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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


Homage To A Very Fine Dog

As winter approaches, I find myself contemplating the impending death of my Great Pyrenees dog, Jesse — as magnificent an animal as I’ve known. Jesse’s 14 now, elderly for a dog of his size, with ragged, thinning fur. He’s hard of hearing, finding it difficult to get to his feet at times, but still charismatic in his quiet way, still fearless, still on the job.

A rambunctious young retriever tried to jump up to give my wife a kiss in a city park a while back. Shaky legs and all, Jesse put him on the ground. It wasn’t a fierce attack; he understood that the offender was a big puppy. But the Labrador also needed to learn some manners.

No harm, no foul.

Another time, he saved Diane from a charging cow in my neighbor’s pasture. We’d inadvertently walked between a mother and her 2-day-old calf, stashed in a thicket while she grazed with her girlfriends. Without warning, the mama cow lowered her head and charged.

Probably it was a bluff. These were pretty tame cattle, accustomed to having people around, although I owned at least one peevish animal that would have flat run you over. Anyway, we never did find out, because Jesse charged her back. Even with her baby in peril, that cow wanted no part of him. It was all over before I even realized what had happened.

You see, the whole time we’d been lollygagging along, bird-watching and admiring the spring foliage, Jesse had been on the job, alert to danger, guarding his charges.

We’d adopted him at roughly 15 months from a dog rescue specializing in large breeds. I’d learned about Great Pyrenees from an old friend in Montana, who used them on his ranch near the Crazy Mountains. As Basque herdsmen have done for centuries, they put the dogs out with the sheep as puppies, and they never leave them.

When the sheep come up to the barn, the Pyrenees come with them; when the herd heads back out to pasture, the dogs follow. They’re friendly enough toward humans in their aloof way, but they live for the herd. Indeed, I read a recent New York Times article explaining this age-old phenomenon by one of the new breed of academic psychologists who study canine behavior.

(Where was I when scams like the Duke University Canine Cognition Center came into being? Oh, yeah, pondering the mysteries of Jonathan Swift’s sex life. I’d have been a natural. Professors are writing books and getting tenured jobs arguing about whether humans adopted dogs or dogs adopted humans — a conundrum which, like the Swift puzzle, can’t be solved.

(There’s even a guy at Emory University who runs his own dog through an MRI scanner to figure out what the poor beast is thinking. That’s one question I can answer: “For God’s sake, let me out of here and feed me.”

(For that matter, I’m pretty sure how it all started was clever (or injured) wolves getting into human trash: many times in many different places.)

Anyway, young Jesse leaned hard into my leg there at the rescue place, and the woman explained that’s what Great Pyrenees do. For whatever reason, he’d chosen me. I couldn’t say no.

For the next 10 years, Jesse was head of security at our farm outside Little Rock. Cows don’t need a lot of guarding, and neither do horses. But he and his companion Maggie, a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian mix, kept cow-chasing dogs and coyotes completely off the place. Realistically, I suppose, they mainly protected cats. Even today, if I’m looking for his old friend Albert the cat, I walk Jesse down the street until Albert finds us.

One day, I saw him and Maggie burst through the electric fence at warp speed chasing a cougar that had come wandering down the bayou. Another time, Jesse pitched into a pair of coyotes who had one of my neighbor’s goat kids on the ground. He grabbed one and threw it. The other escaped lickety-split. Then he picked up the baby goat and carried it unharmed back to its mother. Nobody taught Jesse to do that; it was centuries of selective breeding in action.

I did wonder how he’d adjust to city life, but he’s done fine. Some months ago, he ran off a would-be burglar at 2 a.m. Six houses on our street got broken into, but not ours. Jesse appears not to think I need protecting, but anybody who tried to harm Diane would have to come through him, and even in his old age, no unarmed man could do it.

As I say, it’s hard to imagine Jesse’s got another winter in him. But his eyes still shine when it’s time for his walk, and he’s eating heartily, so perhaps my fears for him are premature.

It’s always been deeply reassuring having the big dog around.

Pardons Show Trump’s Appalling Ignorance Of Military Discipline And Laws Of War

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

U.S. Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, in a military court, was acquitted of murder charges in the death of a captured fighter for ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria) but found guilty of improperly posing for a photo with the prisoner’s body. President Donald Trump has been loudly voicing his views on the case, insisting that Gallagher shouldn’t lose his Navy SEAL status — and law professors Rachel E. VanLandingham and Geoffrey S. Corn, in a November 26 article for legal expert Benjamin Wittes’ Lawfare blog, stress that Trump’s actions show a failure to understand how military justice operates.

When Trump railed against a U.S. review process to determine whether or not Gallagher should keep his SEAL status, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer opposed Trump’s intervention in the matter — and was fired. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, however, has said that he fired Spencer for not consulting him and proposing a deal directly to Trump.

“This chaos in military discipline and personnel actions is the direct result of Trump’s reckless dismissal of the judgments of his military commanders and his misunderstanding of the profession of arms,” VanLandingham and Corn write. “The president has legal authority to intervene in these matters, but his misguided actions risk not only undermining the authority of his commanders, but also, eroding the honor and integrity of the U.S. armed forces. The Spencer/Esper soap opera may be at the forefront of the news cycle, but the real story is the corruption of military good order and discipline.”

Although the crime that Gallagher was found guilty of isn’t nearly as serious as murder, VanLandingham and Corn explain, that doesn’t mean it is trivial.

“Many, perhaps including the president, may consider the crime for which Gallagher was convicted — of posing for photos with a dead enemy — quite trivial,” VanLandingham and Corn observe. “But discipline in war means following rules. These rules are part of U.S. and international law — in fact, international law that the U.S. was the first to codify —and central to the legitimate use of national military power.

Trump, VanLandingham and Corn stress, should have let the U.S. military itself decide what was appropriate for Gallagher.

“Trump’s overt disdain for the highly effective military justice system and the commanders who rely on it to hold subordinates accountable for battlefield misconduct has been on display from the inception of Gallagher’s court-martial.,” the law professors observe. “His disdain was apparently not tempered even after Gallagher was acquitted for the most serious charges of war crimes. Instead, the president intervened to reverse the punishment meted out by the same military jury that acquitted Gallagher of the most serious offenses.”

According to VanLandingham and Corn, Trump’s interference with Gallagher also shows that he doesn’t comprehend “the rules of war” that the U.S. armed forces are supposed to adhere to.

“The trouble is that (Trump) misunderstands the issues of both force and ethic,” VanLandingham and Corn assert. “The force that wins wars is disciplined, not unrestrained and indiscriminate. And the ethic of the U.S. military is one of honor gained by adherence to the rules of war no matter how extreme the situation — or how powerful the temptation to break them.”

UN Report: Immediate Emission Reductions Needed To Avert Climate Disaster

Publish with permission from American Independent

Countries need to begin making steep cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions immediately or risk missing the targets they’ve agreed for limiting global warming, with potentially dire consequences, senior United Nations officials said Tuesday.

A report by the U.N. Environment Program, published days before governments gather in Madrid for an annual meeting on climate change, showed the amount of planet-heating gases being pumped into the atmosphere hitting a new high last year, despite a near-global pledge to reduce them.

Man-made greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2018 to 55.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the U.N.’s annual “emissions gap” report. While much of the increase came from emerging economies such as China and India, some of those emissions are the result of manufacturing outsourced from developed countries.

“We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020,” said the agency’s chief, Inger Andersen. “We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

To stop average global temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) this century compared with pre-industrial times, worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases will have to drop by 7.6 percent each year in the coming decade, the agency said. Scientists say the 1.5C target — contained in the 2015 Paris climate accord — would avert some of the more extreme changes in global weather patterns predicted if temperatures rise further.

“What we are looking at is really that emissions need to go down by 55 percent by 2030,” said John Christensen, lead author and director of the UNEP-Danish Technology Institute Partnership.

Even the less ambitious goal of capping global warming at 2C (3.6 F) would require annual emissions cuts of 2.7 percent between 2020 and 2030, UNEP said.

That currently seems unlikely.

At present, national pledges would leave the world 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.8 Fahrenheit) warmer by 2100 than pre-industrial times, with dramatic consequences for life on Earth, the U.N. agency said. Getting the world back on track to 1.5C would require a fivefold increase in measures pledged so far, it calculated.

Last week, UNEP published a separate report, which found that countries are planning to extract more than twice the amount of fossil fuels from the ground than can be burned in 2030 if the 1.5C target is to be met.

This includes countries such as Norway, which touts its green credentials while it continues to drill for oil in the North Sea.

Officials appealed to governments that have already laid out targets for reducing their emissions to see if they can do more, and insisted that industries like power, transport, building and shipping can find opportunities to lower their emissions too.

“As individuals, we have a choice about how we live, what we eat and how we go about our business … and opportunities to live a lower-carbon life,” said Andersen.

Governments’ plans to reduce emissions haven’t been universally welcomed, however.

A $60-billion package of measures agreed by the German government recently has been criticized as a further burden on businesses, while environmentalists say it is too little, too late. Presenting a study Tuesday showing average surface air temperatures in the country have already risen by 1.5C since 1881, German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze insisted that Europe’s industrial powerhouse “is one of the countries that is doing a lot.”

“There are other countries which are quitting climate accords,” she added, without explicitly naming the United States, which under Donald Trump announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Experts agree that the longer countries continue burning fossil fuels, the more warming will be “locked in” as emissions stay in the atmosphere for years or even decades.

Conversely, the sooner countries take steps to wean themselves off gas, coal and oil — such as by ending government subsidies for fossil fuels — the more warming will be prevented in the long term.

“There has never been a more important time to listen to the science,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of the UNEP report. “Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heatwaves, storms and pollution.”

Trump Tower Tax Reporting Shows ‘Inconsistencies’

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

Donald Trump’s business reported conflicting information about a key metric to New York City property tax officials and a lender who arranged financing for his signature building, Trump Tower in Manhattan, according to tax and loan documents obtained by ProPublica. The findings add a third major Trump property to two for which ProPublica revealed similar discrepancies last month.

In the latest case, the occupancy rate of the Trump Tower’s commercial space was listed, over three consecutive years, as 11, 16 and 16 percentage points higher in filings to a lender than in reports to city tax officials, records show.

For example, as of December 2011 and June 2012, respectively, Trump’s business told the lender that 99 percent and 98.7 percent of the tower’s commercial space was occupied, according to a prospectus for the loan. The figures were taken from “borrower financials,” the prospectus stated.

In tax filings, however, Trump’s business said the building’s occupancy was 83 percent in January 2012 and the same a year later. The 16 percentage point gap between the loan and tax filings is a “very significant difference,” said Susan Mancuso, an attorney who specializes in New York property tax.

A spokesperson for the Trump Organization said that “comparing the various reports is comparing apples to oranges” because reporting requirements differ.

Trump had much to gain by showing a high occupancy rate to lenders in 2012: He refinanced his share of Trump Tower that year and obtained a $100 million loan on favorable terms.

The vast majority of the gap between occupancy figures could be explained by diverging reports on how much space the Trump Organization used in Trump Tower. In loan documents, the company said it and its affiliates occupied 74,900 square feet in mid-2012, or 31 percent of the building. But tax reports from the January before and after listed the company and related parties as occupying 41,600 square feet — or about 18 percent of the tower.

“I cannot give you an explanation,” said Kevin Riordan, a financing expert, former accountant and real estate professor at Montclair State University who reviewed the tax and loan records for Trump Tower at ProPublica’s request.

More than a dozen tax and finance experts, presented with ProPublica’s earlier findings, also said they could not decipher a reason for the differences. As with Trump Tower, the discrepancies made the two properties — a skyscraper located at 40 Wall Street and the Trump International Hotel and Tower near Columbus Circle — appear more profitable to the lender and less so to property tax officials.

Those discrepancies were “versions of fraud,” according to Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. The penalties for false filings can include fines or criminal charges.

The diverging numbers match a pattern described by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, in congressional testimony this year. Cohen said Trump at times inflated assets’ value in documents submitted to lenders in an effort to secure loans. In reports to tax officials, Cohen testified, Trump would lower the value to reduce what he owed.

The focus on Trump’s business and personal financial records has been particularly intense of late. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has subpoenaed a wide array of Trump financial records to investigate claims that the Trump Organization falsified records of hush-money payments to pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels, who said she and Trump had a sexual encounter. (He has denied the affair.)

Congressional lawmakers are seeking Trump’s personal tax returns, as well as other financial information, as part of their investigation into potential foreign influence on the presidency. Two federal courts have affirmed lawmakers’ right to enforce the subpoenas, and Trump has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

ProPublica used New York’s Freedom of Information Law to obtain property tax filings for four of Trump’s Manhattan buildings, including Trump Tower. The income and expense statements Trump filed when repeatedly appealing the city’s valuation of his property are public under the law. We then compared information in the tax reports to loan data made public when Trump’s debt became part of pools of loans sold publicly as bonds known as commercial mortgage-backed securities.

Information in tax and loan filings can differ for legitimate reasons, experts said. A small portion of the occupancy gap at Trump Tower did appear to have an explanation: About 2.5 percentage points of the discrepancy in 2012 consisted of an instance where the Trump Organization treated newly leased, but still empty, space as full in its loan documents (which Trump’s lender disclosed) but not in tax documents.

The Trump Organization refinanced Trump Tower in 2012, replacing its existing $27 million in debt with a loan for $100 million. That allowed Trump to extract about $68 million in cash. The same institution that handled the refinancing, Ladder Capital, refinanced 40 Wall Street and the Columbus Circle property a few years later.

Occupancy, along with cash flow, is a factor used by lenders and ratings agencies to assess the riskiness of a loan. Trump secured relatively favorable terms: an interest-only loan that allowed him to avoid paying monthly principal. The Trump Tower loan received coveted AAA and Aaa ratings, respectively, from credit agencies Fitch and Moody’s. (The company has continued making payments.)

When it comes to reporting property taxes in New York City, there’s a potential incentive for owners to minimize how much space they’re renting to themselves. The city’s Tax Commission, which handles property tax appeals, tends to treat owner-occupied space as if it’s being rented at full market price, which increases the value the tax commission assigns to the building, and thus increases the tax bill. But the commission often won’t assign such income to vacant space, said Mancuso, the New York property tax expert.

The Trump Tower filings showed smaller discrepancies when it came to income. (New York City assessors consider income when calculating the taxable value of commercial properties, making New York property tax filings resemble those of income taxes more than property tax filings typically do in other parts of the country.)

Trump Tower, however, fell shy of expectations for profit set out by underwriters working for Ladder Capital during the refinancing, tax and loan records show. They had pegged net operating income at roughly $20.4 million a year. In the years after the loan was made, the building hasn’t come close.

New York City real estate observers have suggested that the tight security needed at the tower because of the presidency has cut into Trump’s ability to make money from the building. This year, China’s biggest bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, made plans to reduce its space in Trump Tower when its lease ran out, according to Bloomberg News.

The financial institution that arranged the Trump Tower refinancing, Ladder Capital, is a publicly traded real estate investment trust that reports more than $6 billion in assets. It has a close Trump connection: Jack Weisselberg, an executive in loan origination, is the son of the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. Allen Weisselberg is under investigation by the Manhattan DA for his role in the Daniels payments.

Ladder Capital declined to comment.