Cup of Joe – February 5, 2023

Former Vice President Mike Pence, a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, said that he wants to “reform” Social Security and institute private savings accounts for recipients, Yahoo News reports.

Said Pence: “There are modest reforms in entitlements that can be done without disadvantaging anybody at the point of the need. I think the day could come when we could replace the New Deal with a better deal. Literally give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account.”

“A stronger-than-expected jobs report has put the wind at President Biden’s back ahead of his State of the Union address next week, and it could provide additional momentum as he prepares a reelection announcement in the coming weeks,” The Hill reports.

“President Biden plans to call for tougher regulation of Silicon Valley in Tuesday’s State of the Union, leveraging the prime-time spotlight to galvanize Republicans and Democrats against industry abuses and signaling a new priority for his administration in its third year,” the Washington Post reports.

“The focus on tech is likely to be part of the president’s pitch for bipartisanship with a divided Congress, according to four people familiar with the speech who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s plans. The speech will address antitrust enforcement and the tech industry, as well as the need for stronger privacy protections, according to two of the people.”

“Senior advisers to President Joe Biden are expected to gather this weekend at Camp David to sharpen the president’s State of the Union message, which will be delivered Tuesday night,” CBS News reports.

“The United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon on Saturday that had spent the last week traversing the country, American officials said, an explosive end to a drama that put a diplomatic crisis between the world’s two great powers onto television screens in real time,” the New York Times reports.

“The balloon, which spent five days traveling in a diagonal southeast route from Idaho to the Carolinas, had moved off the coast by midday Saturday and was over the Atlantic Ocean.”

President Biden had hinted at the move earlier on Saturday: “We’re going to take care of it.”

“Beijing on Saturday offered a subdued rebuttal to Washington’s decision to delay a high-level visit after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was discovered hovering over the United States, derailing China’s recent efforts to repair its most important bilateral relationship,” the Washington Post reports.

“The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday that the presence of a Chinese airship in U.S. airspace was ‘completely an accident,’ and was caused by westerly winds knocking the balloon off course. It reiterated claims that the balloon was for scientific research such as collecting weather data, and accused ‘some U.S. politicians and media’ of taking advantage of the situation to discredit China, which ‘firmly opposes this.’”

New York Times: “The revelation of the balloon’s location has fueled bipartisan outrage in the United States, including calls to shoot it down, and has given the Biden administration little room to maneuver — even as China uncharacteristically expressed regret for the vessel’s appearance.”

“Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns said on Thursday that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitions toward Taiwan should not be underestimated, despite him likely being sobered by the performance of Russia’s military in Ukraine,” Reuters reports.

“Burns said that the United States knew ‘as a matter of intelligence’ that Xi had ordered his military to be ready to conduct an invasion of self-governed Taiwan by 2027.”

“Did that balloon take off from Wuhan?” — Rep. James Comer (R-KY), on Fox News.

“Long before the leak of a draft opinion reversing Roe v. Wade, some Supreme Court justices often used personal email accounts for sensitive transmissions instead of secure servers set up to guard such information, among other security lapses not made public in the court’s report on the investigation last month,” CNN reports.

“Supreme Court employees also used printers that didn’t produce logs – or were able to print sensitive documents off-site without tracking – and ‘burn bags’ meant to ensure the safe destruction of materials were left open and unattended in hallways.”

“The problem with the justices’ use of emails persisted in part because some justices were slow to adopt to the technology and some court employees were nervous about confronting them to urge them to take precautions.”

“As they prepared to potentially indict Donald Trump for relentlessly lying to banks about his wealth, Manhattan prosecutors were forced to consider whether the former American president was a criminal mastermind or had just lost his mind, according to a new tell-all memoir by a member of that team,” the Daily Beast reports.

“Donald Trump grew his business, fortune and fame ‘through a pattern of criminal activity,’ according to a new book by a veteran prosecutor, who reveals that the Manhattan district attorney’s office once considered charging the former president with racketeering, a law often used against the Mafia,” the New York Times reports.

“The prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, resigned in protest early last year after the newly elected district attorney, Alvin Bragg, decided not to seek an indictment of Mr. Trump at that time.”

Scott Turow: “This engaging book demonstrates how those who can exert substantial power of some kind — through public office, great wealth, control of a crime family — have consistently been able to avoid paying a price for serious wrongdoing. Elie Honig, a former prosecutor and current legal analyst at CNN, recognizes that the theme of Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It is far from revelatory.”

“His emphasis is on the nitty-gritty, the how and why this happens. He is a fluid writer and careful researcher, and even as someone who has taken a professional interest in criminal justice for decades, I was surprised to learn a lot of fascinating tidbits.”

“I had no idea, for example, that, as Honig tells it, in 2012 front-line prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office favored indicting Ivanka Trump and her brother Donald Trump Jr. on criminal fraud charges. According to Honig, the charges were dropped by the district attorney himself, Cyrus Vance Jr., after a visit from Donald Sr.’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, who made a $50,000 donation to Vance’s reelection campaign a few weeks later.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) “reintroduced a bill last week to limit senators from serving more than two six-year terms, even as he stands by plans to run for his third,” the Texas Tribune reports.

“He declined to answer questions about why he would seek a third term in office, given his view about the need to limit how long members should serve.”

New York Times: “The new House Republican majority is again pursuing limits on how long members of Congress can serve, and the result is likely to be the same: failure to garner the votes needed to send a constitutional amendment to the states for approval.”

“But that won’t deter the backers of the plan, who once again say the public is fed up with career politicians and that those who reject term limits do so at their political peril.”

Rolling Stone: “The Manhattan District Attorney’s office right now is laying out its case against Trump, arguing that the $130,000 paid to Daniels, an adult-film actress, in 2016 constituted violations of election and business-records laws. But according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, multiple Trump advisers — including at least one of his lawyers — have told him in recent months that he has a stronger case if he argues the payments had nothing to do with the election. Instead, these advisers would have Trump argue that the payments were entirely about preventing conflict with his wife, Melania.”

“In order to bring felony charges, New York law requires that prosecutors prove defendants falsified records in order to cover up a separate crime. In Trump’s case, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is reportedly attempting to prove that the paperwork detailing Trump’s reimbursement of former fixer Michael Cohen amounted to an effort to cover up an illegal campaign contribution. Trump’s advisers hope that by casting the payments as marriage-related, they could remove any basis for the felony charge Bragg reportedly has in mind.”

“But the argument would leave Trump facing some tough questions. Because if the payments to Daniels had nothing to do with the election, then Trump would have to explain why he was willing to spend six figures to prevent his wife from hearing about an alleged sexual encounter with a porn star — a tryst that he for years has claimed never happened.”

New York Times: “Days before the end of the 2020 presidential race, a team of F.B.I. analysts tried to game out the worst potential outcomes of a disputed election. But of all the scenarios they envisioned, the one they never thought of was the one that came to pass: a violent mob mobilizing in support of former President Donald Trump.”

“A Jan. 6 defendant who sprayed a chemical irritant at about 15 police officers — and later bragged about it in a video interview — was sentenced Wednesday to 68 months in prison,” Politico reports. “This is one of the stiffest Jan. 6 sentences handed down to date.”

Associated Press: “Some defendants have drawn ire from judges or the Justice Department for their inconsistent comments. But there’s not much the legal system can do for an adjudicated defendant. And because some conservatives hold up Jan. 6 defendants as martyrs, there’s a political and possibly financial incentive for them to change their tune.”

“It could push judges to impose stronger punishments for rioters who haven’t yet made it to the end of their criminal cases.”

Washington Post: “Nearly three years since the coronavirus pandemic upended the labor market, restaurants, bars, hotels and casinos remain short-staffed, with nearly 2 million unfilled openings. The leisure and hospitality industry, which before the pandemic accounted for much of the country’s job growth, is still short roughly 500,000 employees from 2020 levels, even as many other sectors have recovered.”

“But these workers didn’t disappear. A lot of them… who were laid off early in the pandemic, moved to behind-the-scenes office work where they are more likely to have increased flexibility, stability and often better pay.”

David Weigel: “You’d be forgiven if you missed Donald Trump’s new plan to stop ‘left-wing gender insanity.’ Other Republicans had talked like this for years, and far more media attention went to, say, Ron Desantis getting the College Board to take left-wing voices out of an African American Studies course.”

“But to both LGBT advocates and social conservatives, Trump’s policy rollout was a watershed moment, one that signaled a hard right turn from debates focused on transitioning youth to a broader attack on the very concept of transgender identity itself…”

“Trump’s early emphasis on gender identity in this campaign has also surprised some conservatives, who are delighted that the 2024 presidential race is shaping up into a race to the right on the issue.”

Zeynep  Tufekci: “Bird flu — known more formally as avian influenza — has long hovered on the horizons of scientists’ fears. This pathogen, especially the H5N1 strain, hasn’t often infected humans, but when it has, 56 percent of those known to have contracted it have died. Its inability to spread easily, if at all, from one person to another has kept it from causing a pandemic.”

“But things are changing. The virus, which has long caused outbreaks among poultry, is infecting more and more migratory birds, allowing it to spread more widely, even to various mammals, raising the risk that a new variant could spread to and among people.”

“Alarmingly, it was recently reported that a mutant H5N1 strain was not only infecting minks at a fur farm in Spain but also most likely spreading among them, unprecedented among mammals.”

Ali Vaez: “The Islamic Republic is now where the Soviet Union was in the early 1980s. The system is ideologically bankrupt, at a political dead end, and incapable of addressing its structural economic and societal troubles. It still has the will to fight, as evidenced by its brutal response to the uprisings. But no amount of force will end the standoff with its people, which is primarily the result of the regime’s failures across the board. There is little left of the promises made during the 1979 revolution to build a shining, pious city on a hill.”

“In practice, the regime has created a militarized republic of fear in which mediocrity is glorified and mendacity institutionalized. The Islamic Republic’s architects vowed there would be egalitarian prosperity for all, but instead, they delivered affluence for a few and ruined what was once a booming economy. They promised paradise on earth and then dried out the land and polluted the air, imperiling a civilization that has survived for 7,000 years.”

“The Islamic Republic is now a hollow misnomer. It is a theocracy that has inadvertently secularized the population. It is a republic that has demolished the participatory base it once used to legitimize its rule. By gradually tightening his circle of insiders, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has sidelined an increasing number of the original revolutionaries and other politicians who sought to put the system on a better path.”

“The Biden administration transferred a detainee from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Thursday and is preparing to transfer at least two more in the coming weeks,” NBC News reports.

A group of Hispanic lawmakers in Connecticut has proposed that the state follow Arkansas’ lead and ban the term “Latinx” from official government documents, calling it offensive to Spanish speakers, the AP reports.

“Extremists raised more than $6.2 million on crowdfunding websites from 2016 to 2022,” USA Today reports.  “Researchers tracked campaigns across 10 different crowdfunding sites. Most were housed on GiveSendGo, a ‘Christian crowdfunding’ website founded in 2014. GiveSendGo campaigns accounted for $5.4 million of the total fundraising tallied by the group.”

“Tighter restrictions applied by the Biden administration against migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti along the southern border last month led to a precipitous drop in the number of people from those countries crossing into the United States illegally,” the Washington Post reports.

“Illegal crossings by migrants from the four countries were down more than 95 percent.”

The Economist: “Peru is suffering an explosion of conflict on the streets of the kind experienced in Chile in 2019, in Colombia in 2021 and in Ecuador last year. Peru’s has been especially violent, seditious and dangerous. It also has a racial edge: the country’s indigenous population has long been disadvantaged and has been at the forefront of the protests.”

“At stake is whether democracy can survive. The society has become so polarised that some Peruvians talk of an impending civil war, far-fetched though that seems.”

North Korea said Thursday it’s prepared to counter U.S. military moves with the “most overwhelming nuclear force” as it warned that the expansion of the United States’ military exercises with rival South Korea is pushing tensions to an “extreme red line,” the AP reports.

“Companies from around the world are moving production and equipment to Mexico as they seek a manufacturing hub closer to the U.S., part of a broader shift in global trade,” the Wall Street Journal reports.  “Some companies are relocating from Asia, while others are investing millions of dollars to raise output of goods that are exported tariff-free to the U.S.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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