Later On

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

Archive for May 15th, 2017

When campaigning, Trump expressed grave concerns about revealing classified information

leave a comment »

But that was then. In the Washington Post Philip Bump has an excellent article about the issues:

Donald Trump is president today in large part because of voters’ concerns about protecting classified material. There are several layers of nuance to that point, of course, including that those concerns were generally a subset of critiques of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as secretary of state. But the sticking point for conservative critics of Clinton’s behavior was that her use of a private server included the transmission of classified information, per the FBI — thereby putting that information at risk of being intercepted by foreign agents, should her server have been compromised. (Clinton’s team repeatedly insisted that the server hadn’t been breached; the FBI said there was no evidence that it was.)

While Trump campaign events were powered by chants of “lock her up,” the reason for the locking up was generally a pastiche of concerns about Clinton’s purported transgressions. On occasion, though, the rationale for that urgent demand crystallized over concerns about the release of classified information. For example, there was former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s speech at the Republican convention in July.

“I have called on Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race,” Flynn said, “because she, she put our nation’s security at extremely high risk with her careless use of a private email server.” He then joined in the chants: “Lock her up! Lock her up!”

Given The Washington Post’s report on Monday that, as president, Trump himself revealed classified information in conversation with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, it’s worth revisiting what he himself said about Clinton’s email security — a subject that came up regularly in his freewheeling stump speeches.

Redding, Calif., June: “She could have used the government stuff, assume everybody’s listening to you — I always do. Every time I pick up a phone, I assume people are listening, you know. Now, you sue their a — off if they are. If you can find them, you drop a little lawsuit on them and make them pay, bigly. For her to do what she did puts our country at risk. She’s secretary of state.”

New York, June: “We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies.”

Doral, Fla., July: “So how can Hillary Clinton be briefed on this unbelievably delicate information when it was just proven that she lied and that her server shouldn’t have had it and that they’re missing 33,000 emails and that’s just the beginning. … I don’t think that it’s safe to have Hillary Clinton, in light of what just happened, and in light of what we just found out, I don’t think it’s safe to have Hillary Clinton be briefed on national security because the word will get out.”

Portland, Maine, August: “Her email scandal put our entire country at risk. Made our sensitive secrets vulnerable to hacking by foreign adversaries.”

Greenville, N.C., September: “This is really, if we bring it up, this is like Watergate, only it’s worse, because here our foreign enemies were in a position to hack our most sensitive national security secrets. We can’t have someone in the Oval Office who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘confidential.’ ” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2017 at 8:49 pm

A Foreign Intelligence Analyst Report on President Trump

leave a comment »

Nada Bakos and Dennis Gleeson write at Lawfare:

In our previous jobs as CIA analysts, we wrote analyses on foreign countries, leaders, and other political figures for senior U.S. policymakers like the President and a small number of Cabinet-level officials. Current developments in the United States strike many as “through the looking glass,” and it might be a useful exercise to go all the way and consider American politics from the outside looking in. Using the fundamentals of intelligence analysis and “open source” reporting for our source, below we have prepared what a foreign intelligence service analysis of our country might look like. These types of analyses—for example the Presidential Daily Brief—are prepared as a dispassionate product but include the substantive judgments and assessments of the author’s analytic bottom line. We’ve attempted to approximate the types of information foreign analysts would be likely to include, as well as the nature in which such information might be characterized.

United States: Trump Populism Driving Tectonic Shift in U.S. Politics

It is highly likely that we are witnessing a tectonic shift in the conduct of U.S. domestic politics and foreign policy. A populist movement across the United States, driven by perceived corruption and inequality, culminated in the election of Donald Trump. As is typical of populist leaders, Trump is attempting to consolidate power within his immediate circle. Trump’s approach is to discard traditional policy-making processes, then amplify his choices through social media in order to garner support.

  • Akin to populist maneuvering in other countries, Trump appears to be engaging in a strategy of undermining long-standing impartial U.S. Government institutions that are cornerstones of the national security and foreign policy apparatus. His tactics include public criticism, discounting the validity or worth of the organizations, and extreme budget cuts.
  • Trump’s unorthodox policy process results in confusion and inconsistent messaging between the White House and his Cabinet. It is not currently possible to obtain a clear or consistent understanding of U.S. domestic and foreign policy strategy.
  • The opposition Democratic Party, while vocal, remains largely ineffective. The Democrats have lost seats in Congress and state government for the last 7 years. The Republican Party holds the majority in both houses of Congress. While the President is highly unpopular, it is unclear whether the Democrats will be able to regain control of Congress in 2018 midterm elections which requires overcoming disadvantageous electoral line drawing—known as gerrymandering—among other challenges.
  • In 2017, the Economist Intelligence Unit downgraded the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed” one after Trump’s election. It would have been impossible to predict this development in years prior and, thus, it is difficult to know whether and how President Trump’s tenure will cause additional downgrades.

The President of the United States’ primary focus appears to be promoting himself to his supporters through campaign rallies and his personal and official Twitter accounts. Trump’s termination on Tuesday of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), James Comey, is emblematic of his personality-driven approach to governance and leadership.

  • The U.S. President has the prerogative to fire senior executives, particularly Department and Agency heads. However, the termination of FBI Director Comey has been deemed suspicious by U.S. media and parts of the constituency in light of the timing and allegations of Russian influence. U.S. media is developing substantial reporting regarding the conditions surrounding Mr. Comey’s termination and more information is likely to be forthcoming. For example, The New York Times on Wednesday reported that Mr. Comey’s termination followed his request for more resources to probe the alleged ties between some of Trump’s advisors and Moscow in the run-up to last year’s election. A national wire service later reported the decision was made as a result of Mr. Comey’s unwillingness to preview testimony he gave before the U.S. Congress last week.
  • The effect of Mr. Comey’s dismissal on the ongoing official investigation of Russia’s alleged ties to the Trump campaign in the run-up to the 2016 election remains unclear. It is possible that investigation will be slowed or halted completely.
  • Mr. Trump uses Twitter in order to rally his supporters in the face of critical media coverage, which he routinely dismisses as “fake news.” Trump’s lack of discretion on Twitter creates a rich source of direct insight into how he processes information and handles the challenges of governing. Other foreign governments are likely also relying on Twitter as an intelligence resource.

The Republican-controlled Congress does not exhibit signs of restraining the Presidents’ agenda. Despite predictions of U.S. political scientists and others following the U.S. presidential election, the Republican-controlled Congress has not, to date, restrained Mr. Trump.

  • Mr. Trump has a looser relationship with traditional Republican policy positions than past Republican elected officials—for example, he was unaware of the Republican position on single-payer healthcare in a 2015 debate. However, contrary to predictions, this distance does not appear to make congressional leaders like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell more inclined to challenge the president.
  • In the aftermath of Trump’s decision to fire the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations earlier this week, McConnell reiterated his objection to an investigation of the alleged involvement of the Russian government in last year’s presidential election despite the discomfort of some members of his own party.
  • Trump had adopted an aggressive approach towards . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2017 at 7:07 pm

Trump Revealed Highly Classified Intelligence to Russia, in Break With Ally, Officials Say

leave a comment »

Matthew Rosenberg and Eric Schmitt report in the NY Times:

President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected, a current and a former American government official said Monday.

The intelligence disclosed by Mr. Trump in a meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, was about an Islamic State plot, according to the officials. A foreign ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information, which was considered so sensitive that American officials did not share it widely within the United States government or pass it on to other allies.

Mr. Trump’s disclosure does not appear to have been illegal — the president has the power to declassify almost anything. But sharing the information without the express permission of the ally who provided it represented a major breach of espionage etiquette, and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship.

The ally, which has shared information in the past with the United States only to see it leaked, has repeatedly warned American officials that it would cut off access to such sensitive information if it were shared too widely, said the former official. In this case, the fear is that Russia will be able to determine exactly how the information was collected and could disrupt the ally’s espionage efforts.

Beyond angering a partner and calling into question the ability of the United States to keep secrets, the episode also opens Mr. Trump to criticism of a double standard. The president made Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information through her private email server central to his campaign, leading chants of “lock of her up” at rallies. But there was never any indication that Mrs. Clinton exposed sensitive information from an ally or gave it to an adversary.

The Trump administration pushed back on the revelation, with high-ranking officials denying that the president discussed such highly sensitive information with the Russian officials. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2017 at 4:24 pm

Jason Koebler switched from Chrome to Opera, and so did I

leave a comment »

Jason Koebler writes at Motherboard:

It’s time to break up with Chrome and all the RAM it eats up.

If the purpose of a web browser is to load, view, and interact with the largest percentage of websites on the internet, then the best web browser in the world is Google Chrome, which can handle just about anything you throw at it. But if you like opening more than a couple tabs at once, Google Chrome is not the browser for you.

Over the last few years, I have grown endlessly frustrated with Chrome’s resource management, especially on MacOS. Admittedly, I open too many tabs, but I’d wager that a lot of you do, too. With Chrome, my computer crawls to complete unusability multiple times a day. After one too many times of having to go into Activity Monitor to find that one single Chrome tab is using several gigs of RAM, I decided enough was enough.

I switched to Opera, a browser I had previously thought was only for contrarians.

This, after previous dalliances with Safari and Firefox left me frustrated. Chrome has a built-in advantage, because web developers optimize their pages for the most popular browser (Chrome!). And so as Chrome gets more popular, its compatibility continues to get better while Safari’s and Firefox’s would suffer (at least in theory). Safari uses an engine known as WebKit and Firefox uses Gecko, while Chrome is built on an engine called Blink, which is used in all Chromium-based browsers (Chromium is a fully featured, open source browser that served as the backbone for Chrome).

Safari manages resources well but didn’t work great with a lot of streaming video. More importantly, Safari doesn’t use favicons (the tiny icons on the tab that tell you what site you’re on), which, can I just say, is a WILD design decision and a complete deal breaker for anyone who opens a lot of tabs. I found Firefox to be slow and ran into compatibility issues as well—this experiment was over a year ago so I don’t remember the specifics, but I didn’t love it. I spent only a couple hours with the upstart Vivaldi browser before getting frustrated with its non-Chrome-ness.

After several months of using Opera, most of my web browsing problems have been solved. Wednesday, Opera released a new version of its browser, called “Reborn,” which adds in-browser WhatsApp, Facebook, and Telegram messaging. For now, this feature is just a gimmick to me: The real appeal of Opera is that it is essentially Chrome but with a better, less disastrous and less time consuming mechanism of failure.

Because Opera is also based on Blink, I almost never run into a website, plugin, script, or video that doesn’t work flawlessly on it. In fact, Opera works almost exactly like Chrome, except without the resource hogging that makes me want to throw my computer against a brick wall.

This is exactly the point, according to Opera spokesperson Jan Standal: “What we’re doing is an optimized version of Chrome,” he said. “Web developers optimize most for the browser with the biggest market share, which happens to be Chrome. We benefit from the work of that optimization.”

Why I can’t use Chrome anymore

One of the original draws of Chrome was that it handles each tab as a separate process. This means that if one tab crashes, it doesn’t crash the whole browser. This innovation—once the selling point of the browser—is one of the reasons why Chrome is a nightmare to use today. As we started running powerful applications within tabs and as websites became bloated with autoplaying videos, tracking scripts, and ads, each individual tab we open has the potential to be a resource hog. That’s how you end up with a couple tabs using multiple gigs of RAM. Though I’ve tried extensions like the Great Suspender and OneTab, these never felt like full solutions and neither did much to help my problem.

Google has tried to rein in resource-hogging tabs, but in my experience on MacOS, new versions of Chrome haven’t solved the problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2017 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Interesting possibility: Dutch Documentary May Have Contributed to Abrupt Dismissal of FBI Director Comey

leave a comment »

Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Six days after Zembla, a Dutch public broadcasting program, aired an investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump’s business ties to Russian oligarchs and mobsters, Trump fired the man in possession of a great many more details on that matter: FBI Director James Comey. Next, Trump announced that his law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, was providing a “certified” letter stating that he had no business interests in Russia. (That law firm, as ABC News was quick to point out, was itself named “Russia Law Firm of the Year” in 2016 by Chambers & Partners.)

The Morgan, Lewis & Bockius letter was dismissed as meaningless by multiple tax experts since Trump could easily have investments with Russian partnerships and offshore entities. The letter pertained only to investments in which Trump is “sole or principal owner.” These omitted minority partnership entanglements are precisely what the Dutch documentary explored. 

From last Tuesday evening, when the news first broke that President Donald Trump had fired Comey, CNN has called in more than a dozen experts on everything from constitutional law to national security to Watergate to parse each utterance from the President in his Tweets or TV news interviews on the Comey matter. This mind-numbing, week-long repetition resulted in absolutely nothing that one could call substantive in terms of advancing the American public’s knowledge of the President’s longstanding and labyrinthine ties to Russian oligarchs and mobsters. In fact, it has clouded the real question that the Congressional Intelligence Committees and the FBI should be asking.

The critical question is not whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia in the 2016 presidential election. That’s an important peripheral question but pales in comparison to the overarching question, which is: does Donald Trump have a long term business history with Russian criminal elements which renders him a national security risk to the United States.

On May 3, Dutch public television drilled down to this core question in a breathtaking documentary titled: The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump: the Russians. An economic investigator, James Henry, who has looked deeply into Trump’s Russian ties, is interviewed in the documentary. According to Henry, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2017 at 12:23 pm

Unleaded Gasoline Reduces Violent Crime in Sweden Too

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum reports the latest findings on the lead/crime hypothesis (which grows ever less hypothetical and more established:

I try to keep everyone up to date on the latest research into lead poisoning and crime, but I missed a paper earlier this year from three researchers in Sweden. At first glance, it’s just a routine test of the lead-crime hypothesis for yet another country. The researchers follow the usual path of (a) measuring atmospheric lead levels in various regions at various times, (b) showing that these levels correspond to blood lead levels, and (c) performing correlations with all the usual controls between lead poisoning in infants and later outcomes in life. Not to keep you in suspense, the researchers find exactly what you’d expect: childhood exposure to lead predicts lower IQs and higher crime rates later in life.

But there are several interesting aspects to this paper—and that’s not even counting the fact that Sweden’s EPA measures heavy metal concentrations in the atmosphere via a nationwide grid of moss samples. Moss! Those Swedes are pretty clever. The Swedes also keep good records of their citizens on a variety of measures, which allows the researchers to test outcomes all the way into adulthood with a pretty large sample size (800,000 subjects).

Anyway: Just as in the US, Sweden phased out leaded gasoline in the 70s and 80s, which caused lead poisoning in infants to decrease. Unlike the US, however, lead levels were already fairly low, so the Swedish team was able to measure the effect of changes not just from 30 ug/dl to 20 to 10, but from 10 to 5 to 2. What they found was that the impact of lead reduction does eventually flatten out, but it happens at very low levels. There are gains to be made by reducing blood lead levels all the way down to 2-3 ug/dl.

At the risk of some slight irresponsibility, however, I want to reproduce their chart for violent crime. Here it is: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2017 at 12:18 pm

Partisan Political Figures Cannot Run the FBI

leave a comment »

Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes write at Lawfare:

Rumors are flying that Donald Trump will soon nominate a replacement for James Comey as FBI Director—perhaps even before he leaves on his foreign trip at the end of this week. It’s hard to imagine the universe of people who would both accept the nomination in the current environment and in whom the public could repose confidence in holding the job. But some of the names Trump is reportedly considering should be unacceptable per se.

In particular, administration officials have floated the names of Sen. John Cornyn—a member of the GOP leadership in the Senate—and Rep. Trey Gowdy, who headed the House Benghazi committee. The New York Times reports that Cornyn was interviewed yesterday alongside former Representative Mike Rogers (previously the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former FBI agent) and six other candidates. (The Times also provides a full list of the candidates being considered here; among them is former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the potential “loyalty” of whom Trump and his associates have reportedly been sounding out.)

The idea of appointing a partisan political figure of any kind to run the FBI under any circumstances should be unthinkable—as it always has been in the past. The idea of doing so in the current environment, after the President has publicly stated that he removed Comey because he wants the Russia investigation to go away must be understood as nothing less than a dangerous corruption of federal law enforcement. It needs to be stopped.

Let’s start by reviewing the bidding to date. The President has fired his FBI Director for reasons he now says are directly related to his irritation about an investigation that involves him and his campaign and its ties to an adversary foreign power. He had his administration concoct a farcically pretextual rationale for that act—a rationale he maintained until reversing course and admitting on national television that he had made liars of his Vice President and his senior White House staff. He capped the week by threatening Comey in a tweet.

It is in this context that the President’s aides are floating the names of partisan politicians instead of the names of people of a stature that puts them above politics.

The threat to the Russia investigation should be obvious. It is certainly true, as many Trump surrogates have fanned out on television to emphasize, that the FBI is not a single person and the investigation’s infrastructure remains in place. But it is also the case that an organization’s leadership matters—particularly when that organization is a vertically-integrated paramilitary one like the FBI. If you remove the FBI Director and replace him with a partisan figure in order to curtail a particular investigation or obtain some measure of control of it, that partisan figure will know exactly why he or she is there, and so will the public. The opportunities for being less than vigilant or attentive to an investigation like this—even well short of actively stymieing it—are constant. The need for credibility with the opposition party is overwhelming.

There is also a larger threat to the FBI itself. There’s a reason the FBI director has a ten-year term and does not come in and go out with the administrations it serves. That reason is that we expect it to be apolitical. We expect it to serve the public through service to the political system but never to be a part of that political system. We expect it to be independent. A partisan congressional figure, even apart from current environment, simply cannot be sufficiently separate from the political system—and be perceived to be separate from it—so as to garner that confidence. Can you imagine if President Obama, instead of nominating a Republican former senior Justice Department official—Comey—to replace another Republican luminary who ran the FBI under him, Robert Mueller, had appointed Chuck Schumer or Richard Durbin? Even if he hadn’t announced that the appointment was part of a corrupt pattern of interference in a specific investigation, it would have been completely unacceptable. It still is.

We should understand an appointment like this as part of Trump’s ongoing deconstruction of institutions and assault on the norms that protect them. It is an extreme version of the same instinct that has him not staffing the State Department, only with an added layer of overt and acknowledged corruption that senators simply cannot overlook if they are acting in good faith.

Republican senators simply have to step up on this one, even if it’s hard because the nominee is a Republican senator. They need to draw a very clear line that the President must follow the uniform tradition of Presidents since the FBI was reformed after J. Edgar Hoover’s death and appoint a non-partisan figure of stature within law enforcement. They need to insist that he appoint someone whom the other side will support. They need to insist that he appoint someone with a reputation for probity and seriousness such that people can believe that he or she—like Comey did—will be willing to stand up to Trump and get fired if need be. Short of that, they need to make clear, they should not support a nominee. Senators who fail on this point are unworthy of reelection.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, speaking yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press, struck constructive notes on this score: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2017 at 10:40 am

%d bloggers like this: