Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

It has been quite a roller coaster ride for politics junkies over the past couple of days.

First, Buzzfeed news posted a blockbuster story on Thursday night citing law enforcement sources who claimed to have documentary evidence that Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow deal that was in the works during the 2016 campaign.

The story was out there for a full day and then the Special Counsel’s office released a cryptic statement saying there was something wrong with the story but not specifically spelling out the problem. CNN: Mueller’s office disputes BuzzFeed report that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, in a statement.

By Alice Neel

It’s highly unusual for the special counsel’s office to provide a statement to the media — outside of court filings and judicial hearings — about any of its ongoing investigative activities.

In response, BuzzFeed said in its own statement, “We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report.”
Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief at Buzzfeed, echoed similar sentiments.

“We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing,” he tweeted….

The BuzzFeed story, by reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, asserted that Cohen had told special counsel investigators that “after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations [for a Trump development project in Moscow] ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement,” BuzzFeed wrote, attributing its assertion to two law enforcement sources.

The sources also said the special counsel’s office had corroborating Trump company emails, text messages and other documents, though the BuzzFeed reporters were unclear Friday in television interviews about whether they had seen the documents described in their story.

I’m not going to try to figure out what all this means at the moment, because we have plenty of evidence already that Trump has lie, encouraged others to lie, and has engaged in witness tampering on Twitter and most likely in private. We also have evidence that Trump told his own son to lie about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. In that instance, Trump actually composed the false story to be given to The New York Times.

Numerous experts have weighed in on the meaning of the Special Counsel’s statement Raw Story compiled several of them. And here is Emptywheel’s take on the statement.

We’ll learn what it all means at some point. Buzzfeed will surely go back to their sources for clarification and I hope they’ll publish a follow-up story. Meanwhile, we already know that Trump is a criminal.

By Amy Hill

In other news, Trump announced last night that he is going to make a “major announcement” about the so-called “crisis” at the border and the government shutdown. CBS News reports:

President Trump said he will make a “major announcement” about the southern border and the partial government shutdown on Saturday. It is scheduled to take place at 4 p.m. ET.

“I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown,” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday evening. He had originally said it would be at 3 p.m. but his schedule later noted it would take place an hour later….

A senior administration official told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett that Mr. Trump will present what the White House believes could be a deal to end the shutdown. The deal was largely influenced by talks between Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Obviously, no deal can be reached without including Democratic leaders, and it’s already clear that Trump understands there’s no crisis, or he wouldn’t have waited until day 29 of the shutdown to try to deal with it. It will be interesting to see how Nancy Pelosi responds to whatever Trump proposes. Axios’s Jonathan Swan claims to know what it will be:

President Trump plans to use remarks from the Diplomatic Reception Room on Saturday afternoon to propose a notable immigration compromise, according to sources familiar with the speech.

The offer is expected to include Trump’s $5.7 billion demand for wall money in exchange for the BRIDGE Act — which would extend protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — and also legislation to extend the legal status of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, according to a source with direct knowledge.

Jared Kushner and Mike Pence have led the crafting of this deal and the negotiations with members, according to White House officials.

Whatever. He just needs open up the government and stop acting like spoiled brat and holding the country hostage.

By Betty Pieper

Today is the “Women’s March,” and it’s not going to be anything like the one in 2017. The Washington Post:

Thousands of women from across the country gathered in the nation’s capital Saturday morning for the third annual Women’s March on Washington.

Organizers wrote in a permit application weeks ago that they expected hundreds of thousands to attend — a number similar to the 2017 march the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration — but a National Park Service permit issued Thursday indicated that about 10,000 are expected. Similar marches were planned across the country.

The 2019 march is taking place amid controversies that have dogged the national Women’s March organization, including allegations of anti-Semitism and secretive financial dealings and disputes over who gets to own and define the Women’s March. Some organizers have called for its national co-chairs to resign.

Attendees gathered at 10 a.m. at Freedom Plaza, followed at 11 a.m. by a half-mile march past the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The rally — originally planned for the Mall — will resume at 1 p.m. at Freedom Plaza with speakers and performers, then is scheduled to end at 4 p.m.

Yesterday was the oddly named “March for Life,” at which fake Christians argue that American women should be forced to bear children whether they want to or not. There was also an Indigenous People’s March in Washington yesterday, and some kids from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hill, Kentucky wearing MAGA hats chose to harass and mock the indigenous people at the Lincoln Memorial. It was ugly.

It was even worse than it looks in the video, because the boys surrounded the Native American group, pushing and bumping up against them. Here’s some video of the crowd surround the Native American demonstrators.

Here’s a Twitter thread to check out:

You can find lots more on this on Twitter. We’ll see if the school takes any action. Someone posted this news story from a Kentucky outlet, River City News: Video Appears to Show Covington Catholic Students Swarming Native American Marcher.

Multiple videos being shared extensively on social media appear to show students from Covington Catholic High School surrounding a Native American participant in the Indigenous Peoples March in Washington, D.C. on Friday. The event happened at the same time as the National March for Life, an anti-abortion gathering in D.C., which was attended by Cov Cath students.

A request for comment from a spokesperson at Covington Catholic has not yet been returned. The school removed its Facebook page and made its Twitter profile private after social media users identified the students as being from Cov Cath.

Woman with a Cat, Fernand Léger (french, Argentan 1881–1955

In the videos, one student appears to stand very close to a Native American participant playing a drum as other students stand nearby shouting, chanting, and jumping around.

Many of the students in the video appear to be wearing Covington Catholic apparel, while others are wearing clothing or hats in support of President Donald Trump.

We’ll see if the school takes any action. Obviously they don’t support autonomy for women and these boys learned this horrible behavior somewhere.

Is anyone else getting sick of hearing about Beto O’Rourke? At Yahoo News, Jon Ward asks a question and struggles with the obvious answer: Why was Beto O’Rourke a national phenomenon while Stacey Abrams wasn’t?

One was a three-term congressman known for once playing in a punk band, riding a skateboard and giving an answer about structural racism that went viral.

The other was the leader of her party in a Deep South state with a long history of racial discrimination who had spent years mobilizing people of color to register to vote and whose opponent was overseeing the election while erecting numerous obstacles to voting that disproportionately affected her supporters.

If one of these résumés seems more impressive than the other, you’d be forgiven for wondering why Texas’s Beto O’Rourke, the politician with the decidedly thinner personal story, became a national sensation while Georgia’s Stacey Abrams did not.

Let’s see, young charismatic (to some) white man vs. strong, intelligent, powerful black woman. What could be the explanation for why of of these two got so much more media attention than the other? I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Way down in the story Ward finally gets to the race issue and just glances on the gender issue. Here’s sample:

By Nikolay Radulov

One staffer to a Democratic governor who was not allowed to be quoted by name said, “We have a very narrow mindset of what electable means, and a tall, white dude who is semifluent when speaking to minorities checks all of those boxes.”

“Stacey Abrams is the opposite of everything we count as electable: She’s black, she’s a woman, she’s in debt and honest about it, has incarcerated family,” the staffer said.

Teddy Goff, who worked for both Obama campaigns as a top digital adviser and also advised Clinton in 2016, tweeted more than a week before the election last fall: “I love Beto, but Stacey Abrams is the most talented Democrat running this year and we would all be talking about her (even) more if so many people didn’t tacitly view women and people of color as having less potential or being less ‘presidential.’”

“You look at Beto, and it’s easy to slot him into a framework of being president. It’s not to his discredit to wonder why don’t we think of President Stacey Abrams,” Goff told Yahoo News.

I’ll end with this piece by Noah Bierman on why Trump is such a terrible dealmaker–he’s the boy who cried wolf. The LA Times: Why can’t Trump make deals? No one trusts him anymore.

Sen. Mitch McConnell was jolted with a fresh reminder of President Trump’s capriciousness last month: The majority leader persuaded Republican colleagues to take a politically difficult vote to temporarily fund the government, but not a border wall, only to see Trump withdraw support — initiating the longest shutdown in history.

House Republicans learned the same lesson early in Trump’s presidency when he rallied them to repeal Obamacare, then described their effort as “mean.”

As Trump reaches the halfway mark of his term on Sunday, he has left a trail of negotiating partners from both chambers of Congress, both political parties and countries around the world feeling double-crossed and even lied to.

The result is that the president who campaigned as the world’s best deal-maker, vowing that he alone could fix Washington’s dysfunction, has been stymied as he looks for achievements before facing the voters again. Two years in, the man who built a political reputation as a guy who tells it like it is has lost the essential ingredients to closing deals: credibility and trust.

Read the rest at the LA Times.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories have you been following?

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Lazy Caturday Reads: Putin’s Puppet

The blue cat by Natasha Milashevich

Good Afternoon!!

I assume everyone has heard about the blockbuster story in The New York Times last night about an FBI investigation into whether Trump was working with Russia and against the U.S.: F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia.

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Two well-known instances of Trump’s public behavior helped trigger the counterintelligence investigation of Trump: a draft of a letter explaining the firing James Comey and Trump’s interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in which he tied the firing of Comey to the Russia investigation. The investigations were passed on to Robert Mueller after he was appointed Special Counsel.

The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.

“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times. Mr. Baker did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the investigation of Mr. Trump to congressional investigators.

One more event reinforced the decision to investigate Trump himself.

F.B.I. officials viewed their decision to move quickly as validated when a comment the president made to visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey was revealed days later.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

 

This should be mind-blowing; but after all we’ve learned over the past three years it’s really not that big of a surprise. After all, Hillary warned us back in 2016.

After the NYT story broke last night, Sarah Sanders released an idiotic statement that contained no denial of the substance.

Trump also tweeted and failed to deny anything substantive in the story.

Susan Glasser reupped her May 2017 Politico story about Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance. The cozy meeting between President Trump and Russia’s foreign minister came at Vladimir Putin’s insistence.

When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Grey haired woman with cat, Teresa Tanner

The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”

The meeting was Lavrov’s first in the White House since 2013—and came after several years of the Obama administration’s flat-out refusal to grant him an Oval Office audience, two former senior White House officials told me. “The Russians were begging us for years to do that,” one of the former officials said. “They were constantly pushing for it and we were constantly saying no.”

The images of Trump putting his arm genially on Lavrov’s back—and a later White House official readout of the meeting that said Trump “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia”—couldn’t have come at a more fraught political moment for Trump, amid a barrage of bipartisan criticism of his firing of FBI Director James Comey. On Wednesday morning before meeting with Trump, Lavrov even cracked a joke about his hosts’ political predicament, laughingly claiming not to have heard of the Comey firing while standing alongside Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

In other words, Lavrov was right where he has always wanted to be Wednesday: mocking the United States while being welcomed in the Oval Office by the president himself.

How many conversations has Trump had with Putin on his unsecured cell phone? My guess is the NSA and Robert Mueller know the answer and they also know what the two pals discussed.

Late last night The Hoarse Whisperer posted a long Twitter thread, at the end of which he noted that on his way out Obama issued an executive order to make information sharing between the NSA and the FBI easier.

Read the whole thread on Twitter.

From the January 2017 New York Times Story by Charlie Savage:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

Obama must have suspected that FBI investigators would need to access the NSA data.

More stories to check out:

Lawfare: What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times’s Latest Bombshell.

The Daily Beast: Ex-FBI Officials Say Spy Inquiry into President Trump Is ‘Uncharted Territory.’

Vox: How the big new New York Times scoop changes our understanding of the Trump-Russia probe.

I know there’s plenty of other news, but I can’t focus on anything but the Russian agent in the White House. But please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.


Lazy Saturday Reads: “Impeach the Motherf***er!”

Cartoon by Mike Thompson

Good Afternoon!!

Republicans and some journalists have taken to their fainting couches over a profanity used by a newly sworn-in Congresswoman, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). In case you missed it somehow, Tlaib said in a speech that she was going to Congress to “impeach the motherfucker.”

Although she only used one swear word, the NYT headline writer characterized her speech as “profanity laden.” Even Trump weighed in during his rambling word salad in the rose garden yesterday, claiming that Tlaib “dishonored” herself, her family, and disrespected the U.S. by using the same word that Trump allowed Kanye West to use in the oval office.

Here’s The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos’ take:

Impeachment was always going to hang heavily over a divided Washington. But it took little more than 24 hours this week for a freshman House Democrat’s exuberant, expletive-laden impeachment promise to upend the bonhomie of a new Congress and prompt President Trump, by his own telling, to ask the newly elected speaker if Democrats planned to impeach him.

The episode began Thursday night, just hours after the 116th Congress was sworn in, when a camera captured Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan promising profanely to impeach Mr. Trump as she drew cheers from liberal activists at a celebration at a bar near the Capitol. By the time Mr. Trump discussed the matter directly in a news conference in the Rose Garden on Friday afternoon, weeks of speculation about his potential peril had burst into the open.

Republicans, eager to portray Democrats as out to destroy Mr. Trump’s presidency, piled on criticism of Ms. Tlaib — some of it racially tinged. (Ms. Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, is one of the first Muslims in Congress. The Christian Broadcasting Network referred to her as a “foul-mouthed Islamic congresswoman.”) Democratic leaders, who view discussion of impeachment as politically dangerous and premature, offered worried words meant to tamp down speculation about their intentions.

Fandos’ concern is duly noted. Now he can fuck off.

Rep. Tlaib responded to the uproar in an op-ed at The Detroit Free Press: Now is the time to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

President Donald Trump is a direct and serious threat to our country. On an almost daily basis, he attacks our Constitution, our democracy, the rule of law and the people who are in this country. His conduct has created a constitutional crisis that we must confront now.

Rashida tlaib

The Framers of the Constitution designed a remedy to address such a constitutional crisis: impeachment. Through the impeachment clause, they sought to ensure that we would have the power, through our elected representatives in Congress, to protect the country by removing a lawless president from the Oval Office.

We already have overwhelming evidence that the president has committed impeachable offenses, including, just to name a few: obstructing justice; violating the emoluments clause; abusing the pardon power; directing or seeking to direct law enforcement to prosecute political adversaries for improper purposes; advocating illegal violence and undermining equal protection of the laws; ordering the cruel and unconstitutional imprisonment of children and their families at the southern border; and conspiring to illegally influence the 2016 election through a series of hush money payments.

Whether the president was directly involved in a conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 election remains the subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But we do not need to wait on the outcome of that criminal investigation before moving forward now with an inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives on whether the president has committed impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors” against the state: abuse of power and abuse of the public trust.

Click on the link the read the rest.

Meanwhile, Trump used the F-word liberally during his meeting with Democratic leaders yesterday. The Daily Beast: Trump Referred to Shutdown as ‘Strike’ in Profanity-Laced Meeting With Democratic Leaders.

During Friday’s meeting at the White House over the ongoing shutdown standoff, President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made little substantive progress as Pelosi and Schumer urged Trump to reopen the government by Tuesday, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

One of these knowledgeable sources told The Daily Beast President Trump kicked off the meeting with a rant lasting roughly 15 minutes that included his $5.6 billion demand for a border wall, and threatened that he was willing to keep the government closed for “years” if that’s what it took to get his wall. He also, unprompted, brought up the Democrats who want him impeached, and even blamed Pelosi for new Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying at a party earlier this week that Democrats would impeach the “motherfucker” Trump. (It is unclear why Trump would think Pelosi was responsible for this.)

Trump proceeded to tell the room he was too popular to impeach.

Along with saying the word “fuck” at least three times throughout the meeting, the president bizarrely stated that he did not want to call the partial government shutdown a “shutdown,” according to the source. Instead, he referred to it as a “strike.” (Many of the federal employees affected by the weeks-long shutdown have been working without pay. That is essentially the opposite of a strike.)

During the course of this meeting, the Democrats in the room were visibly shaking their heads in exasperation.

Back in the real world, Americans are suffering from Trump’s latest temper tantrum.

The Washington Post: Millions face delayed tax refunds, cuts to food stamps as White House scrambles to deal with shutdown’s consequences.

Food stamps for 38 million low-income Americans would face severe reductions and more than $140 billion in tax refunds are at risk of being frozen or delayed if the government shutdown stretches into February, widespread disruptions that threaten to hurt the economy.

The Trump administration, which had not anticipated a long-term shutdown, recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact, several senior administration officials said. The officials said they were focused now on understanding the scope of the consequences and determining whether there is anything they can do to intervene.

trash piles up in dc as the trump shutdown continues.

Thousands of federal programs are affected by the shutdown, but few intersect with the public as much as the tax system and the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the current version of food stamps.

The partial shutdown has cut off new funding to the Treasury Department and the USDA, leaving them largely unstaffed and crippling both departments’ ability to fulfill core functions.

The potential cuts to food stamps and suspension of tax refunds illustrate the compounding consequences of leaving large parts of the federal govern­ment unfunded indefinitely — a ­scenario that became more likely Friday when President Trump said he would leave the government shut down for months or even years unless Democrats gave him money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read more at the WaPo.

The Washington Post: Three dead in national parks as shutdown wears on.

Three days after most of the federal workforce was furloughed on Dec. 21, a 14-year-old girl fell 700 feet to her death at the Horseshoe Bend Overlook, part of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona. The following day, Christmas, a man died at Yosemite National Park in California after suffering a head injury in a fall. On Dec. 27, a woman was killed by a falling tree at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee.

The deaths follow a decision by Trump administration officials to leave the scenic — but sometimes deadly — parks open even as the Interior Department has halted most of its operations. During previous extended shutdowns, the National Park Service barred public access to many of its sites across the nation to substantially decrease the risk of park damage and visitor injury.

The National Parks have a poop crisis on their hands.

National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum said in an email that an average of six people die each week in the park system, a figure that includes “accidents like drownings, falls, and motor vehicle crashes and medical related incidents such as heart attacks.” Drowning, automobile accidents and falls are among the top causes of death at national parks….

In 1995 and 2013, respectively, the Clinton and Obama administrations made the decision to close the parks altogether. Officials concluded that keeping the parks open would jeopardize public safety and the parks’ integrity, but the closures also became a political cudgel for Democrats because they exemplified one of the most popular aspects of federal operations that had ground to a halt.

CNN: Hundreds of TSA screeners, working without pay, calling out sick at major airports.

Hundreds of Transportation Security Administration officers, who are required to work without paychecks through the partial government shutdown, have called out from work this week from at least four major airports, according to two senior agency officials and three TSA employee union officials.

The mass call outs could inevitably mean air travel is less secure, especially as the shutdown enters its second week with no clear end to the political stalemate in sight.
“This will definitely affect the flying public who we (are) sworn to protect,” Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the agency is “closely monitoring the situation” and that “screening wait times remain well within TSA standards,” although that could change if the number of call outs increases.

At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, as many as 170 TSA employees have called out each day this week, Thomas tells CNN. Officers from a morning shift were required to work extra hours to cover the gaps.

Call outs have increased by 200%-300% at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where typically 25 to 30 TSA employees call out from an average shift according to a local TSA official familiar with the situation.

Union officials stress that the absences are not part of an organized action, but believe the number of people calling out will likely increase.

One more from The New York Times: Shutdown Leaves Food, Medicine and Pay in Doubt in Indian Country.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — For one tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the government shutdown comes with a price tag: about $100,000, every day, of federal money that does not arrive to keep health clinics staffed, food pantry shelves full and employees paid.

Chippawa Indian food bank in Michigan

The tribe is using its own funds to cover the shortfalls for now. But if the standoff in Washington continues much longer, that stopgap money will be depleted. Later this month, workers could be furloughed and health services could be pared back. “Everything,” said Aaron Payment, the chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, “is on the table.”

For many Americans who are not federal workers or contractors, a shutdown is a minor inconvenience. A trip to a national park may be canceled. A call to a government office may go unanswered. But for Native American tribes, which rely heavily on federal money to operate, a shutdown can cripple their most basic functions.

All across Indian Country, the federal shutdown slices deep. Generations ago, tribes negotiated treaties with the United States government guaranteeing funds for services like health care and education in exchange for huge swaths of territory.

Read the rest at the NYT.

So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.


Lazy Caturday Reads

By Jackie Morris

Good Afternoon!!

The lies come thick and fast from the Trump administration. It’s not just Trump; it’s his entire gang of shameless prevaricators.

Remember those MAGA hats that Trump signed for service members in Iraq? The White House swore up and down to CNN that they didn’t distribute the campaign merchandise, but people who were there say otherwise.

Of course we can’t be sure these tweets are legit, but come on! Who actually believes these soldiers bought Trump hats and banners and had them shipped to Iraq? Give me a break. I know this is a minor scandal in the scheme of things Trump, but still…

And besides, this was supposed to be a secret, surprise visit, so are we supposed to believe these folks always carry their MAGA hats and banners around with them and to the mess hall?

OK, I know I’m beating a dead horse, but I get so tired of all the gaslighting.

Now check this out. Remember that NYT story awhile back about undocumented immigrants working at Trump’s New Jersey golf club?

The New York Daily News: New Jersey AG has obtained evidence of possible crimes at Trump’s golf club — and Mueller, FBI are involved in probe.

New Jersey prosecutors have collected evidence that supervisors at President Trump’s Garden State golf club may have committed federal immigration crimes — and the FBI as well as special counsel Robert Mueller have played part in the inquiry, the Daily News has learned.

Anibal Romero, a Newark attorney who represents several undocumented immigrants who used to work at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, said Friday he recently met with investigators from the state attorney general’s office and handed over fraudulent green cards and Social Security numbers that management at the club allegedly procured and gave his clients, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz.

Before he met with the state prosecutors, Romero said he reached out to Mueller’s office because, while he wanted to contact federal authorities, he was concerned about looping in the Justice Department, which was headed by Jeff Sessions at the time.

Mueller’s office got back to Romero and said the issue was out of their jurisdiction, but they apparently passed the information on to the FBI.

A few weeks later, an FBI agent in New Jersey called Romero.

“He said to me that he had received a referral from Robert Mueller’s office and that he already knew the specifics and that he wanted to meet with me in person,” Romero said.

By S. Telari, Deviant Art

Romero then met with two agents at a federal office in Branchburg, N.J., and outlined the same evidence he had already given the AG prosecutors. The agents said they would “coordinate” with the AG’s office, according to Romero.

Romero said he’s stayed in touch with the FBI and the attorney general’s office but declined to confirm whether either of the agencies have formally opened investigations.

“I’m confident that federal and state authorities will conduct a complete and thorough investigation,” Romero said.

How many states is Trump under investigation in now? I’ve lost count.

Here’s a funny media story from by Ashley Feinberg at HuffPost: The Thinnest Skins In Media In 2018. Their diapers runneth over. You’ll have to click on the link to read the details, but here’s the list of included media figures:

Jake Tapper, CNN Anchor And Respecter Of Troops

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine Columnist And Scab

Jim VandeHei, Axios CEO And Co-founder, Unofficial Spokesman For Zuckerberg 2020

Maggie Haberman, Nonpartisan New York Times Non-non-reporter

Jonathan Swan, Axios-Branded Dictaphone

Chris Cillizza, CNN Something-Or-Other

Glenn Greenwald, Prophet Of Civil Liberties And Ironic Capitalization

Salena Zito, Gas Station Oracle

Chris Cuomo, Famous Brother Haver

Ben Wittes, Prose Torturer

Ashley Feinberg, Professional Corncob

Now go read. You won’t be sorry.

Here in Massachusetts, the Governor just signed a new law regulation short-term rentals. The Boston Globe: Baker signs long-awaited Airbnb bill, opening new era for industry.

Governor Charlie Baker on Friday signed first-of-its-kind legislation to tax and regulate the short-term housing rental market in Massachusetts, capping years of debate over how to navigate an industry that has exploded through companies like Airbnb.

The new rules will take effect July 1 and could transform a market that spans the state, from Cape Cod summer homes to Boston apartment buildings to Western Massachusetts vacation retreats.

The bill requires every rental host to register with the state, mandates they carry insurance, and opens the potential for local taxes on top of a new state levy. A chief negotiator for the House said the goal is to register every short-term rental in the state by September, and local officials, including in Boston, say the new law will help buttress their own efforts to regulate the booming market.

Airbnb is fighting back.

But before Baker’s ink could dry, the law drew a sharp rebuke from Airbnb, which called it “flawed” and unnecessarily complex. Advocates who have closely followed the process — including Airbnb’s decision to sue in federal court to overturn Boston’s municipal regulations — warn a lawsuit against the state could also follow.

More details on the law:

Beyond requiring all hosts to register and carry insurance, it also subjects short-term rentals to the same 5.7 percent state levy now paid by hotels — but exempts people who rent their homes 14 or fewer nights a year. Officials have estimated that tax could raise at least $25 million annually.

It also would allow cities and towns to impose their own taxes of up to 6 percent, except in Boston, where it would be 6.5 percent, with occasional hosts also exempted.

Additional taxes would be levied on hosts who own multiple units. And an extra fee would also fall on units in Boston, Cambridge, and a handful of other cities that support the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, but only after bonds are paid off on the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston.

Some cities, including New York and San Francisco, have used short-term rental registries to rein in the industry, but this law makes Massachusetts the first state to require all hosts to register. That, more than the taxes, has been the focus of debate in recent months.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Time Magazine has a new story on Paul Manafort: Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch.

When the U.S. government put out its latest sanctions list on Dec. 19, the man named at the top did not seem especially important. Described in the document as a former Russian intelligence officer, he was accused of handling money and negotiations on behalf of a powerful Russian oligarch. The document did not mention that the man, Victor Boyarkin, had links to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.

Jackie Morris for Amnesty International

A months-long investigation by TIME, however, found that Boyarkin, a former arms dealer with a high forehead and a very low profile, was a key link between a senior member of the Trump campaign and a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his only interview with the media about those connections, Boyarkin told TIME this fall that he was in touch with Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin says. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”

The former Russian intelligence officer says he has been approached by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Boyarkin’s response to those investigators? “I told them to go dig a ditch,” he says. Peter Carr, the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office, declined to comment. Through his spokesman, Manafort likewise declined to comment on his alleged connections with Boyarkin.

But those connections could be potentially important to the Special Counsel’s inquiry. They would mark some of the clearest evidence of the leverage that powerful Russians had over Trump’s campaign chairman. And they may shed light on why Manafort discussed going right back to work for pro-Russian interests in Eastern Europe after he crashed out of the Trump campaign in August 2016, according to numerous sources in the TIME investigation.

Read the rest at the link. It’s a long story.

One more from Buzzfeed: These Are 50 Of The Biggest Fake News Hits On Facebook In 2018.

By Max Carlier

After spending two years launching third-party fact-checking programs, rolling out News Feed updates, and investing in other anti-misinformation initiatives, Facebook is still the home of viral fake news.

For the third year in a row, BuzzFeed News compiled a list of 50 of the most viral false stories on Facebook and measured their total engagement on the platform. And in spite of a prediction from Facebook’s top anti-misinformation product manager that these articles would see a decline in engagement in 2018, this year’s top-performing hoaxes generated almost as many shares, reactions, and comments as last year’s.

The top 50 fake stories of 2018 identified by BuzzFeed News generated roughly 22 million total shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook between Jan. 1 and Dec. 9, 2018, according to data from BuzzSumo and Trendolizer. This was only 7% fewer engagements than the 23.5 million engagements generated by to top 50 of 2017, and slightly more than the top 50 fakes identified by BuzzFeed News in 2016, when those links generated 21.5 million engagements.

Read the whole thing at Buzzfeed. How long before Facebook goes the way of AOL?

So . . . what else is happening on this long holiday weekend? Post your recommendations in the comment thread below.


Friday Reads: Scoring points with the lives of Federal Workers

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

There’s nothing more despicable in a pol than scoring political points by wrecking the lives of public servants. The Federal Budget discussion by KKKremlin Caligula has increasingly become shows of strength based on wrecking lives.  Nothing could be more true than today’s sociopathic display by Cadet Bonespurs on the government shutdown despite agreement within Congress to avoid that outcome.  Trump owns this.

Today’s headlines show the abject callousness of the Sociopath-in-Chief.  Via Truthout:  “Trump Administration Suggests Unpaid Federal Workers Do Odd Jobs to Cover Rent.”   Scoring political points from your ever shrinking base by creating stress in peoples’ lives is perhaps the most callous action by a President that only bows to pressure by despots and prefers all others just carry on. The most outrageous things recently have been his inferences that it’s workers that are democrats that have been furloughed and so, who cares?  And, that most federal workers support the wall.

With the partial government shutdown expected to extend into January with no funding agreement in sight, the Trump administration suggested on Thursday that the hundreds of thousands of unpaid federal workers who have been furloughed could do odd jobs and chores for their landlords to help cover rent.

In a tweet on Thursday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)—led by Margaret Weichert, whom President Donald Trump picked to head the agency in October—offered a Word document featuring sample letters purportedly aimed at helping unpaid federal workers negotiate with landlords, mortgage companies, and creditors amid the government shutdown, which was caused by Trump’s demand for $5 billion in border wall funding.

“I will keep in touch with you to keep you informed about my income status and I would like to discuss with you the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments,” reads the sample letter to a landlord.

Thursday that there has been no progress toward reopening the government—meaning the shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of workers without pay will continue into the new year.

“There are countless stories of families’ holidays being upended by Trump’s obstinance causing the shutdown, as so many of them live paycheck-to-paycheck. Then OPM comes through with this tone-deaf tweet telling them to check with their ‘personal attorney,’” progressive activist Jordan Uhl noted, highlighting the federal workers’ personal accounts of how they have been harmed by the lapse in government funding.

“It’s shameful,” journalist Celeste Pewter wrote of the fact that workers are being forced to “appeal to the goodwill of creditors, landlords, and mortgage companies” to get by.

Illustration by Max Burbank at The Villager

Yes, Ebeneezer Trump did not get a visitation from any spirits except those from his rumored Adderall abuse.  What is the Democratic Party Strategy? This is analysis at Politico by Rachel Bade and John Bresnahan.  

House Democrats — increasingly convinced they’re winning the shutdown fight with President Donald Trump — are plotting ways to reopen the government while denying the president even a penny more for his border wall when they take power Jan. 3.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her top lieutenants are considering several options that would refuse Trump the $5 billion he’s demanded for the wall and send hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees back to work, according to senior Democratic sources.

While the strategy is fluid, House Democrats hope to pass a funding bill shortly after members are sworn in. They believe that would put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to follow suit. And they’re confident that their political leverage will only increase the longer the shutdown lasts — a notion that some GOP leaders privately agree with.

Indeed, the specter of a lengthy shutdown could hurt Trump’s already damaged image more than it would Democrats — especially because he claimed ownership of the crisis two weeks ago. Democrats believe the shutdown battle — combined with the volatility in financial markets and special counsel Robert Mueller closing in on Trump — exacerbates the appearance of a cornered president acting out of his own political self-interest instead of the needs of the American public

I kinda got a kick out of this analysis from The Villager.  This is from the pen of Max Burbank.

At this festive time of year, I find myself wondering just how certain major power players square their moral values with the widely accepted standards embodied in the Christmas classics.

Does Mitch McConnell figure Mr. Potter’s big mistake in “It’s a Wonderful Life” was not running for Senate and using raw legislative power to crush George Bailey under his boot like a Socialist roach?

Does Paul Ryan role-play King Moonracer from the Rankin/Bass version of “Rudolph,” establishing an Ayn Randian objectivist paradise on the Island of Misfit Toys, furtively pleasuring himself while imagining stripping Charlie in-the-Box and Spotted Elephant of Obamacare?

When the specter of Richard Nixon is standing right behind Trump, doing his best Marley’s Ghost imitation by rattling the chains he forged in life and moaning about how all mankind should have been his business, Trump is all, like, “Where the hell is my Diet Coke? I hadda push the button twice!”

“No, NO!” Nixon wails. “I’m Marley. You’re Scrooge! Metaphorically! Don’t you get it?”

“Not me,” says Trump. “Scrooge might have been rich, but he didn’t live rich. I got my own courses to play golf on every weekend. I get two, maybe three scoops of ice cream on the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you’ve ever seen in a restaurant with my name in big letters on the door! I don’t need a change of heart.”

It has got be downright hard to be a Republican at Christmas. It must require a mental à la carte menu featuring choice helpings of cognitive dissonance, mental compartmentalization, deep-seated selfishness, evil, and side dish of good old American “I don’t give a crap.”

So, since he’s already basically shut down the Federal Government, he’s moving on to shutting down the Southern Border.  Notice, he doesn’t seem to have a problem with those huge number of Visa-overstaying Canadians.   But, he does have a problem with the Brown people seeking asylum to the south despite the huge numbers of Americans that don’t feel the border wall is a priority.

Is shutting down a 1,954 mile border even possible?  If so, will we start seeing boat lifts into the Gulf South ala the old Cuban days?

This is from The Hill.  And, wouldn’t that just blow up his NAFTA thingie? And just what we need, a good boat lift into Brownsville, Texas!

President Trump on Friday threatened to “close the Southern Border entirely” if Democrats do not agree to provide money to “finish” building a wall on the Mexican border.

Trump made the threat as a partial government shutdown enters its seventh day with no end in sight.

The shutdown began on Saturday after Democrats rejected demands from Trump that $5 billion be included for the wall in a measure to keep the government open.

“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with,” the president tweeted.

He also criticized past presidents and Congresses over the nation’s current immigration laws.

“Hard to believe there was a Congress & President who would approve!”

Reuters reports in its poll that more Americans blame Trump than the Dems for the current shutdown. That usually doesn’t play well in any political cycle.

More Americans blame President Donald Trump than congressional Democrats for the partial U.S. government shutdown, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday, as the closure stretched into its sixth day with no end in sight.

Forty-seven percent of adults hold Trump responsible, while 33 percent blame Democrats in Congress, according to the Dec. 21-25 poll, conducted mostly after the shutdown began. Seven percent of Americans blamed congressional Republicans.

The shutdown was triggered by Trump’s demand, largely opposed by Democrats and some lawmakers from his own Republican Party, that taxpayers provide him with $5 billion to help pay for a wall that he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border. Its total estimated cost is $23 billion.

Again, we ask in vain, “Wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for this thing Trumplets?”.  And, they want us to pay for it given the tax break that just went to the Richies and the Corps?  We’re not doing a great job of living pay check to pay check here in the land of the indebted as it is.  We all don’t have rich, slum lord dads and Russian oligarchs to bail us out.  This is from Danielle Paquette at WAPO>

What do professors, real estate agents, farmers, business executives, computer programmers and store clerks have in common?

They’re not immune to the harsh reality of living paycheck to paycheck, according to dozens of people who responded to a Washington Post inquiry on Twitter.

They’re millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers. They work in big cities and rural towns. They’ve tried to save — but rent, child care, student loans and medical bills get in the way.

National data on the paycheck-to-paycheck experience is flimsy, but a recent report from the Federal Reserve spotlights the prevalence of extra-tight budgets: Four in 10 adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without sliding into debt or selling something, according to the 2017 figures.

The partial government shutdown, which began last Friday and is temporarily halting pay for some 800,000 federal workers, has touched off a heated discussion on Twitter about what it means to get by in the United States. (President Trump warned this closure could “last a very long time” if Congress doesn’t meet his demands for billions of dollars for a border wall.)

Even brief income lapses can spell disaster for some households.

“My husband is a Park Ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and he had to sign his furlough papers,” one woman tweeted. ”We have a 4 yr. old and a 4-month-old, and we don’t know when his next check will come. Mortgage is due, Christmas 2 days away.”

“Broke my lease to accept new fed job for which I have to attend 7 months of training in another state,” another Twitter user said. (He later deleted the tweet). “Training canceled with shutdown. Homeless. Can’t afford short(?)-term housing/have to work full-time for no pay/returning Christmas presents.”

But never fear!  There’s always taxpayer money for the ‘right cause’.  This is from The Rolling Stone: “Taxpayers Are Subsidizing Mar-a-Lago’s New Year’s Eve Party Despite Trump’s Shutdown. The president doesn’t seem to care about the 800,000 workers who won’t be receiving paychecks during the government shutdown.” Ho Ho Ho!  Whose the ho?

Though Trump’s decision to shut down the government may keep him in Washington for the holidays, it won’t keep taxpayers from footing a heavy portion of the bill for Mar-a-Lago’s New Year’s Eve party. As was noted by Quartz this week, government spending data shows that the Secret Service paid Grimes Events & Party Tents Inc. of Delray Beach, Florida, $54,020 on December 19th for “TENT RENTAL FOR MAL.” An employee of the company confirmed to Quartz that it is providing tents for the annual for-profit bash at Trump’s “Winter White House” in Palm Beach.

Americans chipping in to help Trump and the Palm Beach elite turn over their calendars isn’t unique to this year. The Secret Service spent just over $26,000 on an array of accessories for Mar-a-Lago’s New Year’s Eve party in 2017, which was attended by both Trump and Melania. Though it’s never not going to be a conflict of interest when the president has taxpayers subsidize a for-profit party at his private club, $54,000 for tents feels especially egregious given that the government is currently running under a partial shutdown that has deprived approximately 800,000 federal workersof their paychecks.

Ever feel like we get scrooged every day?  Which brings me to this.

From Dylan Scott at VOX: “Why the government shutdown is good legal news for Trump. The president’s lawyers cited the government shutdown to win a delay in the emoluments case against him.”

President Donald Trump is using the government shutdown to try to force Democrats to fund his Mexican border wall. But there is another, more personal benefit for the president that he probably won’t be mentioning anytime soon: An important appeal in the lawsuit over foreign payments to his Washington, DC, hotel and other businesses has been put on hold.

Trump is being sued by the District of Columbia and Maryland because they say he is violating the Constitution’s “emoluments” clause, which forbids federal officials from accepting emoluments, a term for gifts or payments for services or labor from foreign governments or US states.

The states have won several important procedural decisions, but federal attorneys have filed a number of appeals to slow them down, most notably seeking a freeze on any further discovery — like subpoenas the states might pursue to get information on foreign officials’ stays at the Trump International Hotel in DC.

Now the Justice Department lawyers representing Trump have secured a delay in the ongoing appeals. They cited — wait for it — the current government shutdown, now in its sixth day.

Grifters gotta grift.  Am I right?

So, let’s look forward to the New Year’s and this news from CNN: ‘House Democrats scooping up staff, lawyers to power Trump investigations.”

The House Judiciary Committee is looking for a few good lawyers.

A recent committee job posting reviewed by CNN asked for legislative counsels with a variety of expertise: “criminal law, immigration law, constitutional law, intellectual property law, commercial and administrative law (including antitrust and bankruptcy), or oversight work.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee needs lawyers, too, posting jobs for “executive branch investigative counsel.”
The advertisements give a window into the Democratic recruiting that’s ramped up ahead of the party gaining subpoena power for the first time in eight years when it takes over the House in January.

While Democrats publicly talk up their interest in focusing on legislative priorities like health care and voting rights — not to mention ending the ongoing partial government shutdown — they are quietly preparing for what will likely be the largest congressional investigation of a sitting president in recent memory. Party leaders and committee chairs have spent months ironing out potential targets, from President Donald Trump’s taxes and business dealings to the conduct of current and former Cabinet members.
To handle all this investigative work, House Democrats are expected to double the number of their staffers. Though they can’t officially hire anyone until the new Congress is seated, plans are well underway, with House members saying that candidates — especially those with specific investigative skills, from money laundering to contracting — are coming from all directions.

I don’t know about Santa, but I do believe in Mueller and his lawyers.  I also am pretty sure those wise men and women on the horizon are bearing gifts of Congressional subpoenas.   Let’s all be merry about that!

So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Thursday Reads: Trump Flubs Troop Visit and Other News

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

Good Afternoon!!

So Trump was finally shamed into visiting some troops in Iraq, and naturally everything about his visit was completely inappropriate. He acted as if he was a a campaign rally, bragging about his mythical accomplishments and telling bald-faced lies as usual.

Previous presidents have used these trips to praise soldiers and let them know that they are appreciated as well as to meet with local officials. Trump did none of that; and, as JJ noted yesterday, he revealed the classified location of Seal team troops and posted their faced on-line. On top of everything else, he autographed MAGA hats for troops who are forbidden from engaging in political activities.

Iraqi leaders were not happy.

Reuters: Iraqi lawmakers criticize Trump visit as blow to Iraqi sovereignty.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi political and militia leaders condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty, and lawmakers said a meeting between Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was canceled due to a disagreement over venue.

The Book Keeper, by Nicole Gustafson

Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is over.”

The Bina bloc, Islah’s rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Trump’s trip to Iraq.

“Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” said a statement from Bina.

CBS News: After Trump’s visit, Iraqi lawmakers demand U.S. withdrawal.

Baghdad — Iraqi lawmakers Thursday demanded U.S. forces leave the country in the wake of a surprise visit by President Donald Trump that politicians denounced as arrogant and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

Politicians from both blocs of Iraq’s divided Parliament called for a vote to expel U.S. troops and promised to schedule an extraordinary session to debate the matter.

“Parliament must clearly and urgently express its view about the ongoing American violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” said Salam al-Shimiri, a lawmaker loyal to the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Containing foreign influence has become a hot-button issue in a year that saw al-Sadr supporters win the largest share of votes in May elections. Al-Sadr has called for curbing U.S. and Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs.

The moron-in-chief can’t get anything right.

CNN: Troops bringing Trump hats to sign may violate military rule.

Seuss-Scape, by Nicole Gusafson

Video footage and the written report of Trump’s visit with service members in Iraq showed the President signing “Make America Great Again” hats and an embroidered patch that read “Trump 2020.”

But troops’ requests for the autographs could brush up against Department of Defense guidelines for political activities.

Those guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

The Daily Beast: Trump Takes a War-Zone Victory Lap—and Trips.

This should have been a victory lap for a president hailed by the military for letting them loose to attack ISIS, unconstrained by the reluctance and micromanagement of the Obama administration. But President Donald Trump has just announced the U.S. would be leaving the job to Turkey, deserting Kurdish and Western coalition allies, and abandoning the field of battle to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russia, and Iran.

“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” President Donald Trump told a group of about 100 troops, most of them special operators, in an unannounced holiday visit to al-Asad Airbase, in northern Iraq. He added that other countries can no longer expect the U.S. to do their fighting, unless they are willing to pay for it. “The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” he said….

“In Syria, Erdogan said he wants to knock out ISIS, whatever’s left, the remnants of ISIS,” Trump told reporters on the trip.  “And Saudi Arabia just came out and said they are going to pay for some economic development, which is great; that means we don’t have to pay.”

But what of the French and British allies the U.S. has left behind in Syria to keep up the fight? Does that mean they are the suckers left holding the bag? Or the Kurdish militia groups that did most of the fighting, and dying, to drive out the so-called Islamic State, now left to the tender mercies of sworn enemy Turkey?

The president was unrepentant, explaining that he gave “the generals” multiple six-month “extensions” to get out of Syria. “They said again, recently, can we have more time? I said, ‘Nope.’ You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time. We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly,” he said. “Others will do it too. Because we are in their region. They should be sharing the burden of costs and they’re not.”

But the decision hasn’t sat well with many in the special-operations community Trump was addressing, as they’ve known many of these Kurdish fighters for years, and risked life and limb on joint missions together well before the ISIS fight.

In other news, it’s looking more and more like the Trump Organization could end up being indicted in New York. Perhaps that will force Trump out even if the Republicans protect him from impeachment.

NBC News: Probe of Trump’s charity could crash ‘like a Mack Truck’ into his real estate empire.

The Trump Foundation and the Trump Organization shared much more than President Donald Trump’s last name.

And that’s why, experts said, the New York state investigations into the charity could envelop the president’s namesake business.

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

“Nothing but overlap here. It all was held so tightly by he and his family members,” NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor, told NBC News.

“I don’t think there will be any investigative daylight between what the New York state authorities and investigators are looking into with respect to the foundation vs. the organization vs. anything else involving business dealings that have the name ‘Trump’ attached to them,” he said, predicting that the foundation investigation will “crash through (the Trump Organization) like a Mack Truck.”

Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? A bit more:

Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst, said that because some of the same people alleged by the state attorney general of persistent illegal activity in running the charity are also involved with the president’s business, there is reasonable justification in broadening the investigation.

“It is likely that the investigation into the Trump Foundation has sufficiently overlapped with the Trump Organization that (state) investigators would be justified in extending their investigation into the Trump Organization,” he said.

The foundation itself had no employees, instead relying on Trump Organization staffers to cut its checks. Prior to taking office in 2017, Trump turned over day-to-day control of his business to his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. Both sons were among the charity’s board members, while Weisselberg was listed as its treasurer.

Meanwhile Trump is trying to use the government shutdown to post pone the emoluments case against him in Virginia.

Politico: Trump lawyers, citing shutdown, ask court for delay in emoluments case.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump are invoking the government shutdown to seek a delay in a court case over claims that Trump is illegally profiting from business his Washington hotel does with foreign countries.

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

Justice Department attorneys representing Trump asked a federal appeals court on Wednesday to postpone indefinitely all further filings in an appeal related to a suit that the governments of Maryland and Washington, D.C., filed over Trump’s alleged violation of the Constitution’s ban on foreign emoluments.

The government’s brief is not due until Jan. 22, but DOJ lawyers asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., to put the appeal on ice until the shutdown ends.

“The Department does not know when funding will be restored by Congress,” Justice lawyers wrote. “Absent an appropriation, Department of Justice attorneys and employees are prohibited from working, even on a voluntary basis, except in very limited circumstances, including ‘emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property’. … Undersigned counsel for the Department of Justice therefore requests a stay of briefing on the President’s mandamus petition until Congress has restored appropriations to the Department.”

I don’t understand why the DOJ is defending Trump for illegally profiting from his office.

If you have some extra time today here are two long reads on immigration to check out.

A long read from ProPublica: He Drew His School Mascot — and ICE Labeled Him a Gang Member. How high schools have embraced the Trump administration’s crackdown on MS-13, and destroyed immigrant students’ American dreams.

Another long read from The Washington Post: When death awaits deported asylum seekers. Ronald Acevedo waited eight months for asylum in Arizona. Days after he was deported, he was found dead in the trunk of a car.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Monday Reads: Feux de Jois in Louisiana and Chaos Christmas in the Beltway

C’est la bonne nuit!

It’s Bonfire Night in the River Parishes! The fires are lit to guide Père Noël to the homes of Cajun children in the southern swamps of the state. Towers and all kinds of things made of timber are lit up and down the Mississippi River levees in St John the Baptist and St James’ Parishes.

Things are also being set on fire on Wall Street and in the Beltway but not in quite the same, joyous way.

I woke up this morning to news of a full blown and quite unnecessary financial panic in the markets. This was pretty shocking given its source is basically the President’s Great Depression-creating economic policy and whatever it is his Treasury Secretary did yesterday by asking all the big bank CEOs if they had adequate liquidity.

We’ve already got total panic on our middle east policy and the unceremonious exit of the only really capable cabinet member in the an increasingly corrupt and incompetent Trump administration. Oh, and the incoming Defense minister is basically a Defense lobbyist and numbers kruncher with absolutely no actual military experience. Merry Fucking Christmas Eve America! Meanwhile, the Dow Dive continues as noted by CNN.

Alarmed investors drove the Dow more than 650 points lower in a shortened trading session on Monday. Markets plunged after the Trump administration sent out confusing signals about markets and the economy.

The S&P 500 fell 2.7% and the Nasdaq was off 2.2%. The Dow, which fell 2.9%, and the S&P 500 suffered their biggest Christmas Eve declines ever.

Stocks initially fell on Monday following a statement from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that he had checked on the health of the country’s largest banks.

The market recovered late morning, but then slid even lower after President Donald Trump tweeted: “The only problem our economy has is the Fed.” Investors are concerned that Trump may fire Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

It’s like they just do whatever it takes to blow things up naturally. I’ve never seen anything like this and never thought I would see anything like this. It’s like all of them have shorted America. Here’s some other indicators in this Bloomberg Analysis.

U.S. stocks fell to the lowest since April 2017 as the turmoil in Washington rattled financial markets anew, pushing the S&P 500 to the brink of a bear market. Crude sank below $45 a barrel and the dollar tumbled.

The S&P 500 notched a fourth straight drop of at least 1.5 percent, a run of futility not seen since August 2015. It’s now down more than 19.8 percent from its September record and on pace for the worst monthly drop since 2008. Trading was 41 percent above the 30-day average in a session that’s normally subdued ahead of the Christmas holiday. The stock market closed at 1 p.m.

Investors looking to Washington for signs of stability that might bolster confidence instead got further rattled. President Donald Trump blasted the Federal Reserve, blaming the central bank for the three-month equity rout days after Bloomberg reported he inquired about firing the chairman.

The comments came after Steven Mnuchin called a crisis meeting with financial regulators, who reportedly told the Treasury secretary that nothing was out of ordinary in the markets. Traders also assessed the threat to the economy from a government shutdown that looks set to persist into the new year.

“Any kind of disciplined market-friendly messaging from the White House has gone out the window,” said Ernesto Ramos, head of equities at BMO Asset Management. “It’s all related to politics and the fact that the market’s figuring out there’s very little in the way of consistency and discipline.”

Did I mention that markets hate uncertainty? Wave hi to Meltdown Mnuchin who–according to Stephanie Rule –“Accompanied by his secret service detail- is attending cocktail parties, hitting the links and panicking bankers & markets on his own from Cabo” and I understand it’s an exclusive, private resort.

The Mueller Mystery case is moving forward, however. So far, the court system is handling all of the Trump-related stabs at the rule of law.

A legal battle that appears to involve Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has reached the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. on Sunday night ordered a weeklong pause on an ongoing subpoena fight, which may be the first known incidence of the high court weighing in on legal proceedings related to the Mueller probe into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia.

Roberts temporarily stayed an order holding an unnamed foreign government-owned company in contempt of court and accruing financial penalties for every day it does not comply with a subpoena the company has been challenging for months.

The stay will give the Supreme Court seven days to decide if the justices want to intervene in the case, and it could be the first time the full court hears a completely sealed court case, according to CNN.

The firm fighting the subpoena asked the Supreme Court to intervene after a D.C. Circuit Court panel ruled Tuesday that it was not immune to subpoenas because of its connection to a foreign government and the laws in the company’s home country, according to Politico.

Court filings in this case have been short on details and shrouded in secrecy for months.

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast has found some pretty unsavory things out about the acting Secretary of Defense. As I mentioned before, he appears to be just a glorified financial analyst who hawks expensive, unwanted shit from Boeing.

Shanahan said during his 2017 Senate confirmation hearing that technology, not strategy, is his expertise.

“I believe my skill set strongly complements that of Secretary Mattis,” Shanahan said. “He is a master strategist with deep military and foreign policy experience. As deputy secretary of defense and Secretary Mattis’ chief operating officer, I bring strong execution skills with background in technology development and business management.”

Pentagon ethics rules require Shanahan to recuse himself from any decisions regarding Boeing. But the plane-maker, which historically places second behind Lockheed Martin as America’s biggest defense contractor, has enjoyed a chain of successes winning major competitive contracts.

In August, Boeing snagged a $7-billion contract to build aerial-refueling drones for the Navy. A month later it won a $2.4-billion contract to build helicopters for the Air Force. In September, it also scored a $9-billion contract to build training jets for the flying branch.

A much smaller contract perhaps is the most troubling. On Dec. 21, Bloomberg reported that the Pentagon would request funding in the 2020 defense budget for a dozen upgraded F-15X fighters worth $1.2 billion. Boeing builds the 1970s-vintage, non-stealthy F-15 at its plant in St. Louis.

The Air Force for years has said it does not want more F-15s, instead preferring to order F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed for around the same price as the F-15X, per plane. But the Pentagon reportedly overruled the Air Force and added the new Boeing fighters to the budget.

Shanahan “prodded” planners to include the planes, according to Bloomberg—this despite the requirement that Shanahan recuse himself from decisions involving Boeing.

Well, it may still be a good bet to buy defense stocks with yet another industry flak in charge of such a huge budget that likes his toys.

House Speaker nominee Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed the president on Christmas Eve, as they sought to pin blame for the partial government shutdown on him.

“It’s Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” the two top Democrats in Congress wrote in a joint statement on Monday issued after the Dow closed down 653 points in the worst day of Christmas Eve trading in history. “The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve — after he just fired the Secretary of Defense.”

“Instead of bringing certainty into people’s lives, he’s continuing the Trump Shutdown just to please right-wing radio and TV hosts,” they continued, arguing that it was unclear what exactly what the president was trying to get out of the shutdown.

“Different people from the same White House are saying different things about what the president would accept or not accept to end his Trump Shutdown, making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment,” Schumer and Pelosi said. “The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it.”

If you really want to get panicked read his damn tweet fest today. He sounds more unhinged that usual.

After canceling his Christmas trip to Florida in view of the government shutdown, Trump was marooned this weekend at the White House watching hours of cable television news shows. Advisers said he stewed over commentary hailing Mattis as heroic — a human guardrail against the president’s impulses.

Trump was so angry with Mattis that on Sunday morning he directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to inform the defense secretary that he was being pulled from office two months early, according to a senior administration official.

Mattis resigned in protest Thursday after Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria over the strong objections of Mattis and others on the national security team. Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group, also resigned in protest over Trump’s Syria decision.

With Trump’s elevation of Shanahan, the list of senior officials serving on a temporary basis grows. The White House chief of staff, attorney general and Environmental Protection Agency administrator are each serving in an “acting” capacity. On Jan. 2, the Interior Department also will have an acting secretary.

Unlike Mattis, Shanahan was not in the military and has little foreign policy or government experience. Shanahan worked for decades at Boeing handling the aviation behemoth’s commercial aircraft and missile defense programs. Trump, who had complained to aides that Mattis did not share his enthusiasm for negotiating defense contracts, admires Shanahan for taking a special interest in such matters, according to a senior administration official.

Anyway, back to the Twitter Meltdown today because I need to end this post somewhere. This is from Salon.
On Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was “all alone” in the White House because of the government shutdown. The partial government shutdownis due to Trump refusing to sign off on funding until he gets his border wall.

“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security. At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!” he tweeted.

“I am alone (poor me) in the White house.” What the actual fuck?

May you all be Bright and Merry!