Friday, September 30, 2022

Last Call For Ukraine On The Membrane, Con't

As Russian President Vladimir Putin declared in a fiery speech earlier today that the Donbas region is now part of Russia, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has all but been assured of a fast track to NATO membership, the US is trying even more economic sanctions in the hope they'll cause some pain.
The US is imposing what it describes as “swift and severe costs” on Russia, including sanctions on a figure the Biden administration says is key to Russia’s economy, after President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of regions of Ukraine following what the West casts as “sham referenda.”

Putin signed documents on Friday to formally begin the process of annexing four regions of Ukraine during a ceremony in the Kremlin, a clear violation of international law amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began seven months ago.

US officials have been working behind the scenes to coordinate their response with allies over the course of the last several days and deploy it immediately after Putin’s official action, people familiar with the process said. The response marks an escalation and expansion of the most sweeping sanctions regime ever to target a major economy, one that has been steadily ramped up throughout the more than seven months since Russia’s invasion.

The US, a Biden administration official said, is “targeting additional Russian government officials and leaders, their family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials, and defense procurement networks, including international suppliers supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex” through announcements from the Departments of Treasury, Commerce, and State.

The US actions, which include a combination of export controls, visa restrictions and asset freezes, serve as an effort to further clamp down on Russian supply chains – and the individuals directing the efforts - critical to maintaining the war effort. US officials and their allies have closely monitored real-time Russian efforts to circumvent sanctions already in place to curtail access to critical components for the defense industry, and many of the new targets come from that effort.

That includes sanctions from the Treasury Department on a key player in keeping the Russian economy afloat: Elvira Nabiullina, an economist who has been leading Russia’s central bank since 2013.

President Joe Biden sharply condemned Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory in a statement Friday.

“The United States condemns Russia’s fraudulent attempt today to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory. Russia is violating international law, trampling on the United Nations Charter, and showing its contempt for peaceful nations everywhere,” Biden said, adding that those actions have “no legitimacy” and will continue to “always honor Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.”

He also urged “all members of the international community to reject Russia’s illegal attempts at annexation and to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the “United States unequivocally rejects Russia’s fraudulent attempt to change Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.”

“We will continue the United States’ powerful, coordinated efforts to hold Russia to account, cut Russia’s military off from global commerce and severely limit its ability to sustain its aggression and project power,” he said.
The problem is, Putin has been planning this for a long time.

Putin has spent years building up his defenses, amassing hundreds of billions in foreign currency reserves, bringing much of Russia’s industrial base under state control and selling Russia’s vast energy resources to the world. US officials grudgingly acknowledge that Nabiullina has done an effective job managing Russia through this initial phase of the sanctions, just as she did in 2014 after Putin’s Crimea annexation triggered a much less severe round of sanctions from the West.

This time, Nabiullina has deftly raised interest rates, imposed capital controls, and sought holes and workarounds to float an economy under siege – an effort that came even as the US and allies took the unprecedented step of targeting the central bank directly with sanctions shortly after the invasion.

“A good central banker can do things to buoy the currency,” one senior US official said earlier this year. “They have a very good central banker. We knew that then; we know it now

So yes, sanctions have not wrecked the Putin economy just yet, but it has done a lot of damage to the US and EU. Putin is hoping he can force Ukraine to sue for peace with his newly annexed territories intact, especially if energy prices remain sky high.

He may not be wrong. At the very least, we see what the result of that damage has achieved: recent elections in Sweden, Italy, and the Baltics have meant to the rise of Russia-friendly fascism there, and the same is happening here in the US.

Would a GOP controlled Senate block any more aid to Ukraine?

I would say that's a very good possibility.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

Trump's personal federal court judge, Aileen "Loose" Cannon, continues to be a national embarrassment and enduring symbol of Trump corruption, this time proving beyond any doubt that the Trump regime's odious "Special Master" plan was just a delay tactic to prevent Trump from being indicted before the midterm elections.

Judge Aileen M. Cannon told Donald Trump’s lawyers Thursday that they did not need to comply with an order from special master Raymond J. Dearie and state in a court filing whether they believe FBI agents lied about documents seized from the former president’s Florida residence.

Thursday’s ruling was the first clash between Cannon, a Trump appointee who has generally shown the former president deference in litigation over the Mar-a-Lago investigation, and Dearie, a federal judge she appointed as an outside expert in the case, who appears to be far more skeptical of Trump.

After Trump’s lawyers requested a special master, Cannon chose Dearie to review approximately 11,000 documents seized Aug. 8 from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and residence and determine whether any should be shielded from investigators because of attorney-client or executive privilege.

An appeals court separately overruled Cannon’s decision that about 100 additional documents that the government says are classified — some of them top-secret — should be part of Dearie’s review.

Dearie last week told the former president’s legal team that it couldn’t suggest in court filings that the government’s description of the seized documents — including whether they were classified — was inaccurate without providing any evidence. He ordered them to submit to the court by Oct. 7 any specific inaccuracies they saw in the government’s inventory list of seized items.

It would have been a key test of Trump’s legal strategy, as his lawyers decided whether to back up Trump’s controversial public claims that the FBI planted items at his residence and that he had declassified all the classified documents before leaving office — or whether they would take a more conciliatory approach.
Dearie told the Trump team to submit evidence that the FBI "planted" documents at Mar-a-Lago during the August search because the main argument from Trump's legal eagles is that the FBI permanently tainted the investigation by doing so, and that Special Master Dearie was there to serve up justice for this foul misdeed.
Judge Cannon simply threw that order out.
But according to Cannon, who has the authority to overrule Dearie’s orders, such a decision is not required right now.

“There shall be no separate requirement on Plaintiff at this stage, prior to the review of any of the Seized Materials, to lodge ex ante final objections to the accuracy of Defendant’s Inventory, its descriptions, or its content,” Cannon wrote.

The Justice Department could appeal.

Trump’s legal team has argued that answering questions about the inventory list and whether the documents are classified could put them at a disadvantage in the face of a possible future criminal prosecution, or a future legal fight over getting the seized documents returned to Trump.

When Trump defense attorney James M. Trusty told Dearie earlier this month that he should not be forced to disclose declarations and witness statements yet, Dearie replied: “My view is you can’t have your cake and eat it.”

Cannon also addressed ongoing disputes Thursday over deadlines set by Dearie as part of his review, siding with Trump’s team and extending the special master review deadline to Dec. 16. She had originally said Dearie could have until around Thanksgiving to settle any disagreements the two parties had over privilege issues.

Dearie had suggested he could work on a more expedited schedule and told the parties they would need to finish their portions of the review by Oct. 21. Trump’s team had pushed back against that deadline, saying it was too fast and that they couldn’t find a vendor to scan the documents that was willing to work on that timeline.

“This modest enlargement is necessary to permit adequate time for the Special Master’s review and recommendations given the circumstances as they have evolved since entry of the Appointment Order,” Cannon wrote in her order.
Cannon is going to such stretching extremes for Trump, it's a wonder Disney isn't looking to cast her a Helen "Elastigirl" Parr for a live-action adaptation of The Incredibles
And now the investigation may be delayed into next year, where Trump is hoping a GOP Congress will interfere with, block, or even eliminate the investigation completely somehow.

All the while, Judge Cannon will do everything she can to bog the investigation down. It's the kind of thing that should lead to her removal as a judge, but the GOP will never allow that.

So on the farce goes, music, pratfalls, and all.

The Loan Arranger Heads For The Hills

As Republican Attorneys General in six states are suing the Biden Administration over student loan relief, the Department of Education is drastically cutting back on who qualifies for the program because of fears it will be eliminated altogether by the Supreme Court.

In a remarkable reversal that will affect the fortunes of many student loan borrowers, the U.S. Department of Education has quietly changed its guidance around who qualifies for President Biden's sweeping student debt relief plan.

At the center of the change are borrowers who took out federal student loans many years ago, both Perkins loans and Federal Family Education Loans. FFEL loans, issued and managed by private banks but guaranteed by the federal government, were once the mainstay of the federal student loan program until the FFEL program ended in 2010.

Today, according to federal data, more than 4 million borrowers still have commercially-held FFEL loans. Until Thursday, the department's own website advised these borrowers that they could consolidate these loans into federal Direct Loans and thereby qualify for relief under Biden's debt cancellation program.

On Thursday, though, the department quietly changed that language. The guidance now says, "As of Sept. 29, 2022, borrowers with federal student loans not held by ED cannot obtain one-time debt relief by consolidating those loans into Direct Loans."

An administration official tells NPR this change will not affect all 4 million borrowers with commercially-held FFEL loans. The official said many FFEL borrowers also have Direct Loans and so can still qualify to consolidate those FFEL loans, though that detail was not included in the department's updated guidance.

Ultimately, this administration official says, roughly 800,000 borrowers would be directly affected.

It's unclear why the department reversed its decision on allowing FFEL borrowers with commercially-held loans to consolidate and then qualify for debt relief.

In a statement to NPR, a department spokesperson says, "Our goal is to provide relief to as many eligible borrowers as quickly and easily as possible, and this will allow us to achieve that goal while we continue to explore additional legally-available options to provide relief to borrowers with privately owned FFEL loans and Perkins loans, including whether FFEL borrowers could receive one-time debt relief without needing to consolidate. Borrowers with privately held federal student loans who applied to consolidate their loans into Direct Loans before September 29, 2022 will obtain one-time debt relief. The FFEL program is now defunct and only a small percentage of borrowers have FFEL loans."

The tell in that statement is "legally-available."

Multiple legal experts tell NPR the reversal in policy was likely made out of concern that the private banks that manage old FFEL loans could potentially file lawsuits to stop the debt relief, arguing that Biden's plan would cause them financial harm.
When FFEL borrowers consolidate their old loans into federal Direct Loans, these private banks essentially lose business. If these banks' financial health depends, at least in part, on the assumption that they would be holding and profiting from these debts over the long-term, then losing borrowers to Biden's debt relief plan could, possibly, constitute harm.

In fact, a new lawsuit filed Thursday by six state attorneys general, makes this very argument. One of the plaintiffs, Missouri, is home to MOHELA, which manages both federal Direct Loans and these old FFEL program loans.

"The consolidation of MOHELA's FFELP loans harms the entity by depriving it of an asset (the FFELP loans themselves) that it currently owns," says the complaint. "The consolidation of MOHELA's FFELP loans harms the entity by depriving it of the ongoing interest payments that those loans generate."
As I mentioned on Wednesday, the issue is standing. In order to sue the government over government policy, you have to show that you are being directly and negatively affected by that policy. Banks being out billions like this definitely seems like something that qualifies, and yes, I expect the courts will side with the banks and the GOP, and this program will end up in the scrap heap.

The people who told you "Biden can cancel all student debt with a stroke of a pen" didn't bother to add "and would be sued for damages and lose in the courts".

Republicans are more than happy to force you to pay back your student loans, too.  They care about banks, not people.

Might want to keep that in mind.

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