See John Oliver’s Warning to Trump About Vladimir Putin, Russia

ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE:

“Trump is basically the propagandist of Putin’s dreams… who knows why he’s acting this way. Maybe he’s compromised, maybe he’s an idiot,” host says

“Trump is basically the propagandist of Putin’s dreams… who knows why he’s acting this way. Maybe he’s compromised, maybe he’s an idiot,” host says

Okay…I just watched the entire tape.  The ending is really GROSS in terms of “lyrics” to a song about Putin.  BE ADVISED.

10 things you need to know today: February 20, 2017

Alex Wong/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Defense Secretary Mattis says U.S. won’t seize Iraqi oil
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Monday said that the U.S. would not try to seize Iraq’s oil, an idea President Trump floated last month that has upset Iraqi leaders. Some local lawmakers have been pressuring Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to cut back on the country’s cooperation with the U.S. due to Trump’s oil threat and his travel ban, which included Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries but has been blocked by courts. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” Mattis told reporters after arriving in Iraq on an unannounced visit.

Source: USA Today

2. Sweden demands explanation for Trump’s terror comment
The Swedish government on Sunday demanded an explanation from the State Department on what President Trump meant when he said a day earlier, “You look what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” Trump’s comment about the challenges involved in keeping America safe was widely interpreted to mean that some kind of attack had taken place this weekend in Sweden, but Swedish authorities said nothing happened that night, or any other recent night. “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister, wrote on Twitter. Trump responded on Twitter, saying he was referring to a Fox News report he had seen about Sweden and immigration. Fox News ran a report Fridaynight on alleged migrant-related crime in Sweden.

Source: Reuters, NBC News

3. Pence tells EU leaders U.S. wants to ‘deepen’ relationship
Vice President Mike Pence told European Union officials on Mondaythat the Trump administration wants to “deepen our relationship” with the 28-nation trading bloc. The comment, which came in a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, was seen as an attempt to reassure EU leaders’ concerns over President Trump’s support for Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Pence also sought to reassure European officials in Germany over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference, but some participants left the conference still worried about comments Trump has made, such as calling NATO “obsolete.” “People were not reassured,” said Daniela Schwarzer, director of the German Council on Foreign Relations. “They think that Trump is erratic and incalculable.”

Source: Reuters, The New York Times

4. North Korea says it doesn’t trust Malaysian investigators
North Korea said Monday that it did not trust Malaysia to properly investigate last week’s murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Pyongyang is calling for a joint investigation. South Korea has said it was “certain” that North Korea was behind the killing, which Seoul called an “act of terrorism.” CCTV footage released Monday showed Kim Jong Nam, 45, going to a check-in kiosk and being ambushed by two women. Authorities say the women applied a deadly poison. North Korea has grown increasingly angry over the case, accusing Malaysia and South Korea of conspiring to pin the killing on Pyongyang.

Source: The Washington Post

5. Kraft Heinz withdraws proposal to merge with Unilever
Kraft Heinz has scrapped its $143 billion merger proposal with Unilever, the companies announced Sunday. The companies said the decision had been made amicably. Kraft Heinz made the surprise offer on Thursday, proposing a price that marked an 18 percent premium on Unilever’s Thursday closing price, but Unilever, which makes Dove soap, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, said the offer “fundamentally” undervalued the British-Dutch company. Kraft Heinz promptly said it was ready to keep pushing, but a Heinz spokesman said Unilever made it clear that it “did not wish to pursue a transaction.”

Source: The New York Times, BBC News

6. Iraqi forces make gains in western Mosul offensive
Iraqi government soldiers took control of several villages near Mosul on Sunday in the first day of an offensive aiming to drive the Islamic State out of the city, ISIS’ last major stronghold in Iraq. Government forces took over the eastern side of the city last month. The latest attack, announced Sunday by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, could prove tougher, as the area is laced with narrow, winding streets providing ISIS militants with ready cover. Two of the villages taken by government forces on Sunday put the advancing troops in a position to attack the city’s airport. Forces on the government-controlled east side can’t easily push into the western side because all bridges joining the two sides of the Tigris River have been destroyed.

Source: BBC News

7. SpaceX launches rocket after delay
SpaceX launched a rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station on Sunday, a day after an unexpected reading from the rocket’s second stage forced a delay 13 seconds before liftoff. Sunday’s launch was the first from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center since the last space shuttle launch more than five years ago, and SpaceX’s first from the historic Launch Pad 39A that Apollo 11 used in 1969 on the way to the moon. The Dragon cargo capsule, carrying 5,500 pounds of supplies, experiments, and other cargo, reached orbit on schedule 11 minutes after liftoff, and is expected to link up with the Space Station this week. The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, successfully landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an important step in SpaceX’s recovery from the explosion of a rocket on a launchpad last September.

Source: Space.com, The New York Times

8. Suicide bombing kills 30 in Somalia
A suicide bombing killed at least 30 people at a busy market near the center of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, on Sunday. “The market was full of blood,” said Fa’izo Shimbir, a shopper who was near the market and saw dead bodies scattered around. The attack, which officials blamed on the Islamist extremist group al-Shabab, underscored the intense security challenges facing Somalia’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who was selected by the country’s parliament this month and hours before the attack had announced a new offensive against al-Shabab.

Source: The New York Times

9. Uber chief vows investigation of sexual harassment allegations
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said Sunday that the ride-hailing company would conduct an “urgent investigation” into sexual harassment accusations made by a former employee in a blog post. The former Uber software programmer, Susan Fowler, said that her manager propositioned her in chat messages. She said she took screenshots of the messages and showed them to human resources, but was told that her boss was a “high performer” and senior managers didn’t want to punish him for something they saw as an “innocent mistake.” Kalanick said the behavior Fowler described was “abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in.”

Source: Bloomberg, Reuters

10. Trump interviews national security adviser candidates
President Trump on Sunday met with four potential replacements for retired general Mike Flynn, who was ousted as national security adviser last week. The candidates for the job reportedly included Trump’s acting adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, as well as former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump might meet with more candidates. Trump, spending the weekend at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, said he wanted to make his pick in the next few days.

Source: The Associated Press

Beyond fact-checking: After the catastrophic media failure of 2016, the press must master “crucial evidence”

Beyond fact-checking: After the catastrophic media failure of 2016, the press must master "crucial evidence"

(Credit: Shutterstock/Salon)

SALON

Philosopher William Berkson has an antidote for bogus media “balance”: Some evidence matters more

The media failed disastrously during the 2016 presidential election. The only questions, really, are how and why — and what can be done about it. This is especially urgent as President Donald Trump, with his repeated attacks against the press, only threatens to make matters worse.

The problem can be thought of in a threefold way: First, issues virtually disappeared from the campaign. Second, the resulting overemphasis on personality and politics was badly skewed toward controversy and sensationalism, which strongly disfavored Hillary Clinton as her emails got far more sustained and prominent attention than Trump’s much more varied range of serious problems. Third, although fact-checking flourished as a media subgenre, it utterly failed to protect American democracy against a pathological liar with authoritarian ambitions who was able to deflect attention repeatedly without ever answering fundamental questions.

The failure of fact-checking is particularly frustrating to the “reality-based community,” but the problem may well be that they’re not actually being reality-based enough. That’s the suggestion that philosopher William Berkson advanced recently in the Columbia Journalism Review. Fact-checking may not be enough, he argues. We need something much bolder: policy-checking. Conceptually, it’s reminiscent of the Office of Technology Assessment, an office established in 1972 to provide Congress with objective and authoritative analysis of complex scientific and technical issues. (It was abolished by Newt Gingrich when he became speaker in 1995. Archive website here.)

But Berkson’s concept is broader both in scope — encompassing all policy issues — and in terms of its primary audience, the press and the public. The media’s failures weren’t due to “lack of ability or courage,” he argues, but to “the lack of a clear and strong model for drawing fair and objective conclusions about the candidates’ policies.”

Without such a model, the media relied instead on a confused notion of “balance,” which “misled them time after time,” Berkson said. If Trump was visibly terrible, “balance” required that Clinton be terrible too, regardless of whether they were actually comparable.

Berkson’s background is in the philosophy of science. He was a student of the legendary Karl Popper — famous for articulating the crucial role of falsifiability in science — and has written about how social science can be made as rigorous as the physical sciences. His notion of policy-checking builds on that foundation: If social science can be made that rigorous, then policies based on it can be as well, and journalists can benefit from a policy-check resource, just as they now benefit from fact-checkers. Beyond that, if policy-based reporting can be made, it becomes more likely that it will be done widely and well. The more that happens, the more reality-based attitudes and values will tend to rub off on everyone involved — journalists, audiences and politicians.

It’s not a magic cure. There can be no single silver-bullet remedy for a sweeping systemic failure. But this idea could play a crucial role in helping to tip the balance moving forward, and altering the whole system of how journalism is done — moving it in a positive, empirically grounded direction, directly opposed to the disintegration epitomized by the rise of fake news. If that is to happen, the idea needs to be more widely known, understood, critiqued and refined. That’s why Salon reached out to Berkson to elaborate on his concept: its foundations, possibilities and requirements. This interview was conducted by email, and been lightly edited.

Given that the media failings in the 2016 campaign are painfully well-known, I’d like to begin by asking you to explain your model and what makes it uniquely powerful. You’ve said that it “involves the identification of crucial evidence.” What is “crucial evidence,” and what sets it apart from other kinds of evidence?

Evidence is “crucial” when you have two different theories which predict different events in the same situation. In such a situation, evidence of what actually happened will tell you that one theory is definitely false — the one contradicted by the observable facts — while the other theory is confirmed. That’s crucial evidence. To use a simplified, standard example, seeing a black swan refutes the theory that “all swans are white.” At the same time, it confirms the conflicting theory that “all swans are white or black.”

It’s important that while crucial evidence refutes the contradicted theory, it doesn’t prove that the confirmed theory is right. The next swan might be green, contradicting the theory that all swans are black or white. This asymmetry — that refutation is logically stronger than confirmation, and that confirmation is not proof — turns out to be critically important in social science and for evaluating social policies.

Can you give us an example from the history of science?

In my first book, I wrote about the discovery of radio waves by Heinrich Hertz. At the time, there were two rival viewpoints. One thought that the influence of electricity and magnetism on distant objects was instantaneous — action at a distance. The other theory said the forces take time to travel through space. When Hertz demonstrated the electromagnetic waves, radio waves, with a finite velocity, it ended the debate. Hertz’s effort was a “crucial experiment,” but there are crucial observations of what is happening naturally, without any experiment.

This is important, as reporting what you observe is at the heart of journalism. And crucial observations follow the same logic. The most famous one, a hundred years ago, refuted Newton’s theory of gravity, and confirmed Einstein’s. Einstein’s theory predicted that the sun’s gravity would bend light rays passing near it. Eddington figured out that during a solar eclipse he could see the stars close to the sun, and they would appear shifted from their positions in a way he could calculate from Einstein’s theory. The stars did appear to shift as Einstein’s theory predicted, and in contradiction to the predictions of Newton’s theory.

You’ve written elsewhere about the widespread failings of the social sciences to employ this model, and develop testable theories. Could you say a few words about that problem, and why it need not persist?

Many have argued that because of the complexity of society, it is impossible to identify plausible testable theories in social science. However, they assume that social theories have to fully predict the evolution of a social system to be testable. For testability, as I wrote some years ago, it is enough to identify patterns that excludesome possibilities. My wife, Isabelle Tsakok, a development economist and also a former Popper student, took up the challenge of identifying such patterns in economic development.

In her book, she showed that five conditions are necessary for poor countries with traditional agricultures to transform into modern wealthy economies. She was able to document that all now-wealthy countries, including the U.S., met the conditions during their transformations. The conditions are not sufficient, as some countries have fulfilled them and still not succeeded. So the pattern doesn’t fully predict what will happen if a country does fulfill all the conditions. But because the conditions are necessary, vital to broad-based economic growth, the theory still has huge policy implications.

You say that the analysis needed to identify crucial evidence is sometimes accessible to journalists, and you cite as an example the fact that tax cuts have never paid for themselves in U.S. history. Yet, we continue to hear claims to the contrary. What is that evidence? 

The data is unequivocal on tax cuts not paying for themselves fully, and you can see it in many analyses such as this one from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Tax cuts can increase growth somewhat in the short term, but in the U.S. they have never created enough growth to make up for the lost revenue by increased tax receipts. In fact, in the past, investment of tax funds has regularly grown the economy more than cutting taxes and leaving the money in the hands of the rich. For example, the economy grew more under tax-increaser Bill Clinton than tax-cutter Ronald Reagan, and more under tax-increaser Obama than tax-cutter George W. Bush. This claim of tax cuts paying for themselves has never been respectable amongst professional economists; even George W. Bush’s economic advisor Greg Mankiw once labeled those who advanced this claim as “charlatans and cranks.”

Why does this qualify as “crucial evidence”?

It is crucial because the charts go clearly and unequivocally against the claim that U.S. tax cuts have ever paid for themselves, and confirm the claim that cutting taxes reduces total revenues. Those who argue for a Reagan miracle on taxes are often dishonest, for example counting tax dollars from the increase in Social Security taxes as revenue gains from the cuts in marginal top rates! Sorting out the reliability and true implications of the evidence often takes experienced professionals. It’s one reason I think a new organization is needed with staff devoted to this.

You give an example of how this evidence could have been used during the campaign. Could you describe how?

In the third presidential debate, Chris Wallace asked Donald Trump the question of how he would pay for his tax cuts — as they would seem to create trillions in budget deficits. Trump answered that they will pay for themselves through economic growth. Using the crucial evidence, Wallace could have followed up with this question: “Historically, no tax cut has never created enough growth to pay for itself. Why specifically should we expect a different result from your tax cuts?”

You also say that crucial evidence exists regarding the role of government in the economy. What is the nature of that evidence? What does it say that it’s so little known or noticed, given how important it is?

The five necessary conditions for economic transformation that Isabelle documented require governments to sustain major investments over decades. These are investments in public goods and services such as education, infrastructure and research. History shows that no country has ever become wealthy through small government, laissez-faire policies, as urged by Republicans since Reagan. And as I wrote recently, a spate of recent books has appeared since 2008 showing that if you look at long periods — decades — government leadership through investment and regulation has always been a driving force in continuing and broad-based growth of developed economies — in opportunity for all. In looking at these books, I’ve come to the conclusion that to spot crucial evidence, longer historical periods than the business cycle — periods of decades — are extremely revealing. I really think these books are an important breakthrough, and I’m trying to call attention to it.

How would a policy-check organization help to improve things over what we saw in this election cycle? First of all, for the public?

The press failed catastrophically to inform the public well in the 2016 presidential election. The newspapers and TV stations that aspired to be objective followed a disastrously wrong idea of “balance.” Balance was interpreted as equally negative stories against both sides. But in fact, this false kind of balance is not objective or fair to the public. The characters of the candidates were portrayed as equally horrible, when the objective truth is that one was a normally flawed politician and the other by far the most ethically challenged in living memory.

As a result of the “negative both-sides-ism,” the impact of the ethical horrors of one candidate was neutralized. Further, the emphasis was on “horse race” stories, which don’t inform the electorate about the quality of either the candidates’ fitness for office or their policies. Policy coverage was reduced to a mere 10 percent of coverage, and it was primarily reporting on evidence-free name-calling. Further, insofar as evidence was reported, on Trump’s side it was largely false. A policy-check organization would not guarantee better coverage, but it would encourage it and make it much easier for journalists to inform voters on the merits of the contending policy proposals.

How would it improve things for news organizations?

News organizations have talented writers who care passionately about public events, and can write emotionally compelling stories. But to cover policy issues well, they need focused, pointed and reliable summaries of the issues and key evidence. Having access to a briefing book that objectively summarizes the debate and highlights key evidence will make the job of covering policy issues much easier. With this in hand, journalists then convey how the issues make a vital difference to the lives of readers and viewers. And they can portray the policy debate in an emotionally compelling way, and they can increase the current amount of policy-based coverage from only 10 percent to between one-quarter and one-half.

How would it improve things for social scientists?

Currently in the social sciences, much research is devoted to looking for correlations that confirm a viewpoint. Because of the logical weakness of confirming evidence, many conflicting policies are supported, but weakly. A briefing book that focuses on crucial evidence as the most important will push social scientists to meet a higher standard of rigor. In this way, experts will be pushed to get more informative and useful evaluations of policy, and new policy ideas will be stimulated as well.

How would it improve things for politicians?

Politicians are responsive to press coverage, as the press plays a key mediating role in communication with the public. As it is now, the policy debates are extremely poor, even when policies are good. As a result, politicians can get public support for bad policies that financially benefit some individuals while hurting the prosperity of the country as a whole. When guided by better information and evidence, the press can better communicate the policy debate and evidence to the public, it will lift the quality of debate by the candidates, and eventually the policy proposals themselves.

Do we need a new organization specifically dedicated to this task?

For democracy to work well, the press needs to inform the public about the merits of policies and about the candidates’ fitness for office. But currently, commercial pressures act strongly against this goal, and particularly against coverage of policy issues. Novelty, sensation and personal stories are easiest to make emotionally compelling, and so to attract audiences and dollars.

Policy proposals can be made emotionally compelling, when people are shown how policies change their lives for the better and worse. Currently, most reporters don’t have the basis of expertise to take the next step, to write emotionally compelling stories on policy. And given that print newspaper staffs around the country have been reduced by half [or more], it seems unlikely that those with expertise are going to be hired for this purpose, and given sufficient working time. So a new organization, with either nonprofit or tax funding, or both, is needed.

While crucial evidence is best, it’s not always available. That doesn’t mean we’re totally in the dark. You’ve proposed that a policy-check organization could provide an online briefing book that includes at least four types of information. The first is current evidence on the successes and shortcomings of existing policies.

The biggest missing piece has been positive stories on the benefits of existing government policies. The failure of the Obama administration and the press to report the success of both the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act has been devastating. In general, the overwhelmingly negative bias of reporting has, as Thomas Patterson of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center has noted, served to sell the right-wing message that government can do no good.

Second, identification of where there is crucial evidence, and where debate is still open.

I would like first of all to see reported the crucial evidence on the success and failure of different government programs. It would refute the small-government ideology, for a start. On where the debate is open, an example is health care.

Third, reports on the arguments on open issues and the relevant evidence.

To have comprehensive health care, a strong government role, including subsidies for the poor, is necessary. But whether government-run health care — single-payer — or a heavily regulated private insurance system with subsidies is best is not clear. There are in Europe successful health care systems following both models, but all systems have their drawbacks. I would like to see an objective review of what is working and not, and how well. This would include expert opinion.

What do you see as necessary to make such an organization function as intended? What kind of funding, oversight and sponsorship do you envision?

To succeed, it’s going to need people with serious expertise in public policy, to be seen as objective, and to keep to the standard of valuing and reporting crucial evidence. On the expertise, the staff won’t have to do all the work, but they will have to be able to commission and to judge such work from other experts, and to judge its quality as being objective and in-depth. They will also review online feedback and incorporate it as needed. So I think the organization needs to be a nonprofit, funded by people with deep pockets. It could also be partly funded by the government, like PBS, but this won’t happen now.

Chris Wallace To Reince Priebus: ‘You Don’t Get To Tell’ The Press What To Do

Screen capture

TPM LIVEWIRE

Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday pressed White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to explain President Donald Trump’s comment that the press is “the enemy of the American People.”

“He said that the fake media, not certain stories, the fake media are an enemy to the country. We don’t have a state-run media in this country. That’s what they have in dictatorships,” Wallace told Priebus on “Fox News Sunday.”

Priebus responded by calling “unsourced” stories about turmoil inside Trump’s administration “total garbage.”

“If you’re going to come out with a story that says Russian spies are talking to your campaign, my God,” he said. “I mean, I think you should in some cases, or in most cases, actually have a named source.”

Priebus argued that the media has not covered Trump’s actions during his first month in office as closely as it has covered his notable failures.

“We covered all of that,” Wallace interjected. “Here’s the problem. When the President says that we’re the enemy of the American people, it makes it sound like if you’re going against him, you’re going against the country.”

He compared Trump’s response to critical media coverage to President Barack Obama’s response.

“You don’t get to tell us what to do, Reince! You don’t get to tell us what to do any more than Barack Obama did,” Wallace said. “I’ve got to say he never said that we were an enemy of the people.”

“He said a lot of things about Fox News, Chris. I think you ought to go check the tape,” Priebus said. “He took plenty of shots.”

“No, he took the shots, and we didn’t like them, and frankly we don’t like this either,” Wallace said. “But he never went as far as President Trump has, and that’s what’s concerning, because it seems like he crosses a line when he talks about — that we’re an enemy of the people. That is concerning.”

ESME CRIBB

There WAS A Terror Attack In Sweden Recently, But Trump Won’t Like Who The Terrorists Were

Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Olivier Douliery via Getty Images

ADDICTING INFO

This makes Trump look CLOWNISHLY bad.

Trump drew international attention—again—by claiming there was a terror attack in Sweden on the night of Feb. 17. To cover his gross lie, he tweeted today that his remarks were in reference to something Fox News reported, which is either just another lie, or a gross misunderstanding of a documentary Fox News aired. But it seems that there really was a terror attack in Sweden recently, in a city called Gothenburg.

The suspected terrorists in this attack were Neo-Nazis, and they attacked a refugee center in Gothenburg with a homemade bomb last month. One person was seriously injured in the attack.

Swedish intelligence said that the attack was linked to two others in Gothenburg, and appeared to be politically motivated, which isn’t shocking if the terrorists were white Neo-Nazis, and members of a white supremacist group known as the Nordic Resistance Movement. They openly preach anti-Semitism and racism, and they oppose non-white immigration into Sweden.

Hmmm. That sounds an awful lot like all the white supremacists here in the U.S. who support Trump.

Sweden has taken in more refugees per capita than anyone else in Europe in 2016, despite imposing border controls in the middle of the year. What we have now, however, are white supremacists attacking a refugee center. Trump wants to blame refugees for terror attacks all across Europe, but that doesn’t work when the terrorists are white Neo-Nazis.

This is how this administration operates, though. Tell a lie, make a wild accusation, or say or do something equally outrageous, watch it get debunked or solidly smacked down, and then double down on it by either blaming it on faulty information or sticking by it anyway. And they won’t acknowledge terror attacks that don’t fit their anti-Muslim narrative.

Rika Christensen

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Says There Are No Plans to Seize Iraqi Oil

Jim Mattis

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, center, arrives at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, on an unannounced trip Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. Sagar Meghani—AP

We don’t want refugees from that region of the world but recent history shows that we have no qualms about seizing oil from the region…in spite of Mattis’ “talking points”. (ks)

TIME

BAGHDAD (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday the United States does not intend to seize Iraqi oil, shifting away from an idea proposed by President Donald Trump that has rattled Iraq’s leaders.

Mattis’ arrived on an unannounced visit in Iraq as the battle to oust Islamic State militants from western Mosul moved into its second day, and as the Pentagon considers ways to accelerate the campaign against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Those efforts could be complicated by Trump’s oil threat and his inclusion of Iraq in the administration’s travel ban — twin blows that have roiled the nation and spurred local lawmakers to pressure Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to reduce cooperation with Washington.

“I think all of us here in this room, all of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I’m sure that we will continue to do that in the future,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.”

His comments may provide some reassurance to the Iraqis. But the tensions come at a critical point in the war against IS, with two key battles in the works: the fight to take control of west Mosul, and the start of a campaign in Syria to oust IS from Raqqa, the capital of its self-declared caliphate.

Al-Abadi has taken a measured approach, but the issues can roil already difficult internal politics.

Under the president’s deadline, Mattis has just a week to send Trump a strategy to accelerate the fight and defeat the Islamic State group. And any plan is likely to depend on U.S. and coalition troops working with and through the local forces in both countries.

“We’re going to make certain that we’ve got good situational awareness of what we face as we work together and fight alongside each other,” Mattis said.

His key goal during the visit is to speak about the military operations with political leaders and commanders on the ground, including his top commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend.

Asked about the tensions, Mattis said he has been assured that the travel ban — it has been stalled by a legal challenge — would not affect Iraqis who have fought alongside U.S. forces.

The oil issue, however, may be more difficult. Trump brought it up during the campaign, and he mentioned it again late last month during a visit to the CIA.

“To the victor belong the spoils,” Trump told members of the intelligence community. He said he first argued this case for “economic reasons,” but added it made sense as a counterterrorism approach to defeating IS “because that’s where they made their money in the first place.”

“So we should have kept the oil,” he said. “But, OK, maybe you’ll have another chance.”

Trump, however, has also been clear that defeating IS is a top priority. In his inauguration address, he pledged to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism “completely from the face of the Earth.” And he talked during the campaign about greatly increasing the number of U.S. troops in order to “knock out” IS.

He signed an order Jan. 28 that gives Mattis and senior military leaders 30 days to come up with a new plan to beef up the fight.

Mattis would not discuss specifics, saying he wants to gather information first. But he has been talking with military leaders about the possible options, and has largely supported the U.S. strategy of fighting IS with and through local forces.

The military options range from putting more troops in Iraq and Syria to boosting military aid to Kurdish fighters backed by the U.S.-led coalition.

More specifically, officials have talked about expanding efforts to train, advise and enable local Iraqi and Syrian forces, increasing intelligence and surveillance, and allowing U.S. troops to move forward more frequently with Iraqi soldiers nearer the front lines.

The Pentagon also would like more freedom to make daily decisions about how it fights the enemy. Former and current U.S. officials discussed the likely options on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk publicly.

In Syria, a possible option would be sending more U.S. forces, including combat troops, there as the Raqqa fight heats up.

Another move would be to provide heavy weapons and vehicles to the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, known as the YPG, and boost training. They have been the most effective force against IS in northern and eastern Syria, but the proposal is sensitive. Turkey, a key U.S. and NATO ally, considers the group a terrorist organization.

There are more than 5,100 U.S. forces in Iraq, and up to about 500 in Syria.

Lolita C. Baldo / AP

5 Republican Disgraces You Missed This Week

5 Republican Disgraces You Missed This Week

IMAGE: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, October 31, 2015 |  REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

THE NATIONAL MEMO

Every day in Donald Trump’s America is seemingly dumber, crueler, and more exhausting than the one that preceded it. This week alone saw the president’s pick for labor secretary withdraw his name from consideration, a story that was all but eclipsed by the still greater scandal of Michael Flynn’s resignation from the National Security Council amidst charges of collusion with the Russian government.

While it’s tempting to believe the centrifugal force of Trump’s cracked brand of authoritarianism will pull his presidency apart, the reality is that he remains enormously popular with Republican voters and the party’s craven politicians are unlikely to take any kind of action that could alienate them. Even if he were miraculously impeached or removed from office through the 25th Amendment, America would be left with President Mike Pence, arguably an even darker fate than the dystopian timeline in which we find ourselves.

What is clear is that to a man, from the preening “mavericks” to the proud white supremacists, the GOP is entirely complicit in the horrors of this administration. Every unconstitutional executive order, every denigration of the country’s citizenry and press comes with the party’s seal of approval. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not like what the president is saying, but he likes what he’s doing.

What follows are five Republican disgraces you might have missed this week watching Donald Trump combust:

1. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) huddles with National Front Leader Marine Le Pen

The Iowa congressman has been one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters since the Republican primary. He’s also infamously argued that white people have contributed more to civilization than any other “subgroup.” Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that he sat down Monday with Marine Le Pen, a French reactionary making her own bid for president on a campaign of unapologetic xenophobia.

Le Pen made headlines of her own last week when she called on French Jews to renounce their dual citizenship with Israel and abandon use of yarmulkes in public spaces — part of a larger ban on religious attire primarily targeted at French Muslims. That didn’t stop King from glowing about the two countries’ “shared values” on Twitter, although with Steve Bannon’s liver pulsing in the West Wing, it’s safe to wonder if the congressman’s words contain more than a flicker of truth.

2. Rep. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) won’t even mask his villainy

The Utah congressman, who once said he wouldn’t be able to look his daughters in the face if he continued to support Donald Trump, began the week by accusing rowdy demonstrators at a recent town hall of being paid protesters. But he was only getting warmed up. Three days later, on the heels of Michael Flynn’s stunning ouster from the National Security Council, the chairman of the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform declared there was no need for further inquiry. “It’s working itself out,” he told reporters with a smirk.

Chaffetz finally called for an investigation on Thursday — not of the national security advisor who could have shared sensitive intelligence information with a hostile foreign government, but of the leakers responsible for his resignation. And yet the coup de grâce arrived the following morning when he announced that he would be seeking criminal charges against the State Department employee who helped Hillary Clinton set up her server.

If America emerges from Trump’s authoritarian regime mostly intact, Chaffetz may be remembered as his single greatest enabler.

3. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) lets the truth slip

Rep. Jason Chaffetz makes no apologies about putting party over country, but he’s hardly alone. Sen. Rand Paul echoed the Utah congressman by suggesting that membership in the GOP itself should preclude an elected official from public scrutiny. “I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” he droned to the “Kilmeade and Friends” radio show. “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

Paul has no interest in the Trump administration’s possible ties to a violent autocrat. He just wants to get down to the hard work of stripping tens of millions of Americans of their health insurance, if you don’t mind.

4. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) says he’s committed to fighting authoritarianism with a straight face

The Arizona senator was in Germany this week as part of party-wide blitz to assure Western Europe that the U.S. is still committed to its alliances — a campaign that has, incidentally, proven largely unsuccessful. “[The founders] would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarians,” he told the Munich conference. “They would be alarmed by the growing inability — and even unwillingness — to separate truth from lies. They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”

Noble sentiments one and all. If only John McCain hadn’t endorsed a proto-fascist who openly mocked his war record; or waited until the release of an audio tape cataloguing his sexual abuses before retracting said endorsement; or taken literally any action to impede the rise of the very politician he now coyly refuses to identify by name. Let’s give Gizmodo’s Alex Pareene the final word on the maverick who isn’t.

5. The Senate Committee confirms Scott Pruitt to the EPA

By a vote of 52-46, a Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt as the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency Friday — four days before the release of emails between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies ordered by a federal judge in Oklahoma. The two Democratic votes belonged to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), hailing from oil-rich and coal-rich states respectively.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has challenged the existence of man-made climate change and sued the EPA over its efforts to limit carbon emissions, regulate smog pollution ,and protect wetlands and streams, all of which apparently qualifies him to lead the federal agency itself. In a related story, scientists warn Arctic ice melt could trigger uncontrollable climate change at a global level.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

IMAGE: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, October 31, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

Trump’s Sweden comment raises questions

CNN

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump’s reference to “what’s happening last night in Sweden” during a Saturday rally in Florida raised questions in Sweden and around the internet about what he really meant and where he gets his information.

The President clarified his remarks Sunday, posting on Twitter that his statement “was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNewsconcerning immigrants & Sweden.” The tweet confirmed suspicions of many that Trump’s remarks stemmed from Tucker Carlson’s show Friday night, in which the host interviewed Ami Horowitz, a filmmaker who has tried to tie Sweden’s taking in of asylum seekers to increased violent crimes in the country.

Within two hours of the President’s post, the official Twitter account of the Embassy of Sweden in the US responded: “We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.”

Trump’s reference to the Scandinavian nation, known for liberally accepting Syrian refugees, originally occurred during his Saturday speech.
“We’ve got to keep our country safe,” he said. “You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris.”
The comments appeared to refer to recent terror attacks in Germany and elsewhere, but no such attack has occurred in Sweden. That led some on Twitter to speculate he might have watched the Fox News report.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters earlier Sunday the President was “talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general and not referring to a specific incident.”
She reiterated that Trump did not mean to say “last night” but was referring to the rise in crime in the country.
Meanwhile, the official Swedish embassy responded to those asking about what happened Friday night by saying: “Unclear to us what President Trump was referring to. Have asked US officials for explanation.”
Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, also questioned the President’s statement on Twitter.
“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking?” Bildt tweeted. “Questions abound.”
Trump’s remark is the latest misplaced reference to a terrorist attack or incident by those in his White House. Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway inaccurately referred to a “Bowling Green massacre” that never took place, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer referred to an attack in Atlanta, later clarifying that he meant to refer to Orlando.
CNN’s Allie Malloy contributed to this story.

U.S. inquiries into Russian election hacking include three FBI probes

reuters

File Photo: Voters cast their votes during the U.S. presidential election in Elyria, Ohio, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk/File Photo

REUTERS

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is pursuing at least three separate probes relating to alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential elections, according to five current and former government officials with direct knowledge of the situation.

While the fact that the FBI is investigating had been reported previously by the New York Times and other media, these officials shed new light on both the precise number of inquires and their focus.

The FBI’s Pittsburgh field office, which runs many cyber security investigations, is trying to identify the people behind breaches of the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems, the officials said. Those breaches, in 2015 and the first half of 2016, exposed the internal communications of party officials as the Democratic nominating convention got underway and helped undermine support for Hillary Clinton.

The Pittsburgh case has progressed furthest, but Justice Department officials in Washington believe there is not enough clear evidence yet for an indictment, two of the sources said.

Meanwhile the bureau’s San Francisco office is trying to identify the people who called themselves “Guccifer 2” and posted emails stolen from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s account, the sources said. Those emails contained details about fundraising by the Clinton Foundation and other topics.

Beyond the two FBI field offices, FBI counterintelligence agents based in Washington are pursuing leads from informants and foreign communications intercepts, two of the people said.

This counterintelligence inquiry includes but is not limited to examination of financial transactions by Russian individuals and companies who are believed to have links to Trump associates. The transactions under scrutiny involve investments by Russians in overseas entities that appear to have been undertaken through middlemen and front companies, two people briefed on the probe said.

Reuters could not confirm which entities and individuals were under scrutiny.

Scott Smith, the FBI’s new assistant director for cyber crime, declined to comment this week on which FBI offices were doing what or how far they had progressed.

The White House had no comment on Friday on the Russian hacking investigations. A spokesman pointed to a comment Trump made during the campaign, in which he said: “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

By Joseph Menn | SAN FRANCISCO

10 things you need to know today: February 19, 2017

John Moore/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. DHS memos propose stricter deportation guidelines
Two memos proposing stricter deportation guidelines for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors have been sent from Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to the White House for approval, McClatchy reported Saturday afternoon. The documents are dated Feb. 17 and have yet to receive final go-ahead from the president. One memo would increase deportations by giving asylum officers greater discretion to deny asylum requests. At present, 88 percent of asylum seekers pass their initial interview with field officers; they then wait in the U.S. for a court hearing (sometimes a multi-year delay), at which point only 18 percent successfully gain asylum. Under the new guidelines, officers would be more likely to deny applicants at the interview stage if they believe the asylum seeker does not have a “significant possibility” of winning in court. The second memo concerns children who travel to the U.S. alone to meet parents already living here illegally. Those children would be more likely to face deportation, and their parents could face criminal charges if they paid a human trafficker to transport their child.

Source: Reuters, McClatchy

2. Trump touts economic agenda and nationalist themes at campaign-style rally in Florida
President Trump spoke at a large, campaign-style rally in Melbourne, Florida, on Saturday, giving a wide-ranging speech “to tell you about our plans for the future.” He first addressed his economic agenda, highlighting ways in which he intends to create new jobs in America. From there, Trump turned to crime, drugs, immigration, and national security, closely linked topics in his perspective. “I’ve ordered the construction of a great border wall which will start very shortly,” he said, “and I’ve taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.” The speech closed with a sweeping call to a new national — and nationalist — unity in America. “Erasing national borders does not make people safer or more prosperous,” Trump said. “It undermines democracy and trades away prosperity.”

Source: The Hill, Reuters

3. U.S.-supported Iraqi troops begin battle to take western Mosul
The Iraqi army’s U.S.-supported battle to retake the western side of the city of Mosul from the Islamic State began in earnest Sunday. The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets warning civilians trapped in the area of the coming onslaught before beginning an air and ground offensive. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described Sunday’s operation as a “new dawn” for freedom in Mosul, urging the “heroic forces of Iraq” to “go forward with [his] blessing.” The eastern side of the city, divided from the still-occupied western portion by the Tigris River, was liberated from ISIS control in January.

Source: BBC News, CNN

4. Russia calls for ‘pragmatic’ U.S. relations, ‘post-West world order’
Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined Moscow’s vision for the future shape of international and Russo-American relations. “What kind of relations do we want with the U.S.? Pragmatic relations, mutual respect, understanding our special responsibility for global stability,” he said. “You can call it a post-West world order when each country, based on its sovereignty within the rules of international law, will strive to find a balance between its own national interests and the national interests of partners.” Lavrov’s remarks came shortly after Vice President Mike Pence pledged the U.S. “will continue to hold Russia accountable.”

Source: The Week, U.S. News & World Report

5. Netanyahu rejected regional peace initiative last year
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in 2016 to consider a regional peace initiative negotiated by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Sunday. The covert talks took place in Jordan last February, and terms of the agreement Netanyahu would ultimately reject included renewed peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leadership as well as Arab nations’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. History will “definitely judge the magnitude of the opportunity as well as the magnitude of the missed opportunity,” tweeted Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog in response to the news on Sunday. Netanyahu confirmed Sunday that the meeting took place and said in a gathering of Likud ministers that it occurred at his initiation.

Source: The Washington Post, Reuters

6. U.S. aircraft carrier begins ‘routine’ patrols in disputed South China Sea
The USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, was deployed to the disputed waters of the South China Sea on Saturday to make what the U.S. Navy says are routine patrols. The Vinson carries a fleet of 60 aircraft and will be “demonstrating [the strike group’s] capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” said Rear Admiral James Kilby. The ocean territory in question is claimed by China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Beijing said in a statement it “firmly opposes any country’s attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight.”

Source: CNN, ABC News

7. SpaceX-NASA joint rocket launch delayed
SpaceX on Saturday announced it would delay the planned launch of its Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “Standing down to take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle. 9:38am ET tomorrow is next earliest launch opportunity,” the company tweeted. The rocket, under contract with NASA, is headed to the International Space Station to launch an unmanned aircraft filled with cargo and supplies. The launch was originally slated for Saturday at 10:01 a.m. ET, but now will switch to its backup time Sunday morning.

Source: Quartz, CNN

8. 5 dead as heavy rains continue to batter California
Five people have died since Friday thanks to heavy rains in Southern California that produced widespread power outages, sinkholes, and flash floods. Storms are expected to continue through Monday and spread to the northern region of the state. For “almost all of Northern California we are going to be telling people to get ready for area flooding,” said meteorologist Bill Rasch of the National Weather Service. “It just doesn’t take much rain to cause many problems … which is only going to exacerbate all the current situations going on.” After years of drought, many California dams are now close to overflowing their capacity.

Source: Los Angeles Times, CNN

9. ‘Blind sheikh’ convicted of 1993 WTC bombing dies in prison
Islamic extremist cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the “blind sheikh,” has died in a South Carolina prison, his family and law enforcement confirmed Saturday. He was 78 years old. Abdel-Rahman was convicted on 48 of 50 charges of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison for his role in planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000. He was also involved in plotting “a war of urban terrorism against the United States,” specifically a day of coordinated attacks on targets including the United Nations building as well as a bridge and several tunnels in New York City. Those plans never came to fruition. Abdel-Rahman’s followers have been linked to deadly terror attacks around the world, incidents he inspired via radio and cassette tapes before his arrest.

Source: Reuters, NBC New York

10. Norma McCorvey, ‘Roe’ of Roe v. Wade, dies at 69
Norma McCorvey, the woman who successfully challenged U.S. abortion laws under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, died in Texas Saturday of heart failure, her daughter reported. She was 69 years old. After her high-profile legal battle, McCorvey converted to Catholicism and became a prominent opponent of the abortion rights she’d pursued as young woman. “I’ll be serving the Lord and helping women save their babies. I will hold a pro-life position for the rest of my life,” she said of her change of heart. “I think I’ve always been pro-life. I just didn’t know it.”

Source: ABC News, NPR