27 May 2017

More Kushner

The New Yorker has an article by Evan Osnos about Jared Kushner's latest:

When The Washington Post reported that the FBI is investigating Jared Kushner’s meetings with Russian visitors, the news thrust the Russia probe to a new level of proximity to President Trump, reaching above former campaign aides to encompass the President’s close adviser and son-in-law. The news also reminded me of an odd episode that highlights how Kushner (photo) and the White House have struggled to clarify the nature of his Russian contacts.
In February 2017, not long after the national-security adviser, Mike Flynn, resigned for lying about his conversations with Russia’s Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, I heard from sources that the two men had also had a meeting with Kushner. If any of that were true, I realized, it was news; there had not been any reported contact between Kushner and a Russian official, and Flynn’s dealings within the Administration were now of obvious importance. On 23 February, I asked a senior White House official if the three had met. The official would check with Kushner, I was told. A few hours later, the official called back. “My understanding from Jared is that he met with Sergey alone and just for a few minutes,” the official said. I double-checked with the official about Flynn. Was he there, too? No, the official said. “It was a very, very brief meeting to get a sense of what Sergey’s role was and who he was in contact with in Moscow.” In any case, the official had confirmed that Kushner had met with Kislyak, and I included that in a story I co-authored with David Remnick and Joshua Yaffa, published on 24 February.
There was more to the story, however. On 2 March, the Times reported that Flynn did, in fact, attend Kushner’s meeting with the ambassador. The next day, I called the senior White House official and asked about the denial that Flynn was there. The official took responsibility for the mistake, saying that it was a failure to nail down the details. Kushner would not talk to me, so there was no way to learn more about what he had told his colleague.
Why does any of this matter? Because the White House’s multiple mistakes in describing Kushner’s Russian contacts are now a matter of interest to investigators. Nobody who reports in Washington is stunned when an administration—any administration—tells you something that’s not quite right. But this is not an attempt to puff up the impact of a policy, or an effort to downplay a flawed initiative. These are misstatements of verifiable facts. Last month, the Times reported that, in filling out his security-clearance forms, Kushner omitted two meetings with Russian visitors— the encounter with Kislyak and a meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, a state-owned bank that has been subject to US sanctions. An attorney for Kushner has said that he had offered to amend the forms once the errors were discovered.
Until recently, Kushner’s ties to the Russia investigation had been a low-grade, if recurring, problem for the White House. Kushner had reportedly defended Flynn, long after other advisers determined that he had done damage to the White House. Other stories depicted Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist, as concerned about Kushner’s contact with Russians.
There is still much to be learned about why Kushner has become a “significant focus” of the investigation. Is the FBI looking at his role in possible coördination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. or in efforts to cover that up? Or any link to improper financial dealings with Russian-backed businesses? All of those prospects have been mentioned in reporting on the growing Russia probe.
Kushner, who rarely speaks in public, has volunteered to speak to congressional committees that are looking into Russian interference. His lawyer has said that Kushner will speak to law-enforcement investigators as well, if he is asked to do so. Hearing from the President’s son-in-law directly may well clear things up, or muddy them further.
Rico says this is going to make trouble for Trump for years...

History for the day: 1941: The Royal Navy sinks the Bismarck

A dark day for the German Navy, but a brilliant one for the Royal Navy:




On 27 May 1941, the British navy sank the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic near France. The German death toll was more than two thousand sailors.
On 14 February 1939, the 823-foot Bismarck was launched at Hamburg, Germany. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler hoped that the state-of-the-art battleship would herald the rebirth of the German surface battle fleet. However, after the outbreak of war, Britain closely guarded ocean routes from Germany to the Atlantic Ocean, and only U-boats moved freely through the war zone.
In May of 1941, the order was given for the Bismarck to break out into the Atlantic. Once in the safety of the open ocean, the battleship would be almost impossible to track down, all the while wreaking havoc on Allied convoys to Britain. Learning of its movement, Britain sent almost the entire British Home Fleet in pursuit. On 24 May, the British battle cruiser Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales intercepted it near Iceland. In a ferocious battle, the Hood exploded and sank, and all but three of its 1,421 crewmen were killed. The Bismarck escaped, but because it was leaking fuel it fled for occupied France. On 26 May, it was sighted and crippled by British aircraft, and, on 27 May, three British warships descended on the Bismarck and finished it off.

Rico says a touch of hubris was the real cause...

Trump and Russia

The New York Times has an article by Matt Apuzzo, with Emmarie Huetteman, Matthew Rosenberg, and Mark Mazzetti contributing reporting, about testimony damning Trump:

John O. Brennan (photo), the former CIA director, described a nerve-fraying few months last year, as American authorities realized that the presidential election was under attack and feared that Donald J. Trump’s campaign might be aiding that fight.
Brennan, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, said he was concerned by a series of suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and Trump’s associates. The CIA learned about those meetings just as it was beginning to grapple with Russian hackers and propagandists trying to manipulate the presidential race.
His remarks were the fullest public account to date of the origins of an FBI investigation that continues to shadow the Trump administration.
“I know what the Russians try to do,” Brennan said. “They try to suborn individuals and try to get individuals, including American individuals, to act on their behalf, wittingly or unwittingly.”
When he left his post in January, he said that “I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting US persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf.”
Brennan acknowledged that he did not know whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives, and said the contacts might have been benign.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, tried to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and help Trump. On 4 August 2017, as evidence of that campaign mounted, Brennan warned Alexander V. Bortnikov, the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, not to meddle in the election. Not only would such interference damage relations between the countries, he said, but it was also certain to backfire. “I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption,” Brennan said. “I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in the election.”
Brennan’s prediction proved inaccurate. Though intelligence agencies are unanimous in their belief that Russia directly interfered in the election, it has become a divisive partisan issue, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to accept the conclusion. Trump has declared that “Russia is fake news” and has tried to undermine the conclusions of his own intelligence services.
He has also tried repeatedly to beat back news reports about his campaign’s ties to Russia. White House officials tried to enlist the FBI and C.I.A. to dispute stories early this year. Then, after the F.B.I. publicly confirmed its investigation, Mr. Trump asked Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to publicly deny any collusion between Russia and his campaign, according to two former American officials. The Washington Post first reported Mr. Trump’s entreaties.
On the day of the FBI’s confirmation, a call from the White House switchboard came in to Coats’ office with a request to speak to the director, a former intelligence official said. Calls from the switchboard are usually from the highest-ranking officials at the White House — the President, the Vice President, or the National Security Adviser.
Coats took the call, but would not confirm what was discussed. Coats, who testified on Tuesday in a separate congressional hearing, declined to discuss his conversations with the president.
The White House regarded Brennan’s testimony as the latest example of a former official from the Obama administration describing great concern, but offering no public proof of wrongdoing.
“This morning’s hearings back up what we’ve been saying all along: that despite a year of investigation, there is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion,” the White House said in a statement.
During the campaign, a spokeswoman for Trump declared that “there was no communication” with foreign entities. In January, Vice President Mike Pence flatly denied that there had been any contacts with Russians. Journalists have since reported repeated undisclosed meetings with Russians. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign over misstatements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak.
A Justice Department special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is investigating whether any collusion took place. A grand jury in Northern Virginia has issued subpoenas for information related to Flynn’s lobbying and businesses. That investigation is separate from multiple congressional investigations into Russian meddling. Flynn has declined to be interviewed or provide documents to Congress, citing his constitutional right not to incriminate himself.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued subpoenas for documents from two businesses owned by FlynnFlynn Intel LLC and Flynn Intel Inc.— escalating efforts to learn more about his potential business ties to Russia.
Senator Richard M. Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and the committee’s chairman, left open the possibility of holding Flynn in contempt of Congress.
“At the end of that option is a contempt charge,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. “And I’ve said that everything is on the table.” But the committee’s members are not ready to take that step, Burr said, adding that they want to give Flynn the opportunity he requested to tell his story.
During his testimony, Brennan described Russia’s efforts around the world to use politicians to further Moscow’s objectives. “I certainly was concerned that they were practicing the same types of activities here in the United States,” he said. He added that American targets were often unwitting in such efforts. “Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” he said.
In late July, officials established a group of NSA, CIA, and FBI officials to investigate the election interference. The information was tightly held, and the FBI took the lead on investigating potential collusion, Brennan said. “I made sure that anything that was involving U.S. persons, including anything involving the individuals involved in the Trump campaign, was shared with the bureau,” he said.
That investigation was on Trump’s mind this month when he fired James B. Comey, the FBI director, the president has said. And the next day, Trump told Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting that firing Comey had eased pressure on him. Such comments, in addition to Trump’s efforts to publicly undermine the FBI investigation, have fueled suspicion among Democrats and some Republicans that Trump is trying to obstruct the case.
Brennan said Russia was trying to capitalize on the turmoil in Washington. “Even though the election is over,” he said, “I think Putin and Russian intelligence services are trying to actively exploit what is going on now in Washington to their benefit and to our detriment.”
Rico says this is far from over...

24 May 2017

Tombstone

Rico says it's still one of the best Westerns and (obviously) one of his favorites:





















Badass, thy name is Eastwood

The most badass scene in movie history:


From A Fistful of Dollars, directed by Sergio Leone in 1964. The actor is Clint Eastwood.

Savaging Trump

Various actors have had their moments doing Trump:








Rico says the guy's a target for savagery, even from the normally-polite Finns and the Dutch...

Outcarving Mount Rushmore

The BBC has an article about the Ziolkowski family's massive work in the Black Hills:

For seventy years, the Ziolkowski family has been carving a sculpture out of South Dakota’s Black Hills that will be nearly ten times larger than Mount RushmoreMount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial are located just seventeen miles apart.
Dirty patches of snow dotted the roadside as we drove the winding route through the evergreen forests of south-western South Dakota, the van rattling despite the sedate pace. A late afternoon chill travelled through me as we reached the top, stepping out of the van and into mud that sloshed beneath our feet.
“I believe in first impressions,” my guide, Matt, said, “so don’t turn around until we get out to the wrist.” We walked on. Around me, mountains rose and hills rolled in the afternoon light. The dense pine forest extended for miles, set against a cerulean sky that peeked out from behind slate-colored clouds. “Okay,” he said, “turn around.”
I turned and looked up, higher and higher, at the ninety-foot-tall face of nineteenth-century Lakota leader Crazy Horse emerging (photo) from the granite slope of the mountain. His gaze extended past where I stood, on the protruding ledge that will one day become his arm, and out over the rugged Black Hills.
In the Black Hills of South Dakota are two impressive monuments to great men in American history: Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the Crazy Horse Memorial, located seventeen miles apart. Both sculptures remain unfinished, but only one stands to be completed.
When Korczak Ziolkowski first arrived in South Dakota in 1939 to help carve Mount Rushmore, he had no idea that his family’s legacy would in fact unfold just a few miles away. For years, Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear had been on a mission to see a monument to American Indians erected in the Black Hills, land that the Lakota considered sacred and wrongfully taken from them. When workers began sculpting Mount Rushmore in 1927, it spurred the Lakota elders to pursue a mountain carving of their own.
“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes also,” Standing Bear wrote to Ziolkowski at the start of the 1940s.
The hero Standing Bear had in mind was his cousin Crazy Horse, the Oglala Lakota leader who had fought in the Great Sioux War against the US government over ownership of the Black Hills. Crazy Horse had helped defeat General George Custer and his cavalry in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in southern Montana, a battle that went down in history as Custer’s Last Stand.
Though the project resonated with Ziolkowski, he did not immediately commit. He instead returned home to Connecticut before volunteering for service in World War Two, eventually participating in the invasion of Normandy, landing on Omaha Beach.
But when the war ended, Ziolkowski turned down offers to build war memorials in Europe, returning instead to the Black Hills on 3 May 1947 to begin what would be his last sculpture, that of Crazy Horse. Standing nearly six hundred feet high, the sculpture will be the largest mountain carving in the world. By comparison, the heads of Mount Rushmore each measure sixty feet tall.
Standing on the outcropping that is slowly becoming  an arm, I zoomed in on the granite horseshoe-shaped pupil of Crazy Horse’s left eye and snapped another photo. So far, only his face has fully materialized, but, when completed, the gigantic sculpture will depict Crazy Horse, his hair streaming in the wind as he sits atop his horse pointing out over his lands.
“So, how did you find us?” Matt asked.
“I came here to see this,” I replied.
“Really?” he said. “You’d be surprised how many people have no idea we’re here. They see us from the road on their way to Mount Rushmore and stop.”
I wasn’t surprised. The Crazy Horse Memorial receives roughly one-third the visitors each year that Mount Rushmore does. Some of the disparity is likely due to the cost of admittance; up to $28 per car as opposed to a $10 parking fee at Mount Rushmore. To avoid the fate of Mount Rushmore, which was never completed after government funding dried up, Ziolkowski decided that the Crazy Horse Memorial would be privately funded by admissions and donations.
More than one person I had spoken to in diners and at rest stops en route from California had been amazed to learn of the mere existence of the enormous memorial. If anything surprised me, it was that something so immense could remain a secret.
Korczak decided that, if he was going to give his life doing this, it might as well be something big
“[Korczak] decided that if [he was] going to give [his] life doing this, it might as well be something big,” explained Mike Morgan, the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation’s vice president of media, marketing and public relations, and a 40-year veteran of the project.
But the concept of ‘big’ at the Crazy Horse Memorial goes far beyond the size of the carving. It extends to the vision that Ziolkowski had from the outset.
The ever-expanding complex is home to the Indian Museum of North America, the Native American Educational & Cultural Center and the Indian University of North America. “The mountain, Dad said, was the smallest part of the whole project,” said Ziolkowski’s youngest daughter, Monique, in a televised interview last year.
The Crazy Horse Memorial complex is also home to the Indian Museum of North (Credit: Credit: David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc/Alamy)
The Crazy Horse Memorial complex is also home to the Indian Museum of North America (Credit: David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc/Alamy)
Ziolkowski gave his life for the mountain, breaking bones, undergoing numerous back surgeries and suffering multiple heart attacks. He remained in charge until he died in 1982. He never saw Crazy Horse’s face emerge from the rock.
Some wondered if his passing would mark the end of the memorial, but his wife, Ruth Ziolkowski, picked up the mantle. Under her leadership, focus shifted to completing the sculpture’s face to mark the 50th anniversary of beginning the carving. Her plan succeeded; the face was unveiled in 1998.
All the Ziolkowskis’ ten children worked on the Crazy Horse Memorial in their youth: the girls helped their mother in the visitor complex, while the boys worked on the mountain with their father. Seven of the children made the memorial their profession, and today, a third generation of Ziolkowskis keeps the family legacy bright.
After descending from the memorial, I stood in the parking lot and took one last, long look at the sculpture. I imagined a young Ziolkowski surveying the mountain beside Standing Bear. I imagined him hanging from a rope without a harness, a single can of paint in one hand, outlining the horse’s head. I imagined him walking up the stairs he built to the top of the mountain in that first year and, though it never happened the way I pictured it, in my imagination his children and grandchildren followed closely behind.
The people working on Crazy Horse, they see the vision and they’re interested in being involved with something that’s bigger than themselves
Towards the end of our conversation Morgan’s voice grew a shade quieter, a touch more nostalgic. “I don’t think I’ll see it completed,” he said, pausing for a moment as if to let the words settle. “But you might.”
Rico says that Henry Standing Bear is also a character, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, in the Longmire television series..

Mother Nature wins again

Rico's friend Kelley forwards Janie Har's Yahoo article via The Associated Press:

A massive landslide that went into the Pacific Ocean is the latest natural disaster to hit a California community that relies heavily on an iconic coastal highway and tourism to survive, and adds to a record billion dollars in highway damage from one of the state's wettest winters in decades.
The weekend slide in Big Sur (photo) buried a portion of Highway 1 under a forty-foot layer of rock and dirt and changed the coastline below to include what now looks like a rounded skirt hem, Susana Cruz, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Transportation, said Tuesday.
More than a million tons of rock and dirt tumbled down a saturated slope in an area called Mud Creek. The slide is covering up about a one-quarter-mile stretch of Highway 1, and authorities have no estimate on when it might re-open. The area remains unstable.
"We haven't been able to go up there and assess. It's still moving," Cruz said. "We have geologists and engineers who are going to check it out this week to see how do we pick up the pieces." It's the largest mudslide she knows of in the state's history, she said. "It's one of a kind," she said.
One of California's rainiest and snowiest winters on record has broken a five-year drought, but also caused flooding and landslides in much of the state, and sped up coastal erosion. "This type of thing may become more frequent, but Big Sur has its own unique geology," said Dan Carl, a district director for the California Coastal Commission whose area includes Big Sur. "A lot of Big Sur is moving; you just don't see it."
Even before the weekend slide, storms across California have caused just over a billion dollars in highway damage to more than four hundred sites during the fiscal year that ends in June, Mark Dinger, also a spokesman for the state transportation agency, said Tuesday. That compares with just over six hundred million last year, he said.
Big Sur is one of the state's biggest tourist draws in a normal year, attracting visitors to serene groves of redwoods, beaches and the dramatic ocean scenery along narrow, winding Highway 1.
This winter has been particularly rough for Big Sur, state transportation spokesman Colin Jones said. Repeated landslides and floods have taken out bridges and highways, closed campgrounds, and forced some resorts to shut down temporarily or use helicopters to fly in guests and supplies.
Even before the weekend damage, the state had closed Highway 1 along Mud Creek to repair buckled pavement and remove debris after an earlier slide. Authorities removed work crews from the area last week after realizing that saturated soil in that area was increasingly unstable, Jones said. Road crews also have stopped work at another damaged stretch of Highway 1 in the area for the same reason.
Last year, a wildfire burned for nearly three months in the Los Padres National Forest and on private land, sparked by an illegal campfire. Thousands of visitors were shut out from signature state parks and the businesses that cater to them.
Kirk Gafill, president of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce and owner of the historic Nepenthe Restaurant, said the slide may prove a blessing, stabilizing land that Caltrans was working to shore up. On the other hand, he acknowledges his theory may be wishful thinking. "There's no question, if you live and own a business in Big Sur, you live in a very dramatic landscape, and we know historically, whether it's fire or a mudslide or a landslide from one year to the next, it's not very predictable," said Gafill, whose restaurant is serving two to three dozen local diners a day rather than the thousand a daytypical for this time of year.
Gafill said repairing damage from the this landslide is not as critical for business as replacing Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, a span on Highway 1 that had to be demolished earlier this year after it was badly damaged by storms in in January and February. The new bridge is scheduled to open in September.
Kurt Mayer, who owns Big Sur Tap House, was also taking news of the slide in stride. He said he wouldn't trade in his work location for somewhere safer. "We're all going to make it, I'm pretty sure," he said. "Big Sur can scare some people, but those people usually come and go pretty quickly. And those who can hang, they're still there and they'll continue to be there."
Rico says it's been decades since he drove that road, but it's still scary. If you build a highway on an unstable cliff, don't be surprised if it occasionally falls into the ocean...

Ahead of the style curve, for once...


Esquire has an article by Christine Flammia about Hawai'ian shirts:
The tropical shirt is a summer staple, often detailed with brightly colored palm trees and hibiscus flowers. While many drunk uncles and ill-dressed tourists wear similar prints without much sartorial whimsy, don't let their cargo shorts and water shoes scare you. They're one of the coolest shirts you can wear this summer.
Look for fresh prints and lightweight fabrics to make it feel modern. Balance the bold look by keeping the rest of your outfit tame (think chino shorts and espadrilles). Here are twelve of the coolest ones for this summer. See the article for more selection and pricing.
Rico says he's been wearing them for decades, and does every time it turns warm.

The song in Rico's head...

...because clover was all along Rico's walk home:

23 May 2017

Empowerment of women

Slate has an article by Josh Voorhees, a Slate senior writer who lives in Iowa City, Iowa, about Ivanka Trump's latest boondoggle:

The World Bank announced this past weekend that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a combined hundred million dollars toward a planned billion-dollar fund aimed at helping female entrepreneurs around the world. The World Bank doesn’t plan on officially unveiling the specifics of the initiative until next month’s G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. This recent light-on-details announcement, then, amounted to little more than an effort to drum up some good press for the donors, the bank, and the person who’s getting credit for coming up with the idea for the fund in the first place: Ivanka Trump.
Ivanka’s involvement with the fund drew heavy criticism when she first made it public last month. For starters, the project appears to share broad strokes with the Clinton Foundation. Except, in this case, instead of being the work of a presidential nominee’s spouse, it is said to have been hatched by a family member of the current President, one who also happens to hold a major role in the administration. In an alternate world where White House senior adviser Chelsea Clinton spent this past weekend touting her role in launching a fund that takes donations from foreign governments, many on the right would be screaming Pay-for-Pay and Lock-her-up. Trump, remember, had this to say last summer in regards to Saudi donations to Hillary and Bill Clinton’s family non-profit:
Saudi Arabia’s involvement in this fund, meanwhile, is particularly notable, given both the timing of the donation and how the Saudi government treats women at home. It’s funny how eager Saudi leaders are to cut a multimillion-dollar check to help women-owned businesses in the Middle East when they still severely restrict women’s rights at home, including their ability to drive and work. The news also comes only days after the Saudis signed a hundre-billion-dollar-plus arms deal with the United States, the final negotiations for which were reportedly hashed out by Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner. Toss in the Trump family’s well-documented history of using other people’s money to playact the role of benevolent billionaires, and it’s hard not to smell something odd wafting across the Atlantic.
It’s worth asking, however, whether in the alternative Clintonian timeline proposed above, conservatives would have been justified in their hypothetical collective freak-out and what that means for our current timeline. Based on the limited details we do have, I’m not so sure it would be fair to attack such a move were the shoe on the other foot, and I was reasonably troubled during the campaign by the potential conflicts of interest raised by the Clinton Foundation.
The issue is this: the similarities between the World Bank-run fund and the Clinton Foundation appear to be mostly superficial. According to the World Bank, Ivanka won’t have any control over how the money is doled out and, according to the White House, she won’t take an active role in soliciting the funds either. (The Clintons did both at their foundation.) Assuming both of those prove true, then what we have here isn’t the Ivanka Trump Foundation by another name but, instead, a World Bank initiative that has the support of the White House. This isn’t the first time that the bank has teamed up with a First Family to push a project near and dear to the White House’s heart either. Just last spring, for instance, the World Bank announced it would invest $2.5 billion over five years in education projects that benefit adolescent girls around the globe— news of which came at an event hosted by Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, which shared that same goal.
Two of Trump’s most vocal critics when it comes to his many conflicts of interest see things similarly in regards to this new fund. Norm Eisen, a former Obama ethics czar, and Richard Painter, a former George W. Bush ethics czar, both told NPR over the weekend that, as long as the World Bank runs the new fund and the donations are properly vetted, there’s good reason to believe everything is above board, and these are not men who are willing to blindly trust Trump. “In my view, foreign government donations to a fund run by a reputable international organization like the World Bank for a good cause are generally acceptable,” Eisen wrote in an email. Added Painter: “I don't see this fund as a big problem if she does not solicit donations and it is entirely World Bank run.”
Those are big ifs, obviously, and the Kushner-brokered arms deal in particular deserves further scrutiny. You certainly shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Trump administration prioritized Ivanka’s brand, however subtly, at the expense of US interests in order to secure the Saudi cash— such decisions, after all, were frustratingly baked into our diplomatic and political systems even before Trump arrived on the scene. But until there’s evidence that’s what happened here, it seems this is better seen simply as Trump and his family reversing how they view the Saudis and “pay-for-play” now that they’re the ones in power. Such hypocrisy has been a common occurrence in this administration, but, at least this time, the biggest winner of the about-face will likely be someone other than the Trumps. That doesn’t make everything right, exactly, but I’m not sure it makes it wrong either.
Rico says the whole family works sleazy...

Quote for the day

From Command and Control:


There were some guys you wouldn't trust with a .22 rifle, much less a thermonuclear bomb.

Trump, looking stupid

Slate has an article by Ben Mathis-Lilley about Trump's latest gaffe:

Another great moment for America, courtesy of President Donald Trump, in Jerusalem meeting with Israeli leaders, who, I guess, he does not consider Middle Eastern because they are not Arabs:
Trump, in remarks before meeting with Rivlin, said "we just got back from the Middle East."
We try to keep it clean and professional around here, but, honestly? What a dumbass.
Rico says dumbass is mild...

Taking the Fifth

Slate has an article by Ben Mathis-Lilley about Flynn:

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (photo, top left) will invoke the Fifth Amendment in refusing a Senate committee's document subpoena, The Associated Press is reporting.
The Fifth Amendment protects an individual's right not to give testimony that may implicate him or her in a crime. Flynn's potentially improper financial connections to Russia and Turkey are reportedly the subject of the ongoing federal investigation that was led by the FBI and will now be supervised by special counsel Robert Mueller. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation of the matter, had specifically requested documents related to Flynn's interactions with Russia. It's not yet known how the Senate plans to respond to Flynn's refusal; Slate discussed the options it might have in this situation in a post last week.
And, just to get it out of the way: Invoking the Fifth Amendment does not mean you're guilty.
Rico says he's doomed, sooner or later...

Manchester bombing

Charles Pierce has an Esquire article about the latest terror attack in the UK:

Nothing about it was unprecedented. It was a mass casualty terrorist attack in Manchester, in the northwest of England. That is not unprecedented. In 1996, the Irish Republican Army set off a truck bomb in Manchester that injured two hundred people and did damage estimated at seven hundred million pounds. There were no fatalities, because the IRA phoned in a warning and seventy-five thousand people were evacuated.
It was a mass casualty terrorist attack that targeted children. This, also, is not unprecedented. Timothy McVeigh set off his truck bomb at the Murrah Federal Building even though he knew the building's day-care center would be open and full. The separatists who took over the school in Beslan in 2004 certainly knew they were targeting children, and the Russian forces who stormed the place with overwhelming force certainly knew there were children in there. If you want to stretch the terrorist designation to fit, Adam Lanza certainly knew who he was shooting when he walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School shortly before Christmas of 2012.
There is nothing unprecedented about the darkness in the human heart that causes young people to dress in explosives and murder people on a grand scale. It is that same darkness that encompasses both the Manchester Arena and the bus stop in Maryland where the life of Lieutenant Richard Collins III ended over the weekend. Hatred is not blind. That's a lie we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night. Hatred sees very well. Hatred can see several streets over. Hatred can see across seas and across continents. Hatred can see down the block to a bus stop in Maryland as clearly as it can see all the way from a cave in Afghanistan to the streets of lower Manhattan. When it looks for its victims, hatred can see like a hawk.
Hatred is a constant in the human condition, all the way back to Cain, if you believe in that sort of thing. Hatred is part of the connective tissue of human evolution, stretching from the savannas of east Africa to the streets of Manchester. Hatred walked upright as soon as we learned how to do so. Hatred is part of what has bound us to our prehistoric ancestors. The human is a predatory animal. It hunts to feed its appetites. Hatred is an appetite, and demands to be fed.
Its only true rival in the long march of the species is the ability to reason, to think beyond our appetites. It is a constant struggle and it is not always a fair fight. Think of the slaughters over which god to worship, and how, and where. Think of the books and the witches burning. Think of lynching, and of six hundred thousand Americans slaughtering each other over the self-evident fact that one human being should not be able to purchase another one. Hatred is powerful. So is reason. But, sometimes, it seems that reason is Prometheus, chained to a rock, and that hatred is the eagle that comes to feed on his viscera, day after day. Then again, reason is an appetite, too. It demands to be fed. We are better for it when it is satisfied.
None of this is meant to diminish the awful reality of what happened in Manchester. The horror is genuine and the pain and loss are all too real. But the surprise at that horror ought not to prevail. We do these things to each other. We always do these things to each other. We gussy them up with political or philosophical camouflage. We anoint them with the preferred incense of whatever faith we pretend to follow. But we do these things to each other because we always do these things to each other, and because, over time and throughout history, hatred and reason have fought each other over the fundamental human impulse to satiate themselves. They fight to no better than a draw, one bloody night at a time.
Rico says race and religion play far too big a part in this...

Trump, rejected by Melania

Gizmodo has an article by Matt nOvak about the Trumps:

Remember yesterday, when First Lady Melania Trump swatted away Donald’s extended hand? Well, the President just landed in Rome, Italy and it looks like things are still a bit shaky in the Trump household.
Donald Trump is a tremendous asshole to his wife, Melania, and the internet has seen that play out in GIF form ever since the day he was inaugurated. We have a GIF that will surely be inducted into the GIF Hall of Fame, where her smile turns to a depressed look as soon as he turns his back. Or, if not the GIF Hall of Fame, at least the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library.
The speculation, of course, is that the Donald said something terrible to Melania before he turns his back, which seems like a pretty safe bet.
In the span of just a couple of days, we have more GIFs, showing just how deeply Melania resents her husband, a man who is both the leader of the United States, and one of the most disgusting human beings on the planet.
Melania clearly doesn’t want to be dealing with Trump’s shit any more than we do. With any luck, impeachment is just around the corner and we can all be done with this disaster.
Rico says that, if he were a betting man, he would not put any money on their marriage...

Oops, wrong building

Adam Clark Estes has a Gizmodo article about a demo gone wrong:

It took a few seconds for the dust to clear, but when it did, the neighboring building— which was not supposed to be torn down—was utterly destroyed.
Brutally, the owner of the wrongly-demolished building watched it all happen from the sidewalk, but he seems pretty chill about the whole thing. “We’ll rebuild it,” Joseph Rene, a developer who owns the former home of the Laundry Mutt, now a pile of bricks, told The Baltimore Sun. “We have no other option.”
The city contractors did not offer the local paper any comment. Now that video of the demolition oops is racking up tens of thousands of views on YouTube, the company is surely worried about the future. That’s just another fact of life in the demolition business. Doing too much demolishing is far, far worse than not doing enough.
Rico says they better hope they had good insurance...

History for the day: 1934: Bonnie & Clyde killed

History.com has an article about the death of Bonnie & Clyde:

On 23 May 1934, notorious criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to death by Texas and Louisiana state police while driving a stolen car near Sailes, Louisiana.
Bonnie Parker (photo, top, left) met the charismatic Clyde Barrow (photo, top, right) in Texas when she was nineteen years old and her then-husband (she married when she was sixteen) was serving time in jail for murder. Shortly after they met, Barrow was imprisoned for robbery. Parker visited him every day, and smuggled a gun into prison to help him escape, but he was soon caught in Ohio and sent back to jail. When Barrow was paroled in 1932, he immediately hooked up with Parker, and the couple began a life of crime.
After they stole a car and committed several robberies, Parker was caught by police and sent to jail for two months. Released in mid-1932, she rejoined Barrow. Over the next two years, the couple teamed with various accomplices to rob a string of banks and stores across five states: Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Mexico, and Louisiana. To law enforcement agents, the Barrow Gang– including Barrow’s childhood friend, Raymond Hamilton, along with W.D. Jones, Henry Methvin, Barrow’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche, among others– were cold-blooded criminals who didn’t hesitate to kill anyone who got in their way, especially police or sheriff’s deputies. Among the public, however, Parker and Barrow’s reputation as dangerous outlaws was mixed with a romantic view of the couple as Robin Hood-like folk heroes.
Their fame was increased by the fact that Parker was a woman– an unlikely criminal– and by the fact that the couple posed for playful photographs together, which were later found by police and released to the media. Police almost captured the famous duo twice in the spring of 1933, with surprise raids on their hideouts in Joplin and Platte City in Missouri. Buck Barrow was killed in the second raid, and Blanche was arrested, but Bonnie and Clyde escaped once again. In January 1934, they attacked the Eastham Prison Farm in Texas to help Hamilton break out of jail, shooting several guards with machine guns, killing one.
Texas prison officials hired a retired Texas police officer, Captain Frank Hamer, (photo, above) as a special investigator to track down Parker and Barrow. After a three-month search, Hamer traced the couple to Louisiana, where Henry Methvin’s family lived. Before dawn on 23 May 1934, Hamer and a group of Louisiana and Texas lawmen hid in the bushes along a country road outside Sailes. When Parker and Barrow appeared, the officers opened fire, killing the couple instantly in a hail of bullets.
All told, the Barrow Gang was believed responsible for the deaths of thirteen people, including nine police officers. Parker and Barrow are still seen by many as romantic figures, especially after the success of the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway (photo, bottom, right) and Warren Beatty (photo, bottom, left).

Rico says that the movie made all of them them much better looking than they really were, though Denver Pyle as Hamer wasn't that much of an improvement:


22 May 2017

Trump and family, at it again

Slate has an article by Michelle Goldberg, a columnist for Slate and the author, most recently, of The Goddess Pose, about Trump and Russia:

For those of us who depend on daily bombshells about Donald Trump scandals to maintain our morale, yesterday was a bit of letdown. The New York Times story about fired FBI Director James Comey’s unease with Trump would have been a big deal in another era, but in the current climate it was like a maintenance dose of methadone. This afternoon, however, both The Times and The Washington Post delivered the good stuff. The Times reports that Trump told Russian officials that firing Comey— whom he called “a real nut job”— took the Russia-related pressure off him, and The Washington Post reports that the Russia probe reached a current White House official.
The Washington Post scoop is more significant. “The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest,” it says, “showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.” The official in question, it adds, is “someone close to the President.” This could be extremely important, because until now, it’s appeared possible that the probe might not go beyond former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former campaign manager Paul Manafort. If that were the case, it might be possible for Trump to quarantine it. But the higher it goes, the more trouble he is in.
So who is this person of interest? Based on previous reporting, the most likely suspects are White House strategist and former Breitbart head Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. McClatchy has already reported that the FBI is looking into the role of Breitbart in amplifying Russian propaganda during the campaign. Kushner is already known to have failed to disclose his contacts with Russian officials on his application for top-secret security clearance; he also reportedly urged Trump to fire Comey. Further, last month The New York Times reported that Bannon had told confidents “that he believes Kushner’s contact with Russians, and his expected testimony before Congress on the subject, will become a major distraction for the White House.”
Personally, as much as I would love to see the slovenly fascist Bannon driven from public life, I hope the target is Kushner. Trump has gotten to a point where he barely trusts anyone beyond his family. If he can’t trust his family, either, his already severely impaired presidency will be further imperiled. There are days like yesterday when it feels like maybe, if the investigations into Trump are inconclusive and Republicans remain steadfast in supporting their wretched leader, the administration just might be able to muddle through. Then there are days like today, when it feels like justice is coming. Maybe Kushner should get moving on prison reform while he has the chance.
Rico says what a pack of clowns... (A real nut job? Takes one to know one.)

Trump in Saudi

The Clarion Project has an article by Ryan Mauro, the ClarionProject.org’s Shillman Fellow and national security analyst and an adjunct professor of counter-terrorism, about Trump, on the loose in Saudi Arabia:
President Trump’s brazen speech in Saudi Arabia is being praised from (almost) all quarters. Its powerful moments will be remembered for years and will reverberate throughout the Middle East. But no speech is perfect.
Here are seven moments from the speech, starting with what may be the closest Trump may come to having his Tear Down This Wall moment: 
It is a choice between two futures – and it is a choice America can not make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. OutDrive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land, and Drive them out of this Earth
This is strongest statement towards the Muslim world uttered by an American president since 9/11, and perhaps in history. These words— and the Trumpian delivery of them— will be remembered for years to come. While eloquent words favored by speechwriters and high-brow elites are usually forgotten, these won’t be.There are also two clear sub-messages: One, that the Muslim world is not adequately “driving them out”, meaning, the Islamists still thrive in mosques, holy lands (including Saudi Arabia) and Muslim communities. The enemy are not fringe, undetectable loners. Secondly, don’t outsource your responsibility for this to America. We won’t let you scapegoat us and have us respond by apologizing for the grievances you use to excuse yourself from responsibility. This is your problem: own it.
Religious leaders must make it absolutely clear that barbarism will deliver you no glory and piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned. This is another strike in the ideological war where the Trumpian way of speaking is powerful, especially when you consider how accustomed the Middle East is to the softer diplomatic tone of the West in contrast to the fiery hyperbole common place in that part of the world. Trump recognized something crucial: the enemy believes it is pious and is impacted by religious teaching from authoritative figures. It’s not about anger over foreign policy or joblessness or lack of education. It’s about piety and a belief that dying in jihad is a guaranteed ticket to Paradise.
That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.
Most of the speech used vague, relative terms like “terrorism” and “extremism.” The focus was almost entirely on ISIS and Iran. But then came this paragraph: President Trump identified the enemy not just as Islamist terrorist groups, but the Islamist extremism foundation necessary for those groups to manifest. Of special note is the line about “persecution of Jews”. This was not stated with some moral equivalence about how Israel shares blame for stifling the nationalist aspirations of Palestinians. No, Trump identified anti-Semitism as a central problem outside of the context of Israel. That omission is powerful.
The identification of the enemy as Islamist extremism is refreshing, but, as Dr. Daniel Pipes points out, “one statement does not a policy make.” Even Obama uttered the word jihadist on a few rare occasions.
The framing of the enemy as Islamism should have been the focal point of the speech, rather than waiting until the middle and the end to use the term. What should have followed was a strategy, with the sticks and carrots, to uproot the sustainers of the ideology so it dissipates into history. A question is left hanging, “Now what? What changes?”
The true toll of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and so many others must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams. The inclusion of Hamas and Hezbollah in this section is very significant. It wasn’t a call for Hamas and Hezbollah to drop terrorism to achieve their goals, as if they are freedom fighters gone astray.The argument was not that their actions are counterproductive. It was that their very existence has sabotaged a potentially promising future from the people of the Middle East, not just Palestinians and Lebanese, but everyone. Again he framed the issue not as a consequence of Israel, thus negating claims of Hamas and Hezbollah of being “liberation” movements.
This is a call for a reformation into modernity (as opposed to the “reformation” offered by the Islamist movements). President Obama acknowledged this necessity, but he did it in an interview, not in a historical speech to the Muslim world from Saudi Arabia. Ideally, Trump would have given a little more time to describe what is holding back this renaissance beyond a generic attribution to “extremism”. He should have taken a cue from Egyptian President El-Sisi and consulted with progressive Muslim reformers.
Trump called for “gradual change,” but failed to mention freedom, even gradually-granted freedom. His team likely worried that the mention of freedom would be interpreted as a synonym for democracy promotion, but caveats could have addressed that. This renaissance and the rolling back of Islamism will require greater political and religious freedom, and acknowledging so does not make one an advocate of hasty destabilizations.
Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.
President Obama’s attitude towards Iran unnerved our Sunni Arab partners in the region. The heavy focus on Iran should help address that, but the fixation on the Iranian regime seemed to echo the Saudi line that Iran is responsible for practically all of the terrorism and extremism in the region. This let the Sunni side of radical Islam get off easy.The statement about hoping for a better government for the Iranian people is positive, as it at least welcomes regime change.However, it does not signal an American commitment to regime change in Iran or even regime destabilization. President Trump’s opposition to regime change is clear. To the ears of skeptical Iranians seeking freedom, this will sound like another investment in the hope that the Iranian  “moderates” in the regime can slowly gain support in the theocratic system.
The Sunni governments got off easy. If you listened to the Saudi king’s speech before Trump’s, where he said sharia protects innocent life and promotes peace and tolerance [basically engaging in dawa (proselytizing) to the world], you’d see that he was one small step from declaring an American-Sunni jihad on Iran. It gave the impression that the Saudis saw the words of the speech as relating to ISIS and Iran alone, not holding them accountable. Based on the way Trump talked about the Saudis, you would have thought they were modern day Minutemen in need of a motivational speech. I shared Dr. Daniel Pipes’ reaction of “gagging” at the praise he gave to King Salman, who is known to have directly financed jihadists.The massive sale of arms to the Saudis was described as “blessed”, as if God’s hand had arranged and approved of the transfer. The Saudis’ opening of a Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology was praised as “groundbreaking”, even though we’ve heard this story over and over and have no details with which to judge it as “groundbreaking” or not. At this point, it’s more like the wolf guarding the hen house.
Qatar and Kuwait, two major financiers of Islamist terrorism and extremism, were praised, shortly before Trump praised the Gulf Cooperation Council for blocking terror-financing.
Overall, the speech had tremendous moments, with important subtleties that are important to notice. But the speech was not a launch of an ideological war against Islamism. While it was a great call to action, it was not a plan of action. If this speech is to produce concrete results, the declaration of a bold plan of action must soon follow.
Rico says there is no 'Sunni side' of radical Islam...

21 May 2017

The Chinese are killing our spies

The New York Times has an article by Mark Mazetti, Adam Goldman, and Matt Apuzo about China, killing our spies:
The Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA 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 CIA had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the CIA 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 CIA’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building as a message to others who might have been working for the CIA.
Still others were put in jail. All told, the Chinese killed or imprisoned nearly twenty of the CIA.’s sources in China, according to two former senior American officials, effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build.
Assessing the fallout from an exposed spy operation can be difficult, but the episode was considered particularly damaging. The number of American assets lost in China, officials said, rivaled those lost in the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames, formerly of the CIA, and Robert Hanssen, formerly of the FBI, who divulged intelligence operations to Moscow for years.
The previously unreported episode shows how successful the Chinese were in disrupting American spying efforts and stealing secrets years before a well-publicized breach in 2015 gave Beijing access to thousands of government personnel records, including intelligence contractors. The CIA considers spying in China one of its top priorities, but the country’s extensive security apparatus makes it exceptionally hard for Western spy services to develop sources there.
At a time when the CIA is trying to figure out how some of its most sensitive documents were leaked onto the internet two months ago by WikiLeaks, and the FBI investigates possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, the nature of the China investigation demonstrates the difficulty of conducting counterespionage investigations into sophisticated spy services like those in Russia and China. The CIA and the FBI both declined to comment.
Details about the investigation have been tightly held. Ten current and former American officials described the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing the information.
The first signs of trouble emerged in 2010. At the time, the quality of the CIA’s information about the inner workings of the Chinese government was the best it had been for years, the result of recruiting sources deep inside the bureaucracy in Beijing, four former officials said. Some were Chinese nationals who the CIA believed had become disillusioned with the Chinese government’s corruption.
But, by the end of the year, the flow of information began to dry up. By early 2011, senior agency officers realized they had a problem: assets in China, one of their most precious resources, were disappearing.
The FBI and the CIA opened a joint investigation run by top counterintelligence officials at both agencies. Working out of a secret office in Northern Virginia, they began analyzing every operation being run in Beijing. One former senior American official said the investigation had been code-named Honey Badger.
As more and more sources vanished, the operation took on increased urgency. Nearly every employee at the American Embassy was scrutinized, no matter how high ranking. Some investigators believed the Chinese had cracked the encrypted method that the CIA used to communicate with its assets. Others suspected a traitor in the CIA, a theory that agency officials were at first reluctant to embrace, and that some in both agencies still do not believe.
Their debates were punctuated with macabre phone calls— “We lost another one”— and urgent questions from the Obama administration wondering why intelligence about the Chinese had slowed.
The mole hunt eventually zeroed in on a former agency operative who had worked in the CIA’s division overseeing China, believing he was most likely responsible for the crippling disclosures. But efforts to gather enough evidence to arrest him failed, and he is now living in another Asian country, current and former officials said.
There was good reason to suspect an insider, some former officials say. Around that time, Chinese spies compromised National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance in Taiwan— an island Beijing claims is part of China— by infiltrating Taiwanese intelligence, an American partner, according to two former officials. And the CIA had discovered Chinese operatives in the agency’s hiring pipeline, according to officials and court documents.
But the CIA’s top spy hunter, Mark Kelton, resisted the mole theory, at least initially, former officials say. Kelton had been close friends with Brian J. Kelley, a CIA officer who in the 1990s was wrongly suspected by the FBI of being a Russian spy. The real traitor, it turned out, was Hanssen. Kelton often mentioned Kelley’s mistreatment in meetings during the China episode, former colleagues say, and said he would not accuse someone without ironclad evidence.
Those who rejected the mole theory attributed the losses to sloppy American tradecraft at a time when the Chinese were becoming better at monitoring American espionage activities in the country. Some FBI agents became convinced that CIA handlers in Beijing too often traveled the same routes to the same meeting points, which would have helped China’s vast surveillance network identify the spies in its midst. Some officers met their sources at a restaurant where Chinese agents had planted listening devices, former officials said, and even the waiters worked for Chinese intelligence.
This carelessness, coupled with the possibility that the Chinese had hacked the covert communications channel, would explain many, if not all, of the disappearances and deaths, some former officials said. Some in the agency, particularly those who had helped build the spy network, resisted this theory and believed they had been caught in the middle of a turf war within the CIA.
Still, the Chinese picked off more and more of the agency’s spies, continuing through 2011 and into 2012. As investigators narrowed the list of suspects with access to the information, they started focusing on a Chinese-American who had left the CIA shortly before the intelligence losses began. Some investigators believed he had become disgruntled and had begun spying for China. One official said the man had access to the identities of C.I.A. informants and fit all the indicators on a matrix used to identify espionage threats.
After leaving the CIA, the man decided to remain in Asia with his family and pursue a business opportunity, which some officials suspect that Chinese intelligence agents had arranged.
Officials said the FBI and the CIA lured the man back to the United States around 2012 with a ruse about a possible contract with the agency, an arrangement common among former officers. Agents questioned the man, asking why he had decided to stay in Asia, concerned that he possessed a number of secrets that would be valuable to the Chinese. It’s not clear whether agents confronted the man about whether he had spied for China.
The man defended his reasons for living in Asia and did not admit any wrongdoing, an official said. He then returned to Asia.
By 2013, the FBI and the CIA concluded that China’s success in identifying CIA agents had been blunted, though it is not clear how, but the damage had been done.
The CIA has tried to rebuild its network of spies in China, officials said, an expensive and time-consuming effort led at one time by the former chief of the East Asia Division. A former intelligence official said the former chief was particularly bitter because he had worked with the suspected mole and recruited some of the spies in China who were ultimately executed.
China has been particularly aggressive in its espionage in recent years, beyond the breach of the Office of Personnel Management records in 2015, American officials said. Last year, an FBI employee pleaded guilty to acting as a Chinese agent for years, passing sensitive technology information to Beijing in exchange for cash, lavish hotel rooms during foreign travel, and prostitutes.
In March, prosecutors announced the arrest of a longtime State Department employee, Candace Marie Claiborne, accused of lying to investigators about her contacts with Chinese officials. According to the criminal complaint against Claiborne, who pleaded not guilty, Chinese agents wired cash into her bank account and showered her with gifts that included an iPhone, a laptop, and tuition at a Chinese fashion school. In addition, according to the complaint, she received a fully furnished apartment and a stipend.
Rico says these stupid people sell themselves pretty cheap (but for an iPhone, not an Android...)

History for the day: 1873: Levi's patented

History.com has an article about an iconic clothing item:

On 20 May 1873, San Francisco, California businessman Levi Strauss and Reno, Nevada, tailor Jacob Davis were given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world’s most famous garments: blue jeans.
Born Loeb Strauss in Buttenheim, Bavaria in 1829, the young Strauss immigrated to New York City, New York with his family in 1847 after the death of his father. By 1850, Loeb had changed his name to Levi and was working in the family dry goods business, J. Strauss Brother & Co. In early 1853, Levi Strauss went west to seek his fortune during the heady days of the Gold Rush.
In San Francisco, Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business under his own name and worked as the West Coast representative of his family’s firm. His new business imported clothing, fabric, and other dry goods to sell in the small stores opening all over California and other Western states to supply the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners and other settlers. By 1866, Strauss had moved his company to expanded headquarters and was a well-known businessman and supporter of the Jewish community in San Francisco.
Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, was one of Levi Strauss’ regular customers. In 1872, he wrote a letter to Strauss about his method of making work pants with metal rivets on the stress points– at the corners of the pockets and the base of the button fly– to make them stronger. As Davis didn’t have the money for the necessary paperwork, he suggested that Strauss provide the funds and that the two men would get the patent together. Strauss agreed enthusiastically, and the patent for Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings, the innovation that would produce blue jeans as we know them, was granted to both men on 20 May 1873.
Strauss brought Davis to San Francisco to oversee the first manufacturing facility for “waist overalls”, as the original jeans were known. At first they employed seamstresses working out of their homes but, by the 1880s, Strauss had opened his own factory. The famous 501 brand jean, known until 1890 as XX, was soon a bestseller, and the company grew quickly. By the 1920s, Levi’s denim waist overalls were the top-selling men’s work pant in the United States. As decades passed, the craze only grew, and now blue jeans are worn by men and women, young and old, around the world.
Rico says he wouldn't wear anything else, and hasn't for decades... (But try and find those 'waist overalls' today...)

19 May 2017

Zulu, the real story

Rico's friend Kelley, also a history junkie, forwards this video about the Zulu wars:



There's also a video about the making of Zulu, the story of Rorke's Drift:



But, of course, the Michael Caine movie is the best:



Rico says he owned a Martini-Henry, once upon a time:

Pence, angling for Trump's job

Esquire has an article by Charles P. Pierce about the Vice President:

The late, great Hoosier J. Doghouse Riley used to call Mike Pence "The Choirboy" because of the current vice president's conspicuous demonstrations of political piety. It is important to remember that, at the end of his tenure as governor of Indiana, Pence was intensely unpopular, having nearly squandered the state's entire tourist economy by fashioning safe spaces for Christo-centric bigotry. In fact, ever since Pence jumped into the co-pilot's seat next to President Crashcup, the Republicans in Indiana have broken a lot of rock trying to undo their former governor's acts of maladministration. In short, taking the vice president's slot on a ticket with Donald Trump was the only serious political option Mike Pence had left.
Maybe we're seeing that pay off. The Choirboy has a little bit of Signore Machiavelli in him. First, it was revealed that Pence had set up his own political action committee, which is extremely unusual for a vice president five months into the first year of his first term. Then, on Thursday, there was a sunshower of leaks in which various anonymous sources— some of whom may have been operating under the nom de guerre of Spike Mence— labored mightily to distance the vice president from the rapidly metastasizing scandal concerning who knew what about Michael Flynn's connections to Russia, Turkey, and whoever else. 
This NBC News story is typical of this newest genre:
This would be the second time that Pence claims he was kept in the dark about possible Flynn wrongdoings, despite the White House's alleged knowledge of them. Earlier this year, Pence said he was not made aware of Flynn's discussions with Russian officials until fifteen days after Trump and the White House were notified. The source close to the administration, who requested anonymity, as the White House denies the story, is now saying that Pence and his team were not made aware of any investigation relating to Flynn's work as a foreign agent for Turkey. "It's also a fact that if he told McGahn that during the transition, it's also a fact that not only was Pence not made aware of that, no one around Pence was as well," the source said. "And that's an egregious error and it has to be intentional. It's either malpractice or intentional, and either are unacceptable."
This puts Pence in an interesting position. Either his job as head of the Trump transition team was largely an honorary position, like riding the pace car at Indy, or The Choirboy is sprinting for the lifeboat, trailing a slipstream of mendacity behind him. In either case, there's a certain low cunning to these events. I didn't think The Choirboy had it in him, but then I remembered what Machiavelli wrote about Pope Alexander VI, the father of his principal patron, Cesare Borgia, whom Machiavelli presented as a con man who did more "with money and force of arms" than any other pope. Machiavelli would've seen the president coming from miles away. Apparently, Mike Pence needed to be a little closer.
Rico says that Pence is angling to take over when Trump is either whacked or impeached...

Rosebud, but not the movie

True West has an article by Daniel A. Brown, a published magazine and essay writer, based in Taos, New Mexico, who has traveled extensively throughout the axis of the Plains Indian Wars, about an Old West battle that gets no respect:

In June of 1876, two battles were fought in the then-Montana Territory between the Army and a coalition of Northern Cheyenne and Lakota warriors. Although separated by only eight days and fifty miles, the outcomes could not have been more dissimilar.
The first battle, on 17 June 1876, lasted most of the day, as the opponents were equally matched in number. The generalship on one side was novel and superb. Although one army claimed a tactical victory, it suffered a strategic defeat, one which indirectly influenced the outcome of the second conflict.
The crux of the latter fight, on 25 to 26 June, lasted only an hour or so. It was a lopsided affair, during which four thousand combatants on one side annihilated two hundred on the other. The name of the losing commander became a byword for gross military incompetence.
This final encounter is a national shrine. Each year, more than three hundred thousand people visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield Monument outside the Crow Agency in Montana. Gravestones of the fallen, both the Indians and the Seventh Cavalry, dot the field, including one for Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer (the boy general’s body is not there, but buried in the cemetery at West Point, New York).
By contrast, the Rosebud Battlefield State Park is off nearly-deserted Route 314. The site offers no memorials or buildings other than a vault toilet. Only five bronze plaques, oxidized by the sunlight, stand forlornly next to a tiny kiosk containing plainly printed brochures. Nobody is around to count whoever might show up so visitation is unknown. The Battle of the Rosebud has become a mere footnote to the more glorious spectacle that occurred up the road.
The Rosebud battle landscape is quite attractive, with a series of grassy ridges, ravines, and pine forests. Birds chirrup and a gusty wind prevails as the distant chug of a tractor floats through the air. Most of the battlefield, which covers ten square miles, is on private farmland and, therefore, off-limits to visitors. You won’t find the sweeping vistas associated with the Upper Plains. Because of the ridgelines, the ability to see more than a few hundred yards in any direction is difficult. Such truncated topography explains how the day unfolded nearly a hundred and fifty years ago.
General George Crook (pictured) led an offensive charge in a fight recorded in Army history as the Battle of the Rosebud. But the Cheyenne know the mêlée as the Fight Where the Girl Saved Her Brother, due to a heroic rescue by Buffalo Calf Road Woman. On the Rosebud battlefield, General George “Three Stars” Crook advanced north to link up with Custer and General John Gibbon as part of a three-pronged master plan to encircle and trap Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse’s lengthy village of Lakota Sioux who had refused confinement on a reservation.
On the morning of 17 June 1876, Crook’s troopers were shocked out of their breakfasts by Cheyenne and Lakota warriors, who attacked them after a fifty-mile night ride from their encampment on Ash Creek along the Little Big Horn River.
While most of the “battles” of the Plains Indian Wars were, in fact, sneak attacks, ambushes and massacres, Rosebud was a rarity; this was a pitched mêlée between two armed mounted forces, not much different than a clash of medieval knights in armor. The furious seesaw affair lasted six hours, as each side used the terrain in an attempt to cut off and encircle the other. Since nobody could see who was in proximity until they galloped over the ridgeline, the Rosebud fight became a series of short-range confrontations, with gains and losses constantly shifting.
Many Old West historians have noted that Rosebud was the premier showcase of Crazy Horse’s leadership qualities. He had learned that charging off in a quest for glory and scalps would not defeat the white soldiers who were more interested in killing than honor. Crazy Horse instructed his warriors to fight as a united force, so they could drive the invaders out of their homeland. Like any great strategist, Crazy Horse massed his forces where the soldiers were the weakest and adopted tactics that corresponded to the battlefield conditions. His presence that day coalesced the spirit of his men and women.
In the middle of the surging fight, Cheyenne Chief Comes-In-Sight had his horse shot out from under him, which left him defenseless. His sister, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, (photo, above) thundered in and scooped him up on her horse, thereby saving his life. A week later, she would fight alongside her husband, Black Coyote, at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Her act of courage at Rosebud so impressed the Cheyenne they graced the battle with a more lyrical title; for them, it will always be known as the Fight Where the Girl Saved Her Brother.
The location of her act of heroism is marked on a crudely drawn map in the state park brochure, directing visitors north to a west-facing hillock. Her rescue must have been a startling vision for the fighters of both armies. Amid the chaos and adrenaline, the deafening cacophony of eagle-bone whistles and gunshots, the whizzing of bullets and arrows, the roar of the wind through the trees, came this brave deed from such an unlikely source that the Indians must have felt their blood pumping, while the cavalry troopers sensed their blood pressure soaring.
Her courageous act stood in contrast to a cowardly act committed by Jack Red Cloud, (photo, above) the teenaged son of the renowned Lakota chief of the same name. The youth, as yet untested in war, had prepared for battle by donning a war bonnet, a serious breach of warrior etiquette, since he had not yet earned the right to wear one. This violation was known to Indian friend and foe alike. During the fray, several of Crook’s Crow scouts surrounded the boy, grabbed away his war bonnet, whipped him with their quirts, and hooted that a child had no right to be on a battlefield with men. The pleading, weeping boy was rescued, some say by Crazy Horse, but slunk away afterwards in shame. 
The nation rushed to protect the Custer battle site, with the Secretary of War preserving the Seventh Cavalry troopers’ graves as a National Cemetery in 1879. Curly, a Crow scout who was the first to report the defeat of Custer and his men, was photographed (above) at the battle site sometime before his death in 1923, before the site was re-designated a national monument in 1946.
From the solitary soldier’s perspective, the battle must have been a desperate affair. Overpowered by the stench of horse sweat, cordite, and fear, the weather miserably hot, the troops were run down by “hideous” Indians, as Third Cavalry Captain Anson Mills described: “These Indians, most hideous, everyone being painted in the most hideous colors and designs, stark naked except for moccasins and breech cloths. Their shouting and personal appearance was so hideous that it terrified our horses more than the men.”
To the embattled troopers, Crazy Horse must have been terrible to behold, with his long hair flying and his body painted in a manner alien to them: his chest and arms were covered with white hailstone totems, while a yellow-painted lightning bolt divided his face. This hideous demon stormed defiantly into their midst, fearless in his medicine that no bullet could harm him.
Crazy Horse’s assault was decisive enough to send Crook on a reverse course back to Goose Creek, near the future site of Sheridan, Wyoming Territory. Despite the length and ferocity of the Rosebud fight, during which more than twenty-five thousand rounds of ammunition were expended, the fatalities were fairly light. Only a total of about forty were killed on both sides, out of the twenty-five hundred who fought there, testimony to how hard it is to hit a moving target on a galloping horse. The ratio would be different eight days later.
Had Crook not been surprised at the Rosebud, or had he continued on to link up with Custer, the outcome of the Little Big Horn fight might have been different. The Seventh Cavalry would have been augmented by a thousand more troops, and overall command would have passed to Crook, a more level-headed commander.
Not that the defeat ultimately mattered. Within a year or so, on 5 September 1877, Crazy Horse would be murdered, paving the path to extinguish all Indian resistance to white encroachment on the Northern Plains.
The bronze plaque at Rosebud notes that, in 2008, the National Park Service designated the battlefield a National Historic Landmark. Both the Army and the Cheyenne names for the fight are used. Yet no other visitors are on the field. Not one.
When the government announced that all Indians in the Yellowstone River Valley should report to the reservation by 31 January 1876, or be considered hostiles, Lakota leader Sitting Bull ignored the demand and stayed with his people to fight. Sitting Bull and his followers held out until surrendering on 19 July 1881. Sitting Bull was killed on 15 December 1890, by Indian Agency police on the Standing Rock Reservation.
 
So why then does the Little Big Horn battle get all the attention? Like the Titanic disaster of 1912, Custer’s Last Stand (beer poster, above) was a spectacular example of hubris and arrogance. The unsinkable luxury liner, and the unsinkable boy general; both served as icons of the indestructible for their respective eras. Both lost, within a few unspeakable hours. The account of the Custer calamity hit the newsstands within days of 4 July 1876, America’s centennial. Not surprisingly, the news spoiled the party.
The Little Big Horn battle would be diminished without the colorful personality exhibited by Custer, a “flamboyant, outrageous figure” who personified the time period, as historian Evan S. Connell describes him. After all, few Americans know or care about the similar Fetterman Massacre of 1866.
 
Custer’s stature and untimely demise has left the Rosebud fight to forever remain in the popular imagination as just another battle.
Rico says it's like Islandlwana and Rorke's Drift, in reverse...
 

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