The Smoke Eater For Jan. 22, 2020

A dump on Davos, "ghost guns," and some poison.

Good morning, this is The Smoke Eater, for Wednesday, January 22, 2020, and the numbers don't add up.

Quick Hit

* Donald takes a dump on Davos * SCOTUS punts Obamcare * Navy nominee sails into hot water * Sen. Josh Hawley: the great, white Republican hope * A voting app for the Nevada caucuses * gun fetishists to play with themselves * MBS stole some dick pics * Poisoning America, one waterway at a time *

: I'm not going to have wall-to-wall coverage of the impeachment saga like every other media outlet. The Smoke Eater is a broad look at the world, not another rehash of reality television. The Smoker Eater is still ad-free and supported by generous readers. If you want to be awesome, tip me on Ko-Fi, or subscribe to my Patreon!

Tariff Man

Donald Trump's trip to Davos seems to be the nightmare fuel most economists had feared. Rather than discuss climate change like the rest of the adults in the room, the self-described "tariff man" again threatened to steep tariffs on European goods, and, for good measure, publicly insulted House Democrats. During an interview with CNBC, Trump said Europe had "no choice" but to cut a deal with his administration. He then showed how little he understands technology by complaining about Apple. [Transcript]

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tells the Wall Street Journal that Italy and Britain could be hit with tariffs if they go ahead with planned taxes on large tech companies. Speaking in Davos, Mnuchin whined, "If people want to just arbitrarily put taxes on our digital companies we will consider arbitrarily putting taxes on car companies." The proposed taxes by the U.K. and other European countries are said to be an effort to force big tech into paying the taxes they've spent years avoiding. Mnuchin also cautioned that the administration's much touted Phase Two trade deal with China might not be the "big bang" some are expecting.

The International Monetary Fund is warning about a "sluggish recovery" for the global economy in its annual World Economic Outlook. The report says risks include weather related disasters, increased geopolitical slap fights, Trump's trade wars, and the potential for bear markets. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva adds that current wealth inequalities are "eerily reminiscent of the 1920s -- high inequality, rapid spread of technology and huge risks and rewards in finance.” Georgieva adds, "For the analogy to stop right there and go no further, acting together in a coordinated manner is absolutely critical."

Witness me!

Late last night the the Senate voted to punt a decision on calling witnesses until later into Trump's impeachment trial, including former national security adviser John Balton, and OMB Director/acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvnaey.

BONUS: The New Yorker has a great interview and photo spread with David Burnett, a photographer who's been present for the impeachment proceedings of three U.S. presidents, as well as Bob Barley, a number of wars, and the Olympics.

Team 'Merica

The Supreme Court punted a case that could decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act ahead of the 2020 election. Political wizards say this is good news for vulnerable Republicans heading into 2020, but it increases pressure for Trump and the Republican states leading the charge against the Obamacare to come up with a replacement plan. In recent days the administration has mischaracterized its actions on the A.C.A.'s rules protecting preexisting conditions, with legal nerds noting the administration has backed multiple Republican efforts to repeal the rules.

The Trump administration's nominee for Navy Secretary, Kenneth Braithwaite, is in hot water after failing to disclose his ties Cambridge Analytica (C.A.) before he was tapped to be the administration's ambassador to Norway in 2017. Braithwaite says he never really worked for C.A., and only provided "advice on an informal basis" while discussions about a possible role with the company were hashed out. State Department legal eagles concur that there wasn't anything hinkey. Ethics nerds say that Braithwaite was still legally obligated to disclose his C.A. connections, and a C.A. whistleblower adds Braithwaite isn't being honest about his ties to the company.

The Election Section

Washington fortune tellers are already grooming the Missouri freshman Republican Sen. Josh Hawley for a possible 2024 run, reports McClatchy. Hawley has made a name for himself through regular appearances on conservative cable news, and by pretending to be aware that the internet is more than series of tubes with a Nazi problem. Republicans see Hawley as the mirror image of Barack Obama, but with a message of gloom and doom (for white people) instead of hope and change.

Amid fears of hacking, the Nevada Democratic caucus says it will use a mobile app on caucus day. The party will still use a pencil and paper to record official results, but it hopes the app will help create a more reliable way to release unofficial information faster. Party officials in both Iowa and Nevada have been keeping details about their respective caucusing apps close to the chest in fear of creating a target for hackers, but security nerds argue techno transparency is always the best medicine. Gotta be honest, I really don't understand the party’s logic here...

NPR has an interview with Shelby Pierson, the intel community's election fuckery expert. Pierson says it's not Russia security geeks are worried about in 2020, "We're still also concerned about China, Iran, non-state actors, 'hacktivists.' And frankly ... even Americans might be looking to undermine confidence in the elections."

All Politics Is Local

Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation restoring driver's licenses to around 55,000 people. The legislation ends the state's practice of suspending a license for unpaid parking tickets and certain moving violations.

The Trump administration is moving ahead with new rules regulating the export of 3-D printed firearms, shifting control from the uptight the State Department to the much more lax Commerce Department. Several states are already planning to drop lawsuits. Maryland, meanwhile, is working to enact stricter regulations on the so-called "ghost guns," as well as expanding a 2013 ban on military-style assault rifles. There's also some debate in the state legislature about a adding geo-locating doo-dads to new guns sold in the state. All this come after a weekend of shootings multiple cities, including Honolulu, San Antonio, Kansas City, Chicago, and a ridiculous rally of gun nuts in various flavors of tacticool cosplay at Virginia's state capitol.


Grab a tea and take a gander at this long read in The Guardian about how the British Labour Party was trounced in the most recent elections. (Take note, America: It wasn't just Jeremy Corbyn, it was also a mixture of infighting, indecision, and incompetence.)

Meanwhile, Brexit is still lurching its way through the British Parliament, and doesn't look like there will be a swift end to the legal shenanigans anytime soon. It now seems like Wilbur Ross was right back in June of 2016 when he predicted Brexit would be a long, expensive divorce as a recent Bloomberg Economics forecast shows Brexit is on track to further hinder the British economy, and dwarf bogus claims made by Nigel Farage and his Brexiteers.

Natasha Bertrand stumbled across another scoop: Russia might have been meddling in Ukraine as far back as 2015, trying to create a false narrative of fuckery against any of their future enemies (read: Hillary Clinton). Of course, anyone who damn near froze to death while fighting in the Maidan back in 2014 might say this particular brand fuckery isn't new.

Iran is threatening to leave a nuclear non-proliferation treaty if Europe snitches to the United Nations.

Violent clashes are continuing between Iraqi police officials and anti-government demonstrators. In addition, three more Russian-made rockets landed inside the Green Zone, reports Reuters.

The Guardian is reporting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman "hacked" a cell phone from Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos in 2018. The U.N. is now calling for an investigation into the incident, saying in a new report that it has "reasonable certainty" MBS was involved, and that the incident warrants "immediate investigation ... of the continuous, multi-year, direct and personal involvement of the Crown Prince in efforts to target perceived opponents."

One More Thing...

Chris Baraniuk has a good piece in Vice about perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) leaking into the water systems around Newburgh, New York, 70 miles north of New York City. The firefighting chemical has been traced to Stewart Air National Guard Base, and has been connected with so many health issues that the DOD created an advisory website last year.

PFOS and its associated chemcial, Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been discovered in private wells and water ways across the country, spurring health advisories and lawsuits. Last year Defense News reported PFOS had been discovered at multiple military bases, and those numbers were only growing upon investigation of so-called "forever chemicals."

Last week a judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a case by two plaintiffs seeking medical monitoring. The judge said PFOS were not yet listed as "hazardous substances" by Pennsylvania's Hazardous Site Cleanup Act, and therefore the plaintiffs were not entitled to medical monitoring.

If any of this sounds familiar it's because PFOS and PFOA were recently the subject of the movie, "Dark Waters," staring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway, about environmental attorney Rob Bilott's 20 year effort to hold a chemical company responsible for the hazardous dumping of PFOA and PFOS.

OK, now here's a warm and fuzzy critter video! IT'S OWLKITTY!

And don't forget to check out the behind-the-scenes video!

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