Open thread for night owls. Pro-Publica: Navy failed to deal with issues that led to Iran stand-off

  Megan Rose, Robert Faturechi, and T. Christian Miller at Pro-Publica write—Trump Keeps Talking About the Last Military Standoff With Iran — Here’s What Really Happened:

Just before sunset on Jan. 12, 2016, 10 American sailors strayed into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, a navigation error with potentially grave consequences. On their way to a spying mission, the Americans had set sail from Kuwait to Bahrain. It was a long-distance trek that some senior commanders in the Navy’s 5th Fleet had warned they were neither equipped nor trained to execute.

Surrounded by four boats operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the U.S. sailors, in two small gunboats, surrendered rather than opening fire. The officer in charge of the mission later said he understood that had a firefight erupted, it could well have provoked a wider conflict and scuttled the controversial nuclear deal the two countries were poised to implement in mere days.

The Navy dialed up an elaborate rescue mission to free the sailors from tiny Farsi Island involving fighter jets and a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group. But the return of the sailors was ultimately secured peacefully. The nuclear deal went forward with the U.S. providing sanctions relief and unfreezing billions in Iranian assets in exchange for Tehran’s promise to curb its nuclear ambitions.

President Donald Trump explicitly invoked the 2016 incident last week as he weighed actions against Iran amid rising tensions. Trump told Time magazine that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had mishandled the high-stakes confrontation, a mistake he would not make. “The only reason the sailors were let go is that we started making massive payments to them the following day,” Trump said. “Otherwise the sailors would still be there.”

But a ProPublica investigation makes clear that Trump’s repeated claims about the captured sailors—Obama’s weakness; that the money was improper—obscure the more troubling realities exposed by the Navy’s 2016 debacle in the Persian Gulf. The Farsi Island mission was a gross failure, involving issues that have plagued the Navy in recent years: inadequate training, poor leadership, and a disinclination to heed the warnings of its men and women about the true extent of its vulnerabilities. […]

Over the weekend, the details of Iran’s downing of an unmanned American drone that further escalated the confrontation remained unclear, but it seemed possible the Navy had again mistakenly entered Iran’s territory. Iran insists the plane had penetrated its airspace; the United States says it was in international territory. Last week, The New York Times quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying Trump had pulled back in part because of emerging evidence that the Global Hawk drone or a second, manned U.S. spy plane may have indeed breached Iranian territory. Trump cited the high number of possible Iranian casualties. […]

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“Every time someone gives you a formula for what you should be and what you should do, they’re giving you a pair of handcuffs.” ~~Junot Díaz, 2016



“The media needs to create new “Trump Rules,” where when the president tells a clear lie the interview does NOT move on until either he is forced to admit to that lie, or he walks out of the interview like the immature man-child that he is.”

— emptywheel (@emptywheel) June 24, 2019


On this date at Daily Kos in 2004—The Cheney Coup:

Whoa, how did I almost miss this?

After the 9-11 attacks, Cheney sent Bush away and took control of the US response to the attacks. He essentially staged a coup, taking over as “commander in chief.” This information was contained in a draft report from the 9-11 Commission.

America was under attack, and somebody had to make a decision. Dick Cheney, huddled in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center under the White House, had just urged the traveling George W. Bush not to return to Washington. The president had left Florida aboard Air Force One at 9:55 a.m. on 9/11 “with no destination at take-off,” as last week’s 9-11 Commission report noted. Nor had Bush given any known instructions on how to respond to the attacks. Now Cheney faced another huge decision on a morning in which every minute seemed monumental. The two airliners had already crashed into the Twin Towers, another into the Pentagon. Combat air patrols were aloft, and a military aide was asking for shoot-down authority, telling Cheney that a fourth plane was “80 miles out” from Washington. Cheney didn’t flinch, the report said. “In about the time it takes a batter to decide to swing,” he gave the order to shoot it down, telling others the president had “signed off on the concept” during a brief phone chat. When the plane was 60 miles out, Cheney was again informed and again he ordered: take it out.

Then Joshua Bolton, after what he described in testimony as “a quiet moment,” spoke up. Bolton, the White House deputy chief of staff, asked the veep to get back in touch with the president to “confirm the engage order.” Bolton was clearly subordinate to Cheney, but “he had not heard any prior conversation on the subject with the president,” the 9/11 report notes. Nor did the real-time notes taken by two others in the room, Cheney’s chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby—who is known for his meticulous record-keeping–or Cheney’s wife, Lynne, reflect that such a phone call between Bush and Cheney occurred or that such a major decision as shooting down a U.S. airliner was discussed. Bush and Cheney later testified the president gave the order. And national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice and a military aide said they remembered a call, but gave few specifics. The report concluded “there is no documentary evidence for this call.”

This is startling information. The vice president ordered the president sent away and took control of the government.

On today’s Kagro in the Morning show: Greg Dworkin rounds up a tough news weekend. The baby jails story lingers, and Trump’s interviewers don’t seem interested in the optics of him raping columnists, so we’re stuck instead with dissecting his more mundane “voter fraud” lies.

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Lack of ‘fear-based buying’ is hurting the gun industry under Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell

The foundation of the modern firearm industry is fear. Drumming up conspiracy-drenched fear of a “politically correct” liberal government authoritarianism has been the only arrow in groups like the NRA’s quiver the past decade. Good news for the gun industry and Second Amendment “patriots” everywhere. The Senate and the Executive Branch are controlled by pro-gun, anti-liberal Republicans. Whoo-hooo! Unfortunately for conservatives everywhere, there is no such thing as good news for people with guns. Just ask the the gun sellers of America.

Business Insider reports that one of the markers of sales in the firearms industry is the number of new background checks in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Since Trump and friends came into office, the numbers have been dropping. Last year the number of background checks conducted in the system dropped 6%, and so far this year those numbers are down 8%. It’s a thoughts and prayers moment for the Second Amendment business.

Big companies, like American Outdoor, known for owning Smith & Wesson, have seen brutal drops in their sales, losing $230 million last year in handgun sales between January and April 2018. They lost half of their long gun sales as well. Industry leaders were sort of hoping that the blue wave election results of the midterms would boost sales—a truly grotesque thing to hope for. Sadly, so far that bump has not materialized. Of course, with the 2020 elections around the corner, firearms sellers are crossing their fingers that people will get scared enough to buy more guns they do not need.

The ammunition industry is also taking a big hit, but that hit has lasted even longer. Experts are having a hard time trying to figure out why people aren’t buying any bullets at all, as the industry continues to “bottom out.” I can venture a guess: no one has needed to use all of that ammo they have been stockpiling over the past 10 years waiting for the Obama Muslim caliphate to appear.

Getting the happily-ever-after Second Amendment advocates promised has been telling. The NRA is in shambles, with accusations of dubious money practices and ugly internal power dynamics. When your entire business model is based on scaring people into believing their lives are at stake by selling them the devices that put their lives at stake, you are truly playing with some of the most evil magic there is.

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Trump suggests his ‘presidential library’ could be in one of his own properties. Of course

One of the, sigh, less-weird parts of Chuck Todd’s generally uncombative interview with Donald Child Internment Camps Trump was Todd’s invitation to Trump to speculate on what his eventual “presidential library” might consist of.

This is one of those throwaway what’s-your-favorite-pie-filling sorts of questions, not quite intended to be humanizing (most humans are not expected to found their own libraries dedicated to their own life and times) but damn near impossible for an interviewee to screw up.

But sweet jeebus, there may not be a softball question yet invented that Donald J. Trump would not respond to with the same stuporous blather.

“I’m so busy. I know a lot of people have mentioned it to me, the presidential library.”

Translation: Nobody has mentioned it to him. He is not busy. His brain likely seized up the moment Todd offered up the word “library,” which Trump reflexively assumed was the prelude to his questioner asking about book-learning. He may have forgotten libraries existed until Todd, no doubt attempting to trip him up, brought it up, and so he volleyed with the same a lot of people are saying phrase-tossing he uses whenever anyone asks him about war or budgets or high-priority Republican bills or how many legs he suspects the average dog has. The man can turn literally any conversation into a contentless, sucking void.

Prompting, Todd asked if Trump knows “where you’d want it?”

“I have a lot of locations, actually. The nice part is I don’t need to worry about buying a location.”

If anyone out there is expecting the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library and Casino to be anywhere but in a Donald Trump-owned property, they do not know Donald Trump. The possibility of Trump charging his own library “foundation” Trump-inflated rent forever is precisely the sort of small-ball grift that Trump has dedicated his very existence to. This will happen. Whether it’s a designated Mar-a-Lago closet or the empty husk of some bankrupt casino, the man absolutely will make a long-term locked-in buck off the donors to his own “library.”

By all means, grift that grift. Who are we to complain? Rob them blind. Anyone fool enough to donate to a Trump presidential “library” at this late date, and after all that has happened, deserves to be taken for every mean little penny.

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Illinois is now first in the nation to ban private immigration detention facilities

Illinois is now the first state in the nation to ban private immigration detention facilities. “In the face of attempts to stoke fear, exploit division, and force families into the shadows, we are taking action,” Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement. “We will not allow private entities to profit off of the intolerance of this president.”

The governor also signed two other important pieces of legislation that will be huge steps toward protecting the lives of undocumented residents. One bill now “statutorily prohibits” local police from participating in the flawed 287(g) Program, which deputizes “selected state and local law enforcement officers to perform the functions of federal immigration agents.” A second bill allows undocumented youth, many of whom already pay taxes through participation in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and everyday purchases, to access state financial aid.

Each of these bills stands on its own, and combined they represent a blueprint for other states to follow. “The private-prison industry as a whole is benefiting from Trump’s border policies,” CNN reports. “But those lucrative business opportunities are also drawing increased public and legal scrutiny of a system that, advocates charge, treats detainees cruelly.”

Daily Kos’ Huiying Chan wrote in March that “JPMorgan Chase was a major funder of GEO Group and CoreCivic, the biggest operators of both private prisons and immigrant detention centers in the United States.” Following pressure from grassroots and national organizations, JPMorgan Chase announced it would sever ties with them.

The governor’s signatures came as the Trump administration threatened a number of U.S. cities with Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. Those raids may have been called off, but ICE is still here, and immigrants still need protections. “Illinois is and always will be a welcoming state,“ said Pritzker. “Let me be perfectly clear: the state of Illinois stands as a firewall against Donald Trump’s attacks on our immigrant communities.”

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Rep. Omar introduces No Shame at School Act to stop shaming of kids over school lunch debt

Given that student loan debt is a crisis, it tends to be the focus of conversation when it comes to debt relief in education. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, however, has highlighted another debt problem in education: school lunch debt

Last Wednesday, Omar and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, also of Minnesota, introduced a bill known as the No Shame at School Act to eliminate the school lunch debt shaming practices that continue to terrorize kids and teenagers. “Across this country, students whose families are struggling to afford school meals are being singled out and humiliated at lunchtime,” said Omar. 

Not all families can afford the cost of school meals for their children. Schools have reacted in some traumatizing ways: Whether it’s identifying kids who are in “lunch debt” with a wristband or separate lunch line, or using actual debt collectors to get money from parents, these practices embarrass kids and cause strain on families.

Mind you, for many kids, these lunches are the only meals they can consistently rely on. The last thing low-income kids and their families need is more stress or shame surrounding food. 

“Everyone knows you can’t learn or perform well when you are hungry. We need to support students in Minnesota and across the country by ensuring that kids are not humiliated because of an inability to pay for lunch,” Smith said in a statement.

Studies back this up

“Just take a look at Trump’s budget, which would cut $1.7 billion from the child nutrition program and eliminate food assistance to millions,” Rep. Omar said. 

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A key GOP retirement in Texas shows how Democrats could win the state House—and stop gerrymandering

On Monday, Republican state Rep. Jonathan Stickland announced that he would not seek re-election to Texas’ state House next year, but the news has implications well beyond his seat. Not only could Stickland’s retirement point to a path for Democrats to retake the chamber for the first time since 2002, but doing so could spell an end to GOP gerrymandering in the second-largest state in the country.

A conservative hardliner, Stickland only won re-election by a 50-47 margin last year over Democrat Steve Riddell as GOP Sen. Ted Cruz carried his Fort Worth-area 92nd District by a similar 51-48 spread. That makes Stickland’s seat a top pickup target next year for Democrats, who need to flip nine seats to win the 150-member Texas House, and Riddell has already said he’ll run again.

And this district is emblematic of many others. The Texas Legislative Council has calculated that Democrat Beto O’Rourke won a majority of seats in the House—76 in total—meaning, coincidentally, that exactly nine Republicans hold districts that voted blue in 2018’s Senate race. That’s a huge improvement from 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried just 65 seats. What’s more, another eight Republicans sit in districts where, as in Stickland’s, Cruz only won by 4 points or less. These are the seats that offer Democrats a roadmap to a majority.

Stickland’s near-loss was a result of the tidal wave that hit Texas in 2018, which saw Democrats gain 12 seats in the state House: After a series of easy victories, Stickland ran into the reality that diversifying and highly educated suburban districts such as his had veered sharply to the left in reaction to Donald Trump and would no longer reflexively tolerate his extreme views. With demographics continuing to shift, resulting in people of color and college-educated white voters making up an increasing share of the electorate, Texas’ once-red suburbs will be fiercely contested in 2020.

Lone Star Democrats will go all-in on the House next year, both because the state Senate is safely red and because if they can win the lower chamber, they’ll be able to block all the diabolical legislation the GOP can currently pass with no resistance. That includes everything from bills to strip abortion rights to another Republican gerrymander of Texas’ congressional map.

Redistricting is particularly consequential: If Democrats can force a deadlock, a court would step in to draw new lines, which would be guaranteed to be fairer than anything the GOP would come up with and would likely see Democrats and Latinos win several more seats. (Republicans would, however, still retain control over legislative redistricting under the state constitution.)

Of course, Republicans know they’re finally vulnerable, and fighting across a battleground as big as Texas is an expensive proposition. But the demographics—and the data—should give Texas Democrats a reason for optimism they haven’t enjoyed in quite some time.

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House Republicans prove once again they don’t want you to have health care

Last week, House Republicans were given yet another opportunity to separate themselves from Donald Trump’s lawsuit to destroy the Affordable Care Act. Once again, they sided with Trump. The House considered amendments to top a “minibus” spending package Thursday and in addition to funding a number of agencies, they adopted an amendment to defund the Trump administration’s efforts in federal courts to overthrow the law.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Laura Underwood of Illinois offered the amendment, which passed 238-194. Just four Republicans decided that sticking with the American people—particularly the 134 million estimated to have pre-existing conditions—isn’t as important as sticking with Trump. What’s at stake in this lawsuit is health coverage for 20 million people who’ve gained it through Obamacare is at stake here, as well as the ongoing coverage for people whose illnesses could once again be excluded in health plans if the law is struck down.

This is the second time the vast majority of Republicans voted with Trump and against Americans on health care in just two months. Just last month, the House passed the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act of 2019 230-183, with just four Republicans breaking ranks.

They really couldn’t make it more clear. A decade later, Republicans are still fighting against the idea that everyone should have access to health coverage and they’re still lying about it. They’ve had nine years of debate to come up with a plan and they’ve failed for nine years. And they’re going to go out on the campaign trail one more time to try to convince voters that none of that has happened and they have a plan. The good news is, voters stopped believing that years ago.

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Sanders proposes canceling all $1.6 trillion in student debt

Student loan debt relief is quickly becoming a standard policy among Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination. That’s a recognition of just how crippling the $1.6 trillion in debt is not just to the borrowers, but to the entire domestic economy. Now Bernie Sanders has joined Elizabeth Warren and Julián Castro with a plan to relieve the burden on 45 million Americans and provide tuition-free education at public universities, community colleges, and trade schools.

Sanders’ plan would wipe clean all debt for attendance at public and private universities and for graduate school. He’d pay for it with a Wall Street tax on financial transactions with a 0.5% levy on stock transactions and a 0.1% tax on bonds. “This is truly a revolutionary proposal,” said Sanders in announcing the plan. “In a generation hard hit by the Wall Street crash of 2008, it forgives all student debt and ends the absurdity of sentencing an entire generation to a lifetime of debt for the ‘crime’ of getting a college education.”

In comparison, Warren’s proposal would cancel up to $50,000 in debt for people with annual incomes of less than $100,000 and create a sliding scale of debt forgiveness for people with higher incomes, capping out at $250,000 and above in annual income. She’d pay for it, and her tuition-free plan, with a “wealth tax.” Ninety-five percent of borrowers would see their debt forgiven under her plan. Castro’s would provide partial loan forgiveness for people receiving public assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Medicaid. His plan would also eliminate tuition at public universities and community colleges, and includes proposals critical to many vulnerable immigrant students, ensuring access to federal funding and eliminating citizenship status in admissions decisions.

Sanders’ plan, with its blanket debt forgiveness regardless of income, would offer assistance to people who don’t really need it, but that could make it more politically viable. Like Social Security and Medicare, which are available to everyone at all incomes, a universal proposal could be more popular. The benefit would absolutely go to those most in need, because the ratio of debt to income for the bottom 50% of borrowers is so high, and disproportionately a burden to people of color.

Sanders’ and Warren’s plans particularly would unleash trillions in economic growth and economic freedom for a couple of generations of Americans now tethered to their loans. With tuition-free education, they’d free future generations.

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How the press played along with Trump’s Iran ‘crisis’ charade

Dubbed “the decider,” Donald Trump basked in lots of undeserved media glory last week after he invented a crisis with Iran, then claimed to have solved it by calling off a planned bombing raid on the country at the last minute. Largely missing from the tick-tick “crisis” storytelling was the media acknowledgement that the whole episode seemed to confirm Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that his stated reasons for aborting a military strike seemed completely arbitrary.

Yet the press coverage likely thrilled the White House, as reporters eagerly played up the drama. “Lawmakers in the room watched as the weight of his duties as commander-in-chief bore down on him, lives hanging in the balance,” CNN breathlessly reported. “That cautious mindset would hang over Trump’s deliberations throughout the day as he huddled several times with his national security team.” The Washington Post newsroom cheered that Trump had avoided “a potentially devastating new crisis in the Middle East,” while the New York Times stressed Trump “navigated his way through one of the most consequential foreign policy decisions of his presidency.”

I’m sorry, but are we being serious? Trump blustered for a day or two about dropping bombs on Iran in response to the downing of an unmanned U.S. drone—i.e. the downing of a flying camera—then decided not to, and the Times immediately placed the about-face among the “most consequential” chapters of Trump’s presidency?

What the whole soggy saga proved, once again, is that the press really has no idea how this White House and administration function, in part because the press has been completely locked out of both. Reporters occasionally acknowledge the truth, like in this Times dispatch, but couch it all in the Trump “mystery”:

The full story of how Mr. Trump set in motion an attack on another country and then canceled it remained to some extent shrouded in mystery even to some of those involved, according to interviews with administration officials, military officers and lawmakers, many of whom asked not to be named.

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