July 15, 2024 / by 

 

What If You Had a Military Summit Defending the Future of Democracy and No One Gave a Damn?

If you read the dead tree NYT this morning, you might be forgiven for thinking that Joe Biden was isolated from America’s NATO allies.

That’s because the front page put a big picture of Biden’s NATO appearance next to an article describing Biden as isolated within his own party. That story described President Biden’s press conference marking the end of the NATO summit this way:

He faced a new test on Thursday night in a news conference following the NATO summit in Washington. In an early stumble before it even got underway, Mr. Biden flubbed his introduction of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, President Putin.” He quickly caught himself.

During the news conference, he referred to “Vice President Trump” when he meant Vice President Kamala Harris, a mistake that former President Donald J. Trump immediately mocked on social media.

But Mr. Biden showed a command of the issues on foreign policy, although he spoke slowly and meandered at times. Lawmakers and aides in Congress said it was a strong enough performance to keep the dam from breaking with mass calls for Mr. Biden to step aside, but with enough missteps to prolong the anxiety on Capitol Hill.

There was no description of the summit itself at all in the article. Nor was there a story on the summit anywhere on the dead tree front page.

That “Biden isolated” story didn’t even make the top of digital front page (at least for me), which looked this way this morning:

At that point, the top news included:

  • A story from Peter Baker acknowledging Biden’s command of foreign policy, sandwiched between a description of his flubs and a super helpful explanation of how, “every momentary flub, every verbal miscue, even if quickly corrected, now takes on outsize importance, ricocheting across the internet in viral video clips”
  • Zolan Kanno-Youngs cataloging five takeaways, in which is command of foreign policy was third:
    • He said he is not leaving
    • He got off to a rough start
    • He showed a command of foreign policy
    • He struggled to articulate why he is the best person to defeat Mr. Trump
    • He offered a strong defense of Kamala Harris
  • A Nicholas Nehamas story that, when written, focused exclusively on those (like Jim Himes) who called for Biden to drop out
  • A piece on how Joe Biden lost Hollywood
  • One of the many stories that described Biden’s polling on Kamala Harris’ strength against Trump was “quiet” (though the ridiculous claim that this was quiet has now been relegated to a subhead)
  • A purported fact check of Biden’s press conference that claimed Biden’s observation, “He’s already told Putin — and I quote — do whatever the hell you want,” needed context

The fact check said nothing about Biden’s claim, in response to a question from AFP journalist Danny Kemp, that world leaders credited Biden for bringing NATO together.

 

I’m sure you actually could find a world leader who was unimpressed with Biden’s summit — like Viktor Orbán, who scurried from the conference to plan capitulation to Putin at Mar-a-Lago. But no one wanted to talk about that — about Biden’s efforts to stave off authoritarianism, about Biden’s efforts to reverse Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, about Biden’s efforts to save the idea of democracy, about the substance of the summit. So it didn’t merit a fact check either.

There’s a horse race to be run. And there’s absolutely no place for actual policy outcomes when there’s a horse race to be had!

When I first started writing this story, I had to look way down here at the bottom of the NYT page to find any report that was, substantially, about the NATO Summit at all.

The story has been promoted, placed in a section on Trump, not Biden, though still the fourth horizontal section on the page.

The story, from David Sanger, also focused on the press conference and noted Biden’s flubs. But it also described how Trump congratulated Putin’s genius after Russia invaded Ukraine.

[T]he session also served as a platform for him to show a command of foreign policy, including describing in detail the decisions he has made over three and a half years that have been punctuated by wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

He took credit for warning the Europeans of an impending invasion of Ukraine in late 2021 and early 2022, and for preparing NATO to provide arms and intelligence as soon as war broke out. And he used the moment to remind American voters that Mr. Trump’s first reaction to the invasion was to praise President Vladimir V. Putin.

“Here’s what he said,” Mr. Biden added, his voice dripping with sarcasm: “‘It was genius. It was wonderful.’”

The biting comparison, with its suggestion that Mr. Trump admires only brute force and is in Mr. Putin’s pocket, was the kind of attack on his opponent that Mr. Biden’s supporters were hoping for in the debate between the two men two weeks ago but never heard.

Further down in that story, starting at ¶18 of a 23¶¶ story, Sanger described the news of the summit: that NATO was going to try to disrupt the relationship between China and Russia.

But it was on the question of Russia’s rapidly expanding relationship with China — and its alignment with North Korea and Iran, two other arms suppliers to Russia — that Mr. Biden broke the most new ground.

Until the news conference, he had never conceded that the United States was seeking to disrupt the relationship between the two countries, just as President Richard M. Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, did a half-century ago, by surprising the world with a diplomatic opening to Beijing.

He declined to discuss details of the strategy in public, but went on to say that “you’ll see that some of our European friends are going to be curtailing their investment in Russia — I mean, excuse me, in China, as long as China continues to have this indirect help to Russia.”

That was a significant reversal. Two years ago, Mr. Biden expressed doubts that the two countries, with their centuries of enmity and border disputes, could ever get along.

By the time the NATO leaders gathered this week for the 75th anniversary of the alliance, however, they were denouncing China as “a decisive enabler of Russia’s war against Ukraine” and hinting that European nations might restrict their economic interchanges with Beijing.

China “cannot enable the largest war in Europe in recent history without this negatively impacting its interests and reputation,” the summit’s declaration says, wording that was pressed by Mr. Biden’s aides.

So to find actual news of Biden’s NATO summit, you needed to scroll down the NYT to find the Sanger article, then scroll down in that article to find the news: that NATO is attempting to disrupt a growing alliance of authoritarian countries challenging democracy.

I’m genuinely not sure how NYT (and other outlets, who offered similar coverage) understand the world, wherein the fate of Joe Biden on a minute-to-minute basis can be divorced from the fate of democracy, globally. You have to have democracy before you can have horse races.

Yes, in an op-ed yesterday, NYT included Trump’s disdain for democracy and fondness for “strongmen” among the reasons he’s unfit to lead.

Mr. Trump has demonstrated contempt for these American ideals. He admires autocrats, from Viktor Orban to Vladimir Putin to Kim Jong-un. He believes in the strongman model of power — a leader who makes things happen by demanding it, compelling agreement through force of will or personality. In reality, a strongman rules through fear and the unprincipled use of political might for self-serving ends, imposing poorly conceived policies that smother innovation, entrepreneurship, ideas and hope.

But NYT did not mention that Trump not only admires these thugs, he is allied with them against democracy.

Yes, it matters that Democrats beat Trump in November. It matters that Democrats have a candidate with the stamina to do that.

But the bigger picture matters, too. And Biden’s success at marshalling democratic powers in alliance is one of the reasons he believes he has demonstrated his fitness to remain President.

His efforts to defend democracy are not news, apparently.


The Lie David Sanger Told to Sustain NYT’s Non-Stop Campaign against Joe Biden

Predictably, the NYT treated President Biden’s speech to kick off NATO’s 75th Anniversary as if Biden merely invented the date and the event and maybe even NATO itself to cover up a shoddy debate performance. In addition to the subhead that nonsensically complained there was, “no mention of President Biden’s political peril,” in his speech, in this 25-paragraph story, NYT made this a story about Biden’s campaign by:

  • ¶1: Asserting Biden was trying to bolster the alliance and his campaign.
  • ¶2: Describing Biden’s “strong voice, with few errors.”
  • ¶4: Claiming the delivery of Biden’s speech “may have mattered as much as his words.”
  • ¶5: Falsely claiming that the “faltering” of Biden’s campaign “created a test for the alliance that it did not anticipate.”
  • ¶6: Adopting the passive voice to project its obsession with Biden’s delivery onto NATO’s leaders: “Mr. Biden made no mention of his political troubles, but he could not have escaped the fact that every word was being scrutinized for signs of faltering.”
  • ¶7: Declaring that, “By all measures, he passed the test,” but then caveating that judgement by explaining what teleprompters are.
  • ¶8: Quoting Biden’s comments to George Stephanopoulos about his role in leading NATO.
  • ¶9: Mentioning Biden’s attempt to draw a contrast with Trump and derisively adding, “the man he swears he can still beat in November.”
  • ¶10: Describing Biden’s goal for the contrast.
  • ¶13: Explaining that, “Mr. Biden’s own aides concede that no matter how well the president performs [at NATO] he cannot make Americans unsee his debate performance.”
  • ¶14: Falsely claiming that “confidence in its core member” was in doubt only because of Biden’s debate performance, and not Trump generally.

Compare that wildly partisan approach with the WaPo, which said only, “the summit is a moment of intense scrutiny as he faces pressure over his readiness to serve another four years,” in ¶12 out of 43 paragraphs (though WaPo has since added a story comparable to NYT’s, complete with claims of “defian[ce]”).

To sustain this fairytale — that the NATO summit exists merely as a measure of Biden’s ability to recover from his debate — David Sanger and Lara Jakes lie.

As noted, in ¶5, they claim that no one was worried about whether NATO could sustain its support for Ukraine until Biden’s campaign “faltered.”

The faltering of Mr. Biden’s campaign has also created a test for the alliance that it did not anticipate: whether it can credibly maintain the momentum it has built in supporting Ukraine and serving as a bulwark against further aggression when confidence in its most important player has never been more fragile. [my emphasis]

That is a lie. And one way we can be sure it is a lie — and that David Sanger knows it is a lie — is because a guy name David Sanger wrote this article, in February, which the NYT printed on A1 of the newspaper.

The February article not only describes that even before Trump suggested he would let Putin invade NATO countries, European leaders were already discussing what would happen if Trump withdrew from NATO. And that article explicitly contrasts Trump’s threats to abandon the alliance with Biden’s vocal support of it.

Long before Donald J. Trump threatened over the weekend that he was willing to let Russia “do whatever the hell they want” against NATO allies that do not contribute sufficiently to collective defense, European leaders were quietly discussing how they might prepare for a world in which America removes itself as the centerpiece of the 75-year-old alliance.

Even allowing for the usual bombast of one of his campaign rallies, where he made his declaration on Saturday, Mr. Trump may now force Europe’s debate into a far more public phase.

So far the discussion in the European media has focused on whether the former president, if returned to office, would pull the United States out of NATO.

But the larger implication of his statement is that he might invite President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to pick off a NATO nation, as a warning and a lesson to the 30 or so others about heeding Mr. Trump’s demands.

His statement stunned many in Europe, especially after three years in which President Biden, attempting to restore the confidence in the alliance lost during Mr. Trump’s four years in office, has repeatedly said that the United States would “defend every inch of NATO territory.” [my emphasis]

Now, five months after setting up that stark contrast, David Sanger suggests that when Biden made the contrast himself in his NATO speech, it was just politics.

They were largely complimentary as Mr. Biden talked about America’s and the West’s “sacred obligation” to come to the aid of free nations and democracies under attack. He was clearly drawing a contrast with former President Donald J. Trump, the man he swears he can still beat in November. To drive home the difference between Mr. Trump’s Republican Party and the party of decades past, Mr. Biden quoted former President Ronald Reagan: “If you are threatened, we are threatened. If you’re not at peace, we cannot be at peace.”

Mr. Biden’s goal was clear: to establish Mr. Trump, with his “America First” approach and threats to withdraw the United States from the alliance, as a threat not only to NATO nations but also to his own country.

Even as Trump — in the debate that NYT deems such a disaster for Biden — described speaking to Putin about his invasion of Ukraine in advance ..,

When Putin saw that, he said, you know what? I think we’re going to go in and maybe take my – this was his dream. I talked to him about it, his dream.

David Sanger now ignores his past reporting about the very real threat that Trump posed and still poses to NATO and American security, and rewrites that into a fairytale about Biden’s age.

This election was always going to be at least close. As Sanger himself reported months ago, European allies have been anticipating the significance of a second Trump term for months.

Yet now, because the NYT is so determined to make Biden’s electoral chances the cause for everything, Trump’s own preferences get a pass and are now caused by Biden’s plight.

The cause for NATO’s concerns is Trump. Not Biden’s campaign. And once upon a time, NYT reported it that way.


The Self-Satisfied and Often Wrong Media Frenzy

Before I make fun of the frenzied mob calling themselves DC journalists, let me point to two of the more responsible reports on Joe Biden’s aging.

One, a WaPo piece with five bylines, describes that in recent months, the President has increasingly exhibited signs of aging — but never so bad as in the debate.

President Biden, who at 81 is the oldest person ever to hold the office, has displayed signs of accelerated aging in recent months, said numerous aides, foreign officials, members of Congress, donors and others who have interacted with Biden over the last 3½ years, noting that he moves more slowly, speaks more softly and has moments when he loses his train of thought more often than even just a year ago.

None of those who spoke to The Washington Post said they had seen Biden appear as lost and confused as he did at the presidential debate against Donald Trump on June 27, where his halting performance sent panic through the Democratic Party. They largely did not question his mental acuity, and several senior White House aides who interact with Biden regularly said that he continues to ask probing, detailed questions about complicated policy matters and can recall facts from previous briefings in minute detail.

It actually draws on fairly neutral sources (diplomatic reporter John Hudson is on the byline) — world leaders and their aides who interacted with him at the G-7, who have no partisan stake but do have a very great stake in the outcome of the election — to substantiate a decline even in the weeks between the G-7 and the debate.

During the Group of Seven nations summit in Italy last month, several European leaders came away stunned at how much older the president seemed from when they had last interacted with him only a year, or in some cases, mere months earlier, several officials familiar with their reactions said. “People were worried about it,” said one person familiar with leaders’ reactions.

[snip]

[D]uring the Group of Seven nations summit in Italy last month, a number of European leaders were struck by Biden’s appearance and demeanor, according to four people who spoke directly with multiple leaders. The general impression among leaders, the people said, was that while Biden appeared capable of carrying out his duties today, they were concerned about how he would be able to serve another four-year term.

[snip]

One person familiar with the conversations among leaders said Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni observed that Biden was “mentally on top of his game” but physically weak, leaving her worried. The person said those concerns became more pronounced after the debate. A spokesman for the Italian Embassy did not provide a comment.

“What has changed the discourse here in Europe is not the G-7. It’s the debate,” the person said.

Note: I seem to be the only one who remembers that this timeline includes, in addition to the pressure and travel associated with the G-7 and the expanded campaign schedule, the prosecution of his son that would never have happened were he not Joe Biden’s son. I seem to be the only one considering how stress exacerbated an aging process already in process.

In any case, this is a story about Biden’s aging accelerating, whether from the stress of your candidacy leading to the felony prosecution of your kid or not.

The same is true of another credible story getting a lot of attention. It’s another multi-byline story (none from NYT’s big names) that includes on the record quotes. But most people have focused on this quote: Perhaps the most senior person, someone with years of direct access, stating that Biden cannot pull off this race.

One senior White House official, however, who has worked with Mr. Biden during his presidency, vice presidency and 2020 campaign, said in an interview on Saturday morning that Mr. Biden should not seek re-election.

After watching Mr. Biden in private, in public and while traveling with him, the official said they no longer believed the president had what it took to campaign in a vigorous way and defeat Donald J. Trump. The official, who insisted on anonymity in order to continue serving, said Mr. Biden had steadily showed more signs of his age in recent months, including speaking more slowly, haltingly and quietly, as well as appearing more fatigued in private.

Here again, though, the story is about a decline in recent months. The story is about stamina and speech, not some undiagnosed source of dementia (or perhaps a disease that people assume leads to dementia symptoms, but doesn’t necessarily).

With that as background, I want to lay out a number of problems with the story the members of the frenzied mob — people rushing to press with stories that are far less responsible than these two (see this must-read post from Jennifer Schulze on some of the worst examples) — are telling:

  1. Even in the face of non-stop coverage about Biden’s age, a core group of particularly nasty types are claiming there was some kind of conspiracy of silence about it, and only they were heroically chasing the topic. That’s objectively false.
  2. To get to that conspiracy, the same types are suggesting that while they never had evidence Biden was this bad in January, that must be because close allies were just covering it up. This more robust reporting of a recent decline at least undermines their claims of having provided the only evidence of a prior decline.
  3. Many participants in this frenzy don’t seem to understand that there are two questions at issue: Whether Biden has the stamina to win the race, whether his fatigue and speech issues put him at a severe disadvantage to Trump or other possible Democratic contenders, and whether he has the stamina to remain President.
  4. Many members of the mob have given little more than fantasy consideration of how Biden would be replaced. That’s unsurprising, given that they gave no more than fantasy consideration of why other solid contenders weren’t challenging Biden and Harris in the primary earlier in the year, when questions about Biden’s age first got louder.
  5. Very few of the mob seem to care whether Biden is doing the job of being President well. Indeed, this is a key source of tension between the mob and Biden. When asked about his age in January and February, he gave two answers: He believed he stood the best chance of beating Trump, a belief significantly undermined by his debate performance and ongoing stamina issues. And, he pointed to his success at being President as proof he could do the job. That was objectively true. Since the mob are little interested in the job of President — or policy generally — they simply ignored his factually correct rebuttal that he was doing a historically good job of being President.

The mob’s complete disinterest in measuring which former President, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, would do better as President makes their wails much easier to dismiss.

So do some of their past errors.

In his interview with George Stephanopoulos, Joe Biden pointed to past predictions of electoral failure.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That’s not unusual in some states. I carried an awful lotta Democrats last time I ran in 2020. Look, I remember them tellin’ me the same thing in 2020. “I can’t win. The polls show I can’t win.” Remember 2024– 2020, the red wave was coming.

Before the vote, I said, “That’s not gonna happen. We’re gonna win.” We did better in an off-year than almost any incumbent President ever has done. They said in 2023, (STATIC) all the tough (UNINTEL) we’re not gonna win. I went into all those areas and all those– all those districts, and we won.

Biden is right that many of the loudest members of the mob calling for him to drop have been just as loudly wrong in the recent past.

Biden also dismissed a challenge from Mark Warner by noting that Warner had tried to run before.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, if– I mean, on a more practical level, The Washington Post just reported in the last hour that Senator Mark Warner is– is assembling a group of Senators together to try and convince you to stand down, because they don’t think you can win.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, Mark is a good man. We’ve never had (UNINTEL). He also tried to get the nomination too. Mark’s not– Mark and I have a different perspective. I respect him.

Many many journalists attempted to debunk this claim, apparently unaware that Warner considered running in the 2008 election until I (if you believe Matt Bai, and you should not) singlehandedly chased him out of the race.

Biden’s has a point that the mob has proven badly wrong in the past.

But they’re not wrong that he may not have the stamina to both run for and be President.


The Second Round of Macron’s Insane Election

Take a deep breath, because here we go again.

The French legislative election is on Sunday. As the clock turns over to early Saturday morning, we entered Silence électoral, or the blackout period, when media coverage and campaigning stops ahead of Election Day. (I, being an American resident in France posting to a website in America, can do whatever.) The French themselves are trying to not pay too much attention, as there some kind of very important soccer game they won as I was writing this, and they qualified for another, even more important soccer game. Outside the window of my hotel in Lille is screaming and fireworks. There’s a lot of shouting and horns blaring well after bedtime.

Anything is preferable to thinking about Macron’s Great Foirage. (Though the Euros aren’t just anything! They are important! Please don’t burn down my house!)

As we approach the second turn of the snap legislative election in France on Sunday, it’s hard to say how it’s going. There is, at this moment, no obvious outcome. It’s nerve wracking. Not even hopeless, which makes it even more nerve wracking. The parties, Left, Right, and Center, are playing their hands close to their chest.

The rate of procuration, the French term for a proxy vote, is at an all time high as people going on vacation make sure someone left behind can cast their vote. (Do not get in the way of French Vacation, that way lies the guillotine.) The voter participation in the first round was the highest seen in France in decades, and this Sunday might well beat it.

French people all over, including the overseas territories and residing in foreign countries, are getting in on the action, but the action is tense. There’s no sense, like some have in America, that all the parties are the same, or that they’ll all end up doing the same things, so why bother? No, the contesting parties in this election don’t have a lot in common.

These legislative elections which will decide the composition of the French Parliament until the next election, or Macron temper tantrum, whichever comes first. (He can just throw another tantrum in a year, and there’s word on the street that he might. God that man is an exhausting mess.)

How to Hack an Election

One of the more inspiring things to come out of this season of insane election drama has been how a massive portion of France have come together to hack the vote, after this unexpected (and unforced) political crisis. In a two round run-off system there’s soft assumption that the first round is there to clear out the field, and narrow it to two candidates. But if a trailing candidate gets 12.5% of the registered voters in their voting area, they qualify in the next round. If the third candidate stays in, they can split the vote, and let the fascist candidate in, even if most people in that constituency don’t want the local Rassemblement National asshole representing them in Parliament.

The two round instant run-off isn’t isn’t terrible normally. (Though it’s no ranked-choice voting!) It’s a system that clears out candidates, if you assume lowish voter turnout. If voter turn out is high, the second round is just as, maybe more, chaotic as the first. Over the last week, all the parties opposing the Rassemblement National have started making tactical decisions about the second round. In districts where Macron’s centrists are in the best position to beat the RN, the Left candidate dropped out of the race to prevent vote splitting. In places where, say, the Socialist or the Green has the best match up against the local fascist, the centrist left the race. (Well, mostly. A few of Marcon’s people are truly gits… “Connard!” as they would say here.)

The parties organized this deal and talked to each other to sort it out within days after the first turn. They fanned people out to make sure everyone knew what to do, voters had proxies, everyone who needed help got it. But despite the second round having an unusual number of candidates, most have dropped out in favor of beating back the fascists. People who couldn’t stand each other came together and talked strategy.

As an American, I found this very weird. But definitely good weird.

The campaigning itself, well, I found more familiar to my American sensibilities.

France’s Toxic Grampa

The best way to win an election is picking your opponent, but so much of the media has done the Rassemblement National’s work for them by picking Jean Luc Mélenchon to be the fascists’ presumptive opponent. And that’s a problem, because Socialist Grampa and Hot Mess Mélenchon is not only detested by most French, he’s not actually the Left, at least not anymore. He is decidedly out of the game and the only people who don’t know that are Mélenchon himself, a few fanboys, and journalists on a deadline with a shitty rolodex. When they talk about the political Left, the media always name checks Mélenchon. When the Right wants a boogyman, they drop Mélenchon’s name and grin. He grabs the mic at any opportunity, totally unchastised by his own three presidential electoral defeats over the last 12 years. But he’s the famous guy. It’s as if we kept talking about Ralph Nader for more than a decade after the 2000 election.

Mélenchon has won a few elections in his career, holding positions and two different French electoral bodies and the EU. But he’s lost a lot of elections, even more than those three presidential runs. He has a history of saying truly stupid things. He’s a bother, he’s a liability, and maybe even a bit of a narcissist. He’s the classic French version of the boomer grampa politician that doesn’t know when it’s just time to get out of the damn way. (For clarification I am not speaking of any American boomer politician in general, I’m speaking about literally all of them.)

The man has become toxic, and appears too wrapped up in being the Great Left Hope to know to actually get out of the way of the people who can stop the march of the National Rally. But he’s getting told and he is starting to listen. I’m still guessing there’s a tiny dog involved.

Today, Mélenchon holds no position in the Nouveau Front Populaire, the current left coalition contesting this election. He doesn’t even hold a position in the La France Insoumise party he founded, except for “Founder.” Mélenchon’s main job, as far as I can find, is a position at a think tank called Institut La Boétie which he co-runs with a French MP named Clémence Guetté, where I presume he makes the money he needs to feed his tiny dog. He is not the left. He is not Nouveau Front Populaire, he is not the former NUPES coalition.

He’s just a dude with a very long wikipedia page.

The Left is More Competent Than Their Messaging, Again

But the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) hasn’t done itself any favors with the media either. Their leadership status on Facebook is “It’s Complicated.” The press don’t like that, and the electorate doesn’t understand it. They have three main people they trot out to rally the faithful, talk to the media, and debate the fascists. They are Manuel Bompard, current leader of La France Insoumise (Mélenchon’s old party), Marine Tondelier, of the Greens, and Olivier Faure of the Socialists Party. (My fellow Americans do not be weirded out by the “Socialists Party.” It’s not what you think of as Socialism. It’s indistinguishable from the Democrats, right down to the tinge of neoliberal economic theory and penchant for self-sabotage.)

Marine Tondelier was not well known as the boys until recently. But she is a goddamn boss in a green jacket. (The green jacket is a Whole Thing, people look for the green jacket to come talk to her, and she’s by all accounts a great and inspiring speaker. Certainly great enough to scare the fascists, who do not like her ONE BIT.) She walked out of the tortured left negotiations before the first round and announced a coalition, come hell or high water. It’s not at all clear there was one when she went and told the press, but there was by the time she finished talking.

As a French woman and a Green MP, Marine Tondelier must certainly be used to being disappointed, but making shit happen anyway. But in this case the boys.. well, they shut up. They fell in line and got to work. And there as a lot of work to do, especially by this week.

There was also this week supposed to be a debate with MidJourney Fuhrer Jordan Bardella, and Tondelier agreed to debate him. He threw a temper tantrum and declared Mélenchon was the leader of the NFP (he is not) and he would only debate Mélenchon, (who did not agree) and not the girl in a green jacket, who is scary. The left held their ground; it was Tondelier or no one.

It was no one; the RN walked away, reasonably concluding that she would wipe the floor with Failed Boyband Front Man Bardella.

Mélenchon, presumably aware that his little dog’s life was on the line, stayed silent and had to forgo the limelight. He amazingly said no, pleading that the NFP had decided and there was nothing he could do, before glancing at a picture of the little pooch and wiping a single tear away.

(Don’t @ me.)

When the King is a Coward, but His Loyal Courtier is Not.

I want to take a moment away from making fun of everyone in French politics to give props to current Renaissance Party Prime Minister, and dead man walking, Gabriel Attal. The night of the first turn of the election, the night that Le Pen’s fascists won Macron’s stupid and self destructive snap election, PM Attal walked to a podium in front of the office of the Prime Minister. He did not plead or scold. He accepted what had happened, but then said that all effort had to be put on stopping the National Rally.

“The Far Right is climbing the steps to power. What we must do is clear: stopping the National Rally from achieving an absolute majority in the second round… I would call on France.. not one vote should go to the National Rally.” It was after that moment the center mostly got on board with working with the left to keep the RN out of power. My dude here may very well have saved the republic — time will tell.

He is the youngest PM of the Fifth Republic, and the first openly gay person to hold the post. It seems, perhaps as a gay man, that he knew the stakes much better than his boss. He did not wait for any blessing, and none was coming. He just went out, said what had to be said, and invited the Left to help him defeat the Fascists before it was too late.

That night he proved he was too good for Macron’s cabinet.

President Emmanual Macron was not seen that night, and has said nothing since. There is definitely feeling in the air that he might prefer Le Pen and her Nazi fuck boy to the Left, or Mélenchon, if he also still thinks that Mélenchon is the entire left. Because why would Macron bother to understand his people? It’s their duty to understand him, and they’ve been doing a terrible job of it.

There’s no way to be sure what Macron thinks, because he decided to sulk instead of lead. It’s why I’ve barely been able to discuss him this whole time. He vanished and took no calls. He abandoned the party he created in their true hour of need.

Turns out he went off to a spare house he has in a fancy seaside town called Le Touquet.

It’s good to be the king.

The Guillotine jokes just write themselves.

Macron off to visit his beach house.
Photo credit: Le Parisien

Tomorrow France will battle it out between a regressive isolationist Right that is violently afraid of everything, and a Left that might actually (fingers crossed) be shaking off some of their necrotic and problematic forebearers to deal with some of the very real problems France is facing. And they are real problems. Immigrants and poor people need services. The bureaucracy is failing to the point of being a human rights abuse. Someone has to balance the books after Macron’s disastrous budget decisions. Climate adaptation isn’t moving fast enough, and French farmers are often in conflict with both the adaption process and the abuses of big agribusinesses. France has struggled with the cost of living, even if less than most of its peer nations. More and more cities are falling into housing crises. Much reasonable fear and demand for proactive and competent government gets channeled into destructive othering, by the like of the Far Right, but also through the entire political spectrum. But France has everything it needs to fix itself, it is a rich and well-built country. It could even do right by its former colonies, if it wanted to.

It can choose a healthy and sustainable life for its native children and its talented and lovely immigrants both. It just has to choose.

I’m going to give the last word to a thousand academics, historians, activists and general smarty pants French people who are begging the French people to do the right thing at the Guardian:

“For the first time since the second world war, the far right is at the gates of power in France. As historians from differing political backgrounds who share an attachment to democratic values and the rule of law, we cannot remain silent in the face of an alarming prospect that we still have the capacity to resist….”

Good luck France, and God Bless.

 


“This is a rush job, as it needs to get out as soon as possible:” Jim Jordan-Led Investigation Discredits John Ratcliffe

In his latest effort to use the House Judiciary Committee as a goon squad to intimidate Donald Trump’s enemies, Jim Jordan actually developed proof that John Ratcliffe — and not the 51 former spooks he was after — inappropriately politicized intelligence to manufacture debate props.

And then Jordan did it himself.

I have the perfectly curated Xitter account to learn when Jim Jordan has released his latest installment of weaponization against democracy.

Last week, he issued his latest attempt to make a scandal out of the true free speech of the 51 former spooks who wrote a letter saying that the release of a Hunter Biden laptop days before the election “had all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” My replies were overrun with trolls chanting incoherent claims.

Of course the trolls in my Xitter feed didn’t know the most basic details of the letter or known facts about the copy of a hard drive referred to as a Hunter Biden laptop:

  • The former spooks didn’t say this was disinformation, no matter how many times Jordan or Glenn Greenwald lie and say they did. In fact, they specifically caveated that they didn’t know if the emails were genuine and did not have evidence of Russian involvement.
  • Nothing revealed about the laptop or the hard drives purportedly based on the laptop rules out Russian involvement. That’s true, in part, because the FBI never bothered to test the laptop to see if anything had been added, never indexed it, and when introduced at trial, the summary witness specifically said she had not looked for signs of tampering. Plus, there were enough Russian drug and sex workers in close proximity to earlier Hunter Biden laptop compromises to allow for a role, particularly in packaging up the device.
  • As the Democratic rebuttal notes, the 51 spook letter couldn’t have caused the social media companies to throttle the original New York Post story without a time machine, as Twitter and Facebook had stopped throttling the story several days before the letter was published. Linear time. It’s like magic to these trolls.

Even though Jordan’s latest report substantiates absolutely no misconduct, the trolls nevertheless yapped and yapped about it. Jordan showed:

  • While Mike Morrell did target the letter to the last debate (the same one where Trump invited Tony Bobulinski to make claims that have not held up), the other participants were not doing this for the Biden campaign; they were doing it to speak out against Russian interference in the 2020 election
  • The former spooks couldn’t have leaked classified information because none of them were read into pertinent information regarding the Russian spies cultivating Rudy Giuliani
  • The former spooks got preclearance to publish the letter via the normal process
  • After preclearance, the letter was forwarded for Gina Haspel’s attention, but neither she nor anyone else thought it was more important than vaccinating the CIA workforce
  • Some of the people involved were private citizens with contracts that did not strip them of their free speech

In other words, the 51 spooks followed the rules, and Jordan was stuck trying to turn it into a scandal.

The Jordan report was only 31 pages and, like a college freshman composition paper, blew entire pages with big screen caps repeating the complaints of two random spooks complaining about “random signatures” on the letter and some discussion of Mark Polymeropoulos getting something excluded from a follow-up.

Polymeropoulos’ attorney, Mark Zaid, explained that CIA redacted two lines, which had nothing to do with Hunter Biden, from the Polymeropoulos follow-up — but that was precisely how preclearance is supposed to work.

Mr. Polymeropolous submitted to the PCRB a two page talking points memo about the subject matter. Obviously, he knew that there was going to be media attention concerning the issue and he wanted to be properly prepared to address the topic if asked. He followed the standard procedure for review of information intended to be made public. No different than any other individual who has a prepublication review requirement. As part of its review, which was handled in the normal timely fashion for such a short document, CIA redacted two lines of information as being classified. Those two lines had nothing to do with the Hunter Biden laptop specifically and concerned Mr. Polymeropolous’ background experience with Russia and a comment concerning that country’s activities generally. Of course, that information was properly protected by Mr. Polymeropolous and never used. To say that this constituted an attempt to use classified information is farcical and reflects a complete lack of understanding how the prepublication review process works. The system operated exactly how it was supposed to and is being distorted for political purposes.

That’s it. That’s the best Jordan could rush out to give Trump something to complain about in a presidential debate over and over.

To think that I would, in front of generals and others, say suckers and losers – we have 19 people that said it was never said by me. It was made up by him, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was made up, just like the 51 intelligence agents are made up, just like the new thing with the 16 economists are talking.

It’s the same thing. Fifty-one intelligence agents said that the laptop was Russia disinformation. It wasn’t. That came from his son Hunter. It wasn’t Russia disinformation. He made up the suckers and losers, so he should apologize to me right now.

[snip]

I’ve dealt with politicians all my life. I’ve been on this side of the equation for the last eight years. I’ve never seen anybody lie like this guy. He lies – I’ve never seen it. He could look you in the face. So – and about so many other things, too.

And we mentioned the laptop, We mentioned “Russia, Russia, Russia,” “Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine.” And everything he does is a lie. It’s misinformation and disinformation. The “losers and suckers” story that he made up is a total lie on the military. It’s a disgrace.

This was Trump’s prepackaged answer to attempt to projection his own lying onto Biden. It was barely more vigorous than Biden’s rebuttals.

As flimsy as it was, though, Trump’s use of the 51-spook letter was part of a larger effort, one designed to bully those who speak up against Russian disinformation, disinformation generally, or in favor of rule of law. As John Brennan described, it created a furor about the letter that distracted from Russian intervention, which in turn serves to divide the country.

I think the firestorm, the furor has been created responding to the letter as opposed to the letter itself, as I responded to one of the Congressmen earlier. So it’s unfortunate that this is taking up all your time, it’s taking up my time, and it is, again, further dividing the country.

And, by design, it has chilled speech that talks about Russian interference.

One after another of the spooks interviewed confessed they or others would be chilled by the precedent of Jordan investigating private citizens for their free speech. Kristin Wood described how Mike Flynn put out all their names on a Telegram chat, leading to stalking and death threats.

Several ways. First of all, I’ve received death threats. I’ve received vicious calls, texts, emails from all sorts of random people. Mike Flynn — General Flynn posted on Telegram all of our names and said, you know, let them know how we feel. It unleashed this viciousness that had several other folks calling the police, calling the Threat Management Unit at CIA, to let them know what was happening.

And so for the first time ever, I looked at getting a gun and getting a concealed carry permit because it’s not just that people have been mean or say horrific things, but we’ve seen them take action. And so that feeling of vulnerability for speaking, exercising a First Amendment right, and for saying what I thought was as obvious as there’s air in — there’s air. Let’s just let the FBI do their work.

It has a profound effect on health as well. I’ve been to the emergency room for stress because of all of this. And so when you ask would I do this again, I would insist on a little more precision of language. But it has the effect of censoring people who have more than a thousand years of experience in this topic. And I would think the focus would be on stopping Russia and not on what feels like persecution.

Several of the spooks admitted the mob treatment would lead them to decline further involvement in anything political. Most described that it would chill others.

At that level, the spooks are just like the disinformation experts Jordan also targeted, those who tracked efforts to muddy reason and truth. Their lives have been upended because they attempted to track Russian disinformation that served Republican interests, and the personal and financial cost is shutting down those efforts during an election year.

But then something funny happened.

House Republicans kept pushing the spooks, arguing — notwithstanding the public reporting on Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to solicit dirt from known Russian agent Andrii Derkach — that the spooks should have known, somehow, that the hard drive called a Hunter Biden laptop wasn’t Russian disinformation (which, as noted, the spooks didn’t claim).

Republicans — often Jordan himself — kept asking whether the spooks knew that John Ratcliffe had claimed the laptop was not disinformation (which, again, was not what the letter claimed).

Chairman Jordan. Were you aware of Mr. Ratcliffe’s statement on the morning of the 19th, prior to the letter being sent, where he said in an interview on FOX News that morning that this is not part of the Russian disinformation campaign?

And that led multiple witnesses to explain why Ratcliffe simply wasn’t credible. Wood described that a proper counterintelligence investigation takes longer than would have transpired (no one knew how long the FBI had had the laptop).

Ms. Wood. So, I think what I would say in response to that is that the letter — the purpose of the letter was to say, Let’s not rush to judgment. Everyone, regardless of who they are as Americans, deserves due process. Let’s let the FBI do their work. And when DNI Ratcliffe said that — so as you have seen from all of these investigations, right, they take a very long time to do, to do the considered judgment of 17 or 18 intelligence agencies, and to come up with that to do the exhaustive search of asking new sources, of pulling in every bit of signals intelligence, there’s just no way that’s possible to have been done in the timeframe in which that statement was made. So our whole point was to say, Be careful here. Let us — we don’t know if this is all real. We don’t know if all the emails are real, and we don’t know if this is tied to the Russians. Let’s let the process work

James Clapper described that, not only didn’t he consider Ratcliffe a reliable source, but that he made the statement before any investigation of the laptop.

Mr. Clapper. Well, if the Department of Justice or the FBI or some other legitimate credible source of — who had done a credible forensic analysis — certainly I would accept that. That’s why I suggested that would be a good — would have been a good fix — a good addition to the letter had we said that.

Mr. Gaetz. Are you aware of Director Ratcliffe, the DNI at the time, contradicting the thrust of this letter you signed?

Mr. Clapper. Well, okay. He said that statement before, I think, an investigation had begun of the laptop. So I don’t know where he’s coming from making a statement like that.

In response to a follow-up question from the Minority, Clapper also agreed that Ratcliffe himself was making public statements in anticipation of the debate.

Q It’s an article reporting on Ratcliffe’s remarks, and it’s dated October 19th, 2020, 1:49 p.m. And we’re just introducing it for the fact of the date. The New York Post story in question was released on October 14th, correct?

A Yes.

Q So that would have been 5 days before Ratcliffe made his remarks?

A Right.

Q And I think you said earlier he couldn’t have even begun an investigation in that time period. Is that correct?

A Correct.

Q And can you explain what you mean by that?

A Well, I don’t know how — what his basis for making that statement is when the laptop itself hasn’t been investigated. The DNI, Office of the Director National Intelligence, has no organic forensic analysis capability at all. So they’re dependent on other components of the intelligence community, in this case the FBI, to render such a judgment, which hadn’t been rendered. So I don’t know how he could make that statement.

Q Okay. And even assuming that Ratcliffe — sorry. Withdraw that. And he made these remarks on October 19th, which was the day before the second debate, correct? The second Presidential debate was the 20th.

A Uh-huh.

Q So isn’t it possible that Ratcliffe also made his remarks in the hope that they would impact the debate?

A Well, one could conclude that, yes.

John Brennan was even more disdainful of Ratcliffe’s actions. He described that Ratcliffe’s release of his briefing notes, for the first 2020 debate, made it clear that Ratcliffe was involved in politics.

Chairman Jordan. Director, were you aware of what Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said on the morning of October 19th regarding this Biden laptop story, where he said that it wasn’t a Russian disinformation operation?

Mr. Brennan. I don’t know if I was aware of it at the time, but I would have dismissed it anyway.

Chairman Jordan. Why would you have dismissed it?

Mr. Brennan. Because I don’t think John Ratcliffe was an independent, objective leader of the intelligence community at the time.

Chairman Jordan. So you would dismiss the statement from the Director of National Intelligence — the Acting — the Director of National Intelligence at the time, in the administration, getting intelligence in real-time, you would just dismiss that out of hand?

Mr. Brennan. Not out of hand, but I think it was — a week or two prior to that, there was a selective release of information that included my briefing notes to President Obama in the White House Situation Room that was misrepresenting, in fact, the facts, where it was pushed out in redacted version. And I did think that was a very, very unfortunate, unprofessional, unethical engagement on the part of the Director of National Intelligence in a Presidential election.

Mr. Gaetz. So your dismissing Mr. Ratcliffe was somehow payback for the fact that you thought that your briefing to President Obama had been mischaracterized?

Mr. Brennan. No, that’s not what I said.

Mr. Gaetz. Okay. Well, I’m trying to understand how this event that seems to have aggrieved you regarding the briefing to President Obama impacted your view of the Ratcliffe assessment.

Mr. Brennan. It didn’t aggrieve me. It just indicated to me that John Ratcliffe was not going to be an independent, nonpartisan, apolitical actor.

Brennan is referring to the notes he got about materials found among hacked documents in Russia, which Republicans and John Durham spun up, first of all, as true (rather than suspected Russian disinformation), and then misrepresented to claim that Hillary had a plan to frame Donald Trump.

Not only did Brennan see this as an election season stunt (which I observed at the time), but he described that Ratcliffe “misrepresent[ed] the facts” about the materials.

Jim Jordan has been searching for a former spook to accuse of politicizing intelligence in 2020 for years, and he finally found one! Trump’s hand-picked Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, who was doing precisely what Jordan falsely accused the former spooks of doing, but did so while still an employee of the Intelligence Community.

Update: Corrected that the “laptop” was not just a “hard drive,” but in fact a copy of another hard drive.


Fourteen Shambolic Years of Conservative Rule

The Tories are Exhausting.

This Thursday the 4th of July the UK will be overcast in the low 60s with some intermittent rain, and all the parliamentary seats will be up for grabs as the UK turns out for yet another insane British snap election. This one was called by Rishi Sunak, the Almost Certainly About To Be Former Prime Minister of the UK.

Snap elections as such don’t exist in the US. There are reasons for special elections to be called outside of the normal cycle, but they are extraordinary. A snap elections just means the Prime Minister wants to have a go at it. And Rishi Sunak called one. He seems tired of being PM, tired of Britain, maybe tired of life.

I’m going to explain roughly how these elections work, if you want to skip this part, that’s understandable. Just scroll down to the picture of a kitten.

Elections are quite different in the UK than the US. Eligible voters all over the four countries that make up the United Kingdom will head to the polls and vote for a local representative, sorted by party affiliation, one of which will be made their Member of Parliament. Many will just be voting for a party, rather than a person. Some local MPs are quite well known in their local constituencies,  and well enough loved to carry votes from across the spectrum, but many are not. Similar to Congressional elections, a lot of people who vote a party line rather than for a person are trying to influence the shape of the national government, not just local representive business.

That’s it, that’s all they get to vote for in these national elections. In this way, it’s much simpler than an American election.

There are 650 constituencies in the United Kingdom. The closest equivalent in America is probably Congressional districts. These constituencies are geographically contiguous and range from roughly 21,000 to 90,000 residents. There are sometimes accusations of gerrymandering in the UK, but it is strictly amateur stuff compared to the mathematical insanity of American redistricting.

Unlike America, the British don’t vote for governmental roles. The people don’t vote for the Prime Minister, at least not directly. Brits get one representative in the Parliament, and that’s that. The various jobs, privileges, and positions get worked out when this particular mob of election winners show up at Westminster Palace in London.

Great Britain uses a first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, or what Americans think of as just how elections work. There are many other ways of structuring voting, used in jurisdictions all over the world, but they remain mostly undiscovered in America and the UK. First-past-the-post is a system everyone gets one vote, one time, and the guy with the most votes wins. This style of voting tends to favor two party systems, low diversity in political thought, and men. Voters are usually timid in FPTP systems — you pick a team and stick with it. If you want your vote to matter, you pick one of the two big teams. There’s even a concept for this in Political Science: Duverger’s law. Older democracies like America and the UK prefer FPTP because not much else had been discovered when they started trying to Democracy, and the politics around voting tends to be sticky. Criticizing the voting system often makes older people cranky in the traditional ‘we had it bad, why should you have it any better’ kind of way.

The UK doesn’t have a written constitution. If you mention that to them, they will angrily say that yes, they do, and point at a giant pile of Post-It notes going back to the 17th century. Then they will also mention a few things that aren’t written down and explain that it’s fine because everyone knows those bits. Well, everyone important, at least.

(I am not going to describe the devolved governments or the House of Lords, this is already too long.)

Whoever leads the party which won more than half the seats will be invited by King Charles to form a government. A minority government can also be invited, with the “supply and confidence” of a smaller party. This was the case with Theresa May’s government in 2017 which needed the assistance of the Northern Irish hard line Democratic Unionist Party to stay in government. But it’s often unstable. See Theresa May’s government in 2017.

The winners, now the government, sit on the right of the Speaker of the House of Commons. And the Opposition — the ones that didn’t win the election — sit on the left. (Being the Speaker of the House of Commons is nothing like the Speaker of the House. The term is a false friend.) The job of Speaker of the House of Commons involves calling on MPs who want to talk, telling them when to vote, and shouting “Orrrrdeh!” at grown-up politicians behaving like an out of control middle-school classroom.

If no one party gets a majority, two parties can enter into a coalition to govern together, but  they often fall apart — much like the House and Senate being at odds with each other and the President. (Though we just have to live with it for years, whereas the Brits can go back to the polls sooner with a snap election.)

The Prime Minister doesn’t run for the office of PM; they’re just another MP, technically. But they are generally the leader of their party. As for who gets what job, that’s an internal party matter, and surprisingly little of it is formally legislated. (The party leadership elections are a whole different process which varies by party by-laws.) From there the PM tries to pass laws and create policy, with the usual drama that entails in modern democracies.

The PM can call for an election anytime, with the provision that he or she has to call for one within a five year term. And that’s what Rishi Sunak did on May 22nd, when he called an election for this Thursday. He did this while trailing the opposition by about 20 points in the polls, which is just as much of a death sentence in the UK as the US. He called it while getting unceremoniously rained on, as if even the sky itself was saying “Nah, fuck this guy.”

OK. Civics lesson over.

How it’s Going? (Badly)

To thank you for reading this, I have provided a kitten picture.

The Conservative Party, also known as the Tories, has been in power for 14 years. It will almost certainly be wiped out at the polls, possibly even out of meaningful existence, but probably not. Modern democratic Britain is a conservative, capital T- Tory, country. They spent nearly 60 years in power during the 20th century, and one of the longest lasting Labour PMs, Tony Blair, basically got the job by being a Tory in all but name. Britain hates the Tories because they continually crash the country into a wall, the same wall their faces are currently planted in now. But Brits love the Tories because Tories tell them that Britain is the best, and they shouldn’t feel bad about the British Empire, and they can go it alone, because they’re made of sterner stuff, and meant to be the best rich white people that rich white people can be, and like Lucy with the damn football, the Brits fall for it every damn time.

Right now in normal, not Tory-fantasy-land Great Britain, everything sucks.

Fuel poverty is skyrocketing, a record number of people are relying on food banks, companies are dumping raw sewage into almost every waterway in England. The National Health Service has more patients on waiting lists for medical care than Ireland has people. The economy is trash, productivity has been flailing since the financial crisis, and the trains are barely running.

Homelessness is becoming common, and young people despair of ever owning a house even as their rents balloon. The country is at least 1.2 million houses behind what it needs.

House building hasn’t kept up with population. One in every 26 houses needed by British families… doesn’t exist. This drives house prices and rents up, but there’s just no way to shelter people if there’s no shelter. There are many reasons a particular person might be the one that become homeless, but that someone had to become homeless in the UK is simply math. The question of  is not why people become homeless, we know why. The only question is  who will become homeless — the ones left standing, when the music stops.

The prisons are overflowing, the police forces are undermanned. The buildings made with shitty RAAC (Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) are falling down piece by piece, including inside of  over two hundred primary and secondary schools in the whole UK.

The chances of seeing a dentist are slightly better than winning a lottery, and people are pulling out teeth at home. There’s not enough people to provide either childcare or eldercare, and not enough money to retain the people doing these jobs now. According to Tim Harford writing in the Financial Times, “Real household disposable income per capita has barely increased for 15 years,” and “the deficit is a permanent fixture, and interest payments on public debt have risen to levels not seen for 40 years.” Bigotry against trans people, nursed by the Conservatives, spans the political spectrum — perhaps a comforting distraction . The Tories would rather pay for flights to Rwanda for asylum seekers than pay their own NHS junior doctors.

And there’s more, and more… a litany of failure, complaints, and human misery.

David Cameron

Truly these last 14 years of Tory rule have been like no other, but to understand this you have to understand David Cameron, Conservative Prime minister, 2010 to 2016. Cameron is the Simone Biles of failing up. No matter how much he wrecked Great Britain, embarrassed himself, or both, he always stuck the landing like it was the easiest thing, like he meant to do it. He introduced Austerity to Britain after the 2009 financial crisis, and convinced his people to starve themselves half to death instead of trying to reform a corrupt banking system. He didn’t take care of his people, he told them, “stiff upper lip!” and went back to one of his multi-million pound homes in the English countryside.

There was no good reason to do austerity, and every country that did suffered terribly as the economy slowed. But most of them had Austerity forced on them, Cameron forced it on his own people. He then accidentally took the UK out of the EU when he didn’t mean to, trying to show off after managing to barely not lose Scotland. No one thought he was insane enough to accidentally leave the EU when he didn’t want to, but he was, and he didn’t care. After that, he walked away from the job, literally singing a little song to himself, and ushered in years of Brexit chaos all of Europe is still trying to get over.

Cameron might have thought he was done failing up after all that, but then he was asked back by Sunak last year to become Foreign Secretary of the UK. But since he wasn’t an MP, Sunak made him Baron Cameron of Chipping Norton, in the County of Oxfordshire. Now he’s Lord Cameron, he even gets a little Santa-looking cape to wear in the House of Lords. That’s all real things adult men did.

He recently fell for some Russian pranksters and talked about Ukraine policy with them because he thought they were the former Ukrainian president. I tried to check, but it’s unclear if this was a video call.

Theresa May

Cameron was succeed by Theresa May, the first Prime Minister to be eaten by Brexit and her own Tory MPs on the back benches of Parliament. She discovered quickly that a clean exit from the EU that involved taking a large chunk of the island next to Britain was impossible. Not the least because the Republic of Ireland has been sick of this shit for a good long time. The Good Friday Agreement had made the Troubles in Ireland kind of go away, but Brexit threatened to bring them back. The prospect of a hard Brexit with a hard Irish border was likely to see a lot of violence, and no one really knew what to do about it. The Brexiteers just failed to talk about it, back in the days of “Reclaiming Our Freedoms.” May failed again and again to get a deal that both the EU and her own party would agree to. Even when the EU was trying to ease the way, Boris Johnson, the next asshat in this story, would just gesticulate and yell that nothing was ever good enough, nothing what ever Brexit enough. Mostly because he was after her job.

May was just a nasty person. Before she was PM, she’d instituted a Home Office hostile environment policy in and effort to reduce migration. This policy amounted to the UK making itself so mean and incompetent that it would just be too hard and awful for migrants to stay. Her administration also deported people back to places where they would face human rights violations against international law. Eventually her hostile policy got so hostile that the government ended up detaining and deporting a bunch of elderly Afro-Caribbean migrants who had lived in the UK for decades legally, after answering the call from the British government to rebuild England post WW2. Yes, the victims of this scandal were color coded, for easy human rights abuses! Eventually the scandal lead to the establishment of a Windrush Day holiday in the UK, to commemorate the hard work and contributions of migrants, particularly Afro-Caribbean migrants, to rebuilding Britain.

This year the UK government celebrated Windrush Day by evicting an 89 year old woman born in Jamaica who came to the UK in 1960 to work in a factory. She built a life and and raised her children in the UK. But she doesn’t have a passport.

So that’s going well.

Eventually Theresa May resigned after three years in office, making way for Boris Johnson.

The Good Chap Theory of Government Meets Boris Fucking Johnson

That no one has bother to work out or write down the nature of the UK Constitution makes things complicated at times. The assumption of these well heeled and well educated (mostly) men is that if you were in the club, you were almost undoubtedly a Good Chap. This is actually a soft doctrine of British politics: that if you made it in the door, you’re probably an good guy and we should just trust that. The good chap is someone with manners, morals, and decorum. How well this idiotic principle of governance held up historically may be a matter of opinion, but it did not survived May’s successor, poisonous blancmange in human form, Boris Johnson. Johnson, a columnist who had jumped into politics presumably because he wasn’t getting enough attention, campaigned hard for Brexit. He was Brexit’s number one hype man, along with Lovecraftian Innsmouth monster Nigel Farage. Johnson has a kind of goofy golden retriever energy to him, a vague cover for the hedonistic nihilism he would show later and that would eventually bring him down. He tells truth and lies triumphantly and with gusto, never seeming to care which one he’s doing at the moment. The Tories tried to treat Johnson like a normal good chap, and he destroyed them. More than any other lousy ass in this list of incompetent, cruel, bigoted British rulers, Boris Johnson wrecked the Conservative Party. He broke the law partying during his own lock down. He lied continuously and obviously to the House of Commons. He lied to the people of Britain about his “oven ready Brexit deal” which did nothing to fix the problems May had encountered. He lied to everyone with the ease of a child laughing. Trying to treat Boris Johnson like a Good Chap was the political equivalent of kissing a nuclear control rod. The question isn’t if you’ll die, but when and how mangled you’ll be when you die.

Eventually beset with too many scandals and actual crimes for the House to ignore, he exited the scene. The only person who benefited from Johnson’s tenure was Nigel Farage. Farage is actually polling well enough to get a seat in Parliament right now. That’s how bad the Tories fucked up.

Liz Truss

With Boris gone it was on to the next terrifying pasty Tory. After a contentious leadership election in which the Tory membership proved their mettle by overwhelmingly fighting to get Liz Truss into the Premiership over the desires of the people, the media, and the actual Tory MPs, who knew her and knew she was insane. But she got a chance to show the world her vision for a strong Britain. She took an economy David Cameron had spent years trying to ruin and managed to crash it completely in less than two months – Great British efficiency! The hurt she caused will be scarring the people of Britain for a generation, but at least she gets to hang out with Trump’s crew in America now.

And Finally, Dishy Rishi

It was time for the technocratic lanky human calculator to take the scene. Rishi Sunak, celebrated for his lack of understanding about how viruses and air work in the midst of a pandemic. He managed to make his very own wave of disability and death, with his Eat Out to Help Out scheme, and by this point doesn’t that seem like the top line of the CV for a Tory Prime Minister?

Sunak was as bad as all of them, though he never quite rose to their deliberate evil, more fumbling without caring who he hurt. Perhaps an improvement on the Tories’ active and hateful malice. In the end, Rishi Sunak was unlucky, last to be holding the premiership hot potato as the 5 year clock ran down. He decided on sudden death to go for it, try to get re-elected against all odds, or at least be done with it so he can move back to Venice Beach, gaze out at the Pacific from his mansion, and ignore the kids killing each other in gang fights behind his building. July 4th can be his independence day, and he can go back and re-up that green card.

Maybe even get a job at Facebook to keep him busy.

After 14 years of Conservative rule, Britain is broken and exhausted. Labour and Kier Starmer is almost certainly headed for a win, but like Tony Blair, Labour is  just trying to be the Tories Lite. No one is holding out much hope the Starmer will fix the nation, because he’s made it clear he won’t. He’s promising just slightly less of the same things the Tories are promising. So the British slog on to the polls tomorrow.

Perfidious Albion, indeed.

I’ll give the last word to the illimitable Douglas Adams, who knew his people well:

“…On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“What?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”


The “Wow, Pictures!” Tabloid Coverage of Trump’s Stolen Documents Is as Bad as Conspiracy Mongering

The other day, I mined the documents and photographs released in the government’s response to Trump’s bid to throw out his indictment based on a complaint that the FBI failed to preserve the order of documents in boxes.

Doing so, I showed that Trump had stored ten of the documents charged against him — including one classified under the Atomic Energy Act — under bubble wrap and a Christmas pillow.

 

I had to do a fair amount of work to figure that out, building on work I did years ago. I had to cross-reference the item number (28, as shown in the picture) with the box number (A-73, which you can find on the warrant return) to determine which box this was. I then cross referenced that with the table of charged documents in the filing.

Then I annotated the picture to describe which charged documents were found in the box myself. You can cross reference that with the indictment to learn what kind of documents are included in the stack in the picture.

All that under the bubble wrap and the Christmas pillow!

But that’s not why DOJ included the picture in its filing. DOJ included this picture, along with the two other pictures in that exhibit and the two in this exhibit, “to provide a sense of the variety of items in the boxes.” And Jack Smith’s team did that to show that FBI agents who conducted the search had no way of knowing that Trump knew (according to the interview of a former White House aide of his) precisely what was stored in which box, and therefore no way of knowing he might cite document order in his own defense.

Furthermore, this is not a case where reams of identically-sized documents were stacked neatly in file folders or redwelds, arrayed perfectly within a box. To anyone other than Trump, the boxes had no apparent organization whatsoever. The boxes contained all manner of items, including, for example, papers of varying sizes, from folded large-format items to tiny notes; clothing; picture frames; shoes; magazines; newspapers; newspaper clippings; correspondence; greeting cards; binders; and Christmas ornaments. The photographs attached as Exhibits 3, 8, and 16 provide a sense of the variety of items in the boxes. The notion that the precise ordering of materials within these boxes possessed any exculpatory value that would be apparent to the Filter Team when they opened the boxes is absurd.

These pictures also corroborate what filter team agents said about their efforts to retain the order of items in these boxes as they searched them for any potentially privileged documents, such as Agent 5’s description that it was impossible to retain the order because of the “[loafers], newspapers, post-it notes, golf balls, etc” she found in the boxes. For the most part, these were not boxes of file folders (like the one found in Joe Biden’s garage, the order of which FBI also disrupted; they were boxes of Christmas pillows and bubble wrap, and that’s one of several reasons why the document order within boxes was not maintained in all boxes.

There was a purpose to these photos, and it went well beyond slob-shaming the former President or just showing how DOJ released these pictures to portray Trump as chaotic. The photos and other exhibits make a specific rebuttal to an argument Trump is making: that FBI willfully mixed up document order to undermine a foreseeable future defense that was radically different to the one — that he knew the documents were there, but had declassified everything — he had been making before the August 8, 2022 search.

There was a purpose to these photos: To rebut a range of conspiracy theories designed to undermine rule of law and truth itself.

The coverage from most mainstream journalists (I excuse those who were stuck in Aileen Cannon’s courtroom who just threw up a post after that tedium) consisted of little more than “ooh, pictures!” which quickly turned into slob-shaming that failed to provide any context about the legal significance of the exhibits or the chain of custody they depicted.

There were several other things the filing and pictures were meant to explain: notably, what and how cover sheets got put into boxes, and — because Julie Kelly is a shameless propagandist — whether the FBI brought cover sheets for the sole purpose of framing Donald Trump.

This conspiracy theory started when Stan Woodward spent 1:50 examining physical document boxes. He took this picture, of Box A-14, which has only around 35 documents in it, all stacked up neatly, but otherwise spent little time examining this box — just 6 minutes.

This box was originally segregated because it had potentially privileged documents in it. Days later, an FBI agent discovered a single document marked with Top Secret markings. That document, dated May 6, 2019 and describing a White House intelligence briefing, is charged in Count 4 of the indictment.

Woodward made no claim that the cover sheet in this box, wherever it is, was out of place.

Woodward spent more time reviewing box A-15: 18 minutes. He didn’t take a picture (but the FBI did). Box A-15 was found with a binder in it, containing 21 Secret documents and 11 Confidential documents.

When Woodward inspected this box, he discovered that the order of the cover sheets marking classified documents reflected in the scan done for the Special Master review conflicted with the order he discovered them when he reviewed the box itself.

For this box, because it was one originally inspected after the FBI ran out of cover sheets they brought with them (they didn’t expect so many classified documents!), there were three sets of cover sheets used with the document. The generic cover sheet marking the highest level of classification mark found in the box, depicted in the picture above, which the FBI took to document its search; hand-written cover sheets they used to mark individual documents after they ran out of the normal cover sheets the day of the search;

And cover sheets marked with each individual document index ID (the “ccc” in the picture) after they indexed everything.

The documents in this box were indexed as “ccc” through “iii” and then “www” through “tttt.”

For this box, each of those three cover sheets served a different purpose. The first played a role in an evidentiary picture, to document the search, and yes, the FBI put that cover sheet there on purpose to both cover up classified information and to mark how sensitive it was.

The second was a place marker for each document taken from the box and kept more securely, and the third was a cover sheet to track each individual classified document.

But this box, in particular, ended up getting particularly jumbled because there were so many classified documents all appearing in a binder.

11 The initial placeholder sheets that were put in Box A-15, unlike most of the others, included only the classification level and the number of pages. Because of the large number of documents with classification markings (32) in box A-15, which were found in a binder of information and therefore similar in nature, it was not possible for the FBI to determine from the initial placeholder sheets which removed documents corresponded to which classified document. In this instance, therefore, the FBI left the initial handwritten placeholder sheets within the binder to denote the places within the binder where the documents with classification markings were found. The FBI provided this binder for scanning at the top of the box. In addition, the FBI placed in the box 32 new placeholder sheets representing the 32 documents with classification markings in the binder. It placed them where the binder was within the box when the investigative team obtained it. None of the 32 documents is charged.

I don’t excuse that — the FBI flubbed boxes in both the Biden and Trump investigations. But as noted, in this case, it won’t be relevant to any defense Trump will offer because these documents aren’t charged.

The fact that FBI used cover sheets to mark and cover the contents of classified documents when documenting the search (as in the two pictures above) led propagandist Julie Kelly to imagine that the original photo released in an exhibit back in August 2022 must be a set-up, with the FBI using a bunch of classified cover sheets solely to make Donald Trump look worse than he was.

Julie got way over her skis claiming that Jay Bratt lied when he introduced a reference to the picture by saying that, “Certain of the documents had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status.”

The photo was a stunt, and one that adds more fuel to this dumpster-fire case.

Jay Bratt, who was the lead DOJ prosecutor on the investigation at the time and now is assigned to Smith’s team, described the photo this way in his August 30, 2022 response to Trump’s special master lawsuit:

“[Thirteen] boxes or containers contained documents with classification markings, and in all, over one hundred unique documents with classification markings…were seized. Certain of the documents had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status. (Emphasis added.) See, e.g., Attachment F (redacted FBI photograph of certain documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container in the ‘45 office’).”

The DOJ’s clever wordsmithing, however, did not accurately describe the origin of the cover sheets. In what must be considered not only an act of doctoring evidence but willfully misleading the American people into believing the former president is a criminal and threat to national security, agents involved in the raid attached the cover sheets to at least seven files to stage the photo.

Classified cover sheets were not “recovered” in the container, contrary to Bratt’s declaration to the court.

The frothy right has been trying to claim this photo was a frame job from the start. But Julie’s theory was a particularly stupid version of the conspiracy theory. If the idea was that cover sheets make the documents look worse than, say, visible classification marks like the ones visible if you look more closely, and the more cover sheets the more useful for framing Donald Trump, why not use cover sheets on all of them? In a piece that otherwise struggled with the difference between [Box] Two and [Box] Ten, Julie counted seven cover sheets in the picture. I think there are at least eight (plus another form of cover sheet) but — another data point that undermines her conspiracy theory — a Secret cover sheet is buried in the middle of the stack, useless for the propaganda value Julie’s conspiracy theory has dreamt up.

While last week’s filing didn’t take on Julie’s conspiracy theory head on (notably, Trump has not adopted her conspiracy theory, which should tell you something), it did include the materials to understand how the initial evidentiary picture got put together.

As noted in the Jay Bratt language Julie quotes, the contents in that picture were found in a container in the “45 Office,” what Mar-a-Lago staffers called Trump’s office. The warrant return described the box holding the most sensitive documents, item 2, as a “leatherbound box of documents.”

That’s one of many ways we can be sure that this picture — which the “ooh pictures! people were very excited about mostly on account of the Diet Coke bottles, which I think short-changes the cult Donald Trump picture in the right side — depicts the same box.

The next picture in that exhibit shows how that same box got labeled Box 2, the box that Julie the Propagandist would one day confuse with Item 10.

Another picture shows what the top of the box looked like (since this is post taint search — the unsigned Sandy Hook letter that some “ooh photos” journalists claimed must be a super sensitive document, on account of hiding the name of the child gunned down at Sandy Hook — may not have been on the top of the stack when the FBI first found it).

The filing even includes the photo log showing how the photographer took pictures first of the closet (Room F), then of the box, then of the contents of the box.

Here’s that evidence photo again, which would have been taken in the foregound of the wide view picture above, with the rolled up paper and the seeming book now appearing at the top of the picture, and the tacky dresser on the left.

The picture was misleading when released, but not for the reason Julie the Propagandist suggests. It was misleading because it suggested that Trump put his Top Secret documents in with his Time Magazine covers. He didn’t. He put them in a different box, a few feet away, also in his office closet with the awful carpeting.

The filing that Julie the Propagandist claimed vindicated her conspiracy theory does the opposite. The government filing reiterates the claim — the claim that Julie the Propagandist claims caught Jay Bratt in a lie — that “Certain of the documents had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status.”

The 45 Office consisted of the “ante room,” where Trump staff members had desks (Room B); Trump’s office (Room C); a closet attached to Trump’s office (Room F); and two bathrooms (Rooms D and E). Ex. 9. Entry photos were taken of the ante room, Trump’s office, and both bathrooms. Id. Filter Team agents then discovered in the closet a blue, covered, leatherbound box full of various papers, including numerous newspapers, newspaper clippings, magazines, note cards of various sizes, presidential correspondence, empty folders, and loose cover sheets for classified information, as well as documents marked classified. Ex. 10. FBI 13 conducted the privilege review of this box, with some brief assistance from FBI 5. ECF No. 612-11 at USA01291471. FBI 13 was careful to return all items to the box after reviewing them, but did not maintain the order of the items. Id. at USA-01291472; Ex. 11 at USA-01291691. FBI 13 found no potentially privileged materials in the box. ECF No. 612-1 at USA-01291485. After FBI 13 placed all of the contents of the blue box back in the box, an ERT photographer took photos of the blue box with the cover off. Ex. 12. FBI 13 alerted the Case Team that s/he had found documents marked classified, and after s/he completed his/her privilege review, two Case Team agents reviewed the box and found numerous documents with classification markings, some of which had classification cover sheets already attached, as well as loose classification cover sheets. The Case Team agents seized the documents marked classified (as well as any cover sheets already attached) and segregated them. As they extracted the seized documents, they inserted placeholder sheets where they found them. [my emphasis]

To be sure, there’s still a step of this progression that the government didn’t include in its filing (again, this is not the primary focus of the filing because Trump has not adopted Julie the Propagandist’s conspiracy theory, at least not yet, and — one exhibit included last week also made it clear– Trump’s people had turned on CCTV surveillance before the search started, and investigators knew that).

Trump’s initial MTD included notes and last week’s filing includes a follow-up interview with Agent 13. Agent 13 was the primary person who did the filter search of the closet. The original notes describe the agent, “does recall seeing cover sheets inside box[,] don’t know one way or other if cover sheets in photo came from box.” In the follow-up, the agent described that the lid to the leatherbound box was on the box when they found it (meaning the evidence pictures thereafter reflect what happened after the filter search).

That testimony is utterly consistent with the picture: that at least some of the cover sheets in the picture are the ones Agent 13 found when they did the search. But you’d need to add the testimony of the photographer and the two investigative agents to learn whether all of them were, or learn whether any of the loose cover sheets in the box were also used in the photo.

Nevertheless, it’s a pointless conspiracy theory. Julie the Propagandist has made a big deal out of cover sheets used in the way cover sheets are supposed to be used: to convey that something is classified and prevent any incidental exposure. But the picture doesn’t, primarily, show cover sheets. Indeed, it shows at least ten documents without classified cover sheets (covered instead with blank cover sheets), virtually all with classification markings visible.

More importantly, what the filing and the original photo both show the chain of custody of a box that — no amount of squealing about cover sheets disputes — clearly shows at least 22 of the 24 documents alleged to have been found in the box, most with classification markings visible.

Tracking what these exhibits do explicitly and — with more effort — implicitly takes time. But responding to conspiracy theories with facile reporting squealing, “Ooohh pictures” serves nobody, except media outlets looking for free reporting and conspiracy theorists hoping to turn truth into a both-sides dispute.


Sammy Alito Makes a Great Case Trump Censored Fox News’ Accurate 2020 Election Reporting

As Rayne noted, today a 6-Justice majority rejected the right wing conspiracy theory ginned up by Missouri and Louisiana’s since promoted Attorneys General claiming that the Federal government was making social media companies censor right wing speech.

Amy Coney Barrett’s majority opinion is worth reading for her footnotes attacking the Fifth Circuit’s credulous adoption of Judge Terry Doughty’s credulous adoption of conspiracy theories spawned by the likes of Matt Taibbi and Jim Jordan.

4The Fifth Circuit relied on the District Court’s factual findings, many of which unfortunately appear to be clearly erroneous. The District Court found that the defendants and the platforms had an “efficient report-and-censor relationship.” Missouri v. Biden, 680 F. Supp. 3d 630, 715 (WD La. 2023). But much of its evidence is inapposite. For instance, the court says that Twitter set up a “streamlined process for censorship requests” after the White House “bombarded” it with such requests. Ibid., n. 662 (internal quotation marks omitted). The record it cites says nothing about “censorship requests.” See App. 639–642. Rather, in response to a White House official asking Twitter to remove an impersonation account of President Biden’s granddaughter, Twitter told the official about a portal that he could use to flag similar issues. Ibid. This has nothing to do with COVID–19 misinformation. The court also found that “[a] drastic increase in censorship . . . directly coincided with Defendants’ public calls for censorship and private demands for censorship.” 680 F. Supp. 3d, at 715. As to the “calls for censorship,” the court’s proof included statements from Members of Congress, who are not parties to this suit. Ibid., and n. 658. Some of the evidence of the “increase in censorship” reveals that Facebook worked with the CDC to update its list of removable false claims, but these examples do not suggest that the agency “demand[ed]” that it do so. Ibid. Finally, the court, echoing the plaintiffs’ proposed statement of facts, erroneously stated that Facebook agreed to censor content that did not violate its policies. Id., at 714, n. 655. Instead, on several occasions, Facebook explained that certain content did not qualify for removal under its policies but did qualify for other forms of moderation.

I may come back to this.

For now, though, what I’m interested in is Sammy Alito’s apparent presumption that he should measure a media outlet — even a social media company!! — based on its apparent subservience to government actors.

To support his indirect argument that one of the plaintiffs, activist Jill Hines, has been injured, Alito first tries to lay out a case whereby Facebook has been cowed by the United States government, so he can later make a correlative argument that the Hines’ injury that, as ACB noted, “started [] before almost all of its communications [between Facebook and] the White House and the CDC,” was instead caused by it.

Alito really really wants to make this argument, because if he doesn’t he’s got nothing to show for this partisan effort! ACB even invokes a 7th Circuit quip about Alito’s efforts to go make this case for Hines: “[j]udges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried [in the record].”

Alito attempts this feat, in part, by arguing that social media companies are more susceptible to government pressure than other media companies. He claims that Presidents cannot put particular newspapers that cross him out of business, and then lays out ways that social media companies — Section 230, anti-trust, and (!?!?!) EU regulation — are more susceptible.

Second, internet platforms, although rich and powerful, are at the same time far more vulnerable to Government pressure than other news sources. If a President dislikes a particular newspaper, he (fortunately) lacks the ability to put the paper out of business. But for Facebook and many other social media platforms, the situation is fundamentally different. They are critically dependent on the protection provided by §230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U. S. C. §230, which shields them from civil liability for content they spread. They are vulnerable to antitrust actions; indeed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described a potential antitrust lawsuit as an “existential” threat to his company.4 And because their substantial overseas operations may be subjected to tough regulation in the European Union and other foreign jurisdictions, they rely on the Federal Government’s diplomatic efforts to protect their interests.

His first examples have merit. This last one?

A matter that may well have been prominent in Facebook’s thinking during the period in question in this case was a dispute between the United States and the European Union over international data transfers. In 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union invalidated the mechanism for transferring data between the European Union and United States because it did not sufficiently protect EU citizens from Federal Government surveillance. Data Protection Comm’r v. Facebook Ireland Limited, Case C–311/18 (2020). The EU-U. S. conflict over data privacy hindered Facebook’s international operations, but Facebook could not “resolve [the conflict] on its own.” N. Clegg & J. Newstead, Our Response to the Decision on Facebook’s EU-US Data Transfers, Meta (May 22, 2023).23 Rather, the platform relied on the White House to negotiate an agreement that would preserve its ability to maintain its trans-Atlantic operations. K. Mackrael, EU Approves Data-Transfer Deal With U. S., Averting Potential Halt in Flows, Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2023.24

It doesn’t make sense. What he’s talking about is driven by Executive Branch surveillance equities — largely, the Section 702 program made better known by Edward Snowden. In the case of surveillance, Facebook is the one that has leverage over the US, because the government wants to keep its surveillance visibility, and so Facebook can and has demanded that the government set up special provisions for European citizens, so Facebook can keep operating seamlessly.

Having laid out his argument that Facebook, with its service to half the global population base, is more susceptible to pressure than other media companies, Alito then cites individual communications to opine that poor Facebook was bullied into subservience by Executive branch demands.

What these events show is that top federal officials continuously and persistently hectored Facebook to crack down on what the officials saw as unhelpful social media posts, including not only posts that they thought were false or misleading but also stories that they did not claim to be literally false but nevertheless wanted obscured. See, e.g., 30 id., at 9361, 9365, 9369, 9385–9388. And Facebook’s reactions to these efforts were not what one would expect from an independent news source or a journalistic entity dedicated to holding the Government accountable for its actions. Instead, Facebook’s responses resembled that of a subservient entity determined to stay in the good graces of a powerful taskmaster. Facebook told White House officials that it would “work . . . to gain your trust.” Id., at 9365. When criticized, Facebook representatives whimpered that they “thought we were doing a better job” but promised to do more going forward. Id., at 9371. They pleaded to know how they could “get back to a good place” with the White House. Id., at 9403. And when denounced as “killing people,” Facebook responded by expressing a desire to “work together collaboratively” with its accuser. 9 id., at 2713; 78 id., at 25174. The picture is clear.

[snip]

Internal Facebook emails paint a clear picture of subservience. The platform quickly realized that its “handling of [COVID] misinformation” was “importan[t]” to the White House, so it looked for ways “to be viewed as a trusted, transparent partner” and “avoid . . . public spat[s].” [my emphasis]

Facebook’s efforts to retain good relations with the Biden White House, media critic Sammy Alito says, “were not what one would expect from an independent news source or a journalistic entity dedicated to holding the Government accountable for its actions.”

That’s mighty interesting, because when I read his description depicting Facebook as subservient to a President, all I could think of were the filings Dominion submitted to get Fox News to settle its lawsuit.

I’ve never seen subservience like that depicted in Fox News communications as they faced the possibility that Trump would cut them off for telling the truth about the 2020 election.

Immediately after Fox News called Arizona for Biden, Trump’s team called to complain.

Within minutes of the 11:20 pm Arizona call,FoxNews SVP and ManagingEditorofthe Washington Bureau Bill Sammon received an angry text from a member of Trump’s team claiming itwas WAY too soon to be calling Arizona. Ex.192 Ex.140, Sammon 107:8-108:11. Minutes later Sammon received a similarly angry phone call from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Ex.140,Sammon 108:12-110:4.

As pressure built in response, top personalities talked about reckless demagogues attacking the network for their factual call.

Carlson wrote his producer Alex Pfeiffer on November 5: We worked really hard to build what we have. Those fuckers are destroying our credibility. It enrages me.” Ex.199 at FNN035_03890623 . He added that he had spoken with Laura and [Sean a minute ago and they are highly upset. at FNN035_03890624. Carlson noted: At this point we’re getting hurt no matter what. Id. at FNN035_03890625 . Pfeiffer responded: It’s a hard needle to thread, but I really think many on our side are being reckless demagogues right now Tucker replied: Of course they are. We’re not going to follow them. And he added: What [Trump]’s good at is destroying things . He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong. at FNN035 03890626

Tucker Carlson acknowledged that Trump could destroy Fox news.

And so, in response, Fox started censoring factual news about Joe Biden’s win and instead choosing to report false claims of election fraud.

Sammy Alito may believe that a President can’t take out a newspaper who crosses him.

But Donald Trump responded to Fox News’ accurate call of Arizona for him by demonstrating to Fox that he could take out the cable station, effectively replacing them in the media economy with NewsMax. And that threat from the sitting President of the United States, the threat to replace Fox News with Newsmax, led Fox News to censor themselves, even censoring Jacqui Heinrich specifically.

Meanwhile,later that night of November 12,Ingraham was still texting with Hannity and Carlson . In their group text thread,Carlson pointed Hannity to a tweet by Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich. Ex.230 at FNN035_03890511 . Heinrich was fact checking atweet by Trump that mentioned Dominion and specifically mentioned Hannity’s and Dobbs broadcasts that evening discussing Dominion . Ex.232; Ex.231. Heinrich correctly fact-checked the tweet, pointing out that top election infrastructure officials said that There is no evidence that any voting system deleted orlostvotes ,changed votes ,or was in any way compromised Id Ex.232 .

Carlson told Hannity : Please get her fired. Seriously What the fuck ? actually shocked It needs to stop immediately , like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.

Sammy Alito got it wrong when he said a President can’t take out a media outlet who crosses him. Donald Trump proved that in 2020, after Fox called Arizona for Biden. And Sammy Alito’s very psyche likely has been altered as a result, as Fox News continues to feed the propaganda Trump demands.

The irony of all this is that Alito repeatedly complains that the Biden White House raised Facebook’s role, as a platform, in fostering Trump’s insurrection.

To emphasize his urgency, Flaherty likened COVID–19 misinformation to misinformation that led to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Ibid. Facebook, he charged, had helped to “increase skepticism” of the 2020 election, and he claimed that “an insurrection . . . was plotted, in large part, on your platform.”

[snip]

Facebook informed the White House that the video did not “qualify for removal under our policies” and thus would be demoted instead, ibid., but that answer did not please Flaherty. “How was this not violative?” he queried, and “[w]hat exactly is the rule for removal vs demoting?” Id., at 9387. Then, for the second time in a week, he invoked the January 6 attack: “Not for nothing, but last time we did this dance, it ended in an insurrection.” Id., at 9388. When Facebook did not respond promptly, he made his demand more explicit: “These questions weren’t rhetorical.”

But his description of a subservient media outlet far better describes Fox News, which was recruited to help sow insurrection by what, according to Alito’s measure, was Presidential censorship.

Sammy Alito says that if the President demands that a media outlet censor true content to publish favored content, that is impermissible censorship.

He makes a great case that Donald Trump unlawfully dictated Fox News’ coverage during the 2020 transition.


The Nuclear Weapons Document Trump Stashed under Bubble Wrap and a Christmas Pillow

As noted, Jack Smith has filed his response to Trump’s bid to throw out his stolen document indictment because the order of certain boxes was not retained.

A key part of Smith’s response argues that document order within boxes hasn’t been central to any of Trump’s defenses to date, but in any case, his complaint about document order is a ruse (though Aileen Cannon likely won’t treat it as such). That’s partly because of the sheer variety of things found in boxes with classified documents, including “newspapers, thank you notes, Christmas ornaments, magazines, clothing, and photographs of himself and others,” making it far more difficult to retain document order.

And that’s partly because Trump kept moving items within boxes and boxes themselves around. The government included a Molly Michael interview, for example, where she described that some of the contents of boxes that she and Walt Nauta brought to Trump for sorting in advance of him returning 15 boxes to NARA in January 2021 got consolidated.

And pictures included as exhibits show that the spill of boxes Nauta discovered in the storage room was more extensive than previously disclosed — involving at least four boxes. Other exhibits show how the classified document exposed as part of that spill was found in the storage closet in box A-35 over a year later.

As the response and previous filings describe, that document — a Five Eyes document dated October 4, 2019 — was charged as Count 8.

A table included in the filing describes where all the charged documents were found.

So three of the charged documents were found in this box, the blue leatherbound box found next to Diet Coke bottles and some weird cult painting of Trump, in a closet off his office.

Those three documents, all classified Top Secret and at least two of which date to May 2018 (Matt Tait speculated after the search that one was a PDB pertaining to Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal), would be among the items included in this evidence picture.

This box is actually one of the only ones where the filter agent didn’t retain document order at all, so if Judge Cannon were to throw out charges because of document order (which would itself be unprecedented), it would implicate as few as three of the charges.

Side note: The narrative on this box confirms that Julie Kelly is a dumbass propagandist. It confirms that some of the documents in the box had cover sheets on them, and there were other loose cover sheets in the box.

After FBI 13 placed all of the contents of the blue box back in the box, an ERT photographer took photos of the blue box with the cover off. Ex. 12. FBI 13 alerted the Case Team that s/he had found documents marked classified, and after s/he completed his/her privilege review, two Case Team agents reviewed the box and found numerous documents with classification markings, some of which had classification cover sheets already attached, as well as loose classification cover sheets. [my emphasis]

Julie the Propagandist is nevertheless reading a different part of the filing — which described cover sheets that are not in this picture — and claiming she was right.

Seven of the documents were found among these boxes in the storage room (the box with the rectangle is where the FVEY document caught in Nauta’s December 2021 picture ended up).

And fully ten of the documents charged were found under some bubble wrap and a Christmas pillow in this box, which would have been found in the storage room, perhaps on the opposing wall to the picture above.

 

That means that one of the documents stashed under the bubble wrap and the Christmas pillow, charged as Count 19, was classified Formerly Restricted under the Atomic Energy Act, meaning it pertains to US nuclear weapons.

Just about the only interesting treatment of document cover sheets happens to pertain to this box, which also happens to be the one that Stan Woodward started this whole stink about.

 

As Smith’s filing explains, the box included 32 documents with classification markings (of which 11 were confidential), all in one binder (could this be the Crossfire Hurricane binder?!?!). Because everything in the binder was related, it was impossible to reconstruct which placeholder went with which document.

11 The initial placeholder sheets that were put in Box A-15, unlike most of the others, included only the classification level and the number of pages. Because of the large number of documents with classification markings (32) in box A-15, which were found in a binder of information and therefore similar in nature, it was not possible for the FBI to determine from the initial placeholder sheets which removed documents corresponded to which classified document. In this instance, therefore, the FBI left the initial handwritten placeholder sheets within the binder to denote the places within the binder where the documents with classification markings were found. The FBI provided this binder for scanning at the top of the box. In addition, the FBI placed in the box 32 new placeholder sheets representing the 32 documents with classification markings in the binder. It placed them where the binder was within the box when the investigative team obtained it. None of the 32 documents is charged.

But as described, none of them are charged.

To sum up, then. Of the boxes from which charged documents were found, only one — the blue leatherbound box found in Trump’s office — clearly lost document order (but partly that would derive from there being so many classified documents found). The one box where document order was a problem — the one that Stan Woodward made a stink out of — has no charged documents.

But thanks for helping us clarifying, Stan, that Trump stored his document about nuclear weapons under a Christmas pillow.

Links

Jack Smith Response

Exhibit 1: Search warrant and affidavit

Exhibit 2: Interview report with person 81 describing how obsessive Trump was about his boxes at the White House

Exhibit 3: Additional copies of 2021 spill of four boxes

Exhibit 4: Evidence photo showing boxes stacked in storage room at beginning of search

Exhibit 5: 230322 interview with Molly Michael describing how Trump consolidated some of the boxes she and Walt Nauta brought Trump in 2021

Exhibit 6: 220817 302 documenting search of Mar-a-Lago

Exhibit 7: Interview transcript with Person 29 (Trump Organization official) describing how they turned off the CCTV server, but then had it turned back on directly at Mar-a-Lago during the search

Exhibit 8: Showing evidence picture of items 14 and 23, with classified docs pulled out

Exhibit 9: Photo log describing photos documenting search, including Trump’s office

Exhibit 10: Evidence photo of item 2

Exhibit 11: 302 from June 20, 2024 phone call with filter agent FBI 13 regarding the search of the leatherbound box

Exhibit 12: Showing how item 2 — the blue leatherbound box in Trump’s office closet with the most sensitive documents — was found next to coke bottles and a cult painting of him

Exhibit 13: Showing where classified documents were found

Exhibit 14: Documenting belated discovery of Top Secret document in box 57

Exhibit 15: Instructions for document handling for Special Master scan

Exhibit 16: Showing what random things were found in boxes 10, 19, and 28

Exhibit 17: 302 describing picking up additional classified documents from Molly Michael on August 9

Trump Motion to Dismiss

Exhibit 1: 220926 After Action Report on search, describing filter teams

Exhibit 2: Version of search warrant return

Exhibit 3: 220809 email documenting meeting with Molly Michael to collect more classified documents, which Trump misrepresented

Exhibit 4: 230605 documentation of scan process

Exhibit 5: 220928 email describing scan process, including replacement of cover sheets

Exhibit 6: 231128 memorialization of 230711 meetings with filter team to discuss search

Exhibit 7: 220806 hand-written notes memorializing planning for search

Exhibit 8: 231009 Todd Blanche discovery request

Exhibit 9: 231016 DOJ response

Exhibit 10: 240521 memorialization of May 2024 meetings between FBI and Special Counsel about search

Exhibit 11: 240324 hand-written notes of interview with privilege team

Exhibit 12: 2405?? hand-written notes of interview with privilege team

Exhibit 13: 240523 discovery letter turning over filter team materials

Exhibit 14: 240305 memorialization of item split

Exhibit 15: Notes showing Stan Woodward looking in Box A-14 (of which he took a picture), A-15, A-16, A-45, A-71, and A-73

Exhibit 16: 220830 documentation of evidence split

 


“Double Jeopardy Protection … Is [Hunter Biden’s] Right”

“Mr. Biden took the case to trial,” Abbe Lowell wrote in a reply brief arguing that an June 25, 2022 amendment to the statute that previously made 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) a crime made the possession charge filed against Hunter non-viable retroactively, “so that either by conviction or acquittal from the jury or by this Court, he would have double jeopardy protection against future prosecutions. That is his right.”

The means by which Lowell hopes to make the third count of which Hunter was convicted go away are a bit tricker than that: basically, when Congress changed the gun law in 2022, they added another one, increasing the penalty on the charge. But there was no way (Lowell argues) to charge Hunter under a law enacted four years after he owned a gun if he hadn’t already been charged.

The Special Counsel’s invocation of the 1871 savings clause now found in 1 U.S.C. § 109 is off base, because that statute only saves prosecutions that already had been filed when the law was amended. It does not allow the Special Counsel to bring new prosecutions post-amendment based on conduct that violated a pre-amendment statute, which is exactly what the Special Counsel has done. Not only does the language of Section 109 itself make this clear, but the 153-year history since the statute was enacted confirms this reading. Congress regularly attaches savings clauses to legislation to allow new prosecutions to be brought for violations of prior law, when it chooses to do so, and it did not do so here.

As I said here, I was persuaded by Derek Hines’ argument that this complaint is untimely. I’m no longer so sure.

What I am humbly reconsidering, though, is whether when I scolded others for oversimplifying the reasons why Hunter would go to trial, I was not myself also oversimplifying.

Take the new motion Lowell filed today (though he accidentally posted, then withdrew it, last week), arguing that because the Third Circuit never issued a mandate after rejecting Hunter’s second bid for interlocutory appeal, Maryellen Noreika did not have jurisdiction over this case when she held a trial.

The Third Circuit entered an order dismissing Mr. Biden’s second appeal on May 28, 2024, and denied Mr. Biden’s rehearing petition on the first appeal on May 31, 2024. The Third Circuit, however, did not then and has not yet issued its mandate as to the orders dismissing either appeal. Thus, when this Court empaneled the jury on June 3, 2024 and proceeded to trial, it was without jurisdiction to do so.

This particular motion would not win an acquittal if it were to succeed. It would only get Hunter a new trial.

But if Lowell was really confident that this jurisdictional ploy would work, it might explain some of the things he appeared to let slide at trial. If Lowell expected he might get a second trial, potentially even one with the core gun charge eliminated, he might let some things slide he otherwise would not, thereby preserving those arguments for a potential second trial.

That leaves the substantive reply submitted today, Lowell’s post-Rahimi support for Hunter’s as-applied Second Amendment challenge, which like Derek Hines’ response, is longer than his initial Rule 29 motion (though the reply is still have the length of Hines’ response).

This fight — because of the nearly unique nature of the charges against a non-violent offender like Hunter, because of the circumstances of his charging, because of the timing — was always going to be interesting.

It does not disappoint.

This filing mocks SCOTUS as much as David Weiss’ folks.

The Special Counsel often relies on post-Founding Era purported precedents, but those come too late to inform what was intended by those who ratified the Second Amendment. As Rahimi explained: “A court must ascertain whether the new law is ‘relevantly similar’ to laws that our tradition is understood to permit, ‘apply[ing] faithfully the balance struck by the founding generation to modern circumstances.’” Slip op. at 7 (quoting N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen, 597 U.S. 1, 29 & n.7 (2022); see also Slip op. at 3 (Gorsuch, J. concurring) (noting the relevant timeframe is the time of founding for interpreting the Constitution); Slip op. at 2 (Barrett, J., concurring) (explaining post-ratification practice may not reflect Founding Era views); Slip op. at 28 (Thomas, J., dissenting).

But the key point does something similar to the other tactical moves Lowell took today: It uses Leo Wise and Derek Hines’ prosecutorial dickishness against them. It notes that, against Lowell’s wishes, Judge Noreika granted prosecutors’ bid to keep all Second Amendment claims out of trial.

It was only told to find whether the statutes as written were violated—without any further finding necessary to satisfy the Second Amendment. 6/10/24 Tr. at 1298. In fact, the Special Counsel sought, and this Court granted, a motion in limine to prevent reference to a Second Amendment defense. D.E.189 at 3 (Order granting government’s motion (D.E.124) to exclude argument, evidence and questioning relating to the constitutionality of the firearm statute). The Sixth Amendment prevents Mr. Biden’s conviction from resting upon any judge found facts, those facts must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and—over Mr. Biden’s objection—the jury was not even asked to find the facts necessary for his conduct to be a crime consistent with the Second Amendment. Erlinger, Slip op. at 11 (“Judges may not assume the jury’s factfinding function for themselves, let alone purport to perform it using a mere preponderance-of-theevidence standard.”).

It emphasizes that Derek Hines instructed the jury from the start that they were not to consider the one thing SCOTUS says should be considered: whether an individual is dangerous.

Beyond advancing this erroneous legal theory (or “invented” theory, according to Justice Thomas, Slip op. at 28 (Thomas, J., dissenting)), the Special Counsel is simply wrong in claiming that Mr. Biden posed any risk of violence. We do not quarrel with the Special Counsel’s claims and statistics that many users of crack are violent and have misused guns, but—while the Special Counsel has extensively chronicled Mr. Biden’s conduct over several years of crack use—the Special Counsel has not identified a single time in which Mr. Biden became violent. Not one. And there is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Biden ever loaded, fired, brandished, or threatened anyone with a gun, or that it was ever even in his actual physical possession at any time in which he was allegedly using any drug.

Mr. Hines conceded this point in his opening:

To be clear, Mr. Biden is not charged with a violent offense, the gun was taken from him just after 11 days before anything like that could occur. But it’s important to note that whether the defendant is dangerous is not an issue that’s relevant for your determinations in this case. He’s just charged with possession of a gun. 6/4/24 Tr. at 341 (emphasis added).

Not only is this an acknowledgment that no violent offense did “occur,” Mr. Hines told the jury it would not be making any finding as to “whether the defendant is dangerous.” Id. And he was right about that—nothing in the jury instructions asked the jury to find whether Mr. Biden was dangerous. Thus, even if this is an element of the offense that must be read into the statute to make it constitutional, the jury was not asked to find this element met as is required by the Sixth Amendment.

And it notes that Derek Hines cannot now argue that Hunter Biden was dangerous categorically.

The Special Counsel devotes much of its opposition to claiming that Mr. Biden’s drug use made him dangerous(D.E.234 at Sec. I.B.), but Rahimi clearly rejected the government’s argument that this is a basis for disarmament. A more particularized historical analogy is required. As the Supreme Court explained in Rahimi, while “holding that Section 922(g)(8) is constitutional as applied to Rahimi,” the Court “reject[ed] the Government’s contention that Rahimi may be disarmed simply because he is not ‘responsible.’” Slip op. at 17; see Slip op. at 6 (Gorsuch, J., concurring) (“Nor do we purport to approve in advance other laws denying firearms on a categorical basis to any group of persons a legislature happens to deem, as the government puts it, not ‘responsible.’”) (emphasis added). At oral argument, the government explained that “when it used the term ‘responsible’ in its briefs, it really meant ‘not dangerous.’” Slip op. at 28 (Thomas, J. dissenting) (emphasis in original). With respect to this argument “that the Second Amendment allows Congress to disarm anyone who is not ‘responsible’ and ‘law-abiding,’” Justice Thomas emphasized: “Not a single Member of the Court adopts the Government’s theory.” Id. at 27. To highlight thisfact, Justice Gorsuch requoted Justice Thomas’ point in his concurrence. Slip op. at 6 (Gorsuch, J., concurring) (“Not a single Member of the Court adopts the Government’s theory”).

The reason for that is self-evident. The Government’s proposed justification is also far too general. Nearly all firearm regulations can be cast as preventing ‘irresponsible’ or ‘unfit’ persons from accessing firearms. In addition, to argue that a law limiting access to firearms is justified by the fact that the regulated groups should not have access to firearms is a logical merry-goround. As the Court has made clear, such overly broad judgments cannot suffice.

Slip op. at 15 (Thomas, J., dissenting).

It’s the jury’s job to make findings of fact that might be required by SCOTUS’s fiddling with gun laws.

The Special Counsel devotes much of his brief to arguing the facts, but he is directing his repeated closing argument to the wrong forum. This Court properly told the jury that “you are the sole judges of the facts,” and this jury was not asked to find the constitutionally relevant facts.

This won’t persuade Judge Noreika. But it will bollox the posture of this case, particularly if Hunter wins a retrial based on the jurisdictional ploy. What kind of jury instructions would Noreika give, post-Rahimi?

Finally, Lowell notes that if SCOTUS eventually does change the rules on 18 USC 922(g)(3) prosecutions — perhaps by requiring that a jury find a defendant also posed a danger as an addict — Hunter would never have had notice of this standard before he violated it.

That begs the question:* where is this line that separates not only what is legal from what is illegal, but where the exercise of a constitutionally protected right becomes a felony? How does a person have fair notice of when he or she is allowed to possess a firearm if they used a prohibited substance a day, a week, a month or, as the Special Counsel argued, years before? This Court has not said, and the jury that would have to find a constitutionally permissible charge to convict was not told either. In other words, whatever more facts must be proven beyond Section 922(g)(3)’s statutory language for a conviction to be proven—such as active intoxication while physically armed and terrorizing people—remains an unknown and were never found by the jury.

Moreover, once the Court does announce where this line exists, that guidance is only of value to the people of Delaware prospectively. It comes too late for people like Mr. Biden to be able to conform their conduct within the constitutional bounds of the law previously. Thus, while courts may impose limiting constructions on a statute to resolve constitutional problems with them in some circumstances, principles of due process notice prevent those new standards from being applied retroactively. See, e.g., Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188, 194–95 (1977); Bouie v. City of Columbia, 378 U.S. 347, 362 (1964). Additionally, when courts add a judicial gloss on a statute, that gloss must be charged in an indictment like any other element. See, e.g., Simmons, 96 U.S. at 363. There is no point in saving a statute from being found unconstitutional through a limiting construction if the grand jury that makes a charging decision and the jury that is asked to convict are never told what is required by a court’s limiting construction. Consequently, if the Court finds that the Second Amendment places a gloss on Section 922(g)(3) that narrows the constitutionally permissible scope of the statute, Mr. Biden must be acquitted on that ground alone.

None of this is about contesting the circumstances of Hunter’s addiction when he possessed a gun. Rather, it’s about contesting whether his addiction would be enough to satisfy any new standard SCOTUS might adopt.

But these problems were always inherent in charging a non-violent offender on gun charges just days before the statutes of limitation expired even as multiple post-Bruen challenges threatened to change the landscape of the crimes charged.

This won’t win acquittal on all charges for Hunter. But it may well complicate things.


* Note: Having called out Judge Scarsi for his misuse of “begs the question,” I must call out Lowell’s usage here, too.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/emptywheel/