Thursday, October 19, 2017


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

We've known for a while that the Trump campaign was actively benefiting from Russian social media manipulation, but Spencer Ackerman and the Daily Beast's crew have now connected the Trump campaign directly to a Russian propaganda outlet pretending to be the digital voice of the Tennessee GOP.

Some of the Trump campaign’s most prominent names and supporters, including Trump’s campaign manager, digital director and son, pushed tweets from troll accounts paid for by the Russian government in the heat of the 2016 election campaign.

The Twitter account @Ten_GOP, which called itself the “Unofficial Twitter account of Tennessee Republicans,” was operated from the Kremlin-backed “Russian troll farm,” or Internet Research Agency, a source familiar with the account confirmed with The Daily Beast.

The account’s origins in the Internet Research Agency were originally reported by the independent Russian news outlet RBC. @Ten_GOP was created on November 19, 2015, and accumulated over 100 thousand followers before Twitter shut it down. The Daily Beast independently confirmed the reasons for @Ten_GOP's account termination.

The discovery of the now-unavailable tweets presents the first evidence that several members of the Trump campaign pushed covert Russian propaganda on social media in the run-up to the 2016 election.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment, “for privacy and security reasons."

And several times, including before and right up to the election, the Trump campaign helped spread tweets from the fake account.

Two days before election day, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tweeted a post by @Ten_GOP regarding Hillary Clinton’s email.

“Mother of jailed sailor: 'Hold Hillary to same standards as my son on Classified info' #hillarysemail #WeinerGate” the tweet reads.

Three weeks before the election, Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign’s digital director, retweeted a separate post from @Ten_GOP.

“Thousands of deplorables chanting to the media: "Tell The Truth!" RT if you are also done w/ biased Media!” the tweet read.

President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. followed the account until its closure on August 23rd of this year. Trump Jr. retweeted the account three times, including an allegation of voter fraud in Florida one week before the election.

“BREAKING: #VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida Please, RT,” the tweet read.

Trump Jr. also retweeted the account on Election Day.

“This vet passed away last month before he could vote for Trump.. Here he is in his #MAGA hat.. #voted #ElectionDay,” the account wrote.

Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn retweeted the Russian-backed troll account at least once. His son, Michael Flynn Jr., retweeted the account 34 times before it was removed from Twitter in August for its ties to Russian propaganda.

The account notably pushed for Flynn’s reappointment as Trump’s national security advisor, a job Flynn lost after press revelations that he’d lied about his telephone discussions with the Russian ambassador after the election hacks. It also repeatedly pushed Breitbart-backed talking points, including a fake news story about a gang rape in Twin Falls, Idaho that merited dozens of articles from Breitbart News.

And even though this was clearly a fake account, it had over 100k followers (mostly Russian bots of course) and was challenged and reported by the actual Tennessee GOP account @tngop, Twitter allowed it to continue even after being suspended in July. In fact, the @Ten_GOP account was operating up until six weeks ago when it was shut down by Twitter as part of the service's crackdown on fake Russian propaganda accounts.

But the larger story is that this account was specifically retweeted multiple times by the Trump campaign.  They knew to do it, and knew to retweet this particular account.  It's the most obvious evidence yet that the Trump campaign was an active participant in spreading Russian propaganda on social media, propaganda designed to help the Trump campaign win in 2016.

This one is big, guys.  And you'd better believe there's more evidence like this coming.

Bevin's Pension Deficit DIsorder

Today came the announcement of Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin's super double top secret plan to fix the state's unfunded pension liability problem, and since what Matt Bevin believes is that the problem is that "Kentucky state employees are people who should be paid and everything" his solution pretty much fixes that "oversight".

After months of planning and closed-door negotiations, Gov. Matt Bevin and GOP legislative leaders on Wednesday released a plan they say begins to tackle Kentucky’s multibillion-dollar pension debt while honoring promises to retirees and public employees. 
As expected the plan calls for transitioning most public employees from traditional pension plans to 401(k)-like plans – but it does so in a much more gradual way than recommended by the Bevin administration’s pension consultant. 
New workers and teachers will go into 401(k)-like plans, but instead of immediately shifting current state and local government workers to 401(k)s, those workers would be able to remain in their current pension plans for 27 years.

Current teachers with 27 years of service also would be moved to the 401(k)-style savings plans. But their plans will be more generous than those of other public employees to compensate for the fact that teachers do not draw Social Security benefits.

To avoid a rush of teacher retirements, those teachers will be given an option of remaining in their current traditional pension plans for three additional years.
And both current and future workers in “hazardous duty” jobs like law enforcement would not go into the 401(k)-type plans. They would retain their current pension benefits instead. 
The plan also would bring legislators, who have more generous benefits, into the retirement system of other state employees. And it would end the ability of teachers to use accumulated sick days to boost their pension benefits – but not until July 1, 2023. 
And the plan would begin to pay for pensions under a new approach “that mandates hundreds of millions more into every retirement plan, making them healthier and solvent sooner,” a summary of the plan said.

“If you are a retiree, if you are working to be a retiree at some point, you should be rejoicing,” Bevin said. “... It guarantees by law that your pension is going to be funded. There will be no more kicking of the can down the road.” 
Some immediate response to the plan questioned Bevin's statement that all promises have been kept. 
"I think the plan includes some very harsh cuts to benefits," said Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. Bailey said the handouts summarizing the plan say cost-of-living increases for teacher retirement benefits would be suspended for five years and that teachers and other public employees will have to pay more for health care benefits.

So, cops and firefighters get full benefits, but teachers and other state employees get benefit cuts and have to pay more into the system in order to fund it.  The suspension of cost of living increases is pretty ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Bevin's too busy playing Good Cop, Bad Cop to actually get the plan signed into law.

Bevin has said all year that he would call a special legislative session in 2017 for lawmakers to pass a reform plan to set the state on course to pay off pension debts. Those debts are officially listed at more than $40 billion, but Bevin estimates them at more than $64 billion. 
The plan released Wednesday is only an outline of the bill to be considered. And Bevin did not say when that session will begin. 
“As soon as we are ready,” he said when asked when he will call the session. “There’s still a little ‘I’ dotting and ‘T’ crossing” before that announcement, Bevin said. 
The plan is much friendlier to employees and retirees than many of the highly controversial recommendations offered in August in a report by the administration’s Philadelphia-based consultant – PFM Group. It does not, for instance, call for raising the retirement age for public employees or the clawing back of any benefits earned by current retirees. 
“Nothing is changing for retirees," Bevin said. "They’re going to be getting everything they’re getting now.”

That's a lie, of course.  But the devil is in the details, and not word of those details has been written yet.

We'll see.

The Commander, Chiefly In Need Of A Soul

When it comes to basic empathy for human beings, Donald Trump's circuits are emotionally cauterized.

President Donald Trump told U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson's widow Tuesday that "he knew what he signed up for ... but when it happens, it hurts anyway," when he died serving in northwestern Africa, according to Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens.

"Yes, he said it," Wilson said. "It's so insensitive. He should have not have said that. He shouldn't have said it."

The president called about 4:45 p.m. and spoke to Johnson's pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, for about five minutes. She is a mother to Johnson's surviving 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. The conversation happened before Johnson's remains arrived at Miami International Airport on a commercial Delta Airlines flight.

A top advisor later told Local 10 News "The president's conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private."

Wilson watched as the widow, who is expecting their third baby in January, leaned over the U.S. flag that was draping Johnson's casket. Her pregnant belly was shaking against the casket as she sobbed uncontrollably. Their daughter stood next to her stoically. Their toddler waited in the arms of a relative.

There was silence.

Local politicians, police officers and firefighters lined up to honor Johnson for his service and for the efforts and discipline that got the former Walmart employee to defy all odds and become a 25-year-old member of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Johnson, who participated in a mentorship program Wilson founded in 1993, died during a mission fighting alongside Green Berets. Islamic militants ambushed them on Oct. 4 with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. The team reportedly didn't have overhead armed air cover and was in unarmored pickup trucks. Reuters reported the lack of planning upset the French.

So Trump's response, two weeks after American soldiers were killed in Niger in an ambush, is "he knew what he signed up for" to a serviceman's pregnant, grieving widow.

Let that absolute lack of empathy sink in, folks.  He has no empathy because he's incapable of it.  He is incapable of empathy because his clinical narcissism is so pathological that he cannot process the basic human function of being able to emotionally relate to anyone other than himself, because that would require him to give a damn about somebody other than Donald Trump.

You might be able to get away with saying that this was a case of nerves, or early term jitters, except that lack of empathy has driven pretty much every decision Trump has made since attaining the office, and he's proven that lack of empathy again and again.

The man is a monster.  Like I said, pathological.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

The Senate investigation grows deeper as the focus shifts to former Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn and now we learn from NBC News that this focus includes Flynn's son, Michael Jr. as well.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested documents and testimony from Michael G. Flynn, the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, but has not received a response, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News. 
The committee, which is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, is interested in Flynn’s work as his father’s aide and travel companion with Flynn Intel Group, the consulting firm retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn formed after he left government service, the sources said. 
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the intelligence committee chairman, and Sen. Mark Warner, of Virginia the ranking Democrat, declined to comment when asked about the matter Monday by NBC News. 
Michael G. Flynn’s lawyer, Barry Coburn, declined to comment. 
The younger Flynn, 34, accompanied his father on a 2015 trip to Moscow, where the elder Flynn sat next to Vladimir Putin at a dinner to celebrate Russia’s state-funded media network, RT. The younger Flynn can be seen in video from an associated event. 
Ultimately, the committee could issue a subpoena to Flynn if he doesn’t comply, but he could assert his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 
NBC News reported last month that the younger Flynn is a subject of the criminal and counterintelligence investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is also interested in Flynn’s work with his father’s consulting business. 
Flynn responded on Twitter to the NBC News report, tweeting on Sept. 14: “I’m not the sub of any federal investigation.”

Mini Moscow Mike was already in Mueller's crosshairs, now the Senate wants him too.  The Flynns are neck deep in Putin's dirty business at this point and the only question in my mind, as with Paul Manafort, is how much damage they do to Trump before they go to prison.

I know, I know, that's when the pardons start coming in hot and heavy, but that leads to the Nixon road, and down that path is the end the of the GOP and a lot of unhappy billionaire donors.  We'll see where this goes but it's a race now to see who gets indicted first, the Flynns or Manafort.

Broken Bad, Or That's Not How Drug Czars Work

Over the weekend, both the Washington Post and CBS's 60 Minutes laid into Trump's nominee for drug czar, Rep. Tom Marino, for essentially writing a bill that made the DEA's job of tracking opioids and stopping massive shipments from drug companies impossible.

In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation’s streets. 
By then, the opioid war had claimed 200,000 lives, more than three times the number of U.S. military deaths in the Vietnam War. Overdose deaths continue to rise. There is no end in sight. 
A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.” The DEA had opposed the effort for years. 
The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns
The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Rep. Tom Marino,a Pennsylvania Republican who is now President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s next drug czar. Marino spent years trying to move the law through Congress. It passed after Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated a final version with the DEA.

That was late Friday, followed with a devastating 60 Minutes piece on Sunday.  A DEA agent named Joe Rannazzisi who was fired from the DEA for criticizing Marino's bill as a deliberate effort to sink the DEA to help drug company profits blew the whistle on the department, in an interview with CBS's Bill Whitaker.

JOE RANNAZZISI: Addiction rate was still increasing. The amount of people seeking treatment was still increasing. It was all increasing. Still, the amount of prescriptions were increasing. And we started slowing down. 
As cases nearly ground to a halt at DEA, the drug industry began lobbying Congress for legislation that would destroy DEA's enforcement powers. That part of the story when we return. 
In 2013, Joe Rannazzisi and his DEA investigators were trying to crack down on big drug distributors that ship drugs to pharmacies across the country. He accused them of turning a blind eye as millions of prescription pain pills ended up on the black market. Then, a new threat surfaced on Capitol Hill. With the help of members of Congress, the drug industry began to quietly pave the way for legislation that essentially would strip the DEA of its most potent tool in fighting the spread of dangerous narcotics.

JOE RANNAZZISI: If I was gonna write a book about how to harm the United States with pharmaceuticals, the only thing I could think of that would immediately harm is to take the authority away from the investigative agency that is trying to enforce the Controlled Substances Act and the regulations implemented under the act. And that's what this bill did. 
The bill, introduced in the House by Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, was promoted as a way to ensure that patients had access to the pain medication they needed. 
Jonathan Novak, who worked in the DEA's legal office, says what the bill really did was strip the agency of its ability to immediately freeze suspicious shipments of prescription narcotics to keep drugs off U.S. streets -- what the DEA calls diversion.

That was Sunday. So now, Marino is out as the nation's direction of drug policy today, his nomination pulled.

Rep. Tom Marino has withdrawn from consideration as the White House’s pick for drug czar following a bombshell report that he championed a bill that hindered federal agents from going after the Big Pharma firms that flooded the country with addictive opioids. 
President Donald Trump made the announcement Tuesday morning on Twitter. 
“Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar,” Trump wrote. “Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!”

Sure he's great.  But when Eric Holder warned that Marino's bill would make the opioid epidemic exponentially worse?

Obama did sign the bill but there was no debate in Congress.

Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. It sailed through Congress without debate and was passed by unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. The White House was equally unaware of the bill’s import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials.

Marino pulled a fast one...and note that his partner in crime is Marsha Blackburn, running for retiring Tennessee Senator Bob Corker's seat.  Suddenly that race got a whole lot more interesting.

Trump's Uncaring Reality

If you had any doubts that Trump is operating in a zone where reality simply doesn't exist anymore, read John Marshall's transcript of Trump's remarks on Obamacare from Monday.

Health care is moving along. That was a subsidy to the insurance companies and a gift that was what they gave the insurance companies. Take a look at where their stock was when Obamacare was originally approved and what it is today. You will see numbers that if you invested in the stocks, you would be extremely happy. They have given them a total gift. They have given them — you can almost call it a pay off. It’s a disgrace. That money goes to the insurance companies. We want to take care of poor people and people that need help with health care.

I’m never going to get campaign contributions from the insurance companies, but take a look at how much money has been spent by the Democrats and by the health companies on politicians generally, but take a look at the coffers of the Democrats.

The CSR payments have actually brought Republicans and Democrats together. We got calls, emergency calls from the Democrats and I think probably the Republicans were also calling them saying let’s come up with at least a short-term fix of health care in this country. And the gravy train ended the day I knocked the insurance companies’ money. Which was last week. Hundred of millions of dollars handed to the insurance companies for very little reason. Believe me. I want the money to go to the people, to poor people that need it. Not to insurance companies which is where it’s going, as of last week I ended that. We have a lot of interesting things to do. I’m meeting with Mitch McConnell for lunch and we will say a few words after that.

We need health care. We’re going to get the health care done. In my opinion what’s happening is as we meet Republicans are meeting with Democrats because of what I did with the CSR. I cutoff the gravy train. If I didn’t cut the CSRs, they wouldn’t be meeting. They would be having lunch and enjoying themselves. They are right now having emergency meetings to get a short-term fix of health care. Where premiums don’t have to double and triple every year like they’ve been doing under Obamacare. Because Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone. You shouldn’t even mention it. It’s gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore. I said this years ago. It’s a concept that couldn’t have worked. In its best days it couldn’t have worked.

Donald Trump believes he is saving the country from mean ol' insurance companies and that he will be celebrated as one of the greatest presidents in history for saving America from Obamacare. He considers it dead, he considers the battle won, that we'll shower him with praise for unraveling the insurance markets by ending CSR subsidies.

He's bonkers. As Ezra Klein notes, Trump couldn't be doing a better job of sabotaging himself.

President Donald Trump's cancellation of Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction paymentswill increase premiums by 20 percent, cost the government $194 billion in higher subsidy payments, widen the deficit, destabilize insurance markets, increase the number of uninsured Americans, and cause chaos in health markets in the runup to the 2018 election. There is literally nothing in the health care system it makes better; it's pure policy nihilism. So why did Trump do it?

One theory goes that Trump does not believe the payments are constitutional when made in the absence of congressional authorization. This is a widely held view among Republicans, and it has received some affirmation from the courts. But coming in a week when Trump called freedom of the press “disgusting” and mused about yanking NBC’s broadcasting license in retaliation for a story he didn’t like, it has been a hard argument for advocates to make with a straight face. The other problem with this view is that Trump is not pushing Congress to authorize the payments and end any doubt over their legality — he is simply canceling them.

Which brings us to the second theory, which comes from Trump himself and is more plausible. Trump has long held the view that if he can inflict sufficient damage to the Affordable Care Act, Democrats will have no choice but to cut a deal — on Trump’s terms — to save it.

Except as a whole hell of a lot of people have pointed out Trump doesn't need the Democrats to do a damn thing to repeal Obamacare.  He needs Mitch McConnell, not Chuck Schumer, and the GOP still can't get that done.

So now Trump is convinced that in order to stop Trump from destroying health care coverage for millions of Americans, Democrats will help him and vote to take health care coverage away from tens of millions of people, because this is all the fault of Democrats.

Like I said, bonkers.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Playing The Panic Card

House Republicans are both freaking out over Trump and happy to fundraise off his problems, because that's how the modern GOP works in 2017.  The House GOP caucus is warning that Trump throwing them under the bus next year will put the Speaker's gavel in the hands of Nancy Pelosi, assuring Trump's impeachment in 2019, and at the same time they're using the opportunity to raise millions from Trump faithful as a necessary part of maintaining Trump's proto-dictatorship.

Top White House aides, lawmakers, donors and political consultants are privately asking whether President Donald Trump realizes that losing the House next year could put his presidency in peril. 
In more than a dozen interviews, Republicans inside and outside the White House told CNN conversations are ramping up behind the scenes about whether Trump fully grasps that his feuds with members of his own party and shortage of legislative achievements could soon put the fate of his presidency at risk. 
Donors who trekked to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in support of House Speaker Paul Ryan were treated to a slide show late this summer to fundraise off those very fears, according to multiple attendees. Among the slides: An overview of the Democrats who would be tapped to lead key committees if the GOP loses control, including Rep. Elijah Cummings as the head of the House Oversight Committee. 
To some attendees, the subtext was clear. If Republicans forfeit the House, Democrats will almost certainly create a spectacle that will derail conservatives' agenda and the remainder of Trump's first term -- a spectacle complete with a raft of new subpoenas, a spotlight on the Russia investigation and, many are convinced, impeachment proceedings. 
"When Democrats take control of the House they will absolutely move for articles of impeachment," one Trump confidant predicted. 
Alex Conant, a partner at GOP public affairs firm Firehouse Strategies, said Trump should focus on protecting his own party. 
"The number one thing Trump should be doing to save his presidency is helping congressional Republicans maintain their majorities," Conant said. "Instead he's allowing his allies like Steve Bannon to really undermine Republican reelection campaigns. It's just reckless and politically naive considering how devastating it would be to his presidency."

Of course all this is being coordinated by Steve Bannon and the White House.  The entire point is since that fear of liberals moving against Christian white America put Trump and the GOP in office in the first place, maintaining that level of hair-on-fire fear is vital to keeping the money flowing and keeping the GOP in power.

Which means Bannon and company think GOP voters are suckers who will soon be parted with their money.  Surprise!

Of course, the plan works too.  Playing the panic card worked in 2016, after all.

Breaking The NFL Salary Kaep(ernick)

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been blackballed from the league ever since he started taking a knee during the national anthem last year as a protest against policy brutality against black and brown folks.  Despite leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl five years ago, the team let him go at the end of the 2016 season and he hasn't been able to even get a workout with any team since.  But now Kaepernick is going to the courts, suing the NFL's team owners for collusion against hiring him in what could be a landmark sports labor case.

The move marks another escalation in the ongoing controversy over sports players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. The protest movement that began with Kaepernick and a handful of other NFL players in 2016 was suddenly propelled this year after repeated criticisms from President Donald Trump.

The president's attacks, including his call for the NFL to fire players who refused to stand during the anthem, prompted displays of solidarity across the league, with many players, coaches and owners linking arms or kneeled during the anthem.

Still, Kaepernick remains unemployed. The grievance, filed Sunday night, alleges that NFL owners “have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”

In a statement Sunday, his attorney, Mark Geragos said the complaint was filed "only after pursuing every possible avenue with all NFL teams and their executives."

"If the NFL (as well as all professional sports leagues) is to remain a meritocracy, then principled and peaceful political protests — which the owners themselves made great theater imitating weeks ago — should not be punished and athletes should not be denied employment based on partisan political provocation by the Executive Branch of our government," Geragos continued. "Such a precedent threatens all patriotic Americans and harkens back to our darkest days as a nation. Protecting all athletes from such collusive conduct is what compelled Mr. Kaepernick to file his grievance."

The NFL has not yet commented on the complaint, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated previously that Kaepernick is not being blackballed.

I hope Kaep gets a nine-digit payout out of this, and then donates most of the money to fighting police brutality.  The NFL is going to find out that the legal discovery process is a hell of a thing, and if you think fans are upset now, wait until the inevitable evidence of collusion comes out in a court of law.

Pull up a chair.  This ought to be a good show.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Last Call For The Specter Of War

NY Times columnist Nick Kristof has returned from a five-day stay in North Korea and is convinced more than ever that the Trump regime is headed for a devastating military conflict with Pyongyang.

North Korea is the most rigidly controlled country in the world, with no open dissent, no religion and no civil society, and there is zero chance that anyone will express dissatisfaction with the government

Still, the conversations were illuminating. Ordinary North Koreans were unfamiliar with the name of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died days after being returned to the United States in a vegetative state after his detention in Pyongyang for stealing a poster. But they knew all about President Trump’s threats to destroy their country. That’s because the government wants them to know about Trump’s threats, because they bolster Kim’s nationalist narrative that he protects Korea from imperialist American aggressors.

Being on the ground in a country lets you see things and absorb their power: the speaker on the walls of homes to feed propaganda; the pins that every adult wears with portraits of members of the Kim family; the daily power outages, but also signs that the economy is growing despite international sanctions; the Confucian emphasis on dignity that makes officials particularly resent Trump’s personal attacks on Kim; the hardening of attitudes since my last visit, in 2005; and the bizarre confidence that North Korea can not only survive a nuclear war with the U.S. but also emerge as victor.

At one factory, we came upon workers doing their “political study.” North Koreans explained that they have political study for two hours a day, plus most of the day on Saturday, so I asked what they focused on these days. “We must fight against the Americans!” one woman answered earnestly. And then the North Koreans in the room dissolved into laughter, perhaps because of the oddness of saying this to Americans.

A visit humanizes North Koreans, who outside the country sometimes come across as robots. In person, you are reminded that they laugh, flirt, worry, love and yearn to impress.

A military officer greeted me with a bone-crushing handshake, and I asked if that was meant to intimidate and convey to the Yankee imperialists that North Koreans are muscular supermen. He laughed in embarrassment, and when we ended the interview, he was much gentler.

I left North Korea fearing that we are far too complacent about the risk of a cataclysmic war that could kill millions. And that’s why reporting from within North Korea is crucial: There simply is no substitute for being in a place. It’s a lesson we should have learned from the run-up to the Iraq war, when the reporting was too often from the Washington echo chamber rather than the field. When the stakes are millions of lives and official communications channels are nonexistent, then journalism can sometimes serve as a bridge — and as a warning.
Yes, we must carefully weigh the risks — physical risks and the danger of being used by propagandists — and work to mitigate them.

But I have a sinking feeling in my gut, just as I had on the eve of the Iraq war, that our president may be careening blindly toward war. In that case, the job of journalists is to go out and report, however imperfectly, and try to ring alarm bells in the night.

I wouldn't exactly call Kristof's column from January 2003 he links in he last paragraph there an objection to the Iraq War, rather more of a grim resignation of the reality of the mess he admits the Bush administration could (and did) cause.  But he does appears to have a much clearer objection to the North Korean drumbeat as there is no good military solution at this point, and no scenario involving US forces that doesn't lead to millions dead in South Korea.

And yet that seems to be where we are headed at this point.  Every diplomatic overture is crushed by Donald Trump's rapacious ego, China isn't doing very much to stop Pyongyang, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is openly telling people that diplomacy will continue "until the first bombs drop".

I'm hoping that the bluster will pass as Trump becomes embroiled in the fallout from the Mueller investigation and soon, but that too raises the possibility that he could order strikes to stay in power. At this point nothing would shock me anymore.

The Far Right Still Simmers In Europe

Despite the decisive defeat in May of Marine Le Pen in France to President Emanuel Macron, reactionary Trumpian racist nationalism is rising across the pond and while it may not be winning outright yet in Europe in 2017, those forces continue to make substantial political gains. German elections last month left Angela Merkel in power but also greatly weakened and with the unabashedly neo-Nazi AfD party with 94 of 709 seats in Germany's Bundestag as the third-largest party in the country.  This weekend we're seeing a similar story play out in Austria as the Nazi apologists in the Freedom Party got nearly 26% of the vote.

Austria’s far-right Freedom party has scored its best result in a national election for almost two decades and could join the country’s next government, in a significant boost for Europe’s nationalist and anti-establishment movements.

Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old leader of the mainstream conservative People’s party, looked set to become Austrian chancellor — and the EU’s youngest leader — after narrowly topping Sunday’s poll, with 31.5 per cent according to projections based on early results.

But the projections showed 25.9 per cent of the vote went to the Freedom party, which has earned international notoriety for its xenophobia and airbrushing of Austria’s Nazi past. If borne out by final results, that would be its strongest performance since the 26.9 per cent it won in 1999 when the party was led by the charismatic Jörg Haider.

Its strong showing means the Freedom party could demand a high price to join a coalition led by Mr Kurz. That would almost certainty result a more hardline position from the government in Vienna on many EU topics, including immigration, and the Freedom party occupying top government posts such as the foreign and interior ministries.

However, Mr Kurz could seek another coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats, which gained 27.1 per cent of the vote according to projections, even though that would continue the “grand coalition” government between Austria’s two mainstream parties which disenchanted voters and which Mr Kurz had promised to overhaul.

Austria, which has a population of about 9m, was on the route of refugees fleeing wars in countries such as Syria, and received 130,000 asylum applications in 2015 and 2016.

Kurz's win is a reprieve so far but he may have no choice but to form a coalition with the Freedom Party.  Austria's president, Alexander Van der Bellen, barely beat out the Freedom Party's Norbert Hofer in last year's presidential race, so once again Austria dodges a bullet.

How long that will remain true, I can't tell you.

Sunday Long Read: The Women Of Generation Wrecks

Generation X, now in their 40's, remain the least financially stable and most downwardly mobile generation compared to their parents in American history by most standards: wealth compared to our parents, percentage of home ownership, retirement nest egg size (which for an increasing number of us is zero), and burden of student loans which we're still paying off.  It's bad enough for me, but in every case the women of Gen X are faring far worse than their Boomer mothers, and the collective mid-life crisis of women who grew up during the 80's is now an economic landmine in the heart of the American economy.

Is it any wonder that women our age possess a bone-deep, almost hallucinatory panic about money? It's not an idle worry. By some estimates, we carry more debt than any other age group (about $37,000 more than the national consumer debt average). We're some of the best-educated women in history, and yet we're downwardly mobile; about two-thirds of us have less wealth than our parents did at the same age.

This isn't because we spent too much on Pearl Jam CDs. The cost of a home has increased by more than 80 percent from 1970 to 2000, the last year for which data is available. (Between 2000 and 2005 and since 2013, home prices have outpaced salary growth.) In the late '70s annual tuition for a four-year college was less than $11,000 in today's dollars, now it's three times that. Which helps explain why 40-somethings haven't saved nearly enough for retirement. More than half of unmarried Gen Xers have less than $50,000 saved. When a woman takes time off to care for a sick relative—and it is usually the woman who takes time off—the potential cost in terms of lost wages and Social Security benefits averages $324,000 over her lifetime. Women not only earn less than men but also invest less—and then they live longer. That, writes investment expert Sallie Krawcheck, is "the gender gap that's really hurting us." Meanwhile, the safety net is vanishing; in 2040, the Social Security trust fund is due to run out—right as many of us hit retirement age.

"I call my midlife crisis Betty," says a 43-year-old filmmaker in Brooklyn, New York. "Betty is on me about being single and broke. Not having money reaches deep into you, and it creates a vicious and pernicious situation." In their 40s, our parents' generation could expect to own a house and to have money saved. In our 40s, we are often still scrambling like we did at age 25, and not just in creative fields, like filmmaking. Fifty-six percent of women still live paycheck to paycheck, and, according to a 2014 study on women and their money by Prudential, Gen X women are less confident in their ability to achieve their most important financial goals than either millennials or boomers.

Even women with cash in the bank—I had to work to find some—sound concerned. "I have a million dollars in my retirement account," says a 49-year-old New York City–based biotech executive, "and I'm still worried. Our kids are going to have to take out loans for school. Then, there are the retirement calculators on the internet. All of the information is: 'Lady, you better save money because no one else will take charge of your financial future!' I was incredibly frugal my whole life. I've been working my ass off. Since I was 10 years old, babysitting. And still I am stressed out about money."

Stress about money, of course, goes hand in hand with stress about work. If you've never lost a job or had to prove yourself in an industry that's changed massively in the few years you were away (and if this is you, I'm so happy for you!), then you might not realize how holding on in today's workforce, or trying to ascend, can feel like a feat of endurance. A 2011 report by the Center for Work-Life Policy (now the Center for Talent Innovation), which described Gen X as the “wrong place, wrong time” generation, noted that “thwarted by boomers who can't afford to retire and threatened by the prospect of leap-frogging millennials…49 percent of Gen Xers feel stalled in their careers.”Although the wage gap is now 82 cents on the dollar (as of the last annual Bureau of Labor Statistics report) and far more women these days are out-earning their husbands (29 percent of the time when both have jobs), women are still underrepresented among top earners. A report by PayScale that compared 1.4 million salary profiles found that in 2016 "men are 85 percent more likely than women to be VPs or C-Suite execs by mid-career." That's now, when many Gen X women are mid-career. New data from the BLS shows that women's median weekly earnings are highest for women 35-44 and slightly less for women 45-54. Men's earnings, not surprisingly, are higher than women's in all age groups, including these Gen X–heavy cohorts, but it's notable that earnings for men 45-54 are higher than men 35-44—there's no plateau for them.

One bright light that's often noted in our post–Great Recession world, where many industries are convulsing, is that jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are growing. But women hold only 25 percent of STEM jobs. The result is that unlike the job-hopping millennials, many women our age feel lucky to have steady work, even if it's not their dream job. But if there were a recipe for a midlife crisis, it could be showing up day after day for a job that's slowly corroding your soul.

"Sometimes, I have these moments of clarity, usually during lengthy conference calls," says Lori, 41, a contracts analyst in Charlotte, North Carolina. "This voice in my head suddenly starts shouting: What are you doing? This is pointless and boring! Why aren't you out there doing something you love? Name one thing you love! Cheese? Okay, great. Let's get some goats and start making cheese, and we can sell it from a truck. We'll call it something clever. And then, I spend the rest of the conference call thinking up names for my imaginary cheese truck: Hmm, some pun on a wheel? Fromage on a Wheel?"

So why doesn't she become the Fromage on a Wheel lady?

"I have friends who have told me over the years, 'Just quit your job and be a baker or be a cheesemaker,'" she says. "I've never had that option. Especially now, we have a child. You want to provide security and safety and health insurance. Those things overrule your own personal preferences. What if something really bad happens? Or if we lose a job?" She shudders.

For a lot of Gen X men, there's nothing to fall back on.  For Gen X women, it's only worse across the board.  They were expected by now to have it all: a successful career, a family, a home, and everything that goes with it.  Instead they got squeezed out by the Boomers and the Millennials and ended up in limbo.  And now we're headed for the Age of Austerity.

And as it always has been in America, it's harder for women on top of everything else.

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