Later On

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Archive for August 2nd, 2017

State Department dysfunction reaches new highs

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

We’ve written recently about widespread concerns in the foreign policy community — both within and outside the State Department — over the management, direction and role of the State Department under former oil company chief executive Rex Tillerson. The combination of unfilled political slots, insular leadership, failure to defend the department’s budget, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of democracy and values in our foreign relations have made this the worst-run and least-effective State Department in recent memory — yes, worse than the Obama years, my conservative friends.

Now the amateurism and arrogance has reached constitutional dimensions. On the day President Trump grudgingly and without public ceremony signs Russia sanctions legislation, State has managed to undermine the impression we are serious about curbing Russian behavior.

Politico reports:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is resisting the pleas of State Department officials to spend nearly $80 million allocated by Congress for fighting terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation.

It is highly unusual for a Cabinet secretary to turn down money for his department. But more than five months into his tenure, Tillerson has not issued a simple request for the money earmarked for the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, $60 million of which is now parked at the Pentagon. Another $19.8 million sits untouched at the State Department as Tillerson’s aides reject calls from career diplomats and members of Congress to put the money to work against America’s adversaries.

This is money already appropriated by Congress that Tillerson is legally obligated to spend. The notion that money to combat Russian espionage and subversion of Western democracies should not be spent merely underscores the sickening suspicion that Trump puts Russian interests above America’s. (A former State Department official is quoted in the Politico article saying, “The Global Engagement Center is one of the few, if only, areas in the U.S. government that could be tasked with countering and rebutting disinformation against America.”)

Moreover, there is a display of executive-suite bickering in which R.C. Hammond, a top communications person at State and former Newt Gingrich spokesman with no particular foreign policy expertise and zero State Department experience, typifies the secretary’s stubborn refusal to enlist people in the building who know what they are doing:

Hammond threw up objections to the request on multiple fronts, the former senior State official said. Hammond indicated to officials involved with the Global Engagement Center that with the department facing potential budget and staffing cuts, it didn’t make sense to take an infusion of new funds, the former senior State official said. Hammond also questioned why the U.S. doesn’t ask other governments, particularly in Muslim countries, to play a larger role in the information battle.

Hammond further expressed hesitation about needling the Russians at a time when Tillerson was trying to find common ground with the Kremlin on sensitive matters such as the war in Syria.

The reaction to this may dwarf blowback to any other single episode because Tillerson and his gang are defying Congress, Republicans in particular who pushed for the legislation. Moreover, as one former State Department hand put it to me, “This is so obviously, ridiculously stupid in so many ways — it’s like being asked to explain why it might not be such a good idea to chop off one’s own fingers one by one.”) One State Department official not authorized to speak on the record suggested to me that Hammond would not be likely to play an active policy role.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who co-authored the legislation, are appropriately irate. In a written statement, they declared: . . .

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What the hell is going on? Is no one in charge?

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2017 at 8:56 pm

Posted in GOP

Oh, wait—maybe it was collusion, after all

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John Stipher and Steve Hall write in the NY Times.

John Sipher (@john_sipher), a former chief of station for the C.I.A., worked for over 27 years in Russia, Europe and Asia and now writes for The Cipher Brief and works for CrossLead, a consulting company. Steve Hall (@StevenLHall1) is a former C.I.A. chief of Russian operations and a CNN national security analyst.

Their piece begins:

Did the Trump campaign collude with Russian agents trying to manipulate the course of the 2016 election? Some analysts have argued that the media has made too much of the collusion narrative; that Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Kremlin-linked Russians last year was probably innocent (if ill-advised); or that Russian operatives probably meant for the meeting to be discoveredbecause they were not trying to recruit Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump as agents, but mainly trying to undermine the American political system.

We disagree with these arguments. We like to think of ourselves as fair-minded and knowledgeable, having between us many years of experience with the C.I.A. dealing with Russian intelligence services. It is our view not only that the Russian government was running some sort of intelligence operation involving the Trump campaign, but also that it is impossible to rule out the possibility of collusion between the two.

The original plan drawn up by the Russian intelligence services was probably multilayered. They could have begun an operation intended to disrupt the presidential campaign, as well as an effort to recruit insiders to help them over time — the two are not mutually exclusive. It is the nature of Russian covert actions (or as the Russians would call them, “active measures”) to adapt over time, providing opportunities for other actions that extend beyond the original intent.

It is entirely plausible, for example, that the original Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers was an effort simply to collect intelligence and get an idea of the plans of the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate. Once derogatory information emerged from that operation, the Russians might then have seen an opportunity for a campaign to influence or disrupt the election. When Donald Trump Jr. responded “I love it” to proffers from a Kremlin-linked intermediary to provide derogatory information obtained by Russia on Hillary Clinton, the Russians might well have thought that they had found an inside source, an ally, a potential agent of influence on the election.

The goal of the Russian spy game is to nudge a person to step over the line into an increasingly conspiratorial relationship. First, for a Russian intelligence recruitment operation to work, they would have had some sense that Donald Trump Jr. was a promising target. Next, as the Russians often do, they made a “soft” approach, setting the bait for their target via the June email sent by Rob Goldstone, a British publicist, on behalf of a Russian pop star, Emin Agalarov.

They then employed a cover story — adoptions — to make it believable to the outside world that there was nothing amiss with the proposed meetings. They bolstered this idea by using cutouts, nonofficial Russians, for the actual meeting, enabling the Trump team to claim — truthfully — that there were no Russian government employees at the meeting and that it was just former business contacts of the Trump empire who were present.

When the Trump associates failed to do the right thing by informing the F.B.I., the Russians probably understood that they could take the next step toward a more conspiratorial relationship. They knew what bait to use and had a plan to reel in the fish once it bit.

While we don’t know for sure whether the email solicitation was part of an intelligence ploy, there are some clues. A month after the June meeting at Trump Tower, WikiLeaks, a veritable Russian front, released a dump of stolen D.N.C. emails. The candidate and campaign surrogates increasingly mouthed talking points that seemed taken directly from Russian propaganda outlets, such as that there had been a terrorist attack on a Turkish military base, when no such attack had occurred. Also, at this time United States intelligence reportedly received indications from European intelligence counterparts about odd meetings between Russians and Trump campaign representatives overseas.

Of course, to determine whether collusion occurred, we would have to know whether the Trump campaign continued to meet with Russian representatives subsequent to the June meeting. The early “courting” stage is almost always somewhat open and discoverable. Only after the Russian intelligence officer develops a level of control can the relationship be moved out of the public eye. John Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., recently testified, “Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”

Even intelligence professionals who respect one another and who understand the Russians can and often do disagree. On the Trump collusion question, the difference of opinion comes down to this: Would the Russians use someone like Mr. Goldstone to approach the Trump campaign? Our friend and former colleague Daniel Hoffman argued in this paper that this is unlikely — that the Russians would have relied on trained agents. We respectfully disagree. We believe that the Russians might well have used Mr. Goldstone. We also believe the Russians would have seen very little downside to trying to recruit someone on the Trump team — a big fish. If the fish bit and they were able to reel it in, the email from Mr. Goldstone could remain hidden and, since it was from an acquaintance, would be deniable if found. (Exactly what the Trump team is doing now.)

If the fish didn’t take the bait, the Russians would always have had the option to weaponize the information later to embarrass the Trump team. In addition, if the Russians’ first objective was chaos and disruption, the best way to accomplish that would have been to have someone on the inside helping. It is unlikely that the Russians would not use all the traditional espionage tools available to them.

However, perhaps the most telling piece of information may be the most obvious. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2017 at 8:29 pm

“If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try, try again.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2017 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Video

Ecology is an intricate system: Wolves changing rivers

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2017 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Environment, Science

Alabama legislators won’t compensate innocent man for 30 years on death row. Instead, they want to speed up executions.

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This perhaps explains some of Jeff Sessions’ worldview, which was shaped in Alabama. Radley Balko writes:

Anthony Hinton served nearly 30 years on Alabama’s death row until he was finally exonerated in 2015. The Washington Post summarized his case at the time of his release:

Hinton was convicted of two separate killings of Birmingham restaurant workers — the Feb. 25, 1985, slaying of John Davidson, and the July 2, 1985, killing of Thomas Vason — even though there were no eyewitnesses linking Hinton to the crimes, no fingerprints linking him to the scene, and no other physical evidence except for the questionable link between a set of bullets and a gun found in Hinton’s home.

For years, Hinton’s lawyers have questioned whether the bullets could be conclusively linked to the weapon. The gun belonged to Hinton’s mother, with whom he shared a home.

Subsequent tests of the only physical evidence in the case raised serious doubts about whether the weapon in Hinton’s home had fired those bullets — and it even called into question whether the bullets were all fired from the same gun.

The ballistic evidence combined with eyewitness testimony from someone who was present at a similar crime that Hinton was never charged with comprised the entirety of the state’s case against him.

Hinton’s attorneys discovered the problems with the ballistic evidence in 1999. Yet state prosecutors took another 16 years to conduct their own tests, during which Hinton remained on death row.

Hinton was finally released two years ago. Yet despite spending more than half his life in prison, the 60-year-old Hinton has still yet to be compensated. The Alabama legislature just can’t seem to get around to it. From the Equal Justice Initiative:

Alabama law provides that compensation may be awarded to a wrongfully incarcerated person if the Committee on Compensation for Wrongful Incarceration finds that he meets the eligibility criteria, but applying for compensation is often a meaningless exercise because the statute requires a legislative enactment to appropriate the necessary funds. Mr. Hinton’s application was approved by the committee, and this session, State Senator Paul Bussman sponsored a bill to appropriate the funds to compensate Mr. Hinton. The bill never even made it out of committee.

This is really unconscionable. Meanwhile, since Hinton’s release the Alabama legislature has passed a different bill related to capital punishment — the Orwellian-named “Fair Justice Act,” which aims to limit the appeals of death row inmates and speed up executions. As Hinton himself wrote in an op-ed, had the Fair Justice Act been in place at the time of his conviction, he’d almost certainly be dead.

It’s nice to know where the Alabama legislature’s priorities lie, here.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2017 at 11:09 am

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) delivers the most courageous conservative rebuttal of Trumpism yet

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In the Washington Post James Hohman has a nice (and lengthy) comment on Jeff Flake’s new book:

THE BIG IDEA: Sen. Jeff Flake believes Donald Trump is a modern-day Robert Welch.

To understand why the Arizona Republican is risking his political career this week to publish a book lambasting the president requires familiarity with a pivotal but largely forgotten episode in the early history of the modern conservative movement.

It was 1962 — the same year Flake was born. Robert Welch, a retired candy maker, had won a massive following on the right as the leader of the extremist John Birch Society. The Birchers were trying to attach themselves to the emerging presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, wanted to write Welch and his kooky ideas out of the movement.

Recognizing that it could cost him crucial support, Goldwater nonetheless endorsed the effort. “We cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner,” the Arizona senator wrote for the magazine.

Flake considers himself an ideological heir to Goldwater, who once held his seat. He served as the executive director of the Goldwater Institute think tank in Phoenix for seven years before getting elected to the House. He worked closely with the then-retired senator, who passed away in 1998. The 54-year-old often asks himself, “What would Goldwater do?” And feels confident that his hero “would not be pleased or amused” by either the state of the GOP or Trump.

Halfway through his new book, published yesterday, Flake notes that Goldwater’s stand against Welch inspired him to speak out against Trump — even though he knows the risks: “We now have a far-right press that too often deals in unreality and a White House that has brought the values of Robert Welch into the West Wing. As a certain kind of extremism is again ascendant in our ranks, we could do well to take a lesson from that earlier time. We must not condone it. We must not use it to frighten and exploit the base. We must condemn it, in no uncertain terms.”

As an homage, Flake titled his book “Conscience of a Conservative” — the name of Goldwater’s seminal work. He mostly wrote the 140-page manifesto in secret. He did not even tell some of his advisers that he was working on it lest they try to talk him out of putting these ideas on paper.

“I feel compelled to declare: This is not who we are,” the senator writes. “Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, ‘Someone should do something!’ without seeming to realize that that someone is us. … The question is: Will enough of us stand up and wrest it back before it is too late? Or will we just go along with it, for our many and varied reasons? Those are open and unresolved questions. … This is not an act of apostasy. This is an act of fidelity.”

To paraphrase Buckley, Flake now stands athwart Trump, yelling stop, at a time when few others in his movement are inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.

— The border-state senator became inspired to immerse himself in this project during a trip to Mexico City two weeks after the election, where he struggled to soothe Mexican concerns about NAFTA, the wall and anti-immigrant sentiments. “That conservatism has become compromised by other powerful forces — nationalism, populism, xenophobia, extreme partisanship, even celebrity — explains part of how and why we lost our way,” Flake writes. “That we who call ourselves conservative have been willing partners in that compromise explains the rest.”

Just how bad have things gotten in his view? The Republican fears that the term Orwellian “seems quaint now” and “inadequate to our moment.” He muses about the need to devise a new word for the new age “to describe the previously indescribable.”

“Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign,” writes Flake, who has never been known for hyperbole. “And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything — or maybe nothing at all. Following the lead of a candidate who had a special skill for identifying problems, if not for solving them, we lurched like a tranquilized elephant from a broad consensus on economic philosophy and free trade that had held for generations to an incoherent and often untrue mash of back-of-the-envelope populist slogans.”

As Flake sees it, “We were party to a very big lie.” “Seemingly overnight, we  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2017 at 10:02 am

Puros la Habana and the iKon X3

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A very satisfying shave. I do like Van Yulay soaps, and since she sells conveniently packaged samples, I suggest you try a few. (Conveniently packaged = you can load the brush directly from the sample) As is common with soaps containing clay, I had to add a little water during loading, and I got an exceptional lather. Puros la Habana has a wonderful cigar fragrance. Ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera, Coconut Fatty Acid, Castor, Glycerin, Potassium Hydroxide, Babassu-Manteca-Argan-Abyssinian-Coconut Oils, Kokum & Cocoa Butters, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Sodium Lactate, Allantoin, Silica, Liquid Silk, Bentonite Clay, Tobacco Absolute, and Fragrance.

“Manteca,” as used here, means lard—i.e., the pig equivalent of tallow. And the soap is excellent.

I enjoy this Rooney butterscotch Emilion, and I have to recognize its contribution to the lather. A veyr nice knot, with hooked tips.

The X3 came in for some harsh words on Wicked Edge, but it remains for me one of the best razors I have. I returned to the stock cap, but put the head on an Above the Tie Kronos handle (for no particular reason). More blade feel today for some reason, but a very smooth result and a very comfortable shave.

A good splash of Chiseled Face Sherlock, and we move into the middle of the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2017 at 8:55 am

Posted in Shaving

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