Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Last Call For Take It Out Of Neutral

As expected Trump FCC head Ajit Pai is announcing the end of "net neutrality" rules on the internet, allowing your internet provider to charge you per site rather than just per gigabyte.

The proposal, put forward by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibited high-speed internet service providers from blocking or slowing down the delivery of websites, or charging extra fees for the best quality of streaming and other internet services for their subscribers. Those limits are central to the concept called net neutrality.

The action immediately reignited a loud and furious fight over free speech and the control of the internet, pitting telecom giants like AT&T against internet giants like Google and Amazon, who warn against powerful telecom gatekeepers. Both sides are expected to lobby hard in Washington to push their agendas, as they did when the existing rules were adopted.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

The proposal from Mr. Pai, a Republican, is widely expected to be approved during a Dec. 14 meeting in a 3-to-2 party line vote from the agency’s five commissioners. But some companies will probably put up a legal fight, or actions by lawmakers, to prevent it from taking hold.

The clear winners from the move would be the giant companies that provide internet access to phones and computers, which have fought for years against broadband regulations. A repeal of the rules would allow the companies to exert more control over the online experiences of American consumers.

Big online companies like Amazon say that the telecom companies would be able to show favoritism to certain web services, by charging for accessing some sites but not others, or by slowing the connection speed to some sites. Small online companies say the proposal would hurt innovation. Only the largest companies, they say, would be able to afford the expense of making sure their sites received preferred treatment.

And consumers, the online companies say, may see their costs go up to get quality access to popular websites like Netflix.

Imagine having to pay Netflix your monthly subscription fee, and then either having to pay your internet provider an extra monthly charge to go to Netflix's site and get their streaming services, or for your internet provider to demand billions a month in order for Netflix to access the ISP's customers (and Netflix in turn jacking up your subscription fee in order to cover it.)

Or you know, your internet provider doing both of those.  It would be flat out extortion, and that's exactly what Pai and the Trump FCC are voting to allow next month. It would also mean that the most powerful companies on earth would be internet service providers and mobile carriers, because they would literally get to decide what information you get to see.

And it would be a total and complete repeal of all these protections.

Six months from now, when Comcast announces a "market test" to charge customers extra for accessing Google, Facebook, Netflix, or Yahoo, when the cost of everyone's internet doubles or triples, maybe people will care then.

Maybe.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

It Makes Perfect Census

Even Politico sounds the klaxon on Trump's leading pick to run the 2020 Census as it's the man who literally wrote the book on why and how Republicans should be using modern gerrymandering and redistricting tactics to ensure a permanent GOP majority.

The Trump administration is leaning toward naming Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor with no government experience, to the top operational job at the U.S. Census Bureau, according to two people who have been briefed on the Bureau’s plans.

Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”

The choice would mark the administration’s first major effort to shape the 2020 Census, the nationwide count that determines which states lose and gain electoral votes and seats in the House of Representatives.

The fate of the Census under Trump has been closely watched by voting-rights advocates worried that the administration — which has already made unsupported claims about voter fraud — might nudge it in directions that over- or under-count some Americans. Subtle bureaucratic choices in the wording and administration of the Census can have huge consequences for who is counted, and how it shifts American voting districts.

The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics. It does not require Senate confirmation, so Congress would have no power to block the hire.

If you're thinking that Republicans would do everything in their power to use the 2020 Census to remove several Congressional districts from large blue states like California, Illinois and New York and give them to red states like Texas (or more likely, take those blue state districts away and "round up" and distribute an extra district to lower population Midwest/Rocky Mountain red states like Utah, Arizona, Kansas, and/or Oklahoma) then you're right on the money.

The 2010 apportionment was a major blow to Democrats just based on demographics, but 2020 could be far, far worse.  Imagine the Census Bureau saying California and New York "massively overcounted illegal immigrants previously" and you get the idea.  Also, keep in mind population counts in many cases for dollars for federal programs and federal funding for things like education and Medicaid.  Knocking the blocks out from under blue states on that would mean de facto austerity cuts in the billions.

So yes, this is going to be bad but "control of the 2020 Census" was yet another reason why I voted for Clinton in 2016 while others said "We have to teach the Democrats a lesson".

Taxing Our Patience

As Francis Wilkinson over at Bloomberg notes, the IRS "scandal" over "targeting conservative groups" quietly died earlier this month with the on-schedule resignation of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, and the suddenly "tax-reform" minded GOP has let it die because suddenly under Trump, the IRS is working for "We The People" again.

Shortly before Koskinen left office, the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration released the (presumably) final report on the scandal. Like a previous Inspector General report, it tried to soothe Republican feelings – the IRS really, really should’ve handled things differently -- while utterly refuting Republican charges about what had transpired.

The story told by Republicans is so well known that it substitutes for fact. In the first years of the Obama administration, Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations rose up to defy the government. When the groups sought IRS approval for their designations as “social welfare” organizations under the tax code, the IRS targeted them with burdensome queries, harassing the groups while slow-walking reviews of their applications. In this telling, it was a political vendetta – carried out against conservatives by a government agency that many anti-government, anti-tax conservatives especially despised.

Republicans claimed the IRS served as an attack dog for the Obama White House. But inquiries by the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the Justice Department all failed to produce evidence of political interference.

Perhaps it was because the premise of the scandal -- that Obama’s political team would want to destroy local Tea Party groups -- was absurd. For Democrats, local Tea Party groups were a political Giving Tree, bearing glorious, loopy fruit such as Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin, Tea Party candidates who managed to lose crucial Senate campaigns that a competent Republican – perhaps anycompetent Republican -- would’ve won.

What’s more, none of the groups actually needed IRS approval to operate. “These organizations didn’t have to wait for the IRS to tell them anything to go into business,” Koskinen said in a telephone interview last week.

Yet the IRS clearly applied extra scrutiny to groups that it thought might be engaged in too much politics to warrant the preferential tax designation. One way IRS personnel did that was to look for key words, such as “Tea Party.” Other words that triggered IRS scrutiny included: “Occupy,” “green energy,” “medical marijuana” and “progressive.”

Contrary to the Republican story, the IRS never targeted conservatives. The IRS targeted politics, which was pretty much what it was supposed to do.

And frankly, they got away with it.  Now, the IRS is okay again because Trump has "drained the swamp" and your taxes will be "so easy you can do them on a postcard".  None of that is true of course, but the IRS is no longer a convenient target for the Party of Trump now that they're in charge of it.

Trump has appointed an interim IRS Commissioner, who for some weird reason is still holding his current post as Assistant Treasury Secretary because somebody told him it would be a good idea.  It's not. David Kautter is Treasury's point man on the Trump tax plan, and trying to both write tax reform and run the IRS at the same time is basically impossible.

But it's interesting to note that like Benghazi, this died as soon as attacking the government as incompetent and cruel meant attacking Trump.



Monday, November 20, 2017

Last Call For The Village Idiots

The wave of women coming forward claiming sexual harassment by men continues unabated as the Weinstein Effect rolls on, this time two veteran journalists face the music: NY Times White House correspondent Glenn Thrush, and long-time PBS host and interviewer Charlie Rose.  Thrush has been suspended pending an investigation by the Gray Lady.

The move came after the website Vox published a report containing allegations from four female journalists that Mr. Thrush, who was hired by The Times in January to cover the Trump administration, had acted inappropriately toward them. Mr. Thrush was a star reporter at Politico before joining The Times.

The women cited in the Vox article described Mr. Thrush’s behavior as including unwanted kissing and touching. Three of the women were not identified by name. The fourth, Laura McGann, wrote the article, which was presented in the first person.

“The behavior attributed to Glenn in this Vox story is very concerning and not in keeping with the standards and values of The New York Times,” The Times said in a statement on Monday. “We intend to fully investigate and while we do, Glenn will be suspended.”

The Times began an inquiry into Mr. Thrush’s behavior last week after learning that Vox planned to publish its article about him, according to a person briefed on The Times’s response.

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Thrush said: “I apologize to any woman who felt uncomfortable in my presence, and for any situation where I behaved inappropriately. Any behavior that makes a woman feel disrespected or uncomfortable is unacceptable.”

Mr. Thrush’s byline has been among the most recognizable this year at The Times, where he was one of six reporters covering the White House full time. In addition, Random House recently announced that it would publish a book about President Trump by Mr. Thrush and Maggie Haberman, another White House reporter for The Times and a former colleague of Mr. Thrush’s at Politico.

In a statement on Monday, Random House said, “This matter recently came to our attention and we are looking at it closely and seriously.”

Charlie Rose too is suspended as his show is being pulled by PBS.

Talk show host Charlie Rose has been accused of sexual misconduct by eight women, The Washington Post reported Monday.

Rose, who has long hosted an interview show on PBS and also co-anchors “CBS This Morning,” is accused of making sexual advances toward multiple women — some of whom worked on his show. He is also accused of groping women and walking in front of them while naked.

A PBS spokesperson said the network is immediately suspending distribution of the program, which is produced by an independent company, in response to the allegations.

“PBS was shocked to learn today of these deeply disturbing allegations,” the spokesperson said. “PBS does not fund this nightly program or supervise its production, but we expect our producers to provide a workplace where people feel safe and are treated with dignity and respect.”

CBS suspended Rose after learning of the allegations, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Joe Flint.
“He was a sexual predator, and I was his victim,” said Reah Bravo, one of the women who spoke to the Post. Bravo worked for Rose’s interview show starting in 2007 and says he made multiple advances when the two were alone together.

Several women described Rose putting his hands on their legs. Another said he repeatedly made lewd early morning or late-night phone calls to her. One woman said Rose groped her breasts while they were driving in a car together. Rose reportedly also gave women shoulder rubs without their permission, an action one source told the Post was known among staffers as “the crusty paw.”

The incidents date from the late 1990s to 2011, and the women ranged in age from 21 to 37 at the time of the incidents they describe.

I would imagine that both Thrush and Rose are done, and rightfully so.  Just another reminder that it's not just right-wing lechers like Bill O'Reilly who need to be gone, but plenty of folks on the left and center too.

When Trump loses his job, let me know.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

The biggest question in Washington right now is the identity of Robert Mueller's next indictment targets and their timing.  Mueller's team has so far done a stellar job of keeping those cards close to their vests, befitting his company of hand-picked all-star federal prosecutors, but the hints we've learned from and since the first round of indictments points towards two places, the first being the Trump White House itself.

Six months into a special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, White House aides and others in President Trump’s close orbit are increasingly divided in their assessments of the expanding probe and how worried administration officials and campaign aides should be about their potential legal peril, according to numerous people familiar with the debate.

Some in the West Wing avoid the mere mention of Russia or the investigation whenever possible. Others take solace in the reassurances of White House lawyer Ty Cobb that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and the president and those close to him will be exonerated. And a few engage in grim gallows humor, privately joking about wiretaps.

The investigation reached a critical turning point in recent weeks, with a formal subpoena to the campaign, an expanding list of potential witnesses and the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Some within Trump’s circle, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, have already been interviewed by Mueller’s investigators, while others such as Hope Hicks — the White House communications director and trusted confidant of the president — and White House counsel Donald McGahn are expected in coming weeks.

One Republican operative in frequent contact with the White House described Mueller’s team “working through the staff like Pac-Man.”

Of course they are worried,” said the Republican, who insisted on anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Anybody that ever had the words ‘Russia’ come out of their lips or in an email, they’re going to get talked to. These things are thorough and deep. It’s going to be a long winter.”

The smart money remains on former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son being rolled up, unless of course the Flynns are already cooperating.  And while Mueller is definitely moving up the ladder towards Trump himself and that Mueller has been dealing with the White House for months, today we learn that the other location now under scrutiny is the Justice Department.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct a federal inquiry into connections between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives has now directed the Justice Department to turn over a broad array of documents, ABC News has learned.

In particular, Mueller's investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter, according to a source who has not seen the specific request but was told about it.

Issued within the past month, the directive marks the special counsel's first records request to the Justice Department, and it means Mueller is now demanding documents from the department overseeing his investigation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein played key roles in Comey's removal. And Sessions has since faced withering criticism from Trump over his recusal and Rosenstein's subsequent appointment of Mueller.

Mueller's investigators now seek not only communications between Justice Department officials themselves, but also any communications with White House counterparts, the source said. Before this request, investigators asked former senior Justice Department officials for information from their time at the department, ABC News was told.

The latest move suggests the Special Counsel is still actively digging into, among other matters, whether Trump or any other administration official improperly tried to influence an ongoing investigation.

There have always been three avenues for Mueller to proceed down in this investigation: Trump's long history of criminal money laundering, the attempts to collude with the Russians on intelligence theft and election interference, and the obstruction of justice efforts meant to try to cover up the first two sets of criminal acts.  Mueller demanding documents from the DoJ means a very serious effort to investigate the obstruction of justice angle, and it means that Attorney General Jeff Sessions must now be considered directly in the crosshairs of Mueller and his team.

It's going to be a long, cold winter for the White House indeed.

Chillin’ Like A Trump Villain

Light posting this week as I have some time off, but I should have at least one post a day or so.

I should be back on a regular schedule next week.

Who won't be around next week, Chuck Manson. Quite dead, helter skelter, blah blah blah, enjoy the void, so there's that.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Long Read: Moscow Mule

The now-infamous Steele Dossier on Donald Trump and his Russian contacts is the product of former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who gathered information on Trump at the request of his private sector employers, Fusion GPS.  The Guardian has a good piece on Steele and his story by Luke Harding, who is writing a book on Steele, Trump, and Putin titled, fittingly enough, Collusion.

In mid-2015, the Republican front-runner had been Jeb Bush, son of one US president and brother of another. But as the campaign got under way, Bush struggled. Trump dubbed the former Florida governor “low-energy”. During the primaries, a website funded by one of Trump’s wealthy Republican critics, Paul Singer, commissioned Fusion to investigate Trump. 
After Trump became the presumptive nominee in May 2016, Singer’s involvement ended and senior Democrats seeking to elect Hillary Clinton took over the Trump contract. The new client was the Democratic National Committee. A lawyer working for Clinton’s campaign, Marc E Elias, retained Fusion and received its reports. The world of private investigation was a morally ambiguous one – a sort of open market in dirt. Information on Trump was of no further use to Republicans, but it could be of value to Democrats, Trump’s next set of opponents. 
Before this, in early spring 2016, Simpson approached Steele, his friend and colleague. Steele began to scrutinise Paul Manafort, who would soon become Trump’s new campaign manager. From April, Steele investigated Trump on behalf of the DNC, Fusion’s anonymous client. All Steele knew at first was that the client was a law firm. He had no idea what he would find. He later told David Corn, Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones: “It started off as a fairly general inquiry.” Trump’s organisation owned luxury hotels around the world. Trump had, as far back as 1987, sought to do real estate deals in Moscow. One obvious question for him, Steele said, was: “Are there business ties to Russia?”Over time, Steele had built up a network of sources. He was protective of them: who they were he would never say. It could be someone well-known – a foreign government official or diplomat with access to secret material. Or it could be someone obscure – a lowly chambermaid cleaning the penthouse suite and emptying the bins in a five-star hotel. 
Normally an intelligence officer would debrief sources directly, but since Steele could no longer visit Russia, this had to be done by others, or in third countries. There were intermediaries, subsources, operators – a sensitive chain. Only one of Steele’s sources on Trump knew of Steele. Steele put out his Trump-Russia query and waited for answers. His sources started reporting back. The information was astonishing; “hair-raising”. As he told friends: “For anyone who reads it, this is a life-changing experience.” 
Steele had stumbled upon a well-advanced conspiracy that went beyond anything he had discovered with Litvinenko or Fifa. It was the boldest plot yet. It involved the Kremlin and Trump. Their relationship, Steele’s sources claimed, went back a long way. For at least the past five years, Russian intelligence had been secretly cultivating Trump. This operation had succeeded beyond Moscow’s wildest expectations. Not only had Trump upended political debate in the US – raining chaos wherever he went and winning the nomination – but it was just possible that he might become the next president. This opened all sorts of intriguing options for Putin. 
In June 2016, Steele typed up his first memo. He sent it to Fusion. It arrived via enciphered mail. The headline read: US Presidential Election: Republican Candidate Donald Trump’s Activities in Russia and Compromising Relationship with the Kremlin. Its text began: “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in the western alliance.” 
“So far TRUMP has declined various sweetener real estate business deals, offered him in Russia to further the Kremlin’s cultivation of him. However he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals. 
“Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB. 
“A dossier of compromising material on Hillary CLINTON has been collated by the Russian Intelligence Services over many years and mainly comprises bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct. The dossier is controlled by Kremlin spokesman, PESKOV, directly on Putin’s orders. However, it has not yet been distributed abroad, including to TRUMP. Russian intentions for its deployment still unclear.” 
The memo was sensational. There would be others, 16 in all, sent to Fusion between June and early November 2016. At first, obtaining intelligence from Moscow went well. For around six months – during the first half of the year – Steele was able to make inquiries in Russia with relative ease. It got harder from late July, as Trump’s ties to Russia came under scrutiny. Finally, the lights went out. Amid a Kremlin cover-up, the sources went silent and information channels shut down. 
If Steele’s reporting was to be believed, Trump had been colluding with Russia. This arrangement was transactional, with both sides trading favours. The report said Trump had turned down “various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia”, especially in connection with the 2018 World Cup, hosted by Moscow. But he had been happy to accept a flow of Kremlin-sourced intelligence material, apparently delivered to him by his inner circle. That didn’t necessarily mean the candidate was a Russian agent. But it did signify that Russia’s leading spy agency had expended considerable effort in getting close to Trump – and, by extension, to his family, friends, close associates and business partners, not to mention his campaign manager and personal lawyer. 
On the eve of the most consequential US election for generations, one of the two candidates was compromised, Steele’s sources claimed. The memo alleged that Trump had unusual sexual proclivities, and that the FSB had a tape. If true, this meant he could indeed be blackmailed. 
When I met Steele in December 2016, he gave no hint he had been involved in what was the single most important investigation in decades.

It turns out Steele has stumbled onto the FBI, CIA and NSA already taking a long, hard look at Trump's Moscow connections.  Steele's own contacts allowed him to put together a dossier of reports that, in his professional judgment, were "70-90%" accurate.  It's a pretty fascinating story.

One we're still neck deep in, of course.  How it ends, is anyone's guess.

From Harare To Eternity, Con't

As widely expected in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has now been given an ultimatum to step down by his own political party and by the military coup d'etat that took power last week.

President Robert Mugabe’s own party voted to oust him as its leader on Sunday, a day after thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets to celebrate his stunning fall from power after a military takeover.

The governing ZANU-PF party, which held emergency talks at its headquarters in the capital, Harare, to consider the fate of the president who had ruled for 37 years, appointed the previously fired vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as Mr. Mugabe’s successor.

Under the Constitution, Mr. Mugabe remains president, even if in name only. But if he does not resign by noon Monday, the committee members decided, he would face impeachment by Parliament.

Cheers and dancing broke out in the building after the vote, according to video shared on social media.

Before the committee’s decision, Chris Mutsvangwa, a war veteran who has led the campaign to oust Mr. Mugabe, said as he went into the meeting, “We are going all the way,” according to Reuters.

He said that Mr. Mugabe should just resign and leave the country: “He’s trying to bargain for a dignified exit but he should just smell the coffee.”

The central committee also expelled the president’s wife, Grace Mugabe, as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League. Mrs. Mugabe, widely viewed as his likely successor, has not been seen in public since Wednesday.

On Sunday, she was barred from the party for life, along with several other government officials — including Jonathan Moyo, the minister of higher and tertiary education. 

 It's all over but the shouting at this point, Mugabe is done. Mnangagwa is now the de facto leader of the country.  Whether much will change remains to be seen, but however the country does move forward, it will be without Mugabe or his wife.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Last Call For Franken My Dear, She Doesn't Give A Damn

If you've been following me on Twitter, you know that I believe a lot of politicians who have engaged in sexual assault and misconduct need to be out of Washington, starting with admitted serial sex criminal Donald Trump.  Roy Moore needs to go too.

But so does Sen. Al Franken.  And while Leeann Tweeden may have forgiven Franken and doesn't believe for now that he should step down from the Senate, there are others who see Franken's continued presence as both an insult and a weapon to be used again and again, and that he is no longer capable of doing his job.

It was on a November evening in 2014, after a tailgate party on her University of Minnesota campus, that Abby Honold was brutally raped by a fellow student. Despite going to the hospital in an ambulance with bruises and bite marks, despite reporting everything to police, it would take more than a year for Honold to find justice. 
In August 2016, her rapist, Daniel Drill-Mellum, pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to six years in prison. Honold’s public and agonizing fight to hold Drill-Mellum accountable drew statewide attention, shedding light on the challenges of reporting and prosecuting sexual assaults. 
It also led Honold to the offices of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). Honold’s convicted rapist, it turns out, had interned for the senator. 
Franken, moved by Honold’s story, worked with her to draft a Senate bill that would provide federal funding for special law enforcement training on interviewing victims of trauma. He planned to introduce the bill this month. 
“He was one of the few people who listened to me and actually let me talk,” Honold told The Washington Post. “It felt really validating to be heard and to see something come of my experience that was positive for other people.” 
So on Thursday, Honold was stunned and crushed when she heard that a Los Angeles radio broadcaster, Leeann Tweeden, had accused Franken of forcibly kissing and groping her during a USO tour in 2006. He was captured posing for a photo grabbing Tweeden’s breasts while she was sleeping. 
Honold wholeheartedly believed the woman. She decided that her bill — and her efforts to combat sexual assault — could no longer be associated with someone who was accused of this kind of behavior. 
The 22-year-old no longer wants Franken’s name on the legislation when it is introduced and hopes to find someone else to sponsor it.

It’s really difficult when someone who has been a champion for you turns out to be the exact opposite for someone else,” Honold said in a phone interview.

Call me a stupid idealist, call me a purity crusader if you want, but at some point we have to be better than the goddamn Republican party in both word and deed.

I stand by my call for Franken to resign.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Turns out that not only did plenty of Trump campaign folks try to get an off-the-books secret Trump/Putin meeting going during the 2016 campaign, but plenty of Russian nationals did too, like the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, and once again Jared Kushner is at the center.

A senior Russian official who claimed to be acting at the behest of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia tried in May 2016 to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and Donald J. Trump, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The news of this reached the Trump campaign in a very circuitous way. An advocate for Christian causes emailed campaign aides saying that Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime, had proposed a meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump. The subject line of the email, turned over to Senate investigators, read, “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to one person who has seen the message.

The proposal made its way to the senior levels of the Trump campaign before Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top campaign aide, sent a message to top campaign officials rejecting it, according to two people who have seen Mr. Kushner’s message.

Though the meeting never happened, Mr. Torshin’s request is the latest example of how the Russian government intensified its effort to contact and influence the Trump campaign last year as Mr. Trump was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination. It came just weeks after a self-described intermediary for the Russian government told a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, that the Russians had “dirt” on Mr. Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Soon after Mr. Torshin’s outreach fizzled, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower after being told that a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin would bring damaging information about Mrs. Clinton to the meeting.

Yet another unreported contact between the Trump campaign and Putin's circle of oligarchs, and Trump campaign officials keep scrambling to get out of the way of being involved in any way with these series of contacts. Jared Kushner, has suddenly developed selective amnesia on a number of issues it seems.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner told congressional Russia investigators that he did not communicate with WikiLeaks and did not recall anyone on the Trump campaign who had, a source with knowledge of his testimony told CNN. 
But Kushner did receive and forward an email from Donald Trump Jr. about contact Trump Jr. had with WikiLeaks, according to a new report this week and a letter from the Senate Judiciary Committee. 
Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law, was asked in July during his closed-door congressional testimony if he had any contacts with WikiLeaks or its founder Julian Assange and he responded that he had not, according to the source. He also told Congress he did not know of anyone on the campaign who had contacted WikiLeaks.
A separate source familiar with Kushner's interview with congressional investigators said he accurately answered questions about his contact and didn't recall anyone else in the campaign who had contact. 
In a statement Friday night, Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell said the committee had asked "a classic gotcha question. 
"Mr. Kushner was asked if he had contacts with Wikileaks, Guccifer or DC Leaks and said no. He also said he did not know of such contacts by the campaign. From all I have now seen, his statement was accurate then as it is now. In over 6 hours of voluntary testimony, Mr Kushner answered all questions put to him and demonstrated that there had been no collusion between the campaign and Russia." 
But Democrats are likely to amplify calls for Kushner to return for more testimony on the heels of a letter on Thursday from Senate Judiciary Committee leaders that charged Kushner failed to turn over certain documents on a range of topics to the committee, including those related to WikiLeaks. 

Every week it seems we learn about yet another contact with Trump's inner circle to Putin's inner circle that they "forgot" about for a year.  Mueller on the other hand, well, he's not in the forgetting business.  Every week, these contacts get closer and closer to Trump himself.

Stay tuned.
 

Ivanka Trump Presents Panamaniacs

Eddie, Alex, and David Lee jammed it out best twenty-some years ago:



Jump back, what's that sound
Here she comes, full blast and top down
Hot shoe, burnin' down the avenue
Model citizen zero discipline 
Don't you know she's coming home with me?
You'l lose her in the turn
I'll get her! 


Panama!
Pana-ma-ah!
Panama!
Pana-mah-ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh-ah! 

In 2017 the song's all about Ivanka Trump's first money laundering job for her dad and the Russians.

In the spring of 2007, a succession of foreigners, many from Russia, arrived at Panama City airport to be greeted by a chauffeur who whisked them off in a white Cadillac with a Donald Trump logo on the side. 
The limousine belonged to a business run by a Brazilian former car salesman named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who was offering the visitors a chance to invest in Trump’s latest project – a 70-floor tower called the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower. It was the future U.S. president’s first international hotel venture, a complex including residential apartments and a casino in a waterfront building shaped like a sail. 
“Mr Nogueira was an outgoing and lively young man,” remembered Justine Pasek, who was crowned Miss Universe by Donald Trump in 2002 and was acting in 2007 as a spokesperson for Nogueira’s company, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services. “Everybody was so impressed with Homes as they seemed to be riding the top of the real estate boom at the time,” she said. 
One of those Nogueira set out to impress was Ivanka, Trump’s daughter. In an interview with Reuters, Nogueira said he met and spoke with Ivanka “many times” when she was handling the Trump Organization’s involvement in the Panama development. “She would remember me,” he said.
Ivanka was so taken with his sales skills, Nogueira said, that she helped him become a leading broker for the development and he appeared in a video with her promoting the project. 
A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court. 
Three years after getting involved in the Trump Ocean Club, Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he later fled the country. 
He left behind a trail of people who claim he cheated them, including over apartments in the Trump project, resulting in at least four criminal cases that eight years later have still to be judged.

Nogueira, 43, denies the charges and told Reuters in an email: “I am no Angel but not Devil either.” 
Ivanka Trump declined to comment on her dealings with Nogueira. A White House spokesman referred questions to the Trump Organization. Alan Garten, the organization’s chief legal officer, said: “No one at the Trump Organization, including the Trump family, has any recollection of ever meeting or speaking with this individual.” 
Trump put his name to the development and stood to make up to $75 million from it, according to a bond prospectus for the project. He did not exert management control over the construction and was under no direct legal obligation to conduct due diligence on other people involved.

It's something of a Saturday Long Read for you, but the story is good and yet another reminder that while Donny Jr. and Eric Trump may be comically evil, Ivanka is as cold, as crafty, as mean and as greedy as her old man.

She's the one you really have to look out for.

Bet on Mueller knowing all about the Trump Ocan Club in Panama.  Bet on Ivanka going down along with the rest of her family too.

Soccer Takes Balls, As They Say

Cincinnati really tries to be a sports town, but frankly it just doesn't have the base to support too much in the way of major league sports.  The city's location may be great for transportation and distribution companies, but it's terrible for sports franchises.  

There are just too many other larger sports teams close to Cincy: Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Memphis and Charlotte are all a reasonable drive and compete for Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana sports fans.


FC Cincinnati won't get taxpayer help to build a new stadium in Hamilton County under a plan unveiled Wednesday. 
County commissioners rejected FC Cincinnati's pitch to use hotel tax money for a stadium and said the team should instead embrace the idea of playing games at Paul Brown Stadium on the riverfront. 
Instead, the county commissioners offered a plan to use parking revenues to pay for a $15 million garage for FC Cincinnati.

FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding, in response, said the club needs a soccer-only stadium if it wants to join Major League Soccer.

"Paul Brown Stadium would not support an MLS team, and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong," Berding said. "Therefore, Paul Brown Stadium simply does not work and does not result in a winning bid. It means a losing bid." 
Commissioner Todd Portune said the Bengals' home stadium, which is paid for through a county-wide sales tax, makes sense as a home for FC Cincinnati and would be far less costly than building a new, soccer-only stadium. 
"We believe Paul Brown Stadium can work," Portune said. "Paul Brown Stadium is our first option." 
His fellow commissioner, Chris Monzel, was more blunt: "The county already owns two stadiums. We don't need any more stadiums."

Whether the county's idea is enough to win FC Cincinnati a spot in Major League Soccer remains to be seen. Team officials have pushed for up to $75 million in taxpayer help to build a $200 million stadium in Oakley, which they say is the price of admission to MLS. 
The three commissioners did offer a Plan B to the team. If MLS rejects the proposal to play at Paul Brown Stadium, Portune said, the county would consider using some of its annual parking revenue to help pay for a parking garage for a stadium in Oakley.

The Oakley stadium still might come through, but there's no way in hell City Council is going to finance a $200 million soccer anything with county funding.  Not in this town.  If it gets done, it won't be with county money.

Odds are it won't get done in that case.  My biggest issue remains that the MLS Columbus Crew is just an hour away anyhow, with Atlanta and Chicago close by as well, and FC Cincinnati will go under quickly.  It makes much more sense for MLS to expand to Charlotte and Phoenix than Cincy next year.

I could be wrong, FC Cincinnati might be able to pull it off, but at this point I'm tired of $200 million stadiums when we don't have the money around these parts to say, fix the Brent Spence bridge.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Last Call For Cutting The Cordray

As many in Ohio have long suspected, it looks like the Democrats are finally getting their top candidate in the race for Governor to succeed Republican John Kasich in 2018: former state Attorney General Richard Cordray has quit his federal watchdog post at the CFPB.

Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray will step down as the head of a consumer watchdog agency by the end of the month and is expected to run for the Ohio Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Cordray, the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, announced his decision to leave in an email to all bureau staff early Wednesday.

“As I have said many times, but feel just as much today as I ever have, it has been a joy of my life to have the opportunity to serve our country as the first director of the Consumer Bureau by working alongside all of you here,” he wrote.

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Eckart, a Cleveland Democrat, said “several prominent Democrats have told me this morning they expect Cordray to run for governor.”

He added, “Cordray has a very compelling story and is motivated by convictions that will resonate well in Ohio and especially for those voters in Ohio who believe they have been left behind, ripped off, or ignored.”

Joe Rugola, a leading Ohio Democrat and director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, said, “I fully expect he will at some time very soon be making some kind of an announcement about his intentions and I would be shocked if he didn’t run for governor.

“It absolutely isn’t too late for Rich to enter the race. The test will be to put together a campaign and surround himself with professionals who know what they are doing and raise a significant amount of money in a hurry.”

Former Ohio Democratic Chairman David Leland said he had not yet talked to Cordray about the governor’s race but “he would be a great candidate if he decides to run.”

“I’ve known him for over 25 years,” said Leland, now a state representative. “He always fought for issues that are important to people in the state of Ohio. I think taking his record at the CFPB and using it as a platform to say he’s actually fighting for working families in the state of Ohio would be tremendously successful for him.”

Kasich has overseen Ohio's transformation into a red state garbage fire over the last seven years, spouting nonsense about his "moderate" credentials and doing everything in his power to end legalized abortion in the state, all while plotting to wreck the country with a "balanced budget" amendment to the Constitution that would force massive austerity cuts.

Cordray meanwhile has been running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has already fought for getting billions in dollars back from crooked banks, shady mortgage lenders, predatory payday loan outfits and awful title loan shops. He has a real shot at winning in 2018, especially against somebody as awful as Ohio's current statewide office holders on the Republican side, anti-choice fanatic AG Mike DeWine, voter suppression expert Jon Husted, and Kasich's right hand, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

That's the good news.  The bad news is Trump is now going to appoint a new head to the CFPB in order to drive the agency into the ground, screaming.  His top choice is current Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Mick Mulvaney once called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “a sad, sick joke.” Now, he may get to oversee Elizabeth Warren’s favorite regulator.

Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director, is being considered for a temporary role as interim director of the consumer watchdog after Richard Cordray steps down later this month, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mulvaney would be expected to name someone else or a team of people to run the CFPB on a day-to-day-basis so he could keep his focus on OMB, said one of the people.

The goal is to hit the ground running in overhauling an agency that some Republicans have called corrupt and that GOP lawmakers widely blame for burdening lenders with unnecessary red tape. It could be months before Trump nominates a permanent CFPB director and the Senate confirms his selection.

Under a federal vacancies law, Trump can replace an outgoing director temporarily with someone from another agency who has already won Senate approval. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has also been considered to run the CFPB on a temporary basis, said one of the people who asked not to be named because the deliberations are private.

Cordray would have been forced out eventually, his term would have been up in July 2018 anyway.  It would have been nice to get a few more months out of the one federal government agency that was actually not being awful and that Trump hadn't completely ruined yet, but there you go.

Bottom O' The Evenin', GOP Guvna

It's not just the House and Senate that are in play for the Democrats in 2018, but several state legislatures and of equal import, the two-thirds of governor's races across the country.

Democrats got mauled in 2014 and saw Republicans pick up state chief executive seats in deep blue states like Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland and Vermont three years ago.  That's been a particular problem in Illinois, where Republican Bruce Rauner has vetoed several progressive bills and has been in a three-year long budget fight with Democrats.

But now these same governors are in real trouble as the Trump/Roy Moore millstone is threatening to drown them, and Democrats are waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces, and after 2017 losses, the GOP is scrambling to try to run from their own party.

Republican governors and their donors -- still reeling from GOP losses last week in New Jersey and Virginia -- are trying to distance themselves from their party’s problems and plot a 2018 strategy to protect their state-level dominance.

At the annual Republican Governors Association meeting in Austin, Texas, party officeholders downplayed those defeats and dismissed the political fallout of President Donald Trump’s historically low approval ratings and lack of legislative accomplishments. They brushed aside questions about the potential long-term consequences from growing sexual misconduct allegations that have engulfed Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore in Alabama.

"I think we’ll see Republican governors walking a tightrope in 2018 as they navigate a difficult election year," said Steve Grubbs, an Iowa-based Republican strategist and former state party chairman.

Thirty-six states will hold gubernatorial elections in 2018, with 26 of those now controlled by Republicans. In those races, which often have trickle-down effects on legislative and local elections, Republican candidates will have to decide just how closely to embrace Trump and distance themselves from an unpopular Washington.

"The Trump base is very strong, and alienating that base by pushing Trump away could cost a governor two to five points on election day," Grubbs said. "But there are also suburban voters who are bothered by the positioning of the White House and risk being lost on the other side."

I'm out of tears to shed for "Never Trump" Republicans.  They gladly played into racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and sexism when it benefited them in 2014 and 2016.  Now the bill for that is coming due and it's time to make them pay up.

Even if Trump’s popularity wasn’t an issue, Republicans are likely to face headwinds next year based on past trends. Midterm elections for a new president generally result in losses, sometimes big ones, and Trump currently has the lowest approval ratings of any president at this point in a first term. 
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the association’s chairman, is seeking a third term next November. He downplayed the role Trump will play and said he’s encouraging his colleagues to run their "own race." 
Walker and Florida Governor Rick Scott, while meeting with reporters, called for Moore to exit the race before the Dec. 12 special election. Scott called his alleged actions "disgusting," while Walker dismissed suggestions that Moore might hurt the Republican brand. 
No more so than Democrats had to answer for Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer," he said, pointing to other politicians who have had sex scandals.

The problem of course is that both Spitzer and Weiner resigned and Weiner is in prison.  Trump is still in the White House, and Moore is still running for Senate.  I have a feeling voters are going to care a lot more about Trump than Anthony Weiner in 2018, even New Yorkers.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

It's a race at this point to see who is more cartoonishly and stupidly evil, Donald Trump's son, Donald Jr. or his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  Turns out both of these clowns were involved with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Assange's apparent attempts to shop a deal for stolen DNC emails.

Jared Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 
Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kushner failed to turn over the relevant documents when they asked for them last month.

“We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the pair wrote in a letter dated Thursday to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell. 
In a section of the letter titled “Missing documents,” Grassley and Feinstein said Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser, had handed over some materials but omitted communications that mentioned some of the people connected to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 
“If, as you suggest, Mr. Kushner was unaware of, for example, any attempts at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, then presumably there would be few communications concerning many of the persons identified,” the lawmakers wrote.
Grassley and Feinstein also alluded to documents they received from other witnesses on which Kushner was copied. 
“Other parties have produced September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks, which Mr. Kushner then forwarded to another campaign official,” they wrote. “Such documents should have been produced...but were not.” 
Likewise, other parties have produced documents concerning a ‘Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite’ which Mr. Kushner also forwarded. And still others have produced communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Mr. Kushner. Again, these do not appear in Mr. Kushner’s production despite being responsive to the second request. You also have not produced any phone records that we presume exist and would relate to Mr. Kushner’s communications regarding several requests.” 
They asked Kushner to turn over all responsive documents by Nov. 27.

We know that this overture from Assange and WikiLeaks exists because Donny Jr. was more than happy to tell everyone about it earlier this week.

Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.) 
The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.” 
The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, a radical transparency organization that the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States.

Trump Jr. then tweeted copies of his conversations with WikiLeaks because he is both immensely arrogant and painfully idiotic, always a terrible combination.

As Ten Bears pointed out in the comments a couple days ago, we know Donny can't keep his goddamn trap shut.

On the same day that Trump Jr. received the first message from WikiLeaks, he e-mailed other senior officials campaign, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner... Didn't Our Tea Pot Dictator twit a teaser to the effect that dirt was on the way shortly thereafter? Like, the same day.

Why yes, yes he did.  That would be a very interesting subject to know more about.  So interesting, in fact, that the Senate is asking Jared Kushner what he knew at the minimum, and I'm betting Bannon, Conway, and Parscale will be asked to turn over any correspondence on this if they haven't done so already.

Robert Mueller too is on the case here in his own investigation.  The WSJ reported last night that Mueller issued a subpoena to more than a dozen members of the Trump campaign last month.

These guys are really, really bad at being sneaky.
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