The Smoke Eater For Jan. 21, 2020

The house is on fire, #MidnightMitch's Senate censorship, and some combat photogs.

Good morning, this is The Smoke Eater, for Tuesday, January 21, 2020, and I forgot this yesterday.


Quick Hit

* Dueling speeches in Davos * The revolution will not be televised * Hillary Clinton breaks some chains * Xi Jinping is "Mr. Shithole" * Russian guns and astroturf * Iran and the black box * There's still a disaster in Puerto Rico * The dirty job of conflict reporting *

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The Roof Is On Fire

At early o'clock this morning, Donald Trump took the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where he proceeded to squint at a teleprompter and snorting his way through a speech that distorted his administration's actions on the U.S. economy. Trump largely ignored the theme of this years forum, climate change (despite it being written in large letters at the landing site of Marine One), simply saying the U.S. would plant trees. Trump's speech has already been ripped by bean counters who note he inherited a good economy from Barack Obama, with one U.S. economist telling the A.P., "[Trump] was being very careful not to get booed."

In a panel featuring young climate activists, Greta Thuberg criticized world leaders for not doing enough to fight the growing threats to humanity's survival caused by climate change, accusing them of "cheating and fiddling around with numbers." Thunberg said, "Planting trees is good of course but it’s nowhere near enough," and noted that dramatically cutting emissions was a more effective near-term strategy. Thunberg concluded by saying, "Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. We are still telling you to panic, and to act as if you loved your children above all else." [Full Speech]

Move Along, Nothing To See Here

Trump's impeachment trial begins today, but you probably won't see much more than TV talking heads as Senate Republicans are limiting the access and scope of the impeachment proceedings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who holds no more power than any other Senator during an impeachment trial -- has spearheaded an effort to stymie the proceedings by ensuring witnesses are not allowed to testify in public, if at all, and have crafted a schedule that condenses everything into a two-week trial to be conducted late into the night.

In addition, the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger has instituted new rules limiting reporters’ access to Senators. Reporters are being confined to small pens when they previously had unrestricted access to walk-and-talk with legislators; reporters are now no longer allowed to even approach Senators. It gets better: In order to reach the Senate Press Gallery, reporters must now pass through a magnetometer, electronic devices have been banned, and the Capitol Police have been passing out phrase cards to Senators to help them deal with the press by saying things like, "Please do not touch me," "Please move out of my way," and "You are preventing me from doing my job." Reporters have protested the restrictions, arguing the strict credentialing process is already thorough.

Lawfare's editors Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic write in The Atlantic that the administration's response to the House's legal brief on impeachment is a series of lengthy and rambling shitposts strung together to resemble sentences. "This document reads like one of the president’s speeches at his campaign rallies, Wittes and Jurecic write, "The language is a little more lawyerly, if only a little," adding that the document amounts to, "Barely contained, and barely coherent, rage: a middle finger stuck at the impeachment process."

Torch / Pitchfork: 2020

Forget about 2020, both Republican and Democratic aligned groups are targeting local state legislative races in 2022. Jacob Fischler writes in Roll Call about a renewed focus on flipping or maintaining control of local legislatures -- particularly in the wake of gerrymandering rulings -- potentially tipping the balance of power statewide, and creating a spillover effect in neighboring states.

The Hollywood Reporter has a new interview with Hillary Clinton in the wake of an upcoming documentary, "Hillary," about the former Secretary's time outside of public office. In the interview, Clinton goes into detail about critical comments she makes in the film about Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders and his supporters treatment of competitors, as well as the people in Trumplandia who think she's the leader of a conspiracy to dethrone Donald Trump. "There are some people who just can't give me up," Clinton jokes, "I live rent-free in his head."

"Mr. Shithole" And Friends

Facebook is apologizing for calling Chinese President Xi Jinping "Mr. Shithole" in a Burmese-to-English translation. The New York Times interviewed a couple of language nerds who said they were unsure if this was an intentional human error, or machine error, noting that Xi's name sounds like "chi kyin phyin," which is (roughly) translated to the Burmese words for, "feces hole buttocks."

Pro-democracy Hong Kongers are still in the streets protesting. Police fired tear gas into a group of protesters who had massed at the Legislative Council building. Authorities say the show of force was in response to plain clothes officers being discovered and subsequently beaten by protesters.

Protesters in France cut power to key sections of the Parisian suburbs for roughly two hours. The symbolic move was, according to protest leaders, an effort to hit the "economic lungs of Europe." People have been protesting a plan to overhaul the country's pension system.

Puerto Ricans are in the streets demanding the resignation of Gov. Wana Vázquez of San Juan after a video depicting a warehouse full of undistributed relief supplies dating back to 2017 was posted to social media. Vázquez has since fired head of Puerto Rico's emergency management agency, Carlos Acevedo. Last week the Trump administration finally released a tranche of more than $8 billion in aid that had been allocated through a Department of Housing and Urban Development disaster recovery fund. The Washington Post notes victims are still waiting for as much as $20 billion in federal funding to aid in reconstruction efforts since 2017.

The U.S. State Department has found Russian-linked social media accounts were involved in campaign of mind fuckery throughout Latin America. The State Department says the campaigns are intended to cause chaos and create dissent against Western interests, but it's still unclear how successful the astroturf campaigns have been. Officials are pointing at Russia's Spanish-speaking state-backed media organizations, RT Español and Sputnik Mundo, as the main drivers of a larger disinformation and propaganda campaign.

It's taken some time to get out to the rest of the world, but Russia is ramping arms sales throughout Southeast Asia. The news was first reported by Russian military newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, and comes as foreign policy nerds bite their fingernails at the increasing number of slap fights in the South China Sea, and random acts of terrorism that have together created a demand for bigger, badder boom sticks. Part of the reason Russia is flooding overseas markets with arms, according to the nerds, is Western sanctions, Washington's tight grip on its own weapons, and Russia's willingness to loan rubles to countries interested in buying Russian weapons.

After Iran was criticized over the weekend for its failure to turn over the black box from Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization walked back comments to turn over the black box to French aviation investigators, saying, "We are trying to read the black boxes here in Iran. Otherwise, our options are Ukraine and France, but no decision has been taken so far to send them to another country." Late this morning Iran's Civil Aviation Organization released a report admitting two Russian-made missiles shot down Flight 752, killing all 176 people aboard, and requested help from the U.S. and France in recovering data from the black box. In a related story, Esmail Qaani, the new head of Iran's Quds Force, says Iran will "firmly" handle with the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, "in a manly fashion."

Germany's foreign minister Heiko Mass criticized the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" policy on Iran during an interview with the German newspaper, Bil am Sonntag. "We should not pretend that an externally induced regime change in Tehran will automatically improve the situation," Mass said. "That has gone badly elsewhere, like in Iraq."

One More Thing...

Ben Brody spent 12 years in Iraq taking pictures, first as a soldier, then as a civilian. His new book, "Attention Servicemember," is a frank look at what three consecutive presidential administrations have tried to hide through a scripted propaganda campaign intended to make soldiers look like superheroes. The New Yorker has a short photoessay featuring some of Brody's work.

Cengiz Yar is a conflict photographer who went to the Middle East to cover the fight against ISIS, the Syrian refugees crisis, and the U.S. decision to sell out its Kurdish allies. In a photoessay in Huck magazine, Yar writes how caring for a small patch of grass at a house shared with other journalists created a sense of stability while a bloody war unfolded around him.

Conflict journalism is a dangerous gig, and many journalists come home haunted. They put their lives on the line to bring you stories from Hell. Remarkable emergency training is being done by groups like RISC and the IWMF to mitigate some of the threats they face in the field. Remember that behind every photo and story from a frontline is an underpaid person busting their ass.

OK, now here's a warm and fuzzy critter video! BABY CHIMPS!

These little guys are rescues from Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection, a West African wildlife refuge specializing wild and orphaned chimps.

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