The FBI launched a criminal probe against former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn two years after the retired Army general roiled the bureau’s leadership by intervening on behalf of a decorated counterterrorism agent who accused now-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and other top officials of sexual discrimination, according to documents and interviews.
Flynn’s intervention on behalf of Supervisory Special Agent Robyn Gritz was highly unusual, and included a letter in 2014 on his official Pentagon stationary, a public interview in 2015 supporting Gritz’s case and an offer to testify on her behalf. His offer put him as a hostile witness in a case against McCabe, who was soaring through the bureau’s leadership ranks.
There is more than simple correlation here, according to Solomon and Carter.
McCabe eventually became the bureau’s No. 2 executive and emerged as a central player in the FBI’s Russia election tampering investigation, putting him in a position to impact the criminal inquiry against Flynn.
Three FBI employees told Circa they personally witnessed McCabe make disparaging remarks about Flynn before and during the time the retired Army general emerged as a figure in the Russia case.
Comment: The report is stunning and looks like corruption, in the form of personal animus.
The weak part of the Circa allegation (so far) is that the Russia investigation began fully two years after the contretemps.
The strong part is that McCabe seemed to have a personal grievance against someone he was investigating. That cannot be acceptable within any neutral investigative agency.
This alleged corruption must be part of Mueller’s investigation.
◆ California regulators are moving to require Roundup weed killer to come with a “cancer-causing” label. They say the main ingredient, glyphosate, is the problem. Monsanto, which makes the product, disputes the claim. Story here (ABC News)
◆ That attempted mass assassination of Republican lawmakers? The one by the rabid Bernie Sanders supporter?
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the No. 2 official in the Democratic National Committee, blames . . . go ahead, guess. You are correct. Trump.
When Jane was president of Burlington (VT) College, she got big bank loans for an expansion project that ultimately failed and bankrupted the college.
The investigation is (1) whether the loans were based on Jane’s false representations about the college’s fundraising and (2) whether Bernie used his office to pressure the bank to make the loan.
◆ The battle for post-ISIS Syria is shaping up
The background: the Obama Administration did nothing in Syria and pulled out of Iraq, opening the door wide for Iran to control Baghdad and Damascus (the Assad government) and providing political space for ISIS to build its “caliphate” for Sunnis.
The change: Trump dramatically altered US policy, and, under the leadership of Mattis at DOD and McMaster at NSC, the US has been taking the fight to ISIS.
The result: Iran is closing in on ISIS from one direction, the US from the other.
There are three big issues in this end-game:
Will ISIS turn to move civilian attacks in Europe (and possibly America)?
Will US and Iranian forces be able to avoid direct military confrontation as they converge on ISIS’ last strongholds
The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria. –Udi Dekel
◆ Political correctness to stop free speech in Arkansas? Yep.
But the University stepped in and did the right thing.
The Univ. of Arkansas’ King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies decided to hold a symposium on honor killings.
The Center’s director, a geosciences professor named Tom Paradise, included Prof. Phyllis Chesler (from CUNY) on one panel since she has published widely on the subject, arguing that scholars have underplayed the role of Islam in these killings.
Three Arkansas professors raised holy hell about it, saying the could never “countenance” Chesler’s participation, even though it would simply be a Skype call.
Key disagreement: US wants Palestinians to stop paying terrorists for killing Jews.
Palestinian Authority likes paying them. Abbas told Trump it would stop and simply assumed the president knew he was lying.
Trump held him to account.
The PA has also been adamant about keeping incendiary, anti-Semitic materials in their school textbooks.
The larger problems for Abbas: no succession lined up, and the Middle East is moving forward without them.
Comment: My guess: Trump will look at Kushner’s report of the meetings and decide this is not a good time to push forward with negotiations.
Trump has always understood something about these negotiations that most presidents don’t: the US can help if both parties want an agreement. But it cannot force an agreement on parties that don’t want one and aren’t prepared to make serious concessions.
what drug addicts call “the holy trinity” of prescription drugs: the powerful painkiller Hydrocodone, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.
In total, pharmacists handed her 510 pills that day — all legal, because she had a prescription with the signature of her doctor, Regan Ganoung Nichols, scrawled at the bottom, according to a probable cause affidavit. –Washington Post
Comment: Cracking down on excessive prescriptions is crucial in this fight.
♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions: ◆ Sam Stubbs for the Sanders bank fraud story ◆ Gregg Roman for the University of Arkansas speech-suppression story
Boris Johnson, foreign minister and former mayor of London, is a likely challenger for Conservative leadership:
British foreign minister Boris Johnson has been asked by five other ministers to launch a bid to replace Theresa May as the country’s prime minister after she failed to win a parliamentary majority in an election last week, the Sunday Times reported. (Story here, at US News)
The aides who resigned played a major role in the campaign and were under attack from other Party members. The WaPo goes on to quote Britain’s pro-Tory papers:
The Daily Mail, an anti-immigrant, nationalist tabloid that has spent the past year cheering on May, published a photo of a graven-faced prime minister along with the headline “Tories Turn on Theresa.”
The Times of London, a beacon of establishment conservatism that had enthusiastically endorsed the prime minister, published an editorial arguing that she had created “a national emergency” by misjudging the mood of the country and that she was now left “fatally wounded.”
“If she does not realize this it is another grave misjudgment,” the paper wrote. “More likely, she is steeling herself to provide what continuity she can as her party girds itself for an election to replace her.” –Washington Post
It’s been a week since several Arab countries — led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — severed ties and imposed an economic blockade on Qatar after they accused it of supporting terrorism. The mood in this waterside Persian Gulf capital is a mix of fear, uncertainty and resilience as residents struggle to cope with a political and diplomatic crisis few imagined would so dramatically upend their world. –Washington Post
Trump continues to take a strong stand publicly. Sec. of State Tillerson was more diplomatic.
Comment: His move to take over the Democratic Party is interesting, given that he is not a Democrat. As soon as he lost to Hillary, he formally reverted to being a Socialist, who caucuses with Senate Democrats.
Speaking out about what they believe are the ills of Islam, anti-Sharia law activists demonstrated nationwide Saturday, but were met by counter-protesters who assailed their rhetoric as insensitive and demeaning. –Los Angeles Times
About 30 people gathered at northwest corner of Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue, carrying signs that read “No killing Gays” and “Sharia abuses women.”
The group was split into two factions. One group of protesters along Wabash Avenue hoped to bring awareness to specific Sharia practices they claimed oppressed Muslim women and children. They wanted to distance themselves from what they said was a more “radical” faction –protesters gathered near the Heald Square Monument, whose anti-Muslim rhetoric was met with anger and frustration by counter-protesters. –Chicago Tribune
Comment: It is entirely reasonable to protest cultural restrictions, but it is shameful to engage in racist-style rhetoric.
Refugee charities are paying people smugglers to ferry migrants to their rescue boats patrolling off Libya, it was claimed last night.
A senior Libyan coastguard official told The Mail on Sunday he had evidence that aid agencies were stumping up cash for migrants desperate to reach Europe but who cannot afford to pay ruthless traffickers.
Colonel Tarek Shanboor said he had obtained bank details and phone records that proved the charities were making payments to criminal gangs who have put hundreds of thousands of migrants into unseaworthy boats – leading to thousands of deaths each year.
His claim will raise concern because there have long been fears that Islamic extremists could be among the migrants. –Daily Mail
The bipartisan agreement includes policy victories for Democrats, whose votes will be necessary to pass the measure in the Senate, as well as $12.5 billion in new military spending and $1.5 billion more for border security requested by Republican leaders in Congress. –Washington Post
You can agree or disagree with Bret’s views, which are balanced and presented with supporting data. But heads exploded all over Cambridge, Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and the Upper West Side.
Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly.
By now I can almost hear the heads exploding. . . .
Let me put it another way. Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.
None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. –Bret Stephens in the NYT
EU now favors discreet cooperation with Israel to combat terror, while still opposing Israel’s own measures to combat Islamic terrorism
The appalling terrorist assaults perpetrated by ISIS in Europe have led to significant changes in the European state of mind. By exposing the vulnerability of EU state borders, they have prompted rudimentary initiatives to secure those borders and increase counter-terror cooperation among EU member states, while also boosting the popularity of far-right parties.
The attacks have given rise to a discreet cooperation between EU member states and Israel in dealing with the terrorist threat, but have not prompted the EU to change its critical position regarding Israel’s defensive measures against Palestinian terror. The moral double standard of the EU on this issue might undermine its own fight against Islamist terrorism. –Dr. Tsilla Hersco at BESA Center
Comment: Pelosi will be wading in campaign cash, but she won’t be able to run on a record of recent achievements. There aren’t any.
Larger issue: The prospect of being “primaried” from the left could become a major obstacle for any Democrats who want to work with Trump, and vice versa. My guess is that it already affected Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who voted to filibuster Neil Gorsuch even though Trump easily won Missouri.
North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.
U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March. –Reuters
If someone is hacking these launches, they are doing a good job.
China’s reaction here is crucial. If Kim did this after he was warned by Beijing, he will pay for it.
Trump is playing the China card correctly. His public position is “China and the US are working together on this.” That does more than save face for China. It says, subtly, that if China cannot stop North Korea, it is Pyongyang that is showing up Beijing, and Beijing won’t want to let that happen.
Sending Tillerson to the UN was important. It says to the world: “This is on our front burner.”
At some point, the US will have to decide whether to include Chinese entities in any sanctions aimed at North Korea. All North Korean connections to the world, meager as they are, go through China. Any sanction against Chinese entities, even a small move against a small bank, meant as a signal, would risk future collaboration with China on the North Korean issue. So, the US will probably hold off on that for a while.
What has been missing in the analysis: those missiles aimed at South Korea and Japan could also hit China, and Beijing has to worry about that if North Korea continues its nuclear program.
The reason: a sharp, unexpected slowdown in consumer spending. The NYT offers a sensible explanation of the political and economic consequences of the 0.7% growth number:
The softness last quarter also provides crucial ammunition for the Trump administration’s arguments that big tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are necessary for the economy to grow the way it did in the 1980s and 1990s.
Tax cuts, regulatory relief, trade renegotiations and an unfettered energy sector are needed “to overcome the dismal economy inherited by the Trump administration,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Business and consumer sentiment is strong, but both must be released from the regulatory and tax shackles constraining economic growth.”
The first-quarter fade is also sure to be noticed by the Federal Reserve as it contemplates whether to proceed with two more interest-rate increases planned for this year. –New York Times
Comment: They are major profiteers from the opioid epidemic and were among the targets of candidate Trump’s famous “bad hombres” comment.
Politically, the Trump Administration is wise to focus on gangs like this. US citizens are being victimized, and even the staunchest defenders of open borders don’t want to defend the entrance of criminal gangs like MS-13.
Comment: Sanders made the comment from his office, not one of his three homes.
Elizabeth Warren has made similar comments about Obama’s high-priced speeches to financial executives.
Pres. Obama’s spokesman, Eric Schultz, responded,
Obama will continue to focus most of his post-presidency on writing a book, giving speeches and “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.” –CNN
Comment: Neither Sanders nor Warren will want to go too far here. They want to keep up the heat on Wall Street for their progressive base, but attacking the former President, who is very popular among Democrats, is not a game with much upside for them.
Comment: Democrats certainly need a new generation of political leaders, the ones Obama’s spokesman is promising.
The most popular Democrat is not even a member of the party. He is a Socialist.
The current, elected leadership is all drawing Social Security
Rising D’s in their 40s and 50s were wiped out en mass during the Obama presidency. His record of grooming future leaders is, ahem, not strong.
◆ Marine Le Pen, in the runoff for France’s presidency, faces more stench from her political base, the National Front
After Le Pen advanced to the runoff last Sunday, she resigned her leadership of the National Front. Her successor was Jean-François Jalkh. In on-the-record interviews in 2000, he denied the Nazis used poison gas to kill millions in concentration camps. When those comments were publicized this week, Jalkh denied making them. But they were on tape. So, now, Mr. Jalkh has decided to spend more time with his family and has been replaced by the mayor of a northern industrial town. The search is undoubtedly on to see if he said what he really thinks to anybody who recorded it.
Parini and Callanan, the distinguished scholars who have headed up this effort, deserve high praise for it.
At the bottom of this blog post, I quote the exemplary principles they lay out.
◆ Let’s go beyond praising the free-speech petition and use the signatures to show where support free speech comes from and where the opposition lies.
◆ So far, 63 faculty members have signed on. More might join in the next few days.
◆ They come from a broad variety of departments–but not all.
In fact, it is worthwhile to examine the departmental affiliations of who signed up for free speech and, on the other side, those who signed the counter-petition (prior to the speech), demanding Murray stay away and then sliming him with false allegations about his views and scholarly findings.
Most (but not all) of Allison Stanger’s colleagues in political science signed the pro-free speech petition, as did she. That’s not surprising. She was, of course, injured in the riots, and some of her friends and colleagues undoubtedly wanted to show solidarity with her.
Parini’s colleagues in English and American Literature signed in larger numbers than most departments. Support from literature departments would not happen at most universities. That it did at Middlebury may reflect the kind of department Parini helped build or simply his colleagues’ friendship.
Who signed the petition beyond faculty in Political Science and Literature? The bulk were in the “hard social sciences” (Economics, Psychology), History, Russian, Math, Chemistry, Geology, and, surprisingly, Religion.
(By “hard social sciences,” I mean those, like economics and psychology, that aspire to be sciences, emphasize large data bases, mathematical models, and empirical testing of causal models. Fields like anthropology and history certainly use data, but they are generally more interested in the actors’ mentalities, intentions, and meanings. Thus, “hard” does not mean difficult, and “soft” does not mean squishy.)
Who refused to sign? There were zero signatures from the following departments and minors:
African American Studies, African Studies, American Studies, Arabic, Comparative Literature, Dance, Education Studies, French, Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, Global Health , Greek, Hebrew-Classical, Hebrew-Modern, International and Global Studies, International Politics and Economics, Latin, Linguistics , Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Physical Education, Physics, South Asian Studies , Spanish and Portuguese, Studio Art, and Theatre
That is based on the stated affiliations of the signatories, compared to Middlebury’s official list of its departments and majors. It is possible, of course, that some signatories have “affiliate appointments” in these departments or that the departments have no exclusive faculty of their own.
The data show
Supporters of free speech come disproportionately from the physical sciences, “hard” social sciences, and, to a lesser extent, the biosciences.
Opposition comes from the Humanities, Arts, and softer social sciences. Because social justice.
That distribution reflects my own experience across multiple universities (but is not based on systematic data).
On nearly every campus, the staunchest opponents are professors of gender, sexuality, women’s studies, race, Native American studies, education, and social work, all highly-politicized bastions of the left. American Studies is now essentially the same and so are most literature departments. (Middlebury is an outlier.)
They always lead the opposition to free speech. Because social justice.
If students don’t agree with the dominant political ideology of these departments, they leave or never enter in the first place. (It is snarky but true to add that students don’t enter them if they are thinking about building skills for future employers. My point is that they are not building skills for open-minded, critical thinking, either.)
These departments never hire professors who vary from the party line. Never.
Here, for example, are the three full-time faculty in Middlebury’s gender studies program. All three signed the “Keep Murray Away” petition. NONE signed the free speech petition. That is anecdotal, of course, but it is repeated on campus after campus. You would be hard fixed to find professors of Gender Studies, Sexuality, Race Studies, Education, or Social Work who take a strong position in favor of free speech. And they are pretty thin on the ground in theater or comparative literature. All think it would permit “oppressive” speech that hurts the weak, poor, and vulnerable.
The dominant ideology of departments like these is:
America is an exploitative country and a malevolent force in the world;
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the right track but too willing to compromise, too willing to work within “the system”
America and our college campuses are composed of two main groups: the oppressed and the privileged. Our departments stand with the oppressed. They are simultaneously powerful and vulnerable, needing “safe spaces” to express their views unchallenged. A space is unsafe not because of any physical threat but because certain views (or even the presence of certain people) can produce psychic injury.
As professors are activists, inside the classroom and outside. Our teaching is explicitly designed to improve the situation of the oppressed and to assign blame to the oppressors.
Designated oppressors should feel guilty and can partially absolve themselves by following our movement, not by leading or questioning it.
Put differently: February is “Black History Month” only because it is the shortest month.
Their viewpoint is summarized in Bernie Sanders’ angry rejection of the idea that America is a compassionate country. His fury is brief and telling.
Turning to the brighter side:
⇒ The Middlebury Principles are excellent.
It is hard to see why all faculty and students don’t endorse them enthusiastically.
That they do not is the tragedy of our time on campus.
[Tim] Chmil is one of roughly 4,000 retired Teamsters across New York State suffering a fate that could soon hit millions of working-class Americans — the loss of their union pensions.
Teamsters Local 707’s pension fund is the first to officially bottom out financially — which happened this month.
“I had a union job for 30 years,” Chmil said. “We had collectively bargained contracts that promised us a pension. I paid into it with every paycheck. Everyone told us, ‘Don’t worry, you have a union job, your pension is guaranteed.’ Well, so much for that.” –New York Daily News
Comment: This is a tragic story. The only silver lining would be to learn from it. Workers’ retirement funds are their own in 401k plans so they cannot be lost like this. The downside is that workers (like me) have to invest their own money and never make as much as the “defined benefit” plans like those promised by the Teamster Local 707.
But union leader will never, ever, never allow 401k plans if they can prevent them. Why? Because the unions themselves can determine who gets the heavy fees associated with their union funds. Because so much money is sloshing around, the chances for corruption are great. Those who control the pension money can direct it to their brother-in-law or to a friend who promises kickbacks. (Companies used to be able to do the same thing and often invested the money in those own company’s stock to raise the price. That is now illegal.) By contrast, 401k plans are normally very cheap to operate. Unions that control their own pension money can also determine which investments to fund. How do you think Las Vegas casinos were financed in the 1950s?
Among the few defined benefit plans still around are those of government employees. After all, the taxpayers have to pay them and, at the state level, cannot lessen the burden by bankruptcy.
Well-governed states like Indiana have already converted all employees to 401k’s. Some states are unwilling to go that far but are at least putting all new public employees on 401k’s. And then there are Deep Blue states like Illinois, headed for a dumpster fire.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that this program would be enormously expensive and California is already in financial trouble.
In a single-payer system, residents would pay into a state agency that essentially functions as an insurance company. The agency would pay doctors and hospitals when people sought treatment.
Single-payer has a long, troubled history in California. Bills made it through the Legislature in 2006 and 2008 only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But advocates say Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) increased support for single-payer by championing it on the national stage last year while vying to become the Democratic presidential nominee.
New York state unveiled single-payer legislation earlier this month. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) introduced a similar bill in Congress that would expand Medicare to cover all Americans.
But a 2008 report from California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office found that even with a tax on Californians and the state’s pooled healthcare funds, the state would still be short more than $40 billion in the first full year of single-payer implementation.
“Where were they going to come up with the $40 billion?” said Micah Weinberg, president of the Economic Institute at the Bay Area Council. “It’s just not feasible to do as a state.”
Weinberg pointed out that a single-payer initiative was scrapped in a state as liberal and small as Vermont. A single-payer measure on Colorado’s November ballot also failed.
Comment: The proponents are California Dreamin’ on a winter’s day.
[The] reason for Perez’s entry and victory was simple: In defeating Ellison, the establishment wanted to rebuke the progressive wing and retain control of the party.
Therein lies Perez’s — and the party’s — biggest problem. The Democratic Party needs the progressive wing’s energy and new ideas if it is to recover. . . . The fact is that the party establishment doesn’t want to admit its failings. –James Downie in the Washington Post
Rescuing the Democrats from this deep hole requires grass-roots energy — energy that clearly is most prevalent in the more liberal wing of the party, as seen in the surprisingly successful campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Capturing it means working with outside groups and listening to new ideas, not doubling down on establishment control.–James Downie in the Washington Post
Comment: Perez is whip-smart, well-educated, and skilled at insider politics.
He has only a slim chance of winning the Senate. He has a better chance of winning back the House, though he will have to do so with Nancy Pelosi as the facelift of the Party.
His biggest challenges:
Recovering some heft in state politics
Integrating the Sanders/Warren/socialist wing of the party without alienated more centrist voters. That would normally be impossible, but their shared opposition to Trump personally and to his agenda will help.
The oddity here is that Perez is on the party’s far left wing. It’s just that he is not as far left as Bernie Sanders, who, after all, is a self-declared socialist and not a member of the Democratic Party. (He joined only for the presidential race and resigned after it ended.)
◆ Bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers, vandalism in Jewish cemeteries, and no arrests yet
It was the fifth round of bomb threats against Jewish institutions since January, prompting outrage and exasperation among Jewish leaders as well as calls for an aggressive federal response to put a stop to it. –Washington Post
In addition to these bomb threats, Jewish cemeteries are being vandalized. Several hundred tombstones were pushed over in Philadelphia, on top of a similar attack last week in St. Louis.
♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions: ◆ Tom Elia for the NY union pension story ◆ Ron Hassner for list of Jewish Community Centers dealing with bomb threats
Comment:Laura Jarrett is undoubtedly a very competent young reporter. She seems to have good connections, too. Pres. Obama attended her wedding to a fellow Harvard Law student.
But asking her to cover a Department of Justice committed to reversing many of the policies associated with her mother and Pres. Obama, her life-long family friend, is a CNN news decision of breathtaking stupidity.
Two Comments: (1) What a president he would have made. (2) Bernie’s smack-down of American citizens, his sniveling contempt, captures something that millions of ordinary voters know about Washington. It’s long-time denizens, particularly self-styled progressives, have contempt for them and their country. They no longer even bother to conceal it. It is worse than an unwise political strategy. It is noxious.