Sunday, September 30, 2018

Last Call For Deportation Nation, Con't

A reminder that even with all the new Trump outrage, the old Trump outrages still exist, still have not been resolved, and are still enabled by Republicans in Congress.  To whit: America still keeps kids in detention camps in the goddamn desert.

In shelters from Kansas to New York, hundreds of migrant children have been roused in the middle of the night in recent weeks and loaded onto buses with backpacks and snacks for a cross-country journey to their new home: a barren tent city on a sprawling patch of desert in West Texas.

Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases.

But in the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.

These midnight voyages are playing out across the country, as the federal government struggles to find room for more than 13,000 detained migrant children — the largest population ever — whose numbers have increased more than fivefold since last year.

The average length of time that migrant children spend in custody has nearly doubled over the same period, from 34 days to 59, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees their care.

To deal with the surging shelter populations, which have hovered near 90 percent of capacity since May, a mass reshuffling is underway and shows no signs of slowing. Hundreds of children are being shipped from shelters to West Texas each week, totaling more than 1,600 so far.

Not only does our elected government keep kids in camps in the desert, it takes kids living in shelters and foster homes already and puts them in camps anyway.

We will never have oversight of this as long as Republicans remain in control of this government. We will keep putting kids in camps until the voters punish the people in charge enough so that this stops.

Do we understand?

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

House Republicans are now fully drowning with five weeks to go before midterms, and we've now reached the point where vulnerable Republicans are being cut loose to drown in districts where the GOP no longer wants to waste money on seats they no longer feel they can save.  This week, Paul Ryan cut the throats of Colorado GOP Rep Mike Coffman and Michigan GOP Rep. Mike Bishop and is leaving them to bleed out on the beach as the blue wave comes to wash them away.

Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, is cutting off support for two Republican incumbents, Michigan Rep. Mike Bishop and Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, according to a person familiar with the group's plans.

The super PAC will cancel its planned TV advertising for both members, a move that comes as the party refocuses its funds on races that leaders feel confident they can win — and away from those it sees as out of reach. The organization had $1 million in TV advertising reserved for Coffman and $2.1 million for Bishop, dollars that will now be redistributed elsewhere.
Party officials say both incumbents are trailing Democratic challengers ahead of the midterm elections, and both are expected to be significantly outspent during the final weeks of their campaigns.

“CLF will continue to run strong field operations in these districts and will continue to conduct polling and evaluate races across the country as we do everything we can to protect the Republican majority,” said Courtney Alexander, a spokeswoman for the group.

There is not complete agreement in the party, however, about Coffman’s prospects. Following the super PAC’s announcement, the National Republican Congressional Committee said it would add $600,000 to its TV reservation in the district, according to a person familiar.

Republicans are waging an uphill battle to protect their 23-seat House majority. In recent weeks they have begun a painful round of political triage, with party officials racing to determine which seats can still be saved. Privately, GOP strategists concede that as many as a dozen of the party’s seats are no longer winnable — half of the margin Democrats need to take back the House.

Among the seats that the party feels increasingly pessimistic about are those held by Minnesota Reps. Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis, Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, and Iowa Rep. Rod Blum.

Party officials say additional incumbents will likely need to be cut off in the weeks to come.

Even if you don't believe the polling, news like this always makes the situation worse.  It's one thing to stop ads in a district where you're up by 15 points in order to refocus some national money down the line to help somebody in a tighter race.  It's entirely something else to stop ads when you're down by that much, or worse, when you're still relatively close.

Coffman is a dead man walking, he's down big and Cook Political Report has his district rated as Likely Dem at this point as Dem challenger Jason Crow has pulled substantially ahead.  But Bishop is still a Toss-Up in his race against Democrat and Iraq War veteran Elissa Slotkin, and pulling the plug on him means things are far, far worse than the GOP is letting on right now.

And like I said, Coffman and Bishop are far from the only House Republicans being cut off at the knees.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has canceled more than $1 million in planned advertising aimed at helping Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) in the coming weeks.

The decision to cut advertising, described to The Hill by a source familiar with the NRCC's strategic thinking, is a hint that Republicans are pessimistic about Yoder's chances of holding his Kansas City-area district.

Yoder has had significant help from outside groups already. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the largest super PAC backing Republican candidates, has spent about $1.8 million on television advertisements on his behalf. The group still has $750,000 booked in the Kansas City media market for the election's final four weeks.

But the NRCC, which faces a huge battlefield in a political environment in which Democrats have an edge, will use its money elsewhere. The committee was slated to spend $1.2 million on ads beginning Oct. 9.

Yoder has represented the district since winning election in 2010, when he replaced Democrat Dennis Moore. Yoder has never faced a particularly stiff challenge from a Democrat, though he only took 51 percent of the vote in 2016.

This year, he faces Sharice Davids (D), an attorney and first-time candidate who worked as a White House fellow in the Obama administration. She would be the first Native American woman to serve in Congress if she wins

Yoder too is firmly in the Cook Toss-Up category.  This should be a winnable race for them and they've already put close to two million on keeping his seat.  It's not going to be winnable though.  Republicans are giving up

Again though, the blue wave only happens if voters show up If you live in any of these districts of have family who does, get engaged and let's finish these guys off.

Sunday Long Read: Some Real Narcotraficante Stuff

In May 2013, in a wealthy Dallas exurb of Southlake, Juan Guererro Chapo was murdered in a drive-by ambush in front of his wife.  He was a former lawyer for Mexico's infamous Gulf Cartel, a man who wanted out of that hell and cut a deal with the US government to get to safety.  He found that there was no such thing as "safe" from Los Zetas.

The brazenness of the crime shocked and titillated the residents of Southlake. There hadn’t been a murder in town in more than a decade—and nothing this dramatic had happened since Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow killed two state troopers nearby, in the thirties. “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in a place like Southlake,” a Department of Justice official said.

Guerrero’s death was among the lead stories on every local news affiliate for three nights in a row. Fox 4 interviewed one woman who, marveling at the scope of the crime scene, explained that she had to leave her car in a parking lot as investigators examined the area. Another woman, standing by the town’s red brick courthouse, concluded, “It’s a very unsafe situation. Very unstable, and I hope they’re caught very soon.”

The afternoon after the shooting, Southlake police chief Steve Mylett told reporters what many had already concluded on their own: “Obviously, this is a well-orchestrated and deliberate act involving a specific target.” He said the crime appeared to be the work of “an organization that is trained to do this kind of activity.”

Mylett immediately called in help from the FBI and DEA, offering the agencies office space in the local police station, less than half a mile from where Guerrero had been shot. Days later the team was expanded to include representatives from the Texas Rangers, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. All told, there were dozens of officers and agents and analysts assisting the case. But it was largely headed by two men.

The lead investigator, Michael Elsey, is a 25-plus-year veteran FBI agent. He has a deep voice, an affinity for fine cigars, and a remarkable ability to evade media attention. One colleague described him as “the most focused person I’ve ever seen.” Another said, “I would never want to be on Mike’s bad side.”

The lead prosecutor, who worked closely with investigators from the start, was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas named Josh Burgess. Burgess is tall and lean, with a boyish face, and he has a far different reputation from Elsey. He’s funnier, more garrulous, more likely to grab a beer with his co-workers at the end of the week. At the time, he taught a weekly Sunday school class for young married couples at his church in Fort Worth. A former JAG officer in the Air Force who once deployed for six months to serve as the only attorney on a base in Kyrgyzstan, Burgess had spent most of his career at the U.S. attorney’s office prosecuting cases involving organized crime, including several that employed wiretaps and undercover agents. One case involved a yearlong undercover investigation of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club; another was a two-year case that led to more than sixty indictments.

Around 9 p.m. the night of the murder, Burgess was at home, reading a book in a recliner, when he was interrupted by a phone call. His counterpart at the U.S. attorney’s office in South Texas informed him that the man murdered in Southlake, whose face was already splashed across every local news channel, had been a high-level cooperator for the U.S. government. Burgess remembers thinking it wouldn’t take long for the press to break the news he’d just heard, bringing even more attention to the shooting. (Of the six DOJ officials dedicated to the case full-time, Burgess is the only one able to speak on the record about it.)

Little is publicly known about Guerrero’s upbringing and life in Mexico, but investigators quickly uncovered his deep ties to one of the most violent criminal organizations in the world. Guerrero, it turns out, was the longtime personal attorney for Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the former leader of the Gulf Cartel and one of the founders of its paramilitary enforcement arm, Los Zetas. Cárdenas, whose nickname was El Mata Amigos (“the Friend Killer”), was arrested after a shoot-out with the Mexican military in 2003. He was then extradited to the U.S. in 2007 for drug trafficking, money laundering, and the attempted murder of U.S. agents. The cartel infighting that followed his arrest triggered a famously bloody power struggle that gripped Northern Mexico for a decade. Thousands of people, many of them innocent bystanders, died in the ensuing mayhem.

Two years after Cárdenas’s extradition, he pleaded guilty in federal court. In exchange for a 25-year sentence—and a chance to one day walk out of prison—Cárdenas agreed to turn over $50 million in cash, real estate, and aircraft to the U.S. government. Guerrero was tasked with helping the American agencies collect the assets, an ordeal that included moving several carloads of cash north across the border. Guerrero’s involvement wasn’t made public, but he was nonetheless a potential target; leaders of Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel were incensed about the Cárdenas plea deal.

And so, with the knowledge of the U.S. government, Guerrero and his family moved from Monterrey to North Texas. There, he continued cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security. The arrangement was kept so quiet that even high-ranking officials in the local U.S. attorney’s office didn’t know about it until after the murder.

In Texas, Guerrero lived a quiet but complicated life. His autopsy revealed that he had cocaine in his system at the time of his death. He kept a low profile online. His LinkedIn account claimed that he owned a working cattle ranch in the Mexican state of Guanajuato with “a wide range of livestock and farm animals,” including “some of Mexico’s strongest bulls.” It also described, in the third person, his affinity for “the regional flavors of the restaurants in his hometown” and his allegiance to Club León, a second-tier Mexican professional soccer team. A WordPress blog under his name featured three short posts in June 2011 about the Mexican cattle industry. His name was also listed in the paperwork of a few businesses in South Texas, including a gaming corporation and a salvage and recycling company.

The only public photo of him prior to the murder was a mug shot taken in Miami in 2011, in which his dark eyes are glazed and bloodshot, his cheeks bloated and pockmarked. According to a local news report, at around 3 a.m. local officers were dispatched to the posh Fontainebleau hotel, where Guerrero was accused of slapping the 29-year-old woman with whom he was having an affair.

In the spring of 2011, Guerrero was living with Julia and their three kids in Grapevine, just to the east of Southlake, when he got an urgent call from his handler at the Department of Homeland Security. Julia recalled her husband seeming “afraid” and “surprised” after the conversation. “They knew where he lived,” she said. “And they wanted to kill him.”

The family never again returned to the house in Grapevine. They traveled to South Florida, where his brother lived, for spring break, and when they got back to Grapevine, Guerrero told his wife to rent an apartment in her sister’s name and to stop using her cellphone to call Mexico. Soon after, they moved into the house in Southlake. It was purchased in cash, and Guerrero’s name didn’t appear anywhere in the county records.

Julia remembered her husband receiving another distressing call in February 2013, and he fled once again—this time moving from hotel to hotel, traveling to Las Vegas with his brother—but he resumed living with the family again in May. He continued to be cautious, though, she said. He didn’t leave the house often, except to get frozen yogurt.

Even by Mexican cartel true crime standards, this is a good read, and a good reminder of the true cost of the decades-long War on Drugs in America.  We lost it long ago, we just have to decide how the story ends.

Tesla Recoil

Tesla founder Elon Musk's tweets have finally got him in enough hot water to the point where the Board of Directors has dropkicked him from Chairman down to just CEO.

Elon Musk is finally facing some consequences for his August take-Tesla-private dance. The South African-born billionaire will step down as chairman of the electric car company and pay a $20 million fine as part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC had sued Musk on Thursday after he reportedly turned down an initial deal at the last minute.

As part of the new agreement announced on Saturday settling the SEC’s suit, Musk will resign as Tesla chairman within 45 days, and he won’t be able to be re-elected to the post for three years. Musk and Tesla will each pay a separate $20 million penalty, which will be distributed to harmed investors, and Tesla will appoint two new independent directors to its board. A judge will have to approve the settlement.

Tesla will also hire a lawyer to keep an eye on Musk’s communications as part of the settlement because, the SEC alleges, the company failed “to implement disclosure controls or procedures” related to the CEO’s Twitter activity. In other words, Musk is getting a Twitter babysitter.

This — at least for now — brings to a close a dramatic chapter for Tesla that was ignited when Musk on August 7 tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla private at $420 per share and had already secured funding. It wasn’t clear how much groundwork had actually been laid for such a maneuver, and it’s illegal for companies and executives to give shareholders misleading information about potentially meaningful corporate events. The tweets were at the basis of the SEC’s lawsuit against Musk for securities fraud.

As part of Musk’s settlement, he is not allowed to “admit or deny” whether he did indeed commit securities fraud with his tweets. (He ultimately decided to keep Tesla public.) The New York Times reported earlier in the day Saturday that this specific feature of the agreement had been the initial dealbreaker for Musk. The agency and his lawyers reportedly had this set to go on Thursday, but at the last minute, he backed out.

“The resolution is intended to prevent further market disruption and harm to Tesla’s shareholders,” Steven Peikin, co-director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a statement on Saturday.

The Department of Justice is also probing Musk’s privatization tweets. The SEC’s settlement with Musk states that it does not address any potential criminal liability

A Tesla spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment on the settlement.

So, still a pretty good chance that the DOJ will want a piece of Musk, but for now, he stays on board.  How long is anyone's guess though, because he's not the kind of guy who is good at taking no for an answer.

"If you're so rich, how come you're not smart?" comes to mind.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Last Call For Supreme Misgivings, Con't

As the Senate passed a procedural vote to open floor debate on confirming Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh today with a simple voice vote, it's looking like the Trump regime is stacking the deck of the FBI investigation to make sure nothing untoward is found that would prevent Kavanaugh from getting to 50 votes.

The White House is limiting the scope of the FBI’s investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, multiple people briefed on the matter told NBC News.

While the FBI will examine the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, the bureau has not been permitted to investigate the claims of Julie Swetnick, who has accused Kavanaugh of engaging in sexual misconduct at parties while he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School in the 1980s, those people familiar with the investigation told NBC News. A White House official confirmed that Swetnick's claims will not be pursued as part of the reopened background investigation into Kavanaugh.

Ford said in Senate testimony Thursday that she was "100 percent" certain that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school. Ramirez alleged that he exposed himself to her when there were students at Yale. Kavanaugh has staunchly denied allegations from Ford, Ramirez and Swetnick.

Instead of investigating Swetnick's claims, the White House counsel’s office has given the FBI a list of witnesses they are permitted to interview, according to several people who discussed the parameters on the condition of anonymity. They characterized the White House instructions as a significant constraint on the FBI investigation and caution that such a limited scope, while not unusual in normal circumstances, may make it difficult to pursue additional leads in a case in which a Supreme Court nominee has been accused of sexual assault.

The limited scope seems to be at odds with what some members of the Senate judiciary seemed to expect when they agreed to give the FBI as much as a week to investigate allegations against Kavanaugh, a federal judge who grew up in the Washington DC area and attended an elite all-boys high school before going on to Yale.

President Donald Trump said on Saturday that the FBI has "free reign" in the investigation. "They’re going to do whatever they have to do," he said. "Whatever it is they do, they’ll be doing — things that we never even thought of. And hopefully at the conclusion everything will be fine."

The president also said he thinks Flake's role in delaying the vote is fine. "Actually this could be a blessing in disguise," Trump continued. "Because having the FBI go out, do a thorough investigation, whether its three days or seven days, I think it’s going to be less than a week. But having them do a thorough investigation, I actually think will be a blessing in disguise. It’ll be a good thing."

"I don't need a backup plan," Trump said, adding that he thinks Kavanaugh is "going to be fine."

And of course, Trump was lying.  It's what he does.  Anyone who thought this wasn't Jeff Flake's dog and pony show to raise his portfolio on retirement from the Senate, well I have some beachfront property in Flake's state of Arizona to sell you too.

The forms are being observed, and don't be surprised if there's a quick vote early in the week, maybe even Monday, when the FBI investigation comes back with the excuse that they conducted a "thorough" investigation over the weekend.  Remember, the only reason that Mitch McConnell and Trump are playing along is because Mitch doesn't have 50 votes.

He will soon enough, and the vote will come magically as soon as he does.

A Taxing Dilemma

Reason Number One why all of us need to turn out and vote for Democrats because they need to win control of the House: Trump's tax returns become fair game because Republicans were more than happy to use tax returns against the Obama administration.

The years-old mystery of what’s in President Donald Trump’s tax returns will likely quickly unravel if Democrats win control of at least one chamber of Congress.

Democrats, especially in the House, are quietly planning on using an obscure law that will enable them to examine the president’s tax filings without his permission.

The nearly 100-year-old statute allows the chairmen of Congress’ tax committees to look at anyone’s returns, and Democrats say they intend to use that power to help answer a long list of questions about Trump’s finances. Many also want to use it to make public confidential information about Trump’s taxes that he’s steadfastly refused to release.

Probably the approach would be to get all of it, review it and, depending on what that shows, release all or part of it,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the No. 4 Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.

That could bring a swift end to the long-running battle over Trump’s returns, while generating loads of fodder for what promises to be an array of investigations into the administration if Democrats win power.

Lawmakers are not doing much now to advertise their opportunity to seize Trump’s returns ahead of the midterm elections, in part because some believe it will only rile his supporters.

But it could be one of the most immediate results of Democrats returning to power. Nonpartisan election experts say Democrats will likely win the House, with the Cook Political Report putting the chances at 75 percent. They’re less likely to win the Senate, though even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has conceded that’s possible.

It would be highly unusual for Congress to release confidential tax information, though not unprecedented.

As part of their Obama-era investigations into whether the IRS discriminated against conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, Republicans on both the Finance and Ways and Means committees agreed to release private tax information about the organizations. At the time, Democrats decried the move, though some now call it justification for unmasking Trump’s returns.

Transparency advocates have long complained about Trump bucking a 40-year tradition of presidents producing their returns. His filings could answer questions about what he earns, how much he pays in taxes and whether he gives to charity.

It could also help answer broader, nagging questions like what sort of conflicts of interests are posed by his businesses, his ties to Russia and other foreign governments and how his family benefits from government actions.

There are legitimate oversight questions that can only be answered by having those documents,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a tax writer and the top Democrat on the chamber’s intelligence committee.

My guess is there's major issues with Trump's tax returns, and if they were ever made public, he'd be in a boatload of trouble.  Not that he's currently in a boatload of trouble now or anything, but it's entirely possible he can make the Good Ship Mueller hit a sandbar or a mine once Brett Kavanaugh is forced onto SCOTUS by whatever vile means the GOP will use in the next week or two.

Enduring House Democratic (and God willing, Senate Democratic) oversight is the only real solution. This is a nice scenario and all, but it only happens if we get out and vote.

Meanwhile, In Bevinstan...

Kentucky's final remaining abortion clinic will stay open after a federal judge struck down GOP Gov. Matt Bevin's latest TRAP law requiring advance hospital agreements.

A federal judge on Friday struck down a Kentucky law requiring abortion providers to sign advance agreements with hospitals and ambulance services for emergency patient care, in a ruling that keeps the state from revoking the license of its only remaining abortion clinic.

U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers in Louisville sided with the EMW Women’s Surgical Center and Planned Parenthood in challenging a law that threatened to make Kentucky the first U.S. state without a single legal abortion provider.

“This decision keeps open the doors of the only health center in Kentucky that provides safe and legal abortion care,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

The Louisville clinic filed suit last year claiming that Governor Matt Bevin, a self-described “unapologetically pro-life” Republican, was using the law unfairly to terminate its license, following a 2016 licensing battle that forced the shutdown of a Lexington clinic.

Planned Parenthood joined in the suit, asserting that the state was likewise blocking its application for a license to begin offering abortion services at a new clinic in Louisville.

Bevin has argued that requirements for clinics to keep so-called transfer and transport agreements, stipulated under a 1998 law, were meant to protect women should complications arise during abortion procedures.

But plaintiffs countered that hospitals were already legally bound to accept any patient in an emergency and that local fire and rescue departments will transport patients without such agreements.

Christie Gillespie, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the governor had in effect turned what had been a routine licensing requirement into an obstacle by putting pressure on hospitals to deny transfer agreements with abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood said the state threatened in March of 2017 to revoke EMW’s license by citing alleged technical deficiencies in its transfer and transport agreements that had been approved a year earlier.

Following a three-day trial last September, the judge ruled that the law and its requirements violated the plaintiffs’ substantive due process rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The opinion was accompanied by a permanent injunction barring enforcement of those restrictions.

Bevin has been trying to regulate the state's abortion clinics out of existence since the moment he took office by adding enough burdensome regulations that the clinics physically could not meet them until they all were forced to shut down.  We've been reduced to just the Louisville clinic for almost two years now.  Bevin would be a national hero to the forced birth movement if he was able to pull it off, but no court has sided with eliminating the last clinic in the state so far.

Of course, with Judge Kavanaugh likely still being confirmed next week, the lifespan of Kentucky's last clinic, and in fact any red state clinics at all, are measurable in years, maybe even months.

America's journey to becoming the Republic of Gilead continues.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Last Call For Iran It Into The Ground

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has evacuated diplomats from the U.S. consulate in Basra after what he called “increasing and specific threats and incitement to attack” U.S. personnel in Iraq emanating from Iran.

Basra has been the scene of violent protests this month, including rocket attacks on the consulate that occurred as recently as today. While the Basra consulate is shuttered, a statement from Pompeo indicated that the risk to U.S. diplomats exists in Baghdad as well, where he said forces loyal to Iran had launched indirect fire attacks.

He said any harm to U.S. personnel will lead to Iran being held “directly responsible,” and conveyed that message through the Iraqi government, over which Iranian influence is growing. Iran’s escalating threats in Iraq cap a week that has seen the Trump administration launch a diplomatic broadside against Tehran in the United Nations and insist that 2,000 U.S. troops will remain in Syria until Iran withdraws its own.

A blanket preliminary blaming of Iran for anything that happens to US personnel in Iraq, 40 days out from midterm elections, is a recipe for making the Kavanaugh debacle and the Mueller probe vanish off the front page for weeks.

This definitely feels like a "Wag the Dog" scenario, coming just hours after Israel once again accused Iran of having a secret WMD stockpile.

Clandestine nuclear dumping. Concealing atomic material near a rug-cleaning plant. Lying to international partners.

Accusing Iran of all of the above, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu fired a new salvo Thursday in his campaign to prove that Tehran can’t be trusted and poses a massive threat to international security.

In response, Iran shrugged.

Netanyahu’s presentation at the U.N. General Assembly — brandishing props and exhibiting his trademark showmanship — marked the latest in a run of revelations or accusations about Iran’s nuclear program, as he ratchets up his campaign against the 2015 global accord that’s meant to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

He challenged U.N. nuclear inspectors to examine a new “secret atomic warehouse” near Tehran — but it’s unclear whether the announcement sheds new light on what inspectors already knew, or proves that Iran is violating the 2015 deal.

The warehouse announcement showcased Netanyahu’s unyielding views on Iran and anger at Europeans he accuses of appeasing Israel’s enemies.

Showing a map and photo of the site on oversize boards, he said Iran concealed “massive amounts of equipment and material” in a facility near a rug-cleaning plant in the Turquzabad district. He said Iranian officials cleared out some radioactive material in recent weeks and secretly released it around Tehran.

“You have to ask yourself a question: Why did Iran keep a secret atomic archive and a secret atomic warehouse?” he asked. “What Iran hides, Israel will find.”

Both Trump and Netanyahu are in deep political trouble, both of them mired in scandal that could lead to impeachment.  Both of them now pushing a need for potentially immediate military action against Tehran.

This is raising all sorts of alarm bells taken together.  Pretending that Trump would never try this is insane.  Democrats need to be raising holy hell over this now that our intelligence services are suddenly believable again to the Trump regime.

Stay tuned.  Things just got very, very serious.

Supreme Misgivings, Con't

So as expected, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-10 along party lines to advance Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, to a full Senate vote.  Those are the facts.  That's not the news.  The news is Sen. Jeff Flake absolutely living up to his name.

Sen. Jeff Flake said he will vote to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court with the understanding that the sexual assault accusation against him will be investigated by the FBI.

“I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week in order to let the FBI do an investigation limited in time and scope,” Flake said on Friday afternoon, just hours after announcing he would support Kavanaugh.

Of course, that means Mitch McConnell has to delay the vote, and Donald Trump has to get the FBI to open the investigation, neither of which happened nor will happen.

But something might have happened, and that something is Donald Trump may have reached his limit.

Now, the most likely outcome is that Mitch knows he has 50 votes without Flake and wrenches enough arms out of sockets to get his procedural vote tomorrow and full vote on Monday.

But just maybe that's not how this plays out.  Maybe Mitch doesn't have the 50 votes without Flake.  Maybe he does with Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp defecting from the Democrats, and he can let Flake, Collins, and Murkowski go.

Maybe this isn't over yet.

We'll see tomorrow.

Climate Of Destruction

The Trump regime is more than happy to let the rich strip-mine the country for every last dollar of profit and let the poors kill each other over food and water while they stay in gated enclaves protected by armies of police with military surplus weapons, you see.  They no longer deny climate change will be a global catastrophe.  They just don't give a damn anymore, and never did.

Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.

A rise of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 4 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.

But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.

The draft statement, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was written to justify President Trump’s decision to freeze federal fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020. While the proposal would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the impact statement says, that policy would add just a very small drop to a very big, hot bucket.

“The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society,” said Michael MacCracken, who served as a senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002. “And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it.”

The document projects that global temperature would rise by nearly 3.5 degrees Celsius from what it averaged between 1986 and 2005 regardless of whether Obama-era tailpipe standards take effect or are frozen for six years, as the Trump administration has proposed. The global average temperature rose more than 0.5 degrees Celsius between 1880, the start of industrialization, and 1986, which means the analysis assumes a roughly 4 degree Celsius or 7 degree Fahrenheit rise from preindustrial levels.

The world would have to make deep carbon cuts to avoid the kind of drastic warming envisioned in this 2100 scenario, the analysis states, which “would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

The regime has declared that the problem of climate change is real, but it is too costly to fix, so America will no longer try to do so.

One has to wonder that since we apparently just declared war on the rest of the planet's population, how long the earth's other 7.5 billion people will choose to tolerate that situation.

My guess is not much longer.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

What happens when increasingly unprotected and already vulnerable US voting systemss meet Putin's latest spyware weapon?  A recipe for a blue wave that vanishes before it's ever recorded.

Russia’s GRU has secretly developed and deployed new malware that’s virtually impossible to eradicate, capable of surviving a complete wipe of a target computer’s hard drive, and allows the Kremlin’s hackers to return again and again.

The malware, uncovered by the European security company ESET, works by rewriting the code flashed into a computer’s UEFI chip, a small slab of silicon on the motherboard that controls the boot and reboot process. Its apparent purpose is to maintain access to a high-value target in the event the operating system gets reinstalled or the hard drive replaced—changes that would normally kick out an intruder.

It’s proof that the hackers known as Fancy Bear “may be even more dangerous than previously thought,” company researchers wrote in a blog post. They’re set to present a paper on the malware at the Blue Hat security conference Thursday.

U.S. intelligence agencies have identified Fancy Bear as two units within Russia’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU, and last July Robert Mueller indicted 12 GRU officers for Fancy Bear’s U.S. election interference hacking.

The advanced malware shows the Kremlin’s continued investment in the hacking operation that staged some of the era’s most notorious intrusions, including the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack. The GRU’s hackers have been active for at least 12 years, breaching NATO, Obama’s White House, a French television station, the World Anti-Doping Agency, countless NGOs, and military and civilian agencies in Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Last year, they targeted targeted Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who’s facing a hotly contested 2018 re-election race.

“There’s been no deterrence to Russian hacking,” said former FBI counterterrorism agent Clint Watts, a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “And as long as there’s no deterrence, they’re not going to stop, and they’re going to get more and more sophisticated.”

As sophisticated as it is, Russia’s new malware works only on PCs with security weaknesses in the existing UEFI configuration. It also isn’t the first code to hide in the UEFI chip. Security researchers have demonstrated the vulnerability with proof-of-concept code in the past, and a 2015 leak showed that commercial spyware manufacturer Hacking Team offered UEFI persistence as an option in one of their products. There’s even evidence that Fancy Bear borrowed snippets of Hacking Team’s code, ESET said.

Malware that invades the motherboard and is impossible to get rid of?  Sounds like the perfect weapon to wreck America on, say, an important election.

Not saying it's going to happen of course, but then again, there's no reason to believe that the Trump regime is going to do anything should Russia decide to make a move using this little surprise, either...

Supreme Misgivings, Con't

The Senate confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh today were a complete and utter disaster for the GOP in every conceivable way.

“It looks like she’s crying,” Hilda Darkins said, as several retirees around her dabbed their own eyes. “Who can blame her?”

At the Mid-County Senior Center in Lake Worth, Fla., two dozen people sat around circular tables, facing the television. They watched Christine Blasey Ford, who was watching in silence as Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) read lengthy opening statements.

Then Ford herself began to speak.

“She looks scared, and she looks nervous. But I think she’s telling the truth,” said Myrtle Facey, 78, a retired cashier. “She may have waited a long time to talk about it, but this is something that will never leave you, no matter what happens. You always remember it. You may not think of it every day, but it will always be with you, just like learning the ABCs. You never forget.”

On Thursday morning, Ford’s testimony — about an alleged sexual assault in the early 1980s by Brett M. Kavanaugh, now a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court — transfixed Americans in coffee shops, subway cars and Capitol hallways. It was a moment with tremendous political stakes: Kavanaugh’s nomination itself seemed in doubt, and with it a firmer conservative majority on the nation’s highest court.

Dr. Ford gave a heartfelt, emotional testimony and it destroyed any doubt that she was assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh some 30 years ago. It became a national event of importance.

The power of the moment — the reason that people cried in airplane seats and called into C-SPAN to tell their own stories of sexual assault — was in seeing Ford tell a story of private pain before a massive public audience.

It was to see her speak, without knowing yet who would believe her.

“16A: Crying. 14B: Crying. 17C: Weeping,” Ron Lieber, a New York Times columnist, wrote on Twitter from a flight headed from New York to Salt Lake City, listing the reactions as passengers watched the hearing on seat-back televisions. “I am one of the criers.”

As the hearings began, some of the busiest places in the country fell quiet. At the New York Stock Exchange, Brad Smith — an anchor for the news site Cheddar — said normally frenetic traders were all watching the TVs. Phones rang in the background, unanswered.

In the Capitol building itself, the halls were quiet, as senators not on the Senate Judiciary Committee bunkered in their offices to watch TV.

At the Department of Housing and Urban Development, so many employees watched the hearings on their computers that the I.T. department warned they would overwhelm the network.

In one therapist’s office in Washington, two women sat in the waiting room, listening to the hearing on tiny cellphone speakers. One reached for the other’s hand.

And then later this afternoon, America met the real Brett Kavanaugh, and the real Senate GOP.

After riveting testimony from Dr. Blasey, Judge Kavanaugh took his turn before the Senate Judiciary Committee to proclaim his innocence — and outrage.

He opened the second half of the high-stakes hearing with a scorched-earth defense, denying he had ever sexually assaulted someone and denouncing a “frenzy” bent on destroying his nomination.

This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he said in an opening statement that he said he wrote himself on Wednesday. “The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced ‘advice and consent’ with ‘search and destroy.’”

He condemned Democrats who he said had searched for reasons to sink him weeks before, only to turn to dark accusations. He pointed back at deep-seated liberal grudges, going back to the presidency of Bill Clinton and the victory of Mr. Trump as evidence of the animus. And he warned of dire consequences for the federal judiciary in decades ahead if nominees face a path like his.

And when he recounted his daughters praying last night for Dr. Blasey, he broke down in tears.

“My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional allegations,” he told the committee. But he vowed never to withdraw.

You may defeat me in the final vote, but you will never get me to quit,” he said. “Never.”

Dr. Ford was filled with fear and trepadation as she laid herself bare before America.  Judge Kavanaugh was incandescently incensed that he had be inconvenienced by this mere woman on the way to his Supreme Court appointment for life.

The Judiciary Committee will vote tomorrow on Kavanaugh's confirmation, the entire Senate on Saturday, and nothing makes me think that Brett Kavanaugh won't be sworn in by Monday to start destroying 80 years of classic liberalism, civil rights, and equality.

But America won't soon forget this hearing, this day.

And they will speak in November at the ballot box.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Yesterday I talked about how Republicans were cutting campaign funds to seats they had given up on as indefensible as America gets closer to midterm elections in less than six weeks. Now, Republicans have a bigger problem as they are finding out that there's basically no such thing as a safe House district anymore as more and more GOP-held seats that were out of the picture as recently as last month are now completely in play, and Republicans are scrambling to defend them.

Internal Democratic polling conducted in August and September revealed the party's candidate leading or trailing by small margins in a dozen seats on the outer edges of the battlefield. And outside money is already starting to flow beyond the 50 or so districts that initially drew major TV ad reservations.

The GOP's top House super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, funneled nearly $3 million into a few sleeper races that had previously received little national attention. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee booked more than $100,000 of airtime in Republican Rep. Mike Kelly’s northwestern Pennsylvania district, which President Trump carried by 20 points.

“For Republicans, this is a game of Whac-A-Mole,” said John Lapp, a Democratic strategist who served as the DCCC’s executive director in 2006. “With a battleground map this big, they simply can’t be everywhere. There are competitive races in blue, purple, and ruby-red districts popping up every day.“

The CLF launched ad buys last week in seats held by Reps. George Holding of North Carolina, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Rodney Davis of Illinois, where private Democratic polling has found tight contests.

Two or more internal Democratic surveys conducted in the past two months found single-digit races in seats held by Republican Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Rob Woodall of Georgia, Vern Buchanan of Florida, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Ann Wagner of Missouri, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, and John Carter of Texas, and in Florida's open 15th District.

And multiple Democratic polls have found a single-digit race in Montana, where former state Rep. Kathleen Williams is challenging Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte.

Several of these seats are in costly media markets, which can complicate the ability of outside groups from either side to make a serious investment. But nearly all are districts Trump carried by margins ranging from 5 points to 13 points, and the polling is a sign of increasingly unfavorable atmospherics for Republicans after a turbulent summer.

"Almost nobody should assume that they’re cruising," Republican pollster Glen Bolger said. "If the president won by 10 points or less, it's a competitive race."

Most federal election years there's maybe 20 competitive House races.  Even with all 435 House seats up for grab every two years, most elections see maybe 5% of those seats ever in any danger of changing hands, and maybe half that as truly competitive, counting both parties.

2018 is massively different.  Republicans face defending more than 70 seats, that's nearly a third of their caucus, and 50-60 of those seats are legitimately in play, with 25 or so true tossups.

Now we're seeing 8 more seats shift from in play to competitive.

Cook Political Report's House ratings find a similar shift.  Democrats have 4 open seats to defend that are competitive and 9 more that are in play (a normal election cycle total) but Republicans now have 68 seats that are competitive and have to defend another 25 on top of that.

The losses for the GOP could be catastrophic, on the level of 2010 for the Democrats, just from the number of seats in play.  Yes, Dems could gain 60 seats.  It's that bad for the GOP right now.

It's only going to get worse if we provide the finishing blow.


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

A sobering warning from Natasha Betrand in The Atlantic that there's a definite reason why Donald Trump wants Brett Kavanaugh confirmed on the Supreme Court as the new term begins October 1: he would almost certainly be the deciding vote in an upcoming SCOTUS 5-4 case decision that could give Trump pardon power over state crimes as well as federal ones.

A key Republican senator has quietly weighed in on an upcoming Supreme Court case that could have important consequences for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The Utah lawmaker Orrin Hatch, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, filed a 44-page amicus brief earlier this month in Gamble v. United States, a case that will consider whether the dual-sovereignty doctrine should be put to rest. The 150-year-old exception to the Fifth Amendment’s double-jeopardy clause allows state and federal courts to prosecute the same person for the same criminal offense. According to the brief he filed on September 11, Hatch believes the doctrine should be overturned. “The extensive federalization of criminal law has rendered ineffective the federalist underpinnings of the dual sovereignty doctrine,” his brief reads. “And its persistence impairs full realization of the Double Jeopardy Clause’s liberty protections.”

Within the context of the Mueller probe, legal observers have seen the dual-sovereignty doctrine as a check on President Donald Trump’s power: It could discourage him from trying to shut down the Mueller investigation or pardon anyone caught up in the probe, because the pardon wouldn’t be applied to state charges. Under settled law, if Trump were to pardon his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, for example—he was convicted last month in federal court on eight counts of tax and bank fraud—both New York and Virginia state prosecutors could still charge him for any crimes that violated their respective laws. (Both states have a double-jeopardy law that bars secondary state prosecutions for committing “the same act,” but there are important exceptions, as the Fordham University School of Law professor Jed Shugerman has noted.) If the dual-sovereignty doctrine were tossed, as Hatch wants, then Trump’s pardon could theoretically protect Manafort from state action.

If Trump were to shut down the investigation or pardon his associates, “the escape hatch, then, is for cases to be farmed out or picked up by state-level attorneys general, who cannot be shut down by Trump and who generally—but with some existing limits—can charge state crimes even after a federal pardon,” explained Elie Honig, a former assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey. “If Hatch gets his way, however, a federal pardon would essentially block a subsequent state-level prosecution.”

A spokesman for the senator denied that his brief was inspired by the Mueller investigation, noting that Hatch has “worked for years to address the problem of overcriminalization in our federal code” and wants the Court “to reconsider the rationale” for the doctrine “in light of the rapid expansion of both the scope and substance of modern federal criminal law.”

But while Hatch has earned his bona fides in the arena of criminal-justice reform, the timing of his filing is nevertheless significant. For months, the Gamble case has been analyzed through the lens of the Mueller investigation, and Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to replace the retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, could be on the bench by the time the Court reconvenes this fall. The justices decided to hear the case one day after Kennedy announced his retirement.

In other words, this case was hand-selected to send to the Supreme Court, and Kennedy's retirement the last obstacle Trump needed gone in order to install the SCOTUS vote that would assure his federal pardons would mean that state charges could not be brought on the same crimes.

Trump could then pardon everyone involved, including himself, and then be insulated from state charges.  All of it would go away, investigation, charges, or not.

This is what Kavanaugh has to be on the court to do.  This was the plan all along.  Mueller may lower the boom on Trump, but the means are in place for him to escape completely from any sort of justice, along with all his co-conspirators.

A Republic, if you can keep it...

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Across the river in Ohio, things are looking a lot better for Democrats then they were two years ago when Trump won the state by 8 points, as Dem Sen. Sherrod Brown looks to be on the path to easy reelection and in better news, Dem Richard Cordray has tied up the Governor's race with Mike DeWine.

"Two years have made a big difference in the outlook of Ohio voters," Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.

"Donald Trump won the state by more than eight points. But, now, a majority want more Democrats in Congress as a check on his agenda."

Both Cordray and DeWine get support from 47 percent of likely voters; six percent say they're undecided.

Among registered voters, it's the same tie at 47 percent each. That's a tightening from NBC/Marist's last poll in June, which showed DeWine up with registered voters, 46 percent to 42 percent.

When candidates from the Green Party and Libertarian Party added to ballot, Cordray and DeWine both pull 44 percent.

The two gubernatorial hopefuls have similar favorability ratings among likely voters, with Cordray having lower negatives. Forty-four percent of likely voters view him favorably, compared to 28 percent who view him unfavorably (+16) .For Dewine, he's viewed favorably by 47 percent of likely voters and negatively by 36 percent (+11). Twenty-eight percent of likely voters aren't sure how to rate Cordray, while 17 percent are unsure about DeWine.

In the Senate race, Brown holds a 13-point lead over Renacci among both likely and registered voters, 52 percent to 39 percent, unchanged from June's NBC/Marist poll.

Brown's lead comes thanks to a 29-point advantage with likely independent voters and a 49-point lead among likely moderates. Renacci trails with every demographic breakdown — income bracket, education level, race, and age group — except for his 4-point advantage with likely male voters. Brown holds a 29-point lead with likely female voters.

These results sit against the backdrop of relatively stable approval numbers for Trump among all Ohio adults. Forty-three percent approve of Trump's job as president, compared to 49 percent who disapprove. In June, 40 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved of his job performance.

What a difference two years of Trump makes.  In early 2017, Brown was considered among the most vulnerable Democrats in the midterms, and Mike DeWine was considered a shoo-in to continue John Kasich's GOP policies.

Now Brown has a double-digit lead, and Cordray has tied the race up with six weeks to go. Suddenly, Trump isn't so hot in a state getting pummeled by tariffs on farmers and automotive parts makers.

And in the House, Republicans are already starting to pull the plug on losing campaigns in order to try to save the competitive races they can.

Republicans are performing critical triage to their midterm spending strategy as they seek to hold on to their House majority in a difficult midterm year.

The House GOP’s campaign arm pulled the plug on its remaining ad buys last week for the Pittsburgh media market, where Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.) is desperately fighting to hang on to his seat in a race against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.).

It’s grim news for Rothfus, who has largely been seen as a dead man walking since redistricting left him with a Democratic-leaning district and a difficult opponent in Lamb.

For the GOP, it’s likely a sign of things to come as the party seeks to target its money toward the races most likely to save its majority. Democrats need 23 seats to take back control of the House, and the GOP is defending dozens of seats that are seen as vulnerable.

“It’s a giant chessboard,” said one longtime GOP operative. “There’s obviously limited resources, and you need to make tough decisions. This is sort of an art form as opposed to a science.”

It's a giant chessboard, but with Trump tied around their necks, the game is now sink or swim, and they're drowning.

The Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

The Village media is desperately trying to redeem themselves after Monday's Rod Rosenstein "is he fired or isn't he" fiasco, and frankly they're not doing a very good job of it if this is the best they can do.

Rod J. Rosenstein’s departure seemed so certain this week that his boss’s chief of staff told colleagues that he had been tapped by the White House to take over as second-in-command of the Justice Department, while another official would supervise the special counsel probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, people familiar with the matter said.

But by Monday afternoon, the succession plan had been scrapped. Rosenstein, who told the White House he was willing to quit if President Trump wouldn’t disparage him, would remain the deputy attorney general in advance of a high-stakes meeting on Thursday to discuss the future of his employment. The other officials, too, would go back to work, facing the prospect that in just days they could be leading the department through a historic crisis.

Inside the Justice Department on Tuesday, officials still struggled to understand the events that nearly produced a seismic upheaval in their leadership ranks — until it didn’t — and they braced for a potential repeat of that chaos later in the week.

Some officials said that Matt Whitaker, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff, had told people he would be taking over for Rosenstein — an indication that the deputy attorney general’s departure was all but certain — and were surprised when it was announced that Rosenstein would remain in his job. Sessions began telling people on Sunday that Rosenstein might be in trouble, according to people familiar with the matter. Others said they learned all the developments from news reports that evolved throughout the day.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

While it remained possible that Rosenstein could still resign or be fired imminently, people inside and outside the department said it seemed increasingly more likely that Rosenstein would stay in the job until after November’s elections and then depart, probably along with the attorney general. Two White House officials said Tuesday that Trump is unlikely to fire Rosenstein until after the midterms.

Forcing out the deputy attorney general in the next month could motivate Trump’s detractors to turn out for elections in which dozens of congressional seats are in play and Republicans are fearful they are at risk of losing control of the House. And those who have observed Trump and Rosenstein together or have been told of their interactions said the president seemed to hold Rosenstein in somewhat higher regard than he did Sessions.

“For all of the president’s bluster, I’m not sure he doesn’t have at least some grudging respect for Rod,” said James M. Trusty, a friend of Rosenstein and former Justice Department official who works in private practice at Ifrah Law.

 Breaking all this down,this is where the Washington Post is on Rosenstein:

1) We're just telling you what our sources told us, so it's not our fault if they burned us.

2) We're still carrying water for them because we need access to the White House.

3) Somebody talked Trump out of firing Rosenstein at the last minute, but we're not telling you who.

4) We don't know when Rosenstein is going to be fired, or who will replace him overseeing the Mueller investigation.

5) He's probably going to survive until after the election, but then all bets are off.

We'll see what happens on Thursday, but Rosenstein's days seem as numbered as Jeff Sessions's are, and that doesn't bode well for the Mueller investigation to ever be allowed to be completed.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Trump Cards, Con't

The Trump White House is clearly losing on both the Brett Kavanaugh and Rod Rosenstein fronts, because they're about to pick yet another culture war fight in order to "rally the base".

Federal health officials canceled an FDA contract for human fetal tissue research Monday night and announced a review of all such research projects.

The announcement, citing “serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations,” revives a political issue that last flared in 2015 and led to congressional hearings. That fight came over anti-abortion political activists who covertly videotaped Planned Parenthood doctors and employees of Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR), a cell tissue firm based in Alameda, California, that provides such cells to researchers.

The canceled contract would have paid $15,900 to ABR for human tissue that would make a laboratory mouse’s immune system more similar to a human’s. (ABR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

“Mice with human immune systems are incredibly valuable for research of terrible diseases, and there really is no alternative,” Lawrence Goldstein of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine told BuzzFeed News. Such cells have figured prominently in the development of vaccines against diseases such as rubella, rabies, polio, measles, chickenpox, and shingles.

The bottom line is that such cells would be otherwise discarded, he noted, and bioethics reviews going back to the Reagan administration have approved of their use to benefit human health.
The move to audit fetal tissue research was applauded, however, by David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion activist who ran the covert videotaping project.

“HHS’s newly-announced review of fetal tissue procurement and experimentation must be exacting, and it must terminate all other agreements for baby body parts,” he said in a statement.

That this is happening six week before midterm elections is not an accident in the least.  Neither is the fact this is happening to distract from how badly the Kavanaugh nomination fight is going, or from the Rosenstein firing trial balloon.

Still the results will almost certainly be decades of research lost, because DEAD BABY PARTS FACTORIES or something stupid, because this is America now.

Trump Trades Blows, Con't

The "October Surprise" for midterm voters may already be here: Trump's 10% tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports that went into effect this week means higher prices are already starting to hit voters at the register.

The latest impact will begin to hit Monday as new 10 percent tariffs Trump slapped on over $200 billion in imports from China are scheduled to go into effect. That tariff rate is set to rise to 25 percent on Jan. 1 if the Chinese don’t capitulate to White House demands. Trump has also threatened to bump the total up to more than $500 billion in imports, which would hit nearly every product China exported to the U.S. last year.

Economists expect that to translate into higher prices for consumers across the country and special pain for low- to middle-income voters who make up much of Trump’s base — and are least able to absorb increased costs for consumer goods such as air conditioners, clothing and furniture. Republicans are counting on getting Trump supporters to the polls in November to hold off projected Democratic gains in the House and potentially the Senate. Forcing consumers to pay higher prices could make that harder.

“If you are kind of in the middle- or lower-income groups, you are buying a lot of what economists call tradable goods and you’ll be hit a lot harder,” said Kyle Handley, assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “This is basically the Trump voter who is going to see the biggest hit to their total spending.”

Evidence is piling up that consumers and businesses are growing increasingly nervous about Trump’s trade policy.

Consumer sentiment measured by the University of Michigan dropped last month to its lowest point in nearly a year, with the decline centered in lower-income households most sensitive to higher prices. The sentiment index ticked up again in preliminary results for September. But nearly a third of those surveyed cited concern over tariffs when assessing the economy. 
A survey of chief financial officers unveiled last week by Deloitte found that 42 percent said business conditions would improve next year, the lowest in two years, with executives “overwhelmingly worried” about trade policy and tariffs.

Walmart recently warned it will need to raise prices on a huge swath of products imported from China. Other large consumer-product companies including Procter & Gamble, Nestle and Coca-Cola announced price increases over the summer, partly because of tariffs, and warned of more to come.

The only two things thing Republicans really have going for them are Trump's Supreme Court picks, and the fact they've not managed to completely crash the Obama economy yet.   Both of those are in serious jeopardy before midterm elections, it seems.

Throw in rising oil prices from Iranian sanctions and I think voters are going to start changing their mind about the GOP very, very quickly. And let's not forget that these corporations with "no choice" but to pass tariff price hikes on to consumers are banking record profits right now thanks to the trillions in Trump tax cuts they are getting.  They could afford to swallow these price increases if they wanted to.  They won't, because profit is all that matters.

Maybe even quickly enough to affect voting in November.


Monday, September 24, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer examines the case that Russian interference in the 2016 elections not only helped Donald Trump, but helped him in a decisive manner, as laid out in a new book out this week called Cyberwar.

Politicians may be too timid to explore the subject, but a new book from, of all places, Oxford University Press promises to be incendiary. “Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President—What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know,” by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, dares to ask—and even attempts to answer—whether Russian meddling had a decisive impact in 2016. Jamieson offers a forensic analysis of the available evidence and concludes that Russia very likely delivered Trump’s victory.

The book, which is coming out less than two months before the midterm elections, at a moment when polls suggest that some sixty per cent of voters disapprove of Trump, may well reignite the question of Trump’s electoral legitimacy. The President’s supporters will likely characterize the study as an act of partisan warfare. But in person Jamieson, who wears her gray hair in a pixie cut and favors silk scarves and matronly tweeds, looks more likely to suspend a troublemaker than to be one. She is seventy-one, and has spent forty years studying political speeches, ads, and debates. Since 1993, she has directed the Annenberg Public Policy Center, at Penn, and in 2003 she co-founded, a nonpartisan watchdog group. She is widely respected by political experts in both parties, though her predominantly male peers have occasionally mocked her scholarly intensity, calling her the Drill Sergeant. As Steven Livingston, a professor of political communication at George Washington University, puts it, “She is the epitome of a humorless, no-nonsense social scientist driven by the numbers. She doesn’t bullshit. She calls it straight.”

Indeed, when I met recently with Jamieson, in a book-lined conference room at the Annenberg Center, in Philadelphia, and asked her point-blank if she thought that Trump would be President without the aid of Russians, she didn’t equivocate. “No,” she said, her face unsmiling. Clearly cognizant of the gravity of her statement, she clarified, “If everything else is a constant? No, I do not.”

Jamieson said that, as an academic, she hoped that the public would challenge her arguments. Yet she expressed confidence that unbiased readers would accept her conclusion that it is not just plausible that Russia changed the outcome of the 2016 election—it is “likely that it did.”

An airtight case, she acknowledges, may never be possible. In the introduction to her new book, she writes that any case for influence will likely be similar to that in a civil legal trial, “in which the verdict is rendered not with the certainty that e=mc2 but rather based on the preponderance of evidence.” But, she points out, “we do make most of life’s decisions based on less-than-rock-solid, incontrovertible evidence.” In Philadelphia, she noted to me that “we convict people on probabilities rather than absolute certainty, and we’ve executed people based on inferences from available evidence.” She argued that “the standard of proof being demanded” by people claiming it’s impossible to know whether Russia delivered the White House to Trump is “substantially higher than the standard of proof we ordinarily use in our lives.”

Her case is based on a growing body of knowledge about the electronic warfare waged by Russian trolls and hackers—whom she terms “discourse saboteurs”—and on five decades’ worth of academic studies about what kinds of persuasion can influence voters, and under what circumstances. Democracies around the world, she told me, have begun to realize that subverting an election doesn’t require tampering with voting machines. Extensive studies of past campaigns, Jamieson said, have demonstrated that “you can affect people, who then change their decision, and that alters the outcome.” She continued, “I’m not arguing that Russians pulled the voting levers. I’m arguing that they persuaded enough people to either vote a certain way or not vote at all.”

The effect of such manipulations could be momentous in an election as close as the 2016 race, in which Clinton got nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump, and Trump won the Electoral College only because some eighty thousand votes went his way in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In two hundred and twenty-four pages of extremely dry prose, with four appendixes of charts and graphs and fifty-four pages of footnotes, Jamieson makes a strong case that, in 2016, “Russian masterminds” pulled off a technological and political coup. Moreover, she concludes, the American media “inadvertently helped them achieve their goals.”

Jamieson stops short of saying Trump was elected illegitimately, but does posit that without the Russian social media blitz and the American media that amplified the messages of chaos and doubt, Trump would have come up short in the electoral college.  80,000 votes out of 130 million is six-tenths of one percent, and yet that influence was decisive in those three states.

But the conclusion is clear: Without Russia, Donald Trump would have lost.  What we as Americans choose to do with that information in the months and years ahead is up to us.

That Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

As I mentioned on Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the DoJ official overseeing the Mueller investigation, was targeted with an NYT hit piece late last week with the intent of cover for his firing.

Understand that this story was leaked to set up Rosenstein as the "Deep State" mastermind behind the "coup" against Trump, with the time period of course suggesting that the Mueller probe was part of Rosenstein's "plot".  They are not trying to just undermine the Mueller probe, they are trying to end it.

Today, the Trump regime tried to "stealth fire" Rosenstein with an Axios story.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has verbally “offered to resign” in discussions with White House Chief of Staff Kelly, according to a source close to Rosenstein, but as of now, it’s unclear whether his resignation has been accepted. The source said it’s possible nothing happens today.

Background: Rosenstein talked last year about invoking the 25th Amendment and wearing a wire during Trump meetings, the N.Y. Times' Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt reported last week. He denied both allegations.

Clarification: This article and headline have been updated to add that it's unclear whether the resignation offer has been accepted.

But apparently nothing did happen today other than Rosenstein going to the White House for a previously scheduled National Security Council meeting to fill in for Jeff Sessions while Donald Trump and several cabinet members are in New York for three days for UN meetings.  Bloomberg fell for the Axios story, as did all the other major news outlets.  Now, it's a Thursday meeting between Trump and Rosenstein once Trump gets back from New York.

The one person who didn't get fooled in the press?  NBC Justice correspondent Pete Williams.

So once again, it seems like the Trump regime had a plan to fire Rosenstein today by Village executioner, only Rosenstein called their bluff.  Why?  Because it matters whether Rosenstein is fired, or if he resigns instead.

If Rosenstein were to depart, it was also unclear whether he would be fired, or he would resign. In Rosenstein's case, this could make a big difference as to whom Trump can select to replace him as deputy attorney general.

The question of who would oversee the Russia probe is slightly different, however, because Rosenstein has been effectively wearing two hats since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself last year from any role overseeing Robert Mueller's investigation. One hat is that of deputy attorney general. The other is that of acting attorney general for the Russia probe, because Rosenstein was acting as a stand-in for Sessions.

Any replacement of Rosenstein by Trump, therefore, would be a replacement of his deputy attorney general position, not a replacement of the other role, acting attorney general for the Russia probe. That responsibility would go to Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and experts agree that the law gives Trump little control over that aspect of the succession.

Still, the question of how much control Trump would have in who replaces Rosenstein could have far-reaching implications. A Rosenstein replacement could take steps to protect the president from investigation, to seal records, withhold funding from Mueller, and otherwise slow the work of the special counsel to a crawl.

And if Trump appoints yes-man Brian Benczkowski as I have surmised for some time now, the plan is to kill the Mueller probe through neglect while Noel Francisco bravely provides the cover of "objectivity".

It's still entirely possible that Rosenstein is fired on Thursday.  We'll see.  But this really, honestly looks like a poorly attempted distraction from the Kavanaugh nomination going down in flames, and our Media Betters bought it hook, line, and stinker.

Meanwhile, let's not forget what the real goal is here.

“If in fact Rod Rosenstein does end up resigning today,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said on his radio show Monday, “I think it clearly becomes necessary and appropriate, for whoever the person who is put in charge of this … I think it’s really important that there be a step back taken here, and a review, a review that has to be thorough and complete.”

He called for a”time out” on the inquiry, and said that the person who takes over oversight of Mueller’s inquiry needs to look at “all of these allegations that are both surrounding this inquiry and that initiated this inquiry,” including the Trump-Russia dossier that was compiled by an ex-British spy, as well as the appointment of Mueller.

The question isn't if Trump ends to Mueller probe, but how ham-fisted it will be when he does.
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