December 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM

AMEN, BRO'! (profanity alert):

Investigator On Russia-Trump Ties Called Trump 'Idiot' Before His Election (Radio Liberty, December 13, 2017)

A senior FBI agent removed from U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation this year referred to Donald Trump before his election as an "idiot," according to e-mails turned over to Congress and seen by U.S. media.

Peter Strzok, a senior counterintelligence investigator who was dismissed from the Russia investigation this summer, referred to Trump as an "idiot" in response to an e-mail from another FBI agent, Lisa Page, in August 2015.

"I just saw my first Bernie Sanders bumper sticker. Made me want to key the car," Page wrote, referring to the left-wing senator who ran against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"He's an idiot like Trump. Figure they cancel each other out," Strzok replied.

In a March 2016 message, Page, who later was also detailed to the Russia investigation, said: "God trump is a loathsome human....omg he's an idiot."

"He's awful," Strzok replied.

Melania's emails probably read much the same.
Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Trump and Bannon Can't Save the Day (QUIN HILLYER, DEC. 13, 2017, NY Times)

As for Mr. Moore, his campaign spent the final days relentlessly flogging e-messages that said that the judge was the victim of a smear campaign devised by Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, and his "establishment" allies. Typical of them was the emailed fund-raising plea that included the insistence that "This race will not be decided by Mitch McConnell and the forces of evil."

Yes, "forces of evil." Mr. Moore's team was saying that the leader of his own party in the legislative body he wanted to join was an "evil" part of "powerful forces who hate our Christian conservative values. Powerful forces who hiss and howl at the mere mention of God, morality and obedience to the Constitution."

This is an example of why Mr. Moore's strengths and weaknesses are quite Trumplike. He attracts unusually intense support from people who see the entire system as rigged, but by so sharply drawing lines even against his own party, he turns off moderate suburbanites who usually lean Republican.

Mr. Bannon's two final-week appearances on Mr. Moore's behalf probably did more harm than good. Not only did he effectively insult the state's flagship university, but his demagogic attacks against numerous prominent Republicans backfired in a big way -- especially when he blasted Mitt Romney, the Mormon former presidential candidate, for "hiding behind his religion."

Finally, there was the Trump factor. The president backed Mr. Moore with numerous public statements and tweets, held a pro-Moore rally nearby, and recorded a robo-call on Mr. Moore's behalf. But exit polls showed that half of the voters in this formerly Trump-besotted state were now saying that their impressions of the president were negative.

We're well beyond peak racism.  We tried it last November and didn't like it.

Will Trump's lows ever hit rock bottom? (The Editorial Board, Dec 12, 2017, USA Today)

A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.  

This isn't about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt.  

Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed.

It should surprise no one how low he went with Gillibrand. When accused during the campaign of sexually harassing or molesting women in the past, Trump's response was to belittle the looks of his accusers. Last October, Trump suggested that he never would have groped Jessica Leeds on an airplane decades ago: "Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you." Trump mocked another accuser, former People reporter Natasha Stoynoff, "Check out her Facebook, you'll understand."  Other celebrities and politicians have denied accusations, but none has stooped as low as suggesting that their accusers weren't attractive enough to be honored with their gropes.

December 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


A day after Putin's victory speech in Syria, Moscow traces months of anonymous bomb threats to Syrian terrorists (Interfax, 12 december 2017)

Since September 2017, cyber-terrorists have made more than 2,700 anonymous bomb threats in 190 cities, forcing costly evacuations at shopping centers, movie theaters, state administrative buildings, and schools across Russia. By mid-November, more than 1 million people had been swept up in the evacuations. Federal agents have stated that the culprits are using IP telephony, making it difficult to track the calls.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


What Are the Odds We Are Living in a Computer Simulation? (Joshua Rothman, June 9, 2016, The New Yorker)

The simulation argument begins by noticing several present-day trends in technology, such as the development of virtual reality and the mapping of the human brain. (One such mapping effort, the brain Initiative, has been funded by the Obama Administration.) The argument ends by proposing that we are, in fact, digital beings living in a vast computer simulation created by our far-future descendants. Many people have imagined this scenario over the years, of course, usually while high. But recently, a number of philosophers, futurists, science-fiction writers, and technologists--people who share a near-religious faith in technological progress--have come to believe that the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inescapable.

The argument is based on two premises, both of which can be disputed but neither of which are unreasonable. The first is that consciousness can be simulated in a computer, with logic gates standing in for the brain's synapses and neurotransmitters. (If self-awareness can arise in a lump of neurons, it seems likely that it can thrive in silicon, too.) The second is that advanced civilizations will have access to truly stupendous amounts of computing power. Bostrom speculates, for example, that, thousands of years from now, our space-travelling descendants might use nanomachines to transform moons or planets into giant "planetary computers." It stands to reason that such an advanced civilization might use that computing power to run an "ancestor simulation"--essentially, a high-powered version of the video game "The Sims," focussed on their evolutionary history. The creation of just one such simulated world might strike us as extraordinary, but Bostrom figures that thousands or even millions of ancestor simulations could be run by a single computer in the future. If that's true, then simulated human consciousnesses could vastly outnumber non-simulated ones, in which case we are far more likely to be living inside a simulation right now than to be living outside of one.

The more interesting question is: what are the odds we can tell the difference?

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM

WHEN THE BEST DEFENSE OF YOUR GUY... (profanity alert):

What I Saw Inside Roy Moore's Barn Burner : The message made zero sense. People lapped it up. (CHARLES P. PIERCE, DEC 12, 2017, Esquire)

Moore was defended against the allegations of child molestation by an old Army buddy who told a story about how they all were taken to a brothel in Vietnam one night and Moore refused to pay for sex with prostitutes who may have been underage. [...]

This was the first time I'd ever seen the Steve Bannon Show in person, and I was struck by how completely full of painfully obvious horses[***]t he is. A rootless cosmopolitan, a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a former producer who worked in godless Hollywood, a man who wouldn't have a public career at all had he not latched onto a lunatic wingnut zillionaire from the proletarian enclaves of the Hamptons, Bannon came down to Midland City like a combination of Elmer Gantry and an aluminum siding salesman, unspooling angry banalities about the contempt other people have for the "working class," about how he is one with all the old white folks gathered in the activity barn because they all share a fealty to a pussy-grabbing casino bankrupt who's coherent for about 20 minutes in the morning. This is the oldest scam in American politics. I thought better of Bannon, at least in terms of his material.

At bottom, Bannon's entire spiel is an endless bluff against his own barely concealed hypocrisy. He came down here, he maintained, to defend Moore, who lost his job as chief justice of the Alabama supreme court twice for attempting to nullify decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, against what Bannon referred to as The Nullification Project. But at no point was Bannon, the last heir to House Harkonnen, more transparently lacking in shame as when he identified himself with the military families in the audience. The man sells tinhorn empathy like a payday lender. He told the crowd that the "elites," who are not Steve Bannon, start wars because "they know that it won't be their kids who die."

It's your sons and daughters who are over there. Our most precious resource, squandered by the elites in this country. You know why? It's not their sons and daughters over there. They want you to pay for it. They want your kids to enforce it. Under Donald Trump, that deal's changed.
This, of course, in the service of a president* who skipped Vietnam because his feet hurt. Nobody in that president*'s family ever has served in the military, although the Klan-curious paterfamilias once fought bravely in the battle against black people living in his buildings. Eventually, you grow tired of this grubby hucksterism. You grow tired of the people who cheer for it. You grow tired of it all, and exhausted in the attempt to make sense of human beings so obviously jonesing for the kind of illusions in which a former investment banker in a camo jacket and 31 dress shirts is really one of them, and in which a judge who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls is really as close a friend to Jesus as they are. that he insisted on freebies at a whorehouse....

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Why Melania, Ivanka and Jared's mayoral election votes didn't count   (LEONARD GREENE, 12/11/17, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
[T]he First Lady did not sign the envelope she put the ballot in as required by BOE, so her vote wasn't counted. [...]

Trump's daughter Ivanka also botched her ballot. It was filled out correctly, but she didn't mail it until Election Day -- which was too late to be counted, officials said.

Her husband, Jared Kushner, didn't mail his back at all, according to the board.

White House reportedly overrun with cockroaches, mice and ants
Officials said the President's ballot was fine. But that was before the Daily News pointed out to an official that the date of birth on his application was a full month off.

Trump, 71, was born on June 14, 1946, but his ballot application lists his birthday as July.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


WH lawyer told Trump that Flynn misled FBI and Pence (Kara Scannell, 12/04/17, CNN)

The White House's chief lawyer told President Donald Trump in January he believed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI and lied to Vice President Mike Pence and should be fired, a source familiar with the matter said Monday.

The description of the conversation raises new questions about what Trump knew about Flynn's situation when he urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and whether anyone in the White House, including the President himself, attempted to obstruct justice. [...]

A week later, McGahn was provided a transcript of what Flynn and Kislyak discussed and the conclusion was that it was inconsistent with what Pence said publicly he had been told by the national security adviser.

Despite McGahn's recommendation that Trump fire Flynn, the retired lieutenant general was kept on. Flynn was forced out in mid-February after news outlets reported about Yates' warning to McGahn.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


These ocean drones are trawling for climate change data (Katy Scott, 10/27/17, CNNTech)

The drones, which cruise at a leisurely 3-5 miles per hour, are doing work typically reserved for manned research ships -- but for a small fraction of the cost.

California-based Saildrone, which raised $14 million in funding from impact investors last September, says its drones can be operated for only 5% of the cost of a manned vessel.

Rio Tinto puts its faith in driverless trucks, trains and drilling rigs (The Economist, Dec 7th 2017)

FOR millennia, man has broken rocks. Whether with pickaxe or dynamite, their own or animal muscle, in a digger or a diesel truck, thick-necked miners have been at the centre of an industry that supplies the raw materials for almost all industrial activity. [...]

On a visit to Rio's Hope Downs 4 mine in the Pilbara, it is eerie at first to watch 300-tonne trucks speeding uphill in a cloud of red dust with no one in the cab. Then it becomes endearing, as you watch supersized robotic mammoths so safety-obsessed that when sagebrush blows in their way, they judder to a halt.

As for the mine's managers, they are struck by the silence; there is no longer a steady stream of banter across drivers' two-way radios. They also welcome the productivity gains. Over a 12-hour period, they say, manned trucks are competitive, but over 24 hours and longer, the absence of coffee breaks, fatigue and driver changeovers begins to tell. The autonomous trucks stop only once a day for refuelling. "Then you pat them on the bum and out they go again," one says. He adds that the workforce at the mine is already about one-third lower as a result of automation. The 76 autonomous vehicles in Rio's 400-strong truck fleet in the Pilbara are an estimated 15% cheaper to run than the rest.

Two hours' flight away, at Rio's operations centre in Perth, engineers remotely control the equipment with screens and computers. "You have to blow dust in their faces to make them feel like they're in the Pilbara, otherwise it's too comfortable," quips an executive, as he oversees desk-bound employees operating two of Rio's six autonomous rigs digging into the Pilbara rock. Rio's boss of iron ore, Chris Salisbury, says that autonomy enables drilling to run for almost a third longer on average than with manned rigs, and to churn through 10% more metres per hour. The extra data collected helps the firm to evaluate the quality of the ore for further digging.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


How Steve Bannon Rescued Roy Moore's Campaign Against All Odds (Joshua Green, 12/12/17, Bloomberg)

[I]t was an ultimatum from Fox News host Sean Hannity, delivered on his Nov. 14 broadcast, that posed the direst threat. "For me, the judge has 24 hours," Hannity told his viewers, after excoriating Moore. "You must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies." He added, "If you can't do this, then Judge Moore needs to get out of the race." In 2017, a Republican candidate can overcome disapproval from party leaders, but losing the conservative media is usually fatal. [...]

Bannon worked to create a counter-narrative that ultimately would change many Republicans' perception of the scandal. A former filmmaker, he's long been captivated by the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker, and the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein for their power to shape public sentiment. Earlier this year, Bannon told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer his 2012 anti-Obama film "The Hope and the Change," had consciously mimicked Riefenstahl's infamous, "Triumph of the Will." Her film, he added, "seared into me" that unhappy voters could be influenced if they felt they were being conned. 

"Riefenstahl and Eisenstein both created an image of their nation that coalesced in the minds of citizens and shaped public opinion through narratives, which is essentially what Bannon is doing in politics," says Nadia Szold, a filmmaker and documentarian who has studied Bannon's films and discussed his influences with him. "They all evoke emotions like nostalgia, patriotism or paranoia that strengthen a collective sentiment."

Nationalism, not patriotism.  They hate America.
Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


#MeToo spotlight increasingly pointed at past Trump conduct (JONATHAN LEMIRE, 12/12/17, AP)

The president's advisers were stunned Sunday when one of the highest-ranking women in the Trump administration broke with the White House line and said the accusers' voices "should be heard."

"They should be heard, and they should be dealt with," Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a CBS interview. "And I think we heard from them before the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up."

Haley's comments infuriated the president, according to two people who are familiar with his views but who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to speak publicly about private conversations. Trump has grown increasingly angry in recent days that the accusations against him have resurfaced, telling associates that the charges are false and drawing parallels to the accusations facing Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

2020 beckons.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Roy Moore's wife fights anti-Semitic tag: 'One of our attorneys is a Jew' (AP, 12/12/17)

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM



City Sector Model analysis shows that by 2000, 83.5 percent of major metropolitan area residents lived in the automobile oriented, principally postwar suburbs and exurbs. The exurbs largely include both urban development and rural areas within the metropolitan area (which is both the labor market and housing market).

The share of residents living in the suburbs and exurbs increased to 85.3 percent in 2010. The share of growth in the Urban Core was so small between 2000 and 2010 that the exurbs passed the urban core in population. The exurban population now leads that of the Urban Cores by 3,000,000.

The most recent data, from the ACS 2012 to 2016 rolling survey (middle year: 2014) places the suburban and exurban share of major metropolitan area population at 85.5 percent. Since 2010, suburban and exurban growth has accounted for an even higher 90.5 percent of population growth (Figure 1). The share of growth in the Urban Core was 9.5 percent, well below its 14.5 percent share of the 2010 population. Even the prewar Central Business Districts, part of the urban core had growth that fell nearly one-third short of their 1.3 percent 2000 population (1.0 percent).

The overall growth in the suburbs and exurbs was 6.6 million from 2010. The Later Suburbs accounted for 3.4 million new residents, the Earlier Suburbs 2.0 million and the Exurbs 1.1 million. The Urban Core added 0.7 million, approximately 70,000 in the Central Business Districts and 610,000 in the Inner Ring (Figure 2). Overall suburban and exurban growth was nearly 10 times Urban Core growth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Poll: 45% of Israelis believe its democracy in 'danger' (MARISSA NEWMAN, 12/12/17, Times of Israel)

Overall, some 45% of respondents agreed that Israel's democracy is in "serious danger." This sentiment was far more prevalent among left-wing Jewish respondents (72%) and Arab Israelis (65%), while just 23% of religiously identified and right-wing respondents agreed.

Nearing the bottom of the list of public trust in institutions was Israel's Chief Rabbinate (20%), while the IDF again came in first place, with 81% of all Israelis and 88% of Jewish Israelis placing their confidence in the military. [...]

Some 79% of secular Jewish Israelis believe "the religious population is gradually taking control of the state," while the majority of religious Jewish Israelis disagree, the poll said.

Just 15% of ultra-Orthodox and 16% of religious Jews agreed with the statement on encroaching religious control, according to the survey.

Some 75% of the Jewish left, 74% of Arab Israelis, 61% of Jewish secular Israelis -- and 42% of Jewish Israelis overall -- said the Jewish component of Israel's character was "too strong," the survey said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Iran Thrives in the Levant on Weakened States Threatened by Sunni Radicalism (Fabrice Balanche, December 12, 2017, The Caravan)

The announced defeat of the Syrian rebellion and the Islamic State is favoring the extension of Iranian influence in the Levant. The Iranian corridor between Beirut and Tehran via Baghdad and Damascus is now a reality. Territorial continuity was achieved symbolically at the end of May 2017, when Iranian-funded Shia militias joined on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border north of al-Tanf. In Iraq, Iranian allies Syria and Lebanon dominate; people support them out of fear, default, or sympathy. If the West wants to fight against the Islamic Republic's influence in the Levant, it must understand the root causes pushing more and more Lebanese Christians, Iraqi Shiites, and Syrian Sunni Arabs into the Iranian camp. [...]

Whenever a Sunni country proclaims itself the defender of the Palestinian cause--as Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser or Iraq under Saddam Hussein--Iran can exploit it to conquer the Arab street. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists, the congenital anti-Israeli feeling of the Ayatollah's regime will exert a power of attraction over Sunni Arabs. After the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah was the most popular personality in the Arab world. In Syria, a few thousand Sunnis even converted to Shiism. Therefore, this parameter should always be taken into consideration, even if it is not the main one.

However, the real cause of Iran's rise in the Levant is sectarian and religious. Paradoxically,  theocratic Iran became the protector of non-Sunnis and even secular Sunnis against jihadism.

The main fear of Christians and Shiites in the Levant is to be overwhelmed by Sunni Islam. Although the Sunnis are a minority in Lebanon and Iraq, they consider themselves the only legitimate community to exercise power, since they belong to the majority in the Arab and Muslim world. The concept of minority-majority needs to be assessed throughout the Middle East to understand the fear that drives non-Sunnis and the sense of superiority that drives Sunnis. The ethnic criterion introduces more complexity in the case of the Kurds. Although Kurds are mostly Sunnis in Syria and Iraq, they were marginalized by the Arab Sunnis, too.

December 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Google's true origin partly lies in CIA and NSA research grants for mass surveillance (Jeff Nesbit, December 08, 2017, Quartz)

Two decades ago, the US intelligence community worked closely with Silicon Valley in an effort to track citizens in cyberspace. And Google is at the heart of that origin story. Some of the research that led to Google's ambitious creation was funded and coordinated by a research group established by the intelligence community to find ways to track individuals and groups online.

The intelligence community hoped that the nation's leading computer scientists could take non-classified information and user data, combine it with what would become known as the internet, and begin to create for-profit, commercial enterprises to suit the needs of both the intelligence community and the public. They hoped to direct the supercomputing revolution from the start in order to make sense of what millions of human beings did inside this digital information network. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


'Humans will worship AI MESSIAH' God Robot religion expected to boom :" A so-called "God Robot" will be worshipped by millions of people because it will have mankind's best interests at heart, it has been claimed. (Rachel O'Donoghue, 11th December 2017, Daily Star)

John Mitchell, a lawyer and AI expert, said human beings, in general, tend to "worship supreme understanding".

Mr Mitchell claims the same drive that compels people to believe in God and follow religions will work for Artificial Intelligence.

He explained: "We [believe] there must be some higher power that causes lightning, sunsets, and crashing waves - or at least speaks to the bottom of our beings, rather than ignore them as ho-hum background."

Dr. Stephen Thaler, the President and CEO of Imagination Engines and an AI and consciousness expert, has claimed people will rely on AI to provide solutions to society's problems.

"An AI would provide the equivalent of a 'Messiah' - having many orders of magnitude more processing elements than the brain, enabling it to gift us with solutions to the most daunting social, political, economic, and environmental challenges," he said.

Of course, one of the most persuasive reasons to believe Christianity is true is that the Messiah did not gift us any of those things.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Jailed Russian hacker says the FSB coordinated his cyber-attacks on Hillary Clinton and the DNC (The Bell, 11 december 2017, Meduza)

This summer, Konstantin Kozlovsky, a Yekaterinburg resident accused of working with the hacker group "Lurk," reportedly declared in court that he acted "under the command of Russian Federal Security Service agents" when he participated in the hacking of the U.S. Democratic National Committee and stole Hillary Clinton's emails. According to the newsletter The Bell, Kozlovsky made this announcement on August 15, at a hearing to extend his arrest.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Trump Takes Credit for Killing Hundreds of Regulations That Were Already Dead (Alan Levin and Jesse Hamilton, 12/11/17, Bloomberg)

[G}overnment records--and in some cases the agencies carrying out Trump's policies--tell a very different story.

For one thing, only a handful of regulations have actually been taken off the books. That's due to laws that keep government policies from wildly swinging back and forth every time moving trucks show up at the White House.

Rather, the claim of victory in the war on regulation is instead based almost entirely on stopping proposed rules that haven't yet made their way through the machinery of government. The White House says it has killed or stalled 860 pending regulations. It's done this by withdrawing 469, listing another 109 as inactive and relegating 282 to "long term."

A Bloomberg News review has found even those claims are exaggerated. Hundreds of the pending regulations had been effectively shelved before Trump took office. Others listed as withdrawn are actually still being developed by federal agencies. Still more were moot because the actions sought in a pending rule were already in effect.

He will depart office leaving no traces of ever having been there.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM



I've been CEOing Wolfram Research for more than 30 years now. But what does that actually entail? What do I end up doing on a typical day? I certainly work hard. But I think I'm not particularly typical of CEOs of tech companies our size. Because for me, a large part of my time is spent on the front lines of figuring out how our products should be designed and architected, and what they should do.

Thirty years ago I mostly did this by myself. But nowadays I'm almost always working with groups of people from our 800 or so employees. I like to do things very interactively. And in fact, for the past 15 years or so I've spent much of my time doing what I often call "thinking in public:" solving problems and making decisions live in meetings with other people.

I'm often asked how this works, and what actually goes on in our meetings. And recently I realized: What better way to show (and perhaps educate) people than just to livestream lots of our actual meetings? So over the past couple of months, I've livestreamed nearly 40 hours of my internal meetings--in effect taking everyone behind the scenes in what I do and how our products are created. (Yes, the live streams are also archived.)

One of the greatest and most obvious problems that any bureaucracy faces is that you can not realistically expect honest feedback up the food chain, precisely because the people you're asking risk being eaten.  Opening up your decision-making processes to people at no such risk is a good thing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


The Male Mentorship Crisis and 'Call Me By Your Name' (Mark Judge, 12/11/17, Acculturated)

Most informed and honest people are familiar with the statistics about fatherless boys--how young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families; how they have a higher risk of suicide and behavioral disorders; and how they are much more likely to drop out of school. Yet while these figures are striking and bolster the conservative argument that fathers are indispensable, there is also something to be said for the liberal case that it takes a village to raise a child. There once was a time when young men from bad homes could find male mentors in churches, the military, or even just fixing cars around the neighborhood.

One of the things that touched me so deeply about Call Me By Your Name is that the mise-en-scène was so similar to my own experience of adolescence. In the film it is the summer of 1983, and Elio Perlman is spending it with his family at their seventeenth-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. He meets Oliver, a handsome doctoral student who's working as an intern for Elio's father, a professor of classic archeology. The two characters are surrounded by lush beauty: the sun-drenched town square, the cool sensuality of a pool, a villa filled with intoxicating ideas and art. They fall in love.

While we are culturally in the middle of a 1980s revival that sees no sign of ending (see, for example, Stranger Things and the return of synth pop), Call Me By Your Name was far more evocative of the 1980s I remember when I was a high school student. My father was a writer for National Geographic, and my life, like Elio's, was suffused with art, writing, beauty and ideas. The conversations around the dinner table, especially when we were joined by a friend of my father's who was a scholar, were similar to the passionate dissertations given by Elio and his father, Mr. Perlman. Like Elio, I spent magical summers swimming, smoking and chasing girls.

Intelligent men like Oliver would often come into my life, either through my father or at places like tennis or football camp. But there was a crucial difference between these men and Oliver in Call Me By Your Name: None of these men came on to me sexually. The very idea would have been considered bizarre and evil--because they were men and I was still a boy.

Kevin Spacey stated the truth of the matter succinctly when he responded to revelations that he'd preyed on minors by saying, "I choose now to live as a gay man."

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Focus on Flynn, Trump timeline suggests obstruction is on Mueller's mind (CAROL E. LEE and JULIA AINSLEY, 12/11/17, NBC)

Special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to piece together what happened inside the White House over a critical 18-day period that began when senior officials were told that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to blackmail by Russia, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

The questions about what happened between Jan. 26 and Flynn's firing on Feb. 13 appear to relate to possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, say two people familiar with Mueller's investigation into Russia's election meddling and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

Multiple sources say that during interviews, Mueller's investigators have asked witnesses, including White House Counsel Don McGahn and others who have worked in the West Wing, to go through each day that Flynn remained as national security adviser and describe in detail what they knew was happening inside the White House as it related to Flynn.

Some of those interviewed by Mueller's team believe the goal is in part to determine if there was a deliberate effort by President Trump or top officials in the West Wing to cover up the information about Flynn that Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, conveyed to McGahn on Jan. 26. In addition to Flynn, McGahn is also expected to be critical to federal investigators trying to piece together a timeline of those 18 days.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Explosion rocks New York commuter hub, one suspect in custody  (Reuters, 12/11/17)

An explosion rocked New York's Port Authority, one of the city's busiest commuter hubs, on Monday morning and police said one suspect was injured and in custody but that no-one else was hurt in the rush-hour incident.

We destroy their dream of a caliphate; they....

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


The Myth of Vladimir Putin the Puppet Master : Russia's strongman president has many Americans convinced of his manipulative genius. He's really just a gambler who won big. (JULIA IOFFE,  JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018, The Atlantic)

Over the past year, Russian hackers have become the stuff of legend in the United States. According to U.S. intelligence assessments and media investigations, they were responsible for breaching the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They spread the information they filched through friendly outlets such as WikiLeaks, to devastating effect. With President Vladimir Putin's blessing, they probed the voting infrastructure of various U.S. states. They quietly bought divisive ads and organized political events on Facebook, acting as the bellows in America's raging culture wars.

But most Russians don't recognize the Russia portrayed in this story: powerful, organized, and led by an omniscient, omnipotent leader who is able to both formulate and execute a complex and highly detailed plot.

Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who helped Putin win his first presidential campaign, in 2000, and served as a Kremlin adviser until 2011, simply laughed when I asked him about Putin's role in Donald Trump's election. "We did an amazing job in the first decade of Putin's rule of creating the illusion that Putin controls everything in Russia," he said. "Now it's just funny" how much Americans attribute to him.

A businessman who is high up in Putin's United Russia party said over an espresso at a Moscow café: "You're telling me that everything in Russia works as poorly as it does, except our hackers? Rosneft"--the state-owned oil giant--"doesn't work well. Our health-care system doesn't work well. Our education system doesn't work well. And here, all of a sudden, are our hackers, and they're amazing?"

Nevermind that they had no impact on the election results--Director Comey gets that honor--but the mere fact of their attempted interference has increased sanctions, despite Donald's promises to Vlad.  They are the played, not the players.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


The U.S. Has Way Too Many Secrets : A Q&A with Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive ecrets are really worth keeping. (James Gibney, 12/11/17, Bloomberg)

How much does it cost to keep a secret? Well, the U.S. government sort of has an answer: $16.89 billion. That's how much it spent in 2016 to classify information that it deems too sensitive to be released to the public. Some secrets are worth keeping, of course -- like how to cook up chemical weapons, for instance. But others, less so. Rodney McDaniel, a top National Security Council official during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, estimated that only 10 percent of classification was for the "legitimate protection of secrets." Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, a head of the 9/11 commission, said that "three quarters of what I read that was classified should not have been." In fact, he argued that overclassification had left the U.S. more vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks. And that's to say nothing of its everyday effects on government accountability and efficiency, congressional oversight and public awareness.

Shortly after the government released a trove of documents on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I sat down with Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, to talk about America's dysfunctional mechanisms for classifying and declassifying information.  [...]

JG: So, there's no magical process by which those things that should be declassified by a certain time frame because of laws on the books actually do get declassified.

TB: Yeah, there are no magic wands. Steven Garfinkel, who used to run the Information Security Oversight Office, the government's internal watchdog on classification, once described coming into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, that was wall-to-wall with boxes dating back to the 1920s, '30s, '40s, '50s. He took about an hour and sampled stuff and then waved a wand and said, "let it go." Few people within the government are willing to take that level of responsibility. But with the tsunami of electronic records that's coming, the idiocy of this page-by-page, line-by-line review is a total failure. The backlog is enormous, and it's only growing.

JG: And as you've noted, a lot of the email traffic isn't even being logged and stored.

TB: Part of that was a deliberate government decision back in the 1990s. We brought the original lawsuit to force Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to save White House email. We won. But when we tried to expand that principle to the rest of the government during the 1990s, the so-called decade of openness, the government fought tooth and nail. We only found out because of the Hillary Clinton email business that no secretary of state has systematically saved their email, until John Kerry did.

JG: Isn't it true that as a result of Clinton's private server, we have a lot more of her emails than we would otherwise have had?

TB: Yes, much more than if she'd stuck with

By keeping intelligence secret we get the blindness of experts instead of the wisdom of crowds.
Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Trump Will Have A Hard Time Stopping The Russia Investigation -- Even If He Fires Mueller (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, Dec. 11, 2017, 538)

"The system we have actually seems to work pretty well," Josh Chafetz, a professor of law at Cornell Law School, said of the return to special prosecutors appointed by the attorney general. "In the few cases where a prosecutor has been fired, the blowback was so intense that a new one was appointed very quickly." [...]

Special counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton's investment in a real estate entity called the Whitewater Development Company fell squarely into this category. The investigation officially launched in August 1994 to look at Bill Clinton's dealings while he was a state official, and it resulted in charges for a wide range of Clinton associates, including the sitting governor of Arkansas. But Starr then expanded his inquiry to include a probe of White House aide Vince Foster's death (after three years, Starr reaffirmed the conclusion that Foster had committed suicide), claims that the Clintons had fired aides in the presidential travel office to give jobs to their friends (no intentional wrongdoing was found), and an investigation of allegations that Clinton had encouraged Monica Lewinsky to lie about their affair under oath, which ultimately led to Clinton's impeachment.

"It was becoming clear that when you freed the independent counsel from all checks -- political and budgetary -- they could keep expanding their purview kind of indefinitely," Chafetz said. "There was a real sense that he (Starr) had lost perspective of what this investigation was supposed to be for and was pursuing Clinton personally."

With the office of the independent counsel under fire -- even Starr eventually turned on it, calling it "constitutionally dubious" -- Congress chose not to renew it in 1999. The Department of Justice issued regulations instead providing for the appointment of a special prosecutor by the attorney general -- a functional return to the pre-1978 status quo.

Since then, the regulations have been invoked only three times: in 1999, to investigate the FBI's actions in the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas (the special prosecutor criticized the way the raid was handled, but no charges were brought); in 2003, to investigate the leak of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame's name by the George W. Bush administration (Bush aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was convicted); and the Russia investigation this year.

Despite Democrats' anxiety, Barrett said he's confident that even if Trump did direct the deputy attorney general to fire Mueller -- an order that Justice Department officials might be unwilling to carry out -- the special prosecutor position wouldn't stay vacant for long.

"Robert Mueller is widely perceived as a competent and credible law enforcement official," Barrett said. 

...are imagining that anyone cares whether it is Robert Mueller who leads the investigation, just because they care so fiercely for Donald, and that the investigator matters more than the facts, a function of their bubble, which tells them that Hillary was guilty and Donald innocent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


UK is the top destination for European jobseekers despite Brexit, study suggests (Karthick Arvinth, December 11, 2017, IB Times)

That "despite" is precious.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


U.S.-backed Syrian forces, Iraqi army coordinate at border: SDF (Reuters, 12/11/17) 

Commanders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, met with Iraqi military leaders on Sunday. They "discussed protecting the Syrian-Iraqi border in the region adjacent to Deir al-Zor province, and how to finally eradicate Daesh mercenaries there," the SDF said in a statement.

"The two sides decided to form a joint coordination center to guarantee the security of the border," it said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


GOP Tax Promotes Offshoring Of US Jobs (Leo Gerard, 12/11/17, AlterNet)

Ford hit Michigan and its auto workers with some crappy holiday news. Instead of building a $700 million electric vehicle factory in Michigan as promised in January, Ford will construct the plant in Mexico.

Ford reneged on its promise to Michigan workers just days after the Senate passed a tax plan intended to end levies on corporate profits made at factories offshore - in places like Mexico. News of the letdown also arrived just days before new negotiations on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are to begin in Washington, D.C.

Ford and other giant corporations got what they wanted out of Republicans on taxes, dramatically lower levies on domestic profits and total elimination on foreign profits. That makes Mexico an even more attractive manufacturing site for them than NAFTA did.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Trump accusers to unite for first time, demand congressional investigation into allegations (JACQUELINE THOMSEN, 12/10/17, The Hill)

Women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct will call for Congress to investigate the allegations at a press conference on Monday.

The women will unite for the first time to demand the probe and share details of their allegations against Trump, according to a press release.

December 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30