Thursday, December 13, 2018

Last Call For The Pension Dimension

Kentucky's public pension law that would have wrecked public employee benefits and kicked teachers off pensions entirely (while of course keeping lawmakers on it) has been unanimously struck down by Kentucky's Supreme Court.

The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down a controversial law that would have reduced retirement benefits for public employees, most notably by ending traditional pensions for school teachers hired after Jan. 1.

In a decision written by Justice Daniel Venters of Somerset, the court ruled on the most narrow of terms, finding that Republican legislative leaders erred by not giving the pension bill the constitutionally required three public readings in the Senate and House chambers before passing it last March.

Instead, the legislature hastily converted a sewage treatment bill into a pension bill on the 57th day of the 60-day session and then rushed it through final chamber votes in a matter of hours with no public review and little chance for debate. The sewage treatment bill already had received most of its necessary public readings, lawmakers said at the time.

That maneuver violated a process meant to provide transparency at the Capitol, the court said Thursday. Public readings of a bill over three separate days should give lawmakers and citizens a chance to understand what legislation is on the table, the court said.

“In deference to the General Assembly, we necessarily stop short of providing a complete and precise definition of what must occur to qualify as a reading of the bill, but we are well-settled in the conviction that what occurred here falls far short of the requirements,” Venters wrote.

The unanimous high court decision is a resounding defeat for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and GOP legislative leaders, who have argued that an overhaul of Kentucky’s pension systems is essential for eliminating the state’s $37.9 billion public pension shortfall, which is one of the nation’s worst.

It was a victory for opponents, led by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who say the pension plans gradually will strengthen if the state simply sticks with its new-found commitment to full funding after roughly two decades of under-funding. And they say Bevin failed to show exactly how cuts in retirement benefits would produce the billions in savings that he touts.

Bevin screwed up so badly on this he had teachers protesting in front of the State Capitol.   His tax austerity plan blew up in his face, and now his pension wrecking plan is dead least until the the next general assembly session in 2019, but Bevin may not have the votes now after November's GOP losses.

We'll see what happens, but next year's election is going to be a national fight, I can guarantee it.

It's Mueller Time...Around The World

A big scoop from Erin Banco at the Daily Beast: the Mueller investigation is set to indict foreign nationals from countries that tried to influence the Trump campaign, and it's a whole lot bigger than just Russia.

Over the past year, the indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas have largely been connected, in one way or another, to Russia. But now, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office is preparing to reveal to the public a different side of his investigation. In court filings that are set to drop in early 2019, prosecutors will begin to unveil Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influence American politics, three sources familiar with this side of the probe told The Daily Beast.

In other words, the “Russia investigation” is set to go global.

While one part of the Mueller team has indicted Russian spies and troll-masters, another cadre has been spending its time focusing on how Middle Eastern countries pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump’s administration. Various witnesses affiliated with the Trump campaign have been questioned about their conversations with deeply connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, according to people familiar with the probe. Topics in those meetings ranged from the use of social-media manipulation to help install Trump in the White House to the overthrow of the regime in Iran.

Now, according to those same sources, the Special Counsel’s Office is ready to outline what cooperating witnesses have told them about foreigners’ plans to help Trump win the presidency. Two sources with knowledge of the probe said Mueller’s team has for months discussed the possibility of issuing new charges on this side of the investigation.

“If this is going to be unveiled, this would be like the surfacing of the submarine but on the other plank which we haven’t seen,” said Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney. “I guess what Mueller has to date has turned out to be pretty rich and detailed and more than we anticipated. This could turn out to be a rich part of the overall story.”

The switch in focus comes as Mueller winds down cooperation with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who participated in 19 interviews with the special counsel’s team. In often-heavily redacted court documents made public over the last two weeks, the Special Counsel’s Office hinted at ways in which Flynn helped with its investigation into links between Trumpworld figures and the Russian government.

But Flynn was also involved in conversations with representatives and influential individuals from other foreign governments, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel—encounters The Daily Beast has reported over the last several months. Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller could bring new details about the scope of the special counsel’s probe into how individuals from those countries offered not only to help Trump win the presidential election, but also how they sought to influence foreign policy in the early days of the administration.

ZVTS readers shouldn't be surprised by this, I've told you this was coming for months.  The story first surfaced in June 2017, but really gelled in March 2018.

Hey look, it's our old friend Erik Prince, Blackwater founder and brother of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos!  If  the Times story seems familiar, that's because it should be. The CNN story that got retracted was really the other half of last year's Washington Post story from April on Prince attending this secret early January 2016 meeting with the Russians in the Seychelles.

Now we know who the UAE's broker was, George Nader...and he's cooperating with Mueller over possibly extremely illegal foreign campaign contributions to Trump. Kudos to the New York Times for putting these together.

Prince runs as a fixer for this meeting where money flows to Trump, and his sister ends up in Trump's cabinet.  Oh, and Prince gets access to the Pentagon to sell his latest mercenary war scheme just as the drums of war start up for North Korea.

Now imagine what Mueller's team knows about Nader, Prince, and DeVos, folks.  If Nader is getting a deal to talk to Mueller, the information he has is valuable to his investigation.  That means it's high-level stuff, like say, the Russians sending money to Trump's campaign through the UAE, and expecting things in return.

George Nader is the key to this side of the collusion and influence game.  He's been cooperating with Mueller for close to a year now., and yes, that includes Erik Prince's attempt to set up a Trump backchannel to Putin through the UAE.

Turns out that Robert Mueller knows all about that meeting because Nader is cooperating with Mueller's team, and that means there was far more to this January 2016 meeting than just a friendly chat.  We now know what that additional info is and what Nader is providing: it was a secret attempt at a backchannel between Trump and Putin and Nader was a witness to it all.

It also means that Prince lied to Congress straight up about the meeting when he testified.  Perjury is the kind of thing that puts you in federal prison.  Remember, Republicans impeached and attempted to remove Bill Clinton from office over his perjury.  We'll see what happens to Prince, but at this point, assume Robert Mueller has a nice box for him to live in for a while.

You, the ZVTS readers, knew about this nine months ago.  I told you then it was going to bear fruit, and it looks like the grim harvest is coming next month.

Stay tuned.

BREAKING: Russian Spy Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

Russian spy Maria Butina's plea deal went through today and in a federal courtroom she pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States.

A Russian gun rights activist pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring with a senior Russian official to infiltrate the conservative movement in the United States as an agent for the Kremlin from 2015 until her arrest in July 2017.

Maria Butina, 30, became the first Russian national convicted of seeking to influence U.S. policy in the run-up and through the 2016 election as a foreign agent, agreeing to cooperate in a plea deal with U.S. investigators in exchange for less prison time.

Butina admitted to working with an American political operative and under the direction of a former Russian senator and deputy governor of Russia’s central bank to forge bonds with officials at the National Rifle Association, conservative leaders, and 2016 U.S. presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, whose rise to the Oval Office she presciently predicted to her Russian contact.

“Guilty,” Butina said with a light accent in entering her plea with U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan at a hearing Thursday morning in federal court in Washington.

As part of her plea, Butina admitted seeking to establish and use “unofficial lines of communication with Americans having influence over U.S. politics” for the benefit of the Russian government, through a person fitting the description of sanctioned Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, prosecutor Erik Kenerson said.

The court did not set a sentencing date pending Butina’s ongoing cooperation with prosecutors but set another hearing for Feb. 12 on the status of her case.

Butina is expected to provide evidence against a Republican Party consultant with whom she had a romantic relationship and worked closely with after they met while he visited Moscow in 2013. The operative, previously named as Paul Erickson, is a longtime GOP political advisor from South Dakota who managed the 1992 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan.

Here's your Russian collusion, right the hell there, and the NRA was in on it.

Merry Christmas, Donald.

The Turtle Gets Hemped In

After years of pressure from Kentucky's junior GOP Senator Rand Paul, Kentucky's senior senator, GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has finally given in on legalizing hemp across the US.

The US Congress on Wednesday approved the legalization of large-scale hemp cultivation and its removal from a list of controlled substances.

“This is the culmination of a lot of work by a number of us here in Washington but really the victory is for the growers, processors, manufacturers and consumers who stand to benefit from this growing market place,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

The measure was supported by both Republicans and Democrats who argued it was an opportunity for American farmers.

It appears in a major law on agriculture that was adopted by a clear majority in the House of Representatives (369-47) after comfortably passing the Senate (87-13) the day before.

The law has not yet been signed by President Donald Trump.

“I’ll be happy to loan him my hemp pen for the occasion,” joked McConnell, a conservative from the state of Kentucky who had vigorously defended the measure after already pushing for the authorization of pilot programs in 2014.

The real reason that it took so long is that McConnell didn't want President Obama getting credit for signing a bill into law that helped rural farmers in places like Kentucky.  Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has been pushing industrial hemp legalization legislation for even longer than Rand Paul, but the bill never got past the Senate Judiciary Committee while Obama was President.

Trump comes along though, and suddenly we have a smooth trip through in the lame duck session.

Anyway, it is what it is, and Kentucky farmers need a cash crop to replace tobacco.  They could have had it four years ago, but the President was black or something.


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