President Mnangagwa & General Chiwenga fight gets serious, Chris Mutsvangwa attacks Chiwenga (PIC) | My Zimbabwe News

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President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ally Chris Mutsvangwa ranted against Vice President Constantino Chiwenga in a chance encounter with the MDC leader, Nelson Chamisa, ZimLive can reveal.

The shock development comes as the Zanu PF Youth League has recently become vocal against “cartels”, seen as a precursor to an all-out war with Chiwenga by first targeting his financial backer, Kudakwashe Tagwirei, an influential player in the petroleum industry.

Chamisa was at the Robert Mugabe International Airport on January 29 ahead of a trip to South Africa when he came across the chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association who was also at the airport on undisclosed business.

Two sources who witnessed the encounter said Mutsvangwa initially requested a photo to be taken with Chamisa, before launching into an unrestrained attack on Chiwenga, Mnangagwa’s ambitious deputy.

“He told Chamisa to disengage from Chiwenga, stating that the former army general was claiming influence that he did not have, both in the military and Zanu PF,” one source said.

Chamisa reportedly expressed surprise that Mutsvangwa was associating him with Chiwenga, remarking: “You are donating me to Chiwenga, and Chiwenga donates me to you. Which is which?”

Mutsvangwa did not care who was listening, another source who witnessed the encounter said. The war vets chief, said the source, appeared convinced that Chamisa was open to a political alliance with Chiwenga.

“He was particularly dismissive of Chiwenga, questioning his fitness for higher office,” the source, who had just walked over to greet Chamisa, told ZimLive.

Referring to Chiwenga’s nasty divorce from his former model wife, Marry Mubaiwa, Mutsvangwa told Chamisa: “Don’t be fooled by a man who has a pr0stitute running rings around him.”

Chamisa reportedly asked “who’s the pr0stitute, and who’s the man?” before the two men separated, both laughing.

The encounter reveals deepening divisions in Zanu PF, with two distinct factions – one led by Mnangagwa and the other by General Chiwenga – each seeking to take decisive control of the party before the next elections in 2023.

Chiwenga was the army general who led a coup against the former late president Robert Mugabe in November 2017. He recalled Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy, from exile to make him president in a bid to sanitise the coup.

But the two men have differed sharply after Mnangagwa claimed victory in a presidential election in August 2018 by just over 35,000 votes. Chiwenga’s camp says the 76-year-old Zanu PF leader is unelectable and has failed to effectively run the country, imperilling their project with the lurking dangers of a popular uprising or annihilation in a future election.

Mnangagwa, through his son Emmerson Junior, has reportedly engaged the Zanu PF Youth League to push back against Chiwenga.

Youth League deputy secretary Lewis Matutu and Godfrey Tsenengamu, the political commissar, have taken to social media to launch thinly-veiled attacks on Sakunda Holdings boss, Tagwirei, believed to be Chiwenga’s moneyman.

Tagwirei, the local partner of global commodities trader, Trafigura, is accused of running a near monopoly in the petroleum industry and fleecing the state through the opaque Command Agriculture scheme run by Sakunda.

A parliamentary committee says agriculture ministry officials have failed to account for US$3 billion expenditure on the scheme, and Tagwirei has refused to testify before parliament.

Writing on Facebook on January 29, Matutu said: “How can a few individuals prosper on majority’s tears?”

Avoiding naming Tagwirei, he added in another post on January 31: “We will be judged by our deeds as a generation. Personally, l refuse to be amongst the cursed ones simply because l would have ignored evil things happening whilst watching and right now l have an opportunity to make things right #cartelsmustfall.”

Tsenengamu, also taking to Facebook, said: “We will pay the price, either for fighting the blood-sucking cartels or for smiling at them while they suffocate us. I choose to fight.”

Tsenengamu said Zimbabwe was being destroyed “not by those few who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing something positive.”

“Monday is the day #CartelsMustFall,” he wrote on January 31, hinting strongly that the Youth League would pursue some action soon.

Zanu PF sources told ZimLive that Matutu was also personally angry after recently going to the party’s secretary for administration, Obert Mpofu, to demand that he be issued a Toyota Land Cruiser “like all other politburo secretaries”, and being rebuffed.

All Zanu PF secretaries in the politburo had Land Cruisers purchased for them by Tagwirei, and if Matutu had been granted his wish, the party would have turned to the Sakunda boss who has used his vast fortune to buy influence.

The convergence between Matutu and Tsenengamu has surprised some, who say the two men have rarely been aligned.

“It shouldn’t surprise anyone, however, because Tsenengamu will do anything for money or a voucher. He’s shamelessly unscrupulous. For a thousand dollars, he would slap the president, he’s that sort of guy,” a member of the Youth League said.

Mnangagwa’s son, Emmerson Junior, is reportedly pulling the financial strings on the Youth League to do his father’s bidding.

Mnangagwa has identified Tagwirei – whose accounts were temporarily frozen by the Reserve Bank last year over allegations that he was manipulating the local currency – as the power behind Chiwenga, and hopes by targeting him, he would leave his 63-year-old deputy financially weaker and unable to mount any challenge to his rule.

The Zanu PF leader has, since taking power in 2017, been reorganising the military top brass and retiring other senior officers in moves aimed at diminishing Chiwenga’s influence.

The Zimbabwe Independent reported on Friday that “an unsettled Mnangagwa” had made moves to “coup-proof” his regime by changing the commanders of the Presidential Guard, the infantry battalion which, together with the Mechanised Brigade, played a critical role in the 2017 military coup that toppled Mugabe.

The Presidential Guard, responsible for providing protection to the president and securing Harare, is a specialised force trained to fight in built up areas. It consists of two battalions, the 1 PG Battalion commonly known as State House Battalion, and the 2 PG Battalion situated in Dzivaresekwa.

Mnangagwa has named Lieutenant-Colonel Alison Chicha as the commander of 2 PG Battalion, replacing Lieutenant-Colonel Regis Mangezi, who moves over to command the 1 PG Battalion. Mangezi takes over from Lieutenant-Colonel Solomon Murombo, removed from the unit after he clashed with Mnangagwa’s wife – an incident caught on a leaked audio tape.

Mnangagwa’s wife, Auxillia, accused Murombo of spying on her and plotting to kill the president. Her outburst betrayed the first family’s fears and concerns about their security. Murombo has been shunted off to Zimbabwe Defence House, the military headquarters.

— ZimLive

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Facebook keeps policy protecting political ads | ABS-CBN News

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Facebook logos are seen on a screen in this picture illustration taken Dec. 2, 2019. Johanna Geron, Reuters/file

SAN FRANCISCO — Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.

The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.

Reaction to Facebook’s policy broke down largely along party lines.

The Trump campaign, which has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform, largely supported Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeting ads or to set fact-checking standards.

“Our ads are always accurate so it’s good that Facebook won’t limit political messages because it encourages more Americans to be involved in the process,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “This is much better than the approaches from Twitter and Google, which will lead to voter suppression.”

Democratic presidential candidates and outside groups decried the decision.

“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Warren, who has been among the most critical of Facebook and regularly calls for major tech companies to be broken up, reiterated her stance that the social media company should face tougher policies.

The Biden campaign was similarly critical. The campaign has confronted Facebook over an ad run by President Donald Trump’s campaign that attacked Joe Biden’s record on Ukraine.

“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Biden, said in a statement. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”

But many Democratic groups willing to criticize Facebook had to walk a fine line; they have pushed for more regulation when it comes to fact-checking political ads, but they have been adamantly opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features.

On Thursday, some Democratic outside groups welcomed Facebook’s decision not to limit micro-targeting, but still thought the policy fell short.

“These changes read to us mostly as a cover for not making the change that is most vital: ensuring politicians are not allowed to use Facebook as a tool to lie to and manipulate voters,” said Madeline Kriger, who oversees digital ad buying at Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC.

Other groups, however, said Facebook had been more thoughtful about political ads than its industry peers.

“Facebook opted against limiting ad targeting, because doing so would have unnecessarily restricted a valuable tool that campaigns of all sizes rely on for fundraising, registering voters, building crowds and organizing volunteers,” said Tara McGowan, chief executive of Acronym, a non-profit group that works on voter organization and progressive causes.

Facebook has played down the business opportunity in political ads, saying the vast majority of its revenue came from commercial, not political, ads. But lawmakers have noted that Facebook ads could be a focal point of Trump’s campaign as well as those of top Democrats.

Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the reelection of Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.

Criticism seemed to stiffen Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.

There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Trump.

But Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Trump’s reelection, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.

For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this, the better.”

2020 The New York Times Company

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Why the fight against disinformation, sham accounts and trolls won’t be any easier in 2020

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The big tech companies have announced aggressive steps to keep trolls, bots and online fakery from marring another presidential election — from Facebook’s removal of billions of fake accounts to Twitter’s spurning of all political ads.

But it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election. Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016. Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them — at times drawing flak from both Democrats and Republicans as a result.

This is our roundup of some of the evolving challenges Silicon Valley faces as it tries to counter online lies and bad actors heading into the 2020 election cycle:

1) American trolls may be a greater threat than Russians

Russia-backed trolls notoriously flooded social media with disinformation around the presidential election in 2016, in what Robert Mueller’s investigators described as a multimillion-dollar plot involving years of planning, hundreds of people and a wave of fake accounts posting news and ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube.

This time around — as experts have warned — a growing share of the threat is likely to originate in America.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election, with the majority of it being generated right here in the United States, as opposed to coming from overseas,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Barrett, the author of a recent report on 2020 disinformation, noted that lies and misleading claims about 2020 candidates originating in the U.S. have already spread across social media. Those include manufactured sex scandals involving South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a smear campaign calling Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “not an American black” because of her multiracial heritage. (The latter claim got a boost on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr.)

Before last year’s midterm elections, Americans similarly amplified fake messages such as a “#nomenmidterms” hashtag that urged liberal men to stay home from the polls to make “a Woman’s Vote Worth more.” Twitter suspended at least one person — actor James Woods — for retweeting that message.

“A lot of the disinformation that we can identify tends to be domestic,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project. “Just regular private citizens leveraging the Russian playbook, if you will, to create … a divisive narrative, or just mixing factual reality with made-up facts.”

Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to reflect a rise in disinformation campaigns run by non-state actors, domestic groups and companies. But people tracking the spread of fakery say it remains a problem, especially inside closed groups like those popular on Facebook.

2) And policing domestic content is tricky

U.S. law forbids foreigners from taking part in American political campaigns — a fact that made it easy for members of Congress to criticize Facebook for accepting rubles as payment for political ads in 2016.

But Americans are allowed, even encouraged, to partake in their own democracy — which makes things a lot more complicated when they use social media tools to try to skew the electoral process. For one thing, the companies face a technical challenge: Domestic meddling doesn’t leave obvious markers such as ads written in broken English and traced back to Russian internet addresses.

More fundamentally, there’s often no clear line between bad-faith meddling and dirty politics. It’s not illegal to run a mud-slinging campaign or engage in unscrupulous electioneering. And the tech companies are wary of being seen as infringing on American’s right to engage in political speech — all the more so as conservatives such as President Donald Trump accuse them of silencing their voices.

Plus, the line between foreign and domestic can be blurry. Even in 2016, the Kremlin-backed troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency relied on Americans to boost their disinformation. Now, claims with hazy origins are being picked up without need for a coordinated 2016-style foreign campaign. Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who has spent recent years focused on online disinformation, points to Trump’s promotion of the theory that Ukraine significantly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, a charge that some experts trace back to Russian security forces.

“It’s hard to know if something is foreign or domestic,” said Rosenberg, once it “gets swept up in this vast ‘Wizard of Oz’-like noise machine.”

3) Bad actors are learning

Experts agree on one thing: The election interference tactics that social media platforms encounter in 2020 will look different from those they’ve trying to fend off since 2016.

“What we’re going to see is the continued evolution and development of new approaches, new experimentation trying to see what will work and what won’t,” said Lee Foster, who leads the information operations intelligence analysis team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Foster said the “underlying motivations” of undermining democratic institutions and casting doubt on election results will remain constant, but the trolls have already evolved their tactics.

For instance, they’ve gotten better at obscuring their online activity to avoid automatic detection, even as social media platforms ramp up their use of artificial intelligence software to dismantle bot networks and eradicate inauthentic accounts.

“One of the challenges for the platforms is that, on the one hand, the public understandably demands more transparency from them about how they take down or identify state-sponsored attacks or how they take down these big networks of authentic accounts, but at the same time they can’t reveal too much at the risk of playing into bad actors’ hands,” said Oxford’s Marchal.

Researchers have already observed extensive efforts to distribute disinformation through user-generated posts — known as “organic” content — rather than the ads or paid messages that were prominent in the 2016 disinformation campaigns.

Foster, for example, cited trolls impersonating journalists or other more reliable figures to give disinformation greater legitimacy. And Marchal noted a rise in the use of memes and doctored videos, whose origins can be difficult to track down. Jesse Littlewood, vice president at advocacy group Common Cause, said social media posts aimed at voter suppression frequently appear no different from ordinary people sharing election updates in good faith — messages such as “you can text your vote” or “the election’s a different day” that can be “quite harmful.”

Tech companies insist they are learning, too. Since the 2016 election, Google, Facebook and Twitter have devoted security experts and engineers to tackling disinformation in national elections across the globe, including the 2018 midterms in the United States. The companies say they have gotten better at detecting and removing fake accounts, particularly those engaged in coordinated campaigns.

But other tactics may have escaped detection so far. NYU’s Barrett noted that disinformation-for-hire operations sometimes employed by corporations may be ripe for use in U.S. politics, if they’re not already.

He pointed to a recent experiment conducted by the cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, which said it paid two shadowy Russian “threat actors” a total of just $6,050 to generate media campaigns promoting and trashing a fictitious company. Barrett said the project was intended “to lure out of the shadows firms that are willing to do this kind of work,” and demonstrated how easy it is to generate and sow disinformation.

Real-life examples include a hyper-partisan skewed news operation started by a former Fox News executive and Facebook’s accusations that an Israeli social media company profited from creating hundreds of fake accounts. That “shows that there are firms out there that are willing and eager to engage in this kind of underhanded activity,” Barrett said.

4) Not all lies are created equal

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are largely united in trying to take down certain kinds of false information, such as targeted attempts to drive down voter turnout. But their enforcement has been more varied when it comes to material that is arguably misleading.

In some cases, the companies label the material factually dubious or use their algorithms to limit its spread. But in the lead-up to 2020, the companies’ rules are being tested by political candidates and government leaders who sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

“A lot of the mainstream campaigns and politicians themselves tend to rely on a mix of fact and fiction,” Marchal said. “It’s often a lot of … things that contain a kernel of truth but have been distorted.”

One example is the flap over a Trump campaign ad — which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and some television networks — suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into firing a prosecutor to squelch an investigation into an energy company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, the Obama administration and multiple U.S. allies had pushed for removing the prosecutor for slow-walking corruption investigations. The ad “relies on speculation and unsupported accusations to mislead viewers,” the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org concluded.

The debate has put tech companies at the center of a tug of war in Washington. Republicans have argued for more permissive rules to safeguard constitutionally protected political speech, while Democrats have called for greater limits on politicians’ lies.

Democrats have especially lambasted Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads, and have criticized Twitter for letting politicians lie in their tweets and Google for limiting candidates’ ability to finely tune the reach of their advertising — all examples, the Democrats say, of Silicon Valley ducking the fight against deception.

Jesse Blumenthal, who leads the tech policy arm of the Koch-backed Stand Together coalition, said expecting Silicon Valley to play truth cop places an undue burden on tech companies to litigate messy disputes over what’s factual.

“Most of the time the calls are going to be subjective, so what they end up doing is putting the platforms at the center of this rather than politicians being at the center of this,” he said.

Further complicating matters, social media sites have generally granted politicians considerably more leeway to spread lies and half-truths through their individual accounts and in certain instances through political ads. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an October speech at Georgetown University in which he defended his company’s policy.

But Democrats say tech companies shouldn’t profit off false political messaging.

“I am supportive of these social media companies taking a much harder line on what content they allow in terms of political ads and calling out lies that are in political ads, recognizing that that’s not always the easiest thing to draw those distinctions,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told POLITICO.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Democrats hold on to Louisiana governor’s seat despite Trump | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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BATON ROUGE, La. >> Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has stunned Republicans again, narrowly winning a second term today as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor and handing Donald Trump another gubernatorial loss this year.

In the heart of Trump country, the moderate Edwards cobbled together enough cross-party support with his focus on bipartisan, state-specific issues to defeat Republican businessman Eddie Rispone.

Coming after a defeat in the Kentucky governor’s race and sizable losses in Virginia’s legislative races, the Louisiana result seems certain to rattle Republicans as they head into the 2020 presidential election. Trump fought to return the seat to the GOP, making three trips to Louisiana to rally against Edwards.

In a victory rally of his own late today, Edwards thanked supporters who chanted the familiar Louisiana refrain, “Who dat!” and he declared, “How sweet it is!”

He added, “And as for the president, God bless his heart” — a phrase often used by genteel Southerners to politely deprecate someone.

Trump had made the runoff election between Edwards and Rispone a test of his own popularity and political prowess heading into the 2020 presidential race. Today Trump went on Twitter in a vigorous plug for Rispone.

The president’s intense attention motivated not only conservative Republicans, but also powered a surge in anti-Trump and black voter turnout that helped Edwards.

Democrats who argue that nominating a moderate presidential candidate is the best approach to beat Trump are certain to point to Louisiana’s race as bolstering their case. Edwards, a West Point graduate, opposes gun restrictions, signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans and dismissed the impeachment effort as a distraction.

Still, while Rispone’s loss raises questions about the strength of Trump’s coattails, its relevance to his reelection chances are less clear. Louisiana is expected to easily back Trump next year, and Edwards’ views in many ways are out of step with his own party.

In the final days as polls showed Edwards with momentum, national Republicans beefed up assistance for Rispone. That wasn’t enough to boost the GOP contender, who wasn’t among the top-tier candidates Republican leaders hoped would challenge Edwards as they sought to prove that the Democrat’s longshot victory in 2015 was a fluke.

He had ties to unpopular former Gov. Bobby Jindal and offered few details about his agenda. Edwards also proved to be a formidable candidate, with a record of achievements.

Working with the majority-Republican Legislature, Edwards stabilized state finances with a package of tax increases, ending the deficit-riddled years of Jindal. New money paid for investments in public colleges and the first statewide teacher raise in a decade.

Edwards expanded Louisiana’s Medicaid program, lowering the state’s uninsured rate below the national average. A bipartisan criminal sentencing law rewrite he championed ended Louisiana’s tenure as the nation’s top jailer.

Rispone, the 70-year-old owner of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, hitched his entire candidacy to Trump, introducing himself to voters in ads that focused on support for the president in a state Trump won by 20 percentage points.

But the 53-year-old Edwards, a former state lawmaker and former Army Ranger from rural Tangipahoa Parish, reminded voters that he’s a Louisiana Democrat, with political views that sometimes don’t match his party’s leaders.

“They talk about I’m some sort of a radical liberal. The people of Louisiana know better than that. I am squarely in the middle of the political spectrum,” Edwards said. “That hasn’t changed, and that’s the way we’ve been governing.”

Rispone framed himself in the mold of Trump, describing himself as a “conservative outsider” whose business acumen would help solve the state’s problems.

“We want Louisiana to be No. 1 in the South when it comes to jobs and opportunity. We have to do something different,” Rispone said. “We can do for Louisiana what President Trump has done for the nation.”

Rispone poured more than $12 million of his own money into the race. But he had trouble drawing some of the primary vote that went to Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, after harshly attacking Abraham in ads as he sought to reach the runoff.

Rispone also avoided many traditional public events attended by Louisiana gubernatorial candidates and sidestepped questions about his plans when taking office. He promised tax cuts, without saying where he’d shrink spending, and he pledged a constitutional convention, without detailing what he wanted to rewrite.

Both parties spent millions on attack ads and get-out-the-vote work, on top of at least $36 million spent by candidates.

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The Trump-Ukraine scandal is a taste of how dirty the US elections will get | Richard Wolffe

If youre wondering what the next 14 months of the presidential election looks like, you are already looking at it

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America has a grand tradition of the brazenly dumb criminal: the kind who is so desperately needy that he brags about his guilt.

Back in the earliest days of the new media known as newspapers, a certain Chicago mob boss rose to fame by calling a press conference to proclaim everyone elses guilt, if not exactly his innocence.

Al Capone claimed he played no role in the gunning down of a young states attorney called Bill McSwiggin. In fact he said he could have killed him any time but preferred to keep him alive. I paid McSwiggin, Capone said. I paid him plenty and I got what I was paying for.

Sure enough, Capone was cleared of the murder and became the darling of an insatiable press pack. If you dont act guilty, will anyone really think youre guilty? Especially if everyone else is guilty too.

Almost a century later, Donald Trump has cornered the Scarface strategy. If he didnt think neo-Nazis were very fine people, Trump could win a Maccabiah medal for chutzpah.

In some corner of his orange-tipped cranium there are surely a handful of brain cells that are fully aware that his entire family has engaged with foreign dictators and their oligarchs for personal profit.

But the rest of Trumps brain is an irony-free zone entirely empty of self-awareness. So he and much of his Cabinet fanned out across the gullible media to proclaim everyone elses guilt in a Ukraine scandal that would normally lead to certain impeachment.

To be clear, the only scandal involving Ukraine is that Trump openly admits that he repeatedly pressed a foreign leader for dirt on his political opponents ahead of a presidential election. For the second election in a row. Only this time, he could use the promise of military and foreign aid to grease his request.

Its worth quoting Trumps bizarre explanation of this gambit in full, describing his call to the newly-elected president of Ukraine as follows: The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, he told reporters on Sunday. It was largely corruption. All of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we dont want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.

Now Donald Trump is something of an expert in corruption, if not creating to the corruption. It takes a great deal of creativity to get your own vice-president to stay at your Irish hotel when its 180 miles away from his meetings in Dublin. You cant even conceive of the creativity needed to explain away the US Air Force staying at a luxury golf resort in Scotland that just happens to be another Trump property.

Trumps excuse was that he knew nothing about the military staying at his hotel, and had nothing to do with Mike Pences long commute from Doonbeg to Dublin. So what if Pences chief of staff said Trump had made a suggestion about the stay? He just had great taste like the military that loves Turnberry so much.

Trump apparently knows nothing about his own officials lining his own pockets. But he does know a thing or two about Ukraine.

It was at his own convention in 2016 when his own campaign chairman changed his own party platform to weaken US support for Ukraine against Russias annexation of Crimea and its interference in Ukraines politics.

Ukraine has got a lot of problems, Trump explained to reporters. The new president is saying that hes going to be able to rid the country of corruption. And I said that would be a great thing. We had a great conversation. We backed I backed Ukraine from the beginning.

Amnesia is a terrible problem for todays world leaders. Especially the morally dubious ones who are either too brazen or too lazy to think of a decent excuse.

Somehow Trump has forgotten about how bad a liar his lawyer is, or why Ukraine is even enmeshed in the multiple scandals that would lead to the impeachment of any other president.

Would Trump let Rudy Giuliani testify to Congress about his own efforts?

Oh I would have no problem with it, he told reporters on Sunday. Rudy is a very straight shooter. And Rudy wants to see the same thing as a lot of other people with respect to your Ukraine. Ukraine has had a tremendous corruption problem. Somehow they were involved in a lot of different things that took place in our country, and hopefully it can be straightened out.

Hopefully we can straighten this out for you, Mr President. Rudy shoots so straight that he can break land speed records for lying on national television. Did he ask Ukraines government to investigate Joe Biden? No, actually I didnt, he told CNN, before admitting 30 seconds later, of course I did.

Somehow Ukraine was involved in a lot of things in American politics, Mr President. Most of them involving Paul Manafort, your old campaign chairman, now serving time in jail for tax evasion on all the cash he made from Ukraines former president. The one supported by Vladimir Putin, whom you asked for help to hack into the emails of your opponents in the last election during a press conference.

It was a perfect call. A perfect call, Trump said on Sunday. What wasnt perfect is the horrible thing that Joe Biden said. And now he made it a lie when he said he never spoke to his son. I mean, give me a break. Hes already said he spoke to his son. And now he said, yesterday, very firmly. Who wouldnt speak to your son? Of course you spoke to your son. So he made the mistake of saying he never spoke to his son. He spoke to his son.

The son thing is troubling, Mr President. Troubling because you sound unhinged.

But more importantly, Trump continued, what he said about the billions of dollars that he wouldnt give them unless they fired the prosecutor. And then he bragged about how they fired the prosecutor and they got the money.

Oh yes. The money thing. Its a beauty. Biden is smeared by the most braggadociously corrupt president for pushing Ukraine to have a prosecutor who will fight corruption.

It may be no surprise that Trump is circling the drain while clinging on to his own dizzy conspiracies. His election prospects are miserable and he desperately needs another looney-tuned cartoon like the Clinton email saga.

But its still surprising to see his secretary of state and Treasury secretary peddling the same smear as if it was just another Sunday talk show subject.

Is there anyone left with any self-respect in the Republican party? Step forward Mitt Romney, the former Republican nominee and now Utah senator. No really, step forward.

If the President asked or pressured Ukraines president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out, Romney tweeted.

Damn the torpedoes. The senator is extremely troubled, if not rather exercised, by the possibility of something that Trump and Giuliani have already admitted on camera.

If youre wondering what the next 14 months of the presidential election looks like, you are already looking at it. The poor citizens of Ukraine have been looking at it for the last five years, ever since Russian troops marched in and unleashed their disinformation on an unsuspecting world.

Like Vladimir Putin, Al Capone knew that dont have to be smart to get away with murder. You just have to confuse everyone about what guilt looks like.

  • Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist

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Russia and 2020 Elections

One week after Robert Mueller’s testimony shined a spotlight, once again, on election interference, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is feeling the heat. The leader turned heads on the Senate floor Monday as he rose to decry critics who have dubbed him “a Russian asset” and “Moscow Mitch” for stonewalling congressional measures to improve election security. And with momentum building in the House to formally start impeachment proceedings against President Trump, the pressure is unlikely to let up anytime soon.

Focusing on election interference from 2016 is backwards thinking, though, at least according to Virginia Senator Mark Warner. With 2020 just around the corner, he tells WIRED—in an exclusive interview—that the upcoming election is where both parties need to direct their attention right now.

As the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner has long been a vocal proponent of new legislation to strengthen election protections, such as the Honest Ad Act, which would compel Silicon Valley firms to disclose when political ads are paid for by a foreign nation. He’s also behind a bill that would require campaigns to alert federal officials if they’re approached by a foreign operative offering information or other assistance. Both bills have bipartisan support—Senator Susan Collins became the first Republican to cosponsor the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act earlier this week.

Even as GOP leaders try to position election security as a partisan issue, Warner—a former governor of Virginia and a cofounder of the firm that eventually became Nextel—has maintained the respect of his colleagues across the aisle. But his frustration seems to be growing, especially now that Trump has tapped Representative John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to be his next director of national intelligence. Unlike Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has already come out opposed to Ratcliffe, Warner tells WIRED he’s still got some patience left. Even if it’s wearing thin.

This transcript is slightly edited for length and clarity.

WIRED: After Mueller testified, the president and Republicans say case closed. What do you make of that?

Mark Warner: I’m not here to relitigate 2016, or the Mueller testimony, specifically. I would point out, out of the Mueller investigation: 37 indictments, the president’s national security adviser pled guilty. The president’s campaign manager pled guilty. The president’s deputy campaign manager pled guilty. The president’s chief political adviser is coming to trial in the fall, Roger Stone. The attorney general had to resign. There were literally hundreds of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

That’s not normal. And I think the biggest takeaway from the Mueller testimony was that the Russians who attacked us in 2016 are still attacking us and, in Bob Mueller’s words, on a daily basis. You combine that with the warnings from Trump’s own FBI director [Christopher Wray] and Trump’s own director of national intelligence [Dan Coats]. And one of the things that concerns me the greatest is that we’ve not done more to protect the integrity of our election system in 2020.

I was just talking to your [Intelligence Committee] cochair, Senator [Richard] Burr, and he was saying the states in 2018 weathered these attacks, the national infrastructure is good on election security. Basically, case closed, again, not much more is needed.

I think everyone picked up their game in 2018, including the Department of Homeland Security, and our intelligence community was more active as well. But the intelligence community’s own reporting was that Russia didn’t throw its full force of efforts in 2018. Chances are they’ll reserve those for the presidential election. So I think there is some low-hanging fruit that would get 75 votes on the floor of the Senate—if we could get these bills to the floor of the Senate.

I think there ought to be an affirmative obligation that if a foreign government, the Kremlin, offers you campaign help, your obligation ought to be not to say thank you, but to report to the FBI. I think we ought to make sure that every polling station in America has a paper ballot backup, so that if a machine was hacked, you’ve still got ability to protect the integrity of the voting system. And I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t think we need some basic guard rails around the manipulation of Facebook, Twitter, and Google by foreign entities and others. So at least there ought to be the requirement that if somebody advertises on a political basis on Facebook, but in truth it’s a foreign government, they ought to have the same disclosure requirements as somebody who advertises on radio or television.

Isn’t it a little bit ironic that in this highly digital era, we’re going back to paper ballots?

I think we need to make sure that we use the best technology, but if technology, as we see from banks this week, can continue to be hacked into, if voting machines are not as protected as needed, if the private companies who control the voter files could have their information moved around … You don’t need to change votes to cause chaos. I think people’s overall confidence in the system goes up if there is that back check of having a paper ballot backup. Again, this is not saying we wouldn’t still use voting machines, but across the election community everyone believes it’s safer if you have that paper ballot backup that goes along with the voting counting machines.

And now we know we’re getting attacked, cybersecurity is on the top of many minds. And then the president this week announced he’s nominating Representative John Ratcliffe to be DNI, who seems like more of a politician and a Trump supporter than someone from the intel community. Does that worry you?

It worries me greatly. The irony is that Donald Trump’s appointees in the intel world—his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats; his director of the FBI, Chris Wray, his director of the CIA, Gina Haspel—have been pretty good about speaking truth to power, even when Trump did not want to hear the truth. They’ve been very good at not allowing America’s intelligence to get politicized—while I’m going to give Mr. Ratcliffe the courtesy of a meeting, I fear that he is being appointed in the mold of a Bill Barr, the attorney general, who basically is simply a loyalist first to Donald Trump and doesn’t maintain that kind of independence.

If there’s ever been a time when everyone says that Russians and others will be back, when we’ve got as many potential conflict spots around the world, we need to make sure that the head of our national intelligence is not going to politicize the intelligence. That intelligence product goes to our military, it goes to the executive, it goes to us in the Congress. It cannot be a political product. And we’ve got to make sure that the intelligence community is going to be willing to speak truth to power, and that means telling Donald Trump the truth, even if he doesn’t want to hear it. And so far it appears to me that Mr. Ratcliffe, who doesn’t have much experience and who seems—based upon press reports—that his audition was based on questioning Mueller and questioning the legitimacy of the Russian’s intervention in our electoral system, is pretty chilling.

What do you see as the biggest threats—or are there any new threats—facing America in 2020?

So I think there are a couple of new threats. One, Russia in 2016 was surprised at how vulnerable our systems were, our electoral systems. And how easy Facebook and Twitter and YouTube were to be manipulated. So I think that playbook is now out there, they’ve used the same tactics in the Brexit vote [and] the French presidential elections. So my fear is we may not only see Russia, we can see Iran, we could potentially see China, who has a great deal of control over a number of their Chinese tech companies, start to use these tools because they’re cheap and effective. I like to point out that if you add up all Russia spent in the Brexit vote, the French presidential elections, and the 2016 American elections, it’s less than the cost of one new F-35 airplane. So Russia and our adversaries, I think, have decided the way to engage with us in conflict is not through straight up old-school military but through cyber activities, misinformation and disinformation, increasingly trying to weaken and interfere, for example with our space communications, and I think Russia will up their game … and others … [It] means there will be more adversaries in 2020.

Second is, I think in 2016 we saw Russia try to misrepresent—the Russian agents misrepresent themselves as Americans on Facebook and Twitter by simply posting fake messages. The next iteration, the next generation of that will be the so-called “deepfake” technology, where an American may not be able to view what his eyes are telling him, because you’ll see an image of you or me or a political figure that may sound like that person but isn’t that person at all.

Now, if McConnell doesn’t allow some of these bills, like the Honest Ads Act or just broader election security bills, to come up, what do you think the Silicon Valley tech firms can do on their own?

Look, we’ve seen progress made by Facebook, Twitter, some progress made by Google. But I don’t think self-regulation, particularly when a regulation may mean they may not be collecting as much information as they like, or self-regulation may mean they have to go against or limit some of the fake content. It goes against their very business model. So I think Facebook has made progress in particular, but some of the tools they have—for example, the ability to access on an easy basis the campaign ads that they promised, that tool is not effective at all.

So at the end of the day, when we’re talking about something as critical as protecting the integrity of our democracy, when Americans lack faith in so many of our institutions to start with, if we don’t go the extra mile and put in place a set of rules and regulations—and god forbid should Russia or Iran or another foreign enterprise massively interfere again—and we didn’t do our duty, then shame on all of us.

This week, two fairly senior Senate Democrats called for impeachment proceedings to begin. Where are you on that? We started this conversation with you saying you don’t want to relitigate 2016, but it seems like there’s this growing chorus amongst Democrats to impeach.

I actually think Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi has navigated that challenge very well. I understand the frustrations with President Trump—his activities and tweets and antics. I think, though, the best way we can show that that’s not who we are as Americans is to defeat him at the ballot box in a free and fair election. And what I worry about is if we don’t guarantee that free and fair election, then we haven’t done our job.


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