Friday, February 19, 2021

Last Call For Prince Of Darkness, Con't

Our old friend Erik Prince is back in the news, former Trump Miseducation minister Betsy DeVos's brother has been a very, very naughty boy.

Erik Prince, the former head of the security contractor Blackwater Worldwide and a prominent supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, violated a United Nations arms embargo on Libya by sending weapons to a militia commander who was attempting to overthrow the internationally backed government, according to U.N. investigators.

A confidential U.N. report obtained by The New York Times and delivered by investigators to the Security Council on Thursday reveals how Mr. Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries, armed with attack aircraft, gunboats and cyberwarfare capabilities, to eastern Libya at the height of a major battle in 2019.

As part of the operation, which the report said cost $80 million, the mercenaries also planned to form a hit squad that could track down and kill selected Libyan commanders.

Mr. Prince, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s education secretary, became a symbol of the excesses of privatized American military force when his Blackwater contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

In the past decade he has relaunched himself as an executive who strikes deals — sometimes for minerals, other times involving military force — in war-addled but resource-rich countries, mostly in Africa.

During the Trump administration, Mr. Prince was a generous donor and a staunch ally of the president, often in league with figures like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone as they sought to undermine Mr. Trump’s critics. And Mr. Prince came under scrutiny from the Trump-Russia inquiry over his meeting with a Russian banker in 2017.

Mr. Prince refused to cooperate with the U.N. inquiry; his lawyer did not respond to questions about the report. Last year the lawyer, Matthew L. Schwartz, told the Times that Mr. Prince “had nothing whatsoever” to do with military operations in Libya.

The report raises the question of whether Mr. Prince played on his ties to the Trump administration to pull off the Libya operation.

It describes how a friend and former partner of Mr. Prince traveled to Jordan to buy surplus, American-made Cobra helicopters from the Jordanian military — a sale that ordinarily would require American government permission, according to military experts. The friend, assured officials in Jordan that he had “clearances from everywhere” and his team’s work had been approved “at the highest level,” the report found.

But the Jordanians, unimpressed by those claims, stopped the sale, forcing the mercenaries to source new aircraft from South Africa.

A Western official, speaking to the Times on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss confidential work, said the investigators had also obtained phone records showing that Mr. Prince’s friend and former partner made several calls to the main White House switchboard in late July 2019, after the mercenary operation ran into trouble.

The accusation that Mr. Prince violated the U.N.’s arms embargo on Libya exposes him to possible U.N. sanctions, including a travel ban and a freeze on his bank accounts and other assets — though such an outcome is uncertain.

Mr. Prince is not the only one to have been accused of violating the decade-old arms embargo on Libya. Rampant meddling by regional and global powers has fueled years of fighting, drawing mercenaries and other profiteers seeking riches from a war that has brought only death and misery to a great many Libyans.

The sheer breadth of evidence in the latest U.N. report — 121 pages of code names, cover stories, offshore bank accounts and secretive weapons transfers spanning eight countries, not to mention a brief appearance by a Hollywood friend of Mr. Prince — provides a glimpse into the secretive world of international mercenaries
Let's be honest, the guy's actual job title is "James Bond Supervillain".  And if the UN has evidence of Prince violating Libya sanctions, then the US has it...and the Justice Department.
Have fun, Erik.

The Day Hell Froze Over In Texas, Con't

Dangerous deregulation and Republican greed resulted in a catastrophe in Texas as millions remains without power and water as more record low temperatures are headed for the Lone Star State, but the reality is things got so bad this week in Texas that the state's entire power grid almost completely collapsed, and would have been down for several months.

Texas’ power grid was “seconds and minutes” away from a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months, officials with the entity that operates the grid said Thursday.

As millions of customers throughout the state begin to have power restored after days of massive blackouts, officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the power grid that covers most of the state, said Texas was dangerously close to a worst-case scenario: uncontrolled blackouts across the state.

The quick decision that grid operators made in the early hours of Monday morning to begin what was intended to be rolling blackouts — but lasted days for millions of Texans — occurred because operators were seeing warning signs that massive amounts of energy supply was dropping off the grid.

As natural gas fired plants, utility scale wind power and coal plants tripped offline due to the extreme cold brought by the winter storm, the amount of power supplied to the grid to be distributed across the state fell rapidly. At the same time, demand was increasing as consumers and businesses turned up the heat and stayed inside to avoid the weather.

“It needed to be addressed immediately," said Bill Magness, president of ERCOT. “It was seconds and minutes [from possible failure] given the amount of generation that was coming off the system.”

Grid operators had to act quickly to cut the amount of power distributed, Magness said, because if they had waited, “then what happens in that next minute might be that three more [power generation] units come offline, and then you’re sunk.”

Magness said on Wednesday that if operators had not acted in that moment, the state could have suffered blackouts that “could have occurred for months,” and left Texas in an “indeterminately long” crisis.

While generators rapidly dropped off the grid as the weather worsened, operators monitored the difference between the supply of power on the grid and the demand for that power. As supply dwindled and demand grew, the margin narrowed to more and more dangerous levels, forcing grid operators to enact emergency protocols to either increase supply or decrease demand.

The worst case scenario: Demand for power outstrips the supply of power generation available on the grid, causing equipment to catch fire, substations to blow and power lines to go down.

If the grid had gone totally offline, the physical damage to power infrastructure from overwhelming the grid could have taken months to repair, said Bernadette Johnson, senior vice president of power and renewables at Enverus, an oil and gas software and information company headquartered in Austin.

“As chaotic as it was, the whole grid could’ve been in blackout,” she said. “ERCOT is getting a lot of heat, but the fact that it wasn’t worse is because of those grid operators.”
In other words, the rolling blackouts were needed to keep the grid from collapsing entirely, precisely because Texas cut itself off from the national power grid and didn't have the capacity to generate the power needed to keep the lights on for everyone.

Meanwhile, Texas Republicans are continuing to scream about "frozen windmills" when states that actually bother to weatherize their windmills, like Alaska, have no problems keeping them going. Texas's power infrastructure nearly imploded completely because of Republican misrule, and there's a good chance that the state's water infrastructure is now so critically damaged that Texans may be under boil advisories for weeks or months.

You voted for these Republicans, Texas.

You have the power to vote them out. And this is coming from a Kentucky Democrat.

A Taxing Explanation, Con't

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance is ramping up the Trump tax fraud investigation by stocking up on professional organized crime prosecutors like Mark Pomerantz, the man who helped bring down John Gotti, Jr.

As the Manhattan district attorney’s office steps up the criminal investigation of Donald J. Trump, it has reached outside its ranks to enlist a prominent former federal prosecutor to help scrutinize financial dealings at the former president’s company, according to several people with knowledge of the matter.

The former prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, has deep experience investigating and defending white-collar and organized crime cases, bolstering the team under District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that is examining Mr. Trump and his family business, the Trump Organization.

The investigation by Mr. Vance, a Democrat, is focused on possible tax and bank-related fraud, including whether the Trump Organization misled its lenders or local tax authorities about the value of his properties to obtain loans and tax benefits, the people with knowledge of the matter said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation. Mr. Trump has maintained he did nothing improper and has long railed against the inquiry, calling it a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

In recent months, Mr. Vance’s office has broadened the long-running investigation to include an array of financial transactions and Trump properties — including Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, various Trump hotels and the Seven Springs estate in Westchester County — as prosecutors await a ruling from the United States Supreme Court that could give them access to Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

The prosecutors have also interviewed a number of witnesses and have issued more than a dozen new subpoenas, including to one of Mr. Trump’s top lenders, Ladder Capital, the people with knowledge of the matter said.

In addition, investigators subpoenaed a company hired by Mr. Trump’s other main lender, Deutsche Bank, to assess the value of certain Trump properties, one of the people with knowledge of the previously unreported subpoenas said.

Months earlier, Mr. Vance’s office had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank itself, The New York Times previously reported. More recently, Deutsche Bank employees provided testimony to Mr. Vance’s office about the bank’s relationship with the Trump Organization, a person briefed on the matter said.

Still, despite the burst of investigative activity, prosecutors have said the tax returns and other financial records are vital to their inquiry — and the Supreme Court has delayed a final decision for months.
And yes, the Roberts Court has been sitting on the Trump tax returns decision for months now, and is under no obligation to release it until as late as possible this summer or longer.

Lawsuits involving Donald Trump tore apart the Supreme Court while he was president, and the justices apparently remain riven by him. 
For nearly four months, the court has refused to act on emergency filings related to a Manhattan grand jury's subpoena of Trump tax returns, effectively thwarting part of the investigation. 
The Supreme Court's inaction marks an extraordinary departure from its usual practice of timely responses when the justices are asked to block a lower court decision on an emergency basis and has spurred questions about what is happening behind the scenes. 
Chief Justice John Roberts, based on his past pattern, may be trying to appease dueling factions among the nine justices, to avoid an order that reinforces a look of partisan politics. Yet paradoxically, the unexplained delay smacks of politics and appears to ensnarl the justices even more in the controversies of Trump. 
The Manhattan investigation, led by District Attorney Cyrus Vance, continues to draw extensive public attention. The grand jury is seeking Trump personal and business records back to 2011. Part of the probe involves hush-money payments Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made to cover up alleged affairs. (Trump has denied those allegations.) 
For more than a year, Trump's attorneys have raised challenges to prevent enforcement of the subpoena. The controversy appeared to culminate at the Supreme Court last July, when the justices rejected Trump's claim that a sitting president is absolutely immune from criminal proceedings. 
The 7-2 decision crafted by Roberts left some options for Trump on appeal, but lower court judges have since spurned Trump arguments, and his lawyers returned last fall to the high court for relief. Vance agreed to wait to enforce the long-pending subpoena until the justices acted on Trump's emergency request. 
The Supreme Court's lack of response has given Trump at least a temporary reprieve. 
And his lawyers could soon seek more. CNN has learned that Trump's legal team is preparing to submit a petition to the justices by early March, based on a standard deadline for appeals, asking them to hear the merits of Trump's claim in oral arguments. 
In Trump's October filing, his lawyers continued to maintain that the grand jury subpoena was overly broad and issued in bad faith to harass him. They said it "makes sweeping demands and ... crosses the line -- even were it aimed at some other citizen instead of the President." 
The process for a petition for certiorari, as it is called, could add months to the case. If the justices agreed to hear the dispute fully on the merits, resolution could be a year off
A spokesman for Vance declined to comment. Lawyers for Trump also declined to comment for the record.
If the Roberts Court sits on this for another 15-16 months, which is entirely possible, who knows where Vance's case will be by then?  We'll find out, but it's maddening that SCOTUS is sitting on this decision.

They're doing it on purpose.
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