Sunday, December 2, 2018

Last Call For Heading Towards The Cliff

Republicans have now lost 40 House seats, and were destroyed in suburban districts across the country, but they have no plans to change a thing.  It's not like they can however, as they're all aboard the Trump train, heading for a cliff, and there's nothing they could do to stop it.

With a brutal finality, the extent of the Republicans’ collapse in the House came into focus last week as more races slipped away from them and their losses neared 40 seats.

Yet nearly a month after the election, there has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout.

President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy.

And neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Representative Kevin McCarthy, the incoming minority leader, have stepped forward to confront why the party’s once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it — and what can be done to win them back.

The quandary, some Republicans acknowledge, is that the party’s leaders are constrained from fully grappling with the damage Mr. Trump inflicted with those voters, because he remains popular with the party’s core supporters and with the conservatives who will dominate the caucus even more in the next Congress.

But now a cadre of G.O.P. lawmakers are speaking out and urging party officials to come to terms with why their 23-seat majority unraveled so spectacularly and Democrats gained the most seats they had since 1974.

“There has been close to no introspection in the G.O.P. conference and really no coming to grips with the shifting demographics that get to why we lost those seats,” said Representative Elise Stefanik, an upstate New York Republican who is planning to repurpose her political action committee to help Republican women win primaries in 2020. “I’m very frustrated and I know other members are frustrated.”

Ms. Stefanik said there had been “robust private conversations” but she urged Republicans to conduct a formal assessment of their midterm effort.

The G.O.P. response, or lack thereof, to the midterm backlash stands in stark contrast to the shake-ups and soul-searching that followed its loss of Congress in 2006 and consecutive presidential defeats in 2012.

House officials indicate that they will pursue an after-action report, but it is unclear how far it will go in diagnosing why they lost the popular vote by more raw votes than any time in history.

Many of the lawmakers who lost their races or did not run again say the party has a profound structural challenge that incumbents are unwilling to fully face: Mr. Trump’s deep toxicity among moderate voters, especially women.

With most of the Republicans who lost hailing from suburban seats, those who remaining represent red-hued districts where the president is still well-liked.

“Now the party is Trump,” said Representative Tom Rooney of Florida, who at 48 decided to retire, “so we follow his lead.”

Right off the cliff, into oblivion.  The next two years will decide the fate of America, whether we finally decide to purge the country of Trumpism and the GOP, or head off the cliff with them.

Time to pick a side, folks.

Bibi Busted Bigly

After more than eight months of investigation and three separate bribery probes and previous recommendations of corruption charges on two of them, Israeli police are finally to the point of recommending bribery charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara in the third and biggest case, a bribery scandal involving Israel's biggest telecom firm in exchange for press coverage over 15 years.

Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on bribery charges related to a corruption case involving Israel’s telecom giant, prompting immediate calls for his resignation.

Police say their investigation has established an evidentiary foundation to charge Netanyahu and his wife Sara with accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. The case revolves around suspicions that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister on Bezeq’s subsidiary news website, Walla.

Police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu on corruption charges in two other cases. One involves accepting gifts from billionaire friends, and the second revolves around alleged offers of advantageous legislation for a newspaper in return for positive coverage.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, dismissing the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by the media.

“The police recommendations regarding me and my wife don’t surprise anyone,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “These recommendations were decided upon and leaked even before the investigation began.”

The Bezeq case, known as Case 4000, is the most serious of all those of which Netanyahu has been accused. Two of his top confidants have turned state witnesses and are believed to have provided police with incriminating evidence. Netanyahu held the government’s communications portfolio until last year and oversaw regulation in the field. Former journalists at the Walla news site have attested to being pressured to refrain from negative reporting of Netanyahu.

Police say the investigation, which included the testimony of 60 witnesses, revealed that Netanyahu and Bezeq boss Shaul Elovitch engaged in a “bribe-based relationship.”

From 2012 to 2017 the prime minister and his associates “blatantly intervened” on a near-daily basis in the Walla news site, using the connections with Elovitch to influence appointments there and to promote flattering articles and pictures while quelling critical stories of the prime minister and his family, police said.

Police are also recommending charges be brought against Elovitch and members of his family.

Needless to say, this being the third strike against Bibi, the calls for his immediate resignation are now louder than ever.

“The most serious bribery case yet leaves no room for doubt: a prime minister who is accused of the most serious offense for a public servant in the Israeli rule book cannot keep serving one minute longer,” said Tamar Zandberg, head of the dovish opposition Meretz party.

“The prime minister has no moral mandate to keep his seat and must resign today. Israel must go to elections.”

Other opposition figures, including opposition leader Tzipi Livni, quickly joined in the call for Netanyahu to resign.

Whether or not Bibi and the Likud Party can survive is still in the air, but at this point Israel's Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, has been dragging his feet, waiting for police recommendations in all three cases before deciding on any charges.  However, that time has now come.

We'll see if any indictments come or not.  If so, Bibi's most likely toast.

Exit question:  Will Trump step in and interfere on behalf of Netanyahu?  Don't be surprised if that eventually comes to light.

Sunday Long Read: The Boys Club

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from the Miami Herald, where Emily Michot and Julie K. Brown give us the history of Jeffrey Epstein, the Florida hedge fund millionaire who specialized in trafficking underage girls for sex parties.  The FBI had Epstein dead to rights, and then an extraordinary deal was struck where he got 13 months and the FBI investigation quashed.  The man behind the deal?

Trump's current Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta.

On a muggy October morning in 2007, Miami’s top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, had a breakfast appointment with a former colleague, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Lefkowitz.

It was an unusual meeting for the then-38-year-old prosecutor, a rising Republican star who had served in several White House posts before being named U.S. attorney in Miami by President George W. Bush.

Instead of meeting at the prosecutor’s Miami headquarters, the two men — both with professional roots in the prestigious Washington law firm of Kirkland & Ellis — convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away. For Lefkowitz, 44, a U.S. special envoy to North Korea and corporate lawyer, the meeting was critical.

His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found.

The eccentric hedge fund manager, whose friends included former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, was also suspected of trafficking minor girls, often from overseas, for sex parties at his other homes in Manhattan, New Mexico and the Caribbean, FBI and court records show.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.

But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.

The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.

As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it.

This is the story of how Epstein, bolstered by unlimited funds and represented by a powerhouse legal team, was able to manipulate the criminal justice system, and how his accusers, still traumatized by their pasts, believe they were betrayed by the very prosecutors who pledged to protect them.

“I don’t think anyone has been told the truth about what Jeffrey Epstein did,’’ said one of Epstein’s victims, Michelle Licata, now 30. “He ruined my life and a lot of girls’ lives. People need to know what he did and why he wasn’t prosecuted so it never happens again.”

Now President Trump’s secretary of labor, Acosta, 49, oversees a massive federal agency that provides oversight of the country’s labor laws, including human trafficking. Until he was reported to be eliminated on Thursday, a day after this story posted online, Acosta also had been included on lists of possible replacements for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned under pressure earlier this month.
Acosta did not respond to numerous requests for an interview or answer queries through email. 
But court records reveal details of the negotiations and the role that Acosta would play in arranging the deal, which scuttled the federal probe into a possible international sex trafficking operation. Among other things, Acosta allowed Epstein’s lawyers unusual freedoms in dictating the terms of the non-prosecution agreement.

“The damage that happened in this case is unconscionable,” said Bradley Edwards, a former state prosecutor who represents some of Epstein’s victims. “How in the world, do you, the U.S. attorney, engage in a negotiation with a criminal defendant, basically allowing that criminal defendant to write up the agreement?”

As a result, neither the victims — nor even the judge — would know how many girls Epstein allegedly sexually abused between 2001 and 2005, when his underage sex activities were first uncovered by police. Police referred the case to the FBI a year later, when they began to suspect that their investigation was being undermined by the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office.

This is such a damning piece on Acosta that he should be forced to resign and disbarred for life, even with him being knocked out of the running for Jeff Sessions's job, and that's before we get to Epstein himself, a monster who deserves the deepest abyss for eternity.  How Acosta was confirmed with this deal on his record shouldn't be a mystery at all, the most corrupt American regime in history is just doing business as usual.

Deportation Nation, Con't

Somebody at the Trump regime (probably Mad Dog Mattis) figured out that Republicans in the House and Senate might actually be forced to do something if the thousands of Trump's military troops on the border actually violate Posse Comitatus rather than twiddling their thumbs for another month or two, so apparently the end run around that is having Homeland Security deputize law enforcement from just about every other federal agency to do the heavy lifting.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has requested the deployment of civilian law enforcement officers from several other Cabinet departments to the U.S.-Mexico border as early as next week, according to an internal memo obtained by POLITICO.

In what current and former U.S. officials said would be an unprecedented move, the officers — who in most cases have duties entirely unrelated to border security — would help Border Patrol agents repel what the memo calls “migrant caravans originating from Central America.”

The request suggests that personnel with such assignments as guarding diplomats, patrolling national parks, and protecting nuclear weapons might effectively “become Customs and Border Protection personnel,
” as one former Justice Department official put it, with the power to arrest border-crossers.

Although the White House position on the request is unclear, such an action would be the latest extraordinary Trump administration effort to crack down on border security amid what President Donald Trump has increasingly cast as an immigration crisis. In particular, Trump has recently depicted a northbound migrant caravan as an attempted “invasion” of the U.S. But there is little evidence that existing border officials are unable to prevent members of the caravan, currently marooned in Mexico, from entering the country.

A senior DHS official who confirmed the memo’s authenticity said the Justice Department has already made a commitment to dispatch officers to the border, and that DHS is actively “working with” other departments named in the memo to determine the availability of law enforcement resources.

The memo was sent to leaders of the departments of State, Labor, Energy, Transportation, Interior and Justice.

In recent months, Trump has ordered thousands of active duty military troops to the border. But they are prevented by a law known as the Posse Comitatus Act from participating in searches or making arrests. Civilians at the departments contacted by Nielsen would not face such a restriction.

The administration seems to recognize that under Posse Comitatus … the military can’t do something enforcement-wise. So they’re saying, ‘Let’s grab as many law enforcement people and bring them to the border,’” said Leon Fresco, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation under the Obama administration.

Because I'm sure the Diplomatic Protection Service really wants to be in San Ysidro lobbing tear gas at kids.

Look, I understand the need for a secure border and all, but at this point there's no way Trump's regime should be given benefit of the doubt on anything.  This will be at best a cynical waste o executive branch resources on things they wren't trained to do, and at worst, a ready-made goon squad or Trump to harass anyone darker than a paper bag with.

This is going to be a disaster.

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