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Kushnergate Update: Was It Really All About Syria?

May 27, 2017 - 6:17pm

Here's an interesting new tidbit on the Jared Kushner front. The New York Times account of Kushnergate says that the reason Kushner wanted to set up backchannel comms to Russia was so that Michael Flynn could hold private conversations about Syria. The Times didn't characterize their sources for this information, but it turns out it was people providing Kushner's side of the story. So why didn't this detail make it into the Washington Post story?

We talked to these "people" too. We would not publish their account unless we could signal they were speaking for Kushner. They refused. https://t.co/UpNrh7UHDV

— Scott Wilson (@PostScottWilson) May 27, 2017

So these sources said Kushner was setting up a channel to talk about Syria, which sounds fairly benign. But they refused to allow themselves to be quoted even as "sources close Kushner" or somesuch. So the Post passed.

Obviously this makes a difference. If the Syria story is Kushner's alibi, it means a lot less than it would if it came from some relatively neutral source who happened to know what was going on. Discount it accordingly.

The Kushner Backchannel Story Is Hard to Make Sense Of

May 27, 2017 - 12:57pm

Last night the Washington Post and the New York Times both reported that Jared Kushner buttonholed the Russian ambassador last December about setting up a secret communications backchannel with Moscow. This was during the transition period, six or seven weeks before Trump was inaugurated. The stories differ in the details they provide:

  • The Times reports that the purpose of the backchannel was for Michael Flynn to discuss Syria, but doesn't report how the backchannel would work.
  • The Post reports that Kushner proposed using secure facilities in the Russian embassy, but doesn't report what Kushner wanted to talk about.

The White House has not denied this story. It has simply refused to comment.

What do we make of this? Even after pondering it for several hours, I'm not sure what to think. I assume the Post has good sources for its report that Kushner wanted to use Russian embassy facilities, which suggests he was looking for a channel that was safe from monitoring—and leaking—by American intel agencies. In fact, the Post directly asserts this. But if the Times is right about Syria, that doesn't make sense. There have been a lot of leaks recently, but not last December. And certainly there was no reason to suspect that any intel agency would leak conversations about Syria.

So maybe they really wanted to talk about something else. But what? It would need to be something that was (a) highly sensitive, and (b) dodgy enough that some do-gooder in the intel community might feel like it needed to be leaked. There's been plenty of speculation about what that could be, but nothing grounded in reporting.

Also unknown: did Trump know about this? Or were Kushner and Flynn freelancing?

Also: what was the rush? In a few weeks Trump would have access to all the secure comms he wanted. Why was it so urgent to have galactic-class secure comms right away?

And: who wrote the anonymous letter that first tipped off the Post in mid-December?

The whole thing will remain something of a mystery until we know more about it. However the Post reports that the Russian ambassador was taken aback by Kushner's naivete in thinking that Russia might agree to expose its embassy facilities to an American. Subsequent commenters have used stronger terms than naivete.

Also, everyone agrees that Kushner's multiple meetings with various Russians were withheld from his security clearance application. That's not good.

Yet More Quotes of the Day

May 27, 2017 - 11:51am

On Donald Trump:

President Trump reportedly complained to world leaders about roadblocks he has faced setting up golf courses in the European Union....“Every time we talk about a country, he remembered the things he had done. Scotland? He said he had opened a club. Ireland? He said it took him two and a half years to get a license and that did not give him a very good image of the European Union,” a source told Le Soir.

On Jared Kushner:

Harleen Kahlon was an experienced digital media maven when she was hired by Kushner in 2010 to boost the paper’s digital outreach....At the end of the year, when she went to collect her performance bonus at his real estate office for meeting agreed upon metrics on page views and audience growth, Kushner told her that they couldn’t pay, citing financial concerns, and asked her to “take one for the team.”

....Just before the election, Kahlon described her former boss on Facebook thusly: “We’re talking about a guy who isn’t particularly bright or hard-working, doesn’t actually know anything, has bought his way into everything ever (with money he got from his criminal father), who is deeply insecure and obsessed with fame (you don’t buy the NYO, marry Ivanka Trump, or constantly talk about the phone calls you get from celebrities if it’s in your nature to ‘shun the spotlight’), and who is basically a shithead.

On Trump again:

After the "family photo" group shot, the other leaders convivially walked down the narrow Sicilian streets to their luncheon. Trump hung back and, minutes later, opted instead to ride in a golf cart.

Low energy. Sad.

These Stunning Photos Show the Real Cost of a Pipeline

May 27, 2017 - 5:00am

This story was originally published by Reveal and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As police in riot gear swept the last protesters from camps near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in late February, two dozen men and women arrived in this small ranching and lumber town 1,200 miles to the northwest. They were armed with maps, posters, doughnuts and coffee, and hoped to sell locals on an oil pipeline—one larger and potentially more hazardous than the Dakota Access.

They wore its name on their matching green jackets: Trans Mountain.

Town officials were already on board. They had signed on in exchange for about $330,000 (420,000 Canadian dollars) from the pipeline's American owner, Kinder Morgan Inc. But a few miles downriver, the Lower Nicola Indian Band was putting the company's offer to a vote the following day.

The 14 other First Nations directly on the pipeline route already had agreed to welcome crews onto their reserves in exchange for money and jobs from the company. By voting yes, the Lower Nicola could get a similar deal—a tempting offer in a remote community where many live in poverty.

Voting no would send a powerful message—a boost for the coalition of indigenous people and environmentalists battling Trans Mountain. But it likely would be largely symbolic: In November, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared no First Nation would have veto power over this pipeline.

Some Lower Nicola members came to the Trans Mountain open house in Merritt. Two men were looking for construction jobs. One elderly woman asked about cleanup plans if something were to go wrong. She struggled to find a polite way to describe such a disaster until a company official helped her out. "An incident," the official suggested. The room turned tense when another woman wondered why nobody had told her that an alternate route, apparently still under consideration, would run through her backyard.

The following night, at a similar meeting in a hotel ballroom in nearby Kamloops, Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Lizette Parsons Bell told a reporter from Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that these events generally draw people interested in jobs or work contracts. Where people have concerns, she said, the team is there to listen with respect.

Kinder Morgan workers, dressed in matching green outfits, host an information session about the Trans Mountain pipeline project in Kamloops, British Columbia. Patrick Michels/Reveal

"Do we have every single landowner that's in favor of it? No," she said. The goal is "to come to a point where there is an acceptance of the pipeline going through their property."

To gain such acceptance, the company has sent letters to and held meetings with not just the small group of First Nations along the pipeline, but with 118 others nearby. Fifty-one have signed agreements. Although the deals are confidential, the company has said they are worth nearly $300 million combined, a cost dwarfed by the pipeline's price tag: $5.5 billion.

Hours into the Lower Nicola vote, elder Maria Savage walked slowly down the icy dirt road from the band office to her home. She's against the pipeline, worried about the land and wildlife if there's a spill. But the negotiations struck her as familiar, reminding her of her childhood, when the federal government forced indigenous children into boarding schools.

"I heard they're going to go through with the pipeline whether we agree with it or not," Savage said. "You know, why ask us for our vote if they're gonna put it through anyway? … That's the same thing when they took us away and put us in the residential schools. Didn't matter what we said or what we did."

As in the U.S., by law, the Canadian government must consult with First Nations about major development on their land. Those consultations haven't been the same as asking for permission. But recent rulings in Canada's courts have said indigenous people could stop a project by withholding their consent—especially in British Columbia, where First Nations never signed their land over in treaties.

The Canadian court cases are grounded in a growing recognition of the moral imperative of reconciliation between indigenous and non-Native people. At the same time, though, the government sees its untapped oil reserves as a key economic engine.

Just in time for the country's sesquicentennial, the Trans Mountain project is forcing Canadian officials to decide how far they're willing to go to honor First Nations' rights.

Oil's journey begins in Alberta

Kinder Morgan's new pipeline is the middle step in the journey from Canada's oil fields to the world market. Tanker ships will complete the trip from Vancouver to Asia.

Steam from oil production facilities blankets the horizon along a highway near a Fort McKay First Nation reserve in Alberta. Since the band began doing business with the oil industry in 1986, its corporation's annual revenue has grown to $73 million. Darren Hauck/Reveal

But the journey begins in northern Alberta, about 2,000 feet below a thick forest of birch, fir, spruce and pine, in a layer of oily bitumen—a remnant of marine life that sank to the bottom of the sea that once covered the province. This tarry paste is what will fill the new Trans Mountain line, unrefined and diluted with a light mix of chemicals to ease the flow.

Bitumen from these oil sands fueled a boom a decade ago, when high oil prices made it profitable to mine. Mining bitumen is expensive and energy-intensive, so with oil selling for about $50 a barrel now, there is less incentive to hurry it out of the ground. Kinder Morgan is betting on a future when the price of oil goes up again.

Far northern regions feel the effects of climate change first. In winter, truckers driving north from Fort McMurray to the village of Fort Chipewyan rely on a road of frozen rivers and wetlands. Lately, the road has been melting away earlier each winter.

This stretch of boreal forest has long been home to caribou, deer and black bears, and indigenous Canadians who hunt and fish to survive. Around the mining operations that will supply Trans Mountain, road signs suggest great deference for wildlife: They warn of caribou crossing the highway and not to feed the bears. To some who knew the place before industry moved in, the signs are a joke: They don't see much of those animals anymore.

Violet Clarke lives on a Fort McMurray First Nation reserve about a half-hour drive southeast of the city. Her grandfather ranched and trapped on this land. She grew up here in the 1930s, when just one struggling plant processed bitumen alongside the Athabasca River. As more companies have moved in, she said, the foxes that her grandfather used to trap on this land have disappeared. The frogs remain, but they're often slicked in oil. The water has become so polluted that she said she's been warned not to eat more than three fish a week.

Violet Clarke, a member of the Fort McMurray First Nation, lives on a reserve in the Athabasca River oil sands area in Alberta. She says the water has become so polluted that she's been warned not to eat more than three fish a week. Darren Hauck/Reveal

In 2010, a study led by University of Alberta researchers, and prompted by concerns from elders such as Clarke, traced a number of carcinogens in the river to oil sands production. The most obvious evidence of trouble in the water is evident to fishermen who catch whitefish or burbot with back tumors and bulging eyes.

"There's an awful lot of people that don't want to talk about it, because an awful lot of people live off of the resources. And you can't blame them in a lot of ways," Clarke said. "Because industry, it's first, because it brings your bread home."

"But," she added, "we had our bread before we got oil."

Trans Mountain is one of four pipelines planned from the oil sands, along with TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL and Energy East and Enbridge Inc.'s Line 3. Thirteen oil producers have contracts for the new Trans Mountain line, lured by the promise of higher prices in Asia. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers projects that by 2030, annual oil sands production will increase 55 percent from 2015, adding 1.3 million barrels a day.

That much business could fill the huge worker dormitories posted along remote stretches of Alberta's highways. It could keep Fort McMurray's extended-stay hotels and bars as busy as they were a decade ago. Canada's official statistics agency says unemployment in Alberta has tripled in the downturn, from a low of 3 percent in 2006 to 9 percent in last fall.

The recession had a pronounced effect on indigenous Canadians, who already face severe disadvantages. Less than half of adults living on reserves are employed. Indigenous people account for about 4 percent of Canada's population but almost a quarter of its prisoners and nearly half its foster care system.

Fort McKay First Nation, a reservation in northern Canada, is home to nearly 400 indigenous people. It began as a trading post for fur trappers, and the land continued to be used that way until the mid-20th century. Then trapping became less profitable, as petroleum operations started to surround the community. Rachel de Leon/Reveal

One local chief says conservationists, not industry, are holding back progress.

In a December speech, Chief Jim Boucher of the Fort McKay First Nation told his counterparts that environmentalists were "the ones who, at the end of the day, were successful in creating poverty in northern Canada."

"Please don't buy into the environmentalist argument," he said.

The Fort McKay First Nation is blessed and cursed with reserve land on the banks of the Athabasca in the heart of oil sands production. The wind blows a pungent smell from surrounding strip mines. Since Boucher's band began doing business with industry in 1986, its corporation's annual revenue has grown to $73 million. Even in the downturn, unemployment is close to zero.

Trans Mountain's eastern end is anchored here in Alberta, where oil has built metropolises on the prairie. Strathcona County, near Edmonton, is a way station from the oil sands to the rest of the world, with pipes and tanks and towers tangled up like a huge high school chemistry project. Twenty pipelines converging underground at the Kinder Morgan terminal will feed the new Trans Mountain line.

One peculiarity of the fight over Trans Mountain is that it's not a new route, but an expansion of an existing line. A larger pipe laid alongside the first will nearly triple the oil-carrying capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

Trans Mountain was a source of national pride when it opened in 1953. It was Canada's second major pipeline and its first one west across the Rockies. Tourists marked its debut with a bus and train journey to see where the pipe had been buried. Thousands toured the storage tanks near Vancouver. Politicians compared it with the first railroad across the Rockies and even "the first white man to traverse the northern continent from ocean to ocean."

Kinder Morgan, a Houston firm once part of the fallen energy giant Enron, acquired the pipeline in 2005. By buying existing pipelines and expanding them, the company has become one of the largest operators in North America today, with 84,000 miles of pipe. The Trans Mountain project would add 615 more.

Skirting Edmonton to the south, the pipeline route cuts straight through fields and forests to the Rockies, where it crosses Jasper National Park. Kinder Morgan already expanded a stretch of pipeline there in 2008, a project that the company says demonstrates its approach to consultation with First Nations and its environmental stewardship. It was among the EcoHeroes of 2010 named by the industry-funded Alberta Emerald Foundation, in a class with BP Canada and a dozen others. In February, a company representative told a reporter with the Jasper Fitzhugh that the pipeline had never spilled in the park.

In truth, the company's record has been mixed. As the Fitzhugh noted, the pipeline has leaked in the park at least six times, according to the company's own reports, including a 1966 incident that released more than 290,000 gallons of oil. Since Canada began collecting reports in 1961, Trans Mountain has spilled its cargo 82 times, 12 of them since Kinder Morgan bought the line.

In 2007, a city contractor accidentally pierced the pipe in suburban Vancouver, opening a fountain of oil in the middle of the street. Sixty-two thousand gallons of crude oil ran to the sewer and into waterways. According to a government investigation, "a number of shore birds were contaminated after coming into contact with the oil."

Kinder Morgan paid a $250,000 settlement that time, some of which went to an oil spill cleanup fund. Workers recovered most of the oil by scooping up soil and skimming the water's surface.

Diluted bitumen from the new pipeline would be tougher to clean up. The largest test case so far is a 2010 spill from an Enbridge pipeline in Michigan, which released dangerous levels of benzene into the air and forced 150 families out of their homes. Unlike crude oil, bitumen sinks in water. Seven years later, over a million gallons of oil were cleaned up, yet clumps of bitumen still sit at the bottom of the Kalamazoo River.

Oil companies' payments to communities are meant to smooth over concerns about risks like these.

But when the first Trans Mountain line went in, neither the company nor the government was obligated to consult First Nations. Indigenous Canadians weren't allowed to vote in federal elections then and had only just gained the right to hire lawyers.

Today's consultation over Trans Mountain bears the weight of that history. Many land defenders wonder how much has changed if construction plans can roll right along even though—as the resistance slogan goes—their answer is still no.

Chiefs make unilateral decisions for all

The president of Kinder Morgan Canada, Ian Anderson, has made an enthusiastic show of his outreach campaign with chiefs and councils. The company's deals, Anderson has said, "represent not only an agreement to share opportunity and provide prosperity, but a symbol of recognition of a shared respect."

But the chief-to-chief negotiations behind those deals are fraught from the start, rooted in the colonial system that carved up indigenous nations into legally recognized bands and appointed a single chief to decide for the people.

Last year's federal filings from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc nation showed about $2.2 million in a trust account labeled "Kinder Morgan mutual benefits agreement." With fewer than 1,400 registered members, the deal is worth around $1,600 a person. First reported by the local paper Kamloops This Week, it's the only deal amount that's been made public.

In an interview, Chief Fred Seymour said the final amount could change. He said the deal includes a clause that would raise the payment to match any larger agreements Kinder Morgan might make with another nation.

But there was no vote on the deal. Instead, Seymour said he consulted about 100 people who spoke for families within his nation.

In the Alexander First Nation, near Edmonton, Kinder Morgan's negotiators parachuted into a fiery internal conflict. Shortly after signing an agreement with the company, Chief Kurt Burnstick was tried for the sexual assault of another band member. He was cleared in January, but activists within the nation had marched through the reserve calling for his removal.

According to two activists, Janet Campbell and Rodney Yellowdirt, council members agreed to use First Nation money—including proceeds from its deals with oil and gas firms—to pay Burnstick's defense team.

Burnstick would not comment for this story. For their part, Campbell and Yellowdirt supported the Trans Mountain agreement but said their experience exposes the fact that oil wealth doesn't always benefit the community. Companies, they said, should keep track of where their money goes.

From Jasper, the pipeline runs westward down the Rockies along the Yellowhead Pass pioneer trail. It's about 250 miles to Kamloops, where the line makes one of its two major river crossings, under the Thompson. Just north of the city sits the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band reserve, home to a 162-person First Nation where Kinder Morgan negotiated its first deal for the project three years ago.

Michael LeBourdais, who was chief at the time, said the agreement is "equal to or greater than what we get now from the federal government." In 2011, the most recent tally published by the government, the band received nearly $470,000 from Canada's indigenous affairs office. Kinder Morgan also agreed to extra safety precautions, LeBourdais said, such as laying thicker pipes where the line crosses waterways.

Michael LeBourdais, chairman of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics and former chief of the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band, is organizing a group of First Nations on the Trans Mountain pipeline route to fight for the right to tax the oil. Patrick Michels/Reveal

"There wasn't a 'Do you approve of this pipeline?' question because they would never ask that," LeBourdais said. "They asked about our thoughts, because we don't have the right to say no."

Today, LeBourdais is chairman of the Tulo Centre of Indigenous Economics, which offers financial skills training. He sees Trans Mountain as a teaching moment: He's organizing a group of First Nations on the pipeline route to fight for the right to tax the oil, which he believes could yield an extra $73 million a year.

He said the plan would let his nation profit off its land while remaining good stewards.

"My grandfather always said, 'There is no right and wrong in nature,' " he said. " 'There's only balance.' "

Most importantly, he said, these financial arrangements are opportunities to force industry and government to recognize First Nations' land rights—empowerment through bureaucracy.

"Tax represents jurisdiction," he said.

A brutal history

LeBourdais' office sits in a century-old building that stands as a testament to how brutally Canada has used its bureaucracy against indigenous people. The steeple-topped brick behemoth was once the Kamloops Indian Residential School, one of 130 state-funded and church-operated facilities that carried out what the government called its "aggressive assimilation" program from the 1840s until 1996. While the city of Kamloops grew on the south side of the Thompson River, the school dominated the north bank.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School was once part of the Canadian government's "aggressive assimilation" program for indigenous children. After the school closed in 1977, local First Nations took ownership of the building. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Attendance was mandatory; over the decades, officials made sweeps to collect about 150,000 children. The system was modeled on similar U.S. boarding schools, which housed around 100,000 Native American children through the 1960s.

After the Kamloops school closed in 1977, local First Nations took ownership. Some hoped to see it torn down, but leaders decided to keep it for practical reasons—lots of office space—and to remind people across the river of the horrors that took place as they and their ancestors looked on.

LeBourdais is in his early 50s and attended a neighborhood public school. But his parents were taken from home and brought to residential school. Even with LeBourdais working out of a big third-floor office, his father wouldn't set foot inside.

"It's creepy when you work here at night, that's for sure," LeBourdais said.

Men and women have come forward over the past decade describing beatings and sexual assault by priests who ran the schools. Thousands of children taken to the schools disappeared and are presumed dead. In the 1940s, federal researchers withheld rations from children at six schools to study the effects of malnutrition.

Much of what's known about the schools came out in the final report of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which delivered its conclusions in 2015. By then, Canada had established a $1.4 billion fund for survivors of the residential schools. But the commission called for deeper change:

"Reconciliation is not about 'closing a sad chapter of Canada's past' but about opening new healing pathways of reconciliation that are forged in truth and justice," it said.

Aaron Sam, chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, was an early critic of the way Canadian officials handled the Trans Mountain pipeline project. He's worried about the environment and believes the government's consultation was too cursory. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Aaron Sam represented hundreds of residential school survivors in their legal claims as a lawyer in Kamloops. He was 40 years old when the Lower Nicola Indian Band elected him chief in 2013.

"Residential school was a terrible place," Sam said in an interview in the band office. "It was a place where our children were beaten down."

Sam was raised on the reserve by parents and grandparents who attended residential schools.

"What happened at residential school … still affects all aspects of everything that happens in our communities politically, in the family and in places like this—in our offices—and even in our negotiation tables with these big multinational corporations," he said.

Sam was an early critic of the way Canadian officials handled the Trans Mountain project. He was worried about the environment and believed the government's consultation was too cursory. But he decided it was important that his nation reach a communal decision.

"The current pipeline's been in the ground for over 60 years and, you know, if this one actually gets built, it's going to probably be in the ground longer than that," Sam said. "The decision we make, I believe, is going to affect our people for generations."

So Sam and the Lower Nicola council negotiated a deal with Kinder Morgan, including cash payments, a new bridge and a new power line. It would take effect only if members approved it in a vote. This is the decision that Lower Nicola members were weighing at the company's open-house meeting in Merritt.

The Lower Nicola have an activist streak, which surfaced in a 2015 fight against a program that trucked treated waste from suburban Vancouver into their valley. The campaign was successful, and "No Sludge" signs around the reserve still serve as reminders of that victory.

Signs around the Lower Nicola Indian Band Reserve remain from a victorious 2015 campaign to stop a program that trucked treated waste from suburban Vancouver into their valley. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Near the end of the three-day vote, Sam wouldn't guess the outcome or, if it failed, whether the Lower Nicola would file a court challenge, following the example of the nearby Coldwater Indian Band. But he explained why many probably would vote no.

"A lot of our people are still very, very reliant on our traditional foods, through hunting and fishing salmon in our rivers," he said.

The pipeline and the river might run downstream to Vancouver, Sam said, but the fallout from a spill would ripple back up if the salmon died in an oil slick before coming upstream.

At the same time, he acknowledged many would welcome Kinder Morgan's money. One of Merritt's two big lumber mills closed in December, leaving hundreds jobless. For some, pipeline construction couldn't start soon enough.

Protests along the way

In the late 19th century, government officials in most of Canada and the U.S. were busy applying a veneer of legality to their claims to native land. But British Columbia remained an outlier. Colonial Gov. James Douglas signed a few land treaties on Vancouver Island, but no others in the province. Most of British Columbia remained "unceded territory," a fact that people often recite at the start of community meetings.

Indigenous activist and author Arthur Manuel wrote that while the government and private owners could buy and sell this land, their claims would only ever sit on top of the immutable indigenous title. Manuel died in January, having spent his last months organizing to stop Trans Mountain.

A Kinder Morgan Canada sign marks the spot where the Trans Mountain pipeline crosses the Thompson River in Kamloops, British Columbia. Patrick Michels/Reveal

Now his daughter Kanahus Manuel and her siblings have a plan to oppose the pipeline by establishing villages that run on a traditional way of life. Manuel lived at a protest camp near Standing Rock and wants to bring that spirit to the territory of her people, the Secwepemc. Their land once reached from Kamloops to Jasper National Park, an area larger than Missouri.

"That's how we want to fight the pipeline … is being an example," she said.

North in British Columbia, indigenous protesters have spent seven years in a camp organized on those same principles, called Unist'ot'en. In practice, it has stood in the way of a series of pipelines planned through the forest, but its organizers describe it is a "homestead" and "not a protest or demonstration."

"Every single man, woman and child has a right, and a say, about whether we consent to a pipeline or not. But right now, there's no process for indigenous peoples to say no," Manuel said. "When we go out and say, 'Let's assert it. Let's go out and occupy the land to stop the ski resort or the mining,' then we are criminalized."

Clashes between police and indigenous protesters have turned violent before, famously at a golf course in Oka, Quebec, in 1990 and at Gustafsen Lake, northwest of Kamloops, five years later. A 2015 report revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have targeted indigenous environmental activists for surveillance.

Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson knows protesters are eyeing his project.

"They'll look for soft spots in the system," he told reporters last fall, "and it's my job to make sure there aren't any."

As the Trans Mountain pipeline nears Vancouver, it runs underneath increasingly resistant communities. From Kamloops and Merritt, it crawls down sheer cliffs and canyons, emerging into the farmland of the Fraser Valley, and then heads west toward the sprawl of Vancouver. It ends in the waterfront suburb of Burnaby, where contractors pierced the pipe a decade ago and residents are wary of another spill. The mayor has tried to bar the company's workers from city land.

If demonstrators do make a stand against the pipeline, many people expect Burnaby will be the spot. Recent history offers a lesson in how the company and police might respond.

In August 2014, Kinder Morgan wanted data on the geological makeup of Burnaby Mountain, where the company plans to bore a tunnel connecting its storage tanks to its shipping terminal near Vancouver. When workers began clearing trees to make way for drilling equipment, a few locals began a protest. Within days, it was an occupation.

One of the early demonstrators was Stephen Collis, a poet and writing professor at Simon Fraser University, which sits atop Burnaby Mountain. His writing often touches on themes of resistance and revolution. He helped rally the crowd by posting updates in a Facebook group.

In late October, Collis received notice that Kinder Morgan was suing him and four other demonstrators for disrupting its work. The company wanted more than $4 million from the protesters for getting in the way.

Separately, Kinder Morgan requested a federal court order to clear demonstrators from its work site. An environmental advocacy firm filed a challenge to block it, but before a judge ruled, Mounties began clearing the camp.

The arrests began early on a Thursday morning, roughly at first, as officers in yellow vests dragged demonstrators from their tents.

After two days, the police operation took on a ceremonial air. Mounties hung police tape from the trees, and protesters volunteered each morning to cross the line. A video from the last day of arrests shows Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, British Columbia's highest-ranking chief, carefully ducking under the tape and onto the protected work site, holding on to an officer's hand for support.

He and more than 100 others were arrested. Their charges later were dismissed because the company had listed the wrong coordinates on its court order.

Collis and four other protesters watched from behind bulletproof glass in a downtown Vancouver courtroom as Kinder Morgan's attorney, William Kaplan, argued why the five owed the company millions. At one point, he said protesters had intimidated pipeline workers by making angry faces.

At another, Kaplan read one of Collis' recent poems as evidence of his complicity: "As barricades were assembled from garbage dumped down a hillside from a parking lot in Burnaby Mountain … an old rusted oil barrel was uncovered and rolled up the hill. It's a talisman, a symbol of the old world we are trying to resist and change. It is, we hope, the last oil barrel that will have anything to do with this mountain forest."

"So," Kaplan told the judge, "underneath the poetry is a description of how the barricade was constructed."

Collis and other protesters remember the ordeal as a darkly comic time – but the company's show of legal force offered enough cover to let workers finish their job. On the day Kinder Morgan's lawyers argued that Collis and the others were disrupting their work, the job was done. Helicopters were lifting the drilling gear off the mountain. Kinder Morgan dropped its suit soon after.

Legal challenges ahead

Through Burnaby Mountain, the oil will run one last line before being loaded onto ships to take it across the sea.

After a journey that began on the prairie, in the shadow of smokestacks and office towers, the Trans Mountain line emerges into a different world. Tankers load the oil at a terminal in the still Burrard Inlet, surrounded by forested hills and expensive homes. Today, about one tanker loads up each week; if the second pipeline opens, the rate will increase to one a day.

Tankers load oil in the Burrard Inlet, a port of Vancouver. Today, about one tanker loads up each week; if the second Trans Mountain pipeline opens, the rate will increase to one a day. Darren Hauck/Reveal

This new traffic is at the center of opposition here to Trans Mountain.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose name means "people of the inlet," sits about a mile across the water from the terminal.

"When this project came into our territory, it was not a matter of whether we could profit off of it economically, but just really preserving who we are or what we are," said Tsleil-Waututh council member Charlene Aleck. "We reached out to our community, and everybody just saw no huge benefits, even though there was millions of dollars offered."

Thousands of Tsleil-Waututh once lived in villages on the water around Vancouver, but their population was cut to dozens amid 19th-century conflict and epidemics introduced by white settlers. They survived by adapting to life in the growing port city, working as longshoremen. Much as Fort McKay leaders have capitalized on resource extraction, Tsleil-Waututh leaders have built a tourism company, a driving range and real estate developments with waterfront views.

With the money from those projects, they've teamed with other First Nations nearby to buy more land. They've led initiatives to restore the salmon population that has suffered in polluted port waters. And they've repeatedly fought back plans, such as the Trans Mountain expansion, that would industrialize their coastline.

"A project like this would totally decimate any kind of work that we had been doing for the last 15 years," Aleck said.

Charlene Aleck, council member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose name means “people of the inlet,” says her community has adapted to life in a growing port city with some development, but collectively, the Tsleil-Waututh "saw no huge benefits" from the Trans Mountain pipeline. Darren Hauck/Reveal

She and other Tsleil-Waututh leaders have become some of the pipeline's most outspoken opponents. But they mostly stepped aside during the Burnaby Mountain protest in 2014, and Chief Maureen Thomas has made it clear she doesn't want to see "another Standing Rock" here.

"We each have a piece of the puzzle," Aleck said, "and Tsleil-Waututh has always been trying to go by legal means."

They've joined other First Nations in legal claims accusing the government of approving the pipeline without proper consultation.

It's a claim similar to one the Standing Rock Sioux made in American courts. But in Canada, a series of landmark Supreme Court rulings suggest there's a chance for success. The Tsleil-Waututh's challenge is one of nine currently pending against the pipeline in British Columbia's federal courts, seven of them from First Nations, that could build on recent legal precedent.

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that bands in British Columbia had the right to stop a logging operation on land occupied by their ancestors. Last year, a federal appeals court threw out the government's approval for another big pipeline through British Columbia, called the Northern Gateway, agreeing that indigenous people on the route hadn't been consulted adequately.

On the campaign trail in 2015, Justin Trudeau pledged that as prime minister, he'd honor the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including that "aboriginal peoples need to become the law's architects and interpreters where it applies to their collective rights and interests." Trudeau also said he'd implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires that indigenous people consent to development on their land.

On Trans Mountain, though, Trudeau's decision wasn't so simple. Noting that there are First Nations on both sides of the issue, he has said no single group can block it. His approval of the project at the end of last year was part of a political compromise on climate change, combining new pipelines with mandatory carbon caps across Canada.

Ian Campbell, chief of the Squamish Nation near Vancouver, said that the decision seemed like a foregone conclusion—and that Trudeau delegated the government's consultation to Kinder Morgan.

"We felt that that was inappropriate because the duty of consultation lies with the crown," he said.

The Squamish also have challenged the pipeline approval in court, claiming the government failed in its constitutional duty to consult them. Campbell believes more should have joined the cause.

"I'm certainly disappointed that some of the First Nations would accept what I equate to be some trinkets," he said.

Squamish First Nation Chief Ian Campbell says his band thinks that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline was a foregone conclusion and that the government shirked its duty to consult First Nations. Darren Hauck/Reveal

How much consultation is enough? What should that consultation look like? And how many First Nations must support a project before it can proceed? These questions are part of a rapidly shifting area of Canadian law—a delicate dance between the competing goals of development and reconciliation.

The Tsleil-Waututh and the other First Nations challenging the Trans Mountain approval could be the ones that set the next precedent.

Along a beach near the Tsleil-Waututh reserve, smooth rocks and weathered shells crunch underfoot. The shells are remnants of mussels and clams eaten by Tsleil-Waututh ancestors. Since the oil tankers began arriving 60 years ago, Aleck said, their wakes already have washed away some of the beach.

"There was no consultation that happened," she said. "They just kind of came into the territory and told us that they would make our land prosperous for us and that we would see jobs come out of it. Kind of like what they're saying today."

On the Tsleil-Waututh reserve, a totem pole overlooking the inlet stands as a symbol of their resistance to the pipeline. Four salmon swim in a circle around the pole's base, signifying their charge to protect the water. The main figure is a wolf, the symbol of the Tsleil-Waututh. According to the band's origin legend, the creator transformed a wolf into its first member and made him protector of the land.

In between the salmon and wolf, two men and a boy are standing up, carrying the fight from one generation to the next.

'Our voice is important'

Voting on the Lower Nicola deal with Kinder Morgan ended Feb. 25. By the time Chief Aaron Sam arrived that night at the meeting hall, the votes already had been counted. One-fifth of the nation's 964 registered members had weighed in: 111 in favor and 75 opposed.

Kinder Morgan now could claim support from all of the First Nations directly on the pipeline route.

After the vote, Sam was as careful with his words as he'd been before. He and the council would get to work finalizing the deal, he said. "Sometimes, you have to put your personal feelings aside."

But the results put him in the mind of the recent past, when his people's stewardship of the land wasn't even in question, and of a future—not here yet, but drawing nearer—when they can claim that role again.

"In our territory, it was 1808 when Simon Fraser first came down the Fraser (River)," Sam said. "And the area didn't have a lot of settlers in here until the middle or late 1800s. And back then, it was our land.

"And I think as people become educated and learn and realize that we have a real voice, and that what we decide actually matters, then people are going to say, 'We have a voice. Our voice is important.'

"And we're not going to ask people to listen to us, right? They're going to have to listen to us."

How to Know If You're a "Super Taster"

May 27, 2017 - 5:00am

On our latest episode of Bite, we talked to political journalist Dylan Matthews, someone who couldn't care less about food. Matthews opts for cheap burritos over caviar and dislikes eating certain textures. The conversation got me thinking—what about those who really enjoy the taste of food?

 

You've probably heard of the legendary "supertasters," people with a higher sensitivity to taste stimuli. I always envied these people—how enjoyable it must be for them to sink their teeth into milk chocolate with a gooey caramel core, or have a leg up in identifying complexities in a glass of red wine from Bordeaux. But that's not quite the case. Linda Bartochuk, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Florida's Center for Smell and Taste, says supertasters tend to be pretty picky eaters and prefer to stick to bland food, which means they may have more in common with Dylan Matthews than with restaurant critics.

Here are some more things you may not realize about super tasters and the science of taste:

  • Supertasters aren't inherently better at things like blind wine tastings.

Being able to recall the varietal, year, region, and make of wine with such accurate (and perhaps smug) detail isn't due to having more taste buds. It's often associated with practice and the ability to learn vocabulary and remember taste associations, according to Steven Munger, director of the Center for Smell and Taste. "What [wine expertise] may be doing is changing your ability to access information more efficiently and put it in a context of a memory," Munger said. 

  • Being a supertaster has health advantages...

Supertasters tend to avoid alcohol and cigarettes because of the strong flavor and unpleasant taste.

  • ...and disadvantages.

Given the bitterness or often distinct texture of certain vegetables like leafy greens, super tasters tend to dislike their strong flavors. Bartochuck says this may lead them to incorporate these healthy foods a lot less in their diets than the average eater. 

  • Supertasters tend to be women.

Bartochuck estimates that about 15 percent of Americans are supertasters, and women fall into the category more than men. She proposes this may have to do with how we evolved: A pregnant woman's sensitivity to bitter foods (sometimes a sign of poison) would have been an advantage for her fetus.

  • Illness can have a negative affect on your taste buds—supertaster or not.

Having a lot of taste buds doesn't mean they'll all stay on your tongue forever. Taste nerves found in the inner ear and the back of the throat can be damaged by infections or surgeries on the middle ear or tonsils.

  • You don't taste certain flavors on certain parts of your tongue.

When a Harvard researcher mistranslated a German scientist's 1901 study, the idea of "tongue maps" spread and is still found in textbooks today. The concept that sweet is tasted on the tongue's tip and bitter on the back is a taste myth scientists are still trying to dispel. We experience all five tastes—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (think broth or soy sauce)—on the front, sides, and back of our tongue.

Taste test: Find out if you're a supertaster

Tongues are covered with fungiform papillae, mushroom shaped-structures that house our taste buds, and supertasters have a lot more papillae than the average taster. The best way to test if you're a supertaster, Bartochuk says, is to take a close look at your tongue and compare it with friends' or family members'.

Here's an easy test you can do with a group of people: 

1. Get some Q-Tips, blue food coloring, and a magnifying glass.

2. Have everyone put a couple of drops of blue food coloring on a Q-Tip and swab their tongues. Taste buds won't get as saturated with color as the rest of the tongue—they may remain pink or turn a lighter shade of blue.

3. Use a magnifying glass to look at the tongues. Supertasters' tongues will be visibly covered by more fungiform papillae.

Then again, if you'd rather avoid dying your tongue bright blue, you can always order a supertaster kit online.

These Early '70s Ads Tried to Convince Kids the US Army Wasn't Totally Uptight

May 27, 2017 - 5:00am

In the early 1970s, the US Army had a serious problem with its brand. It was stuck in an unpopular and bloody war. Morale stank; even President Richard Nixon conceded to West Point cadets that "it is no secret that the discipline, integrity, patriotism, self-sacrifice, which are the very lifeblood of an effective armed force…can no longer be taken for granted in the Army." Plus, Nixon had promised to stop the draft and the Pentagon had agreed to reintroduce an all-volunteer force in 1973. That meant military brass could no longer rely on a steady stream of warm bodies to fill the ranks—they would have go out and convince new recruits that Army life wasn't a drag.

Iconic and unseen war photos from Vietnam and Iraq AP Photo

So in 1971, the Army enlisted Madison Avenue to help. Not literally Madison Avenue, but N.W. Ayer, a venerable Philadelphia advertising firm that held the Army recruitment account and had coined copywriting gems such as "A diamond is forever." Armed with a $18.5 million budget—a sixfold increase from 1970—would-be Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons started brainstorming ways to sell the Army to a target demographic that had come of age amid peace protests and love beads.  

This wasn't the first time Ayer had tried to convince young Americans that the military got them. In 1969, it created an ad targeting young women titled "The Army Needs Girls as Well as Generals." Beneath a photo of an aging staff officer and his fresh-faced assistant—his hand creepily touching hers beneath a manila folder—the ad gushed about the need for "girls who can keep things moving in the office." And if the chance to wage bureaucratic warfare in a potentially hostile work environment wasn't enticing enough, the copy promised the chance to meet "young people who want to go places and do things."  

N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The generals who oversaw the 1971 Army rebranding project were unimpressed by Ayer's initial pitches. One rejected concept, described by historian Beth Bailey, featured an image of a chicken wearing dog tags with the tag line "Bye Bye Birdie." (Sorry, Sal Romano.)

Eventually, the firm sold a reluctant Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland on the slogan "Today's Army Wants to Join You"—a twist on the old "I Want You for U.S. Army" posters that one ad exec said was meant to evoke "individual expression and changing lifestyles." (The other branches of the armed services also deployed new slogans to woo the Me Generation: the Navy: "If you're going to be something, why not be something special?" The Air Force: "Find yourself in the United States Air Force.")

N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The resulting youth-friendly campaign featured a variety of print ads published in mainstream magazines such as Popular Science and Field and Stream. Ads aimed at African Americans ran in Ebony, Jet, and other black magazines. "When was the last time you got promoted?" asked an ad depicting a young African American woman in an office. There was no mention of doing a general's paperwork; instead, the ad talked up interesting work—"at the same starting salary our men get."   

N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The campaign also included TV and radio ads as well as records like the one below. Inconveniently, Bailey notes, the TV spots rolled out just as Lt. William Calley was being tried for his role in the 1968 My Lai massacre. A survey found that the ads didn't shift young men's interest in enlisting; some unswayed viewers called them "slick garbage." The TV campaign ended after three months and its funding was not renewed. But Westmoreland later reported that the short-lived campaign was "eminently successful."

The external rebranding effort was matched by an internal one. In preparation for the end of the draft, the Army rolled out reforms at a few bases as part of Project VOLAR (Volunteer Army). Changes included an end to reveille and bed checks, fewer inspections and more privacy, and other moves toward easing discipline and breaking down military hierarchy. Commanders could even allow the sale of low-alcohol beer in mess halls and barracks.

Operation Dessert Storm: The military loves giant cakes National Archives

In 1971, a couple of recent enlistees hit the road on their motorcycles on a new kind of recruiting mission. "Rapping with kids on street corners, at dances, at bowling alleys and high schools from New York to Baton Rouge," according to the Soliders magazine, the duo talked up the perks of the new, laid-back Army. At one high school, Specialist Mike Speegle boasted about his two-person room: "I had black light posters, peace signs, a little styrofoam beer cooler in the corner."

The changes went all the way to the top. Following "an extensive study of Army policy on haircuts," restrictions on longer hairstyles, sideburns, and mustaches were eased. A LIFE magazine article on "liberated" Fort Carson, Colorado, reported that the new three-inch haircut rule allowed "enough for a spectacular Afro." One recruitment ad focused on the new hair policies. "You'll find that today's Army is pretty relaxed about how you cut and style your hair," it read. "You'll discover that we care more about your head than we do about your hair."

In 1971 LIFE asked cartoonist Bill Mauldin to view "the new Army" through the eyes of his grizzled World War II dogfaces.  Life/Google Books Soliders

The closest the "Today's Army" campaign came to acknowledging the Sexual Revolution was an ad that suggested a tour of duty in Germany was a chance to see some action. In it, a GI in civvies and almost-civilian-length sideburns fraternizes with an attentive blonde at what looks like a Parisian café.

N. W. Ayer Advertising Agency Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution A photographer follows soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan—and back. Peter van Agtmael

By the mid-1970s, many of the VOLAR reforms were scrapped. Officers and lawmakers alike worried that the changes, exemplified by the "Today's Army…" slogan, were indicators of deteriorating post-Vietnam morale and readiness. "Because of slogans like that, and because of the felling that they have beer in the barracks, no reveilles, and things like that, it was perceived by a great many Americans that the Army would be an undisciplined Army," Secretary of the Army Bo Callaway told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1974.

In 1973, "Today's Army Wants to Join You" was replaced with a new slogan, "Join the People Who've Joined the Army." (N.W. Ayer would later lose the Army account after a kickback scandal.) But the campaign's basic message—that a stint in uniform was a chance for self-realization rather than mindless submission to conformity—would remain a fixture of future recruitment campaigns, from "Be All You Can Be" to "An Army of One."

Reuters: Jared Kushner Had Undisclosed Contact With Russian Envoy, Say Sources

May 26, 2017 - 8:10pm

By Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. officials told Reuters.

    Those contacts included two phone calls between April and November last year, two of the sources said. By early this year, Kushner had become a focus of the FBI investigation into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, said two other sources - one current and one former law enforcement official.

Kushner initially had come to the attention of FBI investigators last year as they began scrutinizing former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s connections with Russian officials, the two sources said.

    While the FBI is investigating Kushner’s contacts with Russia, he is not currently a target of that investigation, the current law enforcement official said.

The new information about the two calls as well as other details uncovered by Reuters shed light on when and why Kushner first attracted FBI attention and show that his contacts with Russian envoy Sergei Kislyak were more extensive than the White House has acknowledged.

    NBC News reported on Thursday that Kushner was under scrutiny by the FBI, in the first sign that the investigation, which began last July, has reached the president’s inner circle.  

    The FBI declined to comment, while the Russian embassy said it was policy not to comment on individual diplomatic contacts. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Multiple attempts to obtain comment from Kushner or his representatives were unsuccessful.

In March, the White House said that Kushner and Flynn had met Kislyak at Trump Tower in December to establish “a line of communication.” Kislyak also attended a Trump campaign speech in Washington in April 2016 that Kushner attended. The White House did not acknowledge any other contacts between Kushner and Russian officials.

 

BACK CHANNEL

Before the election, Kislyak’s undisclosed discussions with Kushner and Flynn focused on fighting terrorism and improving U.S.-Russian economic relations, six of the sources said. Former President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia after it seized Crimea and started supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

After the Nov. 8 election, Kushner and Flynn also discussed with Kislyak the idea of creating a back channel between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could have bypassed diplomats and intelligence agencies, two of the sources said. Reuters was unable to determine how those discussions were conducted or exactly when they took place.

Reuters was first to report last week that a proposal for a back channel was discussed between Flynn and Kislyak as Trump prepared to take office. The Washington Post was first to report on Friday that Kushner participated in that conversation.

Separately, there were at least 18 undisclosed calls and emails between Trump associates and Kremlin-linked people in the seven months before the Nov. 8 presidential election, including six calls with Kislyak, sources told Reuters earlier this month. . Two people familiar with those 18 contacts said Flynn and Kushner were among the Trump associates who spoke to the ambassador by telephone. Reuters previously reported only Flynn’s involvement in those discussions.

Six of the sources said there were multiple contacts between Kushner and Kislyak but declined to give details beyond the two phone calls between April and November and the post-election conversation about setting up a back channel. It is also not clear whether Kushner engaged with Kislyak on his own or with other Trump aides.

 

HOW KUSHNER CAME UNDER SCRUTINY

    FBI scrutiny of Kushner began when intelligence reports of Flynn’s contacts with Russians included mentions of U.S. citizens, whose names were redacted because of U.S. privacy laws. This prompted investigators to ask U.S. intelligence agencies to reveal the names of the Americans, the current U.S. law enforcement official said.

Kushner’s was one of the names that was revealed, the official said, prompting a closer look at the president’s son-in-law’s dealings with Kislyak and other Russians.

    FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official.

    The head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, Sergei Nikolaevich Gorkov, a trained intelligence officer whom Putin appointed, met Kushner at Trump Tower in December. The bank is under U.S. sanctions and was implicated in a 2015 espionage case in which one of its New York executives pleaded guilty to spying and was jailed.

The bank said in a statement in March that it had met with Kushner along with other representatives of U.S. banks and business as part of preparing a new corporate strategy.

    Officials familiar with intelligence on contacts between the Russians and Trump advisers said that so far they have not seen evidence of any wrongdoing or collusion between the Trump camp and the Kremlin.  Moreover, they said, nothing found so far indicates that Trump authorized, or was even aware of, the contacts.

    There may not have been anything improper about the contacts, the current law enforcement official stressed.

    Kushner offered in March to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s election.

The contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials during the presidential campaign coincided with what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was a Kremlin effort through computer hacking, fake news and propaganda to boost Trump’s chances of winning the White House and damage his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

 

 (Reporting by Ned Parker and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by John Walcott, Warren Strobel and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Ross Colvin)

 

The Washington Post Just Published an Explosive Report About Jared Kushner and Russia

May 26, 2017 - 6:30pm

Shoes continue to drop in the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible connections to Russia. Yesterday, speculation that the FBI was looking into the Trump family was confirmed by reports that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior advisor, is under scrutiny. More details are emerging about the investigation.

Enter the Washington Post:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, then President-elect Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

This story hasn't been confirmed by other publications, so take it with the weight of a single report based on anonymous sources, but having said that: Yikes.

Go read the whole thing.

Quote of the Day #2: Tax Plans

May 26, 2017 - 6:08pm

The Wall Street Journal provides an example of the criticism leveled at Donald Trump's press operation:

Some Trump advisers have also questioned the judgment of communications officials, citing as an example the rollout of a tax-plan outline in April that featured Goldman Sachs alumnae Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director.

“The left is automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. And we just gave them an image of the rich and of Wall Street,” one Trump former campaign official said.

First off, who else is going to roll out a tax plan? The Secretary of Defense?

Second, the left isn't automatically going to say the tax plan is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. We're going to say that if it actually is tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. But the confusion here is easy to understand since Republican plans are always tailored to the rich and to Wall Street. That makes it hard to parse responses from the left, I suppose.

DHS Public Database Includes Personal Information of Abuse Victims

May 26, 2017 - 4:24pm

The Trump administration's effort to highlight crimes committed by undocumented immigrants has become a nightmare for immigrant victims of abuse, with the personal information of undocumented victims appearing in a publicly searchable database launched last month by the Department of Homeland Security.

Last month, DHS created the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, aimed at assisting the victims of crimes committed by immigrants. At the same time, it rolled out a database called Victim Information and Notification Exchange, or DHS-VINE, ostensibly to provide information on the custody status and detention information of immigrants who have been accused of crimes. But the database appears to contain information about a much broader group of people, including undocumented immigrants in detention who are not suspected of crimes other than lacking legal status—and who are sometimes themselves victims of abuse.

The problem was first highlighted by the Tahirih Justice Center, which supports immigrant women and girls escaping gender-based violence. On Thursday, the group wrote a letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement explaining that the personal information of immigrant survivors was searchable in DHS-VINE.

Earlier this month, the center was able to find the personal information of one of its clients in the database. The group then reached out to attorneys who work with immigrant survivors; together, they confirmed that the names, custody status, and detention location of other survivors were searchable in the DHS-VINE system. The database also includes information about where detainees are housed and sends notifications when they are transferred or released, potentially allowing abusers or traffickers to find their victims and cause further harm. "Their listing in the public database is a violation of federal statute which carries significant penalties under the law, and puts survivors' lives in danger," the center notes in its letter.

Immigrant advocates first notified ICE of the problem earlier this month but received no response. They then sent a second letter on May 25, calling for the information of survivors to be pulled from the system immediately or for DHS-VINE to be shut down by Friday.

"We're concerned that DHS does not seem to be seriously considering the concerns of victims of crime," says Archi Pyati, chief of policy for the Tahirih Justice Center. The inclusion of survivors' information, she says, is a violation of federal law protecting the information of people applying for special visas or other protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking.  

In statements to Mother Jones and other media outlets, ICE said that it was aware of the problems with the database. "ICE continually strives to ensure that information protected both by policy and law is never divulged," the agency said. "When the agency receives evidence suggesting that non-releasable information is unintentionally available, immediate actions are taken to ensure proper mitigation both to correct and to prevent further disclosures." The agency did not respond to questions about how long it would take to remove survivors from the DHS-VINE database. Earlier on Friday, the Guardian reported that some names were removed from the database after the outlet sent an inquiry to ICE. But the names of other survivors remain in the system.

The VOICE office has been criticized for painting immigrants as uniquely engaged in criminal activity despite evidence that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than US citizens. Shortly after the office launched, the Los Angeles Times reported that it was able to find the information of children as young as three years old in the VINE database.

The controversy over the DHS-VINE is the latest blow to immigrant victims of abuse, who have already moved into the shadows as the Trump administration continues to push aggressive immigration enforcement. A recent survey of service providers working with immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault found that three in four providers had worked with survivors concerned about opening themselves up to deportation if they contacted the police or went to court to address their abuse.

Thomas Homan, acting director of ICE, reached out to the Tahirih Justice Center on Friday about the issue. "I assure you that we are implementing additional measures to strengthen the information protections of the system," he wrote.

If survivors' names are still in the database next week, Pyati says advocates will reach out to the agency again. "Now that they're on notice, we are going to pursue every avenue that we can to ensure that victims are safe," she says.

Quote of the Day: Pink Donut Boxes

May 26, 2017 - 4:18pm

From Peter Yen of Santa Ana Packaging, a manufacturer of donut boxes:

Anytime you see a movie or sitcom set in New York and a pink doughnut box appears, you know it obviously took place in L.A.

I did not know that! But it turns out that pink donut and pastry boxes are unique to Southern California.1 Why? Long story short, a Cambodian refugee from the Khmer Rouge became the donut king of Orange County during the 80s before he gambled away his fortune in the 90s. When he was starting out he asked his supplier for a cheaper donut box, and the pink box was born. Click the link for the longer story.

1Are they really? Or have they since spread to the rest of the country? Let us know in comments.

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 May 2017

May 26, 2017 - 2:05pm

Someone in comments the other day was kvetching about the fact observing that I tend to crop my photos pretty tightly, and that's true. I like sharp, tightly-cropped pictures. Still, variety is the spice of life, and my fondness for close-ups means that you rarely get to see Hilbert or Hopper in action. I use the word "action" advisedly, since that mostly just means walking around. But even that's something, so today you get an exciting action shot of Hilbert.

Even with the fancy new camera, this is surprisingly hard to do. Cats in motion are frequently blurry or out of focus, and the follow-focus feature of the Lumix is pretty hit-or-miss. All that said, here it is. Photographic proof that Hilbert doesn't just sit around 24 hours a day.

Trump: Overseas Trip Has Saved "Millions of Jobs"

May 26, 2017 - 1:52pm

Donald Trump claims that his world trip this week has saved millions of jobs. Millions!

A White House official said Trump was not talking just about the Saudi deals but “benefits to trade from the entire trip from Saudi Arabia to the G7.” He noted that “any improvement on trade would save many jobs. Stopping even one bad trade deal can save millions. Changing the infrastructure of global trade to tilt it back toward the U.S. would save and create millions.”

Hmmm. Barack Obama made 52 overseas trips during his presidency, and employment climbed 12 million during the same period. That's about 200,000 jobs per trip. Trump says he's responsible for millions just in one trip. That's pretty remarkable, no? But Trump is a remarkable man.

Did Michael Flynn Lobby for the Turkish Government?

May 26, 2017 - 1:27pm

Last year, Michael Flynn received half a million dollars as part of a contract with the Inovo Group, headed by Ekim Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkey-US Business Council. Was this legit? Or is Inovo just a front for the Turkish government? David Corn investigates:

The paperwork Flynn filed with the government is confusing. Some of the records note that his company, the Flynn Intel Group, was hired to compile opposition research on Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the Turkish government claims helped orchestrate an unsuccessful coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last summer....It was through his contract with Inovo that Flynn ended up in a September 19 meeting set up by Alptekin at the Essex House hotel in New York City with Turkish government officials, where reportedly the participants considered kidnapping Gulen. (A Flynn spokesman insisted Flynn had not discussed any illegal actions, and Alptekin has denied there was any talk of abducting Gulen at this gathering.)

OK. But there's also this:

An attachment to the filing, citing an American law firm representing Alptekin, says that "Inovo represented a private sector company in Israel that sought to export natural gas to Turkey".... In March, Alptekin told one reporter that he had hired Flynn "principally to produce geopolitical analysis on Turkey and the region" for a "regional energy company that is considering an investment in Turkey."

Digging up dirt on Gulen doesn't sound like something a private consulting group would be interested in. It sounds like something the Turkish government would be interested in. This is all the more mysterious because we don't know who was funding Flynn's work:

In an interview with a Dutch newspaper in April, Alptekin said the funds for the Flynn project came from a loan from his wife and payments from Ratio Oil Exploration, an Israeli natural gas company.

It seems unlikely that an Israeli oil company would have much interest in Michael Flynn's assessment of the potential market in Turkey for Israeli natural gas—especially since the oil company in question flatly denies that it has any connection with Alptekin at all. And it seems even more unlikely that Alptekin's wife would have any interest in this.

So was Flynn actually acting as an agent of the Turkish government, with the money being thinly laundered through Alptekin? Or was it, as both Flynn and Alptekin claim, really all about Alptekin's belief that Flynn had keen insights to offer regarding geopolitical analysis of Turkey and the region? We report, you decide.

Hillary Clinton Shades Trump with Nixon Comparison

May 26, 2017 - 12:10pm

Hillary Clinton returned to Wellesley College Friday to deliver her alma mater's 2017 commencement speech, encouraging graduates not to sit on the sidelines during a political climate she described as a "full-fledged assault on truth and reason." Her remarks, which frequently sparked loud applause from the audience, included a number of veiled slights at President Donald Trump, including an implicit comparison with Richard Nixon.

"By the way, we were furious about the past presidential election, of a man whose presidency would end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice," Clinton said. "After firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice."

Wow. Clinton doing some major trolling of Trump here. Comparing him to Nixon by bringing up obstruction of justice, firing investigator, etc pic.twitter.com/UmQ5o7kZTh

— Yashar Ali (@yashar) May 26, 2017

"But here's what I want you to know," she continued. "We got through that tumultuous time."

The sharp quip was just one of the few times on Friday Clinton appeared to offer a side some have claimed she rarely exhibits: funny, warm, and self-deprecating. The former Democratic presidential candidate set the tone by humorously crediting the role a bit of wine played in helping her get back on her feet after November.

"You may have heard that things didn't go exactly as I planned," Clinton said. "But you know what—I'm doing okay."

"Long walks in the woods, organizing my closets, right? I won't lie—Chardonnay helped a little too."

Hillary Clinton jokes about coming back from her election loss, crediting long walks in the woods and chardonnay https://t.co/Sm9vGlCwNe

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 26, 2017

But she also sharply criticized the Trump administration's policies, specifically calling the new budget proposal "an attack of unimaginable cruelty."

While the speech was largely praised on social media, conservative networks could not resist focusing on Clinton's cough at the beginning of her remarks:

HILLARY STILL COUGHING... https://t.co/AIJcjLnet2

— DRUDGE REPORT (@DRUDGE_REPORT) May 26, 2017

American Health Care Is Expensive. It Will Take Years to Change That.

May 26, 2017 - 11:32am

A couple of days ago I tossed off a late-night post pointing out that health care is expensive, so it's hardly surprising that estimates of California's proposed single-payer plan have clocked in at a net additional cost of around $200 billion. That was pretty much my only point, but this post caused quite a...stir...on Twitter from the usual suspects, who were outraged that I hadn't assumed single-payer would radically slash medical costs. Today, Jon Walker provides a more measured version of the argument:

It is critical to address this weird claim from Drum because the idea that single-payer would cut health care costs isn’t some optimistic liberal talking point. It is a near universal assumption and the main reason achieving single-payer has politically been so difficult. It is the heart of the whole debate.

Again, this is not a liberal idea. The Lewin Group, a health care consulting firm owned by UnitedHealth Group, has repeatedly concluded that single-payer would cut health care costs. For example, they analyzed a single-player plan for Minnesota and concluded, “that the single-payer plan would achieve universal coverage while reducing total health spending for Minnesota by about $4.1 billion, or 8.8 percent.” It reached the same basic conclusion looking at a national single-payer plan in years past.

As it happens, I've found Lewin Group estimates in the past to be a little optimistic, but set that aside. I put the ballpark additional cost of national single-payer health care at $1.5 trillion, but if someone wants to assume it would be $1.36 trillion instead, that's fine. That's still in the ballpark. More important, though, is this chart, which accompanies that Lewin report on Minnesota:

This is basically right. As I mentioned in the original post, "If we're lucky, a good single-payer system would slow the growth of health care costs over the long term, but it's vanishingly unlikely to actually cut current costs." And that's pretty much what Lewin shows. The initial cost saving is small, but the cost containment measures inherent in a government-funded plan push the cost curve down over time. Their estimate is that within a decade Minnesota's proposed plan would have been a third less expensive than business-as-usual. This is roughly what I'd expect for a national single-payer plan too.

Is it technically possible to cut initial spending more? Sure. We could nationalize the whole medical industry, cut nurse and doctor pay by a third across the board, and create a mandatory formulary for drugs at a tenth of the price we currently pay. When the revolution comes, maybe that will happen—and doctors and pharma executives will be grateful we didn't just take them out and shoot them. In the meantime, I'm more interested in real-world movements toward single payer. Obamacare was a good start. Adding a public option would be another step. Medicare for all might be next. And something better than Medicare would be the final step. That will be hard enough even if we don't make mortal enemies out of every single player in the health care market.

In broad terms, if we adopted national single-payer health care today it would cost us something like an additional $1.5 trillion in taxes. That's reality, and as a good social democrat I'm fine with that. In theory, after all, my taxes might go up 30 percent, but Mother Jones will also increase my salary 30 percent because they no longer have to provide me with health insurance. Roughly speaking, this would be a good deal for half the country, which pays very little in income taxes; a wash for another third; and a loss for the top 10 percent, whose taxes would go up more than the cost of the health insurance they currently receive. If we decide to tax corporations instead of individuals, the incidence of the tax would pass through to individuals in a pretty similar way.

So that's that. I don't believe in Santa Claus, and I don't believe that we can pass a bill that slashes health care costs to European levels. They've had decades of cost containment that got them to where they are. We, unfortunately, haven't, so we have to start with our current cost structure. One way or another, that's what we have to deal with.

Here Are the Results for Montana's Body-Slamming-Marred Special Election

May 25, 2017 - 6:21pm

On Thursday voters in Montana went to the polls in a special election to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who left Congress in March. (See below for the results, beginning at 7 p.m. PT.) The race was marred by a fishing-hole dispute, a concert at a nudist resort, and, in the waning hours of the campaign, a misdemeanor assault by the Republican front-runner, Greg Gianforte, who "body slammed" a reporter. No one ever called Montana politics boring.

The race has major national implications: Although Republicans consistently carry the state at the presidential level, Democrats have won statewide races for senator and governor in Montana in recent years—and this contest offers the party's most serious opportunity yet to chip away at the Republican majority in Congress and show that with the right candidate and message, it can compete and win in Trump Country. Gianforte, a businessman, has consistently led in the polls against Democrat Rob Quist, a country music singer.

After Gianforte narrowly lost his bid for governor last fall (largely on the basis of a decade-old lawsuit over fishing access), he kept a low profile during his comeback bid and sought to win election by avoiding taking a position on the most contentious issue in Washington: the Republican health care bill, which would leave an additional 23 million Americans without health insurance by 2026. Quist, an unabashed economic populist, campaigned aggressively on a single-payer platform and ran ads about his own preexisting condition (a botched gallbladder operation). Gianforte stalled for the final 21 days of the race, insisting first that he would wait to pass judgment until after a new Congressional Budget Office score had been released, and then after the CBO report was released, body-slamming the first reporter who asked his position. Win or lose, he's due back in Bozeman in June for a court date.

Follow along with the results here, via Decision Desk:

Jared Kushner Is Reportedly Under FBI Scrutiny for Meetings With Russians

May 25, 2017 - 6:18pm

Jared Kusher, the husband of President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and one of the president's top advisers in the White House, is "now a focus in the [FBI's] Russia investigation," according to a Washington Post report published Thursday evening. And NBC News reported, "Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry, officials said. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him."

Kushner's December meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the head of a Russian bank from Moscow are being looked at by investigators probing Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and examining possible ties between Trump associates and Russia, according to the Post. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have also been under scrutiny for their contacts with Russians or pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians.

From the Post:

In early December, Kushner met in New York with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and he later sent a deputy to meet with Kislyak again. Flynn was also present at the early December meeting, and later that month, Flynn held a call with Kislyak to discuss U.S.-imposed sanctions against Russia. Flynn initially mischaracterized the conversation even to the vice president — which ultimately prompted his ouster from the White House.

Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In addition to the December meetings, a former senior intelligence official said FBI agents had been looking closely at earlier exchanges between Trump associates and the Russians dating back to the spring of 2016, including one at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Kushner and Kislyak — along with close Trump adviser and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions — were present at an April 2016 event at the Mayflower where then-candidate Trump promised in a speech to seek better relations with Russia. It is unclear whether Kushner and Kislyak interacted there.

As reported by the New York Times in April, Kushner failed to disclose several meetings with Russian officials, an omission Kushner's lawyers have characterized as a mistake. Jamie Gorelick, one of Kushner's attorneys and a former deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration, told the Post Thursday that Kushner volunteered to share information about his contacts with the Russians with investigators.

Mr. Ivanka Trump Now Under Investigation

May 25, 2017 - 5:44pm

We now know for sure who the person "close to Trump" is:

Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.

So the Russia investigation now has at least three targets: Manafort, Flynn, and Kushner. That seems like a lot. But maybe it's all just a big coincidence.

Paul Romer and the Parataxis of the World Bank

May 25, 2017 - 5:27pm

Via Tyler Cowen I learn that "Bankspeak," the jargon of the World Bank, is a big issue. Who knew? Here's an excerpt from a 2015 report of the Stanford Literary Lab:

The biggest surprise came with the most frequent collocate of all: “and”. “And”? The most frequent word in English is “the”: everybody knows that. So, what is “and” doing at the top of the list? Two passages from the 1999 Report may help to explain:

  • promote corporate governance and competition policies and reform and privatize state-owned enterprises and labor market/social protection reform
  • There is greater emphasis on quality, responsiveness, and partnerships; on knowledge-sharing and client orientation; and on poverty reduction

The first passage—a grammatico-political monstrosity—is a small present to our patient readers; the second, more guarded, is also more indicative of the rhetoric in question. Knowledge-sharing has really nothing to do with client orientation; poverty reduction, nothing to do with either. There is no reason they should appear together. But those “ands” connect them just the same, despite the total absence of logic, and their paratactical crudity becomes almost a justification: we have so many important things to do, we can’t afford to be elegant; we must take care of our clients, yes (we are, remember, a bank); but we also care about knowledge! and partnership! and sharing! and poverty!

Paratactical? The Stanford folks might want to think about their dedication to clear language too.1 That aside, here's a lovely scatterplot showing the skyrocketing use of the word and in World Bank reports:

Hmmm. "Frequency per million words (thousands)"? I'm just spitballing here, but maybe this could be "frequency per thousand words" instead? Once again, the Stanford folks have some work of their own to do on the plain-speaking front.

Anyway, this brings us to the meat of our story. Apparently Paul Romer, highly-respected macroeconomist and scourge of lazy thinking, decided to start a campaign to improve World Bank writing. He was well placed to do this since he is, these days, the chief economist of the World Bank. Here is the Financial Times:

Circulating a draft of the upcoming World Development Report, Mr Romer warned against bank staff trying to pile their own pet projects and messages into the report. The tendency, he argued, had diluted the impact of past reports and led to a proliferation of “ands”.

....“A WDR, like a knife, has to be narrow to penetrate deeply,” he added. “To drive home the importance of focus, I’ve told the authors that I will not clear the final report if the frequency of ‘and’ exceeds 2.6%.”...The use of the word “and” over the years had doubled to almost 7 per cent in World Bank reports, Mr Romer pointed out in a January memo to his staff.

And Bloomberg:

Romer expressed to those around him that the department should communicate more clearly, dive right into public debates, and align its work with the institution’s goals of ending extreme poverty and reducing inequality....Romer asked for shorter emails and insisted presentations get straight to the point, cutting staff off if they talked too long, said another person familiar with the matter. He canceled a regular publication that didn’t have a clear purpose, one of the people said.

....Romer said the limit on “and” was a “gimmick” he used to show he’s serious about good writing. “They’ve worked it down to 3.4 percent. They said, ‘We’re getting there’.”

It seems to me that Romer is cheating. If you take the lowest and highest numbers from the Stanford report, use of and has gone from about 2.9 percent to 5.5 percent. But using outliers isn't kosher. An eyeball regression suggests that the real increase has been from 3.1 percent to 4.5 percent. That's not great, but not quite so horrible, either. But then again, maybe the report Romer commissioned came up with different numbers. Who knows?

In any case, my guess is that the proliferation of and has less to do with "pet projects" and more to do with bureaucratic dynamics. If you leave out knowledge-sharing, the communications staff get upset. If you leave out client orientation, the field workers get upset. If you leave out poverty reduction, the poverty folks get upset. So it's easier just to cut and paste them all in to keep everyone from getting upset. Who needs the grief?

The ending of this story is a sad one: the World Bank staff rebelled and Romer no longer manages the research group. "They felt under-appreciated," he said. "It reflected a kind of siege mentality that I can't quite understand." It's possible, of course, that they were on high alert already. After all, shortly before he took over at the World Bank Romer gave a speech in which he called modern macroeconomics a "pseudoscience" that was now "post-real." This probably gave him a rough start managing a group of macroeconomists.

As for better writing at the World Bank, I wouldn't count on it. The key imperative for anyone in a big bureaucracy is to make sure that (a) you don't offend anyone, and (b) no one can blame you for anything. In a big international bureaucracy, this imperative is even stronger since God only knows who you might accidentally offend if you choose the wrong words. Mushspeak is a natural reaction to this.

1From parataxis, "the placing together of sentences, clauses, or phrases without a conjunctive word or words."

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