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The Republican field just pledged to support Trump if he’s the nominee.

The very first question of the very first Republican debate back in August was whether the Republican field—then 17 deep—would promise not to run as independents in the general election.

The question was aimed squarely at Trump, at the time an amusing curiosity in a field of Serious, Viable Candidates, and he was the only one to equivocate in his answer. Seven months later, Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked the question again, but this time it was Trump comfortably atop the polls and cruising towards the nomination. The remaining candidates on stage—who have openly begun plotting ways to derail Trump’s campaign at a brokered convention—all pledged to support the Republican nominee, even if that nominee is ultimately Trump.

August 20, 2018

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Trump and Giuliani taunt John Brennan with bizarre tweets.

On Sunday, Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, indicated that he was considering taking legal action against the Trump administration to prevent other government officials from being stripped of their security clearance. On Monday both the president and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, responded with tweets:

Giuliani’s tweet is strangely worded and hard to decipher. But what he is basically saying is that Brennan’s threatened lawsuit is hot air (like Obama’s threat to punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons). Giuliani is taunting Brennan, daring him to launch the lawsuit.

But even on those terms, Giuliani’s tweet is odd because if Brennan did sue, the case would not be taken up by Trump’s private lawyers (Giuliani and Jay Sekulow) but rather by the Justice Department. Also, mocking Brennan for threatening a lawsuit is an odd look for someone representing Donald Trump, who has on more than 40 occasions made legal threats that were not carried out.

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Measles cases surge in Europe.

The BBC reports that the number of people suffering from measles is hitting record highs in Europe. There have been 41,000 cases for the first six months of this year, as against 5,273 cases for all of 2016 and  23,927 cases for all of 2017.  Measles can lead to vulnerability to other ailments and is sometimes lethal. 37 people have died from measles in Europe this year. 

One doctor describes the situation as “large outbreaks in Europe.” These outbreaks are fuelled by the anti-vaccination movement, which took off in the late 1990s after a now discredited 1998 study linking vaccination to autism. Most of those catching measles now are teens and young adults, in other words those who weren’t vaccinated in the wake of the 1998 report. 

Despite the outbreak, anti-vaccination forces continue to gain a foothold in politics. In early August, the Italian Senate overturned the policy of mandatory vaccination for school children. Italy already has a much higher rate of measles than countries such as the United Kingdom or Russia. 

“With a vaccine preventable disease, one case is one too many, and the numbers of measles cases so far this year is astounding.”  Dr. Pauline Paterson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told the BBC.

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Brett Kavanaugh said Bill Clinton’s behavior ‘would make Nixon blush.’

The Washington Post today published an August 1998 memo the Supreme Court nominee wrote to independent counsel Ken Starr when he worked in Starr’s office, urging him to adopt a more hardline approach to questioning the president. Among Kavanaugh’s proposed slate of questions for Clinton: “If Monica Lewinsky says that you inserted a cigar into her vagina while you were in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?”

But the graphic descriptions of Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky won’t come as a surprise to anyone who read the Starr Report in 1998, which lays out the president’s actions in equally explicit detail. What’s more interesting is how Kavanaugh describes Clinton’s misdeeds and efforts to thwart investigations into them.

The president has disgraced his office, the legal system, and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into a shambles—callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. He has committed perjury (at least) in the Jones case. He has turned the Secret Service upside down. He has required the urgent attention of the courts and the Supreme Court for frivolous privilege claims—all to cover up his oral sex from an intern. He has lied to his aides. He has lied to the American people. He has tried to disgrace you and this office with a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush.

“He should be forced to account for that and to defend his actions,” Kavanaugh concluded, in bold text. It’s hard to read the exchange without thinking about President Donald Trump’s scorched-earth campaign against the Russia investigation. While the precise circumstances differ between the two inquiries, the pattern of attacks, denials, and fabrications is consistent. If Kavanaugh’s hostility toward presidential malfeasance also remains constant, he could yet surprise his critics if confirmed.

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Trump laments the “killing field” of birds created by windmills.

At a fundraiser in Utica last Monday, the president went on a bizarre rant about the superiority of coal over windmills. “Coal is indestructible,” Trump claimed. “You can blow up a pipeline, you can blow up the windmills. You know, the windmills. Boom, boom, boom. Bing. That’s the end of that one. If the birds don’t kill it first. The birds could kill it first. They kill so many birds. You look under those windmills, it’s a killing field, the birds.”

Although unusually incoherent even for Trump, this speech was a return to a favorite theme: the dangers windmills pose for birds. As Emily Atkin pointed out in The New Republic last October, Trump has been obsessed with windmills since at least 2012. That was the year Trump got into a feud with the Scottish government over offshore wind turbines which he complained spoiled the view of one of the golf course he owned in Scotland.

As this history indicates, Trump’s concern for the wellbeing of birds rings hollow. “The reality is that the Trump administration’s fossil fuel policies are a far bigger threat to avian species,” Atkin noted. “These threats are less obvious, because unlike wind and solar, expanding fossil fuel development does not result in birds being suddenly zapped or shredded. It results in slower deaths, resulting from the gradual loss of habitat.”

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Pope Francis: Catholic Church “abandoned” child sex abuse victims.

“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” Pope Francis said in a statement released on Monday morning. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.” It’s the Vatican’s most detailed response to a Pennsylvania grand jury report that named over 300 predatory priests and over 1000 victims of child sex abuse. But while Francis’s statement expresses remorse, it does not explain what the Catholic Church intends to do in response to the crisis, nor does it apologize for Francis’s previous stumbles on the sex abuse issue. As the Associated Press reports:

Francis several years ago scrapped a proposed Vatican tribunal to prosecute negligent bishops, and he has refused to act on credible reports from around the world of bishops who have failed to report abusers to police or otherwise botched handling cases, and yet remain in office.

Francis also has kept on his nine-member kitchen cabinet a Chilean cardinal long accused of covering up for pedophiles, an Australian cardinal currently on trial for historic sex abuse charges and a Honduran cardinal recently implicated in a gay priest sex scandal involving his trusted deputy.

The church has made some reforms to address the issue of child sex abuse, as I reported on Friday. Review boards and human formation courses at seminary are intended to provide oversight and to properly prepare priests for lifetime celibacy. But many victims believe those efforts are inadequate. Victims of clergy abuse in Ireland, where Pope Francis travels on Saturday, have already condemned Monday’s statement. “Mere words at this point deepen the insult and the pain,” Anne Barrett Doyle, a victim advocate, told the AP.

August 19, 2018

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Rudy Giuliani asserts “truth isn’t truth.”

The former mayor of New York, who is now the most public face of the President’s legal team, was interviewed by NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on Sunday. It did not go well, especially when Giuliani spoke about the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 9th, 2016 between a group of Russians, led by Natalia Veselnitskaya, and top members of the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. Giuliani flatly asserted, Veselnitskaya “didn’t represent the Russian government. She’s a private citizen. I don’t even know if they knew she was Russian at the time. All they had was her name.”

In point of fact, in a June 3, 2016 email that helped set up the meeting, the pop music promoter Rob Goldstone informed Donald Trump Jr. that the document that were going to be discussed at the meeting were “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Blatantly telling demonstrable untruths might not seem like a good legal strategy. But as it turns out, Giuliani is committed to a radical epistemological assault on the very possibility of shared agreement about reality.

“Truth isn’t truth,” Giuliani said later in the interview. Chuck Todd correctly predicted that this statement would become a “bad meme.”

Earlier this week, while speaking on CNN, Giuliani claimed that facts are “in the eye of the beholder.”

August 17, 2018

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Alex Jones accused of destroying evidence in the Sandy Hook lawsuits against him.

The New York Times reports that Texas lawyers representing two families of Sandy Hook shooting victims have filed a motion “accusing the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars media business of intentionally destroying evidence relevant to the defamation cases against him.”

The 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Newton, Connecticut was the most lethal school shooting in American history, with 20 children and six adults killed by gunman Adam Lanza. On his program Infowars, Jones has repeatedly maintained that the killing was a false flag operation. This has led to the harassment of families of the victims by Jones fans.

In recent weeks, Jones has become a social media pariah, losing platforms on Facebook, Apple, and Youtube. Last week, after being temporarily suspended from Twitter, Jones “said on his broadcast ... that he had told his staff to delete material after CNN cited Infowars content that violated Twitter’s policies.”

This deletion of material is the basis of the new motion, which argues the material destroyed is salient to ongoing defamation suits against Jones.

One of the individuals bringing the motion is Neil Heslin, father of a six-year-old killed at the school. The new motion will make it harder for Jones to win the defamation suits brought by Heslin and others, as The New York Times explained: “Should the court find that Mr. Jones and Infowars willfully destroyed evidence, he, and possibly his lawyer, could be assessed thousands of dollars in fines and be subject to punitive action. Most important, the material that was destroyed could be presumed by the court as supporting Mr. Heslin’s claims against Mr. Jones, bolstering his case.”

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People really are plotting to kill Nicolas Maduro.

An unnamed Venezuelan military dissident told Bloomberg that he had met with a group planning to assassinate the Venezuelan president months before an attempt was made on his life on August 4, using drones armed with plastic explosives. The assassination attempt took place during a military parade and was caught on live television.

The former dissident was part of a separate scheme called Operation Constitution, which sought to capture Maduro and put him on trial before the country’s presidential elections this past May. Operation Constitution was broken up after many of its members were arrested and jailed. But before that, the dissident said he was shown “videos of armed drones shipped from Miami and being tested on a Colombian farm,” according to Bloomberg. The group plotting the assassination had reportedly proposed joining forces with Operation Constitution.

Venezuela’s government has denounced plots to overthrow Maduro for months, and now apparently has legitimate reason to do so, despite earlier claims that the assassination attempt had actually been a gas tank explosion. Venezuelan authorities later said that backers in Florida and Bogota had promised Maduro’s would-be assassins $50 million and a stay in the U.S. if they succeeded in killing Maduro.

Since the attack, officials have arrested 14 people, including a lawmaker and two high-ranking military officials, while another 20 suspects remain at large.

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Trump thinking about handing over Afghanistan to mercenaries.

NBC is reporting that the president, frustrated by the long military stalemate in Afghanistan, is reconsidering a proposal floated last year to replace American troops in the country with military contractors. This idea is being advocated by Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial security company Blackwater (now known as Academi). In 2007, Blackwater contractors killed 17 civilians in Baghdad, Iraq, in one of the most controversial massacres in the American war in that country. Prince remains well connected in Washington. His sister Betsy Devos is Secretary of Education and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is reportedly a supporter of the mercenary idea. Others in Trump’s orbit, notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, are said to oppose the idea. 

In a 2017 Wall Street Journal article, Prince advocated an “East India Company approach” approach to Afghanistan. The East India company governed large parts of the subcontinent on behalf of the British state for more than two centuries. During their rule, the company was notorious for plundering India and overseeing human-encouraged famines that consumed millions of lives

Prince’s proposal follows the same basic outlines as the East India Company’s regime: there would be “viceroy”  (or “envoy”) who answers to the monarch (or, in this case, President Trump). As NBC reports, “It calls for private contractors and aircraft to aid Afghan forces, with some help from the CIA and the Pentagon’s special operations forces—all of whom would be overseen by a U.S. government envoy for Afghanistan policy who reports directly to the president and is given the authority to coordinate with the Afghan government.”

As former military contractor Sean McFate noted in Politico last August, Prince’s plan is rife with dire implications for global stability. “When anyone can rent a military, then super-rich and large corporations can become a new kind of superpower,” McFate warned. “Worse, mercenaries can start and elongate conflicts for profit, breeding endless war.”

Nor, McFate argued, is it clear that the company once known as Blackwater can avoid massacres in the future: 

Prince assures us that nothing will go wrong. To avoid Nisour incidents in the future, he wants to place all mercenaries under U.S. military law, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, this resolves little. Take, for example, jurisdiction: What happens if a Guatemalan mercenary massacres an Afghan family while on an American contract? Does he go to trial in: a) Afghanistan b) U.S. c) Guatemala d) nowhere? No one really knows, and a good labor lawyer could probably shred the case in minutes.

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Trump argues with veterans about napalm, Agent Orange and Apocalypse Now.

The Daily Beast reports that on March 17, 2017 President Donald Trump met with a delegation of veterans’ groups and got into a bizarre dispute about a film classic. Rick Weidman, co-founder of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), brought up the problem of Agent Orange, asking the president to broaden the number of veterans who can receive VA benefits for treatment from the herbicide, which was used during the Vietnam War. The president seemed to confuse Agent Orange with napalm, an incendiary gel that was also deployed in that conflict. The president claimed the problem with Agent Orange had already been dealt with.

The the conversation took a strange turn. As The Daily Beast describes the scene:

Attendees began explaining to the president that the VA had not made enough progress on the issue at all, to which Trump responded by abruptly derailing the meeting and asking the attendees if Agent Orange was “that stuff from that movie.”

He did not initially name the film he was referencing, but it quickly became clear as Trump kept rambling that he was referring to the classic 1979 Francis Ford Coppola epic Apocalypse Now, and specifically the famous helicopter attack scene set to the “Ride of the Valkyries.

Source present at the time tell The Daily Beast that multiple people—including Vietnam War veterans—chimed in to inform the president that the Apocalypse Now set piece he was talking about showcased the U.S. military using napalm, not Agent Orange.

Trump refused to accept that he was mistaken and proceeded to say things like, “no, I think it’s that stuff from that movie.”

Eventually the president said the problem was that Weidman “just didn’t like the movie.”

The exchange is in keeping with the haphazard way that Trump has handled veterans’ matters. The Daily Beast also notes that veterans’ issues had been part of the portfolio of former reality show star Omarosa Manigault-Newman. According to one veterans’ advocate, during a February 2017 meeting Manigault-Newman “showed up late, interrupted us, and said she was taking the lead.”

Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that a small cabal of the president’s cronies, none of them holding public office, were shaping VA policy. These wealthy friends of the president all belonged to his private club Mar-a-Lago. Members of this cabal sometimes tried to use the VA to promote their private interests.