Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Last Call For Ukraine, You Saw, You Laundered

Hey guys, remember our old friend Paul Manafort?  Trump's former campaign manager who resigned in disgrace after the world found out he was in Putin's circle so deeply that he previously worked for Putin's front man in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich?

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials. 
In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residencewith a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Well after yesterday's Trump/Russia bombshell from the FBI and NSA, the Ukrainians are playing hardball again as Andrew Roth at the Washington Post picks up this story from Kiev.

A Ukrainian lawmaker on Tuesday released new financial documents allegedly showing that a former campaign chairman to President Trump laundered payments from the party of a disgraced ex-leader of Ukraine using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan. 
The new documents may revive questions about the ties between the Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and the party of the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who has been in hiding in Russia since being overthrown by pro-Western protestors in 2014. He is wanted in Ukraine on corruption charges. 
Manafort, who worked for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions for nearly a decade, resigned from Trump’s campaign in August after his name in connection with secret payments totaling $12.7 million by Yanukovych’s party. Manafort has denied receiving those payments, listed in the party’s so-called “black ledger.” 
The latest documents were released just hours after the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI Director James Comey about possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow, which also touched on Manafort’s work for Yanukovych’s party in Ukraine. 
Comey declined to say whether or not the FBI was coordinating with Ukraine on an investigation into the alleged payments to Manafort.

Oops.  And yes, given the events of the last 36 hours, the Manafort story is very much relevant again even after Trump booted him in August, because we now know that the FBI investigation into Trump's connections to Russia began earlier in late July and is even now continuing.

Serhiy Leshchenko, a lawmaker and journalist, released a copy of an invoice on letterhead from Manafort’s Alexandria, Va.-based consulting company from Oct. 14, 2009 to a Belize-based company for $750,000 for the sale of 501 computers. 
On the same day, Manafort’s name is listed next to a $750,000 entry in the “black ledger,” which was viewed as a party slush fund. The list was found at the party headquarters in the turmoil after Ukraine’s 2014 revolution. The ledger entries about Manafort were released by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, a government law enforcement agency, last August.

Leshchenko alleges that Manafort falsified an invoice to the Belize company in order to legitimize the $750,000 payment to himself. 
“I have found during this investigation that [Manafort] used offshore jurisdictions and falsified invoices to get money from the corrupt Ukrainian leader,” Leshchenko said during a press-conference in downtown Kiev, where he provided a copy of the invoice to journalists.

This is a huge story guys, it's not going away, and it's going to turn up evidence that buries Trump and the GOP for a long time.  Manafort was in Putin's pocket and crooked as hell and had been for years, and then he ends up Trump's campaign director, when Trump himself has major ties to Putin's circle of oligarchs?  C'mon.

Oh, and Manafort?  Still lives in Trump Tower.

Follow the money.

Testing Your Patience (And Everything Else)

Don't look now, but Republicans have once again used the Congressional Review Act to kill an Obama executive action.  This time the plan is to overturn an Obama-era Labor Department rule that limited what occupations states could demand drug testing for unemployment benefits for.  Those limits are expected to be abolished this week when Trump signs the bill, meaning states can now require drug testing for anyone to receive federal jobless benefits as long as the occupation is "regularly drug tested" (which in 2017 is everyone.  You know, except Congress.)

Senators voted along party lines 51-48 under the Congressional Review Act to cut the rule. The legislation already passed the House and now heads to President Trump's desk, where he is expected to sign it.

Under a 2012 law, states can only drug test individuals applying for unemployment benefits if they were previously fired for drug use or work in jobs for which workers are regularly drug tested. The Obama rule specified a list of jobs the could be included under the law.

Republicans have argued the Obama regulation amounted to a federal overreach that limited a state's ability to determine its own drug testing policy.

"As we saw too often, the Obama administration went beyond its legal authority in creating legislation that limits the role of state governments," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said from the Senate floor.

He added that the Labor Department "should go back to the drawing board."

The Trump administration has also voiced support for getting rid of the rule, arguing its definition of occupations is too narrow and limits a states ability to drug test.

But Democrats warn that by nixing the rule lawmakers will be allowing states the ability to randomly drug test workers who through no fault of their own are unemployed, poor or in need of public assistance.

"This idea that there is a presumption of irresponsible conduct and guilt is just baseless," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said from the Senate floor.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court, I'm sure new state laws for drug testing everyone will run into roadblocks in the judicial, just as states testing everyone on cash assistance programs.

Still, don't tell me about how the parties are the same, especially you folks in states where pot is now legal.

Trump's Budget Gets The Coal-ed Shoulder In Kentucky

Trump came to Louisville last night to sell Trumpcare and coal jobs to the Bluegrass State.  The people at the rally were certainly buying, but it doesn't mean everyone was.

Trump pledged to rework trade deals, bolster the military, build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and put coal miners back to work. Trump also pledged that the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act would pass the House of Representatives on Thursday, only hours after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul told a group of Louisville businessmen that it would fail. 
“It’s a financial disaster waiting to happen right here in your own state,” Trump said, bashing the signature health care legislation of his predecessor. “Thursday is our chance to eliminate Obamacare and the Obamacare disaster in our country.” 
Trump, who was introduced by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pointed out Republican U.S. Reps. Andy Barr and Jamie Comer in the audience, all of whom have said they support the GOP’s health plan. 
Trump offered few details about the bill or changes he’d like to see, instead taking the stance that it will look different after it gets through both the House and the Senate. 
“The end result is going to be wonderful, and it’s going to work great,” Trump said. 
The audience enthusiastically applauded Trump’s message on health care, but some of the biggest applause of the night came when Trump talked about returning coal jobs to Kentucky. 
“We are going to put our coal miners back to work,” Trump said, repeating a campaign pledge popular in Appalachia.

Only one problem: Kentucky Republicans are pissed at the Trump's proposed budget cuts, and here the Trump budget cuts fall apart as we run into the reality of sacred cows.  It's Republicans who are going to have to own these nearly $60 billion in cuts for 2018 and they're not going to do it.  Case in point, Kentucky Republicans are definitely not going to go along with Trump's plans to kill jobs programs for out-of-work coal miners.

During the campaign, Donald Trump billed himself as the “last shot” for coal country. He alone could save regions like Appalachia that had long suffered from poverty and dwindling coal jobs. And voters in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky believed him — choosing Trump over Hillary Clinton by wide, wide margins.

So it’s striking that President Trump’s first budget proposal would slash and burn several key programs aimed at promoting economic development in coal regions — most notably, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Economic Development Administration. In recent years, these programs have focused on aiding communities that have been left behind as mining jobs vanished.

Even some of Trump’s staunchest allies were livid at the proposed cuts. “I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, a senior House Republican from a key coal-mining district in southeastern Kentucky.

Remember, Rogers is the old warhorse for the KY GOP, on the House Appropriations Committee.  He's been in the House since the Reagan Revolution, and nobody's come close to beating him, period.  In those 36 years the closest contest he had was merely a double-digit thrashing of his opponent, as compared to the 50-point margins he's won by since. The man's literally had a parkway named after him here. If there's anyone who should be safe voting for the Trump budget, it's Hal Rogers.

And if this has got him scared enough to speak out against Trump, it's serious.

First, Trump’s proposing to eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an independent agency set up in 1965 “to address the persistent poverty and growing economic despair of the Appalachian Region.” Since October 2015, the ARC has invested $175.7 million in 662 projects around the region, with a disproportionate focus on “distressed” counties and coal towns. In some places, that means new highways or broadband infrastructure. In others, it means grants to help former coal communities develop, say, outdoor recreation industries instead.

A government review estimated that, last year, the ARC created or saved at least 23,000 jobs and provided 25,500 households with infrastructure services such as water or broadband. There have been criticisms of the program over the years — it’s odd to have a standalone agency for this one region, and the ARC often focuses on bigger towns and neglects rural areas — but it’s also broadly popular with Democrats and Republicans alike in Appalachia.

Second, Trump is proposing to zero out the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which sits within the Commerce Department and provides about $250 million per year in grants to support economic growth in certain regions. During the Obama years, the EDA began devoting a sizable portion of that money to coal communities around the country that were suffering economically as cheap natural gas and new air pollution rules shriveled the coal industry. (The EDA also supports non-coal communities, providing trade adjustment assistance and other services.)

Needless to say, Rogers is furious.

It’s unclear if the White House conferred with coal-state politicians before proposing these cuts. Rogers, who helped double the ARC’s budget as chair of the House Appropriations Committee from 2011 to 2016, was absolutely scathing in response:

"While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive.

In particular, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has a long-standing history of bipartisan support in Congress because of its proven ability to help reduce poverty rates and extend basic necessities to communities across the Appalachian region. Today, nearly everyone in the region has access to clean water and sewer, the workforce is diversifying, educational opportunities are improving and rural technology is finally advancing to 21st Century standards. But there is more work to be done in these communities, and I will continue to advocate for sufficient funding for ARC and similar programs, like the Economic Development Administration."

I'd say if Hal is typical, then the Trump/Ryan austerity plan is DOA. Even Mitch the Turtle is assuring everyone that the cuts to ARC and EDA will never happen.

We'll see who wins this battle, but I assure you that Kentucky workers will lose either way now that the GOP is in total control.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/latest-news/article139644553.html#storylink=cpy


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