Monday February 22nd, 2021

"It Is Not A Question of Who Is Right Or Wrong But What Is Right Or Wrong That Counts."
--Geoff Metcalf
 Providing an on line Triage of the news since 1997
World & Nation
Trump to stake claim as presumptive 2024 GOP nominee at CPAC conference
            

Former President Donald Trump will present himself as the heir apparent to the 2024 GOP presidential nomination in a speech to the CPAC conference on Sunday, according to people familiar with his thinking.

Mr. Trump‘s speech at the annual conference for conservatives will be his first public appearance since he left office on Jan. 20. It comes as prominent Republicans are seeking his help in raising campaign cash and promoting candidates for the 2022 congressional election cycle.

His advisers say the CPAC speech will demonstrate that Mr. Trump‘s influence in the party is stronger than ever.


Supreme Court Allows Release of Trump Tax Returns


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for a New York City prosecutor to obtain former President Donald Trump's tax returns and other financial records as part of a criminal investigation, a blow to his quest to conceal details of his finances.

The justices rebuffed Trump's request to put on hold an Oct. 7 lower court ruling directing the former Republican president's longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, to comply with a subpoena to turn over the materials to a grand jury convened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat.

The Supreme Court had already ruled once in the dispute, last July rejecting Trump's broad argument that he was immune from criminal probes as a sitting president.



Merrick Garland says he hasn't discussed the Hunter Biden investigation with the president

                 Merrick Garland testifies at Senate confirmation hearing

Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland told a Senate committee Monday that he has not spoken with President Biden about the federal investigation into his son, Hunter Biden.

“The president made abundantly clear in every public statement before and after my nomination that decisions about investigations and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department,” Judge Garland said in testimony during his confirmation hearing. “That was the reason I was willing to take on this job.”

Judge Garland’s comments came before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is weighing whether or not to confirm him as attorney general.

The Hunter Biden investigation is one of the thornier issues facing Judge Garland if confirmed as attorney general. GOP senators said ahead of the hearing that they intended to press Judge Garland on the probe.



Susan Collins says she'll vote against Neera Tanden nomination for OMB


Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Monday she will oppose President Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget, citing her “temperament” and lack of experience.

“The director of OMB is responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of the federal budget and plays a significant role in any administration’s fiscal and regulatory agenda,” Ms. Collins said in a statement. “Congress has to be able to trust the OMB director to make countless decisions in an impartial manner, carrying out the letter of the law and congressional intent. Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency.”

Ms. Tanden’s nomination would need the support of at least one Republican, after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said last week that he will vote against her. Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska now appear to be the last hopes of the White House to rescue the nomination.



'Mistakes were made': San Francisco puts school renaming on hold


The San Francisco school system’s plan to rename 44 schools for insufficiently progressive names is on hold.

Board President Gabriela Lopez said Sunday that the board had made mistakes in the renaming process and needs to work on getting schools reopened safely.

She said reopening will be the board’s “only focus,” and meetings of the renaming committee are canceled until the schools are opened again.



Biden team colluded with Iran to foil Trump diplomacy


President Trump in 2019 sought to open a back channel of communication with top Iranian officials and saw the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September as a potential opportunity to defuse escalating tension with Tehran, but the effort failed.

Two months earlier, however, a different back channel was thriving in New York. Iran’s smooth, English-speaking foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, met with Robert Malley, who was President Obama’s Middle East adviser, in an apparent bid to undermine the Trump team and lay the groundwork for post-Trump relations.

The attempt at counterdiplomacy offers a window into the deep relationships Mr. Zarif forged with influential U.S. liberals over the past decade. These relationships blossomed into what high-level national security and intelligence sources say allowed the Iranian regime to bypass Mr. Trump and work directly with Obama administration veterans that Tehran hoped would soon return to power in Washington.

One of those was former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who met with Mr. Zarif during the Trump years. So did Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. They, along with Mr. Malley, were top U.S. negotiators of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As part of the deal, Tehran promised to limit its nuclear enrichment activities in exchange for economic sanctions relief and access to tens of billions of dollars in frozen bank accounts.



Homeland Security plans to gut immigration enforcement arm

'Administrative abolishment' means less enforcement

The Biden administration might not need to abolish ICE. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has floated a plan to reorganize the federal deportation agency to the point where it’s not doing much arresting and deporting from inside the country anymore.

Mr. Mayorkas revealed his idea last week in a telephone meeting with agency personnel in Texas, according to several sources familiar with the conversation, who said he proposed taking members of the country’s 4,000-strong deportation force off the streets and converting them into criminal investigators.

They would no longer be focused on enforcing laws against illegal presence, which would have the effect of slashing arrests and deportations.



Supreme Court to hear case over federal funding for abortion


The Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear legal challenges over federal funding for abortions.

Without comment, the high court agreed to hear three cases concerning the Department of Health and Human Services’ rule that bans federal funding from going towards abortions through the family planning Title X program.

The Department of Health and Human Services under former President Donald Trump in 2019 changed the Title X program, preventing certain medical providers from supplying information related to abortion and instead required providers to give patients information on non-abortion options.



Boris Johnson lays out go-slow plan to take England out of lockdown by summer


Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a four-step roadmap to take England out of its Covid-19 lockdown. The country has been in full national lockdown since January 4, after a new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus was discovered in southeast England.

All being well, Johnson's government is hopeful that most of the economy will be able to open before the end of June. As he announced the plan on Monday, the Prime Minister stressed that the four steps would be decided by "data not dates," and emphasized that they would be subject to change. Downing Street officials were keen to explain that this caution was in order to avoid future restrictions that would further damage the economy.

Johnson told lawmakers that step one would begin on March 8, as schools finally reopen across England, as well as the return of limited outdoor social interaction, such as sitting on a park bench with one other person. Step one will also have a second phase on March 29, where further restrictions will be lifted, allowing groups of six to meet outside and two households to mix.



Beijing Plans Changes to Group Selecting Hong Kong’s Leader

Chinese lawmakers are expected to vote on a proposal to transfer seats from elected councilors to pro-Beijing figures

China’s leaders plan to curb the influence of Hong Kong opposition groups on a body that selects the city’s top official, taking seats away from pro-democracy politicians and handing them to pro-Beijing loyalists, according to people familiar with the proposal.

At an annual legislative session in March, Chinese lawmakers are expected to vote on the proposed changes to the composition of a 1,200-member committee that picks Hong Kong’s chief executive, the people said.

The revisions would drastically reduce, or potentially eliminate, the 117 seats assigned to Hong Kong’s district councilors, a bloc now dominated by opposition groups, they said. These seats would be given to some of the more than 200 Hong Kong-resident members of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the people said.



A U.S.-Iran deal is ultimately possible because Iran needs money, analyst says


Washington and Tehran will ultimately be able to strike a nuclear agreement because Iran needs relief from economic sanctions, according to a senior advisor at a U.S. think tank.

“I think, ultimately, a deal is possible because the Iranians need money,” said Richard Goldberg of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The U.S. and Iran both appear interested to return to the negotiating table, but have not been able to agree on who should make the first move. The Biden administration last week offered to begin talks with Tehran, but Iran has repeatedly stressed that the U.S. must lift sanctions to kickstart the process. Washington has resisted those calls so far.



A path forward for the GOP in 2022 and 2024

With 26 governors and 62 state legislative bodies, the Republican Party is not dead, not by a long shot

As Republicans look to the 2022 midterm elections and then to the 2024 presidential election, we need to be clear-eyed about where we have been, where we are and where we are going as a party.

Despite losing the White House, the Senate, the House and eight governors’ mansions in the last four years, the Republican Party — with the closest of minorities in the House and Senate, 26 governors and 62 state legislative bodies — is not dead, not by a long shot.

But we have to come together to win.

There are two simple keys for the GOP to succeed: Focus on ideas; grow by addition, not division.



Bring on the GOP shadow Cabinet

If McConnell and McCarthy want to keep the wrath of Trump at bay, they must lead with a more structured approach

What a waste. A month into the Biden presidency and congressional Republicans are still chasing their tails.

With the impeachment trial over, the rudderless GOP communications apparatus, overshadowed by Donald Trump’s noxious Twitter feed for the past four years, needs a reset that makes it more aggressive, more disciplined and more effective.

It’s time for beleaguered Republicans to borrow a page from the playbook of our cousins in the British Parliament and appoint a shadow Cabinet.


" It is discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit."
-- Noel Coward
     (1899-1973) British playwright

Medal of Honor
Bill Conveys Special Honor to Last WWII Medal of Honor Recipient ...
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.
GeneTrerally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress.
The first award of the Medal of Honor was made March 25, 1863 to Private JACOB PARROTT.The last award of the Medal of Honor was made September 15, 2011 to Sergeant DAKOTA MEYER.

Since then there have been:  • 3458 recipients of the Medal of Honor.
    • Today there are 85 Living Recipients of the Medal of Honor. 

Citation

Captain Humbert R. Versace distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period of 29 October 1963 to 26 September 1965, while serving as S-2 Advisor, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Detachment 52, Ca Mau, Republic of Vietnam. While accompanying a Civilian Irregular Defense Group patrol engaged in combat operations in Thoi Binh District, An Xuyen Province, Captain Versace and the patrol came under sudden and intense mortar, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from elements of a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged, Captain Versace, although severely wounded in the knee and back by hostile fire, fought valiantly and continued to engage enemy targets. Weakened by his wounds and fatigued by the fierce firefight, Captain Versace stubbornly resisted capture by the over-powering Viet Cong force with the last full measure of his strength and ammunition. Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, he exemplified the tenets of the Code of Conduct from the time he entered into Prisoner of War status. Captain Versace assumed command of his fellow American soldiers, scorned the enemy's exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination efforts, and made three unsuccessful attempts to escape, despite his weakened condition which was brought about by his wounds and the extreme privation and hardships he was forced to endure. During his captivity, Captain Versace was segregated in an isolated prisoner of war cage, manacled in irons for prolonged periods of time, and placed on extremely reduced ration. The enemy was unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America. Captain Versace, an American fighting man who epitomized the principles of his country and the Code of Conduct, was executed by the Viet Cong on 26 September 1965. Captain Versace's gallant actions in close contact with an enemy force and unyielding courage and bravery while a prisoner of war are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect the utmost credit upon himself and the United States Army.


From the Archives

We Have Met the Enemy…

      
Geoff Metcalf
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
              
--Benjamin Franklin
“The American people must be willing to give up a degree of personal privacy in exchange for safety and security.”
              
--Louis Freeh
In the wake of the clamor over the most recent WikiLeaks data dump, ‘Vault 7’, ‘UMBRAGE’, et al, it should be noted this is not really anything new. What we are seeing here is simply the evolution of something that goes back to the late 50s (to the incomplete best knowledge I have).

It is kinda cool to finally see even The New York Times acknowledging material I was writing about in 1998.

In April of 1998 I wrote “Privacy has become an anachronism.” I was commenting on “a massive system designed to intercept all your e-mail, fax traffic and more.” I was explaining ‘Echelon’, the illegitimate offspring of a UKUSA Treaty signed by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Its purpose was, and is, to have a vast global intelligence monster, which allegedly shares common goals. The system was so “efficient” that reportedly National Security Agency folk from Fort Meade could work from Menwith Hill in England to intercept local communications without either nation having to burden themselves with the formality of seeking approval (a court order) or disclosing the operation. And this was all pre-9/11 and pre-the anti-constitutional  'Patriot Act'.

It is illegal (without a Judge’s signed permission) for the United States to spy on its citizens … kinda. The laws have long been circumvented by a mutual pact among five nations. Under the terms of UKUSA agreement, Britain spies on Americans and America spies on British citizens, and then the two conspirators trade data. A classic technical finesse. It is legal, but the intent to evade the spirit is inescapable.

I often fictionalized the genesis of ‘Echelon’ as an informal meeting of a group of post war American and British intelligence types drinking in some remote rustic bar. An imagined CIA type complains to his MI6 buddy about the hassles of US laws preventing US intelligence from surveillance of bad guys, and the Brit echoes the same complaint.

“Hey wait a moment mate,” says Nigel, the make-believe MI6 guy, “I can spy on your guys and you can spy on our bad players…why don’t we just come up with a mechanism whereby we spy on your villains, you spy on our villains, and we just ‘share’ the intel?”

This system was called ECHELON, and has been kicking around in some form longer than most of you. The result of the UKUSA treaty signed by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand was, and is, to have a vast global intelligence monster which allegedly shares common goals.

The London Telegraph reported in December of 1997 that the Civil liberties Committee of the European Parliament had officially confirmed the existence and purpose of ECHELON. “A global electronic spy network that can eavesdrop on every telephone, e-mail and telex communication around the world will be officially acknowledged for the first time in a European Commission report. …”

The report noted: “Within Europe all e-mail, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency, transferring ll target information from the Eurv opean mainland via the strategic hub of London, then by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill, in the North York moors in th UK.

“The ECHELON system forms part of the UKUSA system but unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON was designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations and businesses in virtually every country.”

An interesting sidebar appeared in the International Herald Tribune under the headline, “Big Corporate Brother: It Knows More About You Than You Think.” The story details Acxiom Corp, which was a humongous information service hidden in the Ozark foothills. Twenty-four hours a day, Acxiom electronically gathered and sorts all kinds of data about 196 million Americans. Credit card transactions and magazine subscriptions, telephone numbers, real estate records, automotive data, hunting, business and fishing licenses, consumer surveys and demographic detail that would make a marketing department’s research manager salivate. This relatively new (legal) enterprise was known as “data warehousing” or “data-mining”, and it underscores the cruel reality that the fiction of personal privacy has become obsolete. Technology’s ability to collect and analyze data has made privacy a quaint albeit interesting dinosaur.

The Tribune reported that “Axciom can often determine whether an American owns a dog or cat, enjoys camping or gourmet cooking, reads the Bible or lots of other books. It can often pinpoint an American’s occupation, car and favorite vacations. By analyzing the equivalent of billions of pages of data, it often projects for its customers who should be offered a credit card or who is likely to buy a computer.”

Most of this information is from y 1998 piece.  Echelon has developed, matured, and morphed into a much more powerful hybrid. ‘Carnivore’ was software to help triage the cacophony of data. Vault 7 and ‘Umbrage’ are logical (some would argue “insidious”) growth.

    More to follow…