Thursday, June 8, 2017

Last Call For Meanwhile In The House...

While all eye were on James COmey and the Senate today, the House GOP quietly passed legislation to end the Dodd-Frank legislation that was passed after the financial crisis, in an effort to...cause another financial crisis, I guess.

The Republican-led House on Thursday voted to free Wall Street from many of the constraints put in place after the 2008 financial crisis, the opening salvo in what is likely to be a protracted battle over deregulation of the powerful banking industry.

Big banks, from Goldman Sachs to Bank of America, would face less scrutiny, and other large financial institutions, such as insurance giant MetLife, could escape tougher rules altogether under the legislation approved largely along party lines.

The Trump administration backed the bill, the Financial Choice Act, as part of a multi-pronged effort to ease banking regulations to spur economic growth. The legislation probably will face stiff resistance in the Senate but it provides a road map of sorts for the policies the president plans to put in place as he appoints new regulators. Trump, who has complained about tight lending practices, has ordered three reviews of banking rules, the first of which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is set to deliver as soon as next week.

Democrats and progressive groups, who argue that banks need more oversight, not less, are preparing to use the issue to animate supporters still angry that Wall Street banks have not paid a larger price for the financial crisis. They noted that banks reported record profits last year, despite tough Dodd-Frank Act rules, and Wall Street bonuses rose for the first time in three years.

The Financial Choice Act would basically eliminate Dodd-Frank oversight and return us to the era where banks could do whatever they wanted as long as they had enough surplus cash.  Of course, since the Big Casino games the banks were playing last decade were all about banks colluding to drain the system dry and then force the government to bail them out because they would bring down the global financial structure without a huge taxpayer bailout, the extra surplus really doesn't matter, it's a billion-dollar fig leaf for a trillion-dollar problem.

But the real aim is to sink the CFPB.

The legislation takes the biggest hammer to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, authorized by the Dodd-Frank Act. The agency has toughened mortgage rules and fined big banks for allegedly taking advantage of consumers, but it has run afoul of Republicans who say it has gone too far, contributing to an environment in which consumers are having more difficulty getting mortgages and credit cards.

Hensarling's bill would strip the agency of some of its most important powers. It would no longer be able to write major rules regulating consumer financial companies, such as debt collectors, without getting approval from Congress. The agency would lose some of its independence because its director would serve at the pleasure of the president. And it would also no longer be able to levy hefty fines against financial institutions for "unfair" or "deceptive" practices. The CFPB used those powers to fine Wells Fargo $100 million last year for opening up to 2 million accounts customers did not ask for or know about.

That part of the legislation has drawn particular ire from Democrats and consumer groups.

"This bill is a vehicle for Donald Trump's agenda to deregulate and help out Wall Street," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, said on the House floor.

The legislation is not likely to pass intact in the Senate, where it would need to garner some Democratic support. But that has not calmed fears among all of the legislation's critics.

The Republican logic here is that banks are still being corrupt assholes, so that the legislation has failed and must be revoked.  It's a lot like saying arsonists still exist, so we have to disband your local fire department, the bums.

Still, the Senate Dems might be able to stop it.  We'll see.  But right now they have Mitch's stealth Trumpcare bill to deal with, and he's making sure that can pass with just 50 votes.

The Iceman Comey-eth

Former FBI Director James Comey skipped his prepared opening remarks that were released yesterday and went right into his professional opinion on the situation he found himself in with Donald Trump.  That opinion is that he believes the man in the Oval Office is a complete liar.

Comey said he was baffled and concerned by Trump’s assertion on television that he had fired the former FBI director because of the Russia investigation, as well as the initial excuse from the administration that Trump had fired Comey due to his botched handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. 
“That didn’t make any sense to me,” Comey said. “And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I am so sorry that the American people were told them.” 
Comey is widely respected for his efforts to remain above the political fray. For a man in that position, these are simply incredible allegations. 
Comey went on to try to assure the American public that the FBI is a good organization that will remain independent, under Trump and after. 
The FBI’s “mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States,” Comey said. “I will deeply miss being part of that mission. But this organization and its mission will go on long beyond me and long beyond any particular administration.” 
He added, “I have a message before I close for my former colleagues of the FBI. But, first, I want the American people to know this truth: The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. And the FBI is and always will be independent. And now to my former colleagues, if I may: I am so sorry that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to you properly. It was the honor of my life to serve beside you, to be part of the FBI family, and I will miss it for the rest of my life. Thank you for standing watch, thank you for doing so much good for this country. Do that good as long as ever you can.”

It got significantly worse for the White House from there.

Former FBI director James B. Comey said Thursday he helped reveal details of his private conversations with President Trump because he thought doing so would spur the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the administration — a remarkable admission showing the degree of concern he had about both Russian interference with U.S. politics and his doubts about the Justice Department’s ability to probe such activity. 
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey described how details of his private memos about his one-on-one conversations came to light shortly after his dismissal. 
“The president tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I’d better hope there are not tapes,” Comey said. He said he woke up on Monday thinking that if there are tapes, there might be corroboration of Comey’s account. Comey said he asked “a friend of mine to share” a memo he had written about his conversation with Trump “with a reporter.” 
Comey said the memo was one he had written about his Oval Office conversation with Trump in which the president had expressed a desire that the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn be dropped. 
He said the person he asked to share the information was “a good friend of mine” who is a professor at Columbia Law School. “I thought it might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” 
Asked by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) why he felt he had the authority to do that, Comey replied: “As a private citizen, I felt free to share that. I thought it was very important to get it out.” 
Comey said he used someone else to share the information because he was worried, with reporters camped out at his home, that giving the information to a reporter directly “would be like feeding seagulls at the beach.’’

The friend is Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who confirmed his role but declined further comment. The reporter is Michael Schmidt of the New York Times, who declined to comment.

In other words, Comey leaked his own memos on purpose to stop Trump, because he knew that Trump was lying and attempting obstruction of justice.

After three hours, Comey entered into second,closed session testifying involving classified information.  At several points when asked about additional members of the Trump regime, mainly former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Comey deferred his answers to the closed session, which cannot be good for the prospects of either men.

Comey also said that in his professional opinion he was "sure" that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia involved obstruction of justice.  Comey did say at the time before his firing that Trump wasn't under investigation.  He all but confirmed that today Trump is facing such an investigation by Mueller, as is Flynn, Paul Manafort, and probably AG Jeff Sessions.

The Trump Regime is in trouble, and badly so.  Comey will help see to that. He flat-out said that he believed he was fired over the Russia investigation and Mike Flynn, period.  What Congress chooses to do with that information, and what voters choose to do as a result, we shall see.

Not Russian To Judgment

With James Comey taking the stand this morning, it's important to keep his testimony in perspective. The Trump Regime is guilty of a lot of things and is generally a vile group of kleptocrats covering their asses over what amounts to a huge Russian money laundering scheme.  They're crooks and cads and there's plenty of evidence supporting that.  But beyond that, we need to greatly temper the impulse to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, because staring into the abyss too long results in said abyss wanting to have a word with you about timeshare investment opportunities.

If there’s an aesthetic hallmark of this brave new world of left-wing conspiracy theorists, it’s the long, connect-the-dots Twitter thread. The purest and most overelaborated example of this new genre of paranoia debuted on December 11, with the publication of an unreadable, 127-tweet thread known as “Time for Some Game Theory.” Written by Eric Garland, a previously obscure figure who describes himself as a “futurist, keynote speaker, author, intelligence analyst, columnist, and bassist,” the thread veers between the sort of groundless conjecture and outright gibberish that form the basis of President Trump’s own late-night Twitter epistles. (“The Russians f**king rule at covert shit,” reads one Garland tweet. “Always have. Ask a cold warrior. Mucho respect for our adversaries. They do clever work!”) Yet “game theory” thread spread through the internet like measles in an undervaccinated population, garnering widespread praise and driving Garland’s following from 5,000 to 30,000 overnight. 
Garland’s thread depicts how the Russians, reduced by the end of the Cold War to “Drunk Uncle status,” systematically used everything from George W. Bush’s recklessness in Iraq to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA to undermine confidence in the U.S. intelligence community. “DID YOU KNOW YOUR TOASTER IS SPYING ON YOU?” Garland tweeted, parodying the mind-set of an American duped by the diabolical Russian conspiracy. “THE GUBMINT! IT IS EVERYWHERE! THEY SPY ON (*controls snickering*) ALLIES! ALL BAD!” According to Garland, Russia’s long con led directly to our current political predicament: “Trump says he don’t need no stinkin’ intel agencies. Russia (BWA HAHAHAHAAAA) blames Ukraine! LOLOLOLOLZZZ.” The only way forward, Garland concludes, is to embrace his “game theory” in all its intricate zaniness. “To be American,” he tweets, “is to accept that unflinchingly and to soldier forth for future generations, and DO BETTER, GODDAMN IT.”

Garland's now infamous "game theory" Twitter thread got me worked up too, remember?   Six months later all of it looks pretty silly, and it's only gotten worse.

Other Twitter-threaders were quick to follow in Garland’s paranoid footsteps. Adam Khan, a Silicon Valley marketing consultant, linked to a report about a Treasury Department probe into real estate deals in Miami and New York, which noted that shell companies making all-cash offers sometimes serve as fronts for corrupt officials or drug smugglers looking to launder money. Khan, however, takes this indisputable fact one step further: Because some Trump properties have been bought by anonymous shell companies, he must therefore be in cahoots with Russian oligarchs. Tweet-annotating the report with conspiratorial red arrows, Khan insists that he has discovered the “mechanism used by foreign money launderers to park ill-gotten gains in Trump properties, funnel money to him.” Such a conclusion is, in fact, quite plausible, and raises legitimate questions that should be investigated. But a shell company does not automatically mean money laundering. This form of internet sleuthing is little more than garden-variety inductive fallacy: While the underlying premise is true, the conclusion could well be false. But like Trump’s leaps of illogic, such left-wing conspiracy thinking is a hit on Twitter: Khan has 154,000 followers. 
Then there’s Seth Abramson, a poet at the University of New Hampshire, who has 119,000 followers. In one long-winded and breathless Twitter thread, published in March, Abramson rattled off 40 tweets (plus an additional 10 tweets of “notes”) that began: “The plot to sell America’s foreign policy for foreign oil _and_ steal an election in the bargain began”—wait for it—“at the Mayflower Hotel.” The venue for Trump’s first major foreign policy address, Abramson notes, was switched at the last minute from the National Press Club to the Mayflower. In Abramson’s analysis, it was changed because the hotel has “restricted, VIP-only areas” that enabled Trump to meet in secret with the ambassadors for Russia, Italy, and Singapore, who jointly negotiated the sale of 19 percent of Russia’s state oil company. Here, behind closed doors, is where Trump agreed to do Russia’s bidding in return for a cut of the oil: “The Mayflower Speech,” Abramson concludes, “should get the most attention in Congress.” The entire thesis is founded on the simple fact of a hotel booking; in the conspiracy mind-set, even the most mundane logistical details reveal a deeper, preordained plot. 
For further evidence, conspiracy theorists routinely rely on unnamed and untraceable sources. Everyone, it seems, has an unnamed contact in the intelligence community these days. Andrea Chalupa, the author of a book on the “untold story” of Animal Farm, recently tweeted that an “Active IC agent told me Russia developed Trump for over decade, could have arrested him for sex crimes, instead collected kompromat”—the Russian term for compromising material. Claude Taylor, a former aide to Bill Clinton turned travel photographer, tweeted in March that Trump was on the verge of resigning, and seconded Mensch’s claim that a “Grand Jury under auspices of FISA court” had issued a “sealed indictment … to serve as the basis of Impeachment.” Never mind that FISA courts don’t issue indictments, or that impeachment begins in the House of Representatives, not with a grand jury. This is a former White House aide—he must have some form of inside intelligence. 
It should come as no surprise that Twitter is the medium of choice for left-wing conspiracy theories. As Trump himself has demonstrated, Twitter cares about only one thing: whether content is sensational enough to go viral. Twitter enables conspiracy thinkers to unfold their crazy scenarios in incremental, isolated blasts, each “fact” as disconnected from the others as it is from reality. What matters isn’t the background or experience of the theorists, or whether any of their claims are substantiated. Much like adorable cat GIFs or Ellen DeGeneres selfies, conspiracy tweets play not to our desire to understand the world, but to our deep-seated need to share the things we find most comforting.

Make no mistake, Eric Garland, Adam Khan, Seth Abramson, the crew at Palmer Report, the "Patribiotics" combo of Chuck Clymer and Louise Mensch, and as much as I hate to admit it, Sarah Kendzior, are badly hurting the liberal cause with unsubstantiated garbage thrown against the wall in hoping that one or two things turn out to be right.

Why anyone would be listening to right-wing British nutjob Mensch now that she's found a new group of suckers to con is beyond me, but I'm going to stick with the real stuff.

John Schindler is getting close to this end of the pool too.  For now he's been mostly correct about his claims but his call last week that NSA head Adm. Mike Rogers was going to have "a tale to tell" in this week's Senate Intelligence Committee testimony was a complete bust. Rogers probably did order the preservation of anything related to Trump/Russia for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but that's clearly the limit to as far as Rogers is willing to go right now.

We'll see where we are, but getting rid of Trump isn't going to happen through impeachment and removal.  Resignation maybe, but never by Congress.

Keep those grains of salt handy to take with all this.


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