solarbird: (korra-on-the-air)
[personal profile] solarbird
Everything is on fire. But not just for us.

"2 White House Officials Helped Give Nunes Intelligence Reports" - the Trump administration gave Nunes information that he "briefed" them on the next day to create plausible-appearing secondary sourcing for Trump's tweets about being bugged. "Devin Nunes’ sources raise new questions about Steve Bannon’s role on the National Security Council" indeed. Also, "Russian Hackers Targeted 109 Clinton Staffers in a Single Month." Neat.

"Trump Russia dossier key claim 'verified'" - well, that a particular person at the Russian embassy was, in fact, a spy. "How Ex-Spy Christopher Steele Compiled His Explosive Trump-Russia Dossier" is a background piece on how the dossier was compiled and how it got started.

"Russia hired 1,000 people to create anti-Clinton 'fake news' in key US states during election, Trump-Russia hearings leader reveals" - focused in those states Trump focused on in the last days of the election, which some found kind of strange at the time.

Then the bombshell, of course: Flynn offers to cooperate with congressional probe in exchange for immunity" and "Michael Flynn Offers to Testify Before Congress in Exchange for Immunity" are two versions of the story, but really, they're both based off The Wall Street Journal's story, which broke it.

Is "FBI Visits Office of Saipan Casino Run by Trump Protege" related in some way? We just don't know yet.

Yeah.

"House Science Committee Calls on Alt-Science to Drive Policy" is about how crackpottery and conspiracy theory are being installed. "Even ExxonMobil is Begging Trump to Show the Environment Mercy" isn't much of an exaggeration - I read another article a few days ago about how the climate-change reactionaries consider Exxon part of the liberal conspiracy, which gets us well into "The Consequences of Electing a Birther: Trump's Obsession with Conspiracy Theories" - an essay from a source I don't think I've read before but which I thought was worth including here.

"Mike Pence gleefully breaks tie for Republicans, takes away women's health care" strikes me as a... less than entirely accurate headline, but "allowing fundamentalist-controlled states to do so" isn't that different. See also, "How Pence's Dudely Dinners Hurt Women."

Sheriff Batman needs to go, as "Dave Reichert Votes Against Demanding Trump's Tax Returns (Again)." That probably won't make a lot f sense to people not from Seattle but in the 90s there was this video of Dave when he was sheriff jumping out of a car and taking down some caught-on-camera perp totally live? And after that he was Sheriff Batman until he ran for Congress.

"Remember when Rep. Chaffetz said he was withdrawing that bill to sell off public lands? He lied." Indeed.

"U.S. priority on Syria no longer focused on 'getting Assad out': Haley" is a nasty bit of work, given how happy Russia would be with that and what a monster Assad has been. On the other hand, it's got a bit of realism to it, like it or not. So.

"Senate votes to eliminate Obama-era retirement rule" is mostly about corruption overriding State rights; remember that again: none of the things they pretend to believe were ever real, except the worst ones.

"North Carolina’s Bait-and-Switch on Transgender Restroom Law" - HB 2 got repealed, but mostly in name. Not entirely, but mostly. Don't fall for it.

"The First Horseman of the Privacy Apocalypse Has Already Arrived: Verizon Announces Plans to Install Spyware on All Its Android Phones" is another headline that's a bit over the top, but it's still a bad deal.

Good luck.


----- 1 -----
Dave Reichert Votes Against Demanding Trump's Tax Returns (Again)
by Heidi Groover | The Stranger | Mar 28, 2017

[Sheriff Batman's gotta go.]
http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2017/03/28/25044901/dave-reichert-votes-against-demanding-trumps-tax-returns-again

Democrats on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee tried again today to force the release of President Donald Trump's tax returns. Again, they failed, and again Washington Congressman Dave Reichert was among the votes against disclosure.

"This issue should not be... partisan," said Alabama Democratic Representative Terri Sewell during the debate leading up to the vote. "We should all care that our president may or may not have conflicts of interest and we should all care to know the truth."

The resolution in question would have directed the Secretary of the Treasury to provide the House with copies of Trump's tax returns from 2006 to 2015 and other financial information. Members voted along party lines on a motion to refer the resolution "unfavorably" to the full House, meaning Democrats who supported it voted "no" and Republicans voted "yes."

Throughout the debate, Republicans argued Democrats are merely on a political points-scoring mission.


----- 2 -----
2 White House Officials Helped Give Nunes Intelligence Reports
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG, MAGGIE HABERMAN and ADAM GOLDMAN
The New York Times | MARCH 30, 2017

[Basically: this means the White House gave Nunes the information he "briefed" them about. The point was to gin up some apparently-external support for Trump's tweets about being wiretapped by Mr. Obama.]
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/30/us/politics/devin-nunes-intelligence-reports.html

WASHINGTON — A pair of White House officials played a role in providing Representative Devin Nunes of California, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.

The revelation that White House officials assisted in the disclosure of the intelligence reports — which Mr. Nunes then discussed with President Trump — is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration while his committee is supposed to be conducting an independent investigation of Russia’s meddling in the last presidential election.

Mr. Nunes has also been faulted by his congressional colleagues for sharing the information with President Trump before consulting with other members of the intelligence committee.

The congressman has refused to identify his sources, saying he needed to protect them so others would feel safe coming to the committee with sensitive information. He first disclosed the existence of the intelligence reports on March 22, and in his public comments he has described his sources as whistle-blowers trying to expose wrongdoing at great risk to themselves.


----- 3 -----
Trump Russia dossier key claim 'verified'
The BBC has learned that US officials "verified" a key claim in a report about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump's election - that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy.
By Paul Wood | BBC News, Washington | 30 March 2017

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39435786

So far, no single piece of evidence has been made public proving that the Trump campaign joined with Russia to steal the US presidency - nothing.

But the FBI Director, James Comey, told a hushed committee room in Congress last week that this is precisely what his agents are investigating.

Stop to let that thought reverberate for a moment.

"Investigation is not proof," said the president's spokesman.

Trump's supporters are entitled to ask why - with the FBI's powers to subpoena witnesses and threaten charges of obstructing justice - nothing damning has emerged.

...

If anyone looks like a harmless economist, rather than a tough, arrogant KGB man, it is the bland-faced Kalugin.

But sources I know and trust have told me the US government identified Kalugin as a spy while he was still at the embassy.

It is not clear if the American intelligence agencies already believed this when they got Steele's report on the "diplomat", as early as May 2016.

But it is a judgment they made using their own methods, outside the dossier.

...

"You are stealing the stuff and pushing it back into the US body politic," said the former official, "you know where to target that stuff when you're pushing it back."

This would take co-operation with the Trump campaign, it is claimed.

"If you need to ensure that white women in Pennsylvania don't vote or independents get pissed in Michigan so they stay home: that's voter suppression. You can figure what your target demographics and locations are from the voter rolls. Then you can use that to target your bot.

This is the "big picture" some accuse the FBI of failing to see.

It is, so far, all allegation - and not just the parts concerning Donald Trump and his people.

For instance, the US intelligence agencies said last October that the voter rolls had been "scanned and probed" from a server in Russia.

But the Russian government was never shown to have been responsible.

There are either a series of coincidences or there is a conspiracy of such reach and sophistication that it may take years to unravel.


----- 4 -----
House Science Committee Calls on Alt-Science to Drive Policy
Today's hearing will try to reframe climate change as an unsettled debate, allowing skeptics and industry to influence regulations and research funding
By Scott Waldman | Scientific American | March 29, 2017

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/house-science-committee-calls-on-alt-science-to-drive-policy/

“Alt-science” is finding a home in Washington.

In the age of “alternative facts” and the declaration of news as “fake” if it challenges previously held political beliefs, fringe and industry science that bucks years of federal research is gaining newfound prominence. Now, conclusions not published in any of the world’s premier science journals could soon be influencing federal policy, backed by Trump administration officials, congressional Republicans, conservative think tanks and a billionaire investor.

Within the field of climate science, there is virtually no debate about the basic cause of climate change. The vast majority of researchers long ago determined that human activity — chiefly the burning of fossil fuels — is causing the planet to warm.

There are, of course, some researchers with a long history of peer-reviewed studies who question man’s role in global warming and have concluded that more discussion is needed to determine its full extent. Still, the recipe for curtailing climate change, as determined by most of those who study climate, starts primarily with curbing the burning of fossil fuels.

Today, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing that will frame climate change as a debate, by including the field’s most prominent skeptics as witnesses. It also will explore the hostility faced by those who come forward with views outside the mainstream. In addition, a bill that would allow for greater industry participation in U.S. EPA’s Science Advisory Board, which can strongly influence regulations on industry, is expected to pass the House this week.

...

When the Heartland Institute hosted its 12th annual conference on climate change in Washington last week, it featured sessions on how fossil fuels improve human health, encourage plant growth and are capable of establishing world peace. A number of speakers claimed that their research was ignored by the world’s reputable science journals, not for its shoddiness, but because of a massive global conspiracy of environmentalists and liberals.

...

House Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has routinely accused federal agencies of fraud if he does not like their scientific conclusions. Smith told the crowd, to a raucous cheer, that he would be open to crafting legislation that would punish scientific journals that publish studies that don’t meet his standards of peer review, which he did not define.


----- 5 -----
How Ex-Spy Christopher Steele Compiled His Explosive Trump-Russia Dossier
The man behind the infamous dossier that raises the possibility that Donald Trump may be vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail is Russia expert Christopher Steele, formerly of M.I.6. Here’s the story of his investigation.
by Howard Blum | Vanity Fair | April 2017

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/03/how-the-explosive-russian-dossier-was-compiled-christopher-steele

There’s a row of Victorian terraced houses on a side street in London’s Belgravia district, each projecting a dowdy respectability with its stone front steps leading to a pair of alabaster pillars and then a glossy black door. And at 9–11 Grosvenor Gardens there is a small, rectangular brass plate adjacent to the formidable door. Its dark letters discreetly announce: ORBIS BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE, LTD.

By design, the company’s title was not very forthcoming. Orbis, of course, is Latin for “circle” and, by common parlance, “the world.” But “intelligence”—that was more problematic. Just what sort of international business information was the company dealing in? Advertising? Accounting? Management consulting?

For a select well-heeled set scattered across the globe, no further explanation was necessary. Orbis was a player in a burgeoning industry that linked refugees from the worlds of espionage and journalism to the decision-makers who ran the flat-earth multi-national corporations and who also, from time to convenient time, dabbled in politics. In their previous lives, the founding partners of Orbis, trained and nurtured by the Secret Intelligence Service, had been in the shadowy business of finding out secrets in the name of national interest. Now they performed more or less the same mission, only they had transferred their allegiance to the self-interests of the well-paying customers who hired them.

And so, on a warm day last June, Christopher Steele, ex-Cambridge Union president, ex-M.I.6 Moscow field agent, ex-head of M.I.6’s Russia desk, ex-adviser to British Special Forces on capture-or-kill ops in Afghanistan, and a 52-year-old father with four children, a new wife, three cats, and a sprawling brick-and-wood suburban palace in Surrey, received in his second-floor office at Orbis a transatlantic call from an old client.


----- 6 -----
Mike Pence gleefully breaks tie for Republicans, takes away women's health care
By Laura Clawson | Thursday Mar 30, 2017 · 9:04 AM PDT | Daily KOS

[Strictly speaking, this is a bill to let states do it, via defunding family planning organisations for any or no reason, by which they of course mean Planned Parenthood. The effect in many states will be the same, as Planned Parenthood is the only women's care provider for low and middle-income people through many states.]

http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/3/30/1648707/-Mike-Pence-gleefully-breaks-tie-for-Republicans-takes-away-women-s-health-care

...

The National Women’s Law Center offers some background on just what Republicans were voting for. This was a vote to repeal an Obama administration regulation that “put states on notice that arbitrarily denying Title X family planning funds to providers, like Planned Parenthood clinics, for reasons unrelated to the quality of care provided is a violation of federal law.” The Senate voted—with Pence as tie-breaker—to let states deny Title X funds to providers for reasons having nothing to do with the quality of care they provide. Gosh, what ever could they be planning with this? Here are some of the services being threatened:


----- 7 -----
Even ExxonMobil is Begging Trump to Show the Environment Mercy
The oil and gas giant has urged the White House not to abandon the Paris climate accord.
by Bess Levin | Vanity Fair | March 29, 2017

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/03/even-exxonmobil-is-begging-trump-to-show-the-environment-mercy

ExxonMobil is a multinational oil and gas company headquartered in Texas. In 2014, it was the second-most profitable company in the Fortune 500. It is considered one of the “supermajors,” i.e., the seven biggest publicly-owned oil and gas companies in the the world. It knew about the harmful effects of fossil fuels as early as 1977 but kept them to itself and, in the 1980s, began a campaign of climate-change denial. Currently, the company is being investigated over whether or not it intentionally “misled the public about the role fossil fuels play in climate change.” In short, it’s not exactly the kind of organization you’d think would take a stand against Donald Trump's plan to destroy the environment to bring back a couple of coal jobs. But you would be wrong, which is perhaps an indication of just how much the Trump administration has turned things upside down.

"ExxonMobil, the largest American oil group, has written to the Trump administration urging it to keep the U.S. in the Paris climate accord agreed to at the end of 2015. In a letter to President Donald Trump’s special assistant for international energy and the environment, Exxon argues that the Paris accord is “an effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change.” Exxon argues in its letter that there are several reasons for the U.S. to stay in the Paris accord, including the opportunity to support greater use of natural gas, which creates lower carbon-dioxide emissions than coal when burned for power generation."

"Peter Trelenberg, Exxon’s manager for environmental policy and planning, writes in the letter: “It is prudent that the United States remain a party to the Paris agreement to ensure a level playing field, so that global energy markets remain as free and competitive as possible.”"


----- 8 -----
Remember when Rep. Chaffetz said he was withdrawing that bill to sell off public lands? He lied.
By Walter Einenkel | Daily KOS | Thursday Mar 30, 2017

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/3/30/1648710/-Remember-when-Rep-Chaffetz-said-he-was-withdrawing-that-bill-to-sell-off-public-lands-He-lied

Back in the beginning of February, America’s more craven version of Renfield, Utah’s Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, proposed a bill that would allow him and other Republicans to sell off public lands. The blowback from Republicans and Democrats alike made Rep. Chaffetz stand up on two feet and backpedal, saying he was withdrawing the bill, having listened to his constituents. It seemed too good to be true, since Rep. Jason Chaffetz is a truly craven person. Well, it seems it was too good to be true.

If you cannot read that screengrab, you can look for yourself and see what a giant slap in the face of the American people actually looks like in practice. Rep. Chaffetz told the public he was “withdrawing” his bill on February 2. Eight days later the bill was referred to a subcommittee. Here’s a refresher on H.R. 621:


----- 9 -----
U.S. priority on Syria no longer focused on 'getting Assad out': Haley
Reuters | Thu Mar 30, 2017 | 3:36pm EDT

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-usa-haley-idUSKBN1712QL

The United States is no longer making removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power a focus of its policy in the war-torn country, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Thursday, in a departure from the Obama administration's initial stance on Assad's fate.

"Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out," Ambassador Nikki Haley told a small group of reporters. "Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.

"We can't necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did," she said.


----- 10 -----
Russia hired 1,000 people to create anti-Clinton 'fake news' in key US states during election, Trump-Russia hearings leader reveals
Senate Intelligence Committee's Mark Warner claims the Kremlin targeted pivotal swing states
Rachel Roberts | The Independent | Thursday 30 March 2017

[Different, and somewhat more clear, version of the story]

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/russian-trolls-hilary-clinton-fake-news-election-democrat-mark-warner-intelligence-committee-a7657641.html

The Kremlin paid an army of more than 1,000 people to create fake anti-Hillary Clinton news stories targeting key swing states, the leading Democrat on the committee looking into alleged Russian interference in the US election has said.

Senator Mark Warner, the Democrat ranking member, and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Republican Senator Richard Burr, appeared together at a press conference to give an update on the investigation ahead of the first witnesses appearing today.

Mr Warner said: “We know about the hacking, and selective leaks, but what really concerns me as a former tech guy is at least some reports – and we’ve got to get to the bottom of this – that there were upwards of a thousand internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, in effect taking over a series of computers which are then called botnets, that can then generate news down to specific areas.

“It’s been reported to me, and we’ve got to find this out, whether they were able to affect specific areas in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, where you would not have been receiving off of whoever your vendor might have been, Trump versus Clinton, during the waning days of the election, but instead, ‘Clinton is sick’, or ‘Clinton is taking money from whoever for some source’ … fake news.


----- 11 -----
FBI Visits Office of Saipan Casino Run by Trump Protege
by Matthew Campbell | Bloomberg | March 30, 2017, 6:20 PM EDT

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-30/fbi-agents-visit-office-of-saipan-casino-run-by-trump-protege

Agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation visited an office belonging to the operator of a casino on the remote U.S. island of Saipan that has attracted attention for its huge revenues, according to a local legislator and residents.

FBI personnel, accompanied by uniformed police officers, arrived Thursday morning at a local office used by Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., the Hong Kong-based company that owns the Best Sunshine Live casino, local residents said. They stayed for several hours, with local police blocking access to the building.

“There definitely was some kind of investigation or raid being done," said Ed Propst, a member of the territorial legislature. "It appears to be a joint effort between local and federal authorities."

The FBI "is not in a position to comment at this time" on any enforcement actions in Saipan, said Michele Ernst, a spokeswoman for the bureau in Hawaii, whose jurisdiction includes the island. An Imperial Pacific representative declined to confirm or deny a visit to its facility by federal law enforcement. Imperial Pacific Chairman Mark Brown did not respond to requests for comment by email and phone.


----- 12 -----
Flynn offers to cooperate with congressional probe in exchange for immunity
By Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima | The Washington Post | March 30 at 8:16 PM

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/flynn-offers-to-cooperate-with-congressional-probe-in-exchange-for-immunity/2017/03/30/bfd48584-159f-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn has offered to cooperate with congressional investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution, a suggestion that has been met with initial skepticism, according to people familiar with the matter.

“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit,’’ Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, said in a statement Thursday evening. “Out of respect for the committees, we will not comment right now on the details of discussions between counsel for General Flynn and the House and Senate intelligence committees, other than to confirm that those discussions have taken place. But it is important to acknowledge the circumstances in which those discussions are occurring.’’

The committees are both looking into whether any associates of Donald Trump may have coordinated with agents of the Russian government seeking to meddle in last year’s presidential election. The FBI is also investigating. The Trump administration has denied any such coordination.

The offer by Flynn’s lawyer was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Flynn’s overture seemed to have been aimed principally at the Senate committee, as Democrats on the House committee said they had not received word of an offer of testimony for immunity.


----- 13 -----
Michael Flynn Offers to Testify Before Congress in Exchange for Immunity
By MARK MAZZETTI and MATTHEW ROSENBERG | The New York Times | MARCH 30, 2017

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/30/us/politics/michael-flynn-congress-immunity-russia.html

WASHINGTON — Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators who are examining the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, according to his lawyer and a congressional official.

But the congressional official said investigators were unwilling to broker a deal with Mr. Flynn — who resigned last month for misleading White House officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States — until they are further along in their inquiries and they better understand what information Mr. Flynn might offer as part of a deal.

In a statement on Thursday evening, Mr. Flynn’s lawyer confirmed discussions with the House and Senate intelligence committees about possible testimony by his client. The lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not provide specifics about the terms under which Mr. Flynn would testify, but said that “no reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch-hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”

“General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit,” the statement said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Mr. Flynn’s offer to testify.


----- 14 -----
The Consequences of Electing a Birther: Trump's Obsession with Conspiracy Theories
By Roger Sollenberger | March 28, 2017 | Paste

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/03/the-consequences-of-electing-a-birther-trumps-obse.html

“It is surreal to talk about issues here on air, and then word-for-word hear Trump say it two days later.” —Alex Jones

From the Central Park Five to birtherism to 9/11 to vaccinations to Vince Foster’s death to Antonin Scalia’s death to Hillary’s mental state and health to Ted Cruz’s dad’s connections to Lee Harvey Oswald to the Chinese climate change hoax to false-flag anti-Semitic attacks to illegal voting to a rigged election to the deep state of the gov’t he’s now running, and, indeed, to numbers themselves, Donald Trump has always—always—obsessed over conspiracy theories. And from Sean Hannity to Steve “The Blogger” Bannon to Stephen Miller—who looks like a toe—to Michael Flynn, Jr., to, yes, Alex Fucking Jones, President Trump has surrounded himself with conspiracy theorists.

Mr. Trump’s unfounded accusations that Barack Obama himself tapped the phones at Trump Tower show just how paranoid our president is. But Mr. Trump goes further: he doesn’t even trust the government he is in charge of. In fact, he hirespeople who don’t trust the parts of the government that Mr. Trump wants them to run. Mr. Trump even refuses to use the power he has as President of the United States to tap the vast resources of the intelligence community to find out what really went down with that wire tap. Instead, he is building his own intelligence agency within the White House. The only information Trump trusts is the information that confirms what he already believes.

To tell a lie you have to misrepresent the truth. These aren’t lies: But the President truly believes these things. So do a great many Americans, and a hell of a lot of Trump voters. Mr. Trump has created an alternative reality.

...

But the President’s most corrosive lies aren’t those sensational ones. They’re the comparatively boring lies about government statistics and our electoral system. Reality doesn’t go away if you stop believing it, but democracy will.

After four years of this, do you really think we’ll be able to elect anyone?


----- 15 -----
How Pence's Dudely Dinners Hurt Women
The vice president—and other powerful men—regularly avoid one-on-one meetings with women in the name of protecting their families. In the end, what suffers is women’s progress.
Olga Khazan | 30 March 2017 | The Atlantic

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/pences-gender-segregated-dinners/521286/

In a recent, in-depth Washington Post profile of Karen Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, a small detail is drawing most of the attention: “In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”

In context, this choice is not especially surprising. The Pences are evangelical Christians, and their faith animates both their policy views and how they express devotion to one another. Eight months into their courtship, the Post reporter Ashley Parker writes, “Karen engraved a small gold cross with the word ‘Yes’ and slipped it into her purse to give him when he popped the question.”

But, especially in boozy, late-working Washington, the eating thing rankled. Sure, during the day, you can grab coffee instead of a sandwich. But no dinner? Doesn’t that cut an entire gender off from a very powerful person at roughly 8 p.m.? To career-obsessed Washingtonians, that’s practically happy hour—which, apparently, is off-limits too.


----- 16 -----
Stripped of their powers, Venezuelan lawmakers accuse Maduro of a ‘coup’
By Nick Miroff | March 30, 2017 | The Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/stripped-of-their-powers-venezuelan-lawmakers-charge-maduro-with-acoup/2017/03/30/f6908fc4-159e-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html

QUITO, ECUADOR — Outraged opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolás
Maduro denounced him as a full-fledged dictator Thursday, after his
allies on the supreme court stripped the country’s parliament of its
power.

Maduro has essentially ruled Venezuela by decree since late 2015, when
his unpopular government was trounced in parliamentary elections and
his opponents took control of the National Assembly. Since then, they
have been systematically blocked by Venezuela’s supreme court, which
Maduro has stacked with loyalists.

But after the court ruled late Wednesday that lawmakers were acting in
contempt of its orders, the judges formally took away their powers,
saying the court or “another chosen body” would assume responsibility
for writing Venezuela’s laws.

A group of opposition lawmakers scuffled with police outside the court
Thursday, accusing Maduro’s government of carrying out a “coup.”

“This is a dictatorship, and Venezuela needs the world’s help,” said
National Assembly leader Julio Borges, ripping up the judges’ order and
calling it “garbage from those who have kidnapped the constitution and
the rights and freedoms of the Venezuelan people.”

The Venezuelan government’s latest step toward autocracy drew criticism
and reproach from other Latin American nations, led by Peru, which
recalled its ambassador in a show of protest. The U.S. State Department
said it condemned the court’s ruling.

“This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages
Venezuela’s democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people
the right to shape their country’s future through their elected
representatives,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a
statement. “We consider it a serious setback for democracy in
Venezuela.”


----- 17 -----
North Carolina’s Bait-and-Switch on Transgender Restroom Law
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | The New York Times | MARCH 30, 2017

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/30/opinion/north-carolinas-bait-and-switch-on-transgender-restroom-law.html

Facing a deadline to do away with a law that turned North Carolina into a national pariah by denying the right of transgender people to use public restrooms of their choice, state lawmakers rashly settled on a terrible compromise.

On Thursday, they repealed the law in name but not in substance, hoping to assuage organizations and employers that have boycotted the state to protest its discriminatory law. The National Collegiate Athletic Association had given state politicians until Thursday to get rid of the law before it would resume holding championship games in the state.

All those who have taken a principled stance against the law, known as H.B. 2, should stand firm. The law’s revision would deprive North Carolinians of protection from discrimination for years, and retains the odious notion that transgender people are inherently dangerous.

“We can never compromise on fundamental civil rights,” William Barber II, the president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a call with journalists Thursday morning. “It was never just a bathroom bill. It’s a bill that discriminates against so many people in so many ways.”

The original bill, which was signed into law in March 2016 by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, was in retaliation to an ordinance the city of Charlotte approved weeks earlier barring discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people. Charlotte’s measure established that transgender people had a right to use public restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The state law mandated that transgender people use restrooms that matched the gender marker listed on their birth certificate, and barred localities from enacting laws to protect gays, lesbians and transgender people from discrimination.


----- 18 -----
The First Horseman of the Privacy Apocalypse Has Already Arrived: Verizon Announces Plans to Install Spyware on All Its Android Phones
March 30, 2017 | By Bill Budington and Jeremy Gillula and Kate Tummarello | EFF

[The primary claim strikes me as questionable except for the ad targeting, which is legitimate. The expanded attack service, however, I consider particularly important.]

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/03/first-horseman-privacy-apocalypse-has-already-arrived-verizon-announces-plans

Within days of Congress repealing online privacy protections, Verizon has announced new plans to install software on customers’ devices to track what apps customers have downloaded. With this spyware, Verizon will be able to sell ads to you across the Internet based on things like which bank you use and whether you’ve downloaded a fertility app.

Verizon’s use of “AppFlash”—an app launcher and web search utility that Verizon will be rolling out to their subscribers’ Android devices “in the coming weeks”—is just the latest display of wireless carriers’ stunning willingness to compromise the security and privacy of their customers by installing spyware on end devices.

The AppFlash Privacy Policy published by Verizon states that the app can be used to

“collect information about your device and your use of the AppFlash services. This information includes your mobile number, device identifiers, device type and operating system, and information about the AppFlash features and services you use and your interactions with them. We also access information about the list of apps you have on your device.”

...

But our bigger concern is the increased attack surface an app like AppFlash creates. You can bet that with Verizon rolling this app out to such a large number of devices, hackers will be probing it for vulnerabilities, to see if they can use it as a backdoor they can break into. We sincerely hope Verizon has invested significant resources in ensuring that AppFlash is secure, because if it’s not, the damage to Americans’ cybersecurity could be disastrous.


----- 19 -----
Senate votes to eliminate Obama-era retirement rule
By Jordain Carney - 03/30/17 10:42 AM EDT - The Hill

http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/326484-senate-votes-to-eliminate-obama-era-retirement-rule

A resolution eliminating an Obama-era regulation that allows states to create retirement accounts for low-income workers is headed to President Trump's desk after a Senate vote on Wednesday.

Senators by a 50-49 margin approved the House-passed resolution, which rolls back a rule that allows states to create retirement plans for private-sector workers whose employers do not offer their own retirement plans.

Republicans blasted the rule, implemented by the Employees Benefits Security Administration in October, as another example of federal overreach under the Obama administration.

"Under the guise of helping more people save for the future, it undercut a system of private retirement savings that has served millions of Americans very well for decades," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "The end result would be more government at the expense of the private sector."


----- 20 -----
Russian Hackers Targeted 109 Clinton Staffers in a Single Month
They also targeted Clinton herself, but "she did not fall for the password reset trick."
AJ Vicens | Mother Jones | Mar. 30, 2017

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/03/clinton-email-russia

The email accounts of at least 109 Hillary Clinton staffers were targeted by Russian military hackers last year, a cybersecurity expert told lawmakers Thursday. During a Senate intelligence committee hearing on Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, Thomas Rid, a professor at King's College in London, laid out the extraordinary efforts undertaken by the Russian military intelligence agency known as GRU to target the Clinton camp:

"In early March, GRU began to train its well-established, semi-automated targeting tools from worldwide military and diplomatic targets to US political targets. Between 10 March and 7 April, GRU targeted at least 109 Clinton campaign staffers with 214 individual phishing emails (with eight more attempts on 12 and 13 May). [Thirty six] times Clinton staffers clicked a malicious link (the success rate of actually breaching the account after a victim clicked this link is 1-in-7). Russian intelligence targeted Jake Sullivan in at least 14 different attempts beginning on 19 March, each time with a different malicious link against two of his email addresses. GRU targeted Hillary Clinton's personal email account at least two times in March, but the available data show that she did not fall for the password reset trick. The military intelligence agency also targeted DNC staffers with 16 emails between 15 March and 11 April, and 3 DNC staffers were tricked into clicking the treacherous "reset password" button on 6 April 2016."

This is an interesting bit of information from Rid, a cybersecurity expert and researcher who has studied and written extensively about what happened to the Democrats in 2016. After the hearing, Rid told Mother Jones' David Corn that the level of detail he offered to the Senate panel Thursday was new. It was an expansion of the research performed by Dell SecureWorks in June 2016, which studied Bitly links that were sent to hundreds of people associated with the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign (as well as to thousands of other Gmail accounts in Russia, former Russian states, the United States, and Europe).



----- 21 -----
Devin Nunes’ sources raise new questions about Steve Bannon’s role on the National Security Council
Elizabeth Preza | Raw Story | 30 Mar 2017 at 15:52 ET

http://www.rawstory.com/2017/03/devin-nunes-sources-raise-new-questions-about-steve-bannons-role-on-the-national-security-council/

The revelation that two White House staffers fed classified documents to Rep. Devin Nunes raises new questions about the elevation of Steve Bannon to the National Security Council in January.

Last Monday, Nunes announced Trump and members of his transition team may have been the subject of legal incidental surveillance. The House Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes has since refused to disclose the source of his information—even to fellow members of the House Intelligence Committee—fueling speculation over the source and contents of those documents.

A bombshell New York Times report released Thursday revealed that former House Intelligence Committee general counsel Michael Ellis—who was tapped to join the White House on Mar. 7—and Ezra Cohen-Watnick, former deputy to disgraced National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, were the sources behind Nunes’ unorthodox announcement last week.

Cohen-Watnick worked for Flynn at the Defense Intelligence Agency before joining Trump’s transition team, AlterNet reports. He was later brought on to the National Security Council by Flynn. According to a Mar. 13 Politico report, following Flynn’s ouster as National Security Adviser, Trump’s replacement, H.R. McMaster, tried to sideline Cohen-Watnick. A source told Politico that McMaster’s decision was based in part on Cohen-Watnick’s close ties to Flynn, insisting the pair “saw eye to eye about the failings of the CIA human intelligence operations.”
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