Floriduh Man to Ohio Man: Hold My Beer!

In a clear attempt to maintain Florida’s well earned status as the home of turning the crazy up to 11, a Florida Democratic Party Official has turned to his Ohio Man counterpart and said hold me beer!

From The Tampa Bay Times:

Stephen Bittel’s rocky tenure as Florida Democratic Party chairman ended in disgrace Friday after he resigned following accusations from women that he leered at them, made suggestive comments and created an unprofessional work environment.

Bittel said he is working with party leaders to set a date to elect his successor.
Elected in January after a contentious internal campaign, Bittel lasted less than a year on the job.  His departure marks the latest case of sexual impropriety shaking the state Capitol.

Bittel’s position became untenable after all four major Democratic candidates for Florida governor urged his ouster following a Politico Florida report late Thursday in which six women anonymously complained about Bittel’s behavior. They said he was “creepy” and “demeaning.” Bittel apologized, but it was not enough.

Bittel appears to have gone all out in his attempt to earn his Floriduh Man! card and keep Florida much, much stranger than Ohio.

Floriduh Man: offensive and educational!

Open thread!

A Deep Dive Into the Russian Active Measures Against the United States

The Guardian has published a long form, deep dive piece of investigative journalism into the Russian active measures against the US, provided what is close to the definitive context of how the Steele dossier came to be, and quickly and neatly debunked both the conspiracy theory that the FBI based its inquiry on the Steele dossier and that the Clinton campaign, and the Clintons, were really conspiring with Putin and Russia against the US.

Let’s start with that last item first:

In mid-2015, the Republican front-runner had been Jeb Bush, son of one US president and brother of another. But as the campaign got under way, Bush struggled. Trump dubbed the former Florida governor “low-energy”. During the primaries, a website funded by one of Trump’s wealthy Republican critics, Paul Singer, commissioned Fusion to investigate Trump.

After Trump became the presumptive nominee in May 2016, Singer’s involvement ended and senior Democrats seeking to elect Hillary Clinton took over the Trump contract. The new client was the Democratic National Committee. A lawyer working for Clinton’s campaign, Marc E Elias, retained Fusion and received its reports. The world of private investigation was a morally ambiguous one – a sort of open market in dirt. Information on Trump was of no further use to Republicans, but it could be of value to Democrats, Trump’s next set of opponents.

The FBI, as we know from following this story closely as it emerged across 2016, based its counterintelligence inquiry not on the Steele dossier, but on intercepts and intelligence products produced by US allies and partners. (emphasis mine)

In late 2015 the British eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, was carrying out standard “collection” against Moscow targets. These were known Kremlin operatives already on the grid. Nothing unusual here – except that the Russians were talking to people associated with Trump. The precise nature of these exchanges has not been made public, but according to sources in the US and the UK, they formed a suspicious pattern. They continued through the first half of 2016. The intelligence was handed to the US as part of a routine sharing of information.

The FBI and the CIA were slow to appreciate the extensive nature of these contacts between Trump’s team and Moscow. This was in part due to institutional squeamishness – the law prohibits US agencies from examining the private communications of US citizens without a warrant.

But the electronic intelligence suggested Steele was right. According to one account, the US agencies looked as if they were asleep. “‘Wake up! There’s something not right here!’ – the BND [German intelligence], the Dutch, the French and SIS were all saying this,” one Washington-based source told me.

That summer, GCHQ’s then head, Robert Hannigan, flew to the US to personally brief CIA chief John Brennan. The matter was deemed so important that it was handled at “director level”, face-to-face between the two agency chiefs. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, later confirmed the “sensitive” stream of intelligence from Europe. After a slow start, Brennan used the GCHQ information and other tip-offs to launch a major inter-agency investigation. Meanwhile, the FBI was receiving disturbing warnings from Steele.

As for how the Steele dossier came to be:

Before this, in early spring 2016, Simpson approached Steele, his friend and colleague. Steele began to scrutinise Paul Manafort, who would soon become Trump’s new campaign manager. From April, Steele investigated Trump on behalf of the DNC, Fusion’s anonymous client. All Steele knew at first was that the client was a law firm. He had no idea what he would find. He later told David Corn, Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones: “It started off as a fairly general inquiry.” Trump’s organisation owned luxury hotels around the world. Trump had, as far back as 1987, sought to do real estate deals in Moscow. One obvious question for him, Steele said, was: “Are there business ties to Russia?”

Over time, Steele had built up a network of sources. He was protective of them: who they were he would never say. It could be someone well-known – a foreign government official or diplomat with access to secret material. Or it could be someone obscure – a lowly chambermaid cleaning the penthouse suite and emptying the bins in a five-star hotel.

Normally an intelligence officer would debrief sources directly, but since Steele could no longer visit Russia, this had to be done by others, or in third countries. There were intermediaries, subsources, operators – a sensitive chain. Only one of Steele’s sources on Trump knew of Steele. Steele put out his Trump-Russia query and waited for answers. His sources started reporting back. The information was astonishing; “hair-raising”. As he told friends: “For anyone who reads it, this is a life-changing experience.”

Steele had stumbled upon a well-advanced conspiracy that went beyond anything he had discovered with Litvinenko or Fifa. It was the boldest plot yet. It involved the Kremlin and Trump. Their relationship, Steele’s sources claimed, went back a long way. For at least the past five years, Russian intelligence had been secretly cultivating Trump. This operation had succeeded beyond Moscow’s wildest expectations. Not only had Trump upended political debate in the US – raining chaos wherever he went and winning the nomination – but it was just possible that he might become the next president. This opened all sorts of intriguing options for Putin.

I highly recommend you click across and read the whole thing. It will be well worth your time.

AG Sessions’ House Judiciary Committee Testimony Live Stream

I want to thank Cheryl for putting up her congressional hearings post as I couldn’t get to it in time, but since she’s having trouble with the video embeds, I figured I’d put up a post to resolve that problem.

Here’s the live feed for AG Sessions’ appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.

And here’s the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the President’s authority to unilaterally order nuclear strikes:

Open thread!

Benjamin Wittes Shares Some Expert Thoughts on AG Sessions’ Letter to Congress

Attorney General Sessions is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow at 10:00 AM in open session. I will endeavor to make the time to have a post up with the live feed. This evening a letter from AG Sessions to the chairman and majority members of that committee was released. It has gotten everyone stirred up. CBS’s Paula Reid has actually posted the letter to social media. Click on the tweet and then the letter to embiggen it.

Lawfare‘s Benjamin Wittes has taken the time to provide his actual expert opinion on what this all means. His thoughts are below.

The rest is after the jump!

Read more

The Muhammad bin Salman Gambit Part II: Rafik Hariri Makes a Hostage Video

On Friday as part of a longer post on exactly what Muhammad bin Salman is trying to accomplish, I made the following point:

Lebanon: This is a mess. Hariri’s party and his family are treating this as a Saudi driven plot. They’ve actually accused the Saudis of kidnapping Harriri, holding him against his will, and forcing him to do this. Regardless it only empowers Hezbullah in regard to Lebanon’s government. And Hezbullah, which is not exactly an ally of Hariri’s, is also now claiming he has been taken hostage by the Saudis. All Hariri’s resignation and flight to Saudi Arabia has done is create another new opportunity for Iran to expand its influence in Lebanon. Here too Muhammad bin Salman’s failure as a strategist is clearly evident. His actions have achieved the opposite effect from that he desired.

Today Prime Minister Hariri made a hostage video:

The question people on social media are asking is who is the man standing way behind and to the left of Hariri’s interviewer is. Standing where Hariri can clearly see him, but the camera wasn’t supposed to.

As al Jazeera reports:

Sources close to Hariri say Saudi Arabia has concluded that the prime minister – a long-time Saudi ally and son of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 – had to go because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah.

Multiple Lebanese sources say Riyadh hopes to replace Saad Hariri with his older brother Bahaa as Lebanon’s top Sunni politician. Bahaa is believed to be in Saudi Arabia, and members of the Hariri family have been asked to travel there to pledge allegiance to him, but have refused, the sources say.

Family members, aides and politicians who have contacted Hariri in Riyadh say he is apprehensive and reluctant to say anything beyond “I am fine”. Asked if he is coming back, they say his normal answer is: “Inshallah” (God willing).

Hariri, who has dual citizenship in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia has a home in the latter. And his wife and children live there…

On Friday I also wrote that:

Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) has used the slogan anti-corruption to try to further solidify his position as Crown Prince. From his perspective he’s 32 and the Crown Prince. His father is 80 and in poor health. If he can solidify his position, then he can essentially rule Saudi for five or six decades. I think that this is what a good part of what we saw last week is about.

Reuters had now reported that:

Prince Mohammed decided to move on his family, the person familiar with events said, when he realized more relatives opposed him becoming king than he had thought.

“The signal was that anyone wavering in their support should watch out,” said the person familiar with the events. “The whole idea of the anti-corruption campaign was targeted towards the family. The rest is window dressing.”

It is always nice when further reporting confirms one’s analysis.

Open thread!

Open Thread: Trump, A Pawn Between Great Powers

I swear to Murphy the Trickster God, right now the Chinese leaders are using Trump to mock Putin. You wasted all that manpower and money on suborning the American, and we bought him off with a military parade and some tawdry public flattery!

From the Washington Post, “Trump’s ‘America first’ looks more and more like ‘America alone’”:

As the president’s motorcade wove up a mountain road Saturday to a regional summit in the Vietnamese city of Danang, news broke that the 11 nations that had once looked to U.S. leadership to seal the deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership had moved on without the United States and announced a tentative agreement among themselves.

It marked a stunning turnabout that foreign-policy analysts warned could further erode U.S. standing at a time when China is embarked on a major economic expansion and further undermine global confidence in the United States’ ability to organize the world around its own liberal values…

Trump emphasized that he is working hard to improve U.S. relations with authoritarian regimes in China and Russia to win greater cooperation on the threats in North Korea and Syria. He faulted former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for lacking the right “chemistry” to have a productive relationship with Putin.

“I always said I think one of my strong suits is going to be foreign affairs, and we’re actually getting very good marks,” Trump said. “There’s nobody that I can think of that I don’t have a very good relationship with.”

But other signs from the president’s swing through the region reflected a shift in the way the United States promotes itself abroad — and in how the country is viewed and treated by others…

On foreign trips, Obama tried to use his charisma to promote American “soft power” to persuade foreign nations to move closer to the United States through means other than military might or trade. Obama conducted town-hall-style events with young people and delivered speeches at universities.

Trump, by contrast, has refrained from mingling with the general public. Over the past week, he has golfed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, spoken to troops at military bases and joined Xi on a private tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, where he and first lady Melania Trump were treated to Peking opera performances of scenes from “The Monkey King” and “The Drunken Beauty.”
Read more

Veterans Day 2017

As Veterans Day 2017 draws to a close it is important to recognize that this has been a strange day in presidential-veteran relations.

This is a graphic of the departmental crests for the agencies that make up the US intelligence community.

(Figure 1: The US Intelligence Community)

You’ll notice that nine of these agencies are military. Of the remaining eight, one is the US Coast Guard, which while now in the Department of Homeland Security is one of the uniformed Services of the United States. Moreover, a significant number of the civilian personnel serving in the civilian portions of the US Intelligence Community are veterans, reservists, and/or members of the National Guard. This doesn’t make them infallible. It doesn’t make what they do and how they do it unquestionable. However, the President, by publicly disparaging the US Intelligence Community, is publicly disparaging a very large number of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and veterans no longer serving in uniform while siding with the dictatorial leader of a hostile foreign power. Everyone cheering the President on in doing so is also disparaging the troops while purposefully ignoring that the President is siding with the dictatorial leader of a hostile foreign power!

Now back to our regularly scheduled Veterans Day post.

There is a significant body of military history developing that convincingly argues that World War I did not actually end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Rather, the interstate war phase ended and a series of smaller insurgencies, asymmetric and irregular, and sub-regional wars continued. These low intensity wars among the winners and losers of World War I eventually reignited into another interstate war – World War II. As a result, World War I and World War II are more properly understood as phases of a longer, ongoing conflict akin to the Thirty Years War. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this revision within military history, but it is an important scholarly developmental in what it teaches us about battlefield termination, war, peace, and securing the peace. Especially because if we’re not careful we run the risk of having to live through a similar dynamic in the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa in the ongoing fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

We end with music. First the Dropkick Murphy’s covering Eric Bogle’s The Green Fields of France.

Interestingly enough a folk singer named Stephen Suffet wrote a reply from the Willie McBride that Bogle sings about to Bogle. It uses the same melody as Bogle’s original.

And for our Australian and New Zealand readers, here’s Bogle doing The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Open thread!

PS: Confederate Soldiers and Sailors are not considered to be US veterans, no matter what your crazy uncle emails you!

Many in the Georgia legislature may have differed with McKinley regarding the treatment of veterans and the place of the national cemeteries in society, as no disabled Confederate veteran was eligible to live in a federal soldier’s home, receive a pension, or, when they died, be buried in a national cemetery. However, it is certain that the president’s Atlanta speech began a process culminating eight years later in legislation creating the Commission for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead.66

66 Robert Louis Clark, Lee Allen Craig, and Jack Wilson, A History of Public Sector Pensions in the United States, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2003, p. 146; and Neff, Honoring the Civil War Dead, Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 2005, pp. 222–226.