Paul Gauguin Brooding woman 1891
Well, censure appears to be the word of the day.
• Is Censure The Democrat Escape Clause? (Noble)
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) is not one of those who represent a 2016 Trump-voting district. In fact, her safe Democrat district encompasses part of eastern Detroit. Even so, Lawrence has seen the writing on the wall: Among independent voters, enthusiasm for impeachment is waning, and Lawrence – who previously supported the idea – is perhaps now thinking beyond her own chances of re-election. “I will tell you, sitting here knowing how divided this country is,” Lawrence explained Nov. 24 during a radio interview, “I don’t see the value of taking [Trump] out of office, but I do see the value of putting down a marker saying his behavior is not acceptable.”
An editorial, published Nov. 23 by The Detroit News, suggests censure of the president rather than impeachment, and The Chicago Tribune followed suit on Nov. 25. It is neither unfair nor inaccurate to point out that the left-wing media rarely take up a political narrative not preapproved by someone within the Democratic Party. So the sudden appearance of editorials arguing for censure strongly suggests that Democrat strategists are leaning in that direction or at least testing the waters. Unlike impeachment, censure is not a constitutional measure. That is not to say that censure is unconstitutional, but that it is simply a course of action devised by Congress and not described in the nation’s founding document. There is no mandatory consequence to censure, and nobody would suggest that censure could lead to removal from the office of president.
It has been used most often to rebuke or reprimand members of Congress, though Trump, were he censured, would not be the first commander in chief to have faced it. In effect, censure is an act of disapproval. For a member of Congress, it may entail such undesirable consequences as loss of committee memberships or even suspension; it comes with no penalties when used against executive branch officials. And that is how it should be, or the concepts of separation of powers and co-equal branches of government would likely be swept away in an avalanche of partisan censure votes. Both the Senate and the House have the power to censure or reprimand, and each chamber may do it without the approval or involvement of the other. Censure requires only a simple majority. At least some Democrats, surely, are considering how much easier than impeachment censure will be. They also may be considering how a censure resolution will provide the opportunity to pontificate at length – on live TV – about Trump’s moral turpitude and failings, both as a human being and as a president.
A lone voice in the wilderness: “..you can’t win support from people that you treat “like garbage.”
• Tulsi Gabbard Slams Democrats for Calling Trump Supporters ‘Deplorables’ (GP)
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard once again defended supporters of President Donald Trump, as well as her appearances on Fox News, during an interview with Joe Rogan on Tuesday night. The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said that you can’t lead Americans as president if you’re going to throw “half of them away.” “It’s one thing to say you’re gonna go on Fox News and tussle with Sean Hannity about things you disagree on, but what they see as more dangerous is finding areas where you actually do agree,” Gabbard proclaimed.
“I have a platform to be able to speak to millions of people across the country about the kind of leadership I bring in the area of foreign policy. What I would do here in this country, what I would do there in that country if I were president today. And I have the opportunity to deliver that message directly to people’s living rooms or offices or wherever they are.” Rep. Gabbard was attacked by Sen. Kamala Harris during the November Democratic Primary debate for her willingness to appear on Fox News.
“I think in some of these areas, Tucker and I will disagree on a whole host of things, but on some of these issues of foreign policy he’ll say, ‘Yeah, I agree with you,’” she continued. “And I think when you look at this cancel culture — I was attacked on the debate stage for going on Fox News — how do you think you’re gonna lead this country, all Americans, if you’re completely not only shutting out and not willing to do talk to half the country that watches Fox News, but you’re in fact disrespecting and dismissing them just because they may disagree with you, or they watch a different news channel than you do. I think that’s the bigger issue here, is you know, yeah, there’s a political consequence.” She noted that you can’t win support from people that you treat “like garbage.”
Trump had no choice, he was outnumbered. China also has no choice, it must respond, but Xi knows what situation Trump is in.
• China Threatens Retaliation After Trump Signs Hong Kong Democracy Bill (ZH)
[..] on day 510 of the trade war, it appears the president was confident enough that a collapse in trade talks won’t drag stocks too far lower, and moments after futures reopened at 6pm, the White House said that Trump had signed the Hong Kong bill backing pro-democracy protesters, defying China and making sure that every trader’s Thanksgiving holiday was just ruined.Needless to say, no differences will be “settled amicably” and now China will have no choice but to retaliate, aggressively straining relations with the US, and further complicating Trump’s effort to wind down his nearly two-year old trade war with Beijing.
Trump’s signing of the bill comes during a period of unprecedented unrest in Hong Kong, where anti-government protests sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill proposal have ballooned into broader calls for democratic reform and police accountability. “The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act reaffirms and amends the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, specifies United States policy towards Hong Kong and directs assessment of the political developments in Hong Kong,” the White House said in a statement. “Certain provisions of the act would interfere with the exercise of the president’s constitutional authority to state the foreign policy of the United States.”
The legislation, S. 1838, which was passed virtually unanimously in both chambers, requires annual reviews of Hong Kong’s special trade status under American law and will allow Washington to suspend said status in case the city does not retain a sufficient degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework. The bill also sanctions any officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses or undermining the city’s autonomy. The House cleared the bill 417-1 on Nov. 20 after the Senate passed it without opposition, veto-proof majorities that left Trump with little choice but to acquiesce, or else suffer bruising fallout from his own party. the GOP.
Trump also signed into law the PROTECT Hong Kong act, which will prohibit the sale of US-made munitions such as tear gas and rubber bullets to the city’s authorities. While many members of Congress in both parties have voiced strong support for protesters demanding more autonomy for the city, Trump had stayed largely silent, even as the demonstrations have been met by rising police violence. Until now.
A tangled web.
• Obama Holdover Investigated for ‘Illegally Leaked’ Classified Document (ET)
The Obama holdover heading the Pentagon office reportedly under investigation by the U.S. attorney who is conducting the criminal probe of the Trump–Russia investigation was accused of leaking a classified document, in a recent court filing for retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. The connection hasn’t been previously reported. According to a Nov. 21 report by independent journalist Sara Carter, U.S. Attorney John Durham is questioning personnel in the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA). ONA awarded about $1 million in contracts to FBI informant Stefan Halper, who appears to have played a key role in alleged U.S. intelligence agency spying on 2016 Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.
In addition, however, a court filing indicates that ONA’s director, James H. Baker, “is believed to be the person who illegally leaked the transcript of Mr. Flynn’s calls” to The Washington Post. Specifically, the filing states, “ONA Director Baker regularly lunched with Washington Post Reporter David Ignatius.” The filing adds that Baker “was Halper’s ‘handler’” at ONA. Moreover, according to the court filing, the tasks assigned to “known long-time operative for the CIA/FBI” Halper “seem to have included slandering Mr. Flynn with accusations of having an affair with a young professor (a British national of Russian descent).” The filing notes that Flynn’s defense team has requested phone records for then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, likewise in order to confirm contacts with Ignatius.
The filing singles out records for Jan. 10, 2017, when, according to the filing, “Clapper told Ignatius in words to the effect of ‘take the kill shot on Flynn.’” The Pentagon’s current inspector general has already found that Baker’s office “did not maintain documentation of the work performed by Professor Halper or any communication that ONA personnel had with Professor Halper.” As a result, according to the inspector general, ONA staff “could not provide sufficient documentation that Professor Halper conducted all of his work in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”
Quite the attack.
• The Real Barack Obama Has Finally Revealed Himself (Jacobin)
What does Barack Obama want? To ask the question is both to wonder how one of the world’s most influential people chooses to dedicate his time and to consider to what ends he thinks it is best put to use. As Nathan Robinson and I argued a little more than two years ago, a post-presidency offers us the ideal heuristic for doing exactly that. In office, or so it has often been suggested, Obama’s fiery progressive spirit was endlessly stifled by a combination of events, GOP obstruction, and the inherent conservatism of the American legislative process. Having left such constraints behind, many believed, post-2016 Obama would now be free to do just about anything he wanted — meaning that the former president’s real self could finally surface from beneath the depths of institutional necessity under which it had hitherto been submerged.
This prediction turned out to be true enough, just not in the way many Obama partisans assumed. Equipped with fame, wealth, and a vast reservoir of residual goodwill Obama now has more power to do good in an hour than most of us do in a lifetime. The demands of etiquette and propriety notwithstanding, he no longer has intransigent Blue Dog senators to appease, donors to placate, or personal electoral considerations to keep him up at night. When he speaks or acts, we can be reasonably certain he does so out of sincere choice and that the substance of his words and actions reflect the real Barack Obama and how he honestly sees the world.
It therefore tells us a great deal that, given the latitude, resources, and moral authority with which to influence events, Obama has spent his post-presidency cozying up to the global elite and delivering vapid speeches to corporate interests in exchange for unthinkable sums of money. Though often remaining out of the spotlight, he has periodically appeared next to various CEOs at events whose descriptions might be read as cutting satire targeting the hollowness of business culture if they weren’t all-too real. As the world teeters on the brink of ecological disaster, he recently cited an increase in America’s output of oil under his administration as a laudable achievement.
When Obama has spoken about or intervened in politics, it’s most often been to bolster the neoliberal center-right or attack and undermine the Left. Having emerged from seclusion to endorse the likes of Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, Obama also rang up Britain’s austerity-loving Conservative prime minister Theresa May on election night in 2017 to offer reassurance and trash the Labour Party’s electoral prospects. Only last week, while denouncing the Democratic Party’s “activist wing,” the former president who had once introduced himself to the nation as a progressive, community-minded outsider inveighed against those pushing for a more ambitious direction — contemptuously instructing a group of wealthy donors not to concern themselves too-much with the irrational zealotry of “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds.”
Why do we still have polls left? What purpose do they serve other than entertainment?
• Reuters Gamed A Poll To Show Rising Support For Trump Impeachment (ZH)
After several major polls revealed a sharp decline in support for impeaching President Trump in the wake of unconvincing public testimony by aggrieved bureaucrats (and at least one House Democrat publicly opposing the move), Reuters/Ipsos now claims support for impeachment has increased. “The latest poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, found that 47% of adults in the United States felt Trump “should be impeached,” while 40% said he should not. The result, combined with Reuters/Ipsos polling over the past several weeks, showed that the number of Americans who want to impeach the president increasingly outnumbers those who do not.” -Reuters The problem? Reuters sampled a disproportionate number of Democrats. Buried at the bottom of their report, they disclose:
“The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,118 adults, including 528 Democrats, 394 Republicans and 111 independents. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 3 percentage points.” In other words, Reuters sampled more Democrats than Republicans and independents combined to arrive at their conclusion. They also reveal that ” about eight in 10 Democrats [were] supportive of impeaching Trump, and eight in 10 Republicans opposed,” and that seven in 10 Republicans felt the House impeachment inquiry had not been conducted fairly. As we noted during the 2016 US election, Reuters/Ipsos wasoversampling Democrats when they found that Hillary Clinton had a giant lead over Donald Trump – using a poll that sampled 44% Democrats and 33% Republicans.
But hey, Adam Schiff needs something to back his claim that support for impeachment has grown “dramatically” over the past two months.
And here’s another poll. Does anyone fully understand this system?
• Fewer Than 120,000 Tactical Votes Could Block Boris Johnson Premiership (Ind.)
Fewer than 120,000 anti-Brexit tactical votes in the right seats could deny Boris Johnson an overall majority in the House of Commons, new polling suggests. A large-scale survey of almost 40,000 voters found that Conservatives are heading for 366 seats in the House of Commons, giving Mr Johnson a comfortable majority of 82. But analysis for the Best for Britain campaign for a second EU referendum found that in 57 seats, the Tory candidate could be defeated by 4,000 or fewer anti-Brexit voters voting tactically. And the campaign said that as few as 117,314 pro-EU tactical votes in the right seats could produce a hung parliament which could deliver a Final Say referendum.
Scary enough fpr you?
• US Wants NHS On Table For Post-Brexit Trade Deal – Labour Dossier (Ind.)
US negotiators pushed for “full market access” to services including the NHS in talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal with the UK, a cache of leaked documents has revealed. The papers were dramatically unveiled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said they left “in tatters” the prime minister’s denial that the NHS will be on the table in trade talks. The 451-page dossier of official files showed the US had “pushed hard” to extend patents on drugs developed by American corporations in a way which would raise prices to NHS patients. A UK negotiator said such a move could put Britain “in difficult territory”.
And the dossier made clear that the US has been “emphatic” in its insistence that climate change should not even be mentioned in the deal, which Boris Johnson wants to strike as soon as possible after the UK leaves the European Union. But furious Conservatives accused Mr Corbyn of “out-and-out lying” and suggested he was peddling conspiracy theories in a bid to distract attention away from his difficulties over antisemitism allegations and Labour’s plans for Brexit and taxation. Mr Johnson dismissed the Labour leader’s claims as “total nonsense”, and said: “I can give you an absolute cast-iron guarantee that this is a complete diversion. That the NHS under no circumstances would be on the table for negotiation, for sale.”
[..] After a slew of bad headlines about his refusal to apologise for his handling of antisemitism during a TV interview on Tuesday, Mr Corbyn came back fighting with the claim that Mr Johnson’s government was “preparing to sell our NHS”. He pointed to details in the dossier which showed that the US was pushing for a deal in which all services would be opened up to American companies unless they were specifically exempted. “Total market access” should be the “baseline assumption of the trade negotiations” because it “incentivises freer trade”, the dossier said. UK officials assured their US counterparts that Britain would be “a liberalising influence” and that together they could “fly the good flag for services liberalisation”.
“That’s a green light for breaking open Britain’s public services so corporations can profit from them,” said Mr Corbyn. And he warned: “The US is demanding that our NHS is on the table in negotiations for a toxic deal – it’s already being talked about in secret. That could lead to runaway privatisation of our health service. “Mega-corporations see Johnson’s alliance with Trump as a chance to make billions from the illness and sickness of people in this country. “And if the Conservatives have their way and this deal goes forward, the changes I’ve revealed will be almost irreversible.”
A foreigner paid for dirt on a political opponent. What do we call that?
• Christopher Steele Distributed Other Dossier Reports (Solomon)
Just before Christmas 2015, the British intelligence operative Christopher Steele emailed a report to private clients that included an American lawyer for a Ukrainian oligarch. The title of the dossier was “FIRTASH Abortive Return to Ukraine,” and it purported to provide intelligence on why the energy oligarch Dmitri Firtash tried, but failed, to return to his home country of Ukraine. “FIRTASH’s talk of returning to Ukraine a genuine ambition rather than merely a ruse to reveal Ukrainian government’s hand. However the oligarch developed cold feet upon the news of a negative reception at Boryspil airport,” Steele reported on Dec. 23, 2015.
Perhaps most important to the recipients, the former MI6 agent’s report purported to share the latest thinking of Russian and U.S. officials on Firtash, who at the time faced U.S. criminal charges and was awaiting extradition from Austria. Those charges and extradition remain unresolved four years later. Firtash insists on his innocence, while the U.S. government stands by it case despite recent criticism from Austrian and Spanish authorities. “The prevarication over his return has lost FIRTASH credibility with the Russians, but his precarious position in Austria leaves him little choice but to acquiesce with Moscow’s demands,” the Steele report claimed. “Separate American sources confirm that US Government regards FIRTASH as a conduit for Russian influence and he remains a pariah to the Americans.”
The anecdote of the Firtash report underscores that challenges the FBI faced when it used Steele in 2016 as a human source in the Russia collusion probe. He not only opposed Trump and was paid by Hillary Clinton’s opposition research firm to dig up dirt on the then-GOP nominee, he also was in the business of selling intelligence to private clients – all perfectly legal — while informing for the FBI.
Robert Mueller gave it away.
• “Russian Trolls” Did Not “Sow Discord” – They Influenced No One (MoA)
The U.S. has claimed that the Russia government tried to influence the 2016 election through Facebook and Twitter. Russia supposedly did this through people who worked the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia. The IRA people ran virtual persona on U.S. social networks which pretended to have certain political opinions. It also spent on advertising supposedly to influence the election. U.S. intelligence claimed that the purpose of the alleged Russian influence campaign was to “sow discord” within the United States. But the IRA had nothing to do with the Russian government. It had no interests in politics. And a new study confirms that the idea that it was “sowing discord” is blatant nonsense.
The Mueller investigation indicted 13 Russian persons and three Russian legal entities over the alleged influence campaign. But, as we wrote at that time, there was more to it than the media reported: “The published indictment gives support to our long held believe that there was no “Russian influence” campaign during the U.S. election. What is described and denounced as such was instead a commercial marketing scheme which ran click-bait websites to generate advertisement revenue and created online crowds around virtual persona to promote whatever its commercial customers wanted to promote. The size of the operation was tiny when compared to the hundreds of millions in campaign expenditures. It had no influence on the election outcome.”
The IRA hired people in Leningrad for little money and asked them to open accounts on U.S. social media. The virtual persona they created and ran were to attract as many persons to those accounts as possible. They did that by posting funny dog pictures or by taking strong political positions. They were ‘influencers’ who sold their customers’ products to the people they attracted. The sole purpose was the same as in any commercial media. Create content to attract ‘eyeballs’, then sell those eyeballs to advertisers.
The IRA also bought advertisement to attract more people to its accounts. But the amount it spent was tiny. The final price tag for the 2016 election was $6.5 billion for the presidential and congressional elections combined. The IRA spend a total of $100,000 to promote its own accounts. But only some $45,000 of that was spend before the election. It was 0.000007 cent for every election dollar that was spend during that time. It is statistically impossible that the mostly apolitical IRA spending had any effect on the election.
Not the same all over Manhattan, but the trend is there.
• Brick & Mortar Rent Meltdown, Manhattan Style (WS)
These are major shopping corridors in Manhattan, and in nearly all of them, asking rents for ground-floor retail space have been dropping for years – and in some of them by half. For example, the average asking rent on Madison Avenue between 57th Street and 72nd Street, plunged 22% in the second half of 2019, compared to the same period last year, to $906 per square foot per year, and is down 47% from the first half in 2015, according to the bi-annual Manhattan Retail Report released today by the Real Estate Board of New York. The REBNY report points out, “An increased amount of leases expiring has contributed to the high availability rates [meaning, vacancies] that has led owners to lower asking rents and offer more short-term lease agreements.”
Falling asking rents and better terms in the Madison Avenue corridor – better deals for prospective tenants – help bring out prospective tenants, according to the report: “Softening rents has led to increased absorption as recent leases consist of retailers relocating to smaller-sized storefronts with better co-tenancy. Notables tenants such as Akris, Mont Blanc, and Morgane Le Fay indicate that apparel tenants still dominate this corridor.” The report is entirely focused on ground-floor retail spaces. Of the 17 shopping corridors in Manhattan tracked by the REBNY, average asking rents fell in 11 of them. But since 2015, asking rents in all but three of them have dropped sharply.
The true colors of Mutti.
• Merkel Says NATO Is ‘More Important’ Now Than During Cold War (RT)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said NATO is now equally or more important than it was during the Cold War, a praise being sang to a military bloc long without its arch-rival and with a history of interventions.
East Germany native Angela Merkel provided her very complimentary take as NATO braces to mark their 70th anniversary at a special summit in London. Keeping the military bloc in place today “is even more in our very own interests as it was in the Cold War – or at least as important as it was in the Cold War,” the Chancellor told German MPs. “Because, and the Foreign Minister [Heiko Maas] said yesterday, Europe currently cannot defend itself on its own,” she reiterated.
Slightly contradicting her own words, the chancellor admitted that the US “no longer automatically takes up responsibility when it’s burning around us.” As the formal etiquette prescribes, Merkel called NATO a “bulwark for peace and freedom” over the past 70 years, without highlighting the bloc’s war on former Yugoslavia and the 2011 bombardments of Libya. The German leader has recently locked horns with France’s Emmanuel Macron over his famous “NATO’s brain death” remark that sent shockwaves through European elite circles. Macron’s “drastic words” were “unnecessary, even if we do have problems and must get it together,” Merkel complained at the time.
Rebuking Macron was also NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said last week that “European unity cannot replace Transatlantic unity as we need both … especially after Brexit.” But bringing the 70-year-old alliance together is increasingly becoming a challenge for its members. On the latest occasion, Turkey – a country that has one of NATO’s largest standing armies – refused to sign a new defense plan for the eastern European countries, according to Reuters.
Clive James died yesterday.
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