Saturday, July 31, 2021

Last Call For Insurrection Misdirection

Republicans are settling in on their message for drowning out the January 6th committee: Nancy Pelosi staged a riot in order to detain American Patriot Eagle Trump political prisoners

This past week, just before the officers began to deliver anguished testimony about the brutality they had endured, Mr. McCarthy repeatedly laid blame not with Mr. Trump, the rioters or those who had fueled doubts about the election outcome, but with Ms. Pelosi, one of the invading mob’s chief targets.

“If there is a responsibility for this Capitol, on this side, it rests with the speaker,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the recently selected House conference chairwoman, went even further, saying Ms. Pelosi “bears responsibility” as speaker “for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6” and deriding her as “an authoritarian who has broken the people’s house.”

Ms. Pelosi is not responsible for the security of Congress; that job falls to the Capitol Police, a force that the speaker only indirectly influences. Republicans have made no similar attempt to blame Mr. McConnell, who shared control of the Capitol at the time.

Outside the Justice Department, meanwhile, a group of conservative lawmakers gathered to accuse prosecutors of mistreating the more than 500 people accused in the Jan. 6 riot.

Encouraged by Mr. Trump, they also echoed far-right portrayals of Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was shot trying to break into the House chamber, as a patriotic martyr whose killing by the police was premeditated.

As if to show how anti-democratic episodes are ping-ponging around the globe, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in June seized on Ms. Babbitt’s killing — calling it an “assassination” — to deflect questions about his own country’s jailing of political prisoners.

Some senior Republicans insist that warnings of a whitewash are overwrought.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to be successful erasing what happened,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “Everybody saw it with their own eyes and the nation saw it on television.”

For Mr. Cornyn and other lawmakers, continuing to talk about the attack is clearly an electoral loser at a time when they are trying to retake majorities in Congress and avoid Mr. Trump’s ire.

Most Republican lawmakers instead simply try to say nothing at all, declining even to recount the day’s events, let alone rebuke members of their party for spreading falsehoods or muddying the waters.

Asked how he would describe the riot, in which a hostile crowd demanded the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence, his brother, Representative Greg Pence of Indiana, responded curtly, “I don’t describe it.”

Yet the silence of party stalwarts, including nearly all of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump for his role in the attack and the Republican senators who voted to convict him, has created an information void that hard-right allies of Mr. Trump have readily filled. And they have found receptive audiences in a media environment replete with echo chambers and amplifying algorithms.

In a July poll by CBS News, narrow majorities of Trump voters said they would describe the attack as an example of “patriotism” or “defending freedom.”

That silence follows a familiar pattern: Rather than refute false allegations about a stolen election and rampant voter fraud, many leading Republicans have simply tolerated extremist misinformation
Not only do they tolerate it, they believe it because it allows them to justify what's coming. And what's coming is grim.

Nearly half of Republican voters believe there will come a time when the so-called "American patriots" will "have take the law into their own hands," the findings of a new survey reveal.

The new survey, conducted by GW Politics Poll, analyzed the belief systems of Democrats and Republicans. Based on the survey's findings, there are stark differences between Democratic and Republican voters' perspectives of the law and their trust and confidence in the government.

Republican voters in states former President Donald Trump won during the 2020 election have a higher level of trust in their state and local officials than Republicans residing in blue states won by President Joe Biden. While the same trend is evident where Democratic voters are concerned, the survey indicates it is far "less profound."

Danny Hayes, a George Washington University political science professor and co-director of the GW Politics Poll weighed in with more details about the survey findings.

"Most of the state and local officials who run our elections are long-time public servants whose goal is simply to help our democracy operate smoothly," Hayes said. "But if we've gotten to a place where voters trust the electoral system only when their side wins, then that undermines the idea of non-partisan election administration, which is essential for democracy."

The survey highlighted the following:

"Support for fundamental principles such as free and fair elections, free speech, and peaceful protest are nearly unanimous among both Democrats and Republicans. Their views on other democratic values, however, differ dramatically. Over half of Republicans (55%) supported the possible use of force to preserve the "traditional American way of life," compared to 15% of Democrats. When asked if a time will come when "patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands," 47% of Republicans agreed, as opposed to just 9% of Democrats."

January 6th, for all its horror, was only a warm-up for what's coming, and soon.

The Vax of Life, Con't

Solid majorities of Americans support vaccine mandates for schoolchildren, college kids, airline passengers, and yes, even in general for everyone.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they'd support federal, state or local governments requiring everyone to get a coronavirus vaccine, according to a new survey conducted by The COVID States Project.

Why it matters: This kind of blanket mandate hasn't even been proposed, at any level of government. But more piecemeal requirements are rapidly becoming more popular, and the survey suggests Americans are fine with that.

The big picture: There's recently been a surge in vaccine requirements for employees among health care organizations, governments and private businesses. The federal government yesterday became the latest employer to create a new vaccination policy. 
But many of these requirements stop short of being actual vaccine mandates, and instead impose additional burdens — such as extra testing — on people who choose to remain unvaccinated. They also only apply to a select group of people, like employees, students or customers.

By the numbers: 64% of respondents said in June or July that they'd support government vaccine requirements, a slight bump up from the 62% who said the same in April or May. 70% said they'd support vaccine requirements to get on an airplane; 61% support requiring children to be vaccinated to go to school; and 66% support requiring college students to be vaccinated to attend a university. 
A majority of every demographic subgroup except Republicans said they'd support vaccine requirements. Only 45% of Republicans said they approve of such mandates. A majority of respondents in all but three states — Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota — said they support requirements that everyone be vaccinated.

Between the lines: Unsurprisingly, vaccinated people are more likely to support mandates, and most of the people who "strongly disapprove" of mandates are unvaccinated, according to Matthew Baum, a public policy professor at Harvard University and one of the report's authors.
As WaPo columnist Ruth Marcus puts it, it's far past time to stop coddling the reckless

P­­­ay people to get vaccinated, no matter whether that is unfair to those who didn’t receive checks for jabs. Require them to do so as a condition of going to work or enrolling in school. Do whatever it takes — and, recent weeks have shown, it is going to take steps like these — to get the pandemic under control.

Those of us who have behaved responsibly — wearing masks and, since the vaccines became available, getting our shots — cannot be held hostage by those who can’t be bothered to do the same, or who are too deluded by misinformation to understand what is so clearly in their own interest.

The more inconvenient we make life for the unvaccinated, the better our own lives will be. More important, the fewer who will needlessly die. We cannot ignore the emerging evidence that the delta variant is transmissible even by those who have been fully vaccinated. “The war has changed,” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded.

President Biden recognized this new reality with his actions Thursday. He announced that federal employees must be vaccinated or mask up and submit continuing proof that they are not infected; he urged private employers to do the same; and he encouraged the use of federal funds to prod — okay, bribe — the unvaccinated to step up.

If anything, Biden didn’t go far enough. He should have imposed a tighter mandate on federal workers and contractors — no frequent testing option as an alternative. He should have required vaccines for airline and railroad travel. He should have mandated vaccines for members of the military rather than kicking that can a few weeks down the road.

If I sound exasperated, I am, and I don’t think I’m alone. I have been looking forward to going back to my office — or backish, since it likely won’t be full-time — in a few weeks. Now, with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) having wisely reimposed a mask mandate in the city, it’s hard to see how we’re going to actually pull that off. Better to straggle along on Zoom, seeing one another’s faces, than mask up for eight hours or more.

I have been looking forward to attending synagogue for the Jewish holidays in September, to going to dinner in indoor restaurants with friends, to resuming real life. I have been appreciating the ability to see my 86-year-old mother without fear of infecting her; now I have to worry anew about her getting on a plane to come visit us, as she was planning.

As I was writing this, a vaccinated friend texted to say he had tested positive. He’s not very sick, but he could have infected others who are more vulnerable. This variant is no joke.

It’s reasonable, it’s fair, and it’s legal to step up the pressure on the reckless noncompliant. By reckless, I mean to exclude some people: If you have a medical condition that counsels against vaccination, you are excused.

But even Marcus goes on to say that those with religious objections should be given exemptions as well, something no doubt 99% of the current anti-vax nutjobs will claim, thanks to the Roberts Court.

My advice remains simple: get vaccinated if you're not already, wear masks indoors in public, and stay safe. It's 2020 all over again, only this time the stakes are much higher. You're much more likely to end up in the ICU this time thanks to delta if you're not vaccinated.

Be smart, folks.

Hack The Planet, Con't

The Justice Department has cases against multiple Russian nationals in the wake of the Trump regime, but don't worry, if they're hiding anything, the Russians already know all of it.


The Russian hackers behind the massive SolarWinds cyberespionage campaign broke into the email accounts of some of the most prominent federal prosecutors’ offices around the country last year, the Justice Department said Friday.

The department said 80% of Microsoft email accounts used by employees in the four U.S. attorney offices in New York were breached. All told, the Justice Department said 27 U.S. Attorney offices had at least one employee’s email account compromised during the hacking campaign.

The Justice Department said in a statement that it believes the accounts were compromised from May 7 to Dec. 27, 2020. Such a timeframe is notable because the SolarWinds campaign, which infiltrated dozens of private-sector companies and think tanks as well as at least nine U.S. government agencies, was first discovered and publicized in mid-December.

The Biden administration in April announced sanctions, including the expulsion of Russian diplomats, in response to the SolarWinds hack and Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Russia has denied wrongdoing.

Jennifer Rodgers, a lecturer at Columbia Law School, said office emails frequently contained all sorts of sensitive information, including case strategy discussions and names of confidential informants, when she was a federal prosecutor in New York.

“I don’t remember ever having someone bring me a document instead of emailing it to me because of security concerns,” she said, noting exceptions for classified materials.

The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts confirmed in January that it was also breached, giving the SolarWinds hackers another entry point to steal confidential information like trade secrets, espionage targets, whistleblower reports and arrest warrants.

The list of affected offices include several large and high-profile ones like those in Los Angeles, Miami, Washington and the Eastern District of Virginia.

The Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, where large numbers of staff were hit, handle some of the most prominent prosecutors in the country.

“New York is the financial center of the world and those districts are particularly well known for investigating and prosecuting white-collar crimes and other cases, including investigating people close to the former president,” said Bruce Green, a professor at Fordham Law School and a former prosecutor in the Southern District.
So yeah, every major federal case from 2020, assume the Russians have everything. Not just against Russian nationals, but all the FBI info into investigations involving the Trump regime itself, and the people Trump wanted targeted too.

All in Vlad's grimy little hands.

Think he might be able to do some damage with it?

He already has, most likely.

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Big Lie, Con't

Yes, there was absolutely a Trump conspiracy to pressure the Justice Department into declaring his loss to Joe Biden as election fraud with the express intent of overturning the election and justifying the January 6th terrorist attack.

President Donald J. Trump pressed top Justice Department officials late last year to declare that the election was corrupt even though they had found no instances of widespread fraud, so that he and his allies in Congress could use the assertion to try to overturn the results, according to new documents provided to lawmakers and obtained by The New York Times.

The demands were an extraordinary instance of a president interfering with an agency that is typically more independent from the White House to advance his personal agenda. They are also the latest example of Mr. Trump’s wide-ranging campaign during his final weeks in office to delegitimize the election results.

The exchange unfolded during a phone call on Dec. 27 in which Mr. Trump pressed the acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and his deputy, Richard P. Donoghue, on voter fraud claims that the department had disproved. Mr. Donoghue warned that the department had no power to change the outcome of the election. Mr. Trump replied that he did not expect that, according to notes Mr. Donoghue took memorializing the conversation.

“Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” and to congressional allies, Mr. Donoghue wrote in summarizing Mr. Trump’s response.

Mr. Trump did not name the lawmakers, but at other points during the call he mentioned Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, whom he described as a “fighter”; Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who at the time promoted the idea that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump; and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, whom Mr. Trump praised for “getting to bottom of things.”

The notes connect Mr. Trump’s allies in Congress with his campaign to pressure Justice Department officials to help undermine, or even nullify, the election results.

The lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Jordan ultimately voted to overturn the election results in key states, but has downplayed his role in the president’s pressure campaign. Mr. Perry continues to assert Mr. Trump won, but has not been tied directly to the White House effort to keep him in office. And Mr. Johnson, whom Mr. Trump recently endorsed as he weighs whether to seek a third term, maintains that it is reasonable to have questions about the integrity of the election, though he has recognized Joseph R. Biden Jr. as president.

The Justice Department provided Mr. Donoghue’s notes to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is investigating the Trump administration’s efforts to unlawfully reverse the election results.

Typically, the department has fought to keep secret any accounts of private discussions between a president and his cabinet to avoid setting a precedent that would prevent officials in future administrations from candidly advising presidents out of concern that their conversations would later be made public.

But handing over the notes to Congress is part of a pattern of allowing scrutiny of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. The Biden Justice Department also told Mr. Rosen, Mr. Donoghue and other former officials this week that they could provide unrestricted testimony to investigators with the House Oversight and Reform and the Senate Judiciary Committees.
As important as the ongoing January 6th committee work is going, the House Oversight and Senate Judiciary investigations into the final days of the Trump regime are just as vital, especially their recommendations to the Justice Department about whether to charge members of the regime with criminal acts. 

I still don't believe for a second that Merrick Garland would actually follow through.

But the full note here from Donoghue says that Trump, on December 27th, told his allies to "leave the rest to me + R. Congressmen".

Then January 6th happened, ten days later.

Here endeth the lesson.

Barely Masking Their Hatred

The mask wars here in Kentucky have been fully joined, as Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has issued an executive order this week for state employees to wear masks indoors, but several Republicans in statewide offices all say that they won't enforce the mandate at all.

Though Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's administration is now requiring state government workers to wear a mask in state offices, several constitutional offices have chosen not to enforce the masking rules for their employees.

Whereas only unvaccinated state workers had been required to mask for the past several months, a memo from Personnel Cabinet Secretary Gerina Whethers on Thursday stated that all executive branch employees would be required to wear a face covering when around others in state offices or vehicles, regardless of their vaccination status.

The move followed a Tuesday advisory by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all people should wear masks around others indoors in areas of "substantial and high transmission" of COVID-19 — which currently includes most counties in Kentucky and many other states — citing the rapid spread of the more-transmissible delta variant.

However, at least three of the five constitutional offices run by Republican elected officials won't enforce the mandate, including those of the state auditor, agriculture commissioner and state treasurer.

Sean Southard, the spokesman for Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, said the two-term officer "disagrees with the Governor’s mask mandate and as such, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture will not be enforcing it."

Quarles tweeted Thursday that with vaccines widely available, "it's time to end the mandates as the voluntary vaccines offer the best protection from COVID-19 and the Delta variant. It's an individual choice."
Quarles, State Auditor Mike Harmon, and State Treasurer Alison Ball all say they won't enforce the rule, and I would expect that will go double for Secretary of State Michael Adams and AG Daniel Cameron, who I expect will have a lawsuit on the KY Supreme Court's doorstep by Monday and a motion for an injunction to stop the mandate.

Gov. Beshear of course has been stripped of most of his power to institute a mask mandate for any non-state employee by the State legislature, requiring him to call an emergency session for a vote after 30 days for any emergency mandate of any kind. Right now that fight is on hold in Kentucky's Supreme Court, and Beshear is not considering a statewide mask mandate at all, although he is encouraging people to wear masks in offices and schools.

I would suspect though that the fight here in Kentucky is just beginning as delta makes the rounds. Me, I'm still masking up.

The delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox, according to an internal federal health document that argues officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.”

The document is an internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention slide presentation, shared within the CDC and obtained by The Washington Post. It captures the struggle of the nation’s top public health agency to persuade the public to embrace vaccination and prevention measures, including mask-wearing, as cases surge across the United States and new research suggests vaccinated people can spread the virus.

The document strikes an urgent note, revealing the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.

It cites a combination of recently obtained, still-unpublished data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people infected with delta have measurable viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant.

“I finished reading it significantly more concerned than when I began,” Robert Wachter, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, wrote in an email.

CDC scientists were so alarmed by the new research that the agency earlier this week significantly changed guidance for vaccinated people even before making new data public.

The data and studies cited in the document played a key role in revamped recommendations that call for everyone — vaccinated or not — to wear masks indoors in public settings in certain circumstances, a federal health official said. That official told The Post that the data will be published in full on Friday. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky privately briefed members of Congress on Thursday, drawing on much of the material in the document.

One of the slides states that there is a higher risk among older age groups for hospitalization and death relative to younger people, regardless of vaccination status. Another estimates that there are 35,000 symptomatic infections per week among 162 million vaccinated Americans.

The document outlines “communication challenges” fueled by cases in vaccinated people, including concerns from local health departments about whether coronavirus vaccines remain effective and a “public convinced vaccines no longer work/booster doses needed.”

The presentation highlights the daunting task the CDC faces. It must continue to emphasize the proven efficacy of the vaccines at preventing severe illness and death while acknowledging milder breakthrough infections may not be so rare after all, and that vaccinated individuals are transmitting the virus. The agency must move the goal posts of success in full public view.
With more and more Americans living in states now that actively deny any emergency measures, mask mandates, or public health measures indoors, the odds of millions of Americans contracting the delta variant are far worse than even the horrible winter we had.

This is the near worst-case scenario, folks. Mask up, get vaccinated, and be careful.

It only gets exponential from here.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

It's About Suppression, Con't

Georgia Republicans in the state legislature gave themselves the power to throw out and replace at will any and all county election officials, and the first order of business is to get rid of every county board where Democrats won and appoint a single Republican official to oversee the entire county election process, starting with Atlanta and Fulton County.

Georgia Republicans have taken the first step on their freshly blazed path toward a possible takeover of Fulton County’s elections.

A letter obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows two dozen state senators support a performance review of Fulton elections chief Richard Barron. The letter was written Tuesday, the very same day a front-page AJC story examined the prospect of a takeover of elections in Fulton, home to a tenth of all Georgians.

“We’re asking them to simply correct a record they say is easily corrected. Is it or isn’t it? The people of Georgia deserve answers,” wrote Republican Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, who signed the letter.

As written into Senate Bill 202, the State Election Board can replace a county’s election board following a performance review/audit/investigation. Then, a temporary superintendent would enjoy full managerial authority of how the county counts votes and staffs polling places.

Barron was not available for comment due to a scheduling conflict, according to a county spokesman.

A performance review begins upon request of at least two state representatives and two state senators from the county.

With more than enough senators, the letter addresses the representatives needed: “We have every reason to believe that the requisite number of Fulton’s House delegation will respond likewise, thereby triggering the performance review.”

Two representatives confirmed to the AJC on Wednesday that they would join the effort.

“I support and will be calling for a performance review of the Fulton County Elections Board Director because of repeated and systemic elections process failures,” House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, wrote in an email. “This includes an investigation and evaluation of his technical competency and compliance with state law and regulation.”

From Rep. Chuck Martin, a Republican representing the Alpharetta area: “I want to see and will be requesting a full process review of the Fulton County Elections Operations because all the people of Fulton County and the State of Georgia deserve answers ... Let’s work together, get this review moving and get to the truth; the people deserve the truth.”

Rep. David Dreyer, an Atlanta Democrat and head of the Fulton House delegation, said elections are massive logistical undertakings.

“If I were to audit Chick-fil-A and Home Depot … I’d find things that aren’t done perfectly,” he said.

Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said a takeover is really a GOP attempt to wrest control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats and retain the governorship in 2022, with eyes toward 2024.

“It’s been rhetoric until this point. This letter is the first official step in the process,” he said.

Pitts said he intends to form a plan with his staff, including the county attorney, Thursday.
As I said earlier, this is an obvious effort by Georgia Republicans to accuse county election officials in blue (and Black, especially) counties of straight up fraud, remove them for "performance" reasons, and replace them with Republicans who will suppress the Black vote, creating systemic obstacles to Black voters.

I'm hoping that the Justice Department's Voting Rights section comes in like a hurricane to put a stop to this and does way more than just to send sternly-worded letters.

The Justice Department is putting states on notice about their obligations under federal law as GOP-led efforts to conduct reviews of the 2020 election intensify.

Federal authorities on Wednesday issued a pair of new guidance documents to states and voters to remind them of their responsibilities — and their rights.

The moves are part of the Biden administration's push to demonstrate it is on guard amid new voting restrictions proposed and enacted by Republican-led states across the nation — and as Democratic-led federal voting legislation has stalled in Congress.

"We are keeping a close eye on what's going on around the country," said a Justice Department official, who requested anonymity to brief reporters. "If they're going to conduct these so-called audits, they have to comply with federal law."
And while putting an end to Big Lie audits are important, fixing this is just as important, even more so.

Mo Brooks, Mo Problems

If House Republican Mo Brooks is really this stupid, then he deserves what's coming to him both from a legal standpoint and a karmic standpoint after seemingly admitting to Slate's Jim Newell that he was wearing body armor at the Trump insurrection rally on January 6th.

Back in December, Brooks was the first House Republican to say ahead of the congressional Electoral College certification that he would object to certain states’ electors. On the day of the certification, Jan. 6, he then gave a fiery speech at President Donald Trump’s rally at the Ellipse where he told the assembled crowd that “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” Months later, he still argues that Trump would have won the election if only “lawful votes” were counted.

Brooks’ support of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election successfully earned him the former president’s endorsement in the 2022 Alabama Senate race. But it’s also earned him legal issues. California Rep. Eric Swalwell sued Brooks and others earlier this year for fomenting the Jan. 6 riot. The Justice Department this week refused Brooks’ request to shield him from the lawsuit, in part because he’d basically admitted he was thinking about winning elections—not doing his job—when he started his rally chant. And though Brooks is claiming to dismiss the select committee hearings as a political stunt, the committee could seek to bring him in for questioning about what he knew, or didn’t know, ahead of the riot.

When I asked him whether he could be subpoenaed, he said, “I have no clue.”

Brooks, like Republican leaders who tried to counterprogram the hearing with a press conference yesterday, thinks a proper investigation would look at why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office wasn’t “doing a better job with respect to the Capitol Police and their level of preparation.”

Then, to prove his point about preparation, he revealed a new detail to me: that because of a tip he’d received about potential violence, he’d been wearing body armor at the very same Ellipse speech in which he encouraged rally attendees to “start taking down names and kicking ass.”

“I was warned on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.

“That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told me with a grin. “To cover up the body armor.”

He didn’t say who warned him, or what the “risk” was that he’d been warned about. There were probably a “half-dozen different motivations that affected people in varying degrees” to engage in insurrection. He named, for example, “financial losses suffered because of the government’s reaction to COVID-19,” “the belief that there was significant voter fraud and election theft activity,” or “a great love and respect for President Trump.”

“It might be,” too, he added, “that some of them were just militant anarchists and saw this as an opportunity to infiltrate an otherwise peaceful protest and turn it into a riot.”

In Brooks’ affidavit asking the Justice Department to shield him from liability, his lawyers emphasize the parts of his speech where he encouraged peaceful protest, not physical violence. “Once again, Brooks makes no call for a physical attack on the Capitol,” a typical footnote reads. “To the contrary, Brooks calls on Ellipse Speech attendees to do one thing: ‘utter words’!” The affidavit argues that the “taking down names and kicking ass!” remark was really about taking the names of Republicans who wouldn’t support Trump’s Electoral College objections, and punishing them in future elections.

But if he was so sure the mob would understand the peaceful intent of his words, why’d he need the Kevlar
Million-dollar question, isn't it?
Now, I may be just a simple country desktop admin, but even I would expect that Nancy Pelosi' Select House Committee on January 6th might want to ask Rep. Brooks about his tips and his decision to wear body armor that day, warnings that were certainly not made widespread enough among his congressional colleagues to convince other House members or Senate members, the rank and file, to do the same.

Why would Rep. Brooks be wearing body armor if there were simply "tourists" at the rally?

I'd like to see him testify under oath in public about that.

I'd very much like to see that happen, in fact.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Con't

The Former Guy™ has been making plenty of GOP primary endorsements, demanding that people kiss his cheeto-stained rings in the hope of winning House and Senate seats. Only one problem: Trump is lazy and doesn't care as long as his pick is deferential enough, and sometimes Trump's word is not law to GOP primary voters.
Donald Trump's advisers are angry at David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, for persuading the former president to endorse a losing candidate in the special election for Texas' 6th District.

Why it matters: Susan Wright's defeat Tuesday in a Republican runoff with Navy veteran Jake Ellzey dealt a blow to Trump's aura of invincibility as a Republican kingmaker. It's critical to his 2022 midterm endorsements and continued hold on the GOP.
Trump advisers and allies have been ambivalent about the Club's advice and thought he should stay out of this Republican-on-Republican contest. They take the long view and are protective of his successful record — so far — in GOP primary endorsements.

McIntosh did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Axios.

Trump himself disputed the result had dented his power. In a phone call with Axios on Wednesday, the former president conceded McIntosh had pushed him to support Wright but blamed Democrats — not the Club for Growth — for Ellzey's victory. He also said he actually "won" because Wright had bested Ellzey in the initial primary and the runoff came down to two Republicans he liked.

"I think this is the only race we've lost together," Trump said of McIntosh and the Club for Growth, before catching himself mid-sentence on the word "lost."
"This is the only race we've ... this is not a loss, again, I don't want to claim it is a loss, this was a win. …The big thing is, we had two very good people running that were both Republicans. That was the win."
Trump is notorious for shifting or refusing to accept blame for any failure, whether as a businessman or a politician.
The Club for Growth spent more than $1 million on the run-off, making it easily the top outside spender.

Behind the scenes: In private conversations with Trump, McIntosh pushed the former president hard to throw his weight behind Wright. She's the widow of Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), whose death from COVID-19 vacated the seat. In these conversations with Trump, McIntosh painted Ellzey as non-conservative and anti-Trump, according to sources familiar with their conversations. 
McIntosh appealed to Trump's vendetta-streak by telling him that the Never-Trumper Bill Kristol had previously donated money to Ellzey (it was a paltry $250 in 2018).McIntosh also mentioned to Trump that Ellzey didn't want to join the Freedom Caucus — a group of ultra-conservative House Republicans who are fervently pro-Trump.

Between the lines: The Wright campaign and the Club for Growth also cited internal polling to reassure Team Trump of Wright's strength. The polling proved to be way off.
I don't feel bad, this was a disaster from the start for Trump, and he walked right into it. Remember, we wouldn't even be having this election if Ron Wright hadn't been a complete dumbass and gotten COVID from refusing to wear a mask.
It killed him.
Even Republicans don't think the person who married someone that stupid deserves his seat.

The Vax Of Life

President Biden will be mandating all federal employees either get vaccinated against COVID or submit to weekly testing until further notice as new US cases are on a sharp rise due to the delta variant.


President Joe Biden will announce on Thursday a requirement that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated against Covid-19, or be required to submit to regular testing and mitigation requirements, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. 
The announcement will come in remarks where Biden is also expected to lay out a series of new steps, including incentives, in an attempt to spur new vaccinations as the Delta variant spreads rapidly throughout the country. It will also follow the decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to require its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated over the course of the next two months. 
Biden alluded to the looming announcement on Tuesday. 
"That's under consideration right now," Biden said, when asked if he would impose a vaccination mandate on federal workers. 
While the specifics are still being finalized, the source said, federal workers would be required to attest to their vaccination status or submit to regular testing. The source said the proposal will be roughly similar to what is being implemented in New York City. 
Additional requirements for the unvaccinated could be added as agencies push to vaccinate their employees. 
Biden will not impose the requirement on the US military, despite his authority to do so, for the time being. He is, however, likely to outline how the Department of Defense may seek to approach the issue going forward, the source said. 
Asked if he thinks the new revised guidance on masks from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will lead to confusion for Americans, Biden cast blame on unvaccinated Americans, saying that if they had been vaccinated "we'd be in a very different world." 
"We have a pandemic because the unvaccinated and they're sowing enormous confusion. And the more we learn about this virus and the Delta variantion, the more we have to be worried and concerned. And there's only one thing we know for sure, if those other hundred million people got vaccinated, we'd be in a very different world," he said. 
The administration's decision to require vaccines for VA health workers provided a powerful signal that vaccine requirements could be necessary to convince the still-hesitant to get their shots.
Some observations:

One, no, you don't have to get the vaccine. But you're going to be regularly tested for the disease if you're not. Your choice, federal employees. Not everyone can get the vaccine for medical reasons but the immunocompromised are taking active mask and distancing precautions.

Two, I would expect the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs are going to make an identical mandate very soon for soldiers and sailors, as military personnel get vaccinated for all kinds of things all the damn time. It's not like preventing diseases among the US military is new, folks.
Three, it is damn refreshing to have a president actually take this all seriously, and the CDC is asking us to mask up again indoors. Do it. Two-thirds of US counties are under this mask advisory right now, areas where there is a moderate to high risk of COVID transmission, and that will only get worse.

Get vaxxed.

Wear masks.

This isn't hard, folks.

The Slobby Hobby Lobby Hammurabi Mobby Robby Jobby, Con't

United States District Judge Ann M. Donnelly entered an order yesterday forfeiting a rare cuneiform tablet bearing a portion of the epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian poem considered one of the world’s oldest works of literature. Known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, it originated in the area of modern-day Iraq and entered the United States contrary to federal law. An international auction house (the “Auction House”) later sold the tablet to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (“Hobby Lobby”), a prominent arts-and-crafts retailer based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for display at the Museum of the Bible (the “Museum”). Law enforcement agents seized the tablet from the Museum in September 2019.

Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent-in-Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, New York (HSI), announced the forfeiture decree.

“This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Kasulis. “This Office is committed to combating the black-market sale of cultural property and the smuggling of looted artifacts.”

“Forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet demonstrates the Department’s continued commitment to eliminating smuggled cultural property from the U.S. art market,” stated Assistant Attorney General Polite. “Thwarting trade in smuggled goods by seizing and forfeiting an ancient artifact shows the department’s dedication to using all available tools, including forfeiture, to ensure justice.”

“The trafficking of cultural property and art is a lucrative criminal enterprise that transnational criminal organizations exploit to make a profit, regardless of its destructive consequence to cultures around the globe,” stated HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Fitzhugh. “HSI continues to partner in art and antiquities investigations to ensure looted pieces are no longer trafficked through commerce for an illicit profit, because the cultural value of this tablet that travelled the world under false provenance exceeds any monetary value.”

So, we're talking about a billionaire (Steve's worth at least $5 billion according to Forbes) who is literally appropriating Iraqi culture for his own art collection but covering birth control for his own employees was a literal federal case.

Christian values indeed. And he's going to get away with it because he's going to open a museum with his stolen crap after getting slapped on the wrist for less than 0.1% of his net worth. And what makes this utterly, completely perfect is that "selling stolen Iraqi artifacts to morality-free Western billionaires" is pretty much the chief source of funding for the Islamic State, which is why even the Trump DoJ is involved with this.

That's right. Hobby Lobby is essentially funding ISIS through buying stolen antiquities.

Can't make this up, guys.

Also, I will never apologize for that post title. Ever. 
And remember, the crime was such an obviously blatant theft from Iraq's Museum of Antiquities that the Bill Barr Justice Department started the process of making Hobby Lobby give the tablet back in May of 2020.

Still not apologizing for the title though.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Insurrection Investigation

The House Select Committee on January 6th gets underway today, with this op-ed from Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, explaining the stakes, scope, and goals.

Jan. 6 was supposed to be about the peaceful transfer of power after an election, a hallmark of democracy and our American tradition. The rioters went to the Capitol that day to obstruct this solemn action — and nearly succeeded while defacing and looting the halls of the Capitol in the process. The committee will provide the definitive accounting of one of the darkest days in our history. Armed with answers, we hope to identify actions that Congress and the executive branch can take to help ensure that it never happens again.

The bipartisan members of the committee believe strongly it is important to begin our work by hearing from law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6. On Tuesday, we will be joined by Capitol Police officers Aquilino Gonell and Harry Dunn and Metropolitan Police officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone. These officers will provide firsthand accounts of the chaos of that day and the violence perpetrated by the rioters.

Fanone voluntarily rushed to the Capitol with his partner when he heard about the attacks. As a result of his bravery that day, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and a heart attack. In a video that has now been shared widely, Hodges can be seen being crushed by the mob as he and his fellow officers sought to defend a narrow hallway leading to a Capitol entrance. Dunn was one of the first officers to speak publicly about what law enforcement encountered when the rioters stormed the Capitol and the racial epithets he and others faced. Gonell, a veteran who had been deployed to Iraq, defended the Capitol against rioters who hurled chants of “traitor.” While pulling an officer who had fallen to the ground away from the rioters, Gonell was beaten with a pole carrying an American flag.

The officers’ testimony will bring into focus individual acts of heroism by law enforcement that day. The officers will also speak to how, more than six months after the attack, law enforcement officers continue to deal with the physical, mental and emotional effects of that day. This conversation is an important step, as we look to bolster protection of the Capitol and our democracy.

Regrettably, some are already focusing their energies on maligning the select committee before its work has even begun. We will not be distracted by politically motivated sideshows.

This hearing is just the beginning of the select committee’s work; when it comes to the security of the Capitol — and our democracy — nothing will be off-limits. We will do what is necessary to understand what happened, why and how. And we will make recommendations to help ensure it never happens again. We owe it to the country we love to provide the answers that the American people deserve


Of all the topics that Rep. Thompson covered, it's the promise that "nothing will be off-limits" that is the most impactful. If Thompson is serious about this, it will mean subpoenas for several Republicans in the House and Senate, namely Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and if there is a just deity in this multiverse, Mike Pence himself.

We'll see how far that "nothing will be off-limits" goes, and given that both the Justice Department and Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger seem serious about the prospect of calling GOP witnesses, this might get real interesting.

We'll see.

Recalling Gavin, Con't

The latest LA Times/UC Berkeley poll shows California Gov. Gavin Newsom is in real trouble of being recalled by voters in September as delta variant COVID, local mask ordinances, and parents just thrilled to go through another round of school lockdowns this fall all threaten to put a Republican in charge of the state again.
Californians who say they expect to vote in the September recall election are almost evenly divided over whether to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, evidence of how pivotal voter turnout will be in deciding the governor’s political fate, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

The findings dispel the notion that California’s solid Democratic voter majority will provide an impenetrable shield for Newsom, and reveal a vulnerability created by a recall effort that has energized Republicans and been met with indifference by many Democrats and independent voters.

The poll found that 47% of likely California voters supported recalling the Democratic governor, compared with 50% who opposed removing Newsom from office — a difference just shy of the survey’s margin of error.

Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who last week won a court battle to appear on the Sept. 14 recall ballot, leads in the race to replace Newsom among the dozens of candidates in the running, while support for reality television star Caitlyn Jenner remains low, the survey found. Forty percent of likely voters remain undecided on a replacement candidate, providing ample opportunity for other gubernatorial hopefuls to rise in the ranks before the Sept. 14 special election.

Even though Democratic voters far outnumber Republicans in California, the GOP’s enthusiasm over the recall promises to inflate the potency of the anti-Newsom vote in September, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. Nearly 90% of Republicans expressed a high level of interest in the recall election while just 58% of Democrats and 53% of independent voters were as interested, the poll found.

“Democrats, at least in the middle of July, almost unanimously believed that Newsom will defeat the recall. I think that may be contributing to some complacency among those voters. Republicans, on the other hand, are confident that they can turn out the governor,” DiCamillo said. “I think the Newsom campaign really has to light a fire among the Democrats and say, ‘Look, the outcome is in jeopardy unless you get out there and vote.’”

Though Republicans account for only about a quarter of all registered voters in California, the poll found that they account for 33% of those most likely to cast ballots in the recall election. Democrats make up 46% of the state’s 22 million voters and “no party preference” voters 24%, but their share of the likely recall voters drops to 42% and 18% respectively, DiCamillo said.

“Gavin Newsom is in serious trouble at this time because his base of voters is not motivated to come out and support him,” said Dave Gilliard, one of the political strategists leading the effort to oust Newsom.

Gilliard said Newsom doesn’t have much time to correct that, or voter discontent over the homeless crisis and crime in California, since elections officials will begin mailing ballots to all registered voters starting Aug. 16

Hey California, you'd better start giving a damn, or your next governor is going to be a right-wing minstrel asshole who will end the state's affirmative action, climate change, health care, and social services programs by decree. If you think Newsom's making you miserable now, wait until Larry Elder gets done with the place and turns California into Alabama...with Alabama's GDP.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Last Call For If You Come At The Queen...

If you want to know just how good House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is at vexing the GOP, assisted in no small part by House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy being a dim bulb among dim bulbs? Well, in the last few days, we've gone from the GOP demanding McCarthy give his rabid cultists a quixotic House vote to dethrone Pelosi to the cultists demanding the blood sacrifice of GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for joining the January 6th committee.
A growing group of rank-and-file House Republicans wants House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP leadership to punish Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for accepting a position from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. 
The push to seek punishment rose to a new level on Sunday, after Pelosi announced that Kinzinger had accepted her invitation to join the committee. Initially, most rank-and-file Republicans were content to let Cheney serve without much of a fight, but Kinzinger's addition has changed the conversation and has put a new level of pressure on McCarthy. 
While the loudest cries have come from members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, sources say that the sentiment has started to spread beyond the hard-line crew. 
"There's a lot," said one GOP member about the push to have the pair removed from their other committees. "Supporting Pelosi's unprecedented move to reject McCarthy's picks was a bridge too far." 
Pelosi rejected two of McCathy's choices last week -- Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio -- which prompted the GOP leader to withdraw all five of his picks.
Rep. Scott Perry, a Freedom Caucus member, publicly called on Conference Chair Elise Stefanik to call a special GOP conference meeting to "address appropriate measures" related to Pelosi booting two of McCarthy's chosen picks from the committee. Some members specifically want McCarthy and Stefanik to push for a vote of GOP members to strip Cheney and Kinzinger, who both voted to impeach former President Donald Trump earlier this year, from their other committee assignments. Stefanik's office did not respond to a request for comment on Perry's desire for a conference meeting. 
But kicking them off their committees would be easier said than done. While McCarthy could remove Cheney and Kinzinger from their other committees, Pelosi ultimately controls committee membership. She could theoretically just re-appoint them to their current posts. 
The scuttle demonstrates how difficult McCarthy's leadership role remains. While conservatives applauded his decision to attempt to appoint both Banks and Jordan and his subsequent move to pull back all of his choices, they still believe Cheney and Kinzinger need to be reprimanded for not remaining loyal to the conference. 
McCarthy's office did not respond to questions about Republicans pushing him to punish Kinzinger and Cheney.
McCarthy is now stuck. There's nothing he can do about Pelosi, and he can't really punish Kinzinger and Cheney without Pelosi putting them back on committees. Expulsion is likewise out of the picture. He doesn't have a whole lot of options left at this point, because the cultists will start demanding his blood next.

So what does he do?  Yeah, this is a "devil we know" situation, as long as the massively incompetent McCarthy remains lead Cat Herder in House GOP land, Pelosi can continue to run circles around him and leave him running from his own caucus. The issue is however that McCarthy's situation is growing increasingly untenable. Something will have to shift dramatically, it's just a question of when.

Ask the last couple of GOP House leaders how that goes.

School Of Hard Right Knocks, Con't

We've now entered the "The education funding problem for Democrats is a lot more than just Critical Race Theory!" phase of blaming Joe Biden for Republican state budget cuts to educator staff, school closures, and charter school smoke and mirrors in states around the country. Of course, WIN THE MORNING DOT COM is specifically ignoring the millions being spent to disrupt school board meetings by right-wing corporate donors, treating all this rage as organic. You know, just like the Tea Party ten years ago.


Elina Kaplan is the kind of suburban mom who made Joe Biden president.

An immigrant who came to the United States from the Soviet Union, she is a registered Democrat from San Mateo County, Calif. And she’s alarmed over her state’s new model ethnic studies curriculum, which cites critical race theory as a “key theoretical framework and pedagogy.”

“I firmly believe that if the vast majority of Californians and Americans knew about this, and about the content of this type of curriculum, this would not be happening. We would not be having this conversation,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan, who has launched an email list, set up meetings with state legislators and recruited people to meet with their school boards to discuss ethnic studies, is representative of Democrat-leaning or politically moderate suburbanites interviewed by POLITICO in six states, all but one of which were won by Biden. They are up in arms over their school systems’ new equity initiatives, which they argue are costly and divisive, encouraging students to group themselves by race and take pro-activist stances. Proponents of the initiatives say they are a long-overdue step toward getting rid of systemic racism in the school system.

On the national level, Democrats have insisted that the brush fires over critical race theory — which has become a political punching bag even for unrelated equity initiatives — are largely the work of right-wing activists who willfully misrepresent what it means, and they blame Fox News for fanning parents’ anger.

"That's another right-wing conspiracy. This is totally made up by Donald Trump and [Republican candidate for governor] Glenn Youngkin," Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said in June.

“I don’t think we would think that educating the youth and next and future leaders of the country on systemic racism is indoctrination,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in May.

But those Democrats appear to be underestimating parents’ anger in places where critical race theory is top of mind. Objections to new equity plans are not the sole province of conservatives but extend to many moderate and independent voters, according to POLITICO interviews with school board members, political operatives and activists in Democratic and left-leaning communities including the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; New York’s Westchester County; Maricopa County covering Phoenix, Ariz.; and suburban Detroit.

Parents who are showing up to school board meetings and have helped launch a spate of recall elections say they are angry about a host of issues, including what they see as a myopic focus on diversity at school boards, ongoing frustration over a year of closed schools and school lesson plans that they say are becoming too progressive, too fast. While those complaints have often been branded in the media as “anti-critical race theory,” the causes of the anger are varied, and are being ignored, parents say.

The stakes aren’t lost on Amanda Litman, founder of the Democratic organization Run for Something, which works to elect school board members and other local officials: “This is a perfect storm of something that can appeal to, or draw back in, some of the suburban parents that might have voted Republican in 2016, Democrat in 2018 and 2020, but could be drawn back to the Republican Party in 2022.”

“We’re trying to argue ‘No, you’re mis-defining critical race theory,’ and that’s not the point,” Litman added. “The point is that people are scared about what their kids are learning.”
Critical race theory is an academic discipline that evolved at law schools and universities in the 1980s to examine institutional racism and challenge existing approaches to racial justice. This year, opposing activists started using the term as shorthand to describe a wave of newly adopted efforts to combat systemic racism in schools.

Polling suggests that the majority of voters still aren’t aware of critical race theory. But as the current debate escalates, activists and Republican officeholders are succeeding in giving voters a negative impression of it. As of mid-June, fully a third of voters told pollsters from the firm YouGov they hadn’t heard of critical race theory, and only a third of voters said they’d both heard of it and had a good idea of its meaning. But opinions among those who’d heard of it were sharply negative. Fifty-three percent said they were “very unfavorable” of it while only 23 percent said they were “very favorable.”

People who identified as Republican and had heard of critical race theory were especially negative: 85 percent termed their views “very unfavorable.” But the same was true of 71 percent of independents, the group that was key to Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump, favoring the Democrat by 9 points, according to the Pew Research Center, after Trump had narrowly won the group over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Among Democrats who had heard of critical race theory, most (58 percent) were “very favorable,” while a smaller but still significant 7 percent were “very unfavorable.”
This would somehow be novel if it wasn't constant, I guess. "I'm scared about what my kids are learning in school" has, in my lifetime, been applied to pretty much everything, from "the new math" to American history to sex education to D.A.R.E. to computers to foreign languages. Now the wheel is back on US history again and it always, always is a "problem" for liberals who are "moving too fast".
Meanwhile, Democrats and President Biden are on the verge of a major infrastructure bill that will add pre-K schooling for millions of kids, and Republicans are doing everything in their power to block the bill, but sure, the problem is liberals.
It's tiring nonsense, but it always works.

Minority Report, Florida Edition

This one pretty much hits all of my buttons: police clearly misusing power, technology being abused to spy on citizens, racism in criminal justice, racism in tech, and the state of Florida being an awful place in general. Congratulations Black and brown people of Pasco County, your local sherriff would like to schedule you for a precrime hearing.

It starts like an offer of admission from a prestigious university.

“We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected…” it says.

But the four-page letter from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office goes on to tell recipients they will be facing enhanced police scrutiny under the agency’s controversial intelligence program.

“You may wonder why you were enrolled in this program,” the letter continues. “You were selected as a result of an evaluation of your recent criminal behavior using an unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders in our community. As a result of this designation, we will go to great efforts to encourage change in your life through enhanced support and increased accountability.”

Last year, a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that the Sheriff’s Office creates lists of people it considers likely to break the law based on criminal histories, social networks and other unspecified intelligence. The agency sends deputies to their homes repeatedly, often without a search warrant or probable cause for an arrest.

Targets and their relatives, including four who are now suing the Sheriff’s Office in federal court, described the tactics as harassment and a violation of their constitutional rights. National policing experts drew comparisons to child abuse and surveillance that could be expected under an authoritarian regime.

The Times also found that the agency has a separate program that uses schoolchildren’s grades, attendance records and abuse histories to label them potential future criminals.

Earlier this year, Sheriff Chris Nocco and the Pasco County school district announced they would scale back some features of the school-data program. But the letter signals a broadening of the core program.

The Sheriff’s Office said the letter is part of a new intelligence effort aimed specifically at people whose criminal histories include drug offenses and violent crimes.

It was supposed to launch in mid-2020, but was delayed until December because of the pandemic, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amanda Hunter said.

It includes several new features, including that people can be dropped from the program after two years without “criminal activity” and a phone number they can call with questions.

In an online video, Sheriff’s Office Captain Toni Roach says being selected is “good news” because participants will “have the opportunity to receive assistance from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and several community partners.”

But critics of the agency’s intelligence efforts, including an alliance of local, state and national organizations known as People Against the Surveillance of Children and Overpolicing, or the PASCO Coalition, said the latest communication raises even more concerns.

“The letter is basically threatening and promising a certain level of harassment and oversight that is in line with the stories we are hearing from the community,” said Raniah Elgendi, of the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Florida.

“We know that is not what makes people or communities more safe, this heightened level of surveillance,” said Lauren Johnson, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Now I understand the need for community outreach programs in general. If this was being coordinated through the county's social services department, that would be one thing. Getting people help that they are eligible for, and that exists, is a real struggle and doing that is noble.
What this is on the other hand, is outright police intimidation and harassment. This is Pasco COunty telling you "you're on a database of criminals and known criminal associates, we're going to be paying special attention to you, we're letting you know about it, and there's not a damn thing you can do, be seeing you real soon."

I mean, police do that anyway, but disguising it as a community outreach program is vile and disgusting. The bigger issue is, as I said above, social services, religious charities, community activists and non-profits should be coming to people and asking them what their needs are. The police doing it like this only gets people hurt.

We need to stop using police as a replacement for social services, period.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Last Call For If You Come At The Queen...

Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy is in way over his head, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi outsmarted him yet again. After McCarthy's tantrum over Pelosi denying Jim Jordan the chance to wreck the January 6th Select Committee and withdrawing all five Republican picks he had, Pelosi turned to Trump foe and pro-impeachment GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger to join.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Sunday she has appointed GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger to the House select committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, bolstering the Republican presence on the panel after GOP leadership pulled its appointees last week. 
"Today, I am announcing the appointment of Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran and Lieutenant Colonel in the Air National Guard, to serve on the Select Committee," Pelosi said in a statement. "He brings great patriotism to the Committee's mission: to find the facts and protect our Democracy." 
Kinzinger, a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump who was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for his second impeachment, is joining Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming as the only Republicans on the new select committee. 
"Let me be clear, I'm a Republican dedicated to conservative values, but I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution—and while this is not the position I expected to be in or sought out, when duty calls, I will always answer," the Illinois Republican said in a statement Sunday. 
Kinzinger's appointment may bring additional legitimacy to one of the most consequential investigations ever conducted by Congress and will likely make it harder for Republicans to argue that it's a partisan endeavor -- although they quickly framed Pelosi's announcement that way. 
"The Speaker has structured this select committee to satisfy her political objectives," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement Sunday.
And with one move, Pelosi deftly disarmed not only her Republican detractors, but the media scolds who cried foul and screeched about Pelosi not wanting a real bipartisan committee. Of course, Pelosi has now appointed two Republicans, and I'm betting she's working behind the scenes to get more.
I still stand by my statement that there are no good Republicans left, but there are at least ones willing to do the goddamn job. 

I'll take it.

Un-Vaccination Nation, Con't

As delta variant COVID cases explode across red states like Florida, Texas and Missouri, and the Biden administration is letting FOX News and other disinformation outlets quietly know they will be sued into oblivion if they continue, suddenly Republicans are having those come to Jesus moments they should have has nine months ago about urging everyone who can to get the vaccine, while still vowing to ban health mandates that would prevent the spread of the virus.


Former White House press secretary and Republican Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced in an op-ed that she has been vaccinated against the coronavirus and urged others to do so.

"Like many of you, I have had a lot of misinformation thrown at me by politicians and the media during the pandemic. And, like many of you, I spent a lot of time sorting through it all, trying to make the best decision I could for myself and my family," Sanders wrote in the entry published over the weekend in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Based on the advice of my doctor, I determined that the benefits of getting vaccinated outweighed any potential risks."

The fact that former President Trump and his family had been vaccinated, Sanders said, helped her make her decision.

"If getting vaccinated was safe enough for them, I felt it was safe enough for me," she wrote.

Sanders has received Trump's endorsement in the Republican primary in Arkansas and is looking to replace outgoing Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who cannot run again due to term limits.

Arkansas is one of several states in the Southeast and Midwest with lower-than-average vaccination rates, as the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps through the nation.

"I understand that the decision to be vaccinated is deeply personal and not an easy one to make," Sanders wrote in her op-ed. "As the number of covid cases and hospitalizations once again rise exponentially in Arkansas, information is emerging that I hope people will consider."

She concluded her entry with advice for Arkansans still debating the merits of being vaccinated: "Pray about it, discuss it with your family and your doctor. Filter out the noise and fear-mongering and condescension, and make the best, most informed decision you can that helps your family, community, and our great state be its very best."
Pretending that the choice to get the vaccine is "deeply personal" is actual condescension, enabling bad actors to continue while jettisoning any semblance of responsibility, and all this after Huckabee Sanders gleefully vowed to never allow a public health mandate again last week if she is elected governor of Arkansas.
Besides, we know full well that people are refusing the vaccine literally just to spite Biden and a government they see as illegitimate.

George Grabryan and Mike Melton have been helping people here on the bank of the Tennessee River survive devastating tornadoes, floods and other disasters for decades. Ask any local official in rural Lauderdale County, and they have the two emergency managers’ numbers saved in their phones — just in case.

But Covid-19 has broken those bonds. Despite Grabryan and Melton’s best efforts, only 34 percent of county residents are vaccinated, even as the highly transmissible Delta variant has driven up new infections by 300 percent in the last two weeks. Three people have died, and health officials predict that many more will follow before the summer mist lifts off the cornfields.

Many people here and elsewhere in the Southeast are turning down Covid-19 vaccines because they are angry that President Donald Trump lost the election and sick of Democrats in Washington thinking they know what’s best. State and local public health officials have struggled to combat that deep-rooted obstinance. But they don’t want more on-the-ground help from the White House, fearful it would prolong the current surge — even as the Biden administration has begun approaching southern states with offers to send federal “surge teams” on door-knocking campaigns.

The pushback from both state officials and people who refuse vaccination underscores the extent to which the federal government may never be able to convince rural, conservative populations in parts of the South to get the shot. And it raises questions about how the Biden administration will shape its response to Covid-19 over the next several months as more schools and businesses reopen and Delta spreads.

“To say that politics doesn’t play a part would be wrong,” Melton said. “I think the national figures get people talking about the vaccine and that can sometimes take the wrong fork in the road and go the wrong way.”

Local public health officials and physicians in this part of the country are convinced that they are doing everything they can to save lives — pulling 15-hour days to set up pop-up mobile vaccine units, monitor patients on respirators, and administer rounds of therapeutics. But they can only do so much. They will not go to people’s homes to try and twist their arms, they say, and they do not want federal officials to do so either.

“I don’t know going door to door would help us,” said Karen Landers, an Alabama state health officer based in Sheffield. “People in more rural areas … you’re going on to their property. It might not be the best idea to have them do that because people are protective of their privacy.

There is precisely nothing that can be done now to convince the bulk of these folks to get the vaccine. It's not going to happen. We'll continue to try to save them and rehabilitate them as victims when they die and infect their family members, leading to more deaths, but at this point I'm tired of being told I have to have sympathy for the people trying to kill me.

We'll mourn them, of course.

But at some point we have to turn to take care of the living.

Sunday Long Read: Ghost In The Machine

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Jason Fagone at the San Francisco Chronicle, which asks the question "Is it okay to build an AI chatbot of your dead fiancee?" and if that doesn't immediately creep you the hell out, the rest of this story will.

One night last fall, unable to sleep, Joshua Barbeau logged onto a mysterious chat website called Project December. An old-fashioned terminal window greeted him, stark white text on a black square:

14 November 1982


Unauthorized access is forbidden!

Enter electronic mail address:

It was Sept. 24, around 3 a.m., and Joshua was on the couch, next to a bookcase crammed with board games and Dungeons & Dragons strategy guides. He lived in Bradford, Canada, a suburban town an hour north of Toronto, renting a basement apartment and speaking little to other people.

A 33-year-old freelance writer, Joshua had existed in quasi-isolation for years before the pandemic, confined by bouts of anxiety and depression. Once a theater geek with dreams of being an actor, he supported himself by writing articles about D&D and selling them to gaming sites.

Many days he left the apartment only to walk his dog, Chauncey, a black-and-white Border collie. Usually they went in the middle of the night, because Chauncey tended to get anxious around other dogs and people. They would pass dozens of dark, silent, middle-class homes. Then, back in the basement, Joshua would lay awake for hours, thinking about Jessica Pereira, his ex-fiancee.

Jessica had died eight years earlier, at 23, from a rare liver disease. Joshua had never gotten over it, and this was always the hardest month, because her birthday was in September. She would have been turning 31.

On his laptop, he typed his email address. The window refreshed. “Welcome back, Professor Bohr,” read the screen. He had been here before. The page displayed a menu of options.

He selected “Experimental area.”

That month, Joshua had read about a new website that had something to do with artificial intelligence and “chatbots.” It was called Project December. There wasn’t much other information, and the site itself explained little, including its name, but he was intrigued enough to pay $5 for an account.

As it turned out, the site was vastly more sophisticated than it first appeared.

Designed by a Bay Area programmer, Project December was powered by one of the world’s most capable artificial intelligence systems, a piece of software known as GPT-3. It knows how to manipulate human language, generating fluent English text in response to a prompt. While digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa also appear to grasp and reproduce English on some level, GPT-3 is far more advanced, able to mimic pretty much any writing style at the flick of a switch.

In fact, the A.I. is so good at impersonating humans that its designer — OpenAI, the San Francisco research group co-founded by Elon Musk — has largely kept it under wraps. Citing “safety” concerns, the company initially delayed the release of a previous version, GPT-2, and access to the more advanced GPT-3 has been limited to private beta testers.

But Jason Rohrer, the Bay Area programmer, opened a channel for the masses.

A lanky 42-year-old with a cheerful attitude and a mischievous streak, Rohrer worked for himself, designing independent video games. He had long championed the idea that games can be art, inspiring complex emotions; his creations had been known to make players weep. And after months of experiments with GPT-2 and GPT-3, he had tapped into a new vein of possibility, figuring out how to make the A.I. systems do something they weren’t designed to do: conduct chat-like conversations with humans.

Last summer, using a borrowed beta-testing credential, Rohrer devised a “chatbot” interface that was driven by GPT-3. He made it available to the public through his website. He called the service Project December. Now, for the first time, anyone could have a naturalistic text chat with an A.I. directed by GPT-3, typing back and forth with it on Rohrer's site.

Users could select from a range of built-in chatbots, each with a distinct style of texting, or they could design their own bots, giving them whatever personality they chose.

Joshua had waded into Project December by degrees, starting with the built-in chatbots. He engaged with “William,” a bot that tried to impersonate Shakespeare, and “Samantha,” a friendly female companion modeled after the A.I. assistant in the movie “Her.” Joshua found both disappointing; William rambled about a woman with “fiery hair” that was “red as a fire,” and Samantha was too clingy.

But as soon as he built his first custom bot — a simulation of Star Trek’s Spock, whom he considered a hero — a light clicked on: By feeding a few Spock quotes from an old TV episode into the site, Joshua summoned a bot that sounded exactly like Spock, yet spoke in original phrases that weren’t found in any script.

As Joshua continued to experiment, he realized there was no rule preventing him from simulating real people. What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to create a chatbot version of his dead fiancee?

There was nothing strange, he thought, about wanting to reconnect with the dead: People do it all the time, in prayers and in dreams. In the last year and a half, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and Canada have died of COVID-19, often suddenly, without closure for their loved ones, leaving a raw landscape of grief. How many survivors would gladly experiment with a technology that lets them pretend, for a moment, that their dead loved one is alive again — and able to text?

That night in September, Joshua hadn’t actually expected it to work. Jessica was so special, so distinct; a chatbot could never replicate her voice, he assumed. Still, he was curious to see what would happen.

And he missed her

The question is "Is this at all healthy, or is it fetishizing grief?" There have been a number of movies and books over the years exploring the relationship between men and digital women, and they're all about pretty broken men.

But frankly I see more things like this happening in the years ahead. What kind of chatbot would be created by feeding it all of my blog and Twitter posts? Would it be me, even with 12 years of near daily material to work with?

Something worth thinking about.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

If You Come At The Queen...

The conservative House Freedom Caucus is urging Kevin McCarthy to try to boot Nancy Pelosi from her position as speaker, a sign of further escalating tensions after the California Democrat vetoed two of the House Minority Leader’s GOP picks from the Jan. 6 select committee.

In a letter Friday, the far-right group asked McCarthy to file and bring up a privileged motion by July 31 “to vacate the chair and end Nancy Pelosi’s authoritarian reign as Speaker of the House.”

“Speaker Pelosi’s tenure is destroying the House of Representatives and our ability to faithfully represent the people we are here to serve,” they write. “Republicans, under your leadership, must show the American people that we will act to protect our ability to represent their interests.”

The motion is all but guaranteed to fail in the Democratic House, but it signals a stewing anger on the right towards the speaker. The Freedom Caucus’ letter indicates that McCarthy would need to initiate the motion, and if he were to do so, it would further escalate partisan acrimony in the House that has remained high, and occasionally gotten personal, since Jan. 6.

They argue that Pelosi’s decision to reject Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) from the panel was “intolerable.” Pelosi, meanwhile, says she made the right call blocking the two Trump allies because of their “antics” in the months following the deadly insurrection.

Banks and Jordan “made statements and took actions that just would have been ridiculous to put them on a committee seeking the truth,” Pelosi told reporters.

A spokesperson for Pelosi did not immediately respond to request for comment.

That's because the spokesperson for Pelosi was too busy laughing for twelve minutes.

You know what? This is a threat more to McCarthy's role as minority leader than it is Pelosi's position as House Speaker, and if he doesn't play along, he may not be in that role much longer. Boehner and Ryan were both run out of town, Boehner by rail, Ryan by primary.

This is more his concern. Pelosi should even have to lose a wink of sleep, and won't.
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