Later On

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Archive for May 17th, 2017

Trump’s overseas trip must be canceled. The risks are too great.

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Sarah Posner makes a cogent argument, well worth reading in full, in the Washington Post. It begins:

President Trump is scheduled to depart Friday on his first international trip as president, with scheduled visits in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, and the Vatican, followed by attendance at meetings of NATO in Brussels and the G7 alliance in Sicily. Talking to reporters this morning, national security adviser H.R. McMaster brushed off questions about Trump’s sharing of classified information with Russian officials, focusing instead on the trip’s purpose to “highlight the need for unity among three of the world’s great religions” and further “an agenda of tolerance.”

But less than two hours after McMaster spoke, the New York Times reported this afternoon that Israel is the ally whose intelligence Trump inappropriately shared with Russian officials. Although Israel would not confirm the report, it would, if true, vindicate the fears of Israeli intelligence officials who warned, even before Trump took office, that intelligence shared with the United States could be leaked to Russia, and potentially passed on to Iran.

Here’s the upshot of all this: Trump’s trip must be canceled. Our national security, our relationships with allies, and the security of the world are at risk due to the president’s erratic behavior and inability to adhere to basic norms of both democracy and diplomacy.

Even for a capable president, Trump’s itinerary would represent an ambitious agenda. In Trump’s hands, though, it’s fraught with the perils of tweets, statements, misstatements, boasts or other inappropriate Trump outbursts that could trigger or intensify geopolitical and religious tensions. Beyond politics, the idea that Trump is capable of promoting even an iota of religious tolerance is almost too absurd to even address.

In short, the trip is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

First, and most crucially, revelations about Trump’s conduct over the past 24 hours have rightly spooked our allies. After yesterday’s blockbuster Post article exposing Trump’s cavalier sharing of classified information with Russian officials, the White House has not taken a single step to reassure them, such as publicly acknowledging Trump’s conduct and promising it won’t happen again.

Instead, the White House’s efforts at damage control have only made matters worse. The White House hasn’t meaningfully denied the story; it has only denied that Trump did anything wrong. Today, after Trump tweeted that he had an “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety” with Russian officials, McMaster seemed to acknowledge that the story was indeed true, but that what Trump did was “wholly appropriate.”

But  Trump’s loose lips may have endangered the life of an intelligence source and that person’s family, and it certainly is already damaging our relationships and crucial intelligence-sharing arrangements with allies, according to Stephen Tankel, a defense and national security expert writing at The Post’s Monkey Cage blog.

What’s more, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 6:09 pm

Spring Shrimp Surprise 2

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It will come as no surprise to regular readers that, on making SSS again today, I modified the original recipe (modifications made at the link)

The olives were a good idea, I think, as well as the jalapeño. Sherry was okay, but I’m sticking with dry vermouth in the future. Fish sauce does add to the recipe.

It contains a lot of vegetables per shrimp, but that’s part of the “spring.”

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 5:49 pm

The worst job in Washington right now: Working for Trump

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Ashley Parker and Abby Phillip give a close-up of the West Wing spirit:

As Donald Trump has grown increasingly angry and frustrated with his White House staff, the beleaguered targets of his ire have a quietly roiling gripe of their own — their boss, the president himself.

In the nine days since he fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Trump has lurched through a series of crises of his own making — from the explosive report Monday that he had revealed highly classified intelligence to Russian officials to the bombshell Tuesday that he had urged Comey to end the federal investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser.

And in his wake remain his exhausted aides and deputies, the frequent targets of Trump’s wrath as they struggle to control an uncontrollable chief executive and labor to explain away his stumbles.

Wednesday evening brought yet another challenging development for the White House, as the Justice Department announced a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

Some White House staffers have turned to impeachment gallows humor. Other mid-level aides have started reaching out to consultants, shopping their resumes. And at least one senior staffer has begun privately talking to friends about what a post-White House job would look like, according to two people close the staffer.

Trump, for his part, largely believes his recent string of mishaps are not substantive but simply errors of branding and public relations, according to people close to him and the White House. Indeed, as he faced a wave of criticism following the disclosure he had leaked “code-word” intelligence material to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last week, the president took to Twitter to claim he had “the absolute right” to do so.

White House officials are particularly worried about the news this week that Comey took meticulous memos about conversations he had with Trump — including one in which Comey claims that Trump requested that he end his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to two people in close contact with administration officials. Aides realize that the White House has squandered its credibility and will have difficulty pushing back against the latest allegations, one of the people said.

The president’s siege mentality was on display Wednesday when he delivered commencement remarks at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., offering graduates a warning that life is “not always fair.”

“You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted,” Trump said. “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

The president implored the crowd to “fight, fight, fight,” and added, “You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”

But his team is growing increasingly weary. Privately, they say, the problem is not an incompetent communications shop, as the president sometimes gripes, or an ineffectual chief of staff, as friends and outside operatives repeatedly warn, but the man in the Oval Office, whose preferred management style is one of competing factions and organized chaos.

One West Wing official recently stopped defending Trump or trying to explain away his more controversial behavior. Another characterized the operation as “trudging along,” with aides trying to focus their attention on Trump’s upcoming foreign trip and the budget landing next week.

Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, said . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 5:42 pm

Why the obituary for Eudocia Tomas Pulido didn’t tell the story of her life in slavery

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Very much worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Daily life

Companies Steal $15 Billion From Their Employees Every Year

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Ben Schiller reports in Fast Company:

When employers fail to pay overtime, withhold tips from waitresses and waiters, or misclassify workers as exempt from minimum wage regulations, they’re stealing income from the poorest members of society. “Wage theft,” the collective term for this practice, can take many forms. But it comes down to something simple: bosses stiffing workers out what they are legally owed.

This workplace larceny is worse than you might think. The Economic Policy Institute, a think-tank that investigates labor issues, analyzed records for the 10 most populous states. Looking just at one form of wage theft–failure to pay minimum wages in each state–it documents $8 billion in annual underpayments. Extrapolated across the U.S. as a whole, it calculates a total of $15 billion a year in employer misappropriation, which is more than the value of all the property stolen during robberies, burglaries, and auto thefts across the country.

The report finds 2.4 million workers affected across the ten states: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. And it says workers suffering minimum wage violations lose an average of $64 per week, almost a quarter of their weekly earnings. An average wage theft victim earns just $10,500 in wages a year–and loses up to $3,300 of that to unscrupulous bosses.

“Property crime is a better understood, more tangible form of crime than wage theft, and federal, state, and local governments spend tremendous resources to combat it,” the report, written by EPI analyst David Cooper and research assistant Teresa Kroeger, says. “In contrast, lawmakers in much of the country allocate little, if any, resources to fighting wage theft, yet the cost of wage theft is at least comparable to–and likely much higher than–the cost of property crime.”

Cooper and Kroeger say that wage theft could be reduced through better enforcement of labor laws, including increasing penalties for violators, protecting workers from retaliation, and improving collective bargaining rights. It notes that the U.S. Department of Labor, which is responsible for investigating minimum violations, is chronically under-staffed. In 2015, its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) employed about the same number of investigators as 70 years ago–about 1000–despite a huge expansion of the economy over that time. The U.S. workforce is about six times larger today (135 million in 2015) compared to the 1940s (22.6 million in 1948).

The Obama Administration expanded the WHD from 700 to 1,000 staff and appointed the first WHD administrator in more than a decade (other appointees had been held up in Senate confirmation battles). David Weil, a professor at Boston University and author of the book The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done To Improve It, is credited with stepping up misclassification investigations and helping to prosecute several offenders of labor law. By contrast, President Trump has yet to appoint a WHD administrator (or many other positions at the U.S. Department of Labor). His original choice for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder–a rapid opponent of minimum wage laws–was never confirmed amid domestic abuse allegations. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Trump’s second choice, is considered to be more favorable towards labor. But it remains to be seen how independent he’ll be from the White House and whether he builds on the enforcement regime of the last administration. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 2:54 pm

A movie movie that gets better as it goes along: “Mindhorn”

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Netflix has a new comedy up, a Netflix Original: Mindhorn. It’s a movie movie (a movie about making a movie—in effect, a backstage story), though in this case the plot is driven not by a movie but by a 1980s TV series of the “bionic human” genre. Mindhorn is about some of the cast today and also includes a fan. The protagonist of Mindhorn is the actor who played the hero of the series who is now a has-been scrambling for acting roles.

The opening is good (especially the cameo with Kenneth Branagh as himself), but my expectations were low. The movie surprised me, though, by getting better and better as it went along. Satisfying.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 10:37 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Apple’s new $5 billion campus has a 100,000-square-foot gym and no daycare

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Amazing. I had thought Apple was a heads-up corporation. Guess not.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 10:27 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

This Is How Trump’s NatSec Aides Get Him To Pay Attention To His Briefings

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Esme Crib reports at TPM Media:

It appears that four months into his presidency, Donald Trump hasn’t developed any keener of an interest in his daily national security briefings.

According to a report published Wednesday by Reuters, Trump is more likely to read national security briefing materials if his name is mentioned in as many paragraphs as possible.

Unnamed officials who have briefed the President and others familiar with his learning processes told the publication that Trump still prefers one-page memos and visual aids.

One unnamed source told Reuters that since Trump “keeps reading if he’s mentioned” in briefing materials, officials on the National Security Council have learned to insert the President’s name into “as many paragraphs as we can.”

The New York Times had reported a day earlier that three anonymous administration officials agreed they couldn’t publicly offer the most honest defense of Trump’s disclosure of highly classified information during a meeting with top Russian diplomats in the Oval Office: that he is simply too ignorant of — and uninterested in — how the intelligence in his briefings is gathered to divulge it on purpose. . .

Continue reading.

Does anyone else find this tactic makes Trump look pathetic?

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 10:12 am

Another Bomb Drops: Initial Thoughts on Trump Asking Comey to Kill the Flynn Investigation

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Helen Klein Murillo, Jack Goldsmith, Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn, Paul Rosenzweig, and Benjamin Wittes write at Lawfare:

The New York Times is reporting that President Donald Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The conversation allegedly occurred in a February meeting in the Oval Office, the day after Flynn was removed from his post when it came to light that he had lied about conversations he had during the transition with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The revelation comes barely 24 hours after the Washington Post bombshell yesterday that President Trump had revealed highly classified information to Russian officials during an Oval Office visit.

The Times story describes a memorandum written by Comey immediately after the meeting, recording what was said for posterity. As the Times reports:

Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present—including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions—to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.

After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.
The memo allegedly reports that President Trump said to Director Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Trump reportedly told Comey that Flynn had done nothing wrong.

Significantly, the Times reports that not only did Comey detail this exchange in a contemporaneous memo, but also that “Mr. Comey created similar memos—including some that are classified—about every phone call and meeting he had with the president.” This was “part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence an ongoing investigation.”

The White House has denied Comey’s account:

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
The most immediate legal question is whether the President’s conduct amounts to obstruction of justice, either on its own or in combination with other actions. Lawfare writers discussed the question of obstruction of justice in some detail following the firing of Comey last week.

It is important to remember that the Times story contains only snippets of the reported Comey memo, so the analysis below is thus necessarily preliminary, based on the limited facts we have access to at this point. Much remains unknown and the specific facts that will emerge in the days to come matter a great deal.

Helen Murillo explained the basic elements of obstruction as they might apply to Comey’s firing:

Under 18 U.S.C. § 1505, a felony offense is committed by anyone who “corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation in being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress.”

An accompanying code section, 18 U.S.C. § 1515(b), defines “corruptly” as “acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information” (emphasis added). This is where obstruction of justice intersects with the false statements law. If you knowingly and willfully make a false statement of material fact in a federal government proceeding, you’ve potentially violated § 1001, and when you add an objective to influence, obstruct, or impede an investigation, you’ve now possibly violated § 1505 as well. Perjury can intersect with obstruction of justice in the same way.

Under the statute, a “proceeding” can be an investigation. Section 1503 criminalizes the same conduct in judicial proceedings. So obstruction during an investigation might violate § 1505, while if that same investigation leads to a criminal prosecution, obstruction during the prosecution itself would violate § 1503. The individual also has to know that a proceeding is happening in order to violate the statute, and must have the intent to obstruct—that is, act with the purpose of obstructing, even if they don’t succeed.
Obstruction convictions are difficult to obtain. Despite broad statutory language, to obtain a criminal conviction, the government must demonstrate an attempt to “influence, obstruct, or impede” the administration of the law in a pending proceeding. As cited in the prior piece, the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual explains the requirement of proof of three elements: “(1) there was a proceeding pending before a department or agency of the United States; (2) the defendant knew of or had a reasonably founded belief that the proceeding was pending; and (3) the defendant corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which the proceeding was pending.”

Here, the first two elements are abundantly clear. Assuming the Times account is correct, there was clearly an investigation, and Trump clearly knew about it. Notably, fifteen days earlier, then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had sat down with White House Counsel Don McGahn and informed him of her concerns over Flynn’s connections with Russian officials—including the fact that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI. According to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, McGahn briefed the President and “a small group of senior advisors” following his conversations with Yates.

As Murillo wrote in the prior piece, the third element of an obstruction charge is the hardest to prove, because it depends on showing an improper motive. A criminal case would require proving that Trump acted corruptly with the specific intent of interfering with the investigation. That’s very hard when you’re dealing with the firing of an FBI director, a subject about which the President may have said all kinds of contrary things. Proving his precise state of mind beyond a reasonable doubt might be very tricky.

On the other hand, in this instance there’s at least prima facie evidence that would tend to support inferences of obstruction. According to the memo, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 10:06 am

Trump made Pence and Sessions leave before he talked to Comey. What was he hiding?

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Ruth Marcus writes in the Washington Post:

So why did the president ask his vice president and attorney general to leave the room?

The New York Times reports — and the Washington Post and other news organizations confirm — that President Trump, at a meeting with then-FBI Director James B. Comey the day after national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned, asked Vice President Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to leave him and Comey alone in the Oval Office.

At which point Trump, according to a contemporaneous memo written by Comey, asked the FBI director to drop the Flynn probe. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to the memo as reported by the Times. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Does this rise to the level of criminal obstruction of justice? We don’t yet know enough to know. What was Trump’s tone? How insistent was he? Perhaps it wasn’t obstruction at the time — merely enormously unwise and even more improper. The scope of that impropriety is underlined by the reported fact that the president apparently wanted to convey his desire — his implicit instruction? — that the Flynn investigation be ended behind closed doors, with no other witnesses.

This is the kind of conversation that rational, experienced presidents know not to have. It is the kind of conversation that a White House counsel should make sparklingly, crystal clear to a president that he is not to engage in, not even close. It is the kind of conversation that seems completely in character for Trump, who, over the course of the campaign and now in office, has betrayed no — zero — understanding of the necessary separation of the president and his Justice Department when it comes to making independent judgments about political matters and political opponents.

Trump’s plea on Flynn’s behalf — perhaps it was prompted by the belief that his aide was a “good guy,” perhaps by fear about what goods that good guy might have on him — is the mirror image of his debate pronouncement that “if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.” The candidate who threatens to jail his opponent easily becomes the president who instructs his FBI director to close an inconvenient investigation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 10:01 am

Rooney Style 3 Size 1, RazoRock Zi’ Peppino, and the iKon X3

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I reall like the green-tobacco fragrance of Zi’ Peppino, and the soap makes a very nice lather indeed, this morning with my Rooney Style 3 Size 1, a fine little brush.

I’m going with very comfortable razors these days, and the X3 is very much along those lines, as well as being highly efficient. Here it’s on a UFO handle, and three passes totally smoothed my face with no problems at all.

A good splash of Zi’ Peppino aftershave, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

17 May 2017 at 9:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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