Saturday, December 30, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

Trump's defenders, leading the attack on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation of Trump's Russian collusion, are fixated on the Steele dossier, the opposition files put together by Trump's GOP primary opponents and handed over to the Clinton campaign and the DNC.  The Trumpies are convinced that since the dossier is political and was somehow responsible for the Trump/Russia investigation, the investigation is political as well.

The reality, as the NY Times reveals today, is that the Mueller probe came about because former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos can't keep his mouth shut.

During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. 
About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign. 
Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role. 
The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired. 
If Mr. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and is now a cooperating witness, was the improbable match that set off a blaze that has consumed the first year of the Trump administration, his saga is also a tale of the Trump campaign in miniature. He was brash, boastful and underqualified, yet he exceeded expectations. And, like the campaign itself, he proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation. 
While some of Mr. Trump’s advisers have derided him as an insignificant campaign volunteer or a “coffee boy,” interviews and new documents show that he stayed influential throughout the campaign. Two months before the election, for instance, he helped arrange a New York meeting between Mr. Trump and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt. 
The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election? 
It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

That should slam the door on the attacks on Mueller, and indeed, Republicans are starting to get skittish as they realize just how much trouble Trump is in, and how much damage he'll do bringing everyone down with him.

A growing campaign by President Trump’s most ardent supporters to discredit the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the law enforcement agencies assisting his investigation is opening new fissures in the Republican Party, with some lawmakers questioning the damage being done to federal law enforcement and to a political party that has long championed law and order. 
A small but vocal group of conservative lawmakers, much of the conservative media and, at times, the president himself have launched a series of attacks to paint not only Mr. Mueller but institutions once considered sacrosanct to Republicans like the F.B.I. and Justice Department as dangerously biased against Mr. Trump. One of them, Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, called on Tuesday for top F.B.I. and Justice Department officials to be “purged.”

Now some Republican lawmakers are speaking out, worried that Trump loyalists, hoping for short-term gain, could wind up staining the party, dampening morale at the F.B.I. and Justice Department, and potentially recasting Democrats as the true friends of law enforcement for years to come. 
Straddling both camps is Mr. Trump, who in an interview on Thursday with The New York Times lavished praise on Republican congressmen who have defended him from a “witch hunt” and expressed confidence that Mr. Mueller would “treat me fairly.” 
It is not uncommon for members of the president’s own party to defend their leader against investigations. When President Bill Clinton was investigated and impeached in the 1990s, Mr. Clinton’s associates and many left-leaning Democrats on Capitol Hill waged war on Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel.

But Republican moderates in both the House and Senate with little loyalty to Mr. Trump and a Republican cadre of former law enforcement officials fear that their colleagues have reacted to specific and credible concerns about the F.B.I. with indiscriminate attacks. 
“As an institution we have to make it clear that we are dealing here with a scalpel not a sledgehammer,” said Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who sits on the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees. “Because you can’t have a situation where people say, ‘Oh, you can’t trust the F.B.I.’ That creates a spirit of anarchy.” 
Of his fellow Republicans pressing a public case against the agencies, Mr. King said, “I think some of them have been too strong on that.”

If even Peter King is running from this, the internal polling numbers for the GOP must be pointing towards a complete wipeout in 2018.

And they know it.  But it also means that the Papadopoulos angle of the story is far more important than has previously been reported. It also means that Mueller has been on to the truth for months now, and that the reckoning is coming.

It also means that Papadopoulos knew the Russians had hacked the DNC emails two months before that information went public, and that the Trump campaign was well aware of it, and yet took no action whatsoever to inform anybody about it.

Stay tuned.  2018 is going to be a wild ride.

Iran Into The Streets

The largest Iranian protests against the ruling theocracy in years are happening in the streets right now, and while things are tense and hundreds have been arrested, it hasn't devolved into full-scale violence yet. Everyone appears to be taking a wait-and-see attitude because nobody on the outside is too sure of what's going on, as former Newsweek correspondent and one-time regime prisoner Maziar Bahari weighs in.

On Dec. 10, President Hassan Rouhani presented his budget, which essentially would make life more expensive for citizens and, at the same time, include generous allocations for religious organizations in Iran and elsewhere. The slogan “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I Give My Life for Iran” was repeated in the protests across different cities. Many Iranians regard their government’s generous help to the Palestinian Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, Syrian Assad regime and Yemeni Houthis as unnecessary and even treasonous. 
Despite people’s passion and energy, no one knows what is happening in Iran. Analysts are confused and mostly silent. And the people on the streets are not supporting any individual or group; they have chanted slogans against Rouhani and Khamenei, but unlike in 2009, there are no leaders to guide them
Rouhani has, at the time of this writing, reportedly gathered his ministers and advisers to assess the situation. So far, Rouhani’s government has managed only to blame the demonstrations on its conservative critics. Rouhani’s vice president has impliedthat the hard-liners are using people’s economic problems to bring down the government. Some hard-liners have been happy about the anti-Rouhani slogans, but many of them have chastised protesters for chanting slogans against the supreme leader, who is supposed to be a sacred being. 
Hundreds of people have been arrested in cities around Iran in the past 48 hours. No one has been released as of this writing. It would be interesting to know what their interrogations have been about and what charges are being brought against them.
The demonstrations have shown the dissatisfaction of Iranians with the regime as a whole — both the so-called pro-reform Rouhani and the conservative Khamenei. Dealing with this outbreak of hatred may unify the regime for a short while, but, inevitably, the factions will start their infighting again. Rouhani and Khamenei have different interests and bases of support. They cannot coexist peacefully and simultaneously cater to their constituencies. 
Rouhani cannot ignore the destructive role of the ayatollah’s cohorts in the Revolutionary Guard and their firm grip on the economy. The Guards practically run Iran’s policies in the wider region — including supporting Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah – and they have made a mockery of Rouhani’s attempts at rapprochement with Iran’s neighbors and the West. 
The supreme leader, in turn, cannot satisfy millions of Iranians who want prosperity and freedom and also maintain the support of his fanatic die-hard supporters who have been enjoying power for the past four decades. 
Is it a revolution? Not yet. Iran’s government is its own worst enemy and the Iranian people know it. Economic woes leading to infighting can bring down this corrupt and brutal system. Different factions within the government will, most probably, and just the same as always, choose to dismiss the genuine economic grievances of the Iranian people and blame the protests on foreign agents and an international imperialist-Zionist conspiracy.

The Iranian people have learned, after living almost 40 years under the Islamic Republic, to gradually and intelligently raise their voices in peaceful protests that will provoke the government to tear itself apart. Iran’s rulers may choose to blame foreigners and Zionists — but they hardly realize that the true danger to their power is right at home.

So it's not another Green Revolution like in 2009, it's something different and more organic.  But it's also a strong signal that Iran may not remain stable for long.

Water You Waiting For, Dude?

I've noticed that nothing brings the apocalypse prepper right and the hipster dirtbag left together quite like the notion that basic infrastructure services provided by the government are actually an evil conspiracy designed to kill millions. Vaccines, REAL ID drivers' licenses, public education, all suspect because if the government provides them, in 2017 they must be bad.

Now I know some of you guys have been around far longer than I have and know of folks who have been pulling the "Tune in, turn on, drop out" slash "off the grid" thing for decades, it's not exactly new stuff to be counter-culture suspicious of the federal government.  Lord knows over the years they have been up to some awful stuff.

But in the era of Trump that takes on a whole new level of meaning, when FAKE NEWS™ is a thing and science experts are dismissed out of hand by guys who Saw The Real Truth On The Google.

That brings us to an oldie but goodie from the NY Times: fluoridated water conspiracies are the new ground zero in California.

At Rainbow Grocery, a cooperative in this city’s Mission District, one brand of water is so popular that it’s often out of stock. But one recent evening, there was a glittering rack of it: glass orbs containing 2.5 gallons of what is billed as “raw water” — unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water, $36.99 each and $14.99 per refill, bottled and marketed by a small company called Live Water
“It has a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile,” said Kevin Freeman, a shift manager at the store. “Bottled water’s controversial. We’ve curtailed our water selection. But this is totally outside that whole realm.” 
Here on the West Coast and in other pockets around the country, many people are looking to get off the water grid. 
Start-ups like Live Water in Oregon and Tourmaline Spring in Maine have emerged in the last few years to deliver untreated water on demand. An Arizona company, Zero Mass Water, which installs systems allowing people to collect water directly from the atmosphere around their homes, began taking orders in November from across the United States. It has raised $24 million in venture capital.

What do you get when you cross alt-right conspiracies with granola anti-vaxxers and add a healthy dose of Silicon Valley startup culture?

The "raw water" movement, now coming to disrupt the water market near you!

The founder of Live Water, Mukhande Singh, started selling spring water from Opal Springs in Culver, Ore., three years ago, but it was a small local operation until this year. Marketing materials show Mr. Singh (né Christopher Sanborn) sitting naked and cross-legged on a hot spring, his long brown hair flowing over his chest.

Pure water can be obtained by using a reverse osmosis filter, the gold standard of home water treatment, but for Mr. Singh, the goal is not pristine water, per se. “You’re going to get 99 percent of the bad stuff out,” he said. “But now you have dead water.” 
He said “real water” should expire after a few months. His does. “It stays most fresh within one lunar cycle of delivery,” he said. “If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green. People don’t even realize that because all their water’s dead, so they never see it turn green.” 
Mr. Singh believes that public water has been poisoned. “Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” he said. “Chloramine, and on top of that they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.” (There is no scientific evidence that fluoride is a mind-control drug, but plenty to show that it aids dental health.)

And so the door to expensive privatization of your water supply cracks open just a little wider.  There's a lot of money to be made by taking water from a basic right to an expensive commodity, and there's all sorts of forces, from GOP billionaire donors to Silicon Valley disruptors who want in on it.

Sabotaging The Census

We've known for a while that the Trump regime was going to us the 2020 Census as a political weapon to help Republicans to advantage Republicans for a decade, now we know how they're going to do it. For the first time in more than a century, Trump is planning to have census-takers ask for immigration status and in order to undercount blue states with large undocumented populations by millions.

The Justice Department is pushing for a question on citizenship to be added to the 2020 census, a move that observers say could depress participation by immigrants who fear that the government could use the information against them. That, in turn, could have potentially large ripple effects for everything the once-a-decade census determines — from how congressional seats are distributed around the country to where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent.

The DOJ made the request in a previously unreported letter, dated Dec. 12 and obtained by ProPublica, from DOJ official Arthur Garyto the top official at the Census Bureau, which is part of the Commerce Department. The letter argues that the DOJ needs better citizenship data to better enforce the Voting Rights Act “and its important protections against racial discrimination in voting.”

A Census Bureau spokesperson confirmed the agency received the letter and said the “request will go through the well-established process that any potential question would go through.” The DOJ declined to comment and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Observers said they feared adding a citizenship question would not only lower response rates, but also make the census more expensive and throw a wrench into the system with just two years to go before the 2020 count. Questions are usually carefully field-tested, a process that can take years.

“This is a recipe for sabotaging the census,” said Arturo Vargas, a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Census and the executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, a Latino advocacy group. “When you start adding last-minute questions that are not tested — how will the public understand the question? How much will it suppress response rates?”

The 2010 census included a handful of questions covering age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, household relationship and owner/renter status — but not citizenship.

“People are not going to come out to be counted because they’re going to be fearful the information would be used for negative purposes,” said Steve Jost, a former top bureau official during the 2010 census. “This line about enforcing voting rights is a new and scary twist.” He noted that since the first census in 1790, the goal has been to count everyone in the country, not just citizens.

There's no doubt that Trump's ICE would use Census immigration status to round up potentially millions, but if people aren't counted, federal dollars, electoral college votes, and entire congressional districts will go elsewhere for a decade, which is what the GOP wants.
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