2019-01-01 00:00:00 ..
2019-04-18 10:57:46 UTC
2019-04-18 12:24:09 UTC
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Two of the Democratic Party’s biggest wins last month occurred in Wisconsin and Michigan, where their candidates won gubernatorial elections, unseating a well-known incumbent in the former and flipping the seat in the latter. In anticipation of having to work with a Democratic governor, state lawmakers are aiming to hurriedly pass legislation that would dilute the executives' powers.
The moves in both states have drawn comparisons to Republican efforts in NC in 2016, when lawmakers pushed through legislation limiting the authority of the state’s Democratic governor, after he defeated the incumbent Republican.
The proposals include preventing the incoming governor from withdrawing Wisconsin from a legal challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act, sidestepping the attorney general’s power to represent the state in litigation and rescheduling a 2020 election to boost the chances of a Republican state Supreme Court Justice, among others.
U.S. Republicans and Democrats have a history of using lame-duck sessions to advance priorities ahead of power shifts. Wisconsin Democrats in 2010 unsuccessfully tried to push through public union contracts after Walker won election while promising to get tough with organized labor.
Meanwhile, in Utah, lawmakers are getting ready to meet in a special lame-duck session on Monday (Dec 3rd) to rewrite a medical marijuana law that voters passed this November. Patient advocates are saying the move is an end run around voters.
Thousands of "gilets jaunes" (yellow vest) protesters, often masked, riot in the streets of Paris and other major French cities for a third weekend. Hundreds have been arrested and injured (including police) in the often violent protests. Reuters documents the activities in some detail. This video shows a mob of protesters surround and attack a policeman (it's ok, he gets away, with help from one or more of the protesters).
The protests are over fuel taxes imposed to discourage fossil fuel use and help France meet its carbon emission goals under the Paris Climate Accord (which the U.S. is not party to.)
With the usual nod to common sense:
The U.S. embassy issued a statement urging citizens to be careful, saying that "violent clashes between police and protesters" continued in at least three of Paris's 20 districts, known as arrondissements. "Avoid all demonstrations, seek shelter in the vicinity of clashes, follow instructions of security personnel"
Chants and graffiti sprayed during the protests sometimes expresses frustration with the administration:
[Some] targeted the Arc de Triomphe, chanting "Macron Resign" and scrawling on the facade of the towering 19th-century arch: "The yellow vests will triumph."
And other times simply more general anarchistic statements:
Protesters smashed the windows of a newly opened flagship Apple Store (AAPL.O) and luxury boutiques of Chanel and Dior, where they daubed the slogan "Merry Mayhem" on a wooden board.
French President Emmanuel Macron commented Tuesday on the protests, saying that:
he understood the anger of voters outside France's big cities over the squeeze fuel prices have put on households. But he insisted he would not be bounced into changing policy by "thugs".
Those "conciliatory" words have no doubt improved the situation.
The protests enjoy widespread support inside and outside the major cities, including from many of the police even as they strive to keep order, and show no signs of abating.
Also at NBC.
Facebook's outgoing policy chief took the blame Wednesday night for hiring a consulting firm to investigate and peddle negative stories about the company's critics, including by linking them to liberal philanthropist George Soros.
The blog post by the executive, Elliot Schrage, landed on the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend, and appeared aimed at absolving CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg of responsibility for a lobbying campaign that sparked accusations that Facebook was fueling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
[...] The New York Times reported last week that Facebook, under pressure over reports of Russian election interference on its platform, hired the Republican-linked consulting firm, Definers Public Affairs, which among other things sought to tie anti-Facebook groups to the Soros-backed Open Society Foundations.
Facebook has reposted [the Schrage blog post] with an addition by COO Sheryl Sandberg, who claimed: "I didn't remember a firm called Definers. I asked our team to look into the work Definers did for us and to double-check whether anything had crossed my desk. Some of their work was incorporated into materials presented to me and I received a small number of emails where Definers was referenced.
The president of George Soros's philanthropy called for oversight of Facebook Inc. by U.S. lawmakers after the social media company confirmed it hired a controversial public relations outfit to research the billionaire financier.
[...] In response to Facebook's memo, Patrick Gaspard, president of Mr. Soros's Open Society Foundations, said in a tweet on Wednesday: "So @facebook decides to drop a turkey on Thanksgiving eve, with admission that Definers was tasked by company leadership to target and smear George Soros because he publicly criticized their out of control business model. Sorry, but this needs independent, congressional oversight."
Soros Fund Management, which Soros founded and chairs, exited social-network giant Facebook (FB) completely in the third quarter, while also slashing positions in Netflix stock (NFLX) and Goldman Sachs Group stock (GS). Those three stocks have tumbled in the fourth quarter so far, with Facebook and Goldman setting new lows Tuesday. They are down almost 20% and 15%, respectively, so far this quarter. Highflying streaming-content giant Netflix has tumbled almost 29% since the end of September.
[...] Soros Fund Management sold all its Facebook stock before the end of the third quarter, prior to publication of the New York Times report. Following the report, the head of Soros' Open Society Foundations criticized what it called "Facebook's smear campaign" against Soros.
Muzzling the press is chapter one in the authoritarian ruler's playbook. By the Founders' design, the president of the United States is not a king or dictator. He doesn't control the media, or get to decide which reporters are assigned to cover him.
A free press isn't free if the government imposes rules on what reporters can ask and how they must ask it. That violates the First Amendment. Period.
Banning reporters from asking follow-up questions or challenging the president's statements, under threat of taking away their access to the White House, hobbles the watchdog function of the media. White House reporters will be looking over their shoulders, calibrating the consequences, every time they ask tough questions. Meanwhile, the president will be able to dodge accountability and lie to the American people with even more impunity.
First daughter and presidential advisor Ivanka Trump used a personal email account dozens of times to conduct official White House business, The Washington Post reports, citing an internal White House investigation. It's an ironic revelation given her father's obsession with Hillary Clinton's own use of a private email server during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Federal law requires government officials to preserve written records of their activities—and that includes email. Government email systems are set up to comply with these laws, and federal IT guidelines require government officials to use their official email accounts for all official business. The use of official email accounts may also reduce the risk of sensitive communications being intercepted by foreign intelligence agencies.
[...] Ivanka Trump's use of a personal email account was discovered in September 2017. Ivanka said she was simply unfamiliar with rules requiring official business to be conducted via official email accounts—despite the fact that her father had made Hillary Clinton's violation of the same rules a central theme of his campaign.
Last year Politico reported that Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kusher, had been conducting official business using an email address on the same ijkfamily.com domain. But at the time it wasn't known if Ivanka was doing the same thing. We learned about Ivanka's use of the ijkfamily.com domain for government business last November, but until now we didn't know the extent of Ivanka's use of this activity.
Amid international uproar over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are agitating to prevent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from becoming king, three sources close to the royal court said.
Dozens of princes and cousins from powerful branches of the Al Saud family want to see a change in the line of succession but would not act while King Salman - the crown prince's 82-year-old father - is still alive, the sources said. They recognize that the king is unlikely to turn against his favorite son, known in the West as MbS.
Rather, they are discussing the possibility with other family members that after the king's death, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, 76, a younger full brother of King Salman and uncle of the crown prince, could take the throne, according to the sources.
Prince Ahmed, King Salman's only surviving full brother, would have the support of family members, the security apparatus and some Western powers, one of the Saudi sources said.
Prince Ahmed returned to Riyadh in October after 2-1/2 months abroad. During the trip, he appeared to criticize the Saudi leadership while responding to protesters outside a London residence chanting for the downfall of the Al Saud dynasty. He was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the ruling family's senior members, who opposed MbS becoming crown prince in 2017, two Saudi sources said at the time.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration's continued support of Saudi Arabia has been denounced by several U.S. Senators:
The White House's pledge to maintain its strong military and economic alliance with Saudi Arabia amid reports that U.S. intelligence has assessed that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the gruesome murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has ignited a flurry of bipartisan condemnation in Washington.
After President Trump issued a remarkable statement on Tuesday in which he acknowledged that the heir apparent to the Saudi throne may have known about the "tragic event," but that his administration nevertheless "intended to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia," several Republican and Democratic members of Congress denounced the White House's position.
Previously: Turkey Says that a Missing Critic of the Saudi Government was Killed in Saudi Consulate in Istanbul
Saudi Arabia Reportedly Prepared to Admit Involvement in Journalist's Death
CIA Concludes That Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Khashoggi Killed
The Planetary Society reports:
Representative John Culberson, an 8-term Texas Republican and staunch supporter of NASA and planetary exploration, lost his re-election bid to Democrat Lizzie Fletcher last week. Many factors played into this outcome, but one bears consideration by space advocates: his support for the scientific search for life at Europa was seen as a weakness and attacked accordingly.
Over the past four years, Culberson used his chairmanship of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee to increase spending on NASA and missions to search for life on Europa. He directed hundreds of millions of dollars to this effort and played a critical role in getting the Europa Clipper mission officially adopted by NASA and the White House. And he did this without cannibalizing other NASA programs. His motivation was passion, not parochialism, as the prime benefactor of these federal dollars was California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located far outside his Houston-area congressional district.
Submitted via IRC for Bytram
The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to American officials.
The C.I.A. made the assessment based on the crown prince's control of Saudi Arabia, which is such that the killing would not have taken place without his approval, and has buttressed its conclusion with two sets of crucial communications: intercepts of the crown prince's calls in the days before the killing, and calls by the kill team to a senior aide to the crown prince.
[...] The increasingly definitive assessment from the spy agency creates a problem for President Trump, who has tied his administration to Prince Mohammed and proclaimed him the future of Saudi Arabia, a longtime American ally. But the new assessment by the C.I.A. is sure to harden the resolve of lawmakers on Capitol Hill to continue to investigate the killing of Mr. Khashoggi and punish Saudi Arabia.
Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, has been particularly close to Prince Mohammed. Mr. Kushner has long advocated that a strong relationship with the Saudis is in the United States' interest, and he has pushed to maintain support for the crown prince despite the death of Mr. Khashoggi, who Saudi officials now say was killed with a lethal dose of tranquilizers and dismembered. Previously, Saudi officials said that Mr. Khashoggi had been strangled.
[...] Neither administration officials nor intelligence officers believe the controversy over Mr. Khashoggi will drive Prince Mohammed from power, which is one reason White House officials believe cutting ties with the prince would not be in the interest of the United States.
takyon: The Saudis have denied the reports.
NPR is reporting that Democrat Jared Golden has been declared the winner of Maine House District 2 after ranked-choice voting (RCV) boosted his vote count over Republican Bruce Poliquin. Poliquin had received more initial votes than Golden, but did not receive the requisite 50% of the vote.
Maine's new ranked-choice system of voting allows voters to rank candidates in their order of preference and to transfer their votes if no candidate gets more than 50 percent.
Local newspaper Portland Press Herald fills in some details:
Golden captured 50.5 percent of the vote to Poliquin’s 49.5 percent to become the first challenger to defeat an incumbent in Maine’s sprawling 2nd District in a century. The Marine Corps veteran and Lewiston lawmaker also made history by winning the nation’s first congressional election to utilize ranked-choice voting, enabling him to erase an initial deficit by securing the second- and third-choice votes of people who cast their ballots for two independents.
The final vote tally was 139,231 votes for Golden versus 136,326 votes for Poliquin – a margin of 2,905 votes.
However, Thursday’s ranked-choice voting results won’t be the final word on the 2nd District race, which was one of the most expensive in the country. Poliquin defiantly declared Thursday afternoon that he “won the constitutional ‘one-person, one-vote'” tally on Election Day and vowed to continue his lawsuit challenging the legality of ranked-choice voting.
[...] Poliquin led Golden by 2,632 votes after Election Day, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office. But neither Poliquin nor Golden received majority support during the initial tally, with both pulling in roughly 46 percent, while independents Tiffany Bond and William Hoar received a combined 8 percent of the vote.
That triggered Thursday’s ranked-choice runoff, which came after staffers in Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office spent several days scanning and downloading all of the nearly 290,000 ballots cast in the 2nd District on Nov. 6. The runoff only took a few minutes to complete as a specialized computer software eliminated Hoar and Bond from the equation and redistributed their supporters’ votes to the candidates – either Poliquin or Golden – who they had ranked highest.
In the end, Golden gained 10,232 votes from the ranked-choice retabulations while Poliquin gained 4,695 votes. That allowed Golden to overcome a 2,632-vote deficit from the initial vote. Roughly 8,000 of the ballots cast for the independents did not designate an additional choice or did not select either of the major-party candidates.
Maine voters first approved the switch to ranked-choice voting in November 2016 and then reaffirmed that decision via a second ballot initiative in June.
Also at WGME.
The Russian government has denied having anything to do with hacking the US Democratic party in 2016, although in a court filing this week stressed that even if it did break into the DNC's servers, it is immune from prosecution.
And furthermore the Kremlin claimed America is "one of the most prolific practitioners of cyberattacks and cyber-intrusions on the planet." So, nerr!
"The [Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act] FSIA provides that foreign sovereign states enjoy absolute jurisdictional immunity from suit unless a plaintiff can demonstrate that one of the FSIA's enumerated 'exceptions' applies," argued [PDF] the Russian government this week in a New York court in response to a lawsuit from the DNC.
The DNC claims that it was subject to a "military attack" by Kremlin intelligence, causing Russia to argue back that any act of its military is a sovereign action and so therefore it can't be sued for it.
It's an amazing defense though one the DNC foresaw. It argued in its initial court paperwork [PDF] that "Russia is not entitled to sovereign immunity because the DNC's claims arise out of Russia's trespass onto the DNC's private servers - a tort allegedly committed in the United States.
"In addition, Russia committed the trespass in order to steal trade secrets and commit economic espionage, two forms of commercial activity undertaken in and directly affecting the United States."
Of course this being 2018 and Russia, the Putin administration can't leave it at that, and takes the opportunity to troll the US government by pointing out that the immunity provision is also heavily relied upon by Uncle Sam and its officials abroad.
"The United States benefits significantly from the sovereign immunity that it enjoys (and US officials enjoy) in foreign courts around the world with respect to the United States' frequency acts of cyber intrusion and political interference," Russia's response reads. "As current and former US officials have acknowledged on many occasion, the United States - acting primarily through the National Security Agency (NSA) with the US Department of Defense - is one of the most prolific practitioners of cyberattacks and cyber-intrusions on the planet."
Pot calling the kettle black?