Friday Reads: Chaos and Corruption Edition (sigh) again and again and again

Shanghai Tang by Leire Mayendía

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

I’m going to share linky goodness on three story lines today. The first is the tit for tat tariff war with China. Don’t forget Hair Loser told us that “winning trade wars is easy”.  Unfortunately, he ignores those of us that practice the economic dark arts of econometrics!

This minor trade war could escalate into something far worse. We have had the tit-for-tat: China has responded with its own list of tariffs to America’s so-called 232 measures (on steel and aluminium). We have had the same relatively proportionate exchanges on America’s 301 actions (on technology). In each case the steps have been modest. Economists estimate that America’s more extensive list, which omits key consumer items such as iPhones, will add just $12.5bn to the roughly $500bn in Chinese annual imports to the US. This is small potatoes. If Washington and Beijing simply stopped here, the world could carry on as normal. But dynamic situations do not normally halt of their own accord. That is why the markets have reacted so badly. They see the potential for escalation. A Chinese official was quoted as saying: “It is only polite to reciprocate”. Whatever Trump does, China will match. The ball is now in Trump’s court, which is never an ideal place for it to be. For more, readers should go to Shawn Donnan’s always excellent “Free trade” newsletter.

Little Guests in the Moon Palace (circa 1972} unknown artist

So, let’s look at Hair Loser’s blatherings on his ongoing list of Making America Gilded Again.  This one is from CBS: “Trump says trade war is “already lost,” and he “probably won’t” attend White House Correspondents Dinner”. And is it his fault?  Ohhhhh, of course not.

President Trump said in a radio interview aired Friday that the U.S. isn’t in a trade war because the trade war is “already lorst,” and said he “probably won’t” attend the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington later this month because the press is “so fake.”

Mr. Trump made those comments in an interview with WABC’s “Bernie and Sid in the Morning,” taped Thursday. The interview took place before the president’s Air Force One comments denying any knowledge of a hush money payment by his lawyer to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Mr. Trump explained why he is going after China on tariffs. On Thursday night, Mr. Trump announced he has directed the U.S. Trade Representative to consider an additional $100 billion in new tariffs on China, in response to China’s decision to slap $50 billion in tariffs on U.S. imports. China’s $50 billion was a response to the White House’s announcement of $50 billion in tariffs on China. But Mr. Trump insisted that the U.S. isn’t in a trade war — in the past he has called trade wars “good, and easy to win” — because the U.S. already “lost” a trade war.

“Well, fellas, we’ve already lost the trade war,” the president said. “We don’t have a trade war. We’ve lost the trade war because for many years, whether it’s Clinton or the Bushes, Obama, all of our presidents before, for some reason it just got worse and worse. And now it’s $500 billion in deficits and a theft of $300 billion in intellectual property. So you can’t have this.”

The president said the stock market might take a bit of a hit in the short term — and it has — but the country will be stronger in the long run, he insisted.

“Now we could—the easiest thing for me to do would be just to close my eyes and forget it,” Mr. Trump said. “If I did that, then I’m not doing my job. I’m not saying there won’t be a little pain but the market’s gone up 40 percent, 42 percent—so we might lose a little bit of it—but we’re going to have a much stronger country when we’re finished. And that’s what I’m all about. We have to do things that other people wouldn’t do.”

Victory belongs to peace and socialism (China, 1959)

Of course, he also denied we were in a trade war with China. Hair Loser has such mental acuity!  Why, he’s a stable genius!

“We are not in a trade war with China,” President Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

The president is correct. What looks like a trade war is really a struggle for the control of the technologies that will dominate coming decades.

The trade war narrative seems at first glance to fit the facts. On March 8, the United States, pursuant to Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from China and other countries.

On March 22, President Trump issued a memorandum directing Lighthizer to consider 301 tariffs on China. Beijing, within a few hours, announced tariffs of its own on $3 billion of U.S. goods.

This Wednesday, Beijing made another announcement, this time proposing tariffs on $50 billion of imports from America.

This looks frightening because no one knows what happens when a dispute engulfs the planet’s two largest economies. As Neil Irwin of The New York Timeswrote Thursday referring to China, “a trade war with such a major trading partner is without precedent in modern times.”

President Trump, whether he ends up in a trade war or not, has zeroed in on the core of the competition between China and the U.S. Lighthizer’s proposed tariff list Tuesday includes duties on some mundane items but especially goes after the Chinese aerospace, information and communications tech, and robotics sectors. As Zhou Hao of Commerzbank in Singapore told Bloomberg, “The U.S. list suggests that the government is targeting the ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative.”

That initiative, announced in 2015 by China’s State Council, seeks to make that country nearly self-sufficient in 10 crucial industries, including aircraft, robots, electric cars, and computer chips. Beijing has set out specific goals for market shares by industry.

The plan aims for near self-sufficiency in components by 2020 and materials five years later. Moreover, Beijing, stepping into trade-violation territory, wants Chinese industries to possess 80 percent of their home market in the listed sectors.

CM2025, as the initiative is known in China, calls for jumbo-sized, low-interest loans from state investment funds and development banks, aid for the purchase of foreign competitors, and research subsidies.

Raise your hand if you think Hair Loser knows anything about the details of CM2025.  He may know enough to think if they’re getting out of those import areas to be more secure, maybe he can riff on that idea too!  But, better he should focus on a cyber wall. The literal stuff only makes us weaker.  From The Hill: “Trump says ‘pain’ from China tariffs will make US ‘much stronger’”.  Feel the pain!!!!  Are we winning now? Are we great again?

President Trump says in a new interview that tariffs targeting China over intellectual property theft could cause some “pain” in the U.S. economy, but promised that America would emerge stronger as a result.

“I’m not saying there’s not gonna be any pain,” Trump said Friday in an interview with “Bernie & Sid in the Morning” on 77 WABC in New York City.

He also acknowledged the initial reaction from markets is likely to be negative.

They “could lose a little bit,” he said

Dow Jones industrial average futures plummeted on Thursday after news broke that Trump has asked officials in the administration to prepare tariffs on another $100 billion of imports from China, escalating a fight with Beijing.

Futures on the index fell 222 points, suggesting the market would open down 271.22 points on Friday, CNBC reported.

A relatively poor jobs report released Friday that found the nation added 103,000 jobs in March is also likely to push markets lower, but Trump said he was not worried about a negative reaction from his move on trade.

“We’re gonna be much stronger for it,” he added later in the interview.

China has responded to the latest round of tariff plans with a statement threatening an all-out trade war.

“We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Vintage World War II poster of a Chinese soldier with his wife and child. It reads, China first to fight! United China Relief Participating In National War Fund.

Oh, wait, that sounds more like losing again. So, let’s head over to Trump’s Best and Brightest and Most Corrupt Cabinet.  Pruitt is now labelled as “too corrupt to be corrupted” by Ryan Cooper at The Week.

As defined by Congress, the EPA is supposed to protect the health of Americans by enforcing environmental law, but Administrator Pruitt’s tenure has been focused almost entirely on dismantling as much of the existing architecture of environmental protections as possible. More than any previous EPA head, he has worked to accomplish the exact opposite of the intended purpose of the agency. He has rolled back President Obama’s automobile efficiency standards, the Clean Power Plan, and stacked scientific advisory boards with science deniers and partisan hacks. Overall there have been 41 instances of EPA deregulation under Pruitt as of early February alone. His EPA insists that a gigantic toxic waste dump in Puerto Rico is fine, despite the fact that it was badly flooded during Hurricane Maria and many locals have suspicious illnesses.

And where he can’t simply torch regulation (because it’s often wildly illegal), he’s stalled implementation as long as possible, through administrative delays, legal red tape, and simply refusing to staff tons of positions.

Perhaps most deviously, as Emily Atkin writes, he recently changed the scientific basis for EPA rulemaking to disqualify any research not based on public data, following a trail blazed by notorious climate change denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). That superficially reasonable-sounding policy rules out most air quality research of any kind, which are based on medical datasets that are not public because of federal privacy law.

The objective, obviously, is to come up with any sort of pretext to make it easier for polluters to pollute. This one places a handy Catch-22 in the face of nearly anybody who wants to do serious science on pollution and health.

Oh and also Pruitt has an unprecedented 24/7 squad of bodyguards, a $25,000 secret phone booth in his office, spent $9,000 sweeping his office for surveillance bugs, and took multiple charter, private, and first-class flights costing at least $163,000 in total.

Warmly love the country, the communist party and socialism, 1983

If there’s one silver lining to Pruitt’s effort to leave no American child brain un-poisoned, it’s how he demonstrates the extent to which a committed ideologue can bend an agency to his will. The EPA is supposed to follow the latest science in carrying out its legal mandate, but by tendentiously disqualifying science that doesn’t reach a prearranged ideological conclusion, Pruitt has effectively gutted the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

Anna Navarro–a Republican–speaks truth on Don Lemon’s CNN panel of underwhelming men.

Navarro, who kept accidentally calling Steve Mnuchin Steve Munchkin,” noted that Pruitt’s problem is that his flubs aren’t happening in a vacuum, other cabinet secretaries are doing the same.

“There is one more chapter in this telenovela,” she said. “In the sense that we’ve heard about excesses by Ben Carson, by Munchkin-Mnuchin-whatever. It is $130,000 doors or $130,000 lunch tables or jetting around to see an eclipse. This is one more instance of what we’re seeing after Donald Trump promised to be different, and the Republican Party again and again looks the other way. Whether it’s Stormy Daniels or tariffs or deficits or overspending. They look the other way. If this were a Democratic administration, people would be brought in to testify and there would be investigations.”

She argued that the GOP-led Congress has essentially given the White House a pass on everything that they once held as an essential tenant of their party.

“I will say to you, the problem with that [Scott Pruitt] interview is — I mean first of all, it was so bad it made Betsy DeVos look like Albert Einstein,” she continued. “But more than that, he went around the White House to give his buddies and cronies a huge pay raise despite the White House was saying not to do it. That should really bother us, as republicans, as Americans, as taxpayers. That is our money that he is misspending and it should bother all of us despite partisanship.”

Pruitt definitely acts like a worse demigod than Trump. My guess is Hair Loser wants no competition from jerks like him.

Several weeks after taking the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt was running late and stuck in Washington, D.C., traffic. Sources tell CBS News that he wanted to use his vehicle’s lights and sirens to get to his official appointment, but the lead agent in charge of his security detail advised him that sirens were to be used only in emergencies.

Less than two weeks later that agent was removed from Pruitt’s detail, reassigned to a new job within the EPA.

Wash clothes and body regularly, maintain cleanliness, for good health, ca. 1952

Still, recently Trump has shown more preference to Pruitt over Sessions even suggesting he might replace Sessions with Pruitt.

President Donald Trump floated replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Scott Pruitt as recently as this week, even as the scandal-ridden head of the Environmental Protection Agency has faced a growing list of negative headlines, according to people close to the President.

“He was 100% still trying to protect Pruitt because Pruitt is his fill-in for Sessions,” one source familiar with Trump’s thinking told CNN.

Though the President has, at times, floated several people a day for multiple positions in his administration that are already occupied, the proposition reveals just how frustrated Trump remains with Sessions because of his decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation more than a year ago, while signaling how confident he has remained in Pruitt despite a dizzying number of ethics issues.

So, the third headline comes from the US Treasury and sanctions imposed on Russian Oligarchs.  We’re waiting for Hair Loser’s pissing wisdom on this via Twitter.

The Trump administration announced new sanctions on Russian tycoons, companies and key allies of President Vladimir Putin, hitting the crucial energy sector and adding to a flurry of moves by Western powers against Moscow in recent weeks.

“The Russian government operates for the disproportionate benefit of oligarchs and government elites,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Friday. “The Russian government engages in a range of malign activity around the globe, including continuing to occupy Crimea and instigate violence in eastern Ukraine, supplying the Assad regime with material and weaponry as they bomb their own civilians, attempting to subvert Western democracies, and malicious cyber activities.”

Those penalized include seven Russian oligarchs, 12 companies and 17 senior government officials under provisions of a law Congress passed last year to retaliate against Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Among the most prominent Russian tycoons identified Friday is metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire founder and majority shareholder of En+ Group. Deripaska, 50, made headlines last year due to his links to Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The tycoon has had difficulties in the past in getting a U.S. visa.

This is basically Putin’s inner circle.

Friday’s announcement builds on a string of punitive actions taken by the U.S. against the Kremlin. Congress and Trump’s national security advisers have pushed for tougher sanctions against Russia for its interference in the 2016 U.S. election and its prolonged, destructive cyberattacks in Ukraine and elsewhere.

But in a farewell speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington this week, Trump’s outgoing national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the U.S. has “failed to impose sufficient costs” on Putin’s government for its military and political aggression worldwide.

The Kremlin continues to call for dialogue with Trump. Speaking in Moscow Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complained about America’s increasingly hostile diplomatic stance towards Russia but expressed hope that Trump and Putin could conduct a “broad dialogue” so long as it does not “fall victim to domestic political intrigues” in Washington.

Other individuals targeted on Friday include members of Putin’s inner circle, some of whom are under scrutiny from U.S. investigators for activities related to the 2016 presidential election.

Among them are Suleiman Kerimov, a top Putin adviser; Kirill Shamalov, who married Putin’s daughter in 2013; and financier Viktor Vekselberg, who attended Trump’s presidential inauguration.

Sanctions target Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, who reportedly is under investigation in the U.S. on suspicion of funneling money to the National Rifle Association to assist the Trump campaign.

And, just in case you missed it … “EXCLUSIVE: Saudi crown prince bragged that Jared Kushner gave him CIA intelligence about other Saudis saying ‘here are your enemies’ days before ‘corruption crackdown’ which led to torture and death”

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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Thursday Reads: This Sh**t Never Ends!

Bette Davis

Good Afternoon!!

As usual in the horrifying new world of Trump, there is so much shocking news that there’s no way to deal with all of it. I guess the top story has to be that Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manifort last summer.

The New York Times: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort.

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.

Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes.

Flynn ultimately took the safe route and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation; but this could explain why Paul Manafort is holding out even though the evidence against him is overwhelming and he could face life in prison if convicted.

Cary Grant, 1960

Constitutional experts are now discussing whether Trump could get away with pardoning Manafort and others, even if he did it with corrupt intent. Some opinions:

Alex Whiting at Just Security: Why Dangling a Pardon Could Be an Obstruction of Justice—Even if the Pardon Power is Absolute. A brief excerpt:

Some experts have argued that the pardon power is absolute and that the President’s motives in issuing a pardon thus could not be questioned, while others contend that it could be a crime to issue a pardon for corrupt purposes (such as in exchange for cash). But the debate over the absolute nature of the pardon power is actually not relevant to the alleged incidents involving Trump’s lawyer. Indeed, that entire debate can be set aside for the moment. Why? Because there’s been no pardon. Instead, a pardon has only been dangled before Flynn and Manafort, and the analysis of whether that action could become part of an obstruction case against Trump raises entirely different considerations….

The pardon dangle works completely differently—and in important respects has the opposite effects. First, this kind of dangle is not a public act. Therefore, as long as it remained secret, it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone. It hides the President from scrutiny rather than exposes him to it as a potential check on the use of the power. Second, the objective of the dangle appears to have been to foreclose the prospect of Flynn and Manfort’s cooperating or testifying. Once again, this is the opposite effect of an actual exercise of the pardon. The message of the dangle was sufficiently clear: hang in there and keep fighting (do not cut a deal with the special counsel) because you will be pardoned before you spend a day in jail. The President and his lawyer’s hope would have been that with the threat of jail eliminated, neither former aid would feel compelled to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller to reduce his sentence. But, since they were not actually pardoned or not yet anyway, they still kept their Fifth Amendment privileges, and so Mueller could not simply demand they testify before the Grand Jury. In this way, the dangle could operate to stop any cooperation from Flynn and Manafort, who could then be pardoned later if and when they were indicted or even after their cases went through pretrial, trial and appeal. Indeed, you also have to put yourself back at the time these events all took place: before Manafort was indicted and Flynn pleaded guilty. That’s when the dangle could work its magic.

Ava Gardner

Because a pardon dangle is secret and seeks to discourage cooperation with an ongoing investigation without public scrutiny or consequences, it should be analyzed differently than a pardon when it comes to an obstruction case.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at The Washington Post: We may know why Paul Manafort has kept quiet. But his bet is still risky.

Manafort’s refusal to cooperate can’t be driven by a rational calculation that he has any reasonable chance of escaping conviction, multimillion-dollar legal fees and a prison sentence that will result in years behind bars.

The indictments against him lay out an overwhelming case of money laundering in particular. The meticulously gathered evidence will be as clear for the jury as a laundry detergent commercial: The jury will see the dirty money go in and the clean money come out. To the extent there had been a small risk, inherent in paper-driven chases, that the jury could become bored at the accounting presentation and tune out, Mueller now has a narrator for the trial in Manafort’s co-conspirator Rick Gates.

So is hoping for a Trump pardon a good bet for Manafort?

…the Times story does not definitively solve the Manafort mystery. First, Dowd’s reported overture, particularly if done with the president’s knowledge or consent, could have constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice, a separate impeachable offense. That presumably is why the story includes a categorical denial from Dowd that he ever discussed pardons for the president’s former advisers with lawyers. For Dowd, the conduct would be putting his license at risk.

Second, Manafort surely recognizes that he can’t fully count on Trump, both because the president is a habitual liar and because the political dynamic is subject to such extreme and violent turns. (Of course, under this hypothesis, Manafort retains the valuable insurance policy of spilling the goods if Trump double-crosses him, leaving both huge losers in a real-life prisoners dilemma.)

Marcello Mastroianni

Third, Manafort could still be required to testify after any pardon, when he would no longer be in federal jeopardy. Undoubtedly, the plan would be for him to deny assurances of a pardon from Trump. Still, were Mueller to catch him in a lie, the special counsel would surely come down on him.

Finally, it is likely that in the event of a pardon for federal crimes, which is all Trump can provide, some state attorneys general, such as New York’s Eric T. Schneiderman, would prosecute Manafort for financial crimes under their potent state statutes.

Maybe Manafort figures a possible pardon is a better bet than hoping Putin doesn’t send his goons to shut him (Manafort) up for good.

A few more pardon stories:

Bloomberg: Pardon Talk Could Put Trump Lawyer in Hot Water.

CNN: Emails reveal DOJ would have ‘very little involvement’ if Trump tweeted a pardon.

The Washington Post: This overlooked part of the Constitution could stop Trump from abusing his pardon power.

Another big story broke late yesterday. Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Today Shulkin is speaking out, claiming he was fired because he opposed privatizing the VA. Shulkin spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition:

Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR’s Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.

“There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren’t moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA,” he said. “I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”

Lauren Bacall

Those political forces may be why Shulkin says he wasn’t allowed to speak out to defend himself against an ethics controversy over use of funds on a trip to Europe that he says was overhyped and intended to weaken him.

“This was completely mischaracterized,” Shulkin said. “There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. … I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”

Shulkin argued his case in an op-ed at The New York Times: David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans.

That’s a lot of news, but I’ve barely touched on everything that’s happening. Here’s a shocking Trump corruption story that broke at The Guardian this morning: FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter.

In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.

Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.

The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.

Michael Caine

Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.

Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.

This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.

The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.

This shit just never ends. I haven’t even touched on the North Korea news or the Bolton mess or the fact that Trump wants to put his personal physician in charge of the VA. More headlines to check out:

The Washington Post: Who is Trump’s new Veterans Affairs pick, Ronny Jackson?

NBC News: Kim Jong Un met China’s Xi. What does it mean for Trump summit?

CNBC: China says North Korea wants denuclearization, but Kim Jong Un’s motives remain shrouded in mystery as Trump meeting approaches.

The Washington Post: Three big questions about a Trump-Kim summit.

Business Insider: Kim Jong Un became a regional power overnight by saying a single, meaningless word to Trump.

Vox: “Otherwise, they subpoena”: White House lawyer Ty Cobb on why Trump is cooperating with Mueller.

Bloomberg: Kelly Loses White House Clout as Trump Blazes Own Path.

CNN: Did Trump campaign and John Bolton PAC get help from overseas?

Talking Points Memo: WSJ: Kushner Has Phoned Bolton For Advice In The Past Year.

BBC News: Julian Assange has internet cut at Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The Daily Beast: ICE Now Detaining Pregnant Women, Thanks to Trump Order.

Slate: It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.

 


Monday Reads: Happy National Napping Day!

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

Now this is a national day of observance that I can go all in on! I’m thrilled BB let me know about the reason for the season having taken two days of morning naps in a row!

National Napping Day is observed annually the day following the return of daylight saving time. National Napping Day provides everyone with the opportunity to have a nap and catch up on the hour of sleep they lost due to the spring forward time change.

So, now that we’ve established a visual and emotional happy place, let’s move into the utter display of corruption and incompetence presented by Education Secretary “I’m mostly misunderstood” DeVos. Can any one be more clueless about a job than this woman other than KKKremlin Caligula himself? Leslie Stahl managed to ask her basic questions that left the Secretary flummoxed and stumbling on 60 Minutes.

The reason Betsy DeVos wanted to be secretary of education was so she could promote school choice, offering parents options other than traditional public schools – where 90 percent of kids go. She has proposed massive cuts in public education funding and wants to shift billions to alternative players like private, parochial and charter schools.

Betsy DeVos: We have invested billions and billions and billions of dollars from the federal level And we have seen zero results.

Lesley Stahl: But that really isn’t true. Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing’s been accomplished?

Betsy DeVos: Well actually, test scores vis-à-vis the rest of the world have not gone up. And we have continued to be middle of the pack at best. That’s just not acceptable.

Lesley Stahl: No it’s not acceptable. But it’s better than it was. That’s the point. You don’t acknowledge that things have gotten better. You won’t acknowledge that, over the–

Betsy DeVos: But I don’t think they have for too many kids. We’ve stagnated

Lesley Stahl: Okay, so there’s the big argument. So what can be done about that?

Betsy DeVos: What can be done about that is empowering parents to make the choices for their kids. Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children. Families that don’t have the power, that can’t decide: “I’m gonna move from this apartment in downtown whatever to the suburb where I think the school is gonna be better for my child” if they don’t have that choice – and they are assigned to that school, they are stuck there. I am fighting for the parents who don’t have those choices. We need all parents to have those choices.

Like most right wing extremist theocrats, DeVos isn’t interested in the truth about a train wreck in Michigan she helped create. Choice is a code word for publicly funded Christian Madrassas that are segregated by social class and race.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, former chair of Michigan’s Republican Party, appeared taken aback when asked during a 60 Minutes interview Sunday whether her home state’s school’s have become better under policies she pushed.

As chair of the American Federation for Children in Michigan, DeVos worked to expand chartered private schools in the state. Most of the reading and math scores among students at charter schools in Michigan are below average and overall academic progress lags behind other states.

“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” 60 Minutes journalist Lesley Stahl asked DeVos in the interview, pointing out that public schools also haven’t flourished under policies she championed.

“I don’t know. Overall—I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos replied.

Along with her husband Dick DeVos, a billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, DeVos has backed state bills in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Florida for voucher programs where students can get public funding to subsidize the cost of attending a private or religious school. She proposes expansion of that system and has pushed for it in Michigan for decades.

“Your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here,” Stahl said.

“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them,” DeVos replied. She said she had “not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming” to find out what is going wrong.

DeVos will be heading up the Task Force on School Safety. Wonder if that means Blackwater units in every school? And what about those Grizzlies?

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will lead a commission tasked with broadly examining ways to protect schools from gun violence, the White House said Sunday.

Administration officials also said the White House would support arming school personnel who volunteer for the job, offering federal funds to provide “rigorous firearms training” to qualified employees.

The proposal has angered education groups, who have said arming educators could put both adults and students at risk. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García last month said, “Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence.”

But DeVos, who has met with students, teachers and families in the wake of the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., said little progress had been made protecting students over the past several years. “No student, no family, no teacher and no school should have to live the horror of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine again,” she said.

While not immediately committing to any ideas or timetables, DeVos said, “No stone will be left unturned” in the effort to uncover and highlight evidence-based approaches proven to reduce violence.

“We’ve had to talk about this topic way too much over the years,” DeVos told reporters during a conference call Sunday. “And there’s been a lot of talk in the past but very little action.”

Still not convinced she’s like one of the worst people in the world. Take her student loan storm trooper attitude and link it to this headline: ‘Education Department awards debt collection contract to company once tied to DeVos’.

A company that once had financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was one of two firms selected Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education to help the agency collect overdue student loans. The deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The decision to award contracts to Windham Professionals and Performant Financial Corp. – the company in which DeVos invested before becoming secretary – arrives a month after a federal judge ordered the department to complete its selection of a loan collector to put an end to a messy court battle. Windham and Performant beat out nearly 40 other bidders for contracts valued at up to $400 million, but their win may be short-lived if the losing companies fight the decision.

The selection of only two [companies] opens the door to protests from the unsuccessful bidders,” wrote Michael Tarkan, senior research analyst at Compass Point, in a research note on Performant. “Based on prior contract awards, we would not be surprised to see protests, lawsuits and appeals which could all delay the start date for the new contract.”

Historically, the department has used as many as 17 companies to recoup past-due student loans. Earlier attempts to whittle down the number of firmshave been met with resistance. Companies that lost out on a 2016 debt collection contract have been embroiled in a lawsuit that has prevented the federal government from assigning new accounts.

But, hey, she’s “conservative” so Twink DeVos should be all about state’s right! Am I right? Uhmmmmm, nope!

The Education Department issued guidance Friday informing state regulators to back off the companies managing its $1.3 trillion portfolio of student loans, arguing that only the federal government has the authority to oversee its contractors.

“State regulation of the servicing of direct loans impedes uniquely federal interests,” the department wrote. “State regulation of the servicing of the Federal Family Education Loan Program is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.”

The notice arrives as states have stepped in to fill what many see as a void in the federal oversight of student loan servicers, the companies the Education Department pays nearly $1 billion to handle debt payments. The move has created consternation within the industry, which has lobbied Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Congress to prevent states from imposing additional rules and regulations. Now the department is taking action, but some legal experts say the declaration is a hollow gesture.

“Nowhere in this document does the Department of Education quote a statute from Congress that says the department is authorized to block states from stopping deceptive debt collection practices. That’s because such a law does not exist,” said Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and former enforcement attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Many states are likely to view this document as legally dubious . . . and will wait for courts to weigh in with their own interpretation.”

California, Connecticut and the District of Columbia require servicers to obtain a license to operate within their borders as a way to bring the companies under their regulatory purview. Their local agencies have the authority to monitor loan servicers’ compliance with federal laws, investigate their behavior and refer cases to the attorney general.

And from that radical rag Forbes Magazine“4 Ways Betsy DeVos Plans To Make It Harder For Ripped-Off Students To Get Loan Forgiveness.” Trump University any one?

With thousands of “borrower defense to repayment” applications pending, Betsy DeVos wants to impose a higher burden of proof for defrauded students seeking student loan forgiveness.

Borrower defense offers federal student loan forgiveness for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, including the now-closed Corinthian Colleges.

If this revision from the Department of Education goes through, students will face bigger hurdles along the path to borrower defense student loan forgiveness.

Although it’s unclear whether the proposal would affect existing applications, it would at least introduce four major challenges for future applicants.

Other headlines guaranteed to drive you back under the covers via Memeorandum:

John Bacon from USA Today: Death penalty for drug dealers? Count Trump in

Anita Kumar from McClatchy DC: Ivanka Trump never cut ties with the Trump Organization. That’s turned into a problem.

NBC News: Qataris opted not to give info on Kushner, secret meetings to Mueller

Jake Pearson from Associated Press: Trump Jr., donor have longtime undisclosed ties

Annie Gowen from The Washington Post: Hillary Clinton says ‘follow the money’ in the Trump-Putin relationship

And now, you can close your eyes and repeat after me: Let’s make America and America again!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: All Chaos all the Time!

GET SMART — ‘Hoo Done It’ Episode 8 — Aired 11/05/66 — Pictured: (l-r) Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, Joey Forman as Harry Hoo, Barbara Feldon as Agent 99

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I wake up these mornings to thinking this reminds me of 1968. There are students protesting in streets for one. But, the news these days reminds me more of those classic 60s TV shows with classic Russian spy meanies and bumbling Americans mixed in with the classic series about the FBI. There are so many instances of crime, intrigue, spying, investigations and the notorious double agents these days that I doubt even the best TV writing team would come up with any of this.

Then, there’s the classic 60s Soaps with scheming family members, bleach blondes galore, and some mean old geezer every one hates. We appear to be stuck in the reality show version of really whacky 60s TV programming. I fully believe there is a jail cell waiting with Jared Kushner’s name on it and it’s just around the corner.

Jared is in heaps of trouble. It appears the next set of indictments will be against the Russian Hackers of the Podesta emails. Just like two weeks ago, Mueller & Friends are laying the ground work on a crime against this country. Soon, we’ll see if any Americans supported that conspiracy. But, there’s also a ton of evidence of financial irregularities involving JarVanka that can be prosecuted at the state level in New York ensuring jail time, fines, and no promise of Presidential pardon. The golden children are on a slow turning spit with increasing fuel on the fire. Just this moring, the AP broke this little gem of a quid pro quo.

The Securities and Exchange Commission late last year dropped its inquiry into a financial company that a month earlier had given White House adviser Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm a $180 million loan.

While there’s no evidence that Kushner or any other Trump administration official had a role in the agency’s decision to drop the inquiry into Apollo Global Management, the timing has once again raised potential conflict-of-interest questions about Kushner’s family business and his role as an adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

The SEC detail comes a day after The New York Times reported that Apollo’s loan to the Kushner Cos. followed several meetings at the White House with Kushner.

“I suppose the best case for Kushner is that this looks absolutely terrible,” said Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Without presuming that there is any kind of quid pro quo … there are a lot of ways that the fact of Apollo’s engagement with Kushner and the Kushner businesses in a public and private context might cast a shadow over what the SEC is doing and influence consciously or unconsciously how the agency acted.”

Apollo said in its 2018 annual report that the SEC had halted its inquiry into how the firm reported the financial results of its private equity funds and other costs and personnel changes. Apollo had previously reported that the Obama administration SEC had subpoenaed it for information related to the issue.

Diana Rigg as Emma Peel with Patrick Macnee as John Steed circa 1965

Ivanka’s business dealings are also part of an investigation as reported by CNN.

US counterintelligence officials are scrutinizing one of Ivanka Trump’s international business deals, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The FBI has been looking into the negotiations and financing surrounding Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver, according to a US official and a former US official. The scrutiny could be a hurdle for the first daughter as she tries to obtain a full security clearance in her role as adviser to President Donald Trump.
It’s standard procedure to probe foreign contacts and international business deals as part of a background check investigation. But the complexity of the Trump Organization’s business deals, which often rely on international financing and buyers, presents a challenge.
The FBI has been looking closely at the international business entanglements of both Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, to determine whether any of those deals could leave them vulnerable to pressure from foreign agents, including China, according to a US official.

The development — a 616-foot beacon dotting the Vancouver skyline and featuring a trademarked Ivanka Trump spa — opened in February 2017, just after Trump took office.

1965 photo of Efraim Zimbelist Jr. practicing pistol-firing technique at Quantico, VA

More on this FBI investigation from Vanity Fair.

Ivanka, too, has her own set of problems. While the First Couple braced for an Intercept story that Kushner’s father had failed to secure a loan from the Qatari government just weeks before Kushner backed a blockade of Qatar, CNN dropped another bombshell: United States counterintelligence officials are probing a Trump Organization real-estate deal in Canada in which Ivanka played a leading role.

The financing and negotiations surrounding the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver have come under F.B.I. scrutiny, according to current and former U.S. officials who spoke with CNN. It’s unclear why the F.B.I. is interested in the deal, which dates back to 2013, and in which Ivanka played a key role. But CNN reports that foreign buyers involved, as well as the timing of the $360 million project’s opening in February 2017, may have caught the agency’s attention. Like many Trump Organization deals, the New York-based company does not own the building but rather is paid licensing and marketing fees by the developer, the Holborn Group. Joo Kim Tiah, a member of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest families, runs the Canada-based development firm, and said in October 2015 that the First Daughter was closely involved: “Ivanka and myself approved everything, everything in this project,” he said during an interview.

The Intercept reports Kushner Monkey Business in Qatar. This is the bombshell story mentioned in the Vanity Fair bit.

THE REAL ESTATE firm tied to the family of presidential son-in-law and top White House adviser Jared Kushner made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio, according to two sources. At the previously unreported meeting, Jared Kushner’s father Charles, who runs Kushner Companies, and Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi discussed financing for the Kushners’ signature 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City.

The 30-minute meeting, according to two sources in the financial industry who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the potential transaction, included aides to both parties, and was held at a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

A follow-up meeting was held the next day in a glass-walled conference room at the Kushner property itself, though Al Emadi did not attend the second gathering in person.

The failure to broker the deal would be followed only a month later by a Middle Eastern diplomatic row in which Jared Kushner provided critical support to Qatar’s neighbors. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.

“I Spy” Robert Culp, Sheldon Leonard, Bill Cosby circa 1967 Photo by Gerald Smith

Philip Rucker–writing for WAPO–calls the couple “diminished”. Everything I’ve been reading indicates orange jumpsuits in their future with diminished assets.

Kushner no longer receives the President’s Daily Brief, a daily digest that’s restricted to Trump and about a dozen other top officials, these people said. Kushner also was removed from a number of less-exclusive but still highly classified intelligence reports that are sent daily to senior administration officials, because he no longer has sufficient clearance to read them. His chances of eventually having his clearance access restored or made permanent remain unclear.

“It’s amazing how Rob Porter taking Hope Hicks out on a date and getting a picture taken in that British paper led to so many unintended consequences,” said a Republican strategist in frequent touch with the White House, speaking anonymously to share a candid opinion.

For months now, Kelly has been considering changes to professionalize the security clearance process, alarmed by how many staffers had interim clearances and how lax the enforcement of access to classified materials seemed to be, according to White House officials.

The Chief and Max in the “Cone of Silence”

Jared is up to his oddly shaped ears in scandal. Scandal runs in the Kushner Family

Jared Kushner has problems.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators are reportedly interested in the senior White House adviser for a plethora of reasons — including, but not limited to, the central topic of whether the Trump team worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 campaign.

Meanwhile, Kushner’s security clearance was recently downgraded. For unclear reasons, the FBI has refused to grant him full “top secret” status — throwing his position in the White House into doubt.

Additionally, and probably not coincidentally, more and more questions have been raised about Kushner’s efforts in recent years to drum up investments in his family’s real estate projects — and whether those efforts inappropriately overlapped with his work in the Trump transition or White House.

This week alone, the New York Times reported that Kushner’s family business got big loans from two US financial institutions shortly after he met with their executives in the White House, and the Washington Post reported that foreign officials have discussed using his business entanglements to manipulate him. Meanwhile, and separately from Mueller’s probe, federal prosecutors and state regulators have both recently sought documents on Kushner Companies’ finances.

Looming over so much of this is the fact that the Kushner company owes $600 million on a money-losing Manhattan tower that’s fully due in just one year. The Kushners have spent much of the past few years trying to get wealthy foreigners to finance an expensive redevelopment plan for the property — but so far, all those efforts have failed.

The 37-year-old presidential son-in-law has not been officially accused of anything. There haven’t been any reports that charges against him are imminent. He and Kushner Companies have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. And for now, Jared continues to hold his high-level White House job, in which he is tasked with, among other things, making peace in the Middle East.

Here’s some interesting gossip if you’re into that sort of thing.

A New York Times column by Maggie Haberman and Mark Landler claims President Donald Trump asked his chief of staff John Kelly for help in ousting first daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner from their advisory roles at the White House.

The column alleges that Trump’s managerial style, dubbed “chaos theory” by the writers, has caused emotional grief for the White House staff. It further claims that aides have “expressed frustration” that Kushner and Ivanka Trump have remained as senior advisers and that President Trump has “privately asked” Kelly for help in moving them out.

It is unclear if the president is asking them to leave out of compassion or, as the Times hints, concerns about Kushner’s potential legal issues over various business dealings. The Times story also reports that President Trump has spoken to Kushner and Ivanka Trump and asked them to stay on at the White House but privately has claimed they “never should have come” to work there. Thus, he has asked Kelly to be the instigator of their departure.

So, describing this huge morass of corruption, entitlement and crime sprees must make these reporters need whiskey and showers. But, it’s rewarding to see all this come out at the time we know Mueller’s sight is on the Trump family. This comes from Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine.

So what can we take away? One safe conclusion is that the investigation is probably not near done. Another is that Trump and his family are not safe. Mueller has only so far charged people outside Trump’s family — his campaign manager, national security adviser, and 13 Russian internet trolls — which the president and his defenders have weirdly treated as a kind of vindication.

The big picture is that, after Trump burned enough creditors that American banks stopped dealing with him, he became deeply reliant on Russian capital. The Russian economy is deeply connected to Vladimir Putin, and uses its leverage to advance political goals. For instance, Vnesheconombank, which works closely with Putin, financed a Trump hotel in Toronto. Trump’s finances are totally opaque, and he has been willing to endure a great deal of critical media coverage — the thing he most hates in the world — in order to avoid publishing his tax returns.

Kushner is also an important figure. He has his own web of business ties with Russia, and had assumed a lead role in communicating with the Russians secretly. Remember the secret backchannel he conducted with Russia during the transition, designed to elude American intelligence? If a new development arose in recent weeks, that probably bodes poorly for the president’s son-in-law.

Meanwhile, as Steve Bannon sloppily confessed, after Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016, it is overwhelmingly likely that he proceeded immediately to tell the father whose approval is the thing he most craves. That may or may not be provable by Mueller. But he is certainly going to try.

Carl Bernstein argues that Mueller is focused ‘like a laser’ on Kushner. This comes via The Hill.

Veteran journalist Carl Bernstein claimed Tuesday night that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is “in the crosshairs” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after the White House adviser had his security clearance downgraded.

“Jared Kushner is in the crosshairs of special prosecutor Mueller’s investigation, which is focused in part on Jared Kushner like a laser,” Bernstein said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”

“And there is every expectation in the White House and among lawyers that are representing other people in Mueller’s investigation that Jared Kushner has many, many strikes lining up against him in the Mueller investigation,” the Watergate reporter continued.

Oh, well, grab the popcorn. It continues.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: Adult Day Care

Good Morning!!

Is this finally the beginning of the end? Trump has been attacking fellow Republicans for months, and this time one of them finally hit back hard. Yesterday Trump lashed out at Tennessee Senator Bob Corker on Twitter.

Of course none of that is true. Corker’s office said that Trump had repeatedly asked him to run for reelection, and offered to endorse him. As for the Secretary of State job, Corker withdrew his name from contention after his interview with Trump.

Corker’s Twitter response:

Then last night Corker gave a stunning interview to the New York Times: Bob Corker Says Trump’s Recklessness Threatens ‘World War III’

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

Mr. Corker’s comments capped a remarkable day of sulfurous insults between the president and the Tennessee senator — a powerful, if lame-duck, lawmaker, whose support will be critical to the president on tax reform and the fate of the Iran nuclear deal….

 

The senator views Mr. Trump as given to irresponsible outbursts — a political novice who has failed to make the transition from show business.

Mr. Trump poses such an acute risk, the senator said, that a coterie of senior administration officials must protect him from his own instincts. “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Mr. Corker said in a telephone interview.

There’s more:

…Mr. Corker, speaking carefully and purposefully, seemed to almost find cathartic satisfaction by portraying Mr. Trump in terms that most senior Republicans use only in private….

Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.

All but inviting his colleagues to join him in speaking out about the president, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.

“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

Two Media reactions:

ABC News The Note: What’s dangerously serious about Trump’s feud with Corker

What happened to the calm part? The storms have begun, and just might spill over into real wars before they’re done. Sen. Bob Corker’s public feud with President Trump is no mere war of words, even in the Trumpian insult era. Corker is blowing the lid off of months of private frustrations and worries, harbored by erstwhile allies of the president, that the commander-in-chief is reckless, dishonest and could put the nation “on the path to World War III,” as Corker told The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation,” Corker said. Combine that with the tensions between Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly, and this has far bigger consequences than your typical Twitter feud. Just words? Perhaps. But they are words that are spurring confrontation with a nuclear-armed North Korea, and more words will come this week that could lead Iran to restart its own nuclear program. Corker’s reference to the White House as an “adult day care center” suggests that grown-ups are ultimately in charge. This may be the week that tests that proposition, and sorts out high-level presidential strategy from absolute and dangerous recklessness.

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, referring to the NYT interview: Bob Corker just confirmed it: Republicans know Trump is unfit.

Corker declined to answer when asked if he believes Trump is unfit for the presidency. But the only reasonable way to read all these comments is as a declaration that Trump is indeed unfit — and that most Republicans know it. After all, Corker had previously said that Trump’s inner circle is helping to “separate our country from chaos.” Now he has added that Trump needs to be restrained by his inner circle from devolving into conduct that could end up unleashing untold global destruction — and that most Republicans know it.

Corker is getting a lot of press plaudits for his unvarnished appraisal. But as James Fallows writes, there is a good deal that Corker can actually do right nowif he wants to mitigate the threat that he himself says Trump poses. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has a range of powers that could help constrain Trump, including the power to hold public hearings to draw public attention to the ways in which Trump’s temperament threatens untold damage. At a minimum, Corker can be asked whether he intends to do these things, and if not, why not.

But whatever Corker says and does now, his new comments should precipitate a fundamental change in the way the press treats the ongoing GOP enabling of Trump. Corker has forced out into the open the fact that Republicans recognize the sheer abnormality and danger to the country of the situation we’re in, which opens the door for much tougher media questioning of them about their awareness of — and acquiescence to — this state of affairs.

This can start with a simple query: Do Republicans agree with Corker that Trump regularly needs to be constrained by his top advisers from engaging in conduct that threatens severe damage to the country and the world? If so, what are Republicans prepared to do about itrgent mentions.

People are still talking about Mike Pence’s ridiculous display at the Indianapolis Colts game yesterday on a day that was supposed to be dedicated to honoring long-time Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

As I’m sure you’re aware, Trump and Pence cooked up a public relations stunt. Knowing that a number of players for the Colts’ opponent the SF 49ers would kneel during the national anthem, the two agreed that Pence would fly to Indy from Las Vegas and then abruptly walk out on the game after the anthem. The press knew this, because Pence told them to wait outside for him because he’d be leaving soon. Pence then flew back out to California for a fund-raiser for Putin’s favorite Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and other Republicans.

Pence is getting plenty of criticism for using taxpayer money to fly back and forth across the country for a political stunt.

CNN: The price tag for Pence’s trip to Indianapolis.

How much did Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to Indianapolis to watch — and then abruptly leave — a football game Sunday between the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers cost?

Holier than thou

Here is an estimate of just the air costs (which does not include costs of advance personnel, Secret Service or support on the ground):According to the Air Force, flying a C-32, the model of plane used for Air Force 2, for one hour costs about $30,000. Pence’s flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis Saturday took about three hours and 20 minutes, so it cost about $100,000.\

Pence then flew from Indianapolis to Los Angeles on Sunday, which took about four hours and 45 minutes, costing about $142,500.Some costs of the flight into Los Angeles will be reimbursed by the Republican National Committee because Pence is attending a political event there.

If he had flown just from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, a trip lasting about 90 minutes, the cost would have been about $45,000.

I don’t usually like Connor Friedersdorf, but he has a good reaction at The Atlantic: Mike Pence’s Flagrant Waste of Taxpayer Money.

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence made a big show of leaving an NFL game early. He declared himself upset that some players knelt during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. “I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem,” he declared, as if attacking those things was the intent of the athletes.

The NFL players knelt in protest because they believe that African Americans are being denied their self-evident rights to life and liberty by a prejudiced criminal-justice system.

“This is not about the military, this is not about the flag, this is not about the anthem,” 49ers Safety Eric Reid later told reporters. “My mother served in the armed forces. Three of my uncles served … I have the utmost respect for the military, for the anthem, for the flag … This is about systemic oppression that has been rampant in this country … I will keep doing what I feel is necessary, to use the platform that I have, to make changes. It’s really disheartening when everything you were raised on, everything I was raised on, was to be the best person I can be, to help people who need help, and the vice president of the United States is trying to confuse the message that we’re trying to put out there. I don’t know what to say about it.”

Pence is not compelled to agree with how players protest. But by fleeing the entire NFL game, he adopted the tactics of a childish, petulant snowflake who reacts to speech he dislikes by misrepresenting it, expressing umbrage, and retreating to a “safe space.”

The major difference?

When an immature teenager makes a show of fleeing from expression that he regards as politically incorrect, he’s typically evading ideas he ought to confront on his own dime. Whereas Pence spent taxpayer money to get to that NFL game. Lots of it.

There is so much more news, and so little time and space to discuss it. Most notably, Puerto Rico is still in agony, and the Trump administration seems determined not to help.

The Daily Beast: Without Power Until Next Year, Puerto Ricans Are Leaving—Maybe Forever

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico—Joe and Maria Bernard cook in the dark over a gas stove outside their small hotel, the Tropical Guest House. “The days feel shorter,” says Maria, “we just have 12 hours of daylight to get everything done.”

When it gets dark, the entire island of Vieques is dark.

Turnkey Hotel

This is life on the world-renowned tourist island. And it’s going to be life for at least the next six to eight months, if not longer, before electricity is restored here.

“We’re in denial,” says Maria, “we’re going to give it another two weeks maybe a month, then maybe we’ll have to go back to the States.”

In 2005, the couple traded in the bustle of New York and jobs in the television industry for a more rewarding future in Puerto Rico, which offered triple-tax exemption for resettling here. With their savings, they got a loan to buy their turnkey hotel.

Read more painful stories at the link.

Oh, and today is Columbus Day. From the New York Times: Why People Have Protested Columbus Day Almost From Its Start.

A reverend at Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan appeared on the front page of The New York Times after he criticized Christopher Columbus, the Italian navigator who sailed to the Americas on behalf of Spain in 1492.

The reverend, R. S. MacArthur, said Columbus was “cruel, and guilty of many crimes.”

That complaint may sound familiar to those who condemn the explorer for opening a door to European colonialism, which brought disease, destruction and catastrophic wars to the people who already lived here.

But Mr. MacArthur said those words more than a century ago, in 1893. His comments suggested he was more affronted by Spain, which he called “the poorest and most ignorant country in Europe,” than concerned about Native Americans.

He was one of many to have questioned the legacy of the explorer, whose arrival in the Americas has been celebrated in the United States for hundreds of years.

Read the rest at the NYT.

What’s left of Hurricane Nate has arrived in New England this morning giving us lots of rain and 40mph winds. I’m glad because it has been hot here for the past few days.

What’s happening where you are? What stories are you following today?


Draining the Swamp: I don’t think that metaphor means what you think it means …

Good Morning Sky Dancers

It’s funny how metaphors that society assigns to rhetoric often turn out to mean one that metaphorically, but, in actuality and in practice, exist as something completely different. I watched bits and pieces of last night’s Trumpvian political rally for Alabama Senator Luther Strange. It was the usual bigotry and big lies in Shout-out-Vision.  Just take a moment of thinking about the parents who let their child grow up in Alabama with a name worthy of a Marvel cartoon villain then imagine the Borough-Born Bully-in-Chief and you’ve got a perfect picture and event designed to pander to Southern White Supremacist Christo-Fascists. It was as bad as you’d think.

And of course, there were calls to ‘Lock her up’, the usual unsubtle racism with an attack on NFL players that ‘disrespect’ our national anthem (woof woof, whistle whistle) coupled with the now over used and abused idea of “draining the swamp”. Dotard Don rambled on angrily feeding his ego and convincing most of us of his need for a brain MRI and a lot of meds.

Prominent Republican  leaders aggressively lobbied the president to travel to Alabama to campaign with Strange, something that Trump himself said was a great risk. He was greeted by a full house of supporters, many of whom stayed on their feet during the entire rally, laughing at his jokes and cheering his attacks on political and foreign adversaries.

The president’s rambling speech lasted nearly 90 minutes. He repeatedly cursed, mocked the leader 0f North Korea, jokingly threatened to fire a Cabinet member w ho endorsed Moore, called on professional football team owners  to fire players who kneel during  the national anthem, promised to build a new “see-through wall” on the southern border, called allegations of Russian interference in the election a “hoax,” accused unions of protecting “sadists” who abuse elderly veterans, and repeatedly relived the 2016 election.

Other stories of the day were the Federal Government finally got around to telling 21 states there were Russian attempts to hack their election systems, the head of HHS Tim Price’s excessive use of private jets, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos basically imposing a federal policy of “she obviously asked for it” stance on campus rape.  Today I woke up to Common Sense Hillary speaking to Wonder Woman Journo Joy Reid both at it again: Trump has ‘been even worse than I thought he would be’.

Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton slammed President Trump on Saturday, saying his presidency is worse than she expected it would be.

“I really had such deep doubts about his preparation, his temperament, his character, his experience, but he’s been even worse than I thought he would be,” Clinton told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on “AM Joy.” 

“I tried in my concession speech to make clear that we should all give him the space to be president for every American. That’s what we want from our presidents, regardless of our partisan differences, we want to feel like the person in the oval office really cares about and is looking after everybody,” she continued. 

“And that just hasn’t turned out to be the case, starting with our inauguration, which is how I opened the book talking about how excruciating it was to go and what a missed opportunity for him because all he did was reinforce the dark, divisive image of America that he’d been feeding to his supporters.”

Madam Secretary must’ve been watching the provocative North Korea performance as well as the I love Alabama and Alabama loves me HateFest. This all got me thinking about that metaphor of draining swamps.  Well that and this item from Rachel Maddow on a part of severely flooded Puerto Rico called Levittown.  Levittown–yeah one of those Levittowns–was built on a drained swamp. Earthquake inundated Mexico City was built on a drained lake.

The one thing I’ve learned down here in Swampland in a literal drained swamp is that draining swamps is, in actuality, not a particularly smart thing to do. Swamps are very useful and they are chock full of critters that are pretty neat and useful. But, the metaphor draining the swamp was based on just getting rid of the mosquitoes that were causing yellow fever in the 1820s in New Orleans. Then, draining the swamp  referred to getting rid of mosquitoes carrying malaria. The entire idea was supposed to be a good thing based on that one thing.

“Drain the swamp” originally means to get rid of the malaria-carrying mosquitoes by draining the swamp. Figuratively, “drain the swamp” means “to exterminate something that is harmful” or anything that most of the people hate such as corruption or government waste. This term is especially attractive for politicians during campaign.

vow to drain the swamp in Washington DC
vow to drain the swamp of big government

#drain#swamp#politician#malaria#government

The problem was the mosquitoes.  It wasn’t the swamp.  Swamps are wonderful things.  So why, label the entire swamp as a problem and drain it when we really just need to deal with the lowly mosquito?  Well, developers–like the ones of Levittown, PR and up there on the North Shore, LA–just love draining swamps so they can build on places that really shouldn’t be built upon and nature wills out eventually. It’s in our lexicon as a good thing. It’s not.

Swamps are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. They act like giant sponges or reservoirs. When heavy rains cause flooding, swamps and other wetlands absorb excess water, moderating the effects of flooding. Swamps also protect coastal areas from storm surges that can wash away fragile coastline. Saltwater swamps and tidal salt marshes help anchor coastal soil and sand.

The swamp ecosystem also acts as a water treatment plant, filtering wastes and purifying water naturally. When excess nitrogen and other chemicals wash into swamps, plants there absorb and use the chemicals. Many of these chemicals come from human activities such as agriculture, where fertilizers use nitrogen and phosphorus. Factories, water treatment plants, and homes also contribute to runoff. Chemicals not absorbed by plants slowly sink to the bottom and are buried in sand and sediment.

For most of history, wetlands were looked upon as wastelands, and as homes for insect pests such as mosquitoes. (Swamps are home to a wide variety of insects, which feed on the wide variety of plants.) People thought swamps were sinister and forbidding.

In the United States, filling or draining swamps was an accepted practice. Almost half of U.S. wetlands were destroyed before environmental protections were enacted during the 1970s. Most of the Everglades have been reclaimed as agricultural land, mostly sugar plantations. Draining swampland also created valuable real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area in California.

Federal and state authorities drained much of the wetlands at the delta of the Mississippi River in Louisiana as part of a massive system of river management. When Hurricane Katrina blew in from the Gulf of Mexico in 2005, the spongy swamp that traditionally protected the city of New Orleans from destructive weather patterns was diminished. The city was hit full force with a Category 3 hurricane.

Eradicating swampland also threatens economic activity. Two-thirds of the fish and shellfish that are commercially harvested worldwide are linked with wetlands. From Brazils varzeas, or freshwater swamps surrounding the Amazon River, to saltwater swamps near the Florida Keys, commercially valuable fish species that depend on wetlands are threatened with extinction.

In the early 1970s, governments began enacting laws recognizing the enormous value of swamps and other wetlands. In some parts of the United States, it is now against the law to alter or destroy swamps. Through management plans and stricter laws, people are trying to protect remaining swamps and to re-create them in areas where they have been destroyed.

Swamps do not need to be drained. It’s a few Swamp Denizens and pests that need eradicating. Most Government functions are useful and necessary. Most public servants are just that. The problem is when the political system gives us a plague of mosquitoes. We need some fish to gobble them up!

So, this metaphor really is a bigger metaphor for fucking things up and making them worse over time by completely misdiagnosing the problem because greed over science. We don’t need to drain the swamp in DC.  It’s already technically a drained swamp. We need to quit sending evasive species there.

Is the  TRUMP ADMINISTRATION THE MOST CORRUPT AND UNETHICAL IN AMERICAN HISTORY?

Given Trump’s goofy fixation on private jets as a symbol of luxury, it should come as no surprise that an astonishing number of his cabinet members are ensnared in scandals involving air travel, whether on private or civilian planes: Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is in the mix, too, though for slightly different reasons.

What we have is a private jet presidency, a low-class orgy of first-class kleptocrats. Remember when people thought Trump would usher in an era of American totalitarianism? Remember when credible, serious people compared Trump to some of the 20th century’s worst dictators? They, like the people who voted for Trump, believed what he said. How foolish. Even if Trump does yearn to become our Dear Leader, realizing that vision would take immense dedication, something neither Trump nor his minions have. The president obsesses over ratings, while his underlings grab what they can before Bobby Three Sticks (Robert S. Mueller III to you and me) starts handing out indictments like parking tickets.

This administration includes some obviously decent, highly capable people, foremost among them Secretary of Defense General James Mattis, Chief of Staff General John Kelly and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Hope Hicks, the new communications director, is also well regarded by the journalists who work with her. But they are the exception.

Too many of Trump’s cabinet members have taken to behaving like middle managers let loose in the supply closet for the first time, stuffing their pockets with notepads and pens, hoping the stern secretary doesn’t notice. Oh, but she has. Inspector generals for federal agencies seem to be especially busy these days. Ethics lawyers, too.

Kevin Drum asks “Is There Anyone In the Trump Administration Who Isn’t Corrupt?”

I’m on vacation and in a different time zone, so it’s hard to stay caught up with everything. Let me see if I have this straight:

  • EPA chief Scott Pruitt is sucking up ennvironmental investigation resources by demanding a 24/7 security detail This requires 18 agents instead of the usual six.
  • HHS Secretary Tom Price uses government chartered planes to fly from DC to Philadelphia.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin requested a government plane for his honeymoon. This is in addition to his government-funded excursion to view the eclipse from the roof of Fort Knox.
  • Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, has been under investigation on Russia-related charges since 2014. The charges are serious enough that the FBI got warrants to tap his phone both before and after Trump’s election.
  • And according to the New York Times, Robert Mueller’s document requests from the White House indicate that “several aspects of his inquiry are focused squarely on Mr. Trump’s behavior in the White House.”

Do I have this right? Is there anyone in the Trump administration who’s not prima facie corrupt? Maybe Rex Tillerson, but only because he’s already rich and doesn’t seem to actually give a shit about his job anyway.

I’ve spent hours walking around swamps. It’s one of my favorite places to be these days.  I’ve spent many hours trekking around the Barataria Preserve. The girls and I respectfully enjoyed each gator sighting.  But, frankly, there are geckos, fish, birds, and all kinds of kewl things that eat the mosquitoes if you let them live and thrive. There are probably fewer mosquitoes there than the French Quarter with its puddles of yuck.

Robert Mueller is a creature of the DC Swamp and he knows how to go after invasive species. The great thing about a functioning ecosystem is that it knows how to cleanse itself. Only the worst of mankind interferes with the process of nature balancing itself.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that Paul Manafort, when he was running Donald Trump’s campaign last year, sought to use his position to curry favor with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin. Manafort also, it appears, considered the campaign an opportune time to try to convince unnamed people who owed him money to finally pay him back. In response to this news, Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer in charge of representing President Trump in matters related to the Russia investigation, told Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev, “It would be truly shocking” if Manafort “tried to monetize his relationship with the President.”

Cobb’s shock is, surely, of the “Casablanca” variety. Manafort’s personal profit-seeking is, if anything, a rather tepid example of the kind of activity that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, might find as he continues to investigate those in Trump’s orbit. I have been reporting on the Trump Organization for the past year, and, the more work I’ve done, the more it has become clear that allowing hangers-on to monetize their relationship with him was, essentially, Trump’s business model.

The Trump Organization, as it has been described to me by more than a dozen people who have worked for it, was nothing like a typical, hierarchical corporation. The company’s central office was tiny and comprised a few dozen people, including Trump, his children, and some close associates, whose collective experience was largely limited to New York, Miami, and a few other American cities. When the company began aggressively pursuing international deals, over the past decade, it relied on a loose grouping of people who were authorized—formally or not—to travel around the world seeking deals in Trump’s name. Pocketing a little for themselves on the side was part of the arrangement.

According to the sources I’ve spoken with, the Trump Organization was shockingly lax in its due-diligence procedures. It seemed willing to do business with pretty much anybody, no matter his background. (Several Trump officials told me the key criterion was insuring that the potential partner could pay.) This was how Trump ended up doing business with the Mammadov family, in Azerbaijan, for example, whose members were publicly suspected by U.S. officials of partnering with a likely front company for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. A Trump project in Georgia was undertaken with a company that had become entangled in one of the greatest bank frauds in history. A Trump partner in Indonesia, Hary Tanoesoedibjo, has been investigated for corruption and for ties to violent and anti-American Islamists. The list could go on.

That is one great list of our current invasive pests. Don’t drain the swamp. Trap the invasive species–like the Trumpnutria–who the greedy put in a place where they do not belong and release into the wild when they no longer find them useful. The Trump Family Crime Syndicate is as Alabaman as kudzu. Trap invasive species!  Save our swamps!

What is on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Friday Reads whilst my bed turns into the Family Ark

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’m a little late going at this because it’s rained 3 times since about 3 in the morning and the ceiling in my bedroom came down with a thud on my bed yesterday afternoon.  We had a deluge Thursday Morning and water basically poured out of one of the late drywall seams that’s now in a bundle with its drywall in a big black trash sack ready for internment in the Crescent City Dump.  It poured for like 15 minutes filling up three separate bowls and two turkey roasters with water while sitting on my bed.

It’s almost continually raining here and it’s Friday so you can imagine how much luck I’m having getting any one to do anything.  My back wall is now the “weeping wall” and my turkey roaster has a semi-permanent place atop a thick black trash bag on my bed.  I’m sleeping on the other side because I don’t want to not be there if it overtops or leaks someplace other than its current choice.  It’s a mess. I’m a mess.  Actually, the water is backing up the streets and it’s not looking like it’s going to stop.  The animals aren’t very happy with the chime sound the emptied turkey roaster makes when it meet the first drip of a drop either.

So, the news would be comical if it wasn’t related to this disaster of an administration. I’m just going to start link dumping and leave the heavy sighs to you.  The clank of drops against a thick aluminum turkey roaster is just the right accompaniment to the cacophony of US news today.

First something about John Oliver and King Coal’s Bob Murray. You want a good laugh reading an amicus brief?  Try this one from the West Virginia ACLU on the lawsuit Murray has filed against mean John Oliver.  Here’s the ACLU Brief on behalf of John Oliver. Total Spew alert!!!

This case is about Plaintiff Robert E. (“Bob”) Murray not liking a television program and somehow believing that is a legally actionable offense. On June 18, 2017, Defendant Home Box Office, Inc. aired an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” a satirical news program about current events. The main topic discussed in the episode was coal. Apparently because Plaintiffs’ delicate sensibilities were offended, they clutched their pearls and filed this suit. Although this brief pokes fun at the absurdity of this case, the legal issues raised by it are anything but comical. This lawsuit, and Plaintiffs’ frequent attempts to use our legal system to chill speech, threaten the fundamental right of the media to criticize public figures and speak candidly on matters of public concern. Speech on a matter of public concern “occupies the highest 2 rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to speech protection.”

The next section lists the various media outlets that have been sued by Bob and it’s pretty extensive. Then here’s Bob list of all the ways the bad Brit hury his whiddle fee fees.  Tell us where HBO touched you Bob?

Defendants attempted “to advance their biases against the coal industry and their disdain for the coal-related policies of the Trump Administration.”

Defendants “employed techniques designed solely to . . . embarrass Plaintiffs[.]”

“Defendants childishly demeaned and disparaged Bob Murray and his companies, made jokes about Bob Murray’s age, health, and appearance, [and] made light of a tragic mining accident[.]”

“Defendants are persons and organizations fundamentally opposed to any revitalization of the coal industry, having described coal as ‘environmentally catastrophic.”

Defendant Time Warner “is widely reported as a top ten donor of Hillary Clinton[.]”

“As a presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton’s agenda was to ‘put a lotta [sic] coal miners and coal companies outta [sic] business.’”

“Defendants’ broadcasts have vigorously supported and advanced Mrs. Clinton’s agenda.”

Instead of focusing on what Plaintiffs wanted him to talk about, Defendants “ignored them and ‘doubled-down’ . . . , ending their recorded broadcast with the phrases ‘Eat Shit, Bob’ and ‘Kiss my ass, Bob.’”

In the words of George Takei “Oh Myyyyyy”.  Every body is enjoying the brief and even The New York Post supports Oliver.  This is from the Vanity Fair Link.

When John Oliver tore into coal baron Bob Murray back in June, he knew a lawsuit was likely; he even prepared for the possibility by bringing out someone in a squirrel costume, who pre-emptively told Murray to “eat shit.” And like Oliver predicted, the mogul did sue HBO, Time Warner, Oliver, and his writers—but he might live to regret his decision. The West Virginia A.C.L.U. has filed an amicus brief in Oliver’s defense—and it might actually be a harsher takedown than Oliver’s original segment.

The brief, filed on Monday, is well worth reading in full, as it features some truly colorful writing. Consider, for example, the section headings, which include “Anyone Can Legally Say, ‘Eat Shit, Bob!’” and “All of John Oliver’s Speech Was Protected by the First Amendment. You Can’t Sue People for Being Mean to You, Bob.”

“It is a basic concept of free speech that you do not get to sue media organizations because you don’t like their coverage,” Jamie Lynn Crofts writes in the brief. “However, this is apparently a difficult concept for Plaintiffs to grasp. It appears that Bob Murray’s favorite hobby is suing and/or threatening to sue people for making political statements he disagrees with.”

Another perfectly brilliant and funny read is in Newsweek where the headline declares “Trump is Lazy!!!”.  There’s a lecture the lede too!  “TRUMP, AMERICA’S BOY KING: GOLF AND TELEVISION WON’T MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”

Were he to reach the White House, Trump said, he wouldn’t make the same mistake for which he’d been lambasting Obama since 2011. “I’m going to be working for you,” he told supporters in August 2016. “I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”

Now that he’s president, Trump frequently departs the White House and spends the weekend golfing at either his South Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, or his country club in the New Jersey suburb of Bedminster. The promise he’d made a year before was discarded so quickly, you have to wonder if he even remembers making it. Politico did the legwork: George W. Bush didn’t golf for the first five months of his presidency, while Obama stayed away from his beloved links for four months following his inauguration. Trump held out for all of two weeks. He has visited a golf club 40 times since taking office in January, according to the self-explanatory site Trump Golf Count, which estimates the forays have cost American taxpayers $55 million. Another Trump tracker, this one by The New York Times, finds that his visits to Trump-branded properties total 56 days, nearly a third of his time in office.

Trump’s friends say golf is important to his well-being, just as cycling and rock climbing are de rigueur for the younger titans of Silicon Valley. “He is always working,” longtime confidant Roger J. Stone Jr. tells me, “even while socializing, playing golf or traveling. He is constantly asking questions, taking notes and placing phone calls.

“A better question would be, Does he ever really relax?”

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The Boston Globe has a hilarious bit up about the Orange one’s plan to vacation in the land of Spray Tans.  It’s to hot for Tacky Largo so why not just vacation in the state that pretty much exists to represent tacky?

President Trump, who delights in thumbing his nose at the country’s cosmopolitan class, is using his first presidential break, starting Friday, to send a fresh version of that message: He’s spending his 17-day summer holiday in New Jersey.

You heard that right: New Jersey.

It’s no Martha’s Vineyard or Kennebunkport. It can’t compare to Hyannis Port, to name the prominent New England playgrounds where modern presidents have gone to unwind. The closest competition for unlikeliest vacation spot is Crawford, Texas, a dusty, brush-generating ranchland where George W. Bush at least evoked the romance and rigor of the American West.

In selecting New Jersey, Trump, a billionaire homebody despite his jet-setting reputation, will settle for the thwack of golf balls and the chirping of birds on his own golf course in a state that conjures spray tans, Snooki, muscle shirts, “The Sopranos,” traffic slowdowns, and toll plazas.

Oh, and those eponymous concrete barriers on the interstate.

Trump will even be able to hear the tractor-trailers from his chosen venue: the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. The seventh hole on one of the club’s two courses is a pitching wedge shot from I-78, a.k.a. the Phillipsburg-Newark Expressway

Remember, all those visits to Trump properties cost the American Taxpayers millions of dollars.

“A trip to Mar-a-Lago costs taxpayers approximately $3.6 million, according to a Government Accountability Office report,” the website says.

The NJ getaway won’t be cheap either.  Lucky for the Dumpster, it’s all income to the Kremlin Caligula Family Crime Syndicate.

According to The New York TimesTrump’s New Jersey getaway will technically be “his first extended vacation from Washington” as president, and Trump’s White House spokesperson claimed that the president was only leaving due to HVAC system repairs at the West Wing, and that Trump will be continuing to work while he’s away. It certainly won’t be the first time, though, that the president has taken time away from the White House: according to The Washington PostTrump has made 11 visits to his properties in Palm Beach, Florida and New Jersey since taking office, as well as a weekend at Camp David in June. And of the 28 weekends he’s spent in office, Trump has spent 13 of them away from the White House, according to The New York Times.

Earlier this year, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump’s visits to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach are “where he goes to see his family,” and that they should be considered “part of being president,” according to NBC News. But they also come at a high cost to taxpayers: according to Fortunethe Air Force One flight alone costs roughly $200,000 an hour, and when he arrives, the city is required to cover the cost involved with providing adequate security. In Bedminister, that totals approximately $12,000 per day, while in Palm Beach, the amount is closer to $60,000 per day. Yet the fact that the president chooses to stay at his own private resorts may have created an additional financial benefit for the Trump family: according to NBC News, the membership rates at Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago doubled after Trump took office, and now costs new members $200,000.

Feel adequately milked yet?

Well, here’s some more interesting things about deals and cheating the American Taxpayer via the Kremlin Caligula Family Crime Syndicate. “This Trump real estate deal looks awfully like criminal tax fraud” via WAPO and some very good accountants/tax lawyers.

According to a recent story by ProPublica and the Real Deal, in April 2016 a limited liability company managed by Trump sold two condominium apartments to a limited liability company managed by Eric Trump. They were on the 13th and 14th floors of a 14-story, full-service, doorman building at 100 Central Park South in Manhattan. This is a prime Midtown neighborhood, yet the sale price for each condo was just $350,000. Although the condition and square footage of apartments 13G and 14G are not readily known, a popular real estate website shows that G-line apartments on both the fifth and eighth floors are one-bedroom, one-bath units of just over 500 square feet. Two years before the Trump transaction, apartment 5G sold for $690,000. Maybe the two units in question were in terrible shape, but two months before the sale to Eric Trump’s LLC, they were advertisedfor $790,000 (on the 13th floor) and $800,000 (on the 14th floor), according to ProPublica.

If a sale between a parent and child is for fair market value, it does not trigger a gift tax. But if a parent sells two expensive condominiums to his son at a highly discounted price, for example, then the parent makes a taxable gift in part. In that case, the seller must pay a gift tax of up to 40 percent. (In this case, that might have run the president somewhere in the neighborhood of $350,000.)

Each taxpayer has a $5.49 million lifetime exemption (a married couple has a combined $10.98 million exemption), meaning you can give away that much money without incurring the tax. To claim that a transaction is covered by the exemption, though, you must file a gift tax return. Well-advised wealthy individuals typically fully use their $5.49 million exemption by making gifts to family members as soon as they have the assets to do so.

So if Donald Trump sold the apartments to his son’s company for less than fair market value, he needed to file a gift tax return, even if he wanted to claim that the sale was not taxable because of the exemption. The government wants to know what gifts people make, because gifts are taken into account when determining the value of a person’s taxable estate at death. If Trump had already used his exemption, he would owe gift tax on the difference between the fair market value of the apartments and the amount paid by Eric Trump.

Yeah, no wonder he doesn’t want to show us the taxes. But something tells me the Special Council and a few lucky grand jurors have seen them. The original story is deep behind a WSJ pay wall but here’s The Guardian’s analysis.  Wonder if Bob went to the rally?

Donald Trump has sought to rally thousands of diehard supporters against the investigation into his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia – on the same day news emerged that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has convened a grand jury in the case.

“They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake story,” Trump told a rally in Huntington, West Virginia.

The concerted effort could be a sign that the White House is realising the full gravity of the situation. Mueller, appointed special counsel in May following the dismissal of the former FBI director James Comey, has recruited more than a dozen investigators, including current and former justice department prosecutors with experience in international bribery, organised crime and financial fraud.

On Thursday, it was reported – first by the Wall Street Journal, but later by other outlets including the Associated Press – that Mueller is using a grand jury in Washington, meaning he could subpoena witnesses and records in the coming weeks and months.

The use of a grand jury, a standard prosecution tool in criminal investigations, suggests that Mueller and his team of investigators are likely to hear from witnesses and demand documents in the coming weeks and months.

In what might be seen as a bid to weaponise his populist base, Trump told the crowd in Huntington, a coal country stronghold where he beat Hillary Clinton by 42 percentage points: “Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign; there never were. We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you.”

The crowd, many with “Make America great again” hats or signs, erupted in vociferous cheers. Trump continued: “We won because we totally outworked the other side. We won because of millions of patriotic Americans voted to take back their country.”

The president asked mockingly: “Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight, any Russians? They can’t beat us at the voting booths so they’re trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most importantly demeaning to our country and demeaning to our constitution.”

Well, something demeans all that and that something is talking out its ass.  I personally recommending this as your go to Cliff Notes.

The Oldest Living Confederate Widow who currently serves as the country’s AG is also cracking down on free speech.  Bet he could get some hints on how to win against the ACLU from Bob.  Feeling a bit like you’re living in Vichy France yet?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday announced a government-wide crackdown on leakers, which will include a review of the Justice Department’s policies on subpoenas for media outlets that publish sensitive information.

At a press conference with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Sessions announced that the Justice Department, FBI and government intelligence agencies will direct more resources into the investigations of government leaks and would prioritize prosecuting those that pass sensitive information along to the press or foreign officials

Sessions said he had empowered his deputy director Rod Rosenstein and incoming FBI director Christopher Wray to oversee the classified leaks investigations and to monitor the progress of each case.

The national security division of the Justice Department will prioritize cases involving unauthorized disclosures, Sessions said, and the departments “will not hesitate to bring lawful and appropriate criminal charges against those who abuse the public trust.

Look out News Hounds!  Granny is coming for newspaper near you!

The Justice Department is considering making changes to its policies on subpoenaing news organizations as part of its crackdown on government leaks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday.

At a news conference, Sessions said the Justice Department is cracking down on leaks coming out of the government. The department “has more than tripled the number of active leak investigations” since the end of the Obama administration in January, he said.

Much of the effort involves investigating and prosecuting leak suspects, he said, but another aspect is “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas.” That review, he said, came at the suggestion of FBI agents, career investigators and prosecutors who have weighed in on the leak problem.

“We respect the important role that the press plays, and we’ll give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Sessions said. “They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press’s role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the armed forces and all law-abiding Americans.”

At the news conference, Sessions described the nation as having a problematic “culture of leaks” that must be stamped out. And he issued a blunt warning to “would-be leakers” of classified information: “Don’t do it,” or risk prosecution.

Most of the leaks kinda look like they are coming from Jared and Ivanka who should consider skedaddling back to NYC.  It would be a nice break for the kids before the jail terms start, and children still love to roller blade so they could spend time doing that.  This is actually Joe Scarborough.  Don’t faint. Nobody attacks Joe’s squeeze and gets away with it!  Damn it!

Much has changed in the five years since Trump delivered that self-aware confession. The Manhattan developer is now the least popular first-year president in the history of presidential polling. His oldest son is caught up in a federal investigation involving attempts by Russia to undermine American democracy. Federal prosecutors are also reportedly investigating the finance and business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has repeatedly been forced to amend federal disclosure forms to add omitted information on his financial assets and contacts with foreign nationals, including from Russia. Even Trump’s daughter Ivanka, despite her concerted efforts to keep a low profile during the campaign and to round off her father’s roughest edges inside the White House, has become the subject of controversy.

Her decision to sit alongside foreign leaders at the recent Group of 20 summit in Hamburg was slammed as “grotesque” and “banana-republicky.” In a recent tweet, she declared that she would be “serving alongside John Kelly,” just as the retired four-star Marine general let it be known that all access to the Oval Office would go through him. The real estate heiress not only appeared to be claiming the West Wing as her territory, but she also betrayed a troubling sense of entitlement that one might expect from other billionaires’ daughters but not this one. Kelly and White House insiders know that Ivanka Trump is as ill-prepared to face the brutish realities of Washington as her father. And tragically, neither seems to know what they do not know.

Which brings us back to Kushner.

Though Donald Trump might be loath to admit it, Kushner did much to elect his father-in-law. By quietly building a successful online fundraising and targeting operation far beyond his candidate’s comprehension, Kushner gave Trump a fighting chance to keep the 2016 presidential race close, in the hope that lightning would strike at the right time. It did. And that’s when Kushner’s problems began.

The quiet diplomacy Kushner employed so effectively during the campaign gave way to the sort of stubborn arrogance that often infects the winning side of presidential campaigns. Trump’s shocking victory led his son-in-law to believe he could reinvent government like Al Gore, micromanage the White House like James Baker and restructure the Middle East like Moses. Kushner’s confidence seemed to reach its apex whenever the subject turned to Middle East peace. His bizarre belief that the world began anew the day Trump was inaugurated was exposed again this week when a leaked audiotape caught Kushner telling White House interns: “We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books.”

Americans have seen enough headlines over the past six months to better understand why nepotism does not work in the White House.

Well, the sound of rain pouring into a turkey roaster is less annoying than listening to anything coming from the (it’s a dump!) White House these days.  Would you like some ketchup on that overcooked cut of expensive meat?

Have a great weekend. Pray the rain goes where it’s needed.  That’s definitely not in my bedroom on my bed.