I feel like a zombie this morning. I’ve been house-sitting for my brother for the past two weeks, and it has been somewhat disorienting. I’m finally going to go back home sometime this afternoon. I guess my state of mind is a combination of being away from home and following the constant breaking news that never seems to end. I don’t even know where to begin today.
You’ve probably already heard the latest news: Hurricane Harvey is still raging; Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio; Trump is on his way to Texas; Multiple Russia stories broke yesterday and over the weekend; North Korea launched a missile that flew over Japan; Trump threatened North Korea again; and multiple Trump advisers have been dissing him.
The remainder of photos in this post are from the Houston disaster.
Links to recent stories in case you missed them:
New Yorker: Hurricane Harvey and Public and Private Disaster in Houston, by Jia Tolentino.
Washington Post: Harvey takes aim at Louisiana as Trump plans to survey stricken Texas.
Politico: How Washington Made Harvey Worse.
Advisers Dissing Trump
More interesting stories
Explosive allegations about Donald Trump made by online writers with large followings among Trump critics were based on bogus information from a hoaxer who falsely claimed to work in law enforcement.
Claude Taylor tweeted fake details of criminal inquiries into Trump that were invented by a source whose claim to work for the New York attorney general was not checked, according to emails seen by the Guardian. The allegations were endorsed as authentic and retweeted by his co-writer Louise Mensch.
The source’s false tips included an allegation, which has been aggressively circulated by Mensch and Taylor, that Trump’s inactive fashion model agency is under investigation by New York authorities for possible sex trafficking.
The hoaxer, who fed the information to Taylor by email, said she acted out of frustration over the “dissemination of fake news” by Taylor and Mensch. Their false stories about Trump have included a claim that he was already being replaced as president by Senator Orrin Hatch in a process kept secret from the American public.
“Taylor asked no questions to verify my identity, did no vetting whatsoever, sought no confirmation from a second source – but instead asked leading questions to support his various theories, asking me to verify them,” the source said in an email.
After being approached for comment by the Guardian on Monday, Taylor posted what he described as a “mea culpa” on Twitter. “As a ‘citizen journalist’ I acknowledge my error and do apologize,” he wrote.
Mensch denied using the bogus information and said her allegations about Trump’s model agency came from her own sources. Asked why she had retweeted Taylor’s false posts, Mensch said: “I don’t think anybody can vet anybody else’s sources.”
Read the rest at the Guardian. LOL!
Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.
TV and social media coverage showed that the site of his campaign rally, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president.
As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.
Hahahahahahaha! You may have seen on Twitter that the Trump people may have even advertised on Craigslist for paid actors to come to the rally, and still the space that holds only 5,000 was half-full.
Other sources claimed the ads were fake, but still funny, IMHO.
Sean Illing at Vox: 10 legal experts on why Trump can’t pardon his way out of the Russia investigation.
Last Friday, President Trump pardoned former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was convicted in July of criminal contempt after ignoring a court order to cease his signature immigration roundups but hadn’t yet been sentenced. Trump ignored the court’s judgment and ended the case without any formal Justice Department review.
To some, Trump’s decision is a sign that he’s preparing — or at least willing — to pardon people associated with the growing investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. Robert Bauer, a law professor at New York University and former White House counsel to President Obama, argued in the Washington Post that the pardon may be a “test run for shutting down the Russia investigation.”
I reached out to 10 legal experts and asked them if the Arpaio decision is a signal of how Trump might seek to undercut the Russia investigation. I also asked what it would mean for the investigation if Trump pardoned key players in the scandal like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, or Jared Kushner before any of them could be convicted.
While it’s impossible to predict what Trump will do, nearly all the experts I spoke to agree on one thing: If Trump does use his pardoning powers to thwart the Russia investigation, it’s very likely to backfire.
If someone like Flynn or Kushner were preemptively pardoned, he wouldn’t be able to plead the Fifth Amendment if he were called to testify against Trump. The Fifth Amendment protects citizens against self-incrimination. But if someone has been pardoned, they no longer face the threat of prosecution, and so they can’t use a desire to avoid incriminating themselves as an excuse not to answer a question.
So in addition to potentially obstructing justice, Trump would only leave himself — and his colleagues — more vulnerable if he decided to pardon anyone currently under investigation. Of course, that doesn’t mean he won’t pull the trigger anyway. But he might want to think long and hard about the implications before he does.
Read more at Vox.
Trump biographer Tim O’Brien: Felix Sater Is a Lean, Mean Trump-Russia Machine.
Felix Sater is back, and making it even more difficult for President Donald Trump to write off questions about his ties to Russia.
Among the many characters who have populated Trump’s checkered history in real estate, Sater is the guy with one of the diciest resumes. A career criminal with ties to both organized crime and federal law enforcement, he partnered with Trump for years on a series of high-profile and unsuccessful real estate deals, including the Trump Soho hotel and condominium in Manhattan.
On Monday, the New York Times and the Washington Post disclosed a series of emails involving Sater’s efforts in 2015 and 2016 to help the Trump Organization build a Trump Tower knock-off in Moscow. There’s is a little hitch that makes that noteworthy: Trump was also running for president at the time.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email to Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in 2015. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
According to Bloomberg News, Cohen recently told a congressional committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia that he debriefed Trump three times about the Moscow deal. But Cohen apparently had a different impression than Sater of the value of the deal, telling congressional investigators that it “was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
Head over to Bloomberg to read the rest.
One more from Politico: Bolton writes in op-ed he can’t get in to see Trump anymore.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton once enjoyed regular access to President Donald Trump, but can no longer get a hearing with him. “I requested a meeting with him and I was turned down,” Bolton told POLITICO, though he declined to offer further details.
Bolton went public with his complaint in an op-ed published Monday in National Review in which he laid out a blueprint to exit the Iran nuclear deal because he couldn’t deliver it to the president himself….
Bolton said in his op-ed that “staff changes” now prevent him from seeing the president. He wrote that although former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon had asked him to draw up a plan to extricate the United States from the Iran deal in late July, that plan never made it to Trump’s desk after Bannon was fired earlier this month.
Given news reports that the president was reluctant to recertify the nuclear agreement — and that the president asked to see additional options — Bolton is raising an eyebrow about why his plan wasn’t considered.
“The idea was I would go see him and, you know, the timing of the certification decision and Reince Priebus’s firing were not far apart,” he said. Priebus’s replacement as White House chief of staff, John Kelly, has limited the number of visitors to the Oval Office.
So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
I seem to have caught a little cold, nothing serious; but I’m a little slow this morning. Anyway, I have a few interesting stories for you, beginning with an amazing discovery that has stunned scientists and forced them to adjust their assumptions about human evolution. From the NYT: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins.
In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.
The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.
The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.
Now the experts are going to have to find a way to incorporate these new discoveries into their understanding of human history. The story offers several different possibilities from different scientists.
Hints at new hidden complexities in the human story came from a 400,000-year-old femur found in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos (“the pit of bones” in Spanish). The scientific team used new methods to extract the ancient DNA from the fossil….
Since the 1970s, Spanish scientists have brought out a wealth of fossils from the cave dating back hundreds of thousands of years. “The place is very special,” said Dr. Arsuaga, who has found 28 nearly complete skeletons of humans during three decades of excavations.
Based on the anatomy of the fossils, Dr. Arsuaga has argued that they belonged to ancestors of Neanderthals, which lived in western Asia and Europe from about 200,000 to 30,000 years ago.
But based on newly discovered methods for extracting DNA, researchers learned something very different. Read the rest of this fascination story at the NYT link above.
Yesterday the Washington Post published a new story by Barton Gellman, based on the data stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden: NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show. Except if you read the whole story you’ll learn that this is being done only to collect foreign intelligence; it’s not being done in the U.S. Data from Americans who are overseas could get caught up in the data collection, but the point is to track the locations of suspected terrorists.
The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.
One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.
In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.
Honestly, is anyone really surprised by this? I’m not saying it’s a wonderful thing, but, as I recall, tracing cell phone locations was the method used to catch Osama bin Laden. Not only that, but local police in the U.S. routinely use cell phone tracking to investigate crimes–and like the Feds, they have to get warrants to do so.
Anyone who didn’t know that you have no expectation of privacy when using a cell phone must have been living in a cave for a very long time. But if you really think the NSA is listening in on all of your personal phone calls and reading your text messages, you’re–quite frankly–nuts. The NSA would have to have millions of employees in order to sift through everyone’s data.
Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”
The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.
As noted in the article, data collected from Americans overseas isn’t protected by the Fourth Amendment; and the Supreme Court decided long ago that telephone call data is owned by the phone companies and that Americans have no expectation of privacy when talking on the phone. If we want to increase privacy protections, it will have to be done through legislation–not by whining about the NSA doing it’s job, which is to collect foreign intelligence. (A side note: a short time ago, former NSA analyst John Schindler offered some suggestions for “Reforming NSA from the Top.”) I wish journalists would devote as much energy to investigating why millions of Americans can’t get jobs and why so many of the ones who do have jobs can’t get paid a living wage as they do to telling us things we already knew or strongly suspected about NSA data collection.
Meanwhile, there are some troubling questions and revelations about some of the journalists who have been involved in releasing the Snowden files. As everyone knows by now, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras now have control of all of the data that Snowden stole. This data includes the names of all British and American intelligence agents. Greenwald and Poitras are currently working on developing a new news website, a project backed by libertarian Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Here’s an extensive profile of Omidyar by renegade investigative journalist MarkAmes.
Recently, Ames wrote another piece at Pando Daily questioning the ethics of Snowden’s cache of NSA data being controlled by two individuals who are beholden to one wealthy backer headlined Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.
Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?
Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.
It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.
Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.
I didn’t realize this until yesterday, but apparently Greenwald did not have the data on British intelligence originally; but he somehow forced the Guardian to turn it over to him before he resign from the newspaper. This may be the data that Greenwald’s husband David Miranda was caught with at Heathrow airport when he was detained there awhile back. The British Parliament is currently investigating the behavior of the Guardian and its editor Alan Rusberger. From the blog of BBC journalist Louise Mensch: Rusbridger admits shipping agents’ names – what now?
MPs today got Alan Rusbridger to admit a number of things he, and his paper had previously denied.
Firstly, that he shipped the names of GCHQ agents abroad to newspapers and bloggers. Mr. Rusbridger was reminded that this was a criminal offence, and said he had a public interest defence. He also, however, kept arguing that he hadn’t published any names, which rather blows up his public interest defence – it’s self-evident that you don’t need the names of intelligence agents to report on GCHQ spying, so why not redact them?
The fact is, Rusbridger did acknowledge that it put GCHQ agents at risk when he first shipped files to ProPublica. He redacted the names of GCHQ agents from those files, and he promised the government he had done so….
In Parliament today when asked why he didn’t redact the names he said there were 58,000 documents – essentially, he could be bothered to go through the <100 files he FedExed to ProPublica, but could not be bothered to go through the entire batch he sent to the NYT.
Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.
Perhaps worst of all, Rusbridger confirmed my very worst suspicions, which were that he hadn’t even read through the top secret files before shipping them. He redacted no names; he redacted no operational details; he didn’t even read them. And by “he” I mean any employee of the Guardian. Nobody at that paper read the 58,000 documents through, not even once, before sharing them in bulk.
Mensch updated that post with more information yesterday: HAS Rusbridger exposed thousands of GCHQ personnel? A commenter on the original post explained that in revealing the names of intelligence personnel to multiple people, Rusberger and the Guardian essentially destroyed their careers and seriously damaged British intelligence efforts. Here’s the comment:
A comment was left on that last blog that I have to reproduce. It shows that every agent exposed by Rusbridger has had their career ruined for the duration of it; none of them can ever work in the field again. Furthermore, the writer makes the compelling case that the NSA-GCHQ wiki, which the New York Times published extracts from, and the directories of staff interests like gay and lesbian clubs, ghost hunting clubs etc, mean that Rusbridger has actually sent abroad not just a handful of names, as he claimed to Parliament “there were names on power points” but actually thousands of GCHQ names.
Read the whole explanation at the link. I apologize for writing this before I nail down every detail, but I think this is important and it’s highly unlikely the corporate media will look into it since they could also culpable.
I’m afraid I rambled on too long on the NSA story, so I’ll just add a few more links that you might like to check out.
AP via Business Insider: A Period Of Bitterly Cold Temperatures Not Seen In A Decade Is About To Hit Parts Of The US
JM Ashby at The Daily Banter: Their Kind of Individual Mandate