September 24, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


The Creator Of One Of YouTube's Top Tween Channels Was Arrested For Molesting A Minor. YouTube Is Keeping The Channel Up. (Charlie Warzel, 9/24/18, BuzzFeed News)

For weeks now, SevenAwesomeKids, part of one of YouTube's biggest and most active tween/teen girl channel networks, has been suspiciously dormant. The reason: Its owner and proprietor, Ian Rylett, was arrested this August in Florida for "lewd and lascivious molestation" involving one of the young girls who makes videos for his channels.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


New York Times, New Yorker Spar Over Kavanaugh Story (Benjamin Hart, 9/24/18, New York)

[W]hen the New York Times addressed the allegations in a story about Kavanaugh's confirmation battle,  it didn't exactly allay those concerns with this passage:

The New York Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate Ms. Ramirez's story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the episode and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

Particularly for those already primed to be suspicious of The New Yorker story, the Times' account was proof that there was less to it than met the eye.

The original New Yorker story seemed pretty self-damning:

She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh's role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections....

At that point, we're skirting awfully close to just creating "memories."

The more damaging portion of that piece would seem to be this one, though not necessarily for Judge Kavanaugh:

After seeing Judge's denial, Elizabeth Rasor, who met Judge at Catholic University and was in a relationship with him for about three years, said that she felt morally obligated to challenge his account that " 'no horseplay' took place at Georgetown Prep with women." Rasor stressed that "under normal circumstances, I wouldn't reveal information that was told in confidence," but, she said, "I can't stand by and watch him lie." In an interview with The New Yorker, she said, "Mark told me a very different story." Rasor recalled that Judge had told her ashamedly of an incident that involved him and other boys taking turns having sex with a drunk woman. Rasor said that Judge seemed to regard it as fully consensual. She said that Judge did not name others involved in the incident, and she has no knowledge that Kavanaugh participated. But Rasor was disturbed by the story and noted that it undercut Judge's protestations about the sexual innocence of Georgetown Prep. 

It is at least plausible that a culture of using alcohol to render women semi-helpless did exist amongst this group of men.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


The Gods of Nation & Blood: Henri De Lubac and The Heresy of Racism (Joseph S. Flipper, September 24, 2018, Commonweal)
Passivity in the face of ethno-nationalism is a danger for today's church as it was for the French church of the 1940s. Though in immensely different circumstances, we live under a campaign of dehumanization and are caught up in the political mechanisms of imprisonment and death. Like Charles Maurras, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (who happens to be Catholic) has become the spokesman for a religious nationalism that preserves a shared culture, religion, and race. In his 2014 remarks to the Human Dignity Institute's conference at the Vatican, Bannon explained that the West must recover its religious vision to overcome its present and future challenges. With regard to Islam, he explained, "our forefathers...did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places.... It bequeathed to us the great institution that is the church of the West." However, when Bannon speaks of saving the religious vision of the Christian West, he is not speaking of God or of personal conversion, but instead of the recovery of an ethnos, a people, and its Christian religious heritage. His is a vision that borrows from the Christian faith while falsifying it. Despite Bannon's departure from the White House, his ethno-nationalist vision has been preserved in ideology and policy.

The ascendency of this vision, along with concurrent growth of white supremacist groups in the United States, requires discernment and action from the church. But racism has often been subject to misdiagnosis among Catholics. In response to last summer's "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, at which one person was killed and nineteen injured, some bishops initially framed the problem as a political one, over which there may be many opinions. As the facts in Charlottesville became better understood, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston rightly named the problem--"the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism"--and called the church to "stand against every form of oppression." Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, however, provided the better diagnosis: "Racism is a poison of the soul. It's the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed." He ended on a pessimistic, though perhaps more realistic, note: "We need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite." In the wake of Charlottesville, the USCCB formed an ad hoc committee against racism that is working to discern a response to racism in the American context.

Theologically understood, racism is more than a sin. It constitutes a heresy that undermines the very identity of the church. Taking form in ideology and systemic exclusion, racism threatens to co-opt Christianity because it offers a powerful anti-Christian narrative about who we are as human beings while invoking Europe's "Christian heritage." We should be alarmed not only at the physical violence racism provokes, but also at the signs of the re-animated gods of nation and blood.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Israel chooses identity over democracy (Shlomo Ben-Ami, 9/24/18, The Strategist)

[T]he nation-state law is not just another means of accumulating political capital among an increasing identity-focused electorate. There is another motivation at play--one that poses an even more serious threat to Israeli democracy.

Israel is a prosperous, advanced economy, but it is built on a labor market that is too small. Arab Israelis, however, represent a considerable labour pool (as does the Orthodox Jewish community, among whom the labour-force participation rate is much lower than among secular Jews). To advance its interest in Arab Israelis' economic and social integration, in December 2015 the Israeli government approved a truly historic five-year plan.

Nearly three years later, the integration of Arab Israelis is progressing apace. According to the 2017 Israel Democracy Institute Index of Arab-Israeli relations, 70% of Israel's Arabs speak fluent Hebrew, and 77% are not interested in separation. Moreover, Tel Aviv University's Amal Jamal has highlighted the consistent increase in the number of Arab academics in Israel and the emergence of an Arab middle class in the country. This goes, he found, with a rise in national sentiments.

This is where the nation-state law comes in. The increasing integration and prosperity of Arab Israelis is empowering them to push back against discriminatory policies. With the nation-state law in place, however, their legal recourse will be severely constrained.

But this may not only be a matter of silencing an increasingly empowered minority; Israel's government could be laying the groundwork to suppress the Arab majority that would emerge if (or when) it annexes the occupied Palestinian territories. In this sense, the nation-state law is a kind of hedge against the government's own expansionist policies--and a potentially devastating blow to Israeli democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


This is the most sexist place in America. For women born there, it will have significant impacts. (The Lily News, August 23, 2018)

If you want to move to the least sexist state in America, then head to New Hampshire, according to an index of sexist attitudes developed by economists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and National University Singapore.

Alternatively, they found the most sexist state to be Arkansas.

"Sexism is highest in the Southeast and least extreme in New England and the West," the researchers wrote. "The figure shows that there is substantial variation in mean sexism across states within each geographic region of the country."

What's more, they found that state-level distinctions can have significant impacts on women's lives, including her wages and the age at which she marries and has children -- and can even make her later earnings lower, even if she moves to a place with less sexism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


We Weren't Made for Endless Work: To be fully human, we need to put down our phones for a while. (GRACY OLMSTEAD, September 24, 2018, American Conservative)

It is important, I think, that our attempts at intentionality do not just involve setting our smartphones or computers aside and "accomplishing" things in real time. Often, when we aren't staring at screens, we are engaging in some form of busywork. We spend non-distracted moments in a frenzy of activity: doing dishes, folding laundry, paying bills, et cetera. And while all these things are engaging and important, they should not and do not contain the whole of contemplation.

Josef Pieper suggested that our fixation on busyness stems from modern man's suspicion of grace: "man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refuses to have anything as a gift."

Leisure, in contrast, "is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces in his own being...[leisure] implies (in the first place) an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being 'busy,' but letting things happen." [...]

It is easy to slip into distractedness and inattentiveness if we are not cultivating daily rhythms that emphasize the present and the real over the possible and the virtual. That's why Sherry Turkle suggests that we carve out "sacred spaces" in our day in which we set aside our devices and seek to truly focus on each other. The dinner table is a good space for this--but I also feel that I could do a better job abandoning my devices for intentional daily spurts of play with my daughter. Otherwise, leisure is too quickly interrupted by a text or email or phone call.

We don't always like to hear that rest and "play" can nourish our souls. Owning up to that truth would require slowing down and doing "unimportant" things with no material, measurable benefit. It would require acknowledging our need for grace, and our own inability to accept the world as gift. But our existence was never meant to fixate around work--at least not if the ancients are to be believed. Leisure makes us human.

So go on a walk tomorrow and search for "tiny perfect things." Play a board game after the dinner dishes are put away. Read a favorite book aloud. Pull out the sidewalk chalk.

Whatever you do, rest and delight in the present--knowing that work and emails and social media and news (or whatever else absorbs your brain) can wait.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


Fears of Maldives Crisis Ease After President Concedes Election Loss (Hassan Moosa and Maria Abi-Habib, Sept. 24, 2018, NY Times)

While the opposition painted Sunday's election as a final stand to preserve the Maldives' nascent democracy -- just a decade old -- the vote was also seen as a critical referendum at a time when the archipelago nation has been caught between the influence of China, on one hand, and India and the West on the other.

[M]r. Solih's win will probably not roll back Chinese influence here. India and the United States have been unable to match China's spending across South Asia as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which Beijing says will secure commercial interests but which skeptics say will also expand its global military footprint.

Instead, Mr. Solih has signaled that he will try to hedge between global powers and restore the warm ties the country once shared with India, which has watched China's rise in the region with concern. In the past, the opposition leader has promised to strengthen relations with neighboring countries to preserve security in the Indian Ocean.

On Sunday, voters turned out in vast numbers, forming long lines requiring hours of wait time.

The streets of Malé, the capital island, were adorned with flags and banners of pink and yellow, the colors of the governing and opposition parties. The election had an almost carnival-like atmosphere, with voters exiting polling sites to take selfies and posing for pictures showing their fingers dipped in ink.

"I think we are still voting for freedom, to get freedom," said Hussain Rasheed, a 53-year-old diver, as he proudly displayed a finger stained with voting ink outside a polling center. "We can't get justice without freedom. In hundreds of years of this country, we haven't really got justice."

But the nation held its breath on Monday, waiting for Mr. Yameen to concede defeat. In the 2013 presidential election, the Supreme Court stepped in to annul the first round and then delayed later rounds. Many have worried this time that Mr. Yameen might put pressure on the judiciary to do it again, or to use security forces to declare military rule.

Still, such a clear and publicly announced defeat could make it difficult for Mr. Yameen to sway the military, especially given that the jailed former president and opposition figure Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is said to still command respect within the security forces.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Saudi Arabia is at its least stable in 50 years (Bruce Riedel, September 23, 2018, Al Monitor)

The crown prince's signature policy initiative is the war in Yemen. A senior royal, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, publicly blamed Mohammed bin Salman for the war in an interview this month in London. Ahmed is the king's half brother and the son of Ibn Saud, the founder of the modern kingdom. The video of the prince's comments went viral in the kingdom; Ahmed said publicly what many others have been saying privately about the war for months.

The war is now in its fourth year with no end in sight. The Houthis have fired over 60,000 rockets across the border to depopulate scores of Saudi border villages and almost 200 ballistic missiles at Saudi cities, including Riyadh. The Royal Saudi Air Force and its partners have wrecked the feeble infrastructure of Yemen and caused dozens of attacks on civilians. Yemen is now in a "death channel," as one observer calls the catastrophe.

The United Nations said this month that three-quarters of Yemenis are at risk of malnutrition and disease. Eight million do not know where their next meal will come from and 5 million may soon join that category of extreme malnutrition and risk. The Saudi blockade is Mohammed bin Salman's strategy as defense minister and he deserves accountability for its results. The war has produced an anti-Saudi reaction worldwide.

The blockade of Qatar is another foreign policy debacle for the crown prince. A prominent clerical reformer has been arrested and may be executed for criticizing the blockade. The Gulf Cooperation Council has all but collapsed.

There is much speculation that the Saudis had a role in the Sept 22 attack in Ahvaz, Iran. The crown prince has publicly said he wants to fight Iran inside Iran. The Ahvaz attack is certain to fuel sectarian tensions throughout the region and inside the kingdom.

At home, the roundup of prominent Saudis last fall at the Ritz-Carlton has led to capital flight and much reduced foreign investment. Confidence in the economy and the prince's handling of economic issues is dropping. His signature plan to open up ARAMCO is now dead, the king having killed it. The prince arrests any independent voice -- even if it is supporters of allowing women to drive, which he pushed for.

Fearing for his security, the crown prince is said to spend many nights on his half-billion-dollar yacht moored in Jeddah. It's a floating palace longer than a football field and with many perks. It is also a potential escape hatch. 

Luring the Sa'uds deeper into unwinnable and deestabilizing anti-Shi'a conflicts is as big a foreign policy coup as miring the Russians in Syria.  If only either of them was intentional...

Toppling the Wahabbist regime is the big enchilada of the war against Salafism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


Russia says will send newer S-300 missile systems to Syria (AP, 9/24/18) 

Russia's defense minister says Moscow will send more modern S-300 missile defense systems to Syria following last week's downing of a Russian plane.

Syrian government missile defense systems last week shot down a Russian military plane, killing all 15 people on board. Russia laid the blame squarely on Israel, saying that its fighter jet pushed the Russian aircraft into the line of fire.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Israeli's Military Is World Class. But Is It Ready?: Two conflicting verdicts on Israel's military are stirring old anxieties. (Zev Chafets, September 24, 2018, Bloomberg)

[A] scathing critique of the IDF's culture and readiness from a retired general has created a debate within Israel about whether the country has become complacent. It's a debate worth having, even if some of the fears are likely overblown.

The criticism came earlier this month from Yitzhak Brick, a hero of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, who has been the IDF ombudsman for the past decade. He is not a member of the IDF general staff, but an independent actor who is leaving his post on Jan. 1, after a 10-year stint.

In a thick dossier sent to the Minister of Defense and the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security, Brick detailed what he sees as serious weaknesses in the IDF's operational abilities and war-fighting doctrine. The report is classified "secret" but its wide distribution ensured it was efficiently leaked.

According to Haaretz military correspondent Amos Har-el, Brick raised concerns about what he sees as the erosion of the IDF's ground forces, and also the general staff's unwillingness to investigate itself and correct its mistakes.

Was listening to Yoram Hazony discuss his book on the virtues of nationalism on the Law & Liberty podcast yesterday and considering why the regimes that advocate for tribal rule are so corrupt, as witness Bibi & Donald. The basic reason seems obvious: they appeal to voters almost entirely on the basis of membership in a racial group, with their only real policy prescriptions consisting of benefitting that group to the exclusion of others.  Essentially, they have offered a corrupt and corrupting bargain and justified it on the basis that the "other" represents some sort of existential threat.  It is then pretty hard for those who buy into the bargain and believe in the threat to hold the leadership accountable and it is easy for said leaders to sell the notion that the destabilizing effects of such accountability would weaken "us" and help "them." Having forsaken republican liberty for the "enemy," good luck applying it to the regime.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Christine Blasey Ford Reaches Deal to Testify at Kavanaugh Hearing (Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos, Sept. 23, 2018, NY Times)

In a preview of his defense, Judge Kavanaugh planned on Sunday to hand over to the Judiciary Committee calendars from the summer of 1982 that do not contain evidence of a party similar to the one described by Dr. Blasey. His team plans to argue that the calendar pages represent a piece of evidence that fails to corroborate Dr. Blasey's account, according to a person familiar with the defense.

But the calendar pages from June, July and August of that year, which were reviewed by The New York Times, also in no way disprove her accusation. Along with a list of statements from other potential witnesses insisting they do not remember the episode, the pages only reinforced on Sunday that Judge Kavanaugh's fate will rest in the hands of individual senators who must decide whose account they believe.

Senators looking to confirm or refute the allegations will face a nearly impossible task. Complicating matters, Dr. Blasey has said she does not recall the specific date or location of the house where the alleged incident occurred, though she believes it was during the summer of 1982.

Judge Kavanaugh's prospects were further clouded on Sunday when The New Yorker reported on a new allegation of sexual impropriety: A woman who went to Yale with Judge Kavanaugh said that, during a drunken dormitory party their freshman year, he exposed himself to her, thrust his penis into her face and caused her to touch it without her consent.

In a statement, Judge Kavanaugh denied the allegation from the woman, Deborah Ramirez, and called it "a smear, plain and simple." The New Yorker did not confirm with other eyewitnesses that Judge Kavanaugh was at the party.

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

September 23, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


3-D printed gun advocate Cody Wilson jailed in Houston after arrest in Taiwan (Keri Blakinger, September 23, 2018, Houston Chronicle)

Cody Wilson was arrested at a restaurant in Taipei City late Friday, according to Taiwanese media.The 30-year-old is now being held in the Harris County jail on $150,000 bail, pending transfer to Travis County for prosecution.

The so-called "crypto-anarchist" and owner of Defense Distributed was wanted for sexual assault of a child after he allegedly exchanged naked pictures with a 16-year-old he met on, then took her to an Austin hotel and paid her $500 for sex.

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


This New Poll Is Terrible News for Republicans (DAN FRIEDMAN, SEPTEMBER 23, 2018, Mother Jones)

Democrats hold a 12-point lead in congressional preference among registered voters according to a new poll that suggests trouble for Republicans in the midterm congressional elections in six weeks.

The new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows President Donald Trump is dragging down his party,  with nearly six-in-ten saying they'd like to see significant changes in the direction President Donald Trump has been leading the country. 

We made this mess; it's up to us to clean it up.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


America's Jews are watching Israel in horror (Dana Milbank, September 21, 2018, Washington Post)

My rabbi, Danny Zemel, comes from Zionist royalty: His grandfather, Rabbi Solomon Goldman, led the Zionist Organization of America in the late 1930s, and presided over the World Zionist Convention in Zurich in 1939. So Zemel's words carried weight when he told his flock this week on Kol Nidre, the holiest night of the Jewish year, that "the current government of Israel has turned its back on Zionism."

"My love for Israel has not diminished one iota," he said, but "this is, to my way of thinking, Israel's first anti-Zionist government."

He recounted Israel's transformation under Benjamin Netanyahu: the rise of ultranationalism tied to religious extremism, the upsurge in settler violence, the overriding of Supreme Court rulings upholding democracy and human rights, a crackdown on dissent, harassment of critics and nonprofits, confiscation of Arab villages and alliances with regimes -- in Poland, Hungary and the Philippines -- that foment anti-Semitism. The prime minister's joint declaration in June absolving Poland of Holocaust culpability, which amounted to trading Holocaust denial for good relations, earned a rebuke from Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial.

"The current government in Israel has, like Esau, sold its birthright," Zemel preached.

Similarly anguished sentiments can be heard in synagogues and in Jewish homes throughout America. For 70 years, Israel survived in no small part because of American Jews' support. Now we watch in horror as Netanyahu, with President Trump's encouragement, leads Israel on a path to estrangement and destruction.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Moscow: Israel 'Misled' Russian Military In Syria Plane Downing (Radio Liberty, September 23, 2018)

Russia has doubled down on its allegation that Israel is to blame for the downing of a Russian military plane over the eastern Mediterranean Sea nearly a week ago, saying it was caused by "misleading information" provided by the Israeli military.

Syrian government forces mistook the Il-20 reconnaissance plane for an Israeli jet on a bombing mission and shot it down off Syria's northwestern province of Latakia on September 17, killing all 15 servicemen onboard.

Russia's Defense Ministry blamed the plane's loss on Israel, accusing the country's military of using the Russian plane as a cover to dodge Syrian defense systems. 

Bogging Russia down in Syria was genius.

September 22, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 PM


Lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford say she has accepted Senate Judiciary Committee's request to testify against Kavanaugh (Seung Min Kim, Sean Sullivan and Emma Brown, September 22, 2018, Washington Post)

As negotiations continued, Leland Keyser, a woman Ford told The Washington Post was present at the party where she alleges Kavanaugh assaulted her, came forward to say she had "no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present," according to an email her lawyer sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, obtained by The Post. In a brief interview at her home in Silver Spring, Keyser said she was close friends with Ford and that she believes Ford's allegation.

Before her name became public, Ford told The Post she did not think Keyser would remember the party because nothing remarkable had happened there, as far as Keyser was aware.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Ex-White House aide revises Flynn sanctions conversation account: report (Reuters, 9/22/18)

 An ex-White House official has revised a previous statement by telling investigators that former national security adviser Michael Flynn may have referred to sanctions when they discussed his calls with a former Russian envoy, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

K.T. McFarland's statement revised an earlier assertion to FBI agents that sanctions on Russia did not come up when she spoke to Flynn in December 2016 about his calls with Sergey Kislyak when he was the Russian ambassador to the United States, the newspaper said, quoting unidentified people familiar with the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


White House Drafts Order to Look Into Google, Facebook (Ben Brody & Jennifer Jacobs, September 22 2018, Bloomberg) 

The White House has drafted an executive order for President Donald Trump's signature that would instruct federal antitrust and law enforcement agencies to open probes into the practices of Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Facebook Inc., and other social media companies.

The Right is the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Clinton would beat Trump in landslide in 2016 re-run, says Hill.TV poll (The Hill, 9/21/2018)

Eight percent of respondents said they would not vote in such a hypothetical match-up, while 4 percent declined to state a preference. With those options excluded, the percentage of those who said they would vote for Trump increased to 41 percent, while the percentage of those who said the same for Clinton went up to 50 percent.

In the official government tally, Clinton won 48.2 percent of the vote nationwide. Trump finished with 46.1 percent but was able to claim the presidency by winning the Electoral College. 

...100% of voters would be taken off guard...
Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Trump's Stance on Refugees Is a Disgrace: His administration is repudiating a proud tradition of helping those in greatest need. (Editorial Board, September 19, 2018, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's decision to cut the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. hardly comes as a surprise. Even by this administration's standards, however, the policy just announced is impressive in its heartlessness, cynicism and dishonesty.

The current cap of 45,000 refugees a year is already the lowest since Congress created the refugee resettlement program in 1980, when the U.S. admitted a record 207,116 refugees under President Ronald Reagan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has lowered it to just 30,000 for the coming fiscal year. Because of onerous vetting procedures, the number actually admitted will be fewer still. (Despite the cap of 45,000, the U.S. is on pace to admit and resettle 21,000 refugees this year, down from 85,000 in 2016.)

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Billionaire Backer of Maria Butina Had Russian Security Ties (Mike McIntire, Sept. 21, 2018, NY Times)

An oligarch who helped finance a Russian gun rights activist accused of infiltrating American conservative circles has been a discreet source of funds for business ventures useful to the Russian military and security services, according to documents and interviews.

The oligarch, Konstantin Nikolaev, emerged in July as the enigmatic backer of Maria Butina, the activist charged with conspiring to use the National Rifle Association to cultivate Republicans in the United States. Mr. Nikolaev has acknowledged underwriting her gun rights advocacy in the past, but denies any involvement in a Russian influence operation and says his only dealings with his government are limited to routine business needs.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


How a British music publicist ended up in the middle of the Russia storm (Rosalind S. Helderman, September 22, 2018, Washington Post)

He said he has no doubt that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign (though he insists it was not with his help) and believes Trump's team was open to such assistance. He praised the special counsel, whom Trump has accused of running a "witch hunt," for investigating an issue with global stakes.

After more than nine hours with Mueller's team, Goldstone has also drawn some conclusions about what the special counsel is pursuing. Investigators were focused less on the details of the Trump Tower meeting that followed his email invitation to Trump Jr., he said.

Rather, prosecutors were keenly interested in his observations about the Trumps' relationship with Aras and Emin Agalarov, Russian father-and-son billionaires who financed Trump's Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 and then requested the 2016 sit-down at Trump Tower -- as well as the Agalarovs' relationship with the Kremlin, he said.

"They weren't as interested in the minutia," Goldstone said. "It was a bigger picture thing." [...]

Goldstone, a dual citizen of the United States and Britain who currently lives in New Jersey, said he thought Trump would win the presidency, but he added that he was never a political fan of the real estate developer. Independent Bernie Sanders was more his speed, he said, though he has never voted.

However, Goldstone had high hopes for his Russian client once Trump's candidacy took off: Perhaps Emin Agalarov would be invited to sing at the inauguration or visit the White House.

So he was peeved when Agalarov called on the morning of June 3, 2016, and asked him to use his pull with the Trump family for something else entirely.

Agalarov explained that his father had met that day with a "well connected" Russian lawyer, someone Agalarov said was either a current or former prosecutor. The lawyer had damaging information about Russian funding of the Democrats, Agalarov relayed. He asked Goldstone to get a meeting with "the Trumps" so the information could be passed along.

Goldstone said he was confused. What lawyer? What information? But Agalarov either didn't know or refused to answer, insisting Goldstone should just secure the meeting and not worry about such details, Goldstone recalled. (Balber, the Agalarov attorney, said the singer does not recall telling Goldstone the information had to do with Russian funding for Democrats.)

At the time, Goldstone said, it never occurred to him that the offer might be unethical or even illegal. "Hindsight is a beautiful thing," he said.

Sitting in his apartment in Hoboken, Goldstone dashed out an email to Trump Jr., whom he had met at a dinner in New York and with whom he occasionally corresponded.

He wrote that Aras Agalarov had met with "the Crown Prosecutor of Russia," a phrase he remembered from his time in England. He said that the prosecutor had provided information that "would incriminate Hillary" and was "very high level and sensitive," all of which he said struck him as reasonable assumptions based on what Agalarov told him.

The most provocative detail: Goldstone wrote that the information was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


Christine Blasey Ford made her choice. Now she needs to tell her story to the Senate (COKIE ROBERTS Sep 20, 2018, ABC News)

In this age of anonymous Twitter postings, a brief appearance on TV can elicit the most hateful and misogynistic messages, some of them downright frightening. So, I can imagine how awful the missives headed Ford's way must be.

But she made the choice to reveal her identity, knowing that it would upend her life. Now, she needs to tell her story to the people who will decide whether Brett Kavanaugh ascends to the Supreme Court -- the members of the United States Senate.

Absent that, she has put herself and her family in harm's way to no end.

The confirmation will proceed.

...that some are denying the validity of the 6th Amendment. The more specific the accusation against Mr. Kavanaugh the less likely he could refute it honestly--assuming the levels of drunkeness included--but he obviously can have no coherent answer to such an amorphous one.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


The EU Is Looking Like Europe's Next Failed Empire: It needs the U.S. and NATO help to avoid the fate of the Austro-Hungarians. (James Stavridis, September 20, 2018, Bloomberg)

What can the U.S. do to help avert the demise of the European Project?

First, based on a year of extensive travel throughout Europe, I can testify that there is still a hunger for U.S. engagement and leadership -- but without overt preaching or obvious interference. Americans should be talking at every level about the value of a unified Europe; conducting high-level discussions not just with officials from partner nations but also from the European Parliament and European Union; expanding trade and cultural missions at the EU level; coordinating economic policies through the IMF and World Bank; and supporting EU institutions wherever we can. 

Second, NATO is at the absolute center of a unified Europe -- the overlap between the EU and the security alliance is almost perfect (just a few countries are in one but not the other). Anything the U.S. can do to support NATO ultimately supports the idea of a unified continent. Even in Hungary, where the EU is viewed with increasing skepticism, NATO remains very popular. I heard again and again how proud Hungarians are to be in the alliance, and for all the current friendliness with Russia they remember well the harsh times under the Warsaw Pact and the 1956 invasion by Soviet troops.

We should take advantage of this sentiment not only in Hungary, but in Poland, Italy and other NATO member-states where anti-EU attitudes are growing. This could involve conducting NATO exercises locally in ways that help the economy; appointing representatives from these nations to key positions in the NATO standing command; conducting frequent high-level visits by U.S. and NATO senior officers such as the supreme allied commander; and praising the efforts of these nations on operational missions from Afghanistan to the Balkans to counter-piracy. NATO can be one element in a broader strategy to maintain the strength of the trans-Atlantic bridge, and thus of efforts to keep the EU moving forward.

Finally, the U.S. should continue to explore wider economic and trade relationships with Europe in the broadest sense. At the heart of this could be a revitalized Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the on-again/off-again effort to bind the U.S. and European economies in the largest free-trade zone in world history. Despite the antipathy of the Donald Trump administration to multilateral trade agreements (it canceled the Pacific version of this, the Trans-Pacific Partnership), there is an extremely compelling geopolitical case to be made that T-TIP should be back on the table -- especially if Russia continues to make inroads against EU and NATO unity.

The European Project, to the extent it is supposed to be a transnational political regime, was always doomed.  Properly constructed it should just be a trade agreement, which all nations should be invited to join. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Russians Rally Across The Country Against Plan To Raise Retirement Age (Radio Liberty, September 22, 2018)

Older Russians worry they won't live long enough to collect benefits. Younger Russians fear keeping people in work for longer could diminish their chances of finding a job.

The proposal has caused a dip in President Vladimir Putin's popularity.

He responded by offering some concessions, but argued that the hike is necessary.

Putin has insisted that raising the retirement age for men and women was essential because Russia's working-age population was shrinking.

He added that the reforms had been delayed for years and risked causing inflation and increasing poverty.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


The Hollywood Reporter: Remembering the New Yorker's Lillian Ross, who chronicled the second half of the twentieth century with her trademark brand of reporting, one year after her death. (DAVID HAYES, SEPTEMBER 17, 2018, Hazlitt)

In May of 1950, a thirty-one-year-old New Yorker staff writer named Lillian Ross became the talk of the town when the magazine published her sharply-observed, massively detailed profile of Ernest Hemingway. Around the same time, she began following the noted screenwriter and director John Huston as he was making his much-anticipated movie, The Red Badge of Courage, based on Stephen Crane's Civil War novel.

Two years later, "No. 1512," Ross's remarkable anatomy of the Hollywood studio system and the fate of Huston's film, appeared as a four-part serial in The New Yorker and in book form, as Picture: A Story About Hollywood, a few months later (available again in April 2019 from NYRB Classics). Hailed at the time as one of the first examples of nonfiction written like fiction--it wasn't, of course; fictional devices have been used by writers of nonfiction since at least the nineteenth century--Ross is on record as having consulted with New Yorker editor (and later her long-time lover) William Shawn early in her reporting, telling him: "I don't know whether this sort of thing has ever been done before, but I don't see why I shouldn't try to do a fact piece in novel form, or maybe a novel in fact form." [...]

Granted by Huston and the studio, MGM, the kind of carte blanche access that has virtually disappeared in today's spin-doctored culture, Ross, using her favorite 3 x 5-inch spiral Clairefontaine notebooks and micro-point Uni-Ball pens, recorded the making of the movie with stenographic precision, detailing all the compromises, the noble intentions, and self-absorbed foolishness of Hollywood, often in long chunks of what seem to be verbatim dialogue. It feels as though she's present everywhere, a technique that's similar to "participant observation," a form of qualitative data collection used in sociology and anthropology. In the introduction to her 2015 anthology, Reporting Always, Ross simply called it "writing a piece as if it were a miniature movie."

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