Freedom or Money. Trump’s Benghazi. Get More Sleep.


Could Niger Be President Trump’s Benghazi? Fallout over the deaths of four US soldiers in Niger is just beginning. There will be investigations, though not likely to match the four years and $7 million expended on inquiries during the Obama administration. The 800 US troops in Niger consist of small groups of US Special Operations Forces advising local troops as they battle terrorists (including the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram).

A 12-man Green Beret-led team, isolated 120 miles north of the capital of Niamey, had just completed a meeting with local leaders and were walking back to their unarmored pick-up trucks when the ambush occurred. The ensuing firefight lasted 30 minutes before French Mirage jets executed low passes as a show of force and to disperse the attackers. US private contractor and French military helicopters evacuated the dead and wounded forces, both US and Nigerian. The body of one US soldier wasn’t recovered for another 48 hours, though it is not yet known why he was separated from his unit.

CNN reported 50 fighters from ISIS in the Greater Sahara were responsible for the attack. The Pentagon said the group emerged in Niger after defeats suffered by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Senator John McCain, when asked if the administration was being upfront about the ISIS-affiliated attack answered bluntly: “No.”


Crisis Of Catalan Independence Continues: Spain declared it would suspend Catalonia’s autonomy and impose direct rule after Catalan president Carles Puigdemont threatened to act on a formal declaration of independence should Madrid refuse talks. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is holding a special cabinet meeting and plans to invoke Article 155 of the 1978 constitution, allowing the government to take control of a region should it break the law. Puigdemont, who ignored a deadline to drop the secession campaign, penned a letter to Rajoy threatening a formal declaration of independence. Spanish courts have ruled the referendum illegal, but Puigdemont says the result is binding and must be obeyed. The European Union has declined to intervene or mediate, characterizing the crisis as internal.

…Speaking Of Independence, It Comes At A Price: On Monday, the Iraqi army seized oil fields in northern Iraq that had been operated by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Since 2014, the KRG has been selling the oil internationally, against the wishes of the central Iraqi government. Before the oil fields were retaken, a spokesperson for KRG president Massoud Barzani threatened to cut off internet access in Iraq, mobile phone connections, and cement manufacturing (73% of Iraqi internet traffic is routed to the rest of the world through two Kurdish internet service providers).

Iraq has nationalized internet infrastructure, and the costs of data transit across Iraqi government networks is up to thousands of times higher than that offered by the Kurds. Internet use is low amongst most of the population, but severing internet access would greatly impact Baghdad government and elites. Cutting off Iraq’s internet services would eliminate a large source of revenue for Kurdish companies, however, and Kurdish ownership of mobile phone services would be more disruptive. This quandary highlights a challenge of separatist movements from Catalonia to Scotland to Taiwan: The economic price of freedom can be high.


Dear Facebook and Google – “Never Send For Whom The Bell Tolls, It Tolls For Thee”: Internet companies have avoided it for years – disclosing buyers of online political advertising. For over 10 years most online political activity has been exempt from the tough political advertising regulations to which radio, television, and print have been subjected for years. But not for long if Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), and John McCain (R- Arizona), authors of the proposed Honest Ads Act, have their way.

The revelation that Facebook and Google sold ads to a Russian company linked to the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign season has changed minds. Federal election law bars foreigners from spending money to attempt to influence US elections. The new bill would require internet companies to provide information to the election commission about who is paying for ads. Understandably, the tech industry is mobilizing an army of lobbyists and lawyers to shape inevitable regulation. Last week, Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, ramped up public relations efforts by dashing through Washington on an apology tour and charm offensive.

Additional Read: “Facebook advertising salespeople, creative advisers and technical experts competed with sales staff from Alphabet Inc.’s Google for millions in ad dollars from Secure America Now, the conservative, nonprofit advocacy group whose campaign included a mix of anti-Hillary Clinton and anti-Islam messages, the people said.”

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President Trump, Is The War On Coal Over Yet? On October 10, US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced withdrawal from the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions. “Regulatory power should not be used by any regulatory body to pick winners and losers,” Pruitt rationalized. “The past administration was using every bit of power, every bit of authority to pick winners and losers in how we generate electricity in this country. And that’s wrong.”

But fellow cabinet member Secretary of Energy Rick Perry picks winners and losers. He has a plan for ratepayers to subsidize coal and nuclear production to combat greater competition from cheap natural gas and growing renewables. “The idea that there is a free market in the electric business, the power business, is a fallacy,” he said after the event, adding it’s the role of government to intervene in the free market. Perry’s contention that coal and nuclear are required for electric reliability was belied recently by his own Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE’s grid studyfound that cheap natural gas is what’s driving the coal industry out of business, not subsidies for renewable energy sources.

Meanwhile, Trump administration plans to end the “War on Coal” isn’t helping small towns in Pennsylvania or Texas. “The Clean Power Plan is not what hurt coal. It is hard to hurt someone more when they were already mortally wounded,” said a professor of energy law at Stanford, referring to the competition from cheaper natural gas, solar and wind energy. A coal revival would require more than a Clean Power Plan repeal. It would require a bailout, which Rick Perry’s trying his darndest to achieve.


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