Monday, December 31, 2018

Zandar's 2019 Predictions

As promised, another year, another set of ten predictions, and it shouldn't surprise any of you that I'm going to reuse my first two from last year.  Here we go:

1) Robert Muller recommends impeachable offenses for Donald Trump.  I know, this is a huge bet: that Trump won't fire Mueller, that Mueller will complete his investigation this year, and that he will find something that warrants an official recommendation to Congress that articles of impeachment be voted on.  But I see it happening.  There's just too much self-reinforcing evidence at this point to ignore, unless you're a Republican in Congress, in which case...

2) Trump will wait until after Mueller's report is delivered in order to issue pardons.  More indictments in 2019 by Mueller are as close to a guarantee as you can get at this point.  There are so many targets, too.  But Trump will wait until the investigation ends in order to start dishing out pardons. That leads me to...

3) Trump will not be impeached in 2019.  I understand people want this to happen, but the Senate was never going to have the 67 votes needed to remove him from office.  There won't be a Senate trial without impeachment by Pelosi and the Democratic House, but I don't see Pelosi allowing impeachment to happen without an assured Senate conviction and removal, and that won't occur.

4) The Roberts Court will get a major decision on executive power related to the Mueller probe.  I think this is a given, but in a 5-4 world I don't know which side will prevail.  The state cases against Trump will continue regardless I would think, but I think it will be "Can a sitting President be indicted" and it will be answered.

5) The Roberts Court will effectively side with Trump in Gamble vs. United States.  The Gamble case is whether or not a person being tried for a state crime can also be tried for the same federal crime, and vice versa.  In a Trump world, this could mean a decision removing that sovereignty exception to double jeopardy means that Trump could pardon federal crimes for Cohen and Manafort and even himself and then not be tried for identical state ones, depending on the ruling.  I desperately want to be wrong about this one.

6) Hillary Clinton won't enter the 2020 race in 2019.  This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but she's not going to be a factor, and I don't think she'll endorse anyone.  She'll say she's not running, Republicans will say she's running, some people on the left will say she's running, op-ed pieces will be written saying she needs to run or that she needs to make it clear she won't, irrelevant because nobody will believe her either way, but she's not running.

7) Bernie Sanders will enter the 2020 race in 2019.  This is as much of a no-brainer as Clinton not running.  Sanders will run, and he will lose badly, but this time Clinton won't be around for him to use as a lightning rod.  The primaries will effectively be decided in March 2020 with California moving up to Super Tuesday, and the Bernie camp got many of the reforms they wanted in the process in 2018, so when Bernie gets crushed, there won't be a damn thing he can do about it.

8) Dow Jones Average will be under 20,000 on December 31, 2019.  Trump's tariff war and a global slowdown thanks to Brexit, European Union issues, and the TPP passing the US by means we're heading full steam into recessionary waters.

9) Marvel movies will continue to rule the box office.  I do love seeing my Marvel predictions come true year after year, so this year, let's stretch it out.  Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home will all top $500 million domestically, each will top $1 billion worldwide, and Avengers will top $2 billion worldwide.

10) And of course, ZVTS will make it through year 11.  It'll be thanks to all of you who have stuck with me since the 2008 primary race.

We'll see what the future brings!

A Hat Lands In The Ring

Sen. Elizabeth Warren jumped into the 2020 presidential campaign Monday, offering a message of economic populism as she became the best-known Democratic candidate yet to enter what is expected to be a crowded race.

Warren’s announcement that she was establishing an exploratory committee — the legal precursor to a run — came as other candidates, including several of her fellow senators, made final preparations for their own announcements, some of which are expected in days.

“America’s middle class is under attack,” the Massachusetts Democrat said in a four-minute, 30-second video emailed to supporters Monday. “How did we get here? Billionaires and big corporations decided they wanted more of the pie. And they enlisted politicians to cut them a bigger slice.”

The video is part biographical, showing her hardscrabble Oklahoma upbringing; part economics lesson, replete with charts illustrating how the middle class is losing economic ground; and part red meat for the Democratic base, with images of President Trump and others disliked by liberals: presidential aides Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller and former adviser Stephen K. Bannon.

It made no mention of a recent Warren stumble: her October decision to release results of a DNA test that said she probably had a distant Native American ancestor. The move had been meant to stifle Trump’s criticism of her but only engendered more mockery from him while also angering Democrats, particularly minorities who objected to her defining ethnicity via a test.

While the race for the Democratic nomination is only starting, even Warren’s supporters acknowledge that she has lost ground in the last few months, both by her own hand and because the November midterm elections redefined Democratic success with candidates who were in many cases a generation younger.
Still, the 69-year-old former law professor enters the race as a formidable candidate — a prodigious small-dollar fundraiser with a knack for creating the kind of viral moments that attract attention in a crowded field. In one such episode, she turned an insult from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — “nevertheless, she persisted” — into a liberal rallying cry. 

It's a marathon, not a sprint, as they say.  Would I vote for Liz Warren over Trump? In a heartbeat and without hesitation.  Would I vote for her in the primaries?

That's a much tougher question. Do I think she's the best Democrat for the job?

I don't honestly know, it depends on who is running.

I'm hoping that 2019 manages to decrease the number of Democratic candidates, not increase them.  It's good I think that the Democratic candidate will be decided by Super Tuesday in March 2020, with California moving its primary up into supreme relevance, and Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina all in February.

But I don't see Liz Warren as a favorite in this scenario.  Far from it.

Zandar's 2018 Scorecard

It's New Year's Eve, which means it's time to see how my ten predictions for the year went.

1) Robert Muller recommends impeachable offenses for Donald Trump.  I know, this is a huge bet: that Trump won't fire Mueller, that Mueller will complete his investigation this year, and that he will find something that warrants an official recommendation to Congress that articles of impeachment be voted on.  But I see it happening.  There's just too much self-reinforcing evidence at this point to ignore, unless you're a Republican in Congress, in which case...

2) Trump will wait until after Mueller's report is delivered in order to issue pardons.  More indictments in 2018 by Mueller are as close to a guarantee as you can get at this point.  There are so many targets, too.  But Trump will wait until the investigation ends in order to start dishing out pardons.  Furthermore...

3) The GOP-led Congress will take no action on Mueller's recommendations.  Not in 2018, at least.  They will wait for midterm elections, hoping that either Mueller spares them by continuing the investigation into 2019, or that Trump ends it for them.  But Paul Ryan, as Speaker of the House, will never let impeachment articles come to a floor vote, which leads me to...

On the first three predictions, the jury is still out.  Mueller has not delivered his final report yet, so these are stuck in limbo for now.

4) Democrats will take control of the House in 2018 midterms.  Yes, I know all this is dependent on a media that is already attacking Democrats for their sure-to-be failures on getting anything signed into law by Trump and the Senate remains a tough road...but I think it will happen. I'll even go one step further, because I need a serious goal to help shoot for...

Thankfully I was right here.

5)  Dems will take the Senate back in 2018 too.  They would have to hold their Trump state incumbents and win Nevada and Arizona, but it's not impossible.  And if it's truly a 2018 blue wave year, I think there are a lot fewer safe red states than the GOP is willing to even think about.

Sadly, the Dems came up well short here, even losing a few seats.

6) A Trump miscalculation leads to a military incident with North Korea.  I don't mean war, but I do mean a US ship or airplane is destroyed, or US soldiers captured, something along those lines.  I don't believe it will lead to a larger exchange yet, otherwise all bets are off for everyone.  Trump needs something he can rally his base around ahead of midterm elections, especially as Mueller closes in.

Blessedly, I was wrong about this one.  North Korea even freed a few American detainees.  It wasn't war that Trump rallied around in 2018, but immigration and racism.

7) America will fall victim to a significant cyber-attack.  I don't want to be right about this one either, because I don't know how Trump would react to it.  But I'm betting that something along the lines of a major computer virus or infrastructure blackout will affect a major portion of the US for some time.  Frankly, we're long overdue for this one.

An entire American city was held for ransom when Atlanta's city system was scrambled for two weeks, the Port of Long Beach was knocked out for a while, and just in the last few days Tribune Publishing was hit, knocking out distribution of print editions across the country.  These will only get worse.

8)  Trump's complete failure in Puerto Rico helps turn Florida blue.  I think Rick Scott will be succeeded by a Democrat in November 2018 at the minimum.  I don't know how feasible it is for the state's heave GOP majority in Tallahassee to flip, but the Dems will at least make major gains. In lighter news...

Nope.  Racism won the day in Florida. The one good thing: Florida voters restored voting rights to felons, but Gov. DeSantis will never allow them to vote, and it'll be tied up in the courts for years.  The Supreme Court will almost assuredly punt anything arising from this back to the appellate courts as they traditionally have over questions of individual states and voting rights, and Trump certainly won't sign any expansion of the Voting Rights Act, so I don't expect this to have an impact in 2020 at all.

9)  Marvel's 2018 films will make $250 million at the US box office.  Black Panther, Avengers 3, Ant-Man and The Wasp and Deadpool 2 are easily going to hit that, and there's a good chance that Venom will too, but I'll put a marker down on the first four, no contest.

Technically Ant-Man and the Wasp made a bit less than $250 million domestically, but all five films broke the $500 million mark worldwide, with Black Panther making $1.3 billion and Avengers 3 making over $2 billion.  I'll take the 95% here.

and finally 10) ZVTS will make it through its tenth year and into 2019.  Here's hoping.  I've basically spent my entire 30's blogging, so we'll see how it works out now that I'm older and wiser.

Yep, still here thanks to you guys!

Final tally, 4 right, 3 wrong, 3 the jury is still out.  Not my best year, but 2018 was very unpredictable.

I'll have my 2019 predictions up shortly.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Stop The Presses

A major ransomware cyber-attack hit the Tribune Publishing company over the weekend, causing issues with the print editions of the LA Times, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and NY Daily News, among other Tribune papers.

A cyberattack that appears to have originated from outside the United States caused major printing and delivery disruptions at several newspapers across the country on Saturday including the Los Angeles Times, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The attack led to distribution delays in the Saturday edition of The Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and several other major newspapers that operate on a shared production platform. It also stymied distribution of the West Coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, which are all printed at the Los Angeles Times’ Olympic printing plant in downtown Los Angeles.

“We believe the intention of the attack was to disable infrastructure, more specifically servers, as opposed to looking to steal information,” said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.

No other details about the origin of the attack were immediately available, including the motive. The source identified the attacker only as a “foreign entity.”

All papers within The Times’ former parent company, Tribune Publishing,experienced glitches with the production of papers. Tribune Publishing sold The Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune to Los Angeles businessman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong in June, but the companies continue to share various systems, including software.

“Every market across the company was impacted,” said Marisa Kollias, spokeswoman for Tribune Publishing. She declined to provide specifics on the disruptions, but the company properties include the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Annapolis Capital-Gazette, Hartford Courant, New York Daily News, Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Tribune Publishing said in a statement Saturday that “the personal data of our subscribers, online users, and advertising clients has not been compromised. We apologize for any inconvenience and thank our readers and advertising partners for their patience as we investigate the situation. News and all of our regular features are available online.”

The Times said the problem was first detected Friday. Technology teams made significant progress in fixing it, but were unable to clear all systems before press time.

Several individuals with knowledge of the Tribune situation said the attack appeared to be in the form of “Ryuk” ransomware. One company insider, who was not authorized to comment publicly, said the corrupted Tribune Publishing computer files contained the extension “.ryk,” which is believed to be a signature of a “Ryuk” attack.

Cybersecurity experts have known about “Ryuk” ransomware for months. This particular variant, which is distributed by “malicious spam” is “not like common ransomware,” according to an August advisory issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Ryuk” attacks are “highly targeted, well-resourced and planned,” according to the August advisory. Victims are deliberately targeted and “only crucial assets and resources are infected in each targeted network,” the government’s advisory said. “Infection and distribution carried out manually by the attackers.”

In September, the Port of San Diego was hit by a similar attack. That attack came two months after a strike at the Port of Long Beach. It is unclear whether the attacks were related or if the culprits demanded ransom in any of the incidents.

The attack seemed to have begun late Thursday night and by Friday had spread to crucial areas needed to publish the paper.

The computer problem shut down a number of crucial software systems that store news stories, photographs and administrative information, and made it difficult to create the plates used to print the papers at The Times’ downtown plant.

“We are trying to do work-arounds so we can get pages out. It’s all in production. We need the plates to start the presses. That’s the bottleneck.” Director of Distribution Joe Robidoux said.

This seems like a pretty significant escalation in cyber-warfare against US companies.  It's one thing to hit the City of Atlanta's systems or the Port of Long Beach, but knocking out a national newspaper chain is a hefty deal and a definite step up.

I also think going after a newspaper chain is a purposeful message for Donald Trump.  If anything, he's going to cheer this attack on, and that's amazingly dangerous.  His followers and voters certainly will think this is great.

Still, expect a lot more of these attacks in the months and years ahead.  Trump certainly doesn't seem to care about protecting America from them, after all.

Sunday Long Read: The Red Road From El Dorado

Our year-end Sunday Long Read is actually a story from January that I had in the hopper and forgot about, so here it is in case you didn't see it then.  The Miami Herald did an amazing piece on the other big multi-billion dollar smuggling operation from Latin America: blood gold.

When Juan Granda ventured into Peru’s Amazon rainforest to score another illicit load of gold, he boasted that he felt like legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

“I’m like Pablo coming ... to get the coke,” he told two co-workers in a text message in 2014.

A 36-year-old Florida State University graduate who once sold subprime loans, Granda was no cartel kingpin. But his offhand comparison was apt: Gold has become the secret ingredient in the criminal alchemy of Latin American narco-traffickers who make billions turning cocaine into clean cash by exporting the metal to Miami.

The previous year, Granda’s employer, NTR Metals, a South Florida precious-metals trading company, had bought nearly $1 billion worth of Peruvian gold supplied by narcos — and Granda and NTR needed more.

The United States depends on Latin American gold to feed ravenous demand from its jewelry, bullion and electronics industries. The amount of gold going through Miami every year is equal to roughly 2 percent of the market value of the vast U.S. stockpile in Fort Knox.

But much of that gold comes from outlaw mines deep in the jungle where dangerous chemicals are poisoning rainforests and laborers who toil for scraps of metal, according to human rights watchdogs and industry executives. The environmental damage and human misery mirror the scale of Africa’s “blood diamonds,” experts say

“A large part of the gold that’s commercialized in the world comes stained by blood and human rights abuses,” said Julián Bernardo González, vice president of sustainability for Continental Gold, a Canadian mining company with operations in Colombia that holds legal titles and pays taxes, unlike many smaller mining operations.

Pope Francis condemned the horrors of illegal mining during a visit to the Peruvian Amazon on Friday. The region’s gold boom, the pope said, has become a “false god that demands human sacrifice.”

In Latin America, criminals see mining and trading precious metals as a lucrative growth business, carefully hidden from U.S. consumers who flaunt gold around their necks and fingers but have no idea where it comes from — or who gets hurt. The narcos know their market is strong: America’s addiction to the metal burns as insatiably as its craving for cocaine. NTR, for instance, was the subsidiary of a major U.S. gold refinery that supplied Apple and 67 other Fortune 500 companies, as well as Tiffany & Co., according to a Miami Herald analysis of corporate disclosures.

Last March, federal prosecutors in Miami charged Granda, his boss, Samer Barrage, and another NTR trader, Renato Rodriguez, with money laundering, saying the three men bought $3.6 billion of illegal gold from criminal groups in Latin America. They claimed the gold traders, who eventually pleaded guilty, fueled “illegal gold mining, foreign bribery [and] narcotics trafficking.”

Now, those prosecutors are investigating other U.S. precious-metals dealers suspected of buying tainted gold from drug traffickers, law enforcement sources say. Their goal is not just to take out crooked gold firms like NTR — they also want to kneecap the drug cartels.

Here’s why: Over the past two decades, as the U.S. war on drugs undercut the cash flow of narco-traffickers, kingpins diversified into Latin America’s gold industry. By using drug profits to mine and sell gold to American and multinational companies, criminal organizations can launder “staggering amounts of money,” said John Cassara, a retired U.S. Treasury special agent. The end result: The gold in American jewelry, coins and smartphones is helping finance shipments of narcotics to the United States, as well as illegal mining in Latin America, current and former law enforcement officials say.

Mining regions in the rainforest have become epicenters of human trafficking, disease and environmental destruction, according to government officials and human rights investigators. Miners are forced into slavery. Prostitutes set up camps near the miners, fueling the spread of sexually transmitted infections. One human rights group found that 2,000 sex workers, 60 percent of them children, were employed in a single mining area in Peru.

Meanwhile, strip mining and the indiscriminate use of mercury to ferret out gold are turning swaths of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems into a nightmarish moonscape. In 2016, Peru declared a temporary state of emergency over widespread mercury poisoning in Madre de Dios, a jungle province rife with illegal mining. Nearly four in five adults in the area’s capital city tested positive for dangerous levels of mercury, according to the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.

Even criminal outfits from Russia and China are investing in gold mining, observers say, abandoning heavy machinery in the jungle once they’ve extracted the metal. Soaring prices over the last two decades have driven the modern-day gold rush. In January, gold traded at roughly $1,300 per ounce on the open market, compared to less than $300 in 2001.

The human rights abuses and deforestation are a “bleeding sore that affects millions of people and their future livelihoods,” said Douglas Farah, a national security consultant and visiting fellow at the Pentagon-funded National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

“It’s become an enormously damaging industry that very few people are looking at seriously,” Farah said. “Just as with ‘blood diamonds,’ the gold issue ... brings together money laundering, forced prostitution, drug traffickers, human trafficking and child slavery

Gold has always been, well, the gold standard in illegal trade: its worth to people has been unparalleled over the centuries of human existence. Where there's gold, there's misery.  Just because we live in the 21st century doesn't mean that's changed one bit.

Red to yellow to green.

The Pendejo Beanfield War, Con't

It took less than six months for Trump's Chinese tariff idiocy to obliterate US soybean exports, as November brought the amount of American soybeans bought by Beijing to a whopping total of zero.

China's soybean imports from the United States plunged to zero in November, marking the first time since the trade war between the world's two largest economies started that China, the world's largest soybean buyer, has imported no U.S. supplies.

Instead, China has leaned on Brazilian imports to replace the U.S. cargoes, customs data showed on Monday.

China brought in 5.07 million metric tons of soybeans from Brazil in November, up more than 80 percent from 2.76 million metric tons a year ago, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

Meanwhile, U.S. imports plunged from 4.7 million metric tons in November 2017 and were down from 67,000 metric tons in October.

China, the world's top soybean buyer, usually gets most of its oilseed imports from the United States in last quarter of the year as the U.S. harvest comes to market. The U.S. was the second-largest supplier of soybeans to China and the trade was worth $12 billion in 2017.

But, purchases have plunged since Beijing placed an additional 25 percent tariff on U.S. imports on July 6, in response to tariffs enacted by the U.S. on Chinese goods. The country has stepped up its Brazilian purchases to fill the gap.

So game over for US soybean farmers.  They have no market now, and Brazil is reaping the awards.  Meanwhile, Trump killed America's involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and that trade deal goes into effect this weekend, meaning US farmers are about to get shut out of dozens of other markets too.

American farmers are facing the "imminent collapse" of key markets and fear uneven trade playing fields as Australian, Canadian and other rival nations take advantage of the soon-to-be implemented Trans-Pacific Partnership

After President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the TPP on just his third day in the White House in 2017, the States will be left on the sidelines when the re-shaped TPP-11 comes into effect 12am on Sunday AEDT.

Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore were the first nations to ratify the agreement, formally titled the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement. Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Peru and Malaysia are set to follow in coming months

US farmers, already hit hard by Trump's tariff battle with China and the lack of a free trade agreement with Japan, are bracing to immediately lose market share.

American wheat and beef producers have been particularly vocal.

They expect Australian farmers to use their TPP advantage to sell more to Japan.

"Japan is generally a market where we seek to maintain our strong 53 per cent market share, but today we face an imminent collapse," US Wheat Associates President Vince Peterson told a public hearing held by the US Trade Representative earlier this month.

"Frankly, this is because of provisions negotiated by (former US president Barack Obama's administration) for our benefit under the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"Our competitors in Australia and Canada will now benefit from those provisions, as US farmers watch helplessly."

2019 is going to be a dismal year for the US farmer, for the US economy...and for the GOP.

But this is what you voted for, rural America.

Never forget that.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

House Of Pain

NY Times DC reporter Carl Hulse helpfully notes that the vast majority of returning House Republicans have never been the minority party, and that they're in for some wacky good times.

About two-thirds of Republicans returning to the House for the 116th Congress this week have never experienced the exquisite pain of being on the outs in an institution where the party in charge is totally in charge. Majority control runs the gamut from determining the floor agenda to determining access to the prime meeting space. It will be a rude awakening for many who have known only their exalted majority status.

“They say you will have a lot more time on your hands and will vote ‘no’ a lot more often,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who was elected in the 2010 wave that handed control of the House to Republicans in President Barack Obama’s first midterm election.

The reign lasted eight years before the November midterms and the Democratic gain of 40 seats, a thorough beating that many Republicans did not anticipate. Mr. Kinzinger said the culture shift might be hardest on those colleagues who, unlike himself, believed the election was going to turn out quite differently.

“We have come to grips with the shock of the election,” he said, “but the shock of governing will still be a wake-up call for some people.”

Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and a veteran of stints in both the minority and the majority, groaned when asked what advice he had for his House brethren who had tasted only life on top.

“Oh. Sheesh,” Mr. Cole said, hemming and hawing before advising, only half-jokingly, “Smoke a lot; drink a lot.”

“You are going to get some real disappointment,” he said of his colleagues. “They are going to find out how good they had it in the majority, particularly when we had a Republican Senate, as frustrating as that could be.”

Unlike the Senate, where individual members can exert some influence whether they are in the majority or not, those on the sidelines in the House have few options. After years of being in the know about the House agenda and majority strategy, Republican lawmakers will now struggle to even ascertain what the schedule is.

“You control nothing,” said Representative Peter T. King, the New York Republican who will be experiencing his fourth transition in House power — 1995 to Republican control, 2007 to Democratic supremacy, back to Republicans in 2011 and now another reassertion of Democratic might. “As far as calling the shots, we have nothing like the Senate where one guy can filibuster. You have no recourse.”

Mr. King, a former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, remembers being shut out of conference rooms when Democrats regained the majority in 2007. Republicans anticipate finding the convenient meeting rooms they took for granted will be off limits.

It's petty, yes.  But it's also a metaphor for what Republicans are discovering is happening to their party of casual white supremacy.  When you decide that only white men matter, and you're outnumbered...

Well, you lose.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

According to TIME Magazine's major story this weekend, everything about Paul Manafort owing the Russian mob $20 million and then using his position as Trump's campaign chairman to cut a deal with them to pay back the debt is true.

When the U.S. government put out its latest sanctions list on Dec. 19, the man named at the top did not seem especially important. Described in the document as a former Russian intelligence officer, he was accused of handling money and negotiations on behalf of a powerful Russian oligarch. The document did not mention that the man, Victor Boyarkin, had links to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.

A months-long investigation by TIME, however, found that Boyarkin, a former arms dealer with a high forehead and a very low profile, was a key link between a senior member of the Trump campaign and a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his only interview with the media about those connections, Boyarkin told TIME this fall that he was in touch with Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin says. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”

The former Russian intelligence officer says he has been approached by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Boyarkin’s response to those investigators? “I told them to go dig a ditch,” he says. Peter Carr, the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office, declined to comment. Through his spokesman, Manafort likewise declined to comment on his alleged connections with Boyarkin.

But those connections could be potentially important to the Special Counsel’s inquiry. They would mark some of the clearest evidence of the leverage that powerful Russians had over Trump’s campaign chairman. And they may shed light on why Manafort discussed going right back to work for pro-Russian interests in Eastern Europe after he crashed out of the Trump campaign in August 2016, according to numerous sources in the TIME investigation

Then of course after getting canned from the Trump campaign, Manafort went on to try to help Russia replace Montenegro's government with a pro-Russian cabal, only that went completely south when the Montenegin government arrested the coup leaders.

And then Manafort got arrested.

The funny part is Boyarkin basically acknowledged the entire story to TIME.

When he joined the campaign in the spring of 2016, Manafort was nearly broke. The veteran political consultant had racked up bills worth millions of dollars in luxury real estate, clothing, cars and antiques. According to allegations contained in court records filed in the U.S. and the Cayman Islands, he was also deeply in debt to Boyarkin’s boss, the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who was demanding money from Manafort over a failed business deal in Ukraine and other ventures.

Boyarkin says it fell to him to collect the debt from Manafort. “I came down on him hard,” he says. But the American proved elusive. In a petition filed in the Cayman Islands in 2014, lawyers for Deripaska, a metals tycoon with close ties to the Kremlin, complain that Manafort and his then-partner had “simply disappeared” with around $19 million of the Russian’s money.

When he reappeared in the headlines around April 2016, Manafort was serving as an unpaid adviser to the Trump campaign. He wanted his long-time patron in Moscow to know all about it.

In a series of emails sent that spring and summer, Manafort tried to offer “private briefings” about the presidential race to Deripaska, apparently, as one of the emails puts it, to “get whole.” Reports in The Atlantic and the Washington Post revealed those emails in the fall of 2017. Among the questions that remained unanswered was the identity of Manafort’s contact in Moscow, the one referred to in one of the emails as “our friend V.”

Even after TIME learned his full name in April, he proved a difficult man to find. His online presence amounted to digital scraps: one photo of him at a conference in Moscow, a few benign quotes in the Russian media from his years selling arms for state-linked companies, and some vague references in U.S. government archives to someone by that name, “Commander Viktor A. Boyarkin,” serving in the 1990s as an assistant naval attaché at the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. – a job sometimes used as cover for intelligence agents.

Only in early October was a TIME reporter able to track Boyarkin down. In the company of a senior Russian diplomat and two young assistants from Moscow, he attended a conference in Greece that was organized by one of Putin’s oldest friends, the former KGB agent and state railway boss Vladimir Yakunin. “How did you find me here,” was the question Boyarkin asked, repeatedly, when confronted about his ties to Manafort during a coffee break at that conference.

Once he agreed to discuss their relationship, it was mostly to confirm the basic facts, often with a curt, “Yes, so what.” (He did not respond to numerous requests for comment after his name appeared on the U.S sanctions list on Dec. 19.)

So, yeah.  Trump's campaign chairman was compromised and owed the Russian mob millions.  Yet he was hired anyway.  In fact, the man who suggested him to Trump was Mike Pence.

Probably worth keeping in mind.

Friday, December 28, 2018

It's About Suppression, Con't

Time for a check on the NC-9 House race, with the new Congress set to convene on Thursday, Republican Rep. Mark Harris's "win" over Democratic candidate Dan McCready has yet to be certified by the state Board of Elections due to the mountains of evidence of stolen and fraudulent absentee ballot votes in Bladen County, and at last count the board was going to convene in January to make some decisions.

But NC Republicans, eager to steal the seat, have dissolved the Board of Elections under a court order and are now looking to a new board to side with Harris and the GOP.

The North Carolina state elections board dissolved on Friday under a court order, two weeks before its much-anticipated hearing to consider evidence of possible absentee ballot fraud in the disputed November election for the Ninth District’s seat in Congress.

The unwinding of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement is a consequence of a long-running battle over partisan power in North Carolina and separate from the election fraud investigation. Yet the dissolution heightened the possibility that the Ninth District seat would remain empty for weeks or even months, and it plunged the chaotic fight for the House seat into deeper turmoil.

Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the district, appeared to defeat Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, by 905 votes in last month’s general election. But state officials have been investigating whether a contractor for Mr. Harris engaged in illegal activity to compromise the election on the Republican’s behalf. According to witnesses and affidavits, the contractor, L. McCrae Dowless Jr., and people working for him collected absentee ballots in violation of state law.

The allegations of misconduct prompted the elections board to refuse to certify Mr. Harris as the winner. An ongoing state investigation has involved more than 100 interviews and at least 182,000 pages of records so far, officials said.

No one has been charged in connection with the allegations, including Mr. Dowless, who has a history of convictions for fraud and perjury and was previously scrutinized by the authorities for possible election tampering. Mr. Dowless, who has declined to comment, refused a request to meet with state investigators.

Those investigators were to present their findings at an elections board hearing on Jan. 11. After reviewing any evidence, the state board was expected to determine whether to order a new election under a North Carolina law that allows a new vote if “irregularities or improprieties occurred to such an extent that they taint the results of the entire election and cast doubt on its fairness.”

But plans for the January hearing, and the fate of the nine-member board, eventually ran headlong into a case that dealt with the constitutionality of the elections board’s design. On Thursday night, in a decision that stunned North Carolina Democrats and Republicans alike, a three-judge panel angrily rejected a bipartisan request to extend the life of the board temporarily.

The ruling left the board with less than 24 hours to exist, and plans for the Jan. 11 hearing uncertain. Some state officials said on Friday that the structure of legislation setting up the future elections board meant it could not begin operations until Jan. 31.

But Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said Friday that he intended to name an interim board until the new law took effect. Republicans said that they would challenge such a move

So, this fight will continue.  Meanwhile, Republicans will argue that Harris must be seated in the House.  That however is not up to NC Republicans...that's up to Nancy Pelosi, and she has no plans to do so.

The fraud battle wages on, because if Republicans lose here, in a clear case of election fraud, then people will start asking questions about other elections too.

Stay tuned.

Shutdown Meltdown, Con't

President Trump threatened to shut down the entire southern border with Mexico if his demands for more funding to build a wall aren't met.

Trump tweeted Friday that if "Obstructionist Democrats" don't give him the $5 billion he is asking for to build his proposed border wall he will "close the Southern Border entirely."

"We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with," the president tweeted. "Hard to believe there was a Congress & President who would approve!"

The government has been partially shut down since last week over an impasse between Trump and Democrats over funding for a proposed security wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The government shutdown, which has kept hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work, is expected to extend into the new year. 

The new Congress doesn't convene until Thursday, January 3rd, and Nancy Pelosi has her own plans for reopening the government and absolutely none of those plans include a dime for the wall, so I don't know what set Trump off, but nothing's going to happen for another week at least.  But hey, shut down the border and guarantee that the public blames you for this mess.

Please proceed, Orange Baby.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

I'll Buy That For A Dollar!

The fastest growing retail chains in America continue to be Dollar Tree and Dollar General, together they account for 30,000 stores nationwide and they plan on 20,000 more as the Trump economy drags America into the next deep recession.

Dollar-store chains like Dollar General and Dollar Tree are rapidly expanding by targeting the poor, particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods and rural areas, while planning for a permanent American underclass, according to a new report from the community development nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

Though dollar stores sell no fresh vegetables, fruits or meat (Dollar General is testing produce in fewer than 1 percent of its stores), they are quickly becoming one of the primary ways lower-income Americans eat, with the combined grocery sales of Dollar General and Dollar Tree outstripping Whole Foods by more than $10 billion.

Selection is limited to processed or canned foods such as cereals, microwaveable meals and snacks. A section on the Dollar General website for “Fresh Food” advertises Banquet Mega Bowls fried chicken, frozen pizzas, Lunchables, Hot Pockets, blocks of cream cheese and pumpkins.

There are nearly 30,000 dollar stores nationwide, more than Starbucks and Walmart combined, and up from 20,000 in 2011. Dollar General and Dollar Tree are planning 20,000 more. Dollar General is opening four stores a day, a rate the company is expected to maintain through 2019.

Their customers are made up of three demographics: poor people, black people and rural people. The ILSR documented, with Tulsa, Oklahoma, as its test case, how the presence of dollar store chains can correlate even more strongly with race than income, with locations opening in food deserts historically neglected by supermarket chains.

“Essentially what the dollar stores are betting on in a large way is that we are going to have a permanent underclass in America,” real estate analyst Garrick Brown told Bloomberg in 2017.

Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos agreed, telling The Wall Street Journal, “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customers.” In other words, the more lower-income Americans struggle, the better dollar stores do.

The market tends to agree as well, with Dollar General Corp. valued far above the largest grocery chain, Kroger Co., which still has revenue five times that of its dollar-store competitor. One reason is the dollar-store profit margin, which is significantly higher than grocery stores thanks in part to small-quantity packaging designed to keep prices low even as the value drops, providing customers less for their money.

That isn’t a result of consumer irrationality, but rather is a necessity for lower-income households, whose pinched budgets don’t allow for bulk purchases. Dollar General store manager Damon Ridley spoke to the Journal about helping older children put together enough food for younger siblings with scarce dollars. “I am more of an outreach manager,” he said

With tens of millions of Americans having shifted down the ladder from Kroger and Wal-Mart and Target down to Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, these companies expect the bulk of America to stay there for good.  Everyone talks about how Amazon deliveries and internet shopping will be the future of American commerce and for some, it will be.

But the fact of the matter for most of us in a Trump recession future, the future is dollar stores because we can't afford anything else.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

One of the big mysteries involving Michael Cohen, the Steele Dossier, and Russia is "was he in Prague meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign?"  The Mueller team hinted strongly that Cohen was in Prague in the summer of 2016 back in a McClatchy story in April.

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy’s report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

It would also be one of the most significant developments thus far in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House. Undercutting Trump’s repeated pronouncements that “there is no evidence of collusion,” it also could ratchet up the stakes if the president tries, as he has intimated he might for months, to order Mueller’s firing.

The Cohen/Prague story is important because it's basicallt collusion 101 if Cohen was there on behalf of Trump.  Now the same McClatchy reporters in the April story, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, go one step further detailing at least one piece of evidence that Cohen was in Prague at the time...or at least his cell phone was.

A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.

During the same period of late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague, two people familiar with the incident said.

The phone and surveillance data, which have not previously been disclosed, lend new credence to a key part of a former British spy’s dossier of Kremlin intelligence describing purported coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s election meddling operation.

The dossier, which Trump has dismissed as “a pile of garbage,” said Cohen and one or more Kremlin officials huddled in or around the Czech capital to plot ways to limit discovery of the close “liaison” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The new information regarding the recovery of Cohen’s cell phone location doesn’t explain why he was apparently there or who he was meeting with, if anyone. But it adds to evidence that Cohen was in or near Prague around the time of the supposed meeting.

Both of the newly surfaced foreign electronic intelligence intercepts were shared with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, people familiar with the matter said. Mueller is investigating Russia’s 2016 election interference and whether Trump’s campaign colluded in the scheme. Mueller also is examining whether Trump has obstructed the sweeping inquiry.

McClatchy reported in April 2018 that Mueller had obtained evidence Cohen traveled to Prague from Germany in late August or early September of 2016, but it could not be learned how that information was gleaned.

Cohen has vehemently denied being in Prague, and so far Mueller hasn't mentioned Prague in any of his filings, "proof" according to the right that Cohen was never there and "proof" the entire Steele Dossier is a lie and that the Mueller probe should be ended.

But this story makes things somewhat less cut and dried.  Cloning a cell phone certainly isn't above the CIA (or our Russian friends) however if this is true, than yeah, this is kind of the smoking gun, and it would make sense that Mueller was going to sit on it until it was going to be used.

[UPDATE: McClatchy is not the only news outlet working on confirming Cohen's Prague trip.

Stay tuned.

I've Got Five On It

Seal Team Five, that is, and the Orange Crapsack-in-Chief can't help himself with his malignant narcissism.  A day after being rightfully blasted in the press for failing to visit the troops for Christmas (amid a continuing government shutdown no less that has dropped his popularity numbers back down to under 40% again) Trump trucked all the way to Iraq (and didn't fool anyone where he was going) to let everyone know that he and he alone is responsible for a raise that Obama never gave troops only that he did every year, oh and that should any of our enemies want to know, Seal Team Five is in Iraq right now and here's a picture of them so you know exactly who they are.

Prior to November, Donald Trump had little interest in visiting troops stationed in a combat zone, a routine occurrence in a normal presidency. According to a senior White House official, it was, in part, because he was scared: “He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people are going to kill him.”

On December 26, on the fifth day of a partial government shutdown, days after he announced his intention to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, the president decided to cross a trip to combat zone off his list of presidential experiences. The surprise visit began with Trump in a bomber jacket, welcomed by a soundtrack of “USA! USA!” chants and Lee Greenwood’s gushing patriotism. “Our presence in Syria was not open-ended and was never intended to be permanent,” Trump said. “We’re no longer the suckers folks.”

But Newsweek reports that we may, indeed, suck. In the pool report of the trip — which was embargoed to help protect the Trump’s presence in Iraq — the president asked the chaplain of Seal Team Five, Lieutenant Commander Kyu Lee, to take a picture with him, revealing the presence of the special ops team at the al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq. When Trump left Iraqi airspace, he posted a video in which he and the First Lady pause for photos with members of Seal Team Five, decked in full battle gear and night vision goggles.

Now Seal Team Five was doing exactly what they were ordered to do, it's Trump who posted the photos of our spec ops guys all over goddamn Twitter.  Because he's a malignant narcissist and his ignorance gets people hurt, maybe killed.

He is entirely incapable of running a taco stand, let alone America.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

They Will Never Turn On Trump

It's nice to see Tom Friedman come to the party about two years too late, but he's right that Republicans need to make it clear that Trump's days are numbered.

Up to now I have not favored removing President Trump from office. I felt strongly that it would be best for the country that he leave the way he came in, through the ballot box. But last week was a watershed moment for me, and I think for many Americans, including some Republicans.

It was the moment when you had to ask whether we really can survive two more years of Trump as president, whether this man and his demented behavior — which will get only worse as the Mueller investigation concludes — are going to destabilize our country, our markets, our key institutions and, by extension, the world. And therefore his removal from office now has to be on the table.

I believe that the only responsible choice for the Republican Party today is an intervention with the president that makes clear that if there is not a radical change in how he conducts himself — and I think that is unlikely — the party’s leadership will have no choice but to press for his resignation or join calls for his impeachment.

It has to start with Republicans, given both the numbers needed in the Senate and political reality. Removing this president has to be an act of national unity as much as possible — otherwise it will tear the country apart even more. I know that such an action is very difficult for today’s G.O.P., but the time is long past for it to rise to confront this crisis of American leadership.

Trump’s behavior has become so erratic, his lying so persistent, his willingness to fulfill the basic functions of the presidency — like reading briefing books, consulting government experts before making major changes and appointing a competent staff — so absent, his readiness to accommodate Russia and spurn allies so disturbing and his obsession with himself and his ego over all other considerations so consistent, two more years of him in office could pose a real threat to our nation. Vice President Mike Pence could not possibly be worse.

The damage an out-of-control Trump can do goes well beyond our borders. America is the keystone of global stability. Our world is the way it is today — a place that, despite all its problems, still enjoys more peace and prosperity than at any time in history — because America is the way it is (or at least was). And that is a nation that at its best has always stood up for the universal values of freedom and human rights, has always paid extra to stabilize the global system from which we were the biggest beneficiary and has always nurtured and protected alliances with like-minded nations.

Donald Trump has proved time and again that he knows nothing of the history or importance of this America. That was made starkly clear in Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s resignation letter.

Trump is in the grip of a mad notion that the entire web of global institutions and alliances built after World War II — which, with all their imperfections, have provided the connective tissues that have created this unprecedented era of peace and prosperity — threatens American sovereignty and prosperity and that we are better off without them.

So Trump gloats at the troubles facing the European Union, urges Britain to exit and leaks that he’d consider quitting NATO. These are institutions that all need to be improved, but not scrapped. If America becomes a predator on all the treaties, multilateral institutions and alliances holding the world together; if America goes from being the world’s anchor of stability to an engine of instability; if America goes from a democracy built on the twin pillars of truth and trust to a country where it is acceptable for the president to attack truth and trust on a daily basis, watch out: Your kids won’t just grow up in a different America. They will grow up in a different world.

The last time America disengaged from the world remotely in this manner was in the 1930s, and you remember what followed: World War II.

Friedman is right about most of this (the part about Mike Pence not being worse is a lie as he would knowingly continue every Trump regime policy), but frankly the time for a GOP intervention was January, 2017.  And sadly, there's nothing to make me thin that Republicans will intervene in any way shape or fashion, nor do I believe Donald Trump will ever leave the presidency willingly, not without igniting a civil war that will kill millions.

If even 1% of Trump voters turned to armed violence as a result of trying to remove him from office, we'd have a national nightmare scenario. That has to figure into the calculus, along with the complete absence of anyone who could talk Trump down if he truly believes that he is going to spend the rest of his life in prison.

History tells us that we have so far avoided recent historical crackups like this only because the violence of populist fascism has been traditionally redirected to marginalized groups, usually black and brown bodies who are slaughtered to sate the beast.  In the 20th century especially, that became the two World Wars, Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War, and it was enough.

But Trump withdrawing America from the world stage means that violence will be directed inward against people who look like me, and blood will flow.  That will almost certainly still happen, but I fear it won't be enough to slake the thirst this time.

Like a fault line, we're historically overdue, and the pressure is mounting until the split comes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Holidays From ZVTS!

Just wanted to thank you, the readers, for still showing up after all these years.  It's been a long journey and it's definitely not over yet.

Thanks for sticking with me through the good and the bad.

Hope you and yours have the happiest of holidays this year!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Bibi Is In Big Trouble, Con't

Facing overwhelming evidence of bribery and corruption, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is rolling the dice on April early elections in order to cement power and to dare Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to indict him during the campaign so that Netanyahu can "prove" the attacks against him are political in nature.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called early elections for April, setting the stage for a three-month campaign clouded by a series of corruption investigations against the long-serving Israeli leader.

Riding high in the polls, Netanyahu appears all but certain to win a fourth consecutive term and a place in history as the country’s longest-serving prime minister. Those bright prospects, however, could be derailed by a looming decision by the country’s attorney general on whether to file charges against Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, facing the possibility of bribery and breach of trust charges in three different cases, made scant mention of these investigations at a gathering of his Likud Party as he announced plans for what is expected to be an April 9 vote.

Appearing loose and confident, he listed his government’s accomplishments in office and said he hoped his current religious, nationalistic coalition would be the “core” of Israel’s next government as well.

“We will ask the voters for a clear mandate to continue leading the state of Israel our way,” he said to applause from party members.

Netanyahu, who also served a term in the late 1990s, has been prime minister for the past decade.

His supporters point to a humming, high-tech economy, his handling of security issues, particularly countering the threat of Iranian influence in the region, and his gains on the diplomatic stage, including a close alliance with President Donald Trump that has paid important dividends.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his withdrawal from the international nuclear deal were both welcomed by Netanyahu. The Israeli leader also has quietly forged ties with Sunni Arab states, further sidelining the Palestinians, who have severed ties with the U.S. because they believe Trump is biased against them.

The White House still has not released a long-awaited peace plan, and Monday’s announcement could further delay its release.

But critics say these gains have come at a deep price to Israel’s democratic ideals. Netanyahu’s hard-line government has promoted a series of laws that critics say are aimed at muzzling liberal critics and sidelining the minority Arab population. They point to wide gaps between rich and poor and high cost of living, and say that by neglecting the Palestinian issue and continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, the country is on the path to becoming an apartheid-like binational state.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak called the election “the most fateful” since the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

“If we all act properly, on April 10 we will part with Netanyahu,” he said on Hahadashot TV. “The state of Israel will get on a different path instead of this nationalist, racist, dark vision.”

I have to admit it's a good plan.  Even if Netanyahu is indicted soon, he can simply stall until elections and remain in office, and if he wins even with charges against him,  he maintains control and can tie up the case against him, maybe indefinitely.

No, the only way to get rid of Netanyahu now is for him to lose in April, and I don't think that will happen.

We'll see.

The Trump Slump

I've been warning that Donald Trump's merry band of dumbasses would eventually tank the economy, and it looks like we're well into that scenario now with the major markets down 15% or more just this month on top of a continuing government shutdown, not to mention the live grenade of pulling out of Syria and firing Defense Secretary Mattis.

Now Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin is trying to clean up the mess by very loudly yelling through a bullhorn that the economy is perfectly fine, which as you can imagine is having the completely opposite effect on Wall Street.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin startled financial analysts, bankers and economists on Sunday by issuing an unusual statement declaring that the nation’s six largest banks had ample credit to extend to American businesses and households.

Mnuchin made the statement on Twitter after calling the leaders of the six banks, seeking to address an issue that had attracted little concern ahead of the treasury secretary’s tweet.

The statement came hours before Asian markets were set to open and following a sharp sell-off that made last week the worst for U.S. markets in a decade. President Trump has been furious at the sell-off, and efforts by Mnuchin to inspire confidence in the market have so far failed.

Several analysts said Sunday night that his outreach to the banks and subsequent statement were likely to backfire and drive even more concern.

“Panic feeds panic and this looks like panic in the administration,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “Suggesting you might know something that no one else is worried about creates more unease.”

There are many components in the economy and financial markets, and they don’t always move in tandem. For example, a sliding stock market does not necessarily mean there are problems in the banking system, and there can be problems in the banking system that aren’t reflected in the stock market’s performance.

In Mnuchin’s statement, which was posted while he was vacationing in Mexico for the holidays, the Treasury chief said the executives told him “they have ample liquidity available for lending to consumer, business markets, and all other market operations." Mnuchin said the executives added “that they have not experienced any clearance or margin issues and that the markets continue to function properly.”

Mnuchin telling everyone there are no banking liquidity problems when the problem is confidence in Trump's collapsing regime is a bit like trying to assure a jumbo jet full of nervous flyers that all the parachutes are in working order, when if you've flown on a commercial airliner ever, you know damn well there's never parachutes on the plane.

Also, the number three engine just caught fire.

Today is going to be an interesting day.

[EDIT] Dow closed down 600 points in shortened Christmas Eve trading.  Now off 4000 points for the month of December.

This is 2008 all over again.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

(Mad) Dog Gone, Jim Con't

The Dec. 14 call came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed to have the two presidents discuss Erdogan’s threats to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based. The NSC then set up the call.

Pompeo, Mattis and other members of the national security team prepared a list of talking points for Trump to tell Erdogan to back off, the officials said.

But the officials said Trump, who had previously accepted such advice and convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.

In the following days, Trump remained unmoved by those scrambling to convince him to reverse or at least delay the decision to give the military and Kurdish forces time to prepare for an orderly withdrawal.

“The talking points were very firm,” said one of the officials, explaining that Trump was advised to clearly oppose a Turkish incursion into northern Syria and suggest the U.S. and Turkey work together to address security concerns. “Everybody said push back and try to offer (Turkey) something that’s a small win, possibly holding territory on the border, something like that.”

Erdogan, though, quickly put Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for U.S. troops to be in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State and that the group had been 99 percent defeated. “Why are you still there?” the second official said Erdogan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining IS militants.

With Erdogan on the line, Trump asked national security adviser John Bolton, who was listening in, why American troops remained in Syria if what the Turkish president was saying was true, according to the officials. Erdogan’s point, Bolton was forced to admit, had been backed up by Mattis, Pompeo, U.S. special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey and special envoy for the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, who have said that IS retains only 1 percent of its territory, the officials said.

Bolton stressed, however, that the entire national security team agreed that victory over IS had to be enduring, which means more than taking away its territory.

Trump was not dissuaded, according to the officials, who said the president quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both Bolton and Erdogan.

Caught off guard, Erdogan cautioned Trump against a hasty withdrawal, according to one official. While Turkey has made incursions into Syria in the past, it does not have the necessary forces mobilized on the border to move in and hold the large swaths of northeastern Syria where U.S. troops are positioned, the official said.

The call ended with Trump repeating to Erdogan that the U.S. would pull out, but offering no specifics on how it would be done
, the officials said.

 And now it appears that the media pointing out that Mattis's resignation letter was an indictment of Trump's ridiculous foreign policy means the General will now be terminated on January 1 instead.

President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that Defense Secretary James Mattis will depart the Pentagon by January 1, a date earlier than anticipated, and will appoint Patrick Shanahan — the agency’s number 2 official — as acting Secretary.

The president’s announcement, made via Twitter, comes days after Mattis stunned Washington by announcing his resignation, prompted by what the former marine said were policy differences with Trump. Amid tensions with Mattis, the president sent shock waves through the global security establishment by announcing troop drawdowns in both Syria and Afghanistan, moves that Mattis was said to oppose.

So Mattis will be out on New Year's Day, all to cover up the fact that Trump has given Vladimir Putin the biggest Christmas present he could have possibly wanted.

It's almost like he's having a fire sale before new management arrives.

It's Mueller Time In The Supreme Court

The sealed grand jury ruling that has prompted mystery after mystery in the Mueller probe has now reached the US Supreme Court.

A new legal filing appears to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene for the first time in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election.

The document, which is under seal, stems from a Dec. 18 federal appeals court ruling that required an unidentified company, owned by an unidentified foreign country, to turn over information to a grand jury.

The dispute is believed to be tied to Mueller’s probe, although public information about the case doesn’t mention him or the investigation. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction by President Donald Trump.

The grand jury dispute has been shrouded in mystery, in part because officials closed an entire floor of a federal courthouse in Washington during arguments on Dec. 7. Politico linked the case to Mueller in October, citing a conversation overheard by a reporter in the court clerk’s office.

The appeals court order described the company only as a “corporation” owned by “Country A.” The three-judge panel rejected contentions that a federal sovereign-immunity law shielded the company from having to comply.

The new filing asks Chief Justice John Roberts to temporarily block that ruling
. The Supreme Court’s online docket includes the number of the appeals court case but doesn’t say who submitted the application.

So, who is the corporation in "Country A"? Vox's Andrew Prokop has a few ideas:

If this is in fact Mueller’s grand jury we’re talking about, it certainly is intriguing that they want information from a corporation owned by a foreign country.

Considering what’s been reported about Mueller’s focus so far, there appear to be two particularly likely possibilities here: 
A Russian company: For obvious reasons, this could be a state-owned Russian company. The Steele dossier made various uncorroborated claims about planned payoffs to Trump associates involving the oil company Rosneft. Trump transition adviser Erik Prince met the manager of a Russian sovereign wealth fund in Seychelles. There have been claims that the bank VTB was involved in the Trump Tower Moscow talks, and the chair of a different bank, VEB, met with Jared Kushner during the transition. (None of these companies have been accused of wrongdoing in connection with the Mueller probe.) 
A Gulf state company: Many reports this year have made clear Mueller is scrutinizing money trails and influence operations from Gulf states — the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are said to have come under scrutiny. It’s unclear why exactly Mueller has focused on this, and no charges have been brought on the topic just yet.

Intriguingly, the Daily Beast’s Erin Banco recently reported that Mueller is soon expected to issue “court filings” on two intriguing topics: “Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influenceAmerican politics,” and “Trump associates’ conversations about sanctions relief” for Russia. Perhaps this sealed appeal is related to either topic.

We don't know.  But whoever it is, they are now turning to the US Supreme Court in order to avoid handing evidence over to Mueller.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Russian To Judgment, Con't

News that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone today, but yes, the Russians were helping Green Party 2016 candidate Dr. Jill Stein in order to help Donald Trump, and it worked.

Two days before the 2016 presidential election, an Instagram account called @woke_blacks posted a message in support of long-shot Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“The excuse that a lost Black vote for Hillary is a Trump win is bs,” it read. “It could be late, but y’all might want to support Jill Stein instead.”

According to a report commissioned by the Senate, the account was a fake, part of the Russian campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.

The report was one of two that leaked this week saying the Russian effort to disrupt the election specifically targeted black voters and harnessed America’s top social media platforms. But the reports contained another finding that was largely overlooked — the Russians also focused on boosting Stein’s candidacy through social media posts like the one from @woke_blacks.
Building support for Stein was one of a “roster of themes” the Moscow-sanctioned internet trolls “turned to repeatedly” in their effort to disrupt the election, according to a research team led by the New Knowledge cybersecurity firm. The researchers also found that the campaign to bolster Stein gained in intensity in the final days of the presidential campaign and largely targeted African-American voters.

The reports, prepared by separate groups of cyber experts, add to the growing body of evidence that the Russians worked to boost the Stein campaign as part of the effort to siphon support away from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and tilt the election to Trump.

An NBC News analysis found that Russians working under the direction of the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based firm run by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, tweeted the phrase “Jill Stein” over 1,000 times around the time of the election.

The posts were often accompanied by variations of the same hashtag, “Grow a spine and vote Jill Stein.”

“This hasn’t gotten enough attention,” said Andrew Weiss, a Russian expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, referring to Moscow’s efforts to promote Stein.

“The fact that the Russian propaganda apparatus helped create awareness and support for her candidacy and promoted her candidacy is critical to our understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“The Russians played this extremely adroitly,” Weiss added.

Never forget that Jill Stein's vote totals in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were higher than the difference that Trump won by in those states.  Those votes made Trump the winner in the Electoral College.  The Russians knew just where to hit and when in order to maximize this advantage to help Trump, and it gave him the Oval Office.

And yes, the Russians were behind it.  Period.  They helped Trump steal the election.

Let's not forget this.

That Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

Trump's acting Attorney General, Matt Whitaker, was installed to "save" Trump from the twin threats of both Robert Mueller's Special Counsel investigation, and from the Southern District of New York investigation.  Whitaker so far has done neither, and that has not made his boss happy at all.

President Donald Trump has at least twice in the past few weeks vented to his acting attorney general, angered by federal prosecutors who referenced the President's actions in crimes his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. 
Trump was frustrated, the sources said, that prosecutors Matt Whitaker oversees filed charges that made Trump look bad. None of the sources suggested that the President directed Whitaker to stop the investigation, but rather lashed out at what he felt was an unfair situation. 
The first known instance took place when Trump made his displeasure clear to acting attorney general Matt Whitaker after Cohen pleaded guilty November 29 to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Whitaker had only been on the job a few weeks following Trump's firing of Jeff Sessions. 
Over a week later, Trump again voiced his anger at Whitaker after prosecutors in Manhattan officially implicated the President in a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign -- something Trump fiercely maintains isn't an illegal campaign contribution. Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn't being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue
The previously unreported discussions between Trump and Whitaker described by multiple sources familiar with the matter underscore the extent to which the President firmly believes the attorney general of the United States should serve as his personal protector. The episodes also offer a glimpse into the unsettling dynamic of a sitting president talking to his attorney general about investigations he's potentially implicated in.

This is the most serious interference yet by Trump.  He's all but asking Whitaker to interfere in not one but two investigations and end them.  Whitaker can't remain in the position, and Bill Barr can't be confirmed for his views on ending the Mueller probe too.

The obstruction of justice in in plain sight.

Shutdown Meltdown

Bit of a break to recharge the batteries here as the year ends, so light posting until the new year.  Don't worry, I'll have my regular prediction scorecard and New Year's predictions up, and if anything major happens I'll weigh in.

Right now though, the federal government is shut down, so who knows?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Last Call For Scrooged At Christmas

As a shutdown looms tonight after House Republicans adjourned without a deal, the Trump regime has decided that if Republicans won't take food out of the mouths of families and continue turning America into a Dickensian workhouse nightmare, than by God they will.  Work for your supper, peasant!

The Trump administration unveiled a plan Thursday to force hundreds of thousands more Americans to hold jobs if they want to keep receiving food stamps, pursuing through executive powers what it could not achieve in Congress.

The country’s food assistance program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, already requires most adults without dependents to work if they collect food stamps for more than three months in a three-year period. But USDA regulations allow states to waive the requirement in areas with unemployment rates that are at least 20 percent greater than the national rate.

The USDA is now proposing that states could waive the requirement only in areas where unemployment is above 7 percent. The current national unemployment rate stands at 3.7 percent.

Approximately 2.8 million able-bodied recipients without children or an ailing person in their care were not working in 2016, according to the USDA’s latest numbers. Roughly 755,000 live in areas that stand to lose the waivers.

The Trump administration unveiled a plan Thursday to force hundreds of thousands more Americans to hold jobs if they want to keep receiving food stamps, pursuing through executive powers what it could not achieve in Congress.

The country’s food assistance program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, already requires most adults without dependents to work if they collect food stamps for more than three months in a three-year period. But USDA regulations allow states to waive the requirement in areas with unemployment rates that are at least 20 percent greater than the national rate.

The USDA is now proposing that states could waive the requirement only in areas where unemployment is above 7 percent. The current national unemployment rate stands at 3.7 percent.

Approximately 2.8 million able-bodied recipients without children or an ailing person in their care were not working in 2016, according to the USDA’s latest numbers. Roughly 755,000 live in areas that stand to lose the waivers.

You can either starve and be unemployed, or work and make too much money to be on SNAP, but either way it's not the Trump regime's problem.  Dead Americans don't consumer resources, you know.  We're already to the point where tens of millions of Americans are buying food at dollar stores because there are no grocery stores where they live, canned foods that are less healthy and actually more expensive than grocery stores, because that's all they can afford on a $7.25 an hour job.

But remember, Republicans refuse to raise the minimum wage, they want to throw millions off food stamps and Obamacare and everything else so you can experience the dignity of poverty.

Merry Christmas.  Work or starve.

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