Later On

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

Archive for March 1st, 2017

Wow! Sessions spoke twice with Russian ambassador during campaign and then lied about it

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Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report in the Washington Post:

Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.

One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator’s office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.

The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election. As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which have been leading investigations into Russian meddling and any links to Trump’s associates. He has so far resisted calls to recuse himself.

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

Officials said Sessions did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak.

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, Sessions’s spokeswoman. [Except that it was a direct lie: he was awre of those activities, and he did have communications with the Russians. He said the opposite. He lied. – LG]

In January, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Sessions for answers to written questions. “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Leahy wrote.

Sessions responded with one word: “No.” [The lie direct. – LG] . . .

Continue reading.

This is getting very ugly. It’s exactly as if Sessions is determined to kill the investigation.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 7:26 pm

Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking

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It’s almost as if they believed that the Trump administration would try to cover it up. Mathew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman, and Michael Schmidt report in the NY Times:

In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.

American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.

Then and now, Mr. Trump has denied that his campaign had any contact with Russian officials, and at one point he openly suggested that American spy agencies had cooked up intelligence suggesting that the Russian government had tried to meddle in the presidential election. Mr. Trump has accused the Obama administration of hyping the Russia story line as a way to discredit his new administration.

At the Obama White House, Mr. Trump’s statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed — or its sources exposed — once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety with which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.

It also reflected the suspicion among many in the Obama White House that the Trump campaign might have colluded with Russia on election email hacks — a suspicion that American officials say has not been confirmed. Former senior Obama administration officials said that none of the efforts were directed by Mr. Obama.

Sean Spicer, the Trump White House spokesman, said, “The only new piece of information that has come to light is that political appointees in the Obama administration have sought to create a false narrative to make an excuse for their own defeat in the election.” He added, “There continues to be no there, there.”

As Inauguration Day approached, Obama White House officials grew convinced that the intelligence was damning and that they needed to ensure that as many people as possible inside government could see it, even if people without security clearances could not. Some officials began asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers would be archived and could be easily unearthed by investigators — including the Senate Intelligence Committee, which in early January announced an inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the election.

At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at a relatively low classification level to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the government — and, in some cases, among European allies. This allowed the upload of as much intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American analysts to share information.

There was also an effort to pass reports and other sensitive materials to Congress. In one instance, the State Department sent a cache of documents marked “secret” to Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland days before the Jan. 20 inauguration. The documents, detailing Russian efforts to intervene in elections worldwide, were sent in response to a request from Mr. Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“This situation was serious, as is evident by President Obama’s call for a review — and as is evident by the United States response,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for Mr. Obama. “When the intelligence community does that type of comprehensive review, it is standard practice that a significant amount of information would be compiled and documented.” . . .

Continue reading. And do read the rest. It’s like a trail of breadcrumbs to be followed…

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 7:09 pm

The Need for a Select Committee on the Russia Connection

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Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes write in Lawfare:

Momentum is building for a major bipartisan independent inquiry into the various allegations of ties between President Donald Trump and his associates and the Russian government. Much of this support takes the form of calls for a bipartisan commission in the style of the 9/11 Commission.

The need for the formation of some new body dedicated to a credible and exhaustive inquiry of the Russia Connection is clear. The most effective model, however, is not a 9/11 Commission-style outfit but something more mundane: a select congressional committee with a large and first-rate staff and a membership committed to getting answers.

Before turning to the ideal form for a congressional inquiry, let’s review the various ongoing investigations within the executive branch. Those include interagency task force inquiries into foreign money coming into the presidential election, as well as investigations of specific conduct by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and advisors Roger Stone and Carter Page and others for possible ties to Russia. It is unclear whether there is a relationship between those inquiries and the hacking and active measures campaign U.S. intelligence officials determined Russia undertook to help Trump win. Separate reports regarding contacts between former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador—in which the two were discovered to have discussed sanctions despite earlier denials—led to Flynn’s recent resignation. Following Flynn’s departure, multiple media outlets reported that intercepted communications showed that Trump campaign officials had “repeated” or “constant” contact with Russian intelligence in the year leading up to Trump’s election. There are also the salacious but largely unverified allegations contained in a privately prepared dossier. Finally, there are persistent unanswered questions about whether President Trump has financial ties to Russia.

In short, there seems to be quite a bit going on in term of investigation, very little of it visible to the public. But none of it is a substitute for a serious congressional examination of the subject.

This is not chiefly because of any concerns about the integrity of the executive branch investigations, though those concerns do exist. They were heightened over the past week with revelations that the White House had inappropriate contacts with the FBI, in apparent violation of Department of Justice policies, and tried to direct the Bureau to kill recent press stories. While the FBI declined to do so, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and SSCI Chairman Richard Burr reportedly did participate in those calls with the press.

That said, the questions of whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from the current matters and whether the Justice Department should step aside entirely and appoint a Special Counsel to conduct the investigation are largely distinct from the question of congressional investigations.

While the subject matter overlaps, the executive branch and the legislative branch are conducting different investigations for different purposes. Namely, the executive branch is conducting a set of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence investigations that may (or may not) have criminal investigative elements. Its goal is not to answer public questions about what happened or what may still be happening.

By contrast, Congress is charged with ascertaining information related to legislative purposes—including the imposition of sanctions in response to the activity of a hostile foreign power, the discharging of its oversight function with regard to fraud, abuse, or corruption in the executive branch, and legislative measures that might be necessary to protect the American electoral system. It also has a duty to publicly address major questions the political system is struggling with now in a fashion the public can absorb and process: What is the President’s relationship with Russia? And is there reason to be concerned about it?

The Current Congressional Investigations

The essential problem is that there is no current congressional mechanism with the investigative scope, staffing, and will to answer these questions in a serious fashion. There are currently a number of congressional inquiries. In the Senate, the Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the Judiciary Committee, and the Armed Services Committee have all begun investigations generally related to Russian interference in the U.S. election. To date, the SSCI investigation has been the principal inquiry taking place in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has resisted calls for the formation of a new select committee or Commission by insisting the SSCI “is more than capable of conducting a complete review” within its existing structure and jurisdiction. The week before the inauguration, Chairman Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Mark Warner released a joint statement pledging to undertake:

a bipartisan inquiry of the intelligence reporting behind the Intelligence Community assessments from January 6, 2017 on [Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections].

The scope of the Committee’s inquiry will include, but is not limited to:

  • A review of the intelligence that informed the Intelligence Community Assessment “Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections;”

  • Counterintelligence concerns related to Russia and the 2016 U.S. election, including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns;

  • Russian cyber activity and other “active measures” directed against the U.S., both as it regards the 2016 election and more broadly.

The statement concluded with the promise that “[t]he Committee will follow the intelligence wherever it leads. We will conduct this inquiry expeditiously, and we will get it right.”

At the time, that statement offered some degree of reassurance. The committee seemed to consider the question of Russian interference in the U.S. election and its ties to campaign figures to be a non-partisan issue related to safeguarding fundamental democracy. Importantly, the SSCI had many of the necessary elements for a successful investigation: Much of the subject matter is already within the committee’s ordinary oversight jurisdiction, and members and staff are cleared to receive highly-classified materials—which is critical for an investigation that involves sensitive ongoing operations.

Unfortunately, it has now become clear that the SSCI inquiry is insufficient to the task over the long term—for a number of different reasons.

First off,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it’s good.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 3:59 pm

Movies and musings

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Last night I watched two movies, each of which was a backstage movie. I love those—it’s the levels thing in addition to everything else. That is, you get to watch an actor playing an actor, and the role actor is an actor acting a part in some play-within-the play. Great fun.

The first was a wonderful rom-com with great performances from all but particularly from Sally Field, who is absolutely amazing, along with Kevin Kline—always rearkably good—Robert Downey Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, Teri Hatcher, et al. The only drawback is a shift in cultural norms regarding transgendered people, so one scene sort of misfires, but everything else is wonderful. Soapdish, and you can stream it on Amazon Prime right now.

The second was a drama, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), with Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Edward Norton, among others. This one’s a rental, but inexpensive. Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography.

Musing: I’ve been actively answering questions in Quora, and I realized that I really like the Socratic method with the other person being Socrates: answering questions is enjoyable, particularly when you can pass.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

The Stroh family story makes me want to read Lucretius again

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Scot James writes in the NY Times:

One of Frances Stroh’s earliest lessons about wealth involved a game she played as a 6-year-old with her father: how to not be kidnapped.

Ms. Stroh would stand outside the family’s six-bedroom Spanish Mediterranean home in the manicured Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe in 1973 as her father, Eric Stroh, pretended to be a stranger as he drove by in his silver Chrysler, waving a chocolate bar as temptation and beckoning her to the car. As instructed, Frances would run away in tears.

Her father explained that as an heiress to the largest private beer company in America, kidnapping was a concern, especially because, “They’ll ask for a ransom that we can’t possibly afford to pay,” Ms. Stroh recalled him saying.

“There were very mixed messages” about money, she said in an interview.

Her father’s words about their finances were indeed prescient. The Stroh family wealth, at its height in the 1980s, was estimated by Forbes to be about $9 billion in today’s dollars. Now, that money is almost completely gone.

Continue reading the main story

And Ms. Stroh has taken the rare step, in the secretive world of America’s wealthiest, of going public with her family’s downward spiral in a remarkably intimate book, “Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss.” In revealing detail, she documents a trifecta of misfortunes, some of them self-inflicted: the unraveling of her immediate family, shaken by alcohol and drug abuse; the collapse of her family’s brewing empire; and the fall of Detroit, hometown of Stroh’s beer.

The book has struck a nerve in certain circles, and Ms. Stroh says she has received an outpouring of support and commiseration.

“I heard from all kinds of people about lost fortunes, lost businesses, often coupled with substance-abuse issues within the families,” she said. “My story resonated with their own experience because of this lingering sort of sense of something that’s unresolved when a family business is lost.”

Headlines tend to focus on billionaires who fall from grace after committing crimes, like the Ponzi schemer Bernard L. Madoff, or the former WorldCom chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers. But the more time-honored and reliable way to lose a fortune, however, often comes down to just one word: family.

An abundance of heirs mixed with patriarchal lines of succession that fail to produce talented leaders can be disastrous. The Strohs’ saga is a textbook example.

Bernhard Stroh immigrated to Detroit from Germany in 1850, selling his popular beer door-to-door. A brewery followed and grew regionally, especially thriving after World War II. By the 1980s, it was America’s third-largest beer company.

Then the fourth generation of family managers decided the best way to expand was through expensive acquisitions and going national, buying the Schlitz, Schaefer and Old Milwaukee brands, among others.

But debt from those deals kept the company from making competitive moves. Stroh’s missed the timely pivot to light beers, and sales plummeted.

Other bad investments followed, including ventures in which the family had less expertise, like biotech and Detroit real estate as the city faced severe decline. Hundreds of millions more were lost.

All through the company’s boom and bust, the number of heirs grew, many relying on annual dividends of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund sometimes lavish lifestyles. Ms. Stroh’s father spent millions on antiques and collectibles, like rare cameras and guitars. (Later the family would discover many of these were fakes or worth far less than what he paid.)

As the brewery’s profits dried up, the dividends to the heirs continued, but the money was siphoned from principal, further hastening the company’s decline. By 1999 . . .

Continue reading.

Generation and decay, coming into being and passing out of being.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

A timeline of CIA atrocities

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This came up in another context recently, and I thought the compilation was interesting and might be useful for some. The city on the hill has an ugly underground system.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Government

How Does Donald Trump Think His War on the Press Will End?

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Adrienne LaFrance writes in the Atlantic:

American presidents have often clashed with the press. But for a long time, the chief executive had little choice but to interact with journalists anyway.This was as much a logistical matter as it was a begrudging commitment to the underpinnings of Democracy: News organizations were the nation’s watchdogs, yes, but also stewards of the complex editorial and technological infrastructure necessary to reach the rest of the people. They had the printing presses, then the steel-latticed radio towers, and, eventually, the satellite TV trucks. The internet changed everything. Now, when Donald Trump wants to say something to the masses, he types a few lines onto his pocket-sized computer-phone and broadcasts it to an audience of 26 million people (and bots) with the tap of a button.

It may be banal to point out how dramatically the world wide web democratized publishing. But to understand Donald Trump’s war on the press, you have to consider what has happened to American journalism since August 6, 1991, the day the first website launched. With that first website, the thick layer of mediation that once existed between the president and the masses began to evaporate. The influence of all those former intermediaries would undergo a profound cultural shift as a result.

Before, you couldn’t get the news without publishers, producers, editors, reporters, camera operators, technicians, truck drivers, and kids with paper routes. Today, any president can bypass all that. And he can say whatever the hell he wants.Incidentally, 1991 wasn’t a great year for Donald Trump. It was the year of his first major bankruptcy. The Trump Taj Mahal casino was $3 billion in debt. Trump faced a staggering $900 million in personal liabilities. His spectacular financial woes made countless front pages. The bankruptcy was legitimate news. But also: Schadenfreude sells. He was eviscerated in the tabloids and trashed on late-night television. Newspaper columnists described him as a “poor little rich boy,” and a clueless confidence man responsible for the tailspin that brought him down.

That same year, the World Book Encyclopedia promoted the fact that Trump had been axed from its latest edition, “beaten out by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega,” according to newspaper reports at the time. Trump “makes interesting newspaper copy, but so far he lacks lasting significance for a World Book article,” World Book’s executive editor told The Chicago Tribune. The encyclopedia was promoting its product based on the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t in it. And for the first time since he’d become famous, Trump shunned publicity. His silence, as much as anything, seemed to signify how serious his troubles were. But it didn’t last.

There would be three additional bankruptcies, but none prevented Trump’s famous (then really famous) comeback. Once mocked by the New York City tabloids for exploiting his 15 minutes of fame in the 1980s, Trump is now the most newsworthy figure on the planet. His reputation for attention seeking hasn’t waned, but now that he is the president of the United States, he doesn’t have to appeal to news organizations to get the spotlight.So here we are. Trump has used the ease of modern publishing technology—and his influence as president—to lead a full-on anti-press crusade. Since December of last year, when Trump first started tweeting about “fake news,” he’s been using every platform within his reach to attack journalists and news organizations.

No one has ever accused Trump of being overly nuanced, but his vitriol for the media is brazen—even for him. This brazenness seems to be the point.

Trump has long been masterful at commanding attention from tabloids and television stations. Declaring a “running war” with the media, turning “fake news” into a catchphrase, doubling down on his characterization of journalists as the “enemy of the people”—all of this is part of a larger strategy. “I want you to quote this,” Stephen Bannon, one of Trump’s top advisors, said in an interview with The New York Times in January, “The media here is the opposition party.”

The “opposition party” bit made headlines, naturally, but Bannon’s insistence that it be quoted is just as telling. It’s clear the Trump administration wants people to focus on its disdain for the press. What’s less clear is how the president believes his war on journalism will end. But if you pick apart the strategy, it has all the earmarks of a classic Trump publicity blitz—the kind of campaign he has used in the past for financial, personal, and political gain.

First, there’s the appeal to emotion. Trump has picked an easy target by tapping into existing distrust for American journalism. Although it is shocking for a U.S. president to threaten a free press the way Trump has, his criticism may resonate with Americans—few of whom have a lot of confidence in information from professional news outlets, according to a Pew Research Center study last summer. One way to win people over: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2017 at 1:14 pm

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