Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Last night The Wall Street Journal published a scary story about Russian hacking–not of elections but of electric companies: Russian Hackers Reach U.S. Utility Control Rooms, Homeland Security Officials Say.

Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities where they could have caused blackouts, federal officials said. They said the campaign likely is continuing.

The Russian hackers, who worked for a shadowy state-sponsored group previously identified as Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, broke into supposedly secure, “air-gapped” or isolated networks owned by utilities with relative ease by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies, said officials at the Department of Homeland Security.

“They got to the point where they could have thrown switches” and disrupted power flows, said Jonathan Homer, chief of industrial-control-system analysis for DHS.

DHS has been warning utility executives with security clearances about the Russian group’s threat to critical infrastructure since 2014. But the briefing on Monday was the first time that DHS has given out information in an unclassified setting with as much detail. It continues to withhold the names of victims but now says there were hundreds of victims, not a few dozen as had been said previously.

It also said some companies still may not know they have been compromised, because the attacks used credentials of actual employees to get inside utility networks, potentially making the intrusions more difficult to detect.

If you can’t get to story from my link, try going to Shakeville and clicking the link there. That’s how I got past the paywall.

Yesterday, Dakinikat wrote about Trump’s threat to take security clearances away from former government officials. The New York Times:

President Trump threatened on Monday to strip the security clearances of top former officials who criticized his refusal to confront Russia over its election interference, signaling a willingness to use the powers of the presidency to retaliate against some of his most outspoken detractors.

Among those who could lose access are John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director; Susan E. Rice, the former national security adviser; and James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary.

“The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearances because they politicized, and in some cases monetized, their public service and security clearances,” Ms. Sanders said.

The suggestion marked an unusual politicization of the security clearance process by a president who has routinely questioned the loyalties of national security and law enforcement officials and dismissed some of their findings — particularly the conclusion that Moscow intervened in the 2016 election — as attacks against him.

As Dakinikat wrote, this idea originally came from Rand Paul. People seem to be dismissing this threat, but on Twitter, former FBI agent Asha Rangappa pointed out that allowing the president to control who gets security clearances could endanger the Mueller investigation.

That is really frightening.

Dakinikat also wrote yesterday about Trump’s Twitter threat to Iran. Here’s a reaction from Nancy LeTourneau at The Washington Monthly: The Day We Ignored That POTUS Threatened to Annihilate Iran. LeTourneau is concerned that people in the media are telling us to just ignore Trump’s blustering. But should we really do that?

Jennifer Rubin actually wrote that we should ignore the president’s tweet. Apparently most people took her advice and spent more time yesterday talking about the president’s threat to strip security clearances from people who criticize him (even some who never had security clearances in the first place) than they did about his threat to annihilate Iran.

All of this has happened since former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman wrote that her fellow Republicans should call on the president to resign because he is unfit for office.

My concern is that there are almost daily examples of how Donald Trump is unfit for office. They happen so regularly that we have now started to ignore his threats to basically initiate World War III. I totally get why people do that. But it also scares the shit out of me when I take a moment to think about what’s happening.

Every now and then I imagine what it will be like in 10-15 years to look back on what I’ve written about during this Trump era. Honestly, I doubt that in the future I’ll feel guilty about over-reacting. But there is a very good chance that I’ll wonder why I wasn’t constantly screaming at the top of my lungs…”This president in absolutely bonkers, we can’t shut up until we get him outta there!”

IMHO, everyone should be listening to Christine Todd Whitman. Trump is dangerously unfit to be president, and he should resign or be impeached.

At Business Insider, Allan Smith speculates on why Trump passed on keeping Michael Cohen’s tapes privileged: Why Trump’s lawyers allowed the government to get ahold of the bombshell Michael Cohen tapes.

A person with knowledge of the Trump team’s decision making on the matter told Business Insider the president’s attorneys waived their privilege claims over all of the tapes because they claim Cohen had been discussing them with others, such as Michael Avenatti, the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, who is suing the president and Cohen.

The person said Trump’s legal team didn’t know “exactly what Cohen” has told others, but added that the lawyers “have the tapes” and “heard them all.” Trump’s attorneys “don’t have any problem with anybody listening to them,” the source said, adding that the remaining tapes disclosed Monday contain conversations between Cohen and a third party about Trump, not direct discussions between Trump and Cohen. This person told Business Insider they had heard the tapes.

Trump’s lawyers waived privilege so they could speak freely about the tapes, now that they claim Cohen is separately speaking about them, the person said. The person said waiving the privilege was “inevitable” and that they “didn’t know how it was coming out” but “knew Cohen was the source.”

Avenatti’s Sunday comments on ABC’s “This Week” further confirmed the Trump team’s thoughts, the person said.

Avenatti, who crossed paths with Cohen at a Manhattan restaurant last week, said Sunday that he has “continued to have a dialogue” with Cohen. Avenatti added he believes Cohen will “assist us in our search for the truth.”

So far, we have no idea what Trump discussed in his private meetings with Vladimir Putin. Can our intelligence agencies find out? At Politico, Josh Meyer says yes:

Privately, sources familiar with U.S. intelligence capabilities expressed confidence that the so-called Special Collection Service scooped up not only Putin’s readout of the two-hour meeting, but what the Kremlin’s top spymasters really think about it — and how they’re spinning it to their foreign counterparts.

That means the National Security Agency and CIA are at less of a strategic disadvantage than U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged publicly. But because they likely are missing the one critical piece of intelligence they need the most — a word-by-word account of what Trump and Putin said during the meeting — those officials appear to be flying somewhat blind when it comes to fulfilling their most important mission of helping U.S. policymakers figure out what comes next.

“Most of the questions about what happened in Helsinki — and about the risks the president created there — are skipping over a more fundamental concern: How can intel officers effectively support policy, at any level, when only the president knows what the policy is?” asks David Priess, a former CIA officer and daily White House intelligence briefer. “If, one-on-one with Putin, the president made or changed policy, and he refuses to tell anyone exactly what happened, how can the national security bureaucracy prepare the memos and talking points for future meetings to be held about those very policies?”

Click on the link to read the rest.

I’ll end with this very long read by Doug Bock Clark at GQ about what may have happened to Otto Warmbier.

The gist is that Trump lied (big surprise!) when he claimed that Warbier had been beaten and tortured. This is based on the coroner’s findings. It appears that Warbier was taken to a North Korean hospital the next day after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor; and it appears that he received good care in the hospital. Clark writes that the North Koreans do not typically torture American prisoners and they are kept in safe houses, not in hell-hole prisons. It’s possible Warbier may have tried to commit suicide, as several other American prisoners have.

Despite how Trump and his administration boosted the narrative that Otto was physically tortured, however, the evidence was not clear-cut. The day after the Warmbiers went on national television to declare that Otto had been “systematically tortured and intentionally injured,” a coroner who had examined Otto, Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, unexpectedly called a press conference. She explained that she hadn’t previously done so out of respect for the Warmbiers. But her findings, and those of the doctors who had attended Otto, contradicted the Warmbiers’ assertions.

Fred had described Otto’s teeth as having been “re-arranged” with pliers, but Sammarco reiterated that the postmortem exam found that “the teeth [were] natural and in good repair.” She discovered no significant scars, dismissing the one on his foot as not definitively indicative of anything. Other signs of physical trauma were also lacking. Both sides of Otto’s brain had suffered simultaneously, meaning it had been starved of oxygen. (Blows to the head would have likely resulted in asymmetrical, rather than universal, damage.) Though the Warmbiers declined a surgical autopsy, non-invasive scans found no hairline bone fractures or other evidence of prior trauma. “His body was in excellent condition,” Sammarco said. “I’m sure he had to have round-the-clock care to be able to maintain the skin in the condition it was in.” When asked about the Warmbiers’ claims, Sammarco answered, “They’re grieving parents. I can’t really make comments on what they said or their perceptions. But here in this office, we depend on science for our conclusions.” Three other individuals who had close contact with Otto on his return also did not notice any physical signs consistent with torture.

Basically Trump used Warmbier as an excuse to threaten North Korea.

When Otto finally opened his eyes again, he likely found himself at a guesthouse, which is where the State Department believed he was probably kept. At least five previous American detainees have been imprisoned in a two-story building with a green-tiled roof in a gated alleyway behind a restaurant in downtown Pyongyang, which is run by the State Security Department, the North Korean secret police. (Others have been kept at a different guesthouse, and at least three have stayed at a hotel.) The most used guesthouse is luxurious by local standards—detainees can hear guards using its karaoke machine into the wee hours—but Otto would have likely found its two-room suites roughly equivalent to those in a basic hotel. And no matter how nice his suite, it was also a cell, for he would have been allowed out only for an occasional escorted walk.

So how did he get his injury?

While some previous detainees were allowed letters from home, it seems that North Korea denied Otto any contact with the outside world. His only break from the interrogations was likely watching North Korean propaganda films. The psychic trauma of all this has sent previous detainees into crushing depressions, and even driven some to attempt suicide….

Fred and Cindy Warmbier, Otto’s parents

“The staff at Friendship Hospital said they received Otto the morning after the trial and that when he came in he was unresponsive,” Dr. Flueckiger told me. “They had to resuscitate him, then give him oxygen and put him on a ventilator, or he would die.” As Yun, the negotiator who helped free Otto, said, “The doctors were clear that he had been brought to the hospital within a day of his trial, and that he had been in that same room until I saw him.” [….]

Without knowing about the revised time line of Otto’s injury, experts I spoke to overwhelmingly identified some kind of accident—for example, an allergic reaction—as the most likely cause for Otto’s unconsciousness. The likelihood that his brain damage happened immediately after the sentencing, however, raises the possibility that he may have attempted suicide.

Imagine what Otto must have been feeling after hearing that he would spend the next 15 years laboring in what he probably imagined to be a gulag. After two months of being constantly reminded that the American government couldn’t help him, he probably felt that his family, his beautiful girlfriend (who called him her “soul mate”), and his Wall Street future were all lost. What else could he look forward to but physical and mental suffering?

At least two Americans imprisoned in North Korea have attempted suicide. After failing to cut his wrists, Aijalon Gomes chewed open a thermometer and drank its mercury, later explaining that he had given up on America’s ability to free him. Despite eventually having his release won by Jimmy Carter, Gomes was unable to escape his post-traumatic stress disorder, and seven years later burned himself to death. An American official said that Evan Hunziker tried to kill himself while being held, and less than a month after returning home, he shattered his own skull with a bullet in a run-down hotel. Robert Park reportedly tried to take his own life on returning.

Even if North Korea didn’t beat Otto, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t tortured, as the mental suffering the regime inflicted on him constitutes torture under the U.N. definition. As Tomás Ojea Quintana, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights for North Korea, said, “Otto’s rights were violated on every level.”

Obviously I can’t do this article justice with short excerpts. If you have the time, I recommend reading the whole thing. Clearly, Trump’s use of Warmbier’s family’s suffering is unconscionable.

Those are my offerings for today. What stories are you following?

 

 

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41 Comments on “Tuesday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

    I’m still overwhelmed with everything, but I think I’m beginning to get back on track. My mom is still in rehab, and I haven’t talked to her since Sunday night. I’ve called multiple times, but either she’s having trouble answer the phone or has been asleep when I called. My niece is going to be there tonight, so maybe I can get her then.

  2. bostonboomer says:

  3. bostonboomer says:

  4. bostonboomer says:

  5. dakinikat says:

    Voter purge frenzy after federal protections lifted, new report says

    Nine states with a history of racial discrimination are aggressively removing voters from the rolls, the Brennan Center for Justice says.

    https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/ncna893056

    “Two million fewer voters would have been purged over those four years if jurisdictions previously subject to federal pre-clearance had purged at the same rate” as other jurisdictions, the Brennan Center estimated.

    In Georgia, for example, 156 of the state’s 159 counties reported an increase in removal rates after the Voting Rights Act was changed. In 2016, advocates sued Georgia for making voter registration harder. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union sued a Georgia county and the state Secretary of State for its purge practices, too.

    “There’s cause for concern when the purge rate goes up this much at the same time we’re seeing controversial, sometimes illegal voter purge practice, in addition to changes to other voting laws that make it more difficult to participate,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and one of the report’s authors.

  6. dakinikat says:

    Old but good to review:

    NRA ADMITS ACCEPTING MONEY FROM 23 RUSSIA-LINKED DONORS
    BY GILLIAN EDEVANE ON 4/11/18

    https://www.newsweek.com/nra-admits-accepting-money-23-russia-linked-donors-882310

  7. dakinikat says:

    Maybe we should just let him golf for as long as possible …

  8. dakinikat says:

    Majority of Republicans Back Roe v. Wade, Poll Finds

    http://fortune.com/2018/07/23/roe-wade-republicans-poll/?xid=fortune-amp-fbshare

    The 1973 Supreme Court decision that provided a legal right to abortions in the U.S. has never had a higher level of support, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found. Among American voters, 71% expressed support while only 23% thought the decision should be reversed.

    More surprising, however, is that 52% of Republican voters polled expressed support for Roe v. Wade, a result at odds with policies put into place by GOP officials. Thirty-nine percent of Republicans polled opposed the landmark legal decision.

    Even as many U.S. states have imposed or attempted to impose severe restrictions on obtaining abortions—a recent trend that occurs in the shadow of a conservative-leaning Supreme Court—voters increasingly say they want the Roe decision to stand. In 1989, 58% of Americans polled supported it and 31% opposed. Support has, on average, increased as time has passed.

    • NW Luna says:

      Wish the moderate (sic) Republicans would be more vociferous against the rest of their party.

  9. dakinikat says:

    and in “other” news

  10. dakinikat says:

    and now we start paying for his dumb policies ….

    White House readies plan for $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers caught in Trump’s escalating trade war
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/white-house-readies-plan-for-12-billion-in-emergency-aid-to-farmers-caught-in-trumps-escalating-trade-war/2018/07/24/7bec9af4-8f4d-11e8-b769-e3fff17f0689_story.html?utm_term=.633ee868ab4b

    plus this:

    Trump is trying to mollify Republicans and business groups, who have increasingly complained that his trade approach is hurting broad sections of the economy.

    Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Tuesday he has heard from a number of businesses in his state that the primary beneficiaries of Trump’s tariffs are overseas competitors that aren’t being hit with higher prices on their materials.

    Trump is trying to mollify Republicans and business groups, who have increasingly complained that his trade approach is hurting broad sections of the economy.

    Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Tuesday he has heard from a number of businesses in his state that the primary beneficiaries of Trump’s tariffs are overseas competitors that aren’t being hit with higher prices on their materials.

  11. dakinikat says:

  12. dakinikat says:

    Ah, no pj party for D’oh Hair Furor … guess hes’ s not that into orange lil bitties

    Kremlin: Russia not ready to accept Trump invite to Washington
    http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/398609-kremlin-russia-not-ready-to-accept-trump-invite-to-second-summit

    A top Kremlin aide on Tuesday said Russia is not ready to accept President Trump’s invitation to a second summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the U.S.

    • NW Luna says:

      Interesting. Playing hard to get, or just twisting the kompromat rope from afar? Or all the White House is already bugged.

  13. NW Luna says:

    Nice!

  14. dakinikat says:

    • Jslat says:

      Watched Rachel Maddow tonight. The W Hite House and Russia have disappeared the exchange between Reuters reporter and Putin about whether he wanted Trump to win and did he direct officers of his Government to help. Putin answered Yes I did Yes I did because he was talking about normalizing US/Russia relations. The WH transcript AND video have edited the exchange and R has cut the entire exchange from their transcript.

      WH coordination with Russia.

      You didn’t see it you didn’t read it!!!!!!!!!

  15. dakinikat says:

    Trump pulled another Boy Scout Jamboree moment …

    • dakinikat says:

      President Trump sought here Tuesday to temper a growing Republican rebellion over his escalating trade war, pleading with farmers to “be a little patient” and urged people not to believe the news reports they see and read.

      As his administration prepares a $12 billion bailout for farmers whose products face tariffs from China and other countries retaliating against Trump’s trade policies, the president implored Americans to keep faith in his strategy.

      Trump mocked the agriculture industry’s extensive efforts to persuade him to change course. “They have some of the greatest lobbying teams ever put together,” he said, taking pride in his unwillingness to be convinced. Ultimately, Trump argued, farmers “will be the biggest beneficiary” of his policies.

  16. dakinikat says:

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/7/24/17607138/2018-midterm-elections-predictions-generic-ballot-democrats

    With a little more than three months left until Election Day, Democrats seem to be strengthening their position to win control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

    Two data points will suffice to explain the situation right now:

    On Tuesday, the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball, one of the nation’s premier election forecasters, changed its ratings for 17 House districts — and all of them moved in favor of Democrats.

    Democrats’ lead in the generic ballot, if you go by the RealClearPolitics polling average, has quietly doubled (and then some) since the beginning of June, from a mere 3.2 percentage points to a healthy 7.1 points. That is roughly the margin political science nerds think they need.

  17. NW Luna says: