Thursday, August 31, 2017

Last Call For Black Lives Still Matter

Black Lives Matter, even when police freely admit our lives are worthless. Breanna Edwards at The Root:

Y’all, these cops ain’t even trying to pretend anymore. Released dashcam footage provided to a local Georgia news station shows an officer’s interaction with a white female driver who claimed she was afraid to move her hands during a traffic stop due to all the recent videos of cops shooting and/or attacking folks. 
That’s when the Cobb County, Ga., police officer could be heard reassuring the woman that she wouldn’t get hurt because she’s not black.

“But you’re not black. Remember, we only kill black people. We only kill black people, right?” the officer, identified as Lt. Greg Abbott by WSBTV could be heard saying. 
Now Police Chief Mike Register is attempting to do damage control, launching an internal investigation and placing Abbott on administrative duties pending the outcome of that investigation.

Now, I’m not a lawyer, and I do not know all the nuances of the legal system, but what the hell exactly is there left to investigate?

“The statements was [sic] made by an individual. They are not indicative of the values and the facts that surround the Cobb County police department and this county in general,” Register said. 
Register indicated that the recording was taken from a DUI traffic stop last year, before he became chief, and that Abbott made his comments after the woman indicated that she was just too nervous to reach down to get her phone due to her exposure to videos on police brutality. 
“No matter what context it was said in, it should not have been said,” Register added. “We’re not making excuses. We’re meeting this head on and we’re going to deal with it.”

No, you're not going to "deal with it".  America has been "not dealing with it" quite pointedly for 400 years now, it's what America does.  The notion that Abbott's statements didn't reflect Cobb County Georgia PD as a whole is horseshit, because Abbott's statements represent the views of basically every police department in America.

There's nothing about the possible humorous intent of the statement that changes it from being the truth.  We are allowed to exist only because the police haven't decided to kill us yet, and that goes for every black person in this country, full stop.

That tree of liberty we keep hearing about often gets refreshed with the blood of black people.  The cops know it, the people know it, we all know it, and any efforts to do something about it get us labeled as terrorists.

When that becomes official under Trump, that's only when the horrors see the light of day.  They'll happen anyway, they are occurring right now and will continue to do so.

I wouldn't wish being black in America on anyone, and I live it daily.

Houston, We Have A Problem, Con't

America's fourth-largest city is underwater and will remain so for months, and as Chuck Pierce points out, the fate of Baghdad on the Bayou was sealed decades ago by Governors and state and local lawmakers in both parties.

It is the Christian thing to do in the middle of tragedies like the one currently unfolding along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf coast not to politicize human suffering and, certainly, the stories of people rescuing their fellow citizens from this calamity deserve to be told and they deserve to be spread as widely as possible. But there is nothing I can find in the Gospels that would forbid us from politicizing politics. So let us summon the ghost of Walter Winchell and review some of the events of the past few days.

Item: In Crosby, Texas, there is a place called the Arkema chemical plant where they work with something called organic peroxides. This plant is located amid a residential and business district where, remarkably, human beings live and work. If the cooling systems in the plant fail, as they apparently have, these organic peroxides can explode. A 1.5 mile radius around the plant has been evacuated. 

That plant exploded early this morning, by the way.

Item: Houston is home to a great number of SuperFund sites—at least a dozen in Harris County alone—because, what the hell, they have to be somewhere, right, and some place has to be the Petrochemical Capital Of America? From the WaPo:

With its massive petroleum and chemical industry, Houston, part of the "Chemical Coast," presents a huge challenge in a major flooding event, said Mathy Stanislaus, who oversaw the federal Superfund program throughout the Obama administration. Typically the EPA tries to identify Superfund sites in a major storm's path to "shore up the active operations" and "minimize seepage from sites," Stanislaus said. "This is not the time to dictate; it's the time to work together well with state and local officials to think about needs that need to be met." 
Item: In Baytown, there is a Chevron Phillips petrochemical facility in a place called Cedar Bayou. As you might have guessed from that name, the facility is, at present, fish food. ExxonMobil has similar problems, which it is involuntarily sharing with its fellow Texans and will be for some time. 
Item: And this one may be my favorite, which is to say, the one that pushes me under the bed the furthest. On Galveston Island, there is the Galveston National Laboratory, which is part of the University of Texas Medical Branch. This laboratory contains some of the most deadly biological agents found in the known world, many of them of the airborne variety. It contain several Bio-Safety Level 4 labs, which are basically the places where plagues are studied. And here's the thing, as HuffPost explains—nobody knows what's going on there at the moment:

There has been almost no news from Galveston as journalists have reported being blocked from reaching the island because of severe flooding. There has been no reporting at all on the condition of the lab. A call to the laboratory on Tuesday immediately went to voicemail. 
Here's a professor with some happy news.

But the generators run on fuel that would have to be replenished. It is not known if the lab is accessible to emergency crews to refuel the generators, which are stored on the roof, according to the 2008 Times piece. "As I see it the existential problem is this: What happens if and when the fuel for the back-up generators runs out?" asked University of Illinois professor Francis Boyle, an expert in biological weapons. "The negative air pressure that keeps (the) bugs in there ends. And (the) bugs can then escape."

To recap, 6.5 million plus people from Corpus Christi to Beaumont and Port Arthur into Louisiana (so really more like 10 million) are screwed.  The biological, ecological, and chemical damage to Houston from Harvey will take years to fix, if not decades.  I don't think people are actually ready for the price tag on this, because I'm thinking it's going to be somewhere around "Apple's current cash reserves on hand" give or take a few tens of billions or so, and I might be lowballing it.

And again, there's a lot of blame to go around for Democrats locally and Republicans state-wide, and that includes everyone from Dubya to Rick Perry to Ann Richards and everyone in between. Houston said "Hold my beer" and turned into a massive sprawl in an antediluvian flood plain, and Harvey came along and filled that flood plain the hell up. The oil money was good, and everyone took it.

Here's the best part:  Trump is only going to make this worse, so much worse.  It really won't be long before the talking heads on FOX are telling the locals that Houston maybe shouldn't be rebuilt because we can't afford it.  You thought getting rid of those people in New Orleans was a massive undertaking, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.  Wait until the Republicans rewrite Houston's history.

As goes Baghdad on the Bayou, goes the rest of America.  Just watch.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Two more developments in the Trump/Russia saga as the Mueller investigation shifts into higher gear this week.  First, one of the Russian lobbyists present at Donald Trump Jr.'s now infamous June 2016 meeting gave hours of grand jury testimony earlier this month.

A new report reveals that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe has heard testimny from at least one of the Russians who attended Donald Trump, Jr.’s infamous June, 2016 Trump Tower meeting

According to the Financial Times, Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian lobbyist and former Soviet army official who attended the meeting in Trump Tower last summer, has testified before Mueller’s grand jury.

According to two sources close to the testimony, Akhmetshin testified for “several hours” on August 11. Though Akhmetshin declined FT‘s requests for comment, the report claims his testimony centered around a “dossier” provided by Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

The dossier reportedly contained information about “how bad money ended up in Manhattan and that money was put into supporting political campaigns.”

The report also noted that Akhmetshin is currently under investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee, who are looking into the circumstances surrounding his American citizenship, his role in the Soviet military and “whether he improperly lobbied for Russian interests.”

This is pretty big.  Akhmetshin is almost certainly a spy working for Putin's interests, and having him testify means Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner are directly in the cross-hairs. It also means that Mueller isn't sticking to the money laundering side of the investigation, but rather is investigating the espionage and collusion side as well.

But speaking of the money laundering investigation, well that brings us to our second development this week: Mueller isn't alone looking at Trump's dirty money slime trail.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.

The two teams have shared evidence and talked frequently in recent weeks about a potential case, these people said. One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering.

No decision has been made on where or whether to file charges. “Nothing is imminent,” said one of the people familiar with the case.

Manafort has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has previously denied it. A spokesman for Manafort didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

The other issue besides cooperation and sharing of information is that Trump cannot pardon sate crimes, only federal ones.  If Schneiderman brings charges against Manafort as New York Attorney General, there's not a thing Trump can do about it.  Schneiderman has long been Trump's bane and he's hired former US attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired for looking into his finances too closely.

Chuck Pierce makes the "game-changer" argument on Schneiderman's involvement:

Manafort seems to be a pile of bones by the side of the road at this point. He'll flip, or he already has. His testimony would open a lot of doors that a lot of people would prefer stay shut. But the alliance between Mueller and New York AG Eric Schneiderman is the most important news in this story. As has been pointed out by practically everyone, the presidential pardon power does not extend to state crimes, and Schneiderman has been after Camp Runamuck since before the voters installed it in the White House last November. He's already won a $25 million settlement on behalf of the marks who were scammed by the president* through his Trump University long con. The president* already has yapped about Schneiderman in public, a sure sign that he's worried about what else Schneiderman might have. Whatever Schneiderman does, there isn't a damn thing the president* can do about it. And, of course, Mueller knows this as well as Schneiderman does.

All this to me says that things are moving fast and that while I wouldn't expect charges anytime soon, it does mean that the Mueller investigation is moving along at a solid pace.  The leaks from the grand jury proceedings are definitely part of the pressure on Manafort to turn states' evidence, and on Trump to do, say, or tweet something stupid.

And remember that the end goal is Trump.  Easily baited, is our Donny.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Last Call For Taxing Our Patience, Con't

Trump went to Springfield, Missouri today (Hi Bon Tindle!) to talk about tax cuts for the rich and how they will help America unleash economic lasers or cash missiles or some other such flaming trickle-down supply-side Laffer curve garbage. Also specifics are for losers who don't trust Glorious Leader Trump.

President Donald Trump urged Congress to act on a sweeping overhaul of the tax system Wednesday, promoting the loose outlines of a plan that he said would ease the burden on "forgotten" middle class Americans while also reducing taxes for businesses. 
"I want to work with Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — on a plan that is pro worker and pro American. No more fitting place to launch this effort than right here in the American heartland," Trump said, speaking at one of the city's largest manufacturing plants. 
His speech offered four vague points for reform, but did not put forth much in the way of policy specifics — something White House officials warned would be the case beforehand. 
In additional to advocating for a business tax rate of 15 percent, Trump pushed for simplifying the tax code while urging "competitive" tax codes that he said would translate to higher wages. He also called tax relief for middle class families "crucial" and highlighted the need for affordable childcare, addressing a campaign promise spurred by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who attended Wednesday's event. 
Trump said he was "fully committed to working with Congress to get this job done" before telling Missouri voters they should vote sitting Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill out of office if she didn't get on board with his plan. 
"If she doesn't do it for, you have to vote her out office," Trump instructed the crowd. He then closed out his roughly 34-minute remarks with a plea to "at least try to put the partisan posturing behind." 
During his remarks, the president seemed to subtly slight National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn — an instrumental administration voice on tax reform — when he left Cohn out of a long list of shout outs to administration officials and state lawmakers. 
"Anybody I forgot?" he asked the crowd after listing off other White House officials like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Cohn, who days earlier criticized the president's response to white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, was traveling with the president Wednesday, according to the White House.

How to Trump:

  1. Some sort of tax plan, shut up FAKE NEWS.
  2. Forget your Treasury Secretary.
  3. About 5,000 square miles of Texas/Louisiana are still underwater but tax cuts
  4. Perhaps now would be a good time to talk about Republicans cutting FEMA's budget by billions to pay for The Wall
  5. Also talk about defeating Claire McCaskill at an official White House event and not a campaign rally but is so get in losers we're going to the mall.
  6. Anyone bother to ask how much Donny's tax cut plan will save Donny in 2018?
  7. I guess we'd have to see Donny's tax returns first.
  8. Oh and the tax cut plan, we'd need that too for the math part I guess
  9. MAGA, bitches.
  10. Buy Trump merchandise on the website!
Something like that.

The reality is that Republicans will finish raiding the country's tax base with massive austerity cuts, massive tax cuts for the richest Americans, and plenty of surplus military gear for cops to keep the other 99% of us in line once we figure out we outnumber them 100 to 1.  Like Trumpcare, the details will screw millions of Americans over so badly that they probably won't be able to survive, and that's the whole point, to get to the lifeboats with mountains of loot before America hits that iceberg.

Trump will be tolerated for precisely as long as he plays the game and wins.  But he's already lost on Trumpcare for now and odds are he's going to lose on this too.  His corporate masters aren't going to be happy with him for much longer, and then President Pence will be expected to toe the line.

That's when things get truly bad.

Go Google "Think Tank Corruption" And See What Comes Up

Hey folks, here's just another reminder that Google is a massive, multi-billion dollar corporate tech giant that has access to an unhealthy chunk of the world's data and their support of liberal causes comes with a pretty hefty price tag at times.

In the hours after European antitrust regulators levied a record $2.7 billion fine against Google in late June, an influential Washington think tank learned what can happen when a tech giant that shapes public policy debates with its enormous wealth is criticized. 
The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google; its parent company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt; and his family’s foundation since the think tank’s founding in 1999. That money helped to establish New America as an elite voice in policy debates on the American left. 
But not long after one of New America’s scholars posted a statement on the think tank’s website praising the European Union’s penalty against Google, Mr. Schmidt, who had chaired New America until 2016, communicated his displeasure with the statement to the group’s president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to the scholar. 
The statement disappeared from New America’s website, only to be reposted without explanation a few hours later. But word of Mr. Schmidt’s displeasure rippled through New America, which employs more than 200 people, including dozens of researchers, writers and scholars, most of whom work in sleek Washington offices where the main conference room is called the “Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab.” The episode left some people concerned that Google intended to discontinue funding, while others worried whether the think tank could truly be independent if it had to worry about offending its donors.

Those worries seemed to be substantiated a couple of days later, when Ms. Slaughter summoned the scholar who wrote the critical statement, Barry Lynn, to her office. He ran a New America initiative called Open Markets that has led a growing chorus of liberal criticism of the market dominance of telecom and tech giants, including Google, which is now part of a larger corporate entity known as Alphabet, for which Mr. Schmidt serves as executive chairman.

Ms. Slaughter told Mr. Lynn that “the time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways,” according to an email from Ms. Slaughter to Mr. Lynn. The email suggested that the entire Open Markets team — nearly 10 full-time employees and unpaid fellows — would be exiled from New America
While she asserted in the email, which was reviewed by The New York Times, that the decision was “in no way based on the content of your work,” Ms. Slaughter accused Mr. Lynn of “imperiling the institution as a whole.” 
Mr. Lynn, in an interview, charged that Ms. Slaughter caved to pressure from Mr. Schmidt and Google, and, in so doing, set the desires of a donor over the think tank’s intellectual integrity. 
Google is very aggressive in throwing its money around Washington and Brussels, and then pulling the strings,” Mr. Lynn said. “People are so afraid of Google now.”

In the end, Google is a corporation that makes an ungodly amount of money, and they use it to lobby regulators and governments just like every other corporation on earth.  They just happen to have a lot more money and influence than everybody else, so the kinds of things they can accomplish with that influence can carry far more impact.

Getting an entire policy team fired from a think tank for a mean article seems a bit excessive, however. Even for a company worth tens of billions that donates heavily to said think tank.

Corporate rule of think tanks isn't new or anything, but I can't recall people getting canned over an opinion.  Then again, Google pays for opinions that are good for Google, that's how think tanks work, guys.

Google is no different from Caterpillar or Union Carbide or ExxonMobil in that regard, and that's something to keep in mind.

Where Google is different is that as a tech company that influences greatly what Americans see and hear and read, effectively silencing critics like this and burying their opinions is dangerous on an unprecedented scale.  An information technology company that can control information critical of it to this extent is a company that is probably too large to be allowed to exist.

I stand by that.  Google, Amazon, Facebook, Comcast, Disney, Charter, they all control the flow of information in the information age to tens of millions daily.  And we have the Trump regime to ride herd on them?

What do you think is going to happen?

General Disarray In The Pentagon

Defense Secretary James Mattis has apparently put his foot down on Trump's transgender troop policy and is holding off on taking any action to expel the country's estimated 11,000 currently-serving transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines pending further study.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis late Tuesday announced that transgender troops will be allowed to continue serving in the military pending the results of a study by experts.

The announcement follows an order from President Trump — first announced in a tweet — declaring that transgender service members can no longer serve in the military, effectively reversing an Obama administration policy. The order also affects the Department of Homeland Security, which houses the Coast Guard.

"Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction," Mattis said in the statement. "In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place."

Mattis' move buys time for the Pentagon to determine how and if it will allow thousands of transgender troops to continue to serve, whether they will receive medical treatment, or how they will be discharged.

As Defense Secretary, Mattis has emphasized that he has little tolerance for policies that detract from military readiness or the Pentagon's effectiveness on the battlefield. At the last moment in June, he delayed the Pentagon's plan to accept new transgender troops. His reasoning: He demanded more study to determine the effect of recruiting them on the Pentagon's ability to fight and win wars.

The thing is that the Pentagon studies are already available from 2016.

Last year, the Pentagon commissioned a study by the non-partisan RAND Corp. to examine the effects on military readiness of allowing transgender troops to serve openly and the cost of providing them medical treatment. The study estimated that a few to several thousand transgender troops are on the active duty force of 1.3 million. Researchers found that paying for their health care needs would amount to about $8 million per year and their effect on readiness would be negligible.

I'm of course very glad that Mattis is slowing this train down, but the reality is eventually he's going to have to either say "yes sir" and follow through on Trump's orders or resign his cabinet position.  I'm going to have to say given the past several months it's going to be option one.  The study isn't a freeze, Trump's order was always that Mattis was going to make the decision as to how to implement the plan, but the study does give both Mattis and Trump political cover.

So sometime next spring, the ban will go back into place.  What will happen as far as legal challenges to the ban from the ACLU and other rights groups, I couldn't tell you with this Supreme Court, but it's very possible that they won't even take the case.

We'll see, but I don't have very high hopes for this at all.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Last Call For The War Of Republican Aggression

A Georgia Republican lawmaker warned a Democratic former colleague who criticized his support for Civil War monuments on Facebook that she won’t be “met with torches but something a lot more definitive” if she continues to call for the removal of statues in south Georgia.

State Rep. Jason Spencer, a Woodbine Republican, also wrote former state Rep. LaDawn Jones that “people in South Georgia are people of action, not drama” and suggested some who don’t understand that “will go missing in the Okefenokee.

“Too many necks they are red around here,” he wrote. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you about ’em.”

Jones, who represented an Atlanta-based district from 2012 to 2016, responded that she saw his remarks as a “threat of physical violence” but said she was confident that future generations will abandon a “we are better than them” mentality.

“Enjoy but know … WINTER IS COMING,” wrote Jones, who is black. “You know it too … otherwise you wouldn’t have found a need to even make this post or those hollow threats of not coming to south GA.”

Spencer said in a text message that his words were not meant as a threat, but instead a “warning to her of how people can behave about this issue.”

“She is from Atlanta – and the rest of Georgia sees this issue very differently,” said Spencer, who was elected in 2010 to represent the southeast Georgia district. “Just trying to keep her safe if she decided to come down and raise hell about the memorial in the back yards of folks who will see this as an unwelcome aggression from the left.”

Spencer also asked that we include a picture he provided of him standing in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. monument that was unveiled Monday on the Georgia Capitol grounds

This self-proclaimed redneck asshole (and I'm from NC, I know plenty of rednecks who aren't racist assholes and who are damn good to have in a bar fight) has to rely on a statue of Dr. King for his "But I can't be racist, I have a black friend!" defense.

That's...sad.  Especially by Georgia standards.

But yeah, in the age of Trump?  Jagoffs like this are spoiling for a damn fight.  They want it so badly they can taste it, or rather, they dream of wanting liberals to make the first move so they can cut us down where we stand.

They can try, at least.

The Trumpman Show

As Donald Trump's careening disaster of a regime blunders through the days and weeks, with his approval ratings dropping into the 30's headed for irrelevance, his campaign rallies aren't drawing the kinds of crowds he's used to.  Nobody's angrier about that than the Donald himself, who has already fired his chief rally organizer for failure to find enough people to fill the Phoenix Convention Center last week and sate his boundless ego.

Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.

TV and social media coverage showed that the site of his campaign rally, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president.

As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.

Even by his standards, Trump was remarkably strident in Phoenix. After introductory speakers, including Vice President Mike Pence, lauded him for his commitment to racial harmony, the president came on stage and lambasted the media for what he called inaccurate reporting on his remarks about violence between hate groups and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

He threatened to shut down the federal government unless Congress funds construction of the Mexican border wall he promised in his campaign. He telegraphed that he’d pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of defying a court order to stop racial profiling by his deputies. And in their home state, he assailed Arizona Senator John McCain for the failure of Obamacare repeal and Senator Jeff Flake for being "weak" on illegal immigration, without mentioning their names. Both are fellow Republicans.

Gigicos had staged the event in a large multipurpose room. The main floor space was bisected by a dividing wall, leaving part of the space empty. There were some bleachers off to the side, but otherwise the audience was standing -- and the scene appeared flat, lacking the energy and enthusiasm of other rallies.

If you had any doubt about the fragility of Trump's ego, his clinical narcissism, his constant need for approval and adoration, and above all his lack of fitness for the Oval Office, well those doubts should have been buried months ago.  This is just the latest example of such clear malfeasance that it's head-spinning, we've seen case after case of this and we have for 18 months.

But America elected him anyway.

We have much lager problems in this country than Trump.  He's the symptom.  The real problem remains the tens of millions of us who thought he was was qualified enough to vote for.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Yesterday we talked about Trump's deal to put a Trump Tower in Moscow during the early stages of his campaign and how Felix Sater, the point man on that project, was definitely under scrutiny by investigators.  Turns out Sater's emails on the project were far, far more incriminating than originally thought.

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency. 
The business associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin and predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would be a political boon to Mr. Trump’s candidacy. 
Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.

They're not even good at this.

In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting in Moscow. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

Mr. Cohen suggested that Mr. Sater’s comments were puffery. “He has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to “salesmanship,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement. “I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.” 
The Times reported earlier this year on the plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow, which never materialized. On Sunday, The Washington Post reported the existence of the correspondence between Mr. Sater and Mr. Cohen but not its content. 
The Trump Organization on Monday turned over emails to the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election and whether anyone in Mr. Trump’s campaign was involved. Some of the emails were obtained by The Times. 
The Trump Organization issued a statement Monday saying: “To be clear, the Trump Organization has never had any real estate holdings or interests in Russia.”

Except that's a lie, we know for a fact Trump did have Russian interests.  I mean at this point they're not even trying anymore.  They're completely busted.  No wonder then that the GOP is now openly calling to end the Trump/Russia investigation.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is pushing an amendment to severely curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

DeSantis has put forward a provision that would halt funding for Mueller’s probe six months after the amendment’s passage. It also would prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before June 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign.

The amendment is one of hundreds filed to a government spending package the House is expected to consider when it returns next week from the August recess. The provision is not guaranteed a vote on the House floor; the House Rules Committee has wide leeway to discard amendments it considers out of order.

In a statement, DeSantis said the order appointing Mueller as special counsel "didn't identify a crime to be investigated and practically invites a fishing expedition."

"Congress should use its spending power to clarify the scope and limit the duration of this investigation," he explained. Deputy Attorney General Rod "Rosenstein has said that the DOJ doesn't conduct fishing expeditions; the corollary to this admonition should be that Congress will not fund a fishing expedition."

The clock keeps ticking and the GOP is terrified.  Trump's "presidency" is coming apart at the seams and now we're heading into the phase of the game where the Republicans can't allow Mueller to continue his investigation or Trump brings the entire party down with him.  Why? Because we've reached the point now where Trump himself is under investigation.

Federal investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller are keenly focused on President Donald Trump's role in crafting a response to a published article about a meeting between Russians and his son Donald Jr., three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News. 
The sources told NBC News that prosecutors want to know what Trump knew about the meeting and whether he sought to conceal its purpose. 
The meeting occurred at Trump Tower in June 2016 and was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. The meeting, which was first reported by The New York Times, also involved Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and former Soviet intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin. 
At the time, the White House confirmed that Trump had "weighed in" as the response to the Times report was drafted aboard Air Force One on July 8 as the president returned to the U.S. from the G20 meeting in Germany. The Washington Post reported that Trump had "dictated" the response.

Stay tuned.  The end of the beginning is over, but after Sater's emails, and news that Mueller is looking into possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself, things will start to move more quickly. We're going to soon come to the choice where the GOP will either act on Trump's perfidy or not, and it will affect the fate of America for generations.

I see nothing to make me think they will make the right choice.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Last Call For Black Lives Still Matter, Con't

The Trump regime has now reversed Obama-era prohibitions on police using surplus military equipment on US citizens, because really, fascism isn't moving quickly enough for his taste and it goes a lot faster when the cops have tracked vehicles, .50 caliber rounds, and grenade launchers.

Reversing an Obama-era policy, President Donald Trump Monday removed restrictions on the kinds of surplus military gear the Defense Department can turn over to local police departments. 
The issue has been a sensitive one since the Justice Department concluded that tactics used by police during 2014's violent street protest in Ferguson, Missouri inflamed tensions and created fear among demonstrators. 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the change, first reported by USA Today, in a speech to the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville on Monday. 
The executive order "will ensure that you can get the lifesaving gear that you need to do your job and send a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal," he said. 
The Obama limitations hurt law enforcement, Sessions added. 
"One sheriff told me earlier this year about how, due to the prior administration's restrictions, the federal government made his department return an armored vehicle that can change the dynamics of an active shooter situation," he said. 
Jim Pasco, the police organization's executive director, said the change "is President Trump making good on a campaign promise." Pasco said he and other police officials discussed the issue with the president and attorney general two times during meetings at the White House. 
Since 1990, the Defense Department has been allowed to transfer surplus military equipment and supplies to federal, state, and local law enforcement. Though the program was originally intended for counter-drug operations, it was later expanded to include all police missions. 
But after the Justice Department concluded that the use of military-style equipment made matters worse in Ferguson, President Obama put some equipment off limits — including tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, and grenade launchers — and required a showing of need for tactical vehicles with wheels.

All those restrictions just went poof as of today, so there's basically no stopping police departments from ordering up all the anti-materiel sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and M2 Bradleys they want for use in your neighborhood.

But of course it will be used to stop "Black Lives Matter terrorists" first.  That day was always coming, but with this executive order as of today that day just got a lot closer.

And a lot of people are going to die when that happens.

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

A week ago I expressed the hope that President Donald Trump's lamentable performance after the Charlottesville protests would hurt his standing in the polls. This didn't happen. If there was a blip, it was in the other direction. I'd be pleased if Trump's regrettable decision to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio dented his popularity, too, but I'm not holding my breath. 
Trump's supporters are loyal. What is one to make of this? 
There are two main theories of Trump's support. One is that a large minority of Americans -- 40 percent, give or take -- are racist idiots. This theory is at least tacitly endorsed by the Democratic Party and the mainstream liberal media. The other is that a large majority of this large minority are good citizens with intelligible and legitimate opinions, who so resent being regarded as racist idiots that they'll back Trump almost regardless. They may not admire the man, but he's on their side, he vents their frustration, he afflicts the people who think so little of them -- and that's good enough.

The answer to "Why do people support Trump still?" is "There's no meaningful difference between the two groups that Crook theorizes are supporting him and we should stop pretending there is one."

The sooner Dems figure this out, the sooner we can move on without either group.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

The Trump/Russia story continues to be a tale of greed and lust for power and as the trap closes around Trump and his organization, we keep learning of more and more ties to Russia and dirty money in Moscow.  The Washington Post has another piece in that puzzle up this morning as we learn that Trump wanted a Moscow Trump Tower in 2015 and early 2016 as his presidential primary campaign got underway.

While Donald Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow, according to several people familiar with the proposal and new records reviewed by Trump Organization lawyers.

As part of the discussions, a Russian-born real estate developer urged Trump to come to Moscow to tout the proposal and suggested that he could get President Vladimir Putin to say “great things” about Trump, according to several people who have been briefed on his correspondence.

The developer, Felix Sater, predicted in a November 2015 email that he and Trump Organization leaders would soon be celebrating — both one of the biggest residential projects in real estate history and Donald Trump’s election as president, according to two of the people with knowledge of the exchange.

Sater wrote to Trump Organization Executive Vice President Michael Cohen “something to the effect of, ‘Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?’ ” said one person briefed on the email exchange. Sater emigrated from what was then the Soviet Union when he was 6 and grew up in Brooklyn.

Trump never went to Moscow as Sater proposed. And although investors and Trump’s company signed a letter of intent, they lacked the land and permits to proceed and the project was abandoned at the end of January 2016, just before the presidential primaries began, several people familiar with the proposal said.

Nevertheless, the details of the deal, which have not previously been disclosed, provide evidence that Trump’s business was actively pursuing significant commercial interests in Russia at the same time he was campaigning to be president — and in a position to determine U.S.-Russia relations. The new details from the emails, which are scheduled to be turned over to congressional investigators soon, also point to the likelihood of additional contacts between Russia-connected individuals and Trump associates during his presidential bid.

White House officials declined to comment for this report. Cohen, a longtime Trump legal adviser, declined to comment, but his attorney, Stephen Ryan, said his client “has been cooperating and will continue to cooperate with both the House and Senate intelligence committees, including providing them with documents and information and answering any questions they may have about the Moscow building proposal.”

Remember, Trump swore up and down during the campaign that he had no financial ties to Russia or Putin, and yet here we have evidence he wanted one of the largest commercial real estate deals in history in the heart of Moscow.

Also we need to have a talk about Felix Sater, long-time point man for Trump's Moscow business interests.  If there's anybody who knows where the money is laundered and the bodies are buried, it's Sater, a guy who predicted Trump's win a year beforehand.

In recent months, contacts between high-ranking and lower- level Trump aides and Russians have emerged. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a U.S. senator and campaign adviser, twice met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Donald Trump Jr. organized a June 2016 meeting with campaign aide Jared Kushner, campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer after the president’s eldest son was promised that the lawyer would bring damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help the campaign.

Internal emails also show campaign adviser George Papadopoulos repeatedly sought to organize meetings with campaign officials, including Trump, and Putin or other Russians. His efforts were rebuffed.

The negotiations for the Moscow project ended before Trump’s business ties to Russia had become a major issue in the campaign. Trump denied having any business connections to Russia in July 2016, tweeting, “for the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia” and then insisting at a news conference the following day, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

But of course that was a lie.  And both Mueller and Congress are closing in on him and following the money trail.  There are so many links in that trail that somebody will turn evidence on Trump and bring the whole rotten house of cards down.

The right's reaction to this story?  How dare you cover something other than Trump's presidential triumph responding to Hurricane Harvey!

They know it's just a matter of time now.  This isn't a smoking gun, but it's a still-warm pistol and a fresh bullet hole in the guy slumped over the couch.  The question now is "will the GOP do anything as a result" and the answer of course is "no way in hell".

And so it goes.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pardon The Catastrophe, Con't

It looks like Donald Trump has long wanted the case against his Birther ally Joe Arpaio dropped, to the point of asking AG Sessions to close the case altogether and Trump then deciding on the next best thing: a full presidential pardon.

As Joseph Arpaio’s federal case headed toward trial this past spring, President Trump wanted to act to help the former Arizona county sheriff who had become a campaign-trail companion and a partner in their crusade against illegal immigration.

The president asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether it would be possible for the government to drop the criminal case against Arpaio, but was advised that would be inappropriate, according to three people with knowledge of the conversation.

After talking with Sessions, Trump decided to let the case go to trial, and if Arpaio was convicted, he could grant clemency.

So the president waited, all the while planning to issue a pardon if Arpaio was found in contempt of court for defying a federal judge’s order to stop detaining people merely because he suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. Trump was, in the words of one associate, “gung-ho about it.”

“We knew the president wanted to do this for some time now and had worked to prepare for whenever the moment may come,” said one White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the action.

Responding to questions about Trump’s conversation with Sessions, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “It’s only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Trump’s Friday-evening decision to issue his first pardon for Arpaio was the culmination of a five-year political friendship with roots in the “birther” movement to undermine President Barack Obama. In an extraordinary exercise of presidential power, Trump bypassed the traditional review process to ensure that Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court, would face no time in prison.
Trump’s pardon, issued without consulting the Justice Department, raised a storm of protest over the weekend, including from some fellow Republicans, and threatens to become a stain on the president’s legacy. His effort to see if the case could be dropped showed a troubling disregard for the traditional wall between the White House and the Justice Department, and taken together with similar actions could undermine respect for the rule of law, experts said

Distasteful cronyism at best case, a patently illegal abuse of presidential power at worst, and while both Arizona GOP Senators McCain and Flake are "concerned" over Trump's actions, again nobody will lift a finger to stop him.

But this is the America we live in now, where Trump and Trump alone now determines what federal rule of law means.

Be frightened.

Houston, We Have A Problem

The remains of Hurricane Harvey have stalled out over Texas's Gold Coast and Houston, Galveston, and Bay City have already been inundated with two feet of rain...with several more feet of rain on the way today and tomorrow.

Catastrophic flooding in the Houston area is expected to worsen and could "become historic," the National Weather Service has warned.

Flash flooding is expected to continue in other areas of southeast Texas as well. Hourly rain totals in the region have reached 3 inches with local amounts of up to 7 inches expected. About 35 inches of rain is expected to fall in the area on Sunday.

Over the past 24 hours, Houston/Galveston has received 24.10 inches of measured rain. The rainfall has made August the wettest month on record for Houston.

I don't know how many folks we have out there in the Houston area, but dear God I hope you're not anywhere near there and that you're safe.  "Catastrophic flooding" doesn't begin to describe this and Harvey is expected to stick around Houston until at least Tuesday.

This is one of the worst disasters in US history unfolding right now, and it may be months before we know the full extent of damage.  The real problem is that the heaviest rains aren't just falling on the coat, but inland towards Austin and College Station, meaning even more flooding as the waters race downstream towards Houston.

By the way, author, historian, and Notre Dame professor Roy Scranton warned that Houston was going to be America's next major flooding disaster back last October:

Isaiah whirls through the sky, gathering strength from the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters. Beach towns are evacuated. Citizens and companies in Texas’ petro-industrial enclaves from Bayou Vista to Morgan’s Point are warned: Prepare for the worst.

The huge cyclone gathers strength as it nears the barrier islands off the coast, intensifying to Category 4. Hours before landfall, 150 mile-per-hour winds begin pushing water over the Galveston Seawall, and by the time the eye finally hits, Galveston has been flattened by a 20-foot wave.

Isaiah’s monstrous arm reaches across the bay toward Houston, some 50 miles inland, adding water to water, and when it smashes into the Exxon Mobil Baytown refinery, the storm surge is over 25 feet high. It crashes through refineries, chemical storage facilities, wharves and production plants all along the Houston Ship Channel, cleaving pipelines from their moorings, lifting and breaking storage tanks.

As Isaiah passes inland, the iridescent, gray-brown flood rises, carrying jet fuel, sour crude and natural gas liquids into strip malls, parks, schools and offices. More than 200 petrochemical storage tanks have been wrecked, more than 100 million gallons of petroleum and chemicals spilled. Damages for the region are estimated at more than $100 billion. More than 3,500 are dead. It is one of the worst disasters in United States history: worse than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, worse than Hurricane Katrina, worse than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The good news is that Isaiah hasn’t happened. It’s an imaginary calamity based on research and models. The bad news is that it’s only a matter of time before it does.

Any 50-mile stretch of the Texas coast can expect a hurricane once every six years on average, according to the National Weather Service. Only a few American cities are more vulnerable to hurricanes than Houston and Galveston, and not one of those is as crucial to the economy.

When the next big storm hits there, the effects will ripple across the globe. The Gulf Coast is home to roughly 30 percent of the United States’s proven oil reserves; The Gulf Coast and Texas hold 35 percent of its natural gas reserves. The refineries and plants encircling Galveston Bay are responsible for roughly 25 percent of the United States’s petroleum refining, more than 44 percent of its ethylene production, 40 percent of its specialty chemical feed stock and more than half of its jet fuel.

Houston is the second busiest port in the United States in terms of pure tonnage and one of the most important shipping points in the country for natural gas liquids. A hurricane like Isaiah would shut all that down.

There’s more: Future hurricanes will actually be worse than Isaiah. The models Isaiah is based on, developed by Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation From Disaster (Sspeed) Center, don’t account for climate change. According to Jim Blackburn, Sspeed’s co-director, other models have shown much more alarming surges. “The City of Houston and FEMA did a climate change future,” he told me, “and the surge in that scenario was 34 feet. Hurricanes are going to get bigger. No question. They are fueled by the heat of the ocean, and the ocean’s warming. Our models are nowhere close.”

Isaiah just happened, folks.  This is going to take years to fix.  People are still dealing with the aftereffects of Katrina twelve years later and this storm will be far worse for flooding and damage.  The $100 billion price tag from that storm will pale in comparison I think.  That's how awful this storm is.

I can't stress how bad this is, guys.  Stay safe, Texas.

Sunday Long Read: The Pot Patent Plot

GQ's Amanda Chicago Lewis tracks down a reclusive billionaire whose biotech firm may just have cornered the market on crop and seed patents for legalized marijuana, and if the gambit is successful, they may have just bought the entire multi-billion dollar pot industry for a song.

The search for the hidden forces that might soon control the marijuana industry began, as many wild journeys do, in Las Vegas. It was last November, and I was party-hopping at the biggest weed-business gathering of the year, a week of overlapping conferences and decadent soirees. I was a few blocks off the Strip, celebrating a new line of bongs and pipes in a penthouse with chandeliers and dark-wood furniture, when I happened to meet a faunlike 40-something man named after a character from The Jungle Book: Mowgli Holmes.

Holmes had something he needed to get off his chest—a quagmire that had been keeping him up at night for the better part of a year. He was soft-spoken but had an earnest intensity that made me lean in to hear him. Little did I know that he was about to set me off on a months-long quest that would involve an obscure company potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the most prominent cannabis scientists in the world, and the former talk-show host Montel Williams—all to uncover an audacious plot with profound implications for one of the country’s biggest agricultural products.

All around us, former drug dealers chatted with finance types, passing vape pens as they pressed one another for information, boasting all the while about how much smarter and better positioned they were than everyone else there. The people in this room were vying to become major players in a marijuana industry that was getting larger every day. A sense of inevitability around legalization had left everyone giddy, but few understood that the greatest obstacles were yet to come. Holmes pulled out his phone and showed me what he saw when he looked at this surge of people working in weed: a 3-D visualization he’d created to illustrate the thousands of kinds of pot now on the market.

Turns out he had a Ph.D. from Columbia and ran a lab in Portland, Oregon, where he’d been mapping the genetics of every marijuana strain he could get his hands on. He pointed to the cluster of strains that taste like tangerine, and then the ones that provide a calming high with none of the mind-racing anxiety so many casual users despise. There were the famous strains, like Sour Diesel and Blue Dream, as well as little-known varieties bred as folk medicine by underground botanists. But this database—a cornucopia of cannabis DNA—had captured a very specific moment in time, a moment Holmes believed would be over soon. The age of artisanal marijuana might have already peaked, and the era of corporate pot was just beginning.
Intrigued, I met up with him the next day to hear more. The first thing he said was: “Be nervous.”

According to Holmes, a secretive company called BioTech Institute LLC had begun registering patents on the cannabis plant. Three have already been granted, and several more are in the pipeline, both in the U.S. and internationally. And these are not narrow patents on individual strains like Sour Diesel. These are utility patents, the strongest intellectual-property protection available for crops. Utility patents are so strict that almost everyone who comes in contact with the plant could be hit with a licensing fee: growers and shops, of course, but also anyone looking to breed new varieties or conduct research. Even after someone pays a royalty, they can’t use the seeds produced by the plants they grow. They can only buy more patented seeds.

“Utility patents are big. Scary,” Holmes said. “All of cannabis could be locked up. They could sue people for growing in their own backyards.”

Pot is an industry worth over $40 billion, which makes it the second-most-valuable crop in the U.S. after corn.
And even though weed is still federally forbidden, it sounded like whoever was behind BioTech Institute had spent the past several years surreptitiously maneuvering to grab every marijuana farmer, vendor, and scientist in the country by the balls, so that once the drug became legal, all they’d have to do to collect payment is squeeze.

And if BioTech Institute wins this battle, they would own the entire legalized pot process from top to bottom, seed to leaf.  Imagine Monsanto's control over corn or wheat replicated in the weed industry.  And the people behind BioTech?  Nobody seems to know for sure.

It's a hell of a mystery, one whose solution could be worth billions.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Centrist Daleks Forever

Democrats can't win unless they're more centrist, declares The Atlantic's Clare Foran, and there's no bigger hero for the Donks in Trump's America than Joe F'ckin' Manchin.  But there's no bigger target for the GOP than Manchin's seat in 2018, and they want him exterminated.

The West Virginia voters I spoke with at the state fair who plan to vote for Manchin in 2018 all said they thin he’s very different from all the other Democrats in Washington. It was a group that ranged from lifelong Democrats who still mostly vote Democrat to Trump-loving Democrats who rarely vote Democrat anymore to Republicans willing to cross the aisle to support Manchin.

Charles Hicks, a Republican from Ripley, West Virginia, who voted for Trump but “always” votes for Manchin, plans to do so again in 2018. “It really isn’t a matter of Republican or Democrat. He’s just a very good representative for the state of West Virginia,” he said. “The national Democratic Party has become too extreme liberal. Democrats as a whole just went too far left,” Hicks said, “but he tends not to be an extremist, he’s not extreme left, he’s not extreme right. He’s for what benefits West Virginia: coal, agriculture, things on that nature.”

As the national party has grown more liberal in recent years, Manchin has stayed put. When Democrats called for repeal of a ban on federal funding for abortion in the 2016 platform, Manchin, who identifies as pro-life and has voted to fund Planned Parenthood, but only on the condition that the ban would remain in place, called the decision “crazy.”

A majority of Senate Democrats now support raising the minimum wage to $15 dollars, an idea Sanders championed on the campaign trail, but Manchin has expressed skepticism, saying that $15 dollars won’t work in every state, though he does support raising the minimum wage. A majority of House Democrats, and high-profile names in the Senate, like New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, have said they support single-payer universal health coverage. Manchin has said he’s open to studying single payer, and what its impact would be, but has raised questions about the potential cost, and feasibility, of implementing universal coverage.

Manchin’s isolation has left him increasingly vulnerable to attack on all sides. Liberal activists argue he’s too conservative for the Democratic Party, while Republicans argue he’s too liberal for West Virginia. “Manchin consistently votes against the core principles and values of the Democratic party’s progressive base,” reads a petition urging Schumer to remove Manchin from Senate leadership that’s been circulated by a coalition of liberal organizations. West Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who has announced plans to run for Manchin’s seat in 2018, has also taken issue with Manchin’s position on leadership. “West Virginia could not be more different from Chuck Schumer’s New York,” Morrisey, who will face Republican Representative Evan Jenkins in the GOP primary, wrote in a letter to Manchin calling on him to step down.

“The days are numbered for Joe Manchin. I feel very confident that he is on his way out in what will be a decisive loss for him come next November,” Conrad Lucas, the chair of the West Virginia Republican Party said in an interview. “He’s tried for a long time to be someone who pleases everyone, but that's not going to work anymore. He cozied up to Hillary Clinton, and he’s cozied up to liberal Washington Democrats when West Virginians are looking for conservatives.”

The accusation that Manchin “cozied up” to Clinton illustrates how a connection to the national Democratic Party can turn into a liability in a red state. Manchin endorsed Clinton in 2015, only to see her later ignite outrage in West Virginia by saying “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” The comments were an awkward attempt to make the point that she wanted to help people hurt by the industry’s decline. Clinton apologized for the remark, which Manchin called “horrific,” but she went on to lose all 55 counties in the state twice, first to Sanders in the presidential primary and then to Trump in the general election.

If Manchin can overcome potentially damaging associations with the national party, it will be because he is a known quantity with deep ties to the state. Charles Showalter, a Democratic voter who supports Manchin, said the senator “really cares about West Virginia. “A lot of politicians say they do, but they don’t.” His wife, Joy, another Manchin supporter and Democrat, praised him for “taking care of the coal miners.” In May, Congress reached a deal that Manchin had fought forproviding health benefits to retired miners.

Before starting a career in politics, Manchin worked as a coal broker. He was born in Farmington, West Virginia, a town that became infamous in 1968 after a mining accident left nearly 80 people dead, including one of Manchin’s uncles. “His family were miners,” Charles told me as though offering up proof of the senator’s credentials.

So far, Manchin has managed to remain popular in West Virginia. According to Morning Consult, he has a 57 percent approval rating, just shy of the 60 percent popularity Trump has maintained in the state. But even if Manchin’s strategy of running as a conservative Democrat continues to work for him, it won’t necessarily work for the rest of the party, especially in an era of deep partisan division. The more national Democrats try to hold onto their core liberal supporters, while making overtures to conservative voters, the more a clash of ideas, ideology, and moral principles becomes unavoidable.

After Manchin’s West Virginia state fair town hall, I spoke with Larry Tolliver, a Democrat who voted for Trump but supports Manchin. Tolliver cited Manchin’s pro-life position, and the fact that he’s not as liberal as most Democrats in Washington, to explain his loyalty to the senator. Then he rattled off a list of reasons why he feels alienated by the Democratic Party in Washington.

The Democratic Party used to be for the working men and women of this country,” he said, “now the party is for homosexuals, they’re for abortion, and they’re for illegals, and they’re for giving stuff to anybody.”

And that's the problem. 2016 was more than anything a backlash again black, Latino, LGBTQ and women voters, who all "got too much stuff" in the Obama era.  If embracing that backlash is the "way forward for the Democratic party" then I don't want to be a part of it, and I won't be. If the Dems are the party that stands up for people, not just the white working class voter. then I'll stay.

Joe Manchin is the Democrat who can win in West Virginia.  But what works in WV won't work in Vermont or California or Illinois, and anyone who tells you that the Dems need to stop with the "identity politics" is flat out wrong.

Including Joe Manchin.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

If it's Friday, it's time for more devastating Trump/Russia leaks, and this week was no exception. We've got a twofer this time around, one for Paul Manafort and one for Michael Flynn.  First up: Robert Mueller is zeroing in on Paul Manafort's Ukrainian PR work.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas in recent days seeking testimony from public relations executives who worked on an international campaign organized by Paul Manafort, people directly familiar with the matter told NBC News.

This is the first public indication that Mueller's investigation is beginning to compel witness testimony before the grand jury — a significant milestone in an inquiry that is examining the conduct of President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, among others.

It is also further indication that Manafort, Trump's onetime campaign chairman, could be in serious legal jeopardy.

According to one executive whose firm received a subpoena, Mueller's team is closely examining the lobbying campaign, which ran between 2012 and 2014. Some of the firms involved in the campaign received subpoenas for documents weeks ago, the executive said, and now the Mueller team is seeking testimony.

"We think they are trying to figure out, was this a legitimate project?" the executive said. "From our perspective it was — we did a lot of work. We took it seriously."

Manafort, whose Alexandria, Virginia, apartment was raided by FBI agents last month, has emerged as a key figure in the Mueller probe. The inquiry into the lobbying campaign appears to be part of a larger investigation into his work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, his offshore banking transactions, his tax compliance and his real estate dealings, people familiar with the probe have told NBC News.

Manafort also was present at a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lobbyist and a Russian lawyer, along with Donald Trump Jr. and Kushner. NBC News has previously reported that Kushner is under scrutiny by investigators, and that Mueller is examining whether President Trump obstructed justice.

The executive said six firms participated in the public relations effort that Manafort coordinated, paid for by a Brussels-based non-profit called the European Center for a Modern Ukraine. The stated goal was to build support for Ukraine's entry into the European Union.

So Mueller is actually to the point of compelling grand jury testimony to put Manafort in the dock.  That's massive. And the second story? Even worse. Mueller is checking into Michael Flynn's relationship with Russian election hackers.

Back in June, a tantalizing set of reports from Shane Harris of the Wall Street Journal gave us one indication that collusion may have occurred, or was at least attempted, between supporters of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian hackers who targeted Democrats’ emails.

And the reports raised serious questions about whether fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was involved in these efforts to contact hackers — questions that, per a new report by Harris published this Friday, special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into.
At issue is an effort by Peter Smith, a Trump-supporting GOP operative and private equity executive, to track down Hillary Clinton’s infamous 30,000 or so deleted emails during the fall of 2016.

The effort, described on the record to Harris by Smith (the 81-year-old man died a week and a half after their interview), entailed outreach to several hacker groups, including at least two that Smith believed to be Russian-tied, to see if they had hacked the emails and could release them.

The emails — which Clinton said she deleted because they were personal and unrelated to her work as secretary of state — never surfaced. And Smith didn’t work for the Trump campaign.

But there is a potential connection to the campaign — through Flynn. Smith repeatedly claimed that he was in contact with Flynn about the effort to find Clinton’s emails, per Harris’s sources:

“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this — if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails. ...

... In phone conversations, Mr. Smith told a computer expert he was in direct contact with Mr. Flynn and his son, according to this expert. ... The expert said that based on his conversations with Mr. Smith, he understood the elder Mr. Flynn to be coordinating with Mr. Smith’s group in his capacity as a Trump campaign adviser.
Harris also described, apparently for the first time, US intelligence reports claiming Russian hackers discussed how to get hacked emails to Flynn through a third party.

Investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.  
All this clearly raises serious questions about just what Flynn knew about this or any other attempted outreach to Russian hackers.

Mueller is clearly closing in on Trump.  Trump is scare and his reaction last night?  Pardon Joe Arpaio as a clear signal that "he takes care of his own".

Trump is clearly willing to use his pardon power whenever and however he wants.  If we see information that Manafort and Flynn have stopped cooperating with Mueller, then you'll know the message from Arpaio's pardon was received loud and clear.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Last Call For Pardon The Catastrophe

As he has threatened to do several times over the last month, Donald Trump has now followed through on his first pardon: former Arizona Sherriff Joe Arpaio.

Trump has granted a presidential pardon to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, of Maricopa County, Arizona. The memo mentions his "admirable" and "selfless public service." 
Arpaio is being pardoned for criminal contempt charges for disobeying a 2011 court order that ordered him to stop detaining people based on his suspicions they were undocumented immigrants in what critics have called racist and discriminatory practices.  
Arpaio served as a sheriff from 1993-2016 until he was defeated last year. He endorsed Trump's presidential candidacy in January 2016 and appeared with him at campaign events. 
Why it matters: Choosing Arpaio as the first pardon will enrage half the country, but Trump won't care. The way Trump sees it, he genuinely believes an injustice was done to Arpaio and he sees this as helping somebody who was loyal to him throughout the campaign. Trump viewed Arpaio's support -- along with Jeff Sessions' -- as crucial to solidifying his credentials on being tough on the border.

There's also a second reason Trump did this: to send a message to anyone wavering in loyalty to Trump over Russia that he can and will clear them of any wrongdoing with a wave of his hand.  I'll have more on that tomorrow, but for guys like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, people facing real legal jeopardy because of Trump, the signal sent tonight is unmistakable.

And it should be a huge alarm to those who think Trump will resign or go quietly, or will go at all.  This is Trump not giving a damn about rule of law.  He is the law in America now, and he is daring anyone to challenge him.

Race To The Bottom, Con't

Democratic strategists are still telling Democrats to abandon race as an issue in 2018 and 2020 and why not? Actually talking about race and having a black president led to the Dems getting wiped out, losing white voters, and the election of Trump.  It's not like black and Latino votes matter, right?

Nancy LeTourneau explains as Dem strategist Mark Lilla has a new book out on how Dems need to drop "identity politics" and embrace "electoral politics", which is apparently "attempt to win by being realistic about a 75% white electorate that doesn't think it should have to deal with race right now or ever, thanks."

There are a lot of other portions of Chotiner’s interview with Lilla that are interesting. But for right now I’d like to jump to the end of the transcript because I think it sheds light on where the differences among liberals right now are grounded. It starts when Lilla says that “there’s been a kind of slightly hysterical tone about race that leads us to overestimate its significance in particular things.” Chotiner questions whether it’s an overreaction when we now have a president who won’t condemn neo-Nazis, and Lilla responds with this:

No, no, overreacting in the sense that we are thinking that it’s moving more than it’s moving. That’s psychologically not how it works. Marxists are much more on-point here. Their argument has always been that people become racist—and there are lots of reasons why they do, but the people who might be on the edge are drawn to racist rhetoric and anti-immigrant rhetoric because they’ve been economically disenfranchised, and so they look for a scapegoat, and so the real problems are economic. I think they’re closer to the truth right now than to think that somehow just some racist demon is directing everything in this country. It’s just not where the country is. 
That is the classic split between those on the left who are socialists vs. the anti-racists. It is also the kind of thing that got Bernie Sanders into trouble in the Democratic primary before he got schooled by people in the Black Lives Matter movement and stopped making overt statements about how classism is what undergirds racism. 
Let’s be honest. In a rational world it is hard to come up with a logical reason for racism—especially if you are looking for one true explanation. A lot of (mostly white) people solve that problem by suggesting that it is a result of economic disenfranchisement. There is a layer truth to that, especially since Republicans have been dog whistling that message to white people for decades now. 
But a lot of the current disagreement among liberals is based on the fact that there are those who don’t buy that argument and see it as a rationalization for back-benching the very real issue of racism. There are a whole host of questions that such a view doesn’t even begin to address. For example, how does it explain racism among the upper classes? How does it explain the persistent discrepancy of outcomes in everything from criminal justice to employment to education to health that tend to be systemically rooted and persist regardless of the economic plight of white people
Lilla gives a nod to the idea that are a variety of things that cause racism, but he seems to think that there are those who are racist only due to economic disenfranchisement. Then he steps all over that concession by making a grand dichotomy between the Marxist view and a “racist demon that is directing everything,” making it seem like we have to chose one or the other. 
Things like racism are social constructs that, over the decades, have built up via factors that are irrational as well as systemic. They become cultural norms with feedback loops that are self-reinforcing. As I have attempted to study this issue, I find that identifying one expression of racism is like peeling back one layer of an onion—only to reveal the next one, and the next one, and the next one. 
All of this is to say that Lilla has identified but one layer on which the construct of racism has been built. If he stops there and assumes that enough white people will dispense with racism when their economic plight is improved, he is very badly mistaken.

And this is the argument I keep making: racism keeps happening in good times and bad, in war and in peacetime, in boom times and in bust, and I'm tired of people saying "Well if we just addressed economic inequality for all then racism would take care of itself" when that's never going to be true and we have 400 years of evidence to the contrary (and that's just in America).

Nancy is 100% correct here.  The possibly hurt feelings of white Obama-Trump voters are somehow the most fragile, important things Democrats need to protect rather than the lives of the people who have stuck with the party for decades.

"But you'll never win without white voters like meeeeeeee" they scream, "so listen to meeeeeeeee".

That's not how it works, and I really hope we're able to prove that in 2018.

Unfortunately, that midterm is looking so gerrymandered that even with a nearly ten point generic ballot lead, Dems basically have no hope of winning the House back.
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