Later On

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Archive for May 18th, 2017

US spies heard Russian intelligence agent vowing to target Clinton: report

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Mark Hensch reports in The Hill:

U.S. spies reportedly heard a Russian military intelligence officer bragging about his organization planning to target Hillary Clinton in May 2016.

The officer told a colleague that GRU would cause havoc in America’s presidential election, Time reported Thursday.

The officer reportedly described the intelligence agency’s effort as retribution for what Russian President Vladimir Putin considered Clinton’s influence campaign against him while serving as secretary of State.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials told Time that American spies transcribed the conversation and sent it to headquarters for analysis.

Time reported that an official document based on the raw intelligence was then circulated.

“We didn’t really understand the context of it until much later,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said.

Putin publicly accused Clinton of conducting a major operation against Russia when protests erupted in more than 70 cities in 2011.

The Russian leader said that Clinton had sent “a signal” to demonstrators and that the State Department had actively worked to fuel the unrest.

The State Department countered that it had only funded pro-democracy organizations. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 5:45 pm

Ethics Rules Are National Security Rules

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Susan Hennessey writes at Lawfare:

The President-elect has failed to divest from his business holdings, refused to release his tax returns, and insisted that a federal anti-nepotism law won’t bar his children—who themselves retain private business interests—from serving in his White House. Days before scheduled confirmation hearings, the majority of his nominees have failed to complete statutorily-mandated ethics review. It’s for this reason that, over the weekend, former White House ethics counsel (and my Brookings colleague) Norm Eisen noted that the Trump transition is in the midst of an “ethics crisis” that is “unparalleled in modern U.S. presidential history.”

Readers may be wondering what federal ethics law and policy has to do with national security. The answer is a whole lot. Fundamentally, ethics policies governing the Executive and his cabinet are national security protections. As such, it is important that we recognize the national security implications of the incoming Administration’s positions on ethics.

Lawfare’s focus on “hard national security choices” reflects something that is often lost amidst partisan and ideological debates—these choices are difficult. There are more close calls than obvious answers. Many national security decisions reflect a delicate balance of policies, values, and strategy. This means it can be difficult to understand, especially in retrospect, why exactly one choice prevailed over another. In areas in which there are many pros and cons, it can be nearly impossible to identify the existence and effect of improper bias.

Naturally, Republicans and Democrats have different policy views and security priorities. However, both share the common understanding that a President’s decisions must be guided by the best interests of the United States as the Commander-in-Chief understands them. Ethical transparency is critical to national security because it ensures that personal financial interests are not placed before the interests of the country.

Identifying conflicts is the first step in preventing harms. Once a conflict is disclosed and identified, it might be eliminated by either ending the financial relationship or requiring individual recusals. Where that doesn’t occur, the disclosure process allows for the public and other stakeholders to assess a government official’s judgment for indications of bias. The White House and the cabinet are charged with immensely consequential decisions; not infrequently, they determine matters of life and death. The legitimacy of the office of the presidency rests on public faith that the government is placing the interests of the country first.

The demand for adequate ethics disclosure and vetting reflects the national security strategy of—as Reagan put it—“Trust, but verify.” We ask for verification that our government officials are free from undue influence because it goes to the core of basic democratic legitimacy. There should be no questions regarding the purity of the motives of individuals we authorize to place our soldiers, foreign service officers, or intelligence agents in harm’s way. Because of the necessary secrecy that surrounds a great many of these decisions, full vetting and transparency at the outset are critical to ensuring the Executive branch is, in fact, placing country first and also to maintaining basic integrity and legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

This should be the backdrop against which the ethics practices of the current transition are understood.

Recently, the Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has sent a letter to Congress warning that not all of Trump’s nominees have submitted the paperwork required for the legally-mandated ethics review. A large number of consequential—and controversial—confirmation hearings have been scheduled for Wednesday. OGE cautions this schedule does not allow sufficient time to complete reviews, especially considering the complex financial backgrounds of Trump’s “Billionaire cabinet” and the necessity for highly-detailed reviews of individuals like Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Confirmation hearings are traditionally not scheduled before ethics review is complete, not only because Senators must be fully informed in their votes, but also because the confirmation process serves as important leverage in ensuring full compliance. Once a nominee is Senate-confirmed, there is little incentive for the individual to fully and timely comply with ethics disclosure, especially of potentially controversial matters.

The relationship between ethics and national security is perhaps most important when it comes to the President himself. President-elect Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his business interests invites conflicts, though Trump asserts that the President cannot have legally cognizable conflicts. That is a controversial legal argument, at best, but it also fails to recognize the distinction between a legal conflict and a conflict in fact. Because of his multinational business interests, President Trump will eventually face a decision where the interests of the nation run contrary to his personal financial interests, whatever his interpretation of legislation on conflicts might be. And a Politico poll this morning found that 65% of those polled believed Trump’s business interests will “affect his decision making.”

Taken to its extreme, as a separation of powers argument, Trump’s statement that “the President can’t have a conflict of interest” under the law effectively concludes that the only constraining forces on the President are political and constitutional. But Trump’s practices thwart both political accountability and constitutional constraint. Trump’s failure to release his tax returns makes it impossible for the American people to assess whether his conflicts undermine our collective security and exert political pressure. Moreover, Trump appears inclined to dispute constitutional constraints as well.

The Constitution itself views conflicts of interest, specifically those related to foreign countries, as a national security threat. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 5:41 pm

President Trump, desperate dealmaker

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Dan Drezner writes in the Washington Post:

Nikki Haley — the rare Trump official who has earned praise from the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts — defended President Trump’s recent decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey:

Now let’s skip over the awful CEO analogy in which Haley is factually wrong and get to this other claim of hers:

I think what you can see is this is a president of action. I mean he is not one that’s going to sit there and talk for too long. If he thinks someone is wrong, he’s going to deal with it. And I think that, you know, the reason people are uncomfortable is because he acts. He doesn’t talk with a bunch of people about it before, he just acts.

Haley is right on two counts: She is correct that Trump seems to act without much consultation, and, yes indeed, it makes me extremely uncomfortable.

[Side note: This is an amusing trope among Trump defenders. When he does something rash or ill-considered, his acolytes praise him as “incredibly decisive.“]

The reason it makes me uncomfortable has to do with a persistent trait of Trump the politician: his clear preference for cutting any deal at the expense of cutting a good deal.

To be fair, the primitive political instinct that guides Trump to this strategy makes some intuitive sense. He thinks that in politics, the appearance of getting things done counts for at least as much as the content of what is actually done. Both voters and reporters have a bias in favor of action over inaction. If Trump is seen as doing things, it leaves the impression with his supporters that he is accomplishing tasks. He knows that reporters will give him some patina of positive political coverage if he gets legislation passed.

Trump pretty much tweeted his preference for action over prudence late last week.

As a result, the president of the United States does not seem to care all that much what is contained within these accomplishments. This is what rankled the House Freedom Caucus when Trump told them in March not to sweat the details of the American Health Care Act:

The group of roughly 30 House conservatives, gathered around a mammoth, oval-shaped conference table in the Cabinet Room of the White House, exchanged disapproving looks. Trump wanted to emphasize the political ramifications of the bill’s defeat; specifically, he said, it would derail his first-term agenda and imperil his prospects for reelection in 2020. The lawmakers nodded and said they understood. And yet they were disturbed by his dismissiveness. For many of the members, the “little s—” meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill — and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country.

The House passed AHCA earlier this month, but in the process the bill bears little resemblance to Trump’s promised plan from January. It also appears to be super-unpopular — like, more unpopular than Obamacare ever was.

Trump’s desperation for any kind of deal is problematic when applied to domestic policy. It is catastrophic when bargaining internationally. I warned about this problem back in April:

A nascent grand strategy is becoming visible for the Trump administration, and it’s a rather disturbing one. The grand strategy is that the administration demonstrates a willingness to rent out its foreign policy to any interested investor. So long as Trump can proclaim some glossy, high-profile investments, he is willing to trade off U.S. interests in the Pacific Rim or Europe or wherever. Which means that countries such as China can have their way with Trump so long as they meet the minimum price, which is a few promised billions.

This is a dangerous and stupid game to play. Current shifts in foreign policy can have long-lasting effects; announcements of investments can be followed by non-implementation. It also guarantees that all of America’s allies in the Pacific Rim will gravitate closer to China than the United States.

Last week, Trump tried to direct the media’s attention away from Comey and toward the recent U.S.-China deal on beef and poultry. The thing is, the experts who have looked at it don’t seem terribly impressed. From The Washington Post’s Damian Paletta and Simon Denyer:

“China has made a few modest concessions that cost it very little, in areas strategically picked to maximize the political benefit to Trump,” said Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Gavekal Dragonomics, an economic research firm in Beijing. “But the substantive impact on U.S.-China trade and investment flows is pretty minimal.”

Writing in Forbes, Gordon Chang was even less impressed: . . .

Continue reading.

Trump is the stereotypical rube who gets fleeced by the city slickers. He’s never been in politics, he doesn’t understand it, and he doesn’t know what to do.

Drezner’s column concludes:

. . .  So, just to sum up: The president of the United States is so desperate to cut deals that it appears he is willing to make far more concessions than he should.  And, unfortunately, it would appear that Ambassador Haley is correct: He isn’t talking to very many people before inking these agreements. The man of action is acting in ways that contravene the national interest.

Donald Trump wants to be known as the dealmaking president. He’s making deals, but all of the available evidence suggests that he is getting played.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 5:35 pm

Climate change denials is a losing strategy: Look at what’s happening to the Antarctic ice shelf

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The NY Times is running a series of three dispatches from the Antarctic on the dangers to our coastal cities from climate change leading to a significant rise in ocean levels. The first begins with some striking graphics that show how the Ross ice shelf is speeding up and breaking down.

THE ACCELERATION is making some scientists fear that Antarctica’s ice sheet may have entered the early stages of an unstoppable disintegration.

Because the collapse of vulnerable parts of the ice sheet could raise the sea level dramatically, the continued existence of the world’s great coastal cities — Miami, New York, Shanghai and many more — is tied to Antarctica’s fate.

Four New York Times journalists joined a Columbia University team in Antarctica late last year to fly across the world’s largest chunk of floating ice in an American military cargo plane loaded with the latest scientific gear.

Inside the cargo hold, an engineer with a shock of white hair directed younger scientists as they threw switches. Gravity meters jumped to life. Radar pulses and laser beams fired toward the ice below.

On computer screens inside the plane, in ghostly traces of data, the broad white surface of the Ross Ice Shelf began to yield the secrets hiding beneath.

“We are 9,000 miles from New York,” said the white-haired engineer, Nicholas Frearson of Columbia. “But we are connected by the ocean.”

A rapid disintegration of Antarctica might, in the worst case, cause the sea to rise so fast that tens of millions of coastal refugees would have to flee inland, potentially straining societies to the breaking point. Climate scientists used to regard that scenario as fit only for Hollywood disaster scripts. But these days, they cannot rule it out with any great confidence.

Yet as they try to determine how serious the situation is, the scientists confront a frustrating lack of information.

Recent computer forecasts suggest that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a high level, parts of Antarctica could break up rapidly, causing the ocean to rise six feet or more by the end of this century. That is double the maximum increase that an international climate panel projected only four years ago.

But those computer forecasts were described as crude even by the researchers who created them. “We could be decades too fast, or decades too slow,” said one of them, Robert M. DeConto of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “There are still some really big question marks about the trajectory of future climate around Antarctica.”

Alarmed by the warning signs that parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet are becoming unstable, American and British scientific agencies are joining forces to get better measurements in the main trouble spots. The effort could cost more than $25 million and might not produce clearer answers about the fate of the ice until the early 2020s.

For scientists working in Antarctica, the situation has become a race against time.

Even as the threat from global warming comes into sharper focus, these scientists understand that political leaders — and cities already feeling the effects of a rising sea — need clearer forecasts about the consequences of emissions. That urgent need for insight has led scientists from Columbia to spend the past two Antarctic summers flying over the Ross Ice Shelf, a floating chunk of ice larger than California.

The Ross shelf helps to slow the flow of land ice from Antarctica into the ocean. Compared with other parts of Antarctica, the shelf seems stable now, but computer forecasts suggest that it might be vulnerable to rapid collapse in the next few decades.

The project to map the structure and depth of the ice shelf in detail, funded by American taxpayers through the National Science Foundation, puts Columbia and its partner institutions on the front lines of one of the world’s most urgent scientific and political problems.

“Our goal is to understand how to predict what’s going to happen to the ice sheets,” said Robin E. Bell, the lead Columbia scientist in charge of the effort. “We really don’t know right now.”

Remote as Antarctica may seem, every person in the world who gets into a car, eats a steak or boards an airplane is contributing to the emissions that put the frozen continent at risk. If those emissions continue unchecked and the world is allowed to heat up enough, scientists have no doubt that large parts of Antarctica will melt into the sea.

But they do not know exactly what the trigger temperature might be, or whether the recent acceleration of the ice means that Earth has already reached it. The question confronting society, said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, is easier to ask than to answer:

“How hot is too hot?” . . .

Continue reading. Extremely cool interactive immersive video at the link.

From the second dispatch (emphasis added):

Over tens of millions of years, thin layers of snow falling on the continent [Antarctica – LG] — in many places, just a light dusting every year — were pressed into ice, burying mountain ranges and building an ice sheet more than two miles thick. Under its own weight, that ice flows downhill in slow-moving streams that eventually drop icebergs into the sea.

If that ice sheet were to disintegrate, it could raise the level of the sea by more than 160 feet — a potential apocalypse, depending on exactly how fast it happened. Recent research suggests that if society burns all the fossil fuels known to exist, the collapse of the ice sheet will become inevitable.

Improbable as such a large rise might sound, something similar may have already happened, and recently enough that it is still lodged in collective memory.

In the 19th century, ethnographers realized that virtually every old civilization had some kind of flood myth in its literature.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 4:06 pm

Trump Team Planning Possible Retaliation for Classified Leak Allegations

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Jenna McLaughlin reports in Foreign Policy:

President Donald Trump’s inner circle is war-gaming how best to respond to the Washington Post’s bombshell report that he shared classified intelligence with the Russians about an Islamic State plot, sensitive information reportedly passed to the United States by Israel.

One option under consideration? Attack former President Barack Obama and his administration over their handling of sensitive data, in particular through one information-sharing program regarding cybersecurity threats.

According to a source with knowledge of a White House meeting that took place Wednesday morning, Trump’s team is considering launching an investigation into a Department of Homeland Security program that shares information on cyberattacks in an effort to coordinate globally on countering digital threats, insinuating that it inappropriately opened up streams of sensitive data to Russia and other nonallies. Another option under consideration is placing a story in the media about the program, similarly accusing it of sharing sensitive information.

The White House told Foreign Policy that it was not aware of any such meeting or discussions with Russia to participate in that information-sharing program.

The program in question, known as the Automated Indicator Sharing capability, allows companies to provide information about potential cyberattackers, like IP addresses and emails, to the U.S. government and international partners. The Department of Homeland Security is working on expanding the program to sharing “characteristics of cyberattacks” to help “identify and block adversary methods that we’ve never seen before,” wrote Scott McConnell, a department spokesman, in an email to FP.

The administration’s approach in this instance is a “bag of crazy cats,” the source with knowledge of the meeting said.

Another source close to the White House confirmed to FP that Trump and his team have been interested in targeting the Homeland Security program for the past couple weeks. Nothing has been decided, the source added, but it’s an option on the table.

Sources with knowledge of the program found the idea absurd.

One former Department of Homeland Security official, when contacted by FP and told about the Trump team’s plans, laughed in response. “That doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“It seems ludicrous,” the former official added.

While there is some cybersecurity information that the United States shares around the globe, including with Russia and China, “there’s certain information out there that’s beneficial for everyone to have, like, ‘Hey, this Windows program has a bug.’ When we share cybersecurity information with the Russians, we’re protecting their systems, making sure that no one hijacks their planes and missiles.”

Additionally, the former official said, nothing the department has in its information-sharing program is particularly sensitive. It would just be “indicators of an attack,” the source said. “Nothing is going to be vital to national security.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 3:50 pm

Does this checklist of signs of gaslighting remind of anything in particular?

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Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, has an article in Psychology Today, 11 signs of gaslighting in a relationship.” It begins:

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind.

People who gaslight typically use the following techniques:

1. They tell blatant lies.

You know it’s an outright lie. Yet they are telling you this lie with a straight face. Why are they so blatant? Because they’re setting up a precedent. Once they tell you a huge lie, you’re not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal.

2. They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof. 

You know they said they would do something; you know you heard it. But they out and out deny it. It makes you start questioning your reality—maybe they never said that thing. And the more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.

3. They use what is near and dear to you as ammunition. 

They know how important your kids are to you, and they know how important your identityis to you. So those may be one of the first things they attack. If you have kids, they tell you that you should not have had those children. They will tell you’d be a worthy person if only you didn’t have a long list of negative traits. They attack the foundation of your being.

4. They wear you down over time.

This is one of the insidious things about gaslighting—it is done gradually, over time. A lie here, a lie there, a snide comment every so often…and then it starts ramping up. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective. It’s the “frog in the frying pan” analogy: The heat is turned up slowly, so the frog never realizes what’s happening to it.

5. Their actions do not match their words. . .

Continue reading.

If you read the article and then free-associate, what name comes to mind?

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 11:13 am

Donald Trump’s big adventure abroad

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He’s already trying to make the trip shorter—5 days instead of 9 days—but still the prospect is intimidating, and not just to the Donald: people are seriously concerned about what he might do or say. Jennifer Rubin has a good column this morning. From the column:

In his grandiose self-regard, Trump has prepared a speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia. Did someone think this was a good idea? Here’s the man who has unsuccessfully tried to ram through a ban on Muslim travel, who belittled the parents of a slain Muslim soldier, who falsely claimed that American Muslims in large numbers celebrated after 9/11 and who has ridiculed Germany for taking in so many Syrian refugees. Trump, who cannot correctly identify a verse from his own Christian Bible (“two Corinthians”), will take it upon himself to lecture Muslims. This should be — well, horrifying.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 9:22 am

Trump’s claim that he has been treated worse than (for example) Nelson Mandela

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Trump is always willing to make astonishing (and counter-factual) claims, but this latest one is jaw dropping: “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.” That statement pretty much epitomizes the “snowflake” mentality of exaggerated sensitivity.

Historians have named some politicians who have been treated even worse than Donald Trump. For example, Dan Snow posts a list for Trump’s consideration, beginning with:

The Emperor Valerian was captured in battle, enslaved, used as a foot-stool, forced to drink molten gold and then skinned and stuffed.

Full list at the link.


Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 9:15 am

Simpson Duke 3, Strop Shoppe Via Dell’ Ambra, RazoRock Baby Smooth, and Stirling Executive Man

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It’s regrettable that Strop Shoppe had to close its doors. The soaps were excellent, and I enjoyed the lather and fragrance of the Via Dell’ Ambra this morning, The Duke 3 Best is fine little brush for a workaday shave.

As you can see, I’m going with comfortable razors for a few days, and the Baby Smooth is as comfortable as any razor I own, while also being startlingly efficient. This morning I got a BBS shave, but did require some touch-up, so the blade’s now been changed.

A good splash of Stirling’s Executive Man, and I’m ready to see what new scandals erupt today.

Written by Leisureguy

18 May 2017 at 8:48 am

Posted in Shaving

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