22 May 2017

More Trump UF

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 reaches 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 Mr. 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. And 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

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...

Not Rico's President...

The BBC has an article about Trump and his buddies, the Russians:

President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information about the so-called Islamic State (IS) to Russia's foreign minister, American media has reported.
The information, related to the use of laptops on aircraft, came from a partner of the US (reportedly Israel) which had not given permission for it to be shared with Russia, says The Washington Post.
The Trump campaign's alleged links to Moscow have dogged his presidency and are part of several investigations. But the president has dismissed such allegations as "fake news". During the election campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, for how she handled sensitive material.
So what actually happened?
In a conversation with the Russian foreign minister and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the Oval Office (photo), the president revealed details that could lead to the exposure of a source of information, officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times.
The discussion was about an IS plot. The president reportedly went "off-script", revealing specifics of the plot, thought to center on the use of laptop computers on aircraft, and the city from which that threat had been detected.
The intelligence disclosed came from a US ally, reportedly Israel, and was considered too sensitive to share with other US allies, the papers report.
Others present realized the mistake and scrambled to "contain the damage" by informing the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA), says The Washington Post.
Trump's actions would not be illegal (if stupid), as the President has the authority to declassify information.
The meeting came a day after Trump fired his FBI chief, James Comey, sparking criticism that he had done so because the FBI was investigating alleged Russian ties.
National Security Adviser HR McMaster told reporters that the story, "as reported", was "false". "The president and foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation," he said. National Security Adviser HR McMaster said that: "I was in the room, it didn't happen. At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known."
In a statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson echoed the point that "the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods, or military operations".
The Washington Post, which first broke the story, said this did not amount to a denial.
Speaking to the BBC, reporter Greg Jaffe said The Post's story made it clear the president did not disclose sources or methods. But, he added: "Our story says that the nature of the information provided would have allowed the Russians to 'reverse engineer' to discover the sources and methods. He said so much, they could figure it out."
On its website, The Washington Post said McMaster "seems to be saying that the thing that didn't happen is something The Post never actually reported".
Despite the denials issued by the White House that any actual intelligence sources were revealed to the Russians, whatever was said in that Oval Office meeting was enough to alarm certain officials and, reportedly, to alert the CIA and the NSA. They in turn will have needed to warn the country that supplied the intelligence. There is a golden rule in the world of espionage that when one government supplies intelligence to another it must not be passed on to a third party without permission of the original supplier. The reason is simple: it could put the lives of their human informants at risk.
In this case it appears to relate to the discovery of plans by jihadists in Syria to devise a way of smuggling viable explosive devices on board a plane inside a laptop computer. Given the well-publicized ban on laptops in cabins on certain Middle Eastern routes, whoever revealed that information is unlikely to be still in place.
What has the reaction been?
The Senate's second-highest ranked Democrat, Dick Durbin, said Trump's actions appeared to be "dangerous" and reckless".
A spokesman for Paul Ryan, Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said: "We have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation's secrets is paramount. The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration."
The Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, said the story was "very, very troubling" if true. "Obviously they're in a downward spiral right now and they've got to figure out a way to come to grips" with it, he told Bloomberg.
Rico says there's a movie about these morons...

Turnabout in China

The New York Times has an article by Paul Mozer (Keith Bradsher and Sui-Lee Wee contributed reporting from Beijing, and Carolyn Zhang contributed research from Shanghai) about China, hacked:

China is home to the world’s largest group of internet users, a thriving online technology scene, and rampant software piracy that encapsulates its determination to play by its own set of digital rules.
But, as the country scrambles to recover from a global hacking assault that hit its companies, government agencies, and universities especially hard, the risks of its dependence on pirated software are becoming clear.
Researchers believe large numbers of computers running unlicensed versions of Windows probably contributed to the reach of the so-called ransomware attack, according to the Finnish cybersecurity company F-Secure. Because pirated software usually is not registered with the developer, users often miss major security patches that could ward off assaults.
It is not clear whether every company or institution in China affected by the ransomware, which locked users out of their computers and demanded payment to allow them to return, was using pirated software. But universities, local governments and state-run companies probably have networks that depend on unlicensed copies of Windows.
Microsoft and other Western companies have complained for years about widespread use of pirated software in a number of countries that were hit particularly hard by the attack. A study last year by BSA, a trade association of software vendors, found that seventy percent of software installed on computers in China was not properly licensed in 2015. Russia, at 64 percent, and India, 58 percent, were close behind.
Zhu Huanjie, who is studying network engineering in Hangzhou, China, blamed a number of ills for the spread of the attack, including the lack of security on school networks. He said piracy was also a factor. Many users, he said, did not update their software to get the latest safety features, because of a fear that their copies would be damaged or locked, while universities offered only older, pirated versions.
“Most of the schools are now all using pirate software, including operation system and professional software,” he said. “In China, the Windows that most people are using is still pirated. This is just the way it is.”
On Monday, some Chinese institutions were still cleaning computer systems jammed by the attack. Prestigious research institutions like Tsinghua University were affected, as were major companies like China Telecom and Hainan Airlines.
China’s securities regulator said it had taken down its network to try to protect it, and the country’s banking regulator warned lenders to be cautious when dealing with the malicious software.
Police stations and local security offices reported problems on social media, while university students reported being locked out of final thesis papers. Electronic payment systems at gas stations run by the state oil giant PetroChina (photo) were cut off for much of the weekend. Over all, according to the official state television broadcaster, about forty thousand institutions were hit. Separately, the Chinese security company Qihoo 360 reported that computers at thirty thousand organizations had been infected.
At China Telecom, one of the country’s three main state-run telecommunications providers, a similar scramble occurred over the weekend, according to an employee who was not authorized to speak on the matter. When a company-provided software patch did not work, the employee was told to use one from Qihoo 360, which supports pirated and out-of-date versions of Windows, the person said. A spokesman for China Telecom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Monday, the main internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, quoted an unidentified person in charge of internet security saying that the ransomware was still spreading, but the speed of transmission had slowed. It said that regulators overseeing banks, schools, the police, and other groups had given orders to stop the risk and that it had instructed users on how to avoid exposure.
Using copied software and other media has become embedded in China’s computing culture, said Thomas Parenty, founder of Archefact Group, which advises companies on cybersecurity. Some people are under the impression that using pirated goods in China is legal, while others are simply not used to paying for software, he said.
Parenty cited an instance when he was working at the Beijing office of an American client. “It turned out every single one of their computers, all the software, was bootlegged,” he said.
The twin problems of malware and the unwillingness to pay for software are so ingrained that they have led to an alternative type of security company in China. Qihoo 360 built its business by offering free security programs; it makes money from advertising.
The issue has led to political battles between Microsoft and the Chinese government.
In a bid to get more organizations in China to pay for their software, Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, has tried education and outreach. It has also stopped distributing Windows on discs, which are easy to copy.
One effort in 2014 put it at loggerheads with Beijing. At that time, Microsoft cut off support for Windows XP, an operating system that was about fourteen years old but that was still widely used by the government and by Chinese companies. Many in China complained that the move showed that the country still relied on decisions made by foreign companies. An article by the official news agency Xinhua said that such corporate behavior could be considered anticompetitive. Microsoft later agreed to offer free upgrades and reached a deal with a state-run company that often works for the military to develop a version that catered to China.
The Chinese government has been less focused on software piracy and more on building local alternatives to Microsoft. After leaks by the former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden about American hacking attacks aimed at monitoring China’s military buildup, leaders in Beijing accelerated a push to develop Chinese-branded software and hardware that would be harder to breach.
For now, however, much of China relies on Windows. For all of the impact of the weekend’s cyberattack, Parenty said he did not think that there would be a big effect on attitudes toward pirated software. “The only way I see this changing things is if the central government decides there is a risk to critical infrastructure from this threat and force people to buy legitimate software,” he said. “But I don’t see that happening right now.”
Rico says it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of hackers... (And yet another reason Rico refuses to use Gates-based software...)

Bees, cleaning

The New York Times has a video about what bees have to go through to keep themselves clean:

Rico says, as a human, he enjoys a good shower, unlike his cats, which have to lick themselves clean...

Antarctica, turning green...

...and not with envy, either.

Chris Mooney has an article in The Washington Post about Trump's next vacation spot:
Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent's northern peninsula (photo below), providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.
Amid the warming of the last fifty years, the scientists found two different species of mosses undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than a millimeter per year now growing over three millimeters per year, on average.
"People think of Antarctica, quite rightly, as a very icy place, but our work shows that parts of it are green, and are likely to be getting greener," said Matthew Amesbury, a researcher with the University of Exeter in the UK, and lead author of the new study.
"Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human-induced climate change."
The study was published in Current Biology by Amesbury and colleagues with the University of Cambridge, the British Antarctic Survey, and the University of Durham.
Less than one percent of present-day Antarctica features plant life. But, in parts of the peninsula, Antarctic mosses grow on frozen ground that partly thaws in the summer, when only about the first foot of soil ever thaws.
The surface mosses build up a thin layer in the summer, then freeze over in winter. As layer builds on top of layer, older mosses subside below the frozen ground, where they are remarkably well preserved due to the temperatures. Amesbury said that made them "a record of changes over time". Soil samples from a four-hundred-mile area along the northern part of the Antarctic peninsula found dramatic changes in growth patterns going back a hundred and fifty years. The Antarctic peninsula has been a site of rapid warming, with more days a year where temperatures are above freezing. The consequence, the study found, was a four- to five-fold increase in the amount of moss growth in the most recent part of the record.
Photos taken by the authors during the research also captured some strikingly green Antarctic landscapes, like this one on Green Island
"This is another indicator that Antarctica is moving backward in geologic time, which makes sense, considering atmospheric CO2 levels have already risen to levels that the planet hasn't seen since the Pliocene, three million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet was smaller, and sea-levels were higher," said Rob DeConto, a glaciologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who was not involved in the study, but reviewed it for The Washington Post. "If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, Antarctica will head even further back in geologic time, perhaps the peninsula will even become forested again someday, like it was during the greenhouse climates of the Cretaceous and Eocene, when the continent was ice-free," DeConto continued by email.
The authors agree the current observed changes are probably just the beginning.
"These changes, combined with increased ice-free land areas from glacier retreat, will drive large-scale alteration to the biological functioning, appearance, and landscape of the Antarctic peninsula over the rest of the twenty-first century and beyond," they wrote.
The moss growth is still modest compared to what's happening in the Arctic, where a large-scale greening trend has even been captured by satellite. In the Arctic, there's now so much plant growth that some scientists are hoping it will at least partially offset the loss of carbon from thawing permafrost beneath those plants.
Those days are probably very far off for the Antarctic, but it's clear the continent used to be a very different landscape. "We're starting back on a journey towards that sort of environment," said Amesbury. "Certainly, Antarctica has not always been the icy place it has been, on very long timescales."
Rico says that those (like our idiot President) who don't believe in global warming should plan on a visit...

History for the day: 1935: Lawrence of Arabia dies

 History.com has an article about the death of T.E. Lawrence:

T.E. Lawrence, known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia, died as a retired Royal Air Force mechanic living under an assumed name. The legendary war hero, author, and archaeological scholar succumbed to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident six days before.
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Tremadoc in Wales, in 1888. In 1896, his family moved to Oxford in England. Lawrence studied architecture and archaeology, for which he made a trip to then-Ottoman (now Turkish)-controlled Syria and Palestine in 1909. In 1911, he won a fellowship to join an expedition excavating an ancient Hittite settlement on the Euphrates River. He worked there for three years and, in his free time, traveled and learned Arabic. In 1914, he explored the Sinai, near the frontier of then-Ottoman-controlled Arabia and British-controlled Egypt. The maps Lawrence and his associates made had immediate strategic value upon the outbreak of war between Britain and the Ottoman Empire in October of 1914.
Lawrence enlisted in the war and, because of his expertise in Arab affairs, was assigned to Cairo in Egypt as an intelligence officer. He spent more than a year in Egypt, processing intelligence information and, in 1916, accompanied a British diplomat to Arabia, where Hussein ibn Ali, the emir of Mecca, had proclaimed a revolt against Turkish rule. Lawrence convinced his superiors to aid Hussein’s rebellion, and he was sent to join the Arabian army of Hussein’s son Faisal as a liaison officer.
Under Lawrence’s guidance, the Arabians launched an effective guerrilla war against the Turkish lines. He proved a gifted military strategist and was greatly admired by the Bedouin people of Arabia. In July of 1917, Arabian forces captured Aqaba near the Sinai and joined the British march on Jerusalem. Lawrence was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In November, he was captured by the Turks while reconnoitering behind enemy lines in Arab dress and was tortured and sexually abused before escaping. He rejoined his army, which slowly worked its way north to Damascus, which fell in October of 1918.
Arabia was liberated, but Lawrence’s hope that the peninsula would be united as a single nation was dashed when Arabian factionalism came to the fore after Damascus. Lawrence, exhausted and disillusioned, left for England. Feeling that Britain had exacerbated the rivalries between the Arabian groups, he appeared before King George V and politely refused the medals offered to him.
After the war, he lobbied hard for independence for Arab countries and appeared at the peace conference in Paris, France in Arab robes. He became something of a legendary figure in his own lifetime, and in 1922 he gave up higher-paying appointments to enlist in the Royal Air Force (the RAF) under an assumed name, John Hume Ross. He had just completed writing his monumental war memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and he hoped to escape his fame and acquire material for a new book. Found out by the press, he was discharged but, in 1923 he managed to enlist as a private in the Royal Tanks Corps under another assumed name, T.E. Shaw, a reference to his friend, Irish writer George Bernard Shaw. In 1925, Lawrence rejoined the RAF and, two years, later legally changed his last name to Shaw.
In 1927, an abridged version of his memoir was published and generated tremendous publicity, but the press was unable to locate Lawrence, as he was posted to a base in India. In 1929, he returned to England and spent the next six years writing and working as an RAF mechanic. In 1932, his English translation of Homer’s Odyssey was published under the name of T.E. Shaw. The Mint, a fictionalized account of Royal Air Force recruit training, was not published until 1955 because of its explicitness.
In February of 1935, Lawrence was discharged from the RAF and returned to his simple cottage at Clouds Hill in Dorset. On 13 May 1935, he was critically injured while driving his motorcycle through the Dorset countryside, having swerved to avoid two boys on bicycles. On 19 May 1935, he died at the hospital of his former RAF camp. All of Britain mourned his passing.

Rico says that Peter O'Toole made him famous in the movie, but T.E.'s work in the desert made him immortal...

18 May 2017

Big Bang, quietly

There have been rumors of a pay realignment of the actors on The Big Bang Theory, but Miryam Bialik laid that to rest:

Elaborating on her comments to People, Bialik said that “I think, in general, don’t believe everything you read, in particular with things with television and movies, there’s a lot of moving parts that are part of the business, and the corporate and the finance, and things that honestly I really kind of tell my lawyer: ‘Just wake me when it’s over,’ ” she added.
Said Bialik, “What I am is, I’m a person who plays dress up for a living, and I’m grateful to do that at all.”

Rico says few remember her in Blossom...

The impeachment of Trump

Slate has an article by Philip Carter about the impending impeachment of Trump:
The framers of the Constitution likely never imagined a President like Donald J. Trump. yet they inserted impeachment provisions into the original text of the Constitution, some 230 years ago, to empower Congress to act in case a rube, tyrant, or criminal came to occupy the nation’s highest office.
It’s not crystal clear which Trump might be, but the president’s latest outrageous action— the reported passing of highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office— should awaken both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to the dangers posed by Trump to the nation, in case that wasn’t already obvious. His conduct now goes far beyond mere offense or incitement to constitute actual damage to national security, the very definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” contemplated by the men who crafted the Constitution’s impeachment clauses. With this latest act, the time has come to commence the slow, deliberate process of demonstrating that Trump needs to be removed from office so he can harm the nation no more. A broad congressional inquiry should begin immediately, to inform drafters who will prepare articles of impeachment for consideration by the House and Senate. While Republican control of Congress means that such proceedings won’t occur anytime soon, it’s clear that they are warranted. We don’t yet know for certain what precisely such an investigation would yield, but there is enough public information already available to roughly map out what such articles of impeachment might— and probably should— look like. 
The time has come for Congress to act, and for leaders on both sides of the aisle to put country before party and politics. Historically, impeachment articles have focused on broad violations of constitutional duty and specific discrete acts, like clashing with Congress over Reconstruction, commanding the Watergate break-in, or testimonial perjury. In Trump’s case, there is ample evidence for both the more general violations and the more specific abuses, much of them admitted by the President through his own indelicate tweets (including admissions on Tuesday morning regarding the passing of classified information to the Russians).
So what might an impeachment bill against President Trump include? The Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton impeachment bills used common language to put their specific violations in context. Any Trump articles of impeachment should also include such language at the start of each article:
In his conduct while president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has engaged in conduct that resulted in misuse and abuse of his high office. 
Beyond this preamble, the Trump impeachment bill might include, but not be limited to, the following articles:
Article 1: Compromising the integrity of the presidency through continuing violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. From his first day in office, Trump’s continuing stake in Trump Organization businesses has violated the clause of the Constitution proscribing Federal officials from receiving foreign payments. The true and full extent of Trump’s conflicts of interest remains unknown. For his part, Trump has transferred day-to-day control over these interests to his adult children and the management of the Trump Organization. However, he remains the ultimate beneficiary for these businesses, so the fundamental conflict of interest remains. These foreign business ties violate both the letter and spirit of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and arguably provide the basis for impeachment based on the facts and law.
Article 2: Violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the duties of his office by disregarding US interests and pursuing the interests of a hostile foreign power, to wit, Russia. L’affaire Russia began during Trump’s campaign for the presidency, during which several top aides reportedly had contacts with Russia and its intelligence service. His campaign manager also had reportedly worked either directly or indirectly for the Kremlin. These contacts continued, famously, into the presidential transition, when the president’s chosen national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had his ill-fated contacts with Russia. Beyond these contacts, Trump has substantively acted in myriad ways that benefit Russia, including dangerous diplomacy that has reportedly frayed relationships with our allies and allegedly put allied intelligence assets at risk. By offering classified information to the Russians, it was reported that Trump risked the intelligence assets of a Middle Eastern ally (Israel) that already warned American officials that it would stop sharing such information with America if that information was shared too widely. In risking that relationship, Trump has opened up the possibility for the loss of that information stream for combatting terrorism, and potentially put American lives at risk from the loss of intelligence that could inform officials about future attacks on Americans at home and abroad.
Article 3: Impairment and obstruction of inquiries by the Justice Department and Congress into the extent of the Trump administration’s conflicts of interests and Russia ties. The Trump administration has systematically impeded, avoided, or obstructed the machinery of justice to obscure its business relationships, its Russia ties, and the forces acting within the Trump White House to animate policy. The most egregious and visible examples have been Trump’s firings of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director James Comey. The New York Times reported on Tuesday afternoon on an even more egregious case of apparent obstruction of justice, wherein Trump allegedly directly asked Comey to end the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn. Each termination had what appeared to be a lawful pretext; subsequent statements or admissions have indicated each had more to do with obstructing justice than holding leaders accountable. Alongside these sackings, the Trump administration has also worked to starve Justice Department inquiries of resources and refocus investigators on suspected leaks instead of the White House’s own Russia intrigues. The Trump administration also interfered with congressional inquiries through attempting to block witnesses like Yates from appearing or selective leaking of classified information to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, compromising Nunes so badly he had to recuse himself from the matter.
Article 4: Undermining of the American judicial system through felonious intimidation of potential witnesses. In his desire to continue Comey’s public humiliation, and ensure Comey remained silent about Trump’s possible sins, the president threatened Comey on Twitter with disclosure of “tapes” of their conversations. This follows a pattern of Trump roughly treating witnesses and litigation adversaries that stretches back for decades before his presidency. Since taking office, Trump has also used the bully pulpit of his office to threaten intelligence officials for purported leaks and badger Yates before her congressional testimony. In addition to falling beneath the dignity of the Presidency, these verbal assaults also constitute obstruction of justice, prohibited by Federal statutes on witness intimidation, retaliation against a witness, and obstruction of Federal proceedings. These attacks don’t just harm the individuals who are targeted; they assault and undermine the rule of law. As such, they constitute further grounds for impeachment of Trump and his removal from the presidency.
Article 5: Undermining of his office and the Constitution through repeated assaults on the integrity of the Federal judiciary and its officers. During the presidential campaign, Trump publicly attacked Federal District Judge Gonzalo Curiel on the basis of his ethnicity, saying Curiel had been “extremely hostile to Trump,” and that the judge had ruled against Trump because of his “Mexican heritage”. Since taking office, Trump has continued his unpresidential assaults on the Federal judiciary, particularly after repeatedly losing court battles over his travel bans. At one point, he described a member of the bench as a “so-called judge,” undermining the premise of an independent judiciary. These statements also undermined both the dignity and power of the Presidency, and threaten the rule of law by attacking the integrity of the Federal judiciary.
Article 6: Demeaning the integrity of government and its public servants, particularly the military and intelligence agencies, in contravention of his constitutional duties to serve as chief executive and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Trump swept into office with considerable disdain for the government and its military. Indeed, during his campaign, he insulted former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, and Gold Star families; criticized the military for its performance in Iraq; and said today’s generals and admirals had been “reduced to rubble” during the Obama administration. Trump carried this disdain into the presidency, through his attacks on the “deep state” of military and intelligence officials that he believed to be obstructing his agenda. He also demeaned the military and its apolitical ethos through use of military fora and audiences as public spectacle— first to sign his immigration order in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, and then to deliver rambling speeches at military and intelligence headquarters suggesting that pro-Trump elements in those agencies were grateful Trump had taken power. Trump has also continued to wage political war against his intelligence community, suggesting as recently as Tuesday morning that it was sabotaging his administration through leaking and other nefarious activities. In doing these things, Trump has undermined his constitutional office as president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Article 7: Dereliction of his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the office of President by failing to timely appoint officers of the United States to administer the nation’s Federal agencies. Shortly after taking office, Trump administration strategist Stephen Bannon articulated his plan for the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. During its first four months in office, the Trump administration’s neglect of governance illustrates how this strategy is to be executed: delay of political appointments, failure to reach budget agreements with Congress in a timely manner, and deliberate neglect of governance and government operations. These actions and failures risk the health, welfare, and security of the nation, and represent a dereliction of Trump’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the office of the presidency.
Any one of the offenses above could constitute the basis for rigorous investigation of the Trump White House and its failures. Together, the totality of Trump’s malfeasance, once proven after a rigorous investigation, would likely make clear that he “warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States,” to quote from the bill of impeachment passed against President Clinton.
The time has come for Congress to act, and for leaders on both sides of the aisle to put country before party and politics. Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ought to, in cooperation with Democratic leaders, begin the sequence of events that would likely lead to impeachment and removal proceedings for Trump. Given that this is unlikely, Democrats should make clear of their intentions to do what is necessary under our Constitution should they win back control of the House of Representatives in 2018. This process should be as full, fair, and transparent as our Constitution requires. Anything less would demean and harm the country even more than Trump has already done.
Rico says it probably won't happen, but it should... (And Trump is a Presidential trifecta: a rube, a tyrant, and a criminal.)

Fictive passports

The BBC has an article by Benjamin Ramm about passports from a non-existant country:

The woman who stamps my passport is called Mercy and she has no fixed abode. Born in Nigeria, she travelled via Libya to Italy, where she lives in the city of Padua in a state of legal limbo. The passport she stamps is issued not by the United Kingdom, but by the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK), a Slovenian art collective exhibiting at the 2017 Venice Biennale. The purpose of the installation is to explore the meaning of states and statelessness, in part by reversing the experiences of citizen and migrant.
The 57th International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy features eighty-five national pavilions, from Albania to Zimbabwe, with themes as diverse as the University of Disaster and the Theatre of Glowing Darkness. This year, faced with a rising tide of nationalism, many artists are keen to stress universal identities: there is a Pavilion of Humanity, and a Tunisian installation that issues visitors with a ‘freesa’ (a free visa), endorsing “freedom of movement without the need for arbitrary state-based sanction”.
The NSK proclaimed their ‘state’ in 1992, the year after Slovenia declared its independence, as new nations gained sovereignty at the end of the Cold War. “Art is fanaticism that demands diplomacy,” states the inset of my new passport, which declares the owner to be “a participant in the first global state”. NSK regards itself as a State in Time, without nation or territory: it “denies the principle of national borders, and it advocates the Transnational Law”.
Over the last century, passports have come to represent a fundamental aspect of our identity. When IS proclaimed its caliphate, they instructed fighters to tear up their passports, cutting ties with their ‘colonial’ inheritance and committing themselves to a new entity. No less ideological is the utopian World Passport, conceived in 1954 by peace activist Garry Davis, who died recently. Issued by a “world government of world citizens”, it is owned by ten thousand people, but not recognized diplomatically: in 2016, hip-hop artist Mos Def was detained in South Africa for trying to use the document to leave the country.
Authenticity is an essential component of a passport, to the point that it is taken as proof of identity. In 2004, NSK’s headquarters in Ljubljana was inundated by thousands of passport applications from Nigerians based in the southern city of Ibadan. Some correspondents wrote that they had heard NSK was a beautiful country and wished to travel there.
Visitors to NSK’s pavilion are handed a copy of its newspaper, the front page of which prints an Apology for Modernity. “It is cruel to refuse shelter to refugees”, says the editorial. “But it is much more cruel to make people refugees”. NSK regards “the perpetrators of their suffering and misery” to be “the liberal Western world”, the citizens of which “are all complicit in the crimes our elected and unelected leaders have committed. We have become stupid and ugly.”
This opinion is not rare in the art world (ninety percent of the consulted NSK members endorsed the statement), unlike the group’s dedication to a statist model, which is unfashionable among artists, who tend to be wary of overweening state power. “The state is the basic condition for individuals’ moral and political life, for their freedom”, declares the provocative Apology, which says it is the duty of artists to “reaffirm the majesty of the state both in time and space”.
This stance appeals to NSK’s most famous ambassador, the charismatic and controversial philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Shortly before he delivers a lecture to mark the opening of their pavilion, he tells me that “the uniqueness of NSK is this idea of the ‘stateless state’. It is not, as some leftists think, just a parody. They are not mocking the state, and this assumption reveals a typical liberal fear: what if some people take it seriously and are seduced? But they are to be taken seriously!” Slavoj Žižek is a cultural theorist who’s also dabbled in film criticism with the documentaries The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
A Leninist by inclination, Žižek has written that the NSK collective should be committed to “a state art in the service of a still non-existent country. It must abandon celebration of islands of privacy, seemingly insulated from the machinery of authority, and must voluntarily become a small cog in this machinery”. When I suggest that state art is at best banal, at worst coercive, he replies that “NSK are state artists only of their own state!”
It could be said that Žižek underestimates the arbitrary tyranny of bureaucracy, as testified by artists throughout the twentieth century. The curators of NSK’s pavilion argue that its state is “free from the weight of the crimes of older states. It can breathe the air of statehood without choking”. Yet the burden of states lies not only in their collective past, but in their essential bureaucratic structure, which tends to ever greater accumulation of information and influence over citizens.
When I challenge Žižek on this point, he recounts his experience of speaking to refugees traveling through Europe. “Police wanted to register them, and they said ‘No, we are not cattle, we are humans’. But they wanted to go to Norway, the most organized state you can imagine, because that’s how the welfare state functions”.
The refugee experience is not uniform (some flee from tyrannous states, others from lawless statelessness) but Žižek’s statement reveals a tension at the heart of NSK’s work. Their passport claims it is “a document of a subversive nature”, but it replicates the same bureaucratic processes it purports to critique. The applicant is charged with listing personal particulars (such as blood type) that are stored in a state register.
I suggest to Žižek that more accountable and direct forms of democracy have been devised using local models; after all, we are speaking in Venice, once an independent republican city state, resistant to the authority of larger political and religious entities. But Žižek argues that city democracy is nearly always run by an urban elite (much like Venice’s Biennale). He points out that many of the problems we face today, from the environment to the migration crisis, require supra-national structures such as the EU.
Žižek’s scepticism about local democracy derives in part from his understanding of the ethnic tensions that exploded in the Balkans in the 1990s. In the NSK newspaper, he writes that “there is nothing liberating about the breaking of state authority... utopian energy is no longer directed towards a stateless community, but towards a state without a nation, a state which would no longer be founded on an ethnic community and its territory”. In this vein, Žižek argues that “it is today’s anti-immigrant populists who are the true threat to the European Enlightenment”. He tells me that our commitment to refugee rights should not be dependent on heart-rending stories of dispossession, but on civic principles: “you shouldn’t like them because they have a nice story to tell. No, you like them irrespective of their story, because human rights are totally abstract rights. We will solve this crisis through geopolitics, not by asking ‘how open will our heart be?’”.
Within an hour of the opening of NSK’s pavilion, there is a lengthy queue to view the main installation. It revolves around a daring and disorientating room slanted at an angle of 45 degrees. The gradation is acute enough to force the visitor to struggle to maintain balance, which is best achieved by adopting the pose of a surfer, or leaning on the display panels. The artist Ahmet Ögüt confirms that the effect is to ensure that visitors are intensely focused; this is not an exhibition for casual perusal. It may not be easy to throw off our inherited identities, but we can at least bring a degree of attention to the issues that confront us, and seek to navigate a solution.
Rico says he'll stick with his passport from the good ol' USA...

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