The Russia Investigations: Interference Impacted Real Life; Senators Propose New Law – Philip Ewing October 22, 20177:00 AM ET

Black Lives Matter activists march in front of Trump Tower on January 14, 2017, in New York City.

Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

Last week in the Russia investigations: Reports are growing about Russian-linked interference beyond the Web and in real life, three senators pitch a bill to tackle digital active measures and Big Tech says it’ll play ball in Capitol Hill’s big show on Nov. 1.

Influence-mongering in real life

Accounts are piling up in which Russian influence-mongers evidently did more than interfere with Americans online last year — they also did so in person.

In New York and elsewhere, agents paid personal trainers to lead self-defense classesaimed at black activists with the message that they might need to “protect your rights,” as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. In Florida, they used Facebook and fraudulent websites to organize black rights protest rallies.

In Texas, scamsters organized at least one armed, anti-Muslim protest in Houston. And in Idaho, they helped organize anti-immigrant rallies.

Each passing week brings more such accounts as members of Congress, Justice Department investigators and tech companies look back at things they didn’t know to view as suspicious at the time. And each new story only adds to the frustration of Americans learning they were deceived.

“For any group to collude to take advantage of the pain and anguish that African Americans — or any group — are experiencing in this country in order to sow further discord is disappointing and revolting,” activist Raven Solomon told BuzzFeed.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are frustrated too.

What can be done?

Three senators are sticking their toe in the water: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia have offered a bill. It would mandate that big social networks disclose the national origins of the buyers of political ads, and make their contents available to view at any time.

“First and foremost this is an issue of national security — Russia attacked us and will continue to use different tactics to undermine our democracy and divide our country, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads,” as Klobuchar said on Thursday.

Big Tech isn’t crazy about these potential regulations, however, and is expected to fight them inside Washington, D.C. Plus, the sponsors of the legislation concede on their own that the bill — even if it passed and was signed by President Trump — would only use a “light touch” with the big tech companies, and wouldn’t do anything on its own to stop Russia’s ongoing campaign of active measures.

Even so, Warner, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told NPR‘s Mary Louise Kelly that the least Congress could do is close the gap in requirements for foreign spending on old-style political ads and digital ones.

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In Congress, fears grow about lack of strategy on multiple battlefields – BY REBECCA KHEEL – 10/22/17 04:37 PM EDT

Getty Images

A series of events in the Middle East and Africa has stirred new questions about President Trump’s counterterrorism strategy as the U.S. focus in Iraq and Syria shifts to stabilization, and the battle against the Islamic State moves elsewhere.

Taken together, the events call into question what long-term goals the United States has as it fights militants around the globe — and some critics of the administration are finding its rationale lacking.

“We have no strategy,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain(R-Ariz.) said this week.

McCain was referring to Iraq, but he has leveled the criticism at Trump’s approach around the world — just as he did with the Obama administration.

The Pentagon is investigating the circumstances surrounding a deadly ambush of a U.S. patrol in Niger that left four soldiers dead.

The attack put a spotlight on little-noticed counterterrorism operations in Africa, leading to questions about whether the United States has a larger strategy there.

Meanwhile, government forces and militias clashed this week with Kurdish forces in the mixed Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which Kurds briefly had under their control. The fighting has prompted questions in Congress about whether the United States has planned to mitigate sectarian violence after the fall of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

And in Syria, U.S.-backed forces claimed victory in ISIS’s onetime de facto capital of Raqqa, a hard-fought win that nonetheless raises questions about the United States’s stabilization plans in a country that remains marred in civil war.

The attack in Niger, in particular, has elicited heated debate between lawmakers and the Trump administration. McCain has slammed the administration for failing to provide his committee with information, floating the possibility that a subpoena may be necessary.

Among the questions McCain said he wants answered is what the U.S. strategy is there.

“We want to know everything,” McCain said Thursday, adding strategy is “most important.”

A day later, McCain met with Defense Secretary James Mattis and said he was working on getting those answers.

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Niger is Trump’s Benghazi, says congresswoman Frederica Wilson – Jon SwaineFirst published on Sunday 22 October 2017 13.06 EDT

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson attends the graveside service for Sgt La David Johnson, who was among four special forces soldiers killed in Niger, in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson attends the graveside service for Sgt La David Johnson, who was among four special forces soldiers killed in Niger, in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday. Photograph: Joe Skipper/Reuters

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson on Sunday demanded an apology from Donald Trump’s White House for false statements made about her by senior officials, as the president continued to attack the Florida Democrat.

Wilson declared that the deadly ambush of US forces in Niger at the heart of their dispute was Trump’s equivalent of the deadly 2011 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, over which Republicans in Congress pursued Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state when the attack happened.

Senators from both parties urged the administration to release more information about the Niger incident, which happened on 4 October and in which four Americans were killed.

Wilson said John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, had smeared her after she criticised Trump’s handling of a condolence call to the family of one of the soldiers killed in the ambush.

“General Kelly owes the nation an apology because when he lied about me, he lied to the American public,” Wilson said on Twitter.

Kelly on Thursday falsely accused Wilson of using a 2015 speech at the unveiling of a new FBI building in Florida to boast about securing federal money for her district. Video footage of the speech showed Wilson had in fact praised a bipartisan effort to name the complex after two agents killed on duty.

Instead of acknowledging Kelly’s error, the White House falsely suggested that the video had supported his remarks. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, dismissed Wilson – who is known in Congress for her colourful stetsons – as being “all hat, no cattle”.

The quarrel began when Wilson disclosed Trump had told Sgt La David Johnson’s grieving widow that the green beret “knew what he signed up for” before being killed by insurgents in Niger. Wilson, a friend of Johnson’s family, had been invited to join them to listen to the president’s call.

Trump repeatedly denied making the comment and said he had proof Wilson’s claim was untrue. After Trump failed to produce such proof, Kelly appeared to confirm Wilson’s account of the call in his remarks on Thursday at the White House, even while condemning her for making it public.

Trump on Sunday morning posted his fifth tweet criticising Wilson. “Wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party, a disaster for Dems,” he wrote. “You watch her in action & vote R!”

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The most effective clean energy policy gets the least love – David Roberts Oct 21, 2017, 9:31am EDT

In defense of renewable energy mandates.


Back in the 1990s and 2000s, when Democrats had more power in state governments, 29 states (and DC) passed some form of renewable portfolio standard (RPS), a policy that requires a state’s utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources by a certain year.

Standards range from California’s wildly ambitious 50-percent-by-2030 to Ohio’s modest 12.5-percent-by-2026, and everywhere in between.

Though they aren’t as sexy as perpetually-discussed-but-rarely-passed carbon taxes, and they are flawed and insufficient in a number of ways, RPSs have been the quiet workhorses of renewable energy deployment in the US. According to one Lawrence Berkeley Lab report, fully 62 percent of the growth in US non-hydro renewables since 2000 has been undertaken to satisfy RPS requirements.

us RE capacity(LBNL)

Consequently, there’s been a great deal of research done about their various costs, benefits, and impacts. One thing that’s been missing, however, is a comprehensive prospective analysis, projecting the total costs and benefits of RPSs going forward.

Happily, such an analysis was published in September in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

If you’ve followed previous research literature on RPSs (and who hasn’t?), the top-line results probably won’t surprise you. Spoiler: The benefits of these policies will substantially outweigh the costs, even under conservative assumptions.

Aside from the basic finding, I do think the results can shed light on two important points — one important to the future of the US grid, one important to politics and policymaking in general. And y’all know how I love to make points.

First, though, a quick summary of the results.

RPS benefits will outweigh costs under almost any assumptions

The researchers used various datasets and methods to evaluate RPSs out through 2050, assessing them along three key metrics:

(a) national electric system costs and national and regional retail electricity prices; (b) environmental and health benefits associated with reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) and air pollution emissions and reduced water use; and (c) other impacts related to gross effects on employment and reductions in natural gas prices.

They modeled three scenarios, one with no RPS, one which took into account existing RPS commitments, and a high RE scenario in which RPSs were strengthened.

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The National Guard Is Sifting Through What Wildfires Left Behind (HBO) – VICE News  Published on Oct 19, 2017

SUBSCRIBE 2.4MThere’s finally some good news in California’s devastated wine country: a chance of rain tomorrow. But even if it does come, it’ll be too late for the neighborhood of Coffey Park, where nearly every house has already burned to the ground. Instead of rows of homes, there’s now a forest of charred chimneys standing in piles of ash. And now that there’s nothing left to burn, recovery workers are beginning the search for anyone who didn’t make it out alive.

Dodger fans make an appeal to their highest power: Vin Scully Paul Thornton – Oct 21, 2017

Vin Scully

Vin Scully’s call of Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series — “High fly ball into right field; she is gone!” — is something many of us long-suffering Dodger fans can recite from memory. It is the soundtrack that played over the last great, franchise-marking moment for the team, and for the 28 late Octobers since then, we’ve been doing something besides watching the Dodgers.

Now, with the Dodgers finally returning to the Fall Classic, perhaps we can be forgiven for not quite knowing how to react to this whole winning thing (never mind not having Scully around to explain it all for us).

Since Thursday night’s victory against the Chicago Cubs, some readers have written letters to the editor begging for Scully to return for one more series. A few even weaved in criticism of (who else?) President Trump.

Huntington Beach resident Jeff Lebow wants to hear a familiar voice one more time:

I’ve been a Dodger fan ever since, as a 10-year-old, I was pulled out of school to watch the first game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on an April afternoon in 1958.

Should the 2017 Dodgers find themselves in a seventh game of the World Series at home in Chavez Ravine, I’ve got one small wish: Please bring back Vin Scully to join the Dodger radio announcers.

Mr. Scully, I know you avoid the spotlight, but please do this for me and millions of Dodger fans throughout Southern California and beyond. If you would do this for us, I promise to find my transistor radio and the single earphone and become that 10-year-old boy again.

Jim Vespe of Mamaroneck, N.Y., would settle for something less than Scully calling an entire game:

I know Scully would rather go shopping for peat moss in El Segundo than broadcast any World Series games, and Fox already has its announcers selected.

In lieu of actually calling a game, perhaps Scully can record an updated version of his 1955 call, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world,” to be played if the Dodgers win the World Series.

All he’d have to change would be the name of the city.

Los Angeles resident Chris Warner contrasts the Dodgers’ newest hero with the president:

Thursday night, a 25-year-old Puerto Rican socked three home runs and sent the Dodgers to their first World Series since 1988. More impressively, Kiké Hernandez not only earned instant L.A. folk hero status but spent the past three weeks tirelessly raising money and awareness for his native island devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Meanwhile, in the same time frame, President Trump neglected the humanitarian crisis, flirted with nuclear war, bickered with the NFL and continued to embarrass the nation. To his credit, however, he did manage to squeeze in a few rounds of golf.

It’s also worth noting that the Dodgers — a team that this season featured players from Cuba, Japan, South Korea and Mexico — perfectly reflects the kind of diversity that can make American great again.

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