Sunday, November 11, 2018

Last Call For Red Light, Green Light In Riyadh

Donald Trump's destabilization of the Middle East, specifically his allowance of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to run rampant and seize power over the last two years, is diplomatic damage that will reverberate for decades.

Top Saudi intelligence officials close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asked a small group of businessmen last year about using private companies to assassinate Iranian enemies of the kingdom, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

The Saudis inquired at a time when Prince Mohammed, then the deputy crown prince and defense minister, was consolidating power and directing his advisers to escalate military and intelligence operations outside the kingdom. Their discussions, more than a year before the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, indicate that top Saudi officials have considered assassinations since the beginning of Prince Mohammed’s ascent.

Saudi officials have portrayed Mr. Khashoggi’s death as a rogue killing ordered by an official who has since been fired. But that official, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, was present for a meeting in March 2017 in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where the businessmen pitched a $2 billion plan to use private intelligence operatives to try to sabotage the Iranian economy.

Ahh, but let's not forget that all this is part of a larger scheme.

During the discussion, part of a series of meetings where the men tried to win Saudi funding for their plan, General Assiri’s top aides inquired about killing Qassim Suleimani, the leader of the Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and a man considered a determined enemy of Saudi Arabia.

The interest in assassinations, covert operations and military campaigns like the war in Yemen — overseen by Prince Mohammed — is a change for the kingdom, which historically has avoided an adventurous foreign policy that could create instability and imperil Saudi Arabia’s comfortable position as one of the world’s largest oil suppliers.

As for the businessmen, who had intelligence backgrounds, they saw their Iran plan both as a lucrative source of income and a way to cripple a country that both they and the Saudis considered a profound threat. George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, arranged the meeting. He had met previously with Prince Mohammed, and had pitched the Iran plan to Trump White House officials. Another participant in the meetings was Joel Zamel, an Israeli with deep ties to his country’s intelligence and security agencies.

Both Mr. Nader and Mr. Zamel are witnesses in the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, and prosecutors have asked them about their discussions with American and Saudi officials about the Iran proposal
. It is unclear how this line of inquiry fits into Mr. Mueller’s broader inquiry. In 2016, a company owned by Mr. Zamel, Psy-Group, had pitched the Trump campaign on a social media manipulation plan.

A spokesman for the Saudi government declined to comment, as did lawyers for both Mr. Nader and Mr. Zamel.

We've known for months now that the Saudis and Emiratis are deeply involved in Jared Kushner and Erik Prince's little assassination for hire scheme, selling the services of Prince's mercenary connections along with access to Kushner's father-in-law Donald Trump, to the highest bidder.   We know Prince's US assets were used by the Saudis to help eliminate Khashoggi.  And we know Mueller is absolutely on to Prince and Kushner.

It's all connected.

If you want to know why Trump is panicking these days, it's not just Donald Junior who's in real trouble.

Down Goes Dana

California Moscow Republican Dana Rohrabacher is done, down 4% now with all the votes counted, but he's refusing to concede because that's the thing now.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who for decades represented wealthy, Republican-dominated portions of California's Orange County, lost his reelection bid to Democrat Harley Rouda Saturday night.

As votes continued to be counted following Tuesday's vote, Rouda's lead over Rohrabacher continued to grow. By Saturday night, the Democrat was leading the 15-term incumbent with 52% of the vote, compared to 48% for Rohrabacher — an advantage of about 8,500 voters, with all 395 precincts counted.
As of Saturday night, Rohrabacher had not yet officially conceded the race.

Rohrabacher first took office in 1989, campaigning off his experience working as a young speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. He cruised to victory for 14 more terms. Until recently, a Republican win in his district had been considered inevitable, given the region's long history as a conservative bastion in the deep blue state.

But much has changed in the 48th District, and for the first time, pollsters this year put down Rohrabacher's race as a toss-up. Analysts attributed the closeness of the race largely to Orange County’s shifting demographics, noting that more young and Latino voters were rallying around Democrats in what has long been considered a reliably Republican region of Southern California. At play were also Rohrabacher’s entanglements with Russia and his strident support for President Donald Trump — considered a mark against him in a district that narrowly went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Rouda, a real estate investor who once registered as a Republican, campaigned on the promise that he would take a less divisive and partisan approach to representing the district. It was a message that proved popular with some Republicans and independents in Orange County, who didn’t see their values reflected by Trump — and by extension, Rohrabacher.

Rohrabacher had felt confident going into Election Day, he told BuzzFeed News on Sunday. But he also forecast that he could blame a loss on Democratic meddling. "We know that … unless we win by a recognized margin that the Democratic Party steals elections,” Rohrabacher told BuzzFeed News. “If you’re, if it’s under 5%, we know that this election could be stolen from us."

It's pretty clear at this point that the Trump regime narrative shaping up for the rest of the year and into January is "Look at all the elections Democrats stole from you".  The GOP wipeouts in New York, New Jersey and especially California will be blamed on imaginary perfidy.

When Trump outright refuses subpoenas from House Democrats next year, he'll say that the committee chairs and Nancy Pelosi aren't legitimately in charge, and that the White House won't cooperate until new elections are held in those states, because of course the elections in states where Republicans kept their gerrymandered House delegations like Ohio and NC are perfectly fine despite winning two-thirds of House districts with 51% of the vote.

Trump will call House Democrats "illegitimate" for the next two years in preparation for 2020.


Sunday Long Read: Physicians, Heal Thyself

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Peter DeMarco of the Boston Globe, who recounts the story of the death of his wife Laura two years ago, who drove herself to the hospital as she suffered an asthma attack, and died in a Massachusetts hospital emergency room waiting for somebody, anybody, to help her.

Some 10 minutes passed between the time Laura called 911 and the time she was found, in cardiac arrest following a devastating asthma attack. Those 10 minutes meant her life.

We didn’t know at first how many of those minutes she’d gone without oxygen to her brain, so for most of the seven days Laura spent in the intensive care unit at CHA Cambridge Hospital, where she was transferred, there was a glimmer of hope. If Laura had been conscious after making the 911 call for even three or four minutes, she had a chance to pull through.

Her doctors told us we could only wait, because her brain was swelled, preventing a clear CT scan. Each day, they would lift her eyelids and shine a light straight into her pupils, looking for movement. There was a small flicker early on, but little more.

Laura Levis, the love of my life, my wife, died September 22, 2016. She was 34. Her death certificate says she died the day before, of hypoxic brain injury, but that was just when Dr. Duncan Kuhn brought Laura’s father, my father, and me into a private waiting room in the intensive care unit. In a gesture of humility, Kuhn sat on the floor, looking up at us as he told us Laura wasn’t coming back.

Laura was still on a respirator, still breathing, her hands and body still warm, her hair still soft. Her organ donor surgery couldn’t be scheduled until the next day, which is the day I consider to be her last on this earth. She died minutes after I let go of her hand in the third-floor hallway of that hospital, after a team of doctors wheeled her through a set of double doors into an operating room, cutting into her beautiful body so that others could have life and sight from her gifts, including her heart.

This part of our story, I have shared before. I wrote a letter thanking the doctors and nurses who tried to save Laura’s life that The New York Times decided to publish. “Every single one of you,” I wrote to the medical staff, “treated Laura with such professionalism, and kindness, and dignity as she lay unconscious.” The letter was featured on NBC Nightly News,shared across Facebook, and republished on websites across the world. Less than three weeks after Laura’s death, millions were touched by her life.

But that was not the whole story. Far from it.

As any husband would, I blamed myself for not being with her when the attack struck, for not being able to help my wife in that moment. I asked God, Why? Why? Why?

I knew that one day I would have to find the spot where she collapsed. That I would lie down on that spot, to be with her spirit, to comfort her because she must have been so, so scared.

I have since learned where that spot is. But it did not turn out to be on a street leading to Somerville Hospital, or some obscure location.

Laura made it to the doorstep of the emergency room that day, on her own two feet, just as she said in her dying words. She stared through a plate-glass window into the emergency room waiting area — she could see the red-and-white emergency room sign inside — but she could not get in. To her dismay, the door was locked.

Her attack intensifying, she called 911, telling the operator she was right there but could not get in.

Help was just a few feet away, on the other side of that door.

But, incredibly, that help never came.

This is the story of how my wife’s life was wasted by the actions of people whose job it is to save lives. It is the story of how our entire emergency-response system can completely fail us, from the moment we dial 911 and the satellite GPS “ping” of the cellphone can get our location wrong by hundreds of feet. It is the story of how cracks and flaws not just at Somerville Hospital, but throughout our health care system — communication errors, overburdened staffs, lack of fail-safes — can snowball into someone’s unimaginable death.

And it is the story of how there will be no justice through our legal system for what happened to Laura, as public hospitals in Massachusetts, and throughout most of America, are largely protected by state laws against malpractice and negligence claims, leaving thousands who rely on such institutions little recourse when harmed or lied to.

Even when a 34-year-old woman is left to die outside an emergency room, destroying the lives of the people who loved her.

Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong for Laura Lewis, and she died because of it.  If that sounds like a nightmare scenario for you, well, you're not alone.  It happens to thousands of people every year in this country, because emergency rooms are overloaded, because we make hospital ERs the primary care of tens of millions of Americans who literally can't get health care anywhere else.

Our health care system is broken, and one party wants it that way.

The Recount Account, Con't

Florida's Senate and Governor's races are both going to a state-mandated recount after the counts in Palm Beach and Broward counties narrowed the gaps to under .5% leads for Republican candidates.

The Florida secretary of state is ordering recounts in the U.S. Senate and governor races, an unprecedented review of two major races in the state that took five weeks to decide the 2000 presidential election.

Secretary Ken Detzner issued the order on Saturday after the unofficial results in both races fell within the margin that by law triggers a recount.

The unofficial results show that Republican former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis led Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by less than 0.5 percentage points, which will require a machine recount of ballots.

In the Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s lead over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is less than 0.25 percentage points, which will require a hand recount of ballots from tabulation machines that couldn’t determine which candidate got the vote.

The issue is Broward County.  It's home to Fort Lauderdale, north of Miami-Dade County, and home to two million people.  There's a major undervote issue there, and the recount will determine if people did try to vote for these offices or just left them blank because Broward County's ballot was six pages long this year.  Palm Beach County has 1.5 million, and has a similar issue.

The changing margin is due to continued vote-counting in Broward and Palm Beach counties, two of Florida’s largest and more Democratic-leaning counties. On Thursday evening, the supervisors of elections in the two counties told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that vote counting there was mostly complete. Under Florida law, counties have to report unofficial election results to the secretary of state by Saturday at noon, but Nelson’s campaign is suing to extend that deadline. Scott’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are also suing both counties for not disclosing more information about the ongoing count, and Scott called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Broward’s handling of ballots.

Unusually, the votes tabulated in Broward County so far exhibit a high rateof something called “undervoting,” or not voting in all the races on the ballot. Countywide, 26,060 fewer votes were cast in the U.S. Senate race than in the governor race.1 Put another way, turnout in the Senate race was 3.7 percent lower than in the gubernatorial race.
Broward County’s undervote rate is way out of line with every other county in Florida, which exhibited, at most, a 0.8-percent difference. (There is one outlier — the sparsely populated Liberty County — where votes cast in the Senate race were 1 percent higher than in the governor race, but there we’re talking about a difference of 26 votes, not more than 26,000, as is the case in Broward.)

To put in perspective what an eye-popping number of undervotes that is, more Broward County residents voted for the down-ballot constitutional offices of chief financial officer and state agriculture commissioner than U.S. Senate — an extremely high-profile election in which $181 million was spent. Generally, the higher the elected office, the less likely voters are to skip it on their ballots. Something sure does seem off in Broward County; we just don’t know what yet.

One possible reason for the discrepancy is poor ballot design. Broward County ballots listed the U.S. Senate race first, right after the ballot instructions. But that pushed the U.S. Senate race to the far bottom left of the ballot, where voters may have skimmed over it, while the governor’s race appears at the top of the ballot’s center column, immediately to the right of the instructions.

In other words, there's a very, very good chance that tens of thousands of voters missed the place on the ballot to actually vote.  On the other hand, the margin is so small that Miami-Dade and Palm Beach recounts -- which will be done by hand for Senate contest -- could save Bill Nelson and send Rick Scott packing.

I feel much less confident about Andrew Gillum's chances in the governor's race versus Pocket Racist™ Ron DeSantis, but again, we're talking about the three counties having more than six million people combined, so anything's possible.

The recount has to be done by Thursday, so we'll know soon.

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