Saturday, February 29, 2020

Last Call For Primary Positions

Joe Biden rolled to a big win in South Carolina, and billionaire Tom Steyer is folding his cards and cashing out.  Even Jon Chait is apologizing to the universe for throwing dirt on Biden's grave a bit early.

After Joe Biden finished an astonishing fourth in Iowa and then in fifth place in New Hampshire, I wrote a postmortem for his campaign. It now looks like one of the most wrong things I have ever written. It was pointed out to me after I published that I described Biden’s campaign in the past tense, something I did not plan or realize beforehand. It simply seemed obvious nobody could come back from such a catastrophe — least of all Joe Biden.

After Biden’s South Carolina victory, the first primary he has ever won in his three presidential campaigns, things look quite different. The status of Biden’s campaign has not only been upgraded to “alive” — at this point he is the primary, and probably the sole, alternative to Bernie Sanders. At the risk of overreacting in the opposite direction, Biden appears to have taken control of the Democrat Party’s center-left voters so decisively none of his mainstream rivals will be able to sustain a rationale for their candidacy. Michael Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg — all of whom have made Biden-esque pitches to the electorate — will face enormous pressure to leave the race after Super Tuesday, and possibly even before.

The mistake many of us made with regard to Biden was viewing his campaign through the prism of age. Biden looks and acts much older than Bloomberg, Sanders (who has looked exactly 85 years old since the 1980s), and even Trump, who also appears to be experiencing rapid cognitive decline. Biden campaigned unevenly and delivered uncomfortably meandering performances at the debates that often worsened as each debate dragged on. It seemed intuitive that the pattern of decline would also apply to Biden’s campaign. His best day would be his first, and he would slowly exhaust the supply of pent-up goodwill that was his primary asset.

But whatever his limitations, Biden has not gotten worse. His last debate performance was his best. It was almost good.

The heart of Biden’s claim to the mainstream Democratic mantle is his impressive performance with African-Americans, who had little representation in the previous three contests. They are not attracted to Biden out of mere nostalgia, gratitude, or familiarity. Black voters in the state — especially older ones, who have the closest personal experience with overt white supremacy — have thought carefully about the primacy of ousting Trump over every other goal, as well as their role in that process.

This conclusion is not me reading my views onto them. Pay attention to what voters there have told reporters like Astead Herndon, Eugene Robinson, and others. Robinson described the mood of voters he met as “urgent pragmatism” to end a presidency that is reversing decades of racial progress. “Black voters know white voters better than white voters know themselves,” one voter told Herndon. “So yeah, we’ll back Biden, because we know who white America will vote for in the general election in a way they may not tell a pollster or the media.”

It's that second-to-last paragraph that shows Chait knows damn well Biden wasn't done yet, and most of all, black voters, hadn't weighed in yet in Iowa and New Hampshire when we're the backbone of this party and have been for decades.

Sanders's win in Nevada is significant, and he still has a lot of delegates he can pick up in California and Texas.  But Biden has put the marker down as the Not-Sanders, and there's a lot of territory in that area Biden can cover.

It would be different if Sanders was racking up majority wins.  He's not.  Neither is Biden by any means, and Bloomberg is essentially replacing Steyer now as the billionaire in the race, but the fight is now truly on.  Super Tuesday results are 72 hours away, and after that we'll have a real idea of who will be left.

Out Of The Sandbox

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the US are about to sign a peace deal with the Taliban, in a move that could finally lead to the end of the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan.

After a week-long deal to reduce violence across Afghanistan, the U.S. and the Taliban are set to sign a historic agreement Saturday that would see U.S. troops start to withdraw, according to a statement issued Friday afternoon by President Donald Trump
"Soon, at my direction, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will witness the signing of an agreement with representatives of the Taliban, while Secretary of Defense Mark Esper will issue a joint declaration with the government of Afghanistan. If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home," Trump said. 
Pompeo is headed now to Doha, Qatar, where the U.S. and the militant group have engaged in talks for over a year and a half and the signing ceremony is expected to take place. At the same time, Esper is expected in that joint statement to reaffirm U.S. support for the Afghan government, long rejected by the Taliban and sidelined from their talks with U.S. negotiators. 
The agreement with the militant group that harbored the al Qaeda operatives responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks comes after over 18 years of war. The Trump administration hopes it is poised to reshape Afghanistan, leading to national peace negotiations and ending any Taliban safe haven for terrorists that threaten the U.S. homeland. But critics warn the Taliban has neither the ability nor perhaps the appetite to carry out their commitments. 
According to Pompeo, the agreement triggers a "conditions-based and phased" U.S. withdrawal and the "commencement" of Afghan negotiations where "all sides of the conflict will sit down together and begin the hard work of reconciliation." U.S. officials say the deal also includes Taliban commitments on counterterrorism, although those details are still unclear. 
"These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from Al Qaeda, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm," Trump said in his statement. "Ultimately it will be up to the people of Afghanistan to work out their future. We, therefore, urge the Afghan people to seize this opportunity for peace and a new future for their country."

Initially, the U.S. will draw down its troops from 13,000 to 8,600 -- a level that Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, has said is still sufficient to carry out their mission. While that draw down is expected to take months, conditions and timelines for further reductions after that are unclear.
If this works out, maybe we'll finally get out of the war that has lasted for three-quarters of my adult life.  The thing is though given the history of both Donald Trump and the Taliban that it's not going to work out at all.   Even a best case scenario at this point is troops in Afghanistan for years.

On top of that, the deal forces the Afghan government to release some 5,000 Taliban prisoners.  Sure is going to go well for Kabul, huh?

That's not worth celebrating just yet, but Trump of course is doing it anyway.

Once again this is Donald Trump telling us what he plans to do, but acting like it's already been accomplished and that he, Donald Trump, is the smartest man on Earth. 

He's been wrong every other time before.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

The official position of the Chief Executive of the United States of America is that the Wuhan coronavirus has already been contained and that it's a hoax generated by Democrats in order to damage Republicans' chances in the 2020 elections.

President Donald Trump said Friday that Democrats are using the virulent coronavirus as a “hoax” to damage him and his administration.

“The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” he said from a campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina.

One of my people came up to me and said ‘Mr. President they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well.’ They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation,” he continued.

“This is their new hoax,” he said, referring to the coronavirus.

The coronavirus, which began in Wuhan, China, has now killed more than 2,800 people worldwide and infected more than 80,000. The latest reports from the World Health Organization show the pace of new cases in China slowing, but jumping in South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran.

The rest of the regime is now telling Americans that the virus is a hoax as well.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists, Mr. Mulvaney played down concerns about the virus that is spreading around the globe and panicking investors.

Mr. Mulvaney said the administration took “extraordinary steps four or five weeks ago,” to prevent the spread of the virus when it declared a rare public health emergency and barred entry by most foreign citizens who had recently visited China.

“Why didn’t you hear about it?” Mr. Mulvaney said of travel restrictions that were widely covered in the news media. “What was still going on four or five weeks ago? Impeachment, that’s all the press wanted to talk about.”

The news media has been covering the global spread of coronavirus for months.

But Mr. Mulvaney claimed that the news media was too preoccupied covering impeachment, he said, “because they thought it would bring down the president.”

The media’s focus switched to the coronavirus for the same reason, he continued.

“The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be the thing that brings down the president,” he added. “That’s what this is all about it.”

Following the president’s lead, Mr. Mulvaney also brushed off concerns over the virus; there have been 60 cases identified in the United States.

“The flu kills people,” he said. “This is not Ebola. It’s not SARS, it’s not MERS. It’s not a death sentence, it’s not the same as the Ebola crisis.”

Vice-President Pence and his task force are now laser-focused on the real problem: reinflating the stock market bubble that resulted in the worst week for stocks since the Great Recession.

Trump administration officials are holding preliminary conversations about economic responses to the coronavirus, as the stock market fell sharply again on Friday amid international fears about the outbreak, according to five people with knowledge of the planning.

Among the options being considered are pursuing a targeted tax cut package, these people said. They have also discussed whether the White House should lean even harder on the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates, though the central bank on Friday afternoon said it would step in if necessary.

No decisions at the White House have been reached on these options, and officials stressed conversations remained preliminary and extremely fluid.

Vice President Pence’s office is involved in the discussion of possible responses, two people said.
These ideas would not be designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but they would seek to arrest the economic fears spreading through the economy. And some of the ideas would need cooperation from Congress or the Fed, as the White House has limited powers to unilaterally rewrite tax policy or direct the central bank to act. 

In short, shut up about the virus, it's a hoax, it's not Ebola, go about your business as normal, like climate change it's overblown by the evil Democrat party and the liberal Trump-hating media, buy the dip and you'll make a mint when this rocket goes back up again, don't miss out, chump!

Seems like a totally great federal government response.

Please address any questions or issues to Trump's White Supremacy Czar Stphen Miller and his new wife Katie, who is now the woman in charge of all coronavirus communications from the regime.

Do your part, citizen!  Buy stocks today!

Sarcasm aside, the Cult of Trump that see him as some sort of messianic figure, the true believers?  They're going to assume Trump will protect them from the virus.  When this starts killing people, significant numbers of people if epidemiologists' worst fears come true in a pandemic scenario, all bets are off as to what happens next.

The disease reappears in discharged patients because they are catching it again

A growing number of discharged coronavirus patients in China and elsewhere are testing positive after recovering, sometimes weeks after being allowed to leave the hospital, which could make the epidemic harder to eradicate.

On Wednesday, the Osaka prefectural government in Japan said a woman working as a tour-bus guide had tested positive for the coronavirus for a second time. This followed reports in China that discharged patients throughout the country were testing positive after their release from the hospital.

An official at China’s National Health Commission said on Friday that such patients have not been found to be infectious.

Experts say there are several ways discharged patients could fall ill with the virus again. Convalescing patients might not build up enough antibodies to develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2, and are being infected again. The virus also could be “biphasic”, meaning it lies dormant before creating new symptoms.

But some of the first cases of “reinfection” in China have been attributed to testing discrepancies.

On Feb. 21, a discharged patient in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu was readmitted 10 days after being discharged when a follow-up test came back positive.

Lei Xuezhong, the deputy director of the infectious diseases center at the West China Hospital, told People’s Daily that hospitals were testing nose and throat samples when deciding whether patients should be discharged, but new tests were finding the virus in the lower respiratory tract.

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at Britain’s University of East Anglia who has been closely following the outbreak, told Reuters that although the patient in Osaka could have relapsed, it is also possible that the virus was still being released into her system from the initial infection, and she wasn’t tested properly before she was discharged.

The woman first tested positive in late January and was discharged from the hospital on Feb. 1, leading some experts to speculate that it was biphasic, like anthrax

The world's not ready for this virus.  America is definitely not ready.  It's going to be a nightmare, and we're just in the opening few minutes of this horror movie.

Buckle in.  This one will test America like it hasn't been tested in your lifetime.

Retribution Execution, Con't

If House Democrats want to hear testimony from Trump White House employees, they'll have to go to the Supreme Court or use inherent contempt in order to force it.

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., on Friday dismissed a lawsuit from House Democrats who were seeking testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn as part of a broader investigation into President Donald Trump.

In a 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, agreeing with the Trump administration’s position that the U.S. Constitution forbids federal courts from resolving interbranch information disputes.

“The Committee’s suit asks us to settle a dispute that we have no authority to resolve,” the opinion states.

The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed McGahn in 2019 as part of its investigation into Trump’s potential obstruction of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. McGahn previously told Mueller’s grand jury that Trump ordered him to direct the Department of Justice to fire Mueller in 2017 in order to end the probe. He did not carry out the order. This incident appeared as one of 10 potentially obstructive acts committed by Trump in Mueller’s final report.

Democrats sought to bring McGahn before the committee to get his testimony on this alleged obstruction. But the White House declared that the president and his direct aides had an “absolute immunity” from congressional investigation and ordered McGahn not to honor the subpoena. The administration never made a formal declaration of executive privilege over McGahn’s testimony.

The court said Democrats will just have to find some other way to force the administration to comply with their demands.

“Congress (or one of its chambers) may hold officers in contempt, withhold appropriations, refuse to confirm the President’s nominees, harness public opinion, delay or derail the President’s legislative agenda, or impeach recalcitrant officers,” the court wrote. “And Congress can wield these political weapons without dragging judges into the fray.”
Democrats haven’t embraced the use of hardball legislative tactics to gain leverage. For a time last year, they entertained the idea of using their own power to arrest or fine recalcitrant administration officials, but ultimately rejected using the so-called “inherent contempt” power.

Democrats point out that they expected to lose this case on the merits cited, but then again, they could have always gone to inherent contempt and put McGahn in jail. The DC Circuit Court is straight up telling House Democrats that the nuclear option of inherent contempt is an option, but they will never use it.

Meanwhile, Trump knows now he can block any and every House subpoena, because at this point they are both meaningless and unenforceable.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Last Call For Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

In a post-impeachment trial world, Donald Trump is collecting what he feels is his due, and while the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and stock market crash this week are top stories, Trump got a massive victory this week with Ukraine giving in and gifting Trump with that investigation into Joe Biden that Trump wanted anyway.

A court ruling in Ukraine has forced state investigators to open a probe into alleged pressure by then-vice president Joe Biden that led to the 2016 dismissal of Viktor Shokin as the country’s prosecutor general, officials said Thursday.

President Trump last year pressed Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky for an investigation of this kind, leading to Trump’s impeachment by the House and his eventual acquittal in a Senate trial.

Shokin’s firing, however, was not a unilateral action directed by Biden. It was prompted by a push for anti-corruption reforms developed at the State Department and coordinated with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Shokin’s lawyer, Oleksandr Teleshetsky, said the probe was launched in response to a court order, after an appeal for action by Shokin. The State Bureau of Investigations confirmed a case was opened.

Trump and his allies have put intense pressure on Zelensky’s administration to open investigations into Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

From late 2018 Shokin met with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, as Giuliani sought political dirt on the Bidens. Shokin has long been angered by what he sees as an unfair dismissal following foreign pressure.

Shokin has claimed he was pushed out by Biden because he tried to launch a probe into Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma. In fact, Ukrainian investigations into Burisma related to the period before Hunter Biden joined the board.

“They need to investigate this. They have no other alternative. They are required to do this by the decision of the court. If they don't, then they violate a whole string of procedural norms,” Teleshetsky said in an interview

The Post story here by David Stern and Robyn Dixon makes it very clear that there's nothing to actually investigate, but it seems Rudy and his team of fixers got the job done anyway.  Trump wanted Zelensky to open a sham investigation of Biden, and it's happening.  Expect the ads soon.

Exit question:  Do Biden's 2020 Democratic primary campaign rivals jump on this garbage investigation in order to attack Biden?

Lowering The Barr, Con't

House Democrats are finally taking action against Attorney General William Barr and his reign of legal terror.  Well, sort of, anyway.

House Democrats are seeking interviews with the four career prosecutors who quit the case of Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, after Trump and Justice Department leaders intervened to demand a lighter jail sentence.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) requested the interviews in a Friday letter to Attorney General William Barr that also included broader demands for documents and testimony about allegations of political interference by Trump in the work of the Justice Department.

In the letter, Nadler seeks access to a long list of Justice Department officials who oversaw matters involving associates of the president — like former Trump campaign national security adviser Michael Flynn — or who were tapped by Barr to review cases Trump has openly criticized.

Among the officials Nadler is seeking to interview are John Durham, the U.S. attorney from Connecticut who was picked by Barr to review the origins of the FBI's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election; Jeff Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, who Barr selected to review the case of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn; Robert Khuzami, the former New York-based prosecutor who oversaw the case against Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen; and Richard Donoghue, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who Barr picked to review all matters related to the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump's impeachment in the House last year.

But the most notable names on the list are four Stone prosecutors: Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Michael Marando and Jonathan Kravis. Nadler's request for access to the career line prosecutors is an unusual step intended to circumvent the Justice Department's political leadership — and one that has been viewed with caution even by Trump critics.

It's the latest indication that House Democrats see career employees as crucial sources of information in an era in which Trump has directed his top political appointees to ignore House demands for information.

Nadler wants a response by March 13, and Barr himself is still scheduled to appear before the House on March 31.  Whether any of those will happen is anyone's guess, but don't expect to hear from any of the Stone prosecution team anytime soon, or anyone else on Nadler's extensive list.  Hell, even odds right now that Barr doesn't show up on the 31st either.

It's not like the House Democrats are going to do much, even if they could.

Scotching Trump's Plans

Scotland's Green Party wants answers on where Donald Trump is getting his money from as far as his Turnberry golf resort and other resort properties.

Patrick Harvie MSP, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, said there were reasonable grounds for suspecting that the US president, or people he is connected with, “have been involved in serious crime.”
He has called on ministers to apply to the Court of Session to seek answers as to how Mr Trump’s bankrolled his multimillion acquisitions of land and property in his mother’s homeland.

Responding at First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon stressed she was “no defender” of Mr Trump, but said any allegations of criminality were a matter for Police Scotland and the Crown Office.

An UWO is a relatively new - and rarely used - power which has been designed to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK.

The mechanism, introduced in 2018, is an attempt to force the owners of assets to disclose their wealth. If a suspected corrupt foreign official, or their family, cannot show a legitimate source for their riches, then authorities can apply to a court to seize the property.
Mr Trump and the Trump Organisation have always stressed that they did not require any outside financing for their Scottish resorts.

George Sorial, the Trump Organisation’s former chief compliance counsel, told The Scotsman in 2008 that it had £1bn “sitting in the bank and ready to go” for its inaugural Scottish course, located in Aberdeenshire.

Scotland on Sunday later revealed how the same year, Mr Trump asked the Bank of Scotland for a 15 year mortgage worth £23m, and a £15m construction loan, as part of his efforts to establish a "landmark" hotel at St Andrews in Fife, the home of golf. The bank refused, and Mr Trump's plans were never realised.

Mr Harvie, an avowed critic of Mr Trump and his administration, said that an UWO was “designed precisely for these kinds of situations.”

He told MSPs: “Trump’s known sources of income do not explain where the money came from in these huge cash transactions. There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that his lawfully obtained income was insufficient.

“Trump is a politically exposed person in terms of the law, and there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that he, or people he is connected with, have been involved in serious crime. Some of them have pleaded guilty.”

He added: “We need to be given confidence that the government will show leadership and use the powers available to it.

I can't imagine Scotland going through with it as Trump would almost certainly punish the country with massively corrupt financial measures, but it sure would be funny to see Scotland seize and sell off Trump's golf resorts and make a few million for their coffers.


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Last Call For The New Retail Politics

Writing in the NY Times Upshot, Cook Political Report House guru Dave Wasserman suggests that while dominating in voting precincts where there are Whole Foods and Apple Stores, Democrats must find a way to do better in precincts with Cracker Barrels and Bass Pro Shops if they stand any chance at beating Trump and taking back the Senate.

To quantify the relationship between retail locations and voting, we analyzed retail and precinct-level election data compiled for this article by the U.C.L.A. postdoctoral research fellow Ryne Rohla and Grant Gregory, a pollster for Breakthrough Campaigns.

After examining the voting patterns surrounding over 100 popular American chains, we zeroed in on eight national brands — each with retail locations in over 40 states — that proved useful predictors.

Of the eight brands, the four correlated with Democratic vote growth were the Amazon-owned organic mecca Whole Foods Market; the Canadian-based yoga and “athleisure” apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica; the hipster fashion magnet Urban Outfitters; and the glassy, minimalist Apple Store. Let’s call these “upmarket” brands.

The four brands correlated with recent Republican gains were the Southern-themed Cracker Barrel Old Country Store; the booming rural lifestyle chain Tractor Supply Company; the arts-and-crafts giant Hobby Lobby; and the outdoor recreation hub Bass Pro Shops. We’ll call these “down-home” brands.

Next, we divided the country’s electorate — based on the proximity of these stores to the geometric centers of America’s more than 169,000 voting precincts — into three groups:

  • Upmarket bubbles: voters living less than five miles from a current Whole Foods, Lululemon, Apple Store or Urban Outfitters location (34 percent of the electorate in 2016).
  • Down-home zones: voters living less than 10 miles from a current Cracker Barrel, Tractor Supply, Bass Pro Shop or Hobby Lobby location (these stores tend to be in less densely populated areas) — but more than five miles from the nearest “upmarket” retail location (50 percent of the electorate in 2016). 
  • Chain-sparse communities: voters who don’t live close enough to any of these retail stores to fall into either category (16 percent of the electorate in 2016).

The good news for Democrats: Over the past few election cycles, they’ve gained a lot of ground among voters in upmarket bubbles. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried them by 31 percentage points, up from Barack Obama’s 26-point margin in 2012. And among the 4 percent of voters within one mile of a current Whole Foods/Lululemon/Urban Outfitters/Apple Store location, Mrs. Clinton won by 45 points, up from Mr. Obama’s 36-point margin in 2012.
This retail realignment was also on display in the 2018 midterms: Of the 43 districts Democrats wrested from G.O.P. control to take back the House, 65 percent contained a Whole Foods Market, compared with 38 percent of all districts that elected a Republican. And both states where Senate Democrats scored gains — Arizona and Nevada — have upmarket numbers above the national average. 

But the challenge for Democrats is that relatively few voters, especially in Electoral College battleground states, live in these upmarket bubbles.

Indeed, in the "Down-Home" and "Chain-Sparse" precincts in 2016, Democrats were destroyed.  Half the country lives in Down-Home areas, and Dems lost those precincts by 10 points in 2016, whereas they ended up losing by only 2 in 2008.  It got even worse in the Chain-Sparse areas, where Dems' six point loss in 2008 turned into a 22-point massacre in 2016.

And like it or not, Down-Home and Chain-Sparse areas of the country make up two-thirds of all voters nationwide.

All the Dems in the 2020 race seem to think their message is the best one to reach these voters.

Having lived in Down-Home areas in the country for 95% of my life, I can tell you nearly all of them are wrong in that assumption.

Pardon The Corruption Goes Viral

Donald Trump is apparently looking for a winning move after the multiple coronavirus cock-ups this week, including a press conference yesterday where VP Mike Pence was put in charge of the White House's response team, all white Trump was telling reporters that it's no big deal.

Amid mixed messages from the Trump administration regarding how it plans to address growing fears surrounding the spread of coronavirus in the U.S., President Trump announced Wednesday evening that Vice President Mike Pence will be in charge of addressing it.
Trump’s announcement comes on the heels of bipartisan criticism from lawmakers about his administration’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Politico reported Tuesday that the administration was considering the creation of a “coronavirus czar” whose job would be similar to Ronald Klain’s role as the Obama White House’s Ebola Response Coordinator. Trump said he didn’t think of Pence as a “czar,” since he is in the administration.

While Trump spoke, the Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that the first coronavirus case in the U.S. of unknown origin was confirmed in northern California.

After pledging that his administration “will spend whatever is appropriate” to address the coronavirus outbreak, Trump said that Pence “has a certain talent for this.”

“My role will be to continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action to see to the safety and well-being and health of the American people,” Pence said. “We’ll also be continuing to reach out to governors, state and local officials.”

Considering Pence's role in restarting an HIV epidemic in rural Indiana back when he was governor by refusing to expand needle exchange programs in the state and wrecking the state's health programs, Pence may actually be the worst possible choice, given his displayed ignorance on basic medical science.

No wonder then that Trump is considering pardoning Roger Stone to get the press off the virus story.

Republicans close to the White House say officials are lobbying Trump not to go ahead with a Stone rescue. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Jared Kushner have argued to Trump that a pardon or commutation would create an unnecessary scandal during an election year. “They all think it’ll be a problem and that there will be hearings,” a Republican briefed on the internal conversations told me. Another source briefed on the matter said that Trump is being told, “We don’t need the hassle. Do it after the election.” Sources also said West Wing officials have told Trump that stepping in could lead Attorney General William Barr to resign—an outcome one Republican close to the White House described as “catastrophic.”
Trump’s desire to intervene on Stone’s behalf is being stoked by Stone’s longtime friend, Fox News host Tucker Carlson. In private, Carlson has lobbied White House officials to convince Trump to keep Stone out of jail. It’s the same case he’s made on Fox News. Last week, Carlson bashed Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the federal judge presiding over Stone’s case. “She is an open partisan, who has so flagrantly violated the bounds of constitutional law and fairness, it’s shocking she’s still on the bench. If there’s anyone in Washington who deserves to be impeached, it’s Amy Berman Jackson,” he said on air. Carlson continued the attack on air Tuesday night, calling Jackson “corrupt, dishonest, and authoritarian.” Carlson has also tried to discredit the jury’s forewoman, who Stone’s lawyers claimed failed to disclose anti-Trump tweets during jury selection. (Yesterday, Jackson erupted over Carlson’s attacks during a courtroom hearing. “Any attempts to invade the privacy of the jurors or to harass or intimidate them is completely antithetical to our system of justice,” she said.)

Carlson declined to comment.

Carlson met Stone in 1996 when Stone was working on Bob Dole’s presidential campaign, which Carlson was then covering for George magazine. The two remained friendly over the years, and Stone regularly contributed to the Daily Caller, the conservative news site Carlson cofounded in 2010 (Stone has served as the Caller’s men’s fashion editor). Carlson has told people that he is frustrated that Trump didn’t immediately commute Stone’s sentence when it was handed down last week.
A source said Carlson has privately speculated that the failure to act is the result of Trump thinking like a television producer. Carlson has said to people that Trump instinctively wants to heighten drama by drawing out controversies so he can swoop in and administer justice, John Wayne–style. “The story arc isn’t complete,” a person close to Carlson told me. “The way he thinks is as a producer. It’s like, “I have to ride into the rescue.”

At the same time that Trump’s lawlessness is metastasizing, he is raging about the spread of the coronavirus. Trump has responded to criticism of how his administration is ill prepared to handle the health crisis by blaming the media for tanking the stock market. In private, Trump has blamed acting secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf for failing to have a clear message during a contentious Senate hearing yesterday, a source said.

Inside the West Wing, there’s panic that Trump’s compulsive fictionalizing could trigger an even bigger crisis if the coronavirus truly explodes. “This is a black swan event,” a former West Wing official said. “The White House is concerned because they can’t control the virus and Trump wants everyone to get out there and say positive things, but people inside don’t have confidence the statements are accurate.” The official went on: “It’s one thing to get people out there saying, ‘we’re going to win the election’ or ‘the economy is great.’ It’s another to have the government say, ‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ but then people start dying.” While we spoke, the official told me that he was searching for face masks on Amazon, but the site was sold out. “I have to go,” he said, and hung up.

The White House declined to comment.

It would be a great dark political comedy series, like Veep, only with absolutely evil morons in charge, if it wasn't the reality we're about to crash headlong into.  And the thing that assures Trump is going to burn for the inevitable: he absolutely fired the CDC pandemic response team two years ago to "drain the swamp".

Amid warnings from public health officials that a 2020 outbreak of a new coronavirus could soon become a pandemic involving the U.S., alarmed readers asked Snopes to verify a rumor that U.S. President Donald Trump “fired the entire pandemic response team two years ago and then didn’t replace them.”

The claim came from a series of tweets posted by Judd Legum, who runs Popular Information, a newsletter he describes as being about “politics and power.” The commentary is representative of sharp criticism from Democratic legislators (and some Republicans) that the Trump administration has ill-prepared the country for a pandemic, even as one is looming.

Legum outlined a series of cost-cutting decisions made by the Trump administration in preceding years that gutted the nation’s infectious disease defense infrastructure. The “pandemic response team” is a reference to news stories from spring 2018 reporting that White House officials tasked with directing a national response to a pandemic had been ousted.

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer abruptly departed from his post leading the global health security team on the National Security Council in May 2018 amid a reorganization of the council by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton. Ziemer’s team was disbanded. Tom Bossert, who as The Washington Post reported, “had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks,” had been fired one month prior.

It’s true that the Trump administration axed the executive branch team responsible for coordinating a response to a pandemic and did not replace it, eliminating Ziemer’s position and reassigning others, although Bolton was the executive at the top of the National Security Council chain of command at the time.

Legum stated in a follow-up tweet, “Trump also cut funding for the CDC, forcing the CDC to cancel its efforts to help countries prevent infectious-disease threats from becoming epidemics in 39 of 49 countries in 2018. Among the countries abandoned? China.” That was confirmed in 2018 reports saying that funding for the CDC’s global disease outbreak prevention efforts were cut by 80%, which included the agency’s efforts in China.

Pence is now in charge of all information coming out of the federal government about the coronavirus and the response to it.  We'll find out months from now that information was suppressed by Pence to make Trump look better, and it won't matter when the reports of tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of cases and more roll in over the next several weeks.

I am convinced more than ever that an epidemic will end badly for America, not only the possible casulaties, but given Trump's authoritarian reactionary rage when the blame falls on him like an avalanche (and deservedly so), I truly fear what he may end up doing as a result.

Deportation Nation, Con't

I've long said that the goal of the Trump regime on immigration is to not only end undocumented immigrants, not only to effectively end legal immigration, but to strip the most vulnerable US citizens of citizenship and incarcerate them en masse until they can be deported.  The Trump regime took another step closer to that dark nightmare yesterday with the announcement of a Justice Department task force dedicated to "citizenship fraud" cases.

The Department of Justice is creating a new section of attorneys to handle cases aimed at stripping naturalized citizenship from people suspected of fraud, officials announced Wednesday.

The move will likely inspire increased fear in immigrant communities already on edge over the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions.

DOJ officials framed the creation of the Denaturalization Section, which will be housed in the civil Office of Immigration Litigation, as an effort to crack down on an increase in cases of those who have engaged in fraud, human rights violations, sexual offenses, and other crimes.

“When a terrorist or sex offender becomes a U.S. citizen under false pretenses, it is an affront to our system—and it is especially offensive to those who fall victim to these criminals,” Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt said in a statement. “The Denaturalization Section will further the Department’s efforts to pursue those who unlawfully obtained citizenship status and ensure that they are held accountable for their fraudulent conduct.”

DOJ officials said in a statement that “the growing number of referrals anticipated from law enforcement agencies motivated the creation of a standalone section dedicated to this important work.” Individuals can have their citizenship stripped if the government proves that naturalization was illegally received or if it was “procured by” lying or concealing a fact like a previous crime.

In its announcement of the new section, justice officials highlighted successful denaturalizations, including a person who had allegedly been associated with terrorist groups, another who had been prosecuted for executing people in Bosnia, and four people who had falsely claimed to be a family in order to gain visas.

Experts said the move appeared to be another symbolic effort aimed at targeting immigrants.

“While this effort may result in relatively few denaturalizations, it shows that the administration’s desire to keep immigrants ‘looking over their shoulder’ extends past legalization and even naturalization. If you weren’t born here, this administration is trying to keep you uncomfortable,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

If you don't think this will be used on political enemies in order to strip them of citizenship so they can be disappeared,  that only naturalized citizens will be targeted by this group, well, have I got some Chinese and Russian purges for you!

Seriously, this is going to be another terror weapon used against immigrant communities, and used against non-immigrants as well. 


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Last Call For The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

The continued flight of suburban white women away from the GOP thanks to Donald Trump has cost the party any semblance of hope on the West Coast as state Republican parties in California, Oregon, and Washington are about as politically dead as they come.

The last Republican presidential candidate that California went for was George H.W. Bush. For both Oregon and Washington, it was Ronald Reagan. Now, Republicans are struggling to hold seats in Congress, statehouses and city councils up and down the coast.

California, Washington and Oregon will hold their presidential primaries on March 3, March 10 and May 19 respectively, and which Democratic candidates they favor will become clear. But this much is certain: In November, none of the three states is apt to go for President Donald Trump, and there is little hope Republicans will claw back much ground in other contests.

Political districts have flipped in population centers, from San Diego in the south to Seattle in the north.

“There is no way out,” Chris Vance, a former Washington state Republican Party chairman and legislator, said in a telephone interview.

In San Diego, by the U.S.-Mexico border, each of the nine city council districts now has more registered Democrats than registered Republicans, including one that until recently leaned strongly Republican.

In 1980, Orange County, near Los Angeles, was 80% white and a GOP stronghold. Today, Orange County is mostly Hispanic and Asian, with many displeased by Republicans’ hard stance on immigration. In 2018, voters there dealt a stunning defeat to a two-term GOP congresswoman.

The California GOP wound up losing six other U.S. House seats that year, leading a former Republican leader in the state to declare: “The California Republican Party isn’t salvageable at this time.”

Democrats also hold the California governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats and almost complete control of the Legislature.

In Seattle, tens of thousands of tech employees have flooded into the city and its suburbs, hired by Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook. The influx of highly educated workers over the past decade helped fuel a population boom that made many communities much more diverse and affluent, and turned them away from the GOP and toward Democrats.

The result: The GOP has lost all the statehouse seats it once held in Seattle’s eastern suburbs.

Vance blames the area’s exodus of college-educated white voters, particularly women, from the GOP on the party’s turn toward more fundamentalist values under Trump. Vance himself abandoned the party in 2017 after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate as the Republican candidate.

“This was the party of nerdy, wonky, tweedy capitalists who cared about economic growth. Now it is the party of populists: alt-right, let’s keep the immigrants out, truck- and rifle-populists,” Vance said. “That works in Mississippi and Arkansas and stuff, but it does not work in the Seattle area.”

As horrible as Democrats have it here in the Ohio/KY/Indiana tri-state area, Sherrod Brown is popular in Ohio as a Democratic senator and Andy Beshear won as Governor here in Kentucky.  Even Joe Manchin keeps winning in West Virginia, Doug Jones squeaked by in Alabama, and Dems are making gains in Kansas, Iowa, Texas and Georgia.  North Carolina and Florida are increasingly in play due to changing demographics.

That's not what's happening to Republicans on the West Coast.  They're getting stomped and they keep losing and losing badly, local, state, and federal contests.  There's nothing to give them hope here.

Keep that in mind as we head into the election in November.

Collecting Talking Heads

James O'Keefe and his merry band of assholes at Project Veritas have one goal, and that's to get every journalist in America who doesn't like Donald Trump fired for bias.  Normally they fall on their faces and have to be disavowed by Republicans, but this time they've apparently been able to actually collect a head: ABC News correspondent David Wright.

ABC News suspended one of its veteran correspondents late Tuesday for unguarded remarks he made in a video by operatives of Project Veritas, the conservative group that records “undercover” footage of mainstream journalists to bolster its accusations of media bias.

The network disciplined David Wright, who reports for ABC’s signature news programs, including “World News Tonight,” “Good Morning America” and “Nightline,” several people confirmed late Tuesday.

The choppy, poorly shot video, released Wednesday morning by Project Veritas, captured Wright on what appeared to be a hidden camera, seeming to complain in general terms about political coverage.

“I don’t think we’re terribly interested in voters,” he said, echoing gripes about the superficiality of some aspects of White House and campaign coverage that have been raised by journalists for decades. Also: “Commercial imperative is incompatible with news.”

At one point he says: “We don’t hold him to account. We also don’t give him credit for what things he does do.” In subtitles, Project Veritas indicated that “him” stood for President Trump. He refers to Trump at another point as “the f-----g president.”

Oh, but here's why ABC actually kicked Wright back down to the minor leagues:

But ABC probably was also alarmed at Wright’s criticism of ABC News, which is owned by the Disney Co. At another point, he raises another longstanding critique of ABC News — that it blends news with promotion of Disney-owned movies and TV programs.

“Like now you can’t watch ‘Good Morning America’ without there being a Disney princess or a Marvel Avenger appearing,” he says. “It’s all self-promotional.”

In a statement Wednesday, ABC News said, “Any action that damages our reputation for fairness and impartiality or gives the appearance of compromising it harms ABC News and the individuals involved. David Wright has been suspended, and to avoid any possible appearance of bias, he will be reassigned away from political coverage when he returns.”

The House of Mouse doesn't like things like that, you see.  The real story here is that Wright is correct, ABC does tend to push Marvel, Disney, Pixar, and Star Wars properties an awful lot on its news programs.  It would be ideal if Disney learned from this, but then again, they won't.  And Project Veritas knows now they can hurt the corporate Village news.  They won't back off.

It also means that journalists, reporters, and correspondents are going to be told to mind their manners off the air as well as on it, which is O'Keefe's real goal: to make the press miserable enough that they crack.  Expecting journalists not to have personal opinions is ludicrous, but then again so is the concept of Donald Trump in the White House.

We live in ludicrous times.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

Regardless of what Dear Leader may want his government organs to say to the public about how everything's fine with Wuhan coronavirus and the danger is passed, the few actual scientists that have yet to be purged from the regime are now openly warning Americans to get ready for a major national pandemic.

Trump administration health officials urged the public Tuesday to prepare for the “inevitable” spread of the coronavirus within the United States, escalating warnings about a growing threat from the virus to Americans’ everyday lives.
The urgent new tone from leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health came in response to a rapid surge in cases in new locations outside mainland China in the past several days, including new cases without a known source of exposure in Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. It came as stock markets dived for the second straight day on fears of the virus spreading.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said officials cautioned during a closed-door briefing with senators that there was a “very strong chance of an extremely serious outbreak of the coronavirus here in the United States.”

Separately, on a conference call with reporters, public health officials repeated dire warnings.

“Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in the United States. It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Messonnier said evidence of so-called “community spread” far beyond mainland China is triggering new strategies to blunt the impact of illness and slow the spread of the respiratory virus. There is growing evidence that efforts to contain the spread of the virus outside of China have failed. There are now almost 1,000 cases in South Korea, at least 15 people have died in Iran, and cases were reported for the first time in Switzerland, Austria, and at a luxury resort in Spain.

The CDC said the agency would be focusing on containing the spread of the virus in the United States, as well as warning people to prepare. Health officials are urging businesses, health-care facilities and even schools to plan now for ways to limit the impact of the illness when it spreads in the community.

Businesses need to consider replacing in-person meetings with telework. Schools should consider ways to limit face-to-face contact, such as dividing students into smaller groups, school closures and Internet-based learning. Local officials should consider modifying, postponing or canceling large gatherings. Hospitals should consider ways to triage patients who do not need urgent care and recommend patients delay elective surgery.

School closures may be among the most effective ways to limit person-to-person spread, which is the main way coronavirus is transmitted. But it is also the one likely to cause the most unwanted consequences and disruptions from missed work and loss of income, Messonnier said.
“Disruptions to everyday life may be severe, but people might want to start thinking about that now,” she said. She said parents may want to call their local school offices to see what kinds of plans they have in place and consider what they would do if they had no child care. Messonnier added that she called her children’s superintendent office to find out what plans the school system had. These kinds of questions will help everyone be better prepared, she said.

The Dow Jones average has lost more than 1,800 points this week alone, or well over six percent in two days, and when the CDC is openly saying "yeah, you might want to check on your company's plans for working at home" and prepping kids staying home from school for a while, this isn't just idle chatter.

Meanwhile, Congress is grilling the DHS on what the federal government actually does plan to do, and even GOP lawmakers are coming away scared and pissed off at the coming disaster.

The Department of Homeland Security is coordinating the U.S. government’s response to the increasing threat of the novel coronavirus. The agency has also been under the control of acting head Chad Wolf for more than four months, with no full-time replacement selected.

And Wolf gave a performance Tuesday morning that wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring — particularly for one GOP senator.

Appearing in front of a Senate appropriations subcommittee, Wolf was on the receiving end of a brutal line of questioning from Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.). Throughout the exchange, Wolf struggled to produce basic facts and projections about the disease. Perhaps most strikingly, the performance came at a time of heightened fears about the disease, with the stock market plunging over new estimates about its spread into the United States. It’s a moment in which you’d expect such things to be top of mind for someone in Wolf’s position.
Wolf got started on the wrong foot almost immediately, when Kennedy asked him how many cases of the coronavirus there were in the United States. Wolf stated there were 14 but was uncertain about how many cases had been repatriated back to the United States from cruise ships, placing the number at “20- or 30-some-odd.”

Asked how many DHS was anticipating, Wolf didn’t have an answer and suggested this was the Department of Health and Human Services’ territory. “We do anticipate the number will grow; I don’t have an exact figure for you, though,” Wolf said.

“You’re head of Homeland Security, and your job is to keep us safe,” Kennedy responded, asking him again what the estimates might be. Wolf talked around the question, which led Kennedy to say, “Don’t you think you ought to check on that, as the head of Homeland Security?”

In an ideal world, Kennedy would come out and say that there would be no more rubber stamp approvals of massively unqualified Trump cronies to Senate confirmation-level positions like Homeland Security Secretary.  Wolf was confirmed for a DHS  undersecretary job back in November on a 54-41 vote, where he almost immediately became acting head of the agency just hours later.  Senate Republicans were well aware of this, and Kennedy of course voted yes anyway.

But now of course it actually matter what DHS does as far as the continued safety of the American people. (It always did of course, that's the rub.)  Suddenly having an acting DHS head with no business dealing with a crisis of this magnitude is a political problem for Republicans as well as an existential problem for the American people, and only now is Wolf being asked tough questions by Republicans.

The coronavirus outbreak is going to be bad.  Trump's cronyism and purge of competent government people who will be on the front lines fighting it will make it exponentially worse.  He will be blamed when things go wrong and thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people die.

And he knows it.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Last Call For Courting DIsaster, Con't

We're starting to get the first SCOTUS decisions of the Roberts Court shaped by Trump's pick of Justice Kavanaugh, and they are 5-4 decisions with the linchpin being Chief Justice Roberts himself.  Roberts is still far more conservative than Justice Kennedy was when Kennedy was the deciding vote though, so expect a lot more 5-4 precedents like this.

Hernández v. Mesa is a case about a horrific event.

Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca, a 15-year-old Mexican boy, was with his friends near the US-Mexican border when one of those friends was detained by US Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa. Hernández ran onto Mexican soil, and Mesa fired two shots at the boy — one of which struck him in the face and killed him.

Hernández and his family disagree about the events that led up to this shooting. The family says that Hernández and his friends were simply playing a game where they would run to the fence that separates the United States from Mexico, touch it, then run back to their own country’s soil. Mesa claims that Hernández and his friends threw rocks at him. (Significantly, the Justice Department has refused to take any action against Mesa.)

Regardless of who is telling the truth, the question in the Hernández case is whether Mesa is immune from a federal lawsuit even if he shot and killed Hernández in cold blood. The Supreme Court held, in a 5-4 decision along familiar partisan lines, that Mesa cannot be sued.

The case turns upon whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents (1971), which permitted federal lawsuits against law enforcement officers who violate the Constitution, has any real force in 2020. After Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Hernández, the answer to this question is a resounding “no.”

Alito’s opinion does not explicitly overrule Bivens, but it appears to be laying the groundwork for a future opinion that will eliminate Bivens’ protections against federal officers who violate the Constitution. Notably, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate opinion in which he argues that “the time has come to consider discarding the Bivens doctrine altogether.

In the era of Black Lives Matter and police reform, the Hernandez decision by Justice Alito is a stake through the heart of federal law enforcement accountability.

“For almost 40 years,” Alito writes in Hernández, “we have consistently rebuffed requests to add to the claims allowed under Bivens.” When faced with a Bivens claim, the Court typically looks for reasons why the most recent case is “different in a meaningful way from previous Bivens cases decided by this Court.” If it is, the Court will dismiss the lawsuit if there are any “special factors counselling hesitation.”

Much of Alito’s opinion is a laundry list of reasons why the courts should hesitate to allow suits against border patrol agents involved in a cross-border shooting.

“The political branches, not the Judiciary, have the responsibility and institutional capacity to weigh foreign-policy concerns,” Alito claims, and “a cross-border shooting is by definition an international incident.” Thus, it is better for these incidents to be resolved through international diplomacy, rather than through a lawsuit.

Similarly, “the conduct of agents positioned at the border has a clear and strong connection to national security.” These agents “detect, respond to, and interdict terrorists, drug smugglers and traffickers, human smugglers and traffickers, and other persons who may undermine the security of the United States.” Allowing suits against these agents risks “undermining border security.”

Alito’s opinion, in other words, rests on a kind of anti-Spider-Man rule. Border patrol agents are given great power so that they can use that power. And it is not typically the job of the courts to interfere with how those guards exercise such power — even when it results in the death of a child.

As I've said countless times, even if Donald Trump left office tomorrow, I'll be spending the rest of my lifetime dealing with the damage he's caused in the judicial alone.

Expect a lot more depressing decisions in the months and years ahead.

Trump Goes Viral

The Trump regime believes they have this election in the bag already, but they are publicly admitting the scenario where Trump gets crushed by any and every Democrat in November involves a big economic slump brought on by the Wuhan coronavirus.  They're so scared of this happening that they already have their scapegoat trussed and ready for the chopping block: HHS Secretary Alex Azar

Trump himself took a break from his two-day trip to India to weigh in on coronavirus, tweeting that the virus was under control in the United States. “We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” he wrote late Monday afternoon.

But inside the White House, officials have been quietly studying models of the pandemic’s potential effect on both the U.S. and the global economy, said one Republican close to the White House. Among policy aides, there‘s widespread concern that the spread of the coronavirus will hit a slew of industries including manufacturers, airlines, automakers and tech companies, slowing down both the U.S. and Chinese economies. Aides fear the White House has few economic tricks it can deploy to lessen the impact.

Meanwhile, officials like acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and domestic policy chief Joe Grogan have turned their fire on HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who’s leading the coronavirus response, arguing that Azar has poorly coordinated the strategy, failed to escalate the potential risks to Trump and pushed for a multibillion-dollar emergency-funding request that they initially viewed as extreme, said four individuals familiar with the matter.The Trump administration on Monday night announced a request for $2.5 billion in emergency coronavirus cash, which would also shift at least $535 million in previously committed funds.

Funding the response had been a major sticking point between the White House and Azar, who lobbied to request additional funds from Congress before he makes four separate hearings on the Hill this week. Officials had spent days jockeying over the final figure for the emergency package, veering anywhere between $1 billion to $5 billion. The package also is expected to face resistance from Democrats, who have warned the Trump administration against shifting money away from existing commitments.

The White House and HHS both maintained that the task force is working in tandem and defended Azar’s leadership.

“There is zero disagreement between HHS, [National Security Council], the White House, and other members of the task force,” Mulvaney said in a statement. “Secretary Azar is the right person to lead this effort, and any reporting to the contrary is just false.”

"OMB and HHS have been in lockstep throughout this entire process," said Derek Kan, a top White House budget deputy who's also working on coronavirus efforts. An HHS spokesperson denied that the White House and Azar had disagreed over the emergency-funding request.

But the pressure-packed coronavirus fight has reopened year-old cracks between the White House and Azar, who has few allies in the White House and was seen as weakened by his own recent feud with Medicare chief Seema Verma. Two of Azar’s allies said they worried that the secretary’s job is at risk if the coronavirus response goes poorly.
Administration officials also have traded blame over the evacuation of 14 Americans from a cruise ship who were confirmed to have coronavirus, fueled by Trump’s anger over the episode. The decision to evacuate the Americans — who were placed on a plane with other Americans, over the objections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — has sparked finger-pointing and second-guessing for days. Japanese officials didn’t inform their U.S. counterparts that the 14 had tested positive until they were already aboard buses with the other American cruise ship passengers heading for the airport.

Some officials worry that the U.S. is missing potential coronavirus infections of its own, especially as clusters of cases emerge in countries like Iran, prompting that nation's neighbors Turkey, Pakistan and Armenia to close their borders. The U.S. surveillance effort has been hampered by the failure of the health department’s tests, with public health labs on Monday asking for permission to use their own homegrown tests rather than wait on the CDC.

“If we have an outbreak in the United States and didn’t pick it up, that’s going to be a public health mistake of historic proportion,” said a former senior HHS official.

How competent do you think the Trump regime will be at handling something that can't be blocked by Mitch McConnell or shouted down by FOX News state TV or Rush Limbaugh?  Something that Trump can't intimidate on Twitter or threaten with his lawyers?

Oh, I imagine the Trump regime will botch the inevitable US outbreak badly.  Unfortunately it's going to be deadly when it happens.

Another #MeToo Moment, Con't

Newly-convicted sexual predator Harvey Weinstein (No more "alleged" now!) was tossed into Riker's to await his sentencing next month without bail, but apparently he's still trying to game the system.

Harvey Weinstein was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan on Monday after complaining of chest pains, according to his representative.

Weinstein was supposed to be transferred to the jail on Rikers Island, but was diverted to Bellevue. Weinstein was remanded into custody on Monday morning after a jury convicted him on charges of sexual assault and third-degree rape.

Bellevue is known for its psychiatric facility, but it also serves as a hospital for jail inmates.

Weinstein had been free on $2 million bond, but Justice James Burke ordered him held in jail prior to sentencing on March 11.

His attorney, Donna Rotunno, urged the judge to allow him to remain free, saying that he recently had unsuccessful back surgery and requires shots in order to keep from going blind. Weinstein appeared in court most days with a walker, which his attorneys said was a result of his lingering back issues.
During a TV interview on Fox News with Martha MacCallum on Monday evening, Rotunno was asked by the anchor if Weinstein would be getting medical care at whichever prison facility he ends up in, since he was remanded. Rotunno said her client will be receiving medical care, and she mentioned that he was having heart palpitations on Monday, though she did not reveal that he was admitted to the hospital with chest pains.

Yeah the amount of pity I have for this monster after his decades-long reign of terror over Hollywood is about as much as my odds of starring in the next Marvel Cinematic Universe film.  Health issues aside, this is a guy who repeatedly showed up to court using a walker several times, and when he was perp walked out of court yesterday in cuffs, he looked fine, no walker.

I know a con man when I see him.  This one is going to jail.


Monday, February 24, 2020

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Oh the Richard Grenell story just keeps getting better, because now there's the claim he's tied to Julian Assange and the DNC email hack in 2016 and I just cannot.

Attorneys for Julian Assange, who is fighting a U.S. extradition request on espionage and computer hacking charges, plan to introduce evidence in the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition hearing involving President Donald Trump’s new intel chief Richard Grenell.
Gareth Peirce, a lawyer representing Assange in his extradition proceedings in London, plans to argue this week that the process to try to extradite her client was abused from early on. Representatives for Assange’s defense team say they expect to introduce recordings and screenshots of communications of a close Grenell associate, including a secondhand claim that Grenell was acting on the president’s orders.

Grenell’s sudden embroilment in Assange’s extradition fight comes at an inconvenient time, as Democrats and national security veterans criticize him as ill-suited and unqualified to be the acting director of national intelligence. And it threatens to spotlight his close relationship with President Trump, feeding the widespread perception that the president is politicizing intelligence work for partisan ends.

At the heart of the Assange team’s argument is an ABC News report from last April alleging that, while serving as Trump’s ambassador to Germany, Grenell told Assange’s Ecuadorean hosts that the U.S. government would not pursue the death penalty for Assange if Ecuador allowed British officials to enter its embassy in London and arrest him.
Assange’s legal team will claim that Grenell’s role was more extensive than previously known, and that it corrupted the extradition process early on. The suggestion will be that the U.S. was so desperate to get Assange in its custody that American officials, via Grenell, agreed in advance to take a particular sentence off the table before even allowing a trial and sentencing to play out.

The WikiLeaks founder’s attorneys are also expected to present evidence that they believe shows Trump explicitly tasked Grenell with making the offer, thereby politicizing the process.
One of Assange’s lawyers, Edward Fitzgerald, hinted at this argument in his opening statement on Monday, when he said that Assange’s prosecution was “not motivated by genuine concerns for criminal justice but politics.”

The evidence submitted this week will include new materials submitted to Assange’s legal team by political activist and journalist Cassandra Fairbanks, a staunch defender of Assange who has worked for the Russian state-run news site Sputnik and the far-right outlet Gateway Pundit. She is expected to be listed as a formal witness in the case.

I swear to god if Assange blows open the whole DNC email hack by calling a network of paid operatives as witnesses to connect Trump to Russia through his new acting DNI crony in order to save his own ass, I may expire from uncontrollable laughter.

This is a fight where everyone involved should be going to prison and I can't wait to watch.

Spies Like Us, Con't

Last weekend I told you about how Trump's new pick for Acting Director of National Intelligence, former Trump Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, was neck deep in unregistered foreign agent work for Moldova's right-wing government, and failed to disclose the work under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), the same thing Manafort got busted for.

But since this is the Trump regime, Moldova was just the tip of the iceberg, as Grenell has also done undisclosed FARA work for Hungary's far-right government of Viktor Orban.

An investigation by Responsible Statecraft has found that President Trump’s newly installed acting Director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell, knowingly provided public relations services directed at U.S. media on behalf of a project funded by Hungary’s far-right government. Grenell didn’t register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which is a requirement applying to individuals and entities operating inside the U.S. as an “agent” of a “foreign principal.”

Grenell’s appointment as acting Director of National Intelligence, which was announced last week, was met with widespread ridicule and disbelief.

“President Trump selected an unqualified loyalist as his top spy,” said International Institute for Strategic Studies senior fellow Jonathan Stevenson in a New York Times op-ed.

“Mr. Grenell, who currently serves as ambassador to Germany, is manifestly unqualified for the job, even in an acting capacity,” the Washington Post editorial board said. “He has no experience in intelligence or in managing large organizations – like the 17 agencies that will now report to him.”

Craig Engle, Grenell’s attorney, told Responsible Statecraft that Grenell “knew that the Hungarian government was the sponsor” of work he undertook, but claimed that Grenell’s activities did not require him to file under FARA.

According to the Justice Department, activities requiring registration as an “agent” to a “foreign principal” includes engaging in “acts within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal.”

The bigger issue than the FARA registration is the fact that this means the current DNI is compromised by yet another foreign government.  We've talked about Viktor Orban's "illberal democracy" government before.

Over the course of his eight years in power, Prime Minister Orbán has chipped away at the foundations of Hungarian democracy. It has been replaced with an authoritarian regime that wields a cynical interpretation of the law as a weapon; the country is governed by rules like the border journalism permits, regulations that can seem reasonable on their face but actually serve to undermine essential democratic freedoms.

Elections there are free, in the sense that the vote counts aren’t nakedly rigged. But they are unfair: The government controls the airwaves and media companies to such a degree that the opposition can’t get a fair hearing. Orbán’s party, Fidesz, stands up bogus opposition parties during parliamentary elections as a means of dividing the anti-Fidesz vote. In April 2018, Fidesz won the national elections, cementing Orbán’s hold on power; international monitors concluded that the opposition never really had a fair chance.

Hungary’s civil society looks free and vibrant on paper, but a patchwork of nonsensical regulations makes it nearly impossible for pro-democracy organizations to do their work. The economy seems to be growing, but a significant number of corporations are controlled by Orbán’s cronies.

An unending drumbeat of propaganda, from both official state outlets and the private media empires of Orbán allies, demonizes refugees and Muslims, warning of an existential threat to Hungarian society and culture — and touting the Orbán regime as the only thing protecting the country from an Islamic takeover. This trumped-up crisis serves as a legitimation tool for Fidesz’s authoritarianism, a pretext for the government to pass laws undermining its opponents.

Call it “soft fascism”: a political system that aims to stamp out dissent and seize control of every major aspect of a country’s political and social life, without needing to resort to “hard” measures like banning elections and building up a police state.

One of the most disconcerting parts of observing Hungarian soft fascism up close is that it’s easy to imagine the model being exported. While the Orbán regime grew out of Hungary’s unique history and political culture, its playbook for subtle repression could in theory be run in any democratic country whose leaders have had enough of the political opposition.

It’s not for nothing that Steve Bannon, who has called Orbán “the most significant guy on the scene right now,” is currently in Europe building an organization — called “the Movement” — aimed at spreading Orbán’s populist politics across the continent

A second Trump regime term will be exactly like this. There's no coincidence that Trump keeps hiring the front men for autocratic dictators.

BREAKING: Harvey Weinstein Found Guilty

In the biggest #MeToo moment so far, former Hollywood mega-producer Harvey Weinstein has been found guilty on two of the five charges connected to sexual assault of women, and faces decades in prison.

Harvey Weinstein, the once-powerful Hollywood mogul, was found guilty of rape in the third degree on Monday, capping a landmark trial of the #MeToo era.

The jury in New York convicted Weinstein, 67, of third-degree rape against former aspiring actress Jessica Mann, as well as a count of criminal sexual act in the first-degree against former production assistant Mimi Haley. But the jury found him not guilty on the two most serious counts, predatory sexual assault, as well as a count of first-degree rape against Mann.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for five days, causing anxiety among his accusers.

In all, more than 80 women have accused the Oscar-winning producer behind "Pulp Fiction" and "The King's Speech" of sexual assault and harassment going back decades, though the charges were based primarily on allegations from former production assistant Mimi Haley and former aspiring actress Jessica Mann.

But in more than a month inside a Manhattan court, prosecutors called four other accusers as witnesses who could testify about Weinstein's alleged pattern of serial abuse, including "The Sopranos" actress Annabella Sciorra, who has accused him of raping her in the early 1990s.

Weinstein pleaded not guilty in the case and denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex. His lawyers argued the trial was an example of the #MeToo movement having run amok, and repeatedly attempted to raise doubts about his accusers' credibility and motivations in coming forward.

The two guilty charges could see Weinstein imprisoned for a total of 29 years, and there are still pending charges against him in Los Angeles County as well.  This is far from over, but the bottom line is this dude is going to prison today as the judge has ordered him jailed without bail.

Bye, Harvey.
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