Thursday, January 31, 2019

Last Call For The Drums Of War, Con't

As with the run up to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the "liberal" media is running stories of atrocities in Venezuela that of course will eventually require American regime change through military means in order to stop.

President Nicolás Maduro is facing the biggest challenge to his authoritarian rule yet. Protesters are in the streets, an opposition lawmaker has declared himself the rightful president, a growing number of foreign governments have backed that claim and the Trump administration has intensified the pressure, cutting off Mr. Maduro’s access to oil sales in the United States — a principal source of his government’s cash

In the face of the crisis, Mr. Maduro has hit back hard, sending out security forces to crush dissent in deadly operations that have alarmed even some of the president’s traditional supporters.

But while Venezuela’s armed forces have publicly declared their allegiance to Mr. Maduro, they have not taken the muscular role they have in the past. When months of chaotic demonstrations arose against Mr. Maduro two years ago, it was largely the National Guard that squelched dissent with batons and bullets, with protesters prosecuted in military courts.

But this time, in a potential sign of the strained loyalties inside the military, much of the crackdown has been entrusted to a relatively new national police unit that Mr. Maduro created to conduct raids on gang groups in Venezuela’s slums.

Now the unit appears to have his political opponents in its sights. Known as the Special Actions Force, or FAES, it is being sent to work as Mr. Maduro’s enforcer in the poor neighborhoods that once supported him but have turned against him, according to human rights groups, former government officials and current lawmakers.
At least 40 people have been killed in the latest round of protests against Mr. Maduro, largely in nightly raids in poor neighborhoods involving the special police unit, human rights groups say.

“FAES has become deeply involved in acts of repression,” said Delsa Solórzano, a lawmaker in the opposition-led National Assembly who met with recent victims of the raids.

The involvement of the special police unit is especially worrisome, human rights advocates say, because the unit was created to put down armed gangs or rescue hostages, not to control crowds of protesters in a peaceful manner.

“The consequence when they go in is massacres,” said Keymer Ávila, an investigator with Provea, a Venezuelan human rights organization. “They weren’t made to handle demonstrations.

And so, in a few months or even weeks, we will be told by Donald Trump that American troops will have to be deployed into Venezuela to stop the attacks, and that we must rally around Dear Leader.  We've seen the horrors that Trump has unleashed on America with a robust economy and relative peace.  With a recession looming and war in Venezuela coming in 2019, things will get much worse, and very quickly.

Count on it.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Let's say you're Russian intelligence under Putin.

You have a world-class disinformation campaign apparatus inside the American political and media machine.  It's good enough to have given you the American president.  You know that Robert Mueller has been appointed to investigate.  You know the American media has been compromised badly and trust in it was at an all-time low.  What's the best way to wreck the Mueller probe?  Disinformation of your own, of course.

No surprise then that when the Russians tried to sabotage and discredit the Mueller probe with false and dangerous information, the Russians overplayed their hand and were laughed at by journalists.

Federal prosecutors said on Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office was subject to a Russian disinformation campaign that intended to discredit his investigation into the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 election.

The Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign that targeted Mueller’s office failed to gain any traction, however, as the contents of a fake trove of the special counsel’s files were immediately dismissed as largely fabricated by the reporter and researcher who received them.

The fake documents were sent to ThinkProgress reporter Casey Michel and independent disinformation researcher Josh Russell in November in direct messages from a Twitter account called @HackingRedstone. The messages’ sender claimed to be “anonymous hackers.”

“We are like hundreds of others, but we are the one and only who got the Special Counsel Mueller database,” @HackingRedstone claimed. “You might wonder why we want to share all this information with you. You are the one who can tell people the truth!”

Both Michel and Russell were immediately skeptical of the documents.

“The DM I got was ridiculous, both in terms of its syntax as well as the types of phrases it used,” Michel told NBC News. “It reminded me of the types of language we saw on some of the fake Russian Facebook pages, like when the Russian trolls claimed they were Texas secessionists who were ‘in love with Texas shape!’”

Mueller’s team confirmed some of the documents were legitimate and obtained through the trial’s discovery process. Other documents included in the fake leak, which included screenshots of websites and memes that were not created by the Internet Research Agency, were not collected by Mueller’s team.

The Internet Research Agency is a St. Petersburg-based firm run by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose key executives have been indicted by Mueller on charges of defrauding the United States.

The fake documents were apparently included in the trove to falsely demonstrate that Mueller’s team had incorrectly characterized some American websites as Russian disinformation operations, Michel said.

“Some of the files they sent along did appear legitimate and were some of the things we'd already seen on those fake Twitter or Facebook pages before,” Michel said. “Some of the things were pretty clearly not from the IRA, or at least weren't anything that any other reporters or analysts had ever claimed to be Russian.”

Just plausible enough false information, close enough that it could be true, mixed in with documents that were legitimate, in an effort to get left-leaning websites to bite.  It worked on the right, why not the left, too?

But it didn't.  The false information was apparently a deliberate leak to damage Mueller's case against more than a dozen Russian nationals accused of being spied that Mueller indicted last year.

They seem pretty desperate to pull this, yes?

It's almost like he's got them dead to rights.

Howdy-Do, Neighborino

The strange case of Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul's neighbor ends with a $580,000 award in the senator's favor after being assaulted and his ribs broken last year.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul was awarded more than $580,000 in damages and medical expenses on Wednesday in his lawsuit against the neighbor who tackled him and broke several of his ribs in a dispute over lawn maintenance.

A jury in Bowling Green, Kentucky, deliberated less than two hours before delivering the award to the Republican lawmaker who had been attacked while doing yard work at his Kentucky home.

Paul had testified during the three-day trial that he feared for his life as he struggled to breathe after Rene Boucher, an anesthesiologist by trade, slammed into him in their upscale Bowling Green neighborhood in late 2017.

The jury awarded $375,000 in punitive damages and $200,000 for pain and suffering, plus $7,834 for medical expenses.

Afterward, Paul said in a statement that he hoped the verdict would send a "clear message that violence is not the answer — anytime, anywhere."

Boucher's attorney, Matt Baker, said they would appeal.

"We all expected that Sen. Paul would get a verdict in his favor," Baker said. "This far exceeds anything that we were expecting."

I mean Rand Paul pisses me off too, but I'd like to think I wouldn't go as far as breaking the guy's ribs.  On the other hand, I'm black, so if I had gotten within five feet of him, I would have been killed and that's that.

I still want to know what the hell Paul did to piss this guy off so much though.  If I ever invent a time machine, I'll drop in and observe.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Last Call For It's About Suppression, Con't

When more Americans vote, Democrats win.  When fewer Americans vote, Republicans win.  Therefore, making Election Day a federal holiday is a "power grab by Democrats" if you're Mitch McConnell.

Democrats have long accused Republicans of restricting access to the ballot because Republicans are likelier to win when fewer people vote. On Wednesday, the GOP leader in the Senate appeared to admit that they’re right.

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition to a relatively uncontroversial measure that would make Election Day a federal holiday in order to make it easier for people to get to the polls. He called it a “power grab” that would help Democrats win elections.

“Just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work for I assume our folks—our colleagues on the other side, on their campaigns,” McConnell said. “This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy? A brand-new week of paid vacation for every federal employee who would like to hover around while you cast your ballot?”

The measure is part of a sweeping democracy reform bill introduced this month by House Democrats, which also includes reforms like automatic and Election Day registration, nationwide early voting, independent redistricting commissions, and public financing of congressional campaigns. McConnell has led the Republican opposition to the legislation, calling it “the Democrat Politician Protection Act.” 

The notion that more Americans voting on Election Day, especially Americans that wouldn't have the opportunity to go vote because of work, is a "power grab" by a party, is a base admission by McConnell that Republicans can only win through voter suppression, and he's right.

Shutdown Meltdown, Con't

With Trump already threatening another shutdown in two weeks if he doesn't get his wall, voters are definitely getting tired of his tantrum baby nonsense and would pin the blame squarely on his orange ass.

Voters have little appetite for another government shutdown if Congress does not approve money to build President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult. 
But Trump’s apparent fallback position — declaring a “national emergency” to divert money to the project — is also unpopular, leaving the embattled president again stuck between a base that wants him to build the wall at all costs, and the majority that wants him to fund the government and move on. 
The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll was conducted Jan. 25-27, after Trump announced an end to the more-than-monthlong shutdown that began late last year. A large majority of voters, 72 percent, support the agreement to reopen the government, the poll shows, while only 15 percent oppose it. 
But after that, things get dicey for Trump and the GOP. Only 31 percent of voters support shutting the government down again to force Congress to appropriate money for the wall, while nearly twice that many, 58 percent, oppose another shutdown. If the government does shut down again, a combined 54 percent would blame Trump and congressional Republicans, while just 33 percent would blame Democrats in Congress. 
Trump has suggested that he could declare a “national emergency” to avert a shutdown but still build the wall — but that, too, is unpopular. A narrow, 51 percent majority opposes declaring an emergency, which is supported by 38 percent.

So yeah, he's boxed in, with a base that demands he shut the place down without the wall, or they will throw him to the hounds if he doesn't...and on the other side the majority of Americans will do the same if he does.

He's in a no-win situation right now.  The challenge is somehow putting this on the back burner long enough for him to get away with passing the buck again, and he's going to need a hell of a distraction for that.

Like, I dunno, some South American country to slap around...

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Another big Betsy Woodruff/Erin Blanco piece at The Daily Beast today profiles Joel Zamel, the former Israeli intelligence officer who gamed out back in 2015 how social media manipulation by a foreign power could affect US politics, how Zamel shopped that idea to a very eager Trump campaign, and how Robert Mueller has the receipts for all of it.

Days after Donald Trump rode down an escalator at Trump Tower and announced he’d run for president, a little-known consulting firm with links to Israeli intelligence started gaming out how a foreign government could meddle in the U.S. political process. Internal communications, which The Daily Beast reviewed, show that the firm conducted an analysis of how illicit efforts might shape American politics. Months later, the Trump campaign reviewed a pitch from a company owned by that firm’s founder—a pitch to carry out similar efforts.

The founder of the firm, called Wikistrat, has been questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team as they investigate efforts by foreign governments to shape American politics during the 2016 presidential campaign. Joel Zamel, a low-profile Israeli-Australian who started the firm, has deep contacts in Middle Eastern intelligence circles. There are no known publicly available pictures of him. But he met people in the upper echelons of the Trump campaign.

In April 2016, senior Trump campaign official Rick Gates reviewed a pitch produced by a company called Psy Group, which Zamel reportedly owns. The pitch laid out a three-pronged election influence campaign that included creating thousands of fake social media accounts to support then-candidate Trump and disparage his opponents, according to The New York Times.

After Trump became the party’s official nominee, Zamel met with Donald Trump Jr. and discussed the plan, which echoed both the real election interference already underway by the Kremlin and the scenario Wikistrat gamed out the year before.

Zamel took part in at least two meetings in Washington in 2016 and 2017. And his staff at Psy Group made several connections about their social media manipulation plan with individuals who represented themselves as close to the Trump team.

It’s unclear if the Psy Group plans ever went forward. Some former employees of the firm who previously spoke to The Daily Beast said Gates never pursued the campaign. Others said part of the plan was carried out.

To be clear, Wikistrat’s manipulation sim was just one of hundreds the firm has conducted. And at the time, many firms in the private intelligence sector were looking for ways to explore the ramifications of the growing threat of online propaganda and political interference.

Trying to dismiss this as realpolitik game theory doesn't hold water, either.

Peter Marino, one of the Wikistrat analysts who helped create the report in 2015, told The Daily Beast that, looking back, he finds the firm’s prescience quite strange.

“At the time we were discussing the subject of cyber-interference in democratic processes, it seemed and felt like just another idle intellectual exercise and scenario planning project for political scientists,” said Marino, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Chinese politics and history. “But retrospectively, it feels a bit too on-the-nose not to be disturbing.”

Wikistrat is essentially a think tank for rent. The firm, which only has a few full-time employees, contracts with foreign policy and national security experts to produce reports for corporate and government clients about specific geopolitical issues. The firm’s analysts also sometimes produce reports that aren’t for clients, according to people close to the firm; the firm then displays those reports on its website to demonstrate the quality of its work, or markets them to potential buyers.

Zamel had a product, he tried to sell it to Rick Gates.  Most of all, Zamel provided cover for the Russians actually doing the heavy lifting.

And let's not forget, Gates has been cooperating with Robert Mueller for nearly a year now.  Mueller knows exactly what went on here.

Count on it.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Last Call For Meanwhile In Bevinstan...

With the candidate filing deadline today, Joe Sonka at Insider Louisville goes over the 2019 Governor's race here in Kentucky and what and who we can expect on the ballot for the May 21 primaries, but who you won't be seeing is Bevin's current Lt. Governor, Jenean Hampton.

Gov. Matt Bevin finally made his re-election bid official on Friday, but this time he will not be running with his current Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton. Instead, the governor chose state Sen.Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, a physician who has sponsored legislation to limit medical malpractice lawsuits and create tax credits for K-12 students to attend private schools.

Republican Congressman James Comer considered a primary challenge against Bevin but issued a statement Sunday night explaining his decision not to make such a run – though not without adding a searing criticism of the governor’s behavior during his first term.

Instead, Bevin will face a trio of political newcomers in the Republican primary, including state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods of Corinth and Ike Lawrence of Lexington.

Goforth, a veteran and pharmacist, won a special election last February to the state House and won that seat again in November. He chose Lawrence County attorney Michael Hogan as his running mate, who lost a close primary race for attorney general in 2015.

Goforth has criticized Bevin for his harsh words toward teachers who protested his public pension reform proposal, support for charter schools, and the expansion of gambling with instant racing facilities that resemble slot machines.

Woods has a platform of opposition to Bevin’s pension bill, support for abortion rights and support for medical marijuana, with that tax revenue steered toward providing every public school with armed guards. Justin Miller of Florence is his running mate.

Lawrence, who filed for office just hours before Tuesday’s deadline, ran for mayor of Lexington last year, winning less than 2 percent of the vote in the primary. James Anthony Rose, also from Lexington, is his running mate.

On the Democratic side, the primary has shaped up as a three-way fight of big-name candidates, including Attorney General Andy Beshear, House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins and the former state Auditor Adam Edelen

Beshear chose Jacqueline Coleman as his running mate, a teacher, basketball coach and current assistant principal at Nelson County High School. The other two gubernatorial candidates both looked to Louisville for their running mates, with Adkins choosing the former Jefferson County Board of Education member Steph Horne, and Edelen tapping the prominent businessman Gill Holland.

Perennial candidate Geoff Young — who has lost by wide margins in five races over the last seven years — is also running as a Democrat on a ticket with Josh French. Young, from Lexington, received less than 2 percent of the vote last year in the Democratic primary for the Sixth Congressional District.

Back last November, the state's Tea Party leaders told Bevin in no uncertain terms to keep Hampton on the ticket, because dumping the state's only elected black statewide officeholder would make Bevin look like more of an asshole than he already is.  For her part, Hampton all but admitted she was going to be dropped from the ticket last week before Bevin made his decision official last Friday.

Bevin remains one of the country's least popular governors, and thankfully Alison Lundergan Grimes passed on the Democratic side, where her baggage plus the weight of her father's long history in the state would have almost certainly spelled doom.

As it is, state AG Andy Beshear and Matt Bevin have been fighting for three years straight anyhow, so at least he has the practice in facing off.  We'll see how the primaries go, but at this point I'd vote for an empty barrel of Woodford Reserve over Matt Bevin.

Besides, it's the coldest day of the year and Matt Bevin is bitching about why many Kentucky schools are closed Wednesday because it hasn't occurred to him that some kids in the state have to walk to school after Bevin gutted already slim school transportation budgets last year and wind chills of -20 below might be bad for students.

The guy deserves to lose.

Picking A Circular Firing Squad Fight

I still have some issue with the specifics (or general lack thereof) when it comes to Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, but even I know this is The Hill carrying water for the right.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has infuriated colleagues by aligning with a progressive outside group that’s threatening to primary entrenched Democrats. Now some of those lawmakers are turning the tables on her and are discussing recruiting a primary challenger to run against the social media sensation.

At least one House Democrat has been privately urging members of the New York delegation to recruit a local politician from the Bronx or Queens to challenge Ocasio-Cortez.
“What I have recommended to the New York delegation is that you find her a primary opponent and make her a one-term congressperson,” the Democratic lawmaker, who requested anonymity, told The Hill. “You’ve got numerous council people and state legislators who’ve been waiting 20 years for that seat. I’m sure they can find numerous people who want that seat in that district.”

The New York delegation has eyed Ocasio-Cortez with skepticism ever since last summer when the 29-year-old self-described democratic socialist shocked the political world and defeated then-Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in what many thought would be a sleepy primary race. Crowley, a Queens powerbroker and affable House Democratic Caucus chairman, had been considered a possible future Speaker.

Many New York and Congressional Black Caucus lawmakers were also furious with Ocasio-Cortez after a recent Politico report stated she and the grass-roots group aligned with her, Justice Democrats, were considering backing a primary challenge to fellow New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries, a Black Caucus member and establishment insider who succeeded Crowley as caucus chairman.

Both Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats have denied the report, but the group of insurgent progressives has vowed to target centrist Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and is eyeing other potential 2020 targets.

For now, New York Democratic lawmakers are playing nice with Ocasio-Cortez and her 2.6 million Twitter followers and say no one in the Empire State’s delegation is currently contemplating backing a primary challenger against her.

The reason I know this is all rope-a-dope for dopes is that the right, as usual, gave the game away earlier this week by Stephen Hayward over at Power Line.

And lo and behold, Hayward is all gosh darn surprised to see an article 24 hours later "proving" his hunch.

This is being manufactured like the mystical widget, to the point where I'm looking for an economics textbook.  Don't buy this narrative, it's completely bonkers, and the only thing it proves is how absolutely terrified of Ocasio-Cortez the right is, in the era of star power politicians.

The Biggest Of Pharmas

A group of Israeli scientists at a biotech startup say they are ready to have a cure for cancer by 2020.

A small team of Israeli scientists think they might have found the first complete cure for cancer.

“We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer
,” said Dan Aridor, of a new treatment being developed by his company, Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd. (AEBi), which was founded in 2000 in the ITEK incubator in the Weizmann Science Park. AEBi developed the SoAP platform, which provides functional leads to very difficult targets.

“Our cancer cure will be effective from day one, will last a duration of a few weeks and will have no or minimal side-effects at a much lower cost than most other treatments on the market,” Aridor said. “Our solution will be both generic and personal.”

It sounds fantastical, especially considering that an estimated 18.1 million new cancer cases are diagnosed worldwide each year, according to reports by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Further, every sixth death in the world is due to cancer, making it the second leading cause of death (second only to cardiovascular disease).

Aridor, chairman of the board of AEBi and CEO Dr. Ilan Morad, say their treatment, which they call MuTaTo (multi-target toxin) is essentially on the scale of a cancer antibiotic – a disruption technology of the highest order.

The potentially game-changing anti-cancer drug is based on SoAP technology, which belongs to the phage display group of technologies. It involves the introduction of DNA coding for a protein, such as an antibody, into a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria. That protein is then displayed on the surface of the phage. Researchers can use these protein-displaying phages to screen for interactions with other proteins, DNA sequences and small molecules.

In 2018, a team of scientists won the Nobel Prize for their work on phage display in the directed evolution of new proteins – in particular, for the production of antibody therapeutics.

AEBi is doing something similar but with peptides, compounds of two or more amino acids linked in a chain. According to Morad, peptides have several advantages over antibodies, including that they are smaller, cheaper, and easier to produce and regulate.

When the company first started, Morad said, “We were doing what everyone else was doing, trying to discover individual novel peptides for specific cancers.” But shortly thereafter, Morad and his colleague, Dr. Hanan Itzhaki, decided they wanted to do something bigger.

To get started, Morad said they had to identify why other cancer-killing drugs and treatments don’t work or eventually fail. Then, they found a way to counter that effect.

Search and destroy phages that eat cancer cells, the stuff of medical sci-fi and Michael Crighton thrillers, but if this stuff is true, if these scientists have cracked the problem, they go down in history along with Salk, Curie, Crick (not so much Watson these days), Pasteur, Darwin, the big ones.  It's a big if, of course, the major concern.

My second concern is how available is this, because cancer kills one in six, and charging a million bucks for a treatment regimen, well, if this were an American company, you can bet that you wouldn't be able to afford it.  This kind of becomes a nuclear blast in the Big Pharma industry.  Not quite curing cancer is extraordinarily lucrative.  Actually curing it without chemo or radiation is a money loser, and the big pharma companies damn well know it.

Again, if this pans out, it's a world-changer.  The change may not be better for everyone.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Last Call For Russian (Away) From Judgment

House Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, led by Rep. Adam Schiff, are eager to get to work reopening the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump regime's role in that mess, but they can't lift a finger until Republicans name their committee members in addition to ranking Republican Devin Nunes, and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has no apparent plans to actually do that.

The new leadership on the House intelligence committee is eager to revive the panel’s probe into the connections between Donald Trump’s camp and Russia, an urgency underscored by the latest indictment of a Trump associate accused of lying to its investigation. But three weeks into the Democratic-controlled Congress, House Republicans haven’t taken a critical step necessary for the committee to begin any work at all
The House Republican leadership has yet to name the intelligence committee’s Republican membership for the new Congress, with the exception of retaining Devin Nunes as ranking Republican. Without doing so, the committee is stalled—no hearings, no internal business meetings. Democrats announced their membership roster on Jan. 16, adding Val Demings, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Peter Welch to their 10 current members. (This Republican intransigence was first noted by The Rachel Maddow Show.) 
It’s not clear what the holdup is. “That will be announced when it is ready,” said Matt Sparks, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who did not address the reasons for the delay. A representative for Nunes—who does not pick the membership—did not respond to The Daily Beast's inquiries. 
Thus far, Democrats on the panel are not accusing the House GOP of deliberately dragging its feet on the committee appointments. Some Democrats are hopeful the GOP will name its roster by next week. But, a Democratic committee aide said, “There is an urgency in getting all of our transcripts to Mueller that we cannot ignore.” 
Friday’s indictment of Trump adviser Roger Stone underscored both that urgency and the stakes of the holdup. Among the offenses Mueller accuses Stone of committing are obstruction and false statements arising from his September 2017 testimony to the House intelligence committee, then under GOP management. Stone is the second such person to be indicted related to lying to the committee’s Russia probe, after ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Committee Democrats suspect others of having lied or otherwise giving them misleading testimony. One, identified by Connecticut Democrat Jim Himes, is Erik Prince, the founder of mercenary company Blackwater. (Some on the panel want several witnesses back for additional testimony, including Donald Trump Jr., while stopping short of saying those others lied as well.) 
Adam Schiff, the new Democratic chairman of the committee, has said for months that an early order of business for the panel is to provide Mueller with every transcript of every witness before its Russia inquiry, which may lead to additional indictments. That hasn’t happened yet—and until the Republicans formally join the committee, it can’t. Schiff, in a Friday statement following Stone’s indictment, called the transcript provision “the first order of business” facing the panel—when it can get down to business, that is.

It's pretty clear what the holdup is.  House Republicans know that Schiff won't have to roller skate backwards and uphill anymore to unload all kinds of juicy information on Trump's inner circle, and the GOP is stalling for as long as possible.  Mueller may want to keep his team plugging any leaks, but Schiff is going to flow like Niagra Falls and the last thing Trump wants is televised hearings with Erik Prince or Donald Jr. in the dock, under subpoena and under oath.

Now I'm pretty sure Schiff isn't going to blow a hole in the side of the Mueller probe in his rush to the front page (at least I'm very hopeful he's a better person than that) but releasing transcripts and recalling witnesses to clarify matters can definitely make Trump sweat most of his orange bronzer off.

How long McCarthy can get away with this, we'll see.  If Nancy Pelosi steps in and holds a vote to change the rules, things could get bad for him very quickly (as Trump himself discovered at his own peril.)  Maybe McCarthy was buying time until the shutdown was resolved, and maybe he'll keep sandbagging until February 15th, but eventually Schiff is going to get his pound of orange flesh.

A Brief(ing) Sojuorn Into State Media

As I mentioned last week, Donald Trump all but announced that the White House daily briefing with Mouth of Sauron Sarah Huckabee Sanders is dead, and won't be coming back.

President Trump said Tuesday that he directed White House press secretary Sarah Sanders “not to bother” with press briefings because he believes that reporters are rude to her and that most members of the media will not cover the administration fairly.

Press briefings, which used to be a near-daily occurrence, have become a rarity in the Trump White House. Sanders has not provided an on-camera briefing for more than a month, including the duration of the partial government shutdown.

“The reason Sarah Sanders does not go to the ‘podium’ much anymore is that the press covers her so rudely & inaccurately, in particular certain members of the press,” Trump said on Twitter. “I told her not to bother, the word gets out anyway! Most will never cover us fairly & hence, the term, Fake News!”

Of course, Trump still needs to catapult the propaganda, so White House briefings now take place almost exclusively on the FOX Trump State Media Channel.

It’s generally, like, you just watch Fox and run outside,” says a White House correspondent.

Keeping tabs on the No. 1 cable-news network helps fill a basic need for White House reporters: Quotes, feedback, clips, audio. That’s because officials like press secretary Sarah Sanders and counselor Kellyanne Conway are highly partial to doing live interviews with Fox News. From the start of the government shutdown (Dec. 22) until last Friday, Sanders did eight interviews on Fox shows of one sort or another (including Fox Business and “Fox News Sunday”) and two on other networks, including an appearance last Friday on CNN, according to Media Matters for America.

These sessions often force Sanders & Co. out of their White House lairs and into the crosshairs of the mainstream media. If the White House press corps, for example, learns that Sanders is doing a “Fox & Friends” interview on the White House lawn at 8:15 a.m., it can take up positions nearby in the hope of lobbing a few questions once she’s done. In an interview on “Fox & Friends” last Wednesday, Sanders herself referenced the arrangement: “I stopped last night after I finished an interview where I took questions. ... I’m sure I’ll do that again here in a few minutes,” she said.

Newshounds are familiar with the Q-and-A sessions that Sanders referenced. The White House official walks up to a cluster of waiting reporters, cameras and microphones and takes a number of questions.

Those opportunities, however, don’t just drop from the gloomy winter sky. Someone has to figure out when Sanders is going out to chat with Fox News. Then someone has to hustle the equipment out the door and set it up. And then someone has to make sure that Sanders, once she’s done with her interview, presents herself to take questions before ducking back into the White House.

“They regularly are on Fox and because they have to come out on the driveway ... If you want on-camera answers to your questions, you have to set up on the driveway,” says Eamon Javers, a White House correspondent who has been with CNBC since 2010. White House reporters can enter the offices of White House communications staffers — Sanders and Hogan Gidley, for example — but they can’t run their cameras in those areas. Outside, though, is fair game. According to Javers, the reportorial scrum formerly shadowed White House officials as they walked back inside from their TV interviews, but that got messy: Cameras and audio equipment and bodies often got tangled up. So the crew established a beachhead of sorts on the driveway near the spot where the officials reenter their workspace.

White House reporters have long chased officials around the complex, of course. These days, though, it’s a higher-stakes proposition. “In past years, you’d see a handful of reporters buttonholing administration officials back and forth to live shot positions. But now, it feels like the bulk of the White House press corps is trundling after nearly every official who comes out on the driveway,” says Javers. Such are the exigencies of these times: Sanders’s absence from the lectern has helped the Trump White House establish an all-time record lapse in on-camera briefings. "Look, we’ll see what happens,” she said when asked on “Fox & Friends” whether she was done with this former staple of White House accountability. Gidley, for his part, said on Fox News that his colleague Sanders would resume briefings “when she finds a reason to do that.” Apparently she hasn’t yet found the informing-the-public reason.

Nor will she ever have to do so, especially if the media is going to play along completely and allow her to get away with being relegated to FOX's sloppy seconds.

At this point, FOX News is all but State Media in name, and increasingly they are the only game in town.

The Drums Of War, Con't

As you might remember from Turkey's abortive coup from July 2016, you have to have as many of the five A's in place as possible before you start up the coup-coup clock:
  • Armed forces
  • Airwaves
  • Airports
  • Allies
  • and the Asshole in charge you're trying to overthrow.
In Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido has only one of those five right now in his declared coup against President Nicolas Maduro, but it's a big one: in the Allies category, he has the Trump regime.  He's got enough breathing room to try to get the other four, starting with the Armed Forces.

The battle for control of Venezuela turned Sunday to the armed forces as President Nicolas Maduro, wearing tan military fatigues, attended army exercises, met with troops and watched as tanks fired into a hillside.

At the same time, supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido handed out leaflets to soldiers, urging them to reject the socialist leader and explaining how they could be eligible for amnesty if they help return Venezuela to democracy.

“We are waiting for you, the soldiers of Venezuela,” Guaido told a news conference, urging the armed forces not to shoot fellow Venezuelans.

“We are waiting for you and the commitment you have to our constitution.”

Sunday’s dueling appeals to the military followed a tense week as Venezuela took center stage in a global debate over who had a legitimate claim to power in the South American nation.

Guaido's move comes as the Trump regime's assets in Venezuela continue to buy him time.

Maduro broke relations with the United States on Wednesday after the Trump administration and many other nations in the region recognized Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as Venezuela’s interim president, a move that Maduro denounced as a coup attempt.

Maduro gave U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, but the Trump administration said it wouldn’t comply, arguing that Maduro is no longer Venezuela’s legitimate president. That set the stage for a showdown at the hilltop U.S. Embassy compound Saturday night, when the deadline was to expire.

But as the sun set on Venezuela’s capital, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Maduro’s government was suspending the expulsion to provide a 30-day window for negotiations about setting up a “U.S. interests office” in Venezuela and a similar Venezuelan office in the United States. The U.S. and Cuba had a similar arrangement for decades before the Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with the communist-run island.

The State Department did not confirm the Venezuelan government’s account, reiterating only that its priority remains the safety of its personnel and that it has no plans to close the embassy.

This of course is not a sustainable situation, with Maduro holding the local military and Guaido with American allies.  Something's going to give and soon, either the US will hang Guaido out to dry (literally) and work with Maduro, or Guaido is going to find military resources of his own.  Maduro's not going to let the guy just putter around the garden, Guaido's three options now are he's President, he's in exile, or he's a corpse.

Which of the three will happen?  I'm not sure.  This is Donald Trump that Guaido has bet his life on, and Trump has this habit of screwing over people in the end.  Trump may build a coalition and start bombing the hell out of things down there, he may do it alone too.  He may piss off Russia, he may be playing along with Putin.  There's a lot of factors here.

But I do know that one miscalculation and all of this goes up in flames.

And Trump, well, Trump miscalculates a lot.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Last Call For It's Mueller Time: Rolling Stone Edition, Con't

As I pointed out yesterday, Mueller has flipped all the major players that he has charged so far.  No surprise then that it certainly didn't take long for newly collared Roger Stone to go from "I'll never testify against Donald Trump" to signalling cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, did it?

Roger Stone, following a pre-dawn arrest at his home in Florida and ahead of an arraignment in Washington on Tuesday, said that he would discuss cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, if asked.

"You know, that’s a question I would have to –- I have to determine after my attorneys have some discussion," Stone told ABC News' Chief Anchor George Stephanopolous on “This Week” Sunday. "If there’s wrongdoing by other people in the campaign that I know about, which I know of none, but if there is I would certainly testify honestly. I’d also testify honestly about any other matter, including any communications with the president. It’s true that we spoke on the phone, but those communications are political in nature, they’re benign, and there is –- there is certainly no conspiracy with Russia. The president’s right, there is no Russia collusion."

Stone, 66, President Donald Trump’s longtime friend and a veteran political operative, was arrested after the special counsel filed a seven-count indictment against him as part of an ongoing probe into Russia interference during the 2016 election.

Now anybody who is in a position to know truly how much trouble Roger Stone is in (even a short prison sentence at Stone's age could be a life sentence) can read between the lines that Stone wants a deal here. The question is whther or not Stone has anything to offer Mueller that he doesn't already have. 

There's two positions on this, one, that Stone has nothing Mueller wants and that Mueller is going to put him in prison for the rest of his natural life as Daily Beast writer Peter Zeidenberg suggests:

Finally, do not expect to see Special Counsel Robert Mueller make any attempt to flip Stone and have him cooperate. A defendant like Stone is far more trouble than he is worth to a prosecutor. Stone is too untrustworthy for a prosecutor to ever rely upon. He has told so many documented lies, and bragged so often about his dirty tricks, that he simply has too much baggage to deal with even if here to want to cooperate—which seems unlikely in any event. Mueller, I suspect, would not even be willing to engage in a preliminary debrief with Stone to just test the possibility of cooperation out of concern that Stone would immediately go on television with his pals at Fox News to decry Mueller’s Gestapo tactics.

In short, Mueller does not need Stone to get to someone else and, even if he did, he could not rely on whatever Stone told him. Stone has nothing to sell that Mueller would be interested in buying.

Stone is clearly enjoying being in the spotlight now. He should enjoy it while he can. His remaining years won’t be nearly as pleasant.

Position two is Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez and his theory in his op-ed in the NY Times that Stone's electronic communications are the real target.

Of course, as the indictment also makes clear, the special counsel has already managed to get its hands on plenty of Mr. Stone’s communications by other means — but one seeming exception jumps out. In a text exchange between Mr. Stone and a “supporter involved with the Trump Campaign,” Mr. Mueller pointedly quotes Mr. Stone’s request to “talk on a secure line — got WhatsApp?” There the direct quotes abruptly end, and the indictment instead paraphrases what Mr. Stone “subsequently told the supporter.” Though it’s not directly relevant to his alleged false statements, the special counsel is taking pains to establish that Mr. Stone made a habit of moving sensitive conversations to encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp — meaning that, unlike ordinary emails, the messages could not be obtained directly from the service provider.

The clear implication is that any truly incriminating communications would have been conducted in encrypted form — and thus could be obtained only directly from Mr. Stone’s own phones and laptops. And while Mr. Stone likely has limited value as a cooperating witness — it’s hard to put someone on the stand after charging them with lying to obstruct justice — the charges against him provide leverage in the event his cooperation is needed to unlock those devices by supplying a cryptographic passphrase.

Of course, Mr. Mueller is likely interested in his communications with Trump campaign officials, but the detailed charges filed against the Russian hackers alleged to have broken into the Democratic National Committee’s servers also show the special counsel’s keen interest in Mr. Stone’s communications with the hacker “Guccifer 2.0,” an identity said to have been used as a front for the Russian intruders. By Mr. Stone’s own admission, he had a brief exchange with “Guccifer” via private Twitter messages. On Mr. Stone’s account, Guccifer enthusiastically offered his assistance — at the same time we now know Mr. Stone was vigorously pursuing advance knowledge of what other embarrassing material stolen from Mr. Trump’s opponents might soon be released — and Mr. Stone failed to even dignify the offer with a reply. With no easy way of getting hold of “Guccifer’s” cellphone, searching Mr. Stone’s devices might be the only reliable way for the special counsel to discover whether the conversation in fact continued on a more “secure line.”

Keep in mind that these possibilities aren't mutually exclusive, either.

Stone certainly should keep it in mind, at least.

Get Gillum: The Movie

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis certainly isn't wasting any time when it comes to seeking vengeance against the man DeSantis beat in last year's gubernatorial race, Tallahassee's Democrat Mayor Andrew Gillum.  The race was ugly and DeSantis got nailed several times by the press for being a racist, but in the end he eked out a win anyway.  So when the FBI investigation into Tallahassee's City Hall didn't collar Gillum, DeSantis has decided to go the state route to abuse his power to punish the man who called him a racist on national TV by bringing state ethics charges against Gillum.

The Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause today that former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018, violated state ethics laws when he allegedly accepted gifts during on out-of-town excursions with lobbyists and vendors and didn't report them.

The Ethics Commission’s vote happened behind closed doors. But the probable cause finding was confirmed by Gillum’s attorney, Barry Richard of Tallahassee, and Erwin Jackson, a local businessman who filed a state ethics complaint against Gillum in 2017.

Allegations of ethical improprieties over trips Gillum took while he was mayor to Costa Rica and New York City dogged him in the closing days of the general election. Depending on how the case shakes out, the allegations could further tarnish Gillum, whose political aspirations didn’t end with his defeat in the governor’s race to former GOP Congressman Ron DeSantis.

Gillum has the option of entering into a settlement with the Ethics Commission, which typically involves an admission of guilt, or contesting the allegations in a court-like administrative hearing.

Jackson’s ethics complaint alleged Gillum violated state law when he traveled to Costa Rica in May 2016 and New York City in August 2016. Both of the trips overlapped with with attempts by undercover FBI agents investigating public corruption to get close to Gillum.

During the Costa Rica trip, Corey, who later turned against Gillum, sent the mayor a calendar invitation for the two of them to meet with one of the undercover agents, who posed as a developer from Atlanta under the guise of Mike Miller. During the New York City trip, Gillum went on outings with Corey, Miller and at least one other undercover FBI agent, including a boat ride around Liberty Island and a performance of the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

Gillum’s campaign released documents during the campaign that it said proved Gillum paid for all of his expenses on the Costa Rica trip. Gillum also said his brother, Marcus Gillum, gave him the ticket to “Hamilton” and that he stayed one night with his brother in a downtown hotel where Corey and the undercover agents also had rooms.

After Gillum publicly distanced himself from Corey, a central figure in the FBI’s investigation, their friendship ended in acrimony. Working with Chris Kise, a Tallahassee attorney, Corey released emails calculated to damage Gillum in the closing days of the general election campaign.

It's obvious here that DeSantis is behind the effort to turn the FBI's investigation that so far has cleared Gillum into state ethics charges.  DeSantis isn't going to rest until Gillum is behind bars, because the worst thing a black person could ever do to a white racist politician is call them a racist during the campaign and have people believe that's true.

Stay tuned.

Sunday Long Read: One Hell Of A Commute

It's almost impossible today for tens of millions of women in America to get an abortion if they want one, and this is before the inevitable Roberts Court ruling that will almost certainly allow states to criminalize it.

The protesters are already positioned when she pulls up in her rental car. One lurches at women approaching the clinic, rosary beads dangling from her outstretched palm. Another hands patients tiny fetus dolls that match their skin color.

The doctor tries to ignore them. There are demonstrators at every abortion clinic and they’re all the same, she thinks: a nuisance. In Northern California, where she lives, a man yells, “Don’t take the blood money,” as she arrives at work.

At least here, in Dallas, the protesters mostly stay on the sidewalk. The doctor slips inside the mirrored glass doors of the clinic — one of the busiest abortion facilities in the United States.

She comes here once a month, part of an unofficial network of physicians who travel across state lines to perform abortions in places where few doctors are willing.

It’s not yet 9 a.m., and the clinic’s waiting rooms are filled, navigating them a game of human Tetris. Women with their husbands. Women pushing strollers. Women alone.

The young doctor will spend 60 hours in Dallas this trip and perform 50 abortions. She will have to run in the hallways to keep up with her packed schedule.

The California physician was one of more than a dozen doctors interviewed by The Times who commute to other states to perform abortions. She allowed a reporter and a photographer to accompany her to Dallas on the condition that she not be named and that her face not be shown in photographs, citing concerns for her personal safety.

The doctor acknowledged that when she began traveling out of state to perform abortions, she was nervous, recalling stories of abortion providers who have been attacked or harassed while far from home. But she said that abortion doctors living in states where access has been restricted face heightened danger and deserve her help.

“I can’t have people scare me away,” she said.

California doctors go to other states to help perform abortions because in red states, being a doctor who is willing to perform the procedure means you and your family will be a target for the rest of your life.  However long -- or short -- it may be.

Now watch what happens when Roe is overturned.

The Drums Of War, Con't

As President Donald Trump announced in the Rose Garden on Friday that his quixotic bid to secure more than $5 billion for a border wall would end with no money, he was met with applause from his Cabinet secretaries and senior aides. 
But the clapping belied a pervasive sense of defeat. 
Instead of emerging victorious, many of Trump's allies are walking away from a record-breaking government shutdown feeling outplayed, not least by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The President is now more unpopular than he was before the shutdown began, sacked with blame for the 35-day lapse in funding. 
Friday's announcement was an extraordinary comedown that left many in the White House and those who support Trump marveling at the futility of the preceding four weeks of brinkmanship. In the eyes of some aides and outside advisers, an entire fruitless month has passed that cannot be recouped, a waste of the most valuable asset a White House has: the President's attention and time. 
"A humiliating loss for a man that rarely loses," one Trump adviser said. "I miss winning."

But press briefings are back, and if you're wodering why, it's because the Trumpies want to get a hold of the narrative again.  It looks like Dr. Propaganda has ordered 100ccs of regime change stat in Venezuela and Team Trump is on board for a classic wag the dog scenario, that will almost certainly result in either a miscalculation or purposeful move leading to military action.

The United States on Saturday called on the world to “pick a side” on Venezuela and urged countries to financially disconnect from Nicolas Maduro’s government, while European powers signaled they were set to follow Washington in recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful leader.

In heated back-and-forth exchanges at a United Nations Security Council meeting, the opposing camp led by Venezuela and Russia, which has invested heavily in Venezuela’s oil industry, accused Washington of attempting a coup, and lambasted Europeans’ demand that elections be called within eight days.

Guaido, who took the helm of the National Assembly on Jan. 5, proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday. The United States, Canada and a string of Latin American countries recognized the young leader in quick succession. Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013 and has the support of the armed forces, has refused to stand down.

But on Saturday Guaido gained support from a key military official. Venezuela’s defense attache to Washington, Colonel Jose Luis Silva, told Reuters that he has broken with the Maduro government and recognized Guaido as interim president.

Speaking at the U.N. meeting called by the United States, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Maduro’s “socialist experiment” had caused the economy to collapse and reduced ordinary Venezuelans to rooting through dumpsters for food.

“Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side. ... Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem,” Pompeo told the council. “We call on all members of the Security Council to support Venezuela’s democratic transition and interim President Guaido’s role.

Pompeo also called on the international community to disconnect their financial systems from Maduro’s regime. Washington has signaled it was ready to step up economic measures to try to drive Maduro from power, but on Saturday Pompeo declined to elaborate on any such plans.

We're not that far our from a "Coalition of the Willing™" scenario, because Trump's gonna need to throw a crappy little country against the wall just to prove he's serious after getting smoked by Nancy Pelosi on his wall, and it's definitely looking like Venezuela is the next big winner in a long line of countries that the US will smack around in order to make voters forget about garbage domestic policy.

At least it's not Iran, I guess.
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