It’s difficult to believe, but today is kind of slow news day, compared to most of the days we’ve lived through in the past four years. Naturally, what news there is today is mostly awful.
The story getting the most attention right now is the bomb blast in Nashville. Here’s the latest:
Nashville police officers were first called to a report of shots fired, police said. There was no evidence of shots fired, but “there were announcements coming” from an RV saying a potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes, police said.
The recording only began playing a short time after police reported to the scene, a law enforcement official told ABC News.
Officers were working to evacuate nearby buildings when, around 6:30 a.m., the RV exploded, blowing out the windows of nearby buildings.
Human remains have been found at the scene of the explosion in downtown Nashville, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.
The remains have not been identified and it’s unclear whether they’re identifiable.
“We found tissue that we believe could be human remains,” Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference Friday evening. “We’ll have that examined and we’ll be able to tell you from that point.”
A woman’s voice warned downtown residents to evacuate before the Christmas morning explosion that rocked Nashville, according to witness who described hearing the chilling message before fleeing with her family.
Betsy Williams, who owns the Melting Pot building on Second Avenue, lived in a loft apartment on the third floor of the building near the center of the blast.
Williams said she left the area after she heard the recording play a countdown to the explosion.
At least three people were injured in the explosion, according to authorities. A police officer in the area, who was responding to reports of suspicious activity in the area, was knocked to the ground by the blast.
Police said the explosion came from an RV that was parked on Second Avenue, in the midst of a business and entertainment district. Police spokesman Don Aaron confirmed the warning came from the RV.
The blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene, an area packed with honky-tonks, restaurants and shops. Buildings shook and windows shattered streets away from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T that lies one block from the company’s office tower, a landmark in downtown.
“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. He said earlier that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give details.
AT&T said the affected building is the central office of a telephone exchange, with network equipment in it. The blast interrupted service, but the company declined to say how widespread outages were.
The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky. Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Knox County, home to Knoxville about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of Nashville.
AT&T said that it was bringing in portable cell sites and was working with law enforcement to get access to make repairs to its equipment. The company noted that “power is essential to restoring” service.
The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville International Airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion. Later Friday, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority said most flights were resuming but advised passengers to check with their airline for updates due to possible delays.
The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.
Trump is busy shirking his responsibilities, playing golf and tweeting as Americans die or go hungry and jobless, while facing evictions.
Expanded unemployment benefits were set to lapse for millions of struggling Americans on Saturday, a day after President Trump expressed more criticism of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that was awaiting his signature and would extend them.
The sprawling economic relief package that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support would extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits until March and revive supplemental unemployment benefits for millions of Americans at $300 a week on top of the usual state benefit.
If Mr. Trump signs the bill on Saturday, states will still need time to reprogram their computer systems to account for the new law, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project, but unemployed workers would still be able to claim the benefits.
Further delays could prove more costly. States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.
Mr. Trump blindsided lawmakers on Tuesday when he hinted he may veto the measure, which he decided at the last minute was unsatisfactory. The most pressing issue prompted by the president’s delay was the fate of unemployment benefits. At least a temporary lapse in those benefits is now inevitable.
The country is also facing a looming government shutdown on Tuesday and the expiration of a moratorium on evictions at the end of the year because of the president’s refusal to sign the bill.
Here’s what Trump is stewing about at the moment. Raw Story: Trump buried for whining Melania didn’t get enough fashion magazine covers — as he sits on COVID aid bill.
With all that is going on in the U.S. during Christmas week — COVID-19 infections on the rise, a desperately needed COVID-related aid package being held hostage by the president, extended unemployment insurance about to run out, families facing evictions — Donald Trump took time out from his busy holiday vacation at Mar-a-Lago to complain that his wife Melania didn’t get fashion magazine cover stories he feels she deserves.
Linking to a tweet from right-wing Breitbart, that read, “The elitist snobs in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years,” the preside t added “The greatest of all time” by which he presumably meant the first lady, before adding the requisite “Fake news!”
Commenters who were already criticizing the president for two days of golfing while they hunker down in their homes over fears of the spreading pandemic, piled on the president for his bizarre sense of priorities.
Maybe it’s because Melania is ugly inside and out? Click the link to read sample tweets.
Trump is also planning to try to pardon himself and push for inappropriate investigations, according to The Guardian:
William Barr’s abrupt move to leave his post as attorney general this week has spurred fears among Department of Justice veterans that Donald Trump will put new pressures on Barr’s successor to do him big and potentially risky political and legal favors.
Former justice department officials say they are worried Trump will lean on Barr’s less experienced successor, the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, to push policies which Trump has suggested he backs, including naming special counsels to investigate President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and using the DoJ to investigate Trump’s baseless charges of widespread election fraud.
Critics also fear Rosen could face pressure from Trump to help obtain a legal opinion that would allow Trump to pardon himself by reversing a justice department opinion that dates back to the Nixon era and bars a presidential self-pardon. Such a move would probably trigger widespread outrage.
Mounting concerns that Trump will try to squeeze favors from Rosen, who became Barr’s deputy AG in early 2019 without previous DoJ experience, stem partly from Trump’s post-election anger at Barr, despite being arguably his strongest cabinet ally in the run-up to the November election.
And what if Trump tries to stay in the White House after Biden’s inauguration? Eric Lutz at Vanity Fair: No One Knows How to Get Trump to Leave the White House in January.
Donald Trump was soundly defeated by Joe Biden, his efforts to overturn the results have been wildly unsuccessful, and the electoral college has made his loss official. In two weeks, lawmakers will meet to certify Biden’s win—and a longshot challenge Trump’s allies in the House are planning is unlikely to stop the inevitable. Constitutionally and legally, Trump will have no constitutional or legal claim to the White House.
But what if, after all that, he just…refuses to leave? What if he refuses to pack his shit and go back to Mar-a-Lago? What if he chains himself to the Resolute Desk? That prospect may sound comically outlandish, and is indeed unlikely to come to pass. But it’s hardly as far-fetched as it might seem, as Trump refuses to concede and continues to insist he won last month’s election in a “landslide.” In fact, he has actually raised the idea with aides recently, as CNN reported. And while few advisers think he’ll actually go through with it, no one really knows what would happen if he does try to overstay his welcome.
According to the Daily Beast on Wednesday, the Secret Service isn’t so sure what it would do, either. One former agent suggested he’d get dragged out like any other civilian would be if they were in the Oval Office unauthorized. “I guess by law he would be a trespasser,” the former agent told the outlet. “We’d have to escort him out.” But the Secret Service and the military may be reluctant to take part in what would be such a dramatic scene, and could take more subtle action, like pressing his inner circle or Republican officials and family members to make him leave. “The Service and the military would just not want to get involved,” another former official said. “It’s not our role.” It could also simply do the equivalent of changing the locks: “When the staff leaves on January 19, don’t let them back into the complex the next day,” an ex-agent said. “He can’t do anything without his staff.”
Again, this is all (thankfully) hypothetical at this point, and the chances of it becoming more than that are still likely remote. But it’s hard to avoid engaging with the prospect as Trump goes to greater and greater lengths in his effort to remain in power, even though a record number of American voters told him to get lost and the electoral college formalized his loss. “It’s scary,” an administration official told CNN.
More at the link.
A few more reads to check out:
Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: How real is the threat of prosecution for Donald Trump post-presidency?
The Daily Beast: Three Paths This Coronavirus Nightmare Could Take.
The New York Times: One Vaccine Side Effect: Global Economic Inequality.
The New York Times: A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you had a nice, relaxing day yesterday. Take care and stay safe!
The artwork in today’s post is by Svetlana Petrova of Fat Cat Art. “I insert my ginger cat into famous paintings.”
Yesterday was quite a day. We saw Trump fold like a cheap suit in the face of Nancy Pelosi’s determined refusal to give in to his childish tantrums and, thanks to CNN, we saw Roger Stone frogmarched by FBI agents who weren’t getting paid because of Trump’s government shutdown.
The word of the day was “cave,” and Merriam-Webster wondered why so many people had to look up it’s meaning.
What does cave mean?
Cave is defined as “a natural chamber or series of chambers in the earth or in the side of a hill.” But that’s of course just the noun version. The one seemingly being used by every headline writer on the Internet right now is the verb sense defined as “to cease to resist; to submit.”
Cave has been used since the early 19th century in the “submit” sense, and there is evidence of its application in political matters shortly thereafter.
The genuine Douglas Democracy will not support it, but we see that a few shilly wally politicians are caving in.
— The Shippenberg News (Shippenberg, PA), 7 May 1859
Yes, he caved.
President Donald Trump agreed on Friday to fund the government without money for his much-desired border wall, effectively bringing an end to the longest shutdown in American history.
The deal extends funding for the government at current levels until February 15 and include a “vehicle” for lawmakers to begin discussions between the two congressional chambers over a larger bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security and border security specifically.
The president presented the end result was a triumph for his administration, insisting that Democrats had come to his position on the need for a border barrier (they hadn’t)….
Though Trump spoke defiantly, the consensus view from officials of both parties on Capitol Hill was the Trump’s clock had been cleaned. The president had insisted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that he would not sign any bill to open the government that did not include $5.7 billion in wall funding. But amid sagging poll numbers and partial closures of critical government functions—including, on Friday morning, flights in and out of LaGuardia Airport in New York—Trump committed on Friday to doing just that.
Pelosi was also critical of Republican lawmakers for letting the situation get to its current point. In particular, she singled out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who had insisted it was pointless to move any government funding measure through the Senate if Trump had not committed to signing it—including reintroducing a clean funding bill that the Senate had overwhelming backed in December.
“I know he is a professional,” Pelosi said of McConnell. “So It is particularly painful to see him kowtowing to the president of the United States. And I said to him, ‘Do you just want to abolish the Congress or maybe just the United States Senate? Because that is effectively what you’re doing.’”
Asked what McConnell said in response, Pelosi replied: “What does he ever say? Nothing.”
Also from The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky writes: Trump’s Zombies Applaud as He Lights Himself on Fire.
Donald Trump is in this so far above his head he’s like Danny DeVito in the Lakers’ locker room. To extend the metaphor, Nancy Pelosi is LeBron, and Chuck Schumer is, uh, whoever their second-best player is these days. But the two of them, Pelosi in particular, have just made the president of the United States look like 1) a fool and 2) a moral eunuch, which you might say shouldn’t be hard, because he is obviously both of those things, but he is the president and he has the bully pulpit and all that, along with a propaganda network that every night tells millions of Americans that he farts roses, so actually it is kind of hard, what they did.
Trump looked so terrible at that Rose Garden… well, it wasn’t a press conference. It wasn’t exactly a speech, either. Event. Of course he had his goons around, so that when he said right off the bat that there was a deal to end the shutdown, we heard applause. Applause! Can you imagine?
He just got taken to the house and forced to humiliate himself on national television, and these zombies applaud? He singlehandedly shut down the government. Cost hundreds of thousands of people their paychecks through his bluster and buffoonery. Sent air-traffic controllers who already work hellish 50- and 60-hour weeks out to find part-time work. And they applaud?
Then he just carried on and on and on, well past the point that most Americans might actually have been listening. Okay, dude, you lost. We got it. Now you’re still going to make us listen to all this word-salad of yours about left turns and right turns and women with duct tape? Where did that come from? Probably some TV movie he watched. Or maybe James Woods told him.
Read the rest at the link.
Adam Davidson at The New Yorker: Robert Mueller Got Roger Stone.
On Friday morning, Roger Stone, President Trump’s longtime political adviser and ally, who has been a fixture in Republican politics since the Nixon Administration, was arrested by the F.B.I. The office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, issued a seven-count indictment, which charges Stone with obstruction of an official proceeding, false statements, and witness tampering. It also makes the case that Stone acted as a conduit of information between the Trump campaign and Julian Assange as Assange’s organization, WikiLeaks, released e-mails that the Russian government had stolen from the Democratic Party and members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an effort to help Trump win the Presidential election.
The charges stem not from the original acts themselves but from Stone’s alleged lies about them. In September, 2017, Stone testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that he had “no e-mails, no texts, no documents whatsoever” or any other materials that discussed hacked documents or conversations about Assange. As in the case of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager (and Stone’s former business partner), and that of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, we see that it is not wise to lie when asked, under oath, if you have any specific e-mails and texts. Once again, the government had all the incriminating receipts.
Perhaps the most surprising detail of the indictment is that Stone, a famous braggart, often downplayed the significance of his role as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Assange. He was not, as he has previously said, simply guessing and making vague predictions about the actions WikiLeaks was likely to take; he was an active participant in its attempts to cause chaos in the 2016 Presidential election. In texts sent on or about October 2, 2016, Stone expressed confusion that WikiLeaks had not released e-mails related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as he had expected. That same day, he sent an e-mail to a friend, who is identified in the indictment as Person 2 and appears to be the radio host Randy Credico, with the subject line “WTF?,” in which he asked why Assange had cancelled a press conference.
The first week of October, 2016, was a crucial one for the Trump campaign and for the country. Trump was trailing Clinton by about four points in the polls, and the conventional wisdom was that he had no chance of winning the Presidency. In the e-mails quoted in the indictment, Stone began that week by complaining that a high-ranking official on Trump’s campaign wouldn’t return his calls. By October 4th, the official—who has been identified by CNBC and in previous reporting by the Times as Steve Bannon, who was the head of Trump’s campaign at the time—had contacted Stone directly, asking when Assange planned his next e-mail release. Stone reassured him that Assange would release “a load every week going forward.” On October 7th—shortly after the Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump brags about sexually assaulting women—Assange began releasing e-mails stolen from Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta. An unnamed associate of Bannon wrote, in a text to Stone, “well done.”
Read the whole thing at The New Yorker.
At The Washington Post, John Podesta gets his revenge: John Podesta: It might now be Roger Stone’s time in the barrel.
Despite my Italian roots, vengeance doesn’t run deep in my veins. But I admit I smiled when Roger Stone’s arrest was announced Friday morning.
To give some context: On Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks began leaking emails from my personal inbox that had been hacked by Russian intelligence operatives. A few days earlier, Stone — a longtime Republican operative and close confidant of then-candidate Donald Trump — had mysteriously predicted that the organization would reveal damaging information about the Clinton campaign. And weeks before that, he’d even tweeted: “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
Stone’s connection with and boasting about WikiLeaks during the campaign has always been fishy. But thanks to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, the truth is finally coming out. Friday’s indictment alleges that a senior campaign official “was directed” (and by whom?) to contact Stone about the WikiLeaks releases even after it was widely reported that they were a Russian hacking operation.
Revenge aside, the accusations against Stone are serious. He faces a seven-count indictment: five counts of false statements, one count of obstruction and one count of witness tampering.
The details of the indictment are devastating and, characteristically of Stone, quite colorful. According to the filing, Stone emailed a confederate labeled “Person 2” (identified by the media as radio host Randy Credico) to dissuade him from testifying truthfully about WikiLeaks before the House Intelligence Committee: “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds” and “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die [expletive].” Stone instructs Person 2 to do a “Frank Pentangeli” — a character from “The Godfather Part II” who famously lies to congressional investigators — and, my nostalgic favorite, Stone paraphrases a quote from President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate coverup: “Stonewall it. Plead the Fifth. Anything to save the plan.”
Read more at the WaPo.
The Washington Post: ‘Prisoner of his own impulse’: Inside Trump’s reversal to end shutdown without wall.
The Washington Post Editorial Board: The shutdown was proof of Trump’s stark incapacity for leadership.
Harry Enten at CNN: The numbers show Trump lost the shutdown and Pelosi won.
Jim Newell at Slate: The Pelosi Method.
Harry Cheadle at Vice: Nancy Pelosi Mopped the Floor with Trump.
Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast: ‘I Will Piss on Your Grave’: Emails Reveal Roger Stone’s Abuse of Frenemy Randy Credico.
Ben Zimmer at Politico: Roger Stone and ‘Ratf—ing’: A Short History.
Chuck Rosenberg at Lawfare: Roger Stone’s Arrest Was Appropriate, Not Heavy-Handed.
That’s it for me today. What stories are you following?
Besides being the official celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, yesterday was National Hugging Day. I’m using that as an excuse to post pictures of creatures hugging each other in today’s post. From Psychology Today: National Hugging Day: Five Scientific Facts About Hugging, by Sebastian Ocklenburg. Excerpts:
No one knows exactly when the first hug occurred between two human beings, but we do know that hugs have been in the human behavioral repertoire for at least several thousand years. In 2007, a team of archeologist discovered the so-called “Lovers of Valdaro” in a Neolithic Tomb near Mantua in Italy (Stewart, 2007). The lovers are a pair of human skeletons that have been buried holding each other in a tight embrace (see Figure 1). They have been determined to be approximately 6000 years old, so we know for sure that people already hugged each other in Neolithic times….
When we hug, we wrap our arms around another person. Typically, we lead the hug with one arm. A German study in which I was a co-author analyzed whether people preferentially hug with their left or their right arm (Packheiser et al., 2018). In this study, we observed hugging couples at the arrivals or departure lounges at international airports and also analyzed videos of people who blindfold themselves and let strangers hug them on the street. We found that overall, most people hugged to the right….
A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.
A study from the University of North Carolina investigated how hugging before a stressful event reduced the negative effects of stress on the body (Grewen et al., 2003). Two groups of couples were tested: In one group, partners were given 10 minutes time to hold hands and watch a romantic movie, followed by a 20 second hug. In the other group, the partners just rested quietly and did not touch each other. Afterwards one partner had to participate in a very stressful public speaking task and their blood pressure and heart rate were measured while they spoke. The results? Individuals who had received a hug from their partner prior to being stressed showed significantly lower blood pressure and heart rate than those who did not touch their partners before the public speaking task. Thus, hugging leads to lower reactivity to stressful events and may benefit cardiovascular health.”
Here’s another piece by Ocklenburg on the ways that hugging increases well being. It turns out that hugging can reduce your chances of getting a cold, lower your blood pressure, and improve your mood.
So as we go into day 4 of the MAGA teens story and day 32 of the government shutdown, remember that hugs can help.
The New York Times: Government Shutdown: Updates on Where Things Stand.
It has been a month since the first day of the government shutdown.
Furloughed federal employees have started part-time jobs with delivery and ride-hailing apps and applied for other opportunities, such as yoga-instructor positions, to try to make ends meet without a government paycheck.
Some of the most vulnerable Americans — including the homeless, the elderly and people one crisis away from the streets — are feeling the burden. Without payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nonprofit groups that support low-income renters are also struggling. Many other social safety net programs are facing similar crises.
As a bone-chilling flash freeze swept through the Midwest and Northeast over the holiday weekend, hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain furloughed, and some continued to work without pay, including forecasters at the National Weather Service. Veterans of the emergency management field are worried about longer-term trouble, too.
Government workers are suffering.
When it began, the shutdown left about 800,000 federal workers without pay, with just over half continuing to work, including members of the Coast Guard and food safety inspectors. The number of people working has grown as the Trump administration reinterprets longstanding rules, often to the benefit of the president’s base.
Some of the employees who still have to report to work during the shutdown spoke with The New York Times about their experiences….
Many federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits. In Washington, local programs have sprouted up to support the city’s large, struggling federal work force. Nationally, an informal network of businesses has also mobilized to ease the pain.
The article notes that we are approaching the point when the federal courts will run out of money, and the economy is beginning to feel effects. Frankly, with Trump calling even more people back to work without pay, this is starting to feel criminal–it’s forced labor.
The shutdown is impeding law enforcement. No wonder Trump likes it.
Just one story on the MAGA teen Nick Sandmann from The Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville PR firm played a key role in Covington Catholic controversy. The firm is Run/Switch, and one of its partners is Scott Jennings, who is a paid commentator on CNN and also writes a column for the Courier Journal! From the article:
RunSwitch partners Steve Bryant and Gary Gerdemann said that Sandmann family asked people they knew over the weekend about getting help with handling the media.
“They reached out to our firm, and we responded,” said Bryant, adding that the business specializes in crisis management “all over the country.”
Scott Jennings, a conservative political commentator and a columnist for the Courier Journal, is the third partner in RunSwitch.
I’ve seen Jennings on CNN and interestingly, he routinely wears a smirk just like the one we all saw on Nick Sandmann’s face. Jennings smirks as other people are talking, no matter what is being said, and then he smirks as he defends whatever Trumpian thing is being discussed during his appearance. I find him utterly repulsive and infuriating.
So why was Jake Tapper the first shitty media man to tweet out the poor little Nick’s PR statement?
So Jennings worked for Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell too. How not surprising. I remember when CNN was a serious news channel, but now it’s just a Fox News wannabe that hires people like Oliver Darcy and Kaitlin Collins away from right wing sites (The Blaze and The Daily Caller respectively).
But I’ll move on to other news. This depressing story broke this morning. The Washington Post: Supreme Court allows Trump restrictions on transgender troops in military to go into effect as legal battle continues.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed President Trump’s broad restrictions on transgender people serving in the military to go into effect while the legal battle continues in lower courts.
The justices lifted nationwide injunctions that had kept the administration’s policy from being implemented.
It reversed an Obama-administration rule that would have opened the military to transgender men and women, and instead barred those who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth and who are seeking to transition.
The court’s five conservatives–Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh–allowed the restrictions to go into effect while tIhe court decides to whether to consider the merits of the case.
The liberal justices–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan–would have kept the injunctions in place.
I feel nauseated.
From The New York Times last night: Deripaska and Allies Could Benefit From Sanctions Deal, Document Shows.
When the Trump administration announced last month that it was lifting sanctions against a trio of companies controlled by an influential Russian oligarch, it cast the move as tough on Russia and on the oligarch, arguing that he had to make painful concessions to get the sanctions lifted.
But a binding confidential document signed by both sides suggests that the agreement the administration negotiated with the companies controlled by the oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, may have been less punitive than advertised.
The deal contains provisions that free him from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while leaving him and his allies with majority ownership of his most important company, the document shows.
With the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election continuing to shadow President Trump, the administration’s decision to lift sanctions on Mr. Deripaska’s companies has become a political flash point. House Democrats won widespread Republican support last week for their efforts to block the sanctions relief deal. Democratic hopes of blocking the administration’s decision have been stifled by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Nine days after Donald Trump won the presidency, as scores of supporters clamored for meetings with his transition team, the Hollywood producer of “The Apprentice,” Mark Burnett, reached out to one of Trump’s closest advisers to see if he would sit down with a banker who has long held ties to Russia.
The banker, Robert Foresman, never got the role he was seeking with the fledgling Trump administration. But he has recently attracted the attention of congressional investigators as one more name on an expanding list of Americans with established ties inside the Kremlin who appears to have been seeking access to the newly elected president’s inner circle, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
Foresman, who is now vice chairman of the Swiss bank UBS’s investment arm, lived for years in Moscow, where he led a $3 billion Russian investment fund and was touted by his new company as someone who maintains connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. Reached by phone, Foresman declined to comment. Attorneys he has hired, including one in Washington who was hired to deal with the congressional probe, also declined to discuss the matter.
One more and then I’ll wrap this up. Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: The GOP has become the Soviet party.
Once upon a time, Ayn Rand-reading, red-baiting Republicans denounced Soviet Russia as an evil superpower intent on destroying the American way of life.
My, how things have changed.
The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party — and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.
Supposedly middle-class workers — people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure — are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.
Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.
And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Now, what stories have you been following? Please share in the comment thread below.
Yes, it’s real–too real. We’re approaching the deadline for raising the debt ceiling–it’s Thursday–and Congress is still dithering. But it looks like they may figure out a way to kick the can down the road again, as long as Ted Cruz doesn’t decide to have another tantrum.
According to the Hill this morning, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are close to agreeing on “a deal” to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling for a few more months. The two Senate leaders huddled for hours yesterday trying to put together some kind of package that would satisfy House Republicans and convince them not to bring down the U.S. Government and the global economy.
An emerging deal to reopen the government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling until February gathered political momentum Monday evening after Senate Republicans signaled they would likely support it.
Lawmakers and aides said the legislation would fund the government until Jan. 15 and extend the nation’s borrowing authority until February but leave ObamaCare largely untouched.
The agreement would also set up another “supercommittee” to try to deal with the next round of automatic sequester cuts. The committee would have until December 13 to report to Congress. Anyone who thinks they’ll agree on anything, please raise your hand.
The big question is whether a package to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling can pass muster in the House.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was briefed on the deal Monday, and members of his conference were taking a wait and see attitude.
“When we see it, we’ll know what it is. Do you know what it is yet?” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, asked reporters as he left Boehner’s office.
“As soon as we see something in writing, then we can understand how we can thoughtfully understand what we’ll do with it,” Sessions said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wouldn’t comment on the emerging Senate deal, but he told reporters House Republicans will meet Tuesday morning “to discuss a way forward.” “Possible consideration of legislation related to the debt limit” was added to Cantor’s daily House schedule for Tuesday.
Of course the biggest potential fly in the ointment is Texas junior Senator Ted Cruz and his gang of Tea Party House members. Cruz wouldn’t say whether he’s planning another fake filibuster or some other effort to kill the Affordable Care Act. However, Cruz did hold a secret meeting with House Republicans last night, according to Roll Call.
Sen. Ted Cruz met with roughly 15 to 20 House Republicans for around two hours late Monday night at the Capitol Hill watering hole Tortilla Coast.
The group appeared to be talking strategy about how they should respond to a tentative Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without addressing Obamacare in a substantive way, according to sources who witnessed the gathering. The Texas Republican senator and many of the House Republicans in attendance had insisted on including amendments aimed at dismantling Obamacare in the continuing resolution that was intended to avert the current shutdown.
Sources said the House Republicans meeting in the basement of Tortilla Coast with Cruz were some of the most conservative in the House: Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Steve Southerland II of Florida, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Justin Amash of Michigan.
The group is a collection of members who have often given leadership headaches in recent years by opposing both compromise measures as well as packages crafted by fellow Republicans….While the emerging deal to reopen the government and hike the debt ceiling increase may have been a hot topic, it was not immediately clear what the group actually discussed. But the fact that such a group met with Cruz at all could give House GOP leaders even more heartburn as they consider themselves what to do if the Senate passes the measure.
If Cruz and his buddies decide to cause more trouble, they could bring about a default by dragging the fight out until after Thursday. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew could probably keep the U.S. afloat for a few more days, but it would be touch and go. Joshua Green wrote yesterday at Bloomberg Businessweek that “Ted Cruz Could Force a Debt Default All by Himself.”
How could this happen? Because the Senate can move quickly when necessary, but only by unanimous consent. Let’s say Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strike a deal today (that’s looking unlikely). Cruz surely won’t like it and has said repeatedly, “I will do everything necessary and anything possible to defund Obamacare.” If he’s true to his word, he could drag out the proceedings past Thursday and possibly well beyond. “If a determined band of nut jobs wants to take down the global economy, they could do it,” says Jim Manley, a former top staffer for Reid. “Under Senate rules, we are past the point of no return—there’s not anything Reid or McConnell could do about it.”
If Cruz is truly determined to block or delay any deal that does not touch Obamacare, here’s how he’d do it: The hypothetical Reid/McConnell bill would probably be introduced as an amendment to the “clean” debt-ceiling raise that Democrats introduced—and Republicans defeated—last week. Reid voted against cloture on the motion to proceed to that bill, a procedural tactic that allows him to reconsider the bill later on. Let’s say he does so by 5 p.m. Monday. There would need to be a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. Cruz would dissent, but he wouldn’t be able to round up 41 votes for a filibuster….
The real killer is that Senate rules stipulate there must be 30 hours of post-cloture debate, unless senators agree unanimously to waive it. Reid and McConnell would want unanimous consent to move quickly, but Cruz could refuse, thereby forcing 30 hours of debate. This would drag things out until Tuesday at 11:30 p.m. Then there would be a vote on the motion to proceed (requiring a simple majority), followed by an intervening day, assuming Cruz withheld his consent to vote earlier. So now we’re looking at a Thursday cloture vote on the bill itself, followed by another 30 hours of post-cloture debate that would blow right past the Treasury deadline.
Let’s hope even Cruz isn’t that delusional and foolhardy. Booman also points out that the Senate can change the rules and limit post-cloture debate for this one vote. That takes 67 votes.
At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Green calls what Cruz and other Tea Party Republicans are doing “backdoor impeachment.”
The dance over the debt ceiling and the fight over the government shutdown are nothing less than impeachment on the cheap: a chance to negate the will of the majority by ostensibly placating the letter of the law. Unable to win the last two presidential elections or to persuade a Supreme Court majority that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional, House Republicans have arrived at a point where default and closure are the next best things. This combustible brew of race, class, and economic anxieties bubbles all too closely to the surface.
These days, the GOP comes across as hating Obamacare more than loving their countrymen, and the nation is returning that ire (PDF). Less than a quarter of Americans view the Republicans favorably, and a majority dislikes them, three-in-10 intensely. The GOP’s goal of recapturing the Senate in 2014 is now looking more like a dream than a reality, as Republicans are “forced to explain why they are not to blame and why Americans should trust them to govern both houses of Congress when the one they do run is in such disarray.” Indeed.
Unfortunately, the calamity of a potential default has tempered neither judgment nor passion. On Saturday, Ted Cruz—the man who lit the match, won the Values Voters Straw Poll with 42 percent of the vote. Channeling her inner Glenn Beck, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) concluded that the President “committed impeachable offenses.” Bachmann also proclaimed that civil disobedience was a potential response to Obama’s “thuggery,” and compared the Obama presidency to Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood.
I hope you’ll read the rest at the link.
Ted Cruz is stealing the right wing nut show for now, but in the House Paul Ryan raised his ugly head over the weekend to complain about the ACA’s individual mandate and requirement that women have access to birth control. From HuffPo:
Sources told the Post that, in a private meeting with House Republicans, Ryan said that by kicking the can down the road, the GOP would lose “leverage” in their fight against Obamacare.
Ryan’s main concern appears to be delaying the health care law’s individual mandate, but ThinkProgress points out that Ryan also emphasized the need to give employers the ability to deny birth control coverage based on moral or religious reasons.
Meanwhile most people around the country and even on Wall Street don’t seem all that concerned about what’s happening in Washington DC. I guess that after multiple emergencies in which political leaders “cried wolf,” everyone just assumes that Congress will find some way to keep the country going. Still, is this any way to run a country? Shouldn’t citizens be up in arms? Will Durst has a wacky column about this at Cagle Post called “Fukushima Sushi.”
Which is harder to believe? The ludicrous shenanigans going down in Washington or the fact that nobody seems particularly interested in doing anything about them? Good neighbors — it looks like we got ourselves one heck of a bumper crop of official dysfunction this year. Near as high as Manute Bol’s eye.
You’d think with national parks closed, veteran’s benefits being withheld and a possible catastrophic debt ceiling crisis looming, folks would be atwitter like chicken inspectors on a rotisserie spit during a power surge. And you’d be as wrong as a Bergman film on Comedy Central.
What the country seems to be seeking here is a little something called political responsibility. Which, in these dark days, is a wee bit of a tad of a total and complete oxymoron. Real similar to saying Fukushima sushi. Or elegant squalor. Comfortable rock.
Driving the point home: Weird normality. Spherical edge. Iron kite. Freedom shackle. Fresh detritus. Flammable sleet. Placid hammer. Colossal shrimp. Diminutive giant. Formal jeans. Sensitive linebacker. Salable autonomy. Veteran rookie. Vegetarian butcher. Pork tartare. Reality TV.
Keeping it real: Precarious certainty. Serene devastation. Bitter honey. Catholic condom. Heaven’s basement. Gelatinous needle. Sadistic lover. Banker’s compassion. Macabre solace. Chaste indiscretion. Temporary tax. Restorative annihilation. Healthy fries. Unhungry shark.
Lots more oxymoron’s at the link. How he came up with so many, I’ll never know.
Now what stories are you focusing on today? Please share your links on any topic in the comments.
I’m going through my blue period. It’s been going on for awhile. I’m actually thinking that it’s contagious because the blues appear to be popping up everywhere these days with the exception of the deeply delusion right wing who thinks ruining our country is a good thing.
So, first off, I may be out of the loop again awhile. Tropical Storm–maybe soon to be Hurricane–Karen has formed in the Gulf. New Orleans is in the cone but appears to be on the weak side of the storm. That means there’s a strong side and there’s some other folks in danger.
A hurricane watch is in effect for parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast after Tropical Storm Karen formed in the southeastern portion of the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday.
The watch covers the area from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to west of Destin, Florida. The center of the storm is forecast to be near the coast within that area Saturday.
A tropical storm warning is in effect from Grand Isle to the mouth of the Pearl River.
“Karen is expected to be at or near hurricane strength late Friday and early Saturday,” read a hurricane center advisory.
The storm, which as of Thursday evening was about 360 miles south of the Mississippi River’s mouth, prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recall some of its workers, furloughed during the government shutdown. The agency also reactivated its Hurricane Liaison Team at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. FEMA officials in the Atlanta and Denton, Texas, offices are monitoring Karen.
“At all times, FEMA maintains commodities, including millions of liters of water, millions of meals and hundreds of thousands of blankets, strategically located at distribution centers throughout the United States, including in the Gulf Coast region, that are available to state and local partners if needed and requested,” the agency said in a statement.
The hurricane center said it, too, would be unaffected by the government shutdown as Karen approaches.
“The National Hurricane Center is fully operational … and has all of its resources available to it,” spokesman Dennis Feltgen said in an e-mail. “The government shutdown will not inhibit NHC from providing its mission.”
The money folks that usually love the Republican party is getting a little pissed as the DJ and other stock exchanges and indices begin their negative responses to government shutdown and the upcoming debt ceiling bump.
On a Monday last month, Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, met with some top GOP donors for lunch at Le Cirque on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The donors, a youngish collection of financial industry types and lawyers, had some questions for Walden, a mild-mannered lawmaker from eastern Oregon known for speaking his mind.
Why, they asked, did the GOP seem so in the thrall of its most extremist wing? The donors, banker types who occupy the upper reaches of Wall Street’s towers, couldn’t understand why the Republican Party—their party—seemed close to threatening the nation with a government shutdown, never mind a default if the debt ceiling isn’t raised later this month.
“Listen,” Walden said, according to several people present. “We have to do this because of the Tea Party. If we don’t, these guys are going to get primaried and they are going to lose their primary.”
Walden asked how many of those seated around the table were precinct captains. These were money men, though, not the types to spend night after night knocking on doors and slipping palm cards into mailboxes.“A lot of the people there didn’t even know what a precinct captain was,” said one attendee.“A lot of the people there didn’t even know what a precinct captain was,” said one attendee.
“A lot of the people there didn’t even know what a precinct captain was,” said one attendee.
Not a single hand went up.
“I hear this complaint all the time,” Walden said. “But no one gets involved at the local level. The Tea Party gets involved at the local level.”
CNN’s Carol Costello confronted Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) over his party’s continued crusade against Obamacare Thursday morning, pushing him to admit that Republicans’ “divisive approach” is responsible for the prolonged government shutdown. Rokita dismissed Costello’s dogged questions by focusing on how young and beautiful he found the CNN host.
“I don’t know if you have children yet, I’m sure you don’t have grandchildren yet, you look much too young, but we’re fighting for them,” Rokita said. “Carol, do you have any idea how much this law is going to cost?”
Costello shot back, “Do you know how much it costs every day the government is partially shut down? You’re costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars!”
Rokita insisted that Obamacare is “one of the most insidious laws ever developed by men” and will hurt the country “much more than any government shutdown.” Costello then pressed him on the upcoming dept ceiling fight, asking, “Obamacare hurts the country worse than [not] raising the debt ceiling? Because that’s not what a bunch of Wall Street bankers told the president yesterday.”
Rokita even dismissed the idea that defaulting on the nation’s debt would be more harmful than Obamacare. “I had a lot of CEOs in my office yesterday, and they didn’t share the same vision with me that some CEOs apparently shared with the president,” he said.
“I think most Americans would say fight that fight separate from the federal budget. Don’t partially shut down the federal government, don’t make things worse by fighting the same fight over and over,” Costello argued.
Rokita responded, “No, you’re part of the problem,” prompting Costello to roll her eyes and scoff, “Ugh, come on. That’s so easy.”
“Carol, you’re beautiful but you need to be honest as well,” Rokita finally said, eliciting an eyebrow raise from Costello.
Things can only get better?
Well, only if you live in a blue state. It seems that those of us that have petulant Republican Governors are not going to get the kind of subsidies that other states will as they make their insurance choices through the exchanges.
Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help. The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.
Those excluded will be stranded without insurance, stuck between people with slightly higher incomes who will qualify for federal subsidies on the new health exchanges that went live this week, and those who are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in its current form, which has income ceilings as low as $11 a day in some states.
People shopping for insurance on the health exchanges are already discovering this bitter twist.
“How can somebody in poverty not be eligible for subsidies?” an unemployed health care worker in Virginia asked through tears. The woman, who identified herself only as Robin L. because she does not want potential employers to know she is down on her luck, thought she had run into a computer problem when she went online Tuesday and learned she would not qualify.
I have to admit that as much as I love New Orleans, the greater Seattle area is looking better to me all the time.
Maybe some of those Republicans can explain why ObamaCare is being implemented and Walmart is returning to full time employees? Isn’t that against their meme?
Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer, announced Monday that 35,000 part-time employees will soon be moved to full-time status, entitling them to the full healthcare benefits that were scheduled to be denied them as a result of Wal-Mart’s efforts to avoid the requirements of Obamacare.
While some analysts believe that the move comes as Wal-Mart is attempting to deal with the negative view many Americans have of its worker benefits program, a closer look reveals the real reason for the shift—
Wal-Mart’s business is going south due to the company’s penchant for putting politics and the squeeze on Wal-Mart employees ahead of the kind of customer satisfaction that produces prosperity over the long-term.
For anyone who has not been following the Wal-Mart saga, sales have been sinking dramatically at the retailer as the company has turned to hiring mostly temporary workers (those who must reapply for a job every 180 days) to staff their stores while cutting full-time employees’ hours down to part-time status in order to avoid providing workers with healthcare benefits.
Empty shelves, ridiculously long check-out lines, helpless customers wandering through the electronics section and general disorganization at Wal-Mart store locations.
Wow! It seems people expect customer service and inventory! Imagine that!!
Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released a report on the potential macroeconomic effects of debt ceiling brinksmanship. The report states that a default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic: credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, and U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, potentially resulting in a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse. By looking at the disruptions to financial markets that ensued in 2011, the report examines a variety of economic indicators – including consumer and small business confidence, stock price volatility, credit risk spreads, and mortgage spreads – through which a similar episode might harm the economic expansion. The report also notes that if the current government shutdown is protracted, it could make the U.S. economy even more susceptible to the adverse effects from a debt ceiling impasse than it was prior to the shutdown.
Image that! Not every one thrives on the idea that it’s good to create chaos in an attempt to bring on some kind of end times?
So, I’ll just trudge along today while I try to grab my usual hurricane hunker-down supplies knowing that at least there’s a cool front coming if the electricity dies and that I won’t have to follow the news if the cable TV dies. So, you’ll have to let me know what’s on your reading and blogging list today because I can still follow y’all on my cell phone.