Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Zandar's 2020 Predictions

Another year means another set of ten predictions covering the next 12 months, so without further ado, here's what I think 2020 will bring. I was very pessimistic in my 2019 predictions, but I'm returning to the sunny side of the street this year.

1) Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump and becomes President.  Yeah, this is a safe guess and a pretty likely outcome, but I think it's what will happen.  Biden has been ahead in the primaries and leading in head-to-head matchups with Trump for all of 2019.  I have to believe that Biden will win, but whether or not Trump concedes in 2021 is a question for 2021.

2) Trump will be acquitted in his Senate trial.  I know, I know, next I'll tell you water is wet and the sun is made of burny stuff that is hot.  But it'll happen, and it'll be a big reason why...

3) The Democrats will reclaim the Senate in 2020.  Those votes to acquit are going to wreck vulnerable GOP senators like Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Martha McSally and Thom Tillis, and I think they're going to lose. A 50-50 tie with Biden winning means Biden's VP is the tiebreaker and the Dems will prevail...unless Joe Manchin switches parties or something. That's why I'm predicting Dems get 51 or 52 seats with Iowa's Joni Ernst losing, Pat Roberts's open seat in Kansas getting picked up, and Doug Jones holding on.

4) Democrats keep the House.  Nancy Pelosi continues to outmaneuver the White House and I think high turnout in November will not only assure a Biden win, but a big House gain for Team Blue.

5) The US Supreme Court will give states sweeping powers in rulings on abortion and discrimination.  I don't want to be right on this one, but I forsee a huge hole being blown in Roe and another in the Civil Rights Act as SCOTUS will come down on the side of letting states make their own rules on abortion clinic access and LGBTQ discrimination, and by January 1, 2021 it's entirely possible that there will be a dozen states with no abortion clinics, and there will be no protections for sexual orientation or gender identity at the federal level.

6) US Attorney General Bill Barr will announce indictments for James Comey and John Brennan. Trump has wanted these two heads for ages, and he's going to get them.  The court fights are going to be bad, but Trump rounding up FBI folks for personal revenge will be the last straw for a lot of voters.

7) The Dow Jones will end up under 25,000 by December 31.  I don't think the recession will hit in 2020, but it'll definitely catch up to us next year. The global slowdown will be too much to overcome.

8) Marvel movies will not rule the box office in 2020.  That's not to say parent company Disney won't have an incredible year again, with a pair of Pixar features (Onward, Soul), Harrison Ford starring in Call of the Wild based on the Jack London novel, and live action movies of Mulan and Jungle Cruise.  But of the three Marvel properties, New Mutants, Black Widow, and Eternals, I only see Black Widow breaking half a billion.

9) Trump will finally get around to those pardons.  He'll have nothing to lose once, well, he loses.  Oh wait, he'll be headed for state cases against him and jail time, but in the meantime the pardons will be the least awful thing he does.

10) And of course, ZVTS will make it through year 12.  It'll be thanks to all of you who have stuck with me since the 2008 primary race and through 4 presidential contests.

Am I right?  Am I wrong?  We'll file these away for the future, as always.

Holidaze: Feels Like 40 Years Ago

The US Embassy in Baghdad is under siege by hundreds of Iraqi protesters after the US responded to the death of a US military contractor at an Iraqi military base with missile strikes that killed more than 40.

Supporters of an Iranian-backed militia besieged the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes, breaking through the first layer of security at the embassy compound and damaging a reception area before being expelled by Iraqi security forces. Here’s what we know:

  • U.S. diplomats took refuge in a safe room as guards fired tear gas at the invading protesters and tried to put out fires they set.
  • President Trump accused Iran of “orchestrating an attack” on the embassy, and the Pentagon said it was sending reinforcements to help protect it.
  • Iraqi security forces later intervened and set up a barricade, but protesters threw gasoline bombs into the compound.
  • The Kataib Hezbollah militia vowed to force the embassy to shut down.

Hundreds of angry supporters of an Iranian-backed militia shouting "Death to America" broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday, trapping diplomats inside in response to U.S. airstrikes that killed or wounded scores of militia fighters.

Tensions eased somewhat later in the day after Iraqi security forces intervened, erecting a steel barrier at the smashed gate into the compound's reception area and forcing the protesters to leave. However, protesters outside periodically threw molotov cocktails into the compound and tried to tear down the razor wire atop its walls, as guards inside fired stun grenades at them.

The protesters breached the vast embassy compound's outer security but did not reach the main chancery building where diplomats waited out the intrusion in a safe room.

President Trump responded angrily Tuesday to the protesters' actions, charging that Iran was behind a deadly militia attack that led to the airstrikes and blaming Tehran for the embassy siege.

"Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many," Trump tweeted from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. "We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!"

The US State Department is basically denying everything about any possible breach of the embassy's outer grounds and says there are no plans to evacuate.  Meanwhile, Tang the Conqueror is golfing at Mar-A-Lago again and some cruise missile strikes on Iranian targets would be a great way for him to wrap himself in the flag heading into any impeachment trial.

This is a pretty dangerous situation.  Both sides have considerable reason to want escalation here and the protesters never would have been able to get past the outer embassy security without help from Iraqi security forces, at least initially.

Trump has every reason to make this worse.

Zandar's 2019 Scorecard

Welp, it's December 31, and that means we take a look at how I did in my 2019 predictions, and I wasn't very accurate.  For some of these predictions that's actually a good thing.  For others, I wish I had been right.

1) Robert Muller recommends impeachable offenses for Donald Trump.

Sadly, this did not happen, and it was the miss that maybe defined the year.  If Mueller had recommended indictment six months ago, I honestly wonder where we would be right now. But he was never going to do it, and it was foolish of everyone, myself included, to believe for a second that he would.

2) Trump will wait until after Mueller's report is delivered in order to issue pardons.

That still may be the case, but the impeachment of Donald Trump has so far prevented that. Another miss.

3) Trump will not be impeached in 2019.

Another miss, but not by much.  It took until the waning days of the House 2019 session in December, but he was impeached, another miss (and I'm actually glad).

4) The Roberts Court will get a major decision on executive power related to the Mueller probe.

Again, the impeachment of Donald Trump pushed this back to 2020.  While the Supreme Court did take up the case in 2019, the decision won't come until June, if at all (being remanded back to a lower court is kind of the standard thing for these guys.) A miss.

5) The Roberts Court will effectively side with Trump in Gamble vs. United States.

This was my biggest worry, and in a 7-2 decision, the Roberts Court preserved a state's ability to try a case where the defendant was acquitted on federal charges. Siding with Trump would have meant that the NY state case against Trump would have to be dropped.  A very feel-good miss.

6) Hillary Clinton won't enter the 2020 race in 2019.

I got this one exactly right.  She stayed way, way out of it.

7) Bernie Sanders will enter the 2020 race in 2019.

Of course he did.  As I said, as much of a no-brainer as Clinton passing.

8) Dow Jones Average will be under 20,000 on December 31, 2019.

As much as I thought we were headed for a recession in 2019, it didn't happen. Despite a rough January - May period, the Dow and the economy rallied in the second half of the year and gained more than 20% for the year, the S&P 500 was up over 25%, and the NASDAQ up over 35%.  The Trump Tax Scam and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin made it possible, and it came at the direct expense of higher prices for the American consumer.

9) Marvel movies will continue to rule the box office.

Boy did they ever.  Captain Marvel came up a tad short on the domestic half-billion mark I had set, but all three Marvel films obliterated the billion mark worldwide, and Avengers: Endgame took in $2.7 billion. Eight movies broke one billion worldwide in 2019, seven of them were Disney films (and the other was Joker).  Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker is well on its way to one billion after it's December 20 release, so Disney will have a happy 2020 as well.

10) And of course, ZVTS will make it through year 11.

We did, thanks to you.  It's been a rough year, a year where I went 4 for 10, but if I had been right on more things, I think we would have been in a lot worse shape overall.

I'll have my predictions for 2020 up later this evening.

Meanwhile, I still had a better year than most of these professional pundits, so there's that.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Holidaze: I've Seen The Future

Charles Gaba notes the makeup of the current House caucuses for both parties.

One of these parties has a future with its current House roster, given America's increasingly diverse demographics.

The other party does not.

Well, I take that back.  The other party has a future that should frighten the living hell out of all of us.

Holidaze: The Drums Of War

The Trump regime has counterattacked targets in Iraq and Syria with missile strikes in response to an attack over the weekend on and Iraqi military base that killed a US military contractor.

The strikes occurred at about 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. They stand as the first significant military response in retaliation for attacks by the Shia militia group, known as Kataib Hezbollah, that have injured numerous American military personnel, according to US officials. 
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman described the strikes against the group as "precision defensive strikes" that "will degrade" the group's ability to conduct future attacks against coalition forces. 
Defense Secretary Mark Esper briefed President Donald Trump Saturday before carrying them out with the President's approval, according to a US official familiar with the strikes. 
At least 25 people were killed in the US airstrikes, according to a statement Sunday from the Popular Mobilization Units, a Tehran-backed Shiite militia also known as the Hashd al-Shaabi. 
Kataib Hezbollah is a group under the Popular Mobilization Units. Jewad Kadum, a PMU official, said in a statement earlier Sunday that the rescue operations were still ongoing as well as the evacuation of the wounded, recovery of the dead bodies and the extinguishing of the fire caused by the airstrikes.

Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, traveled Sunday to Mar-a-Lago to discuss the strikes with Trump. 
Speaking from the President's Florida resort, Pompeo said the US took "decisive action" and said threats against American forces had been ongoing for "weeks and weeks." 
"We will not stand for the Islamic Republican of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy," Pompeo said. 
Esper said Sunday's meeting with the President included discussing "other options available" without providing further detail. He added that the US "would take additional actions as necessary to ensure that we act in our own self-defense and we deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran."

Trump very badly wants to get the press off of his impeachment trial, so a nice military escalation in the Middle East seems to be the solution.  Especially given indicted Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's continued troubles, further significant action against Iranian-backed Syrian targets seems pretty likely at this point.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Holidaze: Them's Fightin' Words

As I keep saying, Trump is the symptom.  The disease is the people who vote for Trump, especially those that see his election as an open call to intimidation and violence against those who don't agree with them.  

We call them white nationalists, white supremacists, racists.  That gives them the right to threaten our lives, apparently.  The openly congregate at events like "Trumpstock" in Arizona, with sitting members of Congress like GOP Rep. Paul Gosar joining them, so they can swear allegiance to start shooting if Trump loses.

Arizona will be a key battleground state in 2020: Democrats already flipped a Senate seat and a Tucson-based congressional district from red to blue in 2018. For Mr. Trump, big turnout from white voters in areas like Mohave County — and in rural parts of other battlegrounds like Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and Georgia — could be a lifeline in a tight election.

“We like to call this the ‘Red Wall of Arizona,’” said Laurence Schiff, a psychiatrist and Republican campaign official in Mohave County who organizes in support of Mr. Trump’s campaign. “Winning the state starts here, with us.”

Grass-roots gatherings play a critical role in the modern culture of political organizing, firing up ardent supporters and cementing new ones. Small circles of Trump-supporting conservatives, often organized online and outside the traditional Republican Party apparatus, engage in more decentralized — and explicit — versions of the chest-beating that happens at Mr. Trump’s closely watched political rallies.

In interviews, people in the crowd described a white America under threat as racial minorities typified by Mr. Obama, the country’s first black president, gain political power. They described Mr. Trump as an inspirational figure who is undoing Mr. Obama’s legacy and beating back the perceived threat of Muslim and Latino immigrants, whom they denounced in prejudiced terms.

“I don’t have a problem with Muslims,” said Angus Smith, an Arizona resident who attended the festival, “but can they take the rag off their head out of respect for our country?”

At Mr. Trump’s official rallies, including a recent one in Florida, the president has referred to Mr. Obama by stressing his middle name, Hussein, and said Democrats were “trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you.”

The Trumpstock speakers pushed even further, tying Mr. Obama’s middle name to a false belief that he is a foreign-born Muslim.

And Democrats were portrayed as not just political opponents, but avatars of doom for Mr. Trump’s predominantly white voter base and for the country.

“There is no difference between the democratic socialists and the National Socialists,” said Evan Sayet, a conservative writer who spoke at the event, referencing Nazi Germany. Democrats, he said, “are the heirs to Adolf Hitler.”

The difference is of course these are the guys willing to start the next civil war.

Events like Trumpstock are not limited to Arizona. Its organizer, Laurie Bezick, recruited speakers from around the country through social media, tapping into a network of pro-Trump voices only a click away.

Long-shot congressional candidates touting an “America First” agenda came from places like Iowa and Maryland. Leaders of fledgling political groups with names like JEXIT: Jews Exit The Democratic Party, Latinos for Trump and Deplorable Pride, a right-wing L.G.B.T. organization, told the overwhelmingly white audience they were not anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, homophobic or racist. In fact, the speakers insisted, people who used those terms were more guilty of bigotry than the people they accused.

To applause, the co-founder of Latinos for Trump, Marco Gutierrez, read the pledge he took when he became a naturalized citizen and renounced his Mexican homeland. Nitemare, a pro-Trump rapper who refused to give his legal name, invoked QAnon and called Mr. Obama a racist slur in his set.

Brian Talbert, the founder of Deplorable Pride, was contacted by the White House after he was barred from the L.G.B.T. pride parade in Charlotte, N.C. At Trumpstock, Mr. Talbert, who has a history of expressing anti-Muslim beliefs on social media, gave voice to hatred of Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Mr. Trump’s 2016 opponent.

“I think she should be hanging at the end of a rope for treason,” he said of Mrs. Clinton.

Members of groups like these at once make up a critical portion of Arizona’s conservative base, and espouse derogatory rhetoric that must repeatedly be repudiated, creating political difficulties for the state’s Republican lawmakers. After a photograph emerged last April of members of Patriot Movement AZ posing with Gov. Doug Ducey, he said he had never heard of the group. “I absolutely denounce their behavior,” he added.

Trumpstock attendees say they are used to being denounced, another quality they feel they share with the president. It’s part of why they are protective of him, to the point that they refuse to acknowledge the possibility of a Trump loss in 2020.

Mark Villalta said he had been stockpiling firearms, in case Mr. Trump’s re-election is not successful.

“Nothing less than a civil war would happen,” Mr. Villalta said, his right hand reaching for a holstered handgun. “I don’t believe in violence, but I’ll do what I got to do

We live in a country where people regularly open fire into crowds of people with the intent to kill.  How many times will that happen if Donald Trump is defeated?  These are people only warning us that they will pull the trigger, folks.  And our government cannot be counted on to protect us from them.

Not one bit.

Sunday Long Read: The Most Dangerous Game

In 2017, a white man named James Harris Jackson stabbed Timothy Caughman, an unarmed random black man, to death in the middle of Times Square in NYC.  Jackson walked up to police searching for Caughman's assailant and confessed to the crime.  He absolutely confessed to killing Caughman for the sole reason that Caughman was black.

The man stumbled into the police precinct in Hell’s Kitchen late one night, staggering toward a tall reception desk painted black and blue. Before the desk officer could ask the man his business, he collapsed on a bench, dripping blood.

When officers pulled up his shirt, they found a series of deep stab wounds in his dark skin. As they struggled to stem the bleeding, they asked the man who had attacked him, but he could only groan. He died minutes later at a Manhattan hospital without saying a word.
Police scrambled to make sense of the March 20, 2017, slaying. A witness had seen the victim tussling with someone on the street half a block away. Surveillance footage showed a young white man with a black coat and neatly parted blond hair fleeing the scene.

But the motive was a mystery. And by the following evening, police still had no leads on the suspect — not even a name.

As two dozen officers gathered in Times Square — nine blocks from the crime scene — at midnight to continue the search, a solitary figure suddenly emerged from the stream of tourists. His flaxen hair was carefully combed.

“I’m the guy you’re looking for,” James Harris Jackson said, calmly slipping off his black jacket and setting it down in front of an officer. “There are knives in that coat.”
For the next five hours, in a videotaped interview that would later be entered into the court record, Jackson proudly told detectives how he had stabbed Timothy Caughman in the back with a Roman-style short sword simply because he was black.

Caughman, the 28-year-old Army veteran explained, was “practice” for a bigger attack in which Jackson aimed to kill as many black men with white women as he could.

“I was looking to get black men scared and have them do reciprocal attacks,” he said, “and inspire white men to do similar things.”

If the detectives really wanted to understand him, Jackson said, they should read the manifesto he had planned on sending to the media.

“The Racial World War starts today,” it began. “God has ordered us to eliminate the Negro races from the face of the earth for the good of all mankind.”

There's no doubt that both the number of and the casualties caused by hate crimes in the US have only skyrocketed under the Trump regime.  But now we're seeing these crimes being linked to a much nastier movement, with a distinct goal in mind.

And this regime is helping them.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Holidaze: Another Brick In The Wall

The Trump regime has basically built zero new miles of border wall, because they haven't been able to get the land for it from people who live along the border, so now the Trump regime is stepping up Justice Department lawsuits to take thousands of miles of land by force through eminent domain.

Three years into Donald Trump’s presidency, the U.S. government is ramping up its efforts to seize private land in Texas to build a border wall. 
Trump’s signature campaign promise has consistently faced political, legal, and environmental obstacles in Texas, which has the largest section of the U.S.-Mexico border, most of it without fencing. And much of the land along the Rio Grande, the river that forms the border in Texas, is privately held and environmentally sensitive. 
Almost no land has been taken so far. But Department of Justice lawyers have filed three lawsuits this month seeking to take property from landowners. On Tuesday, lawyers moved to seize land in one case immediately before a scheduled court hearing in February. 
The agency says it’s ready to file many more petitions to take private land in the coming weeks. While progress has lagged, the process of taking land under eminent domain is weighted heavily in the government’s favor. 
The U.S. government has built about 90 miles of walls since Trump took office, almost all of it replacing old fencing. Reaching Trump’s oft-stated goal of 500 miles by the end of 2020 will almost certainly require stepping up progress in Texas.

Opponents have lobbied Congress to limit funding and prevent construction in areas like the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, an important sanctuary for several endangered species of jaguars, birds, and other animals, as well as the nonprofit National Butterfly Center and a historic Catholic chapel. They have also filed several lawsuits. A federal judge this month prevented the government from building with money redirected to the wall under Trump’s declaration of a national emergency earlier this year. Also, two judges recently ordered a private, pro-Trump fundraising group to stop building its own wall near the Rio Grande. 
Even on land the government owns, construction has been held up. In another federal wildlife refuge, at a site known as La Parida Banco, work crews cleared brush this spring and the government announced in April that construction would soon begin. Eight months later, the site remains empty. 
According to a U.S. official familiar with the project, work crews discovered that the land was too saturated. The planned metal bollards installed on top of concrete panels would have been unstable because of the water levels in the soil, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person did not have authorization to share the information publicly. 
U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the issue of saturation at La Parida Banco, saying construction there was “currently in the design phase.”

Trump's biggest campaign promise in 2016 was 500 miles of new border wall by the end of his first term, and he'll be lucky if there's 50.  The last thing he wants is the papers in Texas and especially in Arizona filled with stories of government land grabs from law-abiding citizens being forced off their property by gunpoint as we head into 2020.

Of course, a second Trump term absolutely will be filled with those stories.  That's the point.

Holidaze: Eat The Rich

The leveraging of a giant social-media presence, a catchy tune about a family of sharks and a burgeoning collection of junkyards are just a few of the curious ways that helped make 2019 a fertile year for fortunes to blossom around the world.

Kylie Jenner became the youngest self-made billionaire this year after her company, Kylie Cosmetics, signed an exclusive partnership with Ulta Beauty Inc. She then sold a 51% stake for $600 million.

It has been almost two months since the Washington Nationals captured their first World Series championship, but people around the world are still singing along to the baseball team’s adopted rallying cry: “Baby Shark, doo-doo doo-doo doo-doo.” The Korean family that helped popularize the viral earworm are now worth about $125 million.

Even car wrecks proved to be a treasure trove. Willis Johnson, the gold-chain-wearing Oklahoma native who founded Copart Inc., has amassed a $1.9 billion fortune by building a network of junkyards to sell damaged autos.

Read more: Junkyard billionaire thriving on auto wrecks expands empire

The emergence of atypical fortunes underscores just how much money the uber-rich accumulated in 2019.

And the richer they were at the start of the year, the richer they got. The world’s 500 wealthiest people tracked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index added $1.2 trillion, boosting their collective net worth 25% to $5.9 trillion.

It's unsustainable, of course.  25% yearly returns don't happen without massive economic depressions at some point.  But when we get there, the rich will be fine.  They always are.  The other 7.5 billion of us, not so much.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Holidaze: Destruction Modi Engaged

The Atlantic's Yascha Mounk argues that if you want to see the horrific autocratic fascism of a second Trump term, take a look at where India's Narendra Modi is now with his violent hypernationalism.

When I spent a month on a research trip to India in December 2014, half a year after Narendra Modi swept to power, the writers, academics, and intellectuals I met were engrossed in a debate that may now feel oddly familiar to Americans. They all disliked Modi, an ardent Hindu nationalist, because of his disdain for India’s secular constitution. But they were divided on the impact that his rule was likely to have on the basic freedoms they enjoyed.

Some people feared that Modi would quickly move to quash dissent; one even worried that he might soon land in prison for criticizing the government. Others waved such fears away as hyperbolic.

In his first five years in office, Modi did considerable damage, both to the freedoms his critics enjoyed and to the security of the country’s religious minorities. Social-media mobs intimidated anybody who dared to criticize his government. Media outlets allied with Modi stoked fears about Muslim men waging “love jihad” by marrying Hindu women. Mainstream newspapers that were once highly critical of Modi started to praise him with surprising regularity, and to criticize him with notable rarity. And in episodes of what Indians euphemistically call “communal violence,” Muslims were lynched by angry mobs.

The worst, however, was yet to come. After Modi won reelection with an even larger majority in the spring of this year, his government began to take radical action to unwind the secularism of India’s constitution, arguably doing more damage in the first months of its second term than it had in the previous five years. Some of the concerns about Modi that seemed exaggerated at the conclusion of his first term in office are now starting to look prescient.

During his reelection campaign, Modi vowed to introduce a national register of citizens, which would allow the government to keep better records and to expel unauthorized immigrants. This plan raised fears both among Hindu immigrants who came to the country decades ago after being expelled from neighboring countries such as Bangladesh and among Muslims who lack the necessary documentation to prove that they are in fact citizens. Once reelected, Modi proposed to help the former group by granting unauthorized immigrants from Muslim-majority countries—including Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—an express path to naturalization if they belonged to a persecuted religious minority in their country of origin. In other words, Hindus who have no legal right to be in India would likely be able to stay, while many Muslims who have been in India for generations would face the threat of deportation—bringing India one step closer to the Hindu nation that Modi desires.

Over the past weeks, a large protest movement has formed to oppose these radical changes. In cities and universities across the country, citizens of every faith have rallied to defend the country’s secular constitution. The government’s response has been brutal: In some states, it has invoked colonial-era statutes to ban the assembly of more than five people. In other states, it has shut down the internet. Harrowing videos that quickly went viral show policemen roughing up Muslim students whom they suspect of having protested the government.

As Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the country’s preeminent political scientist, told me, in his first term, Modi focused on economic initiatives without ever distancing himself from Hindu nationalism. “In the second term, he has taken a more aggressive stand to enshrine Hindu majoritarianism in law and polarize public discourse,” Mehta said. “Even more worryingly, the use of the state apparatus to quell dissent and protest has increased markedly. In states like Uttar Pradesh, the police is cracking down on protesters from the minority community with unprecedented ferocity.”

Many observers of India have been surprised that Modi has grown so much more extreme in his second term in office. But a comparison of populist governments around the world suggests that India is following a predictable pattern of what would-be authoritarians do when they win reelection.

As we’ve seen in countries including Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, populist leaders are at first hamstrung in their ability to concentrate power in their own hands. Many key institutions, including courts and electoral commissions, are still dominated by independent-minded professionals who do not owe their appointment to the new regime. Media outlets are still able and willing to report on scandals, forcing the government to tread somewhat carefully.

Once these governments win reelection, these constraints begin to fall away. As the independent-minded judges and civil servants depart, populist leaders feel emboldened to pursue their illiberal dreams.

Replace "Hindu" with "Christian" and you already have the Trump regime's deportation plan under Stephen Miller.  Give them a second term with Mitch still in charge of the Senate and god help us the House, and another Supreme Court pick or two, and all bets are off as to whether the Civil rights era survives into 2024.

Or free and fair elections, for that matter.

Holidaze: Das Trumpenfuhrer

When polling outfit YouGov asked Germans which world leader they thought was the largest threat to world peace, the results weren't even close.

41% of Germans believe President Trump is more of a threat to world peace than North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping or Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to a YouGov survey reported by DW.

Why it matters: The results show the degree to which trust in U.S. leadership has eroded under Trump, even among countries like Germany that are traditionally viewed as close allies.

Details: 2,000 Germans participated in the survey, which was conducted between Dec. 16 and 18. Kim Jong-un came in second at 17%, followed by Putin and Khamenei at 8% and Xi at 7%.

Hey, at least he won something.

Holidaze: Impeachment Reached

Public support for removing Trump from office is now up to 55% in a new Yahoo News/MSN poll conducted this week.

Fifty-five per cent of those asked said they were in favour of the US president’s conviction by the Senate, a figure which has shot up from 48 per cent the week before.

Meanwhile, the number of people against Mr Trump’s removal has dropped to an all-time low, according to the MSN poll.

On Christmas Day, 40 per cent were opposed to the Senate voting to convict the president, who has been impeached over his dealings with Ukraine and an alleged subsequent attempt to obstruct congress.

The gap between the two views has become much wider since last week, when there was little to divide them (48 per cent in favour of Mr Trump's removal, 47 per cent against).

The percentage of respondents who neither supported nor opposed conviction also grew.

David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research, said the numbers of people shifting from opposition to removal to "don't know" was significant. “When you follow polling daily, you learn people rarely make big jumps from Opposition to Support,” he said.

“This polling is a clear sign that [the] Republican policy of complete obstruction is not selling well to [the] voting public.

I'll believe that when I see Republican Senators actually voting to have a real trial, but for now at least Pelosi's delay strategy to put pressure on the Senate is definitely working.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Holidaze: The Village Idiot

Jay Rosen catches NBC Meet The Press host Chuck Todd trying to explain away his guilt in allowing the Trump regime's misinformation for three straight years on his weekly politics show, and if anything I agree with Rosen that Todd's admission should lead to his immediate replacement.

‘Round midnight on Christmas eve, Rolling Stone posted a short interview with Chuck Todd, host of “the longest running show on television,” NBC’s Meet the Press.

Its contents were explosive, embarrassing, enraging, and just plain weird.

Three years after Kellyanne Conway introduced the doctrine of “alternative facts” on his own program, a light went on for Chuck Todd. Republican strategy, he now realized, was to make stuff up, spread it on social media, repeat it in your answers to journalists — even when you know it’s a lie with crumbs of truth mixed in — and then convert whatever controversy arises into go-get-em points with the base, while pocketing for the party a juicy dividend: additional mistrust of the news media to help insulate President Trump among loyalists when his increasingly brazen actions are reported as news.

Todd repeatedly called himself naive for not recognizing the pattern, itself an astounding statement that cast doubt on his fitness for office as host of Meet the Press. While the theme of the interview was waking up to the truth of Republican actions in the information warfare space, Todd went to sleep on the implications of what he revealed. It took him three years to understand a fact about American politics that was there on the surface, unconcealed since the day after inauguration. Many, many interpreters had described it for him during those lost years when he could not bring himself to believe it. (I am one.)

You cannot call that an oversight. It’s a strategic blindness that he superintended. By “strategic blindness” I mean what people mean when they quote Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

The ostensible purpose of the Rolling Stone interview was to promote a special edition of Meet the Press on December 29 that will focus on the weaponization of disinformation. But its effect is to bring MTP — and by extension similar shows — into epistemological crisis. With Todd’s confessions the mask has come off. It could have come off a long time ago, but the anchors, producers, guests, advertisers and to an unknown degree the remaining viewers colluded in an act of make believe that lurched along until now. One way to say it: They agreed to pretend that Conway’s threatening phrase, “alternative facts” was just hyberbole, the kind of inflammatory moment that makes for viral clips and partisan bickering. More silly than it was ominous.

In reality she had made a grave announcement. The nature of the Trump government would be propagandistic. And as as Garry Kasparov observes for us, “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” This exhaustion, this annihilation were on their way to the Sunday shows, and to all interactions with journalists. That is what Kellyanne Conway was saying that day on Meet the Press. But the people who run the show chose not to believe it.

That’s malpractice. Chuck Todd called it naiveté in order to minimize the error. This we cannot allow.

Todd is trying to escape his own culpability with his defense of "I'm a professional pundit and they were good enough to fool even me!"

For years I've been saying that the Village media, in its constant quest for "access" to the Trump regime, has all but destroyed itself in the process.  We no longer have White House briefings or a White House Correspondents' Dinner,  we barely even have a White House press.

Todd saying "Well gosh I just didn't believe them" as a political roundtable host, well, frankly he should be fired.

And he's not just a host, he's been NBC News's political director for over a decade now.  He's their top political voice for the network, and he's an idiot.

No wonder we're screwed.

Holidaze: Merry Turtlemas, Kentucky

Mitch McConnell's approval rating here in Kentucky is still somewhere around "lukewarm bacon grease and licorice sandwich" but he figures he can buy another term with a half-billion in spending and another half-billion in corporate tax cuts for the Bluegrass State.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is delivering more than $1 billion worth of federal spending and tax breaks to his Kentucky constituents, just in time for Christmas and ahead of a potentially tough reelection campaign.

McConnell’s biggest obstacle to getting the deal done was not Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), but President Trump, who proclaimed last year that he was not going to sign another omnibus spending bill and whose White House made rumblings about backing a year-end spending freeze instead.

But McConnell, who is running for his seventh Senate term next year, flexed his political muscle to secure $914.2 million in direct spending for Kentucky in the two year-end omnibus spending bills. The windfall will likely boost his political standing at home in the face of a well-financed Democratic opponent and his perennially low approval ratings.
McConnell touted his spending and tax-relief accomplishments at a press conference in Louisville, and drew a sharp contrast with his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot who raised nearly $11 million in the third quarter this year for the 2020 race.

Noting that he’s the only top congressional leader who isn’t from California or New York, McConnell emphasized he was one of four people in the room making final decisions about specifics on the year-end spending and tax deals.

The GOP leader argued that his presence at the high-level talks gave Kentucky “an advantage to punch above its weight.”

“I saw a commercial from my likely opponent indicating that I was all that was wrong with Washington. So I have a question for her here as we go into the new year: In what way would Kentucky have been better off without any of these items that I put in the year-end spending bill?” McConnell said.

It's a powerful argument from a politician who registers a 37 percent approval rating at home, according to a Morning Consult poll from the third quarter.

"He's never had a great level of personal popularity so it's been important for him to deliver for the state, and he does a good job of doing that," said Al Cross, a journalism professor at the University of Kentucky and a longtime commentator on state politics.

Cross said McGrath has enough fundraising prowess to match McConnell on the airwaves next year and noted the GOP leader "never takes anything for granted."

McConnell's wins in the spending legislation included coal miners’ pension benefits; $410 million for the construction of the new Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville; $314 million for cleanup of Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a $40 million increase over last year’s funding level; a tax break for spirits distillers worth an estimated $426 million in 2020 alone; and $65 million for the construction of the Forage Animal Production Lab at the University of Kentucky.

“I was directly responsible — directly responsible — for these items,” McConnell declared at the press conference

I'm old enough to remember when pork barrel earmarks were a bad thing all throughout the Bush and Obama presidencies, right up until Trump got in the door.  Now it's "You should vote for me because I'm personally responsible for a billion in spending."

And suddenly, "Obama's profligate wasteful spending" no longer matters while Trump is running up trillion-dollar annual deficits with no relief in sight.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Holidaze: Deeply Concerned Two: The Concernening

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, says she was “disturbed” to hear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say there would be "total coordination" between the White House and the Senate over the upcoming presidential impeachment trial.

“And in fairness, when I heard that I was disturbed,” Murkowski said before describing that there should be distance between the White House and the Senate in how the trial is conducted. “To me it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process.”

Murkowski was critical of the impeachment process conducted in the House of Representatives that she describes as rushed. “Speaker Pelosi was very clear, very direct that her goal was to get this done before Christmas.”

She says the Senate is now being asked to cure deficiencies in the evidence that will be presented at the trial, particularly when it comes to whether key witnesses should be brought forward to testify including White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

“How we will deal with witnesses remains to be seen,” Murkowski said before describing that the House should have gone to the courts if witnesses refused to appear before Congress.

For how the trial is formulated, Murkowski spoke of her desire for a “full and fair process,” potentially using President Clinton’s impeachment hearings as a template.

Murkowski remains undecided how she would vote when the trial takes place. “For me to prejudge and say there’s nothing there or on the other hand, he should be impeached yesterday, that’s wrong, in my view, that’s wrong."

On the one hand, this is precisely why Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer didn't immediately send over articles of impeachment to the Senate, in order to make vulnerable GOP senators sweat a little and to get other, less vulnerable (but still very media savvy and mavericky grandstanders) GOP senators like Murkowski to put pressure on McConnell to allow a Real, Actual Senate Trial™.

On the other hand, Murkowski is openly lying when she says she hasn't made up her mind in order to acquit Trump yet.  As GOP Senate leader, Mitch McConnell is a lot of things, ruthless, corrupt, immoral, and one of the most repugnant villains of our political era, but he's not stupid.  There's no way he hasn't already set ground rules with Murkowski, Romney, Collins, Cory Gardner, etc. for moving forward, and for that matter, he's already had his conversations with Democrats like Doug Jones and Joe Manchin.  Witnesses allowed in the trial or not, the outcome is preordained.

On the gripping hand, Murkowski playing this game serves both the GOP and the Democrats, and both sides know it, so the forms must be obeyed.

Another Washington Christmas, where hope of bipartisanship springs eternal and all that.

Merry Christmas From ZVTS!

The reason for the season.

An entire town in Louisiana got a Christmas blessing thanks to holy water and an airplane. 
Cow Island and the neighboring farms got a dusting of 100 gallons of holy water just before Christmas, the Diocese of Lafayette announced Sunday. 
Cow Island is a town about 32 miles southwest of Lafayette.
The community-wide blessing was thought up by L'Eryn Detraz, a native of Cow Island and a missionary currently stationed in Ohio, the diocese said. 
Parishioners of St. Anne Church brought water from home to be blessed by Fr. Matthew Barzare before it was loaded onto a plane and distributed by a cropduster pilot. 
"A happy and blessed Christmas to everyone from St. Anne Church and parishioners!" the diocese said in the statement.

It's a nice cover story though.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Holidaze: The Last Days Of Bevinstan

The feds would like to have a little chat with former Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin about his pay-for-play pardons and twisted exonerations of child molesters, among other things.

The FBI is asking questions about the pardons Matt Bevin issued during his last weeks as Kentucky governor, The Courier Journal has learned.

State Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, told reporters that a criminal investigator contacted him last week and asked what he knew about Bevin's pardons.

Harris did not elaborate on what questions were asked, and he declined to say which law enforcement agency contacted him.

"I can confirm that I have been contacted by someone looking into the pardons that were issued by Gov. Bevin on his way out the door," he said. "The impression I got is that there was an investigation ramping up."

Two sources with knowledge of the inquiry told The Courier Journal on Monday that an FBI agent had spoken with Harris. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the agency could "neither confirm nor deny the existence of said investigation" when reached late Monday night.

Bevin has received national criticism for pardoning or commuting the sentences of more than 650 people following his failed reelection bid in November.

State prosecutors and leaders such as U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have condemned several of Bevin's decisions, particularly his pardon of Patrick Baker, who had servedtwo years of a 19-year sentence for reckless homicide and robbery in the slaying of a Knox County man in front of his family.
The Courier Journal reported on Dec. 11 that Baker's brother held a campaign fundraiser at his home for Bevin in July 2018 that raised $21,500. The former governor also received a letter from business executive Terry Forcht, one of the state’s Republican mega-donors, urging Bevin to pardon Baker.

Forcht has given at least $2.8 million to state and national political causes in the last 40 years, including more than $100,000 to Bevin's campaign and inauguration funds.

Bevin has welcomed an investigation and denied political gifts had anything to do with his pardons

I'd love to see Bevin in prison over this, it would be the perfect end to the Bevinstan era.  We'll see what happens, but even Mitch McConnell is horrified by such obvious criminality (or more correctly he's horrified at Bevin getting so easily caught).

Here's to you, Matt.  Enjoy the hoosegow.

Holidaze: Death Of A Journalist

The Saudis have found a sufficient number of scapegoats to sacrifice for the death of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, and the United States will continue to pretend that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman didn't personally order Khashoggi's execution, because the Trump regime owes the Saudi royal family hundreds of millions of dollars.

Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death and three more to jail over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year and said the killing was not premeditated, a verdict criticized by a U.N. investigator as a “mockery” of justice.

The court dismissed charges against the remaining three of the 11 people that had been on trial, finding them not guilty, Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor and spokesman Shalaan al-Shalaan said. None of the defendants’ names was immediately released.

“The investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated ... The decision was taken at the spur of the moment,” Shalaan said, a position contradicting the findings of a United Nations-led investigation.

Khashoggi was a U.S. resident and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler. He was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, where he had gone to obtain documents for his impending wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found.

Eleven Saudi suspects were put on trial over his death in secretive proceedings in the capital Riyadh.

Khashoggi’s murder caused a global uproar, tarnishing the crown prince’s image. The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe Prince Mohammed, also known as MbS, ordered the killing.

The CIA, the UK, Canada, and the UN all know the truth, they've all said it multiple times, and nobody cares.  If the Saudis ever spilled the beans on Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, they'd be facing prison, but of course the Trump regime response is that everything is fine.

The United States considers Saudi Arabia’s sentencing of five people to death and three more to jail over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi “an important step” in holding those responsible for the crime accountable, a senior official of the U.S. administration said on Monday.

“This is an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable, and we encourage Saudi Arabia to continue with a fair and transparent judicial process,” said the official, who did not wish to be otherwise identified.

Profiles in courage.  Then again, when you're dealing with a psychopath who orders dissidents vivisected and dismembered with a bone saw, perhaps treading lightly is smart.  Especially when you owe them money.

There's a reason why Trump is willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to stop anyone from seeing his tax returns, folks.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Holidaze: Israeli A Mess

Israel is headed for a major constitutional showdown as the country's highest court has ruled that the case to bar indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from being eligible for office due to standing criminal charges against him will be heard on December 31.  Netanyahu is all but promising to ignore such a ruling against him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implied Sunday that the High Court of Justice did not have the authority to rule on a petition which claims that he is ineligible to assemble a government due to a pending indictment against him. 
“In a democracy, it is the people who decide who will lead them, not anyone else. Otherwise, it just isn’t democracy,” Netanyahu said in a video posted to social media shortly after the court’s announcement that it would hear the case.

The petition against Netanyahu’s potential reelection comes as the prime minister has been accusing prosecutors, the media, and the judiciary of working together in an effort to bring him down on trumped-up corruption charges. 
Last month, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced an indictment against Netanyahu in three corruption cases, which include charges of breach of trust, fraud, and, in the most serious case, bribery. 
The court’s decision to rule on the question of Netanyahu’s legal eligibility to stand for office appears set to spark a new round of political skirmishing, and will likely be used by Netanyahu’s campaign to advance his assertion that the legal system is staging an “attempted coup” in a bid to topple the right. 
One Likud lawmaker, Netanyahu ally MK Miki Zohar, threatened to weaken the court’s powers in the next Knesset term if it rules Netanyahu ineligible. 
“If the High Court issues a scandalous ruling that intervenes in political questions by declaring that Netanyahu is prohibited from forming a government, our answer will be clear and direct,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “1. A supercession clause [allowing the Knesset to overturn the court’s rulings] will be [passed] in all three readings immediately after the next Knesset takes office. 2. The ruling will be canceled forthwith, allowing Netanyahu to form the government.

This is some pretty hefty stuff here, the US equivalent of Republicans in Congress threatening to pass a law allowing Congress to overrule any Supreme Court decision.  Not even the GOP is willing to go that far at this point, but it's painfully clear that Israel's Likud party is ready and willing to install Netanyahu as a populist dictator in order to maintain power.

In an alternate universe where Robert Mueller had the courage to recommend charges for Trump, and that we had a Justice Department willing to prosecute (and a Supreme Court willing to hear the arguments and decide on whether a sitting president could be charged) this is what we would be seeing on the Trump front.

Still, things are coming to a boil in Israel.  Should Netanyahu lose the petition and be disqualified, all bets are off as to what happens next.  Israel will hold another national election on March 2nd, and who knows where the country will be by then.

Holidaze: Here Comes The Judge(s)

If there's one decisive and lasting legacy that Donald Trump has won, it's his takeover of the federal courts.  They are lost to liberals for a generation, as many of us warned would happen, but we were told in angry response that "scaring people into voting for Hillary" would never work.

In a sense, it failed because the millions of people who shrugged and decided that a protest vote for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, a write-in or a black space wasn't anything that would damage their rights personallyClinton only got 43% of the white 18-29 vote in 2016, Trump 47%, and another 10% picked neither.  Why the hell did any of us expect 25-year old white kids to give a damn about civil rights, women's rights, LGBTQ+ rights, or any of that?

No, the kids aren't alright.  Not in the least.  And that brings us to the courts we lost.

After three years in office, President Donald Trump has remade the federal judiciary, ensuring a conservative tilt for decades and cementing his legacy no matter the outcome of November's election.

Trump nominees make up 1 in 4 U.S. circuit court judges. Two of his picks sit on the Supreme Court. And this past week, as the House voted to impeach the president, the Republican-led Senate confirmed another 13 district court judges.

In total, Trump has installed 187 judges to the federal bench.

Trump's mark on the judiciary is already having far-reaching effects on legislation and liberal priorities. Just last week, the 5th Circuit struck down a core provision of the Affordable Care Act. One of the two appellate judges who ruled against the landmark law was a Trump appointee.

The Supreme Court - where two of the nine justices are conservatives selected by Trump - could eventually hear that case.

The 13 circuit courts are the second most powerful in the nation, serving as a last stop for appeals on lower court rulings, unless the case is taken up by the Supreme Court. So far, Trump has appointed 50 judges to circuit court benches. Comparatively, by this point in President Barack Obama's first term, he had confirmed 25. At the end of his eight years, he had appointed 55 circuit judges.

Trump's appointments have flipped three circuit courts to majority GOP-appointed judges, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York. The president has also selected younger conservatives for these lifetime appointments, ensuring his impact is felt for many years.

The executor of this aggressive push is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is almost singularly focused on reshaping the federal judiciary, twice ramming through Senate rule changes to speed up confirmations over Democrats' objections.

"Leave no vacancy behind" is his mantra, McConnell has stated publicly. With a 53-to-47 Senate majority, he has been able to fill openings at breakneck speed.

Another Trump term and the civil rights era is over.  The voting rights era is over.  The women's rights and LGBTQ+ equality movements are over.  Roe is done.  The federal government will no longer be the guarantor of your rights as an American, your rights, your citizenship status, and what you will be allowed to do will solely be determined by what state you live in.

In other words, we go back to Jim Crow 1880s, or worse, the 1850s.

But again, for most young white Millennials and now white Gen Z kids voting for the first time?

Why should that matter?  Why shouldn't they vote for the party that will make them full citizens from the get-go?

It should be enough to do the right thing, but how can I expect someone to vote against their interests and care about people other than themselves?

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Holidaze: Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

More evidence has come to light this weekend that the Trump regime moved within hours after the now-infamous July 25th Trump phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to withhold millions in military aid to Kyiv in order to pressure the government of the former Soviet state to play ball with Trump's "favor" to fabricate an investigation into the Bidens in order to affect the 2020 race.

About 90 minutes after President Trump held a controversial telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in July, the White House budget office ordered the Pentagon to suspend all military aid that Congress had allocated to Ukraine, according to emails released by the Pentagon late Friday. 
A budget official, Michael Duffey, also told the Pentagon to keep quiet about the aid freeze because of the “sensitive nature of the request,” according to a message dated July 25. 
An earlier email that Mr. Duffey sent to the Pentagon comptroller suggested that Mr. Trump began asking aides about $250 million in military aid set aside for Ukraine after noticing a June 19 article about it in the Washington Examiner.

The emails add to public understanding of the events that prompted the Democratic-led House to call for Mr. Trump to be removed from office. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress along a party-line vote after documents and testimony by senior administration officials revealed that he had withheld $391 million in aid to Ukraine at the same time that he asked for investigations from the Ukrainian president that would benefit him politically.

The emails were in a batch of 146 pages of documents released by the Pentagon late Friday to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit news organization and watchdog group, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. 
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, has pressed for Mr. Duffey, a political appointee who is associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, to testify in a Senate trial. On Twitter on Saturday, he pointed to the July 25 email as “all the more reason” Mr. Duffey and others must appear. Republican Senate leaders have indicated they do not plan to call witnesses.

The email raises further questions about the process by which Mr. Trump imposed the hold on the military aid, and the link between the hold and the requests he made of Mr. Zelensky in the telephone call, which prompted concern among national security officials with knowledge of the conversation. 
In the call, after Mr. Zelensky mentioned Ukraine was ready to buy anti-tank missiles to use in a war against a Russian-backed insurgency, Mr. Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” according to a reconstructed transcript released by the White House. He then pressed Mr. Zelensky to open an investigation based on a conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 United States elections and one based on unsubstantiated claims of corrupt acts by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential candidate.

Duffey, along with former National Security Adviser John Bolton's Mustache, and outgoing White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, absolutely need to testify before the Senate impeachment trial.

I'm under no illusion that Mitch McConnell will ever allow it, I fully expect him to dispose of the Senate trial before MLK Day with a quick series of votes.  But Nancy Pelosi was correct to hold back sending over articles of impeachment to the Senate until the rules of a trial can be made clear, and it's Mitch who's going have to eat the elephant dung sandwich on making the cover-up official.

It won't matter as far as the Senate trial goes, any more than the fact an overwhelming majority of Americans want universal firearms background checks, but if enough GOP senators pay the price in November for aiding and abetting Trump's crimes, along with Trump himself, maybe the republic will be given a chance to heal.

Holidaze Sunday Long Read: Smart Snitch Switch-Off

Your smartphone is a location narc, you are being tracked everywhere you go, and your location data is being bought and sold by the highest bidder, and the process is so easy even the NY Times opinion staff can track some of the most powerful people in the country with it.

Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

After spending months sifting through the data, tracking the movements of people across the country and speaking with dozens of data companies, technologists, lawyers and academics who study this field, we feel the same sense of alarm. In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan.

One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices’ owners to the residences indefinitely.

If you lived in one of the cities the dataset covers and use apps that share your location — anything from weather apps to local news apps to coupon savers — you could be in there, too.

If you could see the full trove, you might never use your phone the same way again.

The data reviewed by Times Opinion didn’t come from a telecom or giant tech company, nor did it come from a governmental surveillance operation. It originated from a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book. They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor.

The Times and other news organizations have reported on smartphone tracking in the past. But never with a data set so large. Even still, this file represents just a small slice of what’s collected and sold every day by the location tracking industry — surveillance so omnipresent in our digital lives that it now seems impossible for anyone to avoid.

It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure the powers such always-on surveillance can provide an authoritarian regime like China’s. Within America’s own representative democracy, citizens would surely rise up in outrage if the government attempted to mandate that every person above the age of 12 carry a tracking device that revealed their location 24 hours a day. Yet, in the decade since Apple’s App Store was created, Americans have, app by app, consented to just such a system run by private companies. Now, as the decade ends, tens of millions of Americans, including many children, find themselves carrying spies in their pockets during the day and leaving them beside their beds at night — even though the corporations that control their data are far less accountable than the government would be.

“The seduction of these consumer products is so powerful that it blinds us to the possibility that there is another way to get the benefits of the technology without the invasion of privacy. But there is,” said William Staples, founding director of the Surveillance Studies Research Center at the University of Kansas. “All the companies collecting this location information act as what I have called Tiny Brothers, using a variety of data sponges to engage in everyday surveillance.”

In this and subsequent articles we’ll reveal what we’ve found and why it has so shaken us. We’ll ask you to consider the national security risks the existence of this kind of data creates and the specter of what such precise, always-on human tracking might mean in the hands of corporations and the government. We’ll also look at legal and ethical justifications that companies rely on to collect our precise locations and the deceptive techniques they use to lull us into sharing it.

Today, it’s perfectly legal to collect and sell all this information. In the United States, as in most of the world, no federal law limits what has become a vast and lucrative trade in human tracking. Only internal company policies and the decency of individual employees prevent those with access to the data from, say, stalking an estranged spouse or selling the evening commute of an intelligence officer to a hostile foreign power.
Companies say the data is shared only with vetted partners. As a society, we’re choosing simply to take their word for that, displaying a blithe faith in corporate beneficence that we don’t extend to far less intrusive yet more heavily regulated industries. Even if these companies are acting with the soundest moral code imaginable, there’s ultimately no foolproof way they can secure the data from falling into the hands of a foreign security service. Closer to home, on a smaller yet no less troubling scale, there are often few protections to stop an individual analyst with access to such data from tracking an ex-lover or a victim of abuse.

Right off the bat, the Times offers some helpful ways you can immediately stop your phone from squealing on you, so if you own an iPhone or Android device, do it.  Two of the three I had already done, and pausing your Google location history is a constant fight, but you should definitely turn these things off.

Second, getting rid of Ajit Pai as FCC Chairman and having a new Democratic president appoint new FCC commissioners are 100% needed.  We also need new regulations of this data, and tech companies need to pay a brutal price for abusing our lives like this.  So far, they're not.  They never will as long as the GOP is in charge (and some Democrats).

The larger point is though that we allow this to be done, so everyone needs to opt out.  Tell your friends, family, co-workers, everyone.  Spread the word.

Choke off the data gravy train.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Holidaze: Deportation Nation, Con't

Starting to think I picked the wrong Christmas to take it easy on posting, as the Trump regime just keeps openly saying how awful they are in abusing power, doing end runs around Congress, and apparently using migrant kids as deportation traps for family members.

The White House sought this month to embed immigration enforcement agents within the U.S. refugee agency that cares for unaccompanied migrant children, part of a long-standing effort to use information from their parents and relatives to target them for deportation, according to six current and former administration officials.

Though senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services rejected the attempt, they agreed to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to collect fingerprints and other biometric information from adults seeking to claim migrant children at government shelters. If those adults are deemed ineligible to take custody of children, ICE could then use their information to target them for arrest and deportation.

The arrangement appears to circumvent laws that restrict the use of the refu­gee program for deportation enforcement; Congress has made clear that it does not want those who come forward as potential sponsors of minors in U.S. custody to be frightened away by possible deportation. But, in the reasoning of senior Trump administration officials, adults denied custody of children lose their status as “potential sponsors” and are fair game for arrest.

The plan has not been announced publicly. It was developed by Stephen Miller, President Trump’s top immigration adviser, who has long argued that HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement is being exploited by parents who hire smugglers to bring their children into the United States illegally. The agency manages shelters that care for underage migrants who cross the border without a parent and tries to identify sponsors — typically family members — eligible to take custody of the minors. 
Previous Trump administration attempts to give ICE more access to the refu­gee program have generated significant opposition, because it potentially forces migrant parents to choose between reclaiming their children and risking arrest. Administration officials acknowledge the arrangement will instill fear among migrant parents, but they say it will deter families from having their children cross into the United States illegally.

Officials at ICE and HHS said that the information shared with enforcement agents primarily would be used to screen adults for criminal violations and other “red flags,” and that it would not be focused on capturing parents and relatives who come forward to claim what the government calls “unaccompanied alien children.”

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, said his agency will help HHS ensure that children are not placed with sponsors until the sponsors have been thoroughly vetted, a review process that includes using biometric data. Cox said his agency has more-powerful screening tools at its disposal than HHS has, “including better capabilities to identify fraudulent documents or documents obtained by fraud.” 
After the Trump administration began a similar information-sharing initiative last year, which predictably led to fewer sponsors coming forward and created a massive backlog of children in U.S. custody, Democrats fought to put a firewall between ICE and ORR. Language in the 2019 funding bill specifically prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from using child sponsor data — addresses, names, phone numbers — to generate ICE target lists.

According to those provisions, no federal funds “may be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security to place in detention, remove, refer for a decision whether to initiate removal proceedings, or initiate removal proceedings against a sponsor, potential sponsor, or member of a household of a sponsor or potential sponsor of an unaccompanied alien child.”
HHS officials have generally tried to keep ICE at a distance, insisting that their agency’s mission is to safeguard children and not to facilitate the arrest of their relatives. 

So, let's go through this. 

First, we have Stephen Miller, America's Secretary of White Purity, using refugee data to round up the undocumented.  I honestly don't know how the man can function with the soul-sucking singularity in his chest where his heart should be, and I'm forced to admit he may be some sort of necromantic construct powered by the aforementioned portal to the netherworld inside his humanoid husk.

Second, Congress stuck this provision in there blocking this specific action because Miller and his merry band of Klansmen were already doing this.  The response from Miller and the White House is "We're going to do it anyway, please enjoy the court battles that won't stop us."  The main reason Mitch McConnell has turned the Senate into a federal judiciary packing factory is to tip the scales and get away with as much as they can.

Third, Miller's goal is not to "end illegal immigration" but to completely reverse America's demographic destiny by driving out non-white people and increasing the percentage of white people in the country. As soon as you realize this fact, the rest of Miller's actions make total sense by placing them in the context of his white supremacist policy goals.

We have to get rid of Trump in November, if only to get rid of Stephen Miller.

Holidaze: It's About Suppression, Con't

Republicans continue to disenfranchise millions of voters, the vast majority black, Hispanic, the elderly, and/or college students, groups that vote for Democrats.  When Republicans are winning states by fractions of percentage points and thousands of votes out of millions cast, those efforts are directly responsible for keeping the GOP in power.  They must cheat to win, and if you ask them about it, of course they admit to doing it, as they gladly did last month at a Wisconsin GOP event.

Justin Clark, a senior political adviser and senior counsel to Trump’s reelection campaign, made the remarks on Nov. 21 as part of a wide-ranging discussion about strategies in the 2020 campaign, including more aggressive use of Election Day monitoring of polling places.

“Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places,” Clark said at the event. “Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are. ... Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”

Asked about the remarks by AP, Clark said he was referring to false accusations that the GOP engages in voter suppression.

“As should be clear from the context of my remarks, my point was that Republicans historically have been falsely accused of voter suppression and that it is time we stood up to defend our own voters,” Clark said. “Neither I nor anyone I know or work with would condone anyone’s vote being threatened or diluted and our efforts will be focused on preventing just that.”

Clark made the comments Nov. 21 in a meeting of the Republican National Lawyers Association’s Wisconsin chapter. Attendees included the state Senate’s top Republican, Scott Fitzgerald, along with the executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party.

Audio of the event at a country club in Madison obtained by the liberal group American Bridge was provided to AP by One Wisconsin Now, a Madison-based liberal advocacy group.

The roughly 20-minute audio offers an insider’s glimpse of Trump’s reelection strategy, showing the campaign focusing on voting locations in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which form the the so-called “blue wall” of traditional Democratic strength that Trump broke through to win in 2016. Both parties are pouring millions of dollars into the states, anticipating they’ll be just as critical in the 2020 presidential contest.

Republican officials publicly signaled plans to step up their Election Day monitoring after a judge in 2018 lifted a consent decree in place since 1982 that barred the Republican National Committee from voter verification and other “ballot security” efforts. Critics have argued the tactics amount to voter intimidation.

The consent decree was put in place after the Democratic National Committee sued its Republican counterpart, alleging the RNC helped intimidate black voters in New Jersey’s election for governor. The federal lawsuit claimed the RNC and the state GOP had off-duty police stand at polling places in urban areas wearing armbands that read “National Ballot Security Task Force,” with guns visible on some.

Without acknowledging any wrongdoing, the RNC agreed to the consent decree, which restricted its ability to engage in activities related to ballot security. Lifting of the consent decree allows the RNC to “play by the same rules” as Democrats, said RNC communications director Michael Ahrens.

“Now the RNC can work more closely with state parties and campaigns to do what we do best, ensure that more people vote through our unmatched field program,” Ahrens said.

Although the consent decree forced the Trump campaign to conduct its own poll monitoring in 2016, the new rules will allow the RNC to use its multi-million dollar budget to handle those tasks and coordinate with other Republican groups on Election Day, Clark said.State directors of election day operations will be in place in Wisconsin and every battleground state by early 2020, he said.

In 2016, Wisconsin had 62 paid Trump staff working to get out the vote; in 2020, it will increase to around 100, Clark said.

We're going from voter suppression to armed voter intimidation.  Expect "voter task forces" and armed police at polls harassing voters of color, all while saying it's necessary because of "New Black Panthers" and "Antifa terrorists".  Hell, I expect open violence at polling places.  It'll only take one story of "liberals gunning for Republican voters" and that'll be it.

Don't be surprised if this happens in an early voting state, and the Barr Justice Department will call for "voter protection police squads" all over the country.

Watch very closely.  This is how we get to elections being "monitored" or canceled altogether.

Happy Holidays From ZVTS!

We're taking a bit of a Christmas break until the New Year, so we'll have some posts for you, the usual end of year predictions and scorecard, and whatever news breaks over the next week and change.  We'll be back on a normal schedule January 2nd is the plan, worst case scenario it's Monday, January 6th.

I'll recharge the batteries as we get ready for the Senate trial fight, and as always, if you want to donate, use the PayPal link.

I appreciate you guys sticking with me all these years, as we head into our third decade.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Con't

Acting WH Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is expected to quit after Trump's Senate impeachment trial.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is widely expected to leave his current position once the Senate wraps up its impeachment trial and the intense scrutiny of the West Wing settles down, according to five aides and confidants to President Donald Trump.

Trump allies and White House aides, who have been nudging the president in recent weeks to find a new leader for the team as it delves into a crucial reelection campaign, have been circulating lists of potential replacements for weeks.

Mulvaney no longer wields much control over White House staff. Lately, he has been left out of major personnel and policy decisions, and he is not driving the strategy on impeachment even though he occupies what is historically the most powerful job in the West Wing.
“He is there. I’ll leave it at that,” said a Republican close to the White House when asked about Mulvaney’s status. “He’s like a kid. His role at the dinner table is to be seen and not heard.”

The news Thursday that Republican Rep. Mark Meadows would not seek reelection and would instead work in some capacity for the president was interpreted throughout the White House and Trump world as Meadows morphing into Trump’s chief of staff in waiting — ready to assume the position in a second term if Trump wins reelection. Meadows has been spotted around the West Wing in recent weeks and has been one of Trump’s key advisers throughout the House impeachment process. He is also close to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his most trusted advisers, whom the outgoing congressman often speaks with multiple times per week.

A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment.

So continuing the thread from yesterday, Mulvaney's number is pretty much up and Mark Meadows will take over.

"Got my president impeached" doesn't exactly look great on your resume, but Mulvaney has basically been a ghost since his disastrous September presser all but assured Trump was going to get impeached.

Mulvaney basically admitted on national television that Trump's Ukraine call on July 25 was a messy quid pro quo, and that opened the door to everything that followed.  He couldn't be fired during the impeachment process because he'd have been forced to testify in the House proceedings.  She still should be, but that's a fight for a different day.

Besides, "after the Senate trial" might be a while.  The White House is now arguing because Pelosi hasn't named impeachment managers and sent the articles to the Senate, impeachment never actually happened so it should be ignored.

The White House is considering making the argument that President Trump has not officially been impeached, given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate
, two sources involved in the president's impeachment defense told CBS News.

The House voted to impeach Mr. Trump on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — on Wednesday. However, Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that the House would wait to deliver the articles until the Senate had laid out the rules for the trial.

"When we see the process that's set forth in the Senate, then we'll know the number of managers we'll have to move forward, and who we would choose," the California Democrat said. The House must vote on a resolution designating impeachment managers to prosecute the case against Mr. Trump in the Senate before delivering the articles.

The White House is considering making the case that Mr. Trump has not been impeached based on an opinion piece by Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman on Bloomberg's opinion page Thursday. Feldman was one of the legal experts called by Democrats to testify before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month and has advocated for Mr. Trump's impeachment and removal from office.

"Impeachment as contemplated by the Constitution does not consist merely of the vote by the House, but of the process of sending the articles to the Senate for trial," Feldman wrote in Bloomberg. "Both parts are necessary to make an impeachment under the Constitution: The House must actually send the articles and send managers to the Senate to prosecute the impeachment. And the Senate must actually hold a trial."

"If the House does not communicate its impeachment to the Senate, it hasn't actually impeached the president. If the articles are not transmitted, Trump could legitimately say that he wasn't truly impeached at all," Feldman wrote.

However, Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe wrote on Twitter that he disagreed with Feldman's analysis, saying that "under Art. I, Sec. 2, Clause 5, he was impeached on Dec 18, 2019. He will forever remain impeached. Period." That portion of the Constitution says that the House of Representatives "shall have the sole Power of Impeachment."

Tribe is correct, but expect the White House to argue that Trump was never impeached until his base believes it, with the goal of de-legitimizing the process to the point that the Senate can simply dispose of it with a simple majority vote.  If the Senate chooses to do that before Pelosi send the articles over, well then, it's Constitutional Crisis number 14 or 15 of the Trump era.
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