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Selling off the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is still a bad idea, Mr. President

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 16:31

Another element of President Trump’s proposed budget has come to light, featured this week at Bloomberg. Unfortunately, while it’s yet another effort at reducing the deficit and making the federal government more fiscally responsible (always a noble goal), it’s not really a practical one. Rolled up in a number of other energy related initiatives, Trump is proposing that we sell off as much as half of the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).

The White House plan to trim the national debt includes selling off half of the nation’s emergency oil stockpile, part of a broad series of changes proposed by President Donald Trump to the federal government’s role in energy markets.

Trump’s first complete budget proposal, released in part on Monday, would raise $500 million in fiscal year 2018 by draining the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and as much $16.6 billion in oil sales over the next decade.

The proposal also seeks to boost government revenues by allowing oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, ending the practice of sharing oil royalties with states along the Gulf of Mexico and selling off electricity transmission lines in the West. Like much of the budget, those moves are likely to face opposition in Congress.

I doubt that this idea will make it very far in Congress so we hopefully won’t need to worry about it, but I do hope that there are some wiser heads in DC who will be trying to talk Donald Trump out of pushing this idea too strongly. His proposal to open up ANWR drilling is a good one and will produce some downstream benefits so we could definitely get that one pushed through. I’m uncertain about the idea of cutting off the royalty sharing with the gulf coast states. That’s been a staple of these agreements from the beginning, largely because those are the four states which bear the brunt of the risk in case of a spill. It’s possible that they might be renegotiated, however, giving a slightly larger cut of the proceeds to help reduce the debt.

But the SPR is a different matter. We have those reserves in place for a reason and the wisdom of the decision to create the reserve hasn’t changed over the years. There’s no doubt a temptation to scale back the plan at a time when America is assuming a global leadership role in fossil fuel production, but that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t suddenly be faced with a demand surge during a crisis. Also, our successful development efforts have driven down oil prices considerably. That’s great news for consumers when they go to the pump, but it also makes this about the least practical time possible to sell of our emergency reserves. It’s just bad business all the way around.

I don’t want to throw cold water all over the President’s efforts at cost cutting. He’s got a number of excellent plans already in place which will be trimming the fat off the federal behemoth and hopefully we’ll see them pay off in short order. But we also shouldn’t let our enthusiasm for cutting costs lead us into supporting unwise decisions. We should hang on to the SPR. At a bare minimum, if you have to sell some of it, at least wait until the prices are higher.

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Brennan: Enough contacts between Trump campaigners and Russians for “concern”

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 16:01

Did Russia try to interfere with the election in 2016? You bet, former CIA director John Brennan told a House panel investigating the issue. Did anyone from the Donald Trump campaign actively collude with Russian agents? Brennan got more vague on that point, saying that his counterintelligence operations didn’t find any intentional collusion, but that they found enough contacts that the possibility “concerned” him:

Brennan says he encountered intelligence revealing "contacts and interactions" between Russian officials, people involved in Trump campaign.

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) May 23, 2017

Former CIA head John Brennan on Tuesday told lawmakers that he had seen intelligence showing that people involved in President Trump’s campaign had interactions with Russian officials that “concerned” him.

He insisted that he did not know if there had been any intentional collusion between those campaign associates, who he declined to name.

“But I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether U.S. persons were actively colluding,” Brennan said.

But were they? Brennan doesn’t make a case for that, nor provide any evidence of it. In fact, at one point Brennan reminded Trey Gowdy that the CIA conducts intelligence and counter-intelligence operations rather than criminal investigations. When asked to provide evidence for his observations, Brennan shot back, “I don’t do evidence. I do intelligence.” The former CIA chief told the House panel that any leads turned up by the CIA went to the FBI for further investigation.

On the other hand, just because they found contacts doesn’t necessarily indicate collusion, Brennan added. However, the number of contacts bothered him enough that he felt the FBI had good reason to pursue an investigation:

Brennan: The Russians "try to get individuals…to act on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly"

— POLITICO (@politico) May 23, 2017

Based on his experience with how Russian intelligence services go about such influence campaigns, Brennan said, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation was “well-founded.”

He was explicit, however, that U.S. persons do not always know that they are interacting with Russian intelligence operatives.

Yes, that’s what makes intelligence operatives effective. Campaigns require the broadest possible outreach and engagement, which is what makes them vulnerable to hostile foreign intelligence operations (and for that matter, dirty tricks from other campaigns). A well-organized campaign can minimize that by working through well-known and previously vetted political activists and groups, but grassroots campaigns might be more vulnerable. The Russians take special interest in American elections, which has been true at least since the start of the Cold War, and almost all contacts would likely to be both unwitting and inconsequential, precisely because we conduct open campaigns and elections.

Those are the two big questions in this issue. Did any contact amount to deliberate collusion, and did it make any difference? At least to this point in testimony and reporting, the answers to both are no. The only impactful espionage so far appears to be the hacks on the DNC and to a much lesser extent the DCCC and John Podesta, and the impact from those are arguable. That’s why the accusations of a cover-up don’t make much sense, given what’s been found, and Brennan also told Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that he has no knowledge of any efforts by the Trump White House to impede investigations in the matter:

SCHIFF: In respect to a number of allegations made recently that the president of his aides may have sought to enlist the help of members the IC [intelligence community] or Director Comey himself to drop the Flynn investigation. Have any members of the IC shared their concerns that the president was attempting to enlist the help of people within the intelligence community to drop the Flynn investigation?

BRENNAN: I am not aware.

So all we know for the moment about what happened in 2016 is that the Russians tried to penetrate at least one campaign, succeeded in hacking two others, and generally acted as they usually do around election time. No one has produced evidence of Russian tampering with the actual voting process, nor of any deliberate and knowing collusion with Russian intelligence, let alone by campaign leadership. At worst, with what’s known so far, the Trump campaign might be criticized for sloppy security and a näiveté about business and campaign contacts.

By the way, Brennan also slapped at the leakers for “very, very damaging” exposures of intelligence and other classified information. The leaks need to be plugged ASAP, Brennan suggests:

That might be the truly acute issue in this entire scandal, because months of digging on collusion allegations have resulted in bupkis thus far. Maybe the special counsel probe will find evidence for such, but don’t forget that Brennan ran the CIA during the entire election cycle and still can’t connect those dots. If he can’t get any more specific than this by now, and the FBI can’t come up with more than James Comey’s representation on May 3rd, then Robert Mueller’s job might be shorter than we think. He’s officially on the job as of today, so … good luck:

#Breaking: The Justice Department has concluded its ethics review of special counsel Robert Mueller, determining that he can proceed .

— NPR (@NPR) May 23, 2017

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Poll: 55% of Democrats think it’s probably or definitely true that Russia tampered with vote totals to get Trump elected

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 15:21

Nice catch by the Media Research Center from a broad-based YouGov poll published last week. Virtually everyone in a position to know has shot down the theory that Russia messed with the vote in November. Barack Obama: Nope. James Clapper: Nope. James Comey and Mike Rogers: Nope. It’s been rejected over and over and over again by authorities whom Democrats should trust.

Force-feed a man enough headlines about Russia having “hacked the election,” though, and all of that melts away. YouGov asked whether it’s true or false that “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President.” Result:

They asked the same question in December:

Despite half a year’s worth of news developments about what did and didn’t happen between Trump and Russia and not a scrap of evidence that any vote totals were changed, Democrats are more likely to believe the election was rigged now than they were then. To paraphrase Rick James, motivated reasoning is a hell of a drug.

Want another example? YouGov also asked people how they felt about James Comey in the wake of his firing. This is the same guy who was shredded rhetorically by the left for months after his infamous letter to Congress about Emailgate before the election and whom many Democrats demanded be canned for his eleventh-hour interference in the political process. Even liberals who oppose Trump’s decision to oust Comey while the Russia probe is ongoing should view Comey himself unfavorably due to his role in the election, one would think.

But one would be wrong:

Democrats now favor Comey, 42/29, while Republicans disfavor him, 18/57. The two parties’ preferences are essentially dictated by Trump’s preferences. If you doubt that, consider that another poll out today from Harvard-Harris also has Comey in positive territory among Democrats at 37/27. As recently as last month, it was … 17/36. You can try to explain the Democrats’ Strange New Respect for him if you like by noting that the news about his memo broke before the Harvard-Harris poll was conducted (between May 17 and 20), and therefore some Dems may sincerely have developed a new admiration for Comey’s integrity over the last week or so. Problem is, the YouGov poll was conducted between May 13 and 16, before the news about the memo circulated. It’s almost certainly partisan tribalism that’s driving perceptions of Comey.

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It’s a mystery. Who cut off Maxine Waters’ mic this weekend?

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 14:41

Over the weekend the Democratic Party of California held their state convention and they had a very special guest speaker. Congresswoman Maxine Waters was there, engaging in her usual shtick about how awful Donald Trump is and how he should have been impeached before being sworn in or whatever. It’s gained her a big following in the party’s liberal base and her frequently unhinged comments make her a sure fire crowd pleaser. But deep into her rather lengthy remarks something went wrong. A man approached the podium to speak to her, drawing jeers from the audience. A short time after he was escorted away Waters’ microphone suddenly went dead. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the crowd and now an investigation is underway. (Los Angeles Times)

The head of the California Democratic Party African American Caucus said Monday he was working with state party officials to determine who was responsible for cutting off the sound to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters’ microphone as she spoke to the group at the party’s convention on Saturday.

“This is a very unusual situation, and we are collectively trying to figure out a path forward to address what happened and make sure these things do not happen in the future,” Caucus Chairman Darren Parker said…

“Hey, leave her alone,” audience members shouted as he interrupted to speak to her privately, prompting Parker to show the man away.

“That’s all right, that’s OK — they try to shut me up all the time,” Waters quipped to loud cheers as she continued to speak.

LA Times reporter Jazmine Ulloa caught the video for her Twitter feed, showing the unidentified man attempting to speak to Waters and then being jeered and led away.

Audience members were outraged that a convention staff employee attempted to cut US Rep. @MaxineWaters' speech short. #cadem17

— Jazmine Ulloa (@jazmineulloa) May 21, 2017

So who was it? Some nefarious Trump supporter sneaking in to shut down the congresswoman’s free speech? A political opponent? Nope. As it turns out, it was a contractor from an outside audio company who had been hired to handle the microphones, speakers and other equipment. And on top of that, the caucus meeting was already running late as Waters went on and on and on about impeaching Trump. By their own admission, when caucus events have run late in the past they’ve been billed by contractors and the hosting facility.

Putting two and two together here it’s not hard to imagine that this guy had instructions to try to get things wrapped up on schedule and was just asking Waters if she could finish up so they could get out on time and under budget. When he was immediately jeered by the crowd and dragged away, I’m guessing his next move was to simply cut the microphone in hopes that she’s stop talking and they could begin packing up the equipment.

But that would be a pretty boring story for the California Democrats to tell, wouldn’t it? Much better to make it look like The Man trying to shut her up and keep her down as she bravely resists Trump.

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Austerity: Trump budget cuts $3.6 trillion over next decade

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 14:01

Donald Trump wants to build his reputation as a promise keeper, and the new White House full budget proposal certainly accomplishes that. Trump directed Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget to keep their hands off of Social Security and Medicare, and true to his word, Trump’s budget doesn’t touch those entitlement programs. That pushed OMB to make dramatic cuts in other safety-net programs, slicing nearly $4 trillion off of spending over the next ten years, and potentially setting up a dramatic showdown this fall in Congress:

The White House’s $4.094 trillion budget request for fiscal 2018 calls for cuts that hit Medicaid, food assistance and other anti-poverty programs. It would cut funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides benefits to the poor, by roughly 20 percent next year.

All told, the budget would ­reduce spending on safety-net programs by more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Mick Mulvaney casts this as a return to the status quo ante of the Great Recession. The economic conditions of the crisis wiped out jobs and forced otherwise able workers into disability programs and food stamps. The Trump administration wants to tighten up the means testing for these programs considerably in order to encourage people to return to the workforce, but that’s predicated on creating jobs to absorb those workers. The pace of job creation hasn’t significantly changed in years, but the White House wants to bet on the impact of their tax reform package when Congress finally gets around to passing it.

Part of the reason for these dramatic cuts, though, is to play kick the can on entitlements for a little while longer:

In writing the budget, White House officials were forced to walk a tightrope.

Trump insisted that they could not cut retirement benefits for Social Security or health benefits for Medicare, two of the most expensive parts of the federal budget. White House officials also were committed to protecting military spending.

To preserve those items and eliminate the budget deficit over 10 years, officials had to deliver major cuts across the rest of the budget. The budget also relies heavily on assumptions that economic growth will soar under tax cuts and regulatory reductions that Trump has promised to deliver.

The real risk of deficits in the long run come from these entitlement programs. There is no avoiding the coming train wreck by reworking the appropriations side of the ledger. Discretionary spending less than half of the budget now, and it will get smaller and smaller until mandatory spending is restructured in a manner that balances out liabilities and revenue. We already borrow 40 cents on every dollar spent at the federal level in our attempts to avoid this choice, and that has created another new and massive need for mandatory spending just to keep up with interest payments.

Bear in mind that White House budget proposals are almost entirely political documents. Congress creates budgets, not presidents, although presidents have to sign them. These budgets get used to set the tone for the upcoming negotiations on Capitol Hill, and it seems clear that Trump and Mulvaney want to shift the Overton windows on discussions over safety-net programs.  Trump’s brash enough to do that and make it work, or so he and Mulvaney believe. Eventually, they will need to show even more leadership and courage, and shift the Overton windows on Medicare and Social Security too — and make it plain that it’s going to cost Democrats in every other budget line item until they accept the need to reform entitlements. Perhaps this is step one in that process.

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It begins: Attorney General releases final guidance on “sanctuary cities”

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 13:21

For anyone who is acting shocked over this announcement I really only have one question: Did you think Trump was kidding?

The Attorney General put out a brief announcement yesterday fulfilling another promise that the President made on the campaign trail and during his first days in office. Jeff Sessions released the basic guidelines which define so-called “sanctuary cities” and how their actions may impact their federal funding. (Washington Examiner)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday released final guidance that calls on the Justice Department to withhold grants from certain “sanctuary” city jurisdictions, in a bid to crack down on cities and jurisdictions that refuse to follow federal requests to detain illegal immigrants.

In a memo released Monday afternoon, Sessions said he and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly have decided that a sanctuary jurisdiction will refer “only to jurisdictions that ‘willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373.'”

Section 1373 requires state and local jurisdictions not to limit communications with DHS about people’s citizenship or immigration status. Hundreds of cities and counties nationwide have policies that prohibit local officials from cooperating with requests for illegal immigrants to be held until they are picked up by federal officials.

From the initial roll out, this looks like a sensible way to approach the issue while causing the least amount of disruption. Rather than turning it into some fiery, politically charged event, Sessions is simply defining the federal laws which are to be enforced and specifying penalties for those who choose to willfully defy them.

Some of the liberal activists in municipal governments have already been readying a response to the charges, but it seems fairly weak. The code in question deals with “limiting communications” between state or local law enforcement and DHS, so some cities are attempting to claim that DHS is still free to send requests to them so they’re in the clear. But here’s what 8 U.S.C. 1373 actually says.

Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.

Granted, that doesn’t speak to the specific issue of refusing to honor a detainer, but many of these cities have gone much further. Places such as Los Angeles and Seattle (among others) have been ordering the police not to even respond to requests for information about the immigration status of suspects who have been arrested. Simply saying that ICE is welcome to “send” the request obviously doesn’t meet the criteria specified.

Since there was already one court ruling which reinforced the idea that Washington can’t cut all federal funding for non-compliant jurisdictions, this initial guidance adopts another smart strategy. They’re limiting the penalties to funding which directly relates to law enforcement. That should eliminate any potential liberal court challenges, at least once they get past the level of the 9th circuit.

One gets the sense that this is only the beginning. Sessions himself described this step as “narrowly defined” and it was clearly designed to eliminate excuses offered by the sanctuary cities. But there’s more that could still be done to expand this. Stay tuned. This sounds like it’s only the first step of many to come.

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British investigators arrest one suspected accomplice in Manchester bombing; ISIS claims credit

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 12:41

The attack on Manchester teens and young adults killed 22 people and wounded dozens more, and British investigators have already determined that the bomber took his own life in the blast. CBS News reports that they have recovered the pieces of the perpetrator and have identified him as Salman Abedi. Investigators have acknowledged that Abedi was already on their radar, and have arrested another young man from the Manchester area as a potential accomplice:

CORRECTION: CBS News can confirm suspected Manchester attacker is 23-year-old Salman Abedi

— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 23, 2017

A little earlier this morning, ISIS claimed credit for the attack, which certainly adds credence to the suspicions of investigators that more than one lone wolf could be part of this massacre:

BREAKING: Islamic State group says one of its members carried out the Manchester attack that killed 22 people.

— The Associated Press (@AP) May 23, 2017

While it may seem like a given, ISIS tends to be particular about claiming credit for attacks. They don’t usually claim credit for every lone-wolf attack unless they have at least some connection to the perpetrator. This demonstrates the danger of allowing ISIS to exist as any kind of territorial entity. The rise of this so-called caliphate to a quasi-state status grips the minds of extremists, and the only cure for that is to end its existence altogether. Only then will it be possible to stop their recruitment and end their claims of divine authority.

Also earlier today, Donald Trump had an opportunity to respond to the bombing while meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Rather than call them “monsters,” Trump said, we should call them something a little more accurate and descriptive — “evil losers“:

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

President Donald Trump branded those responsible for the deadly suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert and other terrorist attacks “evil losers” on Tuesday.

“So many young, beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives, murdered by evil losers,” he said in Bethlehem while standing next to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. “I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term, they would think that is a great name.”

He added: “I will call them, from now on, losers because that’s what they are: losers.”

This is a bit like calling ISIS “Daesh,” a derogatory term the group is known to detest. John Kerry took to using Daesh rather than ISIS or ISIL, and the Iraqis have used the term throughout their entire fight with the group. “Evil losers” might work better in counter-propaganda only because its meaning is a lot more plain to English-speaking potential recruits. The only potential problem with using a form of the insult “loser” is that it’s pretty common, especially for Trump, who seems to use it more than most. That could set up some equivalencies later that might prove problematic, but on the other hand, it might also demythologize radical Islamic terrorists too, turning them into unremarkable villains rather than the “monster” status to which they so clearly aspire.

Later in the morning, Trump offered another expression of condolences to the victims and to the UK as a whole:

President Trump sends condolences to victims and families of #Manchester attack:

— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) May 23, 2017

Update: US intelligence says to hold off on that ISIS claim of credit:

JUST IN: U.S. intel sources tell CBS News they are exercising caution on early claims of responsibility from ISIS

— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 23, 2017

Also, CBS’ stories offer a changing number of those killed in the attack. The numbers may not be firm at this time.

Update: I’ve changed the number back to 22. More recent reports have stuck to that number. My apologies for the confusion.

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Five Freddie Gray police officers may still face disciplinary measures

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 12:01

I’ll bet you thought that the entire Freddie Gray saga was finally behind us. After all, why wouldn’t you? After State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby made her ill fated decision to bring charges against the police officers involved in the incident, one case after another fell apart in court. The dismal affair ended without a single conviction in several attempts and the remaining cases being dropped. But it turns out that those courtroom dramatics weren’t the end of the story. There’s been an internal investigation going on at the police department since the entire affair began and now it’s come to a close. Local news reports indicate that five of the officers may still face disciplinary measures up to and including losing their jobs. (The Root)

The Freddie Gray case lives on with the Baltimore Police Department’s decision to bring internal charges against five of the six officers involved in the case, with at least three of them also facing termination.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., who was driving the police van in which Gray sustained fatal injuries, along with Lt. Brian Rice and Sgt. Alicia White, could all be fired as a result of the internal disciplinary action.

Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller, who made the initial arrest of Gray, face up to five days’ suspension without pay. Officer William Porter is currently not facing any disciplinary action in the case.

According to the local news, the final report detailing the results of the investigation was completed and submitted to the city police on May 12th, but it hasn’t been released to the public. The Baltimore PD required additional time to review the findings and make a final decision as to how they would proceed. The five officers facing disciplinary measures were informed of the situation on Friday and they will have the option to appeal.

With the court cases having gone nowhere it may come as a surprise to see this happening, but let’s keep in mind the distinction between what Marilyn Mosby wanted to do and what the police have done on their own. These five officers are being internally charged with “violations of policy and procedure.” That’s a far cry from accusing them of violating the law, committing murder or manslaughter or what have you. As with any other profession, it’s certainly possible to violate the company rules and procedures without being guilty of an actual crime, and your employer can always discipline you for such things, including seeing you lose your job. In this case, the officers can still appeal the decision before an internal disciplinary panel if they disagree with the findings.

In the end this is probably how the entire affair should have been handled rather than attempting to send the officers up the river at trial in some sort of public relations stunt. While they have all been cleared of any criminal liability, a suspect did die while in their custody. That warrants an internal investigation to determine if best practices were not followed or even if their policies and procedures required revision. Either way, if the cops involved in the incident did something wrong, this sort of investigation was best suited to make that determination.

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Hugo Chavez’ boyhood home burned by protesters

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 02:41

It’s beginning to look like people have had enough of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. Protesters burned the childhood home of deceased socialist leader Hugo Chavez. From the Associated Press:

Demonstrators lit the house in the city of Barinas where Chavez spent his early years aflame Monday afternoon along with several government buildings, including the regional office of the National Electoral Council, said Pedro Luis Castillo, a legislator who represents the area.

The burnings capped a violent day in Barinas — known as the cradle of Chavez’s revolution — during which protesters clashed with national guardsmen, businesses were shuttered and roads were blocked with fire-filled barricades…

“It is pretty symbolic that the citizens are venting their frustrations on the author of the Bolivarian revolution,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas.

Ancestral home of Hugo Chávez is literally burning down. Rage manifest because 19 y.o. student Yorman Bervecia was killed by National Guard

— Thor Halvorssen (@ThorHalvorssen) May 22, 2017

Socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro has denounced protesters as fascists and compared them to Nazis. But while Maduro claims he and his fellow socialists are like Jews living under the Nazis, his generals were caught last week calling for snipers to help with crowd control. The discussion, which took place last month, was recorded and leaked to the media. From the Miami Herald:

The meeting, chaired by Division General José Rafael Torrealba Pérez, took place in the last week of April as Venezuela’s socialist government continued to try to contain the unrest…

“There will come a time when we will have to employ them [the snipers] and I want us to be ready for the moment that we have to employ them because the president will not remain at a green [preparation] phase, gentlemen,” Torrealba said, a likely reference to Maduro’s activation of the Zamora Plan, a war plan to be activated in the midst of imminent foreign invasion. “He [Maduro] has already signed a range of operations and as I said here [previously] … we could be at the beginning of a subversive urban war.”

One unidentified general caught on the tape warns that using snipers against unarmed people would result in everyone in the room going to prison. He added, on a more practical note, that one photo of a sniper would be devastating to the government with the media. But Torrealba explained that the survival of the socialist state was going to come down to dead bodies in the street:

In the end, “it will only be us [the military] that pulls through because … once people start to see dead bodies, and dead bodies begin to appear, then everyone will begin to stay at home,” Torrealba said. “You will remember my words, the armed forces are the ones that have to solve this problem.”

So even as Maduro plays the victim, his goons are laying the groundwork for murder. Drop enough bodies and, eventually, people will decide they’d be safer at home.

Recently we’ve seen crowds of people throwing objects at socialist President Nicolas Maduro. But Hugo Chavez has long been insulated from much of the public anger, in part because he’s been dead for several years and in part because higher oil prices meant life was better while he was alive. But now it seems the entire revolution is being rejected. I guess starvation is causing a lot of people to reassess socialism.

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Gallup: Share of Americans who believe in creationism drops to 35-year low

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 02:01

The latest in a series of interesting Gallup polls touching on religion and morals that all seem to point in the same direction — a record high number of Americans hold liberal positions on moral values and gay marriage, a record low number believe the Bible is the literal word of God. All of that being so, it’s not hard to guess which way the trendlines point on evolution versus creation.

Three possibilities here: Pure creationism, evolution without God, and the hybrid position of evolution guided by God. For the first time since Gallup’s been polling this, pure creationism isn’t the plurality choice of Americans.

It’s hard to be sure from the graph but it looks like this is the first time a majority of Americans (57 percent) have said they believed that man evolved, either with or without divine guidance. Normally this is the point where I spitball some half-assed theory to explain the dips and spikes in the graph, but I’m stumped about the numbers over the past six years. The pure creationist position was trending downward, then made a big comeback in 2011 for no obvious reason. It’s tempting to call that result an outlier or statistical noise, but the hybrid position of guided evolution polled poorly in the low 30s in 2011 and remained flat in 2014, suggesting a real trend. Now suddenly it’s come surging back. Why? You tell me.

The 19 percent figure for evolution without God is interesting in light of this recent piece at FiveThirtyEight suggesting there may be many more atheists in the U.S. than everyone believes. Ask people if they think of themselves as “atheist” and chances are no more than three percent will say yes. Ask them if they believe in God without using the A-word and maybe 10 percent will say no. How many people secretly believe there is no God, though, and are simply reluctant to say so, even to a pollster? FiveThirtyEight notes a study that divided people into two groups and gave them identical questionnaires filled with innocuous statements (e.g., “I own a dog”) — with one exception. One group had the statement “I do not believe in God” added to their questionnaire. People in each group were asked to identify how many of the statements were true of them without specifying which ones were true. Then the numbers from the control group were compared to the numbers from the “I do not believe in God” group. Result: As best as researchers can tell from the numerical disparity, 26 percent don’t believe in God, way, way more than most surveys show. I’m skeptical that the number runs quite that high but the fact that 19 percent told Gallup they believe in evolution without God may mean the number of atheists is higher than the 3-10 percent range usually cited. After all, how many religious believers are likely to also believe that God played no role in man’s development? Per Gallup, just one percent of weekly churchgoers signed on to that proposition and just six percent of nearly weekly or monthly observers did. “Evolution without God” may be a reasonably good proxy for atheism.

Still, despite the hype about Americans’ increasing godlessness, a divine role in man’s development — whether via creation or evolution — remains the majority position of nearly all subgroups. Less educated people are more likely to believe it than the more educated, but even among Americans with postgraduate degrees, two-thirds see God’s hand at work somehow in modern man (45 percent believe in guided evolution, 21 percent believe in creationism) versus 31 percent who believe in evolution without God. It’s still a very religious country. Just not quite as much as it used to be.

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Report: Trump asked top intelligence officials for help pushing back on collusion investigation

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 01:21

President Trump called two top intelligence officials in March, NSA Director Michael Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, to ask them for help pushing back against the FBI’s collusion investigation. The Washington Post reports:

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

Granted this is another report based on anonymous sources, but in this case, the sources say at least one of the two conversations was documented contemporaneously in a memo:

Trump’s conversation with Rogers was documented contemporaneously in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official, according to the officials. It is unclear if a similar memo was prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to document Trump’s conversation with Coats.

The calls from Trump supposedly took place just a few days after FBI Director Comey first revealed the existence of an FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. So Trump was effectively asking his top intelligence officials to start a public battle with the FBI director over an ongoing investigation involving classified material. According to the story, Director Rogers tried to explain why he couldn’t do that.

The story goes on to say there were also calls from the White House asking for help in shutting down the investigation into Gen. Flynn. That’s something the President himself allegedly asked former FBI Director Comey to do during a private dinner.

The problem for President Trump is that all of this is beginning to look like a pattern. Remember that last week the NY Times reported Trump had placed a call directly to Director Comey asking him to help put out the word that Trump was not under investigation. If this story is true then Comey pushed back and told Trump to make requests through proper channels at the DOJ. The same story also said Comey wrote memos about all his contacts with Trump. So that would make at least two memos out there, waiting to be subpoenaed, that show the President making inappropriate calls for what amounts to political help.

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Marco Rubio on White House drama: “People got what they voted for”

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 00:01

Fact check: Mostly true. That’s a core problem with the “25th Amendment solution” for removing Trump. He can’t be “incapacitated” if he’s the same guy now as he was during the campaign. Unless you believe that American voters would have handed 306 electoral votes to someone whom they believed was incapacitated, they’ve already rendered their verdict on his fitness for office. This is the sort of presidency they wanted, now they’re getting it. Right, Jeb Bush?

“When I ran for office, I said he is a chaos candidate and would be a chaos president,” Bush said on Friday.

“Unfortunately, so far chaos organizes the presidency right now,” he said, speaking at the annual SALT hedge fund conference, which is headlined by bigwigs from the world of politics, finance, sports and entertainment.

Bush said it appears the Trump administration is “living in the tyranny of the moment” instead of “executing on a clear agenda.”

I don’t know that they have an “agenda,” properly speaking. What’s their agenda on health care, apart from “something besides ObamaCare”? Trump got elected as a populist with heavy rural support yet the House bill would gut Medicaid for poorer Americans and the new subsidies scheme would risk shafting older, rural voters. There’s no agenda beyond “sign anything that can get through Congress.”

That’s why Rubio’s statement is only “mostly true.” The bargain struck by Trump voters was that they’d tolerate a certain amount of chaos in government if it came with a whirlwind in policy reform — an upgrade on ObamaCare, stronger immigration enforcement, more protectionist trade policies, a more conservative Supreme Court. Trump delivered bigly on SCOTUS and illegal immigration is down for the moment, but there’s no wall yet, health-care reform is frozen, and Trump has made aggressive noises on trade without doing much to upset the status quo since keeping his promise early to withdraw from TPP. As Trump superfan Ann Coulter put it, “We knew that Trump would have a tough road to hoe, but he was supposed to go down and be a bull in a china shop. We’re still waiting for the bull in the china shop.” Voters are willing to let the bull destroy some of the china they like so long as it stampedes all of the ugly stuff. Right now the ratio isn’t where it needs to be.

By way of illustration, Trump’s job approval has slid to a new low of 38.8 percent in the FiveThirtyEight tracker after spending most of the first four months of his term bouncing between 42-44 percent. A small but significant chunk of people who’d stuck with him through the ups and downs of the first hundred days have peeled off lately under bombardment from Comey/Flynn/Russia news. He needs to get them back. Destroying a little more of the bad china would help.

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Rep. Cummings: Flynn ‘lied to investigators’ about funding of Russia trip

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 23:21

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to chairman Jason Chaffetz Monday saying he now has documents that show Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn “lied to investigators” during a 2016 interview to renew his security clearance. From Rep. Cumming’s letter:

[T]he Oversight Committee has in our possession documents that appear to indicate that General Flynn lied to the investigators who interviewed him in 2016 as part of his security clearance renewal.

Specifically, the Committee has obtained a Report of Investigation dated March 14, 2016, showing that General Flynn told security clearance investigators that he was paid by ‘U.S. companies’ when he traveled to Moscow in December 2015 to dine at a gala with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  The actual source of the funds for General Flynn’s trip was not a U.S. company, but the Russian media propaganda arm, RT.

So the problem here is not that Flynn tried to keep his trip to Russia a secret. He told investigators he had visited Russia with family for a Russian media conference. The problem is that he apparently also told investigators all the funding for the trip (which included visits to other countries besides Russia) came exclusively from U.S. companies.

The letter says RT paid for Flynn’s appearance by routing the money through his speaker’s bureau, which is a U.S. company. However, RT also paid directly for Flynn’s airfare and lodging, plus that of his son who was also on the trip. The other problem, mentioned in the letter, is that Flynn claimed he had only had “insubstantial” contacts with foreign officials. But when Flynn went to Russia for the RT conference he was seated a table full of Russian officials including Vladimir Putin who was seated right next to him. Even if this was just public, dinner-table conversation with a language barrier, this seems like something you should probably mention when asked about contact with foreign officials.

Ultimately this may spell some trouble for Flynn, who is prepared to plead the 5th to avoid testifying, but Rep. Cummings is using it to re-up his demand for a subpoena of White House documents related to Flynn’s vetting. After demanding a list of documents from Trump’s top aides, the letter concludes, “These issues may not necessarily involve criminal activity, but they all related to our Committee’s core oversight function.” In short, this is a Democratic fishing expedition.

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Report: Three White House leakers identified, Trump preparing to fire them

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 22:41

Quite a scoop for One America News, the “other” conservative cable news network.

If it’s true.

SCOOP: Three White House staffers have been identified for leaking classified info. POTUS will fire 'multiple people' when he returns to DC.

— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) May 22, 2017

SCOOP INFO: I'm told the names of the leakers are being run by the Office of Government Ethics, which is why they aren't immediately fired

— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) May 22, 2017

Why wait until Trump gets back from his trip to fire people and give them an opportunity to leak further while he’s away, particularly now that they know the jig is up? If the answer is that they’ve already been removed from their positions at the White House to prevent them from doing more damage, why is OAN the only outlet that seems to know that? That would be a highly visible thing, plus this West Wing leaks like a sieve. If people had been busted, that information would have spread to the media in minutes, notwithstanding the sudden fear inside the White House of leak prosecutions.

And why does the administration need OGE’s advice on how to proceed? OGE consults on White House hiring, to make sure that new aides are taking steps to resolve conflicts of interest between their new government duties and their business interests. Leaking is a criminal matter. DOJ would be the relevant agency, I would think, not OGE. Even stranger, OGE has been conspicuously hostile to Trump and his administration. The director, Walter Shaub, pilloried Trump publicly for his weak attempt to resolve his own conflicts of interest a week before he took office, then accused Trump’s lawyer of claiming that she didn’t want him to certify that his financial disclosure was true by signing it. Just today the Times reported that Shaub has been sending letters to federal agencies asking for a list of former lobbyists who’ve received waivers to work there. Annoyed, the White House sent Shaub a letter asking him to withdraw his requests and challenging his authority to issue them in the first place. He’s not a guy whom Team Trump would want to involve in a matter as sensitive as firing leakers unless they absolutely had to. And I’m not sure why they’d have to.

Stay tuned.

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The Chevron Shakedown is finally reaching the Supreme Court

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 22:01

The last time we checked in on the progress of the Chevron Shakedown in November of last year, things were not looking good for Manhattan lawyer and convicted racketeer Steven Donziger. Following the numerous losses he had suffered in court over his fraudulent attempts to pick Chevron’s pockets to the tune of billions of dollars, he had been found by a federal judge to have engaged in racketeering through what was described as a, “multi-year campaign of fraud, bribery, extortion, money laundering, and other offenses.” All of that stemmed from the dishonest practices his team and their clients engaged in when originally “winning” a multi-billion dollar settlement from a corrupt judge in Ecuador. He appealed the decision, but in November the Second Circuit appeals court shot him down.

Now Donziger has only one chance left and it’s coming up shortly. Chevron has filed a brief with the Supreme Court asking them to affirm the lower court’s decision and turn Donziger away once and for all. (Yahoo News)

Time may be running short for New York lawyer Steven Donziger.

Chevron filed a brief this week, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rebuff Donziger’s petition asking it to overturn a devastating judgment against him and his greatest achievement: a multibillion-dollar verdict in an environmental case he’d been pressing for more than 20 years.

Donziger’s campaign against Chevron reached its high-water mark six years ago, in March 2011, when he and a team of local lawyers won an $18 billion verdict—later reduced to $9.5 billion—in a provincial court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, on behalf of residents of the Amazon region where Texaco, acquired by Chevron in 2001, had drilled from 1964 to 1992…

So unless Donziger can persuade the Supreme Court to intervene, the stain of Kaplan’s withering assessment of the Lago Agrio judgment—that it was the product of outlandish corruption—will become indelible. To be sure, Donziger will always be able to take that judgment to any other country where Chevron has assets and see if its courts are willing to enforce it.

As the linked article suggests, this may not be technically “the end” of this saga because Donziger can still continue his quest to go to courts in other countries and ask them to enforce the judgement. As we’ve covered here repeatedly, he’s already doing just that in Canada, but he hasn’t fared very well there so far either. But the key point of the upcoming SCOTUS decision (assuming they agree to speak to it) is that it’s the end of the line in the judicial process in Chevron’s home nation. If Donziger loses there he is forever branded a fraudulent racketeer by the highest court in the land.

That fact can and will be cited by Chevron attorneys in any other country’s courts should they be challenged there and it will be a powerful argument in their favor unless Donziger can find a court as corrupt as the one in Ecuador to take up the case. Even then, Chevron should easily be able to come back and challenge the ruling at home when they try to collect. And when that happens we’re right back where we started with the fraud and racketeering charge hanging over his head.

I first started writing about the Chevron Shakedown more than six years ago (Good Lord, has it really been that long?) and have been following this twisted tale the entire way. It’s been a long and expensive road for Chevron. In the beginning they could have simply agreed to a settlement with the plaintiffs, no matter how baseless their claims were. That’s what many large corporations do just to avoid a protracted suit such as this. But instead, they stuck to their guns and have fought Donziger and his environmentalist backers every step of the way. On the unofficial judges’ scorecards they haven’t lost a round yet. Perhaps this will serve as a template for other companies to follow when someone comes along trying to hit them up for a fast but unsubstantiated claim.

If you’re not already familiar with this saga you can see all of our coverage of it here.

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Too bad to check: Trump wanted to veto terrible spending bill, was talked out of it in part by … John Boehner

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:31

Good lord. You mean Trump really was willing to block that atrocious spending sellout to Democrats, only to have his mind changed by the Ghost of RINOs Past — at the behest of establishment goblin Reince Priebus?

How is there not an Eric Cantor cameo in this story too?

This is worse than Trump going full cuck on Islam.

Behind-the-scenes: When the spending bill had been negotiated and finalized, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus phoned the former House Speaker John Boehner and told him the president doesn’t like how the negotiation came out and is thinking about vetoing the bill. Boehner has told associates that Priebus asked him if he could talk Trump into signing the spending bill. Boehner said he would.

Ten minutes later, Boehner’s phone rang. It was the President. Boehner made a couple different arguments to Trump about why he should sign the spending bill:

1. He told Trump he should be happy about the fact that he doesn’t have to give a dollar of domestic spending in exchange for increases in military spending. And he got a substantial boost in military spending.

2. The most important argument Boehner made: the last thing you need right now is a government shutdown.

Axios notes that there’s no proof that the chat with Boehner was “determinative,” but the fact remains that Boehner’s position carried the day. I don’t know what’s weirder, Reince deciding to turn to Mr Establishment in a pinch to try to sway Trump or his strategy actually working. The last person you would think might successfully influence a populist is a guy despised by the grassroots righties who fueled Trumpmania in the primaries last year. Fairly or not, Boehner was seen as typifying the sort of milquetoast, compromise-minded Beltway Republican whose swamp Trump was sent to Washington to drain. Suddenly the president’s presented with a swampy spending package that he rightly wants to veto, and it’s a personal appeal from Swamp Thing that gets him to back down.

How did Priebus know that would work? A hundred different people could have explained to Trump that a government shutdown would be perilous for a president who’s unpopular outside his base and besieged by Russiagate developments in Congress and the DOJ. And a hundred different people probably did. Which makes me wonder if this leak was orchestrated by someone looking to damage Trump by inflating Boehner’s role in his thinking, knowing how that would play with the grassroots. Possibly the source is Boehner himself or someone close to him; Axios doesn’t say but notes that “Boehner has told associates” about his interaction with Trump, suggesting that the story came from their side. Maybe some anti-Trumper who’s pals with the former Speaker and feels exasperated by Trump and all the Russia/Flynn/Comey stuff lately wanted to add to Trump’s pain by whispering to the media about his huddle with Boehner.

Which is to say, maybe there’s an Eric Cantor cameo here after all.

Nah, I’m just kidding. If anyone convinced Trump to sell out to Democrats on spending, it’s far more likely to have been the actual Democrats he’s surrounded himself with.

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Estimated cost of single-payer system in California: $400 billion a year

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 21:01

Progressives in California have been pushing for the state to scrap Obamacare and adopt a single-payer system similar to Canada. Today the state released an analysis of the cost of a bill currently under consideration and the result is pretty stunning. From the Sacramento Bee:

It would cost $400 billion per year to remake California’s health insurance marketplace and create a publicly funded universal heath care system, according to a state financial analysis released Monday.

California would have to find an additional $200 billion per year, including in new tax revenues, to create a so-called “single-payer” system, the analysis by the Senate Appropriations committee found.

According to the LA Times, the bill under consideration would cover everyone in California including “those without legal immigration status.” Talk about a giant magnet for illegal immigration. Everyone who can cross the border and make it to San Francisco gets free health care for life. Expect to see the border crossing numbers go up near San Diego and down in Arizona and Texas if this law passes.

Where would the state come up with an extra $200 billion, which is more than the entire 2017-2018 budget? New taxes of course. The cost analysis suggests a new payroll tax of 15% would cover it. But here’s the catch. Government estimates of the cost of big new programs are notoriously bad and that’s especially the case when making a drastic change to a new system. From the LA Times:

The analysis cautions that the single-payer bill, SB 562 by Sens. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would required “unprecedented changes to a mature healthcare system.”

“Therefore, there is tremendous uncertainty in how such a system would be developed, how the transition to the new system would occur, and how participants in the new system would behave,” it notes.

Just for the sake of comparison, when Californians approved a high-speed rail system in 2008, the estimated cost of the project was $40 billion. The current estimate for the same project is $64 billion and there is reason to think that figure is still well below the actual cost. In January the LA Times reported the first 118 miles of the plan was 50% over budget ($3.6 billion extra).

The same could happen with this new single-payer plan. Democrats could wipe out the old health care system only to discover the new one is going to cost $600 billion instead of $400 billion. Oops! That kind of miscalculation might even be enough to convince people to elect a few more Republicans.

This local news clip from March points out that this isn’t the first time someone has tried to push for single-payer in California.

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China state-run newspaper cheers as CIA sources exposed, imprisoned, killed

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 20:31

How did the CIA lose its network of sources in China? According to the New York Times this weekend, China’s security apparatus uncovered more than a dozen covert sources for US intelligence from 2010-12, and either imprisoned or killed them. To this day, no one is sure whether the losses resulted from a mole within the CIA or outside hacking of CIA systems:

The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.

Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.

But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.

For those keeping score, the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management computer systems would not have played a part in this — at least not as we understand the OPM hack at the moment, anyway. That took place in 2014, and didn’t get discovered for a year, but that puts it two years after China began rounding up American sources. The OPM data exposed government payroll data, not overseas intelligence sources, so even if it started earlier it wouldn’t have been the hack that exposed these operations.

Even so, the success of China’s hacking ventures have to make that a significant possibility for their penetration in this earlier case. If true, that would have ramifications that go beyond those sources … but that would also be true of a mole as well. The difference is that communications systems and computer networks can be hardened (in OPM’s case by hiring its own IT group rather than outsource the tasks to firms with connections to Beijing’s government).

If it’s a mole, though, it will require a much more difficult effort to identify the culprit and get evidence that will ensure his/her conviction. Mole hunts can become terribly destructive, and can take years to accomplish — all while the mole can monitor efforts to harden communications and computer systems. In the Robert Hanssen case, the FBI put Hanssen in charge of those efforts for years. In this case, the mole hunt did narrow down to one person, but the suspect fled the US and the FBI and CIA still don’t have enough evidence to make a case.

It’s curious why this failure is just now coming to light. Perhaps the previous administration wanted to keep a lid on it while the mole hunt/comms hardening efforts were under way, which would be a reasonable approach as long as the Congressional intel committees were kept abreast of these failures. But between Wikileaks, OPM, and other penetrations, it’s also difficult to avoid a conclusion that the Obama administration might have been embarrassed to add yet another security failure to become public.

Needless to say, China finds all of this reason to celebrate. Their state-run newspaper Global Times didn’t disappoint in that regard, even if they ridiculed the report itself:

If this article is telling the truth, we would like to applaud China’s anti-espionage activities. Not only was the CIA’s spy network dismantled, but Washington had no idea what happened and which part of the spy network had gone wrong. It can be taken as a sweeping victory. Perhaps it means even if the CIA makes efforts to rebuild its spy network in China, it could face the same result. …

It is well known that the US is the world’s largest intelligence-gatherer. It not only defines the moral standards of spies based its own national interests, but also tries to make these standards universal. The NYT report seems to be a white-knuckle beginning for a new version of Mission: Impossible: American spies who worked in China disappeared, and some of them died miserably. However, no one knew the reason for their deaths. The journalists who wrote the report must have been deeply addicted to the franchise.

The CIA has apparently increased its espionage activities in China, which will inevitably lead to China simultaneously strengthening its counterintelligence efforts. No matter how Americans see it, international law will affirm that China’s anti-espionage activities are just and legal, while the CIA’s spying is illegitimate.

When the US media is keen on hyping up “catching Chinese spies,” they should forego their moral narcissism when reporting CIA espionage in China. It’s absurd that under their description, the US is always the noble side whether it is catching spies or sending spies.

Well, there’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around on this point. China hasn’t exactly been shy about its hacking activities, and managed quite a few astounding successes over the last few years. It’s been a long time since anyone asserted a nobility in the difference between US intelligence and other operations, but at the same time China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia keep proving its necessity.

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Texas jumps straight back into the transgender bathroom issue

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 20:01

The battle over transgender bathroom policy essentially died in North Carolina after the Trump administration dialed back previous Title IX language imposed under Barack Obama, but now the fight is back on in the Lone Star State. (I’ll get to the reason why this is a good thing and how that distinction matters below.) The Texas House of Representatives pushed through an amendment this past week which is far less sweeping than their earlier effort to cover all public bathrooms, instead restricting this set of instructions to public schools. (Los Angeles Times)

A transgender “bathroom bill” reminiscent of one in North Carolina that caused a national uproar now appears to be on a fast-track to becoming law in Texas — though it may only apply to public schools.

A broader proposal mandating that virtually all transgender people in the country’s second-largest state use public restrooms according to the gender on their birth certificates sailed through the Texas Senate months ago. A similar measure had stalled in the House, but supporters late Sunday night used an amendment to tack bathroom limits onto a separate and otherwise unrelated bill covering school emergency operation plans for things like natural disasters.

Republican Rep. Chris Paddie wrote the hotly-debated language, saying it had “absolutely no intent” to discriminate. Under it, transgender students at public and charter schools would not be permitted to use the bathroom of their choice but could be directed to separate, single-occupancy restrooms.

The usual list of suspects were up in arms over this immediately, with the Washington Post describing it as part of “Discrimination Sunday.” Texas Democrats put on quite a show, with some of the female legislators briefly invading the men’s room and deceptively attempting to describe the measure as somehow being similar to racially segregated bathrooms during the Jim Crow era. That’s an obvious red herring since it isn’t in any way a parallel to this situation, but I suppose it makes for some good headlines.

As we’ve discussed here for a couple of years now, the Texas bill falls back on a pattern which seems to be the most fair solution to something which never should have been an issue in the first place. Any “transgender children” attending the schools will be given the option of using a separate, single person facility available to either gender. This offers privacy while not forcing the schools into a situation where boys are showing up in the girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.

The reason this case may prove useful in the larger debate over this subject is that it’s not dependent on anything to do with Title IX. In the previous cases, schools were pushing back against rules forcing such mixing of the genders imposed by the Obama administration on pain of losing their federal funding. Thus, when that rule was withdrawn the cases collapsed and the Supreme Court was able to duck out of making a decision. The Texas law (which will no doubt be immediately challenged) was undertaken by the state independent of any Title IX considerations. Since we’re eventually going to need the Supreme Court to rule as to whether or not science has any place in questions of gender as well as whether or not the law in this country still protects privacy, perhaps the Texas case can be the one that finally makes it all the way to the halls of SCOTUS and forces some answers out of them.

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Rex Tillerson: Trump’s views on Islam are evolving and will continue to evolve

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 19:31

Odds that Trump utters the words “Islam means peace” before the end of his term: 40 percent. Maybe 50 after the Saudis plastered his picture all over Riyadh this week.

Good question via Ross Douthat: “Donald Trump — dhimmi or cuck?

Tillerson was asked aboard Air Force One whether Trump still stands by his comments that Islam “hates us.”

“I think the president’s views, like we hope the American people’s views, are going to continue to evolve,” Tillerson said, according to a reporter traveling with the president…

“Understanding each other’s cultures, understanding each other’s beliefs, and I think talking more openly about those, I think there’s a great deal that’s misunderstood about the Muslim world, by Americans and the Western world,” he said…

“Nothing helps you learn and understand people better than coming to their homes, where they live and seeing them face to face, seeing their families, and seeing their communities, finding out we all share the same wants and desires for ourselves and our people, and our families: peace, prosperity, we want our children to grow up without fear,” he said.

Somewhere Bush 43 and Barack Obama are reading those quotes and nodding vigorously. Disappointed Trumpers can take heart, though. If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that no one speaks authoritatively on Trump’s views about anything except Trump himself — and even he’s less than authoritative sometimes. This is a guy who said in September 2015, “I love the Muslims, I think they’re great people,” then said nine months later, “They’re going to have to turn in the people that are bombing the planes. And they know who the people are.” He said he’d have no problem with appointing a Muslim to his cabinet, then floated a temporary worldwide ban on Muslim visitors to the United States. As with so many other things, his position depends on what day of the week you catch him and who the last advisor was whom he spoke to. If the nationalists are whispering in his ear, you might hear him reprise his point that “Islam hates us.” If the Tillersons are leaning on him, you’ll be told that the war on terror “is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations.” Tomorrow the Saudis might do something to piss him off and he’ll tweet “NUKE MECCA!” Every day is a crapshoot.

The odd virtue of his shifting opinions and loose-cannon pronouncements, though, is that in time they’ll condition foreign leaders not to fly off the handle over anything he might say — to take him neither seriously nor literally, per Peter Thiel’s famous formulation about Trump. Case in point: After many days of hype over whether he’d refer to “Islamist extremism” during his speech in Saudi Arabia yesterday or the somewhat less PC “Islamic extremism,” Trump stuck to the former — except at one point later in the speech, when he mentioned the latter. The White House blamed that on “exhaustion” but his Muslim audience didn’t bat an eye. Because, in the end, who knows what Trump really thinks? And who cares? Be nice to him and he’ll be nice to you. That’s his truest core conviction. The Saudis figured that out, rolled out the red carpet for him, and got a $110 billion arms deal for their trouble. Other countries will follow suit. Exit question: If “Islam hates us,” why the hell are we selling weapons to Wahhabists?

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