The Smoke Eater For Jan. 27, 2020

Mr. Mustache, IOWA(!), and Facebook's ugly side.

Good morning, this is The Smoke Eater for Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, and this happens all the time.

Quick Hit

* John Bolton has something to say * Impeachment and fidget spinners * Flooding the economic engine * Iowa is like another country * Nationalist protests in Iraq turn violent * Coronoa beer virus * The beautiful people of Facebook disinfo * We are all Penis Man *

: I'll be heading to Iowa this weekend to report LIVE from the Iowa caucuses!

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I Mustache You A Question

The New York Times got word former ambassador John Bolton's forthcoming book says Donald Trump wanted to continue a freeze on $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Ukrainian officials agreed to help Trump in a scheme to hurt his political rivals. Documents obtained by the NYTimes show the involvement of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bill Barr, Rudy Giuliani, and maybe even several members of Congress. The documents also show the administration was aware of Bolton's accusations as early as December 30, 2019.

If true, this could kneecap a key defense of Trump, his TV lawyers, the cable news echo chamber, and put moderate Senate Republicans in a bind on whether or not to accept witnesses during Trump's impeachment trial. House impeachment managers have already issued a statement saying the story "confirms what we already know," and there is now "no defensible reason to wait until his book is published..." Today, Trump's legal team is expected to continue using the Chewbacca defense, and argue that Donald Trump is a perfect person with perfect hair who speaks perfectly on perfect phone calls.

On Saturday, Trump's defense team spoke for just two of their 24 scheduled hours. Roll Call reports the rare Saturday Senate session required some wrangling of bored legislators who were more interested in chit-chatting and fidget spinners, which is on par for the sniffles and shuffles reported during the Friday session. Politico adds Trumpworld is already planning a victory lap.

Penny Pinching

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Americans approve of of the administration's constant mashing of the gas pedal of America's economic engine. This comes as state governments sink cash into reserve funds amid fears of a potential economic slow-down in 2020.

The IMF is warning about a global slow-down in home buying and investment. Bean counters caution this isn't a sign a housing bubble is about to burst (again), but they do note the price of owning a home in a global city is outpacing average incomes (which is bad).

Eyes On The Prize

Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters are absolutely giddy as six early-state surveys show the Senator creeping ahead of his 2020 Democratic rivals. The math nerds over at 538 says Bernie's support is coming at the expense of Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Dave Weigel writes that Sanders has benefited largely from a distinct lack of criticism when compared to his rivals, noting that some of his supporters like to push unfounded conspiracy theories like a DNC "Stop Bernie" movement. Over the weekend, Sanders touted the endorsement of controversial talking head, Joe Rogan, but took some heat for stark inconsistencies regarding his stance on the 1994 crime bill.

The Sanders team tells Politico they're betting on a high turn out from young people and other non-traditional voters in early-primary states, though analysts say this strategy has been attempted for decades and netted mixed results. Political fortune tellers say many early-state voters have yet to make up their mind, and often tell reporters they won't make their decision until caucus/voting day.  The final "gold standard" poll of Iowa voters will be released on Saturday, Feb. 1,  two days before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3

Sen. Elizabeth Warren won the coveted endorsement from the Des Moines Register. In its endorsement, the Register says Warren, "wants fair markets, with rules and accountability. She wants a government that works for people, not one corrupted by cash," adding, "[her] ideas are not radical. They are right. They would improve life in America, and they are generally shared by the other Democratic candidates, who bring their own strengths to this race." Politico notes the endorsement has the potential to create movement in Warren’s direction.

ICYMI: The New York Times' The Daily podcast interviewed people in important Rust Belt swing states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan about the issues most important to them. TLDL: fracking.

Elections officials from all 50 states are gathering in DC for a convention on election security. Officials are expected to swap nightmare scenarios and horror stories as part of "red team" training sessions on what to expect during this years elections.

Peace In Our Time

Donald Trump is expected to meet with embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his rival in up coming elections, Benny Gantz. The meeting comes ahead of the unveiling of Jared Kushner mysterious Middle East peace plan. In response to being totally cut out of the proposal, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was, "the hoax and the fraud of the century."

One person was injured after three rockets struck the U.S. embassy in Iraq. CNN quotes a State Department spox saying the U.S. is "aware of reports of rockets landing in the International Zone." The attacks comes during a weekend of violent protests this weekend that left 12 people dead and hundreds injured. The protests from people who've become dissatisfied with the Iraqi government and the occupying U.S. and Iranian forces took a more aggressive tone after prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced he no longer supported the ruling government Friday. [War College podcast]

Also on Friday, 34 U.S. service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries following an Iranian missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US military personnel earlier in the month. After initially claiming there were no injuries, Donald Trump later dismissed the injuries as "headaches," adding, "I don’t consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries I have seen." In an appearance on Face the Nation, Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton defended Trump's dismissal, saying, "The military does a lot better job than it did 15 or 20 years ago when it comes to brain injuries."

Later this week the House is expected to hold a vote to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that's been used as a catch-all for US anti-terrorism operations throughout the world. Politico reports House progressives are determined to score political points and neuter Trump's ability to assassinate state actors whenever he gets a wild hair up his ass, but notes the Senate is likely to ignore it, and a similar resolution being pitched by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Tomorrow the State Department is (finally) expected to hold a classified briefing for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about simmering tensions with Iran.

French Defense Minister Florance Parly is expected to lobby US Defense Secretary Mark Esper not to pull US forces out of Africa later this week. The US has been mulling over whether or not it should remove US forces from policing and training operations in order to bolster its staring contests with Russia and China.

Center-left coalition politicos held onto power in Italy's Emilia-Romanga region, the latest in a string of embarrassing defeats and setbacks for far-right populists.

Don't Panic

Global markets flushed themselves down the toilet early this morning over fears the Wuhan coronavirus would continue to spread. The death toll rose to 81 people this morning, though almost all cases of illness remain confined to China. Chinese officials have been working to contain the outbreak, quarantining the city of Wuhan and suspending the passports of its residents. Science bozos are already bragging that they're hard at work on a vaccine. Vox explains that even though there are a lot of unknowns, health officials say you're more likely to catch the flu.

Fact Check: The Wuhan coronavirus is not a patented illness, and there is no vaccine at this time. According to the CDC, the people most at risk right now are those easily susceptible to illness, like children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. Bogus claims are being spread on social media by anti-vaxers and idiots who wouldn't know the difference between the flu and a Flugtag.

Don't Be Evil

State attorneys general are set to meet with the Justice Department this week to discuss anti-trust investigations into Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google. The Wall Street Journal reports everyone is looking at the anti-trust actions taken against Microsoft in the 1990s as a model, and notes the potential for partisan rancor could stymie talks.

Amazon employees are expected to publicly defy a company ban on employees speaking out against the company's practices. Employees are being urged across a variety of mediums to voice their concerns about Amazon's sustainability efforts, immigration practices, warehouse working conditions, and other issues. The Washington Post reports at least 350 employees are expected to participate at the risk of losing their jobs. An email to employees obtained by ReCode says, "Allowing a corporation to silence us on its contribution to the climate crisis is a clear overreach of comms policy, and effectively demands we give up our basic humanity and integrity in order to be employees."

The wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, actress Louis Linton, posted and deleted support for teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg over the weekend. Linton, known from such films like (the remake of) Cabin Fever, Serial Daters Anonymous, and Crew 2 Crew, initially appeared to rebuke her husband’s mocking of Thunberg last week, saying "We need to drastically reduce our use of fossil fuels. Keep up the fight @gretathunberg," but the post was deleted 30 minutes later.

Der Spiegel took a deep dive into Facebook to expose elaborately detailed fake profiles that interact with one another to create the appearance of real people with real-world networks. The profiles use stolen photos that "look like scenes from ads" so that beautiful people seem like they're ranting to other beautiful people about Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump saving the world from murderous immigrants, and exposing a super secret cabal led by Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and Emmanuel Macron.

One More Thing...

A Phoenix-area man was greeted by "25 heavily armed SWAT officers" last week for writing "Penis Man" on public and private buildings in large, friendly letters. In a social media post prior to the arrest, the suspect wrote, "Penis Man is neither man nor woman, you nor me. We are ALL Penis Man."

OK, now here's a warm and fuzzy critter video! KITTIES AND BABIES!

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