Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Last Call For Trump Trades Blows, Con't

The GOP's increasingly bellicose rhetoric about COVID-19 being a Chinese bioweapon is really pissing Beijing off, to the point where they are starting to expel American journalists.

In a sharp escalation of tensions between the two superpowers, China announced on Tuesday that it would expel American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. It also demanded that those outlets, as well as the Voice of America and Time magazine, provide the Chinese government with detailed information about their operations.

The announcement, made by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, came weeks after the Trump administration limited to 100 the number of Chinese citizens who can work in the United States for five state-run Chinese news organizations that are widely considered propaganda outlets.

China instructed American journalists for the three news organizations whose press credentials are due to expire this year to “notify the Department of Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within four calendar days starting from today and hand back their press cards within ten calendar days.” Almost all the China-based journalists for the three organizations have press cards that expire this year.

The announcement went on to say that the American journalists now working in mainland China “will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People’s Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.” The two territories are semiautonomous and in theory have greater press freedoms than the mainland.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the decisions “are entirely necessary and reciprocal countermeasures that China is compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the U.S.”

The statement also accused the United States of “exclusively targeting Chinese media organizations,” adding that it was “driven by a Cold War mentality.” The new limits imposed by the Trump administration effectively forced 60 Chinese employees of the state-run organizations to leave the country.

Reporters at foreign news outlets in China were among those who aggressively reported on the coronavirus epidemic in January and February, including in its earliest days, when it was a regionalized outbreak in central China and the Chinese government sought to play down its severity.

The news organizations have also reported in the past year on other issues deemed extremely sensitive by Chinese officials, including the mass internment of Muslims in the Xinjiang region and the shadowy business dealings of family members of leaders, including President Xi Jinping.

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, condemned the expulsion of U.S. reporters in a statement, calling it “especially irresponsible at a time when the world needs the free and open flow of credible information about the coronavirus pandemic.”

“It is critical that the governments of the United States and China move quickly to resolve this dispute and allow journalists to do the important work of informing the public,” he said. He noted that The Times has more journalists in China than anywhere else internationally.

So we'll see.  But right now it's just all raining down now, and there's no shelter.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

In the White House in mid-January 2017, the outgoing Obama team met with Trump's incoming transition team and went over three major disaster scenarios: a Class 5 hurricane directly hitting a major US city, a cyber incident that knocked out multiple infrastructure systems and businesses, and a novel virus pandemic.

The Trump people essentially ignored the exercise as a complete waste of time, and the people who did pay attention are all long gone.

The briefing was intended to hammer home a new, terrifying reality facing the Trump administration, and the incoming president’s responsibility to protect Americans amid a crisis. But unlike the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the globe, this 2017 crisis didn’t really happen — it was among a handful of scenarios presented to Trump’s top aides as part of a legally required transition exercise with members of the outgoing administration of Barack Obama. 
And in the words of several attendees, the atmosphere was “weird” at best, chilly at worst. 
POLITICO obtained documents from the meeting and spoke with more than a dozen attendees to help provide the most detailed reconstruction of the closed-door session yet. It was perhaps the most concrete and visible transition exercise that dealt with the possibility of pandemics, and top officials from both sides — whether they wanted to be there or not — were forced to confront a whole-of-government response to a crisis. The Trump team was told it could face specific challenges, such as shortages of ventilators, anti-viral drugs and other medical essentials, and that having a coordinated, unified national response was “paramount” — warnings that seem eerily prescient given the ongoing coronavirus crisis. 
But roughly two-thirds of the Trump representatives in that room are no longer serving in the administration. That extraordinary turnover in the months and years that followed is likely one reason his administration has struggled to handle the very real pandemic it faces now, former Obama administration officials said. 
“The advantage we had under Obama was that during the first four years we had the same White House staff, the same Cabinet,” said former deputy labor secretary Chris Lu, who attended the gathering. “Just having the continuity makes all the difference in the world.” 
Sean Spicer, Trump’s first White House press secretary, was among those who participated in the meeting. He said he understood the reasons such exercises could be useful, but described the encounter as a massive transfer of information that ultimately felt very theoretical. In real life, things are never as simple as what’s presented in a table-top exercise, he said. 
“There’s no briefing that can prepare you for a worldwide pandemic,” added Spicer, who left the administration in mid-2017. 
The outgoing Obama aides and incoming Trump aides gathered for roughly three hours on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. 
At least 30 representatives of Trump’s team — many of them soon-to-be Cabinet members — were present, each sitting next to their closest Obama administration counterpart. Incoming Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appeared to keep dozing off. Incoming Energy Secretary Rick Perry was getting along famously with Ernest Moniz, the man he was replacing, several fellow participants said. 
But it was clear some on the Trump team had barely, if ever, spoken with the people they were replacing. News had broken that same day about national security adviser Michael Flynn’s unusual contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, so his presence in the meeting added to the surrealness. Some members of both groups kept going in and out of the room, but most paid quiet attention to the presentations, which were led by top Obama aides. 
Obama aides, in op-eds and essays ripping the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, have pointed to the Jan. 13, 2017, session as a key example of their effort to press the importance of pandemic preparedness to their successors.

It fell on deaf ears.  All of it.  The top Trump people didn't pay a single word of attention to any of it, and the people who did left the disaster area long before 2020.

The people who would have had a plan?  We were told they were no different from Trump, and the country elected a racist mobbed-up game show host, because fuck that Clinton bitch, right boys?

And now?

Now we're headed over the cliff and there's no coming back from this.

Meanwhile, Trump's people are concentrating on the important stuff during this time of crisis:  more ICE raids to make sure the people we're still keeping in internement camps get introduced to exciting new friends like COVID-19.

“We’re out here trying to protect the public by getting these criminal aliens off the street and out of our communities,” said David Marin, the director of Enforcement and Removal Operations for ICE in L.A. “Asking us to stop doing that basically gives those criminals another opportunity to maybe commit more crimes, to create more victims.”

In the parking lot, the group of agents stood in a loose circle — not quite six feet apart — as they reviewed the target list. That morning, they were searching for four people, including two registered sex offenders.

Among the gathered officers were two U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers — identifiable only by a patch on their vest with their agency’s name. They were among nine total CBP agents and officers deployed to the L.A. area in the last few weeks to assist ICE in making arrests.

They rattled off the height, weight and daily routines of the people they sought to arrest. Nearly all the targets lived within a one-mile radius. With many schools closed due to coronavirus and some people staying home from work, it was unclear how arrests would go that morning.

“We couldn’t factor this in, right? This COVID-19 and the precautions that everybody’s taking,” Marin said. “We just have to continue to go with the same game plan that we’ve been doing.”
All of the officers had been issued the protective masks over the past few weeks. In his car, Marin kept packets of hand sanitizer wipes, which he’d used that morning to wipe down his steering wheel, his keys and his hands after pumping gas.

Trump wants an $850 billion stimulus package, and Republicans think it's a great idea, unlike the same Senate Republicans who almost all voted down the same package 11 years ago, mainly because it's a payroll tax cut that would literally steal hundreds of billions from Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.

Democrats have their own $750 billion plan, but it has no chance of getting past Mitch.  Hopefully negotiations are in order, but whatever happens it needs to happen this week.  Time is running out.

The problem is America is still full of partisan disinformation and distrust thanks to Trump.

Inside the Republican Party and the conservative movement that Trump commands, there is now a deep divide as the nation confronts the coronavirus. For weeks, many on the right, including Trump, minimized the virus, if they considered it at all. Even in recent days, as much of the world shuts down to try to stop its spread, some Republicans mocked what they saw as a media-generated frenzy.

Their reaction reflected how the American right has evolved under Trump, moving from a bloc of small-government advocates to a grievance coalition highly skeptical of government, science, the news and federal warnings.

Their conspiratorial unrest is particularly acute within right-wing media, where Fox Business removed a prime-time anchor for casting the coronavirus as “another attempt to impeach the president.” Other right-wing personalities continue to call the coronavirus a “hoax” or falsely blame George Soros, the billionaire investor and liberal donor, for causing it.

But conservatives and Republicans now face an undeniable reality as the pandemic’s death count here and abroad climbs — and the worldwide reach of the coronavirus defies the bounds of political debate.

“It’s damn clear that this is no hoax and should be taken seriously,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign adviser who co-hosts a podcast with former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon called “War Room: Pandemic,” which has documented the economic and health fallout of the coronavirus for weeks.

“The right underestimated this and thought the media was beating up on Trump again,” added GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who chairs a pro-Trump super PAC. “That was yesterday. Today is, ‘Life in America is changing before our eyes.’ ”

Trump has suddenly and markedly recalibrated his own approach, after weeks of blasé comments about the virus that spurred some of his allies to dismiss the danger of the pandemic.

When asked Monday about Nunes’s comment to Fox News, Trump did not echo him. Instead, Trump said he had not heard about the remarks, but would “disagree” with anyone calling on Americans to congregate in restaurants.

“I think it’s probably better that you don’t,” Trump told reporters.

Hours later, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said, “I’m pleased that the president and the public-health officials seem to now be on the same page. I think there was a gap in the early days.”

Again, all this means is that Trump and the right will start blaming China and blue-state governors specifically instead of Democrats in general and the media, and then when Democrats and the media call them on it, then they will blame Democrats in general and the media again.

America is going to be a very, very different place three months from now.  Far different still six and nine months from now.  Believe me, I started ZVTS in August of 2008 because we were headed off a cliff then and November 2008 was different, and March 2009 different still.

I have the same feeling in my gut again, only it's much, much worse.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Meanwhile, as the world heads towards a global recession and pandemic, the Justice Department is quietly dropping the charges against the Russian nationals indicted by the Mueller probe.

The Justice Department moved on Monday to drop charges against two Russian shell companies accused of financing schemes to interfere in the 2016 election, saying that they were exploiting the case to gain access to sensitive information that Russia could weaponize.

The companies, Concord Management and Concord Consulting, were charged in 2018 in an indictment secured by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, along with 13 Russians and another company, the Internet Research Agency. Prosecutors said they operated a sophisticated scheme to use social media to spread disinformation, exploit American social divisions and try to subvert the 2016 election.

Unlike the others under indictment, Concord fought the charges in court. But instead of trying to defend itself, Concord seized on the case to obtain confidential information from prosecutors, then mount a campaign of information warfare, a senior Justice Department official said.

At one point, prosecutors complained that a cache of documents that could potentially be shared with the defendants included details about the government’s sources and methods for investigation, among its most sensitive secrets. Prosecutors feared Concord might publish them online.

With the case set to go to trial next month, prosecutors recommended that the Justice Department drop the charges to preserve national security interests and prevent Russia from weaponizing sensitive American law enforcement information, according to the official. The prosecutors also weighed the benefits of securing a guilty verdict against the companies, which cannot be meaningfully punished in the United States, against the risk of exposing sensitive or classified information in order to win in court.

“Concord has been eager and aggressive in using the judicial system to gather information about how the United States detects and prevents foreign election interference,” prosecutors said in a motion filed in court on Monday. At the same time, the firm has tried to stymie the judicial process, including by concealing facts and documents and submitting a false affidavit.

Department officials denied that the decision to drop the charges was intended to dismantle Mr. Mueller’s work, noting that prosecutors are still pursuing charges against the 13 Russians and the Internet Research Agency.

It's almost like the prosecution here threw the case and was maneuvered into a position where they had to drop the charges in order to protect intelligence secrets, and that this was all done on purpose to make sure the case would never come to trial.

Expect more like this to happen with both the Internet Research Agency case and the Russian nationals, and that's even if prosecution happens because Moscow will never turn them over.

I fully expect every single bit of the Mueller probe to be undone before the end of the year, between all the pardons and the dropped charges.


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