Friday, March 30, 2018

It's Mueller Time

As I've been saying, the leaks coming out on Mueller's activities and specifically what aspects of the Trump/Russia investigation he continues to probe are calculated at this point to put the fear of God into the little orange rat bastard and his team.  Trump's side may be pushing a narrative where there's enough cover to try to fire Mueller, but every time he does we get another leak on what Mueller's looking into, and there's plenty of subjects to cover.

This time around, Mueller's target involves Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Investigators probing whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia have been questioning witnesses about events at the 2016 Republican National Convention, according to two sources familiar with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiries.

Mueller’s team has been asking about a convention-related event attended by both Russia’s U.S. ambassador and Jeff Sessions, the first U.S. senator to support Trump and now his attorney general, said one source, who requested anonymity due to the ongoing investigation
Another issue Mueller’s team has been asking about is how and why Republican Party platform language hostile to Russia was deleted from a section of the document related to Ukraine, said another source who also requested anonymity. 
Mueller’s interest in what happened at the Republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio in July 2016, is an indication that Trump campaign contacts and actions related to Russia remain central to the special counsel’s investigation.

Trump, who was nominated as the Republican Party candidate for the November 2016 election during the convention, has denied any collusion with Russia during the campaign. Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings that it interfered in the campaign to try to tilt the election in Trump’s favor. 
Investigators have asked detailed questions about conversations that Sessions, then a Trump campaign adviser, had at a convention event attended by then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak, said the first source, who was questioned by Mueller about the event.

The same source said Mueller’s team also has been asking whether Sessions had private discussions with Kislyak on the sidelines of a campaign speech Trump gave at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in April 2016.

The Ukraine language being pulled from the GOP platform is one thing certainly, but the far bigger issue is Sessions meeting with our old friend Sergei Kislyak (which of course leads us back to Michael Flynn).  The fact that Mueller's team is now openly asking questions about the Attorney General at all should be giving both Sessions and Trump major heartburn.

And that April 2016 meeting between Kislyak and Sessions was always a major issue, we knew that Mueller was probably looking into it, now we know (and Trump knows) he is.

Stay tuned.  Trump always gets grouchy when Sessions ends up in the papers next to Mueller's name.

Getting Tough With Vlad, Con't

The Russians are meeting every expulsion of one of their diplomats by the US, UK, EU and NATO with expulsions of their own as the game of retaliation continues for the chemical weapon attack on British soil earlier this month.

The Kremlin announced on Thursday that it would expel 60 Americans, and probably dozens of other diplomats, and close the American consulate in St. Petersburg, a move that intensifies Russia’s clash with Europe and the United States. 
The action was in retaliation for the expulsion of more than 150 Russian officials from other countries — which was itself a reaction to a nerve-agent attack on British soil that Britain and its allies have blamed on Moscow. 
The United States ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced. Sixty American diplomats will be expelled from Russia — the same as the number of Russian diplomats whom Washington is expelling. The Americans were given until April 5 to leave the country. 
In addition, Russia plans to expel an unspecified number of diplomats from the more than 20 other countries and NATO that joined Britain and the United States in expelling Russians. Mr. Lavrov said the number would “mirror” the number of expelled Russians, which suggested that the ultimate total might rise above 150. (Britain and Russia have already each expelled 23 of the other country’s representatives.)

The crisis over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter has driven tensions between the Kremlin and the West to their highest pitch in decades. The tit-for-tat responses raise the prospect of further, more serious escalations, either public or clandestine.

Things are only going to get worse from here.  I would expect that the next step will be Putin wanting a little chat with his orange friend and making it clear that things can get much, much more uncomfortable for Trump politically, and soon.

I would expect serious concessions to Russia, mostly involving Turkey and Syria.  We'll see what transpires, but this is the part of the proceedings where we find out just how much of Trump's ass Putin owns.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

You probably don't know the name Jason Roberts but you should: he's the Senate GOP staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee who has been sabotaging the Trump/Russia investigation since day one, as ProPublica's Robert Faturechi reports.

For the last year, Foster — empowered by his boss, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s chairman — has been the behind-the-scenes architect of an assault on the FBI, and most centrally its role in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to interviews with current and former congressional aides, federal law enforcement officials and others. 
With Foster in charge of his oversight work, Grassley has openly speculated about whether former FBI director James Comey leaked classified information as Comey raised alarms about President Donald Trump’s possible interference in the Russia probe. Grassley and the other Republicans on the committee have questioned the impartiality of a former member of Mueller’s team, cast doubt on the credibility of the FBI’s secret court application for permission to surveil a Trump campaign associate and called for a second special counsel to investigate matters related to Hillary Clinton. A firm that conducted opposition research on Trump has made clear in court it believes Grassley’s committee, with Foster as its lead investigator, had leaked sensitive information about its business. 
Most recently, many of those interviewed by ProPublica said, Foster engineered Grassley’s highly unusual public announcement asking federal authorities to consider criminal charges against Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy who compiled the dossier warning of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. 
For Foster’s critics, and they include Republicans as well as Democrats, his provocative work on the Trump-Russia investigation is just the latest chapter in the career of a partisan combatant willing to discard norms and indulge in conspiratorial thinking as he pursues investigations favorable to Republicans. 
Foster — who cut his teeth on Capitol Hill working on the staff of former Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who fueled the theory of foul play in a Clinton aide’s suicide and called for required AIDS testing for all Americans — drew the ire of many for his role in various Judiciary Committee investigations of the Obama administration. 
“That’s the way it seemed to go every time with Jason, conspiracy to the point it was ridiculous,” said one Democratic aide who had dealt with Foster. The aide was one of several interviewed by ProPublica, Democrat and Republican, who would not be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the inner workings of Congress. 
Foster’s career, including his work on the committee’s Russia investigation, has caught the attention of the Trump administration. Foster has twice been approached about a possible job, an inspector general role, with the administration, a situation that some say should have required his recusal from work on the collusion inquiry.

It gets far worse than a simple case of Trump wanting to reward one of his champions in the investigation of the White House. Foster is a dangerous ideologue and partisan bomb-thrower.

In examining Foster’s role in the committee’s Trump-Russia investigation, ProPublica discovered that a decade ago he had written an anonymous blog, using the handle “extremist.” The posts by Foster, who was then working for Grassley on the Senate Finance Committee, made clear he was some sort of D.C. insider, and he came across as a knowing observer as the country navigated the thorny political fights of the Bush and Obama eras. 
But there were also plenty of times “extremist” lived up to his chosen name. 
He warned of an Islamic takeover. He wrote that homosexuality was akin to incest. He questioned whether waterboarding really amounted to torture. He derided Obama’s proposal to negotiate with the Taliban, and was particularly galled that the president doing so had the middle name Hussein. Liberals? They were anti-American. 
He even mused about whether Sen. Joseph McCarthy, condemned as a demagogue for his 1950s anti-Communist crusade, should be remembered more kindly.

And this guy is the chief investigative counsel on the committee, meaning he's running the fieldwork for the Senate Judiciary on this.  If you want to know why the Senate Judiciary hasn't done anything but attack the FBI and Mueller for the last year, now you know why.

The Shulkin Shuffle's Sinister Secret

As Luke Barnes over at Think Progress notes, David Shulkin's tenure as Secretary of Veterans Affairs was on thin ice for months now, but the real reason he was let go is because Trump wants to privatize health care for veterans.

Shulkin was the only holdover from the Obama era in Trump’s cabinet, having been appointed in 2015 to lead the V.A.’s health system. His replacement is the current White House physician who previously lauded the president’s health, but has no experience running a major bureaucratic agency. 
Shulkin’s tenure as V.A. secretary had reportedly been in peril for months. In February, his chief of staff resigned after being accused of “serious derelictions” in expenses during a 10-day trip to Europe in 2017 — including improperly accepting tickets to the Wimbledon tennis championship. Later in February, reports surfaced that senior aides within the V.A. were actively conspiring to have him removed. 
But the major controversy within the V.A. centers around the Trump administration’s plans to offer veterans more privatized medical care at the expense of taxpayers. During his confirmation hearing, Shulkin vowed to resist any privatization efforts, which had been a Trump campaign promise. 
V.A. is a unique national resource that is worth saving,” Shulkin told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last February during his confirmation hearing. “The Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.” 

And it's no longer his watch, now is it?

During the 2016 presidential election, Trump labeled the V.A. “the most corrupt agency in the United States.” But after he won the presidential election, major veterans groups banded together to ask Trump to keep Obama’s secretary, Robert A. McDonald.
“We all want McDonald,” Joe Chenelly, executive director of Amvets, told the New York Times in December 2016. “He has a good business mind, he is experienced and we feel we can trust him.” Trump replaced him anyway
Democratic lawmakers warned Wednesday night that Shulkin’s removal paved the way for Trump to move forward with his goal of privatizing the agency. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the removal was “a troubling step towards the Trump Administration’s ultimate goal of V.A. privatization,” while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said that “the struggle at the Veterans Administration is about Trump’s desire to privatize the VA and his belief that Secretary David Shulkin is not moving fast enough in that direction.” 
Veterans groups have also been adamantly opposed to privatization. “We can’t see the number of veterans that VA sees on a regular basis if we’re going to pay the same rates that other health care industries pay in the community,” Verna Jones, executive director for the American Legion, said earlier in March. “One of the things we’re most concerned about is an increased contracting out, when we should be able to do that on VA campuses that will deplete the amount of money that’s available to see veterans.”

So yes, as with Medicare and Medicaid, expect to see a lot more "public-private partnerships" to bring health care to the nation's nine million veterans: steep cuts in benefits, quality, and longer wait times as caring for our military veterans becomes an issue of profit motive rather than a duty to serve those who served this country.

Shulkin took to the NY Times this morning to remind us that Trump and the GOP will do this unless we stop them.

Until the past few months, veteran issues were dealt with in a largely bipartisan way. (My 100-0 Senate confirmation was perhaps the best evidence that the V.A. has been the exception to Washington’s political polarization). Unfortunately, the department has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans. These individuals, who seek to privatize veteran health care as an alternative to government-run V.A. care, unfortunately fail to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than 9 million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care.

The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing V.A. hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war. Working with community providers to adequately ensure that veterans’ needs are met is a good practice. But privatization leading to the dismantling of the department’s extensive health care system is a terrible idea. The department’s understanding of service-related health problems, its groundbreaking research and its special ability to work with military veterans cannot be easily replicated in the private sector.

I have fought to stand up for this great department and all that it embodies. In recent months, though, the environment in Washington has turned so toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive that it became impossible for me to accomplish the important work that our veterans need and deserve. I can assure you that I will continue to speak out against those who seek to harm the V.A. by putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans.

Trump is about to wreck the VA with Ronny Jackson and our veterans are the ones who will pay for it.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

In a story that should surprise nobody, the NY Times is reporting that outgoing Trump lawyer John Dowd brought up the issue of presidential pardons for Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn last year as Mueller came down on them like the hammer of the gods.

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions. 
The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation
The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice. 
Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes. Mr. Flynn, who served as Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, agreed in late November to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation. He pleaded guilty in December to lying to the F.B.I. about his conversations with the Russian ambassador and received favorable sentencing terms. 
Mr. Dowd has said privately that he did not know why Mr. Flynn had accepted a plea, according to one of the people. He said he had told Mr. Kelner that the president had long believed that the case against Mr. Flynn was flimsy and was prepared to pardon him, the person said. 
The pardon discussion with Mr. Manafort’s attorney, Reginald J. Brown, came before his client was indicted in October on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes. Mr. Manafort, the former chairman of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, has pleaded not guilty and has told others he is not interested in a pardon because he believes he has done nothing wrong and the government overstepped its authority. Mr. Brown is no longer his lawyer. 
It is unclear whether Mr. Dowd discussed the pardons with Mr. Trump before bringing them up with the other lawyers.

This is pretty much the standard legal definition of Nixonian obstruction of justice, discussing pardons with potential co-conspirators and witnesses to Trump's misdeeds.   In the last couple of days we've seen a story all but proving collusion between Trump's campaign manager and Russian intelligence, and now we see all but proof of obstruction of justice.

No wonder then that the Trump regime is now laying the groundwork for firing Robert Mueller and soon.

When President Donald Trump lashed out against Robert Mueller by name earlier this month, the president’s supporters sprang into action — treating the chief Russia investigator to political campaign-style opposition research. 
Within hours, the Drudge Report featured a story blaming Mueller, the special counsel leading the Justice Department’s Russia probe, for the FBI’s clumsy investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks when Mueller ran the bureau. The independent pro-Trump journalist Sara Carter posted a story charging that Mueller, as a federal prosecutor in Boston in the mid-1980s, had covered up the FBI’s dealings with the Mafia informant Whitey Bulger. Carter was soon discussing her findings in prime time with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

Meanwhile, Trump supporters on Twitter circulated video of testimony Mueller gave to Congress ahead of the 2003 Iraq War in which he endorsed the view, later proved false, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. 
To some, the barrage looked coordinated among pro-Trump allies and media outlets, a concerted effort to tarnish Mueller’s reputation as part of a political strategy to undermine, or even eventually fire, the Russia investigator. 
“It looks like the beginnings of a campaign,” a source familiar with Trump’s legal strategy said. “It looks like they are trying to seed the ground. Ultimately, if the president determines he wants to fire Mueller, he’s going to want to make sure there’s ample public record that he can fall back on.”

Up until the last month or so, leaks out of the Mueller team were few and far between, especially when it came to coming indictments.  Now we're getting leaks fast and hard as we've seen this week, along with the end of the House investigation into Trump/Russia and the public plan to discredit Mueller, both in response to Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner finding himself to be a major target for Mueller's probe, and subpoenas by Mueller for Trump Organization documents.

Remember that Trump considered Mueller's investigation moving into Trump's finances as crossing a red line.  Mueller jumped all over that line and everything since then has been Trump reacting.

On Mueller's side, there appear to be forces trying to keep him from being fired and these leaks are now appearing regularly, particularly on issues that took place last year.  I don't think it's Mueller himself, but the man's not stupid, either.

We'll see which side wins soon.  Trump is going to need to play his cards before the election season heats up, if he is going to try to fire Mueller it will have to happen very soon.  It's already April practically, it'll have to happen before Congress disappears for six months for recess so they can get their marching orders for the campaign trail.

Stay tuned.  Things are going to start moving fast now.  Trump isn't ruling out pardons either.

The White House on Wednesday refused to rule out the possibility that President Trump would issue pardons to former senior aides facing charges from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. 
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a statement from lawyer Ty Cobb saying that there has been no discussion or consideration of pardons “at this time.” 
“There's no discussion or consideration of that at this time,” Sanders told reporters. “The president has the authority to pardon individuals, but you're asking me about a specific case in which it hasn't been discussed.”

It's not obstruction of justice when it's destruction of justice.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Last Call For America Gets That Poll-Axed Look, Con't

Public Policy Polling's latest national poll has some very interesting findings on guns, Donald Trump, the Mueller investigation and more.

PPP’s newest national poll finds that Americans like the high school students leading protests against gun violence across the country a whole lot more than they like the NRA. The high school students receive a positive 56/34 favorability rating for their efforts, while the NRA is upside down with 39% of voters seeing it favorably and 44% negatively. 
There’s 87% support for background checks for all gun buyers, compared to only 8% of voters who are opposed to that. That policy has the backing of 89% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans and independents. It’s hard to find anything 87% of Americans agree on- in fact on this same poll we found that only 81% think the sky is blue with 11% disputing that notion. 
We also found 64/26 support for a ban on assault weapons, again with bipartisan agreement. Democrats (78/15), independents (61/25), and Republicans (49/40) are all in agreement. In general 60% of voters say they want stronger gun laws to 32% who are opposed. 
One new gun proposal voters don’t like though is giving them to teachers. Only 35% of voters think that’s a good idea, to 53% who say it’s a bad one.

Even Republicans want to ban assault weapons.  And yet, Congress will never touch this with the NRA GOP in charge.  So how are Republicans faring heading into November?

Not well.

Democrats continue to have a solid advantage on the generic Congressional ballot, leading 50-39. That edge grows to 55-39 among voters who say they’re ‘very excited’ to vote this year. Democrats lead by 14 points at 44-30 among independents. 
One piece of the Democratic advantage is that Republican Congressional leaders are extremely unpopular. Only 23% approve of the job Paul Ryan is doing to 58% who disapprove. He is only narrowly popular with Trump voters (44/39) and almost universally disliked by Clinton voters (6/76). Mitch McConnell is even worse off, with only 12% of voters approving of him to 62% who disapprove. He has similar numbers to Ryan with Clinton voters (7/69) but in contrast to Ryan is strongly disliked even by Trump voters (21/54). In 2010 Republicans used Nancy Pelosi’s unpopularity to great effect- Democrats may be able to do the same thing with Ryan and McConnell this time around. 
Another thing causing Republicans trouble is that the tax bill isn’t doing them any favors. Only 31% of voters say they support it to 40% who are opposed. Continuing with that 31% figure, only 31% of voters think the tax plan is actually going to help their family’s finances with 33% saying they think it will actually hurt, and 29% saying they think it will not have any impact. 57% think the tax plan will mostly help the rich to 29% who think the middle class will be the biggest beneficiaries.

The extremely unpopular Donald Trump isn't helping them either, his approval rating is stuck at 39%.  But speaking of 39% as a specific poll result...

So 46% of Americans believe Trump colluded with the Russians, but 39% would want Trump to remain president even if Mueller dropped conclusive evidence that collusion happened. A quarter of Americans in fact want Mueller fired. 37% of people believe the entire Russian collusion issue is fake news anyway.

When people say Mueller will not save us, I'm inclined to believe them if 2 out of 5 people think Trump should stay in office no matter what illegality he has done. Again, the true solution is Democratic domination of the 2018 elections at both the state and federal level.

Counting Out The Trump Census

It looks like the Trump regime is following through on threats to add a citizenship question to the 2020 US Census form, something guaranteed to hurt blue states with large undocumented populations from getting accurate numbers, so much so that it may cost them tens of billions of dollars over ten years and even entire congressional districts as a result.

And that's exactly what Republicans want to do.

California AG Xavier Becerra takes to the op-ed page of the San Francisco Chronicle to make his case against the question.

The size of your child’s kindergarten class. Homeland security funds for your community. Natural disaster preparation. Highway and mass transit resources. Health care and emergency room services.

Vital services such as these would be jeopardized and our voice in government diminished if the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 count resulted in an undercount. Beyond its constitutional role in redistricting, a proper count conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau shapes our everyday lives. If the bureau is ill-prepared for the job or a count is faulty, every state, every neighborhood, faces the risk of losing its fair share of federal funding for its people and its taxpayers.

Every 10 years, the bureau must count each person in our country — whether citizen or noncitizen — “once, only once, and in the right place.”

The Trump administration is threatening to derail the integrity of the census by seeking to add a question relating to citizenship to the 2020 census questionnaire. Innocuous at first blush, its effect would be truly insidious. It would discourage noncitizens and their citizen family members from responding to the census, resulting in a less accurate population count.

Including a citizenship question on the 2020 census is not just a bad idea — it is illegal.

The Constitution requires the government to conduct an “actual enumeration” of the total population, regardless of citizenship status. And since 1790, the census has counted citizens and noncitizens alike.

The census has a specific constitutional purpose: to provide an accurate count of all residents, which then allows for proper allotment of congressional representatives to the states. The Census Bureau has a long history of working to ensure the most accurate count of the U.S. population in a nonpartisan manner, based on scientific principles.

Since the last census in 2010, the public servants at the Census Bureau have been planning and fine-tuning the 2020 census. This work includes painstaking determinations of which questions to ask on the census and how to ask them.

In December, the U.S. Department of Justice formally asked the bureau to include a question on citizenship in the 2020 census. By March 31, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross must decide whether to add this question.

This request is an extraordinary attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 census for political purposes. Since the first day of his presidential campaign and through his first year in office, President Trump has targeted immigrants: vilifying them and attempting to exclude them from the country. Think travel bans, repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, ramped up Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that tear parents away from their children. Immigrants and their loved ones understandably are, and will be, concerned about how data collected in the 2020 Census will be used.

California, with its large immigrant communities, would be disproportionately harmed by depressed participation in the 2020 census. An undercount would threaten at least one of California’s seats in the House of Representatives (and, by extension, an elector in the electoral college.) It would deprive California and its cities and counties of their fair share of billions of dollars in federal funds

Again, the Trump regime knows full well what the goal is, and Trump has wanted to personally punish the states that defied him by not voting for him ever since he took office.  I would expect this question will go to the courts and soon.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

The Trump/Russia collusion is now becoming the Trump/Russian reality, as today the Washington Post is reporting that an associate of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was in contact with both Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign during the 2016 contest.

The FBI has found that a business associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, including during the 2016 campaign when Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were in touch with the associate, according to new court filings. 
The documents, filed late Tuesday by prosecutors for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, also allege that Gates had said he knew the associate was a former officer with the Russian military intelligence service
The allegations underscore Mueller’s interest in Manafort and Gates, who continued to interact with business associates in Ukraine even as they helped lead Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. 
Manafort, 68, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and tax and bank fraud charges related to his lobbying work for a Russian-friendly political party in Ukraine and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Gates, 45, who was deputy campaign manager for Trump and had earlier worked with Manafort in Ukraine, pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy and lying to the FBI in a cooperation deal with Mueller’s probe.

It's hard to overstate how huge this is.  Gates is cooperating with Mueller, and if he's confirming that both he and Manafort were knowingly working with a former Russian intelligence agent while actively running the Trump campaign, then the story goes from "There's no smoking gun connecting Trump's campaign to Russia" to "Just how much was Manafort working with the GRU?"

Obviously Trump knew this Washington Post story was coming, which would explain why he hates the paper's parent company Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos so much. Axios's Jon Swan:

What we're hearing: Trump has talked about changing Amazon’s tax treatment because he’s worried about mom-and-pop retailers being put out of business. 
  • A source who’s spoken to POTUS: “He’s wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law." 
  • Trump’s deep-seated antipathy toward Amazon surfaces when discussing tax policy and antitrust cases. The president would love to clip CEO Jeff Bezos’ wings. But he doesn’t have a plan to make that happen. 
Behind the president's thinking: Trump's wealthy friends tell him Amazon is destroying their businesses. His real estate buddies tell him — and he agrees — that Amazon is killing shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retailers. 
  • Trump tells people Amazon has gotten a free ride from taxpayers and cushy treatment from the U.S. Postal Service. 
  • “The whole post office thing, that's very much a perception he has,” another source said. “It's been explained to him in multiple meetings that his perception is inaccurate and that the post office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon." 
  • Axios' Ina Fried notes: The Postal Service actually added delivery on Sunday in some cities because Amazon made it worthwhile. 
  • Trump also pays close attention to the Amazon founder's ownership of The Washington Post, which the president views as Bezos’ political weapon.

Believe me when I say it's that last part that makes the difference and explains why Trump doesn't give a damn about what Facebook, Wal-Mart, or Google are up to.

The larger point remains however: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were in contact with Russian intelligence during the time they were running the Trump campaign.  The implications of this are enormous.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Last Call For The Kids Are Alright

I still don't believe the survivors of the Parkland shooting will make much difference to our laws themselves, that won't happen until voters finally decide to punish NRA Republicans and throw them out of office at both the federal and state level, and that doesn't look like it's going to happen.

Even as the majority of Americans disapprove of the job the President has done handling gun policy, his approval rating has not fallen in the wake of Parkland shooting. The shooting occurred on February 14. Looking at the average of all polls and adjusting for whether the pollster normally has results that are more or less favorable to the President, Trump's approval rating in the month before the murders at Parkland (i.e. January) was 40%. In the first full calendar month after Parkland (i.e. March), his approval rating is actually a point higher at 41%. That 41% is also a point above the average for his entire presidency of 40%. 
The President's approval rating over February and March of 2018 are the highest they've been in a very long time. In no month in the second half of 2017 did his approval rating ever top 40% for a month. He's now done it for two consecutive months (including February, during which the massacre at Parkland occurred). 
Contrast that to other monumental moments in this administration: Trump saw his ratings dip by three or four points on average after he fired FBI Director James Comey and during the debate over the unpopular Republican health care bill. 
Congressional Republicans too have seen no decline in their ratings. Although they still trail on the generic congressional ballot, an average of all surveys in March puts the Republican deficit at 8 percentage points. That's the same as it was in February and in January. All of which are equal to the long-term average since the beginning of the Trump presidency. All of which are also better than where Republicans were in December when they trailed by 11 percentage points on the generic congressional ballot.

What the Parkland survivors have done however is expose the NRA right-wing for what it truly is: a lobbyist for firearms manufacturers willing to go to any lengths to discredit people who say enough is enough.

Less than a week after 17 people died in Parkland, Fla., right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza began taunting some of the teenage survivors of the massacre. “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs,” he tweeted on Feb. 20, commenting on a photo showing Parkland survivors crying as state legislators voted down a bill to ban military-style weapons. 
D’Souza wrote another tweet, “Adults, 1, kids 0.” Combined, the two tweets have more than 25,000 likes and 8,000 retweets. 
Now, five weeks after the Parkland school shooting, D’Souza’s tweets seem almost quaint. As Emma Gonz├ílez, David Hogg and the other Parkland teens fighting for gun control have become viral liberal heroes, the teens are villains on the right-wing Internet and fair game for the mockery and attacks that this group usually reserves for its adult enemies.

That infamy reached a wider audience this past weekend around the time of their March for Our Lives protest, when a doctored image that showed Gonz├ílez ripping up a copy of the U.S. Constitution (she actually ripped up a gun target) went mildly viral on the Trump-supporting parts of the Internet, defended as “satire” by those who shared it.

Five weeks after surviving a deadly shooting rampage, these kids are now being targeted again by social media internet bullies, right-wing pundits, the NRA, FOX News, and more.  One side is saying "Maybe your Second Amendment right doesn't mean we have to pay for it in blood" and the other side is saying "These kids are false flag crisis actors paid by a massive Jewish conspiracy to destroy America's precious bodily fluids."

We'll see if enough of seeing these kids attacked will actually motivate people to get off their asses and start tossing NRA-bought legislators.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Jason Leopold at BuzzFeed News has been following the case of the mysterious death of Russia Today founder Mikhail Lesin for a couple of years now. Lesin was found dead in a DC hotel room in 2015, his death was officially ruled an accident due to a drunker bender where he fell down repeatedly and not, as pretty much anyone with a pulse has surmised, beaten to death by Putin's goons on the eve of meeting with Obama DoJ officials to explain how RT was Kremlin propaganda at its finest.

Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was murdered in Washington, DC, on the eve of a planned meeting with the US Justice Department, according to two FBI agents whose assertions cast new doubts on the US government’s official explanation of his death. 
Mikhail Lesin’s battered body was discovered in his Dupont Circle hotel room on the morning of Nov. 5, 2015, with blunt-force injuries to the head, neck, and torso. After an almost yearlong "comprehensive investigation," a federal prosecutor announced last October that Lesin died alone in his room due to a series of drunken falls “after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.” His death was ruled an "accident," and prosecutors closed the case. 
But the two FBI agents — as well as a third agent and a serving US intelligence officer — said Lesin was actually bludgeoned to death. None of these officials were directly involved in the government’s investigation, but they said they learned about it from colleagues who were. 
“Lesin was beaten to death,” one of the FBI agents said. “I would implore you to say as much. There seems to be an effort here to cover up that fact for reasons I can't get into.”

Now Leopold and his team not only believe the FBI knows that Lesin's death was homicide by Russian diktat, but that at least one report in the FBI's possession on Lesin's Unfortunate Series Of Events™ was written by our good friend, Christopher Steele of Steele dossier fame.

The FBI possesses a secret report asserting that Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was beaten to death by hired thugs in Washington, DC — directly contradicting the US government’s official finding that Mikhail Lesin died by accident. 
The report, according to four sources who have read all or parts of it, was written by the former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who also wrote the famous dossier alleging that Russia had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Donald Trump. The bureau received his report while it was helping the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department investigate the Russian media baron’s death, the sources said. 
FBI spokesperson Andrew Ames declined to confirm or deny the existence of the report and would not comment for this story. Steele's business partner, Chris Burrows, declined to comment on behalf of Steele and their company, Orbis Business Intelligence. 
The new revelations come as concerns about Russia’s meddling in the West have intensified to a pitch not seen since the Cold War. Both the UK and the US have blamed the Kremlin for poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England this month, using a rare nerve agent that endangered bystanders. (Russia has denied it was behind the poisoning.) In the wake of that attack, the British government has opened a review of all 14 suspicious deaths linked to Russia that a BuzzFeed News investigation exposed last year. 
The BuzzFeed News series also revealed new details about Lesin — including that he died on the eve of a scheduled meeting with US Justice Department officials. They had planned to interview Lesin about the inner workings of RT, the Kremlin-funded network that he founded. 
Now BuzzFeed News has established:
  • Steele’s report says that Lesin was bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for an oligarch close to Putin, the four sources said.
  • The thugs had been instructed to beat Lesin, not kill him, but they went too far, the sources said Steele wrote.
  • Three of the sources said that the report described the killers as Russian state security agents moonlighting for the oligarch.
The Steele report is not the FBI's only source for this account of Lesin's death: Three other people, acting independently from Steele, said they also told the FBI that Lesin had been bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for the same oligarch named by Steele. 
Lesin’s corpse was found in a Washington, DC, hotel room on the morning of Nov. 5, 2015. The coroner determined that he had died from blunt force injuries to the head and had also sustained blunt force injuries to his neck, torso, upper extremities, and lower extremities. After an 11-month investigation, a federal prosecutor announced in late 2016 that Lesin died alone in his room due to a series of drunken falls “after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.” His death was ruled an “accident,” with the coroner adding acute alcohol intoxication as a contributing cause of death, and prosecutors closed the case.

So yes, the FBI knows damn well that Lesin was murdered but covered it up anyway, they knew in 2015.  Vlad's little team of tyrants can do whatever they want, it seems.  He doesn't care.

And we have a man in the Oval office wholly owned by Putin.  Never forget that.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Democrats are going to gain seats in November, the question is how many.  A big part of it will come down to Pennsylvania's recently cracked gerrymandering wall, but dozens of other states have districts that give the the maximum possible advantage to keeping GOP seats safe and even with the double digit advantage that Democrats have in generic ballots, it may still not be enough for Team Blue to win back the House.

A report released Monday suggests Democrats might have to temper their enthusiasm about climbing back to power during this year’s midterm elections. 
To win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats would need a tremendous electoral wave not seen in more than 40 years to overcome Republican advantages from gerrymandered districts in key states, according to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice. 
The report projects that Democrats would need to win the national popular vote for congressional districts by a nearly 11 percentage point margin over Republicans to gain more than the roughly two dozen seats they need to flip control of the Republican-led chamber. 
That would take more than the typical Democratic wave that history suggests would occur for the party out of power during a midterm election. 
“It would be the equivalent of a tsunami,” said Michael Li, a senior counsel who heads up redistricting work for the center, which is based at New York University School of Law. “Democrats would have to win larger than any sort of recent midterm wave — almost double what they got in 2006 — in order to win a narrow majority.” 
The Brennan Center opposes what it calls “extreme gerrymandering” in which political parties draw legislative districts that virtually ensure they will hold on to power. 
The center has filed a court brief in a case to be heard Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a lawsuit by Republicans alleging that Maryland’s former Democratic governor and legislature unconstitutionally gerrymandered a congressional district to their advantage. 
It also has filed court briefs supporting Democratic lawsuits alleging unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering by Republicans in states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. 
The center’s analysis notes that Democrats gained 31 seats when they won the national congressional vote by 5.4 percentage points in 2006. Yet under the current districts, which were redrawn after the 2010 Census under GOP control of many state capitols, a similar national victory margin in the November election is projected to net Democrats only about a dozen new seats. 
The report projects that a 10 percentage point national margin would gain 21 seats for Democrats — still shy of the 23 or 24 needed to claim a House majority. An 11-point margin is projected to gain 28 seats for Democrats, but they haven’t achieved such a large midterm victory since a nearly 14 point margin gained them 49 seats in 1974
“Even a strong blue wave would crash against a wall of gerrymandered maps,” the Brennan Center report says.

We'll see where this stands.  Again, the Brennan Center report doesn't take into account the changes in Pennsylvania, which would add three or four seats to this total if everything works out.  But still, even with a double digit win and all 435 House seats up for re-election in November, Dems are still going to have at best a narrow majority, that's how bad Republican gerrymandering is, and never forget America gave them the keys to the kingdom in 2010 to do it when people decided they were disappointed in Obama.

Bet you wish you still had him, huh?

As LOLGOP points out at Eclectablog, the system is rigged...for Republicans and that's why we have to assume we have to fight for every seat, every inch, every race, every time.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a 2.1 percent while losing the Electoral College. That means Democrats would need to improve upon her margin by at least 3 times and as much as 5 times. This, of course, is all an inexact science as many districts won’t be contended at all and it’s almost impossible to properly poll 438 districts. But you get the idea: House Republicans could get millions fewer votes than their opponents and still end up with the majority and possibly even a larger Senate majority. Then, watch out
The goal here isn’t to bum you out, but to be realistic. 
We have to keep in mind all the advantages the GOP has when it comes to the maps, the cash and levers of government it controls. No matter what, Republicans start off with a 6 percent advantage, at least, considering that GOP House candidates took in 1.1 percent more votes than Democrats in 2016. 
Why be realistic? 
Because we learned three things 2016 we cannot ever forget:
1. Never trust good news and positive poll models.
2. Don’t count on Trump to self-destruct.
3. Assume that every mechanism that can be used against us — from hacks to Facebook to voter suppression to the FBI — will. 
Bad news is your friend. Love it. Need it. And every time you see it, do everything you can to swing at least one district.

I know it's hard to stay motivated, to stay in the fight.  Here in KY-4 it's not looking good to unseat national embarrassment Thomas Massie, but KY-6 is definitely in play, and across the river so is OH-1. 

Put resources where they can do the most good.


Monday, March 26, 2018

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

Some more information on that now not-so-secret 2016 foreign fundraising meeting in the Seychelles between Erik Prince and the Russians on Trump's behalf, brokered by the UAE today.  Robert Mueller has the broker in question, Emirati businessman George Nader, in pocket as a cooperating witness.

Now we discover that the GOP Congress was possibly in on the scam too, in what's looking like a major pay-for-play for the Republican party and US/Saudi/UAE policy towards Qatar.

A top fundraiser for President Donald Trump received millions of dollars from a political adviser to the United Arab Emirates last April, just weeks before he began handing out a series of large political donations to U.S. lawmakers considering legislation targeting Qatar, the UAE’s chief rival in the Persian Gulf, an Associated Press investigation has found
George Nader, an adviser to the UAE who is now a witness in the U.S. special counsel investigation into foreign meddling in American politics, wired $2.5 million to the Trump fundraiser, Elliott Broidy, through a company in Canada, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. They said Nader paid the money to Broidy to bankroll an effort to persuade the U.S. to take a hard line against Qatar, a long-time American ally but now a bitter adversary of the UAE. 
A month after he received the money, Broidy sponsored a conference on Qatar’s alleged ties to Islamic extremism. During the event, Republican Congressman Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced he was introducing legislation that would brand Qatar as a terrorist-supporting state. 
In July 2017, two months after Royce introduced the bill, Broidy gave the California congressman $5,400 in campaign gifts — the maximum allowed by law. The donations were part of just under $600,000 that Broidy has given to GOP members of Congress and Republican political committees since he began the push for the legislation fingering Qatar, according to an AP analysis of campaign finance disclosure records. 
Broidy said in a statement to AP that he has been outspoken for years about militant groups, including Hamas. 
“I’ve both raised money for, and contributed my own money to, efforts by think tanks to bring the facts into the open, since Qatar is spreading millions of dollars around Washington to whitewash its image as a terror-sponsoring state,” he said. “I’ve also spoken to like-minded members of Congress, like Royce, about how to make sure Qatar’s lobbying money does not blind lawmakers to the facts about its record in supporting terrorist groups.” 
While Washington is awash with political donations from all manner of interest groups and individuals, there are strict restrictions on foreign donations for political activity. Agents of foreign governments are also required to register before lobbying so that there is a public record of foreign influence. 
Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Royce, said that his boss had long criticized the “destabilizing role of extremist elements in Qatar.” He pointed to comments to that effect going back to 2014. “Any attempts to influence these longstanding views would have been unsuccessful,” he said. 
In October, Broidy also raised the issue of Qatar at the White House in meetings with Trump and senior aides.

Remember, the whole unregistered foreign agent thing is the same issue that tripped up Michael Flynn, but the bigger issue is that it looks like the UAE, through Nader, sent millions of dollars to a major Trump fundraiser to buy GOP sanctions of Qatar and got them.

And remember, Mueller has Nader in the palm of his hand.

Stay tuned.

Mad Dog Versus The Mustache

I know that the conventional wisdom is that incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton will be whispering sweet war stories in Trump's ear, and there's very good reason to believe that Bolton being a part of the regime dramatically increases the odds of America going to war during Trump's term.  But what does Defense Secretary Jim Mattis think of all this?

Yeah, there's a reason he's called Mad Dog, the guy definitely knows his way around a sand table or two and didn't exactly shy from blowing stuff up as Obama's CENTCOM head.  The guy's record goes all the way back to the first Gulf War as a battalion commander with the Marines. He's seen the elephant, and he's put men in harm's way and seen some of them not come home.

And you know what?  He doesn't like John Bolton one bit.

Washington is now consumed by a debate over whether Mr. Trump’s new team plans to govern as far to the right as it talks.

So far, the incoming national security adviser, John R. Bolton, has declared that his past comments are “behind me.” Hours after his selection was announced, Mr. Bolton vowed that he would find ways to execute the policies that Mr. Trump was elected on, but that he would not tolerate slow-walking and leaks from bureaucrats he dismissed as “munchkins.”

Some who know Mr. Bolton and his operating style predict titanic clashes.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the retired general who has argued for keeping the Iran deal intact and warned that military confrontation with North Korea would result in “the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes,” told colleagues on Friday that he did not know if he could work with Mr. Bolton. The White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, another retired four-star general, was also unenthusiastic about Mr. Bolton’s hiring.

I've given up on Kelly, he's an unapologetic racist asshole anyway.  But Mattis is the guy actually running the Pentagon, and I'm hoping he'll put a leash on Bolton.

The problem is that's what McMaster was supposed to do as NSA and he's gone, the triumvirate of "Trump's generals" were supposed to be the "adults in the room" protecting America from Trump's worst impulses.

That's not coming to pass.  One is gone.  One has been rumored on the way out for months.  Only Mattis seems to be the stable one.

Last July, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson arranged a tutoring session at the Pentagon for President Donald Trump in the secure, windowless meeting room known as “The Tank.” The plan was to lay out why American troops are deployed in far-flung places across the globe, like Japan and South Korea. Mattis spoke first.

“The postwar, rules-based international order is the greatest gift of the greatest generation,” Mattis told the president, according to two meeting attendees. The secretary of defense walked the president through the complex fabric of trade deals, military agreements and international alliances that make up the global system the victors established after World War II, touching off what one attendee described as a “food fight” and a “free for all” with the president and the rest of the group. Trump punctuated the session by loudly telling his secretaries of state and defense, at several points during the meeting, “I don’t agree!” The meeting culminated with Tillerson, his now ousted secretary of state, fatefully complaining after the president left the room, that Trump was “a fucking moron.”

Trump is said to divide the members of his Cabinet into first-tier “killers” and second-tier “winners.” Mattis is indisputably a killer, but he’s also something rarer: a sometime loser — of policy arguments, that is — who manages to disagree with the president without squandering his clout or getting under Trump’s skin. He opposed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accord, decertify the Iran deal, slap tariffs on steel and aluminum, and move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He opposes the president’s proposed ban on transgender service members and has reportedly ignored requests from the White House to see plans for a military strike against North Korea.

Yet Mattis has been able to present the president with views he doesn’t like without bearing the brunt of his frustration. The departure of H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, was announced Thursday amid rumors that the president is poised to fire beleaguered Cabinet secretaries like David Shulkin of Veterans Affairs and Ben Carson of Housing and Urban Development, and is agonizing over whether to dismiss John Kelly, his chief of staff. Mattis’ name has been conspicuously absent. One senior administration official called him “bulletproof.”

Of the Cabinet selections and staff picks cheered by Trump critics, including McMaster, Kelly and former chairman of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Mattis is the only one who seems to still have job security.
Trump remains as enthused about Mattis, one of his first Cabinet picks, as he was when he tapped him for the job in December 2016, according to several White House aides.

For now.

The one thing standing between Trump and war with Iran and North Korea is a guy nicknamed "Mad Dog".

Let that sink in.

Trump Faces The Storm

Anderson Cooper's 60 Minutes interview with Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who alleges an affair with Donald Trump and a forced non-disclosure agreement to keep the story of that affair out of the papers during the 2016 election, did not disappoint.

Anderson Cooper: For sitting here talking to me today you could be fined a million dollars I mean aren't you taking a big risk?

Stormy Daniels: I am.

Anderson Cooper: I guess I'm not 100% sure on why you're doing this.

Stormy Daniels: Because it was very important to me to be able to defend myself

Anderson Cooper: Is part of talking w-- wanting to set the record straight?

Stormy Daniels: 100%.

Anderson Cooper: Why does the record need to be set straight?

Stormy Daniels: Because people are just saying whatever they wanted to say about me, I was perfectly fine saying nothing at all, but I'm not okay with being made out to be a liar, or people thinking that I did this for money and people are like, "Oh, you're an opportunist. You're taking advantage of this. Yes, I'm getting more job offers now, but tell me one person who would turn down a job offer making more than they've been making, doing the same thing that they've always done?

Anderson Cooper: A lotta people are using you for a lotta different agendas.

Stormy Daniels: They're trying to. Like, oh, you know, Stormy Daniels comes out #MeToo. This is not a 'Me Too.' I was not a victim. I've never said I was a victim. I think trying to use me to-- to further someone else's agenda, does horrible damage to people who are true victims.

Stormy Daniels' real name is Stephanie Clifford. She's 39 years old, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and has been acting in, directing, and writing adult films for nearly 20 years. She was one of the most popular actresses in the adult industry when she was introduced to Mr. Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in July, 2006. She says he invited her to dinner, and she met him at his hotel suite.

Anderson Cooper: How was the conversation?

Stormy Daniels: Ummm (LAUGH) it started off-- all about him just talking about himself. And he's like-- "Have you seen my new magazine?

With Trump it's always about ego, never forget that.  Here's the part that should end his presidency:

According to Daniels, Mr. Trump called her the following month to say he'd not been able to get her a spot on Celebrity Apprentice. She says they never met again and only had sex in that first meeting in 2006. In May 2011, Daniels agreed to tell her story to a sister publication of In Touch magazine for $15,000 dollars. Two former employees of the magazine told us the story never ran because after the magazine called Mr. Trump seeking comment, his attorney Michael Cohen threatened to sue. Daniels says she was never paid, and says a few weeks later, she was threatened by a man who approached her in Las Vegas.

Stormy Daniels: I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. T-- taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, gettin' all the stuff out. And a guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "That's a beautiful little girl. It'd be a shame if something happened to her mom." And then he was gone.

Anderson Cooper: You took it as a direct threat?

Stormy Daniels: Absolutely.

Stormy Daniels: I was rattled. I remember going into the workout class. And my hands are shaking so much, I was afraid I was gonna-- drop her

Anderson Cooper: Did you ever see that person again?

Stormy Daniels: No. But I-- if I did, I would know it right away.

Anderson Cooper: You'd be able to-- you'd be able to recognize that person?

Stormy Daniels: 100%. Even now, all these years later. If he walked in this door right now, I would instantly know.

Anderson Cooper: Did you go to the police?

Stormy Daniels: No.

Anderson Cooper: Why?

Stormy Daniels: Because I was scared

The only thing more consistent that Trump's feast of ego is the way he treats women.  They're not mutually exclusive things, either. 

Oh, and I bet she's been shown the picture of the man who threatened her in Las Vegas, and she and her lawyer know precisely who that individual is.  She wants Trump to know she's aware of that man's identity too, count on that.

On top of the moral implications, remember that John Edwards was indicted in 2011 for using campaign funds to pay off his mistress to keep silent about their affair during the 2008 campaign, and Edwards was acquitted on the one of the charges and a mistrial was declared for the rest.  His career is over in politics and as far as I know he's still a trial lawyer in NC.

There's a near 100% chance that Trump did the exact same thing as Edwards, Russia, money laundering, obstruction of justice or not.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

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

We've gotten to the point to where Donald Trump is in so much legal trouble right now that he can't find any lawyers willing to defend him against Mueller after firing his previous legal counsel.

President Trump has decided not to hire two lawyers who were announced last week as new additions to his legal team, leaving him with a shrinking stable of lawyers as the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, enters an intense phase.

“The president is disappointed that conflicts prevent Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing from joining the president’s special counsel legal team,” Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement on Sunday morning. “However, those conflicts do not prevent them from assisting the president in other legal matters. The president looks forward to working with them.”

The upheaval on the legal team comes at a critical time for Mr. Trump. The president’s former lead lawyer, John Dowd, quit the team on Thursday, just as Mr. Trump is deciding whether to sit with Mr. Mueller for an interview. At the moment, Mr. Sekulow is the president’s chief outside lawyer, as Mr. Trump’s longtime New York lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, remains on the periphery.

While Mr. Trump’s lawyers, including Mr. Dowd, had told the president that the investigation would be over by this point, it seems to be accelerating, as Mr. Mueller appears to be looking into a wide range of matters related to Mr. Trump’s corporate activities, his 2016 campaign, his associates and his time in office.

The president met with Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing, who are married, in recent days to discuss the possibility that they would join his legal team in the Mueller case. According to two people told of details about the meeting, the president did not believe he had personal chemistry with Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing.

Mr. Corallo has told investigators that he was concerned that a close aide to Mr. Trump, Hope Hicks, may have been planning to obstruct justice during the drafting of a statement about a meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign.

Ms. Hicks’s lawyer has strongly denied that suggestion, and White House aides said Mr. Corallo’s assertion had come up in discussions with the president as he weighed whether to go ahead with Mr. diGenova and Ms. Toensing.

If you're a right-wing lawyer and you are given the chance to work with the White House legal team, there's only one reason to turn the offer from the Oval Office down: you can't win the case and that your client is guilty, furthermore it means that your client is going to ask you to do something that will most likely get you disbarred or worse.

When these two FOX News legal eagles realized what they were up against, the full power of Robert ueller and his special counsel all-star team, they ran for the hills rather than defend Trump, citing "conflicts".

There's no conflict when the White House offers you a job.  You drop everything and take it, including your current clients...unless that White House has Donald Trump in it.

To me, this says more than anything that Mueller has Trump dead to rights, and that his legal team has no chance in hell of saving him from what's coming.

Scott Walker In "Stealing Wisconsin"

Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker and state Republicans refused to hold special elections to fill two open seats in the state, citing the "costs" of special elections.  A Madison judge disagreed and mandated Walker to hold the elections anyway.

Now Wisconsin Republicans say they will openly defy that court order and instead simply change the law to make not holding them perfectly legal rather than risk giving Democrats an advantage.

Wisconsin Republicans signaled Friday that they will hold a special election to change election law rather than face special elections in two heavily Republican legislative districts.

On Thursday, Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds ordered Gov. Scott Walker (R) to call special elections in two legislative districts that have been vacant for months.

Walker's attorneys had argued state election law did not require him to fill the seats, because they were made vacant during an off year. The legislators who occupied both seats quit to take jobs in Walker's administration.

But the judge rejected those arguments, ruling in favor of voters from both districts and the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, a group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, who argued that Walker's refusal to call special elections denied voters their right to representation in Madison.

Reynolds, who was appointed to the bench by Walker, ordered the governor to declare vacancies next week, thus setting up special elections that would be held later this spring or summer.

But in a joint statement released Friday, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) said they would ask Walker to call the legislature back into session in order to change Wisconsin's special election law.

"After consulting with [the state Department of Justice] and others, we have decided it's best to move forward on an extraordinary session in order to clean up the statute on special elections and ensure that it aligns with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act," Vos and Fitzgerald said.

And these are two Republican state districts, but Walker simply doesn't want to take the chance that Democrats might win in a year where a blue wave is coming, pure and simple.

Republicans would rather not hold elections then risk Democrats winning.  That's something fascist tyrants do, so congratulations, Wisconsin.  You live in an authoritarian regime.

What do you plan to do about it?

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Conor Lamb's victory in PA-18's special election earlier this month has broken the dam on Republican retirements.  GOP House members are running for the hills, and nowhere is it more apparent than in Pennsylvania itself, where newly redrawn competitive districts across the state are forcing Republicans like Rep. Ryan Costello into retiring completely.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Ryan Costello will not seek reelection to his district in 2018 as he faces a difficult midterm race in a district with a growing Democratic voter base, City & State Pennsylvania reported Saturday.

Despite having filed this week to run in the GOP primary for the state's 6th District in May, Costello told state and local Republican officials that he plans to drop out in the weeks before then, unidentified sources told the news outlet.
Costello reportedly met with former 6th District Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) and the state GOP chairman about the decision Friday, which he said would avoid a costly defeat for the party in the coming months.

The Pennsylvania Republican has been rumored to be considering retirement from the Philadelphia-suburban area hit hard by a recent redrawing of the state's congressional districts.

The redraw, forced by the state Supreme Court after determining the old congressional map was unconstitutional, raised doubts as to whether Costello could hold on in the competitive swing counties surrounding Philadelphia.

The district went from being one that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won by just 1 point in 2016 to one she would have won by 9 points, ABC News reported.

And given the massive disadvantage Trump is going to be in November, Republicans are going to kiss this district and dozens more beside it goodbye.

Sunday Long Read: The Big Blue Bully

This week's Sunday Long Read is ProPublica's investigation into the original American tech giant: IBM's shady practices towards firing its senior employees in the last several years allowed it to circumvent age discrimination laws and dump thousands of workers in exchange for younger, cheaper labor brought in on HB-1 tech visas.

FOR NEARLY A HALF CENTURY, IBM came as close as any company to bearing the torch for the American Dream. 
As the world’s dominant technology firm, payrolls at International Business Machines Corp. swelled to nearly a quarter-million U.S. white-collar workers in the 1980s. Its profits helped underwrite a broad agenda of racial equality, equal pay for women and an unbeatable offer of great wages and something close to lifetime employment, all in return for unswerving loyalty.

But when high tech suddenly started shifting and companies went global, IBM faced the changing landscape with a distinction most of its fiercest competitors didn’t have: a large number of experienced and aging U.S. employees. 
The company reacted with a strategy that, in the words of one confidential planning document, would “correct seniority mix.” It slashed IBM’s U.S. workforce by as much as three-quarters from its 1980s peak, replacing a substantial share with younger, less-experienced and lower-paid workers and sending many positions overseas. ProPublica estimates that in the past five years alone, IBM has eliminated more than 20,000 American employees ages 40 and over, about 60 percent of its estimated total U.S. job cuts during those years
In making these cuts, IBM has flouted or outflanked U.S. laws and regulations intended to protect later-career workers from age discrimination, according to a ProPublica review of internal company documents, legal filings and public records, as well as information provided via interviews and questionnaires filled out by more than 1,000 former IBM employees. 
Among ProPublica’s findings, IBM: 
  • Denied older workers information the law says they need in order to decide whether they’ve been victims of age bias, and required them to sign away the right to go to court or join with others to seek redress.
  • Targeted people for layoffs and firings with techniques that tilted against older workers, even when the company rated them high performers. In some instances, the money saved from the departures went toward hiring young replacements.
  • Converted job cuts into retirements and took steps to boost resignations and firings. The moves reduced the number of employees counted as layoffs, where high numbers can trigger public disclosure requirements.
  • Encouraged employees targeted for layoff to apply for other IBM positions, while quietly advising managers not to hire them and requiring many of the workers to train their replacements.
  • Told some older employees being laid off that their skills were out of date, but then brought them back as contract workers, often for the same work at lower pay and fewer benefits.
IBM declined requests for the numbers or age breakdown of its job cuts. ProPublica provided the company with a 10-page summary of its findings and the evidence on which they were based. IBM spokesman Edward Barbini said that to respond the company needed to see copies of all documents cited in the story, a request ProPublica could not fulfill without breaking faith with its sources. Instead, ProPublica provided IBM with detailed descriptions of the paperwork. Barbini declined to address the documents or answer specific questions about the firm’s policies and practices, and instead issued the following statement: 
“We are proud of our company and our employees’ ability to reinvent themselves era after era, while always complying with the law. Our ability to do this is why we are the only tech company that has not only survived but thrived for more than 100 years.”
With nearly 400,000 people worldwide, and tens of thousands still in the U.S., IBM remains a corporate giant. How it handles the shift from its veteran baby-boom workforce to younger generations will likely influence what other employers do. And the way it treats its experienced workers will eventually affect younger IBM employees as they too age.

Nobody should be surprised by this, IBM has long been the champion of America's bad-boy tech giants.  The only reason Google and Facebook hasn't had to fire senior engineers at this pace is because those companies don't hire IT workers over 40 to begin with.

Nobody does.

Did I mention I'm an IT worker over 40?

Just putting that out there in case you think the problem is limited to Big Blue.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Last Call For Iran Into Donald, Con't

On Friday, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein announced that nine Iranians have been indicted for hacking into US government agencies and multiple university systems and making off with tons of information in a multi-year operation funded by Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

The United States on Friday announced criminal charges and sanctions against nine Iranians and an Iranian company for attempting to hack into hundreds of universities worldwide, dozens of companies and parts of the U.S. government, including its main energy regulator, on behalf of Tehran’s government.

The cyber attacks, beginning in at least 2013, pilfered more than 31 terabytes of academic data and intellectual property from 144 U.S. universities and 176 universities in 21 other countries, the U.S. Department of Justice said, describing the conspiracy as one of the largest state-sponsored hacking sprees prosecuted.
The U.S. Treasury Department said that it was placing sanctions on the nine accused individuals and the Mabna Institute, a company described by U.S. prosecutors as designed to help Iranian research organizations steal information.

“These defendants are now fugitives of justice,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a press conference. Rosenstein said they may face extradition in more than 100 countries if they travel outside of Iran. 
The hackers were not accused of being directly employed by Iran’s government. They were instead charged with criminal conduct waged primarily through the Mabna Institute on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military force assigned to defend Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy from internal and external threats.

There was no immediate response to the charges and sanctions in Iran’s state-run media. 
Hackers targeted email accounts of more than 100,000 professors worldwide and compromised about 8,000 of them, prosecutors said. Hackers also targeted the U.S. Labor Department, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the United Nations and the computer systems of the U.S. states Hawaii and Indiana, prosecutors said. 
Friday’s actions are part of an effort by senior cyber security officials at the White House and across the U.S. government to blame foreign countries for malicious hacks.

Three observations here about this story:

1) If Rod Rosenstein wanted cover from Trump's capricious ire, "indicting Iranian hackers in a major operation that started under Obama's watch" is about as high on the list as he could have gone, short of actually firing Mueller.  In a real way, Rosenstein's announcement may have saved his job.  For now.

2) With this coming the day after John Bolton's Mustache was announced as the next National Security Adviser, let's recall that the Trump regime's latest nuclear posture review included the desire to use military action, up to and including the deployment of "strategic weapons", in response to cyber attacks by nation states.  Rosenstein conceivably just gave these asshole a pretext for war.  Maybe nuclear war.  Hell, I don't know.

3) But the DoJ investigating Iran's Revolutionary Guard's money trail is a double-bladed sword for Trump and he knows it. Last March's revelations that Ivanka Trump was involved heavily in a failed Trump Tower project in Baku, Azerbaijan that was really a money laundering front for the RG suddenly takes on a whole new level of importance, especially after this announcement.  And of course, Robert Mueller knows what Rosenstein knows.

It's a complex and complicated subject, but the upshot is that while this was coming for a long time, the timing and method of the announcement was totally up to Rosenstein on this.  There's a lot behind the scenes here, and we'll find out  at some point.
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