While you were distracted, the Prince of Light was inching up the New Hampshire polls.

Many years from now, when we look back on this primary race, what we will remember from the month of January won’t be that time Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump, or that time Trump needled Ted Cruz for being born in Canada, or that time Trump was praised for his godly ways by one of the country’s leading Evangelicals, but that quiet moment in mid-January when John Kasich revealed himself to be the “Prince of Light and Hope,” who had been called upon by destiny to defeat the “Prince of Darkness” and all the “disciples of Darkness.” It was barely remarked upon at the time, but we all know that the moment the fate of the world turns is often a humble one, little more than one person speaking up to say he does not know the way.

This is all to say that Kasich nabbed some big New Hampshire endorsements last night and is now at 12 percent in the state, according to RealClearPolitics average of the polls, holding a small lead over the other establishment candidates. Kasichmentum!

October 17, 2018

LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty

As Canadians get high, cannabis stocks go low.

On Wednesday Canada followed Uruguay, becoming the second country in the world to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Given the size of the Canadian market, there’s been a rush to invest in the burgeoning industry. As a mark of the new order, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who led the Progressive Conservative Party, announced he was joining the board of Acreage Holdings, one of the largest cannabis firms in the United States. “Companies are clamoring to join in what some are calling a green rush,” The New York Times reported.

But giddy expectations of pot profit lessened on the first day as stock prices in other cannabis firms dropped. “Canopy Growth Corp shares slid to $65.55 as of 2:30 p.m., down 4.5 per cent from Tuesday,” the Financial Post reported. “Aurora Cannabis saw its shares fall 2.64 per cent to $13.61. Tilray Inc, a B.C.-based company that trades on the Nasdaq, saw the largest decline, after shares slid by 7.69 per cent to $146.20.” Only one firm in the marijuana sector, Aphria Inc, saw its stock price rise.

All these companies had previously seen growth in the months leading up to legalization, so the sudden skittishness of investors is striking. One major source of uncertainty, as writer Andrew Potter, who has co-edited a book on legalization, noted on Twitter, is the question of whether legal marijuana can compete against an already existing blackmarket which offers quality product at reasonable prices.

The danger, as Potter observed, is that the need to protect the legal market could ignite a new war on drugs.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Justice Department’s war on leaks strikes again.

Federal agents on Wednesday announced the arrest of a senior Treasury Department official for allegedly giving highly sensitive financial records related to the Russia investigation to reporters. In a criminal complaint, prosecutors say Natalie Edwards “unlawfully disclosed” what are known as Suspicious Activity Reports about key figures in the probe to BuzzFeed News, which published a series of articles purportedly drawing upon the reports over the past year.

Edwards allegedly gained access to the reports while working as a senior advisor for the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The office, more commonly known as FinCEN, is one of the most prestigious federal law-enforcement divisions. American financial institutions are legally required to notify FinCEN about potentially illegal transactions or patterns of activity. Those Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, can contain a wealth of sensitive personal and financial details.

BuzzFeed News’s reports over the past year traced the cash flows surrounding Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and other key figures in the Russia investigation with astounding detail. A similar series of articles by the same journalists shed light on transactions by alleged spy Maria Butina, former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and other Russian figures. The Justice Department alleges that Edwards sent pictures of the SARs to the journalists through encrypted messaging apps and stored a collection of them on a portable flash drive.

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has gone to great lengths to squelch leaks about the Russia investigation. NSA contractor Reality Winner received a five-year prison sentence in August after she pleaded guilty to sending a classified report on Russian hacking to The Intercept, while former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe pleaded guilty on Monday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters. President Donald Trump is an enthusiastic proponent of hunting down journalists’ sources and silencing whistleblowers, building on precedents set by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Game of Thrones has a political message. Republicans probably won’t hear it.

In an interview posted Tuesday by The New York Times, novelist George R.R. Martin discussed the political allegories and echoes in his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (the basis for the HBO show Game of Thrones). In addition to saying he saw similarities between President Trump and the adolescent tyrant Joffrey, Martin also granted that the view that the series is an allegory for humanity’s failure to curb climate change is roughly accurate:

It’s kind of ironic because I started writing “Game of Thrones” all the way back in 1991, long before anybody was talking about climate change. But there is — in a very broad sense — there’s a certain parallel there. And the people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles.

Writing up the interview, Esquire noted that “Republicans might not like” the political message of Game of Thrones. But in truth, Republicans aren’t even watching the show in great numbers. A 2016 E-Score survey found that Game of Thrones was the most popular show among Democrats but didn’t even rank among the top-ten shows loved by Republicans. To the extent it has a liberal message, Game of Thrones is simply preaching to the converted.

The partisan divide isn’t surprising given the original intent of the series. In earlier interviews, Martin has often talked about how his series is meant as a reply to earlier classic fantasies, particularly J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. While Martin admires Tolkien, he also bristled at the conservative vision of Lord of the Rings, particularly the view of war as a clearcut battle between good and evil as well as the monarchism. “Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper,” Martin told Rolling Stone in 2014. “We look at real history and it’s not that simple.”

J Pat Carter/Getty

The new Republican midterm strategy is to copy Democratic ideas.

Writing in The Washington Post, journalists Erica Werner and David Weigel point to a surprising new trend: Republicans trying to stave off midterm defeat by mimicking traditionally Democratic stances. “A growing number of Republican candidates are sounding a lot like Democrats as they face midterm elections, co-opting Democratic talking points on issues from health care to education funding to the #MeToo movement,” Werner and Weigel write.

Many Republican politicians now say they support making insurance companies take people with pre-existing conditions, despite the party’s push to repeal Obamacare. In practice, this is an unsustainable position, since protecting those with pre-existing conditions combined with repealing Obamacare would lead to skyrocketing costs for both consumers and the federal government.

“Health care is not the only issue where Republicans are offering proposals that are more typically heard from Democrats,” Werner and Weigel write. “After a national wave of teacher walkouts, a number of Republican governors and gubernatorial candidates are running on promises of maintaining or increasing education spending. These include Walker in Wisconsin, Gov. Doug Ducey in Arizona and Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt in Nevada.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has jumped on both bandwagons, saying he favors protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions and also arguing that, “It’s time to give teachers and other public servants fair retirement pay.”

Some Republicans are also hoping to minimize the gender gap by borrowing from the language of #MeToo. As Werner and Weigel note, “And amid fallout from the Kavanaugh hearing, with surveys showing a growing gender gap that favors Democrats among women voters, Republicans in a number of races have portrayed Democrats as hypocrites on women’s rights by pointing to allegations that they have committed abuse or sexual assault—in each case, borrowing the language of the #MeToo movement.”

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty

Report: Audio exists of Khashoggi being murdered, contradicting Trump’s “rogue killers” theory.

Middle East Eye is reporting that they’ve spoken to a Turkish source who claims to have listened to the full audio recording of Jamal Khashoggi’s alleged murder. The source provided details which contradict the exculpatory “rogue killers” theory being floated by President Donald Trump and the Saudi government which posits an interrogation that went awry. 

According to the source, Khashoggi was in the consul-general’s office when he was yanked into an adjacent study, where he was placed on a table. “The consul himself was taken out of the room. There was no attempt to interrogate him. They had come to kill him,” the source said.

The source claims the killing was done by Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, a high official in the Saudi security forces. Tubaigy allegedly put on ear-phones while he dismembered Khashoggi (who was still alive while being cut up). The source claims that Tubaigy can be heard encouraging the others in the room to also wear headphones. 

Khashoggi was screaming while this took place and only went quiet after being injected with an unknown substance. The whole operation took seven minutes.

Khashoggi disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd and has not been seen since. His death is unconfirmed.  

Jamal Khashoggi. (MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/AFP/Getty)

Trump complains that the Saudi crown prince is being treated like Brett Kavanaugh.

Even as the Turkish government continues to leak information connecting the government of Saudi Arabia to the disappearance and possible murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump remains protective of the Saudi regime. “I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump told The Associated Press in an interview. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had denied any knowledge of harm done to Khashoggi:

Trump’s solicitude towards the Saudi government stands in contrast to the vocal condemnation being voiced by many other American politicians, including leading Republicans. Appearing on Fox and Friends, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said that the crown prince is “toxic” and “has got to go.” Graham promised to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.”

On Wednesday, The Washington Post, a newspaper that has a special interest in the matter because it had employed Khashoggi as a columnist, condemned the Trump administration for conducting a “diplomatic cleanup operation” on behalf of the Saudi government.

October 16, 2018

Will Trump really cut off aid to Honduras? Probably not.

On Tuesday morning, the president threatened to halt aid if Honduras did not stop a caravan of up to 3,000 Honduran migrants heading to the U.S.-Mexico border. The caravan had already entered Guatemala on Monday.

Trump tweeted:

If past caravans from Central America serve as an indicator, however, this is probably a bluff. In April, Trump made nearly identical threats to Honduras when a migrant caravan of at least 1,200 approached the border, but the funds continued to flow. Honduras remains a strategic security ally in Central America. The U.S. has stationed troops there since 1954, and spent nearly $100 million in 2017 on securing borders and fighting crime in the country.

The real humanitarian threat is the treatment of these migrants in the hands of U.S. Border Patrol agents. While hundreds of migrants in April were allowed to file asylum claims in the U.S., many more were turned away by Border Patrol agents in a gross violation of their legal right to request asylum. The caravan is currently facing a brutal response from the armed federal police forces of both Guatemala and Mexico.

Mark Wilson/Getty

Trump-supported conservative student group seems to be chatting race-baiting memes.

The Miami New Times reports that chatroom discussion of the Florida International University chapter of Turning Points USA (TPUSA) show members of the group making racist and alt-right tinged comments. “Members joke about watching underage cartoon pornography, deporting Latina women, and, in the most repugnant case, share racist ‘Pepe the Frog’ memes showing Syrian men raping a white Swedish woman at gunpoint,” the New Times observes. In other chats, a senior TPUSA member advises peers to “avoid using the n word and don’t reference Richard Spencer too much and don’t Jew hate ... all the time.”

TPUSA is a non-profit whose mandate is to promote conservative ideas on campus. It has been closely affiliated with the Trump administration, particularly because of the friendship of TPUSA founder Charlie Kirk and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son.

This is not the first time TPUSA has run into problems growing out of racist members. In December 2017, The New Yorker reported that Crystal Clanton, a national director at TPUSA, texted “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.” Clanton was fired in the wake of this text becoming known to The New Yorker. Gabrielle Fequiere, a former TPUSA employee, told The New Yorker that speakers at a event organized by the group “spoke badly about black women having all these babies out of wedlock. It was really offensive.”

Aside from the history of racism, TPUSA has been accused of conducting partisan political activities that violate its charitable status. According to The New Yorker’s 2017 story, internal documents and interviews “suggest that the group may have skirted campaign-finance laws that bar charitable organizations from participating in political activity. Former employees say that they were directed to work with prominent conservatives, including the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in aid of Republican Presidential candidates in 2016.”

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty

Report: The United Arab Emirates is using American mercenaries to assassinate political foes.

BuzzFeed reporter Aram Roston has published a blockbuster exposé on the growing use of mercenaries by a key American ally to carry out a murder spree in Yemen. According to the report, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is employing the services of the Spear Operations Group, a Delaware-incorporated firm which hires American special operation reservists and veterans to carry out targeted killings. The UAE is particularly interested in killing Yemeni leaders of the Islamist political party Al-Islah. The UAE considers Al-Islah to be a terrorist organization. As Roston notes, many experts say Al-Islah is “a legitimate political party that threatens the UAE not through violence but by speaking out against its ambitions in Yemen.”

The article details a botched assassination attempt on December 16, 2015 when mercenaries from the Spear Operations Group tried to bomb a Yemeni office in order to kill Anssaf Ali Mayo, a leading figure in Al-Islah. As it happened, Mayo wasn’t in the office at the time and so survived the assassination bid. But, as Roston notes, the bombing “marked a pivot point in the war in Yemen, a brutal conflict that has seen children starved, villages bombed, and epidemics of cholera roll through the civilian population. The bombing was the first salvo in a string of unsolved assassinations that killed more than two dozen of [Al-Islah’s] leaders.”

Mercenary assassinations are on the rise as a byproduct of the American-led war on terror. The administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama loosened the restraints on targeted killings, often done by drones. They also greatly expanded the size of special forces, creating an vast reservoir of highly trained soldiers who could ply their services to regimes like the United Arab Emirates.

“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” Spear Operations Group founder Abraham Golan told BuzzFeed. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”

Golan claims that he wants the issue of mercenary assassinations to be publicly debated.

“Maybe I’m a monster,” he says. “Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”

Tom Pennington/Getty

President of the United States calls his alleged former lover “horseface”—on Twitter.

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted:

According to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, Trump has often in private used the expression “horseface” to denigrate Stormy Daniels but this is the first time he’s used the expression in public.

Even though the president has a long history of making misogynist remarks, these comments elicited widespread comment and condemnation: