Sunday, August 25, 2019

Last Call For Enemies of the State

The White House is significantly escalating its war on press, using conservative outlets to specifically target critical journalists in order to discredit and destroy them with opposition research, and the operation is already under way.

A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists.

It is the latest step in a long-running effort by Mr. Trump and his allies to undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting. Four people familiar with the operation described how it works, asserting that it has compiled dossiers of potentially embarrassing social media posts and other public statements by hundreds of people who work at some of the country’s most prominent news organizations.

The group has already released information about journalists at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times — three outlets that have aggressively investigated Mr. Trump — in response to reporting or commentary that the White House’s allies consider unfair to Mr. Trump and his team or harmful to his re-election prospects.

Operatives have closely examined more than a decade’s worth of public posts and statements by journalists, the people familiar with the operation said. Only a fraction of what the network claims to have uncovered has been made public, the people said, with more to be disclosed as the 2020 election heats up. The research is said to extend to members of journalists’ families who are active in politics, as well as liberal activists and other political opponents of the president.
It is not possible to independently assess the claims about the quantity or potential significance of the material the pro-Trump network has assembled. Some involved in the operation have histories of bluster and exaggeration. And those willing to describe its techniques and goals may be trying to intimidate journalists or their employers.

But the material publicized so far, while in some cases stripped of context or presented in misleading ways, has proved authentic, and much of it has been professionally harmful to its targets.

It is clear from the cases to date that among the central players in the operation is Arthur Schwartz, a combative 47-year-old conservative consultant who is a friend and informal adviser to Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. Mr. Schwartz has worked with some of the right’s most aggressive operatives, including the former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon.

“If the @nytimes thinks this settles the matter we can expose a few of their other bigots,” Mr. Schwartz tweeted on Thursday in response to an apologetic tweet from a Times journalist whose anti-Semitic social media posts had just been revealed by the operation. “Lots more where this came from.”

The information unearthed by the operation has been commented on and spread by officials inside the Trump administration and re-election campaign, as well as conservative activists and right-wing news outlets such as Breitbart News. In the case of the Times editor, the news was first published by Breitbart, immediately amplified on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr. and, among others, Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, and quickly became the subject of a Breitbart interview with Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary and communications director.

To recap, the White House has a operation to go after specific journalists, and we've already seen attacks on April Ryan, Don Lemon, Sarah Jeong, and NY Times editor Jon Weisman in the last week.  A lot more is coming.  The White House will be calling for the firing of journalists on a regular basis and expect the Perpetual Outrage Machine™ to do it for them.  A lot of them will be fired.

Our free press is going to be dismantled in order to get Trump a second term.


The Once And Futureless Steve King

Sensing his demise in Iowa, Republican donors in Rep. Steve King's district are flocking to his primary challenger Randy Feenstra instead as the avowed white supremacist has finally become too much of an albatross, even in the era of Trump.

As he gears up for a difficult re-election cycle, Rep. Steve King’s campaign is strapped for cash. Individual donations to the Iowa Republican have continued to flow but support from corporate donors and King’s own colleagues have vanished entirely.

King has not received a single contribution this year from a political action committee associated with a sitting member of Congress.
Corporate PACs and interest groups have also completely shunned him. Through the first six months of the year, King received just two contributions from third party political entities: $2,000 donations from PACs associated with two former members of Congress, Lamar Smith (R-TX) and the infamous Todd Akin (R-MO).

It is a remarkable though not entirely unpredictable abandonment of a sitting member of Congress. Though he was always controversial and further to the right than most of his colleagues, King has burned virtually all his bridges in the party this year with outlandish comments about white supremacy and abortion.

But while those comments have made King a pariah in the party—with House Republican leaders stripping him of his committee assignments—King has refused to leave office. Now, as he faces the toughest campaign since he was first elected in 2002, he is doing so with a potentially catastrophic lack of resources. The $18,365 that King’s campaign had in the bank at the end of June was the least cash on hand he’s ever reported after the first six months of a cycle.

King is dealing with that lack of resources as he faces very immediate threats to his incumbency. His 2018 Democratic opponent, former professional baseball player J.D. Scholten, lost by fewer than three points last year, and is making another run for the seat. This time around King also has a formidable Republican primary opponent, state senator Randy Feenstra, who has already scored endorsements from influential Iowans such as evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. At the end of July, Feenstra’s campaign committee reported having $337,314.30 cash on hand, compared to King’s $18,000.

Things weren’t always so financially dire for King. Throughout his time in the House, he has received more than $3 million from political groups associated with private companies, trade associations, members of Congress, and ideological advocacy groups. That support peaked during the 2012 cycle, when such groups donated nearly $700,000 to his re-election campaign.

King’s top industry donors throughout his career, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records, were the American Bankers Association, the National Association of Homebuilders, AT&T, Crystal Sugars, and the Rain and Hail Insurance Society. All of them last donated to King during the 2018 election cycle but have so far declined to do so in this cycle.

In fact, some are even funding his primary challenger. At least six industry PACs that have donated to King in the past, including those affiliated with shipping giant UPS and trade associations representing construction and agricultural firms, have chipped in to Feenstra’s campaign this year instead.

Contributions from Republican Party organs have also evaporated completely. King never relied too heavily on such donations—he generally received about $5,000 per cycle from GOP committees, with the most, about $32,000, coming during the 2010 cycle. But it appears he’ll be fighting for re-election next year without any financial assistance from his party, which is raising record sums this year.

Even Liz Cheney has abandoned King at this point. Expect a major effort to get behind Feenstra from the GOP for the rest of the year.

Of course the actual answer to Iowa's Steve King problem is Democratic candidate J.D. Scholten, who came within three points of toppling King in 2018.

Toss him a few bucks, eh?

Sunday Long Read: A Car Detective Named Ford

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Esquire's Stayton Bonner: the story of Joe Ford, the man millionaires call to get their priceless stolen cars back, and his white whale of a $7 million case he's been tracking down for six years.

Joe, sixty-two, is more Magnum P.I. than Sam Spade—tall, trim, tan, usually wearing a fitted polo or a Hawaiian shirt. Drinks sweet tea by the gallon and speaks like the New Orleans native he is. (“I grew up in east New Orleans, near the Ninth Wah-ard.”) Likes to swim and dive for lobsters and drive boats. He recently cruised on a sixty-­five-footer down to Utila, “this coral-reef island off the coast of Honduras,” he says. “It was incredible—diving with whale sharks and drinking with outlaws. One guy didn’t come back.”

People end up doing all kinds of jobs in this life. You sometimes wonder if, given a few left turns and different choices, the guy playing center field at Yankee Stadium could have ended up a taxi driver instead. Or vice versa. But Joe . . . Joe Ford is what happens when a particular set of skills, personality traits, and turns of phrase lead a person into the only thing he should be doing. It’s rare. And when you see him at work—when you see him move easily among both the shady creatures of criminality and the millionaires on those yachts—you wonder whether you, like him, have found your place in the world.

The FBI agent was calling about a new lead in Joe’s current case. It’s a big one, the kind that could set Joe up for a long time. Maybe help him get his own boat, his own rare sports car. Help his daughter be more comfortable as she copes with the disease that’s taking away her eyesight. Help him disappear into the sunset.

He’s been working this case for six years. “Everyone loves cars, but this is different,” Joe says. “At this level, it’s about bragging rights for the rarest and the best. That’s what makes the Teardrop so coveted.”
The Teardrop. Otherwise known as the 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C SS teardrop coupe, chassis number 90108, current value $7.6 million. Built by two men, names of Figoni and Falaschi—Italian immigrants to France who ran the world’s top custom-car shop in Paris from the thirties through the fifties—the T150 is a prime example of a model that the Robb Report once called “the most beautiful car in the world.” One of only two models built with a race-car engine, it’s an art deco masterpiece, a long, sleek body powered by ground-shaking horsepower. The C stands for competition—it gets 140 bhp out of a 3,996cc six-cylinder engine—but the Teardrop was built as rolling art, a metallic blue car with a red leather interior and red wire wheels. It’s shaped like a teardrop, pure aerodynamics.

When it debuted, its wealthy owners commissioned custom wardrobes to match its colors and lines—society-page fixtures using it to make grand entrances at balls.

The T150, chassis number 90108, however, now holds another distinction: It was stolen in one of the boldest automobile heists in history. In fact, one of the most brazen and spectacular heists of any kind at all.

And Joe Ford, a P.I. from Fort Lauderdale nursing a Corona who has to get home to walk his girlfriend’s teacup poodle after she goes to work, is working his ass off to get it back.

“Some cars speak to me,” he says, finishing his beer and heading to get his parking validated. “This one screams.” 
The rare-car market is like a pyramid.

The base layer is mostly American cars of the fifties—Bel Airs and Packards in garages across the U. S. that can sell for up to $125,000. Next come the muscle cars and rarer European cars—Mustangs, Mercedes, Jaguars. They can go for up to $350,000. At the top are the European racers and one-of-a-kind creations whose blend of history and craftsmanship can put their value in the millions: a Ferrari raced at Le Mans, perhaps, or a ’68 Mustang driven by Steve McQueen. A 1927 Bugatti Royale, one of six ever made, a twenty-one-foot-long, seven-thousand-pound commercial failure upon its debut, would be worth an estimated $100 million should one ever become available. In 2017, classic cars topped the Coutts Passion Index, a list of the British bank’s top passion investments, increasing in value by more than 300 percent in the past decade to bypass assets like wine, jewelry, and artwork.

Like jewelry and artwork, valuable cars are stolen. Thieves have pulled off elaborate heists of million-dollar vehicles, sometimes smuggling them to international locales, retrofitting them with fake paperwork, and then reselling them on the global market.

That’s when people call Joe

Settle in for a good heist story worthy of Steven Soderbergh or Guy Ritchie, folks.

The DNC Presents Caucus Blockers

Let's get something straight right out of the gate here: the Democrats wanting to try a virtual phone-based caucus system in 2020 in order to increase accessibility for voters is a wonderful concept.  In-person caucuses, as opposed to primary voting where absentee ballots can be cast, present a physical and accessibility barrier to voting that Democrats should absolutely work to get rid of.

Having said that, the problem of course is the data security angle, and it's a complete dumpster fire.

The Democratic National Committee has raised substantial cybersecurity concerns over virtual caucusing, potentially dooming the effort just five months before Iowa begins its process of choosing a presidential nominee.
At a closed-door session of the Rules and By-Laws Committee on Thursday, the DNC told the panel that experts convened by the party were able to hack into a conference call among the committee, the Iowa Democratic Party and Nevada Democratic Party, raising concerns about teleconferencing for virtual caucuses, according to three people who were at the meeting.

For the first time the DNC is requiring states that hold caucuses instead of primary elections to offer voters a way to participate without showing up at sites across the state. Iowa and Nevada are building a teleconference system for 2020, and Alaska plans a phone and web-based operation.

The state parties are waiting for final approval of their plans for the February caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and hoped it would come at the DNC’s summer meeting this week in San Francisco.

“We are continuing to work with Democrats in these states to address the Rules and By-Laws committee’s questions about their proposed plans," the DNC said in a statement Saturday.

The DNC is particularly sensitive to cybersecurity issues, given the hack into DNC emails in 2016, believed to have be carried out by Russian operatives.

The test and the revelation of hacking enraged party officials in caucus states who say the systems were not fully built and the hack of a general teleconferencing system is not comparable. The state party officials also said they were continuing to address any potential vulnerabilities as they build the system.

Caucus-state officials offered a litany of complaints: That the DNC created the rules about absentee participation without considering how the states should achieve that goal; that the DNC offered little help in devising a virtual system, what state officials called the most significant change in caucus procedure since modern caucuses began in 1972; and were slow to raise concerns about security.

In states that caucus, voters gather in homes, businesses and other places in each precinct to choose their preference for a nominee. Some have said the fact that a voter’s physical presence is required has diminished participation.

The solution presents itself quite handily here, of course...

Get rid of caucuses altogether and go to a primary system in every state.

Problem solved.
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