Thursday, February 14, 2019

Last Call For Barr None

Despite serious misgivings about him interfering with the Mueller investigation directly on order of Donald Trump, William Barr has been confirmed by the Senate as Attorney General on a party line vote.

William P. Barr was confirmed Thursday as the U.S. attorney general, putting him in command of the Justice Department at one of the most politically charged moments in its history.

Senators voted 54 to 45, mostly along party lines, to confirm Barr, who will now supervise special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s inquiry into whether President Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Among Barr’s first major decisions will be what to tell the public about the results of that investigation — a choice that will force the attorney general to balance the public’s insatiable appetite for information, Justice Department policies that favor secrecy and a president unlikely to be satisfied with anything but total exoneration.

People familiar with the matter said Barr also has all but settled on a new second-in-command , as Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller, is expected to leave soon. Barr has not disclosed any names publicly.

While Republicans hailed Barr’s confirmation, Democrats and left-leaning advocacy groups said they remained wary of Trump’s appointee, who at his confirmation hearing notably declined to promise that he would release Mueller’s report. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement Thursday that she considered Barr’s lack of commitment to releasing Mueller’s report “disqualifying,” and she worried he would be unable to stand up to Trump.

“While I opposed Bill Barr’s nomination, it’s my hope that he’ll remember he is the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer,” Feinstein said.

The vote’s outcome was unsurprising. Trump’s nominee had cleared a procedural hurdle earlier this week by a 55-to-44 vote— even winning a few Democratic votes in an era gripped by partisanship. On Thursday, three Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for Barr: Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.).

My prediction remains: America will never see the Mueller report, only that it "clears Donald Trump of any wrongdoing".  The notion that Barr will be transparent in any way is laughable, and Trump will make it very clear that if the report is leaked, people will go to prison.  Barr will authorize an "executive summary" of the findings and they won't be the worth the toner they're printed with.

The Democrats will howl, and it may even become a major campaign issue, but the report will disappear.

Now, the New York state and Southern District of New York federal investigation into Trump, well, those were always going to be the far more dangerous ones for him.

Ball Picked Up And Shipped Home In Two Days

Amazon is bailing on its NYC "HQ2" project as a growing number of local officials were lining up to block, slow down, or even kill the expansion because of its $3 billion in subsidies cost to NYC taxpayers for a trillion-dollar corporation that could actually afford to build there if it wanted to.  The Atlantic's Derek Thompson:

Amazon said on Thursday that it will cancel its plans to add a second corporate headquarters in New York City. The company had pledged to build a campus in Queen’s Long Island City in exchange for $3 billion in subsidies.

In a statement, Amazon blamed local politicians for the reversal. “For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term,” the statement read. “A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project.”

In a period of growing antipathy toward billionaires, Amazon’s corporate welfare haul struck many—including me—as a gratuitous gift to a trillion-dollar company that was probably going to keep adding thousands of jobs to the New York region, anyway. The company has more 5,000 employees in the five boroughs, including 2,500 at a Staten Island fulfillment center and at least one thousand more in the Manhattan West office building.

At first, Amazon seemed to withstand the backlash, comforted by polls showing that the deal enjoyed broad support. A recent poll from Siena College Research Institute found 56 percent of voters statewide support the Amazon deal, including a majority of union households and people between the age of 18 and 34.

But over time, Amazon’s patience wore thin. Executives were reportedly livid at the nomination of Queens state Senator Michael N. Gianaris, an outspoken opponent of the deal, to a Public Authorities Control Board that would give him power to “effectively kill the project.” Amazon leaders were grilled at a February City Council meeting about the company’s resistance toward unions and the working conditions of its fulfillment centers. (By contrast, Virginia—the other winner of the HQ2 sweepstakes—has embraced Amazon with open arms, and the state has already authorized $750 million in state subsidies for its Crystal City headquarters.) Last week, The Washington Post (which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos) reported that the retailer was having second thoughts about its New York campus, given the level of opposition from local politicians, advocacy groups, and the media.

Within a week, the company officially canceled the project.

The company said it does not plan to reopen the HQ2 search. “We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville,” the statement said.

The most obvious losers in Amazon’s reversal are real-estate speculators. In November, The Wall Street Journal reported that brokers embarked on a “condo gold rush” in anticipation of the Queens campus construction. “This is like a gift from the gods for the Long Island City condo market,” one realtor told the Journal. Alas, the gods, like the billionaires, giveth and taketh away.

But it is not clear that either New York City or Amazon will suffer with this announcement. In fact, it is more likely that neither the city’s nor the company’s economic trajectories will be materially altered. New York City doesn’t need an Amazon headquarters to be the global capital of advertising and retail, and Amazon doesn’t need New York subsidies to expand its footprint in the city.

It was always going to be a mess.  The real issue is affordable housing, which Amazon only would have made worse and did.  NYC was happy to screw over its taxpayers and citizens, and Amazon was happy enough to do the same if NYC didn't play ball.

Both are at fault here, and I sure hope other cities around the country pay attention.

Meat The Press Meets Russian To Judgment

Just a reminder that all major media outlets in America are not a "free press" but corporate-owned producers of news as a product, and there's no more vivid reminder of this than billionaire Trump buddy Tom Barrack defending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Sultan's involvement in the death of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi by saying the US has done "equal or worse" acts of murder.

Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a billionaire real estate investor who is one of President Trump’s closest confidants, apologized Wednesday after defending Saudi Arabia in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and saying the United States has committed “equal or worse” atrocities.

Barrack’s remarks on Khashoggi, made Tuesday at a summit in Abu Dhabi organized by the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute think tank, were first reported by Dubai’s Gulf News.

“Whatever happened in Saudi Arabia, the atrocities in America are equal or worse to the atrocities in Saudi Arabia,” Barrack told the crowd at the Milken Institute’s MENA Summit, according to audio provided by Gulf News reporter Ed Clowes

“The atrocities in any autocratic country are dictated by the rule of law,” Barrack continued. “So, for us to dictate what we think is the moral code there — when we have a young man [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] and a regime that’s trying to push themselves into 2030 — I think is a mistake.”

In a statement Wednesday, Barrack called the murder of Khashoggi “atrocious” and “inexcusable” and apologized for “not making this clear in my comments earlier this week.”

But he appeared to suggest responsibility for the killing should not rest on Saudi leadership.

“I feel strongly that the bad acts of a few should not be interpreted as the failure of an entire sovereign kingdom,” Barrack said, maintaining that “rule of law and monarchies across the Middle East are confusing to the West.”

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist and prominent critic of Mohammed’s policies, was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, Turkish and Saudi prosecutors say.

These are the words of a man who has enough money to feel comfortable enough to believe governments killing journalists not only are an acceptable part of international business realpolitik, but that they should continue to be. And yes, Barrack's real estate ties go back to a four-decade plus relationship with the House of Saud.

But let's not forget why Barrack might want to keep a low profile these days...

Barrack, the executive chairman of real estate firm Colony NorthStar, has been a friend of Trump’s for more than three decades.

He was also a top fundraiser during Trump’s 2016 campaign and raised more than $100 million as chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, which is under investigation by federal prosecutors.


Mr. Barrack is soon to get a visit from our friends at the Justice Department.

It's all connected, folks.


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