Alabama Senate election

It’s interesting to see so much interest in a US senate election here in New Zealand.

Alabama would normally be expected to be a safe Republican seat, but a controversial conservative candidate with a raft of sexual misconducts thrown into the campaign, sever splits in the GOP with some Senators openly saying they would vote against their own party candidate and if he won would seek to have him dumped from the Senate./

And then President Trump stirred up his own alleged sexual misconduct while endorsing and campaigning for the GOP candidate added more interest.

Especially now the results are in and he lost, and the Republican Senate majority is down to a bare 51, which make it even hard for Trump to progress his policies.

What are their names? Moore and Jones (the winner) I think from memory, but that doesn’t matter much here.

The Republicans have had a reality check, especially Trump and Steve Bannon of helped run the losing campaign.

But this is unlikely to do much to address the dysfunction in US politics.

Attempted bomb attack in New York

A bomb was set off by a man in a busy New York bus terminal, It has been described as an attempted terrorist attack. Four people have been reported as injured.

NY Post: Suicide bomber strikes New York City at rush hour

An ISIS-inspired would-be suicide bomber set off a homemade explosive device at the Port Authority Bus Terminal subway station Monday morning, seriously wounding himself and injuring three others, law enforcement sources said.

The man — a 27-year-old Brooklyn man identified by high ranking police sources as Akayed Ullah — had wires attached to him and a 5-inch metal pipe bomb and battery pack strapped to his midsection as he walked through the Manhattan transit hub.

The man partially detonated the device, which he was carrying under the right side of his jacket, prematurely.

Police quickly took the man into custody.

Former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the man was inspired by ISIS and possibly born in Bangladesh.

Bratton, who said the man had been living in the US for seven years, “was supposedly setting the device off in the name of ISIS.”

“So, definitely a terrorist attack, definitely intended,” Bratton said.

The man, who suffered the most serious injuries, was taken to Bellevue Hospital.

Three others suffered non-life-threatening injuries, police said.

This will be disconcerting for New Yorkers in particular.

“Free from fear, innocent of hatred”

Trump: “We want our country to be a place where every child from every background can grow up free from fear, innocent of hatred, and surrounded by love, opportunity and hope.”

Wonderful words.

Or they could be if they were spoken by someone who didn’t divide and ostracise using fear tactics, and didn’t promote hatred of immigrants, minorities, media, and political opponents in his own as well as other parties.

And who didn’t provide opportunity and hope for big business at the expense of ordinary people and the health of the planet.

I wonder how the 800,000 young people at threat of deportation think of this speech?

Reuters: U.S. top court blocks release of Trump ‘Dreamer’ immigrant documents

Since its inception, the DACA program has provided protection from deportation and work permits to about 800,000 mostly Hispanic young adults brought into the United States illegally by their parents. At the time Trump announced the rescinding of the program, about 690,000 people were protected under DACA.

Trump scrapped the program as part of his hard-line immigration policies, calling DACA an unconstitutional overreach by Obama. Trump gave Congress until March to come up with new protections for the Dreamers.

Dreamers are a fraction of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Obama and his fellow Democrats have defended the program as one that protects young people who grew up and were educated in the United States and are Americans in every way but actual citizenship.

Are the ‘Dreamers’ free from fear? Surrounded by surrounded by love, opportunity and hope?

The Jerusalem announcement effect

President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy there was controversial, and has been deeply unpopular with Palestinians and throughout much of the Middle East. It may also be unpopular in the US.

The Guardian: Defiant Donald Trump confirms US will recognise Jerusalem as capital of Israel

Donald Trump has defied overwhelming global opposition by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but insisted that the highly controversial move would not derail his own administration’s bid to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a short speech delivered at the White House, Trump directed the state department to start making arrangements to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a process that officials say will take at least three years.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said. “While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

Trump said: “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

It is highly debatable whether this will help already difficult attempts at peace solutions, and may do the opposite.

The president’s announcement provoked condemnation from US allies, and a furious reaction from Palestinian leaders and the Muslim world.

Al Jazeera: Trump’s Jerusalem move roundly condemned at UN

During an emergency meeting, UN Security Council members widely condemned Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that has led to deadly clashes across the occupied Palestinian territories.

Eight countries called for the emergency meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, as Palestinians protested across the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip against the US president’s decision throughout the day.

Several countries resoundingly condemned the unilateral move by the US to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Israel says Jerusalem, which is under Israeli occupation, cannot be divided.

The international community has never recognised Israel’s claim to the entire city.

Predictably it provoked protests and violence – Reuters: Israeli strikes kill two Gaza gunmen, anti-Trump protests less intense

Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed two Palestinian gunmen on Saturday after rockets were fired from the enclave, in violence that erupted over President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Trump’s reversal of decades of U.S. policy has infuriated the Arab world and upset Western allies, who say it is a blow to peace efforts and risks sparking more violence in the region.

Gaza militants launched at least three rockets toward Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip – which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas – after dark on Friday. The day had been declared a “day of rage” by Palestinian factions protesting against Trump’s announcement on Wednesday.

Trump’s announcement has not been supported internationally, and has had limited support in the US.

Time: Rex Tillerson Is on a Lonely Mission to Defend Donald Trump’s Jerusalem Pronouncement

It’s a go-to catchphrase when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is called on to explain his boss on the world stage: “America first is not America alone.” Yet as President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, Tillerson on Wednesday stood all by himself.

The onslaught came from all sides as Tillerson, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, got an earful from many a U.S. ally on Trump’s Jerusalem move. So far, not a single country — other than Israel, of course — has thrown its support behind the declaration. Even Tillerson’s own State Department has conceded the announcement could sow unrest throughout the Middle East.

Asked about Trump’s decision, Tillerson insisted the president “still is very committed to the peace process” — an assertion that U.S. allies said Trump had disproven by going ahead with the move despite near-universal protestations. And while the decision directly affects his department, Tillerson acknowledged his role was relatively minimal, focused on ensuring the State Department and Pentagon had enough time to boost precautions to keep U.S. personnel overseas safe amid the inevitable backlash.

Tillerson claims US support: On Jerusalem, Trump obeys will of US people: Tillerson

“The president is simply carrying out the will of the American people,” Tillerson said at a news conference with Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz.

“This has to do with the US law and a US decision and every country has a right to decide what it wants to decide as to its embassy in Israel.”

But apart from the protests Trump’s announcement won’t take immediate effect, other than give the appearance of fulfilling a campaign promise.

Fox News: Trump’s Jerusalem move: President’s patented strategy of taking a half-step

With his speech about moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, President Trump is following a familiar pattern.

He is taking a controversial step but not going all the way—taking a kind of halfway measure that fulfills a campaign promise but doesn’t necessarily have immediate consequences.

He has become the first president since Israel’s founding in 1948 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital, although other presidential candidates have talked about doing so. At the same time, he is signing a waiver to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months, and officials say it could take years to build an embassy in Jerusalem.

Indeed it could take years. Haaretz: Jerusalem Embassy Move Won’t Happen Next Year

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Friday that moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jeruaslem is likely to take at least two years due to logistical reasons. Tillerson stated that the move probably won’t happen “this year or next year.”

He added that Jerusalem’s “final status” will be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

So apart from provoking protests and claiming a promise has been kept, and making Middle East peace efforts harder, what has changed? Possible American approval of Trump. His approval rating had been slightly improved, until his Jerusalem announcement, after which it has dropped sharply to near lows again.

So what has been gained, apart from pleasing Israel, international condemnation, violent protests and pissing on the peace process?

Trump may have been delivering more for rich campaign supporters than for his voter support base.

 

US Russian saga continues

The drip feed of information about possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign continues, but more is emerging about unsatisfactory FBI handling of issues over Hillary Clinton as well.

CNN  Exclusive: Email shows effort to give Trump campaign WikiLeaks documents

Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators.

The September 4 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race — on the same day that Trump Jr. first tweeted about WikiLeaks and Clinton.>

“WIKILEAKS: Hillary Clinton Sent THOUSANDS of Classified Cables Marked “(C)” for Confidential,” he tweeted, sharing a story from the Gateway Pundit, a conservative, pro-Trump website.

The email came two months after the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee were made public and one month before WikiLeaks began leaking the contents of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails. It arrived less than three weeks before WikiLeaks itself messaged Trump Jr. and began an exchange of direct messages on Twitter.

Trump Jr. told investigators he had no recollection of the September email.

Meanwhile from Washington Examiner: Dossier author was in contact with Obama Justice Department:

It’s been 10 months since Washington learned that former British spy Christopher Steele, author of the so-called “Trump dossier,” took the Hillary Clinton-funded opposition research document to the FBI, which considered sponsoring the anti-Trump work at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign. Now, congressional investigators have made what is perhaps an even more consequential discovery: Knowledge of the dossier project, during the campaign, extended into the highest levels of the Obama Justice Department.

The department’s Bruce Ohr, a career official, served as associate deputy attorney general at the time of the campaign. That placed him just below the deputy attorney general, Sally Yates, who ran the day-to-day operations of the department. In 2016, Ohr’s office was just steps away from Yates, who was later fired for defying President Trump’s initial travel ban executive order and still later became a prominent anti-Trump voice upon leaving the Justice Department.

Unbeknownst to investigators until recently, Ohr knew Steele and had repeated contacts with Steele when Steele was working on the dossier. Ohr also met after the election with Glenn Simpson, head of Fusion GPS, the opposition research company that was paid by the Clinton campaign to compile the dossier.

Word that Ohr met with Steele and Simpson, first reported by Fox News’ James Rosen and Jake Gibson, was news to some current officials in the Justice Department. Shortly after learning it, they demoted Ohr, taking away his associate deputy attorney general title and moving him full time to another position running the department’s organized crime drug enforcement task forces.

The news also stunned some of those who had been investigating the matter. Yes, they knew that knowledge of the dossier extended to some officials in the FBI. That was bad enough; how could the FBI endorse and consider underwriting one campaign’s dirt-digging operation in the middle of a hotly contested election? But now investigators know that nearly the highest levels of the Obama Justice Department were also aware of the dossier.

Investors Business Daily: Did A Corrupt FBI Give Hillary Clinton A Free Pass? Sure Looks Like It

Until August 31, 2016, with the presidential election in full swing, former FBI director James Comey gave the impression that he hadn’t arrived at his decision to let Clinton off the hook until after he had all the facts.

But in late August we learned that, in fact, Comey and his team began drafting his get-out-of-jail-free statement for Clinton in April — right around the time President Obama publicly declared Clinton innocent of any crimes, and well before the FBI had interviewed dozens of key witnesses, including Clinton herself.

Then, in early November, we learned that an early draft of that memo had accused Clinton of being “grossly negligent” in handling classified material because she used an unsecured private email server while Secretary of State.

At some point during the editing process of that memo, “grossly negligent” became “extremely careless,” which is how Comey put it in the final version.

The change was monumental. The criminal statute regarding mishandling classified material specifically cites “gross negligence” as a violation of the law, even if there is no intent involved. Had that language remained, Comey’s claim that “no reasonable prosecutor” would take the Clinton email case would have been laughable.

So changing the language was obviously meant to clear the path for letting Clinton off the hook, whatever the facts might be.

This week, the other shoe in the memo story dropped, when it was reported that Peter Strzok had made that particular edit.

Strzok, for those who don’t know, had been kicked off the Trump/Russia investigation this summer — a fact we also only learned about in the past few days — after it turned out that he’d been sending anti-Trump, pro-Hillary texts to an FBI colleague.

So the key person who made a material change in a memo exonerating Clinton was a big Clinton supporter and a Trump hater.

The US looks badly broken, with no sign of a fix.

US Senator Franken resigning

A prominent casualty of the wave of allegations of sexual mosconduct and harassment is US Senator Al Franken. Esrlier:

That sounds like a resignation is probably imminent.

Just now:

The push for Franken’s resignation started after a woman came forward last month to say he had badgered her into an unwanted kiss before he was a senator and groped her while she slept.

‘Their patience had worn incredibly thin’: How the dam broke on Al Franken

That allegation set forth weeks of open deliberation about the political future of the unlikely comedian turned progressive darling.

Last month, Leeann Tweeden, a morning news anchor on the AM radio station KABC in Los Angeles, posted her story on the station’s website, saying Franken forcibly kissed her and groped her in 2006 during a USO tour.

Franken apologized in an email statement:.

“The first thing I want to do is apologize: to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There’s more I want to say, but the first and most important thing—and if it’s the only thing you care to hear, that’s fine — is: I’m sorry”.

But in the coming days and weeks, more accusers have come forward.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called for a Senate Ethics Committee probe into Franken

New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called for Franken to resign, and other Democratic senators posted statements in swift succession. In the span of a few hours Wednesday afternoon, dozens of senators said Franken should go — including Schumer.

Franken seems to have had no viable option but to resign.

Politico: Inside the demise of Al Franken

Female Democratic senators had been talking privately for weeks about how they were losing their patience as harassment claims piled up.

“It’s painful to do it,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said Wednesday after urging Franken to step down. “But here are these courageous women who have come [forward]. It’s a fact pattern that is pretty obvious.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sounded a similar note. “I hope that members of both political parties will be guided by sound principles and even when it’s painful,” Durbin said. “And this is painful. Al Franken is my friend.”

Painful particularly for the women who had to come out in public to get some action on this and other cases of alleged abuse.

Confirmed:

 

Some wins for Trump

President Donald Trump is making progress on some of his core policies.

A tax bill has also passed a senate vote but still needs to be compromised further with wrangling with Congress. The US system of passing bills can be very messy, and too easily results in a mess.

Talking of messes, the Russian collusion probe:

Lawyer takes blame for trump tweet

It has often been claimed that Donald Trump tweets against the best advice of those who try to manage his presidency and his PR, so it is unusual to see his personal lawyer take responsibility for a tweet that some say could put Trump at legal risk.

The tweet:

Newshub in Trump denies pressuring FBI director Comey to end Flynn probe:

The tweet raised eyebrows, with some in the legal community saying if Mr Trump knew Flynn lied to the FBI and then pressured Mr Comey not to investigate him, that would be problematic.

Mr Trump’s tweet “absolutely bolsters an obstruction of justice charge”, said Jimmy Gurule, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Notre Dame University.

“It is evidence of the crucial question of whether Mr Trump acted with a corrupt intent.

In an unusual move:

Mr Trump’s personal lawyer has since taken responsibility for the tweet.

In an interview on Sunday with news site Axios, John Dowd said the tweet was “my mistake” and that he drafted the tweet that raised more questions about whether there had been attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation.

“I’m out of the tweeting business,” Mr Dowd told Axios. “I did not mean to break news.”

It is unusual that Trumps lawyer is taking responsibility for drafting the tweet, especially given the content of the tweet.

Trump has inevitably responded to the uproar his tweet created with another tweet:

I presume his lawyer did not draft that tweet.

This is a typical Trump denial, claiming anything he doesn’t like as fake news and lies.

He risks, amongst other things, becoming known as the Fake President.

Trump claims ‘no collusion’

Donald Trump has claimed there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians.

That is incorrect. No collusion has been shown or claimed in the FBI investigation – yet. But the investigation also hasn’t shown that no collusion occurred.

In his notice to the Court on the Michael Flynn charges deal Special Counsel Robert Mueller stated:

“These facts do not constitute all of the facts known to the parties concerning the charged offenses. They are being submitted to demonstrate that sufficient facts exist that the defendant committed the offense to which he is pleading guilty.”

So what the Special Investigation knows is not known to the public – nor to Trump. Mueller may or may not have evidence proving collusion or pointing to possible collusion.

An ABC News report that a Flynn confidant said he would testify that Trump directed him to contact the Russians during the campaign has been corrected, citing a clarification from the source.

The ABC report Flynn prepared to testify that Trump directed him to contact Russians about ISIS, confidant says now states:

Retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn has promised “full cooperation” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation and, according to a confidant, is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians, initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria.

The confidant provided ABC News with new details on Friday about Trump’s instructions to Flynn. During the campaign, Trump asked Flynn to be one of a small group of close advisors charged with improving relations in Russia and other hot spots. The source said Trump phoned Flynn shortly after the election to explicitly ask him to “serve as point person on Russia,” and to reach out personally to Russian officials to develop strategies to jointly combat ISIS.

The confidant told ABC News that Flynn felt abandoned by Trump in recent weeks, and told friends about the decision to make the plea deal within the last 24 hours as he grew increasingly concerned about crippling legal costs he would face if he continued to contest the charges.

“Flynn is very angry,” the confidant told ABC News Friday. “He will cooperate truthfully on any question they ask him.”

Of course the ‘confidant’ cant be sure what Flynn will testify.

Meanwhile Stuff reports: Kiwi spies knew of Donald Trump’s ‘collusion’ with Russia as it unfolded – book

New Zealand spies knew about Donald Trump colluding with Russia in the lead-up to the extraordinary 2016 US election, an investigative journalist says.

Luke Harding is a Guardian journalist and author of Collusion, a new book exploring the US president’s longstanding ties with Russia.

It was the evidence of European spy agencies and, according to one source, the Australians, that helped nudge an initially reticent FBI into investigating the Trump-Russia ties that continue to unfold.

Five Eyes intelligence partners, including the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau, were monitoring the meetings between Trump associates and “known and suspected” Russian agents in the year preceding the US election, Harding says.

“This information would have been shared with New Zealand’s spooks, and they will have a clearer picture, privately, of what degree Trump colluded,” Harding says.

The book goes deep into the publication of the Steele dossier, Russian hacking of the Democrats email servers, failed bids to build a Trump Hotel in Moscow, and the dealings between Trump’s associates and Russians now subject to FBI scrutiny.

It’s more damning than Watergate, Harding says, but he doesn’t expect it to topple the White House.

His prediction: Trump will last the four-year term. “Impeachment is a political question. So, I think he’ll tough it out.”

That’s just guessing.

The investigation appears to be far from over and more is almost certain to come out. We will need to wait and see whether collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia can be proven or not.

 

 

Matt Lauer apologises after sexual assault allegations

Matt Lauer, yet another high profile American, has apologised following sexual assault allegations against him – NBC News fires Matt Lauer after sexual misconduct review

Matt Lauer, a familiar face in morning news as the anchor of “Today” for two decades, was fired by NBC News on Wednesday after a female colleague made a detailed complaint accusing him of inappropriate sexual behavior during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The accusation also noted that the alleged behavior continued in the workplace after the games, NBC News confirmed.

Later on Wednesday, The New York Times reported that two more women had made complaints about Lauer after he was fired. An unidentified former employee told The Times that Lauer sexually assaulted her in his office in 2001. NBC officials confirmed that two more accusers had come forward on Wednesday. And Variety published a more sweeping account of Lauer’s sexual misconduct with at least three women over several years.

In a memo to employees sent Wednesday morning, NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack said the complaint prompted a serious review and represented a “clear violation of our company’s standards.”

Lack said it was the first complaint lodged against Lauer, 59, for his behavior since he took over as anchor of the show in 1997, but there was “reason to believe” it may not have been an isolated incident.

“Our highest priority is to create a workplace environment where everyone feels safe and protected, and to ensure that any actions that run counter to our core values are met with consequences, no matter who the offender,” Lack said.

Lauer denies some allegations but has apologised: Matt Lauer, fired ‘Today’ anchor accused of sexual misconduct, says ‘I am truly sorry’

Longtime “Today” anchor Matt Lauer broke his silence Thursday in a statement read on the show, saying he was “truly sorry” after a detailed complaint of sexual misconduct led to his firing.

Lauer said that not all of the allegations that have followed are correct, but he admitted that “there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.” “Today” anchor Savannah Guthrie read the statement.

“There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions. To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC,” wrote Lauer, a married father of three.

“Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.

“Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full time job,” he added. “The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.”

That’s unusually direct and seems to take responsibility and sounds properly apologetic, but it’s unlikely to be the end of Lauer’s problems, after already being dumped from a very highly paid career with limited prospects of another similar job.