Later On

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

Archive for May 2018

Who Hates It When Disinformation Is Exposed?

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Extremely interesting post (with three charts) by Kevin Drum.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2018 at 11:44 am

Trump’s Lord of the Flies Management Style Is Coming Back to Haunt Him

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David Atkins writes in the Washington Monthly:

Donald Trump cannot truly be said to have a managerial style. So far as we can tell, his ethos seems to be to hire vicious and aggressive people whose number one qualification is absolute loyalty to him, without regard to how well they might work together as a team or how competent they might be in absolute terms. The goal of any organization Trump is a part of is simply to give Trump more access to money, women and fame. Trump does not return loyalty given to him.

Insofar as he does have a management principle, it is to set people against each other in a survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere of ruthless competition for resources and attention–a combination of Ayn Rand and Lord of the Flies. That strategy has its advantages and drawbacks in the private sector, but it’s particularly toxic in a public-facing organization ostensibly serving the common good. When you set everyone against each other you can create some innovation and internal efficiency at the expense of cohesion and inter-departmental synergy. Usually the drawbacks outweigh the advantages even in the business world. In the public sector it is disastrous. The failure to understand the difference between management designed to drive maximum profit, and management designed to effectively steer the ship of state is why it’s bad idea to to elect people who want to run the government like a business.

This is a lesson that Trumpworld is now learning. Well, it would be learning it if it had the capacity to learn. When everyone hates and mistrusts each other, and no one can count on loyalty from the boss, each individual seeks to score points with the press at the expense of the organization. In the White House, that means leaks from all directions, without end:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lambasted the communications team Friday over leaking details of a White House staffer’s reported mockery of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s health during an internal meeting earlier this week.

According to the news website Axios, Sanders and other senior members of the press team were not as much bothered by the substance of the staffer’s remarks about McCain than the fact that they had been leaked to the press.

“I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too,” a visibly upset and furious Sanders told attendees during Friday’s meeting, Axios reported, citing five staffers who were in the room. “And that’s just disgusting.”

At the center of the debacle were remarks from Kelly Sadler, a special assistant in the White House, who reportedly took issue with McCain’s opposition to Gina Haspel, the Trump administration’s nominee for CIA director. Sadler allegedly dismissed the lawmaker’s concerns earlier this week, saying “he’s dying, anyway.”

Even more amusing is that this leak didn’t come from one person. It came from no fewer than five sources.

Sanders’ prediction came true. What follows below is a leak from that very intense meeting yesterday, according to five sources in the room. The broad outlines of this meeting were first reported by ABC News.

Why this matters: The White House communications and press team has been beset by leaks. This last one appears to have crossed a line, and several people in the room on Friday told me they now walk into meetings knowing they can’t trust their own colleagues. In big meetings, they feel inclined, now, to keep their mouths shut.

There is no honor among thieves, particularly when the boss is so obviously grifting personally from the job and doesn’t seem to care who lives and who dies. Staffers can make ghoulish comments about a Senator battling brain cancer without repercussions. Other staffers can leak those comments to the press for momentary advantage, and they too will suffer no recrimination because you would have to fire the whole team. Which might be possible, but a new team wouldn’t behave any differently because the fish rots from the head. Sadler’s deplorable comment was enabled by the general atmosphere of ugliness that Trump promotes, and the leak of her comment was necessitated by the cutthroat atmosphere Trump cultivates in his organization.

It is notable how stark this contrast is with . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2018 at 11:06 am

Is Trump Getting Played by North Korea?

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Jonah Shepp writes in New York:

A week ago, President Donald Trump was gearing up to write a fantastically humble acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize “everyone” thought he should win for denuclearizing North Korea: an accomplishment he has yet to achieve, though some sycophants in the House of Representatives had already nominated him for the prize.

With all this hype, it would be hugely embarrassing for the administration if its efforts to achieve peace and nuclear disarmament in North Korea were to come to naught — a fact not likely lost on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. That Trump and his toadies were celebrating too soon is beyond doubt, as North Korea has not actually committed to anything concrete yet. In light of this week’s events, however, we must consider the possibility that embarrassing Trump has been Kim’s game all along.

In fairness to Trump, things had been looking pretty good on the North Korean front until very recently. A historic summit with Kim is on his calendar for next month, Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in just held a fruitful meeting of their own, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned from Pyongyang with three Americans held prisoner by Kim’s regime. North Korea announced plans for the demolition of its nuclear testing site, which satellite images suggest is already underway.

In the past few days, however, North Korea has changed its tune, and the path to nuclear disarmament no longer looks as straight and smooth as it did a week or two ago. Ostensibly in response to a U.S.–South Korea air force drill, the North on Tuesday canceled another much-hyped round of talks with the South that had been scheduled for Wednesday. The regime is now reportedly having second thoughtsabout next month’s meeting with the U.S. as well, a shift that has blindsided the White House.

The abrupt reversal of what had looked like a sure thing appears to have thrown the president himself for a loop; in comments from the Oval Office on Thursday, Trump sought to reassure Kim with up-front guarantees that in exchange for a disarmament agreement, the U.S. would provide “protections that will be very strong” for him and his regime: “He would be there, he would be running his country, his country would be very rich.” Kim has indicated that the price of giving up his nuclear weapons, or at least part of that price, is a credible assurance from the U.S. that it will not invade North Korea.

Negotiating with yourself and making promises that may prove practically or politically untenable for you to keep are presumably not tactics recommended in The Art of the Deal, but these hasty remarks might not have been necessary had Trump not made the original mistake of hiring John Bolton as his national-security advisor.

Pyongyang’s newfound hesitancy to do a deal with the U.S. is a direct response to Bolton’s repeated statements that the Trump administration was looking to follow the “Libya model” of nuclear disarmament with North Korea — a model that, in the long run, ended very badly for Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Bolton was also surely a factor in Trump’s recent decision to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran, sending a signal to Pyongyang that any deal it makes with the U.S. might not be worth the paper it is printed on.

Meanwhile, Bolton, Pompeo, and Trump himself have been spinning three different stories about the nature and purpose of these talks. Pompeo says North Korea’s reward for denuclearizing would be an infusion of investment from private American companies — which, to the staunchly anti-Western, Stalinist regime in Pyongyang, sounds more like an invasion.

Given what we know about Trump’s attention span, he himself may not understand the significance and ramifications of what he and his top foreign-policy officials are saying. He also might not grasp that his vision of “denuclearization” in the Korean peninsula is very different from Kim’s. Indeed, judging from some of his tweets in the past month, the president seems to believe that peace in Korea is practically a done deal already, when in fact a very uncertain process is still in its infancy and can easily be derailed.

Anyone who knows better than to trust North Korea (like Republicans did until it began dangling the prospect of a historic, legacy-saving victory in front of their problematic president) should have been alert to the chance that Kim’s recent peace overtures were insincere all along. After all, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2018 at 7:12 am

Change in shaving schedule

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Heretofore I have skipped shaving on Sunday because I like to start the week with the satisfying shave of a two-day stubble. But things change, and now we have a regular Sunday event—a meeting with friends for breakfast—and on Saturday I now generally stay home.

So it seems obvious that Saturday should be the skipped-shaving day, and I start Sunday mornings with the two-day-stubble shave of the week.

Effective immediately. No shave this morning.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2018 at 5:56 am

Posted in Shaving

Does the NRA believe that the tree of liberty also requires the blood of schoolchildren?

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The NRA and its more militant members have been fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson’s statement made in support of the Revolutionary War, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

What is missing at the end of the sentence is “… and schoolchildren.” I do not see how the constant occurrence of school shootings in any way is nurturing to the tree of liberty, and yet the NRA (and its more militant members) strongly oppose any steps that might mitigate the carnage.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2018 at 5:53 am

Posted in Education, Guns

U.S. Navy Reserve Doctor on Gina Haspel Torture Victim: “One of ghe Most Severely Traumatized Individuals I Have Ever Seen”

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US politics seems to have mislaid the idea of accountability. Jeremy Scahill reports in the Intercept:

AN AMERICAN DOCTOR and Naval reserve officer who has done extensive medical evaluation of a high-profile prisoner who was tortured under the supervision of Gina Haspel privately urged Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to oppose Haspel’s confirmation as CIA director, according to an email obtained by The Intercept.

“I have evaluated Mr. Abdal Rahim al-Nashiri, as well as close to 20 other men who were tortured” in U.S. custody, including several who were tortured “as part of the CIA’s RDI [Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation] program. I am one of the only health professionals he has ever talked to about his torture, its effects, and his ongoing suffering,” Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of public health at Boston University, wrote to Warner’s legislative director on Monday. “He is irreversibly damaged by torture that was unusually cruel and designed to break him. In my over 20 years of experience treating torture victims from around the world, including Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.”

Nashiri was snatched in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and “rendered” to Afghanistan by the CIA and eventually taken to the Cat’s Eye prison in Thailand that was run by Haspel from October to December 2002. He was suspected of involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen. He is currently being held at Guantánamo Bay prison.

Despite Crosby’s pleas, Warner and five other Democratic senators have announced their support for Haspel. Warner backed Haspel after she sent him a carefully crafted letter designed to give the impression that she had changed her position on torture while simultaneously continuing to defend its efficacy. “While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” Haspel wrote. “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

Haspel stated that she “would refuse to undertake any proposed activity that was contrary to my moral and ethical values.” But Haspel has refused to renounce torture, her role in its use or to condemn the practice of waterboarding. In fact, under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris during her confirmation hearing, Haspel explicitly refused to say that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” she oversaw at a secret CIA prison in Thailand were immoral. That fact renders her pledge to Warner meaningless.

“It took her 16 years and the eve of a vote on her confirmation to get even this modest statement, and again, she didn’t say she had any regrets other than it offended some people,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Intelligence Committee.

“I urge Senator Warner to oppose Ms. Haspel, who did not have the courage or leadership to oppose the RDI program,” wrote Crosby. She stated that some of the techniques used against Nashiri are still classified. In her letter to Warner, Crosby stated that among the known acts of torture committed against Nashiri while he was in U.S. custody at several U.S. facilities, included:

  • suffocated with water (waterboarding)
  • subjected to mock execution with a drill and gun while standing naked and hooded
  • anal rape through rectal feeding
  • threatened that his mother would be sexually assaulted
  • lifted off ground by arms while they were bound behind his back (after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2018 at 5:49 am

A collusion play in 7 acts

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That’s the summary. The article is in the Washington Post:

We don’t know whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government, legally speaking. But we do know that those close to President Trump seem to be quite concerned about just how precisely you define the word “collusion.”

Rudolph W. Giuliani hit the airwaves of Fox News on Wednesday night to again raise the bar for what might constitute collusion. On the same day that 2,500 pages of testimony about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting were released, Giuliani declared that collusion would require using information that was provided by the Russians.

“And even if it comes from a Russian, or a German, or an American, it doesn’t matter,” he said of the opposition research that was offered. “And they never used it is the main thing. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.”

Giuliani’s argument was conspicuous, given that it appeared to go further in narrowing the definition of collusion than we’ve seen to date. Previously, the operative denial was that valuable information from the meeting didn’t even exist — a contention that the testimony on the Trump Tower meeting seemed to confirm.

This may seem to be splitting hairs, but the new argument allows for the Trump team to have received information from foreign sources, as long as it wasn’t utilized. We will see whether that’s a distinction he’s drawing for a reason. It’s possible that Giuliani was just speaking loosely while trying to restate the previous company line. (He has certainly been sloppy before.)

But to be clear, this is the latest episode in what has been a steady narrowing of the Trump team’s denials of collusion. Here are the seven distinct stages of collusion denial I’ve identified:

1. November 2016: No communications, period

Hope Hicks: “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”

2. February 2017: There were no communications, “to the best of our knowledge”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “This is a non-story because, to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place.”

3. March 2017: There were communications, but no planned meetings with Russians

Donald Trump Jr.: “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did. … But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”

4. July 8, 2017: There was a planned meeting at Trump Tower, but it was “primarily” about adoption and not the campaign

Trump Jr.: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow-up.”

5. July 9, 2017: The meeting was planned to discuss the campaign, but the information exchanged wasn’t “meaningful”

Trump Jr.: “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

6. December 2017: Collusion isn’t even a crime

President Trump: “There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime.”

Jay Sekulow: “For something to be a crime, there has to be a statute that you claim is being violated. There is not a statute that refers to criminal collusion. There is no crime of collusion.”

(Technically speaking, the criminal code doesn’t use the word “collusion,” but it’s generally understood as a broad term that could encompass more specific, codified crimes. And even special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team has used it in court filings.)

7. May 2018: Even if meaningful information were obtained, it wasn’t used

Giuliani: “And even if it comes from a Russian, or a German, or an American, it doesn’t matter. And they never used it, is the main thing. They never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.”

Written by LeisureGuy

18 May 2018 at 5:32 pm

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