Music: Takuya Kuroda — ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’

 

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Did Trump campaign collude with Russia to defeat Republican opponents in GOP primary?

Ryan Goodman writes: Russia’s election interference began well before the general election. It started during the GOP primaries and clearly in support of Donald Trump over his GOP opponents. Thanks to investigative reporting by the New York Times, we now know, at the very least, the Trump campaign was open to support from the Russian government by early June 2016 when senior campaign members met with Russians purporting to have information from the Kremlin that would harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, discussed timing for implementing Russian support, and failed to report any of this to U.S. authorities. Many have raised the question whether the Trump campaign’s knowledge of Russian government support and these kinds of exchanges began before June 2016. Yet to truly understand the scope of Russian interference in the U.S. election, we must ask a more specific question: did the Trump campaign know about, accept, or work with the Russian government when the Kremlin interfered in the GOP primary?

The publicly available information on this matter should prompt Congress, Robert Mueller, news media, and others to pursue that question with utmost concern. Let’s take a closer look.

I. Russia’s election interference during the Republican primary

Before we explore whether the Trump team was working with Russia during the primaries, it’s worth briefly reviewing the Russian government’s overall involvement in in the 2016 GOP primaries. Russian election interference reportedly took effect during the primaries in an effort to undercut GOP candidates whose positions were hostile to Moscow’s interests and, more specifically, in an effort to boost Donald Trump. The Russian operation included (at least) two prongs: a propaganda effort to spread fake news and cyber operations to steal confidential information.

When exactly did the Russian influence campaign begin? In an interview with Just Security, former FBI special agent Clint Watts explained that the Russian approach to its influence campaign involved an earlier starting point than many assume. [Continue reading…]

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Ian Bremmer talks about Trump’s second, previously undisclosed, meeting with Putin at G-20

 

The New York Times reports: The evening after his two meetings with Mr. Putin — the first lasting 135 minutes and the second an hour — Mr. Trump returned to Washington. On the Air Force One flight back, his top advisers helped draft a statement about a meeting his son Donald Trump Jr. attended last year with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

“We have the worst relationship as a country right now with Russia that we have in decades, and yet we have these two leaders that, for reasons that do not make sense and have not been explained to anyone’s satisfaction, are hellbent on adoring each other,” Mr. Bremmer said. “You can take everything that’s been given to us, and it doesn’t add up.”

On Tuesday, the Kremlin intensified its demands that the Trump administration return two compounds in the United States that the Obama administration seized from Russia last fall in retaliation for the election meddling. After meeting with Thomas A. Shannon Jr., the under secretary of state for political affairs, Sergei A. Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said he had warned the Americans that there must be an “unconditional return” of the property or Moscow would retaliate. [Continue reading…]

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Trump Tower rental space leased to White House military office for $2.39 million, far above market value

The Wall Street Journal reports: The U.S. government is paying more than $130,000 a month to lease space in Trump Tower for the military office that supports the White House, even though Donald Trump hasn’t spent a night at the New York skyscraper since becoming president.

The government signed a $2.39 million lease to rent a 3,475 sq. ft. space in the building for the military from Apr. 11, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018, nearly 18 months in total, according to lease documents that The Wall Street Journal obtained through a freedom of information request.

The government agreed to pay $180,000 for the last 20 days of April 2017 and $130,000 a month thereafter, according to the contract released by the General Services Administration, the agency that negotiates office space agreements for the government.

The GSA redacted large portions of the lease, including the name of the person who owns the Trump Tower space the government is renting. A Pentagon official wrote in a letter seen by the Journal that the space is owned privately by someone unaffiliated with the Trump Organization and that the department sees no way in which Mr. Trump can benefit from the rent money.

The military’s lease in Trump Tower puts the space far above market rate for similarly sized apartments in the luxury high rise market and makes it one of the most expensive residential rentals in Manhattan. [Continue reading…]

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Trump sees truthfulness as his enemy

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal says: Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating the Russia story. Everything that is potentially damaging to the Trumps will come out, one way or another. Everything. Denouncing leaks as “fake news” won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36% approval rating shows.

Mr. Trump seems to realize he has a problem because the White House has announced the hiring of white-collar Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to manage its Russia defense. He’ll presumably supersede the White House counsel, whom Mr. Trump ignores, and New York outside counsel Marc Kasowitz, who is out of his political depth.

Mr. Cobb has an opening to change the Trump strategy to one with the best chance of saving his Presidency: radical transparency. Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. Mr. Cobb and his team should tell every Trump family member, campaign operative and White House aide to disclose every detail that might be relevant to the Russian investigations.

That means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or email. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years. This should include every relevant part of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which the President will resist but Mr. Mueller is sure to seek anyway.

Then release it all to the public. Whatever short-term political damage this might cause couldn’t be worse than the death by a thousand cuts of selective leaks, often out of context, from political opponents in Congress or the special counsel’s office. If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations, transparency will prove it. Americans will give Mr. Trump credit for trusting their ability to make a fair judgment. Pre-emptive disclosure is the only chance to contain the political harm from future revelations. [Continue reading…]

It’s nice to believe that the truth will always prevail, but just like every other small-time and big-time crook, Donald Trump has an inflated estimation of his capacity to beat the system.

Apart from the fact that he would regard complete transparency as demeaning, there’s little reason to doubt that Trump’s choice is rational: that the information he continues to conceal, will, if revealed, have a more damaging effect on his presidency than does his unremitting effort to deflect, distract, and obstruct the ongoing investigation.

And as Trump could say: “I didn’t get to where I am today by being honest.”

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Trump had undisclosed hour-long meeting with Putin at G-20 summit

The Washington Post reports: After his much-publicized, two-and a quarter-hour meeting early this month with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Germany, President Trump met informally with the Russian leader for an additional hour later the same day.

The second meeting, unreported at the time, took place at a dinner for G-20 leaders, a senior administration official said. Halfway through the meal, Trump left his own seat to occupy a chair next to Putin. Trump was alone, and Putin was attended only by his official interpreter.

The encounter underscores the extent to which Trump was eager throughout the summit to cultivate a friendship with Putin. During last year’s campaign, Trump spoke admiringly of Putin and at times seemed captivated by him.

Meeting each other face-to-face for the first time in Hamburg, the two presidents seemed to have a chemistry in their more formal bilateral session, evidenced by the fact that it dragged on for more than two hours.

But Trump’s newly-disclosed conversation with Putin at the G-20 dinner is likely to stoke further criticism, including perhaps from some fellow Republicans in Congress, that he is too cozy with the leader of a major U.S. adversary.

The only version of the conversation provided to White House aides was that given by Trump himself, the official said. Reporters traveling with the White House were not informed, and there was no formal readout of the chat.

The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm the session, first reported Monday by Ian Bremmer, president of the New York-based Eurasia Group, in a newsletter to group clients. Bremmer said in a telephone interview that he was told by two participants who witnessed it at the dinner, which was attended only by leaders attending the summit and some of their spouses.

Leaders who reported the meeting to him, Bremmer said, were “bemused, non-plussed , befuddled” by the animated conversation, held in full view — but not listening distance — of others present.

Putin’s aide provided the only Russian-English interpretation, the official said, because Trump’s designated dinner companion for the evening was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the president had brought only a Japanese-English interpreter. [Continue reading…]

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Former Trump campaign adviser helped secure the Russian presidency for Vladimir Putin

HuffPost reports: A former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump ― who also happens to have years of experience shilling for the Russian government ― is defending the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

Michael R. Caputo, a public relations strategist who helped secure Russian President Vladimir Putin’s election victory in 2000, accused the U.S. of also interfering in foreign elections.

The Republican operative claimed Russia’s meddling wasn’t a big deal, alleging that former President Barack Obama had attempted to influence an Israeli election. [Continue reading…]

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Eighth person in Trump Tower meeting is identified

The Washington Post reports: An American-based employee of a Russian real estate company took part in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., bringing to eight the number of known participants at the session that has emerged as a key focus of the investigation of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russians.

Ike Kaveladze’s presence was confirmed by Scott Balber, an attorney for Emin and Aras Agalarov, the Russian developers who hosted the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in 2013. Balber said Kaveladze works for the Agalarovs’ company and attended as their representative.

Balber said Tuesday that he received a phone call from a representative of Special Counsel Robert Mueller over the weekend asking if Kaveladze would agree to be interviewed. Balber said his client would cooperate. The request is the first public indication that Mueller’s team is investigating the meeting.

In 2000, Kaveladze’s actions as the head of a Delaware company called International Business Creations were the subject of a government investigation into how Russians and other foreigners were able to launder large amounts of money through U.S. banks.

The GAO report, which had been requested by Congress, concluded that it was “relatively easy” for these foreigners to use shell companies to open U.S. banks accounts and route hidden money through the American financial system.

The report described the activities of IBC’s president, who Balber confirmed was Kaveladze.

Balber said Kaveladze was not charged with any crime as a result of the inquiry, which he said was largely focused on the internal procedures of U.S. banks.

“There has never been any indication that he did anything wrong,” Balber said. “From his perspective, it was a big nothing.”

According to the GAO, Kaveladze opened 236 bank accounts in the U.S. for corporations formed in Delaware on behalf of mostly Russian brokers. Kaveladze told officers of two U.S. banks that he had conducted investigations of the Russian companies for which he opened accounts. However, he told GAO investigators that was not truthful.

“He admitted to us that he made such representations to the banks but that he in fact had not investigated the companies,” the report said.

All told, the report traced the movement of $1.4 billion in wire transfer transactions deposited in to 236 accounts opened at the two banks, Citibank and Commercial Bank. [Continue reading…]

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Most Americans worry about full-scale war with North Korea, but lack confidence in Trump to handle issue

Emily Guskin writes: Nearly three-quarters of Americans are concerned the United States could get involved in a full-scale war with North Korea, even as a majority lacks trust in President Trump to handle the situation, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A new high of 66 percent say North Korea poses a “serious threat” to the United States, up from 54 percent in a 2005 Post-ABC poll and 55 percent in 2003, with concern spanning partisan and ideological lines.

The poll was conducted shortly after North Korea launched its farthest-reaching missile test to date in July with a range experts say could reach Alaska. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the missile test was a new escalation of the threat posed to the United States and the world, and that Washington would bring North Korea’s action before the U.N. Security Council.

The Post-ABC poll finds lagging confidence in Trump to handle the situation, with 36 percent saying they trust Trump at least “a good amount” to deal with the issue, while 63 percent have “just some” or less confidence. Four in 10 say they do not trust Trump “at all” on the issue, nearly twice the number who express “a great deal” of confidence. [Continue reading…]

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Is linguistics a science?

Arika Okrent writes: Science is a messy business, but just like everything with loose ends and ragged edges, we tend to understand it by resorting to ideal types. On the one hand, there’s the archetype of the scientific method: a means of accounting for observations, generating precise, testable predictions, and yielding new discoveries about the natural consequences of natural laws. On the other, there’s our ever-replenishing font of story archetypes: the accidental event that results in a sudden clarifying insight; the hero who pursues the truth in the face of resistance or even danger; the surprising fact that challenges the dominant theory and brings it toppling to the ground.

The interplay of these archetypes has produced a spirited, long-running controversy about the nature and origins of language. Recently, it’s been flung back into public awareness following the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book The Kingdom of Speech (2016).

In Wolfe’s breathless re-telling, the dominant scientific theory is Noam Chomsky’s concept of a ‘universal grammar’ – the idea that all languages share a deep underlying structure that’s almost certainly baked into our biology by evolution. The crucial hypothesis is that its core, essential feature is recursion, the capacity to embed phrases within phrases ad infinitum, and so express complex relations between ideas (such as ‘Tom says that Dan claims that Noam believes that…’). And the challenging fact is the discovery of an Amazonian language, Pirahã, that does not have recursion. The scientific debate plays out as a classic David-and-Goliath story, with Chomsky as a famous, ivory-tower intellectual whose grand armchair proclamations are challenged by a rugged, lowly field linguist and former Christian missionary named Daniel Everett.

Stories this ripe for dramatisation come along rarely in any branch of science, much less the relatively obscure field of theoretical linguistics. But the truth will always be more complicated than the idealisations we use to understand it. In this case, the details lend themselves so well to juicy, edifice-crumbling story arcs that a deeper, more consequential point tends to be overlooked. It concerns not Everett’s challenge to Chomsky’s theory, but Chomsky’s challenge to the scientific method itself.

This counter-attack takes the form of the Chomskyans’ response to Everett. They say that even if Pirahã has no recursion, it matters not one bit for the theory of universal grammar. The capacity is intrinsic, even if it’s not always exploited. As Chomsky and his colleagues put it in a co-authored paper, ‘our language faculty provides us with a toolkit for building languages, but not all languages use all the tools’. This looks suspiciously like defiance of a central feature of the scientific archetype, one first put forward by the philosopher Karl Popper: theories are not scientific unless they have the potential to be falsified. If you claim that recursion is the essential feature of language, and if the existence of a recursionless language does not debunk your claim, then what could possibly invalidate it?

In an interview with Edge.org in 2007, Everett said he emailed Chomsky: ‘What is a single prediction that universal grammar makes that I could falsify? How could I test it?’ According to Everett, Chomsky replied to say that universal grammar doesn’t make any predictions; it’s a field of study, like biology.

The nub of the disagreement here boils down to what exactly linguistics says about the world, and the appropriate archetypes we should apply to make it effective. So just what kinds of questions does linguistics want to answer? What counts as evidence? Is universal grammar in particular – and theoretical linguistics in general – a science at all? [Continue reading…]

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Congressman Rohrabacher wants to know whether there was an ancient civilization on Mars

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Lawbreaking particles may point to a previously unknown force in the universe

Scientific American reports: For decades physicists have sought signs of misbehaving particles—evidence of subtle cracks in the “Standard Model” of particle physics, the dominant theory describing the most fundamental building blocks of our universe. Although the Standard Model has proved strikingly accurate, scientists have long known some adjustments will be needed. Now, as a recent review paper in Nature documents, experimenters have started seeing suggestions of particles flouting the theory—but they’re not quite the violations theorists were looking for.

The evidence comes from electrons and their more massive cousins, muons and tau leptons. According to the Standard Model, these three particles should behave like differently sized but otherwise identical triplets. But three experiments have produced growing evidence—including results announced in just the last few months—that the particles react differently to some as-yet mysterious influence. The findings are not yet conclusive, but if they hold up, “it would be a complete revolution,” says California Institute of Technology theorist Mark Wise.

A shake-up in the Standard Model would be huge. This theory has formed the bedrock of particle physics research since it was fleshed out in the late 20th century. It carves the universe into twelve elementary particles that make up all matter, plus ‘force-carrier’ particles that transmit the fundamental forces of nature. (For instance, particles exert electrical or magnetic forces by exchanging transient photons.) Despite its successes, however, the Standard Model predicts nothing that would explain gravity or the dark matter thought to invisibly inhabit space. To marry particle physics with these larger-scale observations, theorists have proposed all manner of “new physics”—matter or forces beyond the Standard Model’s menagerie. But most experiments have stubbornly upheld the theory with impressive fidelity, finding no evidence of the hypothesized particles or forces. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Takuya Kuroda — ‘Green and Gold’

 

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The master of ‘kompromat’ believed to be behind Trump Jr.’s meeting

The New York Times reports: The salacious video, of a naked man in bed with two women, was one of the most prominent examples of “kompromat,” the Russian art of spreading damaging information to discredit a rival or an enemy, in recent Russian history.

It was made available to Russian state television in the late 1990s and authenticated in public by Yuri Y. Chaika, Russia’s prosecutor general, who at 66 has a long and storied background in kompromat. Mr. Chaika benefited from the video, as it destroyed a predecessor as prosecutor general, Yuri I. Skuratov, who had been looking into suspicions of corruption by President Boris N. Yeltsin and his associates.

Mr. Chaika (pronounced CHIKE-uh) is also the man who is widely considered to have been the source of the incriminating information on Hillary Clinton that Donald Trump Jr. was promised at a meeting last June in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and a Russian-American lobbyist. And yet, oddly, the accusations brought to New York fell flat, by the accounts of those present, despite their having originated from such a seasoned master of kompromat.

Donald Trump Jr. said in a statement that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had offered him the information but that it “made no sense” and was not “meaningful.”

Ms. Veselnitskaya has said that two others at the meeting, the Trump campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, paid little attention.

That stands in sharp contrast to the video, which led to the ouster of Mr. Skuratov, helped Vladimir V. Putin establish himself as the successor to Mr. Yeltsin and, ultimately, enabled Mr. Chaika to ascend to the prosecutor general’s office. [Continue reading…]

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Jared Kushner’s multiple updates to his disclosure of foreign contacts may be seen as evidence of a crime

The Washington Post reports: Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is likely to be interested in Jared Kushner’s evolving disclosure of foreign contacts during the security clearance process, legal analysts said, and it is possible that the president’s son-in-law could be in legal jeopardy for not fully detailing the interactions from the start.

Kushner, one of President Trump’s closest advisers, has filed three updates to his national security questionnaire since submitting it in mid-January, according to people familiar with the matter. That is significant because the document — known as an SF-86 — warns that those who submit false information could be charged with a federal crime and face up to five years in prison.

Prosecutions for filing erroneous SF-86 forms are rare — though the Justice Department has brought cases against those with intentional omissions, and people have been denied security clearance for incorrect forms, legal analysts said.

Under the microscope of Mueller’s investigation, the analysts said, Kushner’s mistakes might be viewed as evidence that Kushner met with Russian officials, then tried to keep anyone from finding out. His representatives contend that the omissions were honest errors that were corrected quickly.

“Mueller’s task is examining whether he thinks there’s evidence that this was not simply a mistake or an oversight, but was actually a deliberate attempt to conceal these contacts,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in public corruption and government fraud. “And if that’s the case, that’s definitely potentially a crime.” [Continue reading…]

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How Trump is stealthily carrying out his Muslim ban

Farhana Khera and Johnathan J. Smith write: Lost amid the uproar over the Trump administration’s travel restrictions on citizens from Muslim-majority countries and the impending showdown at the Supreme Court are the insidious ways that the government has already begun to impose a Muslim ban.

It’s doing so through deceptively boring means: increasing administrative hurdles and cementing or even expanding the current travel restrictions that are not under review at the court. The collective impact of these changes will be that a permanent Muslim ban is enshrined into American immigration policy.

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that challenge the legality of President Trump’s immigration and refugee executive order. And it buoyed the Trump administration’s xenophobia when it put the temporary ban back in place and denied entry to people who lack a “bona fide relationship” with an American citizen or entity. (Astonishingly, the government claims that grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and the affianced lack such a relationship, but a federal judge in Hawaii has disagreed.)

While these short-term travel restrictions will be at the heart of what the Supreme Court considers this fall, they have never been the president’s ultimate objective. Instead, his endgame, as he repeatedly made clear on the campaign trail, is the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” And in a quiet, under-the-radar manner, his administration has been hard at work to make that happen. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. certifies that Iran is meeting terms of nuclear deal

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration certified to Congress late Monday that Iran has continued to meet the required conditions of its nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers.

But senior administration officials made clear that the certification was grudging, and said that President Trump intends to impose new sanctions on Iran for ongoing “malign activities” in non-nuclear areas such as ballistic missile development and support for terrorism.

“We judge that these Iranian activities severely undermine the intent” of the agreement as a force for international stability, one official said. Iran is “unquestionably in default of the spirit of the JCPOA,” or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that took effect in January 2016 after years of negotiations, the official said. [Continue reading…]

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