Tuesday, October 29, 2019

SECURITY - Ransomware Hunting League Hero




"The Ransomware Superhero of Normal, Illinois" by Renee Dudley, ProPublica 10/28/2019

Thanks to Michael Gillespie, an obscure programmer at a Nerds on Call repair store, hundreds of thousands of ransomware victims have recovered their files for free.

This story was co-published with the Chicago Sun-Times and The Pantagraph.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.  Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.


About 10 years ago, Michael Gillespie and several classmates at Pekin Community High School in central Illinois were clicking on links on the school’s website when they discovered a weakness that exposed sensitive information such as students’ Social Security numbers.  They quickly alerted their computer repair and networking teacher, Eric McCann.

“It was a vulnerability that nobody even knew about,” McCann said.  “They did a quick search on passwords and student accounts, and lo and behold, that file is sitting out there.”

A shy, skinny teenager whose hand-me-down clothes didn’t fit him, and who was often ridiculed by schoolmates, Gillespie was already working after school as a computer technician.  “He was full of information all the time,” McCann said.  “We’d bounce ideas off each other.  You could tell his passion for technology, for computers, for figuring out things.  That definitely made him stand out.”

Without crediting the students, school administrators closed the breach and changed everyone’s passwords.  Gillespie’s anonymous protection of the school’s cyberdefenses was a harbinger of his future.  Like a real-life version of Clark Kent or Peter Parker, the self-effacing Gillespie morphs in his spare time into a crime-foiling superhero.  A cancer survivor who works at a Nerds on Call computer repair shop and has been overwhelmed by debt — he and his wife had a car repossessed and their home nearly foreclosed on — the 27-year-old Gillespie has become, with little fanfare or reward, one of the world’s leading conquerors of an especially common and virulent cybercrime: ransomware.  Asked what motivates him, he replied, “I guess it’s just the affinity for challenge and feeling like I am contributing to beating the bad guys.”

Each year, millions of ransomware attacks paralyze computer systems of individuals, businesses, hospitals and medical offices, government agencies, and even police departments.  Often, files cannot be decrypted without paying a ransom, and victims who haven’t saved backup copies and want to retrieve the information have little choice but to pony up.  But those who have recovered their data without enriching criminals frequently owe their escapes to Gillespie.

The FBI and local law enforcement agencies have had little success in curbing ransomware.  Local departments lack the resources to solve cybercrime, and the ransoms demanded have often been below the threshold that triggers federal investigations.  Security researchers like Gillespie have done their best to fill the gap.  There are almost 800 known types of ransomware, and Gillespie, mostly by himself but sometimes collaborating with other ransomware hunters, has cracked more than 100 of them.  Hundreds of thousands of victims have downloaded his decryption tools for free, potentially saving them from paying hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom.

“He took that deep dive into the technical stuff, and he just thrives on it,” said Lawrence Abrams, founder of a ransomware assistance website called BleepingComputer.com.  “Every time a new ransomware comes out, he checks it out.  ‘Can it be decrypted?  Yes, it can be decrypted.  OK, I’ll make the decryptor.’  And it’s just nonstop.  He just keeps pumping them out.”

Gillespie downplays his accomplishments.  “IT [Internet Technology] moves so fast, there’s always something to learn, and there’s always someone better than you,” he said.

Gillespie’s tools are available on BleepingComputer.com, and they can be accessed through a site he created and operates, called ID Ransomware.  There, victims submit about 2,000 ransomware-stricken files every day to find out which strain has hit them and to obtain an antidote, if one exists.

As hackers and their corporate enablers, including cyber insurance providers and data recovery firms whose business models are based on paying ransoms, profit directly or indirectly from cybercrime, one of ransomware’s greatest foes lives paycheck-to-paycheck.  Under his internet alias, demonslay335, Gillespie tackles ransomware either in his downtime at Nerds on Call or at night in the two-story bungalow he shares with his wife, Morgan, and their dog, rabbit and eight cats.  Surrounded by pets, he lies on his living room couch, decoding ransomware on his laptop and corresponding with victims desperate for his help.

Although the FBI honored him in 2017 with an award for his website, it doesn’t systematically recommend ID Ransomware — meaning that some victims may never learn of a resource that could help them avoid paying a ransom.  Many of his friends, relatives and colleagues don’t know the extent of his war on ransomware.  “They do not have a clue because of Michael’s modesty,” said his wife’s grandmother, Rita Blanch.  “Honestly, I don’t think anyone in the family knows what he does for free.  I barely know.”  When he got the FBI award, she added, “I sent out a family text, and they’re like: ‘What?  What?  Our Michael?’”

McCann wasn’t aware of Gillespie’s accomplishments either.  “It kind of gives me goosebumps,” the teacher said.  “He’s sitting here doing all this for free.  That’s incredible.”

On a humid morning in July, Gillespie sat on his covered front porch.  His hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, and he sported scraggly facial hair and a V-neck striped shirt.  Brown leaves left over from the previous autumn and birdseed from a feeder were scattered on the ground.  Gillespie said hello to a cardinal — the Illinois state bird, he pointed out — and a squirrel with a “wonky eye.”  He said a family of groundhogs resides under the porch and eats from the front-yard mulberry tree, but they didn’t make an appearance.

He opened his Twitter account.  “Like right now, I have 58 PMs and 120 notifications,” he said.  Most were pleas for help from victims of a ransomware strain, STOP Djvu, which he can sometimes decrypt.

Gillespie’s love of computers and electronics started early.  His paternal grandmother, a video gamer, introduced him to online role-playing games such as RuneScape.  He played Donkey Kong Country on a used Super Nintendo that his uncle gave him.  As emergency services volunteers, his parents communicated with tornado spotters via ham radios.  His father, a land surveyor, taught him how to repair electronics by soldering the radios.

Gillespie gleaned from his mother’s father, a police lieutenant in Florida, the importance of protecting the public.  Reinforcing the message, his parents went out of their way on family trips to pass through Metropolis, Illinois, which proclaims itself to be Superman’s hometown, and pay their respects at the Man of Steel’s bronze statue.  Gillespie was also fascinated by cryptography.  He liked the idea of having secret codes that no one else could figure out — and cracking other people’s.

Struggling financially, his family sometimes had to move in with friends or relatives.  When he was in high school, his parents filed for bankruptcy in the Central District of Illinois, court documents show.

At Pekin High, he helped protect not only the website but also his classmates’ belongings.  One day, noticing that other students were pre-setting codes to the combination locks on their lockers for convenience, he pulled down on every lock in his aisle.  About a quarter of the lockers opened.  He left a Post-it note in each one, admonishing the user to be more careful.

By then, he and Morgan Blanch were becoming close.  They lived down the street from each other but didn’t become friends until their freshman year at Pekin.  They began hanging out at each other’s houses and messaging on Myspace.  They were both in the school show choir and eventually sang in a national competition on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville, Tennessee.

Both sometimes felt like outcasts.  She was overweight.  Gillespie, she said, was “that one kid at school that everybody knows who they are because they’re weird or they’re the butt of people’s jokes.”

But they could rely on each other.  “We’d get annoyed because our other friends were more flighty,” she said.  “They weren’t dependable, whereas if Michael and I made a plan, we stuck to it.  And we liked that about each other.” They started dating during Christmas break of their junior year.

When he graduated in 2010, Gillespie was named a Prairie State Scholar and an Illinois State Scholar, based on his standardized test scores and class rank.  Instead of going to college, he began working full time at the Nerds on Call store in Normal, Illinois.  Even with financial aid, he said, college would have been too expensive, and he already had everything he wanted.  “I got a job, got a car, got a girlfriend.  Boom.  Life together,” he said.

“He just felt that he could learn better on his own than in a classroom setting,” Morgan Gillespie said.  “He doesn’t really like to be restrained by protocol or by doing the ‘typical’ route of things.  He likes to get in there and figure it out and do whatever it is he feels like he wants to do.”

She enrolled at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, but missed Gillespie and dropped out after two months.  They moved into a new apartment close to his job and were married in October 2012, with Rita Blanch officiating.  For the bachelor party, Gillespie and his Nerds on Call friends went to a nearby farm and shot up old computers with his father’s firearms.  “Nobody who was too tipsy got to hold the rifles, but we put a few rounds through some old monitors,” said his best man, former co-worker David Jacobs, who organized the party.

The couple honeymooned in Peoria, Illinois.  The next year, with a Federal Housing Administration loan for lower-income borrowers, they purchased their $116,000 bungalow in a working-class neighborhood in Bloomington, Illinois.  There they could hear Amtrak’s Lincoln Service roar by on its way to Chicago.

At Nerds on Call, Gillespie was known as the Swiss Army Knife for his versatility.  So when a client was hit by TeslaCrypt ransomware in 2015, Gillespie was assigned to recover the files.

He embraced the task.  Not only was it an opportunity to expand his skills, but he also objected to the very idea of paying a ransom.  “I say hell no,” he said.  “There’s all the stuff about how it’s funding terrorism, funding bad stuff.  But more so, it’s just encouraging [criminals] to keep going.”

Gillespie “lives so heavily in the tech world, I think having bad actors involved just bothers him,” Jacobs said.  “Sometimes it’s also a little bit of competition.  ‘It’s me versus the bad guys and I want to win.  I want to be able to outdo their schemes.’”

Gillespie immediately consulted BleepingComputer.com.  Established in 2004 by Abrams to provide free advice for any computer problem through tutorials and forums, it had become the go-to site for ransomware assistance.

Sure enough, a BleepingComputer member known as BloodDolly had figured out how to crack TeslaCrypt.  But Gillespie still had to create a key for the client, which required running complex software for hours or days at a time.  “I wanted to post a success story for one of my customer’s systems that was hit this week,” he proudly announced on the forum in August 2015.  “I’ve just successfully decoded a few sample files at home.  … My customer is going to be thrilled we can get her photos back.”

Gillespie realized that Abrams, BloodDolly and other ransomware researchers were overwhelmed with requests for help.  He soaked up everything they could teach him.  Soon he was running software from both his home computer and computers under his desk at work, generating customized keys for scores of TeslaCrypt victims who had posted on BleepingComputer or on social media.

“It was huge, it was insane,” Abrams recalled.  “We were cracking keys left and right.  And Michael got the bug from that.  He came to the site, started cracking keys, starting helping.”

Gillespie also began exchanging private messages on BleepingComputer with U.K.-based ransomware expert Fabian Wosar.  Wosar, now the chief technology officer of antivirus provider Emsisoft, was working to break other strains of ransomware, and he referred TeslaCrypt victims to Gillespie.  Wosar, too, shared his knowledge with Gillespie.

“Sometimes, when people seem genuinely interested, I just ask them if they want to come along,” Wosar said.  “I just open a screen share, and they can watch what I’m doing.  And I explain to them what I am doing and why, and what all this different stuff means.”

Wosar, Gillespie, Abrams and a handful of other volunteers worldwide began communicating over the messaging platform Slack, forming a group they dubbed the Ransomware Hunting Team.  Abrams would hear about a new type of ransomware through users’ posts on his website and send a sample to his teammates.  If they could solve it, they would.

Gillespie creates 90% of the decryptors available on BleepingComputer, Abrams said.  Since May, when Abrams began tracking statistics, decryptors on the site have been downloaded more than 320,000 times.

While BleepingComputer makes money from advertisers, members of the hunting team from time to time have discussed charging for their services.  Each time, “it left a sour taste,” Abrams said.  He recalled a mother who contacted him to say she’d lost photos of her son, a fallen Army veteran, to ransomware.  Abrams helped to decrypt her files.  “I couldn’t charge for that,” he said.

Wosar and Gillespie have each created more free, public decryptors than anybody else in the world.  The two have much in common: neither went to college and both consider themselves autodidacts, learning mostly from internet research.  Both found a home and friendships on BleepingComputer.  And both, Wosar said, suffer from imposter syndrome — feelings of inadequacy that persist despite their success.

“I think we’re all kind of misfits,” Wosar said, referring to members of the team.  “We all have weird quirks that isolate us from the normal world but come in handy when it comes to tracking ransomware and helping people.  That’s why and how we work so well together.  You don’t need credentials, as long as you have the passion and the drive to teach yourself the skills required.  And Michael clearly has it, right?”

As ransomware became increasingly prevalent, the Ransomware Hunting Team had trouble staying abreast of new variants.  “It just got to the point where we just couldn’t keep track any more,” Abrams said.

Gillespie quietly began working on a solution.  “I’m a programmer,” he said.  “What do I do?  I automate.”

At night, on his couch, Gillespie developed a site where victims could upload a ransomware-encrypted file and automatically learn what type it was, whether a decryptor existed and, if so, how to get it.  In March 2016, he launched ID Ransomware with an announcement on Twitter and on BleepingComputer.  “All too often after a ransomware attack, the first question is, ‘what encrypted my files?’, followed by ‘can I decrypt my data?’” he wrote.  “This web service aims to help answer those questions, and guide a victim to the correct information relating to their infection.”

The site took off immediately.  Victims, ransomware recovery firms and other researchers sent encrypted files for analysis.  When they submitted files infected by an unidentified type of ransomware, Gillespie added it to his database.  As before, he and other members of the team worked to create decryptors for newly discovered strains.  ID Ransomware currently can detect more than 780 strains, of which almost 40% have free decryptors, most of them developed by Gillespie or Wosar, and others by cybersecurity firms such as Kaspersky, Avast and Bitdefender.

He’s developed other free applications for victims, which are available on BleepingComputer.  RansomNoteCleaner removes ransom notes left behind after an infection — eliminating the time-consuming task of removing them manually — and CryptoSearch locates encrypted files and makes it easier to back them up, in the hope that a solution may someday be discovered.  ID Ransomware also cross-references the submitter’s IP address with Shodan, a site that can show a computer’s vulnerabilities.  If it detects an open port, which could have allowed the hackers in, ID Ransomware flags the vulnerability — and, like the notes Gillespie stuck in the high school lockers, suggests fixing it.

Gillespie worked nonstop.  “I felt like I never saw him,” his wife said.  “We would be hanging out in the evening, and he would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go do this.’ And he would just disappear for hours.”

Volunteers around the world have translated ID Ransomware into two dozen languages, from Swedish to Nepali.  Only 26% of submissions to the site have come from the U.S.  “He collects amazing data because so many people use it,” Abrams said.  “He has tons of information.  You can see statistics, trends, what kinds of attacks are happening and when.  Everyone uses it.”

Those users include law enforcement, on both sides of the Atlantic.  Europol and Netherlands police flattered ID Ransomware by imitation, launching a similar but less comprehensive site.  An FBI agent from the Springfield, Illinois, field office asked to meet Gillespie, and they got together with another agent at a local Panera restaurant.

“The first meeting was nerve-wracking for me because, you know, why does the FBI want to talk to me?” Gillespie recalled.  “I was so awkward at that meeting.  I wasn’t thinking, ‘Am I gonna get arrested.’  But I did have in the back of my mind, ‘Am I gonna say something stupid?’”

The FBI needed help.  Victims often don’t report attacks to the bureau because they don’t want investors or the public to learn of their security lapses.  In 2018, the FBI received only 1,493 reports of ransomware — compared with the 2,000 queries daily to Gillespie’s site from about 750 different IP addresses worldwide.

At first, the agents sought information about the origins of a specific ransomware attack, something Gillespie does not investigate.  Then they began requesting lists of IP addresses that had uploaded files to ID Ransomware, which could help identify victims, as well as ransom notes and other material.  Gillespie, who discloses on the ID Ransomware homepage that email or bitcoin addresses uploaded to the site may be shared with “trusted third parties or law enforcement,” complied.

His assistance appears to have paid off.  Gillespie said agents indicated to him that his information may have been instrumental in last year’s indictment of two Iranian hackers wanted in connection with SamSam ransomware, which paralyzed computer networks across North America and the U.K. between 2015 and 2018.  Although the suspects have not been arrested, it was the U.S. government’s first indictment of cyberattackers for deploying a ransomware scheme.

Gillespie continues to meet regularly with FBI agents.  He tips them off, for instance, when a ransom note or extension on a file uploaded to the site identifies the targeted business.  Cooperation from such victims could help law enforcement learn more about the source of the ransomware, he said.

Some other ransomware hunters are warier of the FBI.  Abrams expressed concern that, despite the ID Ransomware acknowledgment, there could be “repercussions” from victims who might be upset that Gillespie identified them to the bureau.  Gillespie “is a little too trusting” of law enforcement, Abrams said.  “I do think that he’s not very worldly and that he sees things a little more black and white than with a lot of shades of gray.  And I think in that case he could be easily manipulated and taken advantage of.”

In 2017, the FBI awarded Gillespie a Community Leadership Award for his “public service, devotion and assistance to victims of ransomware in the United States and Internationally.”  Gillespie prominently displays the award in his home.  In April 2018, he and his wife flew to Washington for the award ceremony, accompanied by his boss at Nerds on Call.  The joke around the office was that the boss “went with him to try to nerf anybody trying to recruit him,” said Gillespie’s former co-worker, Jacobs.  “He would be very difficult to replace.”

Philosophically opposed to charging victims, Gillespie keeps ID Ransomware free.  He put up a link for donations to help cover the costs of running the site, but he didn’t bother to register it as a nonprofit, which would have enabled donors to deduct gifts from their taxes.  Contributions were scarce.  One $3,000 donation through PayPal proved to be a scam — Gillespie speculated that it may have been revenge by hackers whose ransomware he disabled — and PayPal demanded the money back.  He couldn’t repay it and switched to another service.

Gillespie “doesn’t chase money,” Jacobs said.  “If he were chasing money, he would have been living on the East or West Coast by now and doing something for some company that we’d all heard of instead of a little service provider in the Midwest.  But he’s one of those guys, he operates very heavily on principle.”

To make ends meet, Gillespie supplemented his Nerds on Call salary with a 2 a.m. paper route, delivering the local newspaper on his bike.  While he had enjoyed having a paper route in junior high, the job now depressed him.  But the family bills were mounting, especially for health care.  Morgan Gillespie struggled with diabetes and other medical issues.  Over the years, Michael Gillespie noticed blood in his urine, and in the fall of 2017, his wife finally made him see a doctor.  The physician removed a tumor and diagnosed bladder cancer, which rarely affects young adults.  Gillespie took one day off for surgery and one to recover before returning to work.  He underwent immunotherapy treatment weekly for two months, and the cancer has been in remission since.  Although he was insured through Nerds on Call, the costs for his care still added up.

The couple reached a financial breaking point.  They racked up credit card debt and fell behind on payments on Morgan Gillespie’s Nissan.  They rotated which utility bills they would pay; one month their electricity would be turned off, and the next month it would be gas.  They surrendered the car to the bank, which sold it at a loss at auction and forced them to make up the difference.  Last year, around the time his wife lost her job as a nanny, they missed four mortgage payments on their house and began to receive foreclosure notices, Michael Gillespie said.

Gillespie said he’s considering charging other security researchers for the statistics he gathers on the site, but he will always keep the tools free for victims.  Friends and family members nagged Gillespie to collect fees from ID Ransomware users.  Even his wife’s grandmother, whom Gillespie calls “grammy,” brought it up.  “I try to not interfere in that area,” Rita Blanch said.  “Unless, being silly at times, when I would say to him, ‘Babe, you need to charge, you could, like, be rich.’”

Other relatives “have been like: ‘Why isn’t he charging?  Why isn’t he making money off of this?’” said his wife, who recently found a part-time job as a babysitter.  “They think it’s almost dumb, the fact that he does what he does.  But that was just never what the deal was for us.  He just doesn’t want to take advantage of people who are already being taken advantage of.”

Instead, his fellow ransomware hunters stepped in.  Abrams covered the $400 cost of obtaining a certificate that lets users know they’re downloading from a trustworthy site.  Wosar began donating to ID Ransomware, and his employer, Emsisoft, hired Gillespie part-time this year to create Emsisoft-branded decryptors.  The money enabled the Gillespies to catch up on mortgage payments.

“He’s doing so much, how do you not support him if you can?” Abrams said.

After dinner one summer evening, Gillespie took a visitor to the Normal office of Nerds on Call, one of the company’s three locations in central Illinois, nestled in a strip mall between a check-cashing store and a Great Clips hair salon.  Gillespie, who has worked for Nerds on Call for 11 years, has keys, so he was able to open the office and disable the alarm system.  In the back, behind the retail area, is his desk, adorned with framed photos of his cats.

As his wife’s relatives often remind him, he could earn three times as much somewhere else.  But he’s happy at Nerds on Call, which gives him the freedom to work on ransomware in his downtime.  This year, he figured out fixes for the STOP Djvu ransomware, which was infecting files through pirated software.  Victims — who were unlikely to seek law enforcement assistance since they were committing a crime themselves — continue to press Michael for help unceasingly.  “It’s borderline harassment,” he said.

His frustration with the deluge of entreaties occasionally boiled over in his tweets.  “Everything you could possibly need to know is IN THE FUCKING FAQ, and its in BIG BOLD RED LETTERS,” he once responded.  “I’m losing sleep, losing time at my job, losing fucking sanity at this point.”

Some STOP Djvu victims thanked Gillespie.  Adam Hegedus of Szolnok, Hungary, was surfing the internet on his girlfriend's laptop in August when he disabled the anti-virus and firewall protections.  Ransomware crippled the computer, and a text file demanded $1,000 to restore access.  Hegedus' girlfriend is a teacher, and her lesson plans, thesis and other important documents were encrypted.  Hegedus felt so guilty that he couldn't sleep, and he sought assistance from several forums, including BleepingComputer.com.  This month, Gillespie replied with some good news; he had a decryption key.  Hegedus called his girlfriend, who rushed home and was delighted to be able to use her files again.

"You cannot imagine how grateful I am," Hegedus wrote to Gillespie.  "Everything has been decrypted and this is only because of your hard work." Hegedus offered a donation, but Gillespie declined.

Gillespie hopes that someday his services will no longer be needed, because businesses and people will have learned proper cybersecurity.  “If the world had backups, then we wouldn’t have ransomware,” he said.

In the meantime, he said, he plans to keep plugging away, even as hackers and their enablers pile up profits.  “There’s a time in every IT person’s career where they think, ‘I’m on the wrong side,’” he said.  “You start seeing the dollar amounts that are involved.  But nah, I can’t say that I ever have.  I just don’t care to go that way.”

ProPublica research reporter Doris Burke contributed to this article.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

CALIFORNIA - Gas Price Inquiry

"Newsom wants inquiry into gas prices" by John Myers, San Diego Union-Tribune 10/22/2019

NOTE:  This was copied from the e-newspaper, so no link to article.


Governor’s request to Becerra comes after report on cost to drivers

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday asked the state attorney general to investigate whether California’s leading oil and gas suppliers are involved in price-fixing or other unfair practices related to high pump prices.

The request, which Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said it would accept, comes amid growing frustration with high prices charged in communities across the state.  The investigation has the potential to trigger the most consequential review of California’s gas prices in years.

“Simply stated, name-brand gas retail outlets in California are charging more for a gallon of gas compared to their unbranded, hypermart competitors,” Newsom wrote in the letter.  “There is no identifiable evidence to justify these premium prices.”

Newsom’s request came on the heels of a report released by the California Energy Commission on the cost of retail gasoline in California.  The document, prepared after the governor asked the agency in April to examine the issue, concluded that the state’s drivers spent $1.5 billion more than those in other states for gasoline in 2018 — even though there was no determinable difference in the gasoline being sold by different retailers.

“The name-brand stations, therefore, are charging higher prices for what appears to be the same product,” wrote commission officials.  “The CEC received no response from the name-brand retailers in response to a request for information to support their product claims.”

In May, state officials concluded that “market manipulation” may explain the mystery surcharge imposed on California drivers.  They promised additional details this month, though Monday’s report leaves a number of questions unanswered.  Those unknowns included why so many residents choose higher-priced fuel instead of cheaper alternatives available in some locations.

“Consumers may be purchasing higher-priced gasoline brands for convenience, credit card acceptance or other reasons,” researchers wrote.  “However, if competitors decide collectively to fix prices, this may be unlawful.”

Severin Borenstein, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business who has been studying what he calls the “mystery surcharge” on gas sold in California, applauded Newsom’s decision.  “It’s really time to find out the reason,” he said Monday.  “Consumers have spent many billions of dollars over the years.”

Borenstein’s research found that even after accounting for the state’s high gasoline taxes and unique environmental rules that impose stricter refining standards, Californians still paid roughly 40 cents per gallon more by the end of 2018 than did drivers in other states — double what it had been in most years since 2015.

The state’s average price for a gallon of regular gasoline on Monday was $4.14 and San Diego County’s average price was $4.12, according to AAA.  The national average was $2.65 per gallon.

State energy commission officials said in their report that refinery challenges, refining standards and occasional shutdowns or incidents at individual locations do not explain the cost differential.  And the report concluded the most noticeable uptick had been in prices paid at retail gas stations since 2012 operated by companies that include Chevron and Shell.

“These price increases occurred without significant changes in the overall market share of these brands at the retail level,” the report said.

Researchers found Chevron’s retail gasoline sales in California resulted in almost $1.6 billion in revenue in 2018, more than double what those sales generated earned in 2010.  Shell’s total retail sales hit $818 million in 2018, up from $421 million in 2010.

A Chevron spokesman referred questions to an oil industry group.  A request for comment from Shell wasn’t immediately returned.

While energy commission officials wrote they “found no evidence of unlawful activities” by major oil companies, they also acknowledged they lacked the expertise to conduct a more thorough investigation — a shortcoming apparently resolved by Newsom’s request for Becerra to get involved.

“The mystery surcharge adds up, especially for cost-conscious, working families,” the governor wrote in his letter to Becerra.  “If oil companies are engaging in false advertising or price fixing, then legal action should be taken to protect the public.”

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, said the industry trade group is reviewing the CEC report.  But she said it was important to note California’s fuel taxes and standards, which are more strict than other states, account for the first $1.07 per gallon at the pump.

“Everyone has to have a seat at the table to ensure policies provide adequate, affordable, reliable energy to the communities we serve,” she said.

While California is known for its environmentally conscious fuel standards, the state was the seventh-largest producer of crude oil in the country in March.  The oil industry is a powerful force in California politics, working to halt legislation in the Assembly earlier this year that would have limited new oil and gas production around homes and schools.

But Newsom has expressed a desire to take on the oil industry during his first year in office.  In July, he fired the state’s top oil and gas regulator for doubling the state’s fracking permits this year.

“This is the first time a governor has requested an investigation and prosecution by the attorney general in modern history into the oil industry,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, which has criticized the oil industry.  “I think it’s a pretty big step.”

Myers writes for the Los Angeles Times.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Monday, October 21, 2019

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 10/18/2019

"Shields and Brooks on Trump’s Syria ‘blunder,’ impeachment outlook" PBS NewsHour 10/18/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including how the impeachment inquiry is affecting President Trump's support among Republicans, fallout from Trump's handling of northern Syria and the military advance by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the changing dynamics of the 2020 Presidential race.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Hello to both of you.

So let's pick up, Mark, with where — with my conversation just then with John Kasich.  He said he reluctantly has come to the place, after hearing and following what's gone on in the last couple of days, that President Trump should be impeached.

Now, he's only one of a very few Republicans.  But do you see, given all the events of this week, the testimony before Congress, what Mick Mulvaney said yesterday, that this argument for impeachment is getting stronger?

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  Yes, it most certainly is, Judy.

I'd say right now that there's two dozen, maybe headed to three dozen House Republicans will end up voting for impeachment at the current velocity.

Judy Woodruff:  In the House?

Mark Shields:  In the House.

And I don't think there's any question about it.  I mean, it's — you can feel it.

Just put yourself in the shoes of trying to be a defender of the President, a supporter of the President.  You wake up on an hourly basis — or certainly a daily basis, and almost hourly now, you're hit with another thunderbolt.

What is it?  It's foreign policy.  It's Mick Mulvaney in a condescending, antagonistic, stupid — you understood why he's never been the spokesman, why he's never had a press conference before — harmful.

You can't defend the President.  So what Republicans are doing, if you will notice — and led by FOX News — is, they're attacking Democrats, is what they're doing.  There's no defense.

And so I just think you can feel support shrinking.

Judy Woodruff:  Do you — how do you assess this?

David Brooks, New York Times:  Yes.

I mean, if your defense was, there was no quid pro quo, it's pretty hard to stand on that ground by now.  What we have learned over the last two weeks or three weeks is that the transcript we heard several weeks ago now, it was true.

We learned on the transcript — for me, if you read the transcript, there was a quid pro quo.

Mark Shields:  That's right.

David Brooks:  And now we have testimony from Fiona Hill, who was the deputy secretary of state for Ukraine, that there was quid pro quo, basically, that it Trump was doing this, there was a separate foreign policy run by Trump and Giuliani, bypassing the normal foreign policy apparatus.

And there have been a whole series of witnesses that have basically attested to that.  Mulvaney puts the exclamation point.

So, if that was your defense, then it's hard not to vote for impeachment.

If your defense is, this doesn't rise to the level of impeachment, then you can still wriggle out of it.  And I suspect that's where the Senate Republicans will go.  I do not see — I see John Kasich, who has been, like, the number one Trump critic in the Republican Party, is here.  Congressman Rooney is here.

Judy Woodruff:  Right.

David Brooks:  But, so far, there aren't many others.  And I'm skeptical that you will see too many Republican senators.

Judy Woodruff:  So what is the argument that Republicans are hanging on — hanging there belief to, that — you're just alluding to this — that this is not an impeachable offense?

Is it what the President is saying, that I'm unconventional?  Is it, we're always asking foreign countries to do something for us?

David Brooks:  Yes.

Well, I think, right now, it's a position in search of an argument.  So they know where they are, because they know where their voters are, and they're terrified of their voters.  And they have got to find some rationalization to explain why they are.  And this seems to be the most rational rationalization.  This is what countries do all the time, and the President was defending American interests, and the media is out to get him.

And that's an argument that sort of makes itself.  Whether it's compelling to anybody else doesn't really matter, because it has to — the Republicans are the ones that have to move.

Judy Woodruff:  So, Mark, if David's right — even if it passes in the House, if there's an impeachment vote in the House, but go to the Senate, that there's not the votes in the Senate?  What's…

Mark Shields:  There are not the votes today, Judy.

But think where we were two weeks ago.  I mean, this thing is moving at a pace and a velocity that I don't think any of us could have predicted.  And after this week, I mean, we haven't even talked about the cave, the capitulation, the total — David mentioned he's doing this in the national interest.

I mean, we saw a demonstration of the national interest this week.  I mean, there's no way anybody could look at that and have confidence in this man, let alone this administration.

Judy Woodruff:  You're talking about Syria and Turkey.

Mark Shields:  Yes.  Talking about Syria.  Talking about the abandonment, because just think, think if you were South Korea today, all right?

You're surrounded.  On one side, you got China, a menacing force, not that far off your shore.  You have got North Korea and a certified madman on your border.  And what have you relied on?  The good word, the trust, the honor of the United States of America.

And we saw that just absolutely trashed and abandoned this week in the Middle East by the President.

Judy Woodruff:  And, David, let's talk about that.

I mean, this decision, it came sort of out of the blue.  People didn't know about it.  And then we learned the President had given — the administration said it wasn't a green light.  But the Turks have gone in, and they are — they have now been given permission basically by the U.S. to control that so-called safe zone.

David Brooks:  Yes.

Fareed Zakaria mentioned there's never been a moment that he could think of where a bad decision was made, and the blunder came immediately, the results and the catastrophe came right away.

And it was a total win for Erdogan and the Turks, a total win for Syria, and a total win for Russia, because the Turks get to do their ethnic cleansing.  The Syrians get to go into the region.  The Russians have been trying to get into the region.  Now they get to walk into the region.  The Russians have — or the Iranians have a proxy.

So it was a — the score was 56 Erdogan, zero for Trump, and zero for the United States.

And I think this is — what's shocking is just the moral — not only the incompetence.  I mean, the letter Trump wrote to Erdogan could have been written by a kindergartner.  It was — it didn't look like an official government letter.

And then the — just the moral callousness of having no remorse about the deaths and the cleansing.  I think it's — I think this, combined with impeachment, is what shakes people.  This is a more shocking event.

And it goes against a generation of Republican and American foreign policy to be a stabilizing force in that region.  And it was also a sign — and I think this is where — the way — the only way I can see that you really get to some erasure — some erosion from the Republican side — is a lot of Republicans think, well, we had Kelly there for a little.

Mattis was there for a little while.  We had some sane people controlling him.  The controls are gone.  And this guy's spinning wildly out of control.

And I think that could be a conclusion that people would reach.

Judy Woodruff:  And, in fact, Mark, just — we just reported tonight that we learned that Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader, has written a piece — opinion piece for The Washington Post, saying it was a grave mistake, what the President did.

It's not every day that Mitch McConnell separates himself from the President like this.

Mark Shields:  No, it certainly isn't.

And I just think — I think it's quite serious.  I think Republicans I talk to are, frankly, nervous.  They're nervous about the governorship in Mitch McConnell's home state, losing that, about losing both houses of the Virginia legislature.

These elections, Judy, are just basically 10 days away.  And it's a — it's really — and they're concerned that they lose again in Louisiana, the Democrats elected there.  Those are red states, purple states that they're losing.

And if Donald Trump is there, they're going to go into 2020 just blissfully, having sustained enormous losses in red states in November of 2019, and watching this happen.

I mean, this is — this is truly — when — the Turks said, we got everything we wanted, the easiest negotiation we have ever had.  Erdogan took the President's letter, put it in the trash can, but he's not forgetting what was in it, was, don't be a fool.

I mean, I don't know how, at any point, you could defend, explain, apologize or say, let's go forward.  Let's get four more years of this.



CANVAS - Hearts of Our People

"A groundbreaking exhibition finally tells the stories of Native women artists" PBS NewsHour 10/18/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Hearts of Our People” is the country’s first ever exhibition devoted solely to the works of Native American women.  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts assembled the retrospective, which is currently at Nashville's Frist Art Museum and will visit Tulsa and Washington D.C. in 2020.  Jeffrey Brown reports on how the show brings attention to a realm previously “not at all addressed in the art world.”



FLIGHT RISK - Boeing 737 MAX

"Pilot messages reveal 2016 concerns over safety of Boeing 737 MAX" PBS NewsHour 10/18/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Boeing is facing new questions about its dealings with federal safety regulators over the grounded 737 MAX jet.  At issue are 2016 messages from a Boeing pilot who says he lied to officials about a flight-control system now linked to two deadly crashes.  The FAA wants to learn what else Boeing knew about the flaw -- and when.  Amna Nawaz talks to David Shepardson of Reuters, who broke the story.



CARTEL LAND - Mexico's Failed Capture

"Mexico failed to capture the son of ‘El Chapo.’ Can it contain drug cartels?" PBS NewsHour 10/18/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Mexico’s president defended his security forces Friday for releasing the son of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after they caught him, when members of the cartel opened fire and seized soldiers.  Analysts say the failed raid casts doubt on the Mexican government’s ability to contain drug violence.  Nick Schifrin reports on the significance for the U.S. fight against illegal narcotics.



IN THE CENTER RING - Brexit Off Ramp

"The EU approved Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan — but will Parliament?" PBS NewsHour 10/17/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  European Union leaders unanimously backed a Brexit deal with the United Kingdom on Thursday.  The next major hurdle is for British Parliament to approve the agreement -- no easy feat for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.  Nick Schifrin reports and talks to Chatham House’s Robin Niblett about how the deal would handle the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and the outlook for passing it.




"Brexit’s fate unknown after vote to delay agreement with EU" PBS NewsHour 10/19/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The fate of Brexit, Britain’s long-running plan to exit the European Union, remains unknown after an extraordinary session in the country's parliament Saturday that ended with a vote to delay a decision on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s negotiated agreement with the EU.  Frank Langfitt, an NPR correspondent and author of, "The Shanghai Free Taxi," joins Alison Stewart from London to discuss.



MEMORIAM - Elijah Cummings 1951-2019

"Congress mourns Elijah Cummings, veteran lawmaker and civil rights advocate" PBS NewsHour 10/17/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Veteran Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland died early Thursday at age 68, after suffering long-standing health problems.  The Baltimore Democrat was a highly regarded figure in both political parties, known for his advocacy on civil rights issues.  Cummings was chair of the House Oversight Committee and had been playing a central role in the impeachment inquiry.  Amna Nawaz reports.



WASHINGTON NATIONALS - World Series Bound



"Nats’ path to World Series is something to cheer for in divided D.C." PBS NewsHour 10/16/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  For the first time since 1933, Washington D.C., finally has a baseball team going to the World Series.  William Brangham reports on the Nationals' unlikely run to the fall classic, and what hometown pride means for the nation's capital at a time when politics are roiled by controversy and division.



AGENTS FOR CHANGE - A Sioux Chef

"Traditional Native foods are the key ingredient in the Sioux Chef’s healthy cooking" PBS NewsHour 10/16/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Sean Sherman, better known as the Sioux Chef, uses ingredients native to the Americas to draw attention to the long-forgotten Native culinary tradition.  His research and cooking are also a way to push back against processed foods that he and others blame for grave health consequences in the U.S. today.  Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from St. Paul, Minnesota.



U.S. CONSTITUTION - "High Crimes and Misdemeanors"

NOTE:  This is important.  All Americans need to understand that impeachment is a political process and not one of statutory law.

"Why the founders let Congress define impeachment-worthy crimes" PBS NewsHour 10/15/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The power to impeach a federal official such as the President has been exercised rarely in American history, and U.S. Constitution mentions the word only a handful of times.  What were the founders thinking when they included that power, and how have public views of these powers evolved over time?  Judy Woodruff looks back with presidential historian Michael Beschloss.



POLICE SHOOTINGS - Questions of Force

COMMENT:  It has become much too easy for Law Enforcement Officers to claim 'fear for their lives' when confronting suspects.  The evidence is 'if the suspect is black' he/she is automatically a treat.  This even applies to children.

In the reported case the officer failed to knock at the door nor announce that he was law enforcement.  If he had done either the victim would be alive today.

Officers need to be trained that they are here to protect citizens, and not assume they are a treat no matter what race they are.

"How a ‘lens of fear’ can make officers more likely to use deadly force" PBS NewsHour 10/15/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Atatianna Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew when police arrived to check on a door left ajar.  According to her nephew, Jefferson heard noises outside and pointed her gun at the window.  Officer Aaron Dean shouted and immediately fired, killing Jefferson.  Amna Nawaz discusses police training, race and the use of force with Seth Stoughton of the University of South Carolina.



TRUMP MOB - His Consigliere Rants

"As Giuliani defies subpoena, testimony reveals officials raised concern about his conduct" PBS NewsHour 10/15/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Despite the White House's efforts to block the impeachment inquiry process, depositions from long-time diplomats have shed new light on the Trump administration's approach to Ukraine, and how officials were concerned about the actions of President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.  Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to take stock of the latest developments.



CANVAS - Detroit Bread Museum

"This Detroit bead museum honors an African legacy while modeling revitalization" PBS NewsHour 10/14/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Detroit is home to an unusual museum that draws on African history and customs, filling an entire city block with installations and sculptures.  The MBAD African Bead Museum also allows visitors hands-on experiences -- and acts as a stabilizing force in a distressed area of the city.  Special correspondent Mary Ellen Geist reports.



TRUMP INVESTIGATIONS - Fiona Hill Testimony

"The significance of former Russia adviser Fiona Hill’s congressional testimony" PBS NewsHour 10/14/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Three House committees questioned Fiona Hill, President Trump’s former top Russia adviser, on Monday as part of the impeachment inquiry.  Hill, who worked in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, is considered very knowledgeable about Russia and skeptical of its president, Vladimir Putin.  Yamiche Alcindor reports and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what we know about Hill’s deposition.



TRUMP - The Betrayal

For the first time that I can remember (I'm 74) I witnessed an American President betray an ally and the American people.  In 2018 Trump promised the Kurds we would protect them if they fought ISIS as our ally.  Trump has absolutely no honer.

"As U.S. departs Syria, Kurds join Assad regime to fight a NATO ally" PBS NewsHour 10/14/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In the days since the announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria, the country’s map is being redrawn.  Both Turkey and the Russia-backed Syrian regime made territorial advances, and U.S.-partner Syrian Democratic Forces turned to Damascus for support.  As a result, an estimated 130,000 civilians have fled their homes, and imprisoned ISIS fighters have escaped.  Nick Schifrin reports.




"What Trump’s Syria withdrawal means for the Kurds, Russia and American allies" PBS NewsHour 10/14/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria has profound implications for stability both within Syria and throughout the Middle East.  Nick Schifrin talks to the University of Oklahoma’s Joshua Landis and career diplomat Ted Kattouf of Amideast about how Trump has handled the move and what it means for Syrian Kurds, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other U.S. allies.




"This Syrian city embodies the consequences of Trump’s decision" PBS NewsHour 10/15/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  In 2012, the Syrian city of Manbij joined nation-wide protests.  In 2014, those Syrian rebels lost the city to the Islamic State group.  In 2016, the U.S. fought back with the help of Kurdish forces, liberating the city.  In 2018, U.S. troops arrived to help stabilize Manbij as it recovered.  But last week the U.S. started to withdraw, and a free-for-all began.  Nick Schifrin reports.




"Turkish ambassador to U.S. disputes that Erdogan agreed to a ‘cease-fire’" PBS NewsHour 10/17/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Thursday about Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria.  They agreed to a five-day pause in the operation, but disagreed about whether or not it constitutes a "cease-fire."  Judy Woodruff reports and sits down with Serdar Kilic, Turkish ambassador to the U.S., to discuss.




"Fighting abates in northern Syria, but political and humanitarian crises endure" PBS NewsHour 10/18/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  The battleground in northeastern Syria appears to be quieting, after a cease-fire between Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters got off to a rocky start.  But will Turkey keep its word -- and was the U.S. pullout from the region appropriate?  President Trump's decision to withdraw troops has drawn bipartisan condemnation, with Sen. Mitch McConnell calling it a “grave mistake.”  Amna Nawaz reports.




"U.S. troops, Kurdish fighters to leave Syrian border region" PBS NewsHour 10/20/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  As Kurdish fighters evacuated areas of Syria near the Turkish border on Sunday, a U.S. official said American forces in the region will be redeployed to Iraq to conduct operations against the Islamic State.  Those developments came as Lebanon’s prime minister agreed to reforms amid widespread protests.  Associated Press reporter Sarah El Deeb joins Alison Stewart from Beirut to discuss.



Monday, October 07, 2019

BREXIT - Netherlands View

"As Europe braces for Brexit, the Netherlands sees benefits" PBS NewsHour 10/6/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  While many Dutch politicians say they dread the economic repercussions of the looming Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, the Netherlands is working to minimize the damage, in part by attracting some of the organizations and businesses that have already fled the United Kingdom.  NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay reports from Amsterdam.



CROATIA - City of Dubrovnik

"‘Game of Thrones’ lives on in Medieval Croatian city" PBS NewsHour 10/5/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  HBO's blockbuster series, "Game of Thrones," broke records for Emmy nominations  and wins [59] before it ended this year.  But in the small Croatian city of Dubrovnik, the series lives on.  It was the backdrop for much of the fantasy thriller, helping its tourism numbers to explode.  But some say the swashbuckling series has been a double-edged sword.  Special correspondent Christopher Livesay reports.



OPINION - Shields and Ponnuru 10/4/2019

"Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru on Trump, Ukraine and ‘quid pro quo’PBS NewsHour 10/4/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru of The National Review join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including President Trump’s insistence that foreign leaders should investigate the Biden family, how the White House is responding to the subsequent House investigation and the newest fundraising and poll numbers among 2020 Democrats.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  And an update.

Late today, the House of Representatives' Oversight Committee formally notified the White House that it is issuing a subpoena for documents related to the impeachment investigation.

Now to the political analysis of Shields and Ponnuru.  That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Ramesh Ponnuru of The National Review.  David Brooks is away.

Hello to both of you.

So, the news just keeps coming.  It's been a week of cascading information about what the President said in a phone call.  And then the President himself, Mark, reinforces this with announcing to the world that he's urging China to look into Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

My bottom-line question for both of you is, is there fire here?  Is there evidence, in your mind, of either a law that's been broken or a violation of the President's oath?  Or is this just smoke?

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist:  I think there's more than smoke, Judy.  I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV, but there's certainly a strong case to be made that the President openly solicited and sought the intervention and involvement of a foreign government on behalf of his own candidacy, an American Presidential campaign.

And I think, usually, it's the law that's in dispute in these cases of a big argument, rather, about facts.  There's no real argument about facts here.  They're pretty much out in the open.  And the President really opened it up on the driveway on Thursday, when he bid China to come in and come up with information, unflattering, libelous or criminal information, on Joe Biden and his family.

Judy Woodruff:  Ramesh, do you see this as either a law broken or a violation of his oath?

Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review:  We have this tendency to see scandals in terms of hidden events that have to be uncovered.

And so we can't always process when the President says something in public, the way he did with respect to China, when he openly, publicly, with the world watching, said that he wanted China to investigate political opponents, and that his treatment of China in trade negotiations would depend on that.

All of his defenders have been saying, no quid pro quo.  We saw a quid pro quo on national television.

Judy Woodruff:  And, of course, the President said today — made a point of coming out today and saying to the press, no, there's no quid pro quo.  I'm not tying what China does with regard to these investigations to the trade negotiations.

But he did say that yesterday.

Ramesh Ponnuru:  Right.  He said it.

And he — I think he realized that he made a mistake, and he is trying to un-say it.  But it also shows you that he will undercut the defenses that his allies make, which is one reason why a lot of Republicans have been heading for the tall grass.

They don't want to be out there defending the administration with a line that the administration itself might abandon.

Judy Woodruff:  Well, Mark — Mark…

Mark Shields:  No, I think Ramesh's point is salient and right.

There's been a little bit of the old Sherlock Holmes story about the dog that didn't bark, the story of the dog that, when the race horse was stolen, the dog didn't bark in the night, which suggested that maybe it was somebody inside the household who was responsible for the crime.

The dog didn't bark.  There's no Republicans — usually, Republicans — there's a number of Republicans you can count on to be on television.  There's no such term as indecent exposure to them.  If there's a microphone and a camera, they're there.

All of a sudden as Ramesh puts it, they're in the tall grass.  They don't want to.  And the reason is, Judy, that there is no White House strategy.  I mean, it's pretty obvious.

I mean, the difference between this and Bill Clinton in 1998, when Clinton effectively compartmentalized, I'm going about my business, Donald Trump, as one leading Republican said to me this week, ought to be working on prescription drugs.  He ought to be doing that and holding meetings on it, and this and that and the other thing.

And he's totally obsessed with this.  And he — so if you're going to defend him, you don't know what you're going to be defending an hour from now or certainly tomorrow morning.

Judy Woodruff:  Do you see a — did you see a — do you discern a White House strategy in all of this?

Ramesh Ponnuru:  Well, I think, as often is the case with this administration, there is a strategy for holding the President's base supporters.

And that may well be enough, because you need a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate to convict and remove a President from office.  So if you're looking forward to the endgame, just maintaining your base is enough.

I don't see a strategy right now that is trying to change the minds to of people in the middle.

Judy Woodruff:  Meanwhile, Mark, the congressional Democrats, the House Democrats — and we just mentioned another one — they're asking the White House now for documents.

I was told just a moment ago it's White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, among others.  They're asking for documents as they pursue these investigations.

But they have asked Secretary of State Pompeo.  They have asked Vice President Pence.  This is not — they seem to be moving briskly with this.  What does that tell you?  Is that the smart course?  Should they be taking their time?  What do you make of this?

Mark Shields:  Well, I think events are very much in the saddle.  And I think it's moved a lot faster than anybody anticipated.

If a week ago, you had suggested that the President was going to call for the arrest and trial on treason for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee this week, and go on at a pace, as Ramesh described, as his negotiation on trade with China on the basis of information on the Bidens, you know, it — so I don't think there's any master plan here, Judy.

And the White House's decision to say, we want a vote on the impeachment in the House, that puts a lot of House Republicans in a bad position.  I mean, do you want to vote against an impeachment inquiry and then get overcome by events, I mean, to put you in a position November of 2020 when you wanted — it looks like you wanted the dust everything under the rug, because, given the velocity with which disclosures are being made, that's a very risky vote for a lot of House Republicans?

Judy Woodruff:  Right.

Do you want to give the Democrats, the House Democrats, a grade on how they're pursuing this?

Ramesh Ponnuru:  Well, I think there have been some errors.

I think that Chairman Schiff's dissembling really about his contacts or his staff's contacts with the whistle-blower was an unforced error.

But I think the key thing going forward, the Democrats have to internalize that the politically smart thing to do is not to constantly be trying to figure out the politically smart thing to do at each step of the process.

They have got to handle this like a serious inquiry for adults and not be distracted by every moment's polls.

Judy Woodruff:  Do you think they're doing that right now?

Ramesh Ponnuru:  I think that they are trying.

I think that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made a very concerted effort to get Democrats to take a step back a little bit, not be gleeful about condemning this administration, but to rather have a posture of seeing where the facts go.

Judy Woodruff:  Mark, you have been watching this city for a long time.

Do you think this is something the Democrats can get done?  They have said they want to get it done as quickly as possible.  Can they get something like this, the inquiry finished, move on potentially to an actual impeachment vote in a matter of a few weeks or month?

Mark Shields:  I think probably months, Judy.

But, I mean, just take somebody like Mike Pompeo, secretary of state.  They were talking seriously a week ago about him running for the United States Senate from Kansas.  He was the logical inevitable candidate of the Republicans.  I think he's a lot less so today.

I mean, this is reaching out and touching more and more people.  I do disagree with Ramesh on Nick Schifrin and the Intelligence Committee.  I think it's absolutely natural that the whistle-blower, a professional public employee, would go to the staff.

I mean, he has been surrounded by people who have been hostile.  And I think it's very — it's very frank, and we ought to take notice of the fact that the only reason we're aware of what's happened is because of career public employees.

This is not — these weren't political appointees.  These are people who are nameless, faceless, who get attacked by every cheap shot in a political campaign.

But at Foreign Service and at CIA and the Department of Justice — the I.G. was a Department of Justice 15-year attorney.  So, I mean, I think it's time to give some credit to the people who did put their vow of service above their own self-interest.



GENERAL MOTORS STRIKE - What's at Stake

"How General Motors strike reflects pivotal moment for U.S. auto industry" PBS NewsHour 10/3/2019

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  A national strike by the United Auto Workers is now in its 18th day.  The walkout of 46,000 employees affects more than 50 General Motors sites, and although the two sides continue to talk and are said to be making progress, several key issues remain to be resolved.  William Brangham talks to Micki Maynard, a journalist who follows the automotive industry in Detroit, about the stakes for each side.