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The Tragic Comedy in “Buying Greenland” from Denmark

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President Donald Trump’s recent proposition to buy Greenland generated curious headlines and reactions around the world. Many have focused their attention on the comical reaction to his offer: not for sale, absurd. Trump’s disregard for Greenland’s self-governing-autonomy and his unsophisticated approach to negotiation and problem-solving are on full display.

The public, as Trump’s employer, should be truly alarmed by this behavior. It is not just his typical failed international relations approach, but it is bumbling predatory cruelty that alienates the vast majority of the world.

The facts are clear: Trump wanted to buy something that was not for sale, he wanted to buy it from someone in no position to sell it, and he was disappointed and angry about being declined. It was as absurd as your friend being upset that you will not sell your neighbor’s car to him. Trump clearly has missed the part where Greenland could join the U.S. if they wanted to.

Trump presents two temperaments for managing conflict, neither of which obtains in successful statecraft. He either competes with ham-handed ruthlessness, or gaslights and avoids. His calculations reflect his own interests, either he is willing to fight for something he wants or he gives up in a hissy fit. It is a strategy that may work well in some business transactions, like buying and selling when there is little or no expected future business relationship. The substantive component—the buy—can be served through hard negotiation and success is reflected in the price paid for a quality product. Anger and disappointment over a price, however, are unlikely to sweeten a deal, while they may sour one.

What Trump consistently misses are temperaments that recognize someone else’s interests. Compromise is strategy where you sacrifice some of what you want in order to get some of what you want; most grade-school-aged-kids have learned this lesson. The next level is learning how to identify what you don’t value so highly and what the other might value quite highly. Giving that to another makes them a winner and you can more easily ask for that which they may not value as much but which you hold in high regard.

Accommodation does not exist in Trump’s menu of options. We accommodate when we do for others and expect nothing in return. It is a friendly behavior, something which frequently has considerable rewards. It helps relationships grow, in everyday relationships or diplomatically, like in relationships between the U.S. and Denmark.

Trump’s view of Greenland’s potential 50 billion barrels of oil, and other untapped resources completely misses the worth and value of relationships. The hyper-focus on substantive considerations of material value completely ignores other details like emotional satisfaction; the Danish are happier and score higher in quality of life than Americans. Again, I think most adolescents learn: it is not what you say but how you say it.

Experts in peace studies and conflict resolution have found considerable evidence relating to best practices and predictions for problem-solving and negotiation. The most durable outcomes are achieved through collaborative processes. They are noted for being both more time and resource intensive, and also for being the only means for true win-win outcomes. Competitive, zero-sum, and coercive strategies can potentially deliver short term results, as can avoidance, but they miss important satisfactions. You want your opponent to think at the end of the day, “I came out better than if we never negotiated and I am open to good faith negotiations with this other in the future.”

Under such critical evaluation it is painfully clear that Trump’s efforts go beyond failure and into the realm of hurting U.S. interests. His predictably poor strategy delivered an expected outcome. He has done damage to a history of trust; he truly does not understand that trust and truth matter, and has further degraded American credibility.

Scholarly research shows collaborative solutions are the only real option for addressing complex human and humanitarian struggles we are now facing. Electing leaders bent on nationalistic, profiteering selfish interests will continue to produce problems. Win-win outcomes will be the only hope for the future. Sadly, the costs of delays in quality leadership are devastating. Species are going extinct while inept leaders push dishonest agendas and acres are burning while corruption protects profits. Machiavelli may have even revisited his declaration that it is better to be feared than loved if you can’t be both, if he was exposed to our planet currently charting a course to annihilation; adaptation and evolution are marks of true leadership.

The post The Tragic Comedy in “Buying Greenland” from Denmark appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Diary: Franketienne

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The end of the long and dominant history of modernism in Haitian painting which, like with that of most 20th century societies, began with a midcentury batch of artists combining Europe and home, in this case Haiti, is coinciding with the collapse of bourgeois social order in Haiti, the beginning of a collapse that came with the end of the Duvalier regime, the birth of Haitian democracy, and the human rights wins of the 20th century (out of which emerged Jean Bertrand Aristide). A “collapse of social order” is a heavy accusation but it is true in Haiti’s case: Haitian society is today semi-sovereign and primarily relies on money transfers from the diaspora to survive. In other words, modernism continues to die in Haiti, especially in the form of “tropical figuration” of coconut, bananas, nudes, art but continues to sell the most primarily because modernism is the most sellable. An artist putting an end to modernism’s domination and has been doing so is Franketienne.

Franketienne, born in 1936, is a rare and essential bird in Haiti’s cultural geography, as a radical postmodern painter, whose paintings were postmodern when everyone was modern, as a deep criticism of Haitian history, the present, and the world. Franketienne is a playwright, teacher, actor, philosopher, poet, novelist, painter, ex-minister of culture, and happens to have excelled in all of these fields. Once upon a time a communist activist and still a radical, he is now revered by Haiti as the writer of its first major creole language novel Dezafi (Haitian society being a postcolonial one, its elites have not allowed creole to prosper), its first writer of popular intellectual theater, and the founder of an excellent school. Franketienne the painter is well known for being outside of the norm: both central to Haitian painting and a recluse from the painterly mainstream given of what he is engaged in.

Franetienne’s paintings express his postmodernity in deep, trenchant, political criticism grounded in praxis of justice. The theme of his painting is chaos / truth, the very opposite tropicalia. He asks his audience to think of engage with Haiti critically and poetically, foregoing simple conclusions like coconuts, portraits, and beaches, and asking themselves about the chaos in nationhood, human rights, feeling, and motion (opportunity in a context of justice). He has been doing so for years, along with others whose praxis made living in Haiyi perilous.

Body, motion, color, direction: none should be unaddressed when thinking of Franketienne’s work. Franketienne take on the present is meant to inform the demos, the political process. His shapes, colors, etc, are signifiers, pedagogical painting with something profound to say about what we have gone to ourselves and what the present of our chaos is: one in which we are moving in all directions attempting terra firma again, for our living faces a collective thanks to our actions and thoughts. It must be said that the heavy pedagogy in his paintings would make his work great for muralism, which I have yet to see. Perhaps that’s where his painting would gave the most impact: as public life, in the streets.

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In Defence of Gramsci: Geopolitical Morphing and Austerity from an Outsider’s Perspective

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The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

– George Orwell, Animal Farm

Never let a good crisis go to waste.

– Winston Churchill

This small article has as central premise that ‘blurring of distinction’ as in the above quotes referenced much as ‘disguise as recourse’ under criminality has geopolitical ramification much as hegemonic utility concerning extrapolation upon ‘morphing’ and illusion.

In reality: ‘The Emperor in 21st Century is ‘bollock naked” such the Hubris of illusion ongoing?

Qua your everyday question as mundane, commonplace, omnipresent as ubiquitous – and as entirely unrelated to the control and manipulation (and hiding) of agenda concerning Corporatism way of ‘ROI’?

‘Investment in Media’ a philanthropic exercise to ‘return on investment’ aside?

Earlier small article articulated ‘blurring of distinction’ as inability to distinguish between ‘arse and elbow‘ as a psycho political phenomenon.

One writes as a would not be confused individual/creature outside ‘Maggies Farm’ having aspirations towards perspicacity – and with pretension towards measure of insight claimed as to abuse – there being a utility towards said imposition of confusion and accordant imperative towards absence of perspicacity as polymorphous?

‘Happenstance’ refused as but another form of permitting the bastards to grind down?

(Illegitimi no carborundum, so it goes)

– For to see difference whence there in reality none the equivalence of asking the ‘wrong questions’ sense of Pynchon such the pragmatism?

This also having relevance to Lenin’s profound quote:

The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves’?

For, what happens as repressively desublimative sense of Marcuse whence but criminal degenerates’ lead’ clearly proving to be but as to expropriation and arrogation such the ‘racket’; such the ‘war’ as would degeneration be expressed thru anomie and marginalisation under a wilful denouement?

Pushed around and kicked around, Always a lonely boy’ as ‘Bronski Beat’ sang concerning what amounts to political abuse?

Apropos.

Controlled and manipulated ‘opposition’ under illusion and profit thru chaos the quintessence of Machiavellian Geopolitics which ‘Neoliberalism’ epitomises contemporaneous: it is all about the further transfer of resources away from the Demos and in to the hands/bloody claws of private interests; it’s all about the transfer from Democracy to Corporatism as an entropy to a darkness in which much shit fed as would be swallowed unquestioningly?

Sorry to be so mundane.

Fuck the abominable rationalization of neoliberalism/nature red in tooth and claw Darwin made by the way…

Fuck ‘mind over mind’ as much as ‘Utilitarianism’ a spawn of empiricism…

– It’s all about greed and hatred and war and division as opposed to Altruism and Love and Peace and Unification such the ‘thanatos‘ as opposed to ‘Eros‘ – and this on an empirical level whereby quantification possible such the ‘medium as reduced being the message as so reduced’, indeed?

This; with apologies to McLuhan for paraphrase – and refusal to capitalise constituting a rhetorical device expressive of contempt.

When these small quarters say ’empiricism’ they obliged to spit!

(‘No empiricism without empirical’ as ‘no asshole no shit’ such the tragic ontology of externalisation?)

It’s all about the reduction of ‘diversity’ to ‘politikal’ point of a uniformity imposed as ‘farming’ intimates where and whence the embrace of illusion as ‘ lemming like’ paramount?

Day by day as plus ça change we continue being led to that cliff of manufactured consent under imperative of ‘thanatos‘ as an altruistic abandonment of individuality thru the suspension of our disbelief founded upon the force fed premise as ‘axiomatic’ under trust that the ruling minority/insiders are like us as but creatures outside?

-When the reality is:

‘they’ don’t give a fuck; that poverty has a purpose – that austerity for the ‘creatures outside’ is profitable and ‘Death’ but an asset on the Balance Sheet of racketeering accordant?

In the tragic ontology of despair for the majority which neoliberal austerity as a transfer of resources further from ‘the poor’ to ‘the rich’ represents there a ‘ponerological dimension’ – this, as much to the proposition by Voltaire paraphrased that:

‘If satan did not exist it would be necessary to invent him’?

Also; the proposition that ‘the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist‘ relevant, this as much as contemplation by Bulgakov in his masterpiece ‘The Devil and Margarita‘ – which these small quarters still trying to understand by the way.

But digression albeit metaphysical.

‘Geopolitical morphing’ as to some synonymy of ‘unified command structure’ as to Military Industrial (Corporatist) Complex emergent and as to extrapolation upon expropriation begins thru the imposition of cultural hegemony as that outstanding individual Antonio Gramsci managed to elicit a ‘confession’ prosecutorial, to wit:

For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning’?

Say why?

Because Gramsci managed to attain a level of perspicacity concerning the utility of illusion?

He one creature outside whom could see the utility of control and manipulation and articulate; one creature as refused the confusion, as refused to conform to the norm as abusive – an outstanding creature outside whom saw the farm and refused his allotted place on same by way of ‘perversity’?

Here’s tae Gramsci – for wha’s like him?

So it goes as to the colloquial vernacular of mine Country.

Gramsci saw what interpreted/apperceived here as the ‘Gangster Disease’; as the issue and control of Currency as but a ‘racket’; was able to articulate the modus operandi; his brain attained a level of functionality as would be above and beyond, such the transcendence of ‘Tooldom’ sense of Thoreau’s sublime insight as to a determinism prevalent ?

A most dangerous brain functional as must be stopped?

Cultural hegemony under the thanatos which is neoliberal as transfer of resources as has attained commonality under the Geopolitics of differentiation which Orwell articulated as ‘Eastasia, Eurasia and Oceania‘ is indeed as to an Oligarchic Collective as much as an overflowing sewer of ideological waste to a divide et impera in which the real master of illusion/disaster is as would be unseen to a metaphysical limitation by way of ‘Übermensch‘ ?

The only difference being at the ‘margins of austerity’ whereby the ‘Vig‘ extracted – and unfortunately ‘Oceania‘ the worst as to such metastasis of greed – for a better form, not to say ‘class’ as expression of Technological determinism in respect of empiricism (spit, spit) and Üntermensch one must , alas look to Russia and China?

For look at the ‘Clowns of Oceania’ sense of Zevon as something bad happened recognised as by way of such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel et al – can one as a ‘creature outside’ believe but that these ‘Fortunate Sons’ as represent neoliberalism in action at a Geopolitikal level are other than mere puppets as ideological whores with legs akimbo whom represent an agenda as would be hidden under illusion?

Can one believe these are leaders; that there is not an illusion at play which is highly abusive and manipulative; can one believe in ‘happenstance’ anymore?

On this Geopolitikal farm named ‘Oceania’ as facilitated by technology and investment the drive is one of greed unlimited and such the entropy benevolent Corporatist such as Henry Ford, whom wished to pay his workers enough to be able to afford his products are long dead; the model, such the permit to control and issue currency is of a Palestinian like farm of austerity wherein ‘surplus population’ figures large as something bad shared by way of externalisation and there a clear distinction between the Über and the Ünter as much as to insider and outsider as all creatures great and small.

Symbiosis is dead, only parasitism remains to achieve apotheosis in necrotrophy.

All hail necrotrophy?

Forthcoming article apropos shall be on ‘Brexit’ as a crisis in such a context, and the opportunity it represents as a crisis to further neoliberalism.

What seems to be is not as is such the ‘Cui Bono?’ as would be unasked?

As much as lies passing unquestioned indeed validate hegemony as ‘cultural’?

The post In Defence of Gramsci: Geopolitical Morphing and Austerity from an Outsider’s Perspective appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Palin’s Flute, Obama’s Voice

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A recent New York Times piece by pop critics—the two Jons, Pareles & Caramanica—on the playlists of Democratic Presidential candidates was an ode to posturing and opportunism. The computer-curated tastes of musical consumer/voters have long been turned into political capital. The algorithm is now democratic king-maker. With an unendurable year and more to go before the election, it all makes one yearn for simpler musico-political days like those of 2008 when the iPod still reigned, an age hymned in this piece from the archives of the Musical Patriot from October 31, 2008:

Palin’s Flute, Obama’s Voice

Before election day puts an end to this interminable song and dance, there’s one last chance to listen to the music — the candidates’ music.  It is in light of their musical tastes and talents that politicians’ character is most clearly to be judged.

We begin with Sarah Palin. Much has been made of her affection for the rock band Van Halen, and that she and Todd gave their latest offspring Trig the middle name “Van,” thus providing the afflicted lad with the lifetime joy of rhyming Van Palin with Van Halen. What a thrill for Palin it must have been when McCain introduced her as his running mate at the Republican National Convention with Van Halen’s “Right Now.”

Palin perhaps did not understand—nor care—that the affection between musical star and devotee is not always reciprocal. In her case it certainly wasn’t.  After the one-night stand of political and sonic bliss, rejection came swiftly. The aged rockers of Van Halen let it be known through their management that permission for the song’s use “was not sought or granted, nor would it have been given.” In this terse communiqué is reflected a total reversal in the cultural prestige attached to political leaders and cultural figures respectively.  Imagine Mozart telling Joseph II to go screw himself after the Emperor informed the composer that his Marriage of Figaro had “too many notes.” In Mozart’s day—and before—many a court musician harbored enormous contempt for their overlords, they just didn’t have the guts or money to say it. Nowadays politicians have to take such abuse from those whose music they love. But that hardly means that the politically powerful will stop listening. But if Palin’s favorite band isn’t voting for her, why should anyone else?

More telling is Sarah Palin the musician. Her performance on flute at the 1984 Miss Alaska Pageant is necessary viewing. Costumed in a faux-Victorian dress, Palin plays “The Homecoming,” originally written for a 1972 Salada tea commercial, and then re-used for the CBC version of Anne of Green Gables aired first in 1985.  Flutist James Galway had already made a schlocky arrangement of the schlocky tune. Galway’s intervention transformed the piece into a favorite of student flute players the world over. I had the dubious pleasure of accompanying “The Homecoming” more often than I care to remember in the same 1980s when Palin was displaying her fluting talents for the Miss Alaska judges.

The pageant band backing up Palin on that fateful evening had soaring horns, tasty brush work on the drums, and mellow Fender Rhodes piano underlayment: it all has a very groovy feel, the lounge-like musical ambience working in weird counterpoint to Sarah’s period outfit. She plays from memory, engaging the audience by looking around as she blows into her flute. Rather than become lost in, or even transported by, the music, she assiduously courts the attention of the listeners. Like many commentators on performance, including the greatest flute master of all, Frederick the Great’s teacher Johann Joachim Quantz, Palin knows that deportment and stage presence are as important as the music itself. She is eager to please, and handles the pressure of the event admirably.

Undaunted by the out-of-tuneness of her playing, Palin soldiers on through the sentimental strains of “Homecoming.” (Given the time-constraints of the pageant, she probably didn’t have time to check her pitch with the band beforehand.) She has prepared and will follow it through, without heeding those around her. Even aside from the tuning, one hears her unyielding personality in the performance. Rarely has the flute been played with such an indifference to its greatest assets: subtlety. This is a woman who has made up her mind about everything.

Her running mate is proud of being Philistine, and in McCain’s case one believes this to be sincere, rather than an anti-elitist ploy to court votes, though I’m not sure how popular “Dancing Queen” of ABBA, his supposed all-time favorite song, is with this voting bloc?  None of the names on McCain’s top-ten music list corresponds chronologically to his teen years, when most people form their musical tastes—or, indeed, were formed by the music they loved. Rather, McCain’s music is the most run-of-the-mill assortment, so hackneyed that it seems more like the results of a poll taken at the Mall of the Americas, rather than the emotional property of a real human being. His musical favorites are anything but maverick: “Good Vibrations” of the Beach Boys; “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” sung by Sinatra; “What a Wonderful World,” performed by Louis Armstrong.

Two of ABBA’s greatest hits come in at McCain’s numbers one and three. “Dancing Queen” is an endearing choice for his number one. It is truly touching to imagine the military and political veteran feeling the thrill of this dance classic in his battered body. His love of ABBA converts McCain into a tragic figure. It is not that McCain is too old or feeble: his music makes it clear that he belongs to no generation, and as a result, too few of any age group will have him on their dance card come Tuesday’s vote.

Less endearing by a long shot is Joe Biden. When still a presidential candidate in the Spring of 2007, he and the other contenders were asked by the Associated Press about their latest musical purchase. Cagey as ever, Biden skirted the question by responding “My sister’s playlist.”  This seemed like a rather incriminating response from this copyright and anti-piracy crusader, who had spun out of his previous presidential run after being unmasked as a plagiarist of political speeches from across the Atlantic. But it also showed that Biden’s alleged public sincerity, like his phantom music, is  pure political calculation. Apparently, the simplest and most important of questions—what music do you like?—must be spun: focus-grouped, policy-wonked, and calibrated to the latest poll.  Never was so much divulged in a non-answer.  Trust Biden at your peril.

Finally, we come to Obama, the most musical of the candidates. In a 2007 appearance on the popular Mexican-American radio show out of Los Angeles “Piolin por La Manana,” Obama sang a few strains of “Mexico Lindo y Querido” (Beautiful and Beloved Mexico) [The YouTube video of this has been pulled in the intervening years] by Latin pop singer Maria Jose Quintanilla. Obama told the host, Eddie “Piolin” Sotello, that President Kennedy had been an excellent singer, and Sotello then asked Obama what his favorite song is. Clearly this was all set up beforehand. A guitar strums some chords and Obama sings in Spanish in an expressive parlando style, warm but tinged with melancholy. Obama breaks off after a few bars and we then hear Quintanilla’s version of her hit rendered in a pinched, pop-star soprano. Obama then says “It sounds a lot better when she does it.”  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Obama is the better, more authentic singer. In his few plaintive measures one can hear a real gift for vocal nuance and a natural feeling for the communicative power of music—the same gifts that mark Obama’s oratory. In both it is the voice that appeals, far more than the message.

Earlier in 2007 Hillary Clinton had been caught doing a grim rendition of Happy Birthday. She then pledged not to sing for the remainder of the campaign. Obama’s Happy Birthday is much better, and his “Mexico Lindo y Querido” is a minor triumph, and was the clearest sign that he would beat Clinton. Obama defeated her with his speaking-singing voice, and it looks now as if this, his strongest weapon, will carry the day on November 4. If it doesn’t, let him sing the blues. I’d much rather hear that than his victory speech.

 

The post Palin’s Flute, Obama’s Voice appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Dreams of Mitch McConnell 

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Dreams of Mitch McConnell 

Strange dreams once again last night
Among some thousands of others
I was walking through Kentucky blue-
grass chewing tobacco
Passing a neglected, empty
swimming pool
Within which Mitch McConnell, nude,
Was glued to the bottom
Walking single-file passed
One by one we spat
And bit by bit the spit began to rise
And Mitch, he spat as well, below
The Reaper himself
He thrashed and splashed
And after a number of hours he drowned
Someone remarked: it’s good
that Mitch Buchannon’s not around
Remember him?
And what could it mean?
Well, so much for dreams

 

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Comey Said to Violate FBI Policies in Handling of Memos

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WASHINGTON — Former FBI Director James Comey violated FBI policies in his handling of memos documenting private conversations with President Donald Trump, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Thursday.

The watchdog office said Comey broke bureau rules by giving one memo containing unclassified information to a friend with instructions to share the contents with a reporter. Comey also failed to return his memos to the FBI after he was dismissed in May 2017, retaining copies of some of them in a safe at home, and shared them with his personal lawyers without permission from the FBI, the report said.

“By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees — and the many thousands more former FBI employees — who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information,” the report said.

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The report is the second in as many years to criticize Comey’s actions as FBI director, following a separate inspector general rebuke for decisions made during the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. It is one of multiple inspector general investigations undertaken in the last three years into the decisions and actions of Comey and other senior FBI leaders.

Trump, who has long regarded Comey as one of his principal antagonists in a law enforcement community he sees as biased against him, cheered the conclusions on Twitter. He wrote: “Perhaps never in the history of our Country has someone been more thoroughly disgraced and excoriated than James Comey in the just released Inspector General’s Report. He should be ashamed of himself!”

The White House in a separate statement called Comey a “proven liar and leaker.”

But the report denied Trump and his supporters, who have repeatedly accused Comey of leaking classified information, total vindication. It found that none of the information shared by him or his attorneys with anyone in the media was classified. The Justice Department has declined to prosecute Comey.

Comey seized on that point in defending himself on Twitter, saying, “I don’t need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a ‘sorry we lied about you’ would be nice.”

He also added: “And to all those who’ve spent two years talking about me ‘going to jail’ or being a ‘liar and a leaker’ — ask yourselves why you still trust people who gave you bad info for so long, including the president.”

At issue in the report are seven memos Comey wrote between January 2017 and April 2017 about conversations with Trump that he found unnerving or unusual.

These include a Trump Tower briefing at which Comey advised the president-elect that there was salacious and unverified information about his ties to Moscow circulating in Washington; a dinner at which Comey says Trump asked him for loyalty and an Oval Office meeting weeks later at which Comey says the president asked him to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

One week after he was fired, Comey provided a copy of the memo about Flynn to Dan Richman, his personal lawyer and a close friend, and instructed him to share the contents with a specific reporter from The New York Times.

Comey has said he wanted to make details of that conversation public to prompt the appointment of a special counsel to lead the FBI’s investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel one day after the story broke.

The inspector general’s office found Comey’s rationale lacking.

“In a country built on the rule of law, it is of utmost importance that all FBI employees adhere to Department and FBI policies, particularly when confronted by what appear to be extraordinary circumstances or compelling personal convictions. Comey had several other lawful options available to him to advocate for the appointment of a Special Counsel, which he told us was his goal in making the disclosure,” the report says.

“What was not permitted was the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome,” it adds.

After Comey’s firing, the FBI determined that four of the memos contained information classified at either the “secret” or “confidential” level. The memo about the Flynn interaction that Comey sent to Richman did not contain any classified information, the report said.

Comey said he considered his memos to be personal rather than government documents, and that it never would’ve occurred to him to give them back to the FBI after he was fired. The inspector general’s office disagreed, citing policy that FBI employees must give up all documents containing FBI information once they leave the bureau.

FBI agents retrieved four of Comey’s memos from his house weeks after he was fired.

The office of Inspector General Michael Horowitz also is investigating the FBI’s Russia investigation and expected to wrap up soon.

Last year, the watchdog office concluded that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe had misrepresented under oath his involvement in a news media disclosure, and referred him for possible prosecution. That matter remains open with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington.

The post Comey Said to Violate FBI Policies in Handling of Memos appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Florida Braces for Hurricane Dorian

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MIAMI — Florida residents picked the shelves clean of bottled water and lined up at gas stations Thursday as an increasingly menacing-looking Hurricane Dorian threatened to broadside the state over Labor Day weekend.

Leaving lighter-than-expected damage in its wake in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the second hurricane of the 2019 season swirled toward the U.S., with forecasters warning it will draw energy from the warm, open waters as it closes in.

The National Hurricane Center said the Category 1 storm is expected to strengthen into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) and slam into the U.S. on Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia — a 500-mile stretch that reflected the high degree of uncertainty this far out.

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“If it makes landfall as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that’s a big deal,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. “A lot of people are going to be affected. A lot of insurance claims.”

President Donald Trump canceled his weekend trip to Poland and declared Florida is “going to be totally ready.”

With the storm’s track still unclear, no immediate mass evacuations were ordered.

Along Florida’s east coast, local governments began distributing sandbags, shoppers rushed to stock up on food, plywood and other emergency supplies at supermarkets and hardware stores, and motorists topped off their tanks and filled gasoline cans. Some fuel shortages were reported in the Cape Canaveral area.

Josefine Larrauri, a retired translator, went to a Publix supermarket in Miami only to find empty shelves in the water section and store employees unsure of when more cases would arrive.

“I feel helpless because the whole coast is threatened,” she said. “What’s the use of going all the way to Georgia if it can land there?”

Tiffany Miranda of Miami Springs waited well over 30 minutes in line at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Hialeah to buy hurricane supplies. Some 50 vehicles were bumper-to-bumper, waiting to fill up at the store’s 12 gas pumps.

“You never know with these hurricanes. It could be good, it could be bad. You just have to be prepared,” she said.

As of Thursday evening, Dorian was centered about 330 miles (535 kilometers) east of the Bahamas, its winds blowing at 85 mph (140 kph) as it moved northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).

It is expected to pick up steam as it pushes out into warm waters with favorable winds, the University of Miami’s McNoldy said, adding: “Starting tomorrow, it really has no obstacles left in its way.”

The National Hurricane Center’s projected track had the storm blowing ashore midway along the Florida peninsula, southeast of Orlando and well north of Miami or Fort Lauderdale. But because of the difficulty of predicting its course this far ahead, the “cone of uncertainty” covered nearly the entire state.

Forecasters said coastal areas of the Southeast could get 5 to 10 inches of rain, with 15 inches in some places, triggering life-threatening flash floods.

Also imperiled were the Bahamas, with Dorian’s expected track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.

Jeff Byard, an associate administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned that Dorian is likely to “create a lot of havoc with infrastructure, power and roads,” but gave assurances FEMA is prepared to handle it, even though the Trump administration is shifting hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA and other agencies to deal with immigration at the Mexican border.

“This is going to be a big storm. We’re prepared for a big response,” Byard said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to bring in more fuel and call out the National Guard if necessary, and Georgia’s governor followed suit.

Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian began rerouting their cruise ships. Major airlines began allowing travelers to change their reservations without a fee.

At the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, NASA decided to move indoors the mobile launch platform for its new mega rocket under development.

A Rolling Stones concert Saturday at the Hard Rock Stadium near Miami was moved up to Friday night.

The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. was on Labor Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sept. 2. It was blamed for over 400 deaths.

Dorian rolled through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday.

The initial blow did not appear to be as bad as expected in Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria two years ago. Blue tarps cover some 30,000 homes, and the electrical grid is in fragile condition.

But the tail end of the storm unleashed heavy flooding along the eastern and southern coasts of Puerto Rico. Cars, homes and gravestones in the coastal town of Humacao became halfway submerged after a river burst its banks.

Police said an 80-year-old man in the town of Bayamón died after he fell trying to climb to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.

Dorian caused an island-wide blackout in St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and scattered outages in St. Croix, government spokesman Richard Motta said.

No serious damage was reported in the British Virgin Islands, where Gov. Augustus Jaspert said crews were already clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure by late Wednesday afternoon.

Back in Florida, Mark and Gisa Emeterio enjoyed a peaceful afternoon sunbathing and wading in the ocean at Vero Beach. The newly retired couple from Sacramento, California, wanted to relax after spending the morning shuttering their home.

Mark, a retired pipe layer, and Gina, a retired state employee, planned to wait it out the storm with local friends more experienced with hurricanes.

“We got each other,” Mark Emeterio said. “So we’re good.”

“I told him, ‘Whatever happens, hold my hand,'” his wife joked.

___

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Michael Balsamo in Washington; Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Marcus Lim in Miami; Ellis Rua in Vero Beach and Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida, contributed to this report.

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Trump Declares New Space Command Key to American Defense

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring space crucial to the nation’s defense, President Donald Trump said Thursday the Pentagon has established U.S. Space Command to preserve American dominance on “the ultimate high ground.”

“This is a landmark day,” Trump said in a Rose Garden ceremony, “one that recognizes the centrality of space to America’s national security and defense.”

He said Space Command, headed by a four-star Air Force general, will “ensure that America’s superiority in space is never questioned and never threatened.”

But there’s still no Space Force.

Space Force, which has become a reliable applause line for Trump at his campaign rallies, has yet to win final approval by Congress.

The renewed focus on space as a military domain reflects concern about the vulnerability of U.S. satellites, both military and commercial, that are critical to U.S. interests and are potentially susceptible to disruption by Chinese and Russian anti-satellite weapons.

The role of the new Space Command is to conduct operations such as enabling satellite-based navigation and communications for troops and commanders in the field and providing warning of missile launches abroad. That is different from a Space Force, which would be a distinct military service like the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Congress has inched toward approving the creation of a Space Force despite skepticism from some lawmakers of both parties. The House and Senate bills differ on some points, and an effort to reconcile the two will begin after Congress returns from its August recess.

When Jim Mattis was defense secretary, the Pentagon was hesitant to embrace the idea of a Space Force. Trump’s first Pentagon chief initially saw it as potentially redundant and not the best use of defense dollars. His successor, Mark Esper, has cast himself as a strong supporter of creating both a Space Force and a command dedicated to space.

“To ensure the protection of America’s interests in space, we must apply the necessary focus, energy and resources to the task, and that is exactly what Space Command will do,” Esper said Wednesday.

“As a unified combatant command, the United States Space Command is the next crucial step toward the creation of an independent Space Force as an additional armed service,” he added.

Kaitlyn Johnson, a defense space expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said she considers it likely, but not certain, that Congress will approve a Space Force in the 2020 defense bill.

The people in Space Force would be assigned to missions directed by Space Command, just as members of the Army and other services are assigned to an organization like U.S. Strategic Command.

Like other branches of the military, Space Force would be headed by a four-star general who would have a seat at the table with the other Joint Chiefs of Staff. Trump wanted Space Force to be “separate but equal” to the other services, but instead it is expected to be made part of the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps is part of the Navy.

Reestablishing Space Command has been a less politically contentious matter. There is a consensus that it is the most straightforward step among those proposed to shore up space defenses.

“This step puts us on a path to maintain a competitive advantage,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a National Space Council meeting last week. He also endorsed creating Space Force, saying it would make a “profound difference.”

Initially, the opening of Space Command will have little practical effect on how the military handles its space responsibilities. Air Force Space Command currently deals with more than three-quarters of the military space mission, and it is expected to only gradually hand off those duties to the new command.

Johnson, the CSIS expert, said the attention to space during the Trump administration has led some to exaggerate the scope of change reflected in the moves to create Space Command and Space Force.

These moves, she said, “seem very flashy and fun” but are not.

“It’s really just a reorganization of functions that are already happening within the military,” she said.

Air Force Gen. John “Jay” Raymond will serve as the first commander of U.S. Space Command. He currently heads Air Force Space Command.

At his Senate confirmation hearing June 4, Raymond made the case for changing the way the military approaches its space mission.

“Unfortunately, our adversaries have had a front row seat into our many successes and have seen the advantages that they provide us,” he said. “And to be honest, they don’t like what they see. And they’re rapidly developing capabilities to negate our use of space and to negate the advantage that space provides.”

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Trump’s Asylum Policies Could Get People Killed

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In an April roundtable on U.S.-Mexico border security, President Trump called asylum seekers and their stories a “scam.” “They’re not afraid of anything … and they say ‘I fear for my life,’ ” he said, according to The Daily Beast. “It’s a scam, it’s a hoax.” Trump also claimed, according to CNN, that “the system is full,” and there is no more room for immigrants.

As a new report from BuzzFeed shows, this means victims of domestic violence are in danger of being deported back to their abusers. Kenia, a 38-year-old mother of two from El Salvador (she gave only her first name to BuzzFeed), was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in May. Following the arrest, she applied for a U visa, which provides undocumented immigrants and their immediate families who are the victims of crimes with a path to citizenship if they work with law enforcement.

As North Texas public radio station KERA reported earlier this week, the U visa is even seen as a source of hope for undocumented residents who were victims of the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso. Immigration attorney Pamela Muñoz told the station that “It is kind of implied that there will be people who are eligible for this.”

Even with likely eligibility, however, the path to actually getting the U visa is difficult, and made more so by the Trump administration.

Kenia has been in the United States since 2004, at which time she sought asylum. She’s worked at a restaurant and taken care of children with disabilities. While she did receive a notice to appear in immigration court in 2004, it had no date or time, so she didn’t show up. The result was a deportation order, one which wasn’t enforced until ICE agents came to her home this May, a full 15 years later. She’s now in an immigration detention center, and her U visa was denied on Aug. 27.

Kenia was terrified, telling BuzzFeed, “What’s the point of a U visa if it doesn’t help people like me,” and, “I just want a chance. … I’m afraid I’ll be killed if I’m sent back to El Salvador.”

Prior to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, Kenia’s deportation order would likely have been paused while her visa application was processed, her attorney, Eileen Blessinger, explained to BuzzFeed.

Unfortunately, according to documents BuzzFeed reviewed, an ICE field office director told Kenia that “in light of ICE’s mission, current ICE policies and enforcement priorities,” there is “no compelling reason” to stop the deportation.

Kenia is not the only one suffering the consequences of the current polices on U visas.

In Lancaster County, Pa., a family is suing government officials, according to local CBS station WHP-TV (CBS-21). The daughter, now 20, who declined to give her name, was brought to the United States at six years old. She was the victim of sexual assault at nine years old, and, as a crime victim willing to cooperate with law enforcement, she’s a candidate for the U visa. Her lawyers, David Freeman and Barley Snyder, told CBS-21 that suing the government was a last resort before she’s made to leave the country.

“If you are a victim of a qualifying crime, they’re very serious crimes, such as sexual assault, you have to cooperate with law enforcement or a prosecutor’s office,” Freeman explained, “and then you have to have the prosecutor or law enforcement agency certify that you’ve cooperated.”

Despite applying three years ago, the Pennsylvania woman’s application remains in limbo, and the threat of deportation hangs over her and her family’s lives. She tells CBS-21, “Our life is literally on pause.”

Attorney Freeman says he wants to know if there is a waiting list that could—at least temporarily—halt deportation.

According to the motion to dismiss, which CBS-21 obtained, U.S. attorneys are arguing that the application delay does not constitute a valid claim, the current wait isn’t out of the ordinary, and the woman will not be receiving special treatment.

In Blessinger’s experience, other of her clients who have applied for U visas have often successfully halted their deportations. They did so following an ICE consultation with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (the agency that grants visas) to confirm that they were good candidates.

Now, as BuzzFeed writer Adolfo Flores explains, “a fact sheet issued this month by ICE on revised policies stated that the agency is no longer required to request a determination from USCIS that they had met the basic requirements for a U visa.”

The fact sheet says that previous consultations with USCIS were a “simple confirmation that the petition was filed correctly and was not a substantive review of the petition. … As the number of U visa petitions submitted increased, this process became burdensome on both agencies and often did not impact ICE’s decisions.” Now that ICE isn’t required to check in with USCIS, the agency has more power in determining whether an applicant gets deported or is granted a stay.

“This is going to affect the entire judicial system, with fewer people coming forward to report crimes and more criminals remaining free,” Blessinger says. “Kenia’s story is not just about Kenia. It’s about how this is going to affect people in general.”

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There’s No Gay Gene. In Fact, There’s No Anything Gene.

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The nation’s press is trying to atone today for the sins of its past:

A few years ago a research team conducted a small study that located a few epigenetic markers that seemed to be associated with being gay. Not a single working geneticist—and I say this advisedly—not a single one suggested this was the discovery of a “gay gene.” Even the study’s own team didn’t say that. In fact, mostly the study was criticized for being too underpowered to really say much of anything at all.

But it got played as a gay gene anyway. Today, however, the results of a new, very high-powered study were published, and they showed what everyone knew all along: there are a whole bunch of genetic variations that each have a tiny effect but, taken together, probably account for a propensity toward same-sex attraction. The study suggests that genetic variation might account for about a third of that propensity, with environmental and social factors accounting for the other two-thirds.

How did we know this all along? Because this is the case for literally every complex personality trait, something we’ve been aware of for years. Whether it’s IQ or artistic ability or extroversion or anything else, the contribution of the genome—whether it’s 10 percent or 90 percent—depends on the combined effects of hundred or thousands of tiny genetic variations. Not only isn’t there a gay gene, there isn’t an anything gene.

That said, this attitude dismays me:

One concern is that evidence that genes influence same-sex behavior could cause anti-gay activists to call for gene editing or embryo selection, even if that would be technically impossible. Another fear is that evidence that genes play only a partial role could embolden people who insist being gay is a choice and who advocate tactics like conversion therapy. “I deeply disagree about publishing this,” said Steven Reilly, a geneticist and postdoctoral researcher who is on the steering committee of the institute’s L.G.B.T.Q. affinity group, Out@Broad. “It seems like something that could easily be misconstrued,” he said, adding, “In a world without any discrimination, understanding human behavior is a noble goal, but we don’t live in that world.”

We should all be sympathetic to Reilly’s concerns, but repressing the truth is never a good way to deal with bigotry. It won’t change the minds of the bigots but it might very well damage our ability to deal with them. It also damages our ability to conduct further research. One way or another these results are going to end up in the public sphere, and we’re better off if it’s done by careful researchers who earn the public’s trust by being open and honest about their results.

Insurance Companies Are Creating an Economy of Extortion

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published by ProPublica

On June 24, the mayor and council of Lake City, Florida, gathered in an emergency session to decide how to resolve a ransomware attack that had locked the city’s computer files for the preceding fortnight. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Mayor Stephen Witt led an invocation. “Our heavenly father,” Witt said, “we ask for your guidance today, that we do what’s best for our city and our community.”

Witt and the council members also sought guidance from City Manager Joseph Helfenberger. He recommended that the city allow its cyber insurer, Beazley, an underwriter at Lloyd’s of London, to pay the ransom of 42 bitcoin, then worth about $460,000. Lake City, which was covered for ransomware under its cyber-insurance policy, would only be responsible for a $10,000 deductible. In exchange for the ransom, the hacker would provide a key to unlock the files.

“If this process works, it would save the city substantially in both time and money,” Helfenberger told them.

Without asking questions or deliberating, the mayor and the council unanimously approved paying the ransom. The six-figure payment, one of several that U.S. cities have handed over to hackers in recent months to retrieve files, made national headlines.

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Left unmentioned in Helfenberger’s briefing was that the city’s IT staff, together with an outside vendor, had been pursuing an alternative approach. Since the attack, they had been attempting to recover backup files that were deleted during the incident. On Beazley’s recommendation, the city chose to pay the ransom because the cost of a prolonged recovery from backups would have exceeded its $1 million coverage limit, and because it wanted to resume normal services as quickly as possible.

“Our insurance company made [the decision] for us,” city spokesman Michael Lee, a sergeant in the Lake City Police Department, said. “At the end of the day, it really boils down to a business decision on the insurance side of things: them looking at how much is it going to cost to fix it ourselves and how much is it going to cost to pay the ransom.”

The mayor, Witt, said in an interview that he was aware of the efforts to recover backup files but preferred to have the insurer pay the ransom because it was less expensive for the city. “We pay a $10,000 deductible, and we get back to business, hopefully,” he said. “Or we go, ‘No, we’re not going to do that,’ then we spend money we don’t have to just get back up and running. And so to me, it wasn’t a pleasant decision, but it was the only decision.”

Ransomware is proliferating across America, disabling computer systems of corporations, city governments, schools and police departments. This month, attackers seeking millions of dollars encrypted the files of 22 Texas municipalities. Overlooked in the ransomware spree is the role of an industry that is both fueling and benefiting from it: insurance. In recent years, cyber insurance sold by domestic and foreign companies has grown into an estimated $7 billion to $8 billion-a-year market in the U.S. alone, according to Fred Eslami, an associate director at AM Best, a credit rating agency that focuses on the insurance industry. While insurers do not release information about ransom payments, ProPublica has found that they often accommodate attackers’ demands, even when alternatives such as saved backup files may be available.

The FBI and security researchers say paying ransoms contributes to the profitability and spread of cybercrime and in some cases may ultimately be funding terrorist regimes. But for insurers, it makes financial sense, industry insiders said. It holds down claim costs by avoiding expenses such as covering lost revenue from snarled services and ongoing fees for consultants aiding in data recovery. And, by rewarding hackers, it encourages more ransomware attacks, which in turn frighten more businesses and government agencies into buying policies.

“The onus isn’t on the insurance company to stop the criminal, that’s not their mission. Their objective is to help you get back to business. But it does beg the question, when you pay out to these criminals, what happens in the future?” said Loretta Worters, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit industry group based in New York. Attackers “see the deep pockets. You’ve got the insurance industry that’s going to pay out, this is great.”

A spokesperson for Lloyd’s, which underwrites about one-third of the global cyber-insurance market, said that coverage is designed to mitigate losses and protect against future attacks, and that victims decide whether to pay ransoms. “Coverage is likely to include, in the event of an attack, access to experts who will help repair the damage caused by any cyberattack and ensure any weaknesses in a company’s cyberprotection are eliminated,” the spokesperson said. “A decision whether to pay a ransom will fall to the company or individual that has been attacked.” Beazley declined comment.

Fabian Wosar, chief technology officer for anti-virus provider Emsisoft, said he recently consulted for one U.S. corporation that was attacked by ransomware. After it was determined that restoring files from backups would take weeks, the company’s insurer pressured it to pay the ransom, he said. The insurer wanted to avoid having to reimburse the victim for revenues lost as a result of service interruptions during recovery of backup files, as its coverage required, Wosar said. The company agreed to have the insurer pay the approximately $100,000 ransom. But the decryptor obtained from the attacker in return didn’t work properly and Wosar was called in to fix it, which he did. He declined to identify the client and the insurer, which also covered his services.

“Paying the ransom was a lot cheaper for the insurer,” he said. “Cyber insurance is what’s keeping ransomware alive today. It’s a perverted relationship. They will pay anything, as long as it is cheaper than the loss of revenue they have to cover otherwise.”

Worters, the industry spokeswoman, said ransom payments aren’t the only example of insurers saving money by enriching criminals. For instance, the companies may pay fraudulent claims — for example, from a policyholder who sets a car on fire to collect auto insurance — when it’s cheaper than pursuing criminal charges. “You don’t want to perpetuate people committing fraud,” she said. “But there are some times, quite honestly, when companies say: ’This fraud is not a ton of money. We are better off paying this.’ … It’s much like the ransomware, where you’re paying all these experts and lawyers, and it becomes this huge thing.”

Insurers approve or recommend paying a ransom when doing so is likely to minimize costs by restoring operations quickly, regulators said. As in Lake City, recovering files from backups can be arduous and time-consuming, potentially leaving insurers on the hook for costs ranging from employee overtime to crisis management public relations efforts, they said.

“They’re going to look at their overall claim and dollar exposure and try to minimize their losses,” said Eric Nordman, a former director of the regulatory services division of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, or NAIC, the organization of state insurance regulators. “If it’s more expeditious to pay the ransom and get the key to unlock it, then that’s what they’ll do.”

As insurance companies have approved six- and seven-figure ransom payments over the past year, criminals’ demands have climbed. The average ransom payment among clients of Coveware, a Connecticut firm that specializes in ransomware cases, is about $36,000, according to its quarterly report released in July, up sixfold from last October. Josh Zelonis, a principal analyst for the Massachusetts-based research company Forrester, said the increase in payments by cyber insurers has correlated with a resurgence in ransomware after it had started to fall out of favor in the criminal world about two years ago.

One cybersecurity company executive said his firm has been told by the FBI that hackers are specifically extorting American companies that they know have cyber insurance. After one small insurer highlighted the names of some of its cyber policyholders on its website, three of them were attacked by ransomware, Wosar said. Hackers could also identify insured targets from public filings; the Securities and Exchange Commission suggests that public companies consider reporting “insurance coverage relating to cybersecurity incidents.”

Even when the attackers don’t know that insurers are footing the bill, the repeated capitulations to their demands give them confidence to ask for ever-higher sums, said Thomas Hofmann, vice president of intelligence at Flashpoint, a cyber-risk intelligence firm that works with ransomware victims.

Ransom demands used to be “a lot less,” said Worters, the industry spokeswoman. But if hackers think they can get more, “they’re going to ask for more. So that’s what’s happening. … That’s certainly a concern.”

In the past year, dozens of public entities in the U.S. have been paralyzed by ransomware. Many have paid the ransoms, either from their own funds or through insurance, but others have refused on the grounds that it’s immoral to reward criminals. Rather than pay a $76,000 ransom in May, the city of Baltimore — which did not have cyber insurance — sacrificed more than $5.3 million to date in recovery expenses, a spokesman for the mayor said this month. Similarly, Atlanta, which did have a cyber policy, spurned a $51,000 ransom demand last year and has spent about $8.5 million responding to the attack and recovering files, a spokesman said this month. Spurred by those and other cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution this summer not to pay ransoms.

Still, many public agencies are delighted to have their insurers cover ransoms, especially when the ransomware has also encrypted backup files. Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools, a school district in Michigan, faced that predicament after being attacked in October. Beazley, the insurer handling the claim, helped the district conduct a cost-benefit analysis, which found that paying a ransom was preferable to rebuilding the systems from scratch, said Superintendent Kathleen Xenakis-Makowski.

“They sat down with our technology director and said, ‘This is what’s affected, and this is what it would take to re-create,’” said Xenakis-Makowski, who has since spoken at conferences for school officials about the importance of having cyber insurance. She said the district did not discuss the ransom decision publicly at the time in part to avoid a prolonged debate over the ethics of paying. “There’s just certain things you have to do to make things work,” she said.

Ransomware is one of the most common cybercrimes in the world. Although it is often cast as a foreign problem, because hacks tend to originate from countries such as Russia and Iran, ProPublica has found that American industries have fostered its proliferation. We reported in May on two ransomware data recovery firms that purported to use their own technology to disable ransomware but in reality often just paid the attackers. One of the firms, Proven Data, of Elmsford, New York, tells victims on its website that insurance is likely to cover the cost of ransomware recovery.

Lloyd’s of London, the world’s largest specialty insurance market, said it pioneered the first cyber liability policy in 1999. Today, it offers cyber coverage through 74 syndicates — formed by one or more Lloyd’s members such as Beazley joining together — that provide capital and accept and spread risk. Eighty percent of the cyber insurance written at Lloyd’s is for entities based in the U.S. The Lloyd’s market is famous for insuring complex, high-risk and unusual exposures, such as climate-change consequences, Arctic explorers and Bruce Springsteen’s voice.

Many insurers were initially reluctant to cover cyber disasters, in part because of the lack of reliable actuarial data. When they protect customers against traditional risks such as fires, floods and auto accidents, they price policies based on authoritative information from national and industry sources. But, as Lloyd’s noted in a 2017 report, “there are no equivalent sources for cyber-risk,” and the data used to set premiums is collected from the internet. Such publicly available data is likely to underestimate the potential financial impact of ransomware for an insurer. According to a report by global consulting firm PwC, both insurers and victimized companies are reluctant to disclose breaches because of concerns over loss of competitive advantage or reputational damage.

Despite the uncertainty over pricing, dozens of carriers eventually followed Lloyd’s in embracing cyber coverage. Other lines of insurance are expected to shrink in the coming decades, said Nordman, the former regulator. Self-driving cars, for example, are expected to lead to significantly fewer car accidents and a corresponding drop in premiums, according to estimates. Insurers are seeking new areas of opportunity, and “cyber is one of the small number of lines that is actually growing,” Nordman said.

Driven partly by the spread of ransomware, the cyber insurance market has grown rapidly. Between 2015 and 2017, total U.S. cyber premiums written by insurers that reported to the NAIC doubled to an estimated $3.1 billion, according to the most recent data available.

Cyber policies have been more profitable for insurers than other lines of insurance. The loss ratio for U.S. cyber policies was about 35% in 2018, according to a report by Aon, a London-based professional services firm. In other words, for every dollar in premiums collected from policyholders, insurers paid out roughly 35 cents in claims. That compares to a loss ratio of about 62% across all property and casualty insurance, according to data compiled by the NAIC of insurers that report to them. Besides ransomware, cyber insurance frequently covers costs for claims related to data breaches, identity theft and electronic financial scams.

During the underwriting process, insurers typically inquire about a prospective policyholder’s cyber security, such as the strength of its firewall or the viability of its backup files, Nordman said. If they believe the organization’s defenses are inadequate, they might decline to write a policy or charge more for it, he said. North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread, chairman of the NAIC’s innovation and technology task force, said some insurers suggest prospective policyholders hire outside firms to conduct “cyber audits” as a “risk mitigation tool” aimed to prevent attacks — and claims — by strengthening security.

“Ultimately, you’re going to see that prevention of the ransomware attack is likely going to come from the insurance carrier side,” Godfread said. “If they can prevent it, they don’t have to pay out a claim, it’s better for everybody.”

Not all cyber insurance policies cover ransom payments. After a ransomware attack on Jackson County, Georgia, last March, the county billed insurance for credit monitoring services and an attorney but had to pay the ransom of about $400,000, County Manager Kevin Poe said. Other victims have struggled to get insurers to pay cyber-related claims. Food company Mondelez International and pharmaceutical company Merck sued insurers last year in state courts after the carriers refused to reimburse costs associated with damage from NotPetya malware. The insurers cited “hostile or warlike action” or “act of war” exclusions because the malware was linked to the Russian military. The cases are pending.

The proliferation of cyber insurers willing to accommodate ransom demands has fostered an industry of data recovery and incident response firms that insurers hire to investigate attacks and negotiate with and pay hackers. This year, two FBI officials who recently retired from the bureau opened an incident response firm in Connecticut. The firm, The Aggeris Group, says on its website that it offers “an expedient response by providing cyber extortion negotiation services and support recovery from a ransomware attack.”

Ramarcus Baylor, a principal consultant for The Crypsis Group, a Virginia incident response firm, said he recently worked with two companies hit by ransomware. Although both clients had backup systems, insurers promised to cover the six-figure ransom payments rather than spend several days assessing whether the backups were working. Losing money every day the systems were down, the clients accepted the offer, he said.

Crypsis CEO Bret Padres said his company gets many of its clients from insurance referrals. There’s “really good money in ransomware” for the cyberattacker, recovery experts and insurers, he said. Routine ransom payments have created a “vicious circle,” he said. “It’s a hard cycle to break because everyone involved profits: We do, the insurance carriers do, the attackers do.”

Chris Loehr, executive vice president of Texas-based Solis Security, said there are “a lot of times” when backups are available but clients still pay ransoms. Everyone from the victim to the insurer wants the ransom paid and systems restored as fast as possible, Loehr said.

“They figure out that it’s going to take a month to restore from the cloud, and so even though they have the data backed up,” paying a ransom to obtain a decryption key is faster, he said.

“Let’s get it negotiated very quickly, let’s just get the keys, and get the customer decrypted to minimize business interruption loss,” he continued. “It makes the client happy, it makes the attorneys happy, it makes the insurance happy.”

If clients morally oppose ransom payments, Loehr said, he reminds them where their financial interests lie, and of the high stakes for their businesses and employees. “I’ll ask, ‘The situation you’re in, how long can you go on like this?’” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Well, not for long.’ Insurance is only going to cover you for up to X amount of dollars, which gets burned up fast.”

“I know it sucks having to pay off assholes, but that’s what you gotta do,” he said. “And they’re like, ‘Yeah, OK, let’s get it done.’ You gotta kind of take charge and tell them, ‘This is the way it’s going to be or you’re dead in the water.’”

Lloyd’s-backed CFC, a specialist insurance provider based in London, uses Solis for some of its U.S. clients hit by ransomware. Graeme Newman, chief innovation officer at CFC, said “we work relentlessly” to help victims improve their backup security. “Our primary objective is always to get our clients back up and running as quickly as possible,” he said. “We would never recommend that our clients pay ransoms. This would only ever be a very final course of action, and any decision to do so would be taken by our clients, not us as an insurance company.”

As ransomware has burgeoned, the incident response division of Solis has “taken off like a rocket,” Loehr said. Loehr’s need for a reliable way to pay ransoms, which typically are transacted in digital currencies such as Bitcoin, spawned Sentinel Crypto, a Florida-based money services business managed by his friend, Wesley Spencer. Sentinel’s business is paying ransoms on behalf of clients whose insurers reimburse them, Loehr and Spencer said.

New York-based Flashpoint also pays ransoms for insurance companies. Hofmann, the vice president, said insurers typically give policyholders a toll-free number to dial as soon as they realize they’ve been hit. The number connects to a lawyer who provides a list of incident response firms and other contractors. Insurers tightly control expenses, approving or denying coverage for the recovery efforts advised by the vendors they suggest.

“Carriers are absolutely involved in the decision making,” Hofmann said. On both sides of the attack, “insurance is going to transform this entire market,” he said.

On June 10, Lake City government officials noticed they couldn’t make calls or send emails. IT staff then discovered encrypted files on the city’s servers and disconnected the infected servers from the internet. The city soon learned it was struck by Ryuk ransomware. Over the past year, unknown attackers using the Ryuk strain have besieged small municipalities and technology and logistics companies, demanding ransoms up to $5 million, according to the FBI.

Shortly after realizing it had been attacked, Lake City contacted the Florida League of Cities, which provides insurance for more than 550 public entities in the state. Beazley is the league’s reinsurer for cyber coverage, and they share the risk. The league declined to comment.

Initially, the city had hoped to restore its systems without paying a ransom. IT staff was “plugging along” and had taken server drives to a local vendor who’d had “moderate success at getting the stuff off of it,” Lee said. However, the process was slow and more challenging than anticipated, he said.

As the local technicians worked on the backups, Beazley requested a sample encrypted file and the ransom note so its approved vendor, Coveware, could open negotiations with the hackers, said Steve Roberts, Lake City’s director of risk management. The initial ransom demand was 86 bitcoin, or about $700,000 at the time, Coveware CEO Bill Siegel said. “Beazley was not happy with it — it was way too high,” Roberts said. “So [Coveware] started negotiations with the perps and got it down to the 42 bitcoin. Insurance stood by with the final negotiation amount, waiting for our decision.”

Lee said Lake City may have been able to achieve a “majority recovery” of its files without paying the ransom, but it probably would have cost “three times as much money trying to get there.” The city fired its IT director, Brian Hawkins, in the midst of the recovery efforts. Hawkins, who is suing the city, said in an interview posted online by his new employer that he was made “the scapegoat” for the city’s unpreparedness. The “recovery process on the files was taking a long time” and “the lengthy process was a major factor in paying the ransom,” he said in the interview.

On June 25, the day after the council meeting, the city said in a press release that while its backup recovery efforts “were initially successful, many systems were determined to be unrecoverable.” Lake City fronted the ransom amount to Coveware, which converted the money to bitcoin, paid the attackers and received a fee for its services. The Florida League of Cities reimbursed the city, Roberts said.

Lee acknowledged that paying ransoms spurs more ransomware attacks. But as cyber insurance becomes ubiquitous, he said, he trusts the industry’s judgment.

“The insurer is the one who is going to get hit with most of this if it continues,” he said. “And if they’re the ones deciding it’s still better to pay out, knowing that means they’re more likely to have to do it again — if they still find that it’s the financially correct decision — it’s kind of hard to argue with them because they know the cost-benefit of that. I have a hard time saying it’s the right decision, but maybe it makes sense with a certain perspective.”

ProPublica research reporter Doris Burke contributed to this story.

The post Insurance Companies Are Creating an Economy of Extortion appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Unsealed Documents Show How Purdue Pharma Created a “Pain Movement”

Mother Jones Magazine -

For years, Purdue Pharma has maintained that it can’t be blamed for the overdose crisis that unfolded after its introduction of OxyContin—but a trove of new evidence suggests that the company was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the opioid epidemic.

As early as 2000, Purdue collaborated with pain patient advocacy groups and professional pain management organizations to create what former president Richard Sackler called a “pain movement.” The company also allegedly worked with competitor and opioid maker Johnson &  Johnson, which was recently found liable for contributing to the opioid crisis in Oklahoma, in an effort to create a “pain management franchise.” In addition, company executives appear to have met with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to discuss possible collaborations.

These revelations come from new exhibits in the federal litigation bundling roughly 2,000 cases against opioid makers and distributors that is set to go to trial in October. The plaintiffs allege that the pharmaceutical companies worked together in a conspiracy to sell more opioids, an allegation that the defendants vigorously deny. Under the terms of a recently-leaked settlement proposal, Purdue and its owners, the Sackler family, may soon settle all the claims brought against the company by thousands of state and federal lawsuits.

Here are some highlights from the recently unsealed exhibits:

“They are going to have to learn to live with ‘industry’ reps on their board”

In order to promote opioids, pharmaceutical companies funded a number of professional and patient advocacy organizations to serve as “front groups,” according to the plaintiffs, including the now defunct American Pain Foundation and the American Pain Society. Some of the groups went on to issue guidelines minimizing the risks of opioid addiction, lobby to change laws aimed at curbing opioid abuse, and protect doctors sued for overprescribing painkillers, according to an investigation by former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).

The new exhibits suggest Purdue’s motives in collaborating with these organizations. In a 2001 email conversation with colleagues about meeting with patient advocacy groups, Purdue president Richard Sackler wrote, “Our goal is to bind these organizations more closely to us than heretofore, but also to align them with our expanded mission and to see that the fate of our product(s) are inextricably bound up with the trajectory of the pain movement.”

A screenshot of email correspondence published in the multi-district opioid litigation.

Purdue executive Robin Hogen allegedly stated in a 2000 memo that if the American Pain Society “want our bucks (and they honestly cannot survive without industry support) they are going to have to learn to live with ‘industry’ reps on their board. I don’t think they can expect huge grants without some say in governance.” (Hogen told Mother Jones that the memo showed “some naiveté on my part and a little bravado…from a new employee saying that based on my experience many non-profits.” He added that Purdue did not heed his advice. The American Pain Society filed for bankruptcy in July.)

Collaborating with Johnson & Johnson to create a “Pain Management Franchise”

According to the court documents, as early as 2000, Purdue began working with Johnson & Johnson, whose pharmaceutical subsidiaries sold opioids Duragesic and Ultram, on a “co-promotion agreement” in which sales representatives would promote both companies’ opioid products. The ultimate goal, according to a J&J presentation, was to “Build a partnership between Purdue Pharma LP and J&J that leverages each partner’s assets and capabilities to create a Pain Management Franchise that is significantly larger and more profitable than that which the partners could build on their own.”

A screenshot of a J&J presentation regarding a possible collaboration with Purdue

The co-promotion agreement never came to fruition, but evidence suggests that the companies instructed their sales representatives not to attack the others’ brands. In 2001, after an executive from J&J subsidiary Janssen complained that Purdue’s sales representatives were telling doctors about the abuse of Janssen’s opioid, Duragesic, a Purdue executive instructed Purdue’s sales force not to discuss abuse and diversion of OxyContin or Duragesic. If they did, the letter stated, there would be consequences: “Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Purdue have agreed that should either company have representatives who promote product out of label or out of policy, the name of the representative will be provided to the other company for investigation and disciplinary action if needed.”

A J&J spokesman told Mother Jones, “Janssen and Purdue were and remained competitors.” Purdue declined to comment. “It would be much better if the advocacy came from outside of the drug company”

In 2001, shortly after the first media reports of widespread abuse of OxyContin, Dr. Kathleen Foley, a neurologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and a former paid speaker for Purdue, emailed Richard Sackler urging the company to collaborate with other pharmaceutical companies. “I’m thinking of an alternative strategy of bringing together all of the members of the pharmaceutical industry, who have analgesic drugs out there and try to come together as a sort of cohesive voice recognizing that your particular drug has been recently identified in the newspapers as a drug issue,” she wrote. “I think that there is a tightrope that you need to walk, because you are a drug company and it would be much better if the advocacy came from outside of the drug company and even better without much in the way of support from you.” 

A portion of Foley’s email to Sackler

In 2005, Purdue lobbyist Burt Rosen allegedly organized the Pain Care Forum. Purdue, J&J, and the American Pain Foundation were among the group’s early participants, but, according to court documents, the forum soon included virtually every major opioid maker and distributor. “I think this could fill the vacuum of leadership in the community at large, and provide for some unified direction on issues of importance to the pain community,” Rosen allegedly said. The forum—which has no public website, meeting notes, or member list—served as a platform for industry to discuss issues related to opioid supply and coordinate media and policy campaigns.

When the CDC proposed guidelines urging doctors to limit opioid prescribing, the group mounted a coordinated, seemingly-grassroots effort to criticize the guidelines using “media efforts and recruiting patients and provider experts,” according to court documents. Though Rosen denied that the forum itself hires lobbyists, the forum’s members allegedly spent nearly $900 million to influence government between 2006 and 2015.

Purdue’s Work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Among the unsealed exhibits is a memo submitted by Purdue’s Robin Hogen describing a July 2000 meeting between Purdue executives and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president Dr. Steve Schroeder. The foundation, started by and named after J&J’s former leader, is the nation’s largest philanthropic organization focused solely on public health. At the time, about 60 percent of the foundation’s holdings were in J&J stock.

Hogen wrote,

They were impressed with the scope of our programs and invited Purdue to join the national coalition they are forming to improve care and caring at the end of life (called the Last Acts Partnership). We would be the only for-profit company in that category. Dr. Steve Schroeder, President of the RWJ Foundation, indicated that they rarely sit down with pharmaceutical companies to discuss areas of mutual interest. He was impressed when we described the unbranded, non-promotional aspect of our speakers bureaus and symposia and seemed quite interested in keeping the lines of communications open for possible future partnerships.”

The memo notes that “areas of possible future collaboration” include setting up “Purdue Faculty Fellowships,” “help in identifying pain management advocates,” and “sponsorship of a session on pain management” at an annual foundation meeting. The memo ended, “I believe this is a relationship that could yield many happy returns to both Purdue and RWJ.”

Hogen, who later worked in communications for Yale and the RWJ Foundation, told Mother Jones that the meeting was part of a company effort to reach out to organizations “who shared our interest in treating chronic pain patients humanely.”

None of the collaborations mentioned in the memo came to be; the foundation “subsequently declined opportunities to collaborate with Purdue on programs related to pain assessment and pain management,” according to RWJ spokesman Jordan Reese. “We are working alongside others—and across disciplines—to address the many factors that lead to addiction, as well as to advance policies and practices that will prevent another such crisis from occurring,” he said. Today, about 15 percent of the foundation’s holdings are in J&J stock.

“Make the whole pie bigger, not only for us but for our competition as well”

In 2000, Purdue held a sales meeting in Palm Beach, at which an executive named Mark gave a speech welcoming the sales representatives. Below is part of Mark’s script, included in the unsealed exhibits:

(MARK SHOULD ENTER WEARING SUNGLASSES)

… You know, it’s always hot here in Palm Springs. That’s why it’s a perfect place to have our meeting … because we’re hot … we’re burning up the competition with our sales of OxyContin! Do you know it’s now the number one prescribed opioid brand in the U.S.?

“Now, you’re probably wondering what else can be done to sell even more OxyContin,” Mark went on. “There are also some things we’re cooking up for the coming year to help you and OxyContin and the whole pain market as well.” These initiatives allegedly included collaborating with the American Pain Society to develop materials that would “be distributed to hospitals across the country” and “weekly feature stories about pain and its management in newspapers.” The goal, said Mark, is to “raise awareness of undertreated pain” and to “Make the whole pie bigger, not only for us but for our competition as well.”

Mark concluded,

I hope you enjoy your stay here in Palm Springs, I know I will. Enjoy the weather … because let me tell you, OxyContin’s continuing success, is going to make every part of this country from Seattle to Detroit to New Orleans as hot as it is here in Palm Springs this winter for every one of you. You are the force for the future … let’s make it happen! (PLAY SONG HOT, HOT, HOT)

The Death of Arms Control

TruthDig.com News -

A deadly accident in northern Russia earlier this month caused the U.S. arms control community to stand up and take notice. The Russians claim they were testing “isotopic sources of fuel on a liquid propulsion unit,” and that only after the test was completed did the engine explode. There was a spike in radiation levels detected in the city of Severodvinsk, roughly 18 miles away, shortly after the accident. Seven people were killed as a result of the explosion, including at least two who died of acute radiation poisoning. Scores of others were exposed to radioactive materials, and subsequently decontaminated and placed under observation. Within days, the Russians declared that all radiation readings in and around the accident site were at normal levels.

Many Western experts believe that the Russians were testing a nuclear-powered cruise missile, the 9M730 “Burevestnik”—known in the West by its NATO designation, the SSC-X-9 “Skyfall”—and that a miniature nuclear reactor these experts believe was used to power the missile exploded. Other experts, including me, question this conclusion. But a recent report by Roshydromet, the Russian agency responsible for sampling air quality, showed the presence of four distinct isoptopes in the atmosphere after the accident that are uniquely sourced to the fission of uranium 235, strongly suggesting that a reactor of some sort was, in fact, involved (mitigating against this conclusion is the fact that no iodine 131 was detected; iodine 131 is the most prevalent isotope produced by the fission of uranium 235, and its absence would be highly unlikely in the event of any reactor explosion).

The bottom line, however, is that no one outside the Russians responsible for the failed test know exactly what system was being tested, why it was being tested, how it was being tested, and why that test failed. The Russian government has refused to provide any details about the test. “When it comes to activities of a military nature,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a press conference a few days after the accident, “there are certain restrictions on access to information. This is work in the military field, work on promising weapons systems. We are not hiding this,” he said, adding, “We must think of our own security.”

Related Articles by Independent Media Institute  by TomDispatch

Others were thinking about their own security as well.

“Something obviously has gone badly wrong here,” U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said after the accident. Bolton observed that Russia is seeking to “modernize their nuclear arsenal to build new kinds of delivery vehicles, hypersonic glide vehicles, hypersonic cruise missiles,” noting that “dealing with this capability … remains a real challenge for the United States and its allies.” The U.S. and Russia are currently discussing the extension of the New START treaty on strategic arms reduction, scheduled to expire in early 2021. “If there is going to be an extension of the New START,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “then we need to make sure that we include all these new weapons that Russia is pursuing.”

But this is problematic—the new Russian weapons under development are directly linked to the decision by the George W. Bush administration in 2002 to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, a 1972 agreement that limited the number and types of ABM weapons the U.S. and then-Soviet Union could deploy, thereby increasing the likelihood that any full-scale missile attack would succeed in reaching its target. By creating the inevitability of mutual nuclear annihilation (a practice referred to as “mutually assured destruction,” or MAD), both the U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear forces served as a deterrent against one another.

The deployment by the U.S. of modern ABM systems in the aftermath of its withdrawal from the ABM treaty, Russia believes, threatens its strategic nuclear force and thereby nullifies its deterrent potential. From the Russian perspective, only by building a new generation of modern nuclear delivery systems specifically designed to defeat U.S. ABM capability can Russia reassert its strategic nuclear deterrent. “We have repeatedly told our American and European partners who are NATO members we will make the necessary efforts to neutralize the threats posed by the deployment of the US global missile defense system,” Putin stated during a 2018 speech. According to him, “Nobody really wanted to talk to us about the core of the problem, and nobody wanted to listen to us.” Putin unveiled Russia’s new nuclear arsenal—which included the Burevestnik missile—and stared into the camera, declaring, “So, listen to us now!”

Complicating matters further is the notion put forward by Esper that the weapons Putin unveiled in 2018 would require that the New START treaty be modified prior to any extension, impeding what otherwise would simply have been an automatic extension, based upon mutual consent, for a five-year period. The Russians took umbrage over this position. “If we want to really comprehend the core of the matter,” Vladimir Yermakov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister for nonproliferation and arms control, told the Russian press earlier this month, “it should be noted that the New START Treaty covers specific categories of strategic arms, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), heavy bombers and ICBM and SLBM launchers. The Treaty,” Yermakov emphasized, “does not cover any other weapons systems.” Regarding the failed test of Aug. 8, Yermakov declared: “This also concerns the relevant research and development projects.” Yermakov categorically rejected the proposition put forward by Esper, noting that “the question of hypothetically extending the New START Treaty with certain weapons systems that do not fit into the aforementioned categories is absolutely unacceptable.”

Esper’s position, Yermakov said, did not take the Russians by surprise. “As of late,” Yermakov said, “we have been hearing US officials express doubts more and more often as to whether extending the New START Treaty makes sense. It is hard to perceive this as anything other than a conscious effort to lay the required media groundwork and to invent pretexts for declining to extend the agreement after it expires in February 2021 and to obtain absolute freedom to build up the US nuclear arsenal, even to the detriment of strategic stability and international security.”

The Russian position on the extension of the New START treaty, Yermakov said, is that it would “be a reasonable and responsible step, making it possible to prevent a complete breakdown in the area of strategic stability,” and “would also provide extra time to consider joint approaches towards new weapons systems that are currently emerging and possible new arms control treaties.” But before any extension could be considered, the Russian side insisted that the U.S. resolve an outstanding issue of treaty compliance that centered around 56 Trident SLBM launchers and 41 B-52H bombers that were “converted” from their nuclear mission in a way that does not render them incapable of accomplishing that mission. Such conversions are permitted under the New START treaty “by rendering [the Trident SLBM launchers and B-52H bombers] incapable of employing ICBMs, SLBMs, or nuclear armaments.”

For the Trident SLBM launchers, the conversion was done by removing gas generators of the ejecting mechanism from the launch tube and bolting the tube covers shut. The problem, for the Russians, is that this procedure is reversible, meaning that the launcher could still be used to launch SLBMs simply by removing the bolts and replacing the gas generators. Likewise, the B-52H modifications involve the removal of launch equipment from the aircraft. The aircraft still retains a socket that would allow the arming mechanism of a nuclear weapon to be connected to the removed equipment, which means the B-52H could be converted back to its nuclear role simply by reinstalling the equipment. According to Yermakov, “Russian inspectors are unable to verify the results of the re-equipping under the procedure stipulated by the Treaty.” From the Russian perspective, the issue of the noncompliant “conversion” of the Trident SLBM launchers and B-52H bombers is of “fundamental significance”; any extension of the New START can only be discussed, the Russians maintain, once the United States “fully return to complying with the spirit and the letter of the treaty.”

The foundation upon which U.S.-Russian cooperation regarding New START was constructed is fragile, founded as it was on the unilateral abrogation of the ABM Treaty in 2002, the ongoing compliance issue regarding the conversion of treaty-accountable items under New START, and the precipitous decision on the part of the Trump administration to withdraw from yet another landmark arms control agreement, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which went into effect Aug. 2. It would be the INF Treaty that would deal the fatal blow to U.S. credibility when it came to arms control.

The U.S. had, since 2014, accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty by testing a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) to prohibited ranges. According to the U.S. narrative, Russia took advantage of the existence of two other missile systems, the Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile and the Kalibr sea-launched cruise missile, to try and disguise the development of a new GLCM, the 9M729, which the U.S. claims was flight-tested to ranges prohibited by the INF Treaty. “Russia probably assumed parallel development—tested from the same site—and deployment of other cruise missiles that are not prohibited by the INF Treaty would provide sufficient cover for its INF violation,” then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress in January.

For its part, Russia denied that the 9M729 violated the INF Treaty. From the moment the U.S. first raised its allegations regarding the 9M729, Russia requested that they be backed up with facts that would substantiate the claims; this the U.S. refused to do. Finally, in an effort to forestall a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Russia displayed the 9M729 alongside its cousin, the 9M728, a similar GLCM that the U.S. acknowledges complies with the range restrictions of the INF Treaty. The Russian Ministry of Defense invited U.S. and NATO military officers stationed in Moscow to attend this demonstration; none did. The Russians were able to demonstrate convincingly that the 9M728 and 9M729 missiles made use of the same propulsion components—solid-fuel rocket motors, which meant that, all things being equal, both missiles would fly the same distance. But there was a kicker—the 9M729 missile was equipped with an improved guidance and control package, as well as a different warhead which, in their aggregate, weighed significantly more than their counterpart components on the treaty-compliant 9M728 missile. In short, the Russians demonstrated that the 9M729 could not fly further than the treaty-compliant 9M728. The U.S. ignored this demonstration.

At the same time the U.S. was accusing Russia of violating the INF Treaty with the 9M729 missile, Russia was voicing similar concerns about the Mark 41 “Aegis Ashore” vertical launch system that the U.S. had installed in both Poland and Romania as part of its ballistic missile defense shield. The Mark 41 originally was designed for service on naval vessels. In this role, its launcher system could be configured to launch either the SM-6 surface-to-air missile, or the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile. From the Russian perspective, the Mark 41, when placed in a ground-launch configuration, became an INF-capable system, since it could launch a GLCM of proscribed range. The U.S. was adamant in its rejection of these claims, noting that the Aegis Ashore systems in Poland and Romania were configured to launch SM-6 surface-to-air missiles only. The Russians, however, insisted that there was no physical way to make this determination, noting that the INF Treaty required that similar systems be denoted with unique visually distinctive features; the U.S. dismissed the Russian position as a “technicality.”

On Aug. 18, the U.S. conducted a test launch of a GLCM from a Mark 41 launch cannister that had been bolted to a flat-bed trailer, making it a de facto ground launcher. The GLCM flew to ranges greater than those permitted by the INF Treaty. Technically, the U.S. was not in violation of the INF treaty at the time of the test, because it had expired on Aug. 2, some 16 days prior. But those 16 days hold the key to understanding just how seriously Russia took this test. According to a transcript of a meeting Putin held Friday with members of the Russian Security Council, he declared that by conducting a missile test a mere 16 days after the INF Treaty ended, it was “obvious that it was not improvisation, but became the next link in a chain of events that were planned and carried out earlier.”

From the Russian perspective, they had been right all along—the U.S. had cheated on the INF Treaty, just as they were cheating on the New START Treaty. With such a dismal track record of noncompliance, it is all but certain that the New START Treaty will not be extended and, thus liberated from any vestige of constraint, the U.S. and Russia will embark on a new arms race that threatens all of humanity with the all-too-real possibility of imminent destruction.

The post The Death of Arms Control appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The DOJ’s Inspector General Says James Comey Violated the FBI’s Rules. Did Comey Have a Choice?

Mother Jones Magazine -

The Justice Department’s inspector general said Thursday that former FBI Director James Comey violated bureau policy in his handling of memos detailing interactions with President Donald Trump. The 61-page report faults Comey for setting a “dangerous example” for FBI employees by authorizing the leak of information in the memos, which describe Trump pressing the then-FBI director, who is supposed to operate free of political influence, for “loyalty,” pushing him to announce Trump was not under investigation, and asking Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. In May 2017, Trump fired Comey, who later said he had okayed the public release of information from his memos in a bid to encourage the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

Comey told the IG’s office that his actions were of “incredible importance to the Nation, as a whole” and “something I had to do if I love this country…and I love the Department of Justice, and I love and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI.” The report counters that “Comey’s own, personal conception of what was necessary was not an appropriate basis for ignoring the policies and agreements governing the use of FBI records, especially given the other lawful and appropriate actions he could have taken to achieve his desired end.”

But it’s hard to imagine that the alternatives the report suggests—contacting Congress, the inspector general’s office, or independent offices within the Justice Department—would have had anything near the galvanizing effect achieved by Comey’s decision to quickly publicize Trump’s possible obstruction of justice via the New York Times. The IG’s report does not grapple with whether Comey’s decision to publicly blow the whistle on Trump, regardless of it violating bureau policy, was good. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is not tasked with making those calls. But many Americans surely believe that Comey made the right call.

“Comey did what he did because the president was actively trying to dismantle DOJ’s normal way of operating,” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman under President Barack Obama, a frequent Comey critic, tweeted. “The [Attorney General] and [Deputy Attorney General] were both complicit, so Comey had nowhere else to take his concerns. It must be nice to live in the context-free world inhabited by the IG.”

Comey acted as a whistleblower, according to Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, in an interview with Mother Jones. But like other intelligence community employees who do not enjoy whistleblower protections available to federal employees, Brian said, Comey seems to have felt he had to break rules to expose wrongdoing. “There isn’t a safe way,” she said. “Whether it’s Comey or a low level intelligence community employee, what are they supposed to do when the they don’t have the channels to reveal misconduct?”

“It’s clear that he believed the conduct he was witnessing was wrong, and he felt that this was the only way that he could try to stop it,” Brian said. “It’s not about whether I like him or whether he’s right or not. That’s the standard we need to apply.”

The report is the latest chapter in an exasperating, controversial, and celebrated career in which Comey has repeatedly won attention for defying superiors he faults for political motives and applying his own values. His 2018 book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, outlined this pattern without dispelling charges of hubris and self-promotion. In 2004, Comey, then deputy attorney general, won acclaim on the left for blocking a push by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, to force Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized at the time, to reauthorize Bush’s domestic surveillance program. In the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign, Comey, as FBI director, ignored instructions from Attorney General Loretta Lynch and held his own press conference in which he castigated Hillary Clinton for her use of a personal email server as secretary state, even as he announced she would not be prosecuted. Clinton and her staff “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” Comey said.

On Thursday, Horowitz announced that Comey will not face charges for mishandling information in his own memos that investigators later determined was “confidential,” the lowest level of classification. The report says the IG “found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any…classified information contained in any of the Memos to members of the media.”

The report quotes Comey describing his decision to ask his friend and lawyer Daniel Richman, a Columbia University law professor, to supply a New York Times reporter with details from Comey’s memo describing a February 14, 2017, meeting with Trump. During that meeting, Trump asked Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation into Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador about sanctions Obama imposed on Russia. (Richman declined to comment.) Comey, who says he believed at the time Trump’s claim that he had secretly recorded their meetings, told the IG’s office he thought: “If I put out into the public square that encounter, that will force DOJ, likely to appoint a Special Counsel to go get the tapes.” And Comey said he reasoned that after his firing, “I’m a private citizen. I can talk about conversations I had with the President of the United States. I happen to have this conversation enshrined in an accurate way in this memo.”

Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the his interactions with the Russian ambassador and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team. By generating publicity focused on Trump’s effort to curtail the FBI’s investigation, Comey probably did help create conditions for Mueller’s appointment and made it harder for Trump to meddle in the investigation. And Mueller’s final report, in its discussion of instances where Trump may have obstructed justice, cites Comey’s memos and recollections. Based on those findings, House Democrats are weighing whether to impeach Trump for obstruction of justice. 

Ultimately, Comey can fairly be faulted for hypocrisy. He is self-righteous. He violated FBI policy. But was he wrong? 

NYT Steers Dems Away From the Obvious Formula for Defeating Trump

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

by Jim Naureckas

Thomas Edsall’s demographic analysis is almost always misleading (FAIR.org, 2/10/15, 10/9/15, 6/5/16, 3/30/18, 7/24/19)—and his latest column for the New York Times (8/28/19) is no exception.

“We Aren’t Seeing White Support for Trump for What It Is,” the headline complains—with the subhead explaining, “A crucial part of his coalition is made up of better-off white people who did not graduate from college.”

If “crucial” means it explains why he won, the New York Times (8/28/19) has it backwards.

Why does this matter? Edsall’s column is largely a write-up of a paper by two political scientists, Herbert Kitschelt and Philipp Rehm, who note that better-off whites without college degrees “tend to endorse authoritarian noneconomic policies and tend to oppose progressive economic policies,” and are therefore “a constituency that is now decisively committed to the Republican Party.” (By “authoritarian policies,” the researchers are mainly talking about racism and xenophobia.) Low-income, low-education whites, by contrast, “tend to support progressive economic policies and tend to endorse authoritarian policies on the noneconomic dimension,” and are therefore “conflicted in their partisan allegiance.”

What’s at stake in presenting one of these constituencies as “crucial” is how you approach the task of defeating Trump: If he’s turning out his key supporters through race-baiting and immigrant-bashing, the argument goes, then Democrats need to take care not to be too outspoken on issues of race and immigration. And so Edsall confidently concludes:

The 2020 election will be fought over the current loss of certainty—the absolute lack of consensus—on the issue of “race.”… Democrats are convinced of the justness of the liberal, humanistic, enlightenment tradition of expanding rights for racial and ethnic minorities. Republicans, less so…. If Democrats want to give themselves the best shot of getting Trump out of the White House…they must make concerted efforts at pragmatic diplomacy and persuasion—and show a new level of empathy.

(This is an argument Edsall has made before—see “What’s a Non-Racist Way to Appeal to Working-Class Whites? NYT’s Edsall Can’t Think of Any,” FAIR.org, 3/30/18.)

But there’s an entirely different conclusion that one can draw from the 21st century political terrain—one that is better supported by the data presented in Edsall’s column. Take a close look at the graphic he presents depicting “the shifting voting patterns of whites”:

Bear in mind that these are not equal slices of the electorate: As Edsall notes, the low-income, low-education voters are about 40% of white voters; the high-income, low-education voters are 22%; the low-income, high-education group is 14%; and the high-income, high-education make up 26% of the white vote.

So the supposedly “crucial” better-off white non–college grads are about half as plentiful as their poorer counterparts—and they have been voting Republican fairly consistently since 1972, through good years for Republicans and bad. What was actually crucial to Trump’s 2016 success is that the larger group of poorer less-educated whites, which traditionally leans Democratic or splits its vote, went decisively Republican.

And while this group was susceptible to Trump’s racist appeals, equally important (according to Edsall’s political scientist sources) was his “repeated campaign promise to protect Medicare and Social Security.” The false impression that Trump was a moderate Republican on economic issues “removed cognitive dissonance and inhibitions” that might deter such voters from supporting an economic conservative, leaving them free to be swayed by Trump’s appeal to a white racial identity.

Where the votes are: sorting Trump and Clinton supporters by views on economic and social issues (New York, 6/18/17; see FAIR.org, 10/28/17).

If that’s the truly crucial group, then Democrats will not win the 2020 election by embracing, as Edsall seems to suggest, an agnosticism on the issue of race (or “the issue of ‘race,'” as he puts it), but rather by advancing a strongly progressive, redistributionist economic message. It’s political common sense that if the voters who are up for grabs are those who are socially conservative and economically progressive, then Democrats should emphasize left-wing economics and Republicans should stress right-wing social policies—while crucially reassuring their bases that they maintain their commitments to a progressive social agenda or a conservative economic program, respectively. (See FAIR.org, 6/20/17.)

But this common sense runs against the New York Times‘ historic role of guiding the Democratic Party away from positions that threaten the wealthy. This is why Adolph Ochs, great-great-grandfather of the current Times publisher, was bankrolled by bankers to buy the paper in 1896 (FAIR.org, 10/28/17), and it’s why the paper today has an editorial page editor who proudly declares, “The New York Times is in favor of capitalism” (FAIR.org, 3/1/18). Edsall, it seems, has the task of providing the intellectual arguments for why the Democrats should not adopt the progressive economic agenda that would benefit them electorally—a job that necessarily involves a great deal of doubletalk and hand-waving.

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Lunchtime Photo

Mother Jones Magazine -

I took this picture at the Plaza Bolívar on my first day in Colombia, and I think it might be my favorite of the whole trip. I assume this needs no explanation. It’s just adorable.

August 4, 2019 — Bogotá, Colombia

Consumer Spending Is OK, Not Great

Mother Jones Magazine -

According to the Wall Street Journal, in the second quarter “American consumers spent at the strongest pace since late 2014.” Is that true?

Sure, if you look at Q2 compared to Q1. But why would you? A better measure is simple year-over-year growth, and that shows nothing special at all:

Consumer spending growth is holding steady, which is good news. But it certainly isn’t setting any records.

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