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Woof: Warren a distant fourth in Dem primary poll of New Hampshire, which borders her home state

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 03:41

This campaign may end up being one of the more spectacular flame-outs by a “strong” candidate in modern American electoral history.

If she can’t win in her own backyard, where can she win?

A University of Massachusetts Amherst survey released Wednesday found that more than a quarter, or 28 percent, of likely Democratic voters [in New Hampshire] said they would support Biden if New Hampshire’s primary were held today.

Twenty percent, in turn, said they’d vote for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won New Hampshire’s Democratic primary in 2016 and formally entered the 2020 contest on Tuesday, according to poll results.

Likely New Hampshire Democratic voters were more split on U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, D-California, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, with a respective 14 percent and 9 percent saying they’d support them if the state’s primary occurred today.

Well, at least Warren is most New Hampshirites’ second choice, right? Wrong: She’s fourth in that category too behind Harris, Biden, and Cory Booker and just a point ahead of Bernie Sanders. The only category where she leads is … candidates whom you definitely *wouldn’t* support. She’s got 26 percent there, tops in the field.

Again, this is New Hampshire, right across the border. You can attribute Biden’s and Sanders’s good showing to the national name recognition they earned in previous campaigns, but that should be less of a disadvantage for Warren in a state where voters are well aware of who she is due to their proximity. As it is, she’s even trailing comparatively little-known Kamala Harris. New Hampshire Dems know Warren. They just don’t like her.

And it’s not just them. Looking back on the primary polls that have already been taken this year, Warren has performed poorly in many of them. The one exception is the Daily Kos straw poll, where she briefly led in early January after announcing her candidacy but has since fallen 10 points behind Kamala Harris and will likely slip further to third place now that Bernie Sanders has announced. She’s a non-starter in the South Carolina primary given the strength of the black vote there and she’ll have a tough time winning Iowa given how the caucuses reward grassroots organization, which favor candidates like Bernie with more enthusiastic followings. It may be New Hampshire or bust given her home-field advantage there.

Judging from this, it’s “bust.”

It goes without saying that no one was hurt more by Sanders’s entry into the race than Warren. Without him, she had a credible claim to being the staunchest economic populist in the field. With him, she’s probably relegated to “pale imitation” status by democratic socialists. As things now stand, she has no “lane” in the primary: She’s not the leading class warrior, she’s not an identity-politics candidate, she’s certainly not a centrist, she’s only one of several women running. There’s no good case for her except, I guess, among that segment of Berniebros who’ve reluctantly concluded that Sanders is too old to get elected at this point.

None of which should imply that she’s disliked within her party. On the contrary, her net favorable rating is higher than anyone’s except Harris. There’s little evidence that Democratic voters are holding the “Fauxcahontas” nonsense against her. She seems acceptable enough to them. She’s just not anyone’s first, or even second, choice.

Chart me a path for how she builds momentum and somehow edges past Sanders and Harris. She’s trying to get people’s attention by rolling out flashy policy proposals like a fat new tax on the rich and universal child care, but Bernie has a Medicare-for-all plan to trump those. If I strain I can imagine the race deadlocking among various candidates and Warren emerging as a compromise choice — she’s progressive, a woman, not super-old — but to contend for “compromise choice” status you need to win a few states and hang around the primaries for awhile. If Warren crashes in New Hampshire, she’s probably done right then and there. So what’s the strategy here?

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Obama: If you’re confident about your sexuality, you don’t need eight women twerking around you

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 03:01

What if you want eight women twerking around you, though? “Need” and “want” are very different things.

I don’t “want” 13 beers a day to cope with current events in the Trump era. You see what I’m saying here?

To cleanse the palate, if you had “former president implies that the dudes in hip-hop videos are closeted” on today’s 2019 news-bingo card, congratulations. I appreciate his family-oriented message here but (a) if there’s a problem with men prone to having multiple women twerk in close proximity, it’s clearly that they’re a little too confident in their sexuality, and (b) his tribute to Michelle is cloying even within the uxorious parameters of this whole riff.

“We need to provide for those unwilling to twerk,” says Alex Griswold, reimagining how this debate might sound in classic Obama-ese. To which I’d add, “I do think at a certain point you have enough women twerking around you.”

Barack Obama praises Michelle Obama in discussion about 'being a man' https://t.co/MBDKcHZNIp pic.twitter.com/XU1RXsoLW8

— TIME (@TIME) February 20, 2019

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Roger Waters says there’s no dictatorship in Venezuela

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 02:21

This clip is a couple days old already but I didn’t see it until last night. This is Roger Waters of Pink Floyd demanding that everyone leave Venezuela alone. He says it’s okay to do that because things are apparently going fine down there. Here’s the clip. It’s not long but you’ll want to at least watch the 2nd half:

The Red Cross and the UN, unequivocally agree, don’t politicize aid. Leave the Venezuelan people alone to exercise their legal right to self determination. pic.twitter.com/I0yS3u75b6

— Roger Waters (@rogerwaters) February 18, 2019

“I have friends who are in Caracas right now,” Waters said. “There is, so far, no civil war, no mayhem, no murder, no apparent dictatorship, no mass imprisonment of opposition, no suppression of the press—none of that is going on even though that is the narrative that is being sold to the rest of us,” he added.

Let’s just step through this. He’s correct that there’s no civil war. How about mayhem and murder? Well, Reuters reported two weeks ago that a special forces group controlled by Maduro was raiding the slums and murdering people, especially those who had protested the government.

What about mass imprisonment of the opposition? Today, Reuters reports that Amnesty International (note: not a right-wing organization) claims dozens of people were murdered last month and many more were imprisoned:

In a report titled “Hunger, punishment and fear, the formula for repression in Venezuela,” Amnesty said dozens died during five days of protests from Jan 21 to Jan 25, almost all from gunshot wounds, and 900 people were arrested.

Amnesty called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to take action to address the “total impunity that prevails in Venezuela” by creating an independent investigative body to report on the human rights situation…

“The authorities under Nicolas Maduro are trying to use fear and punishment to impose a repulsive strategy of social control against those who demand change,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty.

“His government is attacking the most impoverished people that it claims to defend, but instead it murders, detains and threatens them.”

What happens to political prisoners in Venezuela? I’m glad you asked. Just before Maduro’s most recent (bogus) election, prisoners in Caracas’ most notorious jail revolted because they said they were tired of being tortured by the secret police. This comes from the Guardian (note: not a right-wing paper):

Roderick Navarro, an exiled Venezuelan activist who said he was in touch with the rebelling inmates, told the Guardian they had taken control of the facility at about 2pm after being enraged by the alleged beating and torture of an incarcerated activist called Gregory Sanabria. “The prisoners got angry and [decided] to stop the situation,” said Navarro, from the group Rumbo Libertad. “They are asking for freedom … they are asking for health care … they are asking for human rights … they want the aggression and the torture to stop.”

A flurry of videos that were posted on social media and could not be immediately verified purported to show El Helicoide’s inmates fleeing their cells and issuing pleas for outside help.

In one clip an inmate tells the camera: “It’s 3.15 in the afternoon and we are in El Helicode – SEBIN’s torture centre. The political prisoners have peacefully taken control of it … We are here because we are tired of being tortured.”

In another video a man with a badly swollen face who is identified as Sanabria vows: “We prefer to die with dignity! We prefer to die with pride!”

What about suppression of the press? That happens too. CNN was kicked out of Venezuela by Maduro in 2014. Last year, Reuters reported that all but one independent paper in the country had closed and the government had also shuttered dozens of radio stations:

Almost three-quarters of Venezuela’s newspapers have closed during five years of recession in the once-prosperous OPEC member country, according to the national journalism association, leaving El Nacional as the last independent national daily…

Venezuela slid six places in Reporters Without Borders’ index of world press freedom to 143 place from 180 countries surveyed.

According to Venezuela’s Press Institute IPYS, the national telecoms regulator also closed 40 radio stations in 2017 citing irregularities in their licenses…

The closures have left coverage increasingly in the hands of state-controlled radio and television outlets and pro-government newspapers like Ultimas Noticias, covering Maduro’s official activities while ignoring rising levels of malnutrition and disease.

By this point the answer to whether or not there is “apparent dictatorship” in Venezuela should be obvious to everyone who isn’t an addled rock star. It’s so obvious that even Vox (note: not a conservative site) has called Maduro’s Venezuela a dictatorship (all the way back in 2017):

Not far from the US, a desperate leader is steering a once-prosperous democracy toward dictatorship.

Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, is scrambling to cling to power as his country is battered by an unprecedented economic crisis. And in the process, he’s becoming an autocrat.

Maduro is tossing political opponents in prison. He is cracking down on growing street protests with lethal force, with government security forces killing at least 46 demonstrators in recent months. He has repeatedly postponed regional government elections in order to stave off threats to his party’s power. And in July he held a rigged election for a special legislative body that supplanted the country’s parliament — the one branch of government that was controlled by his political opposition. The new superbody has carte blanche to rewrite the country’s constitution and expand his executive powers.

Maduro and his supporters now have total control of the government, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

In short, everything Roger Waters said about the situation in Venezuela is wrong. Whoever his friends in Caracas are, they have definitely missed a few things.

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Feds: White nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant planned terror attack, eyed Dem pols and MSNBC stars

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 01:07

Two details make this more frightening than the average “lone wolf interested in mayhem” indictment. One is the suspect’s list of “traitors” inspired by Anders Breivik and brimming with all sorts of familiar names — Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker, among many others, but also Trump antagonists on MSNBC like Chris Hayes, Ari Melber, and Joe Scarborough. A question always asked when charges like this are brought is “How serious was he?” Answer: Allegedly serious enough to have started googling around to find out where “Morning Joe” is broadcast and where the best place in D.C. is to see members of Congress.

The other extra-scary part is the evidence that he was getting close to acting. Breivik’s manifesto includes passages about taking steroids to raise his level of aggression so that he’d actually follow through on mass murder rather than just fantasizing about it. The feds found more than 30 vials of human growth hormone in a locked container owned by the suspect, Christopher Hasson.

Authorities seized 15 firearms, including several long guns and rifles, and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition from his cramped basement apartment after executing a search warrant this month. Over the past two years, he had made nearly two dozen purchases of firearms or related equipment and made thousands of visits to websites selling weapons or tactical gear…

In an email he drafted in June 2017, he contemplated biological attacks and targeting food supplies, according to the court filings. He considered the merits of a “bombing/sniper campaign.” And included a “Things to do” list that included purchasing land “out west or possibly NC mtns” for family and researching tactics used during the civil war in Ukraine…

“I never saw a reason for mass protest or wearing uniforms marching around provoking people with swastikas etc.,” Hasson said in [a] letter [written after the Charlottesville neo-Nazi demonstration] according to court filings. “I was and am a man of action you cannot change minds protesting like that. However you can make change with a little focused violence.”

The indictment is only 15 pages long so read through it. Trump is also mentioned, although not as a potential target. It’s not clear right now how much of a fan Hasson was — obviously he had a well-developed white nationalist fantasy agenda independent of partisan politics — but two of the Google searches he ran were “what if trump illegally impeached” and “civil war if trump impeached”. This story will be covered closely on cable news, including by some of the people on Hasson’s list, and they’re going to point back to tweets like this:

THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2019

The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019

No matter how many times Trump is asked to dial it down for fear of lighting up the homicidal crazies, even though we’ve been down this road before, he keeps pumping the “enemy of the people” point. Should be an extra zesty edition of Scarborough’s show tomorrow.

By the way, if you’re wondering how the feds sniffed out Hasson before he started shooting, the indictment never says. Best guess: They discovered him buying Tramadol illegally (that’s also mentioned in the indictment) and a routine investigation eventually led them to his weapons cache and terror plotting. Imagine if the guy was clean.

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NYT: ISIS bride Hoda Muthana might be a U.S. citizen after all

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 01:01

Maybe not the best idea for the president to boast on Twitter about how he kept Hoda Muthana out if, in fact, he’s not going to succeed at keeping her out.

I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019

Ed noted earlier the announcement from Mike Pompeo that, contrary to popular belief, Muthana isn’t a U.S. citizen and therefore has no claim to be re-admitted to the United States. But Pompeo didn’t detail his reasoning. Was he claiming that Muthana had somehow denaturalized herself by joining ISIS? Remember, she had a U.S. passport, and normally U.S. citizens can’t constructively renounce their citizenship through their actions. They need to do it formally, which Muthana seems never to have done.

What Pompeo’s arguing, I think, is that Muthana was never technically a natural-born American citizen because her father was a diplomat here on assignment from Yemen when his wife gave birth. Under U.S. immigration law, children of diplomats born on American soil remain subject to the jurisdiction of their home countries and therefore don’t enjoy birthright citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment. If Pompeo’s right then Muthana’s a Yemeni citizen. She’s their problem, not ours.

But is he right? An NYT reporter has been investigating.

4. But I just got off the phone with Muthana’s family attorney and this rule doesn’t apply to her because her father was discharged from his UN post 1 month before she was born. At the time of her birth, Muthana’s father was no longer a diplomat hence the exclusion is not valid

— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) February 20, 2019

6. So why is the US *now* saying that she isn’t a citizen? This being the same girl that applied for a renewal of her passport in 2014, received the said passport, and successfully used it to fly from Birmingham to Istanbul? Those trying to help her say that this a “legal dodge.”

— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) February 20, 2019

So Muthana’s father was a diplomat, then his diplomatic status ended, and then a month later his wife gave birth. I’m tempted to ask “Were he and his family in the country legally or had they overstayed their visa by the time Muthana was born?”, but as we well know, illegal status is no bar to birthright citizenship. The question for a court, I suppose, is whether it matters that Muthana’s family had gained admission to the U.S. for diplomatic reasons even though their diplomatic status had lapsed by her birth date. Were they still subject to the jurisdiction of Yemen if they were here on a diplomatic visa, irrespective or whether her father was still employed as a diplomat?

The real mystery isn’t whether Muthana is or isn’t a U.S. citizen, it’s why the feds are trying to bar her from the country instead of letting her come home and then charging her with material support for terrorism. That statute is broad, covering any property or “service” provided with the intent that they be used for certain specified terrorist offenses. Alan Dershowitz, normally a safe bet to take the civil libertarian side in a matter like this, told the New York Post that Muthana is in sufficiently dire legal jeopardy that he’d advise her to rethink her plans to return. Even if all she did was tweet and send emails, he claimed, it’d be a “close call” on whether she could be charged. At least one other defense lawyer with experience in terrorist cases agreed that Muthana could be charged with material support for terrorism.

And yet Trump and Pompeo don’t want her back. Why? Callimachi might have the answer to this too: She claims, citing sources, that “the US may not have enough to successfully charge her” and that the citizenship battle is “an easy way to offload her.” Maybe they figure that, although conviction is probable if not certain, she’s unlikely to get a stiff sentence and will be free to roam the U.S. soon enough. Better to try to keep her out and let Yemen and/or the Kurds who have her detained in Syria worry about her.

Exit question via Stephen “redsteeze” Miller: Which Democratic candidate will be first to tweet their indignation at the effort to bar Muthana from returning?

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Goodness gracious, Northam might really survive his blackface scandal after all

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 00:21

Has Ralph Northam weathered the brunt of the storm on his blackface scandal? Two new polls give the beleaguered Virginia governor some hope of political survival — at least in the short run. Northam ironically might have African-American voters to thank most if he crosses the finish line at the end of his term in 2021.

As Politico notes, neither poll shows much enthusiasm for Northam, but the torch-and-pitchfork brigades seem to have dissipated, at least:

In a Quinnipiac University poll, 42 percent of voters say Northam should resign — but more, 48 percent, say he shouldn’t. White voters are split evenly — 46 percent say he should resign, and the same percentage say he shouldn’t — but a majority of black voters, 56 percent, say Northam should not quit.

Even fewer Virginians say Northam should resign in a second poll out Wednesday, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. In that poll, which surveyed adults in the commonwealth, only 31 percent say Northam should resign, compared to 43 percent who say he shouldn’t.

Both polls show scant support for impeaching Northam. In the Quinnipiac poll, only 26 percent say Northam should be impeached, while nearly two-in-three voters, 65 percent, say he shouldn’t. In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, just 21 percent say the General Assembly should remove Northam, while 56 percent say state legislators shouldn’t impeach the governor.

Both new surveys suggest Northam’s political standing has stabilized since a Washington Post/George Mason University Schar School poll a week into the scandal showed Virginians equally split on whether the governor should resign.

We should define survival at some point. Northam’s political career is over; Virginia governors only get one term in office anyway. Previous governors have won Senate seats, such as the state’s two current US Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Northam’s immediate predecessor Terry McAuliffe is presently mulling over a run at the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

None of those career paths will be open to Northam after this scandal. Survival in this instance is finishing the one term he has left and then escaping public scrutiny in the private sector for the rest of his life. That was why Northam refused to resign; he knew that it would be a de facto admission of racism and he would never have the opportunity for atonement and for accomplishment that would at least balance out the impact of the scandal.

And, let’s face it — luck has played a big role in this escape, too. Northam got an unexpected assist from Mark Herring’s own admitted blackface escapades, and then became indispensable when sexual-assault allegations emerged against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who might still get impeached at some point.

However, there’s still room here for a little unexpected grace, too. For all of Northam’s fumbling in the first few days and the bumpy start to his racial-healing project, black voters appear to be responding to what they see as some genuine remorse and shame from Northam. There’s certainly a practical side to having a governor whose atonement necessarily advances a group’s interest too, but that doesn’t entirely explain enthusiasm being higher for Northam than among Democrats as a whole.

Northam better thank his lucky stars — and be grateful for his shot at redemption. Perhaps he should offer thanks to the Almighty along with it, but as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) wrote today, maybe he needs to do a little atonement for advocating infanticide first:

Back in the late 1990s, then-Sen. Barbara Boxer tiptoed over the line from defending abortion to endorsing infanticide, saying on the Senate floor that a child has rights “when you bring your baby home” from the hospital.

Back in those days, she was way outside of the mainstream. Sadly, two decades later, it seems some extremists inside the Democratic Party have caught up and are willing to defend infanticide.

Late last month, in the course of endorsing a bill to remove some of his state’s key abortion restrictions, disgraced Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam coolly described a scenario in which “the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

When reporters asked the governor — a pediatrician by trade — to clarify his comments, he doubled down on his position. Just a few days earlier, members of the New York State Assembly, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, cheered the passage of a bill that removes all protections from babies born alive after botched abortions.

The biggest scandal with Northam belongs to the media for not making this the biggest Northam scandal.

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Meghan McCain to Tulsi Gabbard: When I hear your name, I think “Assad apologist”

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 23:41

This is the most John McCain thing she’s ever said on “The View.” It’s also the second straight day in which she’s greeted a prominent political guest by essentially telling them to their face that they suck.

Which is not meant as a criticism. Those guests have sucked.

I used to think “Assad apologist” when I heard Gabbard’s name but after watching her exchange here with Ana Navarro over Venezuela I’ll think “Maduro stooge” going forward. She’s giving you the regime line about opposition leader Juan Guaido, after all: Even though it was the Venezuelan National Assembly that declared Guaido interim president under the country’s constitution last month, Gabbard is treating it as another instance of the United States choosing another country’s leader. She’s smearing a popular revolt against an autocrat who’s driven the country to the brink of ruin as some sort of colonialist plot. The fact that a stalwart Trump-basher like Navarro is on the other side of the argument underscores how deep in the tank Gabbard is. The last thing Navarro wants to do in any situation is defend a Trump policy. She’s left no choice.

Anyway, congrats to McCain in getting Gabbard to admit that Assad has used chemical weapons, even though she quickly adds that his enemies have used them too and therefore, I guess, the moral scales are balanced. Gabbard hasn’t always been so willing to acknowledge Assad’s culpability, though. That’s how she achieved “apologist” status in the first place. She earned it.

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Smollett classified as a suspect, Nigerian brothers go before grand jury (plus video of them buying ski masks and a red hat)

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 23:01

Things are happening fast today. First up, Chicago police are now officially classifying Jussie Smollett as a suspect and detectives are presenting evidence in the case before a grand jury according to CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi

Case Update: Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury. pic.twitter.com/FhDcbBKsuU

— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 20, 2019

About 15 minutes before Guglielmi announced the case was before a grand jury, reporter Rob Elgas of ABC7 in Chicago said the Osundairo brothers were seen entering the grand jury room with their attorneys:

BREAKING: Our news crew spots Chicago brothers and their attorney in Smollett investigation at courthouse entering a grand jury room. Unclear if they are actually testifying before a grand jury.

— Rob Elgas (@RobElgasABC7) February 20, 2019

As noted earlier, the brothers were expected to testify before the grand jury yesterday but that was called off after a last-minute phone call from Smollett’s lawyers. Today, those lawyers met with police investigators to discuss the case. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Lawyers for Jussie Smollett are meeting with Cook County prosecutors and police investigators about the reported attack on the “Empire” actor late last month.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Associated Press that the meeting was taking place Wednesday afternoon. He declined to confirm reports that subpoenas had been issued for Smollett’s phone and bank records.

Another minor development which will undoubtedly be part of the case against Smollett. CBS Chicago’s Charlie DeMar found video of the Osundairo brothers buying items used during the attack on Smollett including a red hat and ski masks.

EXCLUSIVE:

I tracked down surveillance of the Osundairo's buying supplies before "attack"

Sources say Jussie Smollet told brothers what to buy.

Countless phone calls placed for this.

Visited more stores than I wish to admit. @cbschicago https://t.co/GT6h2g6Y9a pic.twitter.com/ULr3UTDe9Q

— Charlie De Mar (@CharlieDeMar) February 20, 2019

Of course, the fact that the brothers bought the items used in the attack doesn’t prove Smollett was in on it but the red hat, in particular, seems to fit pretty well with the idea that this was staged to look like a hate crime by Trump supporters. Would the brothers have come up with that on their own? And if so, why did Smollett claim his attackers were white? It will be interesting to see how attorney Mark Geragos spins that as some kind of mistake.

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Anti-Semitism on the rise in France as nearly 100 Jewish graves marked with swastikas

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 22:21

There have been a string of high-profile anti-Semitic incidents in France over the last few weeks and there is evidence that’s part of a broader trend. Reuters reports the number of anti-Semitic attacks in France jumped 74% in 2018 compared to the previous year:

France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, around 550,000 people, a population that has grown by about half since World War Two. But anti-Semitic attacks remain common, with more than 500 alone in 2018, a 74 percent increase on 2017, according to figures released last week.

Almost every day over the past two weeks there has been new evidence of anti-Semitism.

A tree in memory of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2006, was cut in two. A bagel shop in Paris was spray-painted with the word “Juden”, German for Jews, in yellow letters. Portraits of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and magistrate, were defaced with swastikas…

Some commentators have blamed the resurgence on unchecked incitement by fringe Islamist preachers, calling it a new form of anti-Semitism, as opposed to that most commonly associated with Nazi ideology and the far-right.

Others point to the increasingly virulent criticism of Israel coming from the far-left and the rise of anti-Zionism – opposition to the existence of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people – which has morphed into hatred of the Jews.

Yesterday, President Emmanuel Macron visited a cemetery near Strasbourg where nearly 100 Jewish graves were defaced with swastikas:

The damage was discovered on Tuesday, ahead of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the cemetery, in a village near Strasbourg, telling community leaders: “It’s important for me to be here with you today.”

The person or group responsible hasn’t been identified but one of the graves had the name of a far-right group spray painted on it. As if the desecration of the Jewish graves wasn’t enough, a French TV channel said it was forced to cut away from a broadcast of President Macron visiting the site because the broadcast on Facebook was inundated with anti-Semitic comments:

France 3 television said it went live from the first cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim on Tuesday as President Emmanuel Macron was visiting to pay his respects after more than 90 graves were vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic abuse.

But as it broadcast footage online to its more than 1.3 million Facebook followers, the feed was inundated with anti-Semitic commentary and abuse.

“We are talking about explicit death threats, comments that were openly anti-Semitic and racist, including “Heil Hitler”, “dirty Jew” or “dirty Jews”, comments that were addressed at Emmanuel Macron and representatives of the Jewish community,” the channel said in a statement explaining its decision.

“Within minutes, the number of vile and illegal comments had gone well beyond our capacity to moderate them,” it explained, adding that it would have taken 10 or 20 staff to handle the onslaught.

There were large protests against the rising anti-Semitism yesterday led by two former French presidents and several leaders of parties from the right and left:

This report from France 24 English is 3 months old now but it outlines the problem (at the time anti-Semitic incidents were up 69%):

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WaPo: Maybe Dems should ix-nay on ocialism-say in 2020

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 21:41

Diversity of ancestry, the Washington Post laments today, does not equal diversity of thought. Democrats have the former by the bucketload in the 2020 presidential primaries, even after Bernie Sanders helpfully filled in the “old white dude” slot on the scorecard yesterday. The Post’s Sean Sullivan and Annie Linskey points out that while the contenders are “diverse by race and gender,” they are mostly also pursuing the progressive-populist vote on the far left.

How do Democrats avoid the “socialist squeeze,” they wonder. Are they walking into Donald Trump’s trap?

The increasingly large 2020 Democratic presidential field is fighting two simultaneous battles: a chaotic intraparty primary struggle over how far left to push their policies and a broader question of how to confront the challenge posed by President Trump, who has already begun casting the Democrats as socialists.

The dynamic has put a squeeze on the Democratic candidates as they begin to lay out their messages. They are being pressed from one side by core Democratic voters hungry for leftist policies favored by the most energized activists and, from the other, by the need to court centrist voters who could be alienated by the party’s turn to the left.

Trump’s opportunity to define the Democratic field could be long-lasting: The president will have more than a year to portray the opposing party as radical before a Democratic nominee is selected.

The Democratic candidates’ squeeze could tighten further after Tuesday’s presidential announcement by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The entrance of Sanders, a democratic socialist and the leading champion of Medicare-for-all, could intensify the Republican criticisms and the pressure on his rivals to be more vocal advocates of single-payer health care, one of a host of social programs increasingly popular on the left.

Perhaps the trap has already been set. Trump certainly seemed stoked this morning to have Sanders back in the presidential sweepstakes:

Crazy Bernie has just entered the race. I wish him well!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2019

Socialist Bernie, Mr. President. Socialist Bernie. It’s all about branding, right? On the other hand, Trump was hardly alone welcoming Sanders to the race. Donors poured money into his campaign coffers … again:

Bernie Sanders’s 24 hour haul: 223,047 individuals gave $5,925,771.

Average: $27

— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) February 20, 2019

Ironically, socialism sells. It’s the hot new capitalist product! That’s what has driven supposedly mainstream Democrats to embrace most or all of Sanders’ agenda. He brought in prodigious amounts of grassroots cash in 2016, the only funds available for him after Hillary Clinton locked up almost all of the institutional Democratic donors ahead of the 2016 primaries, and he did it by selling unvarnished socialism. The other Democrats want to siphon off that cash flow for their own purposes, especially early in the cycle.

That’s not to say that some Democrats aren’t sending up warning signals too. Unfortunately, the signals are coming from the second tier at best. Here’s former Rep. John Delaney cheering for capitalism and reform and telling CNN that socialism isn’t “what the American people want.” He hopes, anyway:

"If we want to win, if we want to beat Trump, we should not put up a candidate who embraces socialism," 2020 Democratic candidate John Delaney says. "That's not what the American people want." https://t.co/gtqK3nnuvj pic.twitter.com/HH9Nrs7klW

— CNN (@CNN) February 20, 2019

Republicans might act with glee over the leftward lurch of the opposition, but this is a dangerous game. People on the Right like to talk about Overton window shifting when it comes to immigration, but there’s a much better chance of it happening in the opposite direction when it comes to socialism. The entertainment and media establishment certainly like putting a glamorous gloss on an economic-political system that produces authoritarianism and despair even when dressed up as “democratic socialism” (as we see in Venezuela).

Sure, this kind of talk might cost them the election in 2020, although Democrats start off with a significant advantage. But the real socialists might bet that Trump would do so much damage in a second term that voters will buy any kind of alternative in 2024. Or maybe, just maybe, they think voters are that desperate already. If this is a trap, it might end up backfiring on the US.

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9-0: SCOTUS rules that Eighth Amendment’s “excessive fines” clause applies to the states

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 21:01

Remember the oral arguments in this case? Sure you do. They went so badly for the state of Indiana that Court-watchers took to predicting a lopsided defeat afterward, something they normally refrain from doing. It’s the justices’ job to be skeptical during questioning, after all. Can’t read too much into when they’re hard on one side. Usually.

But they were right, this was an unholy whupping. 9-0 decisions aren’t unusual for the Court but it’s a bit unusual to have everyone on one side for a landmark constitutional ruling, finding that the “excessive fines” clause of the Eighth Amendment applies to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. The biggest point of disagreement between the justices, in fact, was a law-nerd dispute over whether the Due Process Clause or the Privileges or Immunities Clause, which has been a dead letter in constitutional jurisprudence since the late 19th century, is the provision that grants citizens protection from excessive fines levied by their state governments. (Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch prefer the latter, the rest of the Court is sticking with the former.) But as to the bottom-line result, there’s not a whisper of disagreement: No, of course your local government can’t seize your $40,000 SUV in connection with a crime when state law says the maximum fine is $10,000.

Ginsburg wrote the opinion of the Court. Yes, conspiracy theorists, she’s alive.

Follow the last link and read through (it’s only nine pages) for a brief rundown of prohibitions on excessive fines in Anglo-American law, dating back to Magna Carta. The touchstone of whether a provision in the Bill of Rights applies to the states is whether the right it guarantees is “fundamental.” Given the history, it was a no-brainer.

It’s interesting that Ginsburg got the call on the opinion in this case. When the chief justice is in the majority, as he was here, he can assign the opinion to anyone he likes, including himself. Doing so would obviously give him control over how broad or narrow the opinion is, and sometimes in a major unanimous decision the chief wants to signal the unity of the Court by speaking for the nine members. Not here. Not only did Roberts hand it off, he handed it to the Court’s senior liberal. Mark Joseph Stern noticed too.

Notable that Chief Justice Roberts assigned RBG the majority opinion. This is definitely a "legacy" opinion—justices rarely have the chance to incorporate a fundamental right. Feels like a sign of respect that Roberts trusted RBG with it.

— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) February 20, 2019

Right, or he may suspect that Ginsburg’s career is winding down and he wanted to give her a notable opinion on the way out. Either way, today’s decision is potentially significant for two related aspects of law. One is the law-nerd debate I mentioned about the Privileges or Immunities Clause. Now that there are two justices who want to shift the Court’s “fundamental rights” jurisprudence to that Clause from the Due Process Clause, it’s at least conceivable that a majority will reach that conclusion in the semi-distant future. If they do, it could have major implications:

In fact, pre-14th Am SCOTUS precedent held that corporations were NOT citizens for purposes of P&I (even if citizens for purposes of Article III diversity citizenship). https://t.co/KvNcijfebV

— Steve Klepper (@MDAppeal) February 20, 2019

Second, it would mean that non-naturalized immigrants (documented or not) would also have no protection from States under Bill of Rights (not even 8th Amendment). There might be protection from other sources of law, but not Bill of Rights.

— Steve Klepper (@MDAppeal) February 20, 2019

Right, by its own language, the Privileges or Immunities Clause applies to “citizens of the United States.” The Due Process Clause applies more broadly. How the Court would adapt rulings made under the auspices of the latter to a new line of cases under the former is anyone’s guess.

The other potential earthquake from today’s opinion is how it might apply in court to civil asset forfeitures, a big revenue-generator for local governments and the scourge of civil libertarians. Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion two years ago inveighing against modern asset forfeiture practices; Neil Gorsuch is also a skeptic. It’s possible, if not probable, that there are five votes on the Court right now to rein in the worst asset-forfeiture abuses. Today’s ruling is an obvious jumping-off point for that inquiry.

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Smollett lawyers up as charges appear imminent (Also, Smollett and ‘victimhood chic’)

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 20:21

Reporter Rafer Weigel at Fox 32 in Chicago is reporting that attorney Mark Geragos has joined Jussie Smollett’s legal team.

Top attorney Mark Geragos has joined #JussieSmollett legal team. He is assisting Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson. #CPD sources tell me an indictment of #Smollett could be coming in “a matter of hours. Not days”.

— Rafer Weigel (@RaferWeigel) February 20, 2019

Word that Smollett was talking to Geragos was reported yesterday by CBS Chicago reporter Brad Edwards. So the bigger news here (from Weigel) may be that an indictment could be imminent. As Ed noted earlier today, the Nigerian brothers who are now cooperating with police were set to give testimony before a grand jury yesterday. CBS This Morning reported they were actually waiting to go into the grand jury hearing room when Smollett’s lawyers called. Suddenly the testimony was called off. It’s not clear if that was because Smollett’s team offered them something (they’ve been looking to hold a follow-up interview with him) or for some other reason. In any case, if Weigel’s report is correct then the indictment is still coming. If that news breaks I’ll update this story below.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic has published a pretty insightful, and in this climate also brave, piece by Columbia University professor John McWhorter. McWhorter says repeatedly that the story isn’t over yet and could take another turn but if it turns out Smollett did stage this attack as the brothers claim, what does that say about him and American society in general. He calls this “victimhood chic”:

Until this twist, smart people were claiming that the attack on Smollett was the story of Donald Trump’s America writ small—that it revealed the terrible plight of minority groups today. But the Smollett story, if the “trajectory” leads to evidence of fakery, would actually reveal something else modern America is about: victimhood chic. Future historians and anthropologists will find this aspect of early-21st-century America peculiar, intriguing, and sad.

Smollett doesn’t need the money he would get from a court settlement, and he isn’t trying to deny someone higher office. So why in the world would he fake something like that attack—if he did indeed fake it? The reason might be that he has come of age in an era when nothing he could have done or said would have made him look more interesting than being attacked on the basis of his color and sexual orientation.

Racial politics today have become a kind of religion in which whites grapple with the original sin of privilege, converts tar questioners of the orthodoxy as “problematic” blasphemers, and everyone looks forward to a judgment day when America “comes to terms” with race. Smollett—if he really did stage the attack—would have been acting out the black-American component in this eschatological configuration, the role of victim as a form of status. We are, within this hierarchy, persecuted prophets, ever attesting to the harm that white racism does to us and pointing to a future context in which our persecutors will be redeemed of the sin of having leveled that harm upon us. We are noble in our suffering.

It doesn’t surprise me that in the age of intersectionality, where the more oppressed you are the more your voice needs to be amplified, someone would see an advantage in acting out that oppression. In fact, that seems to me to be the case in dozens of other fake hate crimes reported and then busted over the past few years. If you believe you’re oppressed, you naturally want others to believe that too even if you have to stage the proof yourself.

For Smollett, being a successful actor and singer might not have been quite as exciting as being a poster child for racist abuse in Trump’s America.

Assuming, again, that the reports are accurate, Smollett’s clumsiness would be an especially poignant indication of how deeply this victimhood chic has taken hold—almost as if he thought this was such an easy score that he didn’t even need to think too hard about the logistics.

If the reports are true that Smollett himself planned the attack because the hate letter (which he may also have fabricated) didn’t make a big enough splash, that’s pretty telling about what he was looking for. Remember Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character telling Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire in the film of the same name that he wanted the “Quan”? The idea was that there’s a level of celebrity above money and minor fame. There’s a level where it becomes love and respect. Doesn’t it seem entirely possible that Smollett thought this was his path to the Quan? Put it this way, if he did stage this and didn’t get caught, would he be more famous and respected now especially on the left? There’s no doubt the answer is yes. And McWhorter closes by suggesting that says something about where we really are today in terms of race relations:

Only in an America in which matters of race are not as utterly irredeemable as we are often told could things get to the point that someone would pretend to be tortured in this way, acting oppression rather than suffering it, seeking to play a prophet out of a sense that playing a singer on television is not as glamorous as getting beaten up by white guys. That anyone could feel this way and act on it in the public sphere is, in a twisted way, a kind of privilege, and a sign that we have come further on race than we are often comfortable admitting.

I suspect McWhorter is going to face some serious backlash over this. It’s just not the kind of thing you’re supposed to say even if it rings true. And again, that’s true regardless of how the Smollett case turns out because there are lots of other examples.

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Pelosi in Brussels: A reminder of who’s in charge and it’s not Trump

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 19:41

Hey, guess who else went to the Munich Security Conference and then decided to announce to our European betters that President Trump is not the boss of her? Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that’s who. At least she waited until she landed in Brussels after the conference to make her grand statement, instead of doing it in Munich as Joe Biden did

As you can imagine, the European press got a lot of pleasure in Pelosi’s statements. She and her delegation stopped in Brussels to reassure the EU that she’s in charge now, with her Democrat majority in the House so she’s controlling the agenda. Case in point: a resolution passed in the House on a strong bipartisan vote that affirmed support for NATO. When questioned as to why such a resolution only now passed, Pelosi was quick to remind everyone that she is just now back to leading the House. It was a version of hey, I got here as quick as I could:

Pelosi said that one European colleague had asked why the House of Representatives had only recently adopted a resolution in support of NATO. She said that she explained it is because she and the Democrats had only retaken control of the majority at the start of the year.

“I said because we just got the majority and then we can control, we can manage what goes on to the floor,” Pelosi said. “But once the Republican colleagues had the opportunity to vote on this, H.R. 676 NATO Support Act — what was it? 357 to 22 Noes. I think that that sends a very clear message.”

Pelosi added, “I don’t think that there’s any difference between Democrats and Republicans on our relationship with NATO. This is not partisan in any way.”

Pelosi’s wingman, Rep. Gerry Connelly (D-VA), was happy to reaffirm Pelosi’s point that America is not a parliamentarian form of government. As he explained the equal branches of government, Pelosi leaned in to assert the House’s control of the purse.

“In terms of the question — is this a reassurance tour? I think it’s a reminder tour,” Connolly said, “that the United States government is not just one branch. And as the Speaker said, Article 1, the first Article in the constitution of the United States deals with the powers of the legislative branch not the executive branch and those powers include war and peace and even direction of the armed forces.”

Pelosi then leaned back toward the microphone to interject: “And the power of the purse.”

The Democrats and their base, the American media, continually claim that because of President Trump America is not exactly riding high in public opinion in foreign countries. Abandoning a long-time unwritten rule of decorum that no American elected official should travel outside of America and bad-mouth the sitting American president or his administration, neither Nancy Pelosi nor Joe Biden seem to mind planting seeds of uncertainty. This was a deliberate jab in the eye to President Trump.

Pelosi met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, as well as EU President Jean-Claude Juncker. Pelosi’s bravado may have been a bit uncomfortable for Stoltenberg as he has been talking up the success of President Trump’s demands of NATO countries to pay their fair share and catch up on delinquent payments while making the connection with defense spending. Stoltenberg even repeated his praise at the Munich Security Conference. I wonder if Pelosi was present for that speech.

“I’m saying that his message has been very clear and that his message is having an impact on defense spending. And this is important because we need fairer burden sharing in the NATO alliance,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

This trend isn’t good and can easily evolve into more Obama-style apology tours of Europe. Talk about an embarrassment.

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Report: DOJ planning to announce as early as next week that Mueller’s investigation is finished

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 19:01

I am prepared for any eventuality in terms of the report’s findings. I am not yet fully prepared for the reality that we’ll probably never get to read the actual report, even though Bill Barr already alerted us to that possibility during his confirmation hearing. We’ve been watching this cloak-and-dagger TV drama for two farking years. We deserve closure.

What we’re going to get, it sounds like, is a summary of Mueller’s findings, probably not the actual text. So, a “Scooby Doo mysteries” degree of closure.

By the way, isn’t the president out of the country next week on important business? If Mueller finds that he obstructed justice, maybe Trump will seize the opportunity to defect to North Korea.

Attorney General Bill Barr is preparing to announce as early as next week the completion of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, with plans for Barr to submit to Congress soon after a summary of Mueller’s confidential report, according to people familiar with the plans…

The regulations require Mueller to explain in his report all decisions to prosecute or not prosecute matters under scrutiny. Barr would also need to inform Congress if the Justice Department prevented the special counsel team from pursuing any investigative steps…

Mueller and his prosecutors are still reporting to work as frequently as ever — with some even coming in on recent snow days and Presidents’ Day. But also visiting them more often than ever before are the prosecutors from the DC US Attorney’s Office and others in the Justice Department who’ve worked on the Mueller cases.

Mueller may be done with TrumpWorld but that doesn’t mean the rest of the DOJ is. CNN notes that observers have spotted carts full of files leaving Mueller’s office, presumably headed to U.S. Attorney offices in New York and D.C. or elsewhere. Mueller is limited to investigating matters related to Russia; any unrelated crimes he uncovers get handed off to other federal prosecutors, which is how Michael Cohen ended up pleading guilty to campaign-finance offenses in Stormygate in New York.

Which is a long way of saying that we might not get closure next week even if we get the full report. A clean bill of health on Russiagate would be wonderful news for Trump, but whether the Southern District of New York is working on anything related to, say, the Trump Organization’s practices based on evidence obtained by the special counsel will remain a mystery for now.

I doubt they’ll release the report, or the summary of the report, before next Wednesday’s summit with North Korea. Barr won’t want one of his first acts on the job to be distracting the president while he’s consumed with nuclear diplomacy. I’d bet the earliest we hear anything is the Monday following. One thing to consider in the meantime is whether Trump has been given any indication of what the report might say. He was pretty worked up about Mueller this past weekend, even by his usual standards.

“These guys, the investigators, ought to be in jail. What they have done, working with the Obama intelligence agencies, is simply unprecedented. This is one of the greatest political hoaxes ever perpetrated on the people of this Country, and Mueller is a coverup.” Rush Limbaugh

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2019

The Mueller investigation is totally conflicted, illegal and rigged! Should never have been allowed to begin, except for the Collusion and many crimes committed by the Democrats. Witch Hunt!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2019

Another question is what House Democrats can do to try to make the report public despite Barr’s and the DOJ’s best efforts to keep it confidential. Law prof Kim Wehle, a former federal prosecutor, considered that last month for the Bulwark:

The House of Representatives could subpoena the first report—the one by Mueller to Barr that describes the special counsel’s charging decisions. President Trump would likely ask a court to halt that subpoena, arguing that executive privilege protects it from disclosure. That argument is tricky; executive privilege is not a blanket defense for any president. It must bend to other public interests, including criminal investigations. Both Nixon and Clinton lost that battle in court.

The bigger problem with a congressional subpoena of a confidential memo explaining Mueller’s charging decisions is a structural one. As a constitutional matter, it would set a potentially dangerous precedent by giving Congress too great a role in overseeing prosecutors’ decisions to start, pursue, and end particular criminal investigations. Congress is a political animal; enabling politically motivated criminal prosecutions is a stepping stone to tyranny.

I don’t follow that last part. “Overseeing” implies some sort of authority by Congress over the DOJ’s decision to prosecute or not prosecute someone. Obtaining Mueller’s report to Barr would merely inform Congress of Mueller’s reasoning, not give them power to order a “politically motivated criminal prosecution.” Since the House is the only body that can “indict” the president by impeaching him, arguably it’d be the DOJ that’s usurping the legislature’s role in prosecutions in this case by not sharing the report’s information on Trump.

In fact, according to Wehle, it’s conceivable that Barr won’t provide Congress with any information about Mueller’s report. Technically, under regulations, Barr is only supposed to inform Congress about recommendations in Mueller’s report with which he disagrees. If he agrees with everything, there’s no need for notice to Congress. That would be ludicrous under the circumstances, though, when the country’s waiting to hear if there’s probable cause to believe the president conspired with Russia during the campaign or obstructed justice afterward. Which is why I think Barr will volunteer a summary of Mueller’s findings even if it doesn’t call for any prosecutions. This is, inescapably, a highly political case with implications for the country’s governance. Of course Congress needs to be informed.

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A PAC run by AOC’s Chief of Staff hired her boyfriend as a marketing consultant

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 18:21

There was a pitched battle on Twitter last week after a conservative political researcher named Luke Thompson posted a screenshot showing that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ boyfriend, Riley Roberts, had been given his own House email address and was listed as “Staff.” Under House rules, spouses of congresspeople can be given House email addresses if they volunteer in their spouses office, but as far as anyone knows Riley Roberts is not AOC’s spouse, just her boyfriend. Thompson was also rebuked by AOC:

Actually this cal designation is a permission so he can have access to my Google Cal. Congressional spouses get Gcal access all the time.

Next time check your facts before you tweet nonsense.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 15, 2019

After Thompson posted the information, he was suspended by Twitter, possibly on the grounds that he was posting private information. AOC’s Chief of Staff Saikat Chakrabarti specifically claimed he’d violated Twitter’s rules by doxxing Roberts:

He started doxxing him. That's a violation of terms in Twitter.

— Saikat Chakrabarti (@saikatc) February 15, 2019

In fact, everything Luke Thompson has posted was public information. House emails are public and the phone number listed was one of AOC’s public numbers. Eventually, Twitter relented and agreed Thompson had done nothing wrong. I don’t know if anyone ever worked out who had reported Thompson to Twitter in the first place but at least one of AOC’s fans proudly claimed he’d done it (it appears he wasn’t the only one).

In any case, Thompson felt the pushback was a bit disproportionate to the question he raised and started digging further:

AOC hasn’t exactly been winning friends lately, which is how I got Roberts’s Outlook screen grab in the first place. A rumor on the Hill was circulating that Roberts had attended a Congressional Progressive Caucus meeting. A tipster looked to see if he’d been given staff credentials. It appeared he had. All agreed this was irregular if he was just a spouse.

Per the House Admin office, a family member can, in special circumstances, get a house.gov email address. But Roberts is not a family member, and although AOC referred to him as her partner in November of last year, she omitted him from her mandatory candidate financial disclosures for 2017 and 2018. Perhaps they’ve gotten married since. If so — if he is her spouse now — we should see his finances disclosed along with hers in her 2019 disclosure form due in May.

Is she married?

Absent a wavier from House Ethics, family members have to be volunteers. AOC’s office apparently doesn’t believe in having unpaid workers, as according to Chakrabarti they have no volunteers in the office.

So Roberts is designated as staff but also isn’t on AOC’s staff, even though he showed up Friday morning in the House directory as processing into her personal office as a staffer. In other words his staff status, like his spouse status, is akin to Schrodinger’s cat.

Looking further into the financial relationship between AOC, Chakrabarti, and boyfriend Riley Roberts, Thompson found a money trail which seemed unusual. Chakrabarti runs a PAC called Brand New Congress whose goal is to centralize campaign services and make it easier for first-time candidates to run for office. Associated with the PAC is an LLC also run by Chakrabarti. Over the course of her campaign, AOC raised less than $9,000 but spent more than $37,000 with much of that going to Brave New Congress LLC. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Riley Roberts was being paid by the PAC as a marketing consultant, in fact, he appears to have been their top consultant:

Like other candidates, AOC paid Brand New Congress LLC for strategic consulting, in her case totaling $18,880.14. Unlike in the other cases, Brand New Congress PAC turned around and paid her boyfriend as a “marketing consultant”.

Indeed, while Brand New Congress PAC’s ten largest expenditures were paid to Brand New Congress LLC for “strategic consulting,” a sum that totaled $261,165.20 over the course of the campaign, its eleventh and twelfth largest expenditures were paid to Riley Roberts.

Roberts was paid two installments of $3,000 each. That’s not a lot of money relative to what the PAC was spending but it does work out to about a third of what AOC’s campaign was paying the LLC. The PAC listed Roberts’ address as Arizona, which is where he’s from, but at the time he was being paid as a consultant he was living with AOC in New York. Of course, it’s possible that Roberts was doing some real marketing work for the $6,000 he was paid that had no direct connection to AOC, but what was it?

Why would Chakrabarti, a founding engineer at Stripe and a wealthy veteran of Silicon Valley, be hiring a no-name “UX Experience” guy with little discernible marketing experience to serve as Brand New Congress PAC’s sole marketing consultant?

Regardless of what he was doing, is it just a coincidence that the PAC run by AOC’s soon-to-be Chief of Staff hired her boyfriend as its top consultant at a time when she was struggling to stay afloat? No doubt we’ll be getting some pushback on this from AOC’s office fairly soon.

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Thiessen: Republicans in Congress must stand against this emergency declaration

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 17:41

Must they? Or, like Congress as a whole, can they just sit on the sidelines and punt? Marc Thiessen argues from principle that Donald Trump’s emergency declaration attacks the balance of power in the federal government and arrogates far too much power to the executive. Even if Trump wins in court, it’s a loss for limited government, Thiessen predicts in his column at the Washington Post:

Now, the smart move for Trump would have been to pocket that $1.38 billion and bolster it with an additional $3.1 billion he could arguably use without a declaration of a national emergency — by reprogramming $600 million from the Treasury Department’s drug forfeiture fund and $2.5 billion from the Defense Department’s drug interdiction program. That would have given him $4.48 billion in wall funding — nearly the full amount he was demanding from Congress. Then, in December, he could demand more money with leverage over Democrats when an automatic sequester kicks in, forcing $55 billion in across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary spending unless Trump agrees to raise spending caps.

Instead, Trump has made the wrong move once again — declaring a national emergency, despite warnings from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans that it could provoke a backlash from within his own party.

His order will face an immediate court challenge, which means he won’t be able to spend the emergency funds anytime soon, if at all. And if he prevails in court, it will be a disaster for the cause of limited government. If Trump can declare a national emergency to build a border wall Congress refused to fund, then the power of the president to override Congress’s power of the purse will be virtually unlimited. As Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) pointed out, a future liberal president could declare climate change a national emergency and “force the Green New Deal on the American people.” Or, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested, a Democratic president could one day declare the “epidemic of gun violence in America” a national emergency thanks to Trump’s action.

Thiessen counts noses in the Senate and comes up with a dozen who might vote to pass a resolution of disapproval, the mechanism by which Congress can reject a declaration of national emergency. The Hill counts ten Senate Republicans who might assert legislative primacy over federal appropriations. The first problem that arises with these calculations is that the resolution may well pass, but Trump gets a veto over it, too. Even if twelve Senate Republicans crossed the aisle, that would only get an override to 59 votes, eight short of success. How many of these Senators would cast such an initial vote if an override was impossible in their own chamber, let alone in the House?

It doesn’t matter, Thiessen argues. It’s not a rebellion against Trump, but Trump himself who created the problem for Senate Republicans:

Trump’s defenders will argue that Republicans should not deliver such a rebuke to their president. In fact, the opposite is true: It is Trump who should not be forcing Republicans to choose between fidelity to their president and fidelity to the Constitution. And if forced to choose, they must choose the Constitution.

Granted, emphatically. If that’s the choice in an unprecedented situation, Senate and House Republicans absolutely should honor their oath to the Constitution rather than any loyalty they may or may not feel to a president of their own party. (The same goes for Democrats, obviously.) However, this situation is not all that unprecedented, as it turns out, and Congress gave up the constitutional ghost on this 43 years ago. They passed a law that authorizes presidents to do precisely what Trump is doing now — and have done nothing as every president since Jimmy Carter has used the mechanism regardless of the nature of the “emergency.”

In my column for The Week, I ask readers to guess how many concurrent states of national emergency existed prior to Trump’s action. Hint: It’s as many as Baskin Robbins has flavors:

Unfortunately for Coons and other Democrats — and a handful of Republicans protesting Trump’s actions — that precedent was set decades ago. While this may be the first time a president has used the National Emergencies Act passed by Congress in 1976 to bypass Congress’ appropriations process, the law does indeed contain a grant of authority for presidents to spend money without appropriation from Congress. If Congress challenges Trump’s novel use of the NEA, it might have to explain why the law allows for his move in the first place — and why Congress remained uninterested in policing this authority until now. …

Until now, Congress not only hasn’t objected to the use the NEA for purposes that could easily have been addressed under normal conditions — such as applying sanctions in Belarus in 2006 — it hasn’t had much interest in using its authority to close out emergencies and restore its own standing.

That brings us back to the question of what it feels like to live in a state of national emergency. Of the 59 national emergencies declared by presidents since 1979, more than half remain in effect today. The still-extant “emergencies” include:

  • Regulation of the Anchorage and Movement of Vessels with respect to Cuba (1997)
  • Prohibiting Certain Transactions with Respect to the Development of Iranian Petroleum Resources (1995)
  • Blocking Sudanese Government Property and Prohibiting Transactions with Sudan (1997)
  • Blocking Property of Persons Who Threaten International Stabilization Efforts in the Western Balkans (2001)

In all, we were living in 31 concurrent states of emergency even before this latest declaration. Of the 28 emergencies no longer in effect, not a single one was revoked by an act of Congress.

None of this disputes Thiessen’s theoretical point, by the way, nor to discount the novel context in which Trump used the NEA. Until now, no president has used it to get around a budget fight with Congress, and that context does make this more offensive. However, the NEA unlocks more than 100 specific authorities for presidents, according to the Brennan Center, among which is the power to redirect funding “without regard to any other provision of law” to undertake military construction dealing with the emergency (10 USC 2808). Presidents have used that authority in previous emergencies without any objection from Congress, or even any attempt to curtail that authority by ending “emergencies” stretching back decades.

Congress passed the buck to the White House in 1976. They’re just unhappy that Trump decided to spend it on a border wall after a shutdown. And they should be, as Thiessen notes, but their anger should be directed at themselves. They have abandoned their constitutional duties to deal with significant issues and take tough votes at times in favor of giving the White House the authority to let them off the hook.

So what to do now? A good start would be to repeal or greatly limit the scope of the NEA and its constituent statutes. And after that, perhaps Congress should do their jobs and pass normal legislation to deal with the other 31 “emergencies” they’ve ignored for years. If Congress wants Trump and the public to respect their prerogatives, they should start by respecting those themselves.

Update: My math was initially off in counting votes for an override. Twelve Republicans would be added to 47 Democrats in the Senate for a total of 59; for some reason I added the Republicans to the Republican caucus of 53 for a total of 65. I’ve fixed it above.

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Thank you, Pres. Trump: 18 trillion gallons of rain fall on thirsty California

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 17:01

For once, California’s terrible-to-moderate drought that caused tight statewide water-use restrictions has abated. The southern Golden State is turning green in mid-winter after swollen skies dumped a record amount of rain this month. Look at what’s happening here out in the Palm Springs desert!

And some northern parts have enough snow to extend the ski season into July.

It, of course, has nothing to do with the White House. But water-soaked rivers of atmospheric air from the north this month have delivered such a soaking to the thirsty state that with still a week yet to go, officials say California has received 18 trillion gallons of water this month alone.

That’s an amazingly large amount provided to the public with the absolute confidence that no one else is counting.

With more rains yet to come this week and month, Los Angeles has already received four inches. San Diego got 10.

Jazz Shaw thinks he’s had a lot of that white stuff fall on him in upstate New York this winter. Well, northern California’s Mammoth Mountain ski resort reports it’s received 37 feet of snow this winter. Shovel that, sucker! But come ski there til mid-summer.

Of course, to capture anxious eyeballs TV news reports are full of ominous threats of landslides as mountainsides in vast areas scorched by forest fires soak up tons of water with no roots to hold things in place.

The rains have also come with unusually cold nighttime temperatures — for southern California. Night-time thermometers in the south near the mid-thirties. Even in the gaps of sunshine many Californians have their parka hoods up as daytime temperatures plummet below 50! If you people in Minnesota can imagine such a thing.

Despite vast volumes of H20 arriving, California’s long-term dryness has been so severe that the state is still technically in drought condition. When the year’s vast Sierra snowpack melts by late summer, it will provide about 30  percent of the state’s water needs.

Over time the heavy rains will gradually replenish many of the state’s badly-depleted aquifers. But here’s an interesting fact: That water percolates down through the soil so slowly, it will take about one year for the liquid to soak down even a few hundred feet, drop by drop.

However, since this is a news site, we can’t leave you without a gloomy warning. All the water has already encouraged thousands of acres to push up lush new green growth. Which, come the next season in August and fall, will dry to a crisp just waiting to fuel the new fires you can watch on TV.

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CBS: “Hail Mary” phone call from Smollett lawyers postponed grand-jury testimony

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 16:21

What exactly did Jussie Smollet’s attorneys say to prosecutors yesterday that stopped them from presenting testimony from two Nigerian brothers to the grand jury? CBS News reports this morning that the “Hail Mary” call worked — at least for now:

A source tells CBS News that a last-minute phone call might have kept the case against "Empire" star Jussie Smollett from going to a grand jury. The actor claims he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack last month, as he walked home in the middle of the night. pic.twitter.com/4E9zG9rJNn

— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) February 20, 2019

A source close to the investigation tells CBS News the brothers were set to appear in front of a grand jury Tuesday. But CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds reports those plans were abruptly scrapped after a “Hail Mary” call from Smollett’s defense team.

CBS News has learned that Nigerian brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo were waiting outside the grand jury chambers, just minutes from testifying, when prosecutors got the call from Smollett’s lawyers.

It’s unclear what the defense said, but the Cook County state’s attorney decided to postpone the brothers’ testimony, which would have been the first step toward indicting the 36-year-old actor for filing a false police report.

Hmmmm. The grand-jury move came after Smollett stopped cooperating with the investigation, refusing requests for a follow-up interview. CBS also reports that prosecutors have now issued a number of search warrants for Smollett’s financial and phone records, and this time not the heavily redacted copies Smollett first provided police. That’s a lot of pressure on someone who might have something significant to hide. If prosecutors were willing to postpone the Osundairos’ testimony, they must have gotten some promises of more cooperation in exchange.

Of course, that may not matter much anyway. As noted earlier and also in the video above, the two brothers now allegedly claim that Smollett engineered the threat letter that contained white powder — aspirin, as it turns out — sent to Empire’s production company. The FBI has now reportedly entered the probe in relation to   that development, signaling a more ominous turn for Smollett and a lot more work for his attorneys. A charge of filing a false police report is peanuts next to the serious federal felonies involving threats sent by US mail.

If so, the call may not have been much of a “Hail Mary” play at all. It might have been a recognition that this case has grown beyond the local grand jury, and that the big question now involves more than just public humiliation for Smollett if he did indeed perpetrate two hoax attacks. His defense team has to be looking for a way out of what looks like a self-built trap.

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ISIS bride and Twitter terrorist to America: Sentence me to some counseling sessions, please; Update: Not a US citizen?

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 15:41

“I hope America doesn’t think I’m a threat to them,” Hoda Muthana tells ABC News in her first on-camera interview. What would have given us that idea? The fact that she ran off to join ISIS five years ago and only now is coming back after their collapse? Or her Twitter campaign urging Muslims in the US to “Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood”?

Muthana thinks she might deserve some punishment, but that it should be in the form of counseling. “Jail time,” Muthana says, “has a worse effect on people.” Hence why it’s a bad idea to go join terrorists and foment attacks on your own country, as I noted last night:

"I hope America doesn't think I'm a threat to them and I hope they can accept me."

24-year-old American Hoda Muthana describes to @jamesaalongman her decision to join ISIS in Syria and whether she expects punishment if she is able to return to the U.S. https://t.co/bCIrBugNmM pic.twitter.com/7WLT4rCXR7

— ABC News (@ABC) February 20, 2019

She told ABC News she felt shame hearing of the tweets she posted when she was part of ISIS.

“I was still at the peak of being brainwashed I guess and I had people all around me that were just widowed so we were very angry … because we were all just young girls married for the first time — most of us it was our first relationships — and then he just suddenly died,” she said. “I can’t even believe I thought of that.” …

She expressed remorse and regret about her social media posts inciting violence in the name of Islam and ISIS.

“I wish I could take it completely off the Net, completely out of people’s memory. … I regret it. … I hope America doesn’t think I’m a threat to them and I hope they can accept me and I’m just a normal human being who’s been manipulated once and hopefully never again,” she said.

Was Muthana manipulated? Surely. This looks like manipulation in return, however. Muthana wants to play on the sympathies of her countrymen while painting herself as nothing more than an unthinking victim. Recall that Muthana was 19 years old and responsible for her actions at the time of her choice to join ISIS and 20 when she urged violence in the streets of the US. Perhaps she has remorse for her crimes, but they remain crimes, and Muthana has to answer for them.

Earlier today, the UK announced that they would strip Shamima Bagun of her citizenship rather than allow the ISIS bride to re-enter the country. That option isn’t available to the US even if we were inclined to follow suit, as Andy McCarthy explains in today’s New York Post:

A person who is an American citizen by birth may not have that citizenship revoked without her consent. In its 1973 Afroyim v. Rusk decision, the Supreme Court reasoned that the Constitution does not grant Congress the power to strip an American of citizenship because, in our system, the people are sovereign — the government serves us, it is not the source of our citizenship.

I think this is ill-considered. Citizenship implies obligations of fealty as well as benefits. Traitorous acts should be construed as renouncing those obligations, and thus renouncing citizenship itself.

Moreover, there are situations in which the power of government to revoke citizenship is recognized. Granted, these involve naturalized citizens who procure citizenship by fraud. But a section of our immigration law permits revocation if a naturalized citizen joins a subversive organization within five years of becoming a citizen. The legalistic theory is that this is a form of fraud: You can’t have taken the oath of citizenship seriously if, so soon after being naturalized, you’ve joined such a group — e.g., al Qaeda. But the more salient point, I believe, is that you have renounced the obligations of citizenship; it should not matter if you are a born or a naturalized American if you make war against America.

Alas, that is not how the law is interpreted. Muthana will be permitted re-entry into our country. She should be prosecuted for treason and terrorism offenses. Indeed, the Justice Department should indict her now, so that she has fair notice of what she faces if she chooses to return.

Indeed, that would be fair play. And it might have a salutary effect of keeping Muthana from re-entering the country she blithely betrayed, and the country she thinks owes her a few counseling sessions for her moral treason and actual terrorism.

Update: No wonder she’s asking to come to the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says she’s not a US citizen after all:

#NEW #breaking @SecPompeo on American #ISISBride:
"Ms. #HodaMuthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the U.S. She does not have any legal basis, no valid passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the U.S."

— Kevin Corke (@kevincorke) February 20, 2019

Muthana was born in the US, Corke explains further, but to parents here on a diplomatic mission. That negates “birthright citizenship,” so … Muthana will have to go back to Yemen. American prison might have been a better choice, but at any rate she won’t have a choice at all. Her family insists that she is a US citizen:

NEW: "The Trump administration continues its attempts to wrongfully strip citizens of their citizenship," Muthana family's attorney tells @ABC News.

"Hoda Muthana had a valid US passport and is a citizen." https://t.co/q0lfOlSVVo https://t.co/MUmRByE9Lb

— ABC News (@ABC) February 20, 2019

The court fight on this should be … interesting.

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McCabe: On second thought, no one was counting Cabinet votes on 25th Amendment

Wed, 02/20/2019 - 15:01

By golly, we may have yet another “lacking candor” moment from Andrew McCabe. Earlier today on Morning Joe, the panel asked the former acting FBI director about how far along the effort was to use the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump from the presidency. “The conversation was not about removing the president,” McCabe interjects, which prompted Willie Geist to remind McCabe that removal is the only function of the 25th Amendment.

McCabe then says Rod Rosenstein only mentioned it in passing. When pressed on whether Rosenstein was counting votes, McCabe says, “Not that I’m aware of”:

McCabe on 60 Minutes: Rosenstein was "counting votes or possible votes" on using the 25th Amendment.

McCabe today on if Rosenstein was counting votes: "Not that I'm aware of." pic.twitter.com/miCBfTmuDI

— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) February 20, 2019

Hmmm. Just three days ago, CBS’ 60 Minutes aired an interview with McCabe where he made the effort sound a lot more serious. In fact, McCabe said their discussion included “counting votes or possible votes”:

Scott Pelley: Did you counsel him on that?

Andrew McCabe: I didn’t. I mean, he was discussing other cabinet members and whether or not people would support such an idea, whether or not other cabinet members would, shared, his belief that the president was — was really concerning, was concerning Rod at that time.

Scott Pelley: Rosenstein was actually openly talking about whether there was a majority of the cabinet who would vote to remove the president.

Andrew McCabe: That’s correct. Counting votes or possible votes.

Scott Pelley: Did he assign specific votes to specific people?

Andrew McCabe: No, not that I recall.

While McCabe also describes this discussion as “wide ranging,” “frenzied chaotic,” it’s McCabe who offers the unprompted claim that Rosenstein was “counting votes.” That directly contradicts what McCabe said this morning on MSNBC.

Don’t forget that former FBI general counsel James Baker has already told at least one congressional committee that it was McCabe who came to him with this idea, not Rosenstein. Baker testified that McCabe told him that they already had two Cabinet officials who would support the move and that he had to talk McCabe down:

Former top FBI lawyer James Baker, in closed-door testimony to Congress, detailed alleged discussions among senior officials at the Justice Department about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office, claiming he was told Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said two Trump Cabinet officials were “ready to support” such an effort.

The testimony was delivered last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees. Fox News has confirmed portions of the transcript. It provides additional insight into discussions that have returned to the spotlight in Washington as fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe revisits the matter during interviews promoting his forthcoming book.

Baker did not identify the two Cabinet officials. But in his testimony, the lawyer said McCabe and FBI lawyer Lisa Page came to him to relay their conversations with Rosenstein, including discussions of the 25th Amendment.

“I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General, he had stated that he — this was what was related to me — that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,” Baker told the committees.

McCabe’s story keeps changing as he retells it, and more specifically as he gets challenged in these media interviews. It’s not too tough to see why an Inspector General appointed by Barack Obama found that McCabe “lacked candor” when being grilled by professionals at the FBI. The more he talks, the more this really did look like an attempted coup by inferior officers at the FBI and Department of Justice — and the more it looks like McCabe realizes it. That’s why he’s trying to backpedal from his allegations on 60 Minutes.

Right now the biggest favor McCabe could do for himself is to stop making media appearances. It’s also the biggest favor he could do for Robert Mueller, who must be watching his predicate for a counterintelligence investigation dissipate rapidly before his very eyes.

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