Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Last Call For The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

With just under two weeks to go until the special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, the Cook Political Report crew moves the race from Lean R to Toss Up as Democrat Conor Lamb closes in on Republican state Rep Rick Saccone.

There's no doubt part of the problem for the GOP in PA-18 is the national political climate. During January, following the passage of the tax cut bill, Republicans had cut Democrats' lead in generic congressional ballot polls in half. But during February, Democrats' lead has returned to close to double digits, a turnaround that was in progress before the Parkland school shootings.

However, the climate alone wouldn't be enough to push a district as Republican as the 18th CD into the Toss Up column. After all, Trump is still a net asset to the GOP here, and Nancy Pelosi is unpopular. What's made the race so close, many Republicans admit, is that Lamb has simply proven to be a stronger candidate than Saccone. 
As a 33-year-old veteran from a prominent Irish-Catholic Pittsburgh political family, Lamb is well-positioned to tap into Western Pennsylvania's ancestral Democratic roots (Democrats still enjoy a slight voter registration edge in the 18th). He emphasizes protecting Social Security and Medicare from cuts, says he won't support Pelosi and talks about strengthening background checks without calling for new gun laws. 
Saccone, a 60-year-old mustachioed former Air Force counter-intelligence officer, hasn't made any major blunders. But he hasn't raised the resources to tell voters his life story as effectively as Lamb, and after seven years in Harrisburg, he can't credibly run as a political outsider. Moreover, Saccone's votes for right-to-work legislation have angered unions, still an important constituency in this part of the state.

Former GOP Rep. Tim Murphy, who won eight elections here before resigning in October upon the disclosure of an extra-marital affair, had solid working relationships with labor groups and routinely won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO. In this race, the state AFL-CIO chapter has snubbed the Republican and endorsed Lamb.

Yes, in a district where Donald Trump won by 20 points, the Democrat is running away from Nancy Pelosi.  Blue Dogs do that.  Not every constituency looks like Nancy Pelosi's district in San Francisco, but every House district in the country has Democrats in it somewhere who want to be represented by Dems and vote for them every election.

I'd move heaven and earth to have Conor Lamb here in KY-4 to take Tom Massie's ass down, his grousing about Pelosi and NRA support aside, because as much as you guys may not like Blue Dogs, a lot of us live in red states where 2018 means the Blue Dog or the Trump-supporting Republican asshole who wants to destroy the place completely.

I'll take the Blue Dog every single time.  I'm going to root for the Democrat in the race, thanks.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

The heat is back on Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner as a new Washington Post story contends that America's friends and rivals are more than eager to take advantage of Kushner's inexperience to manipulate him...and Trump.

Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.
Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.

It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.

Kushner’s interim security clearance was downgraded last week from the top-secret to the secret level, which should restrict the regular access he has had to highly-classified information, according to administration officials.

H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report. The issue of foreign officials talking about their meetings with Kushner and their perception of his vulnerabilities was a subject raised in McMaster’s daily intelligence briefings, according to the current and former officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Within the White House, Kushner’s lack of government experience and his business debt were seen from the beginning of his tenure as potential points of leverage that foreign governments could use to influence him, the current and former officials said.

They could also have legal implications. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has asked people about the protocols Kushner used when he set up conversations with foreign leaders, according to a former U.S. official.

This is pretty big stuff.  Kushner's Top Secret clearance has been revoked, meaning he can no longer be a party to Trump's daily intel brief.  Kushner was basically using that information over the last year to try to cut side deals for his own real estate empire in NYC.  The notion that such an arrangement meant he was prime blackmail material for every foreign intelligence agent on earth apparently didn't occur to anybody in the White House until the last week or so.

And in the wings, Robert Mueller is watching Jared Kushner very closely.

Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein claimed Tuesday night that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is “in the crosshairs” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after the president’s son-in-law had his security clearance downgraded.

“Jared Kushner is in the crosshairs of special prosecutor Mueller’s investigation, which is focused in part on Jared Kushner like a laser,” Bernstein said on CNN's “Anderson Cooper 360.”

And there is every expectation in the White House and among lawyers that are representing other people in Mueller’s investigation that Jared Kushner has many, many strikes lining up against him in the Mueller investigation,” the Watergate reporter continued.

Donald Trump Jr. is a complete meathead, the eldest son passed over for leadership, but really Jared has always been the Fredo Corleone of this tale, the one playing his side game to prove how smart he is only to not realize how much he's been played by everyone else.  In the end, Fredo becomes too much of a liability to the family and Michael Corleone has him taken care of.

I only wonder when Trump tosses Jared to Mueller in order to save his own ass.  Everyone who works with Trump eventually gets thrown to the wolves.

Immigration Nation, Con't

I've long said that the Trump regime won't stop at trying to deport undocumented immigrants, it's going to go after documented permanent residents too.  For these assholes, everyone admitted to the country since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 has to go along with all their children and grandchildren, and "birthright citizenship" has to be ended.

The Roberts Supreme Court, now with Justice Merrick Garland Neil Gorsuch, took a big step Tuesday towards allowing the Trump regime to permanently detain the country's tens of millions of documented immigrants with a terrible ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that immigrants, even those with permanent legal status and asylum seekers, do not have the right to periodic bond hearings. 
It's a profound loss for those who were appealing their indefinite detention by the government. Many are held for long periods of time. On average, they are detained 13 months after being picked up for things as minor as joyriding. Some are held even longer. 
As we wrote in June 2017, the case "has implications for legal permanent residents that the government wants to deport because they committed crimes and for asylum seekers who are awaiting a court date after turning themselves in at the border. Immigrants' advocates contend that many of these immigrants have a right to be free on bail until their case is heard." 
But the court wrote in its 5-3 opinion Tuesday, "Immigration officials are authorized to detain certain aliens in the course of immigration proceedings while they determine whether those aliens may be lawfully present in the country." 
The majority opinion was penned by Justice Alito and joined by the court's conservatives. (Justice Kagan did not participate. She recused herself, stemming from work she had done as President Obama's solicitor general.) 
The decision reversed a Ninth Circuit ruling and the court remanded it for the Ninth to reconsider the case. 
Justice Breyer reading from his dissent, a rare move for the court that indicates just how passionately he disagrees with the majority opinion. 
The case has implications for legal permanent residents the government wants to deport, because they committed crimes and asylum seekers who are awaiting a court date after turning themselves in at the border. Immigrant advocates contend that many of these immigrants have a right to be free on bail until their case is heard.

The five conservatives on the Roberts Court made it clear that they do not, meaning that the Trump regime can now safely start disappearing documented and undocumented immigrants into the ICE deportation system, and permanently detain those who can't be deported.

If you were wondering what was going to be done with all the construction of new immigrant detainment centers by the Trump regime, well, they just got the green light to start filling them up.  If the Trump regime decides to round you up and deport you, away you go.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Last Call For We've Always Been Against Corporate Tax Breaks, Right?

In the wake of the GOP corporate tax cut giveaway passed last December, red states are moving to make their own laws even more generous to "job creators" to make sure that no corporation ever has to actually go through the tragedy of paying corporate taxes, and Georgia is no different as the state is working on a tax bill that will give airline giant Delta billions in state money.  

That was of course until Delta made the even bigger cardinal sin of Thou Shalt Not Piss Off The NRA, which has now led the state's GOP Lt. Governor and GOP leaders of the Georgia State Senate vow to kill any legislation that would benefit Delta until it capitulates to the holy gun.

The lieutenant governor in Georgia threatened on Monday to kill a proposed lucrative tax cut for Delta Air Lines after the company eliminated a discount fare program for the National Rifle Association over the weekend.

The move by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the State Senate, immediately put the legislation in jeopardy and put him at loggerheads with other top state officials, including the governor, who had championed the tax deal. The showdown between one of Georgia’s most powerful politicians and one of the state’s largest employers was the latest clash in a national debate around guns after the deadly school shooting in Florida this month.

Mr. Cagle, a Republican, fired the salvo at Delta on Twitter on Monday afternoon, saying that the Atlanta-based company must restore its program with the N.R.A. “Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back,” Mr. Cagle, who had expressed his support for the bill earlier this month, said on Twitter.

Mr. Cagle, who received an A+ grade by the N.R.A. when he was running for his position in 2006, did not return a call seeking comment on Monday evening. As the Senate president, Mr. Cagle wields significant influence over legislation and how it flows through the Senate, where Republicans hold a 37 to 19 majority over Democrats.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Nathan Deal, who had said the tax bill was necessary to encourage airlines to open direct routes from Georgia to destinations around the world, did not return an email seeking comment.

Other Republicans in the State Legislature also on Monday pulled back their support for the bill, which would grant a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel, primarily benefiting Delta. Among the new critics was the House speaker, David Ralston, who said on Monday that he was disappointed with Delta and wished it had announced the decision before the House approved the tax bill on Thursday. The legislation moved the next day to the Senate, where it seemed to have broad support.

But on Saturday, that support all but evaporated after Delta announced it had eliminated a discount fare program for travelers to attend the N.R.A.’s 2018 annual meeting in May. The airline, which had come under growing pressure from its customers and others to cut ties with the gun group, said its decision “reflects the airline’s neutral status in the current national debate over gun control amid recent school shootings.”

Delta said in a statement on Saturday that it supported the Second Amendment but has refrained from political issues before. The airline noted that it withdrew financial support of a New York production of “Julius Caesar” last summer because it depicted the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.

It's interesting that the GOP stance is "we will openly and publicly punish companies that do not take our political positions".  Considering a dozen major corporations have cut ties with the NRA since the Parkland shooting on Valentine's Day, it's only now that suddenly Republicans are against corporate tax breaks for giant corporations, especially when it can be used to compel them to support Republican policies.

It used to be under the table, or in smoke-filled back rooms that deals like this were made, but in the Trump era, we now have public social media fights over which companies will be allowed to benefit from the taxpayer trough for supporting the regime in power, and which will be punished for not sufficiently doing so.

And the right happily applauds this.

In the end, it always comes down to authoritarianism with these guys.  Play ball or else.


The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Who could have known that the "demise" of the Democrats' generic ballot lead in January was nowhere near reality now that the dust has settled on Trump's tax scam bill and Republicans have reverted to form on putting guns everywhere?

Democrats once again hold a wide advantage in a generic congressional matchup, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, backed by a base of supporters who are more enthusiastic than Republican partisans and more motivated by core issues. 
The poll finds 54% of registered voters say they back a Democrat in their congressional district, 38% say they back a Republican. That's a shift in favor of the Democrats since January, bringing their advantage in a hypothetical generic matchup to about the same level as early 2006, a year in which the party won control of both the House and the Senate. 
Read the full poll results 
This also mirrors their advantage on the question last fall, before a January full of good economic news brought a shift toward more positive numbers for both President Donald Trump and his party. The same poll also found Trump's approval rating declining -- a metric that's frequently closely tied to his party's performance in a midterm election year.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents remain more enthusiastic about voting this fall than Republicans and Republican-leaners. Overall, 51% of that Democratic base say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in November compared with 41% of the Republican base. 
The poll also suggests that the issues on which Republicans have largely pinned their electoral hopes -- the economy, taxes and immigration -- are carrying less weight with voters than are health care and gun policy -- two issues where the Democrats typically have stronger backing from the public overall. 
Health care and gun policy are deemed deeply important by about half of voters (53% and 49%, respectively, call them extremely important), while about four in 10 say they are as motivated by the economy (43%) and immigration (38%). Sexual harassment is a sharp motivator for 36% of voters. Taxes, an issue Republicans have said will move voters as they realize the benefits of the tax changes passed last year, is extremely important for 35%. The investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election rounds out the list, with just about a quarter (26%) calling that extremely important to their vote.

That's a big reason there why the Democrats are suddenly back into a comfortable double-digit lead: gun policy matters to voters this time around.  Whether it will still matter in November is a major question, but for now America has been reminded again why the Republicans are so bad at governance.

Five Thirty Eight has the combined generic ballot polling results giving Team Blue a healthy 10 point lead.

We'll see, but it definitely appears that the slide Democrats were on in January has definitively ended as we head into March.

Here's the bad, bad news for the GOP from that CNN poll though:

If 42% of white voters are now less likely to vote for an NRA-backed candidate and only 16% more likely, then the the GOP will get barbecued in November, plain and simple.  On the flip side, white voters are more likely to vote for gun safety candidate, 35% to 26%.

And that includes a  31% to 20% margin that gun-owner households are less likely to vote for an NRA-backed candidate now.

Like the #MeToo movement and tolerance for sexual harassment, something has fundamentally changed with gun control in America in the Trump era, and November could be even worse for the GOP than people think.

Meanwhile In Bevinstan...

Kentucky GOP Gov. Mat Bevin has given up on trying to stop school shootings so we really shouldn't even bother trying or something, it's all very tragic but what can you do, right?

Gun control and metal detectors won’t guarantee student safety in schools because evil finds a way in, especially if the nation doesn’t address it, Gov. Matt Bevin said on National Public Radio Monday. 
There is no immediate solution to improve school safety, Bevin said in remarks similar to those from other Republicans who question limits on assault weapons or other gun restrictions after the mass school shootings in Florida and Kentucky. Nineteen students died, dozens more were injured in the shootings that occurred within weeks of each other. 
“It’s just a matter of time before somebody will breach whatever security measure is put in place,” said Bevin in the interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, “If someone truly wants to perpetrate evil, it has always been able to be done. It’s a sad and tragic reality.”
Lawmakers have to be serious and open-minded about school safety to determine evil’s root cause. 
Asked whether it should be harder to obtain a weapon that can kill a large number of people, Bevin said assuming that is a solution is “naive and premature.” 
While host Steve Inskeep said the amount of guns per capita has nearly doubled in the last 40 years, Bevin argued the availability of guns is not necessarily higher. 
“There have always been a lot of guns per person, and the access to them by children with no restrictions, no rules (and) no laws has long existed,” he said. “But yet children did not go to school and kill other children.”

I'm quite tired of Bevin embarrassing the state with his staggering ignorance and look forward to voting him out of office next year.   We have to be "open-minded" about stopping school shootings, but apparently nothing actually involves Kentucky Republicans in the state legislature actually doing anything about it, just bleating platitudes about "evil will find a way" and shrugging it off.

I use the phrase "emotionally cauterized" to describe Trump a lot when he's actually empathetically cauterized, he's emotional, it's just the only emotions that matter are his own.  Bevin on the other hand really is emotionally void in the center, there's nothing there.

This is the kind of lousy argument Republicans made 20 years ago about gun control, and it led to the rise of "superpredator" theory and incarcerating black and brown kids.  Why he's dragging it up now, I have no idea.  The libertarian "Molon Labe" argument is much more chic these days.

Both remain terrible copouts thought.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

The response to the indictments last week unsealed against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and the plea deal by Manafort's business partner and former Trump aide Rick Gates, at least from congressional Republicans, is that despite the money laundering and tax fraud charges against the person who ran Trump's campaign, any investigation into Trump's finances will remain off limits for the congressional committees looking into Russia's interference in the 2016 elections.

Top Republicans on Capitol Hill have made a concerted decision in their Russia inquiries: They are staying away from digging into the finances of President Donald Trump and his family. 
Six Republican leaders of key committees told CNN they see little reason to pursue those lines of inquiry or made no commitments to do so -- even as Democrats say determining whether there was a financial link between Trump, his family, his business and Russians is essential to understanding whether there was any collusion in the 2016 elections. 
Republicans have resisted calls to issue subpoenas for bank records, seeking Trump's tax returns or sending letters to witnesses to determine whether there were any Trump financial links to Russian actors -- calling the push nothing more than a Democratic fishing expedition. 
While the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee has acknowledged that his panel lacks the resources of special counsel Robert Mueller to dig deeply into financial matters, several Democrats on committees with financial experts on their staff have sought such records. In the House Intelligence Committee, for instance, Democrats have asked for subpoenas to Deutsche Bank, the institution that has been a major lender to the Trump Organization as well as Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. 
"I think the allegations on money laundering are credible enough that we ought to, in the exercise of due diligence, see if this was one of the other vectors of the Russian active measures campaign," California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, said earlier this month. "To me, that is far more potentially compromising than any salacious video would be." 
Republicans have rebuffed them, arguing that falls outside the scope of the committee's probe. 
"I don't see the link at this stage," Rep. Mike Conaway, the Texas Republican leading the House Russia investigation, told CNN. "Deutsche Bank is a German bank -- I don't see the nexus." 
Asked about exploring Russian-Trump business transactions, Conaway was not moved. "I bet every big bank has a Russian customer somewhere," he said.

Not a Russian customer who happens to be the guy in the Oval Office though. Just saying.

Seriously, this is a marker from the GOP that they don't see Trump's finances as important, and this is vital because the next level above Manafort is going to be someone in Trump's family: either Jared Kushner or Trump himself.

Republicans are content to say that Manafort was a bad apple and that with his indictment, Gates cooperating, and Mueller's indictment two weeks ago of 13 Russians, and that this is as far as they're going to go on their own committees.

Should Mueller move up the ladder however, expect major pushback from the GOP to shut down to Mueller probe for "exceeding its mandate".

Either way, at this point you can consider the House and Senate investigations into the Russia matter effectively over, especially as campaign season approaches.

Trump's Plane Silly Idea

Donald Trump apparently wants to put his long-time personal pilot in charge of the FAA, because we don't even rate banana on the banana republic scale at this point, we're really more of a bunch of rotten plantains. Jon Swan:

The president’s personal pilot is on the administration's short list to head the Federal Aviation Administration. Trump has told a host of administration officials and associates that he wants John Dunkin — his longtime personal pilot, who flew him around the country on Trump Force One during the campaign — to helm the agency, which has a budget in the billions and which oversees all civil aviation in the United States. 
What I'm hearing: One industry insider equated this to the Seinfeld episode when Cosmo Kramer used his golf caddy as a jury consultant. A senior administration official told me that comparison is completely unfair. The source confirmed Trump recommended Dunkin and that he’s sat for an interview for the post. That source said he was impressive.

“He’s on the list because he's the president’s pilot, but if he gets the job it won't be because he's the president's pilot,” the source said. 
In response to my questions for this story, another administration source stressed that while no decision has been made, Dunkin has the appropriate experience to get the job. 
“John Dunkin isn’t just a pilot," the administration official told me. "He’s managed airline and corporate flight departments, certified airlines from start-up under FAA regulations, and oversaw the Trump presidential campaign’s air fleet, which included managing all aviation transportation for travel to 203 cities in 43 states over the course of 21 months.”

This is akin to putting your brother-in-law Randy in charge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration because he's been a station dispatcher for FedEx for 12 years.  It isn't just ridiculous, as Steve M points out it's Trump killing expertise in the ballroom with the candlestick.

Trump loves this sort of thing. He thinks everything that's bad in America can be corrected by a really smart guy like him who sees (or is made aware of) a simple, obvious solution all the supposed "experts" miss. Solving problems doesn't require knowledge or hard work -- you just have to pick up on the one detail thagt the people who've been in charge for years haven't noticed, and then all difficulties will magically vanish.

It's not just Trump who believes this, we have an entire country that for decades has said "Well what do these idiots in charge know?  I'm smarter than they are!"

(Yes, I know that's the entire point of my blog for the last decade, but I'm not running for president either on grounds that I think I'm smarter than everyone else when I'm not.  Thanks.)

This is a sitcom plot, not a way to run a country, but what do you expect from a reality TV show host?

An ICE Storm In Oakland

The ongoing war between the Trump regime's immigration goons at ICE and California's state and local governments continues to escalate, with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaal warning the people of her city ahead of time of a planned major ICE raid over the weekend.

The relationship between U.S. immigration officials and California’s liberal leaders soured long ago, but Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to warn potential targets of federal arrest that an immigration sweep could be imminent was an extraordinary escalation. 
Schaaf said she issued the alert Saturday night after receiving confidential tips from “credible sources” who revealed that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, was planning arrestsacross the Bay Area as soon as Sunday. 
She and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick discussed the reports before Schaaf concluded that the information was solid enough to warrant going public, according to people familiar with her thinking. Schaaf said she also conferred with legal counsel to make sure she wasn’t opening herself up to federal prosecution.

The news release that resulted — which Schaaf said was intended “not to panic our residents but to protect them” — was among the most assertive maneuvers by a local politician to counter the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The message: Not only will Oakland and its police force not cooperate with ICE, but the city will actively seek to thwart efforts to detain and deport immigrants.
“I know that Oakland is a city of law-abiding immigrants and families who deserve to live free from the constant threat of arrest and deportation,” Schaaf said in her Saturday night statement. “I believe it is my duty and moral obligation as Mayor to give those families fair warning when that threat appears imminent.”

ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Schaaf’s action. Officials provided a statement to KGO-TV saying, “There are ICE operations every day and it is unclear what the mayor is referring to.”

Trump has previously said that he's wanted to put California mayors and lawmakers in jail over defying ICE, so Mayor Schaal's actions are definitely going to come at a cost.  Over at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw calls Schaal's actions a felony, and says Trump should act ASAP.

Do we really need to say much more than this? The White House has shown no hesitation in pursuing a termination of federal funding for cities engaging in this behavior. The President seems to be a big fan of the idea of “lock them up” when it comes to such violations. Why is the Mayor of Oakland exempt from this law? 
Not to mention the fact that this isn’t some average citizen we’re talking about. This is the chief executive of a major city who was elected and took an oath to uphold the law. Rather than doing so, she is actively thwarting the efforts of federal law enforcement officials. Clearly, the legislators and the general populace of Oakland would have no interest in removing her from office, but she’s certainly not immune from federal prosecution. Nobody is. It’s simply insane that we’re now living in a society where such a thing has been normalized.

What happens from here I don't know.  But Trump has never shown restraint in the past when it comes to punishing those who have defied him in some way.  If Trump wants to make an example of someone, he's just been handed a potential target on a platter.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Last Call For Trump's War On Drugs

Donald Trump wants to not only reverse Obama's sentencing reforms on drug dealers, he wants the death penalty for drug traffickers as well.

In Singapore, the death penalty is mandatory for drug trafficking offenses. And President Trump loves it. He’s been telling friends for months that the country’s policy to execute drug traffickers is the reason its drug consumption rates are so low.

"He says that a lot," said a source who's spoken to Trump at length about the subject. "He says, 'When I ask the prime minister of Singapore do they have a drug problem [the prime minister replies,] 'No. Death penalty'." 
But the president doesn't just joke about it. According to five sources who've spoken with Trump about the subject, he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty. 
Trump tells confidants a softer approach to drug reform — the kind where you show sympathy to the offenders and give them more lenient sentences — will never work.
He tells friends and associates the government has got to teach children that they'll die if they take drugs and they've got to make drug dealers fear for their lives. 
Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America, though he's privately admitted it would probably be impossible to get a law this harsh passed under the American system. 
Kellyanne Conway, who leads the White House's anti-drug efforts, argues Trump's position is more nuanced, saying the president is talking about high-volume dealers who are killing thousands of people. The point he's making, she says, is that some states execute criminals for killing one person but a dealer who brings a tiny quantity of fentanyl into a community can cause mass death in just one weekend, often with impunity.

Trump also wants to go after pharmaceutical companies, which will last about as long and go about as far as his previous efforts to "deal with the opioid crisis" last year, which is precisely nowhere, considering Big Pharma gives millions to the GOP.

But Trump will never miss an opportunity to enact a policy that hurts black people.

Trump may back legislation requiring a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for traffickers who deal as little as two grams of fentanyl. Currently, you have to deal forty grams to trigger the mandatory five-year sentence. (The DEA estimates that as little as two milligrams is enough to kill people.) 
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, and much of it is manufactured in Chinese labs. It can be lethal in extremely small doses. Of the 64,000 people who died of drug overdoses in 2016, more than 20,000 overdosed on synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse.

Fnetanyl is definitely dangerous, but locking up street dealers isn't going to fix the problem.  Nailing pharmaceutical companies to the wall for tens of billions in fines would be a good start, but that will never happen.

Fake News Fakery

The digital efforts to discredit and destroy news organizations in the Trump Era are only getting more sophisticated and intense as we get closer to another election.  The tools used to do it aren't hard to find, and they're relatively easy to use, and social media means the old adage about a lie traveling halfway across the globe before the truth can even put on boots exponentially more applicable.  The Miami Herald in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school massacre is just the latest outlet to be hit.

Two incidents hit The Miami Herald in recent days that underscore new tactics by those seeking to discredit mainstream media, and they augur what experts said are dark days in the battle between credible news and misinformation.

Both incidents came in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 when a teenage gunman killed 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In the first incident, a perpetrator used a software tool to create two fake tweets that looked like they came from the account of Alex Harris, a Herald reporter preparing tributes to the slain students. One fake tweet asked for photos of dead bodies at the school and another asked if the shooter was white.

The reporter almost immediately began getting angry messages.

“It was hampering our ability to cover this terrible tragedy in our own backyard because we’re having to deal with the backlash,” said Aminda Marques, executive editor of The Herald.

In a second incident, someone again used a software tool to create a phony Miami Herald story — in the high tension following the Parkland shooting — saying that a Miami-Dade middle school faced threats of “potentially catastrophic events” on upcoming dates, indicating that a new mass shooting was in the offing.

Screenshots of that fake story were passed along on Twitter and Snapchat, two social media platforms, said Monique O. Madan, a Herald reporter whose byline appeared on the fake story.

“It looks super real. They use the same font that we use. It has our masthead. It has my byline. If I weren’t a journalist, I wouldn’t think twice about it,” Madan said.

Worried parents and teachers grew alarmed, thinking it was a real Herald story. Dozens called or messaged Madan. “My phone just would not stop ringing,” she said.

The motive behind the hoaxes was not clear, but someone sought to create alarm.

It seems to be consistent with a pattern of people trying to disparage or discredit the news media,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. Wasserman is a former executive business editor at The Herald and columnist on the media for McClatchy.

Obviously this has broad civic consequence if you have a citizenry that doesn’t know where to turn to get truthful information,” Wasserman said. “Your information flows are being contaminated in ways that are very difficult to discern and very difficult to disentangle.”

Of course, when this effort is coming from the top of the current American regime (and the Russian, no doubt) then it becomes massively difficult to counter.  Controversy sells, and the reason why these efforts are so successful is that social media companies prioritize it.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

After two weeks and with the first iteration blocked by Donald Trump, California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff has released the Democrats' side of the House Intelligence Committee's story on the FISA surveillance of former Trump aide Carter Page. Vox's Zack Beauchamp:

Late on Saturday afternoon, House Democrats surprised the country by releasing their rebuttal to the so-called Nunes memo — the document, prepared by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), that has become a key part of the conservative argument that the FBI is biased against President Donald Trump. The Democrats’ rebuttal memo, written by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), argues that the Nunes memo is full of “distortions and misrepresentations” that don’t stand up to scrutiny based on the underlying classified evidence.

Having now read both memos, I can say with confidence: Schiff makes his case. Schiff quotes key FBI documents that explicitly contradict the Nunes memo’s core arguments. Any fair-minded observer who reads these two documents side-by-side can only conclude one thing: Nunes is either deeply misinformed or straight-up lying.

This is a pretty thorough demolition,” Julian Sanchez, an expert on surveillance at the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote on Twitter after reading Schiff’s memo.

And it is.  But we know Nunes recused himself from the investigation because of his personal involvement in leaking information to the Trump White House, and yet issued the memo anyway.  Nunes is in trouble and has been for a while now.  How he's still chair of the House Intel Committee, well, you'll have to ask the also-compromised House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The Nunes memo’s core allegation is that the FBI and Department of Justice misled at least one federal judge on a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA) court during the Trump-Russia investigation.

In October 2016, the FBI requested a FISA warrant to spy on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. FBI and DOJ officials argued that Page had troubling connections to the Kremlin, and wanted to check him out as part of their overall investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

An “essential part” of the application, Nunes argues, came from the so-called Steele dossier — the document containing major allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia that was put together by former British spy Christopher Steele (it’s also the source of the “pee tape” rumors). The problem, Nunes argues, is that Steele’s research was partially funded by Democrats — but the FBI purposely neglected to tell the court about that source of funding.

In essence, Nunes alleges that the FBI used opposition research put together by a Democratic political operative to go after the Trump campaign without disclosing that clear conflict of interest to the court. This was, according to Nunes, “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.”

Schiff quotes a lengthy passage from the actual application the FBI sent to the FISA court asking for permission to snoop on Page. In the key line, the application explicitly notes that “the FBI speculates” that Steele had been hired to find “information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] campaign.”

That’s it. That’s the ballgame. The FBI clearly states right there in the FISA application that they believe Steele was hired to find dirt on Trump. Since the core contention of the Nunes memo is that the FBI didn’t do that, Nunes’s entire argument falls apart.

Nunes's argument was always dumb, predicated on that it was a witch hunt for Trump when the reality was that the FBI had its eyes on Carter Page for over five years, well before Trump's campaign began.  The FISA court judge wasn't "misled" by the FBI...and the judge was appointed by Bush.

But notice Trump's reaction to the Schiff memo blowing his last bit of cover out of the water.

Saying there were "no phone calls, no meetings, no collusion," President Donald Trump on Saturday pushed for an investigation of "the other side" amid the FBI probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, while claiming "we need intelligence that brings our country together."

"A lot of bad things happened on the other side, not on this side, but on the other side. And somebody should look into it, because what they did is really fraudulent and somebody should be looking into that and by somebody, I'm talking about you know who," Trump told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a reference widely interpreted to mean Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In a free-ranging phone interview, Trump said the Democratic memo released by the House Intelligence Committee on Saturday afternoon was a "total confirmation" of the GOP memo released three weeks ago by Rep. Devin Nunes (D-Calif.), even though the Democratic response purports to rebutRepublican claims that the FBI and the Justice Department relied on the disputed Steele dossier in an application to spy on a Trump campaign adviser.

Trump has repeatedly said there was no "collusion" between his campaign and Russian officials and has publicly urged Sessions to investigate top officials at the FBI over their handling of the investigation. Sessions' recusal from overseeing what has become special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is reportedly a frequent sore spot in his relationship with the president.

Trump outright lies and again calls for the investigation of his political enemies.  He's done this again and again whenever he's cornered.  Let's not forget that AG Jeff Sessions is doing exactly that.

The president also returned to one of his familiar foils, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who as the top Democrat on the intelligence panel crafted his party's response to the Nunes memo. Trump claimed Schiff leaks information to reporters in actions that were "probably not legal."

"You see this Adam Schiff has a meeting and leaves the meeting and calls up reporters and then all of a sudden they'll have news and you're not supposed to do that -- it's probably illegal to do it. You know he'll have a committee meeting and he'll leak all sorts of information. You know, he's a bad guy."

Trump added that the blame for not stopping "Russian meddling, if you want to call it that" in the 2016 presidential election rests with President Barack Obama, since he was in office when Russian interference occurred. But he added: "We should all be on the same team. We should all come together as a nation."

It's very clear what Trump wants and believes: Democrats need to be rounded up, Obama needs to be blamed, and Trump needs to be hailed as the smartest human being alive.

Reality will differ somewhat.

Sunday Long Read: Wakanda Forever

Author Rahawa Haile takes a hard look at Marvel's latest film, Black Panther, and the movie's multiple messages of Africa's past and the Afrofuturism that the fictional nation of Wakanda represents.  There's definitely spoilers for the movie, so proceed with caution if you haven't seen it yet, but if you haven't, go.

By the time I sat down to watch Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, a film about a thriving, fictional African country that has never been colonized, 12 hours had passed since the prime minister of Ethiopia resigned following years of protest and civil unrest. It would be another 12 hours before the country declared a state of emergency and enforced martial law, as the battle for succession began. Ethiopia has appeared in many conversations about Black Panther since the film’s release, despite an obvious emphasis on Wakanda, the Black Panther’s kingdom, being free of outside influences — and finances.

While interviews with Coogler reveal he based Wakanda on Lesotho, a small country surrounded on all sides by South Africa, it has become clear that most discussions about the film share a similar geography; its borders are dimensional rather than physical, existing in two universes at once. How does one simultaneously argue the joys of recognizing the Pan-African signifiers within Wakanda, as experienced by Africans watching the film, and the limits of Pan-Africanism in practice, as experienced by a diaspora longing for Africa? The beauty and tragedy of Wakanda, as well as our discourse, is that it exists in an intertidal zone: not always submerged in the fictional, as it owes much of its aesthetic to the Africa we know, but not entirely real either, as no such country exists on the African continent. The porosity and width of that border complicates an already complicated task, shedding light on the infinite points of reference possible for this film that go beyond subjective readings.

I live with the profound privilege, as a black woman in America, of knowing where I come from, of having the language of my oldest ancestors be the first one I learned. When it comes to Black Panther, I know what it means for Namibians and fans of Nnedi Okorofor’s Binti series to see Himba otjize slathered on the hair of someone who sits on the king’s council. What it means for me as a person with ties to the Horn of Africa to see numerous meskel, the Ethiopian cross, dangling from another leader’s belt. What it means for the most advanced science laboratory in the world to always be alive with South African song. I am grateful for it because I have spent my life seeing the story of Africa reduced to its most stereotypical common denominator. And I know, with every cell in my body, what it means for Wakanda’s tapestry in this film — woven from numerous African cultures — to be steeped above all else in celebration, in pride, and in the absence of shame.

Coogler’s Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the superhero Black Panther who becomes the king of Wakanda following his father’s death. He is protected by the Dora Milaje, an all-women group of formidable soldiers led by Okoye (Danai Gurira) whose lover is the conservative, refugee-averse W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya). T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), is a science genius who designs his weapons, his Black Panther suit, and all manner of related tech. His ex, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’O), is a spy for the kingdom, committed to helping the most vulnerable in Africa, despite the king’s insistence on keeping Wakanda hidden from the world. M’Baku (Winston Duke) is the leader of the Jabari, a tribe within Wakanda that has rejected the methods of the monarchy and chosen to live up in the mountains. Finally, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), serves as the film’s rage-filled antagonist, driven by revenge and a desire for black liberation by any means necessary.

Black Panther spends the majority of its runtime examining what a hidden nation like Wakanda — wealthy, technologically advanced, and home to the planet’s most powerful natural resource, vibranium — owes black populations spread across the globe. I’ve thought extensively of the burden placed on Coogler, on what an American production of this magnitude owes the continent that cradles its story, keeping in mind what centuries of false narratives about Africa have failed to convey. I believe it is this: A film set in Africa — unable by its very nature to be about Africa — whose cosmology, woven from dozens of countries exploited by empire, consists of its joys. It is a star chart of majesties more than simulacra.

How then does one criticize what is unquestionably the best Marvel movie to date by every conceivable metric known to film criticism? How best to explain that Black Panther can be a celebration of blackness, yes; a silencing of whiteness, yes; a meshing of African cultures and signifiers — all this! — while also feeling like an exercise in sustained forgetting? That the convenience of having a fake country within a real continent is the way we can take inspiration from the latter without dwelling on its losses, or the causes of them. Black Panther is an American film through and through, one heavily invested in white America’s political absence from its African narrative.

And Haile is correct, the movie is easily Marvel's most thought-provoking and layered film to date, Coogler's meticulous craftsmanship shows in every frame.  The questions the movie brings up are challenging and uncomfortable, escapism with a purpose and a destination.

But they are questions that have been asked before, just not with this voice and in this way.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Yesterday's guilty plea from former Trump regime aide Rick Gates has led to some new developments in the Mueller probe and some familiar names now coming up in connection with Gates, his business partner and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, and their years' worth of lobbying violations, international money laundering and bank fraud.

First up, Mueller leveled new charges against Manafort as a direct result of Gates's guilty plea.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is accusing President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman of secretly paying former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine.

The new allegation against Paul Manafort comes in a newly unsealed indictment made public Friday. The indictment followed a guilty plea by Manafort’s longtime business associate, Rick Gates.

The indictment accuses Manafort of paying the former politicians, informally known as the “Hapsburg group,” to appear to be “independent” analysts when in fact they were paid lobbyists. Some of the covert lobbying took place in the U.S.

The indictment says the group was managed by a former European chancellor. Court papers accuse Manafort of using offshore accounts to pay the group more than 2 million euros.

We know that Manafort and Donald Trump have known each other and have worked together for decades, and that both have always been interested in Russian and European money...the untraceable, laundered kind.  Manafort has long been a deal-maker and fixer, that's why Trump hired him to run his campaign.  If anyone could have arranged a little "help" from Moscow, whether it was money or influence operations, it's Manafort.  Gates has long been Manafort's partner in crime on the business side and he was welcomed into the Trump campaign as a result.

But there's another name that has come up as a result of Gates's plea, and that's a particular California Republican congressman who has deep ties to Putin and Russia.

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates just admitted to lying to U.S. investigators about a March 19, 2013, meeting between his boss, Paul Manafort, and an unidentified U.S. congressman. Public filings show a meeting that day between Manafort and Dana Rohrabacher, a Russia-friendly Republican congressman from California.

You'd better believe Rohrabacher is squarely in Mueller's sights, too.

Details of a March 19, 2013, meeting surfaced last year in supplemental filings from DMP International, Manafort’s firm, and Mercury Public Affairs, whose partner, Vin Weber, also participated in the 2013 meeting.

Weber and a representative for him didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lobbying that Gates and Manafort are accused of hiding included work on behalf of Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by Russia.

After the guilty plea on Friday, a spokesman for Rohrabacher, who has sought better relations with Russia, said: “As the congressman has acknowledged before, the meeting was a dinner with two longtime acquaintances –- Manafort and Weber –- from back in his White House and early congressional days.”

“The three reminisced and talked mostly about politics,” the spokesman said. “The subject of Ukraine came up in passing. It is no secret that Manafort represented Viktor Yanukovych’s interests, but as chairman of the relevant European subcommittee, the congressman has listened to all points of view on Ukraine.”

Now, there's no reason on the surface for Gates to lie about meeting Rohrabacher for dinner five years ago, but Mueller clearly knew what happened at that meeting, well enough to bring charges against Gates, and well enough for Gates to plead guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI.

The larger story remains that Gates is 100% cooperating with Mueller, and everyone knows it.

His Place In Infamy

The NY Times surveyed 170 political scientists and historians on where America's presidents rank in 2018, and absolutely nobody should be surprised as to who comes in dead last.

Where does Donald Trump rank on the list of American presidents?

We surveyed presidential politics experts to sketch out a first draft of Trump’s place in presidential history.

Since our previous survey in 2014, some presidential legacies have soared (Barack Obama’s stock has climbed into the Top 10), while others have fallen (Andrew Jackson toppled to 15, out of the Top 10).

And President Trump? Let’s say that, according to the 170 members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section who filled out our survey, he has at least three years to improve on an ignominious debut.

James Buchanan, who was at the helm as the United States careened into civil war, was dislodged from his position as our nation’s worst president by our current president, Trump.

His Oval Office predecessor, Barack Obama, shot into the Top 10, up from 18th in the previous survey. Ulysses S. Grant also got a bump, up seven places from 2014, perhaps owing to a strong assist from Ron Chernow’s recent masterpiece.

The biggest declines were for Bill Clinton, arguably the result of contemporary scorn for his treatment of women, and Andrew Jackson, for evolving attitudes on his treatment of Native Americans.

The survey's top 10:

  1. Lincoln
  2. Washington
  3. FDR
  4. Teddy Roosevelt
  5. Jeffeson
  6. Truman
  7. Eisenhower
  8. Obama
  9. Reagan
  10. LBJ

Hell of a thing to see Obama edge out Reagan.  We really had no idea how lucky we were to have Obama when we did.  As for the bottom, Andrew Johnson, Pierce, William Henry Harrison, Buchanan, and Trump round out the worst chief execs.

The rehabilitation of Dubya continues as well, he's up to 30 now, when ten years ago historians had him down with Buchanan and the like.  On the "greatness" score, Lincoln is a 95, where Trump is a 12, if that tells you anything.  Obama came in at 71.  Most US presidents ended up in the middle between 35 and 65.  These days Nixon doesn't even make the bottom ten.

Trump really has redefined the American presidency, hasn't he?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Last Call For Immigration Nation

Trump thinks he has California right where he wants them, threatening to pull ICE out of the state and let it fend for itself.  Somehow I'm thinking the vast majority of Californians would be very cool with that.

President Donald Trump said Thursday he is considering pulling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from California, warning that the nation’s most populous state would turn into a “crime nest” without the federal agents. 
Trump said heavily Democratic California, which gave Hillary Clinton a resounding victory in the 2016 presidential race, was “doing a lousy management job.” He pointed to “a disgrace, the sanctuary city situation” and lamented the “protection of these horrible criminals.” 
The president’s comments were the latest effort by the Trump administration to pressure “sanctuary cities” to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. 
The Justice Department has threatened to deny millions of dollars in federal grant money to communities that refuse to comply with a statute requiring information-sharing with federal law enforcement. It’s an essential part of Trump’s efforts to crack down on cities and states that refuse to help enforce U.S. immigration laws. 
Trump issued the threat during a meeting with state and local officials on school safety and gun violence. He told Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others that his administration has targeted members of the violent MS-13 gang but has been “getting no help from the state of California.” 
Frankly, if I wanted to pull our people from California you would have a crime nest like you’ve never seen in California. All I’d have to do is say is, ‘ICE and Border Patrol, let California alone,’ you’d be inundated. You would see crime like nobody has ever seen crime in this country.” 
He added: “If we ever pulled our ICE out, and we ever said, ‘Hey, let California alone, let them figure it out for themselves,’ in two months they’d be begging for us to come back. They would be begging. And you know what, I’m thinking about doing it.” 
The White House did not immediately comment on the president’s suggestions.

I mean, let's dissect this.  First of all, Trump is 100% okay with making the people of California suffer if it makes them bend to his will.  That's not the act of a president, that's the act of a fascist dictator.  That's literally the approach Rodrigo Duterte is taking in the Philippines right now and 20,000 people have died at the hands of his paramilitary police squads selectively enforcing order against drug gangs.  If Trump's right, he's going to have the blood of thousands on his hands.

Second, I'm pretty sure California would be thrilled to have ICE go away for a while, which is the point.  The state would be very happy not to have to worry about feds coming in and grabbing undocumented folks willy-nilly. If California's right, Trump is going to look like a complete idiot (I know, what a stretch.)

Either way, this is a colossally bad idea for Trump, and I'm sure he's being talked out of this right now.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

We know Rick Gates, the business partner (and now indicted co-conspirator) of Paul Manafort, has been shopping a plea deal since last week with Robert Mueller's office.  With yesterday's massive new indictments of money laundering, bank fraud and tax charges, it was only a matter of time before Gates came begging for a deal, as I said yesterday:

Both of these guys are in mucho trouble. Somebody's going to flip. These charges are enough to put a guy in prison for a very long time. And remember, there could be more sealed charges waiting. Manafort's money laundering venue of choice? The same Cypriot banks that Vlad Putin's guys hang out with.

Less than 24 hours after those charges against Manafort and Gates were revealed, it looks like Rick Gates has copped a plea and will sing like Nina Simone.

A former top adviser to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign indicted by the special counsel was expected to plead guilty as soon as Friday afternoon, according to two people familiar with his plea agreement, a move that signals he is cooperating with the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election
The adviser, Rick Gates, is a longtime political consultant who once served as Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman. The plea deal could be a significant development in the investigation — a sign that Mr. Gates plans to offer incriminating information against his longtime associate and the former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, or other members of the Trump campaign in exchange for a lighter punishment. 
The deal comes as the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has been raising pressure on Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort with dozens of new charges of money laundering and bank fraud that were unsealed on Thursday. Mr. Mueller first indicted both men in October, and both pleaded not guilty. 
Mr. Gates’s primary concern has been protecting his family, both emotionally and financially, from the prospect of a drawn-out trial, according to a person familiar with his defense strategy who was not authorized to publicly discuss the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

If Mr. Manafort continues to fight the charges in a trial, testimony from Mr. Gates could give Mr. Mueller’s team a first-person account of the criminal conduct that is claimed in the indictments — a potential blow to Mr. Manafort’s defense strategy.

It was unclear exactly what Mr. Gates might have to offer the special counsel’s team, whether about Mr. Manafort or about other members of the Trump campaign. Neither indictment indicated that either Mr. Gates or Mr. Manafort had information about the central question of Mr. Mueller’s investigation — whether President Trump or his aides coordinated with the Russian government’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election. 
But Mr. Gates was present for the most significant periods of activity of the campaign, as Mr. Trump began developing policy positions and his digital operation engaged with millions of voters on platforms such as Facebook. Even after Mr. Manafort was fired by Mr. Trump in August 2016, Mr. Gates remained on in a different role, as a liaison between the campaign and the Republican National Committee. He traveled aboard the Trump plane through Election Day.

Gates flips on Manafort, Manafort then flips on bigger fish like Jared Kushner or maybe even Trump himself.  Mueller knows what he's doing, believe this.  Again, Gates pleading makes it clear where this investigation is heading, as he will plead guilty to several charges, including conspiracy against the United States of America.

Could all this be derailed by a Trump pardon?  I think Mueller has made arrangements for that as well, particularly with NY state AG Eric Schniederman.  Remember, Trump can't pardon state offenses, only federal ones (and even then there are consequences).

We'll see where this goes from here, but Mueller just took another step closer to Trump.

And Trump knows it.

Three People Outside Jefferson City, Missouri Con't.

Missouri GOP Gov. Eric Greitens has been caught up in a scandal over having an affair and allegedly tying up his mistress and taking pictures in order to blackmail her in an apparent revenge porn insurance policy.  The plan blew up in his face when the woman bravely came forward to tell her story, inspired by the #MeToo movement.  The state launched an investigation into the governor's conduct and calls for Greitens to resign were mostly ignored by both the Governor and state Republicans.

Now Greitens has been indicted on felony charges under Missouri law as the result of the investigation.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who was swept into office in 2016 with a vow to clean up a corrupt state government, was indicted and booked Thursday on a felony invasion of privacy charge for allegedly taking and transmitting a non-consensual photo of his partly-nude lover shortly before that campaign started.

It stems from a scandal that broke last month, in which Greitens was accused of threatening his lover with the photo — an allegation that isn't mentioned in the indictment. Greitens has admitted having an extramarital affair, but has denied the rest.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner's office announced the indictment Thursday afternoon. A Post-Dispatch reporter saw Greitens being led down a hallway by several St. Louis city deputies on the first floor of the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis at about 3:45 p.m. Officials later confirmed Greitens had been taken into custody and then booked at the St. Louis Justice Center.

Greitens, a Republican, declared his innocence in a written statement, and alleged the indictment is a "misguided political decision" by a "reckless liberal prosecutor." Gardner is a Democrat.

Greitens' legal team immediately filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, on grounds that any activity Greitens engaged in was "consensual."

Judge Rex M. Burlison allowed Greitens' release on a personal recognizance bond that permits him to travel freely throughout the United States. Greitens was scheduled to travel to Washington this weekend for an annual meeting of the nation’s governors. But Elena Waskey, spokesperson for the National Governors Association, said late Thursday that Greitens informed the organization that he would not be attending.

Online court records indicate Greitens is due back in court on March 16.

In recent weeks it appeared Greitens had weathered the worst of the scandal, but as news of the indictment spread Thursday, it became clear his political future is again in jeopardy.

A joint statement by top legislative Republicans, including Speaker of the House Todd Richardson, said they will appoint a group of legislators to investigate the charges: “We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward." Any impeachment proceedings would begin in the House.

Gardner, in her statement announcing the indictment, said the grand jury found probable cause to believe Greitens violated a Missouri statute that makes it a felony to transmit a non-consensual image showing nudity in a manner that allows access to that image via a computer.

"As I have stated before, it is essential for residents of the city of St. Louis and our state to have confidence in their leaders," Gardner said in the statement.

We'll see what happens.  Greitens was considered a rising star in the GOP, a charismatic, relatively young former Navy SEAL with no political experience, who publicly turned his back on the Democratic party and attacked President Obama after attending the 2008 Democratic National Convention and being recruited in 2010 to run against Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt as one of the promising young veterans that the Democrats were trying to recruit to win in the Midwest.

Greitens was carried into office by the MAGA movement getting a million and a half votes. Now?  People are a bit less happy with him, and once again the calls to resign are strong.  Couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy if you ask me.

He's been able to dodge calls to resign and remain in office so far, but a felony indictment is the kind of thing that ends a career in prison.

We'll see.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

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

Well, we now know what at least some of those sealed charges were for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates from earlier in the week: Mueller's office just unloaded 32 counts including international money laundering against the pair.

New charges were filed Thursday against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, ratcheting up the legal pressure on them as they prepare for a trial later this year. 
A new indictment has long been expected in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecution of Manafort and his right-hand man, Rick Gates, on fraud and money laundering charges. Manafort served as President Trump’s campaign chairman from June to August 2016. Gates also served as a top official on Trump’s campaign. The new indictment contains 32 counts, including tax charges. 
The filing Thursday comes at a time of significant uncertainty in the case about when a trial might happen, or even who the defense lawyers will be. Last week, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson criticized both sides for what she called “unacceptable delays” in a case which still doesn’t have a trial date set.

Manafort and Gates were hit with a 12-count indictment in October — the first criminal charges in Mueller’s probe of Russian interference with the 2016 election. That indictment focused not on events in the 2016 race but financial transactions involving work by Manafort and Gates for a Ukrainian political party, and their failure to notify U.S. authorities that they were allegedly acting as lobbyists for a foreign government.

The new charges come as Gates’ legal strategy and defense team are still in question. His three lawyers have asked to leave the case, a request the judge is considering. The details of those discussions have not been described publicly, beyond a court filing that said they involve “highly sensitive matters” that would “potentially be prejudicial to (Gates) as well as embarrassing.”

And yeah, the money laundering charge is ugly:

Vox has the full indictment here.

Both of these guys are in mucho trouble.  Somebody's going to flip. These charges are enough to put a guy in prison for a very long time.   And remember, there could be more sealed charges waiting.  Manafort's money laundering venue of choice? The same Cypriot banks that Vlad Putin's guys hang out with.

Stay tuned.

The Nasty Rhetoric Association

The student survivors of last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida represent the largest threat yet to the NRA's total political dominance of lawmakers, and after biding their time over the weekend, NRA President Wayne LaPierre is leading the full-on assault against these kids and their families as this year's right-wing CPAC political conference gets underway today.

After a week of media silence following the school shooting in Florida, the National Rifle Association went on the offensive in its first public response to the massacre, pushing back against law enforcement officials, the media, gun-control advocates and the teenage survivors of the massacre who have pleaded for stricter gun laws. 
In a series of statements, speeches and videos, the gun rights group — a powerful force in American politics — sought to stem what has been an emotionally charged wave of calls for new gun restrictions since police say a teenager armed with an AR-15 rifle killed 17 people at his former high school. An NRA spokeswoman debated survivors of the attack during a heated town hall Wednesday night, and in a speech Thursday morning, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA chief executive, excoriated the media for its coverage of the shooting.

“They don’t care about our school children,” LaPierre said near the start of the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest annual gathering of American conservatives. “They want to make all of us less free.” 
The NRA also released an advertisement Thursday morning that said “the mainstream media love mass shootings” and claimed that members of the media benefit from covering mass shootings in an effort “to juice their ratings and push their agenda.” 
La Pierre, whose confrontational speeches have become a CPAC tradition, was not on early versions of the conference’s schedule. But when he arrived to speak, he reiterated his pitch for armed guards at schools and free firearms training of teachers. Then he rattled off businesses and people — from jewelry stores to Hollywood actors — who pay for security, calling for Americans to “harden our schools” in the same way.

“We at the NRA are Americans who continue to mourn, and care, and work every day to contribute real solutions to this practical problem,” he said. “Do we really love our money and our celebrities more than we love our children?”

LaPierre was particularly awful towards the students of Parkland today in his CPAC speech, and it's the same rhetoric that has ensured that the overwhelming majority of Americans who want fewer military-grade firearms and more background checks never get anywhere with Congress.  It's worked every time so far.

I'm not 100% sure it will work this time.  But that largely depends on how Americans vote in November, and by then the Parkland school shooting will have long been erased from America's memory banks by the deadly mass shootings that will almost certainly happen in the next several weeks and months ahead.

We'll see.

Selling The President's Brand™

Don Jr. is in India this week selling Trump stuff to the locals as the Trump Regime International Grift Tour continues.

Donald Trump Jr. arrived in India on Tuesday for a week-long visit, and his trip has already revealed a couple of things. 
First, it’s clear that the Trump administration is still embroiled in huge conflicts of interest. And second, it’s evident that the Trump brand, though toxic at home, commands surprising power in the world’s second most populous country. 
President Trump’s eldest son will be spending his time in India promoting Trump-branded luxury apartments across the country. He’ll be meeting with real estate brokers and potential buyers throughout the week in his family business’s biggest market outside the US. 
He’s also offering a special reward to Indians who buy property from him: He’ll join them for an intimate meal. 
Indian newspapers have been running advertisements that promise homebuyers willing to pay a roughly $38,000 booking fee an opportunity to “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner.” 
Government ethics experts in the US are appalled by that prospect, and say that the arrangement encourages Indians — especially those with ties to India’s government — to use purchases of Trump-branded property as a way to gain favor with the Trump administration
“For many people wanting to impact American policy in the region, the cost of a condo is a small price to pay to lobby one of the people closest to the president, far away from watchful eyes,” Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the Washington Post
Trump Jr.’s India visit also highlights something else: While Trump’s polarizing presidency has put a dent in his domestic businesses, it doesn’t seem to have damaged his reputation in India. In fact, the Trump brand seems to be chugging along quite nicely there.

I'm trying to imagine the near-relativistic speeds at which Republicans would demand Congressional hearings, introduce legislation, and probably deliver articles of impeachment if Chelsea Clinton went to India to promote the Clinton Foundation while her mother was in the Oval Office.

But that's the new normal now, Trump Jr. is allowed to take money on trips abroad to sell the Trump brand wherever he goes, and people are expected to pay up if they want America to keep playing nice.

Sure we should be appalled at this, but nothing will change as long as Republicans remain in power.  This is how American diplomacy works now, you buy the Trump brand or else we pick up our $18 trillion a year economy and take it somewhere else.
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