Tuesday, March 20, 2018

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Republican strategist Rick Tyler asserted on Monday that President Donald Trump will eventually find a way to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Republicans in Congress will do “nothing” about it.

During a panel discussion on MSNBC, host Stephanie Ruhle asked Tyler if Trump was running a campaign to “discredit” special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Here’s what’s going to happen, I’m going to go out on a limb,” Tyler began. “The president has calculated now — and I think it’s true — is the reaction from the Republicans. He is going to fire Robert Mueller. And you know what’s going to happen? Nothing. That’s what’s going to happen. There will be no response from Republican leadership, from Congress.”

Tyler continued as the other guests looked on in amazement.

“He is now going about — the reason to fire [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe], the reason to deny him his retirement is he has to discredit him,” Tyler said. “And he has to systematically discredit everybody who’s involved in this Russia investigation. And he has now seen that he can do these things without any recourse. The Congress is not going to rein him in.”

The GOP strategist predicted Mueller’s firing would come “sooner rather than later, before he can get any further… on money laundering or other tangential issues.”

Every bone in my body tells me that Rick Tyler is correct on the first count and 99.97% correct on the second.  Now, what happens after that will decide whether or not we get to, as Ben Franklin warned, still maintain "a republic, if you can keep it."

Mueller is closing in, so Trump will move quickly once he exhausts his thinly veiled hints that Mueller should end the investigation.

President Trump’s attorneys have provided the special counsel’s office with written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation in hopes of curtailing the scope of a presidential interview, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Trump’s legal team recently shared the documents in an effort to limit any session between the president and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to a few select topics, the people said. The lawyers are worried that Trump, who has a penchant for making erroneous claims, would be vulnerable in an hours-long interview.

The decision to share materials with Mueller’s team is part of an effort by Trump’s lawyers to minimize his exposure to the special counsel, whom the president recently attacked in a series of tweets.

Trump has told aides he is “champing at the bit” to sit for an interview, according to one person. But his lawyers, who are carefully negotiating the terms of a sit-down, recognize the extraordinarily high stakes.

As part of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Mueller is probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed justice by trying to block the investigation. In particular, his team is focused on Trump’s firing of his national security adviser and the FBI director, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

When it becomes clear that Mueller will not stick to those "few select topics" (which consist of how everyone but Trump and his family are guilty) and that Mueller will proceed into the Russian lection meddling and money laundering, and the obstruction of justice by Trump, he'll make the order out of increasingly unstable rage and then expect his lackeys to clean up the mess.

That fight, when it comes, will determine the future of America as a democracy or something far more sinister and authoritarian.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Last Call For Race To The Bottom

A groundbreaking new Harvard study of my generation (late Gen X/early millennials born from 1978-1983) finds that even when black men come from wealthy families, have similar education to white men, have similar family situations with stable two parent households, and even coming from families with similar net worth, they earn significantly less than white men.

Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.

White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.

Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools.

According to the study, led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, income inequality between blacks and whites is driven entirely by what is happening among these boys and the men they become. Black and white girls from families with comparable earnings attain similar individual incomes as adults.

“You would have thought at some point you escape the poverty trap,” said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and an author of the study.

Black boys — even rich black boys — can seemingly never assume that.

The study, based on anonymous earnings and demographic data for virtually all Americans now in their late 30s, debunks a number of other widely held hypotheses about income inequality. Gaps persisted even when black and white boys grew up in families with the same income, similar family structures, similar education levels and even similar levels of accumulated wealth.

The disparities that remain also can’t be explained by differences in cognitive ability, an argument made by people who cite racial gaps in test scores that appear for both black boys and girls. If such inherent differences existed by race, “you’ve got to explain to me why these putative ability differences aren’t handicapping women,” said David Grusky, a Stanford sociologist who has reviewed the research.

A more likely possibility, the authors suggest, is that test scores don’t accurately measure the abilities of black children in the first place.

If this inequality can’t be explained by individual or household traits, much of what matters probably lies outside the home — in surrounding neighborhoods, in the economy and in a society that views black boys differently from white boys, and even from black girls.

One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea,” said Ibram Kendi, a professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. “But for whatever reason, we’re unwilling to stare racism in the face.”

The disparity is so bad that black boys from wealthy families end up earning about the same as white men from working-class families, if not less.  The study also finds that white boys from working-class families have a significantly better chance of being wealthy than black boys do.

The most interesting finding is that the race gap doesn't exist between black and white girls from wealthy families...but both groups earn significantly less than white men.  But here's what killed me when I read it:

The new data shows that 21 percent of black men raised at the very bottom were incarcerated, according to a snapshot of a single day during the 2010 census. Black men raised in the top 1 percent — by millionaires — were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.

 More than 20% of black boys from the poorest families in America end up in prison.

Oh, and black Americans of my age group are considerably less likely to be married.  Black kids from the top 1% of families are less likely to be married than 80% of white kids.

The system is broken and it has been for decades.  Or rather, it's working as designed to generate plenty of "product" for the prison industry.

But what this study does is put to rest the zombie lie that somehow white Americans are being discriminated against, that it's hard to be white in America, and that black Americans are somehow getting all the special treatment.  We've got an entire political party built on that lie currently, and the most racist president since the Civil War (although Woodrow Wilson remains high on that particular list) and for now it has near total control of the country.

Maybe this will start to change peoples' minds, but when has America ever paid attention to fact on race?

Meanwhile In Bevinstan...

Things aren't going very well for Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin.  He figured by this point in 2018 he'd have both his pension bill that takes the retirements of thousands of Kentucky teachers taken out back and shot, and that his across-the-board state budget austerity cuts would be well in hand with the new GOP majority in Frankfort.

Then reality happened.

Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover's career imploded after he resigned the speaker's post over a sexual harassment scandal, un-resigned, then resigned again after the furor got too much to handle.  Republican State Rep. Dan Johnson got caught in his own sexual assault scandal, committed suicide, and his wife ran for his seat and lost to a Democratic teacher in the special election to replace him.  Now it looks like the pension bill, Bevin's crowning achievement in the field of punishing those evil, greedy, overpaid teachers, is dead on arrival and Bevin is going to take the blame for stepping on his own crank.

Senate Bill 1 would end traditional pensions for future teachers and cut retired teachers’ cost-of-living allowances, among other cost-saving changes.

Senate leadership has said it will be difficult to pass such a bill before the legislative session ends April 13. 
“It has a very limited and difficult path forward at this point in time,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Wednesday. 
Bevin pointed out that he has fully funded the system, which had gone years without full funding. 
But he said continuing to put more and more money in without structural change would be “like putting water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom of it. ...We have to patch the bottom of the bucket in this case before we fill it up.” 
The video statement came just days after Bevin’s comments in a radio interview drew outrage from teachers. 
On Tuesday while speaking to a Campbellsville radio station, Bevin said teachers who oppose Senate Bill 1 were “selfish” and “ignorant,” and he compared them to disloyal Americans who hoarded rationed goods during World War II
“This would be like people having mass demonstrations about, ‘No I want my butter, I want my sugar, I’m going to keep all my steel and my rubber and my copper, and to heck with the rest of you people, you better keep giving me mine,’” Bevin said. “...It’s just straight up about wanting more than your fair share.” 
Teachers responded Thursday, speaking out against the governor’s characterization at “walk-in” rallies in protest of SB 1. 
Bevin said in the video Saturday that he has “tremendous respect for those of you who are teaching.”

Too little, too late.  Bevin's trying to save his cuts, but even in Kentucky, Republicans can and will get burned as the Trump effect drowns the GOP nationwide and they know it.  Republicans in Kentucky already have horrific press here this year, and "passing a bill to wreck teachers" on top of two massive sexual misconduct scandals and Bevin being a giant asshole just might be enough to actually hand the House back to the Dems.  Maybe.  (That's a long shot.)

But that's how bad things have gotten for Kentucky Republicans this year.

Oh, and the budget is still a complete disaster.

The Senate has no plans to raise taxes on painkillers and cigarettes — a move the House approved to raise about $500 million over the next two years for education and other programs. 
The Republican-led Senate is in the process of writing its own version of the state’s two-year budget, but leaders won’t yet say what their decision to jettison the proposed tax increases means for education. 
“I don’t know about that. You’ll have to wait and see our budget,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters Friday after voicing opposition to the tax increases. 
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said Friday the full Senate is expected to vote on its budget bill next Tuesday or Wednesday after it is approved by the Senate budget committee. 
Republican House leaders said the extra money by their proposed tax package would be used largely to reverse spending cuts to education programs proposed by Gov. Matt Bevin, also a Republican. 
The House plan includes raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 50 cents to $1.10 and levying a 25 cent tax on prescription opioids each time a dosage is sold by a distributor to a pharmacy, the first such tax in the country. 
With the extra revenue, the House offered more to education than Bevin proposed, including funding for transportation at K-12 schools, a state subsidy of health insurance costs for retired teachers who aren’t old enough to qualify for Medicare, the main funding formula for schools and public universities. 
Stivers said there is “a real question” about the legality of taxing opioids. He said the tax on cigarettes would not be good policy because it would be based on a shrinking source of revenue. 
Once the Senate approves its budget bill, a conference committee made up of leaders from the House and Senate, will be formed to iron out differences between the two chambers.

Half a billion dollars in new taxes on Kentucky smokers (and yeah, we have one of the highest smoking rates in the nation at 30%)  isn't going to win over a lot of friends I'm thinking, not to mention taxing prescription painkillers even being legal.  Vice taxes are regressive, period, and it's only going to hurt people in the long run.

In the short run, who knows what the Kentucky Senate will do.  Kentucky is an economic disaster right now, and the blame falls squarely on Matt Bevin's "leadership".

The Return Of The Revenge Of Shutdown Countdown

It's that time of year again as the six-week punt by Republicans in February still means that without a spending bill by the end of the week, the government shuts down again (and Mitch McConnell definitely hasn't met his promise on DACA funding.)  The catch is both sides know election season is imminent and the GOP can't have this mess around their necks, which means Democrats are holding a lot of leverage this time.

The House and Senate need to pass their massive 2018 spending bill before the government shuts down on Friday. Senior sources from both parties on Capitol Hill tell me they expect they'll get the deal done — though there's plenty of last minute haggling.

The big picture: This spending bill will cost more than $1 trillion and will further add to the deficit, which is likely to reach at least $800 billion for the 2018 fiscal year. Republican leaders and Trump will sell the spending package as a much-needed boost to military spending. House defense hawks, led by House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, campaigned aggressively for this boost. And Democrats will rightly be thrilled that they've forced Republicans to capitulate to fund so many of their domestic priorities.

But fiscal conservatives are furious. "[Leadership is] going to say we funded our defense," one conservative House member told me. "And they will ignore the fact they've bankrupted our country in the process."

"People will start to say 'Why does it matter who's in power'?" added the member, who asked for anonymity because the bill has not been published yet.

Behind-the-scenes: During a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week, a deeply frustrated conservative House member said he wanted to introduce a motion to rename this week's spending bill the "2018 base voter suppression bill," according to a source in the room. We expect that the ultra conservative House Freedom Caucus members will vote against the bill, and that the deal will ride through with Democratic votes. (A common view within leadership and the administration is that the Freedom Caucus was never going to vote for the bill anyway.)

Which would mean that in the end, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats beat the House GOP Freedom Caucus.


Republicans are going to have a really tough sale on a budget that starts at the point where we start at an $800 billion deficit a year and those massive, massive cuts that Paul Ryan wanted?  He'll get some, but nowhere near what he wanted.  And with the very real likelihood that Ryan will no longer be Speaker come January, he knows he has lost his last chance.

Maybe Pelosi's good at her job, guys?  Just saying.  


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time, Con't

At least one Republican is finally speaking out on the very real possibility that Trump will fire Robert Mueller and warning him not to do it.  Sort of.

Sen. Lindsey Graham gave a stern warning Sunday to President Donald Trump against firing special counsel Robert Mueller. 
"As I said before, if he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency," the South Carolina Republican said on CNN's "State of the Union." 
"The only reason that Mr. Mueller could be dismissed is for cause. I see no cause when it comes to Mr. Mueller," Graham said, later adding he believed the Mueller was "doing a good job." 
Graham called for Mueller to be able to carry out his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election "independent of any political influence." 
"I pledge to the American people, as a Republican, to make sure that Mr. Mueller can continue to do his job without any interference," he said. 

Frankly, Graham won't be able to do much of anything about it by himself without GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan or GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.  This is John McCain and the tax bill all over again, which destroyed Obamacare's individual mandate even as McCain promised to fight against Trump's changes to the Affordable Care Act.

The actions of the GOP, especially Senators, leads me to believe that in the end they do not care.

I don't believe Lindsey Graham will protect Mueller and anyone who does is a fool.

School Funding Blues

Red states have tons of financial issues, you only have to look at what Sam Brownback and the GOP did to Kansas or what Matt Bevin has done in just over two years as governor of Kentucky.  Oklahoma schools are only open four days out of the week now and it's only going to get worse as red state economies are wrecked by Trump's trade war.

But that doesn't mean blue states don't have serious inequality issues.  West coast housing is in a massive bubble right now, and when that pops it's going to take millions of jobs and billions of dollars with it.  And Massachusetts still has a school funding disparity where the poorest districts are so underfunded that they are rightfully suing the state on civil rights grounds.

Twenty-five years after the state enacted its landmark Education Reform Act, which pumped millions of dollars into public education, enormous funding gaps exist between poor and affluent school systems. By many accounts, the gaps are widening. 
Now, Brockton is exploring a lawsuit against the state — challenging the funding system — and is lining up other school districts to join it. Worcester, another struggling city, decided last month to jump in. 
Brockton and Worcester school leaders view the funding inequities as a civil rights issue, depriving their students, who are largely poor, minority, and immigrants, the right to an equal education. The chief culprit, they argue, is the state’s formula for doling out aid, which favors poorer districts but has failed, by a wide margin, to keep pace with the actual cost of providing a public education. 
Real estate taxes fund most of the rest of school spending, a fact that further locks in inequality of opportunity. Wealthy communities have an obvious, systemic advantage; they can make up the difference and then some, while others, like Brockton, are barely scraping by. A legislative commission highlighted this divide 2½ years ago and implored lawmakers to update the state formula to reflect the true cost of an education. 
But the new legislation, which would likely require the state to spend hundreds of millions of additional dollars, has moved slowly on Beacon Hill. 
Superintendent Smith, who began as a teacher in Brockton four decades ago, said she never thought she would see the return of the days when Brockton had 38 students in a class, not enough desks, and not enough books. She said she spent much of last summer fretting about how deeply she would need to cut. 
“We waited all summer to see if this money would come in or that money,” Smith said in a recent interview. “It was just devastating all the way through. . . . We are hanging on by a thread.” 
State data reveal huge gulfs in the wealth of the state’s school systems. In Brockton, household income on a per-pupil basis is $95,000. Yet 30 miles away in Weston, it is $1.5 million per student. Brockton’s equalized property valuation on a per-pupil basis is $309,000; in Weston, $2.6 million. 
Overall, Brockton spent $14,778 per student, while Weston spent $24,458. Seventy percent of Brockton’s students are economically disadvantaged, lack English fluency, or have disabilities, which means they cost more to educate because they often require specialized programs or extra tutoring. In Weston only 24 percent of students fall into one of those categories, and yet the town spends vastly more on its schools — because it wants to and can.

At every turn, and it seems like in every state, it's black and brown students who have the worst schools because school funding is nearly always tied to property taxes and home values.  The rich kids get funding and good schools, the poor kids get cut programs, 20 year old textbooks that are falling apart, and schools that can't even keep the heat on.

Blue states are trying, sort of, to fix the problem.  But even people there are having to turn to the courts for relief.  The big difference there is Trump hasn't completely stacked the federal circuits in New England at the West Coast with conservatives.


Sunday Long Read: A Pipeline To The Lord

The Koch Brothers have been funding "bait-and-switch" propaganda rallies in black neighborhoods for years, where they use black churches and their congregations to tell residents that new pipelines going through their back yards will help them instead of destroy black communities.

In December 2016, gospel music stars descended on a local community center in Richmond’s East Highland Park neighborhood. Hundreds of residents from throughout the area had answered the call to attend a concert marketed as an opportunity for enlightenment, both spiritual and environmental.

As a sea of hands waved through the air as eyes closed in prayer, what many in the crowd didn’t know was that they were the target of a massive propaganda campaign. One of the event’s sponsors was a fossil-fuel advocacy group called Fueling U.S. Forward, an outfit supported by Koch Industries, the petrochemicals, paper, and wood product conglomerate founded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.

The gospel program was designed to highlight the benefits of oil and natural gas production and its essential role in the American way of life. During a break in the music, a panel discussion unfolded about skyrocketing utility costs. The lobbyists and businesspeople on the panel presented a greater reliance on fossil fuels — billed as cheap, reliable energy sources — as the fix. Later, a surprise giveaway netted four lucky attendees the opportunity to have their power bills paid for them.

The event was one big bait and switch, according to environmental experts and local activists. Come for the gospel music, then listen to us praise the everlasting goodness of oil and gas. Supporting this sort of pro-oil-and-gas agenda sprinkled over the songs of praise, they say, would only worsen the pollution and coastal flooding that come with climate change, hazards that usually hit Virginia’s black residents the hardest.

“The tactic was tasteless and racist, plain and simple,” says Kendyl Crawford, the Sierra Club of Richmond’s conservation program coordinator. “It’s exploiting the ignorance many communities have about climate change.”

Rev. Wilson likens that gospel concert to the Biblical story of Judas accepting 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. Like many African Americans in Virginia, he initially didn’t connect environmental policy with what he calls the “institutional racism” — think racial profiling, lack of economic opportunity, etc. — that can plague black communities nationwide. Now he considers “the sea level rising or the air quality in the cities” another existential threat.

So in response to the Koch Brothers’ attempt to sway their flocks, Wilson and others affiliated with black churches in Virginia have channeled their outrage into a new calling: climate advocacy. For Wilson, environmentalism has become a biblical mission.

“The climate is changing,” he says. “And it’s black folk in Virginia who will lose the most.”

If there's anything about climate change that you should know, it's that the first people to lose everything in the increasing magnitude of environmental disasters in America will be black and brown people.  You have to look no further than Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey, or the double hurricanes in Puerto Rico where residents still don't have power after six months and nobody running our government seems to give a good god damn.

Disasters tend to lower prices of land quite a bit, and there's still plenty of it that black and brown people live on that American corporations still want to take. New Orleans lost tens of thousands of residents and it changed the political landscape of Louisiana.

The same thing is happening in Texas: if you think a blue wave is going to help Beto O' Rourke beat Ted Cruz in November, you're not factoring in the hundreds of thousands of displaced Houston residents from the city who are no longer in the state, or won't be able to prove they have the right to vote because their homes, IDs, and documents were washed away. It'll be mostly Democratic voters of color in America's fourth-largest city who won't be able to vote.

No rush to remedy that problem.  I figure Harvey will push back the bluing of Texas by a another decade or so, and Republicans who run the state will be just fine with that.

It's good to see black pastors figure out that they're the product being bought and sold, and that they are fighting back, but it's far too late.  Disaster capitalism in the Trump era is only going to get worse.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Yesterday I pointed out how Steve Bannon's data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, stole 50 million voter Facebook profiles in 2014 to use in 2016.

The election may not have been stolen, but it was manipulated with a precision that would have impressed even the most jaded sci-fi writers and futurists.  Now, combine Cambridge Analytica's voter data trove with Russia's Internet Research Agency, indicted by Robert Mueller for election meddling, and you start to see exactly how Trump's 2016 victory went down.

Cambridge had the data but didn't have the propaganda resources. IRA had the propaganda experience and the social media bot army but needed the voter data to seed their operation and pick their target groups for maximum effectiveness.

This, folks, was the most likely collusion.  It worked well enough to put Trump in the White house despite losing by more than 3 million votes.  And in my view, it's a question of when, not if, Robert Mueller can show a link between Cambridge and Steve Bannon and the Russian IRA operation.

It didn't even take 24 hours for the NY Times to find that link.

When the Russia question came up during a hearing at the British Parliament last month, Alexander Nix did not hesitate.

“We’ve never worked in Russia,” said Mr. Nix, head of a data consulting firm that advised the Trump campaign on targeting voters.

“As far as I’m aware, we’ve never worked for a Russian company,” Mr. Nix added. “We’ve never worked with a Russian organization in Russia or any other country, and we don’t have any relationship with Russia or Russian individuals.”

But Mr. Nix’s business did have some dealings with Russian interests, according to company documents and interviews.

Mr. Nix is a director of SCL Group, a British political and defense contractor, and chief executive of its American offshoot, Cambridge Analytica, which advised the Trump campaign. The firms’ employees, who often overlap, had contact in 2014 and 2015 with executives from Lukoil, the Russian oil giant.

Lukoil was interested in how data was used to target American voters, according to two former company insiders who said there were at least three meetings with Lukoil executives in London and Turkey. SCL and Lukoil denied that the talks were political in nature, and SCL also said there were no meetings in London.

The contacts took place as Cambridge Analytica was building a roster of Republican political clients in the United States — and harvesting the Facebook profiles of over 50 million users to develop tools it said could analyze voters’ behavior.

Cambridge Analytica also included extensive questions about Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, in surveys it was carrying out in American focus groups in 2014. It is not clear what — or which client — prompted the line of questioning, which asked for views on topics ranging from Mr. Putin’s popularity to Russian expansionism.

On two promotional documents obtained by The New York Times, SCL said it did business in Russia. In both documents, the country is highlighted on world maps that specify the location of SCL clients, with one of the maps noting that the clients were for the firm’s elections division. In a statement, SCL said an employee had done “commercial work” about 25 years ago “for a private company in Russia.”

Lukoil is run by Vagit Alekperov, a former oil minister under Putin.  Putin knows the guy pretty well, as both men have gotten very, very wealthy off of Russian oil.  Lukoil has done business in the US for a long time, if you remember that picture of Chuck Schumer and Putin eating Krispy Kreme in 2003, it was at Lukoil's grand opening of its first gas station in Manhattan.

And now Putin owns our government.

By the way, there's a 100% chance that Putin will win today's Russian elections and rule the country for another six years.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Republicans are now well into making their move against Robert Mueller this week.  I talked a few days ago about House Republicans shutting down their investigation of Trump/Russia, and predicted it would be the political cover the GOP needed to move against Muller.  It wasn't a particularly bold prediction to make, Trump's lawyers tipped their hand last Saturday in saying they wanted to cut a ridiculous deal where Muller agreed to end his investigation if Trump granted Mueller an interview.

We know what events triggered the move too: the grand jury testimony of former Trump campaign consultant Sam Nunberg combined with news that Mueller had subpoenaed financial documents from the Trump Organization itself earlier this year.  All sides know Mueller is closing in, which brings us to the present.  First, Senate Republicans are now on board with the House GOP on a new special counsel to go after the FBI and the basis of Mueller's investigation.

Four Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday sought the appointment of a second special counsel to aid the Department of Justice inspector general in probing the FBI's use of the so-called Steele dossier in its surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide.

The Judiciary panel's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), was joined by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) in requesting that DOJ name a special prosecutor to zero in on possible mishandling of the FBI's Russia investigation prior to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Specifically, the quartet raised concerns about the FBI's relationship with Christopher Steele, who compiled a dossier of verified and unverified intelligence alleging a Russian effort to compromise now-President Donald Trump.

Grassley and Graham, who previously requested that the DOJ open a criminal probe of Steele's conduct, on Feb. 28 asked DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz to probe the department's handling of investigations into Trump transition or campaign officials, as well as the Trump administration before Mueller's appointment. Horowitz has been investigating possible DOJ misconduct related to the Hillary Clinton email investigation since early 2017.

The Republican senators noted in their Thursday letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that under current law, "the Inspector General does not have the tools that a prosecutor would to gather all the facts, such as the ability to obtain testimony from essential witnesses who are not current DOJ employees."

"Thus, we believe that a special counsel is needed to work with the Inspector General to independently gather the facts and make prosecutorial decisions, if any are merited," the Republicans continued. "The Justice Department cannot credibly investigate itself without these enhanced measures of independence to ensure that the public can have confidence in the outcome."

And if that's not enough, now we get to the heart of the matter: the Trump regime today is openly suggesting that it's time for Jeff Sessions to fire Robert Mueller.

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, told The Daily Beast on Saturday morning that he hopes Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will shut down the Mueller probe.

Reached for comment by email about the firing of former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, sent The Daily Beast the text of Trump’s most recent tweet on the subject, which applauded the firing. Then he wrote that Rosenstein should follow Sessions' lead.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd then wrote.

He told The Daily Beast he was speaking on behalf of the president, in his capacity as the president’s attorney

Dowd also emailed the text below, which is an annotated version of a line from a well-known 20th century play:

“What's that smell in this room[Bureau}? Didn't you notice it, Brick [Jim]? Didn't you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room[Bureau}?... There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity[corruption]... You can smell it. It smells like death.” Tennessee Williams — ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

Rosenstein is overseeing the probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from matters related to the 2016 campaign.

Dowd is now saying that he wasn't officially speaking in capacity as the lawyer to the office of president, but this is as close as you're going to get to  "Will no one rid me of this troublesome Mueller?" as it gets until it happens.

Here's my theory:  Tillerson being fired while on the crapper was done for two reasons: Trump wants a war to distract the American public, and he wanted to put pressure on Jeff Sessions.  Note Trump and the GOP have now asked Sessions to do three things, fire McCabe and deny him his full retirement benefits, appoint a special counsel to investigate the FBI and the Mueller probe, and fire Mueller.

Sessions has done one of the three now.

The question now becomes how long before he does the other two?  And when he does, what will the American people do when the GOP shrugs and goes along with it?

Russian To Judgment, Con't

The Andrew McCabe firing almost covered up a much bigger story from yesterday: Facebook has suspended Steve Bannon's voter data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, from access to its platform after admitting the company stole data on 50 million user profiles in 2014.

As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem.

The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.

So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica’s drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm — and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics — under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge and worked there until late 2014, said of its leaders: “Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.”

They want to fight a culture war in America,” he added. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”

And they won that war in 2016.  If you want to know how Donald Trump lost the popular vote but won the electoral one, eking out precise victories in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the voter data his campaign needed was already in hand.  Without those three states, Hillary Clinton would have won, a difference of a few hundred thousand votes in a contest where 125 million votes were cast, a fraction of a percentage point.

They knew precisely who to go after.  And it worked so well, they struck a second time in Britain with the Brexit vote.

Details of Cambridge’s acquisition and use of Facebook data have surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting off a furious debate about the merits of the firm’s so-called psychographic modeling techniques.

But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.

Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.

“This was a scam — and a fraud,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier on Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,” Mr. Grewal said.

Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and other officials had repeatedly denied obtaining or using Facebook data, most recently during a parliamentary hearing last month. But in a statement to The Times, the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Mr. Kogan for violating Facebook’s rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.

In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators, who are scrutinizing possible data privacy violations and allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign. In the United States, Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.

The election may not have been stolen, but it was manipulated with a precision that would have impressed even the most jaded sci-fi writers and futurists.  Now, combine Cambridge Analytica's voter data trove with Russia's Internet Research Agency, indicted by Robert Mueller for election meddling, and you start to see exactly how Trump's 2016 victory went down.

Cambridge had the data but didn't have the propaganda resources. IRA had the propaganda experience and the social media bot army but needed the voter data to seed their operation and pick their target groups for maximum effectiveness.

This, folks, was the most likely collusion.  It worked well enough to put Trump in the White house despite losing by more than 3 million votes.  And in my view, it's a question of when, not if, Robert Mueller can show a link between Cambridge and Steve Bannon and the Russian IRA operation.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Last Call For A Late Deadline

The Trump regime has made its Friday Night News Dump™ and it's a major development: two days before his scheduled retirement with full benefits, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has fired former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Friday night fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a little more than 24 hours before McCabe was set to retire.

Sessions announced the decision in a statement just before 10 p.m., noting that both the Justice Department Inspector General and the FBI office that handles discipline had found “that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.”

He said based on those findings and the recommendation of the department’s senior career official, “I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately.”

The move will likely cost McCabe a significant portion of his retirement benefits, though it is possible he could bring a legal challenge. McCabe has been fighting vigorously to keep his job, and on Thursday, he spent nearly four hours inside the Justice Department pleading his case.

Michael R. Bromwich, McCabe’s attorney, said in a lengthy statement responding to the allegations that he had “never before seen the type of rush to judgment — and rush to summary punishment — that we have witnessed in this case.” He cited in particular President Trump’s attacks on McCabe on Twitter and the White House press secretary’s comments about him on Thursday — which he said were “quite clearly designed to put inappropriate pressure on the Attorney General to act accordingly.”

Let's not forget the real reason McCabe was fired: obstruction of justice of Robert Mueller's investigation against Donald Trump.  Trump's multiple tweets taunting McCabe and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling McCabe a "bad actor" yesterday while openly admitting McCabe's termination before his retirement eligibility was now something Trump wanted to happen all but gives the game away here, but then somebody spotted a Fox News draft story announcing the move published several hours before McCabe was actually fired.

Surprise, it was real, just that it was published hours before it happened.  What a coincidence.

For his part, McCabe is firing back hard.

The dismissal from his decades-long home at the department marks an ignominious end to a once-storied career for McCabe, who stepped aside as FBI deputy director in January. That departure came ahead of an inspector general’s inquiry that’s expected to criticize his handling of an October 2016 media report on his wife’s failed run for the Virginia State Senate and his handling of investigations into Hillary Clinton.

But McCabe sees bigger forces at work in the Justice Department inspector general’s inquiry — which he views as part of a broader campaign to impugn him for his role in handling the FBI’s Russia investigation and his ties to special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Look, it’s personally devastating. It’s so tough on my family,” he told POLITICO during a wide-ranging interview conducted earlier this month, before his firing.

“But at some point, this has to be seen in the larger context,” said McCabe, 49, who says he has voted for every Republican presidential nominee until he sat out the 2016 contest entirely. “And I firmly believe that this is an ongoing effort to undermine my credibility because of the work that I did on the Russia case, because of the investigations that I oversaw and impacted that target this administration.”

“They have every reason to believe that I could end up being a significant witness in whatever the special counsel comes up with, and so they are trying to create this counter-narrative that I am not someone who can be believed or trusted
,” McCabe added. “And as someone who has been believed and trusted by really good people for 21 years, it’s just infuriating to me.”

What McCabe is describing there is obstruction of justice.  Period.

Russian To Judgment

Donald Trump may look the other way on Russian interference in US elections, while grudgingly admitting that having Putin's people bump off spies in broad daylight on British soil might be problematic, but it looks like not even Trump is willing to give Moscow a pass on the latest Russian cyberattack operation: hacking the US power grid so that Putin could shut off the lights at will.

The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will.

United States officials and private security firms saw the attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities in the event of a conflict.

They said the strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the Russian interference in the American election was underway. The attackers had compromised some operators in North America and Europe by spring 2017, after President Trump was inaugurated.

In the following months, according to a Department of Homeland Security report issued on Thursday, Russian hackers made their way to machines with access to critical control systems at power plants that were not identified. The hackers never went so far as to sabotage or shut down the computer systems that guide the operations of the plants.

Still, new computer screenshots released by the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday made clear that Russian state hackers had the foothold they would have needed to manipulate or shut down power plants.

“We now have evidence they’re sitting on the machines, connected to industrial control infrastructure, that allow them to effectively turn the power off or effect sabotage,” said Eric Chien, a security technology director at Symantec, a digital security firm.

“From what we can see, they were there. They have the ability to shut the power off. All that’s missing is some political motivation,” Mr. Chien said.

American intelligence agencies were aware of the attacks for the past year and a half, and the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. first issued urgent warnings to utility companies in June. On Thursday, both agencies offered new details as the Trump administration imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations it accused of election meddling and “malicious cyberattacks.”

It was the first time the administration officially named Russia as the perpetrator of the assaults. And it marked the third time in recent months that the White House, departing from its usual reluctance to publicly reveal intelligence, blamed foreign government forces for attacks on infrastructure in the United States.

We're now seeing the fruits of Russia's two biggest counterintelligence coups: Edward Snowden's defection to Moscow with hundreds of thousands of classified NSA documents in 2013, and Thomas Martin, the NSA contractor who was arrested in October 2016 for what was an even larger mole operation.

You can bet your sweet bippy that the info Moscow gained from these treasure troves directly led to to our power and water systems being compromised by our good friends at the Kremlin over the last year or so.  US Cyber security firms have been warning that our power and water infrastructure have been compromised for months now, but only now is the Trump regime saying anything, pointing the deadly obvious finger at Putin's merry band of assholes.

The Russians gained the keys to the kingdom, and they've been raiding the pantry ever since.  Not even Trump can ignore Russia if they take over a nuclear plant or three.  The US sanctions in return are barely better than nothing, Putin doesn't care unless the US goes after his billions personally (which Trump won't do as Putin would use whatever leverage he had to end him politically) but at least we now know where the line is that actually gets Trump to take token action against Russia.

But it remains token action at best.  This week we've seen both the Secretary of State and now most likely the National Security Adviser fired, both men wanted real sanctions against Russia and Putin. Both men are now gone and odds are several more on the way out.  They will be replaced by folks who definitely want war with other nations, and who definitely will not do a thing about Russia's continued attacks on the country.

We're deep in the heart of darkness guys, and it's going to get a lot worse and soon.

Trump Cards, Con't

It looks like the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was only the beginning as Trump, increasingly cornered and with investigations now closing in on his businesses, has now decided that everyone else in the White House and Cabinet has failed him and is now ruthlessly culling those around him.

President Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser and is actively discussing potential replacements, according to five people with knowledge of the plans, preparing to deliver yet another jolt to the senior ranks of his administration.

Trump is now comfortable with ousting McMaster, with whom he never personally gelled, but is willing to take time executing the move because he wants to ensure both that the three-star Army general is not humiliated and that there is a strong successor lined up, these people said.

The turbulence is part of a broader potential shake-up under consideration by Trump that is likely to include senior officials at the White House, where staffers are gripped by fear and un­certainty as they await the next move from an impulsive president who enjoys stoking conflict.

For all of the evident disorder, Trump feels emboldened, advisers said — buoyed by what he views as triumphant decisions last week to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum and to agree to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The president is enjoying the process of assessing his team and making changes, tightening his inner circle to those he considers survivors and who respect his unconventional style, one senior White House official said.

And yes, Trump is considering replacing McMaster with John Bolton's Mustache, which would be a dead solid indicator of war coming with somebody before Mueller can complete his work.  Mueller might not get to finish though if Trump goes full Saturday Night Massacre.

McMaster is not the only senior official on thin ice with the president. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has attracted Trump’s ire for his spending decisions as well as for general disorder in the senior leadership of his agency.

Others considered at risk for being fired or reprimanded include Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who has generated bad headlines for ordering a $31,000 dining room set for his office; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has been under fire for his first-class travel at taxpayer expense; and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose agency spent $139,000 to renovate his office doors.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos drew attention this week when she stumbled through a pair of high-profile television interviews. Kelly watched DeVos’s sit-down with Lesley Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes” with frustration and complained about the secretary’s apparent lack of preparation, officials said. Other Trump advisers mocked DeVos’s shaky appearance with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show.

Kelly’s own ouster has been widely speculated for weeks. But two top officials said Trump on Thursday morning expressed disbelief to Vice President Pence, senior advisers and Kelly himself that Kelly’s name was surfacing on media watch lists because his job is secure. Trump and Kelly then laughed about it, the officials said.

The widespread uncertainty has created power vacuums that could play to the advantage of some administration aides.

Pompeo, who carefully cultivated a personal relationship with the president, had positioned himself as the heir apparent to Tillerson, whom Trump had long disliked.

Similarly, Pruitt has made no secret inside the West Wing of his ambition to become attorney general should Trump decide to fire Jeff Sessions, who he frequently derides for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

White House officials have grown agitated that Pruitt and his allies are privately pushing for the EPA chief to replace Sessions, a job Pruitt has told people he wants. On Wednesday night, Kelly called Pruitt and told him the president was happy with his performance at EPA and that he did not need to worry about the Justice Department, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

At this point Trump does whatever he wants, advisers and Cabinet be damned, and everyone's going to pay the price.  And I bet if Sessions won't fire Mueller, Scott Pruitt would in a heartbeat. 
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