The news has been overwhelming since Monday morning dawned. I’m feeling overwhelmed and I was going to go with baby animals, but then I found some great historical photos on Twitter.
Trump just finished his insane speech to the UN. I couldn’t stand to listen to him, but I watched with the sound off and closed captions.
The headline from the speech was that Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and again called Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man.” He also called for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That obviously will not happen. So should we prepare for nuclear war?
In addition, Trump ranted about “America first” and said every nation should put itself first–except when he was ranting about Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS, and North Korea. He also threatened to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. According to the talking heads on MSNBC, there were audible gasps from the audience during at some points in the speech.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria has already devastated Dominica and is headed for Puerto Rico. The Washington Post: ‘Extremely dangerous’ Hurricane Maria churns toward Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; Jose to scrape Northeast coast.
The wicked 2017 hurricane season began delivering more punishing blows Tuesday as Hurricane Maria raked across the Caribbean with “potentially catastrophic” winds of 160 mph. To the north, Hurricane Jose churned on a path to brush the Northeast coast with raging surf and potentially damaging gusts.
Maria strengthened to the highest-level Category 5 on Tuesday after making landfall on the island of Dominica. The storm carries the potential to cause widespread destruction along its path from the central Lesser Antilles through Puerto Rico, including some areas battered earlier this month by the huge Hurricane Irma.
“Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday.
Jose is capable of producing coastal flooding and pockets of damaging wind from eastern Long Island to coastal Massachusetts, its effects are most likely to resemble those of a strong nor’easter — rather than a devastating hurricane.
It’s already pouring rain here, and I guess that’s going to continue through tomorrow. We haven’t seem much of the sun here lately, but that’s not a big deal. I just hope Maria slows down before she gets to you all down South.
We got big news in the Russia investigation last night. We learned that Paul Manafort was under surveillance under a FISA warrant beginning in 2014 and again before and after the inauguration while Trump was still talking to him on the phone. If you haven’t read the NYT and CNN stories, be sure to check them out. We also learned that the FBI raid on Manafort’s home was a “no-knock” warrant and agents surprised him in his bedroom.
Three reactions to these stories:
As Jim Comey might put it: Lordy, there appear to be tapes….
The Times’ revelation that Manafort has been informed that he will be indicted involves a pretty spare set of reported facts. In fact, there’s really only one fact: “The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.” The language here is not legally precise. It could mean that Manafort has been formally informed that he is an investigative “target”—a designation that means that prosecutors intend to ask a grand jury to indict him. It could, instead, suggest something less than that—a kind of verbal aggressiveness designed to put pressure on him to cooperate.
The significance of this is that it means that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has reached a critical stage—the point at which he may soon start making allegations in public. Those allegations may involve conduct unrelated to L’Affaire Russe—that is, alleged bad behavior by Manafort and maybe others that does not involve the Trump campaign—but which may nonetheless serve to pressure Manafort to cooperate on matters more central. Or they may involve conduct that involves his behavior with respect to the campaign itself. Note that if Manafort cooperates, we may not see anything public for a long time to come. Delay, that is, may be a sign of success. But in the absence of cooperation, the fireworks may be about to begin.
This is not the first indication in recent weeks that the Mueller investigation is nearing the litigation stage. The fact that Mueller’s staff executed a search warrant against Manafort in July—which was first reported Aug. 9 by the Washington Post—was telling, implying that the special counsel had shown a court probable cause of criminal activity.
That’s just a taste. Head over to Lawfare to read the whole thing. You won’t be sorry.
Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider: Raids, warrants, and wiretaps: The Trump-Russia probe ‘has reached a critical stage.’
Recent revelations about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference and potential collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign team indicate that the case has reached the point where Mueller may soon start announcing criminal charges.
The Wall Street Journal and CNN reported on Friday that Mueller had obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.
Legal experts said the warrant meant Mueller had been able to convince a federal judge that there was good reason to believe a foreign entity had committed a crime by making campaign contributions in the form of ads and the spread of fake news and that evidence of that crime would be found on Facebook.
Three days later, The New York Times reported that Mueller told Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, he was going to be formally charged with a crime following a raid on his Virginia home over the summer.
Mueller has also issued subpoenas to a Manafort spokesman, Jason Maloni, and former attorney, Melissa Laurenza, to testify before a federal grand jury.
Bertrand’s piece is partially a summary of the longer Lawfare article.
The Washington Post: The Daily 202: Mueller tightening the screws on Manafort. This one is useful summary of the stories that broke yesterday.
Mueller is also “turning up the heat on Facebook.” Vanity Fair:
Facebook is facing an unusual degree of scrutiny as Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors makes the social network a central focus of the Justice Department’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including how the platform was used to disseminate foreign propaganda and misleading news stories. Earlier this month, Facebook told congressional investigators that it sold about $100,000 worth of ads to a pro-Kremlin Russian troll farm that targeted U.S. voters. But while some lawmakers appeared frustrated by Facebook’s overly general answers to their inquiries, Mueller isn’t asking nicely.
The latest revelation could mark a turning point in Mueller’s investigation. In order to obtain a search warrant, the former F.B.I. director would have had to prove that he has evidence suggesting a crime occurred and that it occurred on Facebook. “He would have to sort of lay out evidence showing that this crime had occurred, not just merely say so, but records that he had obtained, testimony that had been given, or interviews that people gave to the F.B.I.,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told CBS News on Sunday. “It’s a very serious and significant move forward for the Mueller investigation.” Anyone who was part of that effort could be criminally liable, he added. Because Mueller has been looking at relatively specific, narrow crimes, Mariotti said he believes the special counsel’s office is “closing in on charging foreign individuals.” As Chris Smithwrote for Vanity Fair on Friday, some lawmakers believe that investigation could include a closer look at the election data operation run by Jared Kushner and Trump’s digital campaign chief, Brad Parscale, as well as their work with the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica.
More at the link.
Finally, long-time Trump toady Michael Cohen [was scheduled to appear] before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning. NBC News:
Cohen, who served as executive vice president and special counsel at the Trump Organization and continues to serve as the president’s personal attorney, is perhaps the closest associate to Trump outside of his immediate family. He will speak with professional staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday weeks after the president’s son and son-in-law spoke with it and other congressional panels looking into Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections.
According to congressional sources, the committee intends to pursue several lines of questioning with Cohen, with the goal of putting him on the record on key topics that have drawn scrutiny during the investigation, including potential direct contacts between Trump associates and people with close ties to the Kremlin.
Cohen had been mentioned by name in a dossier on Trump prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, alleging he attended a secret meeting in Prague in August 2016 to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets. Cohen has adamantly denied such a meeting, and his own attorney called the allegations “wholly unsubstantiated” and even “libelous” in a letter to leaders of the House Intelligence Committee in August.
Committee staff will also likely ask Cohen about emails he received in 2015 from Felix Sater, a former Trump associate with a criminal past, about a potential deal to open a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. Some of the emails were published by the New York Times in August.
UPDATE: Cohen’s appearance was cancelled because he violated an agreement not to speak to the media. He will now be subpoenaed.
As you know, the Republicans are making a last ditch effort to take health care away from Americans. Margaret Sanger-Katz at the NYT The Upshot: One Reason to Take the Latest Obamacare Repeal Seriously, and Three Reasons It Could Fail.
How seriously should Americans take the Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act?
The party has until the end of the month to repeal the health law without needing 60 Senate votes. That’s why the latest proposal, by Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is getting so much attention.
Their bill would eliminate the two big coverage programs created by Obamacare, and instead give blocks of money to state governments, with few limitations on how they can distribute them to provide health coverage to their residents. States would be free to eliminate Obamacare rules requiring that insurance cover a minimum package of benefits, and they could charge sick customers more than healthy customers.
It would also make major changes to Medicaid, reducing federal funding even for populations that were covered before Obamacare. The results would most likely be substantial reductions in the number of Americans with health coverage, and new challenges for Americans with pre-existing health conditions in some states.
There are elements of the bill that are likely to attract support from Republican lawmakers, and from some Republican governors. The policy is in line with many Republican lawmakers’ views that states are better able to manage their health programs than the federal government.
But the bill faces substantial challenges, both political and procedural. Here are three reasons the effort may not succeed — and one very important reason it might.
Read the reasons at the NYT link.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.
Where to begin? We’re still seeing the fallout from the news that broke yesterday about the late July predawn raid on Paul Manafort’s Virginia home, Trump is threatening war with North Korea and feuding with Mitch McConnell, and more info is coming out about the latest frightening climate change report, and the White House is just as chaotic as ever despite John Kelly’s efforts. I have no doubt that more crazy news will break before I finish this post.
I’ll start with the Manafort raid followup. First, it was a “no-knock” raid according to Jim Sciutto of CNN.
That means that the Special Counsel convinced a judge that Manafort might destroy evidence if he knew the FBI was at his front door. I guess it also means the FBI broke down his door. That’s huge.
From Just Security: FBI Search of Paul Manafort’s Home: What Does It Really Mean?
Mueller’s use of a search warrant tells us that he was able to establish on the basis of evidence, and to the satisfaction of a United States Magistrate-Judge, that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of a specific crime or crimes existed in the location to be searched. That standard is significantly higher than what is required to obtain a grand jury subpoena, which can be used to obtain any evidence that a grand jury (under the direction of a prosecutor) decides will be helpful to their investigation. Mueller’s resort to a search warrant shows, therefore, that his investigation has advanced, has identified specific potential crimes, and is zeroing in on key evidence. Since it was Manafort’s house that was searched, it is likely that he is implicated in the crimes, but that is not necessarily the case. Further, it should be clear that just because Mueller has now reached this stage in the investigation, it does not necessarily mean that Manafort or anybody else will be ultimately charged with crimes.
Now why did Mueller use a search warrant instead of a subpoena, particularly since Manafort’s attorney says that they have been cooperating with the investigation all along? I can think of four possible reasons for Mueller’s move (none of which are mutually exclusive).
Read the reasons at the link. Following the revelation of the raid, journalists and twitter users looked at the timeline of events and found some interesting Trump connections.
In light of the news about the raid of Manafort’s home, Trump’s tweets on the day of July 26 are of renewed interest. That was the day Trump abruptly posted a string of tweets announcing “that the United States government will not accept or allow [t]ransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” Last Friday, Politico reported that Trump’s declaration stunned White House and Department of Defense lawyers who had warned him against such a ban.
But more directly of interest are factually inaccurate tweets Trump posted later that day asking why Attorney General Jeff Sessions hadn’t moved to replace then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
This morning, Fox News reported more evidence that Trump likely knew about the raid on the morning it happened: Trump lawyer slams special counsel for ‘gross abuse’ in Manafort raid, challenges warrant.
A top lawyer for President Trump slammed the special counsel’s office over the FBI raid of former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s Virginia home, accusing investigators of committing a “gross abuse of the judicial process” for the sake of “shock value” – and employing tactics normally seen “in Russia not America.”
Trump attorney John Dowd leveled the complaints in an email sent to a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote about the Manafort raid. The email was obtained by Fox News.
The email reflects Trump’s legal team moving to protect the president, amid speculation that the raid could be part of a broader effort to squeeze Manafort for information on Trump.
Dowd, in his note, questioned the validity of the search warrant itself, calling it an “extraordinary invasion of privacy.” Dowd said Manafort already was looking to cooperate with congressional committees and said the special counsel never requested the materials from Manafort.
If Manafort informed Trump’s lawyers about the raid, they probably told Trump himself.
More on Mueller’s investigation of Manafort, and likely efforts to get him to flip on Trump:
Federal investigators sought cooperation from Paul Manafort’s son-in-law in an effort to increase pressure on President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, according to three people familiar with the probe.
Investigators approached Jeffrey Yohai, who has partnered in business deals with Manafort, earlier this summer, setting off “real waves” in Manafort’s orbit, one of these people said. Another of these people said investigators are trying to get “into Manafort’s head.”
Manafort, who is a focus of the broad federal and congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, is also under investigation for his business and real estate transactions, including some that involve Yohai.
That probe has accelerated in recent weeks, according to one of the people familiar with it….
It is unclear if investigators have secured cooperation from Yohai, who also hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. A lawyer for Yohai didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mueller’s team of investigators has sent subpoenas in recent weeks from a Washington grand jury to global banks for account information and records of transactions involving Manafort and some of his companies, as well as those of a long-time business partner, Rick Gates, according to people familiar with the matter.
The special counsel has also reached out to other business associates, including Manafort’s son-in-law and a Ukrainian oligarch, according to one of the people. Those efforts were characterized as an apparent attempt to gain information that could be used to squeeze Manafort, or force him to be more helpful to prosecutors.
As prosecutors gather many years of information about his financial affairs, Manafort could be dragged deeper into any number of legal disputes. He has a history of doing business with oligarchs and politicians in Ukraine and Russia that predates his political work for Trump, with payments routed through foreign banks and investments in U.S. real estate….
Part of the reason Manafort is getting intense early scrutiny is that Mueller is drawing on investigations that were well underway, including one by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, when he was appointed in May.
With prosecutors combing through his financial life, the 68-year-old has been toeing a fine line, cooperating with congressional requests for information about the campaign, and insisting he has nothing to hide from Mueller’s team of prosecutors who are delving into his past. Privately, his supporters question Mueller’s work to unearth conduct with no apparent connection to the 2016 election.
North Korea appears to be winning the war of words with Trump.
The Atlantic: North Korea Answers Trump’s Vague Threats With Specific Ones.
President Trump seemed to draw a red line Tuesday when he warned North Korea that continued threats against the United States would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The next day, North Korea crossed it.
Or at least it announced, in unusually specific terms, how it could. The country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday night issued a statement that said the North is “seriously examining the plan for an enveloping strike at Guam through simultaneous fire of four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets in order to interdict the enemy forces on major military bases on Guam and to signal a crucial warning to the U.S.” The statement, citing the North’s Strategic Rocket Forces head General Kim Rak Gyom, added that the plan would be finished by mid-August before going to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for approval.
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” the general said, in apparent reference to Trump, whose ultimatum he described as a “load of nonsense.”
The announcement, coming a day after the North threatened Guam in vaguer terms, is stunning not only as an escalation, but also for the level of detail with which it describes the proposed strike. The statement spells out the number of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that would be involved (four), how far they would fly (approximately 2,085 miles), their exact flight path (they would traverse the three Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima, and Koichi), plus how long all of this would take (about 20 minutes), and the earliest the plan would be ready (mid-August, so, conservatively, within a few days). And it takes care to specify that the end point of the missiles is not Guam itself, but the waters off its eastern coast (18 to 25 miles off, to be exact).
Jeffrey Lewis at Foreign Policy: The Game Is Over and North Korea Has Won.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea has a large stockpile of compact nuclear weapons that can arm the country’s missiles, including its new intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting the United States. That’s another way of saying: game over.
Also: I told you so.
There are really two assessments in the Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press. Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed.
These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial. Both intelligence assessments are consistent with what the North Koreans have been saying for some time, for reasons I outlined in a column here at Foreign Policy immediately after the September 2016 nuclear test titled, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think: This is now a serious nuclear arsenal that threatens the region and, soon, the continental United States.”
Continue reading at Foreign Policy.
On the Trump-McConnell spat:
A burgeoning feud between President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could have significant ramifications for the GOP’s once-ambitious policy agenda.
Analysts say the war of words could be another stumbling block for various Republican plans after limited success in their first seven months of power in Washington.
“The Trump/McConnell war of words has zero upside for the GOP agenda and is potentially limit-down,” Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group. “It is breathtaking in its dysfunctionality.”
Isaac Boltansky, a political analyst at the research firm Compass Point, told Business Insider that the words are a stark example of the divide that exists between the two.
“I think the state of political rhetoric is concerning for both the GOP’s legislative agenda and the fiscal deadlines in September,” Isaac Boltansky, a political analyst at the research firm Compass Point, told Business Insider. “Trump and McConnell are linchpins in the legislative process, and these comments suggest a deep divide in both tone and substance.”The cracks are starting to show at a critical time for the GOP agenda, as necessary deadlines and a massive tax reform fight loom on the horizon.
Read more at the BI link.
White House Insanity Updates
New York Magazine: Sebastian Gorka Thinks the Minnesota Mosque Attack May Have Been a False Flag.
In the early morning hours of August 5, someone hurled an improvised explosive device at a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota. None of the roughly 20 early morning worshippers were injured, but the blast broke windows and began a small fire, filling the building with smoke. The mosque’s executive director told a local TV station that “one of our congregation members came out immediately and he saw a truck fleeing from the parking lot, running at very high speed.” The FBI is investigating; no arrests have been made. On Sunday, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton called the attack “an act of terrorism.”
But the response from the Trump administration has been predictable yet disturbing: almost complete silence. President Trump has not issued a statement or tweeted about the Minnesota attack, preferring to direct his attention to other pressing matters, like Senator Richard Blumenthal’s Vietnam record. (The Department of Homeland Security did issue a strong statement condemning the attack.)
In a Tuesday appearance on MSNBC, Nazi-ish quasi–White House adviser Sebastian Gorka put forth a bizarre justification for the radio silence: The attack, you see, may have been perpetrated by the left.
“There’s a great rule: All initial reports are false,” Gorka said. (Editor’s note: This is a terrible rule.) “You have to check them; you have to find out who the perpetrators are,” Gorka continued. “We’ve had a series of crimes committed — alleged hate crimes by right-wing individuals in the last six months — that turned out to actually have been propagated by the left. So let’s wait and see, let’s allow the local authorities to provide their assessments, and then the White House will make its comments.” Responding to Stephanie Ruhle’s assertion that Trump had no problem immediately commenting on a London terror attack in June, Gorka countered that it was obvious in that case who the perpetrators were — ignoring the fact that Trump tweeted out a Drudge Report story written before any facts were known. Ruhle also made the eminently reasonable point that “you don’t have to make a statement about who did it, but you can make a public statement about how terrible it would be to attack a building of worship.” “That’s fine,” Gorka responded unconvincingly. “And I’m sure the president will do that.”
Anthony Scaramucci is no longer in the White House, but he’s still making news. The Washington Post: The Mooch as Monica Lewinsky? Scaramucci’s saga keeps getting stranger.
Anthony Scaramucci keeps complaining about the interview that cost him his job as White House communications director. And in doing so, he keeps betraying how amateur it was that the White House ever hired him.
When the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza first reported on Scaramucci’s vulgar comments about his then-White House colleagues two weeks ago, Scaramucci said he would tone down the language. He then apparently decided to get a little more combative, suggesting the interview wasn’t meant to be published and that a fellow Italian American like Lizza should have known he was just B.S.-ing.
And now that Lizza published additional comments from the interview Wednesday, Scaramucci is trying a new tack: Accusing Lizza of recording him without his knowledge by comparing him to a figure from the Bill Clinton sex scandal, Linda Tripp.
Go to the WaPo to read the whole ridiculous story.
I’ll get to the climate change news in the comment thread. This post is way too long.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
I’m quite a bit behind schedule this morning. I’m still in Indiana with my Mom, and we had to have some workmen come by this morning. I’m also trying to get organized for my drive back to Boston over the weekend, so I’m somewhat tired and stressed out.
Anyway, I’m working on a post that I will put up either later today or when I get back home. For now, here’s a TGIF link dump/open thread.
Today’s top stories
The Sony Hack is getting lots of attention.
NYT editorial, Sony and Mr. Kim’s Thugs. Here’s the gist:
Corporations, even large ones like Sony, cannot stand up to a rogue state and shadowy hacker armies all by themselves. That’s why the Obama administration needs to take a strong stand on this and future attacks. Officials said on Thursday that they were considering a “proportional response.”
Retaliation by the Obama administration over this attack would risk escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and between North Korea and Japan, where Sony’s corporate parent is based. However, there are things the United States can do. Although there are already heavy sanctions on North Korea, there may be ways to inflict more economic pain.
Washington could seek an international panel to investigate the attack and demand condemnation by the United Nations Security Council. The United States also needs to work with Japan and South Korea, two other regular targets of North Korean hacking, to improve their defenses and develop common responses like imposing sanctions.
China, North Korea’s main ally and benefactor, remains the best check on the Kim regime; experts say most North Korean hackers are based in China. But China has its own history of hacking American government and industry computers and has resisted Washington’s requests for talks on how to handle hacking attacks and their aftermath.
The international community needs to speed up work on norms on what constitutes a cyberattack and what the response should be. If China and the United States are unable to work together in this critical area, the Internet will become a free-for-all and everyone will pay the price.
Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea seven years ago, told CNN that he thinks there are 1,800 cyberwarriors in the agency stationed around the world. But he says even the agents themselves don’t know how many others work for the secretive group, called Bureau 121, whose mission is to “conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states.”
The South Korean government thinks Bureau 121 is the agency at the heart of numerous cyberattacks from North Korea against elements in foreign countries, a government official who requested to be anonymous told CNN on Thursday.
North Korea’s hacking capabilities have become a global talking point recently, after a massive hack of Sony Pictures — the studio behind “The Interview,” a comedy depicting the assassination of Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong Un. That was followed by warnings that the movie not be shown in theaters…
From Hollywood to Washington, the outrage is spreading over Sony Pictures’ decision to cancel a movie release following a cyber attack and threats from a group of North Korea-backed hackers.
Politicians urged Sony not to back down in the face of threats tied to the release of the controversial comedy “The Interview,” and then began lashing out when the studio made it clear it has no further plans to release the film, which depicts an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un….
FBI investigators tracked the hackers who broke into Sony’s servers, published private information and threatened moviegoers back to the North Korean regime, U.S. law enforcement officials told CNN on Wednesday. The North Korean regime slammed the movie this summer as “terrorism and a war action.”
And despite the hackers’ threat to attack movie theaters, the Department of Homeland Security has said “there is no credible intelligence” supporting an active plot against movie theaters.
EXCLUSIVE: As it begins to dawn on everyone in Hollywood the reality that Sony Pictures was the victim of a cyberterrorist act perpetrated by a hostile foreign nationon American soil, questions will be asked about how and why it happened, ending with Sony cancelling the theatrical release of the satirical comedy The Interviewbecause of its depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of those issues will be this: Why didn’t anybody speak out while Sony Pictures chiefs Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton were embarrassed by emails served up by the media, bolstering the credibility of hackers for when they attached as a cover letter to Lynton’s emails a threat to blow up theaters if The Interview was released?
Read the interview with Clooney at the link.
The Daily Beast, Paramount Bans Showing ‘Team America’.
Three movie theaters say Paramount Pictures has ordered them not to show Team America: World Police one day after Sony Pictures surrendered to cyberterrorists and pulled The Interview. The famous Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, Capitol Theater in Cleveland, and Plaza Atlanta in Atlanta said they would screen the movie instead of The Interview, but Paramount has ordered them to stop. (No reason was apparently given and Paramount hasn’t spoken.)Team America of course features Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, as a singing marionette.
Apparently, both Team America: World Police and The Interview are chock full of racist memes about Asians.
North Korea Is Not Funny. Let’s be clear: The Interview isn’t a courageous act of defiance against a dictator, by Adrien Hong at The Atlantic.
In recent months, the uproar over The Interview, a comedy about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has triggered an escalating set of reactions: retaliatory threats from North Korean officials; a sophisticated cyberattack on Sony Pictures, reportedly orchestrated by North Korea; a pledge by the hackers to physically attack theaters showing the film; and now, on Wednesday, Sony’s decision to cancel the movie’s December 25 release altogether, as movie-theater chains began backing out of screenings. The latest development is an act of craven self-censorship and appeasement—a troubling precedent by the Free World’s leading culture-makers. But rightful calls to defend freedom of expression and go ahead with the movie are also mixing with a far more dubious strain of thinking: that the film itself is a form of defiance against a dictatorial regime. It is not.
In The Interview, directed by the Canadian comics Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, a celebrity journalist (James Franco) and his producer (Rogen), tired of producing meaningless content, score a major scoop: an interview with Kim Jong Un (Randall Park). The CIA learns about the trip and recruits the two to kill the leader—a task that, judging from reports and leaked footage, someone eventually succeeds in doing.
This film is not an act of courage. It is not a stand against totalitarianism, concentration camps, mass starvation, or state-sponsored terror. It is, based on what we know of the movie so far, simply a comedy, made by a group of talented actors, writers, and directors, and intended, like most comedies, to make money and earn laughs. The movie would perhaps have been better off with a fictitious dictator and regime; instead, it appears to serve up the latest in a long line of cheap and sometimes racism-tinged jokes, stretching from Team America: World Police to ongoing sketches on Saturday Night Live.
It’s a thoughtful article. I need to go back and give it a careful read.
In other news . . .
Bloomberg View, Hillary Clinton Secretly Pushed Cuba Deal for Years, by Josh Rogin.
Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday’s historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House.
From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government. According to current and former White House and State Department officials and several Cuba policy experts who were involved in the discussions, Clinton was also the top advocate inside the government for ending travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and reversing 50 years of U.S. policy to isolate the Communist island nation. Repeatedly, she pressed the White House to move faster and faced opposition from cautious high-ranking White House officials.
After Obama announced the deal Wednesday, which included the release of aid contractor Alan Gross, Clinton issued a supportive statement distributed by the National Security Council press team. “As Secretary of State, I pushed for his release, stayed in touch with Alan’s wife Judy and their daughters, and called for a new direction in Cuba,” she said. “Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power.”
But according to the progs, Hillary is a triangulating warmonger. Hmmmmm . . .
A bipartisan, independent panel scrutinizing the U.S. Secret Service after a man with a small knife in his pocket jumped the perimeter fence and made it deep inside the White House is recommending sweeping changes at the agency.
The Secret Service’s “paramount mission” of protecting the president and other high-ranking officials “allows no tolerance for error,” and a “single miscue, or even a split-second delay, could have disastrous consequences for the nation and the world,” warns the panel’s final report, commissioned by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson after the September breach.
Read the recommendations at the link.
The New Yorker, The Unidentified Queen of Torture, by Jane Mayer.
The NBC News investigative reporter Matthew Cole has pieced together a remarkable story revealing that a single senior officer, who is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.—a woman who he does not name—appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.
Had the Senate Intelligence Committee been permitted to use pseudonyms for the central characters in its report, as all previous congressional studies of intelligence failures, including the widely heralded Church Committee report in 1975, have done, it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable. Many people who have worked with her over the years expressed shock to NBC that she has been entrusted with so much power. A former intelligence officer who worked directly with her is quoted by NBC, on background, as saying that she bears so much responsibility for so many intelligence failures that “she should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done.”
Instead, however, she has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military, most recently working as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world. (She was also, in part, the model for the lead character in “Zero Dark Thirty.”)
According to sources in the law-enforcement community who I have interviewed over the years, and who I spoke to again this week, this woman—whose name the C.I.A. has asked the news media to withhold—had supervision over an underling at the agency who failed to share with the F.B.I. the news that two of the future 9/11 hijackers had entered the United States prior to the terrorist attacks. As I recount in my book “The Dark Side,” the C.I.A. got wind that one of these Al Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar, had obtained a multiple-entry visa into the United States eighteen months before 9/11. The agency also learned, months before the attacks, that another Al Qaeda operative, Nawaf al-Hazmi, had flown into Los Angeles. Yet the C.I.A. appears to have done nothing. It never alerted the F.B.I., which had the principle domestic authority for protecting the U.S. from terror attacks. Its agents had, in fact, been on the trail of at least one of the hijackers previously, but had no way of knowing that he had entered the United States. Nor did the C.I.A. alert the State Department, which kept a “TIPOFF” watch list for terror suspects.
Police Chief Art Acevedo suspended two officers in November for making jokes about rape victims. The Austin Police Association said at the time that the respective three-day and five-day suspensions were “fair and appropriate.” The incident took place after a local attorney had released a video in which the two Austin police officers are laughing and one of the officers comments: “Go ahead and call the cops. They can’t un-rape you.”
Recently, offensive comments were made to KUT’s reporter Joy Diaz, while she was covering a police-related story….
Just to set the scene, this reporter was at the police union’s building waiting to interview the head of the union. That’s when veteran officer [Andrew] Pietrowski approached me and started talking about the media fall-out over the video tape of NFL running back Ray Rice punching and knocking out his then-fiancé in a hotel elevator. Rice was suspended by the NFL and was released by his team.
Pietrowski says the event was blown out of proportion by the media. That’s when he explained.
“Now, stop and think about this. I don’t care who you are. You think about the women’s movement today, [women say] ‘Oh, we want to go [into] combat,’ and then, ‘We want equal pay, and we want this.’ You want to go fight in combat and sit in a foxhole? You go right ahead, but a man can’t hit you in public here? Bulls–t! You act like a whore, you get treated like one!”
Pietrowski retired from the force after learning that KUT planned to reveal his comments on the air.
S0 . . . . what else is happening? Please post links to the stories that interested you in the comment thread, and Happy Friday!
Man, I can’t seem to get my solid together today…
Anyway, here are your cartoons for your Friday Funnies!
A whole lotta cartoons tonight! Have a lovely evening, and of course this is an open thread….
Now for some laughs.
First this bit of reality, seriously…you can’t make this shit up. Insane Republican Says ‘If Babies Had Guns They Wouldn’t Be Aborted’ (IMAGE)
It sounds so stupid it’s easy to doubt the truth of it, but a Republican politician has actually suggested, as a campaign slogan, bumper stickers that say, “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” Here’s a screencap of the awe-inspiring Tweet:
Geez, that is beyond morbid.
Awe-inspiring, of course, through the staggering amount of idiocy. The most interesting part of the bumper sticker is the “Vote Pro-Life!” bit, because the suggestion that pregnant women seeking an abortion or the doctor doing the procedure should be shot doesn’t seem pro-life at all. It seems, in fact, murderously anti-abortion and anti-choice, but nothing more.
Alright, that isn’t a funny way to start a comic post, but damn if that isn’t a severely twisted thought process. I just can’t understand what makes these conservatives tick.
Now for some giggles:
Now for some laughs at Kim Jong Un’s expense…
That one reminds me of this scene from Best in Show:
Ha, pine nut….walnut.
My Nana would misread the contents of chocolate covered nuts candy boxes out loud, it is one of my memories of her….Brazil nut, cashew nut….only she would say, “brasier nut…cashmere nut.” You can imagine the laughs we had on Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.
This last cartoon is for Boston Boomer:
Have a great night, this is an open thread.
I can’t believe it is Friday! This spring-break week has gone by so fast for me. It could be that it is because I have been asleep for most of it, as most of you know….I had a seizure a while back. The doctor put me on Topamax, which I started to take on Monday.
It is amazing to me just how a small dose of medication can give a person such a wide range of side effects. I am being worked up to a full dose, and the tingling in my fingers and toes is supposed to become less noticeable in the weeks to come…but damn it is freaky!
It feels like my hands and feet have fallen asleep…and no amount of movement will wake them up. Not only that, but my eyes feel as if they are popping out of my head. (That is when I am awake, because this medicine is knocking me out.) Like I said, these side effects are supposed to diminish with time. And to be honest, this is nothing compared to the shit I experienced with Keppra.
Anyway, I take my dope-a-max twice a day, and it really kicks in when I usually write the evening reads post. So for the next couple of weeks I am going to take a break from the weekly evening news round-ups. However, I can’t stop the Friday Nite Lite post, those are my favorite ones of the week. Soooooo, I am writing this post at 6:30 in the morning on Friday, before I take my pill.
Here are your cartoons for the week, I think it is safe to say we all need a laugh tonight!
I am going to start with three from my man Luckovich, he has been on a roll lately and damn if these aren’t fabulous.
That one about Dubya’s Library made me laugh like hell!
The rest of these cartoons are in no particular order…hope you enjoy them!
Ain’t that the truth?
Yesterday we lost one of the most outstanding film critics ever…Roger Ebert.
This next cartoon is about a little news item from a couple of weeks ago…Taken For A Ride by Political Cartoonist Tim Campbell
50 Years of the Rolling Stones? Damn…has it been that long? It’s enough to make a grown man cry…
This is an open thread.
Archaeologists from Italy recently announced the discovery of a “gate to hell” in Turkey. From Discovery News:
Known as Pluto’s Gate — Ploutonion in Greek, Plutonium in Latin — the cave was celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology and tradition.
Historic sources located the site in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, now called Pamukkale, and described the opening as filled with lethal mephitic vapors.
“This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death,” the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC — about 24 AD) wrote.
“I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell,” he added.
Announced this month at a conference on Italian archaeology in Istanbul, Turkey, the finding was made by a team led by Francesco D’Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento.
Among the ruins at the site D’Andria and his colleagues found
Ionic semi columns and, on top of them, an inscription with a dedication to the deities of the underworld — Pluto and Kore.
D’Andria also found the remains of a temple, a pool and a series of steps placed above the cave — all matching the descriptions of the site in ancient sources.
D’Andria himself saw birds killed by carbon dioxide fumes because they got too close to the opening to the “underworld.”
According to an article at iTech Post, “‘Gate To Hell’ In Turkey Is One Of Many Hellish Portals.”
The idea of an Earthly entranceway to hell goes all the way back to Greek and Roman mythology. The portal in Turkey was referenced by Cicero and the Greek geographer Strabo as emitting deadly vapors that caused any animal that entered it to die. But it is far from the only hellish cave portrayed by the Greeks and Romans.
In the “Rape of Persephone,” Hades abducts the spring-goddess Persephone into the underworld through a cleft in a Sicilian field. Aeneas also makes a trip to the underworld through a cave near Lake Avernus on the Bay of Naples and Odysseus makes a visit through Lake Acheron, located in northwest Greece. Orpheus travels to the underworld to retrieve Eurydice through a cave entrance at Taenarum or Cape Tenaron, located in the southern Peloponnese.
Portals to hell were also believed to exist during the medieval period. Mount Etna was thought to be an entrance to hell during this time, as was Iceland’s Mount Hekla, called the “Gateway to Hell,” which has recently shown signs of an impending eruption. Lacus Curtius was an entranceway in the Roman Forum where, according to legend, a soldier rode into the entrance to close it, never returning again. St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland, considered an entrance to hell, was a famous pilgrimage site.
Supposed gates to hell abound in other portions of the globe as well, from Nicaragua to Fengdu in China.
I think there is another entrance to hell in on Capital Hill in Washington DC called the U.S. Congress.
There’s another big historical discovery in the news–this one is about more recent history. An old 1945 article from Life Magazine was recently rediscovered that reports on a plan by the Nazis to develop a satellite that would act as a giant “space mirror.” Supposedly it would use solar power to destroy whole cities.
There’s a piece about it at The Daily Mail that includes plenty of visual aids:
It sounds like something only a Bond villain would propose, but the Nazis planned a mile-wide ‘space gun’ powered by the sun.
The giant mirror could be used to focus the sun on a target – like the magnifying glasses used by children to create fire.
A long-forgotten article from Life magazine in 1945 revealed how ‘US Army technical experts came up with the astonishing fact that German scientists had seriously planned to build a “sun gun”’.
The giant orbital mirror would ‘focus the sun’s rays to a scorching point on the Earth’s surface’. The German army, readers were told, ‘hoped to use such a mirror to burn an enemy city or to boil part of an ocean’.
The idea came to renowned rocket scientist Hermann Oberth in 1923.
Of course the weapon was never built. The Nazis had lots of crazy ideas that would probably appeal to some wacko world leaders of today like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who is reportedly fantasizing about blowing up the world in present day 2013.
I know everyone thinks this is hilarious, and it is, but there are scenarios in which this sabre rattling could lead to more serious consequences. Last night the Christian Science Monitor asked: Can US trust North Korea leader to act rationally?
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s saber-rattling rhetoric and threats to restart his nuclear program could be a rational move to garner more in the way of concessions in the world community and much-needed political street-credentials among the populace and troops he commands.
But just how confident can Pentagon officials be about whether Mr. Kim is a rational actor?
Could he, in fact, be young, reckless, without great political savvy and in grave danger of making a move that could set off a chain of events – including an inadvertent war – with dire consequences?
The CSM reports that there are indications that Kim may be losing control of his military forces–there have been reports of units defecting to China. Although they were sent back, Kim may feel the need to assert his power by making these threats against other countries.
At NBC News, M. Alex Johnson lists some possible ways that things could “get out of hand” in North Korea. Read about it at the link if you’re interested.
David Blair, chief foreign correspondent at the Daily Telegraph asks: Could North Korea start a war by mistake?
When a country seems on the point of going to war, its adversaries try to identify the key signals that would show it was serious. Forget rhetorical bluster, what would country X be doing if war really was imminent? Today, North Korea is the focus of that burning question.
No one can outdo North Korea when it comes to blood-curdling threats, missile tests and, indeed, the controlled detonation of nuclear weapons. But experience shows that none of these make war inevitable.
Instead, experts have settled on the view that the Kaesong industrial park, a facility found inside North Korea but served by a workforce from the South, could be the real indicator. Through every recent crisis, Kaesong has continued operating as normal, largely because North Korea’s bankrupt regime earns desperately needed hard currency from this facility.
Now, however, things are changing. North Korea has stopped workers from the South from crossing its border to reach Kaesong. It has not gone the whole way and shut down the site altogether – and South Korean workers who stay overnight at Kaesong are being allowed to leave. In the event of war, they would probably be taken hostage. If Kaesong represents a canary in the mineshaft, then the bird is not dead yet, but it appears to be coughing and spluttering.
All these pundits are focusing on whether or not Kim is a “rational actor,” but I think we also have to consider that we have some politicians over here who are always looking for ways to get involved in another war.
In other news,
Yesterday I was reading about a young couple in their late teens who disappeared in a California forest over the weekend. They had called police to say they were lost but thought they were near their car. Authorities had been searching for them since. This morning it’s being reported that the young man has been found, but his female companion is still missing. ABC News reports:
Family and friends are sharing mixed emotions today in Trabuco Canyon, Calif., after one of two missing teen hikers was found alive Wednesday night.
Nicholas Cendoya, 19, was located by another hiker, who was not a part of the search efforts, in a thick brush shortly before sundown, officials said.
Authorities have shifted their attention to the whereabouts of Kyndall Jack, 18. She was with Cendoya hiking in Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest when the pair went missing Sunday night….
Cendoya was located about a half-mile south of where much of the search had focused.
“He is weak, severely dehydrated and slightly confused,” Division Chief Kris Concepcion of the Orange County Fire Authority said.
We don’t yet know how they got separated. I hope Kyndall can be found. People can get very confused out in the wilderness. You wouldn’t believe how many people disappear or are killed in accidents in National Parks and Forests. It’s something I’ve read a bit about.
Yesterday another law enforcement officer was murdered, this time in West Virginia.
Investigators arrested a suspect but were still searching for a motive Wednesday after a West Virginia sheriff known for his tough stance on drug dealers was shot dead in his patrol vehicle.
Mingo County Sheriff Walter E. “Eugene” Crum was eating lunch just blocks away from a courthouse when he was gunned down, officials said.
Tennis Melvin Maynard, 37, is accused in the killing, West Virginia State Police First Sgt. Michael Baylous said.
The suspect parked his car close to the sheriff’s SUV and shot through the window twice, hitting the sheriff twice in the head, according to a state official who was briefed on the investigation.
Maynard was shot by a sheriff’s deputy after a chase and is now in the hospital. So far his motive is unknown, but authorities seem concern that this case could somehow related to the murders of a prisons chief in Colorado and a district attorney, his wife, and an assistant district attorney in Texas. The deaths in Colorado and Texas are linked to white supremacist groups.
I wrote about this and about the Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs in my Tuesday morning post, so you can find more details there. If you didn’t read it, I highly recommend the Daily Beast article I quoted, “Why I fear the Aryan Brotherhood and you should too.”
The Texas DA’s had been involved in a major prosecution of the “Aryan Brotherhood of Texas,” one of the federal prosecutors in the case, Jay Hileman, withdrew for “security reasons.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Jay Hileman announced his withdrawal from a racketeering case involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas on Tuesday in an email to defense lawyers, Houston attorney Richard O. Ely II told The Times.
Investigators have scrutinized the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas in recent days after two Kaufman County prosecutors were killed in attacks that followed their office’s assistance in a major federal indictment against 34 alleged leaders and members of the gang in November.
The gang had allegedly threatened to attack law enforcement officials connected to the racketeering case, though officials still have not named a suspect in the attacks against Kaufman County Assistant Dist. Atty. Mark Hasse and Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland, who was killed with his wife….
On Wednesday, Tim S. Braley, an assistant U.S. attorney and deputy chief on a Justice Department drug and gangs task force, filed a notification that he would be joining the case as lead counsel with David Karpel, who had been previously working the case with Hileman.
The Daily Beast has another scary article today–this time specifically on the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, which is an independent group built on the model of the prison gangs which began in California’s San Quentin prison in the 1960s.