The Smoke Eater For Jan. 13, 2020

A Trumpland trust fall, depression robots, and rock 'n roll ain't noise pollution.

Good morning, this is The Smoke Eater, for Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, and rock and roll is gonna save the world.


Quick Hit

The Trump administration wants you to "trust” them * Iran finally admits it accidentally shot down a passenger plane * Tech is making us all depressed loners * Save Australia with a dildo * China hates freedom and rock and roll *

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Unhappy Hour

Defense Secretary Mark Esper probably needed a Bloody Mary after appearing on the Sunday shows. Esper was attempting to explain the administration's targeted killing/assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, but he didn't get very far...

First, let's go back to Friday when Trump claimed Iran was "looking to blow up our embassy" in Baghdad, and "probably" would have attacked "four embassies” during a softball sitdown with Fox News's Laura Ingraham. As Brian Stleter notes, Ingraham never pressed Trump on which embassies were potential targets. Senior US officials later told The Washington Post that information was vague and half-baked, with one official saying Trump was, "totally obsessed with not letting something like Benghazi happen to him."

Fast forward to Esper's appearance on CBS's Face the Nation, Esper clarified he "didn't see" evidence of Trump's claim, but said, "probably — my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies," and that an attack could have occurred, "within a matter of days that would be broad in scale, in other words more than one country, and that it would be bigger than previous attacks, likely going to take us into open hostilities with Iran." Esper then dug in and attacked his congressional critics on CNN's State of the Union when pressed to give an answer that wasn't riddled with double-speak. [CBS Transcript]

White House National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien faced a similar grilling by Chris Wallace who wondered why this was so super secret it couldn't even be told to members of Congress. O'Brien responded by saying he's, "seen the intelligence," and that it was, "very strong." He then did his best Bush 43 impression and said the American public should, "trust the administration on this."

An "Imminent Threat"

NBC's Carol Lee and Courtney Kube report the administration authorized the targeted killing/assassination of Soleimani seven months ago. Citing five current and former senior administration officials, the report states the administration drew a red line stipulation that said the killing could only be green lit if the there was an American death, and Trump gave final approval. Interestingly enough, a casual search of news archives turned up an October report from Reuters where Hossein Taeb, senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard official, told state news outlets that Iran had foiled an attempted assassination of Soleimani that it blamed on Israeli and Arab agencies. However, there's also chatter Soleimani was attempting to attack U.S. and Iraqi assets around the same time period. The take away here is that everyone is an asshole.

The administration has slapped Iran with more sanctions for posing an "imminent threat" to U.S. embassies. In a briefing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he didn't, "know exactly which minute," or, "exactly which day it would have been executed," but Iran was definitely, "plotting a broad, large-scale attack against American interests." The sanctions will target Iran's metal industry and eight senior officials, further deepening Iran's economic woes.

Lying Liars

Over the weekend  Iran admitted it accidentally shot down a Urkanian passenger jet shortly after takeoff on Wednesday. Protesters immediately took to the streets to decry the country's leaders, primarily Ayatollah Khamenei. In Tehran, anti-riot police tried to violently quell the dissent with tear gas and water cannons, according to videos posted to social media. State-run media outlets have criticized people speaking out, and in a hypocritical twist, the Trump administration has issued statements and shitposts in support of protesters, urging Iranian leaders to grant press and internet freedoms.

Over the weekend, Colum Lynch, Keith Johnson, and Michael Hirsh wrote in Foreign Policy that the downing of the aircraft has since created a PR disaster for the regime. Iran had had hoped to use the death of Soleimani as a rallying cry against growing disapproval, but the public -- already incensed over instability -- quickly turned.

And Now, The Weather

One can only assume whomever operates the White House social media accounts is locked in a frigid and windowless basement. Last night its Twitter account posted a photo of snow falling on the White House with the caption, "First snow of the year," but local weather reports showed highs in the lower 70s. The Washington Post noticed that the photo was taken on Tuesday night (when it did snow) and uploaded to the White House Flickr pool. Guess we should "trust the administration on this" too.

Don't Be Evil

Motherboard has a report on a company that's been marketing curiously legal surveillance wares to law enforcement officials. Some of the products include a discrete tombstone camera, a "Shop-Vac Covert DVR Recording System," and cameras that can be mounted to street lights, utility poles, or affixed to power lines. There's even little infrared lights that can be stuck to registration tags. Motherboard says that the company has done business with several government agencies, including the Secret Service and the DEA. The company claims its products and brochure are protected under copyright, and has threatened news outlets with legal action if they report on them by citing rules governing munitions in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. [Brochure (see pg. 93)]

The annual display of weird techno crap and vaporware at this years CES seemed to have a theme, according to CNN's Samantha Murphy: loneliness. From robot assistants to digital friends called, "artificial humans," many of the gizmos on display were forms of companion technology -- be they a weird headless cat thing, a hugging robot, an adorable plastic ball called, "Ballie," or Segway's new apocalypse chariot, our increasingly digital lifestyles have helped feed an unhealthy rise in depression. This is trend in loneliness is perhaps most noticeable in Japan where people without friends or family, many of them elderly, are dying and only being discovered after neighbors report foul smells.

The wealthiest person in the world, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is getting dragged by the Twitterati for donating $690,000 to help with Australian wildfire recovery efforts while Metallica and wannabe models donate over $750,000. The trolling comes as the Australian government commits $34.58 million to an emergency wildlife recovery program, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) warns about the destruction of habitats of critically endangered species, and says wallabies, kangaroos and koalas should now be considered "endangered."

In a related story, Geeky Sex Toys, a sex toy company, is offering a $69 "Down-Under Donation Dildo." The company says 100 percent of the profits will be donated directly to relief efforts. This morning the company tweeted that it had already surpassed its initial $10,000 goal.

Another One’s Gone

Late this morning New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker dropped out of the 2020 presidential race. Booker says he will focus on getting reelected to the Senate.

One More Thing...

Kenneth Roth, The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) says he was denied entry into Hong Kong. The US-based NGO had been set to launch a report on China's human rights abuses as part of the groups annual World Report on Jan. 15, but in a video posted to social media, Roth says authorities in Hong Kong barred his entry. Roth says the report is focused on, "how the Chinese government is trying to deliberately undermine the international human rights system," and, "undermine the ability of anybody else to try to hold China to human rights standards."

This morning the Chinese-backed government of Hong Kong boasted about the city's financial stability despite months of bitter and violent protests. Reuters reports the city has been attempting to stave off fears of a recession by appealing to a business community that has been accused of aiding the government's fight against the independence movement. Skirmishes have gone on for so long that on Friday The Lancet medical journal reported as much as a third of Hong Kongers now suffer from PTSD.

The struggle for independence seems to be spreading too. Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen won reelection with 57 percent of the vote this weekend. Tsai's win comes amid reports of a disinfo and pressure campaign led by Beijing. Vox explains that Taiwan and Hong Kong's importance can't be understated as both cities occupy a unique place in global commerce and foreign affairs.

Piggy backing off this, Lauren Teixeria writes in Foreign Policy that China's death grip on its population has stymied cultural growth. Teixeria points to the sudden popularity of Mongolian folk metal band, The Hu, as evidence, noting that the former Soviet satellite's protection of traditional folk styles naturally merged with a desire for "rock and roll and blue jeans" by young people.

OK, now here's a warm and fuzzy critter video! Water Doggos!

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