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Friday Cat Blogging – 15 November 2019

Mother Jones Magazine -

Last week I mentioned a new cat in the Drum family. There is more to the Drum family than just Marian and me, though, and the new cat is a brown tabby who decided to adopt my mother a few days ago. Mom named her Meowser because she meows a lot, which I suppose is fair turnabout since we kids named one of our first cats Meow because, you know, meow.

Anyway, I went over to get some pictures last Sunday, but Meowser was nowhere to be found. Then we heard—yes—a meow coming from somewhere, and after a bit of investigating it turned out that Meowser had somehow gotten into the crawl space beneath the house. Unfortunately, there have been painters and roofers and sundry other hired helpers around the house for several days, and this has spooked all the cats. One of them is hiding in the attic and Meowser, it turned out, had chosen the crawl space and didn’t really want to come out. So we had our work cut out for us. Let me set the scene for you. Here’s the big (i.e. human sized) entrance to the crawl space after I removed the grate. If you look closely you can see a pair of cat eyes peeking out:

After a while Meowser tentatively decided to make an appearance:

Unfortunately, after a few seconds she decided she was unsure about the whole thing and zipped back under the house, where she went back to watching us doubtfully. On the bright side, this is a great cat picture:

Finally my mother decided to lure her out with a plate of food. This got Meowser’s attention:

Sure, it might be risky, but a cat’s gotta eat:

And for the record, here’s a closeup so you can see what Meowser really looks like:

The good news about all this is that Meowser was hungry and thin when she wandered into my mother’s house. She is now hungry and well fed. The bad news is that when my mother tried to sneak behind her and replace the grate, Meowser detected the trickery and zipped back. So I never really did get to make friends with her.

In any case, Mom reports that Meowser is now out and all entrances to the crawl space have been blocked off. Unfortunately, Lily is still in the attic and won’t come down, which makes it a real pain to keep her in food and water. But naturally Mom does. When the workers are gone and everyone relaxes a bit, we all hope she’ll finally come down.

POSTSCRIPT: Once again, a shout out to all the camera nerds. These pictures were shot in pretty dim light at the end of the day. The camera settings were f/4, ISO 5000-10000, shutter speed 1/100. And yet the pictures came out perfectly nicely. Even after two decades of using them, I continue to marvel at the photos I can routinely get with a good digital camera.

POSTSCRIPT 2: After lunch today I’m headed over to Mom’s house on a mission of mercy to see if the two of us can somehow lure Lily down. Unfortunately, Lily is scared of me and also seems to be as happy as a clam in her new snoozing spot. We’ll see what we can do.

Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California

ACLU News -

This is a cross-post from the ACLU of Northern California.

There is a story we tell ourselves about being American. Much of it is a lie. Two dates that students throughout the country are required to memorize to inform an American identity are 1492, when Columbus supposedly “discovered” America, and 1776, when the United States claimed sovereignty from England and through the Declaration of Independence declared: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” If we’re honest, we’ll admit that the “all men” in that catchphrase didn’t include African Americans, Native Americans, and women, and Columbus didn’t discover anything. He got lost on a voyage to India and when he docked in the Caribbean and saw people, he called them Indians and proceeded to disavow them of their humanity. Not embedded in the American psyche as a date to remember is another equally seminal year, 1619, which commonly marks the inception of America’s original sin—the 400th year since enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia and were sold to colonists beginning centuries of bondage and servitude.

In the period leading to this anniversary, several notable news outlets observed its significance on a national level. But closer to home, the ACLU of Northern California wanted to explore California’s place in the nation’s history of forced servitude, unpaid labor, and human degradation. The significance of this local history is undeniable. It has shaped California’s complex racial character and planted the seeds of white supremacy that were sown in this country; seeds that bore ripe and poisoned fruit, the manifestation of which still exists today. In an effort to comprehensively explore this obscured racial history and the many legal battles it spawned, the ACLU of Northern California has launched a project entitled: Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California.

The mission of Gold Chains is to uncover California’s hidden slavery history by lifting up the voices of courageous African American and Native American individuals who challenged their brutal treatment and demanded their civil rights, inspiring us with their ingenuity, resilience, and tenacity. We aim to expose the role of the courts, laws, and the tacit acceptance of white supremacy in sanctioning race-based violence and discrimination that continues into the present day. Through an unflinching examination of our collective past, we invite California to become truly aware and authentically enlightened.

Acceptance of this invitation requires humility and a strong disposition for hard truths. The bleak and brutal story of slavery in California pre-dates statehood with the incursion of Europeans in the 1700’s who enslaved the Native population, seized land, raped women, infested tribes with disease, and force-fed Catholicism. California was designated a “free state” in the Compromise of 1850. The proverbial image of black people as chattel laboring in cotton fields stalked by an overseer gave way to a Pacific Coast version with similar conditions. Like “King Cotton,” the commodity that drove the slave trade on the eastern seaboard, the Gold Rush era in California during the 1800s provoked the persistent dehumanization of black people, and simultaneously forced Native people off their remaining land, destroying their ecosystems for generations to come. These consequential historical markers are hidden from state lore and school curricula but offer concrete examples of California’s complicity in racial tyranny. For instance, the state legislature passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1852 that legalized the deportation of free or previously enslaved black people back to the south as slaves for seeking economic and personal freedom.

Through narratives, public records, archival materials, and images, Gold Chains: The Hidden History of Slavery in California debunks California’s unblemished brand as exclusively “liberal,” “innovative,” and “progressive,” correcting it with facts of a history mired in racism, white supremacy, and violence. It also reinforces the integrated advocacy that the ACLU of Northern California practices daily. Our efforts to take on critical issues and sometimes unpopular positions in order to advance civil rights and civil liberties exemplifies our commitment to equal justice for all. Confronting the misdeeds of our collective past enables us to secure a more just future for generations to come.

“But Laws on the Books Wouldn’t Have Stopped It!”

Mother Jones Magazine -

After any mass shooting, the inevitable conservative reply is “Nothing Dems are proposing would have stopped this particular mass shooting anyway.” David Harsanyi goes all in on this tactic:

California has already passed a “universal background check” law. California, in fact, already instituted a 10-day waiting period, a limit to handgun purchases, a microtracking system, a personal safety test, an “assault weapon” ban, an age hike on the purchase of shotguns and rifles from 18 to 21, “red flag” laws that allow police to confiscate guns without genuine due process, among many other restrictions. And none of those laws stopped the “slaughter” of children in Santa Clarita.

Right. See, the thing is that these are all fairly feeble restrictions, and they aren’t likely to have much effect. The obvious answer is to pass laws that might actually make a difference, but unfortunately conservatives unanimously oppose them all. That means they never pass, which means the “slaughter” of children continues.¹

You might also want to note that whenever there’s a mass shooting, then by definition the laws currently on the books didn’t stop it. Ditto for murder, robbery, rape, carjacking, and so forth. You can play this juvenile game forever. Pay no attention to it.

¹Why the scare quotes? Beats me, though it’s become something of a trending fad on Fox News these days. Somebody should ask Harsanyi about that.

Israel Says It Has Completed Gaza Strikes After Rocket Fire

TruthDig.com News -

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel said early Friday it has completed a series of airstrikes on targets linked to the Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza after overnight rocket fire that rattled a day-old truce.

The Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers, who kept to the sidelines of this week’s fighting, cancelled the weekly protests they organize along the perimeter fence without explanation — apparently in an effort to preserve the calm.

Israel reiterated that it was willing to abide by the cease-fire if there are no additional rocket attacks. The army said in a statement that it struck a military compound, a rocket-manufacturing site and a militant headquarters in the town of Khan Younis overnight.

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The airstrikes came after a barrage of rockets late Thursday. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side. The situation was calm on Friday.

The unofficial cease-fire that began early Thursday ended a two-day escalation triggered by Israel’s targeted killing of an Islamic Jihad commander. The fighting killed 34 Palestinians, including 15 civilians. Palestinian militants fired more than 450 rockets toward Israel, paralyzing much of southern Israel without causing any deaths or serious injuries. Late Friday, Hamas said one of its militants, 22-year-old Ahmed Abdelal, was killed in an Israeli airstrike Wednesday, but did not clarify whether they believed he had been targeted purposefully.

An Israeli airstrike overnight Thursday struck a home in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, killing eight people, including two women and five children under the age of 13. The airstrike apparently targeted the home of an Islamic Jihad commander who was not there at the time. Neighbors said the airstrike killed his brother, who was not involved in militant activity.

The military said Friday that it struck “Islamic Jihad military infrastructure” in Deir al-Balah and did not intend to harm civilians.

“According to the information available to the IDF at the time of the strike, no civilians were expected to be harmed as a result of the strike,” the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement. It said an investigation is underway.

Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed in previous rounds fighting in Gaza, drawing heavy international criticism, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague has opened a preliminary investigation into Israel’s battlefield tactics.

Israel rejects the criticism, saying it takes numerous precautions to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties. It also accuses Palestinian militants of using civilians as human shields and firing rockets from residential areas. It says militant commanders often have weapons or command centers inside their homes, making them legitimate targets.

Islamic Jihad announced the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire early Thursday, claiming it had extracted several concessions from Israel. Israel does not generally comment on informal understandings with militant groups and said only that it would halt fire as long as the militants did the same.

The truce angered many Islamic Jihad supporters, who held protests across Gaza. The barrage of rockets fired into Israel late Thursday, which Israel said were intercepted by its missile defenses, may have been an expression of discontent with the militant group’s leadership.

Unlike in previous rounds of violence, the more powerful Hamas stayed on the sidelines, adhering to understandings reached through Egyptian mediators after previous rounds of fighting with Israel. Both militant groups are committed to Israel’s destruction, but Islamic Jihad is seen as more radical and has closer ties to Iran.

Hamas has held weekly demonstrations along the frontier for more than a year to call for the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza when the group seized power from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007.

The protests often turn violent, with demonstrators hurling rocks and firebombs and Israeli forces responding with tear gas and live ammunition. Hamas has tamped down the protests in recent weeks, apparently as part of the understandings with Egypt.

In return, Israel has loosened the blockade and allowed Qatar to deliver millions of dollars in cash so that Hamas can pay its civil servants.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars, the most recent in 2014, and have exchanged fire on a number of occasions since then. In the latest fighting, Israel refrained from targeting Hamas, which does not appear to have fired any rockets, a sign that both want to maintain the calm.


Krauss reported from Jerusalem.

The post Israel Says It Has Completed Gaza Strikes After Rocket Fire appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Republicans’ New Trump Defense: It’s All Rudy’s Fault

Mother Jones Magazine -

As the Ukraine scandal grows, Republican lawmakers continue searching for an effective way to defend the indefensible. They’ve said there was no quid pro quo. They’ve said quid pro quos are fine. They’ve latched onto conspiracy theories. They’ve smeared career public servants. And now they’re blaming Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

During a break in the impeachment hearing Friday morning, Mother Jones’ David Corn caught up with Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. “I have some questions about what Mr. Giuliani was doing” in Ukraine, Lamborn told reporters. “That’s a side issue. That’s got nothing to do with the president.”

Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) says he has "some questions about what Mr. Giuliani was doing" and may have been "off on his own mission doing things that people didn't know about, kind of like a loose cannon.” via @DavidCornDC pic.twitter.com/ie2mAcjt4D

— Jeremy Schulman (@jeremyschulman) November 15, 2019

That’s an odd statement, given that at every turn, Trump has instructed officials—both foreign and domestic—to speak directly with Giuliani about matters related to Ukraine policy. That was Trump’s response when Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, attempted to convince him to host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House. Trump “just kept saying: ‘Talk to Rudy, talk to Rudy,'” Sondland testified. During his July 25 call with Zelensky, Trump asked the Ukrainian leader to speak over the phone with Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr about the politicized investigations that Trump wanted Ukraine to carry out. “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man,” Trump said during that conversation, according to the rough transcript released by the White House. “I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”

Corn asked Lamborn how he could reconcile these statements with his assertion that Giuliani’s activities had “nothing to do with the president.” Lamborn suggested that Giuliani may have been “off on his own mission doing things that people didn’t know about, kind of like a loose cannon.”

But, Corn asked, isn’t Trump responsible for Giuliani’s involvement?

“He may have been wrong to trust Rudy Giuliani if Giuliani was doing things on his own that were improper,” Lamborn said. “Maybe he was trusting him too much.”

Last week, Republicans telegraphed this strategy of throwing Giuliani under the bus, suggesting that he and others acted without Trump’s knowledge or approval when they attempted to coerce Ukrainian officials into launching investigations.

Lamborn appeared to be putting that strategy into practice Friday, but it’s a pretty tough case to make. Giuliani, after all, has insisted that his actions regarding Ukraine were on behalf of Trump, his client.

The investigation I conducted concerning 2016 Ukrainian collusion and corruption, was done solely as a defense attorney to defend my client against false charges, that kept changing as one after another were disproven.

— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) November 6, 2019

Last month, Giuliani refused to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents related to the impeachment inquiry, citing, among other things, attorney-client privilege and executive privilege. That’s certainly not consistent with the claim that Giuliani was “off on his own mission” that had “nothing to do with the president.”

The Size of Your Wallet Should Never Determine Your Freedom

ACLU News -

Lea Allison is a 30-year-old Alamance County resident and mother to a 6-year-old daughter. She has been living with relatives because she cannot afford to live on her own, but was about to start a new job that she hoped would provide her and her daughter with financial stability.

Lea’s plans came to an abrupt halt when she was arrested and locked in an Alamance County, North Carolina jail on a $3,500 bond. Although she has not been found guilty of a crime, she will remain behind bars because she cannot afford to pay for her freedom. Instead of starting her new job, Lea is sitting in the Alamance County jail — cut off from her family and forced to sleep on the floor.

Right now, thousands of people in North Carolina — who are presumed innocent because they have not been convicted of a crime — are locked in jail while they wait for their day in court because they do not have the money necessary to pay the bail that would allow them to go home to their jobs and families. This unjust cash bail system disproportionately impacts people of color, violates people’s rights, separates families, and fuels the mass incarceration crisis.

Together with Civil Rights Corps, we filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of Lea Allison and two other people who are incarcerated in the Alamance County jail and cannot afford to pay the bail amount set by a court official who showed no consideration to their ability to pay and provided no attorney during the bail hearing.

Our lawsuit asks the court to take immediate action to end Alamance County’s unconstitutional bail practices, ensure that no one is held in the county jail solely because they are unable to pay their bail, and release those currently locked up because they are poor. The lawsuit also claims that the county has violated the right to counsel because poor people accused of crimes are not provided attorneys to represent them when their freedom is at stake.

In this country, we are all supposed to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. But under the cash bail system, a person’s freedom too often depends on how much money they have in their bank account. Each year, more than 10 million people in the U.S are locked into local jails, and as of 2015, there were roughly 700,000 people locked up on any given day. Most of them have not been convicted of a crime. Bail systems like Alamance County’s result in wealth-based detention that means that people who are poorer, often people of color, remain locked up while awaiting trial.  

For too long, North Carolinians have had two criminal legal systems: one for the rich and one for the rest of us. These wealth-based pretrial detention schemes that target the poor violate the Constitution and inflict tremendous harm on peoples’ lives. Spending just three days behind bars puts a person at risk of losing their job, home, and custody of their children. Alamance County locks people up before their trial at an alarming rate, requiring secured bonds for nearly 90 percent of all people charged with a crime, one of the highest rates in the state.

We sued to put an immediate stop to the destructive practice in Alamance County of criminalizing poverty and we are putting officials in North Carolina and across the country on notice: current bail practices are unconstitutional, violate people’s rights, and must end.

It Was Redistricting, Not Prop 187, That Turned California Blue

Mother Jones Magazine -

It’s the 25th anniversay of Prop 187, California’s infamous attempt to cut off public benefits for undocumented immigrants, so it’s getting a suddenly renewed wave of attention. For the record, Prop 187 passed but was then struck down by the courts, so it never took effect. Nonetheless, it inspired a wave of protest from Hispanics and led to the permanent downfall of the California Republican Party.

Or did it? Here’s a chart I put up a year ago:

Prop 187 has no apparent effect. The Democratic vote mostly just follows the rise of the non-white vote, especially after 2000. Now here’s congressional voting:

Once again, Prop 187 has no noticeable effect. From the mid-80s to 2002 the Democratic vote share is about flat. However, after 2002 it starts to rise at the same rate as the non-white population.

My (obvious) conclusion: The Democratic redistricting of 2000 finally gave the non-white vote its proper representation, and they voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, just as they always had. As a result, starting in 2002 Democrats received a steadily larger share of the overall vote thanks to non-whites making up a steadily larger share of the population.

It’s that simple. Prop 187 probably cemented Hispanic support for Democrats, but that was about it. It was demographics and redistricting that really made the difference.

If you believe in the demographic theory of presidential elections, the same thing will happen nationally when the non-white vote reaches about 50 percent. Unfortunately, that’s still a decade or two away. In the meantime, Democrats will have to continue winning a sizeable chunk of the white vote if they want to stay in business.

Young Turks Founder Cenk Uygur Announces Congressional Bid

TruthDig.com News -

Cenk Uygur, host and founder of the online progressive news show The Young Turksannounced late Thursday that he is running for the California congressional seat left vacant by the recent resignation of Rep. Katie Hill.

“I’m going to represent those people in a way that they have not seen before. I will not be a standard politician. I will fight for them,” Uygur said in his announcement Thursday. “I’m going to fight to get money out of politics, and I’m going to call it like it is.”

“You know what campaign donations are from big corporations and lobbyists? Bribes,” Uygur added. “They’re bribes when Republicans take them, they’re also bribes when Democrats take them. I’m not going to take any of that, and I’m going to fight to get you guys higher wages and to get you healthcare that your family needs.”


BREAKING: @cenkuygur confirms he’s running for Congress in CA-25 pic.twitter.com/xXKpO7f8mC

— jordan (@JordanUhl) November 15, 2019

Uygur briefly worked as anchor for MSNBC in 2011 before leaving the network over its refusal to “challenge power.” He went on to co-found the progressive organization Justice Democrats, which works to replace centrist congressional Democrats with bold progressives.

In an indication of the strength of his digital media platform, Uygur announced Thursday that he raised over $100,000 from an average donation of $28 within three hours of launching his campaign.

“We have ridiculously low wages and a horrible healthcare system because politicians took money from those industries to sell you out,” Uygur told Politico. “It’s time people had a Representative who actually represented them rather than the greedy, corrupt donor class.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) Thursday night became the first member of Congress to endorse Uygur’s candidacy.

“Congress needs bold progressives,” Khanna said.

The post Young Turks Founder Cenk Uygur Announces Congressional Bid appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Roger Stone Guilty of Witness Tampering, Lying to Congress

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON — Roger Stone, a longtime friend and ally of President Donald Trump, was found guilty Friday of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his pursuit of Russian-hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election bid.

Stone was convicted of all seven counts in a federal indictment that accused him of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. He is the sixth Trump aide or adviser to be convicted of charges brought as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Stone has denied wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against him as politically motivated. He did not take the stand during the trial and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his defense.

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Stone, 67, showed no visible reaction as the verdict was read aloud, count by count. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 6. He could face up to 20 years. Another former Trump campaign aide, Michael Caputo, was removed by the courtroom by security officers after he turned his back on the jury after the verdict was read.

Stone smirked at reporters as he left the courtroom, holding hands with his wife. As he walked out of the courthouse, Stone was asked if he had any comment on the verdict and replied: “none whatsoever” before he hopped into a waiting SUV with his wife.

Trump tweeted minutes after the verdict, calling the conviction “a double standard like never seen before in the history of our Country,” because his frequent nemeses, including Hillary Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey and “including even Mueller himself,” have not been convicted. “Didn’t they lie?”

In a trial that lasted about a week, witnesses highlighted how Trump campaign associates were eager to gather information about emails the U.S. says were hacked by Russia and then provided to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Steve Bannon, who served as the campaign’s chief executive, testified during the trial the trial that Stone had boasted about his ties to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, alerting them to pending new batches of damaging emails. Campaign officials saw Stone as the “access point” to WikiLeaks, he said.

After the verdict was read, prosecutors asked for Stone to be jailed as he awaits sentencing, arguing that he may have violated a judge’s order that prohibits him from communicating with the media about his case. But Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected that request and said Stone will be subject to same conditions he faced following his arrest, including the gag order.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors used Stone’s own text messages and emails — some of which appeared to contradict his congressional testimony — to lay out their case that he lied to Congress and threatened a witness. Stone did not testify, and his lawyers called no witnesses in his defense.

On Tuesday, a top Trump campaign official, Rick Gates, who was a key cooperator in the Mueller probe, testified that that Stone tried to contact Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, to “debrief” him about developments on the hacked emails.

Prosecutors alleged Stone lied to Congress about his conversations about WikiLeaks with New York radio host and comedian Randy Credico — who scored an interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016, when he was avoiding prosecution by sheltering in the Ecuadoran embassy in London — and conservative writer and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.

During the 2016 campaign, Stone had mentioned in interviews and public appearances that he was in contact with Assange through a trusted intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans. But he started pressing Credico to broker a contact, and Credico testified that he told Stone to work through his own intermediary.

Earlier testimony revealed that Stone, while appearing before the House Intelligence Committee, named Credico as his intermediary to Assange and pressured Credico not to contradict him.

After Credico was contacted by Congress, he reached out to Stone, who told him he should “stonewall it” and “plead the fifth,” he testified. Credico also testified during Stone’s trial that Stone repeatedly told him to “do a ‘Frank Pentangeli,’” a reference to a character in “The Godfather: Part II” who lies before Congress.

Prosecutors said Stone had also threatened Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca, saying he was “going to take that dog away from you.”

The post Roger Stone Guilty of Witness Tampering, Lying to Congress appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Adam Schiff Accuses Trump of Witness Intimidation

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WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch provided chilling detail in Trump impeachment hearings Friday of the “big threat” she felt upon suddenly being ousted from her post and learning President Donald Trump had denounced her in his July phone call with Ukraine’s president. In that call, Trump assailed her as “bad news” and said she was “going to go through some things.”

In an extraordinary moment, even in an administration filled with them, Trump himself went after her again as she spoke, tweeting from the White House that everywhere she served had “turned bad.” He emphasized that as president he had the “absolute right” to appoint his own ambassadors.

Rather than distract from the career diplomat’s somber but powerful testimony, his interference was seen by Democrats as yet more evidence against him in the probe.

Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019

“It’s very intimidating,” Yovanovitch said when Trump’s new tweet was shown on a screen in the hearing room. “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidated.”

Democrats strongly agreed.

“I want you to know that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, Intelligence Committee chairman who displayed Trump’s attack.

Yovanovitch described a “smear campaign” against her by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others, including the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., before her firing.

She told the lawmakers her sudden removal had played into the hands of “shady interests the world over” with dangerous intentions toward the United States.

She recalled that as she had read the White House’s rough transcript of Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, another person said, “The color drained from my face.”

She said quietly, “Even now words fail me.”

Her removal is one of several events at the center of the impeachment effort.

“These events should concern everyone in this room,” the diplomat testified in opening remarks. “Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.”

The daughter of immigrants who fled the former Soviet Union and Nazi German, she described a 33-year career, including three tours as an ambassador to some of the world’s tougher postings, before arriving in Ukraine in 2016. She was forced out in May 2019.

She denied the accusations against her, including that she favored Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 election and that she circulated a “Do Not Prosecute” list to former top prosecutor in Ukraine, Sergiy Lutsenko, which she called a “fabrication.”

Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the panel, opened the day’s hearing saying she was “too tough on corruption for some, and her principled stance made her enemies.”

It became clear, he said, “President Trump wanted her gone.”

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, bemoaned the hearings as a “daylong TV spectacle.”

Nunes complained that Democrats are relying on hearsay testimony from witnesses who only know of Trump’s actions second-hand. He also pressed to hear from the still anonymous government whistleblower who first alerted officials about President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine that is in question. “These hearings should not be occurring at all,” he said.

Live Updates: Impeachment hearings

Just as the hearing was opening, the White House released its rough transcript of an earlier call Trump had with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that was largely congratulatory.

Nunes read that transcript aloud. In it, Trump mentioned his experience with the Miss Universe pageant in Ukraine and invited Zelenskiy to the White House. He closed with, “See you very soon.”

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, who has served both Republican and Democratic presidents, relayed her striking story of being told to “watch my back” and then being suddenly recalled by Trump in a swiftly developing series of events that sounded alarms about a White House shadow foreign policy.

In particular, Yovanovitch and others have described Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, as leading an “irregular channel” outside the diplomatic mainstream of U.S.-Ukraine relations. Asked during an earlier, closed-door deposition if anyone at the State Department who was alerted to Giuliani’s role tried to stop him, she testified, “I don’t think they felt they could.”

The White House has instructed officials not to comply with the probe, and most have been issued subpoenas to appear.

She and other officials now testifying publicly are providing accounts that Democrats are relying on to make the case that the president’s behavior was impeachable.

With the start of a second day of hearings to consider removal of America’s 45th president, Democrats and Republicans were both hardening their messages to voters.

Americans are deeply entrenched in two camps over impeachment, resulting in a mounting political battle that will further test the nation in one of the most polarizing eras of modern times.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Trump’s actions toward Ukraine amount to “bribery.”

Trump repeatedly assails the proceedings as a “hoax” and a “sham” and says he did nothing wrong.

The impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s July phone call with Zelenskiy that first came to attention when an anonymous government whistleblower filed a complaint.

In the phone conversation, Trump asked for a “favor,” according to an account provided by the White House. He wanted an investigation of Democrats and 2020 rival Joe Biden. Later it was revealed that the administration was withholding military aid from Ukraine at the time.


Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

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Can You Solve the Great AFDC Chart?

Mother Jones Magazine -

I have had the following chart sitting around for months and I just noticed it again today. But what does it mean? Why did I make it? What story was I planning to tell?

AFDC started out as a program for (white) widows. That was no problem: back in the 30s no one expected (white) widows to work so giving them a living allowance was widely supported. In the early 60s it expanded to incude any family where the father didn’t work. People grumbled a little bit. In the late 60s black women were allowed to get AFDC benefits. More grumbling. Then benefit requirements were eased, leading to larger enrollments. Yet more grumbling. And that was about it through the 1990s.

As of 1995 total benefits paid had for years been flat at about $25 billion, and benefits per recipient were actually declining, reaching their lowest level ever in 1994. So why was AFDC killed in favor of TANF? The program wasn’t skyrocketing out of control. There was some evidence that AFDC recipients didn’t look for jobs, but the evidence was kind of thin. Oh, and the AFDC rolls were full of black people, a big change from the 50s and early 60s.

Beyond all that, what point did I have to make? It’s driving me crazy. I’ll FedEx a free lollypop to whoever can guess what I was planning to do with this chart.

Americans Overwhelmingly Agree: Big Tech’s Data Collection Just Isn’t Worth the Risk

Mother Jones Magazine -

If there’s one thing connecting Cambridge Analytica, Equifax, the Office of Personnel Management, Ashley Madison, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok it’s this: We live in an increasingly data-driven world that generates gobs of information about each of us and what we do—and we have little to no power to stop it. If you’ve had this thought while mindlessly scrolling through social media, and then went about your day with sad state of silent acceptance, there’s a bit of good news out Friday: You’re not alone.

The new findings from the Pew Research Center paint a picture of a society that uses data for all sorts of seemingly-good things, such as saving money, arranging transportation, and allowing better access to information. Indeed, about six in 10 people believe it’s not possible to go through daily life without having some company collect their data. But eight out of every 10 people say the risks of such data collection outweigh the benefits. 

Roughly the same amount of people are concerned about the way their data is being used by corporations, with 64 percent saying they are concerned about how governments handle their data. Most people “feel they have little or no control over how these entities use their personal information.”

Taken together, “these findings point to an overall wariness about the state of privacy these days,” the authors note.

But, the authors add, people don’t hate all data across the board. Pluralities of people are in favor of more data about under-performing schools and of the government’s ability to “collect data about all Americans to assess who might be a potential terrorist,” and despite a track record of legal challenges and false positives. (In September, a federal judge ruled that one government terrorist screening database—which might contain more than one million names—was unconstitutional.)

The surveys also highlights how racial and gender biases have been baked into the systems that collect and harness data. Prominent examples include facial recognition systems that can’t distinguish black faces or different credit card limits for men and women. But the researchers found that racial minorities are much more leery about data collection and use than whites. The surveys found that black Americans are nearly 20 percent more likely than whites to believe the government is “tracking all or most of what they do” online (60 percent versus 43 percent) and are almost 30 percent more likely to believe that the government is tracking what they do offline (47 percent to 19 percent).

Read the full report here

Roger Stone Found Guilty on All Counts

Mother Jones Magazine -

A federal jury has convicted Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, of making false statements to Congress, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering.

The false statement and obstruction of justice charges have maximum sentence of five years each. Witness tampering carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. But under federal sentencing guidelines Stone, a non-violent offender without past convictions, can expect to receive a substantially shorter sentence. US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected a request by prosecutors for Stone to be immediately taken into custody. Jackson scheduled Stone’s sentencing for  Thursday February 6.

The verdict marks a sharp fall for Stone, who in the summer of 2016 functioned as the Trump campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks, Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon testified during the trial. Stone bragged publicly and that he had inside information on WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails stolen from Democrats, including from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The trial revealed that Stone was in contact with top Trump campaign officials—and, according to one witness, with Trump himself—regarding the Democratic emails, which US intelligence has concluded were stolen by Russian hackers.

When WikiLeaks on October 7, 2016, released emails stolen from Podesta, Stone appeared prescient. He accepted congratulations from Trump campaign officials for helping orchestrate it. “Well done,” Bannon’s assistant wrote in a text message to Stone.

The fallout from the emails, and Trump’s subsequent electoral victory, boosted Stone’s self-styled reputation as a master of political dirty tricks. An award-winning 2017 documentary, “Get Me Roger Stone” depicted Stone’s career—which included low-level work for Richard Nixon—positively enough that Stone aggressively promoted it himself.

But there was a problem with Stone’s self-promoting. He was essentially claiming a role in right in the middle of an alleged conspiracy involving Kremlin interference in the 2016 election. As congressional and Justice Department investigations into the Trump Russia scandal heated up, Stone walked back his boasts.

In September 2017, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Stone downplayed his ties to WikiLeaks. And, importantly, he claimed he had exchanged no emails, texts, or documents of any kind related to WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange. Stone also said that he did not communicate with the Trump campaign about what he claimed to have learned about the WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails. Stone told the committee, in an October 2017 letter, that he had used an intermediary to communicate with Assange—a comedian and activist named Randy Credico. But Stone said he never asked his intermediary to do anything related to Assange or WikiLeaks and that he had exchanged no written communications with that person about WikiLeaks.

These were all lies, prosecutors argued in trial. Stone exchanged numerous emails and texts with Trump campaign officials, including Bannon, about WikiLeaks. Stone also emailed with others, including Credico, about the group. On the very day that Stone told the House committee that he only communicated with Credico over the phone or in person, the two men had exchanged 72 text messages, prosecutors showed. Stone also, repeatedly, asked Credico to obtain information from Assange, prosecutors noted.

The government also argued that Stone lied by naming Credico as his backchannel. When Stone famously tweeted that it “it will soon [be] the Podesta’s time in the barrel,” prosecutors noted, the dirty trickster had not yet communicated with Credico about Assange. Stone instead appears to have based that claim on an August 2, 2016, email he received from Jerome Corsi, a right-wing proponent of conspiracy theories. Days earlier, Stone had instructed Corsi to travel to London, where Assange was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy, and “Get to Assange!” In his August 2 email, Corsi told Stone he had learned “the hackers” had damaging information on Podesta.

Prosecutors noted that regardless of whether Stone meant Corsi or Credico when he mentioned an intermediary, he had lied by claiming he did not ask that person to seek information from WikiLeaks and did not communicate with him in writing.

Stone knew he had lied to the committee, prosecutors said, because after his testimony, he began a campaign to prevent Credico from providing information to Congress or other investigators that would contradict Stone’s claims. Stone threatened and cajoled Credico, according to emails and texts revealed during the trial. In January 2018, Credico told Stone he knew Stone’s testimony was false. “No one cares,” Stone texted back. Stone told Credico he would “indicted for perjury if you are stupid enough to testify,” suggesting that Credico, an alcoholic, would be a less credible witness than Stone if their stories conflicted.

When Stone learned Credico had been subpoenaed by the committee, Stone encouraged Credico to “do a Frank Pentangeli” imitation. That’s a reference to a character in the movie Godfather Part II who reverses his plan to testify against organized crime boss Michael Corleone and lies to Congress after Corleone arranges to have Pentangeli’s brother brought from Sicily to the hearing. The movie scene was the subject of much discussion during the trial, though the US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson blocked prosecutors’ request to show a clip from the movie to jurors. Stone’s efforts to pressure Credico resulted in the witness tampering charge against him. 

On April 9, 2018, after Credico said he would reveal information contesting Stone’s claims and “all will come out.” Stone responded: “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die cock sucker.” Stone told Mother Jones last year that he was not threatening Credico and that he wrote those words because Credico “told me he had terminal prostate cancer.” Credico said he didn’t have prostate cancer and that Stone’s message “was a threat.” Lawyer’ for Stone, who did not testify in his own defense, did not bring up Credico’s supposed illness during the trial.

Stone’s trial has also proved damaging for Trump. The government argued that Stone’s motive was simple. “Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign, and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky said in his opening remarks to jurors last week.

Testimony Tuesday by former campaign staffer Rick Gates suggested that Trump probably lied to special counsel Robert Mueller about conversations he had in 2016 with Stone regarding WikiLeaks. Trump told Mueller in written answers that he did not recall “discussing WikiLeaks with [Stone], nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign.”

But Gates described a July 31, 2016, phone call between Trump and Stone, immediately after which Trump told Gates that “more information would be coming.” Gates also revealed that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort told Gates that he intended to brief Trump on information from Stone on WikiLeaks’ plans.

Yovanovitch Was “Appalled” When She Saw What Trump Thought of Her

Mother Jones Magazine -

Marie Yovanovitch, our former ambassador to Ukraine, describes her reaction when she saw how Donald talked about her in private:

“It was a terrible moment,” she told the House Intelligence Committee on the second day of public impeachment hearings….In the July 25 phone call, according to a rough transcript released by the White House, Mr. Trump called Ms. Yovanovitch “bad news” and said that “she’s going to go through some things.”

….Asked her reaction when she read that, Ms. Yovanovitch said: “Shocked. Appalled. Devastated that the president of the United States would talk about any ambassador like that to a foreign head of state — and it was me. I mean, I couldn’t believe it.” Asked what the words “going to go through” sounded like to her, she said, “It sounded like a threat.”

Them’s the breaks. When you resist repeated suggestions from Rudy Giuliani to focus on getting the Ukrainians to lie about Joe Biden, you have to figure your time is up. He’s America’s Mayor, after all, working on behalf of what’s good for the country, not just some geriatric mook using government resources to smear Joe Biden. Amirite?

Mike Pompeo Took Over a Crumbling State Department. Marie Yovanovitch’s Testimony Shows How He Made It Worse.

Mother Jones Magazine -

When Mike Pompeo took over as secretary of state last year, he inherited a slimmed-down workforce still reeling from the impact of a 16-month hiring freeze. In his first address to State Department employees, he vowed to restore their “swagger” and rebuild the department’s flagging role in Donald Trump’s administration.

On Friday, roughly 16 months after Pompeo’s first day at State, former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch gave House impeachment investigators a far different portrait of his leadership. Far from “swaggering,” US diplomats had been subjected to smear campaigns, co-signed by Trump, “from individuals with questionable motives.” 

If anyone has the authority to speak about smear campaigns, it’s Yovanovitch. A Foreign Service Officer with more than three decades of experience in government, she was abruptly ousted from her post in Kyiv after pushing an anti-corruption effort—in line with stated US policy at the time—that made her a target of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who convinced the president that she was disloyal. The campaign of disinformation is in line with several instances of Trump’s cronies, in cahoots with corrupt foreign oligarchs, pushing discredited attacks against career US officials, especially those with experience during the Obama administration. The smears frequently center around liberal billionaire George Soros, who Giuliani and his allies portray—with all the relevant anti-Semitic innuendo—as a puppet master controlling US diplomats and intelligence operatives. 

In her testimony opening remarks, Yovanovitch detailed the impact of that right-wing conspiracy feedback loop on not just her, but the State Department writ large:

The attacks are leading to a crisis in the State Department as the policy process is visibly unravelling, leadership vacancies go unfilled, and senior and midlevel officers ponder an uncertain future and head for the doors. The crisis has moved from the impact on individuals to an impact on the institution. The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage. This is not a time to undercut our diplomats.

It’s a familiar, if dispiriting comment on Trump’s treatment of the State Department—and Pompeo’s complicity in the attacks on career bureaucrats within it. Since his election, Trump has appointed more inexperienced ambassadors than any president since World War II, leading to roughly 40 percent of ambassadors coming from outside the Foreign Service, the corps of highly-trained diplomatic professionals meant to serve apolitically across administrations, a sharp increase from 30 percent under Obama. Among the least qualified of Trump’s handpicked diplomats is as ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. As I wrote this week, while career professionals like Yovanovitch were being pushed aside, Trump tasked personal cronies like Giuliani and Sondland, whose official portfolio does not include Ukraine, to pressure the Eastern European country’s leaders to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

The State Department’s rot goes far beyond Trump though. As Yovanovitch made clear in her testimony, senior department officials abandoned her even as no credible evidence emerged to even partially validate the accusations leveled against her. John Sullivan, then Pompeo’s No. 2, told lawmakers last month that he never sought to confirm the allegations of disloyalty against Yovanovitch or give credence to them. He acknowledged that she served “capably and admirably.” Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Pompeo, told House investigators in a private deposition last month that he spoke three separate times with Pompeo about issuing a statement in support of Yovanovitch, but the secretary “did not respond at all.” 

“What I was told is that there was concern that the rug would be pulled out from underneath the State Department if they put out something publicly,” Yovanovitch said in her own closed-door testimony to House investigators last month. “You know, that perhaps there would be a tweet of disagreement or something else.” As a member of Congress before joining the Trump administration, Pompeo was one of the most vocal critics of Hillary Clinton’s handling of the attack on US diplomats in Benghazi, pushing several conspiracy theories and hammering the Obama administration for not providing relevant documents to Congress. Now overseeing the department he once pilloried, Pompeo has become, as Obi-Wan Kenobi, might say, the very thing he swore to destroy.

Assessing her own experience in the spotlight, Yovanovitch on Friday described a “hollowing out” of the State Department. Career ambassadors, scared off by Trump or unwilling to serve for a secretary who won’t protect them, have retired in droves. As if to prove her point, less than an hour into the public hearing Friday morning, Trump tweeted a series of attacks against Yovanovitch, writing, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.” When Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, asked her to respond to the tweets Yovanovitch’s pained expression evinced an inability, at this point, to be shocked. “It’s very intimidating,” she said. “The effect is to be intimidating.”

Alex Main on Bolivia Coup

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

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(Washington Post, 11/1/19)

This week on counterspin: The Washington Post doesn’t want you to be confused, so they headlined their editorial, “Bolivia Is in Danger of Slipping Into Anarchy. It’s Evo Morales’s Fault.” Elite US media, you understand, are deeply invested in the well-being of Bolivia’s people, who are in uproar after a coup ousting Morales, over charges of irregularities in the recent election that appear to have no evidential grounding—nor, in media’s view, to require any. Back in 2006, US media were counseling Morales that policies like nationalizing the country’s gas industry were popular but “not the answer to Bolivia’s problems.” Their preferred answer, judging by today’s coverage, is celebrating the extra-legal pushout of the country’s first indigenous president, and welcoming the self-declared leadership of a legislator who has tweeted that she “dream[s] of a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rites.” That’s the topsy-turvy world of elite US media’s “concerned” foreign policy. Which is why we’ll look for a different view from Alex Main, director of international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at coverage of Veterans Day.

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