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Floriduh! Man Type Behavior: International Edition

Now that my power is back on, I can get down to the important things. Like late evening/early morning posts about people doing really dodgy things. So here’s some Floriduh! Man like behavior from from abroad.

First up, military combatives training in Libya! Silk Chinese martial arts tunic with a dragon embroidered in gold? Check. Adidas sweat suit pants? Check. Ill fitting body armor on the people being trained? Check. Untied combat boots? Check. Cutting cucumbers on the trainees necks with a live blade? Check!!!! Wait, what?

As someone who has been doing martial arts since I was 13 and have had my own aikido dojo, I highly recommend that YOU DON’T DO ANYTHING LIKE CUTTING CUCUMBERS ON PEOPLE’S NECKS WITH A LIVE BLADE!!!! 

I’m not sure where this one is from other than somewhere in the Middle East or Central Asia.

I highly recommend not doing this either!!!

Open thread.



Rosenstein Update

Not to step on Dave’s post, but this is a fast moving story. Here’s the most recent reporting:

What does this exactly mean? Here’s a quick explainer on the Vacancy Act that Steve Vladek at Lawfare did when VA Secretary Shuklin was either fired (according to Shulkin) or resigned (according to the White House):

One of the obscure federal statutes that has come to prominence in the Trump administration is the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA), a statute designed to increase the president’s flexibility with respect to filling vacancies within the executive branch on a temporary basis. Most discussion of the FVRA has centered on the Justice Department, and whether President Trump could use the statute to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or both, with someone from outside of the Justice Department. But the real action with the FVRA has largely involved the Department of Veterans Affairs—with respect to which the White House has now completely bungled matters, twice.

Let’s start at the beginning: When a federal office becomes vacant, the default is usually that the “first assistant” to that office is entitled to exercise the functions of the office (but does not formally ascend to the office) on a temporary, or “acting,” basis. But both because numerous positions don’t have obvious “first assistants” and because sometimes there’s no one holding that position, either, Congress in 1998 sought to provide a bit more flexibility to the president when filling many—if not most—vacancies in federal offices.

Thus, as the FVRA provides, when an executive branch officer whose position requires Senate confirmation “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office,” the default is still the “first assistant,” but the president can override that default—and choose any other executive branch officer holding a Senate-confirmed position, or some senior, non-Senate-confirmed officers from the relevant agency, to exercise the functions of the office for no more than 210 days. The two big questions that the FVRA raises but does not answer are whether (1) it overrides all agency-specific succession statutes, such that the FVRA process is always available; and (2) even if it does, whether it applies when the vacancy is created by the president—i.e., when the prior permanent officeholder is fired, rather than dies or resigns.

The former question is hypertechnical. (With regard to the Justice Department, at least, the Office of Legal Counsel has concluded that it can be used in lieu of the more specific DOJ succession statute.) The latter question is much more important—and much less clear. Although the text of the statute could be read to encompass allvacancies (and at least one senator said on the floor that it would apply to firings), there are strong prudential and contextual arguments militating in the other direction—including that the purpose of the FVRA is to give the president flexibility to deal with unexpected vacancies, not to create vacancies himself and then sidestep existing succession schemes. Indeed, if the answer to both questions is “yes,” then the president would have the power not only to create vacancies in every executive branch office, but to fill them on a temporary basis with individuals who were never confirmed by the Senate either to that specific position, or, in some cases, at all. It’s easy to see, then, why the FVRA has loomed large in the repeated rumors over succession at the Department of Justice.

But for all of the focus on the Justice Department, the real flashpoint for the FVRA lately has been the Veterans Affairs Department (with an honorable mention to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). In late March, President Trump fired the VA Secretary, David Shulkin, and named a Pentagon undersecretary, Robert Wilkie, to serve as acting secretary under the FVRA. (The VA has its own succession statute, but that statute expressly incorporates other authorities.) Thus, Wilkie raised the big FVRA question: Does it apply when the vacancy is created by the president firing the incumbent? (Veterans’ groups brought a lawsuit arguing that the answer was no.)

Shortly after Shulkin was fired, however, the White House began arguing—loudly—that Shulkin had not been fired, but that instead, he had resigned. The only reason why this could have mattered is the FVRA: If the statute does not apply to vacancies created by the president, then Wilkie could not have been named to serve as acting VA secretary—and any actions he undertook in his capacity as acting VA secretary were subject to legal challenge. Thus, the White House, at least, seemed wary of the second FVRA question. (President Trump also ran into different statutory problemwhen he nominated Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House doctor, to hold the position on a permanent basis, but that issue was mooted by Jackson’s withdrawal.)

This brings us to the latest VA-based FVRA kerfuffle: Last Friday, President Trump surprised everyone (including the putative acting secretary) by announcing at a public event that he was nominating Wilkie to hold the position of VA secretary on a permanent basis. Small problem: The FVRA expressly prohibits such a move. Although the FVRA allows lots of folks to hold an office on an acting basis, one of the few exceptions is an individual who has not been the “first assistant” to the office for at least 90 days who is then nominated by the president to hold the office permanently. Put another way, Wilkie’s formal nomination, by dint of the FVRA, disqualifies him from continuing to serve as acting secretary. This is not an open question about the FVRA; it’s compelled by the plain text.

Wholly apart from what this whole mess says about how seriously the Trump administration takes the VA (which is to say, not), it also suggests two important, related points about the FVRA: First, the White House is at least outwardly wary of the open question concerning its application in cases in which the vacancy is created by firing. It might therefore be a bit gun-shy about relying on the FVRA in a higher-profile case going forward. Second, the White House (or, at least, the president) doesn’t seem to fully understand the FVRA—as evidenced by the Wilkie mess. Neither of these conclusions is earth-shattering, of course. But both could be important markers for the vacancy fights to come.

This is going to be an ongoing, fast moving story. Expect it to change several times over the next few hours until all the details are nailed down. And then expect that regardless of those actual details, the White House will claim that Rosenstein resigned, so they can just use the Vacancy Act to slide someone already approved by the Senate into the position. They’ve done this several times now – at VA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – to circumvent the rules.

I think it is also important to note that once again the President is trying to fire or force out by pressuring a senior appointee to resign and he can’t bring himself to actually do it. He either has someone else do it, as was the case with Comey and now, potentially, Rosenstein or he does it by passive-aggressive tweet.

Update at 12:15 PM EDT

Here’s what I think happened, someone called up Jonathon Swan at Axios, and leaked that Rosenstein was resigning, in order to create a fait accompli by boxing in the President Swan, like The New York Times‘ reporters on Friday, appears to have been manipulated and used by their sources for those sources’ own interests.

We are off the glass and through the map.

Happy infrastructure week!!!

Open thread.



Avenatti Drops a Bomb on the Senate Judiciary Committee

Michael Avenatti has released his email correspondence with Mike Davis, who is Senator Grassley’s Chief Counsel for Nominations for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So you don’t have to squint, here’s the email correspondence that Avenatti tweeted:

As I’ve been saying in comments for several days, there is a lot of time between now and when Dr. Blasey testifies on Thursday for more shoes to drop, let alone between now and the following week, which is most likely when Senator McConnell will try to schedule the floor vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. And Avenatti is just beginning his campaign of death by a thousand twitter cuts.

Open thread.



Not So Vast, Largely Conducted Out in the Open, Right Wing Conspiracy: Senate Judiciary Committee Edition

This is Garrett Ventry:

(Image taken from Ventry’s twitter feed)

Garrett’s been a very naughty man…

At 4:39 PM on on Thursday 20 September 2018, Ventry in his capacity as the spokesperson/communications advisor for Senator Grassley’s and the GOP majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee for the Kavanaugh nomination tweeted the following:

There’s only one problem with this. As reported yesterday, Ed Whelan was coordinating with CRC Public Relations on his insane an attempt to exonerate Kavanaugh by implicating Kavanaugh’s classmate via tweetstorm. Do you know who worked for CRC Public Relations while Whelan was coordinating with them about committing a gross, public stupidity? Garrett Ventry. And do you know why CRC Public Relations sent him to work for Grassley to help shepherd the Kavanaugh nomination through? Because Leonard Leo, who controls the Federalist Society, as well as several related organizations like the Judicial Crisis Network through an opaque and largely unknown financing network, and who is a good friend of Ed Whelan’s – another senior Federalist Society member – asked CRC to send Ventry to work for Grassley on this.

But wait, there’s more!!!! Apparently among Ventry’s personal preferences was one for sexually mistreating women.

WASHINGTON — A press adviser helping lead the Senate Judiciary Committee’s response to a sexual assault allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has stepped down amid evidence he was fired from a previous political job in part because of a sexual harassment allegation against him.

Garrett Ventry, 29, who served as a communications aide to the committee chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, had been helping coordinate the majority party’s messaging in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her 36 years ago at a high school party. In a response to NBC News, Ventry denied any past “allegations of misconduct.”

After NBC News raised questions about Ventry’s employment history and the sexual harassment allegation against him, Judiciary Committee Spokesman Taylor Foy replied in a statement: “While (Ventry) strongly denies allegations of wrongdoing, he decided to resign to avoid causing any distraction from the work of the committee.”

And if anyone was still wondering how Whelan got Ford’s name, apparently someone he was in contact at the White House (most likely rhymes with Shill Bine or Mon DcGahn) gave it to him.

If you’re going to conspire to do something dodgy, you should really establish a set of best practices so what you’re doing isn’t 1) SO FUCKING OBVIOUS!!!! and 2) easily detectable by anyone who can trace a simple set of social and professional connections.

Who knew that when Andrew Breitbart, who, like Antonin Scalia, is still dead – unlike Paul Manafort and Mariia Butina who are just still in jail, but will one day die in prison from old age – was caught on video screaming “STOP RAPING PEOPLE!!!!” over and over he was speaking to conservative legal and judicial professional?

Open thread!



The Lajes’ Protocol IV: The President, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Politicization of the DOJ

The President has ordered a selective declassification of a very limited amount of information related to one of the FISA warrant applications pertaining to Carter Page, as well as text messages intended to make Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Page, and Ohr look bad.

My professional take on this is that this declassification order is part of a preplanned strategic communication strategy to try to get the news media off of reporting that is not positive for the President, his administration, the GOP majority in both chambers of Congress, the Kavanaugh nomination, and the upcoming midterms. Apparently the Man from Lajes, also known as Congressman Devin Nunes, agrees.

Here’s Congressman Schiff’s, the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, statement on what the President ordered:

What’s interesting is that the DOJ and FBI doesn’t seem to have any idea how to proceed.

David Kris, the former Assistant Attorney General for National Security, had this to say:

Also, from Joyce Vance, a former US Attorney, and Julie Zebrak, formerly of both the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Office.

Here’s what I think is going to happen: the selectively unclassified and unredacted material will be released. Like every previous one of these attempts by either the President and/or his allies like Congressman Nunes, it will quickly be picked apart and make them look silly. Even more important, as was the case a couple of weeks ago regarding what Bruce Ohr’s actual work for the DOJ was about, the US intelligence community will selectively leak in order to knock this selective declassification back. And at the end of the day all that will have happened is the President and his allies in Congress like Congressman Nunes will have simply further damaged and weakened the Department of Justice, the FBI, and other parts of the intelligence community in order to protect their own political and/or legal fortunes.

This is a blatant and obvious attempt to try to change the news reporting, but I just don’t think it is going to work. Especially given the track records of the people involved. The Fox News and MAGA on social media crowd will embrace it, Russian bots and trolls will try to amplify it, but there is too much legitimate news breaking right now for this to really break through. The news for the rest of this week is going to be the Kavanaugh nomination meshugas, the trade war, including new competing tariffs, with China, violent, serial criminal activity by Customs and Border Patrol and ICE officers, and the ongoing news regarding the coming mid-term elections.

Stay focused!

If this is what the senior Florida Republicans think is coming, then no amount of chaff is going to distract the news media from the actual targets!

Open thread.

 



Gas Explosions In Massachusetts

There have been 60 to 100 gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, Massachusetts. Here’s a local news outlet updating regularly. Some of the fires have been put out as I write, but check for the latest. There is no information on what went wrong. Here’s a map of the explosions and fires. Electricity is being cut off to the area to prevent more explosions.

I didn’t want to say this, but a number of other people are saying it and implying it. This many gas explosions at one time is unusual. So the question arises of a cyberattack.

A pressure surge in an old gas system could cause something like this. The question is how the surge originated. I don’t know enough about how the gas distribution system works to guess at accidental surges. The Stuxnet worm that damaged Iran’s uranium enrichment facility worked by messing with the system’s controls to speed up the centrifuges to their breaking point. The control system can do many things, including allowing the pressure to increase in a gas system.

This is just guessing right now. It’s too soon to know anything, and the authorities have said nothing about the cause. So stay frosty.

I checked in with front-pager Tom Levenson on Twitter, and he’s some distance from the explosions. We need to hear from Anne Laurie, and others in the area too.

 



We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Insanity for a Floriduh! Man, Woman, and Gator Update

We start with hot and humid Floriduh! Gator on Man action!

ABC News take it away!

A 35-year-old man was bitten by an alligator on Monday afternoon in Clearwater, Florida, authorities said.

The man was attacked by the 11-foot animal while playing disc golf, and trying to retrieve his flying disc from a pond in Cliff Stephens Park, according to ABC Affiliate WFTS.

“He had serious injuries but they were not life threatening at the time,” Rob Shaw, a public safety officer with Clearwater Fire & Rescue, told ABC News.

“We received multiple calls immediately right after it happened because there were a number of people in the area at the time,” said Shaw. He added that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission handled the case, and called licensed state alligator trappers who captured the animal and removed it from the pond.

“There are signs posted there that warn people not to swim out, not to get in the water. So he is very fortunate to still be alive,” said Shaw. “We have alligator attacks down here from time to time, and many times it can be fatal or have very serious injuries.”

The 11 foot-alligator as well as a smaller one were removed from the pond and will be euthanized, WFTS reported.

Next up, Floriduh! Woman…

ABC10 News has the details:

FORT PIERCE, Cla. (KGTV) — A Florida woman says the wind is to blame after police found cocaine inside her purse, the Associated Press reports.

Kennecia Posey was one of two passengers in a car stopped by police in Fort Pierce in March, according to WPLG.

After smelling marijuana, an officer searched the car and found cocaine and marijuana in separate bags. The drugs were found in Posey’s purse.

When asked about the drugs, the woman told police, “It’s a windy day. It must have flown through the window and into my purse.”

Posey was charged with a felony count of cocaine possession among other charges.

Finally, Polk County, FL Sheriff Grady Judd (R-Good Ole Boy, Never Meaning No Harm), brings us this tale of prison intrigue:

The Tampa Bay Times is on the case:

What doesn’t kill you might make you stronger, but what does kill roaches will get you higher, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Tuesday.

“They’re spraying this stuff on paper and either smoking it or eating it in the county jail,” he said. “Normal people can’t understand this.”

Polk County’s top lawman made the stunningly disturbing announcement during a news conference about a prison scam in which K-2 synthetic cannabinoid was being smuggled into Polk County’s Frostproof jail.

The Sheriff’s Office charged eight people in the smuggling ring. Judd said an investigation found that K-2 was being sprayed onto paper, then dried and disguised as legal correspondence, personal messages and bible verses. The drug-infused papers were then mailed to inmates or brought in during personal meetings at the jail.

The show was stolen, however, when Judd — not one to shy away from props — reached beneath his podium, only to emerge double-fisting poisonous products: A can of Raid in one hand, a box of roach motels in the other.

“Some of the things that are most popular, and they really like this better than the K-2,” Judd said about six minutes into the news conference, “is Raid and roach motel.”

Judd said inmates have taken to placing roach motels in plastic bags with paper, sealing them, shaking it up and leaving it in the sun for the chemicals to react. When the chemicals get infused on the paper, they eat or smoke it.

The bug spray epidemic poses a particular problem because it can’t be detected by drug tests, he said.

In 2014, researchers from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas, released a study following a subject who got high on high-powered bug spray. Researchers said the compound pyrethroid, which is found in roach and wasp sprays, gave their subject a rush “similar to methamphetamine after using pyrethroid from liquid insecticide that had been heated (electrocuted) or sprayed on hot metal sheets until it crystallized.”

“We’ve received information from sources in the jail that said K-2 is cool, synthetic amphetamine is cool, but what we really like is the Raid,” Judd said, adding that it’s “just a new world that we’re discovering.”

Looking for an alternative? Why not try cottage cheese on your paper, he said.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled natural and man made disasters.

Open thread!

 



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