Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Last Call For Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

When I have repeatedly said that the Trump Regime strikes me as cartoonishly evil, it's stories like this that perfectly demonstrate what I mean.

The Trump administration’s top public health official bought shares in a tobacco company one month into her leadership of the agency charged with reducing tobacco use — the leading cause of preventable disease and death and an issue she had long championed. 
The stock was one of about a dozen new investments that Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made after she took over the agency’s top job, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Fitzgerald has since come under congressional scrutiny for slow walking divestment from older holdings that government officials said posed potential conflicts of interest.

Buying shares of tobacco companies raises even more flags than Fitzgerald’s trading in drug and food companies because it stands in such stark contrast to the CDC’s mission to persuade smokers to quit and keep children from becoming addicted. Critics say her trading behavior broke with ethical norms for public health officials and was, at best, sloppy. At worst, they say, it was legally problematic if she didn't recuse herself from government activities that could have affected her investments. 
“You don’t buy tobacco stocks when you are the head of the CDC. It’s ridiculous; it gives a terrible appearance,” said Richard Painter, who served as George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007. He described the move as “tone deaf,” given the CDC’s role in leading anti-smoking efforts. 
Even if Fitzgerald, a medical doctor and former Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner, met all of the legal requirements, “it stinks to high heaven,” Painter said.

Dr. Fitzgerald resigned today after this story, because buying tobacco stocks when you're the head of the government health agency is probably a smart idea financially if you plan on, you know, deregulation of the industry as well as trashing the decades of science behind tobacco being a public health crisis. We see how the Trump regime treats science.

Besides, if Fitzgerald hadn't obviously planned to profit off of tobacco stocks, she would have most likely gone down over profiting off medical and biotech stocks instead as she faced nasty questions from Congress about her stock portfolio last month:

After five months in office, President Trump’s new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been unable to divest financial holdings that pose potential conflicts of interest, hindering her ability to fully perform her job. 
Brenda Fitzgerald, 71, who served as the Georgia public health commissioner until her appointment to the CDC post in July, said she has divested from many stock holdings. But she and her husband are legally obligated to maintain other investments in cancer detection and health information technology, according to her ethics agreement, requiring Fitzgerald to pledge to avoid government business that might affect those interests. Fitzgerald provided The Post with a copy of her agreement. 
Last week, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the senior Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees CDC, wrote that Fitzgerald is raising questions about her ability to function effectively.

“I am concerned that you cannot perform the role of CDC director while being largely recused from matters pertaining to cancer and opioids, two of the most pervasive and urgent health challenges we face as a country,” Murray wrote.

The tobacco stocks made it abundantly clear Fitzgerald took the job to personally cash in, just like the rest of the Trump regime, including the guy at the top.  He might have protections, but Fitzgerald certainly did not.

She was just emulating her boss's boss, guys.

The Drums of War, Con't

Vox's Zach Beauchamp sounds the alarm that Trump taking the time in his State of the Union speech to blast North Korea as a deeply evil, deeply anti-Christian regime that cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons capability is the biggest tell yet that preemptive military action against Pyongyang is coming.  After all, we've seen this before sixteen years ago with Iraq.

“North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland,” Trump said. “We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and to our allies.”

If this all sounds familiar, it should. In 2002, President George W. Bush gave what’s now the most infamous State of the Union in modern memory. The speech described Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “axis of evil” — states that supported terrorists and thus posed a fundamental threat to the United States. We now know that this speech was designed to sell the war in Iraq, to paint Saddam Hussein’s government as an intolerable threat to the United States.

What’s really striking is looking back on the language that Bush used in that speech to discuss Iraq. He made the exact same rhetorical move that Trump did in his story about Ji — painting Saddam’s abuses of his own people as proof that the regime might well turn its fire on innocent Americans:

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

Trump discussing North Korea in the same way that Bush discussed Saddam is a troubling warning sign. This is how American presidents sell wars absent an imminent threat. They paint the prospective enemy as evil, an enemy of civilization, something that must be defeated both to preserve our own safety and to secure the future of humanity.

You would think that in a case like this we'd want a competent ambassador on the ground with our ally South Korea, something the incompetent Trump still has failed to do for a year, and completely on purpose.  If there was still any doubt over what's coming in 2018, ponder the fact that Trump just got rid of the best choice for Ambassador to South Korea.

Just before Trump’s ominous speech, we learned that Victor Cha, a highly respected North Korea scholar at Georgetown University, had been dismissed from consideration as a possible ambassador to South Korea (a currently unfilled post). This is highly unusual at this stage — Cha had already gone through security checks and been approved by the South Korean government.

The reason, according to reports in the Washington Post and the Financial Times, is that Cha had criticized the administration’s proposed plans for a strike on North Korea in private. Shortly after the news broke, Cha published an op-ed in the Post attacking the proposed plan as too dangerous and unlikely to work.

“I empathize with the hope, espoused by some Trump officials, that a military strike would shock Pyongyang into appreciating U.S. strength, after years of inaction, and force the regime to the denuclearization negotiating table,” Cha wrote. “Yet, there is a point at which hope must give in to logic.”

Cha, it seems, is worried about the Trump administration actually starting a war with North Korea. The State of the Union showed that we should be too.

The main goal of Trump's speech last night was to sell a war with North Korea to the American people.  Expect a lot of this during the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea in a couple weeks.  After the games are over, all bets are off.

Oh, and as an aside, Trump openly called for Congress to give his Cabinet the power to fire federal employees at will last night.

Have a nice day.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

While the Democrats have excellent prospects in taking back the House this November, the Senate map is still a serious problem.  Democrats have 10 senators now defending seats in 2018 in states that Trump won in 2016.  The latest polling shows that in several of those states, Trump's approval ratings remain pretty good.

President Trump heads into his first State of the Union speech with lousy approval numbers across much of the country — but remains fairly popular in a few states with tough Senate races next fall. 
That’s according to a bevy of state-level polling Gallup released Tuesday, combining data the firm collected from surveys conducted throughout the last year.

Trump has majority approval rating in just 12 states — but three of those have Democratic senators up for reelection next fall, including the two states where Trump’s numbers are the best, West Virginia and North Dakota. He’s also above water in Montana, as well as in Tennessee, where Democrats hope they might be able to seriously contest an open Senate seat. 
These numbers are crucial heading into this fall’s midterms. They’re also powering major strategic decisions with huge policy consequences — including how Democrats will handle ongoing negotiations to try to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) led the red-state Democratic charge to end the shutdown by threatening to retire if Senate leaders didn’t back down.

You may hate Joe Manchin, but he's a Democrat who can win Senate races in a state where Trump still has a 61% approval rating.  You'd better hope he wins in November.

There's good news for the Democrats though.  Even a few months ago picking up seats outside of Nevada and Arizona looked like a very tall order.  Then Doug Jones won in Alabama, and that has opened up opportunities to take other Senate seats that were considered off the board completely.

Slightly more people disapprove than approve of Trump’s job performance in Republican-leaning Missouri and Indiana, both of which have top-tier Senate races next fall, and his approval rating is 10 points lower than his disapproval rating in a bevy of states key to Senate control: Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada. In Texas, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is at just 39 percent, with 54 percent disapproving, a number that should put a scare into Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as he faces down reelection.

It's going to be a hard, hard slog for Dems to defend all these seats.  But if they can, and pick up seats in states like Texas (imagine that!) then they can win the Senate back in 2018.

And yeah, that means playing defense when needed.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Last Call For Ollivander's Rule, Con't

Donald Trump is following Ollivander's Rule, named for the wand shopkeep in the Harry Potter books as he describes the evil Lord Voldemort:

"After all, He Who Must Not Be Named did great things – terrible, yes, but great.”

As Ezra Klein points out, Trump the president is a massive failure.  Trump the reality show star however is a much different picture.

The secret to Trump’s success, the insight that has separated him from his competitors, is that he has cared less about the nature of the coverage he received than that he received coverage at all. 
“Even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business,” Trump said in his 1987 book The Art of the Deal. He goes on to recall the lesson he learned being attacked for a particularly gaudy skyscraper he sought to build. 
“The point,” he says, “is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.”
This is the law by which Trump lives his life. Attention creates value, at least for him. Before Trump, every politician hewed to the same basic rule: You want as much positive coverage, and as little negative coverage, as possible. Trump upended that. 
His rule, his realization, is that you want as much coverage as possible, full stop. If it’s positive coverage, great. If it’s negative coverage, so be it. The point is that it’s coverage — that you’re the story, that you’re squeezing out your competitors, that you’re on people’s minds. 
This was Trump’s true political innovation: He realized that presidential campaigns — and particularly presidential primaries — had become reality shows, and the path to victory was to get the most attention, even if much of that attention was negative
In this, Trump either intuited or stumbled into a profound insight about the media: It’s easier to get bad press than good press. There is an old line about the media: We don’t cover the planes that land safely. Most politicians try to get media coverage while landing the plane safely. They stage photo ops at factories, give prepared statements, deliver carefully crafted speeches. The result is dull, predictable, normal — and ignored. 
Trump dominates news cycle after news cycle by crashing planes into Twitter. He is everywhere, seemingly all the time. He says things no national politician in history would have dared say, things that the press covers because they are outrageous, controversial, unnerving, appalling. 
Trump is demanding and receiving our attention, crowding out everything else, accepting that it’s better to be hated than to be ignored.

Eat your heart out, Machiavelli.

So what do we do about the Tangerine Tyrant?  That's just it, no matter how much you despise the man, he's still the guy running the executive branch.

Every so often, someone will suggest that we just ignore Trump’s words, his riffs, his tweets. But Trump controls a nuclear arsenal. His tweets are “considered official statements by the president of the United States,” according to Sean Spicer, who served as Trump’s first press secretary. 
These are words that start wars, that drive deportations, that set policy, that end negotiations, that empower bigots, that reveal scandals, that represent our country. That the president of the United States is acting outrageously, or worryingly, or offensively, is important. As much as Trump might treat his presidency like a reality show, it remains a presidency, and lives are in the balance
Yet in owning our attention, in driving the agenda, in setting both the terms and tone of the debate, and in doing so by generating constant negative attention, cultural conflict, and emotional alarm, Trump makes us a little more like him, and politics a little more like the tribal clash he says it is.

This is the real damage Trump is doing to America and will continue to do.

We're Already In A Constitutional Crisis

Just a reminder that the deadline has passed on the legislation Congress overwhelmingly approved last year for new sanctions on Russia, and Donald Trump has simply refused to implement the law.

Lawmakers were blindsided and outraged on Monday after the Trump administration said it would neither announce nor implement new sanctions against Russia
After briefing senators in a classified setting, the State Department announced that the sanctions regime currently in place was acting as a “deterrent” against Russian aggression and that, therefore, new measures will “not need to be imposed” as required under the law. 
The announcement caught lawmakers off guard, including those who co-authored the bipartisan Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) last year. That bill passed in large part to punish Russia for its efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016. That it was put on the backburner left some on Capitol Hill with the impression, once more, that the Trump administration felt indifferent toward the Kremlin’s influence campaign. 
“When the Congress voted for this, the whole point of it was to slap sanctions on these Russian companies that interfered with our election and are doing all kinds of other things,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Daily Beast in an interview. “The legislation itself is not a deterrent if you don’t put teeth behind it. And the teeth behind it are the sanctions.” 
Monday’s episode marked the latest chapter in a months-long tug-of-war between Capitol Hill and the White House over a sweeping sanctions law that the administration, critics contend, has refused to fully implement and has dragged its feet in doing so. Congress felt it had forced the president’s hand with the passage of CAATSA by supermajorities in each chamber. A provision of that law required the administration to brief lawmakers on Monday about its efforts to sanction foreign governments and other entities that were continuing to do business with Russian defense and intelligence firms that the State Department publicly named in October. 
On Monday afternoon, administration officials gathered with senators on Capitol Hill to detail their plans for implementing the sanctions. The session was clouded in secrecy, with lawmakers refusing to reveal details that would potentially compromise confidential information.

But as those briefings wrapped up, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert released a statement saying the administration determined that new sanctions were not needed since it was estimated “that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions

So no, Trump will not follow the law, and will not punish his friend Vladimir Putin.  We openly have a Chief Executive who refuses to implement a law as required by Congress, legislation that passed with 98% of the vote, well more than the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

Trump's just refusing to do it.

So what now?  I know we're coming up on a major crisis with the impending firing of Mueller, but with these Russian sanction failures, we're already in one.

2018 is already shaping up to be a horrid year for the Republic...if we can keep it.

New tag, since we've finally gotten that far:  Constitutional Stupidity.

It's Mueller (Crunch) Time

A number of developments in the special counsel investigation of the Trump regime last night has made things pretty uncertain, and almost assures the fateful showdown that I've been predicting for months now (and many of you have been predicting as well).  As I mentioned yesterday, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepped down, and all indications he was forced out.  This morning we know why: current FBI Director Chris Wray is all but saying that McCabe was relieved of his post because of the House Intelligence Committee's memo on the DoJ's upcoming Inspector General's report, written by GOP committee chair Devin Nunes.

FBI Director Chris Wray hinted to FBI staff in an all-employee email that a government watchdog investigation played a role in FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's departure Monday, sources who have seen the memo told CNN. 
Wray said in the message he could not comment on the coming inspector general report about the FBI's conduct during the 2016 election and defended himself as not being swayed by politics. 
A source familiar with the matter told CNN that Wray had informed McCabe he is bringing in his own team, which McCabe would not be a part of, and that it was McCabe's decision whether to stay at the FBI or leave. 
The coming inspector general report into the handling of the 2016 Hillary Clinton email investigation has taken on increased scrutiny as President Donald Trump and his allies have railed against FBI officials like McCabe for months over the agency's handling of sensitive political matters and what they argue is political bias.

The Nunes memo relies heavily on the IG report, but cherry-picks the results and condenses it down to four pages.  In order to get out ahead of the report, Republicans have been threatening to release the "classified analysis memo" to the public.  Last weekend's revelations that Donald Trump already tried to fire Robert Mueller in June upped the timetable considerably, and indeed the Republicans in control of the committee voted late last night to release the memo, giving Trump five days to block it.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, disregarding Justice Department warnings that their actions would be “extraordinarily reckless,” voted Monday evening to release a contentious secret memorandum said to accuse the department and the F.B.I. of misusing their authority to obtain a secret surveillance order on a former Trump campaign associate. 
The vote, made along party lines, threw fuel on an already fiery partisan conflict over the investigations into Russia’s brazen meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Republicans invoked a power never before used by the secretive committee to effectively declassify the memo that they had compiled. It was an extraordinary maneuver, cheered on by President Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” and a sham. 
Committee Republicans said the memo’s release would shed useful light on potential political bias that may have warped the early stages of the Russia investigation without compromising intelligence gathering. Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas, a senior Republican on the committee, said on Monday that he was confident the Republican memo itself would not present a national security risk and was complete and fair as written. 
Democrats called the three-and-a-half-page document a dangerous effort to build a narrative to undercut the department’s continuing Russia investigation, using cherry-picked facts assembled with little or no context. Speaking to reporters after the closed-door vote, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, said Republicans had voted “to politicize the intelligence process.”

Sadly, we expect that the president of the United States will not put the national interest over his own personal interest,” Mr. Schiff said. “But it is a sad day indeed when that is also true of our own committee.”

The memo release now lights the fuse on the time bomb that we all knew was going to come.  The two main targets of the GOP mentioned in the memo are McCabe, now gone from the FBI having taken the fall for the Clinton e-mail investigation not turning up anything as of yesterday since former FBI Director James Comey was fired in May (for the same reason) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. 

The memo and the IG report will be the basis used to fire Rosenstein and appoint someone who will fire Mueller.  Trump is searching for his Robert Bork.  I agree fully with Charles Pierce that another Saturday Night Massacre is now assured.

That McCabe jumped under pressure seems undeniable, unless you are Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from whom truth fled months ago. The president*, she said, was not part of the process through which McCabe resigned. This, of course, ignores the rather salient fact that there would not have been a “process” at all had not the president* and his people not felt the hot breath of the hounds on their hindquarters almost a year ago. The “process” began when the president* canned James Comey over, in the president*’s own words, the Russian thing.

Nevertheless, the forces are organized and arrayed behind the president* if he wants to crank up the Enola Gay and fire Bob Mueller. (The terrified meeping of Republican senators like Lindsey Graham is of no consequence. Impeachment begins in the House, and that’s where the wild things roam.) They have established within their ranks an excuse that is plausible to the raving lunatics of The Base: that the FBI actively conspired against the president* and in favor of Hillary Rodham Clinton because a couple of FBI lovebirds texted each other about the fundamental absurdity of a Trump presidency*. Oh, and because #ReleaseTheMemo—the phantom document prepared by White House congressional doorstop Devin Nunes that purports to demonstrate to the feeble-minded the depths of FBI perfidy. Now for you, me, the lamp post, and anything with the intellectual depth of a handball, this is a ridiculous notion. We, however, are not the conscripted hoplites of this army of dumbasses.

It's no longer a matter of if Trump wants to fire Mueller, but whether or not the Republicans in Congress will allow him to get away with it.  If anything, the House GOP is actively giving Trump the cover he thinks he needs to do it.

The question then becomes "do we allow them to get away with it?"   I know just a month ago that I predicted Mueller would be allowed to finish his report and recommend charges against Trump. I said then that it was a big bet, predicated on Trump not firing Mueller.

We're about to find out if I was wrong.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Last Call For The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Yet another major retirement from the House GOP today ahead of primary season as Republicans cash out from the Big Casino, this time it's House Appropriations chair Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) will retire at the end of his term, he announced Monday, opening up another swing district ahead of the 2018 elections. 
“Today as I announce my retirement at the end of this session of Congress, I want to use the opportunity to strongly encourage the many young people I meet to consider public service,” he said in a Monday statement. “I thank my friends and colleagues with whom I have served.”

Frelinghuysen’s retirement opens up a suburban northern New Jersey seat, boosting Democrats’ chances at winning it in what’s shaping up to be a good year for the party and marking the latest in a string of GOP retirements that have further damaged the party’s chances at holding onto the House. President Trump won the district by just a one-point margin after Mitt Romney carried it by six in 2012, and Democrats had already planned to target it this fall. 
He’s the latest senior Republican to decide to head for the exits — and the eighth GOP committee chairman who’s decided to hang things up. Unlike other powerful committee chairmen, Frelinghuysen just won his chairmanship and could continue to serve as chairman for five more years. That makes his retirement is especially notable — a strong sign that his decision was driven by the political headwinds Republicans face this year. 
A whopping 24 House Republicans have announced their retirements or already resigned this Congress who aren’t running for higher office, compared with just seven Democrats. That retirement rate is even higher than ahead of previous wave elections like 2010, 2006 and 1994.

Frelinghuysen jumping ship is pretty much the biggest tell yet that Republicans know they will lose the House in 2018.  He's one of the last Republicans left who came in riding Newt's Contract With America wave in '94 after his Republican predecessor Dean Gallo died and has since held off all challengers in a comfortably red suburban district in north Jersey...comfortably red until 2016 that is.  Trump won by only a point, Frelinghuysen won 58-39% however.

He's not a stupid guy, he has a lot of clout in the state (especially as Appropriations chair in representing a state like NJ, much like Hal Rogers did prior here in Kentucky) and he knows what a freight train barreling towards him looks like. If he thought he was going to remain Appropriations chair, he would have stayed. You don't just walk out on that spot getting a huge say where the government's money goes in America.

But he's walking out on that spot anyway when he would have probably won reelection by double digits, even in a blue wave scenario. That should tell you how much trouble the GOP is in.  If a numbers guy like Frelinghuysen is out, then the numbers are bad, bad bad.

They're taking the money and running...away, not for office.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

In the wake of last week's revelations that Trump wanted to fire Robert Mueller back in June (and the dark comedy that was Trump calling the report "fake news" and then failing completely to deny the actual allegations) we now see the regime's counterattack: to go after the DoJ official who appointed Mueller in the first place: Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein.

A secret, highly contentious Republican memo reveals that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein approved an application to extend surveillance of a former Trump campaign associate shortly after taking office last spring, according to three people familiar with it. 
The renewal shows that the Justice Department under President Trump saw reason to believe that the associate, Carter Page, was acting as a Russian agent. But the reference to Mr. Rosenstein’s actions in the memo — a much-disputed document that paints the investigation into Russian election meddling as tainted from the start — indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the inquiry. 
The memo’s primary contention is that F.B.I. and Justice Department officials failed to adequately explain to an intelligence court judge in initially seeking a warrant for surveillance of Mr. Page that they were relying in part on research by an investigator, Christopher Steele, that had been financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. 
Democrats who have read the document say Republicans have cherry-picked facts to create a misleading and dangerous narrative. But in their efforts to discredit the inquiry, Republicans could potentially use Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to approve the renewal to suggest that he failed to properly vet a highly sensitive application for a warrant to spy on Mr. Page, who served as a Trump foreign policy adviser until September 2016.

A handful of senior Justice Department officials can approve an application to the secret surveillance court, but in practice that responsibility often falls to the deputy attorney general. No information has publicly emerged that the Justice Department or the F.B.I. did anything improper while seeking the surveillance warrant involving Mr. Page. 
Mr. Trump has long been mistrustful of Mr. Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, who appointed the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and now oversees his investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign and possible obstruction of justice by the president. Mr. Trump considered firing Mr. Rosenstein last summer. Instead, he ordered Mr. Mueller to be fired, then backed down after the White House counsel refused to carry out the order, The New York Times reported last week. 
Mr. Trump is now again telling associates that he is frustrated with Mr. Rosenstein, according to one official familiar with the conversations.

Again, the GOP plan here is to paint the FISA warrants on foreign nationals who were involved with members of the Trump campaign as "illegal FISA surveillance on the Trump campaign" itself.  As such, anyone involved in approval for the surveillance is part of the "Obama Deep State" and must be purged from the Department of Justice.  Retaliatory idiocy on the part of Trump has claimed several people in the DoJ and FBI, Sally Yates, Preet Bhrahra, James Comey, and now FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepped down Monday, multiple sources familiar with the matter told NBC News. 
McCabe will remain on the FBI payroll until he is eligible to retire with full benefits in mid-March, the sources said. 
One source familiar said McCabe was exercising his retirement eligibility and characterized his decision as "stepping aside." 
McCabe has been at the center of ongoing tensions between the White House and the FBI and has reportedly been under pressure to quit from President Donald Trump, whose campaign is being investigated for possible collusion with Russia.

McCabe was forced out, no question.  Trump is systematically firing civil servants who move to question his wrongdoing.  If Obama had fired anyone in the FBI who was investigating his campaign, Republicans would have delivered articles of impeachment before the end of the day.  Now, government workers, even Republicans like Comey and McCabe, are all suspects to be purged.

This is how Trump is planning to justify cause to fire Rod Rosenstein, and appoint a new Deputy AG who will fire Mueller. saying that the FISA surveillance is "fruit of the poisoned tree"  He will be purged too just like McCabe..  And no, Republicans in Congress aren't going to lift a finger to protect Mueller when Rosenstein's replacement fires him.

Republican lawmakers warned President Trump on Sunday not to fire Robert S. Mueller III, but showed little sense of urgency to advance long-stalled legislation to protect the special counsel despite a report that Mr. Trump had tried to remove him last June. 
“I don’t think there’s a need for legislation right now to protect Mueller,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “Right now there’s not an issue. So why create one when there isn’t a place for it?” 
Mr. McCarthy’s comments, similar to those made earlier by other Republicans, come amid bipartisan outrage over a report last week in The New York Times that Mr. Trump sought in June to fire Mr. Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. 
The president backed down only after Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, threatened to quit rather than execute Mr. Trump’s order. 
Democrats immediately seized on the report, saying they would try to ensure that continuing budget negotiations included legislation to protect the special counsel. But on Sunday, even Republicans who have backed such a bill appeared to settle instead on providing a warning to the president. 
“It’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The FISA surveillance nonsense is justification for Republicans to back Trump when he tries to fire Rosenstein and eventually Mueller.  I don't believe a word Sen. Graham says about the Trump regime being "over" if Mueller is fired.  Luckily, Mueller's isn't the only investigation in town, and Trump knows it.

Congress late last year received “extraordinarily important new documents” in its investigation of President Donald Trump and his campaign’s possible collusion with the 2016 Russian election hacking, opening up significant new lines of inquiry in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe of the president, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) says in an exclusive new interview.

Warner, the intel committee’s top Democrat, says “end-of-the-year document dumps” produced “very significant” revelations that “opened a lot of new questions” that Senate investigators are now looking into, meaning the inquiry into Trump and the Russia hacking—already nearly a year old—will not be finished for months longer. “We’ve had new information that raises more questions,” Warner says in the interview, an extensive briefing on the state of the Senate’s Trump-Russia probe for The Global Politico, our weekly podcast on world affairs. 
Warner also warns about a “coordinated” attack by the president and “Trump zealots” in the House of Representatives to undermine the legitimacy of the investigations against him, an effort Warner says includes the president’s threats to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and other officials as well as a secret Republican memo alleging “shocking” FBI surveillance abuse against Trump that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is now threatening to release. Warner calls out Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in arguably more explicit terms than any Democrat has yet, saying he has read the underlying classified material used in the memo and that Nunes misrepresented it as part of a McCarthyite “secret Star Chamber” effort to discredit the FBI probe of the president. 
“We’re seeing this coordinated effort to try to impede the investigation,” Warner says. The Nunes memo, which is apparently drawn from information contained in the same late-2017 document dumps that has caused the Senate panel to expand its inquiry, is based on “fabrications” and “connecting dots that don’t connect,” Warner asserts.

The battle continues apace.

Trump Mobile: The Only Choice

It's no secret that China, Russia, and the US are constantly trying to hack each other's networks to get data and gather intelligence, and that's both easier and more difficult as more of the world goes to mobile internet as their access of choice.  As the big mobile carriers start building the latest generation of mobile infrastructure, it appears the Trump regime wants the country connected to it quickly and securely...and that apparently means nationalizing new 5G cell tower networks.

Trump national security officials are considering an unprecedented federal takeover of a portion of the nation’s mobile network to guard against China, according to sensitive documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: We’ve got our hands on a PowerPoint deck and a memo — both produced by a senior National Security Council official — which were presented recently to senior officials at other agencies in the Trump administration.

The main points: The documents say America needs a centralized nationwide 5G network within three years. There'll be a fierce debate inside the Trump administration — and an outcry from the industry — over the next 6-8 months over how such a network is built and paid for.

Two options laid out by the documents:

The U.S. government pays for and builds the single network — which would be an unprecedented nationalization of a historically private infrastructure.

An alternative plan where wireless providers build their own 5G networks that compete with one another — though the document says the downside is it could take longer and cost more. It argues that one of the “pros” of that plan is that it would cause “less commercial disruption” to the wireless industry than the government building a network.
Between the lines: A source familiar with the documents' drafting says Option 2 is really no option at all: a single centralized network is what's required to protect America against China and other bad actors.

The source said the internal White House debate will be over whether the U.S. government owns and builds the network or whether the carriers bind together in a consortium to build the network, an idea that would require them to put aside their business models to serve the country's greater good.

Why it matters: Option 1 would lead to federal control of a part of the economy that today is largely controlled by private wireless providers. In the memo, the Trump administration likens it to "the 21st century equivalent of the Eisenhower National Highway System" and says it would create a “new paradigm” for the wireless industry by the end of Trump's current term.

But, but, but: The proposal to nationalize a 5G network also only covers one part of the airwaves; there’d be other spaces where private companies could build.

The PowerPoint presentation says that the U.S. has to build superfast 5G wireless technology quickly because “China has achieved a dominant position in the manufacture and operation of network infrastructure,” and “China is the dominant malicious actor in the Information Domain.” To illustrate the current state of U.S. wireless networks, the PowerPoint uses a picture of a medieval walled city, compared to a future represented by a photo of lower Manhattan.

The best way to do this, the memo argues, is for the government to build a network itself. It would then rent access to carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. (A source familiar with the document's drafting told Axios this is an "old" draft and a newer version is neutral about whether the U.S. government should build and own it.)

This seems like the kind of thing the Trump regime wanted to slip into Trump's infrastructure bill without too many people noticing.  We already know the Trump regime is virulently against net neutrality principles, so what happens when the government controls your access to your mobile device, access that will only become more and more important in the future?

The first tell here that this doesn't pass the smell test is that the Trump regime wants to nationalize 5G to save us from China, not Russia.  The second is that other leaked details from the Trump infrastructure plan make it clear that the regime wants to take the Eisenhower Highway System that they reference in the 5G nationalization plan and turn it into the American Toll Road Turnpike Alliance.

President Donald Trump won the White House promising a $1 trillion, 10-year blueprint to rebuild America — an initiative he said would create millions of jobs while making the nation’s highways, bridges, railroad and airports “second to none.”

But the infrastructure plan he's poised to pitch in Tuesday’s State of the Union is already drawing comparisons to the The Hunger Games.

Instead of the grand, New Deal-style public works program that Trump's eye-popping price tag implies, Democratic lawmakers and mayors fear the plan would set up a vicious, zero-sum scramble for a relatively meager amount of federal cash — while forcing cities and states to scrounge up more of their own money, bringing a surge of privately financed toll roads, and shredding regulations in the name of building projects faster.

The federal share of the decade-long program would be $200 billion, a sum Trump himself concedes is "not a large amount." The White House contends it would lure a far larger pool of state, local and private money off the sidelines, steering as much as $1.8 trillion to needs as diverse as highways, rural broadband service, drinking water systems and veterans hospitals. (Maybe even commercial spaceflight, one recently leaked draft suggests.)

The Trumpies want to force states to cough up 80-90% of the trillion or two it will take to rebuild America's road, bridge, water, power and rail infrastructure and essentially privatize it...but they want to nationalize the cellular network?

None of this sounds cool.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Last Call For Hitting The Jackpot

The "mild-mannered ATM spitting out cash on unsuspecting people" is a gag played for effect in hidden camera shows and the occasional movie, but it turns out cyber-criminals are actually making a mint off robbing ATMs this way.

Diebold Nixdorf Inc and NCR Corp, two of the world’s largest ATM makers, have warned that cyber criminals are targeting U.S. cash machines with tools that force them to spit out cash in hacking schemes known as “jackpotting.”

The two ATM makers did not identify any victims or say how much money had been lost. Jackpotting has been rising worldwide in recent years, though it is unclear how much cash has been stolen because victims and police often do not disclose details.

The attacks were reported earlier on Saturday by the security news website Krebs on Security, which said they had begun last year in Mexico.

The companies confirmed to Reuters on Saturday they had sent out the alerts to clients.

NCR said in a Friday alert that the cases were the first confirmed “jackpotting” losses in the United States. It said its equipment had not been targeted in the recent attacks, but that it was still a concern for the entire ATM industry.

“This should be treated by all ATM deployers as a call to action to take appropriate steps to protect their ATMs against these forms of attack,” the alert said.

Diebold Nixdorf said in a separate Friday alert that U.S. authorities had warned the company that hackers were targeting one of its ATM models, known as Opteva, which went out of production several years ago.

A confidential U.S. Secret Service alert sent to banks said the hackers targeted stand-alone ATMs typically located in pharmacies, big box retailers and drive-thru ATMs, Krebs on Security reported.

So is just taking the money easier or harder than just taking the entire ATM?

Challenging Both Stars And Minds

For 80's kids like me, there was nothing more shocking growing up than this day 32 years ago when the space shuttle Challenger exploded a minute after launch.  Across the country kids were watching live as the first teacher in space entered orbit, and I remembered being pretty excited at the fact that we would be getting science lessons from space.

The excitement turned to horror pretty quickly.  But the good news is 32 years later, those lessons from space will finally be taught.

McAuliffe's lessons have remained untaught and forgotten, until now. Astronauts will film some of her original lessons on the International Space Station, continuing McAuliffe's legacy 32 years after they were initially planned. 
It's fitting that the two astronauts, Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold, are both former educators. Acaba is currently on the space station, and Arnold will launch in March.
Arnold tweeted that he, Acaba and former educator astronauts Barbara Morgan and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger were honored to help celebrate the legacy of Challenger, and the Teacher in Space Mission. Morgan was McAuliffe's back-up for the Challenger mission. She went on to become the first educator astronaut in 2007. 
It's part of NASA's Year of Education on Station and the original lessons, as well as new ones modified for the space station's unique environment features, will be "STEMonstrations." 
The lessons will touch on liquids in zero gravity, Newton's law, effervescence (bubbles or fizz in liquid) and chromatography, or the separation of a mixture. 
"Filming Christa McAuliffe's lessons in orbit this year is an incredible way to honor and remember her and the Challenger crew," said Mike Kincaid, associate administrator for NASA's Office of Education. "Developed with such care and expertise by Christa, the value these lessons will have as new tools available for educators to engage and inspire students in science, technology, education and math is what will continue to advance a true legacy of Challenger's mission." 
Once the lessons are filmed, the videos and lesson plans will be available through the Challenger Center's website. The Challenger Center, which has 40 learning centers that include simulated environments, was created to honor the Challenger crew and works with students in the US, Canada and the UK to encourage STEM activities. 

I'll definitely want to tune in once these are ready.  I want to see what I missed in class three decades ago.  I'll bet I'm not the only one, either.

Sunday Long Read: Music At The Narco

The Winter 2017 issue of Oxford American covers Kentucky's rich musical history, and author Rebecca Gayle Howell's story of how Lexington's Federal Medical Center, then known as the United States Narcotic Farm, played a crucial role in the rise of rock 'n' roll in the 20th century is a story I didn't know, and want to share.

In Lexington, where I’m from, a federal medical prison stands on the town’s west side. Far off the main road, it does not ask our attention as we drive home from the Kroger’s or Goodwill—another sight among many in our urban pastoral. Not so long ago, this building held the nation’s attention as the world’s leading drug rehabilitation center, constructed to save civilization from the addict, and the addict from himself. Though, if the United States Narcotic Farm is today known for anything other than its eventual failure, it’s for the legendary figures who came there. Alongside average, nameless men recovered the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., William S. Burroughs, William S. Burroughs Jr., Clarence Cooper Jr., Barney Ross—and then there were the jazz musicians: Sonny Rollins, Tadd Dameron, Jackie McLean, Chet Baker, Sam Rivers, Wilbur Ware, Bill Caffey, Sonny Stitt, Red Rodney, Peter Littman, Elvin Jones, Ray Charles, Lee Morgan. The list is dizzying.

Patients, as they all were called, could arrive as incarcerated felons or check themselves in to take the Lexington Cure. Invoking a kind of Jeffersonian modernism, the Cure insisted a soul’s sobriety is what was needed, that a junkie must be healed from the spirit out. The doctors prescribed fresh air, and so the United States Narcotic Farm was indeed a farm—a thousand-acre self-sustaining community, right down to the milk it served. Honest work was to be learned and enjoyed as therapy. Other than farming, patients were given the opportunity to acquire skills such as auto repair and woodworking—skills that could finance their lives on the outside, without crime. Honest play was also logged as therapy, and among sports like baseball, tennis, softball, and bowling were chances to paint, dance, perform theater, and play music. Instruments were offered to the patients, and they were encouraged to practice nearly six hours a day. Soon enough, the doctors understood that, for an artist, practice is not leisure; it’s the only job that matters.

Although the presiding administration built Narco assuming its success, in only fifteen years the New York Times swung from announcing the institution’s messianic qualities to publishing its embarrassments, exposing that the treatment methods did not promote sobriety outside the prison’s walls. Ninety percent of patients returned. Though, it was only from one vantage that Narco failed; by the 1940s, from the addict’s perspective, Narco had become a one-stop network of professional users and criminals, the world’s best place to learn how to get higher.

Still yet, for the jazz musician, Narco became an elite artist’s workshop, a three-month retreat where hours of creative cross-pollination were sponsored by the federal government. Some checked in just so they could learn from the masters. Heroin helped an otherwise severely competitive stage of prodigies relax into their most concentrated Jungian state, that under-mind from which improvisation springs. But at Narco, competition for gigs vanished. The musician no longer needed to worry about food or housing or nightclub owners. All he had to do was arrange for his fix and endure his convalescence. Have an outsider visit you with a gift. Have an outsider throw a packet over the wall. Sleep, wake, eat, get what you need, and play.

Soon, a theater seating a thousand was made available for their purpose. Patients, nurses, doctors, and guards all came together on Saturday nights for the show. The town, too. These concerts, free and open to the public, made Narco the best underground night spot in Lexington. The phenomenon struck a chord with metropolitan jazz-heads and before long they began flying into our then hangar of an airport for a one-night fix of mind-altering music. History has called it “The Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard,” as all recordings, even the one made when Narco patients played Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, have been disregarded, destroyed, lost among the years.

Lexington has always had an unexpected bent toward the avant-garde. In these same years Ralph Eugene Meatyard, the now famously wild-eyed Southern gothic photographer, worked quietly among us as an optician in his little nondescript shop. His friend, the eminent peace activist and first hermit of the American Trappists, Thomas Merton, would catch a ride into town for parties, disguised as a tobacco farmer. James Herndon, known to us as Sweet Evening Breeze or Miss Sweets, was our churchgoing, cross-dressing neighbor, a landmark civil rights activist who today might have called herself black trans, who took an evening promenade through town daily, not only unafraid but celebrated, visiting with beloved friends who honked and waved as they passed. Rock Hudson was among the crowd, Bear Bryant, Henry Faulkner, as was my own father, playing on Coach Rupp’s JV basketball team, learning to drink at the old Saratoga, and earning a BA that he might enter the Marine Corps an officer.

So it is not a shock for me to imagine our 1940s, 1950s, 1960s barflies and college students, artists and athletes, driving out to the country for a big night at the prison. Merton was fever-sick for jazz. The only time I saw Dad happy was when he danced. Anyone might have been at Narco on a Saturday night, and I mean anyone—or: all of us, together.

It must have been a hell of a show.

Donny Orders The Facism And Chips

America's "special relationship" with London is coming apart at the seams, and the vast majority of the growing rift between Washington and one of our oldest allies is the fact that Theresa May cannot stand Donald Trump's Ugly American act.

Over a meal of blue cheese salad and beef ribs in the White House banqueting room, Trump held forth on a wide range of topics. “The president had strong views on all of them,” recalls Chris Wilkins, then May’s strategy director, who was among the aides around the table. “He said Brexit’s going to be the making of us. It’s going to be a brilliant thing.”

Trump turned to May and told her he believed there were parts of London that were effectively “no-go areas” due to the number of Islamic extremists. May chose to speak up to “correct him,” Wilkins said.

Trump also discussed his British golf courses and his hopes that the relationship with May would be stronger than the Thatcher-Reagan alliance. “It was an hour of the president holding court and the PM being very diplomatic and not many other people saying anything,” Wilkins said.

It shows the contrast in personalities that make for an unusual relationship, albeit one still underpinned by enduring strategic military cooperation and cultural links. As one British official observed, Trump is a larger than life character and May is almost the complete opposite.

During formal phone calls between the two leaders, May finds it almost impossible to make headway and get her points across, one person familiar with the matter said. Trump totally dominates the discussion, leaving the prime minister with five or ten seconds to speak before he interrupts and launches into another monologue.

In one phone conversation during 2017, Trump complained to May over the criticism he’d been getting in British newspapers. Amid warnings that Trump would face protests in the streets when he arrived, he told the prime minister he would not be coming to the U.K. until she could promise him a warm welcome.
May responded to say such treatment was simply the way the British press operate, and there wasn’t much she could do. In the secure bunker underneath the prime minister’s office, her advisers listened in to the call in astonishment at Trump’s demand.

British officials suspect Trump’s displeasure still lingers. The president canceled a planned trip to London next month for the official opening of the new U.S. embassy building. He claimed he disapproved of a deal to sell the old U.S. diplomatic headquarters. Some in May’s team now regret their “nightmare” decision to offer Trump a state visit.

While the offer of a state visit still stands, British officials don’t expect him to take it up any time soon, or perhaps ever.

“The relationship has taken some knocks,” said Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to the U.S. “But there is so much substance to the relationship—commercial, defense, intelligence, foreign policy, cyber, culture, language and shared values—that we all have an interest in ensuring that it remains strong.”

It'll take decades for America to repair the diplomatic damage from Trump, especially due to the fact we were still repairing the damage from Dubya.  Why would anyone trust us with leaders like that, and a populace they know would happily elect somebody as odious as Donald Trump?

No wonder the rest of the world is moving forward without us, leaving America, and millions of potential jobs, behind.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Last Call For Our Little Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

Nobody should be surprised to learn that in the Trump Era, we have active camps of neo-Nazi white supremacist terrorists preparing attacks on American citizens allowed to freely operate because our government is too busy screaming at scary brown and black people.

The California man accused of killing a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student earlier this month is an avowed neo-Nazi and a member of one of the most notorious extremist groups in the country
, according to three people with knowledge of the man’s recent activities.

The man, Samuel Woodward, has been charged in Orange County, California, with murdering Blaze Bernstein, who went missing in early January while visiting his family over winter break. Prosecutors allege that Woodward stabbed Bernstein more than 20 times before burying his body in an Orange County park where it was eventually discovered. The two men had attended high school together.

Woodward, 20, is set to be arraigned on Feb. 2 and has not yet entered a plea. Orange County prosecutors say they are examining the possibility that the killing was a hate crime — Bernstein was Jewish and openly gay — and some recent news reports have suggested that the alleged killer might hold far-right or even white supremacist political beliefs.

Now, three people with detailed knowledge of Woodward’s recent past have been able to shed more light on the young man’s extremist activities. They said Woodward was a member of the Atomwaffen Division, an armed Fascist group with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the U.S. government through the use of terrorism and guerrilla warfare.

The organization, which celebrates Hitler and Charles Manson, has been tied to four other murders and an elaborate bomb plot over the past eight months. Experts who study right-wing extremist movements believe Atomwaffen’s commitment to violence has made it one of the more dangerous groups to emerge from the new wave of white supremacists.

Two of the three people who described Woodward’s affiliations are friends of his; the other is a former member of Atomwaffen Division.

ProPublica’s revelations about Woodward’s background add a new element to a murder case that has attracted considerable local and national news coverage. But they also raise fresh concerns about groups like Atomwaffen Division, shadowy outfits of uncertain size that appear capable of genuine harm.

Woodward joined the organization in early 2016 and later traveled to Texas to attend Atomwaffen meetings and a three-day training camp, which involved instruction in firearms, hand-to-hand combat, camping and survival skills, the former member said. ProPublica has obtained photographs of Woodward at an outdoor Atomwaffen meeting in the scrubby Texas countryside. One of the photos depicts Woodward and other members making straight-armed Nazi salutes while wearing skull masks. In other pictures, Woodward is unmasked and easily identifiable.

The young man is proficient with both handguns and assault rifles, according to one person who participated in the Texas training and watched him shoot. That person also said that Woodward helped organize a number of Atomwaffen members in California.

Social media posts and chat logs shared by Woodward’s friends show that he openly described himself as a “National Socialist” or Nazi. He “was as anti-Semitic as you can get,” according to one acquaintance.

ProPublica contacted Orange County prosecutors regarding Woodward’s alleged neo-Nazi activities. Michelle Van Der Linden, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, said she couldn’t comment directly on the case, but said the investigation is ongoing, with detectives exploring all possible leads.

If there was a radical Muslim training camp in Texas sending terrorists to kill and bomb people in the US, we already would have dropped bunker busters on everything within a mile of the damn place.

But they're neo-Nazis who just want to kill Jews and gay people and anyone darker than a paper bag, so apparently that's not worth the government worrying about.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

The open secret that Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June now a lot less secret, the actions taken following by the White House make a lot more sense.  Trump wanted the people who could damage him out of the picture, and it meant that if he couldn't fire Mueller, he'd use his power to destroy the witnesses he could go after, vital to Mueller's case against him.

President Donald Trump pressed senior aides last June to devise and carry out a campaign to discredit senior FBI officials after learning that those specific employees were likely to be witnesses against him as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, according to two people directly familiar with the matter.

In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, recently fired FBI Director James Comey disclosed that he spoke contemporaneously with other senior bureau officials about potentially improper efforts by the president to curtail the FBI’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s efforts constituted obstruction of justice.

Not long after Comey’s Senate testimony, Trump hired John Dowd, a veteran criminal defense attorney, to represent him in matters related to Mueller’s investigation. Dowd warned Trump that the potential corroborative testimony of the senior FBI officials in Comey’s account would likely play a central role in the special counsel’s final conclusion, according to people familiar with the matter.

In discussions with at least two senior White House officials, Trump repeated what Dowd had told him to emphasize why he and his supporters had to “fight back harder,” in the words of one of these officials.

In fact this campaign has now turned into a massive Republican pogrom to "purge the FBI of Deep State Obama elements" or something horrific like that.

The FBI officials Trump has targeted are Andrew McCabe, the current deputy FBI director and who was briefly acting FBI director after Comey’s firing; Jim Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff and senior counselor; and James Baker, formerly the FBI’s general counsel. Those same three officials were first identified as possible corroborating witnesses for Comey in a June 7 article in Vox. Comey confirmed in congressional testimony the following day that he confided in the three men.

In the past, presidents have attacked special counsels and prosecutors who have investigated them, calling them partisan and unfair. But no previous president has attacked a long-standing American institution such as the FBI — or specific FBI agents and law enforcement officials.

Mueller has asked senior members of the administration questions in recent months indicating that prosecutors might consider Trump’s actions also to be an effort to intimidate government officials — in this case FBI officials — from testifying against him.

So yeah, the cover-up, or in this case the obstruction of justice, is worse than the crime.  And Mueller's on the case.

The House Doesn't Always Win

When Brad Pitt asked George Clooney why he just has to pull the heist job on casino kingpin Andy Garcia in Ocean's Eleven, he replied:

Because the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes, the house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big, and then you take the house.

Good advice for the Democrats in "taking the House" in November.  Also, turns out Andy Garcia's character in that series of films, Terry Benedict, is modeled after real-life casino magnate Steve Wynn.  Steve is a close friend of Donald Trump (himself the inspiration for evil casino boss Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II) as well as a major Republican donor and in fact the RNC's current finance chairman thanks to his buddy Donny.

It also turns out that Steve is, like his friend Donny, a lifetime serial abuser of women.

Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee (RNC), is calling for Casino mogul Steve Wynn to be ousted as the RNC's finance chairman after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against him Friday.

In a tweet, Heye said the allegations against Wynn, the CEO of Wynn Resorts, appeared to be "a lot worse" than past scandals that roiled the RNC and led to a number of ousters.

Heye's comments came on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report detailing allegations against Wynn that span decades. Wynn has denied the allegations, which he said were instigated by his ex-wife.

The fallout for Wynn mounted throughout the day Friday, with stock prices for Wynn Resorts plummeting.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) sharply condemned Wynn in an emailed statement.

“In the exact words of RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, ‘If you stand for treating women well and you stand for the respect of women, you shouldn't take money from somebody who treated women with the absolute highest level of disrespect,’ ” DNC deputy communications director Sabrina Singh said. “Instead, the RNC and Ronna McDaniel have helped fund the campaign of an alleged child molester, blindly supported the GOP’s attacks on women’s health, supported a President who has been accused of sexual misconduct by over a dozen women — and now they remain silent amid sexual assault allegations involving Steve Wynn, one of their party’s most senior officials.”

And Fox News said that it would no longer book Wynn on any potential future installments of its special, "The Wise Guys," according to a statement obtained by The Daily Beast.

Wynn is a complete slimeball, surprise!

For the women who worked for casino mogul Steve Wynn, it was a roll of the dice whether they would be sexually harassed when they were summoned to his private office, according to a new report Friday.

For decades, the legendary Las Vegas businessman used his power over their livelihoods to pressure the manicurists and massage therapists for sex, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Former employees said their awareness of Mr. Wynn’s power in Las Vegas, combined with the knowledge that the jobs they held were among the best-paying available there, added up to a feeling of dependence and intimidation when Mr. Wynn made requests of them,” the newspaper reported. “Some said that feeling was heightened at times by the presence in a confined office space of one or more of his German shepherds, trained to respond to commands in German.” 

The dog thing is one of Putin's old tricks, by the way.  He liked to use it on German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is apparently afraid of large dogs.

We'll see if Wynn stays on.  Stock in his casino holding company has already fallen 10% and even he has a board to report to. As far as the RNC job, well, we know they're perfectly fine with serial abusers, so.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Last Call For Tradin' The Line

One of Trump's first moves when he took office was to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (not that it would ever have been ratified by the GOP Senate even if Clinton had been elected) and lo and behold a year later, the rest of the TPP countries have reached an agreement without the US.

The 11 remaining members of a Pacific trade pact abandoned by U.S. President Donald Trump have reached a deal on a revised agreement, with the nations to work toward signing the deal by early March, according to Singapore’s government.

Senior officials resolved outstanding issues, finalized the list of suspended provisions and completed the legal verification of the agreement, concluding negotiations on what has been renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Singapore’s trade ministry said Tuesday in a statement.

The deal was reached after two days of talks in Tokyo, and came just hours after Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines -- his first major move to level what he says is a global playing field tilted against U.S. companies. The whole agreement looked like it might collapse after contentious negotiations in November, when Canada’s participation was thrown into doubt.

Japan’s Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Canada has agreed to work toward approving the deal, and he believed they would follow through on that.

“Today, Canada and the 10 other remaining members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership concluded discussions in Tokyo, Japan, on a new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Joe Pickerill, director of communications for Canadian Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, said Tuesday in an email.

So hey, we got rid of that "bad" trade deal or whatever, but as the US economy starts to flounder here soon and goes belly-up in a scenario that will make 2008 look like a fun picnic, remember that we did this to ourselves, with people who stuck it to us.  America picks up its ball and goes home, the rest of the world finds out just how much it doesn't need us -- or American companies, workers, or trade dollars -- anymore.

It Almost Wasn't Mueller Time, Con't

This new reporting fills in a disturbing picture of what was going on behind the scenes at the White House during this time. The Times doesn’t peg Trump’s attempt to fire Mueller to a specific date in June, so it’s impossible to know whether Ruddy spoke to Woodruff before, after or just as Trump gave McGahn the order. But in any case, Ruddy’s worries about a presidential attempt to dismiss the special counsel appear to have been firmly grounded in reality.

Second, Trump’s apparent willingness to fire the special counsel in a fit of rage—even after experiencing the blowback that followed his dismissal of Comey—drives home the fact that his hints about firing other senior members of federal law enforcement are far from idle. Indeed, the Times broke this story only days after Axios reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had pressured FBI Director Christopher Wray to dismiss Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. As with McGahn, Wray reportedly threatened resignation and the attorney general ultimately backed off. So when Trump hints about firing Sessions or Rosenstein, it should be clear that they may be in real danger. On the other hand, as Jack Goldsmith argued on an upcoming special edition of the Lawfare Podcast, the fact that Trump could not get his own White House counsel to execute his will on this point shows that the president really is constrained in his apparent desire to shut down the Russia investigation. Particularly in combination with the Axios story about Wray, the incident paints a picture of a president who desperately wants to corrupt the justice system but just can’t get it done: malevolence tempered by incompetence, one might call it.

Third, in contrast to the many valid reasons to criticize McGahn’s White House tenure, this episode illustrates—at least in this instance—the White House counsel’s deft performance of his duties under difficult circumstances, perhaps even skillful management of a particularly ornery client. McGahn has not always behaved so admirably; he reportedly was willing to carry out Trump’s earlier instruction to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from this investigation. But in this instance, he allegedly managed to ride out a presidential temper tantrum, both offering the president reasonable advice and declining to carry out a presidential order clearly not made in good faith.

Fourth, the story also shows rather vividly how successful Ty Cobb has been in calming the president in the months since and persuading him to take a less adversarial posture—at least publicly—toward Mueller and the Russia investigation generally. Consider the difference between Trump in June, who actually gave an order to fire Mueller, and today’s Trump, who has turned over material the special counsel wants and allowed interviews with White House witnesses and has said he is even willing to be interviewed himself. Cobb seems to have convinced Trump that the path to making the Russia investigation go away lies in cooperation. If Cobb is correct that the Mueller investigation will end well for a cooperative Trump, this is all a laudable example of excellent client management. Cobb’s strategy, however, seems to rely on convincing Trump that the investigation is going to conclude in the near future if he just plays along. If Cobb is wrong on this point, and the investigation isn’t, in fact, close to wrapping up, then he may have simply deferred the June explosion to the date when Trump realizes that the end is not in sight. Thursday night’s story shows that this explosion, whenever it happens, can be pretty big.

Finally, congressional response thus far has tended to bolster the special counsel. Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Jim Lankford tweeted vague support for non-interference by the White House, while Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Mark Warner were quick to declare that Mueller’s firing would cross a red line and endorsed bills designed to protect the special counsel investigation. In the end, the key constraint on the president’s ability to fire Mueller is the willingness of other actors to use their power to push back. As McGahn’s handling of the June episode shows, signaling a willingness to do so, particularly when done by Republicans, is a key deterrent.

Tim O'Brien at Bloomberg argues that the Mueller firing attempt story was leaked on purpose while Trump was out of town in Davos this weekend and the obvious source is McGahn himself.

Let's not pretend, however, that the president will remain subdued for very long. All of this transpired last June. Since then, Mueller has indicted or secured guilty pleas from four former Trump insiders for a variety of crimes. He's conducting interviews with senior White House officials and a meeting with the president apparently is on the horizon. As the temperature of his investigation rises, expect the president to act out in increasingly volatile ways, and to stretch the boundaries of the law to counter Mueller's probe.

What might that look like?

Trump has the power to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the official overseeing Mueller's probe, if Rosenstein doesn't obey a request to fire Mueller. Trump could then tear through the Justice Department's senior ranks, firing people until he finds one who would comply with his demands.

Although there's some debate among legal scholars about how much latitude the president would have for such a purge, Trump's previous maneuvering in this investigation suggests he believes he can do almost whatever he wants. That might explain why the Times report is surfacing now: Perhaps White House officials, perhaps even McGahn himself, are worried that the president is set again on toppling Mueller and they want to stop it (having the president safely tucked away in Switzerland and unable to counter-program probably helps).

McGahn also has much on the line himself. Last January, he met with Sally Yates, the acting attorney general at the time, after she told him that Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had lied to the White House about his contacts with a Russian official. McGahn invited Yates back the next day and asked her why the Justice Department cared if White House officials were lying to one another. Yates said that it would possibly give the Russians leverage to blackmail Flynn. As it turned out, the White House knew for weeks that Flynn hadn't been truthful about his communications with Russia -- and neither McGahn nor Trump apparently felt concerned enough to force him out.

If McGahn is now in Mueller's crosshairs, he might have decided that the simplest solution is to cooperate with the probe and turn over information in exchange for gentler treatment. In that scenario, McGahn becomes the source, directly or indirectly, of all kinds of interesting stuff for investigators and the media to ponder.

If you're still shocked that the key to the putative President of the United States is "tiptoe around him like he's a volcanic toddler" then you clearly haven't been paying attention. The orange l'enfant terrible is just that and eventually he's going to blow his stack again and come for Mueller, especially as the investigation closes in on his guilty family. 

It's possible McGahn did try to leak this to stop Trump.  But given the complete non-response from Republican in Congress, it's probably going to have the opposite effect: it just proved that Trump can and probably will get away with firing Mueller.  And hey, maybe that was the actual point of the leak too.

So far the GOP hasn't lifted a finger over any of these.  Why would they do so now?

One more note: reporter April Ryan had this story nailed back in June 2017.  It went nowhere then.  It should have, if only America would have listened to a black woman who knew damn well what she was talking about.

Stay tuned.
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