaks!” said Donald Trump at a rally in Pennsylvania in October. A Republican congressman who had over-enthusiastically tweeted “Thank God for WikiLeaks” explained himself in a more formal statement: While he did not condone illegal activity, he was “thankful the information was out there.”  And this was the line certainly from Trump supporters on air and online: The real news was the content of the leak, not the fact of the leak.

Yet in the WikiLeaks instance, the content of the leak was a series of nothingburgers. Maybe the most exciting revelation was that Donna Brazile had shared with the Clinton campaign one of the questions to be posed to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at a CNN townhall during the Democratic primaries. Now, however, we are dealing with information of truly vital national importance: plausible allegations that a U.S. presidential campaign had contact with a hostile foreign power which had hacked the communications of its political opponents. If there was any coordination, the resulting scandal would blend Watergate with Alger Hiss. The people who “loved WikiLeaks” seem poorly positioned to complain that potentially vastly greater wrongdoing is being brought to light by the same methods they endorsed for their own advantage.

2) If the information about the Trump campaign’s apparent collusion with the Russians were not leaked, it would have been smothered and covered up. Congress refused to act. The Department of Justice has shown zero interest. The president’s occasional remarks about the matter carry all the conviction of O.J. Simpson’s vow to search for the real killers.

What, exactly, were investigators supposed to do with their information if they did not share it with the public? Evidence that close associates of the current president of the United States had contacts with a hostile foreign-intelligence service is not a matter of purely historical interest. It’s not just a law-enforcement matter. The whistle blowers are blowing whistles, at immense professional and legal risk to themselves, because the people in charge of protecting the system against foreign spy penetration are themselves implicated in that penetration.

3) Eli Lake vividly characterized the fate of Michael Flynn as a “political assassination.” It might be more accurate to describe the current struggle as a duel. Well before the latest revelations, Team Trump has unmistakably signaled its intention to purge the intelligence services of people with knowledge of the president’s Russia connection. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 8:01 pm

Congress targets a California law that aims to give low-income workers retirement security

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Evan Halper reports in the LA Times:

ambitious California law intended to help create retirement security for low-income workers is in the crosshairs of the Trump-era Congress, which is moving to block the state and others from launching programs to automatically enroll millions of people in IRA-type savings plans.

The push is one of the most direct confrontations yet with California and other liberal states by a GOP-led Congress emboldened by President Trump’s election.

And it is intensifying the debate about whether conservatives who now control Washington will honor their pledge to respect states’ rights, even when states pursue policies out of step with the Republican agenda.

By targeting the novel “auto IRA”-style programs, congressional Republicans are also provoking one of California’s most visible leaders, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, the Democrat who championed the policy in California and nationwide and is leading a movement in the Legislature to resist the Trump White House.

The 2016 law being targeted requires employers to enroll 6.8 million California workers who currently have no access to a retirement savings account at work in a state-sponsored plan. Millions more in seven other states that have passed laws similar to California’s would also be enrolled in those states. Many more states are now weighing joining a movement that has been years in the making.

California first took steps toward creating its program in 2012. Other states, including Illinois, have been slowly implementing their own laws, which have been complicated by federal Labor Department rules governing such investment pools.

In its final months, the Obama administration gave states the green light to pursue their vision.

The state laws generally require employers with no retirement plans to automatically invest a small percentage of each worker’s pay in a state-sponsored retirement account. Employers are not required to contribute anything and workers can opt out of the program if they choose.

The first such program was expected to launch this year in Oregon. California and other states were hoping to begin next year.

Now at the urging of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of Wall Street investment firms long opposed to government-sponsored retirement programs that could compete with their own offerings, key Republicans are moving to revoke the federal approval.

“Our nation faces difficult retirement challenges, but more government isn’t the solution,” said a statement from Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), chairman of a House subcommittee on retirement issues who is taking a lead in the repeal effort.

Walberg and his colleagues are invoking an obscure parliamentary tool that gives Congress a small window to repeal new regulations. It has rarely been used in recent years because any repeal effort would have faced certain veto by President Obama. But under Trump, it is now a potent tool for Republicans to swiftly unwind Obama-era regulations.

“The results of the November election give us an opportunity to go back and correct this,” Aliya Wong, executive director of retirement policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of its effort to block California and other states from moving ahead with their programs.

No hearings are required before the full House votes on the repeal of the federal approval, which could happen as soon as next week. . .

Continue reading.

It’s really out in the open now, isn’t it? The next step will be fistfights.

And contract reporter? Shouldn’t he be on staff?

In that connection, note the GoFundMe of Pizza for the Newsroom: contribute toward buying pizza for the staff of the NY Times and the Washington Post. I have digital subscriptions to both, and they are fully worth it. And I bought a pizza, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 7:40 pm

An interesting trendlet: TV & movies for reassurance and comfort of certainty

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I just realized I had seen more than one (ergo: a trend) movie/TV with the idea that the future is known (so we don’t need to worry about it: we (the protagonists) know) and that we can make things come out all right. Examples: Arrival; Travelers; … others?

It seems to reflect a sort of consensus of anxiety and trying to find ways to address it. But I fear that action is going to be required. Can this Congress do it?

It’s uncomfortable living in historic times.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 7:11 pm

Trump’s China trademark looks (one helluva lot) like a quid pro quo

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It sure as hell does. What happened to the idea that Caesar’s wife (much less Caesar) must be above suspicion? Read Nikita Vladimirov’s story in The Hill.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 6:14 pm

Violent Crime Peaked In Britain in 2006 Because….

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post at Mother Jones:

I missed this when it was first written—probably because it was only a week after Donald Trump won the election—but Robert Waldmann decided to check out a few of his predictions:

In April 2008, I predicted that the UK violent crime rate would peak some time around 2008. I just googled and found that it peaked in around 2006 or 2007.

Here’s the chart, courtesy of the Institute for Economics and Peace:

blog_iep_crime_britain

Note two things here. First, Britain’s violent crime rate peaked about 15 years after it did in the US. Second, it dropped a lot faster than it did in the US. Why?

Because, first, Britain adopted unleaded gasoline about 13 years after the US (1988 vs. 1975). And second, because it phased out leaded gasoline a lot faster than the US. Within four years Britain had cut lead emissions by two-thirds, which means there was a very sharp break between infants born in high-lead and low-lead environments. Likewise, this means there was a sharp break between 18-year-olds with and without brain damage. In 2006, nearly all 18-year-olds had grown up with lead poisoned brains. By 2010, that had dropped substantially, which accounts for the stunning 40 percent drop in violent crime in such a short time.1

This is one of the reasons the lead-crime hypothesis is so persuasive. Not only does recorded crime fit the predictions of the theory—both in timing and slope—but it does so in . . .

Continue reading.

Note this, later in his post:

Anyway, I might as well take this opportunity to repeat my prediction that terrorism in the Middle East will begin to decline between 2020-30. You heard it here first.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 5:42 pm

Someone on Quora.com asked, “How can I be happy in 2017?”

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Quora provides a way for people to post questions and get answers, but recently when I tried to submit my answer it didn’t work. Since I had spent some time and thought on it, it occurred to me that one approach would be to post it here and then provide a link to this post. Here’s the answer I wrote:

It depends on your situation and the particular barriers to happiness you encounter. Internal barriers may involve combatting addictions (addictions can easily undermine happiness) or clinical depression (cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be helpful). External barriers may involve many things.

You might find A Life of One’s Own, by Joanna Field to be of interest. It’s a nonfiction account of her decision to keep a diary and note how happy she was each day. She was about 20 years old, and she thought that, over time, in reading the diary she could discover those things that tended to make her happy, and then do more of those and less of the other sorts of things.

It turned out that it was not quite so simple as she expected, and the book is a fascinating exploration of her explorations and discoveries, including some useful tactical ideas—e.g., when she was walking along a country lane on a beautiful day, she was somehow removed from the scene, observing it as though from afar, and unaffected by what she saw. So she started saying aloud what she was observing and feeling, and that reconnected her to the experience.

In any event, it’s an intriguing book and you might well get some good ideas from it. Even if not, you’re likely to enjoy it. I certainly did. The link above is to inexpensive secondhand copies.

A more directly relevant book is Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (again the link is to inexpensive secondhand copies). Csíkszentmihályi investigated a particular state of mind that he called “flow,” which seems to correspond to being happy. It involves focused attention, immediate feedback, a level of difficulty great enough to avoid boredom but not so great as to induce anxiety or hopelessness (he estimates it at about 85% of one’s capabilities in whatever area), a loss of the sense of passage and time, and so on. It’s quite an interesting book, and he discusses some people who quite deliberately and systematically arrange their lives to increase the opportunities for flow to occur. His later book, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life, is also worth reading. (Again, link is to inexpensive secondhand copies.)

You might also enjoy and find useful Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin Seligman, yet another book by an experimental psychologist, this one the man who discovered that learned helplessness and depression are closely related and perhaps the same. He describes some interesting experiments and offers useful thoughts based on what he discovered. (The experiments are quite interesting, BTW.)

Finally, I recommend Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck, who is a Stanford psychologist. The book describes her research and experiments in seeking to understand why some kids enjoy challenges and others shirk from them. It has useful insights and, among other things, suggest that when you are learning something new—a language or a practical skill or whatever—you focus on your progress rather than the results you get. At the beginning of learning anything—playing the piano, for example—the results are not going to be all that great for most, but progress is quite good: rapid improvement from session to session. The rate of progress naturally will slow, but by then the results are usually good enough to motivate one.

All the books listed are quite enjoyable to read, at least for me. But people differ, which takes us back to my first answer: it depends. 🙂

BTW, for those who want to combat addiction, Changing for Good: a Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward, by Prochaska et al., is both interesting and useful. He got his entry into this by trying to find ways to help people break their addiction to cigarettes (which turn out to be highly addictive as well as deadly). It was in looking at his research that he discovered the six stages, which turn out have to be done sequentially with certain tasks that must be completed at each stage before the next stage can be successfully addressed.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 4:05 pm

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