Posted: March 13, 2020 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, just because | Tags: corona virus
Good Day Sky Dancers!
How’s that Social Distancing thing going for you? I will fully admit to doing that ever since 2016 when the Trump Virus was let loose in the world. I mean you could run into something unpleasant like a TV turned to FOX News. This self isolation time just means I’m now not alone alone in the entire self isolation thing. I can look at my window and know every one is avoiding each other on my street now. It’s not just me avoiding them.
I’m venturing out shortly to hit the pharmacy at my local ghetto Walgreen’s. I’ve been noticing that the public bus drivers are masked and not in the traditional Mardi Gras sense. A quick conversation with a concierge whose a long time neighbor and hospitality worker told me he’d spent the last few days doing nothing but cancellations. My last lecture on ground was Wednesday night and I’m trying to figure out what kind of tools I have at my disposal to spend the rest of term teaching a course in a school that basically has no remote distance programs and whose only remote distance experience was basically post Katrina. It seems they have no bandwith for these number of classes/students. I will be helping fellow faculty members figure out what to do on Monday. I’ve been scheduled to provide a 2 hour seminar. But really, if the tools aren’t there already I doubt this will be easy.
My last major discussion with my students was about the stock market and had airplane stock bottomed yet? Simultaneously, Trump was delivering the message that Europeans–from some random countries but not the UK and Ireland–were going to be denied access to the US. For some reason, Trump’s worried about Europe having so many “open borders” as if a virus can’t go any where if there’s a drawbridge up in a castle. US Equity markets spent all day yesterday crashing to a point we hadn’t experienced since 1987. Remember those Reagan Wonder Economy years? Me neither.
Let’s face it. The Trump administration is simultaneously bumbling and toxic. How much more can we take of this? From The Atlantic and Republican Peter Wehner: “The Trump Presidency Is Over. It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain.” We can only hope.
To be sure, the president isn’t responsible for either the coronavirus or the disease it causes, COVID-19, and he couldn’t have stopped it from hitting our shores even if he had done everything right. Nor is it the case that the president hasn’t done anything right; in fact, his decision to implement a travel ban on China was prudent. And any narrative that attempts to pin all of the blame on Trump for the coronavirus is simply unfair. The temptation among critics of Donald Trump to use the coronavirus pandemic to get back at Trump for every bad thing he’s done should be resisted, and schadenfreude is never a good look.
That said, the president and his administration are responsible for grave, costly errors, most especially the epic manufacturing failures in diagnostic testing, the decision to test too few people, the delay in expanding testing to labs outside the Centers for Disease Control, and problems in the supply chain. These mistakes have left us blind and badly behind the curve, and, for a few critical weeks, they created a false sense of security. What we now know is that the coronavirus silently spread for several weeks, without us being aware of it and while we were doing nothing to stop it. Containment and mitigation efforts could have significantly slowed its spread at an early, critical point, but we frittered away that opportunity.
“They’ve simply lost time they can’t make up. You can’t get back six weeks of blindness,” Jeremy Konyndyk, who helped oversee the international response to Ebola during the Obama administration and is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told the Washington Post. “To the extent that there’s someone to blame here, the blame is on poor, chaotic management from the White House and failure to acknowledge the big picture.”
Earlier this week, Anthony Fauci, the widely-respected director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose reputation for honesty and integrity have been only enhanced during this crisis, admitted in a congressional testimony that the United States is still not providing adequate testing for the coronavirus. “It is failing. Let’s admit it.” He added, “The idea of anybody getting [testing] easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. I think it should be, but we’re not.”
BB’s featured many articles about the absolute ineptitude of the Trumpist Regime to alleviate any of the current problems many which they have created. We have the usual call for the Republican cure all economic apple cider vinegar economic tool–tax cuts for large companies and rich folks–being bandied about when retail stores already have suffered a lack of customers and just about every major sporting and entertainment venue in the country has shut down taking jobs for minimum wage workers. Hmmm, no income no income taxes so what good are tax cuts to the rich at this point other than to gratuitously point out the you want the rest of us dead? However, if you can’t work and you don’t get paid, how you going to eat, pay the water bill, or keep a roof over your head?
So, tough luck for every one depending on Medicaid to get through this. “Trump administration blocks states from using Medicaid to respond to coronavirus crisis” via the LA Times. As usual, we get to eat moon pies which is probably the Trumpvian versio of eating cake.
Despite mounting pleas from California and other states, the Trump administration isn’t allowing states to use Medicaid more freely to respond to the coronavirus crisis by expanding medical services.
In previous emergencies, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 flu outbreak, both Republican and Democratic administrations loosened Medicaid rules to empower states to meet surging needs.
But months into the current global disease outbreak, the White House and senior federal health officials haven’t taken the necessary steps to give states simple pathways to fully leverage the mammoth safety net program to prevent a wider epidemic.
That’s making it harder for states to quickly sign up poor patients for coverage so they can get necessary testing or treatment if they are exposed to coronavirus.
And it threatens to slow efforts by states to bring on new medical providers, set up emergency clinics or begin quarantining and caring for homeless Americans at high risk from the virus.
“If they wanted to do it, they could do it,” said Cindy Mann, who oversaw the Medicaid program in the Obama administration and worked with states to help respond to the H1N1 crisis in 2009.
One reason federal health officials have not acted appears to be President Trump’s reluctance to declare a national emergency. That’s a key step that would clear the way for states to get Medicaid waivers to more nimbly tackle coronavirus, but it would conflict with Trump’s repeated efforts to downplay the seriousness of the epidemic.
I guess Trumpvian national emergencies are only tools to get walls built through wild life refugees and chop up people’s cattle ranches to stop women with children from seeking asylum. However, several people testing positive for the virus got access to Trump who is still holding rallies and eagerly jerking hands around including Brazil’s president. And Ivanka may have got it from an Aussie official. William Barr also met with that same Australian official who tested positive.
Really, it’s likely time we talk massive bailouts and not just those aimed at Wall Street. Yes, I know we’re already bailing out farmers and others in deep because of Trump’s awful trade policies but what are we going to do with all these folks that don’t have paid leave or can’t just telecommute?
We do have some information coming from the NYT on a possible stimulus package that is supposedly nearing agreement between the administration and congress.
The legislation, according to a letter Ms. Pelosi sent to her members, will include enhanced unemployment benefits, free virus testing, aid for food assistance programs and federal funds for Medicaid. The package also ensures 14 days of paid sick leave, as well as tax credits to help small- and medium-size businesses fulfill that mandate. Language was still being drafted for provisions related to family and medical leave, according to a Democratic aide, as staff members worked through the night to prepare the bill.
Ms. Pelosi, in her letter to lawmakers, also said that the House would soon pursue another package “that will take further effective action that protects the health, economic security and well-being of the American people.”
The fast-moving measure reflected a sense of urgency in Washington to enact a fiscal stimulus in the face of a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the financial markets, which have proved impervious to other interventions. The Federal Reserve, in a drastic attempt to ensure Wall Street remained functional as volatility roiled even normally staid bond markets, said it would promptly inject as much as $1.5 trillion in loans into the banking system and broaden its purchases of Treasury securities. But neither the Fed’s actions, nor a plan by the European Central Bank to offer cheap loans to banks and step up its bond-buying campaign, were enough to assuage investors, who sent the S&P 500 down 9.5 percent.
Amanda Marcotte–writing for Salon–believes the Republican Party’s ideology brought us to this point and I agree. Republicans have become rabid take no prisoner free marketeers for every one but their buddies and total suck ups to religious nuts and science deniers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell smelled an evil liberal conspiracy on Thursday, one designed to steal away his decades of tireless work to kneecap the federal government. The Democratic-majority House had passed a large emergency bill, designed to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and McConnell was absolutely certain Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were trying to pull one over on him.
“Unfortunately, it appears at this hour that the speaker and House Democrats instead chose to produce an ideological wish list that was not tailored closely to the circumstances,” McConnell said. He accused Democrats of exploiting this situation, saying the bill addresses “various areas of policy that are barely related, if at all, to the issue before us.”
There’s a lot at stake here, but apparently the big sticking point for McConnell was a provision requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to employees, which McConnell claims would “put thousands of small businesses at risk.”
In reality, of course, this is just common sense. As the New York Times editorial board noted, companies that don’t offer paid sick leave “are endangering their workers and customers.” A lot of workers with public-facing jobs — such as food service workers and retail employees — come into close contact with dozens or hundreds of people a day. But they are the people least likely to be allowed to stay home without losing their jobs, or at least losing a paycheck.
McConnell is so poisoned by his right-wing ideology that he can’t see this, or chooses not to. Instead, he’s standing firm on the long-standing Republican tendency to view employers as feudal lords who should be allowed to treat employees however they wish — even, apparently, if that means allowing a deadly disease to rip through the population, potentially killing hundreds of thousands of people if it is not checked.
This is another reminder that the Republican party is hardly pro-life.
So, the pharmacy undid whatever tech problems my order was having and has informed me I can go pick the damn pills up. I probably should buy new underwear so I can impress any medics that have to show up on my street which according to my mother was much more important than a stockpile of tp. This post also turned up late due to the blue screen of death which was basically Microsoft’s way of crashing my computer to update it. And I will be back with a few things from the grocery store beans, root vegetables and stuff that keeps like my depression surviving okie Nana taught me. Stews for every one!!! This is the new reality! Or maybe it’s just the old with internet.
Have a great time hunkering down with some on healthy you love!
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Posted: March 9, 2020 Filed under: Afternoon Reads
Dear Old Dixie Moon sheet music illustration (1920)
Good Day Sky Dancers!
I don’t even know what to say about the headlines today. All I know is I’m going to have to explain what’s going on in the Financial Markets to a bunch of students Wednesday Night and it’s not going to be pretty. It seems Saudi Arabia is dumping oil and the markets are still reeling from the spreading of the COVID19 virus. They’ve shut trading down for the day because the DJ opened down 1800. The crash is being called #OrangeMonday in remembrance of Cheetolini and his total ignorance of economics and finance.
I would like to start with a public service announcement however that deals with the spread of the virus and one impact you should consider.
Millions of children will lose their access to some of the only meals they receive each day if schools shut down under quarantine. Food banks will be essential. Please just donate money because that can bring fresh food to their homes.
I’ve always been a night person. I admit to loving the night, the stars, the moon, and the general quiet that goes with all of it. I’ve been thinking that the most wonderful thing about the night is it’s like turning off the TV, the internet, and the patriarchy for a brief few hours. So, here are visualizations of me in my happy place. It’s the quiet night with the moon and stars.
From the NYT:
Oil markets crashed and stocks plunged on Monday as a sudden clash among the world’s biggest oil producers gave already rattled investors another reason to worry about the global economy.
Five minutes into the trading day in the United States, the plunge in the S&P 500 hit 7 percent, triggering an automatic trading halt for 15 minutes. The benchmark recovered some ground soon after trading resumed, and was down about 6 percent — its steepest decline since August 2011.
Shares of oil companies and businesses that service the oil and gas sector led the declines, falling more than 20 percent. Manufacturers and banks, which are sensitive to concerns about the economy, also slid.
Financial markets have whipped around for weeks as investors struggled to quantify the economic impact of the spreading coronavirus: stocks have tumbled, oil prices cratered, and yields on government bonds reflected a sense among investors that there was worse still to come.
“Markets want to hear that the global economy is open for business, and the problem is it isn’t easy to say that going forward,” said Patrick Chovanec, chief strategist at the investment advisory firm Silvercrest Asset Management.
But over the weekend, two of the world’s major oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia, added a new element to the mix by setting off a price war for crude.
While low oil prices can be beneficial to some sectors of the economy, they can also disrupt countries that depend heavily on petroleum dollars. The fall in oil prices since the start of the coronavirus also signals a global economic slowdown.
Oil lost nearly a quarter of its value in early trading on Monday, dragging shares of energy companies lower.
In Europe, major stock benchmarks were down more than 7 percent. Shares ended sharply lower in Asia also.
From Pippa Stevens at CNBC: “Oil prices plunge as much as 30% after OPEC deal failure sparks price war”.
Oil prices plunged to multi-year lows on Monday as tensions between Russia and Saudi Arabia escalate, sparking fears on the Street that an all-out price war is imminent.
The sell-off in crude began last week when OPEC failed to strike a deal with its allies, led by Russia, about oil production cuts. That, in turn, caused Saudi Arabia to slash its oil prices as it reportedly looks to ramp up production
WTI plunged 18%, or $7.36, to trade at $33.92 per barrel. WTI is on pace for its second worst day on record. International benchmark Brent crude was down $8.44, or 18.7%, to trade at $36.80 per barrel. Earlier in the session WTI dropped to $30 while Brent traded as low as $31.02, both of which are the lowest levels since Feb. 2016.
“This has turned into a scorched Earth approach by Saudi Arabia, in particular, to deal with the problem of chronic overproduction,” Again Capital’s John Kilduff said. “The Saudis are the lowest cost producer by far. There is a reckoning ahead for all other producers, especially those companies operating in the U.S shale patch.”
The price of gasoline was bound to drop anyway. My daughter in Seattle has been keeping me abreast of a lot including the nearly zero commute time she enjoys to the hospital because no on else is on the road. Schools are closed and many businesses have told their employees to telecommute but this is really going to hurt the economies down here in Louisiana and Texas, let alone all those oil fracking states like North Dakota.
Senator Cory Booker is the latest ex candidate to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden. It appears Biden is about to blow his Bernieness out of the water (which would be Lake Michigan in this case) in Michigan! This is from Todd Spangler writing for the Detroit Free Press.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, riding a wave of momentum from primaries in South Carolina and Super Tuesday states, comes into Tuesday’s Michigan primary with a 24-point lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders in a new Free Press poll.
If Biden’s 51%-27% lead in the poll, done by EPIC-MRA for the Free Press and its media partners, holds, it would guarantee him a signature victory in Michigan — a battleground state that helped President Donald Trump win the White House four years ago. It could also starve Sanders’ formerly front-running campaign of delegates needed for the nomination and call into question how long his effort can remain viable.
“Something happened on Super Tuesday with (other) candidates getting out and people are all of a sudden questioning Bernie’s positions on issues,” said Bernie Porn, pollster for Lansing-based EPIC-MRA, which conducted the survey of 400 likely Democratic primary voters between Wednesday and Friday. “If anything, it may be low in terms of the percentage that Biden may get.”
It does look like Democratic voters have decided on their candidate for better or worse. I sure hope Biden ups his debate performance before he potentially faces the Orange Snot blob.
We’re actually beginning to see public officials here in the US be tested for the COVID19 virus and it’s getting interesting.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton has tested positive for coronavirus via ABC.
And in the instant karma category: “Congressman Who Mocked Emergency Coronavirus Bill Goes Into Self-Quarantine”
When the U.S. House passed an emergency $8.3 billion spending bill to battle the coronavirus epidemic last week, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona questioned the tremendous cost. But Gosar announced last night that he and his staff are going into self-quarantine after it was revealed that Gosar recently spent an extended period of time at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with someone who’s now hospitalized with COVID-19.
“I am not currently experiencing any symptoms, nor is any member of my staff. However, in order to prevent any potential transmission, I will remain at my home in Arizona until the conclusion of the 14 day period following my interaction with this individual,” Gosar said in a statement posted to his website, noting that he shook hands with the unnamed coronavirus patient “several times.”
“Additionally, out of an abundance of caution, I am closing my office in Washington, D.C. for the week and my team will follow the previously approved Tele-commute plan,” Gosar continued.
Senator Tom Cruz has also self-quarantined himself. Wow! Texas really must be under bad moon rising! Oil crisis and two of its freakzoid congress critterz possibly down with the bug!
Senator Ted Cruz will self-quarantine in his Texas home. He said he had a “brief conversation and a handshake” with the unnamed person at the recent CPAC conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
“I’m not experiencing any symptoms, and I feel fine and healthy,” Cruz said in a statement, adding that authorities have advised him the odds of transmission given their brief interaction was “extremely low.” Those who’ve interacted with him in the last 10 days “should not be concerned about potential transmission,” medical authorities have told him.
I can’t imagine Cruz Cooties are pleasant any day of the week frankly.
In other news:
So, I hope you made it through the first couple days of Daylight Savings Time. It’s that time of the year when I get to spend more time wondering why I am up so damned early! I’m realizing I’m having to tag this as an afternoon reads when it should still be morning and I’m still drinking my coffee. I mean really. I’m supposed to be over the moon waking up so early?
What’s on reading and blogging list today?
Posted: February 21, 2020 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: Director of National Intelligence (DNA), political purges, presidential pardons
Good Day Sky Dancers!
What happens in an autocratic government when someone tells the Tin Pot Fattie something he doesn’t want to hear? Well, it’s something akin to off with his head Amerikkkan style. Heaven forbid we get to decide our own elections here without Russian or Saudi or Chinese or Israeli interference! Yeah, if we’re lucky Susan Collins might raise an eyebrow and Lindsey Graham might find one tiny pearl to clutch on Sunday’s news programs. But, it’s more like Moscow Mitch will keep them all in the pack like good little playing card soldiers.
Bye Bye National Security!
From The Daily Beast: “Russia Is Helping Elect Trump Again, Intel Official Says”.
Intelligence officials briefed House lawmakers last week that Russian actors were interfering in the 2020 elections, once more to the benefit of Donald Trump. The contents of the briefing, which was first reported by The New York Times, sparked a series of dramatic events that have further eroded relations between Hill Democrats and the White House, and prompted the president—it appears—to appoint a top political ally to oversee the nation’s national security apparatus.
The meeting, which took place on Feb. 13, was conducted for the House Intelligence Committee by an aide to the outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. According to a legislator who was present, the aide, Shelby Pierson, Maguire’s election security chief, described a Russian elections-intrusion effort that never stopped from 2016.
“It continues with the same target, and the same purpose, and it’s clear that they [the Russians] favor one candidate over the other,” is how the lawmaker described it.
“The Republicans [on the committee] went nuts,” over Pierson’s presentation, the member told The Daily Beast. A second source familiar with the briefing said that Republicans didn’t understand why the Kremlin would try to boost Trump, since he had been so tough on Russia, in their view. Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Will Hurd (R-TX) and Chris Stewart (R-UT)—who, according to The Times, has been a Trump favorite to replace Maguire—were particularly vocal in their skepticism, the member said. A spokesperson for Wenstrup said the congressman does not comment on classified or closed-door matters before the Intelligence Committee. Spokespersons for Stewart and Hurd did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Raise your hand if you learned in first or second grade why the Russians want our country in eternal and internal disarray. So now, The Tin Pot Fattie has replaced an experienced National Intelligence official with a Republican Politico operative that goes on Fox and twitter to stroke the orange snot blob’s bottomless need for adoration. This is from WAPO: “Senior intelligence official told lawmakers that Russia wants to see Trump reelected”. Yes he knows his electoral illegitimacy really knows no bounds!
Trump announced Wednesday that he was replacing Maguire with a vocal loyalist, Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany. The shake-up at the top of the intelligence community is the latest move in a post-impeachment purge. Trump has instructed aides to identify and remove officials across the government who aren’t defending his interests, and he wants them replaced with loyalists.
A senior U.S. intelligence official told lawmakers last week that Russia wants to see President Trump reelected, viewing his administration as more favorable to the Kremlin’s interests, according to people who were briefed on the comments.
After learning of that analysis, which was provided to House lawmakers in a classified hearing, Trump grew angry at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, in the Oval Office, seeing Maguire and his staff as disloyal for speaking to Congress about Russia’s perceived preference. The intelligence official’s analysis and Trump’s furious response ruined Maguire’s chances of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, according to people familiar with the matter who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Maguire, a career official who is respected by the intelligence rank and file, was considered a leading candidate to be nominated to the post of DNI, White House aides had said. But Trump’s opinion shifted last week when he heard from a Republican ally about the official’s remarks.
The official, Shelby Pierson, said several times during the briefing that Russia had “developed a preference” for Trump, according to a U.S. official familiar with her comments. That conclusion was part of a broader discussion of election security that also touched on when the U.S. government should warn Democratic candidates if they are being targeted by foreign governments.
So, now what? He’s got help from the Russians and as usual, we’ve got the GOP trying to suppress the vote and minority participation in the US Census which sets up all kinds of political and funding priorities in the country. From the L.A. Times: “GOP is accused of sending misleading ‘census’ forms ahead of the actual count”
The Republican National Committee is sending documents labeled “2020 Congressional District Census” to people in California and across the country just weeks before the start of the official nationwide count of the country’s population.
Critics say the misleading mailers — in envelopes labeled “Do Not Destroy. Official Document” and including a lengthy questionnaire on blue-tinted paper similar to the type used by the real census — are designed to confuse people and possibly lower the response rate when the count begins in mid-March.
The top of the mailer states it is “commissioned by the Republican Party.” In smaller print on the second page, below a request for donations, is a notice that it is paid for by the Republican National Committee. Included in the envelope is a four-page letter from National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel asking for donations to the party and a promise to support Trump in 2020.
Unlike the official census form, the RNC survey is largely made up of political questions, such as whether the respondent supports using military force against Iran, thinks race relations in the country are getting worse and believes “political correctness” has gotten out of hand.
From the UK Daily Mail: “Russia is interfering AGAIN in 2020 election to help Donald Trump get a second term, intelligence officials secretly told Congress – prompting fury from president and Republicans” I’m pretty sure the fury is they’ve just been caught again and that’s about it.
One lawmaker told the Daily Beast that the officials briefed them that: ‘It continues with the same target, and the same purpose, and it’s clear that they [the Russians] favor one candidate over the other.
Trump was furious when he learned that Schiff had been briefed that intelligence officials believe Russia is trying to aid his re-election – and wrongly believed it was only the Democrat who had been briefed.
The president believed the information would be used against him, sources told the New York Times.
Schiff was the lead Democratic house manager at Trump’s impeachment trial, which ended in his acquittal earlier this month.
In the wake of learning that Schiff had been briefed, Trump had a furious confrontation with the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire.
Maguire was replaced Wednesday night by Rick Grenell, Trump’s ultra-loyal ambassador to Germany.
The New York Times reported that two Trump officials said the timing was a coincidence and not because of the row about the briefing.
The official who told lawmakers Russia was meddling was named as Maguire’s aide Shelby Pierson, who serves as the intelligence community’s top election security official.
Trump blew up at Maguire in the Oval Office last week over what the president perceived as staff disloyalty, citing Pierson’s briefing.
That ruined Maguire’s chance of becoming the permanent intelligence chief, sources told The Washington Post.
Trump incorrectly believed Pierson gave the information exclusively to Schiff and gave Maguire a ‘dressing down’ that left him ‘despondent,’ sources told the newspaper.
Pierson chairs the Election Executive and Leadership Board, which was created in July 2019 to specifically deal with election security matters.
She gave the closed-door briefing to the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday.
One of Trump’s Republican allies on the committee told him what she said, the Post reported.
Some of Trump’s biggest defenders during the House impeachment inquiry – including Reps. Devin Nunes and Elise Stefanik – sit on the intelligence panel.
So, the president is still a moron. This may not rival the Night of the Long Knives but combined with granting pardons to people who have abused their power in public positions and absconded with public treasure seems particularly relevant to the crime family occupying the Oval Office.
Guess who is in charge of that process now? This is from Salon: “Trump’s controversial pardons came after Kushner wrestled control from Justice Department: report. Kushner supported clemency for Rod Blagojevich even as White House officials allegedly “argued heavily against it”
I suppose after you’ve cribbed and stolen your plan for an Israeli Palestinian peace process off of a 40 year old book and it’s going nowhere you have to look for other hobbies.
President Donald Trump’s controversial pardons of numerous supporters convicted of corruption came after his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner wrestled control of the process from the Department of Justice, according to a new report.
While the Justice Department has traditionally overseen the pardon process and made recommendations to the White House, Kushner has taken “a leading role” as the Trump administration seeks to exert more control over clemency decisions, The Washington Post reported.
Trump, who granted clemency to 11 people on Tuesday, tasked Kushner and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who served on the president’s impeachment legal team, last year with revamping the pardon process, according to the report. All clemency applications must now be submitted directly to the White House Office of American Innovation, which is headed by Kushner. Trump’s son-in-law has also been tasked with solving Middle East peace, reforming the immigration system, building the border wall and re-electing the president, among a variety of other responsibilities.
Kushner has personally reviewed applications before presenting them to Trump for approval, two senior administration officials told the outlet.
So far, this is going really well for crooked elected officials and political appointees isn’t it? What’s next? Pardoning Jared’s Dad? Or Roger Stone? This is via CNN.
President Donald Trump said Thursday he won’t act to grant clemency to his friend and former associate Roger Stone right now, saying he wants the process to play out before making a decision.
“I’m not going to do anything in terms of the great powers bestowed upon a president of the United States, I want the process play out, I think that’s the best thing to do,” Trump said in Las Vegas. “Because I’d love to see Roger exonerated and I’d love to see it happen because I personally think he was treated very unfairly.”
The President didn’t rule out an eventual pardon or commutation, but said the process should play out first.
“At some point I’ll make a determination, but Roger Stone and everybody has to be treated fairly. And this has not been a fair process,” Trump said.
Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison earlier Thursday. He was convicted last fall of lying to Congress and threatening a witness regarding his efforts for Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Meanwhile, meet the Acting DNI RIchard Grenell via TPM . Maybe Hope Hicks should have the job next.
Grenell, a vocal Trump loyalist who is currently the ambassador to Germany, brings to the job of acting Director of National Intelligence years of experience aggravating the German government coupled with a background in strategic communications.
The political operative’s appointment has raised questions of his fitness for the job. As director of national intelligence, Grenell will oversee the 17 constituent agencies of the country’s intelligence community, managing the flow of information gathered by the country’s spies to President Trump.
“It’s difficult to contemplate managing 17 different organizations without having any experience with the intelligence process overall,” Jeffrey Edmonds, a former director for Russia on the National Security Council and a former CIA intelligence analyst, told TPM. “I just think it’s quite dangerous in the sense that the right information might not get to the right people.”
Since DNI Dan Coats stepped down from the position in August 2019, the government has lacked a Senate-confirmed official in the job.
So, I’m depressed enough and still coughing way too much with this flu so I’ll end with these two things. But, please add more!
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Posted: February 17, 2020 Filed under: Afternoon Reads
A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
—James Madison, in a letter to W T Barry, Aug 4, 1822
Good Day Sky Dancers!
We’re deep in parade season down here in New Orleans which gives me a much needed escape from the reality of living in Trumpist America. I never quite know what to do with it, the Trump cult, and the surprised old Republicans who can’t believe all that race-baiting, gun fetishism, and radical religious right enabling they’ve done for their base has finally left the dreamland of ‘Give us your votes and we’ll talk a good story at you’ in trade for the cult of a mobster/monster that will do anything for money and attention.
Jennifer Rubin is an outspoken never-Trumper but fed the beast that now consumes the US Constitution when she thought it was simply tax cuts and lip service. Her op-ed today makes for interesting reading: “The descent of the GOP into authoritarian know-nothingism”.
I could have told you they were headed there back in the 1980s when I was in my 20s. But, anyway … she’s got its number now. I always thought Ronald Reagan was the smiley face version of ‘GOP authoritarian known knowthingism ‘ back then when Rubin was still thinking it was all fine and good. Trump talked about Mexicans as ‘criminals and rapists’ for his announcement while Reagan was all ‘welfare queens with Cadillacs.’ Come at me and tell me that you think both those sentiments don’t go at the same dark vision of the non-Anglo American. I can give you more quotes than that. We can talk policy. Anyway, more follows below.
It is not as if anti-intellectualism suddenly appeared with the election of President Trump. The habitual rejection of expertise on everything from climate change to the economic impact of immigration has been rampant in the Republican Party for some time. It is part and parcel of the invented victimization of mostly white, non-college-educated men who attribute their loss of prestige and status to “elites,” especially those in colleges and the media. Even right-wingers who should know better have felt compelled to pander to audiences that wear ignorance and anti-intellectualism as a badge of honor.
With Trump, the resort to lies, conspiracies and propaganda has become a matter of political survival for the ambitious right-wingers. Trump’s authoritarian contempt for truth sets the tone, forcing military hawks such as Cotton to remain mum when Trump dismisses traumatic brain injuries as “headaches” and former Cold Warriors such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to parrot Russian propaganda on Ukraine.
Their know-nothingism is sustained and hardened inside the right-wing media loop. Trump and his sycophants can repeat whatever falsehoods required to support Trump without fear of contradiction, let alone mockery, in the right-wing media world. It is only when Republicans venture out into legitimate media that refuses to play along with conspiracy theories that they run into trouble.
Trump has merged the know-nothingism of right-wing populism with a far more dangerous intellectual evolution from defense of limited-government conservatism, which was formerly at the heart of modern conservatism, to outright worship of authoritarianism. Now, far too many conservatives have reverence for executive power and reject constitutional government.
Attorney General William P. Barr and his cheerleaders from the Federalist Society embody this frightening development. Donald Ayer, former U.S. deputy attorney general under George H.W. Bush, writes that Barr advocates “the need for a virtually autocratic executive who is not constrained by countervailing powers within our government under the constitutional system of checks and balances.” For Barr, limited government means limited checks on the president, the antithesis of the framers’ vision.
So, we’ve got Sen Tom Cotton spreading conspiracy theories about the Coronavirus. The entire party denies climate change and still believes wholesale tax cuts to the rich do something other than blow up the deficit and lead to problems with infrastructure and basic necessary services like dealing with the actual potential threat of the Coronavirus.
The only Republican news recently that I find really hard to believe that seems to be verifiably true is that Stephen Miller found a woman dumb enough to marry him and the spoils of the wedding went to a Trump hotel. See, there’s enough truth can be strange in that Party that you’d think they’d just thrive on that rather than baseless conspiracy theories. And he’s the embodiment of policy shaped by the vision of both Reagan’s ‘welfare queens’ and Trump’s ‘rapists and criminals’ that are still as odious as they day either were spoken.
In 1976, Reagan repeatedly invoked his own female bête noire as he barnstormed the country in a doomed bid to primary President Gerald Ford. There’s a woman in Chicago, Reagan told voters, who “used eighty names, thirty addresses, fifteen telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four non-existent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare.” And she wasn’t the only one. Reagan bemoaned a welfare system infested with fraud, although he kept returning to the woman in Chicago. She wore a fur coat. She drove a Cadillac. She paid for T-bone steaks with food stamps. He didn’t refer to her by name but by a sobriquet—one he didn’t invent, but which he repeated so often it metastasized into an ugly stereotype: She was the welfare queen.
We cannot be a more perfect union until the racist tropes of Trump and his Republican cronies are removed from the American political lexicon.
“Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes”
—Benjamin Franklin in a letter written in November 1789, to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Le Roy,
So, another Trumpist “conspiracy” theory is how great the economy is doing. I shall point to the bar chart above to show you that Trump’s economy is quite average. It comes via Axios and statistics easily found at a FED or Department of Labor near you.
Why it matters: GDP is the most comprehensive economic scorecard — and something presidents, especially Trump, use as an example of success. And it’s especially relevant since Trump is running for re-election on his economic record.
Between the lines: Economists dispute how much credit presidents can take for a booming or sagging economy under their watch. There are factors that can boost or reduce growth outside of their policies.
Where it stands: Unlike other presidents, Trump inherited a steady economy that’s since entered the longest stretch of growth in history. Interest rates remain low. Growth picked up in the wake of the 2017 tax cuts, but now the pace has moderated.
What he’s saying: “Our economy is the best it has ever been,” Trump said earlier this month in his State of the Union speech.
But some aspects of the Trump economy, like wage growth and business investment, pale in comparison to other periods.
While solid, “this is not a gangbusters economy,” Nathan Sheets, who’s held roles at the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, tells Axios.
There have been periods with “high growth, low inflation, rapid productivity, and the gains from growth were being broadly shared across society. That was gangbusters,” says Sheets.
By the numbers: Last year the economy grew at 2.3%, after year-over-year accelerations in 2017 and 2018 — marking he slowest annual growth rate since Trump took office. Growth under Trump has yet to hit his oft-promised 3% mark annually.
Economists say the effects of the tax are wearing off. Businesses were too unnerved by the trade war to spend money on new factories or equipment — a key driver of growth.
Yes, but: If history is any guide, an incumbent president isn’t going to have a great shot at re-election if the economy tips into a recession under their watch.
The press needs to really speak out on our average economy and all its underlying problems like farm bankruptcies and more loss of manufacturing and export related jobs and industry.
“For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.”
—George Washington, in an address to the officers of the army on March 15, 1783
So, the Editors of New York Magazine ponder this dreadful thought “11 Months From Today. A second term for Trump seems more possible than ever. But what would it look like?” which I seem to wonder myself given that Bernie, Biden and Bloomberg seem to sucking in all the breathable fresh air these days and returning it to us toxic. So, what 19 alternative realities does Jonathan Chait and his panel of experts imagine? They all sound horrible and you may read them. This one is my for sure takeaway.
In the past four years, I saw people in my clinical practice experiencing a level of anxiety specific to the political climate that we really hadn’t seen before. It’s why I started writing about “Trump anxiety disorder.” The American Psychological Association does a “Stress in America” survey, and the 2019 one had 62 percent of American adults citing the current political climate as a source of stress, which has gone up since Trump took office. It’s not unlike a child living in a home that’s chaotic; we don’t have faith in the leaders we have historically put trust in, and that’s creating a lot of trauma. If Trump does get reelected, we’ll see a spike in this feeling of fear like we haven’t seen before. People will have to come to terms with the prospect of another four years of trying to keep up the fight. We can feel anxious for only so long, because anxiety is exhausting, and eventually that fatigue could transform into depression and leave us feeling really helpless. All of that could lead to more civil unrest or unhealthy behaviors such as drinking and emotional eating — people trying to deal with the stress in any way they can.
—Dr. Jennifer Panning
We may still have a hint of a Republic. Can we keep it? Or will the Democratic party hand it to Republicans to strangle this year?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Posted: February 13, 2020 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Bill Barr, Donald Trump, James Madison, Jonathan Kravis, Roger Stone
Are we in a Constitutional crisis yet? I think we are. Trump is acting as if he has dictatorial powers and it appears that some of our institutions are crumbling under his attacks.
The State Department and the Justice Department are going along with Trump’s undemocratic demands. Bill Barr has turned the DOJ into Trump’s private law firm. Trump is now attacking the judicial system, demanding that judges treat his cronies leniently and punish his enemies harshly.
The Defense Department has acquiesced to his taking funds appropriated for other purposes to build his idiotic border wall. The GOP-controlled Senate has refused to rein him in through his impeachment trial, and in the process they have damaged their own legislative and oversight powers.
Can we survive Trump’s attack on our democracy? It looks like our only hope is to defeat him in November, but Republicans in the Senate are doing their damnedest to prevent any attempts to protect election security. In acquitting him in the impeachment “trial,” GOP Senators endorsed Trump’s efforts to get foreign governments to help in his reelection. Finally, Trump could very well win enough electoral votes to win even if he loses the popular vote again.
We definitely need massive protests in the streets. Will it happen? We also need the media to wake up and take this crisis seriously. Yes Trump is a moron and does all kinds of moronic things, but this is no laughing matter. Investigative reporters need to continue revealing Trump’s corruption and his power grabs and political reporters need to focus more on vetting the Democratic candidates and writing about their policy proposals and less on the horse race.
Stories to check out today
Michael Gerhardt at The Atlantic: Madison’s Nightmare Has Come to America.
The Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is over, ending with all but one Republican voting to acquit. But the effort to make sense of its constitutional ramifications is only beginning.
Almost a half century ago, President Richard Nixon’s resignation was thought to have proved that the constitutional system worked, with the House, the Senate, and a special prosecutor each having conducted long, painstaking investigations into his misconduct; the Supreme Court having directed President Nixon to comply with a judicial subpoena to turn over taped conversations; and the House Judiciary Committee having approved three articles of impeachment shortly before Nixon resigned.
In sharp contrast, few think that the acquittal of President Trump is a triumph for the Constitution. Instead, it reveals a different, disturbing lesson, about how the American political system—and the Constitution itself—might be fundamentally flawed.
Since the writing of the Constitution, three developments have substantially altered the effectiveness of impeachment as a check on presidential misconduct. The first is the rise of extreme partisanship, under which each party’s goal is frequently to vanquish the other and control as much of the federal government as possible. This aim is fundamentally incompatible with the system that James Madison designed, premised as it was on negotiation, compromise, and a variety of checking mechanisms to ensure that no branch or faction was beyond the reach of the Constitution or the law.
Read the rest at the link. It’s not very long.
Stephen Collinson at CNN: The President’s decision to expand his power post-trial has stunned Washington.
It’s time to stop asking whether President Donald Trump will learn lessons from the controversies he constantly stokes — of course he does. But far from stepping back or opting for contrition as his critics and appeasers hope, Trump draws darker political conclusions.
The result is that he expands his own power by confounding institutional restraints and opening a zone of presidential impunity — while at the same time delighting his political base.
Trump’s interference in the sentencing of his long-time associate Roger Stone and a post-impeachment retribution splurge reflect a lifetime’s lessons of a real estate baron turned public servant.
On Wednesday, Trump publicly praised the Justice Department for reversing its call for a stiff jail term for Stone after his own critical late night tweet that laid bare fears of blatant interference in bedrock US justice.
“I want to thank the Justice Department for seeing this horrible thing. And I didn’t speak to them by the way, just so you understand. They saw the horribleness of a nine-year sentence for doing nothing,” the President told reporters.
He noted that the four prosecutors who quit the Stone case “hit the road,” raising the prospect that their protests failed to introduce accountability to the administration and only served to further hollow out the government and make it more pliable to the President.
Trump denied that he crossed a line. But his tweet left no doubt about what he wanted to happen. And his strategy, in this case and others, actually worked.
Just as he used US government power to smear Joe Biden in the Ukraine scandal, he succeeded in getting favorable treatment for a friend in the Stone case — though the final sentence will be up to a judge.
Chuck Rosenberg at The Washington Post: This is a revolting assault on the fragile rule of law.
Something extraordinary and deeply troubling happened at — and to — the Justice Department this week. Four federal prosecutors properly, and as a matter of conscience, withdrew from the Roger Stone case. They had shepherded that case through the criminal-justice system but in an alarming development were ordered to disavow a sentencing recommendation they filed with the federal judge overseeing the matter….
We all understand that the leadership at the top of the department is politically appointed, and we make peace with that (in addition to my work as a career federal prosecutor, I served in political positions under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the Justice Department and worked for thoughtful appointed leaders of both parties), but being asked by that leadership to allow politics to corrode our work is not remotely normal or permissible. And it is treacherous.
The rule of law is a construct. It was made by people — and is nurtured and preserved by people. It can also be destroyed by people. And unlike the law of gravity, which works everywhere and all the time (at least on this planet), the rule of law is precious and fragile. As citizens and prosecutors, we either safeguard it or we surrender it. That’s the choice. What political leadership did here — mandating a favor for a friend of the president in line with the president’s publicly expressed desire in the case — significantly damages the rule of law and the perception of Justice Department fairness.
Principled resignations by career federal prosecutors highlighted this dangerous stunt. I am proud of them for that.
But I find it revolting that they were pushed into that corner (one resigned his job; three others resigned from the case) and saddened by their sacrifice. This is not normal and it is not right,and it is dangerous territory for the rule of law.
Safeguard or surrender. You choose.
Bob Bauer at The New York Times: Trump and Barr Are Out of Control.
The resignation of a Justice Department prosecutor over the sentencing of Roger Stone is a major event. The prosecutor, Jonathan Kravis, apparently concluded that he could not, in good conscience, remain in his post if the department leadership appeared to buckle under White House pressure to abandon a sentencing recommendation in the case of Mr. Stone, the associate of President Trump who was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Three of his colleagues quit the Stone case but remain with the department: Mr. Kravis left altogether. Even though the president for years has derided federal law enforcement officials, accusing them variously of conflicts of interest and criminality and weakness in not pursuing prosecution of his political opposition, Mr. Kravis’s is the first resignation in the face of these assaults.
Dramatically forceful responses to Mr. Trump’s assaults on rule-of-law norms have been all too rare. A resignation can set off an alarm bell for an institution whose failings an official might be unable to bring to light in no other way, or as effectively. It upholds rule of law norms in the very act of signaling that they are failing. It makes its point with power and transparency, and stands a chance of rallying support from those who remain in place and compelling other institutions like the press and Congress to take close notice.
The government official who resigns for these reasons is, paradoxically, doing his or her job by leaving it.
Read more at The NYT.
Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman at Politico: ‘Really shocking’: Trump’s meddling in Stone case stuns Washington.
President Donald Trump’s post-impeachment acquittal behavior is casting a chill in Washington, with Attorney General William Barr emerging as a key ally in the president’s quest for vengeance against the law enforcement and national security establishment that initiated the Russia and Ukraine investigations.
In perhaps the most tumultuous day yet for the Justice Department under Trump, four top prosecutors withdrew on Tuesday from a case involving the president’s longtime friend Roger Stone after senior department officials overrode their sentencing recommendation—a backpedaling that DOJ veterans and legal experts suspect was influenced by Trump’s own displeasure with the prosecutors’ judgment.
“With Bill Barr, on an amazing number of occasions … you can be almost 100 percent certain that there’s something improper going on,” said Donald Ayer, the former deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration.
The president has only inflamed such suspicions, congratulating Barr on Wednesday for intervening in Stone’s case and teeing off hours later on the prosecutors, calling them “Mueller people” who treated Stone “very badly.”
The president said he had not spoken with Barr about the matter, but Ayer called the attorney general’s apparent intervention “really shocking,” because Barr “has now entered into the area of criminal sanction, which is the one area probably more than any other where it’s most important that the Justice Department’s conduct be above reproach and beyond suspicion.”
What will today bring? I haven’t turned on the TV yet, but I’m very fearful of what Trump will do next. Courage, Sky Dancers! This is an open thread.
Posted: January 18, 2020 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, U.S. Politics | Tags: Andy Warhol, cults, Dmytro Firtash, Donald Trump, Lev Parnas, Trump as cult leader
The cat illustrations and paintings in this post are by Andy Warhol.
Lev Parnas is still dominating the headlines as we move toward the impeachment trial that is scheduled to begin next week; I’m focusing this post on his revelations and reactions to them. Here’s the latest.
CNN: New documents from Parnas reveal more on possible Yovanovitch surveillance, communication with Nunes aide.
House Democrats on Friday released new documents from indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas ahead of the Senate trial that includes new information about the apparent surveillance of former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and additional contacts between Parnas and an aide to Rep. Devin Nunes of California….
The new documents include screenshots of undated text messages that appear to show Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut, messaging with a foreign number from Belgium, which appear to describe efforts to surveil Yovanovitch. Hyde appeared to share the screenshots with Parnas, which is how they wound up on his phone that he turned over to House investigators.
The Belgian country-code number sends Hyde a screenshot of an official photo of Yovanovitch. The Belgium number, whose identity is not known, writes “My contacts are checking,” adding, “I will give you the address next week.”
Hyde replied, “Awesome.”
In another series of texts, the Belgian number tells Hyde at 2:05 p.m., “Nothing has changed she is still not moving they check today again,” shortly adding, “It’s confirmed we have a person inside.”
“She had visitors,” the Belgian number texted in another exchange.
Hyde is claiming it was all a “joke,” but I think we need to know the name of the guy in Belgium.
“I’m a landscaper from Simsbury, Connecticut, that is trying to get into the government relations, public relations world, lobbying world, whatever you want to call it,” Hyde said. “And this guy Adam Schiff is a bad character. … It was just copy and paste b——- from some intel guy — probably that was f—ing with me, trying to set Trump up.”
On Devin Nunes:
The new documents also show communications between Parnas and Nunes aide Derek Harvey, in which they arrange interviews with Ukrainian officials and apparent meetings at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., including with Giuliani.
The new materials draw Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, even further into the efforts undertaken by Giuliani and his associates to push out Yovanovitch in Ukraine and dig up dirt on the President’s political rivals. Last month, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee included in their impeachment inquiry report phone records of calls exchanged between Nunes and Parnas and other allies of President Donald Trump.
Nunes admitted Wednesday to speaking on the phone with Parnas, who has become a key figure in the Ukraine scandal, after previously saying such a conversation would have been “very unlikely.”
Read more at CNN. Also see this piece by Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: New text messages put Devin Nunes on the hot seat.
Betsy Swan at The Daily Beast posted a lengthy article on her interview with Parnas: Lev Parnas Dishes On Kushner, Maduro, and Soros.
A dinner with Jared and Ivanka about cannabis, a phone call from Trump Hotel with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and a whole lot of theorizing about George Soros. Lev Parnas’ interactions with Trumpworld, in his words, went way beyond the Ukraine influence effort.
The former ally of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani spent more than a year embedded with some of the president’s close outside allies. In that time, he said he had an inside view of all sorts of eyebrow-raising interactions and conversations. He described several of them in an interview with The Daily Beast from his lawyer’s office in Midtown Manhattan.
He spoke at length about his former allies Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, and Joe diGenova. A spokesperson for Toensing and diGenova’s law firm indicated that the topics he discussed were covered by attorney-client privilege. “It is unfortunate that some people will violate the attorney-client privilege,” the spokesperson said. “We cannot.”
Giuliani and his lawyers did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the interview.
The interview is much too long to summarize with excerpts so you’ll have to click the link to read all the gossip.
Lucian K. Truscott IV at Salon: The man who knows too much: Lev Parnas is the smoking gun on Ukraine scandal.
Revelations this week by Rudy Giuliani’s henchman Lev Parnas in interviews with MSNBC, CNN and the New York Times blew Iran out of the headlines and landed on Capitol Hill like a bomb. Here was an insider in the Ukraine conspiracy not only willing to talk, but to provide documents to back up allegations he has made about Trump’s shakedown of Volodymyr Zelensky to get dirt on his potential Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Parnas is the reason Republicans are so scared of opening the Senate trial of Trump to witness testimony. According to Parnas, everyone was in on the Ukraine scheme. Trump himself, of course, but also Vice President Mike Pence was in on it. So was Attorney General William Barr, so was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and so were Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and national security adviser John Bolton. At the very center of the scheme, according to Parnas, was the man he worked for, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Parnas has letters, text messages, contemporaneous notes, travel documents and more to back up his recollections of what happened as Trump tried to muscle Ukraine into aiding his re-election campaign by announcing an investigation of Biden. Trump was obviously getting ready to pound Biden with Ukraine conspiracy allegations the same way he pounded Hillary Clinton about her emails in 2016. Hey, it worked once! Why not?
After testimony by 10 witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee last fall, new information has continued to roll in. We have recently learned that the order to withhold the $400 million in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine came the day after Trump’s “perfect” phone call with the Ukrainian president last July 25. More recently, a series of emails and other contacts at the top of the Trump administration questioning the legality of the sequestering of the funds has come to light. And now we’ve got Parnas and his trove of texts, notes, letters and other documents that back up his stories about working for Giuliani to get former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired, and all the machinations surrounding the shakedown of Ukraine’s president and other officials to get them to investigate Biden.
But too little attention has been paid to the oldest question of all: Cui bono? Who benefits? Trump, of course. But how? Was it all about Biden, or was there something else Trump was trying to accomplish? Scratch the surface of the Ukraine scandal, and what you see is Russia, and Trump’s old pal, Vladimir Putin.
Read the rest at Salon. Also worth a read at Slate: New Documents Casually Destroy the Already-Bad Republican Case That Trump’s Ukraine Scheme Was Aboveboard, By Ben Mathis-Lilly.
In case you missed it, Parnas told Rachel Maddow that being in Trump’s orbit is felt like a cult. A new book argues that Trump behaves exactly like a cult leader. Lauren Frias at Business Insider: Lev Parnas and Michael Cohen are right to think working for Trump was like being in a cult, according to a cult expert.
Steve Hassan, a cult expert and author of a book called “The Cult of Trump,” spoke to Insider about the ways in which Trump and his circle behave share characteristics with cults.
“What’s interesting and shocking to me is to hear Lev Parnas describe [Trump] as a cult leader and such, and I’m curious how he arrived to that insight,” Hassan said, referring to an MSNBC interview Parnas gave.
“I knew that Trump fit the stereotypical profile of all cult leaders, which is essentially malignant narcissism, which is the narcissism — plus the psychopathic elements of feeling above the law, the pathological lying, paranoia, the jealousy, the harassment,” he added….
“First of all, cult leaders think they’re above everybody else, above the law, and then everything exists for their adulation,” Hassan said.
“Cult leaders think nothing of using people like pawns to get their way, and it doesn’t matter if there are people on the staff saying this is a bad idea, which apparently Bolton did,” Hassan said. In December The New York Times reported that former national security adviser John Bolton tried to convince Trump to release military aid to Ukraine.
“His will matters more than any rationality and the potential consequence,” Hassan continued.
He said cult leaders also have a tendency to cast out anyone who disagrees with them. He says this can be seen in the record high turnover of staff in the Trump White House.
Read more at Business Insider.
One more by Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: The Kremlin Inches Closer to the Biden PlotLev Parnas pointed his finger at Dmytro Firtash.
Somewhere near the heart of the Ukraine scandal is the oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Evidence has long suggested this fact. But over the past week, in a televised interview and in documents he supplied to Congress, Rudy Giuliani’s former business partner Lev Parnas pointed his finger at the Ukrainian oligarch. According to Parnas, Giuliani’s team had a deal with Firtash. Giulani would get the Justice Department to drop its attempt to extradite the oligarch on bribery charges. In return, according to Parnas, the oligarch promised to pass along evidence that would supposedly discredit both Joe Biden and Robert Mueller.
Parnas’s account, of course, is hardly definitive. Throughout his career, he has attempted to inflate his importance to make money. (Firtash apparently paid him $1 million for his services, though it’s still not totally clear what those services were.) And his description of Firtash’s involvement raises as many questions as it settles. Still, the apparent centrality of Firtash should inform any assessment of Giuliani’s escapades and the entire Ukraine story.
Andy Warhol with kitten, 1957
When commentators invoke the name Dmytro Firtash, it is usually followed by mention of his alleged connections to Russian organized crime and the fact that he is close to the Kremlin. These descriptions, however, understate his ties to Vladimir Putin. In his book Russia’s Crony Capitalism, the Atlantic Council’s Anders Aslund describes Firtash as a “Kremlin Influence agent.” A Ukrainian parliamentarian who investigated Firtash has called him “a political person representing Russian interests in Ukraine.” That representative of Russian interests is who Giuliani and Parnas apparently enlisted as their partner.
The rapid ascent of Firtash, a fireman from western Ukraine, remains mysterious—although he once disgorged details from his past in a long chat with the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Bill Taylor, a description of which eventually emerged in a WikiLeaks document dump. But it’s been widely reported that Firtash attached himself to the gangster Semion Mogilevich, one of the region’s most important Mafia bosses, a man the FBI placed on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. (His lawyers vociferously deny any connections to gangsters.)
When Putin ascended to power in 2000, he gained control of his country’s natural-gas business. He placed his allies at the helm of the country’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, and he has routinely wielded that company as an instrument of Russian foreign policy. In 2002, Firtash became Gazprom’s most important middleman: He was responsible for selling Russian gas to Ukraine. Thanks to an extraordinary Reuters investigation, which burrowed into Customs documents, contracts, and Cyprus bank accounts, the details of this arrangement are now well known. Gazprom sold Firtash gas at four times below the market price. When Firtash resold the gas to the Ukrainian state, he pocketed a profit of $3 billion. Even as he amassed this fortune, bankers close to Putin extended Firtash an $11 billion line of credit.
Read the rest at The Atlantic. It’s fascinating.
That’s it for me. I hope you all enjoy the long weekend!