Later On

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

Archive for August 5th, 2018

Trickle-Down Economics Is Working About As Well As Usual

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Kevin Drum has a good post:

From the Wall Street Journal:

Profits at S&P 500 companies jumped an estimated 23.5% in the three months through June, according to data from Thomson Reuters, more than two and half times revenue growth in the same period….“Companies are coming out unapologetically with pricing increases,” said Jim Russell, portfolio manager at Bahl & Gaynor. “That is one of the more optimistic things we see for keeping [profit] margins high in 2018 and into 2019.”

Happy news indeed. Here’s a handy chart so that you can see how this is trickling down to all the rest of us:

I recommend you pass this around to all your friends and ask them to tape it to their refrigerator doors until November 6.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2018 at 4:01 pm

The Day Trump Told Us There Was Attempted Collusion with Russia

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Adam Davidson writes in the New Yorker:

August 5, 1974, was the day the Nixon Presidency ended. On that day, Nixon heeded a Supreme Court ruling and released the so-called smoking-gun tape, a recording of a meeting, held two years earlier, with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman. Many of Nixon’s most damaging statements came in the form of short, monosyllabic answers and near-grunts—“um huh,” the official transcript reads, at one point—as he responds to Haldeman’s idea of asking the C.I.A. to tell the F.B.I. to “stay the hell out of” the Watergate investigation. The coverup is clearly of Haldeman’s design. Nixon’s words are simple: “All right. Fine.” Then, “Right, fine.”

Haldeman’s idea seemed clever. He believed the F.B.I. was close to concluding that the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate hotel was the work of a C.I.A.-led operation, which had something to do with Cuba and the Bay of Pigs. Nobody would have to actually lie, he seems to suggest—it wasn’t “unusual” for the C.I.A. to warn the F.B.I. to drop an investigation that could harm national security. “And that will fit rather well because the F.B.I. agents who are working the case, at this point, feel that’s what it is. This is C.I.A.”

Nixon’s strongest statement to Haldeman is, surprisingly, a word of caution. “Don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it,” he says. “Say that we wish, for the country, don’t go any further into this case, period!” When Nixon released the tape, he acknowledged that it would lead to his impeachment. Three days later, he resigned the Presidency.

Listening to the tape today, it’s hard not to imagine an alternate strategy, one that Nixon’s aide, Roger Ailes—hired at Haldeman’s request—would surely have endorsed. Nixon could have released the tape himself and declared it as proof of his innocence, pointing out that he did, in fact, tell Haldeman not to lie. He could have argued that he didn’t mean “yes” when he said “um huh”—that the transcript should have read “unh-unh,” a clear sign that he was against the whole scheme. Instead of embracing impeachment, congressional Republicans could have supported an effort to do just what Haldeman and Nixon had attempted: end the investigation.

On August 5, 2018, precisely forty-four years after the collapse of the Nixon Presidency, another President, Donald Trump, made his own public admission. In one of a series of early-morning tweets, Trump addressed a meeting that his son Donald, Jr., held with a Russian lawyer affiliated with the Russian government. “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere,” he wrote. “I did not know about it!”

The tweet contains several crucial pieces of information. First, it is a clear admission that Donald Trump, Jr.,’s original statementabout the case was inaccurate enough to be considered a lie. He had said the meeting was with an unknown person who “might have information helpful to the campaign,” and that this person “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” This false statement was, according to his legal team, dictated by the President himself. There was good reason to mislead the American people about that meeting. Based on reporting—at the time and now—of the President’s admission, it was a conscious effort by the President’s son and two of his closest advisers to work with affiliates of the Russian government to obtain information that might sway the U.S. election in Trump’s favor. In short, it was, at minimum, a case of attempted collusion. The tweet indicates that Trump’s defense will continue to be that this attempt at collusion failed—“it went nowhere”—and that, even if it had succeeded, it would have been “totally legal and done all the time.” It is unclear why, if the meeting was entirely proper, it was important for the President to declare “I did not know about it!” or to tell the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.”

The President’s Sunday-morning tweet should be seen as a turning point. It doesn’t teach us anything new—most students of the case already understand what Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner knew about that Trump Tower meeting. But it ends any possibility of an alternative explanation. We can all move forward understanding that there is a clear fact pattern about which there is no dispute:

  • The President’s son and top advisers knowingly met with individuals connected to the Russian government, hoping to obtain dirt on their political opponent.
  • Documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee and members of the Clinton campaign were later used in an overt effort to sway the election.
  • When the Trump Tower meeting was uncovered, the President instructed his son and staff to lie about the meeting, and told them precisely which lies to use.
  • The President is attempting to end the investigation into this meeting and other instances of attempted collusion between his campaign staff and representatives of the Russian government.

It was possible, just days ago, to believe—with an abundance of generosity toward the President and his team—that the meeting was about adoption, went nowhere, and was overblown by the Administration’s enemies. No longer. The open questions are now far more narrow: Was this a case of successful or only attempted collusion? Is attempted collusion a crime? What legal and moral responsibilities did the President and his team have when they realized that the proposed collusion was underway when the D.N.C. e-mails were leaked and published? And, crucially, what did the President know before the election, after it, and when he instructed his son to lie?

Earlier on Sunday, Trump wrote another tweet, one that repeated a common refrain: journalists are the enemy of the people. “I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People,” it read. In a way, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2018 at 3:26 pm

Nick Turse on a Grim Inheritance: The Legacy of Infinite War

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Tom Englehardt introduces a column by Nick Turse at TomDispatch.com:

It looks like TomDispatch may have a few less readers from now on. Perhaps it will surprise you, but judging by the mail I get, some members of the U.S. military do read TomDispatch — partially to check out the range of military and ex-military critics of America’s wars that this site publishes. Or rather they did read TomDispatch. No longer, it seems, if their computers are operating via Department of Defense (DoD) networks. The DoD, I’ve heard, has blocked the site. You now get this message, I’m told, when you try to go to it: “You have attempted to access a blocked website. Access to this website has been blocked for operational reasons by the DOD Enterprise-Level Protection System.” Oh, and the category that accounts for it being blocked? “Hate and racism.” Mind you, you can evidently still read both Breitbart and Infowars in a beautifully unblocked state via the same networks.

On consideration, however, I’ve concluded that the Department of Defense might have a point. Since this site was launched as a no-name listserv in October 2001 soon after the Afghan War started — you know, the war that the DoD is still pursuing so successfully almost 17 years later with its 17th commander now in the field, 15,000 American troops still fighting and advising there (and still dying there as well), and the enemy, the Taliban in particular, in control of yet more territory in that country — TomDispatch has always hated America’s never-ending, ever-spreading, refugee- and terror-producing wars that now extend from South Asia across the Middle East and deep into Africa. So perhaps this site is, after all, a must-block “hate” site.

And among the authors who have spread TomDispatch’s antiwar gospel of hatred — now so judiciously cut off by the Pentagon — Nick Turse, in particular, has long grimly tracked the growth and spread of Washington’s forever wars and of the Special Operations forces, the semi-secret military that has become, in these years, their heart and soul. He returns to this sorry tale again today, this time in a unique fashion — by tracing the careers of those in the military, commanders and commanded, dead and alive, who returned to America’s official and unofficial war zones again and again and yet again. Maybe someone should suggest to the Pentagon that there’s something else out there to block, so that another website, 17 years from now, won’t be writing about Washington’s 34th commander in the field in Afghanistan. Maybe it’s time to block those wars. Tom

The Legacy of Infinite War 
Special Ops, Generational Struggle, and the Cooperstown of Commandos
By Nick Turse

Raids by U.S. commandos in Afghanistan. (I could be talking about 2001 or 2018.)

A U.S. drone strike in Yemen. (I could be talking about 2002 or 2018.)

Missions by Green Berets in Iraq. (I could be talking about 2003 or 2018.)

While so much about the War on Terror turned Global War on Terrorismturned World War IV turned the Long War turned “generational struggle” turned “infinite war” seems repetitious, the troops most associated with this conflict — the U.S. Special Operations forces — have seen changes galore. As Representative Jim Saxton (R-NJ), chairman of the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, pointed out in 2006, referring to Special Operations Command by its acronym: “For almost five years now, SOCOM has been leading the way in the war on terrorism: defeating the Taliban and eliminating a terrorist safe haven in Afghanistan, removing a truly vicious Iraqi dictator, and combating the terrorists who seek to destabilize the new, democratic Iraq.”

Much has changed since Saxton looked back on SOCOM’s role in the early years of the war on terror. For starters, Saxton retired almost a decade ago, but the Taliban, despite being “defeated” way back when, didn’t do the same. Today, they contest for or control about 44% of Afghanistan. That country also hosts many more terror groups — 20 in all — than it did 12 years ago. “Vicious Iraqi dictator” Saddam Hussein is, of course, still dead and gone, but in 2014, about a third of “the new, democratic Iraq” was overrun by Islamic State militants. The country was only re-liberated in late 2017 and the Islamic State is already making a comeback there this year. Meanwhile, Iraq is besetby anti-government protests and totters along as one of the most fragile stateson the planet, while the Iraqi and Afghan war zones bled together — with U.S. special operators now fighting an Islamic State terrorist franchise in Afghanistan, too.

In spite, or perhaps because, of these circumstances, SOCOM continues to thrive. Its budget, its personnel numbers, and just about any other measure you might choose (from missions to global reach) continue to rise. In 2006, for instance, 85% of Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed overseas — Army Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs, and others — were concentrated in the Greater Middle East, with far smaller numbers spread thinly across the Pacific (7%), Europe (3%), and Latin America (3%). Only 1% of them were then conducting missions in Africa.

Today, the lion’s share — 56% — of those commandos still operate in the Greater Middle East, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by SOCOM, but all other foreign deployments have grown at that region’s expense. Africa Command has leapt from last to second place and now hosts 16.5% of America’s overseas commandos, European Command 13.9% of them, the newly renamed Indo-Pacific Command 8.6%, and Southern Command 4.5%.

In the Zone

As deployments have shifted geographically, the number of special operators overseas has risen dramatically. In any given week in 2001, an average of 2,900 commandos were deployed abroad. By 2014, that number had hit 7,200. Today, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw, it’s 8,300.

A generation of commandos have spent their careers fighting on the proliferating fronts of Washington’s forever wars, hopping from one conflict zone to another or sometimes returning to the same campaign again and again. Some have spent much of their adult lives at war and a number have lost their lives after multiple warzone tours, still without a victory in sight. “At this stage in the ongoing counter-violent extremist type of fight, it is not a rare exception for airmen to be on their 12th, 13th, or 14th deployment,” Lieutenant General Marshall Webb, the chief of Air Force Special Operations Command, told the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities earlier this year. And when it comes to serial deployments, special ops airmen are hardly unique.

Consider, for example, Green Beret Colonel Owen Ray who recently took command of the 1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG). His path to that post might be thought of as the military equivalent of working one’s way up from the mailroom. He has, in fact, held a command at every level of the 1st SFG. In 2003, he served as a detachment commander in Afghanistan. By 2011, he was back there as a company commander. In 2013, he returned as the chief of the 1st Special Forces Group’s 4th Battalion. Now, he heads a unit whose members have spent the last years deploying to hotspots across the planet. “I stand in absolute awe at the service rendered and the impact this unit had on multiple theaters,” said outgoing commander Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere at a July change of command ceremony in which he handed over the reins to Ray.

Beaurpere himself is a model of the long-war SOF experience in multi-theater warfighting. A French immigrant commissioned as an officer in 1994, he served in South Korea, Kosovo, and sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, he commanded a Special Forces company in Iraq. In 2008, he was back in Iraq as the executive officer for a special operations task force in Baghdad. In 2010, he served as the deputy chief of staff of a SOCOM joint task force and the task force deputy operations officer during the lead-up to NATO’s war in Libya. In 2011, he took command of a special forces battalion and supervised its operations in West Africa. He also played a role in establishing a special ops presence in Central Africa to aid local proxies fighting Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. In 2012, he served as the chief of a special operations command and control element in the Horn of Africa. Beaurpere is now assigned to Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, where he serves as executive officer to the commander.

This spring, President Trump tapped Lieutenant General Scott Howell to be the first Air Force officer to head Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), SOCOM’s secretive “hunter-killers,” which include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team Six. A longtime special operator, Howell has hopped back and forth between combat zones and stateside posts while steadily climbing the special ops ladder. His assignments have included a 2005-2006 stint, when he was still a lieutenant colonel, as commander of the Joint Special Operations Aviation Detachment Arabian Peninsula at Joint Base Balad, Iraq; a 2008-2010 assignment, when he was a colonel, as commander of the Joint Special Operations Aviation Component, Special Operations Task Force, at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan; a 2012-2013 stint, when he was a brigadier general, as deputy commanding general of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan; and then, a 2016-2017 position, when he was a major general, as the head of NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan and Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.

Or, for a grimmer look at the special ops experience in these years, consider the biographies of some of the commandos recently killed overseas. They offer a unique window on the operations tempo, scale, and scope of America’s never-ending wars. Take Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens. He completed his Navy SEAL training in December 2002and then deployed 12 times, carrying out perhaps 1,000 missions or more, including assignments in Afghanistan and Somalia, before he was killed in Yemen last January. Similarly, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken, who enlisted in the Navy in 2002 and joined the SEALs a short time later, survived tours in Iraq — in 2007 alone, he took part in 48 combat missions there — and Afghanistan only to be killed in Somalia last May.

Staff Sergeant Logan Melgar, a Green Beret who was reportedly strangled to death by two fellow special operators in Mali last June, was a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, one of two Green Berets killed in an Islamic State ambush in Niger in October 2017, was reportedly on his second deployment to that West African nation. Army Sergeant 1st Class Mihail Golin — the victim of a New Year’s Day attack in Afghanistan — enlisted in the Army in 2005, a year after emigrating to the United States from Latvia, serving in Iraq in 2006-2007 and Afghanistan in 2009-2010, 2011-2012, and again in 2017. Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad, a 26-year-old assigned to the Special Forces, served two tours in Afghanistan — in 2012-2013 and again in 2014 — before losing his life in a June 2018 attack in Jubaland, Somalia.

Hallowed Halls

Today, who remembers Dan Brouthers or the Troy Trojans and Buffalo Bisons, the professional baseball teams he played for? The same could be said of William “Judy” Johnson of the Hilldale Daisies, Mike “King” Kellyof the Boston Beaneaters, and Charlie “Old Hoss” Radbourn of the Providence Grays who, in 1884, pitched 73 complete games and won 59 of them. (Yes, you read that right!). Those men are nonetheless immortalized in bronze forever — or at least as long as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum stands in Cooperstown, New York.

Philip CochranLeroy Manor, and Aaron Bank might be even less well known to the rest of us, although they’re enshrined in the equivalent institution for their line of work. They are among the 69 members of the Commando Hall of Honor at SOCOM headquarters, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Cochran is best known for his service as . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2018 at 2:36 pm

Trump tweeted what?!?

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

President Trump is a lawyer’s client from hell. He lacks self-control, cannot tell the truth and will not absorb legal advice he doesn’t like. Most clients don’t incriminate themselves in public. Again and again. Trump does, however.

The Post reported:

“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower,” the president wrote in one of several early morning tweets Sunday, many of which took aim at the media. “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere.”

He concluded by further distancing himself from the meeting his son arranged, writing: “I did not know about it!”

Trump was responding to a Washington Post report this weekend that although he does not think his eldest son intentionally broke the law, he is worried that Trump Jr. may have unintentionally stumbled into legal jeopardy and is embroiled in [special counsel Robert S.] Mueller’s investigation largely because of his connection to the president.

That’s worse than acknowledging to NBC’s Lester Holt that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired then-FBI Director James B. Comey. It’s worse than his nonstop attempts to obstruct the prosecutors — who are investigating an obstruction-of-justice case. (You cannot make this stuff up.)

The tweet was awful for Trump and a gift to prosecutors in several respects. Most important, Trump confirmed that the meeting with Russians was designed to obtain something valuable — previously undisclosed dirt on Hillary Clinton. That arguably would violate federal law prohibiting a candidate from asking for or receiving something of value from a foreign national. Put it this way: The most powerful evidence that Donald Trump Jr. violated campaign law comes from Donald Trump Jr.’s own email (“I love it” in anticipation of the Trump Tower dirt-finding meeting) and his own father’s tweet. Like father, like son.

Trump Sr.’s insistence that he did not know about the meeting in advance might, to an outside observer, suggest he knows it would be a problem if he did. But then again, he knew about the meeting after the fact and drafted a false statement, so it’s not as though prior knowledge is essential to the prosecutors’ obstruction case. (In any event, his promise at a campaign event at the time that he’d have a speech on Clinton’s nefarious conduct suggests he certainly knew what the Russians had promised.)

Trump fails to understand that the very meeting he is acknowledging is collusion — or conspiracy, if you will — to break campaign-finance laws. Insisting that it is legal to get dirt from a foreign national is politically and morally offensive (Trump was picked by the Kremlin) and contradicts his claim the Russians didn’t want him to win (another lie in the coverup). He knows they did — they had a meeting to help his campaign.

The email also suggests that Trump Jr. (allegedly with drafting help from his father) tried to conceal the true purpose of the meeting with a false cover story (it was all about adoption, you see.) According to news reports, Trump Jr. may also have  lied to Congress by suggesting his father was not intimately involved in drafting the false written statement.

Trump’s insistence that the meeting was perfectly legal and perfectly normal is wrong on both counts. No presidential campaign has gone to a hostile foreign power for help in winning an election. It’s a invitation for a foreign power to help pick our elected leaders, a constitutional abomination and a repudiation of the very concept of democracy (i.e., we pick our own leaders).

The political implications of Trump’s latest confession are quite stunning. Will the rest of the GOP go along with the position that it was perfectly fine for Russia to help Trump? That would sure be a change from “No collusion” (to “Collusion, so what?!”). I don’t know how a major political party can maintain the view that hostile powers have carte blanche to influence our elections. Every Republican in elected office or on the ballot should be asked his or her view on the matter.

The notion that collusion with a hostile power is no big deal is so preposterous and unpalatable, you would think Republicans would not dare try to defend Trump on this point. But this crowd? They might just try it.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2018 at 2:30 pm

Wet Shaving Products Monarch, Barrister & Mann Leviathan, and the redoubtable Stealth

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Leviathan has a wonderful fragrance, and the lather’s damn good as well, this morning created by using my WSP Monarch shaving brush. The Stealth is still one of my best razors overall, and using it this morning was a pleasure: three passes to total smoothness, to which I applied a good splash of Leviathan, first shaking the bottle well, as is my wont.

And then out for a Nordic walk in the cool morning air: 3.2 miles, 6800 steps, 63 minutes.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2018 at 8:50 am

Posted in Shaving

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