Friday, February 22, 2019

Last Call For 2016 All Over Again

With several Democratic Party candidates entering the race in the last month, the Russian social media disinformation machine is starting up once again to demoralize black and Latino voters and help Comrade Donald win reelection.

A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already under way on social media, with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity.
The main targets appear to be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), four of the most prominent announced or prospective candidates for president.

A POLITICO review of recent data extracted from Twitter and from other platforms, as well as interviews with data scientists and digital campaign strategists, suggests that the goal of the coordinated barrage appears to be undermining the nascent candidacies through the dissemination of memes, hashtags, misinformation, and distortions of their positions. But the divisive nature of many of the posts also hint at a broader effort to sow discord and chaos within the Democratic presidential primary.

The cyber propaganda — which frequently picks at the rawest, most sensitive issues in public discourse — is being pushed across a variety of platforms and with a more insidious approach than in the 2016 presidential election, when online attacks designed to polarize and mislead voters first surfaced on a massive scale.

Recent posts that have received widespread dissemination include racially inflammatory memes and messaging involving Harris, O’Rourke and Warren. In Warren’s case, a false narrative surfaced alleging that a blackface doll appeared on a kitchen cabinet in the background of the senator’s New Year’s Eve Instagram livestream.

Not all of the activity is organized. Much of it appears to be organic, a reflection of the politically polarizing nature of some of the candidates. But there are clear signs of a coordinated effort of undetermined size that shares similar characteristics with the computational propaganda attacks launched by online trolls at Russia’s Internet Research Agency in the 2016 presidential election, which special counsel Robert Mueller accused of aiming to undermine the political process and elevate Donald Trump.

“It looks like the 2020 presidential primary is going to be the next battleground to divide and confuse Americans,” said Brett Horvath, one of the founders of Guardians.ai, a tech company that works with a consortium of data scientists, academics and technologists to disrupt cyberattacks and protect pro-democracy groups from information warfare. “As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we’re not on the verge of it — we’re already in the third inning.”

An analysis conducted for POLITICO by Guardians.ai found evidence that a relatively small cluster of accounts — and a broader group of accounts that amplify them — drove a disproportionate amount of the Twitter conversation about the four candidates over a recent 30-day period.

Using proprietary tools that measured the discussion surrounding the candidates in the Democratic field, Guardians.ai identified a cohort of roughly 200 accounts — which includes both unwitting real accounts and other ‘suspicious’ and automated accounts that coordinate to spread their messages — pumped out negative or extreme themes designed to damage the candidates.

This is the same core group of accounts the company first identified last year in a study as anchoring a wide scale influence campaign in the 2018 elections.


Since the turn of the year, those accounts began specifically directing their output at Harris, O’Rourke, Sanders and Warren, and were amplified by an even wider grouping of accounts. Over a recent 30-day period, between 2 and 15 percent of all Twitter mentions of the four candidates emanated in some way from within that cluster of accounts, according to the Guardians.ai findings. In that timeframe, all four candidates collectively had 6.8 million mentions on Twitter.

“We can conclusively state that a large group of suspicious accounts that were active in one of the largest influence operations of the 2018 cycle is now engaged in sustained and ongoing activity for the 2020 cycle,” Horvath said.

Twitter and Facebook have done precisely zero.  Trump has done precisely zero.  Once again Americans are being flooded with disinformation that only helps Donald Trump.  Another 21 months of this is guaranteed, and the goal is clear: a second term for Russia's favorite puppet.

We saw this before.  It's happening again now in real time.

All In All It's Just Another Trick With The Wall

Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent argues that Trump's national emergency scam plays great with his racist white evangelical base, but not so much with everyone else.

The new NPR poll finds that Americans disapprove of the national emergency declaration by 61 percent to 36 percent; that Americans do not think there is a national emergency at the border by 58 to 39; that Americans say he’s misusing his presidential powers by 57 to 39; and that 54 percent say this makes them less likely to vote for him in 2020.

But his voters support him on this, so who cares, you’ll respond. Well, here’s where the poll gets particularly interesting. It’s true that the poll finds that Trump supporters and Republicans overwhelmingly side with him on these questions.

But those people aren’t enough to win reelection for Trump. The question is whether he can duplicate his 2016 electoral college hat trick by dramatically energizing noncollege whites again, and by winning independents and others who decide they don’t like either candidate (as Trump did in 2016).

And among those groups, the poll finds surprising levels of opposition. Large majorities of independents tilt against Trump on these questions. And non-college-educated whites disapprove of the national emergency declaration by 53 to 43; they lean slightly against the idea that there’s even any emergency (49-47); and even marginally say that it makes them less likely to vote for Trump (46-41).

But guess which group is overwhelmingly behind Trump on all of this? White evangelical Christians. They approve of the declaration by 67 to 26; think there is a national emergency on the border by 70 to 22; say he’s properly using his powers by 69-23; and say this makes them more likely to vote for him by 60 to 22.

All of this suggests that Trump’s national emergency mainly appeals to the hardest of hardcore Trump supporters
.

That of course is the point: get the base behind his white nationalism and the rest of the party will follow.  It's been working for years now.  Yes, there are plenty of Trump 2016 voters who think this national emergency on the wall is so much bull.

But they'll vote for him anyway.

Unlike Democratic voters, Republicans understand that a vote against Trump benefits the Democrats, regardless of the reason why, whereas Democratic voters who didn't like Clinton because they wanted Bernie still keep blathering on about their personal morals while Donald Trump burns the planet down.

Here's the killer though.



And for that, I will never forgive.

Justice Finally Served

It took 11 years, but a federal judge has finally nailed Trump Labor Secretary Alex Acosta for his role in crafting an illegal plea deal as a US attorney more than a decade ago for Miami hedge fund tycoon Jeffrey Epstein.

A judge ruled Thursday that federal prosecutors — among them, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta — broke federal law when they signed a plea agreement with a wealthy, politically connected sex trafficker and concealed it from more than 30 of his underage victims.


U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra, in a 33-page opinion, said that the evidence he reviewed showed that Jeffrey Epstein had been operating an international sex operation in which he and others recruited underage girls — not only in Florida — but from overseas, in violation of federal law.

“Epstein used paid employees to find and bring minor girls to him.,’’ wrote Marra, who is based in Palm Beach County. “Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others.’’

Instead of prosecuting Epstein under federal sex trafficking laws, Acosta, then the U.S. attorney in Miami, helped negotiate a non-prosecution agreement that gave Epstein and his co-conspirators immunity from federal prosecution
. Epstein, who lived in a Palm Beach mansion, was allowed to quietly plead guilty in state court to two prostitution charges and served just 13 months in the county jail. His accomplices, some of whom have never been identified, were never charged.

Acosta agreed to seal the deal, which meant that none of Epstein’s victims, who were mostly 13 to 16 years old at the time of the abuse, were told about it until it was too late for them to appear at his sentencing and possibly reject the deal. Upon learning that Epstein had pleaded guilty without their knowledge, two of his victims filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida in 2008, claiming that prosecutors violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which grants victims of federal crimes a series of rights, including the ability to confer with prosecutors about a possible plea deal.

Marra agreed, saying that while prosecutors had the right to resolve the case in any way they saw fit, they violated the law by hiding the agreement from Epstein’s victims. Marra’s decision capped 11 years of litigation — which included the release of a trove of emails showing how Acosta and other prosecutors worked with Epstein’s high profile lawyers to conceal the deal — and the scope of Epstein’s crimes — from both his victims and the public.

“Particularly problematic was the Government’s decision to conceal the existence of the [agreement] and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility,’’ Marra wrote. “When the Government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. While the Government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims.’’

The U.S. attorney’s office in Miami declined to comment.

Acosta's goose should be cooked, but you never know with the Trump regime.

We'll see how things are going to go here, but at the very least Epstein should be spending the rest of his natural life in jail for starters.  As for the rest of his legal team, Acosta and Alan Dershowitz, I would be very nervous right now if I were them.

Again, the real issue here is that the Epstein plea deal was legal, Acosta deliberately hiding it from his victims was not.  The judge ruled that it was a clear violation of the Crime Victims Rights Act, a 2004 law that spells out the rights victims have in federal cases like this.

Considering Acosta oversees both child labor laws and human trafficking laws as Labor Secretary, his forced resignation should have come months ago when the Miami Herald made this slimy deal public.

But that's the brutally corrupt Trump regime for you.

StupidiNews!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Last Call For How To Steal An Election, Con't

After several days of testimony in front of the North Carolina Board of Elections, it has become painfully clear that Republican Mark Harris stole the 2018 election for NC's 9th District and at the absolute minimum, a new election must be called...and apparently Mark Harris is now entirely on board with that plan.

After months of insisting he knew of no illegal activity being done on behalf of his campaign, Republican Mark Harris, who leads the race for North Carolina's 9th congressional district, called Thursday for the State Board of Elections to hold a new election.

"Through the testimony I've listened to over the past three days I believe a new election should be called. It's become clear to me that the public's confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted," said Harris.

It was a dramatic and humbling reversal for Harris, a pastor who until now has insisted that the board of elections should certify his 905 vote lead in the unofficial tally so that he can go off to Congress.

Four days of hearings had left that position increasingly untenable as witnesses detailed how an operative hired by Harris illegally handled absentee ballots, a felony in North Carolina. One witness said she filled in unmarked sections of ballots. Harris' own son testified on Wednesday that he had warned his father that the operative's tactics were likely illegal.

An email first released to the public on Thursday shows that Harris requested to the operative, McRae Dowless, in March 2017 after losing a primary election in which one of his opponents had hired Dowless.

The disclosure by the Harris campaign frustrated investigators, who were presented with the evidence only on Wednesday, despite a subpoena from the North Carolina State Board of Elections for the relevant documents months ago.

Although Harris has now called for a new election, the board will have to decide whether to actually call one. After Election Day, Harris held a 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready in the unofficial ballot tally. The board declined to certify those results pending its investigation into an absentee ballot scheme that investigators have been unspooling for months.

The investigation focuses on Dowless, who was hired by Harris to run get-out-the-vote efforts in Bladen and Robeson counties. Dowless was also investigated in 2016 for his tactics, which a number of witnesses have testified included illegally collecting absentee ballots and filling out some of those ballots.

Harris has said publicly since the investigation began in December that he was unaware of any illegal acts that may have been done on behalf of his campaign. He reiterated that in his testimony Thursday.

Harris is now reduced to lamely trying to pretend this all wasn't his idea now that his son, himself a lawyers in the US attorney's office for Eastern NC, threw his own dad under the bus in a glorious effort to keep from being disbarred, but the new election is happening regardless.  The Board voted unanimously that the election was tainted.

Harris believes he can walk away from this trainwreck and still be reelected.  Too bad part of the testimony this week showed Harris's wife Beth texting Harris those illegally-gained previews of the absentee ballot totals.

Oops.

That Little Domestic Terrorism Problem Of Ours, Con't

When Trump spouts dangerous rhetoric about his critics, his political opponents, and the people reporting on him being "enemies of the people" and that we need to "lock them up", the problem is that doesn't happen in a void.  Dangerous rhetoric has dangerous consequences, like directly inspiring his white domestic terrorist followers to kill Trump's "enemies".

A U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant and self-identified white nationalist has been arrested after federal investigators uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in his Maryland home that authorities say he stockpiled to launch a massive domestic terror attack targeting politicians and journalists.
Christopher Paul Hasson called for “focused violence” to “establish a white homeland” and dreamed of ways to “kill almost every last person on earth,” according to court records filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland. Though court documents do not detail a specific planned date for an attack, the government said he had been amassing supplies and weapons since at least 2017, developed a spreadsheet of targets that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and searched the Internet using phrases such as “best place in dc to see congress people” and “are supreme court justices protected.”

“The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country,” the government said in court documents filed this week, arguing that Hasson should stay in jail awaiting trial.

Hasson, of Silver Spring, is expected to appear before a judge for a detention hearing in federal court in Greenbelt at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Hasson was arrested on illegal weapons and drug charges on Friday, but the government says those charges are the “proverbial tip of the iceberg.” Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland outlined Hasson’s alleged plans to spark chaos and destruction in court documents, describing a man obsessed with neo-fascist and neo-Nazi views.

“Please send me your violence that I may unleash it onto their heads,” Hasson wrote in a letter that prosecutors say was found in his email drafts. “Guide my hate to make a lasting impression on this world.”

And yes, he was targeting everyone Donald Trump said was "an enemy of the people".  Just a coincidence his targets were Democrats and journalists, I'm sure.

In an email he drafted in June 2017, he contemplated biological attacks and targeting food supplies. He considered the merits of a “bombing/sniper campaign.” And included a “Things to do” list that included purchasing land “out west or possibly NC mtns” for family and researching tactics used during the civil war in Ukraine.

“During unrest target both sides to increase tension,” Hasson wrote in the email, according to the court filings. “In other words provoke gov/police to over react which should help to escalate violence. BLM protests or other left crap would be ideal to incite to violence.”

In another letter drafted months later to an American neo-Nazi leader, Hasson called for a “white homeland.” He sent the letter to himself nearly two months after the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., where torch carrying white-supremacists clashed with anti-racist protesters.

“I never saw a reason for mass protest or wearing uniforms marching around provoking people with swastikas etc.,” Hasson said. “I was and am a man of action you cannot change minds protesting like that. However you can make change with a little focused violence.”

It's a good thing this asshole was stopped before he could kill, because he clearly intended to leave behind dozens of corpses.  The problem is the number of Trump supporters out there with similar stockpiles and plans and who haven't been caught yet.

It's Libel To Get Destroyed

Justice Clarence Thomas is all but begging for a Supreme Court case in order to dismantle First Amendment protections for the press, so that Donald Trump and the GOP can sue everyone but FOX out of existence.

Justice Clarence Thomas on Tuesday called for the Supreme Court to reconsider New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 ruling interpreting the First Amendment to make it hard for public officials to prevail in libel suits.


He said the decision had no basis in the Constitution as it was understood by the people who drafted and ratified it.

“New York Times and the court’s decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law,” Justice Thomas wrote.

Justice Thomas, writing only for himself, made his statement in a concurring opinion agreeing that the court had correctly turned down an appeal from Kathrine McKee, who has accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. She sued Mr. Cosby for libel after his lawyer said she had been dishonest.

An appeals court ruled against Ms. McKee, saying that her activities had made her a public figure and that she could not prove, as required by the Sullivan decision, that the lawyer had knowingly or recklessly said something false. Ms. McKee asked the Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s determination that she was a public figure.

Justice Thomas wrote that he agreed with the court’s decision not to take up that question. “I write to explain why, in an appropriate case, we should reconsider the precedents that require courts to ask it in the first place,” he wrote.

In Justice Thomas’s view, the First Amendment did nothing to limit the authority of states to protect the reputations of their citizens and leaders as they saw fit. When the First Amendment was ratified, he wrote, many states made it quite easy to sue for libel in civil actions and to prosecute libel as a crime. That was, he wrote, as it should be.

“We did not begin meddling in this area until 1964, nearly 175 years after the First Amendment was ratified,” Justice Thomas wrote of the Sullivan decision. “The states are perfectly capable of striking an acceptable balance between encouraging robust public discourse and providing a meaningful remedy for reputational harm.”

The events leading to the Sullivan decision test that assertion. The case arose from an advertisement in The Times seeking support for the civil rights movement. The ad contained minor errors.

L.B. Sullivan, a city commissioner in Montgomery, Ala., who was not mentioned in the ad, sued for libel. He won $500,000, which was at the time an enormous sum. It was one of many suits filed by Southern politicians eager to starve the civil rights movement of the oxygen of national attention. They used libel suits as a way to discourage coverage of the movement by national news organizations.

Against this background, and animated by an urge to protect the American public’s ability to assess the situation in the South for itself, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled for The Times and revolutionized American libel law.

Justice Thomas’s statement came in the wake of complaints from President Trump that libel laws make it too hard for public officials to win libel suits.

“I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Mr. Trump said on the campaign trail. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

Again, Trump wants the free press in this country gone.  Justice Thomas agrees with him.  This is a signal that the Roberts Court wants this case and most likely has four, if not five votes for it.  Again, should anything happen to Justices Ginsburg or Breyer with Trump in the Oval Office, you can kiss America goodbye.

So what case does Justice Thomas want?  There's a method to this madness, after all.

The family of the Kentucky teen who was involved in an encounter with a Native American advocate at the Lincoln Memorial last month filed a defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post on Tuesday, seeking $250 million in damages for its coverage of the incident.

The suit alleges that The Post “targeted and bullied” 16-year-old Nicholas Sandmann in order to embarrass President Trump. Sandmann was one of a number of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky who were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats during a trip to the Mall when they encountered Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist.

News accounts, including in The Post, and videos of their encounter sparked a heated national debate over the behavior of the participants.

“In a span of three days in January of this year commencing on January 19, the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child,” reads the complaint.

There's no coincidence that Justice Thomas all but asked for this case to be handed to SCOTUS.  A major ruling in favor of a $250 million lawsuit against the Post would essentially put every news outlet in the country out of business.  The argument will be that it was the the Evil Fake News Media that destroyed Nicholas Sandmann's private life by defaming him, and that the Post has to pay up.  Thousands of lawsuits will follow.

Say goodbye to social media and this blog, too.

No wonder then that media outlets like CNN are scrambling to hand over their 2020 political coverage to Trump staffers in order to stay alive.  They see the writing on the wall.

CNN announced on Tuesday it has hired longtime Republican operative Sarah Isgur as political editor, charged with shaping its 2020 campaign coverage.

According to a CNN spokesperson, Isgur, who most recently worked as the Department of Justice’s main spokesperson under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will coordinate the network’s political coverage for the 2020 election cycle on TV and on CNN’s website. Isgur starts work next month, and will not be involved in coverage of DOJ. She will occasionally appear on TV.

Isgur’s LinkedIn page indicates she has no journalism experience. She has, however, worked for a variety of right-wing organizations and campaigns, including the Carly Fiorina and Mitt Romney presidential bids, the Republican National Committee, and a Ted Cruz US Senate campaign.

Coming as it does in the wake of a presidential cycle in which the mainstream media’s fixation on Hillary Clinton’s emails (among other issues) was widely criticized, news of Isgur’s hiring sparked concerns about the direction CNN is taking heading into 2020.

The Washington Post reported that during an early 2017 Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump, Isgur — who was critical of Trump during the 2016 campaign — “kowtowed to Trump” and pledged loyalty to his agenda as a condition of getting the job as Sessions’ spokesperson.

Isgur’s hire was first reported by Politico, which noted that “while it is common for departing administration officials to join cable news networks as analysts or contributors, it is less common for them to oversee news coverage.”

On Tuesday evening, a CNN spokesperson emailed Vox and said they “just wanted to be super clear – Sarah is not leading, overseeing, or running political coverage.”

“She is helping to coordinate coverage across TV and Digital – she is one of several editors,” the spokesperson added, going on to characterize Isgur’s role as making sure that stories are featured on the right shows and articles get posted online at the right time.

Except of course it means Isgur gets to decide what stories end up on CNN's website and where, which is pretty much exactly what "shaping CNN's 2020 political coverage" means.

We warned y'all about this, but hey.

StupidiNews!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Last Call For That Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

The immediate question I have is "Does Bill Barr do what Matt Whitaker wouldn't and end the Mueller probe?" He probably won't. 
Probably.

CNN, today, answering my question in less than 24 hours:

Attorney General Bill Barr is preparing to announce as early as next week the completion of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, with plans for Barr to submit to Congress soon after a summary of Mueller's confidential report, according to people familiar with the plans. 
The preparations are the clearest indication yet that Mueller is nearly done with his almost two-year investigation. 
The precise timing of the announcement is subject to change. 
The scope and contours of what Barr will send to Congress remain unclear. Also unclear is how long it will take Justice officials to prepare what will be submitted to lawmakers. 
But with President Donald Trump soon to travel overseas for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Justice officials are mindful of not interfering with the White House's diplomatic efforts, which could impact the timing. 
The Justice Department and the special counsel's office declined to comment.

Two schools of thought on this.  One:

Folks, the Mueller report is about to be buried.  It will never see the light of day.  House Democrats will get whatever summary William Barr wants them to have and not a word more, and then the rest vanishes into the void.  They will no doubt subpoena the whole thing and it will get tied up in the courts for eternity.

If Robert Mueller has any of those contingency plans in place, he'd better have already been using them.  Trump was never going to let this come out.

It may be all up to the SDNY and NY state investigations now.

Two: Mueller is wrapping this up on his terms and next week is going to be very, very uncomfortable for Trump.

An adviser to President Trump said there is palpable concern among the president’s inner circle that the report might contain information about Trump and his team that is politically damaging, but not criminal conduct.

Even before he was confirmed by the Senate, Barr had preliminary discussions about the logistics surrounding the conclusion of Mueller’s inquiry, a second person said. At that time, though, Barr had not been briefed on the substance of Mueller’s investigation, so the conversations were limited.

CNN first reported Wednesday that Mueller could send a report to Barr as early as next week.

A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment, as did a Justice Department spokeswoman.

How detailed either Mueller’s report and the attorney general’s summary of the findings will be is unclear. Lawmakers have demanded that Mueller’s report be made public, but Barr has been noncommittal on that point, saying that he intends to be as forthcoming as the regulations and department practice allow. He has pointed, however, to Justice Department practices that insist on saying little or nothing about conduct that does not lead to criminal charges.

We'll know before the end of the month, I suspect.

A Supreme Victory For Once

In a massively important and unanimous Supreme Court ruling issued today by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the nine justices declared that the Constitution's 8th Amendment provisions on excessive fines applies directly to local and state governments and civil forfeiture.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the Constitution’s prohibition on excessive fines applies to state and local governments, limiting their abilities to impose fines and seize property.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on just her second day back on the bench after undergoing cancer surgery in December, announced the decision for the court, saying that the 8th Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause protects against government retribution.

“For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties,” Ginsburg wrote. “Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies . . . Even absent a political motive, fines may be employed in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence.”

The court ruled in favor of Tyson Timbs of Marion, Ind., who had his $42,000 Land Rover seized after he was arrested for selling a couple hundred dollars’ worth of heroin.

He drew wide support from civil liberties organizations who want to limit civil forfeitures, which they say empower localities and law enforcement to seize property of someone suspected of a crime as a revenue stream.

Some justices, too, had become worried about the state and local efforts.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a recent opinion that civil forfeitures have “become widespread and highly profitable.”

“This system — where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use — has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses,” Thomas wrote, referring to reporting by The Washington Post and the New Yorker.

At oral argument, Timbs’s lawyer said the case was a simple matter of “constitutional housekeeping.”

The Constitution’s Bill of Rights protects against actions of the federal government. But the Supreme Court over time has applied it to state and local governments under the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment. In 2010, for instance, the court held that the Second Amendment applied to state and local government laws on gun control.

The Eighth Amendment states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Two of those commands — regarding bail and cruel and unusual punishments — have been deemed to apply to state and local governments. But until now, the ban on excessive fines had not been.

This may be the only unambiguously good news from this Supreme Court term.  Incorporation of the 8th Amendment's excessive fines prohibition has been long overdue, with cops using the lack of that clarity to seize property worth exponentially more than allowed for simple misdemeanors.  The defendant in this case lost his SUV over what was essentially a drug fine.

What Timbs v Indiana means is that states are going to have to rewrite their laws very quickly when it comes to maximum civil forfeiture penalties and fines.  Local governments have been using this loophole for years in order to collect billions from people.

As of today, now this practice is strictly unconstitutional.

Good for Justice Ginsburg for a ruling that will guide the country for decades to come.

Skinned Like Flynn, Con't

If you're wondering why the Trump regime is so completely obsessed with helping the Saudis in general and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan in particular, it's because right after Trump took office, Michael Flynn was pushing a plan to reward the Saudis for their money laundering operation into Trump's 2016 camping with something Tehran has wanted for decades: American nuclear technology.

Whistleblowers from within President Donald Trump's National Security Council have told a congressional committee that efforts by former national security adviser Michael Flynn to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia may have violated the law, and investigators fear Trump is still considering it, according to a new report obtained by NBC News.

The House Oversight Committee has formally opened an investigation into the matter, releasing an interim staff report that adds new details to previous public accounts of how Flynn sought to push through the nuclear proposal on behalf of a group he had once advised. Tom Barrack, a prominent Trump backer with business ties to the Middle East, also became involved in the project, the report says.

Just days after Trump's inauguration, backers of the project sent documents to Flynn for Trump to approve, including a draft Cabinet memo stating that the president had appointed Barrack as a special representative to implement the plan and directing agencies to support Barrack's efforts, the report says.

Career national security officials objected to the plan, citing what they deemed Flynn's conflict of interest, and also that the proposal sought to bypass a policy review that is required whenever nuclear technology is transferred to another country, the report says.

The proposal, which involved enlisting the U.S. nuclear power industry to build nuclear plants across the Middle East, was backed by a group of retired generals who formed a firm called IP3. Flynn described himself in financial disclosure filings as an "advisor" to a subsidiary of IP3, IronBridge Group Inc., from June 2016 to December 2016 — at the same time he was serving as Trump's national security adviser during the presidential campaign and the presidential transition, the report says.

The report quotes one senior Trump official as saying that the proposal was "not a business plan," but rather "a scheme for these generals to make some money," and added, "OK, you know we cannot do this."

Click here to read the House Oversight Committee report.

"The whistleblowers who came forward have expressed significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connected with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia," the report says.

"They have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes. They have also warned about a working environment inside the White House marked by chaos, dysfunction, and backbiting."

My first question is "Is this John Bolton's Mustache's doing?"

It certainly doesn't want to give the Saudis nuclear technology, John Bolton's Mustache despises them and blames them for basically everything wrong in the Middle East.  It's hard to imagine after Bolton cleaned house when he got Flynn's job as National Security Adviser that anyone left would go running to the press about this without John Bolton's Mustache's tacit blessing, let alone without its knowledge.

On the other hand, there's no quicker way to goad Iran into immediately violating every nuclear sanction possible than for the Saudis to get nuclear technology, thus laying the groundwork for another decade plus of war in the Middle East.

On the gripping hand, John Bolton's Mustache is currently busy planning the US military invasion of Venezuela.



Lots of fun, right?

Still, giving nuclear tech to the Saudis now, after the whole Jamal Khashoggi murder came to light, is not going to go over well even with Senate Republicans.  We'll see.


StupidiNews!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Last Call For That Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

It's pretty clear from this week's NY Times team piece on Trump's acting AG Matt Whitaker that Donald Trump clearly expected Whitaker, who was running the Justice Department up until William Barr was confirmed last week, to end the Mueller investigation and fully take the lightning bolts for doing it.  He also wanted Whitaker to end the Southern District US Attorney investigation into Cohen (and into the Trump Organization, too). Whitaker didn't, and that only pissed off Trump even more, and all of it is part of a two-year plus long Trump effort to obstruct justice.

As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge, since Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.

Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president.

An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama
White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn, the Trump administration’s first national security adviser. Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. And, there was the episode when he asked his attorney general about putting Mr. Berman in charge of the Manhattan investigation.

Mr. Whitaker, who earlier this month told a congressional committee that Mr. Trump had never pressured him over the various investigations, is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said that the White House had not asked Mr. Whitaker to interfere in the investigations. “Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,’” said the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”

The White House declined to comment for this article.

The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line, and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.

The immediate question I have is "Does Bill Barr do what Matt Whitaker wouldn't and end the Mueller probe?"  He probably won't.

Probably.

Meanwhile, the FBI is confirming Andrew McCabe's account that it moved quickly to secure Russian collusion evidence after James Comey was fired.  It's precisely because there are so many angles of investigation into the corrupt Trump regime that makes shutting down the investigation tough,

Another Hat Lands In The Ring, Con't

As expected, Bernie Sanders will be running for President in 2020.  Whether or not it's on the Democratic ticket is anyone's guess.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whose 2016 presidential campaign grew from a left-wing insurgency to a force that reshaped the Democratic Party, announced Tuesday that he will seek its nomination for president again in 2020.

Sanders wrote in an email sent to supporters Tuesday that he was building “an unprecedented and historic grassroots campaign” that would draw on people across the country.

“Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history. It is not only about winning the Democratic nomination and the general election,” he wrote. “Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

The senator, an independent, cited health care, climate change, student debt, the “demonization” of undocumented immigrants, income inequality, gun violence and the myriad problems of America’s needy as propelling him into his second presidential contest.

“In a sense, this campaign is a continuation of what we did in 2016,” Sanders said during an interview Tuesday on “CBS This Morning.”

Asked how this bid would differ from his first run, Sanders said, “We’re gonna win.”

During an earlier interview with Vermont Public Radio, where he first announced his bid, Sanders called Trump “an embarrassment to our country.

“I think he is a pathological liar,” Sanders said. “I also think he is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, somebody who is gaining cheap political points by trying to pick on minorities, often undocumented immigrants.”

Sanders, who has held dozens of political rallies across the country since the 2016 election, enters the race with the biggest social media following — and biggest mailing list — of any candidate for the Democratic nomination. His decision came after a number of groups that spun out from his 2016 run, such as Our Revolution and People for Bernie, held house parties to mobilize his old supporters, and to find new ones.

After coming a few hundred delegates short of victory in 2016, Sanders begins a 2020 race with some advantages. He is one of the best-known and most admired figures in Democratic politics, though he is not a member of the party. He built campaign operations in every primary and caucus state.

But unlike Hillary Clinton, who recovered from her 2008 primary defeat to become the party’s front-runner in 2016, Sanders has not built on his support from the prior campaign. In early polls of Iowa and New Hampshire, where he won 50 percent and 60 percent of the vote, support for the senator from Vermont has ranged from the low teens to 30 percent.

The problem for Sanders this time around is that Hillary Clinton isn't in the race, and he lost to her anyway.

The field is wide-open and he has a lot more competition now, on top of the fact that he still has all the old baggage from 2016: we still haven't seen his tax returns, he still undervalues black and Latino voters, and most importantly he's still expecting to be nominated for a party he refuses to join outright.

Case in point from his interview this morning with Vermont Public Radio:

When asked by VPR's Bob Kinzel about concerns that he no longer best represents "the face of the new Democratic Party," Sanders, 77, said:

"We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age," Sanders said. "I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for."

"Representation doesn't matter" is a hell of a message, Bern.

We'll see what happens.


The GOP's Race To The Bottom, Con't

Trump's base now feels it can safely and publicly call for the return of the KKK to "clean out enemies of America", which of course was the point all along.

The editor of a small-town Alabama newspaper published an editorial calling for "the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again" against "Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats [who] are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama."

Goodloe Sutton — who is the publisher of the Democrat-Reporter newspaper in Linden, Alabama — confirmed to the Montgomery Advertiser on Monday that he authored the Feb. 14 editorial calling for the return of a white supremacist hate group.

"If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we'd all been better off," Sutton said.
Asked to elaborate what he meant by "cleaning up D.C.," Sutton suggested lynching.

"We'll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them," Sutton said.

When asked if he felt it was appropriate for the publisher of a newspaper to call for the lynching of Americans, Sutton doubled down on his position.

"... It's not calling for the lynchings of Americans. These are socialist-communists we're talking about. Do you know what socialism and communism is?" Sutton said.

This is what every single Republican means by "making America Great Again", an America where they rule, and the rest of us are suffered to exist only by the grace of their tolerance.  We're not Americans to people like Sutton, not even people, only obstacles to be slaughtered in genocide, meat to be burned, skin and bones to crackle and split in the flames.

In the newspaper editorial, Sutton wrote:

Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama. They do not understand how to eliminate expenses when money is needed in other areas. This socialist-communist ideology sounds good to the ignorant, the uneducated, and the simple-minded people.
When asked if he recognized the KKK as a racist and violent organization, Sutton disagreed, comparing the Klan to the NAACP.

"A violent organization? Well, they didn't kill but a few people," Sutton said. "The Klan wasn't violent until they needed to be."

Sutton said he didn't know any Klan remaining in the area, stating most died out after the 1960s.

The editor said he welcomed people to call him, write him a letter or boycott him.

The time to start killing Democrats is at hand, according to this man.

Would that I believed for a second that Donald Trump didn't agree with him, 100%.

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