Saturday, March 7, 2020

Prince Of Darkness, Con't

Our old friend Erik Prince is at it again, this time hiring out his mercenaries for a different kind of warfare here in the '20s: disinformation warfare and infiltration of liberal groups through James O'Keefe and his Operation Veritas project.

Erik Prince, the security contractor with close ties to the Trump administration, has in recent years helped recruit former American and British spies for secretive intelligence-gathering operations that included infiltrating Democratic congressional campaigns, labor organizations and other groups considered hostile to the Trump agenda, according to interviews and documents.

One of the former spies, an ex-MI6 officer named Richard Seddon, helped run a 2017 operation to copy files and record conversations in a Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers’ unions in the nation. Mr. Seddon directed an undercover operative to secretly tape the union’s local leaders and try to gather information that could be made public to damage the organization, documents show.

Using a different alias the next year, the same undercover operative infiltrated the congressional campaign of Abigail Spanberger, then a former C.I.A. officer who went on to win an important House seat in Virginia as a Democrat. The campaign discovered the operative and fired her.

Both operations were run by Project Veritas, a conservative group that has gained attention using hidden cameras and microphones for sting operations on news organizations, Democratic politicians and liberal advocacy groups. Mr. Seddon’s role in the teachers’ union operation — detailed in internal Project Veritas emails that have emerged from the discovery process of a court battle between the group and the union — has not previously been reported, nor has Mr. Prince’s role in recruiting Mr. Seddon for the group’s activities.

Both Project Veritas and Mr. Prince have ties to President Trump’s aides and family. Whether any Trump administration officials or advisers to the president were involved in the operations, even tacitly, is unclear. But the effort is a glimpse of a vigorous private campaign to try to undermine political groups or individuals perceived to be in opposition to Mr. Trump’s agenda.

Mr. Prince, the former head of Blackwater Worldwide and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has at times served as an informal adviser to Trump administration officials
. He worked with the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn during the presidential transition. In 2017, he met with White House and Pentagon officials to pitch a plan to privatize the Afghan war using contractors in lieu of American troops. Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, rejected the idea.

Mr. Prince appears to have become interested in using former spies to train Project Veritas operatives in espionage tactics sometime during the 2016 presidential campaign. Reaching out to several intelligence veterans — and occasionally using Mr. Seddon to make the pitch — Mr. Prince said he wanted the Project Veritas employees to learn skills like how to recruit sources and how to conduct clandestine recordings, among other surveillance techniques.

James O’Keefe, the head of Project Veritas, declined to answer detailed questions about Mr. Prince, Mr. Seddon and other topics, but he called his group a “proud independent news organization” that is involved in dozens of investigations. He said that numerous sources were coming to the group “providing confidential documents, insights into internal processes and wearing hidden cameras to expose corruption and misconduct.”

“No one tells Project Veritas who or what to investigate,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr. Prince declined to comment. Emails sent to Mr. Seddon went unanswered.

To recap, a major private military contractor, who happens to be the brother of the Secretary of Education, is bankrolling, recruiting and training operatives to infiltrate labor unions, activist organizations, news outlets and, I cannot stress this enough, Democratic campaign staff, in order to damage their credibility and spread disinformation.

They are doing this with the tacit permission of the White House.

It would make a great Tom Clancy novel if it wasn't 100% real.  If this was happening in any other putative democracy on Earth, the US would call for UN election observers and threaten sanctions.

They gave O'Keefe and his merry band of gotcha "journalists" real actual spies to use against Democrats and their allies, to spy on Trump's political foes.  It worked, too.  They stole information, they got people fired, they spread chaos.

And they're still doing it.  If you don't think these guys have folks in the Bernie and Biden campaigns, you're not paying attention.  The US Senate campaigns and key House races? Absolutely. Unions, Black Lives Matter, women's groups, Latino groups, LGBTQ groups, you name it, they've got people in or heading in.

We're up against a mob boss willing to do anything to crush his foes.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

Expect to see more major events and conferences canceled due to COVID-19 in the months ahead like this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

South by Southwest — the tech, music, and film conference held every year in Austin, Texas, and which drew more than 73,000 people last year — is officially canceled.

The reason that the event, which was set to take place from March 13-22, has been nixed this year should come as no surprise. Austin city officials remain concerned about the spread of coronavirus, and a lengthy statement has been issued explaining the decision, which you can read below.

This is a major blow to the city, where the conference last year brought in a few hundred million dollars. The cancellation was announced during a Friday afternoon press conference, at which city mayor Steve Adler added that he’d declared a “local disaster” in Austin as a result of the continued spread of the virus. 

Rescheduling is going to be a tough road, I think.  COVID-19 is going to be with us for months. Everyone badly underestimated what would have been needed to contain the virus in a country like the United States, most of all that failure lies on the shoulders of Donald Trump.

Through interviews with dozens of public-health officials and a survey of local data from across the country, The Atlantic could only verify that 1,895 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States, about 10 percent of whom have tested positive. And while the American capacity to test for the coronavirus has ramped up significantly over the past few days, local officials can still test only several thousand people a day, not the tens or hundreds of thousands indicated by the White House’s promises.
To arrive at our estimate, we contacted the public-health departments of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We gathered data on websites, and we corresponded with dozens of state officials. All 50 states and D.C. have made some information available, though the quality and timeliness of the data varied widely. Some states have only committed to releasing their numbers once or three times a week. Most are focused on the number of confirmed cases; only a few have publicized the number of people they are capable of testing.

The Atlantic’s numbers reflect the best available portrait of the country’s testing capacity as of early this morning. These numbers provide an accurate baseline, but they are incomplete. Scattered on state websites, the data available are not useful to citizens or political leaders. State-based tallies lack the reliability of the CDC’s traditional—but now abandoned—method of reporting. Several states—including New Jersey, Texas, and Louisiana—have not shared the number of coronavirus tests they have conducted overall, meaning their number of positive results lacks crucial context.

The net effect of these choices is that the country’s true capacity for testing has not been made clear to its residents. This level of obfuscation is unexpected in the United States, which has long been a global leader in public-health transparency.

The figures we gathered suggest that the American response to the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has been shockingly sluggish, especially compared with that of other developed countries. The CDC confirmed eight days ago that the virus was in community transmission in the United States—that it was infecting Americans who had neither traveled abroad nor were in contact with others who had. In South Korea, more than 66,650 people were tested within a week of its first case of community transmission, and it quickly became able to test 10,000 people a day. The United Kingdom, which has only 115 positive cases, has so far tested 18,083 people for the virus.

Normally, the job of gathering these types of data in the U.S. would be left to epidemiologists at the CDC. The agency regularly collects and publishes positive and negative test results for several pathogens, including multiple types of the seasonal flu. But earlier this week, the agency announced that it would stop publishing negative results for the coronavirus, an extraordinary step that essentially keeps Americans from knowing how many people have been tested overall.

Read: What you can do right now about the coronavirus

“With more and more testing done at states, these numbers would not be representative of the testing being done nationally,” Nancy Messonnier, the chief CDC official for respiratory diseases, said at the time. “States are reporting results quickly, and in the event of a discrepancy between CDC and state case counts, the state case counts should always be considered more up to date.”

Then, last night, the CDC resumed reporting the number of tests that the agency itself has completed, but did not include testing by state public-health departments or other laboratories. Asked to respond to our own tally and reporting, the CDC directed us to Messonnier’s statement from Tuesday.

Our reporting found that disorder has followed the CDC’s decision not to publish state data. Messonnier’s statement itself implies that, as highly populous states like California increase their own testing, the number of people the CDC reports as having been tested and the actual number of people tested will become ever more divergent. The federal tally of positive cases is now also badly out of date: While the CDC is reporting 99 positive cases of the coronavirus in the United States, our data, and separate data from Johns Hopkins University, show that the true number is well above 200, including those on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The White House declined to comment.

The haphazard debut of the tests—and the ensuing absence of widespread data about the epidemic—has hamstrung doctors, politicians, and public-health officials as they try to act prudently during the most important week for the epidemic in the United States so far.

Please remember that Donald Trump knows exactly what he's doing.

President Trump likes to say that he fell into politics almost by accident, and on Friday, as he sought to calm a nation gripped with fears over coronavirus, he suggested he would have thrived in another profession — medical expert.

“I like this stuff. I really get it,” Trump boasted to reporters during a tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where he met with actual doctors and scientists who are feverishly scrambling to contain and combat the deadly illness. Citing a “great, super-genius uncle” who taught at MIT, Trump professed that it must run in the family genes.

“People are really surprised I understand this stuff,” he said. “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability.”

He's lying. He can't control it, just like he can't control his malignant narcissism.  He doesn't know a damn thing.  He;s silencing the experts on purpose to contain panic.

And absolute panic is necessary right now.

More below the fold.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

Last night, Donald Trump replaced Acting WH Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney with retiring GOP Rep. Mark Meadows.

President Donald Trump announced late Friday that he was replacing his acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, with Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a shake-up in the top echelons of the West Wing just as the President confronts a growing public health crisis and girds for reelection. 
Meadows, who had previously announced he was leaving Congress, will become Trump's fourth chief of staff in a little more than three years in office. In a tweet, Trump did not denote him "acting," a designation Mulvaney never graduated from in the turbulent 14 months he spent in the job. 
"I am pleased to announce that Congressman Mark Meadows will become White House Chief of Staff. I have long known and worked with Mark, and the relationship is a very good one," Trump tweeted Friday just after arriving at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. 
Trump, who did not immediately offer an explanation for the swap, thanked Mulvaney and said he said would become special envoy for Northern Ireland. 
"I want to thank Acting Chief Mick Mulvaney for having served the Administration so well. He will become the United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland," Trump added. "Thank you!" 
It was an abrupt announcement of news that had been anticipated for weeks. It continues a churn of staffing changes that followed Trump's impeachment acquittal a month ago. 
Trump offered the position to Meadows on Thursday, people familiar with the matter said. Mulvaney was on a personal trip and not at work Friday, two officials said. Some staffers found it odd that the acting chief of staff would leave Washington during such a critical time while the administration is dealing with the coronavirus crisis. 
But Mulvaney also did not attend several of Trump's recent trips -- including a campaign swing in the Western United States and his state visit to India -- which is a pattern his predecessors also followed before they were dismissed. 
Though Mulvaney had been a fixture of Trump's administration in various roles over the past three years, the President effectively lost confidence in him months ago, a combination of personality conflicts and frustration at his handling of the impeachment ordeal. 
Trump, who had considered dismissing Mulvaney at various junctures, was convinced not to act by close aides, who argued that a leadership change in the White House during impeachment could cause unnecessary chaos.

Booting Mulvaney out to be envoy to Northern Ireland isn't firing him, but it's close.  Firing him of course would mean he's no longer protected by executive privilege should Dems get the wild idea to subpoena Mulvaney again.

I figured Mulvaney would be the scapegoat for COVID-19, but apparently Trump has Alex Azar in mind still for that one, so we'll see what happens with Mark Meadows, the fourth WH Chief of Staff in three years.
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