Tuesday Reads: Twitter Trouble

Musk-Twitter-stake

Good Morning!!

I’m a daily user of Twitter, because it’s where I can find the very latest news, often before it’s on TV or published anywhere. Yesterday’s shock news was that Elon Musk bought Twitter and took the company private. Lots of people apparently deleted their Twitter accounts, and so many people tried to sign up for an app called “Counter Social” that the site crashed repeatedly.

I’ve briefly tried Counter Social, and so far I don’t think it will work for me. I agree with this thread:

Counter Social is owned and operated by a Twitter troll called “Jester Actual” whom I unfollowed long ago because of his weird tweets, so I’m not sure I want to use his platform. 

So I guess I’m going to stick with Twitter for now and see what happens. Obviously, I’m not happy about Twitter’s new owner either. I didn’t know that much about him until he started making noises about buying the company, but the guy seems to be a Trump-like monster. Here’s just one example from the Los Angeles Times in February: Horrific allegations of racism prompt California lawsuit against Tesla.

The N-word and other racist slurs were hurled daily at Black workers at Tesla’s California plant, delivered not just by fellow employees but also by managers and supervisors.

So says California’s civil rights agency in a lawsuit filed against the electric-vehicle maker in Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of thousands of Black workers after a decade of complaints and a 32-month investigation.

Tesla segregated Black workers into separate areas that its employees referred to as “porch monkey stations,” “the dark side,” “the slave ship” and “the plantation,” the lawsuit alleges.

Only Black workers had to scrub floors on their hands and knees, and they were relegated to the Fremont, Calif., factory’s most difficult physical jobs, the suit states.

So says California’s civil rights agency in a lawsuit filed against the electric-vehicle maker in Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of thousands of Black workers after a decade of complaints and a 32-month investigation.

Graffiti — including “KKK,” “Go back to Africa,” the hangman’s noose, the Confederate Flag and “F– [N-word]” — were carved into restroom walls, workplace benches and lunch tables and were slow to be erased, the lawsuit says….

The lawsuit comes in the wake of Tesla’s billionaire chief executive, Elon Musk, moving the company’s headquarters from Palo Alto to Austin, Texas, where he is building a major new assembly plant.

The state’s lawsuit suggests the relocation to a state known for looser enforcement is no coincidence, declaring it to be “another move to avoid accountability.”

Not only were Tesla’s Black workers subjected to “willful, malicious” harassment, but they were also denied promotions and paid less than other workers for the same jobs, the suit asserted. They were disciplined for infractions for which other workers were not penalized.

Read more at the LA Times.

Twitter workers are worried about what will happen now, according Elizabeth Dwoskin at The Washington Post: Twitter workers face a reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner.

Twitter employees reacted with shock and dismay Monday as a new reality sank in: Elon Musk — the world’s richest man, free speech defender and strong critic of Twitter — would be the company’s new owner.

On Twitter, in private messages and in interviews with The Washington Post,employees expressed fear about Musk’s $44 billion takeover. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal,along with board chair Bret Taylor, held an internal town hall on Monday afternoon in which the leaders tried to assure anxious staff but offered few direct answers.A central concern was that Muskwould attempt to break down safeguards to protect everyday users that staff had built over many years, according to the interviews and tweets, as well as audio from the town hall obtained by The Post.

Some tweeted tear-filled emoji and memes of people having emotional breakdowns, while others told The Post they were too in shock to speak. At Monday’s town hall, leaders were vague in response to questions about future layoffs, changes to the company’s approach to free speech and safety, and whether the company will continue to make money from advertising.

“Totally understand that this is entertainment for some,” one employee tweeted. “But please understand that this is certainly not entertainment for me.”

“The news today is so crazy I literally forgot I have COVID,” another tweeted.

Twitter employees who have worked long and hard to stop hate speech and public health misinformation on the platform were very concerned.

In dozens of internal messages obtained by The Post, workers expressed worries that the firebrand Musk could inflict damage to the company’s culture and make it harder for people to do their jobs. Observers and misinformation researchers echoed the criticism.

The company, which is based in liberal San Francisco and has more than 5,000 employees, has spent years building a progressive corporate culture that allows employees to say just about anything they want and to live anywhere they choose. Twitter was the first company to take action against former president Donald Trump for his tweets supporting Capitol rioters on Jan. 6, 2021, and engineering teams have spent years building tools to fight spam, disinformation and hate speech under an initiative known as healthy conversations.

“I don’t know any non-engineer who works on health issues who sees how this helps,” said a Twitter employee in an interview in response to questions about Musk’s ownership, referring to the company’s health division that enforces rules against harmful content such as hate speech and misinformation. “Most find it dispiriting.”

https___cdn.cnn.com_cnnnext_dam_assets_170106113815-trump-tweeting-illustrationAccording to Politico Playbook, Republicans are freaking out at the possibility of Trump getting his Twitter account back: Republicans to Trump: Stay away from Twitter.

The news that ELON MUSK is buying Twitter has thrown Washington into a tizzy over one major question: Will DONALD TRUMP return to his old favorite social media platform and start tweeting again?

As it turns out, no one is more petrified of this than members of Trump’s own party.  

On Monday night, in a series of calls and texts with several top GOP insiders, every single one of them told us that they hoped the former president stays the hell away from Twitter, lest he sink their chances at flipping the House and Senate. Some of his allies even think that a return to his old Twitter habits could damage his own brand ahead of a possible third presidential bid in 2024.

“If I’m a Democrat, I’d pray that Elon Musk puts Trump right back on Twitter,” said one House GOP leadership aide, who asked not to be named to speak candidly. “I don’t think it costs Republicans the House, but it certainly will elevate Trump’s opinions — and is going to put Republican candidates and members back having to answer for that.”

The person added: “It’s enough to create headaches — and it’s enough to probably cost us a couple seats.”

Some may find this a rather surprising reaction, given that many Republicans have both accused Big Tech of censoring conservative voices (the former president being the most prominent example) and showered praise on the Musk takeover. But as is often the case with the GOP and all things Trump, privately, they feel very differently.\

Media reactions to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter:

Shira Ovide at The New York Times: Buying Twitter, Elon Musk Will Face Reality of His Free-Speech Talk.

A decade ago, Twitter executives, including the chief executive, Dick Costolo, declared that the social media site was the “free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” The stance meant Twitter would defend people’s ability to post whatever they wished and be heard by the world.

Since then, Twitter has been dragged into morasses over disinformation peddlers, governments’ abuse of social media to incite ethnic violence and threats by elected officials to imprison employees over tweets they didn’t like. Like Facebook, YouTube and other internet companies, Twitter was forced to morph from hard-liner on free expression to speech nanny.

Today, Twitter has pages upon pages of rules prohibiting content such as material that promotes child sexual exploitation, coordinated government propaganda, offers of counterfeit goods and tweets “wishing for someone to fall victim to a serious accident.”

The past 10 years have seen repeated confrontations between the high-minded principles of Silicon Valley’s founding generation of social media companies and the messy reality of a world in which “free speech” means different things to different people. And now Elon Musk, who on Monday struck a deal to buy Twitter for roughly $44 billion, wades directly into that fraught history….

Soon, Mr. Musk will be the one confronting the gap between an idealized view of free speech and the zillion tough decisions that must be made to let everyone have a say.

His agreement to buy Twitter puts the combative billionaire, who is also the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, at the white-hot center of the global free-speech debate. Mr. Musk has not been specific about his plans once he becomes Twitter’s owner, but he has bristled when the company has removed posts and barred users, and has said Twitter should be a haven for unfettered expression within the bounds of the law…..

Mr. Musk is a relative dilettante on the topic and hasn’t yet tackled the difficult trade-offs in which giving one person a voice may silence the expression of others, and in which an almost-anything-goes space for expression might be overrun with spam, nudity, propaganda from autocrats, the bullying of children and violent incitements.

Technology and culture writer Charlie Warzel at The Atlantic: The Worst-Case Scenario for Elon Musk’s Twitter. Plus: the more likely one.

Warzel posits three possibilities: 

The Dark Timeline: There is, I suppose, a world in which Musk goes wild and attempts to turn Twitter into a Truth Social/Gab/Parler free-for-all. This seems like it would have to start with a total gutting of senior leadership and the instatement of some kind of Musk loyalist regime. (I’m honestly not even sure who would qualify, though such people certainly exist!) It could involve reinstating banned accounts, particularly former president Donald Trump’s. There have been attempts to quantify exactly what Trump’s presence on a social network actually means, and what it boils down to is that his Twitter account was a megaphone for bullshit. Shortly after he was banned from Twitter last year, a social-media analysis from Zignal Labs found that “conversations about election fraud dropped from 2.5 million mentions to 688,000 mentions across several social media sites in the week after Trump was banned from Twitter.” [….]

The darkest-darkest timeline is the one where the world’s richest man runs a communications platform in a truly vengeful, dictatorial way, which involves Musk outright using Twitter as a political tool to promote extreme right-wing agendas and to punish what he calls brain-poisoned liberals. This is the scenario I’ve seen some privacy folks worrying about. (What might Musk do with all of the private data the company collects, including our non-encrypted DMs?) This nightmare unfolding is easy enough to imagine, but it would probably trigger a revolt from existing employees, who would need to be replaced by people who share Musk’s values.

The Weird/Chaotic Timeline: This is the one where Musk remains invested and interested in doing experimental things with his new platform. The most cited example is an edit button, which he could introduce to the delight of some and the groaning of many others. A Musk-owned Twitter could introduce this feature carefully, study how it changes the platform, and tweak it accordingly—or it could move fast and break things by tossing it onto the platform and simply seeing what happens. The break-things ethos is the one I think about most when considering a Musk-owned Twitter—lots of quick building, throwing shit at the wall, with very little consideration of the consequences. [….]

The Recent Past Is Future Timeline: When it comes to content moderation, Elon Musk doesn’t know what he’s talking about. (For an explainer, read Mike Masnick’s excellent piece from last week.) A number of the changes that Musk has suggested are things Twitter has already attempted to do, or even implemented. I strongly believe that Musk has thought about Twitter as a service only as it relates to his user experience—which is, to say the least, a unique one. As one former senior Twitter employee put it to me this morning, Musk’s musings about improvements to the service are mostly “highly solipsistic things that are only about his experience of the product as a user with 80 million followers and a consent decree with the SEC.”

And so, owning Twitter may prove to be a boring logistical nightmare for Musk—one he might offload onto underlings while directing his attention to things that interest him. He’d still come in for the culture warring and the trolling—I’m sure he’s delighted by the notion that his every missive will carry the new weight and context of coming from Twitter’s Keeper. The thing Musk might ultimately enjoy most about owning Twitter is the ability to attract more and more attention to his potential power. 

 

One more from Tim Miller at The Bulwark: Musk Twitter Could Be a Disaster For MAGA Grifters and Republican Ostriches.

While concerns about the Russian bots and blarmy bigots returning to the hellfeed where news happens does have merit, let me offer a countervailing perspective about the impact of the Twitter acquisition.

Musk Twitter might also be a disaster for a couple of groups who cosmically deserve it:

1) Mitch McConnell and the establishment Republican ostriches who are doing everything in their power to put their heads in the sand and pretend Donald Trump doesn’t exist (unless they need to cash in on his name and likeness).

2) The Nazi grifters who started the various Deploratwitter knockoffs like TRUTH, Parler, and Gettr and are now set to be totally pwned by Twitter offering these very fine people the same freedom to shitpost in front of bigger audiences.

So if the two-faced Trumpists and the worst MAGA scammers are going to suffer, might we consider squeaking out one cheer for Musk. Or a half a cheer? Or even just a mild affirmative grunt?

The case for their suffering is as follows:

In Georgia on Insurrection Eve, we saw how a big Trump megaphone could divide the Republican base, resulting in political success for the Democrats. The election fraud mass formation psychosis led Trump voters in rural parts of the state to stay home rather than participate in yet another RIGGED contest while a small percentage of Atlanta Kemp/Raffensperger Republicans refused to be a party to the anti-democratic horror show. As a result, Georgia elected the state’s first black and Jewish senators—on the same day!—despite the fact that both had fewer votes than their GOP opponents during the November election.

A repeat of that is the worst-case scenario for the GOP at a time when the political environment is looking rather rosy for them.

Back in January, Bloomberg’s Joshua Green interviewed experts on the possible ways Republicans could screw the pooch in the midterms. Liam Donovan offered this hypothetical: “For the last year Trump has been in a straitjacket where he can’t harm his own party . . . Maybe he gets back on Twitter, there’s no bigger wild card than letting the tiger out of its cage.”

I know there is lots of other news out there. I’ll post some links in the comment thread and I hope you will too.


Thursday Reads

Peach-trees-in-blossom-Vincent-Van-Gogh

Peach Trees in Blossom, by Vincent Van Gogh

Good Afternoon!!

There are some unusual stories in the news today. Suddenly the advanced age of many U.S. lawmakers may finally be a subject for public debate. Elon Musk is trying to buy Twitter after declining to join the board because of a background check. It seems that there are quite a few biological males being housed in women’s prisons, and now two woman inmates in New Jersey are pregnant. Another killing of a Black man by police is in the the news. And of course Putin’s war on Ukraine continues as does the January 6 Committee investigation.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a disturbing article about Diane Feinstein: Colleagues worry Dianne Feinstein is now mentally unfit to serve, citing recent interactions.

When a California Democrat in Congress recently engaged in an extended conversation with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, they prepared for a rigorous policy discussion like those they’d had with her many times over the last 15 years.

Instead, the lawmaker said, they had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein multiple times during an interaction that lasted several hours.

Rather than delve into policy, Feinstein, 88, repeated the same small-talk questions, like asking the lawmaker what mattered to voters in their district, they said, with no apparent recognition the two had already had a similar conversation.

The episode was so unnerving that the lawmaker — who spoke to The Chronicle on condition they not be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic — began raising concerns with colleagues to see if some kind of intervention to persuade Feinstein to retire was possible. Feinstein’s term runs through the end of 2024. The conversation occurred several weeks before the death of her husband in February.

“I have worked with her for a long time and long enough to know what she was like just a few years ago: always in command, always in charge, on top of the details, basically couldn’t resist a conversation where she was driving some bill or some idea. All of that is gone,” the lawmaker said. “She was an intellectual and political force not that long ago, and that’s why my encounter with her was so jarring. Because there was just no trace of that.”

Four U.S. senators, including three Democrats, as well as three former Feinstein staffers and the California Democratic member of Congress told The Chronicle in recent interviews that her memory is rapidly deteriorating. They said it appears she can no longer fulfill her job duties without her staff doing much of the work required to represent the nearly 40 million people of California….

Adding urgency to the recent concerns: If Democrats retain control of the Senate next year, Feinstein will succeed retiring Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy as the Senate’s president pro tem — putting her third in line for the presidency. Feinstein has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission that would allow her to run in 2024, a formality that lets her keep her fundraising accounts active, though she has not yet declared whether she intends to run.

Emphasis added. Read more details at the link. 

Early Spring, Gustav Klimt

Early Spring, by Gustav Klimt

Now can we ask questions about Chuck Grassley, James Inhofe, and Richard Shelby? It’s not just age that is the problem though. Nancy Pelosi at 82 still seems sharp. Patrick Leahy is also 82, and he has decided to retire. I think this is an important topic for public discussion. Should there be an age limit for members of Congress?

Bloomberg on the Musk offer to buy Twitter: Elon Musk Makes $43 Billion Unsolicited Bid to Take Twitter Private.

Elon Musk has made a controversial offer to buy Twitter Inc., saying the company has extraordinary potential and he is the person to unlock it. 

The world’s richest person will offer $54.20 per share in cash, valuing Twitter at about $43 billion. The social media company’s shares rose just 5.3% to $48.27 at the market open in New York as investors began to assess how one of the platform’s most outspoken users will succeed in his takeover attempt.

Musk, 50, announced the potential deal in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday, after turning down a potential board seat at the company. The billionaire, who also controls Tesla Inc., first disclosed a stake of about 9% on April 4. Tesla shares fell about 1.8% on the news.

Twitter said that its board would review the proposal and any response would be in the best interests of “all Twitter stockholders.”

The bid is the most high-stakes clash yet between Musk and the social media platform. The executive is one of Twitter’s most-watched firebrands, often tweeting out memes and taunts to @elonmusk’s more than 80 million followers. He has been vociferous about changes he’d like to consider imposing at the social media platform…

Here’s The Daily Beast take by Allison Quinn: Top Shitposter Elon Musk Escalates Twitter Feud With $43B Takeover Bid.

“I am not playing the back-and-forth game. I have moved straight to the end. It’s a high price and your shareholders will love it,” Musk is said to have told the social media giant, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday.

Musk, whose fortune is estimated at about $260 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index, said Twitter “needs to be transformed as a private company,” and vowed to “unlock” its “extraordinary potential” if the bid is successful.

Early Spring, Gustav Klimt“If the deal doesn’t work, given that I don’t have confidence in management nor do I believe I can drive the necessary change in the public market, I would need to reconsider my position as a shareholder,” he said in the filing….

The move comes after the Tesla CEO disclosed a stake of about 9 percent in Twitter last week. That disclosure is reportedly already at the center of a lawsuit filed this week by another Twitter shareholder who alleges Musk made “materially false and misleading statements and omissions by failing to disclose to investors” that he owned a stake in the company.

His delay in disclosing the stake, the lawsuit claims, led to “artificially deflated prices.”

With more than 80 million followers on the platform, Musk has sparked speculation in recent weeks with frequent tweets calling for drastic changes in the company and questioning whether it is really a “free speech” site. Earlier this week, he floated the idea of turning Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters into a homeless shelter, calling it a “great idea.”

Musk, who last week took to the platform to ask, “Is Twitter dying?” wrote in the filing that he believes it can “neither thrive nor serve” its purpose of promoting free speech if it remains as it is now.

About that New Jersey “women’s” prison from Yahoo News: NJ inmates at women’s only prison pregnant after sex with ‘another incarcerated person.’

Two inmates at New Jersey’s only women’s prison are pregnant after reportedly having sex with a transgender inmate.

It appears the women became pregnant from “consensual sexual relationships with another incarcerated person,” Dan Sperrazza, the Department of Corrections’s external affairs executive director, told NJ.com.

The prisoners are held at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, which has faced a long string of sex assault scandals….

There are 27 inmates who identify as transgender currently housed at the facility, according to NJ.com. New Jersey’s policy does not require trans women inmates to undergo gender-reassignment surgery to be held in the facility.

“While DOC cannot comment on any specific disciplinary or housing decisions that may be considered in light of these events, the Department always reserves all options to ensure the health and safety of the individuals in its custody,” Sperrazza told the Daily Mail.

Two Edna Mahan prisoners filed a lawsuit last year seeking to end New Jersey’s gender identity policy for prisons, claiming they were harassed by trans inmates and that transgender inmates were having sex with female prisoners.

ACLU legal director Jeanne LoCicero defended the policy of allowing transgender inmates in a women’s prison as one that protects the rights of transgender women.

Apparently the rights of women (“people with vaginas”) are secondary, as usual.

the-vegetable-garden-with-trees-in-blossom-spring-pontoise-1877-Camille-Pissarro

The vegetable garden with trees in blossom Spring Pontoise, 1877, by Camille Pissarro

Another killing of a Black man by police has been revealed in Michigan. Detroit Free Press: Grand Rapids police release video of officer fatally shooting Patrick Lyoya.

A Black man facedown on the ground was fatally shot in the back of the head by a Grand Rapids police officer, the violent climax of a traffic stop, brief foot chase and struggle over a stun gun, according to videos of the April 4 incident released Wednesday.

The release by Grand Rapids police sparked renewed protests and calls for justice Wednesday, and state officials promised a full investigation.

It comes in the wake of other police-involved shootings in Grand Rapids.

The video released Wednesday includes footage from the unnamed officer’s body camera, which was deactivated shortly after the officer told the suspect, 26-year-old Congolese refugee Patrick Lyoya, to “let go of the Taser.”

The video, a collection of dashcam footage, body cam footage, a home security camera, and a cellphone video, shows the unnamed officer pulling over Lyoya and a passenger for a “license plate that doesn’t match the car.”

Was the deactivation of the body cam deliberate?

Lyoya gets out of the car, and the officer gets out and tells him to get back in the car. The officer asks for his driver’s license and then asks whether Lyoya speaks English.

Lyoya then appears to run around the car, and the officer chases and tackles him to the ground on the front lawn of a house.

They struggle, and the officer can be heard telling Lyoya to “stop” and to “let go of the Taser.”

After about 90 seconds, the officer is lying on top of Lyoya, who is facedown on the ground. The officer, still yelling for Lyoya to “let go of the Taser,” proceeds to shoot him.

Lyoya was shot in the head, police Chief Eric Winstrom confirmed.

A traffic stop should not be a death sentence. Driving without a license shouldn’t lead to death either.

Updates on Putin’s war:

Reuters: Russia warns of nuclear, hypersonic deployment if Sweden and Finland join NATO.

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies warned NATO on Thursday that if Sweden and Finland joined the U.S.-led military alliance then Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in an exclave in the heart of Europe.

Bluebonnets and Mesquite, Early Spring, julian-onderdonk

Bluebonnets and Mesquite, Early Spring, by Texas artist Julian-Onderdonk

Finland, which shares a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden are considering joining the NATO alliance. Finland will decide in the next few weeks, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said that should Sweden and Finland join NATO then Russia would have to strengthen its land, naval and air forces in the Baltic Sea.

Medvedev also explicitly raised the nuclear threat by saying that there could be no more talk of a “nuclear free” Baltic – where Russia has its Kaliningrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania….

Medvedev said he hoped Finland and Sweden would see sense. If not, he said, they would have to live with nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles close to home.

NBC News: Russia evacuates flagship after it suffers major damage in Black Sea blast.

Ukrainian officials said their forces launched a successful missile attack on the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, forcing the crew to evacuate the vessel.

The Russian defense ministry said the Moskva warship had been “seriously damaged,” but blamed the incident on a fire. NBC News has been unable to verify what happened on the ship, but its loss could prove a significant setback in Russian forces’ efforts in Ukraine’s south and east, where a fierce battle for Mariupol is ongoing….

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said the damaged Russian flagship is the same one that infamously demanded the surrender of Ukrainian forces on Snake Island early in the invasion.

January 6 investigation updates:

The January 6 Committee heard from Trump WH lawyers Pat A. Cipollone, the former White House counsel, and his deputy Patrick F. Philbin, yesterday; today they will question Dr. Evil, Stephen Miller: AP sources: Trump aide Stephen Miller to speak to 1/6 panel.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stephen Miller, who served as a top aide to President Donald Trump, will appear Thursday before the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Miller was a senior adviser for policy during the Trump administration and a central figure in many of the Republican’s policy decisions. He had resisted previous efforts by the committee, filing a lawsuit last month seeking to quash a committee subpoena for his phone records.

The people familiar with the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private testimony. It’s unclear whether Miller will appear in person or virtually. A spokesperson for the committee said the panel had no comment, and Miller did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Dans la prairie, Claude Monet

Dans la prairie, Claude Monet

The Washington Post: Biden White House waives executive privilege for more Trump records.

President Biden has authorized the National Archives and Records Administration to hand over a new tranche of Trump White House documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

In a letter released Wednesday by the archives, Biden declined to assert executive privilege over the records — the latest batch sought by the committee after the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s bid to block such releases.

The new letter is in line with the Biden administration’s decision to err on the side of disclosure, given the gravity of the events in the Jan. 6 attack. The archives has already turned over hundreds of pages of documents to the committee.

“As to the remaining prioritized records, President Biden has considered the former President’s claims, and I have engaged in consultations with the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice,” White House counsel Dana Remus writes. “The President has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified.”

That’s what’s happening in the news today, as I see it. What about you? What stories have caught your attention?


Tuesday Reads: 97 Days Until November 3

Good Morning!!

Trump personal attorney Bill Bar will testify before the House Judiciary Committee today. The hearing will begin around 10:45. I should watch it, but I’m going to spare myself that maddening experience. Megan Mineiro of Courthouse News will be tweeting about it, so I’ll check her timeline for updates.

Barr has released his opening statement. CNN: Barr calls Russia scandal ‘bogus,’ says he acts independently of Trump in blistering opening statement: Barr calls Russia scandal ‘bogus,’ says he acts independently of Trump in blistering opening statement.

In Barr’s prepared remarks, which were provided to CNN by the Justice Department on Monday, the attorney general says he has acted independently of President Donald Trump in the decisions he’s made in several criminal cases he’s handled.

“Ever since I made it clear that I was going to do everything I could to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal, many of the Democrats on this Committee have attempted to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions. Judging from the letter inviting me to this hearing, that appears to be your agenda today,” Barr says in his written remarks.

Barr’s testimony on Tuesday is his first before the House Judiciary Committee, where Democrats have accused him of committing numerous abuses. It comes after he did not appear at a hearing before the panel last year and a March date was postponed. Democrats plan to push Barr on his intervention into the prosecutions of two Trump allies, his move last month to oust a prominent and powerful US attorney, and the Justice Department’s use of force against protesters to Barr’s threats to state and local officials over their handling of coronavirus. A Democratic committee counsel told reporters Monday that Democratic lawmakers will seek to paint Barr as repeatedly overruling career staff to serve the President’s interests first.

Barr will also face questions on his role in the administration’s crackdown on the protests across the country that followed George Floyd’s killing in May, including the decision to forcibly disperse a peaceful demonstration at Lafayette Square in June and the dispatching of federal officers to Portland, Oregon, where rioters have clashed with authorities nightly outside a complex of federal buildings.

In his opening statement, Barr said the President “has not attempted to interfere” in the criminal decisions he’s made, which would include lessening the sentencing recommendation for Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone and to move to dismiss charges against Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn.

He’s lying, of course. Just Security: “He’s Lying.” New Book Reveals Havoc Bill Barr Wrought Inside Congress.

On Tuesday morning, when Attorney General William Barr finally appears before the House Judiciary Committee, a book will be released covering one of Barr’s most controversial and most consequential actions to date: the attorney general’s grossly misleading summary of the Mueller Report.

The book’s author is Ambassador Norman Eisen, who served as special counsel to the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment hearings of Donald J. Trump. His was not simply a ringside seat; Eisen was a key player. That’s why this behind-the-scenes account sheds new light on the history-shaping impact of Barr’s actions.

“He’s lying.” Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler privately told Eisen and other staff as they tried to make sense of Barr’s 4-page summary without the benefit of the Mueller Report itself. The Chairman “saw right through Barr’s fabrications and was blunt about it,” writes Eisen in the book.

Not everyone else did. Former FBI Director James Comey said in a CNN interview at the time that “Bill Barr, our attorney general, deserves the benefit of the doubt.”

Nadler would be proven correct once the Mueller Report was released, but that would be more than three weeks later—a lifetime in American politics. And it would be almost an exact year before a federal court would weigh in. Judge Reggie B. Walton used part of his opinion in March of this year to call out Barr for the attorney general’s “misleading” and “distorted” account of Mueller’s findings.

That was a harsh assessment with added weight due to its legal significance. As Lisa Gilbert observed at Just Security, “To underscore the significance of Judge Walton’s findings: Barr’s summary of the Mueller Report was not simply a lie told to the media or public. It was a statement Barr submitted to Congress.”

More books about Trump’s and Barr’s corrupt behavior are coming. Andrew Weissmann, one of the top prosecutors in the Mueller investigation has a book coming out on September 29. And now a book by Trump FBI nemesis Peter Strzok has been announced. AP: Ex-FBI agent Strzok due out with book about Trump, Russia.

Former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, who played a key role in the Russia investigation but whose pejorative text messages about Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign made him a target of the president’s wrath, is releasing a book on his concerns the president could be compromised.

“Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump” is due out Sept. 8, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books & Media said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The book will offer an insider’s view on some of the most sensational and politically freighted investigations in modern American history, including into whether the 2016 Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to sway the presidential election. Due out two months before the November election, the book adds to the list of first-person accounts from other senior FBI and Justice Department officials during the Trump era.

“Russia has long regarded the United States as its ‘Main Enemy,’ and I spent decades trying to protect our country from their efforts to weaken and undermine us,” Strzok said Tuesday in a statement accompanying the book announcement.

“In this book,” he added, “I use that background to explain how the elevation by President Trump and his collaborators of Trump’s own personal interests over the interests of the country allowed Putin to succeed beyond Stalin’s wildest dreams, and how the national security implications of Putin’s triumph will persist through our next election and beyond.”

Remember when Trump claimed he was invited to throw out the first pitch at a NY Yankees game and later cancelled the appearance because he supposedly is working so hard to defeat the coronavirus pandemic? It turns out the Yankees never actually invited him. The New York Times: Trump Announced, Then Canceled, a Yankees Pitch. Both Came as a Surprise.

An hour before Dr. Anthony S. Fauci threw the first pitch at the season opener between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals, President Trump stood on the briefing room stage at the White House and declared that he, too, had been invited to throw out his own opening pitch.

“Randy Levine is a great friend of mine from the Yankees,” Mr. Trump, referring to the president of the baseball team, told reporters on Thursday as Dr. Fauci was preparing to take the mound. “And he asked me to throw out the first pitch, and I think I’m doing that on Aug. 15 at Yankee Stadium.”

There was one problem: Mr. Trump had not actually been invited on that day by the Yankees, according to one person with knowledge of Mr. Trump’s schedule. His announcement surprised both Yankees officials and the White House staff.

But Mr. Trump had been so annoyed by Dr. Fauci’s turn in the limelight, an official familiar with his reaction said, that he had directed his aides to call Yankees officials and make good on a longtime standing offer from Mr. Levine to throw out an opening pitch. No date was ever finalized.

Trump just can’t stand it when he isn’t the center of attention. He took a break last night from his “hard work” to retweet vile conspiracy theories that were removed by both Facebookand

The Washington Post: Facebook deleted a viral video full of false coronavirus claims. Then Trump shared it on Twitter.

On Monday evening, Facebook scrubbed from its site a viral video showing a group of doctors making misleading and false claims about the coronavirus pandemic after more than 14 million people had watched it. Hours later, President Trump tweeted out multiple clips of the same video to his 84.2 million followers.

Trump shared the video — which claims that face masks and lockdowns are not needed to stop the disease — as he shared 14 tweets over a half-hour span defending the use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that the president has repeatedly promoted, and attacking Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert.

Twitter soon followed Facebook and YouTube in removing the videos, deleting several of the tweets that Trump shared, and even adding a note to its trending topics warning about the potential risks of hydroxychloroquine use….

The video Trump shared Monday night showed a collection of doctors speaking in favor of treating covid-19 patients with the antimalarial drug. The clip focused on the testimony of a woman named Stella Immanuel, who received a medical license in Texas last November, according to state records. The doctor did not return a request for comment.

NBC News: Twitter removes tweet highlighted by Trump falsely claiming COVID-19 ‘cure.’

Twitter removed a tweet that had been retweeted by President Donald Trump that falsely said that there was a cure for the coronavirus.

Late Monday night, Trump retweeted the tweet from an account with the handle “@stella_immanuel” that said: “Covid has cure. America wake up.”

Twitter soon after removed the tweet and replaced it with a gray box that says, “This Tweet is no longer available.”

A cure for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, doesn’t exist and scientists have been working on developing both a range of treatments as well as vaccines. They and the Trump administration are racing to have a vaccine ready by the end of the year….

Trump also retweeted tweets defending the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine, including one that accused Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, of misleading the public by dismissing the drug.

“Doctor” Immanuel has quite a resume. The Daily Beast: Trump’s New Favorite COVID Doctor Believes in Alien DNA, Demon Sperm, and Hydroxychloroquine.

A Houston doctor who praises hydroxychloroquine and says that face masks aren’t necessary to stop transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus has become a star on the right-wing internet, garnering tens of millions of views on Facebook on Monday alone. Donald Trump Jr. declared the video of Stella Immanuel a “must watch,” while Donald Trump himself retweeted the video.

Before Trump and his supporters embrace Immanuel’s medical expertise, though, they should consider other medical claims Immanuel has made—including those about alien DNA and the physical effects of having sex with witches and demons in your dreams.

Immanuel, a pediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues. She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.

She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens.

Immanuel gave her viral speech on the steps of the Supreme Court at the “White Coat Summit,” a gathering of a handful of doctors who call themselves America’s Frontline Doctors and dispute the medical consensus on the novel coronavirus. The event was organized by the right-wing group Tea Party Patriots, which is backed by wealthy Republican donors.

Read more at the link.

That’s all from me today. What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads: Pink Houses For You And Me (Ain’t That America?)

By Richard Ernst Eurich

Good Morning!!

The fake “president” claims to love the Second Amendment, but he’s not so fond of the First Amendment–or, for that matter, the Constitution itself.

Trump is trying to take steps to shut down free speech.

Reuters: Trump executive order takes aim at social media firms: draft.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to order a review of a law that has long protected Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet’s Google from being responsible for the material posted by their users, according to a draft executive order and a source familiar with the situation.

News of the order comes after Trump threatened to shut down websites he accused of stifling conservative voices. It follows a dispute with Twitter after the company decided to tag Trump’s tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.

The order, a draft copy of which was seen by Reuters, could change before it is finalized. On Wednesday, officials said Trump will sign an executive order on social media companies on Thursday. It was not, however, listed on Trump’s official schedule for Thursday released by the White House.

What’s in the draft order?

The executive order would call for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to propose and clarify regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law largely exempting online platforms from legal liability for the material their users post. Such changes could expose tech companies to more lawsuits.

The pink house, Newburyport, MA, by Melissa Abbott

The order asks the FCC to examine whether actions related to the editing of content by social media companies should potentially lead to the firms forfeiting their protections under section 230.

It requires the agency to look at whether a social media platform uses deceptive policies to moderate content and if its policies are inconsistent with its terms of service.

The draft order also states that the White House Office of Digital Strategy will re-establish a tool to help citizens report cases of online censorship. The tool will collect complaints of online censorship and submit them to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

It requires the FTC to look into whether complaints violate the law, develop a report describing such complaints and make the report publicly available….

The draft order also requires the attorney general to establish a working group including state attorneys general that will examine the enforcement of state laws that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair and deceptive acts.

Congressional Republicans are helping out. The Hill: Republicans working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal liability protections.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on Wednesday separately announced they were both working on legislation to strip Twitter of federal protections that ensure the company is not held liable for what is posted on its platform.

The lawmakers began work on legislation following Twitter’s decision to add warnings to two tweets by President Trump this week in which he railed against California’s decision to expand mail-in voting. Trump tweeted without evidence that mail-in voting could increase voter fraud.

Plum Island Pink, by Heather Karp

Both Hawley and Gaetz argued that Twitter’s decision to flag the tweets called its legal liability protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act into question. Section 230 protects social media platforms from facing lawsuits over what users post.

Hawley sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday questioning why the platform should be given Section 230 protections and tweeted that he would soon introduce legislation to end “government giveaways” under the legal shield.

“If @Twitter wants to editorialize & comment on users’ posts, it should be divested of its special status under federal law (Section 230) & forced to play by same rules as all other publishers,” Hawley tweeted. “Fair is fair.”

Hawley questioned Dorsey on whether Twitter’s “fact check” was part of an effort to “target the President for political reasons” and raised concerns that Twitter fact-checkers were biased against Trump.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted yesterday that Twitter will continue to correct false information about elections that is posted to his platform.

From the Associated Press: Trump continues to claim broad powers he doesn’t have.

Threatening to shut down Twitter for flagging false content. Claiming he can “override” governors who dare to keep churches closed to congregants. Asserting the “absolute authority” to force states to reopen, even when local leaders say it’s too soon.

As he battles the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has been claiming extraordinarily sweeping powers that legal scholars say the president simply doesn’t have. And he has repeatedly refused to spell out the legal basis for those powers….

First it was Trump’s assertion that he could force governors to reopen their economies before they felt ready. “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he claimed.

Pink House, by Julia Kamenskikh

Trump soon dropped the threat, saying he would instead leave such decisions to the states. But he has revived the idea in recent days as he has tried to pressure governors to allow churches and other places of worship to hold in-person services, even where stay-at-home orders and other limits on large gatherings remain in effect.

Asked Tuesday what authority he had to enforce such a mandate, Trump was cagey.

“I can absolutely do it if I want to,” he said. “We have many different ways where I can override them and if I have to, I’ll do that.”

Trump simply doesn’t care about any constitutional limits on his powers. He will continue to push the limits and get away with more than any past president.

Trump “certainly does not have the power under any reasonable reading of the Constitution or federalism to order places of worship to open,” said Matthew Dallek, a historian at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management who specializes in the use of presidential power.

But Dallek said that just because Trump doesn’t have the authority to do most of the things he’s threatened, doesn’t mean he won’t, for instance, try to sign executive orders taking such action anyway — even if they are later struck down by the courts.

“What has limited Trump previously? Not very much. So I think he will do whatever seems to be in his best interest at any particular moment,” Dallek said.

Trump, he said, also could try to abuse his powers to leverage other instruments of government, from the Department of Justice to the IRS, to push for investigations or launch regulatory crackdowns to punish states, cities or companies. Trump also has showed he’s willing to exercise powers that modern presidents have largely avoided, including his recent purging of inspectors general.

Brian Klaas at The Washington Post: Why does Trump get away with everything?

In January 2016, Donald Trump said something unintentionally profound: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” We’ll hopefully never find out whether Trump really could get away with murder. But we now know he can at least falsely accuse someone of murder without triggering a political exodus.

Pink House, by Carol Bouville

This “Fifth Avenue problem” is a central puzzle of the Trump presidency. Somehow, Trump can tweet something that would destroy any other politician when he wakes up, and it’s forgotten by lunchtime.

Don’t believe me? In the last week, Trump didn’t just make a false accusation of murder. He also praised one of the United States’ most virulent anti-Semites as a man who bestowed “good bloodlines” on his descendants. He retweeted a man who called Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be a major-party candidate for president, a “skank.” Trump shared an image with Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve as House speaker, with duct tape over her mouth and then mocked her physical appearance. And he repeatedly fabricated lies about voter fraud.

If Joe Biden behaved like that, it would destroy his career. But when Trump does it, it has no significant impact on his support. His depravity is now just widely assumed. It’s baked in.

That presents a paradox: The last three years have felt like we’re collectively strapped into the world’s worst roller coaster — of endless scandals, tweets in search of reality and new lows for presidential conduct. Yet for all those disorienting twists and turns,and the seemingly endless plunge of presidential standards, Trump’s approval rating has remained pretty much the same.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

We passed a terrible milestone yesterday, and that is likely the reason for Trump’s attempts to distracts us with his wannabe dictator claims.

Meghan O’Rourke at The Atlantic: Grappling With a Terrible Milestone: One Hundred Thousand Dead.

That number—100,000 dead from the coronavirus—is hard to grasp. For those who have lost someone, the pandemic’s scope is not just a statistic; within the abstraction lies an intimately life-changing event. For the rest of us, it is a fact we must try to wrestle into perspective. One hundred thousand people is nearly the population of the city I now live in; it is a neighborhood’s worth of people in Brooklyn, my longtime home; it is perhaps 10 times the total number of people most of us will cross paths with in our entire lives. It is graveyard upon graveyard upon graveyard. It is mass burials at Hart Island, bodies stacked in refrigerated trucks outside hospitals and nursing homes. It is PTSD for the nurses and doctors in the hardest-hit areas. Mostly, it is the shocking echo that follows the loss of even one person: zero, zero, zero, zero, zero. A lament: O, O, O, O, O.

Please go read the whole essay at The Atlantic.

Melinda Saminski The Pink House in Cape May

Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: As 100,000 die, the virus lays bare America’s brutal fault lines – race, gender, poverty and broken politics.

A country that prides itself on its exceptionalism can now without ambiguity claim that title for its experience of the virus. The United States stands head and shoulders at the top of the world league table of confirmed cases, as well as the total number of deaths.

There will be much to analyse in coming years about how the US responded to this contagion, including how many lives have been lost needlessly as a result of Trump’s maverick response.

Already one lesson of the pandemic is clear: America’s deep and brutal fault lines – of race, partisanship, gender, poverty and misinformation – rendered the country ill-prepared to meet the challenges of this disease. The ravages of Covid-19 have revealed the deep cracks in the glittering facade of the richest and most powerful nation on Earth.

Head over to the Guardian and read the rest.

More stories to check out, links only:

The Washington Post: For a numbers-obsessed Trump, there’s one he has tried to ignore: 100,000 dead.

Tony Schwartz at Medium: The Psychopath in Chief.

NBC News: George Floyd protest turns deadly; Minneapolis mayor requests National Guard.

MPR News: Photos: Fires, looting devastate Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death.

The Washington Post: ‘This invokes a history of terror’: Central Park incident between white woman and black man is part of a fraught legacy.

The New York Times: Trump’s ‘Horrifying Lies’ About Lori Klausutis May Cross a Legal Line.

NBC News: Asymptomatic COVID-19 cases may be more common than suspected.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?

 


Thursday Reads: Another Crazy Day in Trump World

Good Morning!!

Trump apparently worked himself up into a frenzy last night. He woke up an sent out a series of angry tweets, in one of which he admitted for the first time that Russia helped him get elected. He actually deleted the first tweet but sent out another in which he made the same admission.

A little later Trump emerged from the White House and unleashed a rage-filled 17 minute rant in which he angrily denigrated Robert Mueller. He also contradicted his own tweet, claiming that Russia didn’t help him in 2016.

The Washington Post: Trump attacks Mueller, says he would have brought charges if he had evidence of a crime.

“Robert Mueller should have never been chosen,” Trump said of the former special counsel, who was appointed by former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein, a Republican Trump appointee.

Trump told reporters that he considered Mueller “totally conflicted” because he had discussions about the position of FBI director early in the Trump administration and is friendly with former FBI director James B. Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017.

“He loves Comey,” Trump claimed. “Whether it’s love or a deep like, he was conflicted.” [….]

Trump also cited a “business dispute” with Mueller on which he did not elaborate. In the past, White House aides have pointed to an alleged dispute over membership fees at Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia….

“You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.” [….]

In his comments to reporters, Trump downplayed the prospect of impeachment. A growing number of Democrats were advocating that course on Wednesday after Mueller’s appearance.

“It’s a dirty, filthy disgusting word and it has nothing to do with me,” Trump said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor.”

This morning’s rant continued as Trump unleashed a number of insults about McCain and how Trump was “never a fan.” He also denied demanding that John McCain’s name be hidden on the U.S. Navy battleship named after McCain’s father and grandfather while Trump was in Japan.

The New York Times: White House Asked Navy to Hide John McCain Warship During Trump’s Visit.

The White House asked the Navy to hide a destroyer named after Senator John McCain in order to avoid having the ship appear in photographs taken while President Trump was visiting Japan this week, White House and military officials said Wednesday.

Although Navy officials insisted they did not hide the ship, the John S. McCain, they did give all of the sailors aboard the day off on Tuesday as Mr. Trump visited Yokosuka Naval Base.

USS Battleship John McCain

Two Navy sailors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that the McCain sailors were not invited to hear Mr. Trump speak that day aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp, while sailors from other American warships at the base were.

A Navy service member based on Yokosuka said that all of the American warships in the harbor were invited to send 60 to 70 sailors to hear Mr. Trump’s address, with the exception of the McCain. When several sailors from the McCain showed up anyway, wearing their uniforms with the ship’s insignia, they were turned away, the service member said.

White House aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly, confirmed the request was made but said that Mr. Trump did not know about it. A United States official said on Wednesday that the White House sent an email to the Navy with the request on May 15.

[Emphasis added] Raise your hand if you believe Trump had nothing to do with the request.

On the other hand, sailors wearing MAGA patches in support of Trump were allowed to attend the speech.

CNN: Navy reviewing ‘Make Aircrew Great Again’ patches worn by sailors during Trump visit.

The Navy is conducting a review to examine whether President Donald Trump-themed patches worn by sailors on their uniforms during the President’s visit to the USS Wasp violated Navy rules.

“Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn’t violate DoD policy or uniform regulations,” US Navy spokesperson Lt. Sam Boyle told CNN.
Several service members aboard the USS Wasp were seen wearing the patches when Trump addressed sailors on Tuesday. The patches showed a Trump-like image and the slogan “Make Aircrew Great Again.” [….]

Close-up of the MAGA patch

Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches, sometimes imbued with humorous images, as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale.

However, service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.
Unit commanders are usually responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations.
Department of Defense guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

Trump faces more legal trouble about that massage parlor owner in Florida Cindy Yang.

The Miami Herald: Federal prosecutors demand Cindy Yang records from Mar-a-Lago, Trump campaign.

Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., this week sent subpoenas to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, and Trump Victory, a political fundraising committee, demanding they turn over all records relating to Republican Party donor Li “Cindy” Yang and several of her associates and companies, the Miami Herald has learned.

Cindy Yang with Donald Trump

Yang, a South Florida massage-parlor entrepreneur, is the target of a public corruption investigation seeking to determine if she funneled money from China to the president’s re-election campaign or otherwise violated campaign-finance laws. She became a GOP donor in the 2016 election cycle and opened a consulting company that promised Chinese businesspeople the chance to attend events at Mar-a-Lago and gain access to Trump and his inner circle. Some of those events were campaign fundraisers that required guests to buy tickets for entry, payments that are considered political contributions. Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political campaigns.

Investigators are seeking evidence from Mar-a-Lago and Trump Victory as they build a potential case against Yang and possibly others close to her. The president’s club and the fundraising committee are not the targets of the investigation. The subpoenas cover records from January 2017 to the present. A spokeswoman for Yang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One subpoena, issued by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach, compels Mar-a-Lago to turn over all documents, records and communications relating to Yang, as well as 11 other people, one charity and seven companies affiliated with her, according to a person familiar with the investigation who asked for anonymity to discuss an ongoing probe. The people named in that subpoena include Yang’s family members, former employees at her massage parlors and several donors to Trump Victory. Prosecutors were trying to serve the subpoena to Mar-a-Lago through a South Florida law firm, the source said.

The second subpoena, for Trump Victory, was served to attorneys at a Washington, D.C., law firm. It seeks campaign-finance records relating to Yang and her associates.

Click the link to read the rest.

As Trump focuses on attacking the people on his enemies list, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are moving us closer to war with Iran.

USA Today: Escalating Iran crisis looks a lot like the path US took to Iraq war.

March 20, 2003 – War With Iraq – Shock & Awe . . . And Then Invasion.

The U.S. military’s guided bombs brought “shock and awe” to Baghdad in 2003 when American forces invaded Iraq 16 years ago to hunt for weapons of mass destruction. They never found any. Many observers, today, consider that war a failure.

Now, half of all Americans believe the U.S. will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released in late May amid increased tensions between the two countries, longtime geopolitical foes.

The escalating Tehran-Washington crisis comes as the White House claims, without providing detail or public evidence, that Iran poses an increased threat to American forces and facilities in the Middle East – one year after Trump withdrew from an accord between Iran and world powers aimed at limiting Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.

Is Iran doomed to be an Iraq redux? This is just one of the questions raised by a crisis that has eerie parallels to the missteps that led to the Iraq War in 2003, where the buildup to conflict was precipitated by faulty intelligence and confrontational foreign policymakers such as John Bolton in President George W. Bush’s administration.

Read all about it at the link above. Meanwhile, does anyone know what Trump foreign policy is?

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Who Speaks for the United States?

Tuesday’s New York Times story on the serious disagreements between President Donald Trump and national security adviser John Bolton misses the bigger picture—namely, that Trump is having disagreements with his entire foreign policy team. To put it another way, it is impossible to say just what U.S. foreign policy is—or, to put it more starkly still, the United States has no foreign policy.

The Times story focuses on disputes over Iran and North Korea.
Bolton has described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s latest short-range missile tests as violations of a U.N. Security Council resolution; Trump says they’re no big deal. Bolton has called for regime change in Iran; Trump said last week in Japan that he’s fine with the current regime, as long as it stays away from nuclear weapons.

But this dispute involves more players than Trump and Bolton. State Department spokespeople, as well as National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, have said—in agreement with Bolton—that the North Korean tests violated a Security Council resolution. Trump stands utterly alone in his view that Kim is an honorable, trustworthy partner.

On Iran, in contrast with what Trump says now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently laid out 12 preconditions for holding talks. Among the demands were that Tehran stop testing ballistic missiles, stop assisting militias in the region, and make several other concessions that would amount, in effect, to a regime change.

And of course, there are his long-standing disputes, over a host of issues, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, various combatant commands, and pretty much the entire intelligence community.

Imagine if you were a world leader who wants to align, or improve relations, with the United States. What do you do? Do you agree with—and act in ways that advance the policies of—the president, the secretary of state, or the national security adviser? It’s impossible to placate all of them simultaneously. So you begin to wonder: Who speaks for the United States?

Please read the whole thing.

So . . . that’s what’s happening so far this morning. What stories are you following?