Lazy Caturday Reads: The Mushrooming Ukraine Scandal

Three Kittens Sitting & Watching by Jean-Louis Klein & Marie-Luce Hubert, Cyclades, Greece

Good Afternoon!!

The Ukraine scandal is unwinding into a massive conspiracy. Rudy Giuliani is in big trouble and the mob boss in the White House is on the verge of throwing him under the bus. The White House is struggling to deal with the tsunami of bad news–they once again sent out their Ukraine talking points to Democrats, according to The Hill.

Here’s what’s happening.

The New York Times: Giuliani Is Said to Be Under Investigation for Ukraine Work.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.

The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.

Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing, but he acknowledged that he and the associates worked with Ukrainian prosecutors to collect potentially damaging information about Ms. Yovanovitch and other targets of Mr. Trump and his allies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his younger son, Hunter Biden. Mr. Giuliani shared that material this year with American government officials and a Trump-friendly columnist in an effort to undermine the ambassador and other Trump targets.

Trump advisers are pushing him to throw Rudy overboard, according to Politico.

Black Cat on a Windowsill, Korovin Konstantin

For weeks, prominent Republican advisers have been privately imploring President Donald Trump to sideline Rudy Giuliani after a barrage of inconsistent, combative and occasionally cringe-inducing media interviews, according to three people familiar with the conversations.

And that was before the arrest of two foreign-born businessmen who reportedly helped Giuliani try to discredit former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democrat to take on Trump in next year’s election. Several reports have indicated Giuliani himself may be caught up in the probe.

Yet Trump remains linked to Giuliani, who was initially hired to help fend of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigators, but who now may have pulled the president into another investigation — one that might lead to impeachment. While the president has long appreciated Giuliani’s pugnacious and never-back-down attitude, Trump allies fear Giuliani will damage Trump with his long-winded monologues and free-wheeling accusations.

The constant sniping from staff could ultimately force Trump to dump his long-valued fixer, as he has done with former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and countless other ousted officials, like ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“Rudy Giuliani needs to stop talking,” said a former campaign official who remains close to Trump’s team.

Trump claims he doesn’t know Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Ukrainian “businessmen” who were arrested on Wednesday night as they tried to flee to Vienna on one way tickets. Unfortunately for Trump, he has been photographed with the two thugs; and Parnas actually attended Trump’s private party celebrating his 2016 election.

Politico: Indicted Giuliani associate attended private ‘16 election night party for ‘friend’ Trump.

Buster Keaton in Electric House, 1922

Lev Parnas described himself to a foreign correspondent at the cash-bar event in midtown Manhattan as a friend of the president-elect who didn’t live far from his South Florida winter home.

Parnas arrived at Trump’s November 2016 election night party, which was held in a ballroom at the Midtown Hilton, with two other men in suits and their heavily made-up wives, according to a forgotten but newly relevant dispatch from the event published at the time in Le Figaro, France’s oldest daily newspaper.

The Ukrainian-born businessman told the paper that a friend from his hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., had hosted several fundraising events for Trump and that his daughter had traveled around the state singing on the candidate’s behalf. It is not clear what friend Parnas was referring to.

“We are confident,” Parnas, told the newspaper, “America wants a change.” The newspaper described Parnas as an insurer. (Parnas co-founded a company, Fraud Guarantee, that at some point retained Giuliani as a lawyer.)

I posted this one in the comments yesterday, but it bears repeating. Reuters: Indicted Giuliani associate worked on behalf of Ukrainian oligarch Firtash.

One of the two Florida businessmen who helped U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, also has been working for the legal team of a Ukrainian oligarch who faces bribery charges in the United States, according to attorneys for the businessmen and the oligarch.

Lev Parnas, one of the two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, served as a translator for lawyers representing oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Parnas was arrested on Thursday along with the other Florida businessman, Igor Fruman, on unrelated charges that included illegally funneling $325,000 to a political action committee supporting pro-Trump candidates.

The Barn Cat by Ron McGinnnis

Both men had worked in an unspecified capacity for Firtash before Parnas joined the Ukrainian’s legal team, according to a person familiar with the Florida men’s business dealings with Firtash….

Firtash, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, is battling extradition by U.S. authorities on bribery charges from Vienna, where he has lived for five years.

Federal prosecutors in Illinois said in court papers in 2017 that Firtash was an “upper-echelon” associate of Russian organized crime. He was indicted in 2013 and charged with bribing Indian officials for access to titanium mines. Firtash has denied any wrongdoing.

Firtash was “financing” the activities of Parnas and Fruman, the source familiar with their business dealings said. The source did not detail their specific work for the oligarch or how much money he had paid them and over what period.

Firtash’s attorneys are Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, who also have been working for Trump. Parnas and Fruman are being represented by former Trump attorney John Dowd.

I’ll be honest, I’m still trying to sort all these stories out. It’s kind of like reading a Russian novel–it’s difficult to keep all the names straight. I’m just sharing the latest news I’ve read.

CBS San Francisco reports on another arrest in the SDNY Ukraine/Giuliani investigation: Ukrainian Andrey Kukushkin, Linked To Giuliani Associates, Arrested In San Francisco On Campaign Finance Violations.

Andrey Kukushkin, 46, is one of four people named in a grand jury indictment announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York.

The others, all Florida residents, include two associates of presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Ukrainian-born Lev Parnas, 47, and Belarus-born Igor Fruman, 54, and a fourth defendant, David Correia, who was born in the United States. The four men are all U.S. citizens….

From The Circus, Merna Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin, 1928

Kukushkin was arrested in San Francisco Thursday morning, according to William Sweeney, assistant chief of the FBI’s New York field office. He made an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco and was ordered to be held in custody until a detention hearing on Friday, according to court records.

He is expected to be transferred to New York at a later date to face the charges there.

All four defendants are accused of conspiring in a scheme to disguise contributions of $10,000 each to two Nevada state office candidates from an unnamed Russian businessman who wanted to obtain licenses for marijuana businesses. Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign nationals.

Everyone is trying to find out who the unnamed “Russian businessman” in the SNDY indictment is. David Corn speculates at Mother Jones: Who’s the Secret Russian in the Indictment of Giuliani’s Pals? We Found Some Clues.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman—who had been helping Giuliani search for dirt on Joe Biden and the Democrats in Ukraine—and David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin, who were each identified as businessmen, were charged in what seems to be overlapping capers. Parnas and Fruman allegedly made secret donations to Republicans in an effort to advance their business interests and promote the agenda of one or more Ukrainian officials (which included firing the US ambassador to Ukraine). And these two Giuliani confederates also teamed up with Correia, a business partner of Parnas, and Kukushkin and allegedly made donations secretly financed by a Russian national to Republican candidates for state offices in Nevada to buy influence they could use to set up a cannabis business there. This Russian, who would be part of their legal marijuana venture, sent $1 million from overseas accounts to Fruman that was to be used for contributions to federal and state candidates in Nevada and other states, according to the indictment. It’s illegal for a foreigner to funnel donations to US candidates.

Painting by Mischa Askenazy, 1888-1961

The mystery: Who is this wealthy Russian who allegedly tried to make illegal contributions to US politicians in pursuit of launching a cannabis venture?

The indictment does not say. It refers to this individual only as “Foreign National-1.” And the question cannot be yet answered definitively. But California state records and emails obtained by Mother Jones indicate that a Russian businessman named Andrey Muraviev had previously worked with Kukushkin to develop a cannabis enterprise.

It’s complicated so if you’re interested, head over to Mother Jones and read all about it.

NBC News has a scoop on the ousting of former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch: Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged 2 Giuliani associates to push for the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador.

The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.

According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.

The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

Painting by Peter Adderley

“They sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests, but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official ⁠— a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,” Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Thursday news conference.

The indictment says the efforts by Parnas and Fruman to remove then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, a respected diplomat with deep knowledge of Ukraine, were “conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.”

Read the rest at NBC News. Lutsenko is the prosecutor that Trump urged Ukraine’s President Zelinsky not to fire in the July 25th phone call.

One more from Foreign Policy: Pompeo’s State Department Reels as Impeachment Inquiry Sinks Morale.

The fast-moving impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump has dragged the State Department into the center of the scandal and further wrecked morale at Foggy Bottom, presenting a stress test for how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will balance his relationship with America’s diplomats against his relationship with the president.

The ever-expanding probe into the Trump administration’s apparent efforts to coerce foreign governments into digging up dirt on political rivals has even lower-level State Department officials wondering if they, too, need to lawyer up, with the foreign service officers’ union starting a legal defense fund for career officials caught in the impeachment crossfire.

The latest State Department drama came on Friday as Marie Yovanovitch—a decorated career diplomat forced out of her job as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May following a pressure campaign from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his now indicted associates—testified before Congress. The White House sought to ban her voluntary testimony, but she went ahead after a subpoena from the House of Representatives.

Some nine current and former officials said many in the State Department are shocked and angry that Pompeo did little to shield her. No senior State Department official, including Pompeo, defended Yovanovitch as she was thrust into the spotlight amid the impeachment scandal. The State Department, again at the behest of the White House, also blocked the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, from testifying before Congress on Tuesday, though his lawyer said Friday that he will testify next week.

“You don’t get credit for saying something about swagger, then caving the first time you get heat,” said Daniel Fried, who served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under former President George W. Bush, referring to Pompeo’s promise last year to restore the State Department’s “swagger.”

Read more at FP.

I have no doubt there will be more news breaking this weekend and I can’t wait! What do you think?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Here’s some good news for a change: a judge in the Southern District of California will allow a lawsuit by the ACLU challenging the Trump administration policy of separating parents and children at the border to go forward.

Bloomberg: Judge Calls Trump’s Border Separations of Children ‘Brutal.’

The Trump administration failed to kill a legal challenge to its practice of separating undocumented parents and children who seek to enter the U.S. to flee persecution at home, with a judge handing an early victory to civil rights activists who say the policy is unconstitutional and cruel.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss the suit, in which the American Civil Liberties Union argues that splitting up families at the border violates their due process rights.

The practice, spearheaded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, caused widespread outrage after images of children in detention centers circulated on social media. The government argues separations are necessary to properly prosecute adults who cross into the U.S. illegally, while activists say children are being used as pawns in an informal policy intended to deter migrants.

“These allegations sufficiently describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child,” the judge wrote. The conduct, if true, “is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.” [….]

Sabraw said the ACLU’s claims are particularly troubling because the plaintiffs in the case had allegedly come to the U.S. seeking asylum out of fear for their well-being in their home countries. The suit applies to migrants who formally present themselves at ports of entry as political refugees as well as those who seek asylum after they are apprehended during illegal border crossings.

“The government actors responsible for the ‘care and custody’ of migrant children have, in fact, become their persecutors,” the judge said.

Read more at the link. The entire filing can be read here.

More good news: a new NBC/WSJ poll found that voters are much more likely to support candidates who stand up to Trump.

NBC News: Poll: Economic satisfaction under Trump isn’t helping his party’s 2018 chances.

By a whopping 25-point margin, voters say they’re more likely to back a congressional candidate who promises to serve as a check on President Donald Trump, according to a new national poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

And by a similar margin, they say they’re less likely to vote for someone who has supported the president on most issues.

At the same time, six-in-10 are satisfied with the U.S. economy, and a plurality of voters give Trump credit for the economic improvement.

Despite that economic optimism, however, the poll shows that Democrats enjoy a 10-point advantage on congressional preference, with 50 percent of registered voters wanting a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40 percent who want a GOP-controlled one.

Now if national Democrats would just wake up and realize that standing up to Trump is the best mid-term strategy!

The summit with North Korea is coming up next week, but Trump isn’t listening to advice from experts on how to proceed, according to Politico: Trump and Bolton spurn top-level North Korea planning.

National Security Adviser John Bolton has yet to convene a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korea next week, a striking break from past practice that suggests the Trump White House is largely improvising its approach to the unprecedented nuclear talks.

For decades, top presidential advisers have used a methodical process to hash out national security issues before offering the president a menu of options for key decisions. On an issue like North Korea, that would mean White House Situation Room gatherings of the secretaries of state and defense along with top intelligence officials, the United Nations ambassador, and even the treasury secretary, who oversees economic sanctions.

But since Trump agreed on a whim to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on March 8, the White House’s summit planning has been unstructured, according to a half-dozen administration officials. Trump himself has driven the preparation almost exclusively on his own, consulting little with his national security team outside of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Senior officials from both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations called the absence of a formal interagency process before such a consequential meeting troubling. Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council (NSC) official in the George W. Bush White House, said his colleagues would likely have held “quite a few” meetings of the so-called Principals Committee of Cabinet-level NSC members in a comparable situation. A former top Obama White House official echoed that point, calling the lack of top-level NSC meetings “shocking.”

Trump has also not presided personally over a meeting of those senior NSC officials, as a president typically does when making the most important decisions.

On the other hand, Trump has given serious thought to whether he should invite Kim Jong Un to play golf with him in Florida if the summit goes well. The Daily Beast reports:

Trump has floated hitting the links with his counterpart as he considers a secondary charm offensive to complement the diplomatic tête-à-tête. The president has already told those close to him and advisers that he is open to inviting Kim to a follow-up summit at Trump’s famous Mar-a-Lago estate and private club in Palm Beach, Florida, as Bloomberg first reported this week.

And, according to two administration officials, Trump has also raised the possibility of a leisurely activity and, perhaps, getting in 18 holes with Kim if the two end up getting along.

“He has also discussed [possibly] golfing with Kim,” a senior Trump administration official said.

It is unclear if such an outing would or could occur during a potential follow-up meeting or the one planned, then canceled, then planned again for Singapore. The site of the upcoming Singapore talks, a five-star hotel on Sentosa Island, is located near a theme park, resorts, and—as luck would have it—multiple golf courses.

The article says no one actually know if Kim even plays golf.

I suppose Kim would agree with Trump on this though. At The Washington Post, Josh Rogin writes that Trump still wants to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea.

For almost two years, President Trump has been talking about withdrawing large numbers of U.S. troops from South Korea, where there are currently around 28,000 stationed. The president’s advisers have repeatedly argued against a large-scale reduction, but he remains unpersuaded. And after his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump will have another big chance to push the issue.

Less publicly, but still privately, Trump continues to say he doesn’t agree with the argument that U.S. troops in South Korea are strategically necessary, and he thinks the United States gets nothing back from paying to keep them there, according to administration officials and people who have spoken to Trump directly about the issue. He often asks his generals to explain the rationale for America’s deployments in Asia and expresses dissatisfaction with their answers.

At Trump’s direction, the Pentagon has taken a hard line in ongoing negotiations with the South Korean government over a new cost-sharing agreement for U.S. troops there. If those negotiations fail, Trump could have another excuse to move forward with large reductions….

Inside the administration, top officials have been trying — and failing — to convince the president of the strategic value of the South Korea-based troops since the beginning of his administration. In February, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly reportedly talked Trump down from starting a withdrawal.

Trump has picked fights with most of our allies at this point. Now he’s whining about having to to the Canada on Friday because he’s mad at Justin Trudeau.

The president has vented privately about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as their trade tensions have spilled into public view. He has mused about finding new ways to punish the United States’ northern neighbor in recent days, frustrated with the country’s retaliatory trade moves.

And Trump has complained to aides about spending two days in Canada for a summit of world leaders, believing the trip is a distraction from his upcoming Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to three people familiar with Trump’s views.

In particular, the president said Tuesday to several advisers that he fears attending the Group of Seven summit in rural Charlevoix, Quebec, may not be a good use of his time because he is diametrically opposed on many key issues with his counterparts — and does not want to be lectured by them.

Additionally, Trump has griped periodically both about German Chancellor Angela Merkel — largely because they disagree on many issues and have had an uneasy rapport — as well as British Prime Minister Theresa May, whom he sees as too politically correct, advisers say.

Awwww . . . poor baby. BTW, have you heard that State Department spokesperson and former Fox and Friends host Heather Nauert thinks Germany was our ally during World War II? Rachel Maddow discussed this at the beginning of her show last night.

Please watch the video–even if you already saw it last night. These are the people who are running our foreign policy!

Politico reports that many foreign leaders are beginning to wake up to Trump’s insanity: Foreign leaders who embraced Trump now feel burned.

Trump calls Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who visits the White House Thursday, his “good friend.” French president Emmanuel Macron is a “great friend.” And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a “great friend, neighbor, and ally.” All have sought to butter up Trump through friendly face time, recognizing that the quickest way to the president’s heart is through his ego.

But all, to varying degrees, are exasperated with Trump.

The president is moving ahead with a June 12 summit with North Korea despite Abe’s grave concerns about its wisdom. He has also threatened to slap tariffs on imported Japanese cars and metals. It’s hardly what Abe expected when he became the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after the November election or when he flew with Trump on Air Force One in February 2017 for golfing at his Mar a Lago resort.

Macron treated Trump to a military parade in Paris last summer. He and Trump also exchanged hugs and handshakes during an April visit by the French leader, during which Trump said of his guest: “He is perfect.” But a few weeks later, Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal despite French pleas, and shows no sign of heeding Macron’s request that he rejoin the Paris climate accords, which Trump rejected last year.

Trump has also threatened trade sanctions on the European Union, and is already slapping them on Canada — prompting Trudeau to call Trump’s tariffs on steel imports “insulting and unacceptable.” That’s a change of tune from the early months of Trump’s presidency, when Trudeau avoided criticizing Trump, and even took Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to a Broadway play in March 2017.

All have paid a domestic political price back home for their efforts to make nice with a highly divisive U.S. president. One French parliamentarian fumed after Macron’s visit that France had “prostituted” and “humiliated” itself.

Angela Merkel knew who she was dealing with from day one, evidence that we need more women in leadership positions around the world.

That’s it for me today. What stories have you been following?


Tuesday Reads: White Privilege and Trump’s “Best People”

Good Morning!!

White privilege is a powerful thing, and here’s some proof.

WGN9 Chicago: Waffle House shooting suspect held on $2M bail.

A man accused of killing four people with an AR-15 rifle at a Tennessee Waffle House has been formally charged with four counts of criminal homicide and is being held on $2 million bail.

Court records say 29-year-old Travis Reinking was charged Monday. He is due in court Wednesday.

Police say Reinking was wearing a green jacket and nothing else Sunday when he stormed the restaurant in southeast Nashville and opened fire with the military assault-style rifle, first in the parking lot and then inside. Police credited a quick-thinking customer who wrestled the gun away from preventing more bloodshed.

Authorities say Reinking fled the scene after the scuffle with the restaurant patron. The suspect was captured Monday after an intense manhunt with local and federal police officers that lasted more than a day.

And yet, the judge gave him bail. Let’s hope his father (who reportedly returned the assault weapon to his son after the Secret Service took it away during an arrest at the White House) doesn’t raise the money to get him released.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a golf club called the police on four black women members for allegedly playing too slowly. AP:

“I felt we were discriminated against,” one of the women, Myneca Ojo, told the York Daily Record. “It was a horrific experience.”

Sandra Thompson and four friends met up Saturday to play a round of golf at the Grandview Golf Club, where they are all members, she told the newspaper.

At the second hole, a white man whose son co-owns the club came up to them twice to complain that they weren’t keeping up with the pace of play. Thompson, an attorney and the head of the York chapter of the NAACP, told the newspaper it was untrue.

On the same hole, another member of the group, Sandra Harrison, said she spoke with a Grandview golf pro, who said they were fine since they were keeping pace with the group ahead of them.

Despite that, the women skipped the third hole to avoid any other issues, she said….

The five are part of a larger group of local women known as Sisters in the Fairway. The group has been around for at least a decade, and all of its members are experienced players who have golfed all over the county and world, Thompson said. They’re very familiar with golf etiquette, she said.

After the ninth hole, where it is customary to take a break before continuing on the next nine holes, three of the group decided to leave because they were so shaken up by the earlier treatment, the women told the paper.

Thompson said the man from the second hole, identified as former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, his son, club co-owner Jordan Chronister and several other white, male employees approached the remaining two women and said they took too long of a break and they needed to leave the course.

Then the police arrived, but they took no action. Read more at the link.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly told his followers that he knew “the best people” and would hire the very best to work for his administration. That’s not working out so well.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is still hanging in there, but for how much longer?

CNBC: Embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt faces public grilling this week as GOP support erodes.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reports to Capitol Hill on Thursday for a pair of hearings on his agency’s 2018 budget proposal, but the embattled Trump deputy is likely to face as many questions about his personal conduct as EPA’s spending priorities.

Since the hearings were announced, revelations about Pruitt’s rental of a Washington apartment linked to an energy lobbyist have sparked a near-daily trickle of reports detailing alleged ethics abuses and lavish spending that have put the EPA chief’s political future in peril.

In just the last few weeks, Pruitt has been accused of retaliating against EPA staff, arranging official trips to fulfill his personal travel whims and orchestrating pay raises for aides in defiance of the White House. The number of investigations into his conduct has expanded to five, and the government’s top watchdog determined last week that the agency violated the law by installing a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office.

The hearings could be a make-or-break moment for Pruitt, who has already sat through a combative Fox News interview that reportedly bruised his standing in the administration. Pruitt goes before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Environment in the morning and the Committee on Appropriation’s subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in the afternoon.

And, according to Bloomberg, the White House is telling Republicans not to defend Pruitt.

White House officials are cautioning Republican lawmakers and other conservative allies to temper their defense of Scott Pruitt, according to two people familiar with the discussions, in a sign that administration support for the embattled EPA chief may be waning.

The warnings come as several top GOP lawmakers have stepped forward to publicly criticize Pruitt in recent days, marking a dramatic turn of fortune for one of the most conservative members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet who has been heralded for dismantling Obama-era regulations.

Republicans are now sharpening their criticisms about Pruitt amid a revelation that he met at least once with the lobbyist whose wife rented him a bedroom on Capitol Hill.

Last night the news broke that White House physician Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to lead the VA, is in trouble.

The New York Times: Ronny Jackson, Trump’s V.A. Nominee, Faces Claims of Overprescription and Hostile Work Environment.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is examining allegations that President Trump’s nominee to lead the Veterans Affairs Department oversaw a hostile work environment as the White House physician and allowed the overprescribing of drugs, according to congressional officials briefed on the committee’s work.

They have also received claims that Dr. Ronny L. Jackson drank too much on the job.

The allegations, which have been under investigation since last week, forced the postponement of Dr. Jackson’s confirmation hearing, planned for this Wednesday as senators scrutinize the nominee’s time leading the White House medical staff. Officials familiar with the allegations against Dr. Jackson declined to offer precise details but said that they suggest a pattern of behavior, not just one or two isolated incidents.

How do you “drink too much on the job” at the White House? Shouldn’t any drinking on the job be forbidden?

Dr. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy who serves as the White House physician, was already expected to face difficult questioning during his testimony before the committee. Last month, Mr. Trump fired his first Veterans Affairs secretary, David J. Shulkin, an experienced hospital administrator and veteran of the V.A. medical system, and then chose Dr. Jackson largely out of personal affinity.

The White House did little or no vetting of his background before announcing his nomination on Twitter. Before serving as a White House physician, Dr. Jackson had deployed as an emergency medicine physician to Taqaddum, Iraq, during the Iraq war.

The Senate only received paperwork from the Trump administration formalizing Dr. Jackson’s nomination last week.

Read more at the NYT. Do you suppose this job could have been a bribe to get Jackson to lie about Trump’s height and weight and the state of his health? Or did Trump knew about the drinking and use it as blackmail?

And then there’s Mike Pompeo, current Director of the CIA and nominee for Secretary of State. Frankly, I think this guy is terrifying; and, unfortunately, it looks like he’ll be confirmed. Here’s some background on Pompeo and his scary religious beliefs:

Michelle Golberg at Slate, January 2017: “This Evil Is All Around Us.” Trump’s pick for the CIA, Mike Pompeo, sees foreign policy as a vehicle for holy war.

In June 2015, Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas congressman, headlined a “God and Country Rally” at Wichita’s Summit Church. “To worship our lord and celebrate our nation at the same place is not only our right, it is our duty,” he began. Pompeo’s speech was a mishmash of domestic culture war callouts and dark warnings about the danger of radical Islam. He cited an inflammatory prayer that a pastor named the Rev. Joe Wright once delivered before the Kansas State Legislature: “America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.” He lamented government efforts to “rip faith from our schools” and then segued immediately into a discussion of the jihadi threat: “This evil is all around us.” Pompeo concluded by describing politics as “a never-ending struggle … until the rapture.” [….]

Like Trump, Pompeo has been a fierce critic of efforts to rein in the CIA’s torture program and a champion of keeping Guantanamo Bay open. While in Congress, he was a frequent guest on the radio show of famously paranoid Frank Gaffney, a man disinvited from the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference after claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated its parent organization, the American Conservative Union. (In the Trump era, Gaffney has been brought in from the cold: After the election, the New York Times reported that he was informally advising Trump’s inner circle on national security hires.) Gaffney once called Pompeo “one of the most intelligent men I know in public life,” and the two see the world similarly. In February 2015, they spoke about President Obama’s use of the term “violent extremism” instead of “radical Islam,” a linguistic choice that some on the right see as a secret message of solidarity with jihad. Gaffney suggested that Obama might be conveying “an affinity” for ISIS’s cause, if not all its tactics: “the raising up of the Muslim Ummah, a grand rebalancing of America’s role in the world.” Pompeo relied, “Frank, every place you stare at the president’s policies and statements, you see what you just described … every policy of this administration has treated America as if we are the problem and not the solution.”

Like Gaffney, Pompeo believes that radical networks have wormed their way into every corner of the country. “There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways,” he said on Gaffney’s show. “They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.”

From Vox, March 15, 2018: Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, talks about politics as a battle of good and evil.

That Pompeo is an evangelical Christian is, on its face, not particularly notable; 25 percentof Americans are. But Pompeo’s specific brand of evangelical Christianity, with its insistence on seeing Muslim-Christian relations as an apocalyptic holy war, makes him an unnerving choice for such a senior foreign policy position.

During his tenure as CIA director, and before that as a member of the House of Representatives, Pompeo has consistently used language that casts the war on terrorism as a cosmic divine battle of good and evil. He’s referred to Islamic terrorists as destined to“continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”

Pompeo clarified that only a small percentage of Muslims were, in fact, terrorists (although in a 2013 speech, he called them potentially complicit in terrorism). Still, his language echoes a wider point: that the war against terrorism can be fought, in part, with Christian faith.

In other speeches, he’s characterized American domestic politics as a similarly apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, in which other (non-Christian) faiths and political views were signs of cultural decay. He cited a sermon previously delivered by Pastor Joe Wright in front of the Kansas state legislature: “‘America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.’” Sources inside the CIA told Foreign Policy that Pompeo’s speeches within the CIA are no less loaded with explicitly religious language.

Please go read the rest.

Now, what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Friday Reads

17022314_10154505890203512_1051292543946394533_nGood Afternoon!

Our Federal Government continues to morph into something hostile, xenophobic,and corrupt as we look at yet another weekend where taxpayer money will be filtered into a private resort owned by Kremlin Caligula.  The Cabinet is now filled with corrupt and unqualified people. Entire Departments are being defunded and destroyed.  First among them is the State Department.  This all appears to part of Bannon’s crusade to “deconstruct the administrative state”.

This week began with reports that President Donald Trump’s budget proposal will drastically slash the State Department’s funding, and last week ended with White House adviser and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon telling the attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.

In the last week, I’ve spoken with a dozen current and recently departed State Department employees, all of whom asked for anonymity either because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retribution by an administration on the prowl for leakers, or did not want to burn their former colleagues. None of these sources were political appointees. Rather, they were career foreign service officers or career civil servants, most of whom have served both Republican and Democratic administrations—and many of whom do not know each other. They painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.

Sometimes, the deconstruction of the administrative state is quite literal. After about two dozen career staff on the seventh floor—the State Department’s equivalent of a C suite—were told to find other jobs, some with just 12 hours’ notice, construction teams came in over Presidents’ Day weekend and began rebuilding the office space for a new team and a new concept of how State’s nerve center would function. (This concept hasn’t been shared with most of the people who are still there.) The space on Mahogany Row, the line of wood-paneled offices including that of the secretary of state, is now a mysterious construction zone behind blue tarp.

c59rpxrvuaa0eisUnder Trumps Slash and Burn Budget, everything loses but the military.  The EPA will be decimated.

A wide slew of Environmental Protection Agency programs could be under the knife to meet President Donald Trump’s budget proposal requirements, a source told CNN Wednesday night.

The source spelled out details of an Office of Management and Budget proposal that would cut the EPA’s budget by 24% and reduce its staffing by 20%. Some of the EPA’s most longstanding and best-known programs are facing potential elimination — including initiatives aimed at improving water and air quality as well as a number of regulations tasked with reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Other programs include the Environmental Justice program, which is meant to help local communities grapple with environmental concerns, and Global Change Research, a program funded by several agencies, including the EPA, which reports humans’ impact on the planet.

The Clean Power Plan, which could also be recommended for cuts, was an initiative by former President Barack Obama meant to reduce carbon emissions from each state. Fourteen separate EPA partnership programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could also be on the chopping block.

Also among the programs up for elimination are multi-purpose grants to states and tribes, Energy Star grants, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) graduate fellowships, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and initiatives aimed at environmental protections along the US-Mexico border.

Some of the grants recommended for elimination could be matching grants for local projects around the country, the source added.

Ken Cook, the head of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy and research organization, told CNN in a statement: “The Trump administration has decided fence-line communities across the country, whose residents already bear an outsized burden from pollution, are on their own to take on big polluters.”

Daryl Cagle / darylcagle.com

Daryl Cagle / darylcagle.com

The American Heritage Foundation has been out for the EPA for a long time.  Its even had a plan that may be part of the Adminstration’s vision for letting go of any kind environmental controls and regulation.

Right now, the Trump administration is crafting a budget proposal that envisions steep cuts to a number of federal agencies — including, reportedly, a 24 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency that would eliminate one-fifth of its 15,000 jobs.

There aren’t yet any final decisions on exactly which environmental and energy programs will be targeted for elimination; the White House is still discussing with the relevant agencies. But one place to look for clues is this budget “blueprint” put out by the Heritage Foundation, a major conservative think tank. According to multiple reports, Donald Trump’s team has been using Heritage’s blueprint as a rough guide in its search for $54 billion in domestic spending cuts for fiscal year 2018.

The Heritage budget explains how to get cuts of that magnitude — spreading them out across every agency. And it goes particularly hard after energy and environmental programs. The EPA’s climate-change programs? Gone. Federal research into wind, solar, electric vehicles, nuclear, and other clean tech? Gone. Environmental justice programs? Gone. There are cuts to pollution enforcement and EPA programs that deal with surface water cleanup to diesel truck emissions. Plus cuts in aid to poor countries that help deal with ozone depletion and global warming. Taken together, the blueprint’s cuts would amount to a stark change in US environmental policy.

These cuts won’t all necessarily fly with Congress — a few Republicans are already balking at some of the numbers Trump’s team is tossing about. But it’s a useful read as an aspirational document, a look at the programs that some influential conservatives with Trump’s ear would like to see rooted out of the federal government (and why)

11darcy-carson1jpg-c9d65932f15d4e86It isn’t clear at all that the Pentagon needs that much money or wants it for that matter.  It traditionally gets pretty much what it wants already.  The nation has been on a war time footing since 9/11 so it isn’t even clear that there’s been any kind of “depletion” of anything.

Defense spending accounts for almost the same proportion of the federal budget as all non-discretionary domestic spending, meaning that the Trump administration’s proposal will result in a roughly 10 percent across-the-board cut in all other federal spending programs.

Budgets for most federal agencies would be reduced substantially, said an OMB official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a call with reporters to discuss the proposal.

The announcement marks the beginning of a process in which the OMB will coordinate with agencies to flesh out the plan.

Trump said his budget, which will be submitted to Congress next month, will propose “historic” increases in spending to bolster the country’s “depleted military,” and he said it will support law enforcement in an effort to reduce crime.

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I really don’t think that any one in the administration has a clue what they’re doing in any kind of conventional sense since nearly all of them have no experience in governance at any level. Bannon’s slash and burn the state ideology appears to be driving much of this.  The cabinet appointees will have difficulty doing much of anything at this rate because staff is fleeing already.

The career executives who staff and run the approximately 250 federal departments and agencies not only formulate and implement executive orders, they also make choices every day that influence large swaths of public policy — from immigration to law enforcement to education to the environment. They use their legal authority to do what all executives do: interpret the power given them by their board of directors (in this case, Congress), set organizational priorities in formal guidance or memorandums and make decisions about where to allocate people and dollars.

The recent enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) illustrate how agency choices about what to prioritize and how to enforce the law can produce a dramatic policy change.

Trump’s success as president depends in part on his ability to get agencies to behave like ICE and choose to use their power in the ways he would prefer.

trump-cabinet-1170x864A number of agencies have already gone literally rogue on him with employees undermining him every chance they get.  This is even true of some of the agencies that are to be used to purge the country of whatever it is Trump fears.  Bannon has even indicated that the Cabinet picks were part of the Deconstruction plan.

President Trump’s critics have noted that at least some of his Cabinet picks seem uniquely unsuited to their roles. Scott Pruitt, recently confirmed as head of the EPA, had previously challenged its regulations in more than a dozen suits. Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, operated a company that depended on low wages and faced allegations of labor abuse. Puzder’s nomination was scuttled by the discovery that he had employed at least one undocumented immigrant.

Trump’s FCC chairman and energy secretary have also been critics of the very agencies they’re now tasked with managing. Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for energy secretary, famously called to eliminate the department while running for President in 2011.

Putting anti-regulation chairs at the top of regulatory bodies is nothing new for conservative administrations—George W. Bush’s EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, for instance, pushed back against staff recommendations and slackened enforcement. As the saying goes, elections have consequences, and lightening the regulatory load on businesses is a pillar of modern Republican doctrine.

What’s remarkable here, though, is Bannon’s framing of these moves as more anti-state than pro-business. The CPAC comments about ‘deconstruction’ are a toned-down version of startling statements made last August to the Daily Beast. Bannon impishly declared himself a “Leninist,” saying that the Soviet leader “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

It’s not a stretch to see Bannon’s comments reflected not only in Trump’s cabinet picks, but in his slow progress in filling hundreds of lower-level cabinet positions. Until they’re filled, those positions are staffed by temporary administrators with reduced power, leaving enforcement and other matters in limbo.

December 18, 2016

This is perhaps though why Paul Ryan–on top of Putin–find the Trump minions to be “useful fools”.  Ryan is known as the nation’s premier granny starver and all this chaos and cutting is pretty much right up his ally.  This is analysis by Jonathan Chait.

What is the substance of the supposed schism between Trump and the regular GOP? The Times depicts the president and the House Speaker as split over whether to cut “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” But, while Ryan has made it known that he would like to cut Social Security (a position that has won him immense inside-the-Beltway Establishment credibility), he has not persuaded his party to go along. The “Better Way” plan crafted by Ryan and endorsed by House Republicans makes no mention of Social Security at all. It does propose privatizing Medicare, but only for workers who are not retired or are near retirement — which means, despite its long-term significance, it has no impact on the budget over the next decade. And both Trump and Ryan are planning deep cuts to Medicaid.

The similarities continue. Both favor increases in defense spending and dramatically weaker enforcement of labor, environmental, and financial regulation. Both favor deep cuts to anti-poverty spending. Trump is more enthusiastic than the regular GOP about infrastructure spending, but he has decided to postpone that issue until next year and use it as an election messaging vehicle rather than a real legislative priority. Most important, both agree that large, upper-income tax cuts are the party’s highest priority. Trump has even endorsed Ryan’s legislative strategy of sequencing Obamacare repeal first in order to grease the skids for bigger tax cuts. (“Statutorily and for budget purposes, as you know, we have to do health care before we do the tax cut,” he said this week.)

It is true, as conservatives say, that Trump’s budget numbers do not really add up. But he is relying on the same voodoo economics assumptions that are de rigeur in his party. “The money is going to come from a revved-up economy,” Trump said on Fox & Friends. “I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we’re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to 3, maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame.” Remember that ultra-Establishment Republican Jeb Bush promised tax cuts and deregulation would produce 4 percent growth, so Trump’s 3 percent growth promise is actually moderate and realistic by Republican fiscal standards.

The illusion that Trump has radically altered his party’s agenda is convenient for all sides.

Democrats have already sent out a battle cry as have a few Republicans.  Lindsey Graham is having none of  the cuts to State.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that President Trump’s first budget was “dead on arrival” and wouldn’t make it through Congress.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Graham, according to NBC News. “It would be a disaster.”

Graham, a frequent Trump critic, expressed concerns with Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department budget, especially the targeting of foreign aid.

These are trying times.  Let’s just hope we have enough leaders in the District with other patriotism or deep seated interests in some of these agencies or our country will never look the same again.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: The So-Called President

The so-called president.

The so-called president.

 Good Afternoon!!

Last night a federal judge in Washington state blocked Donald tRump’s executive order on immigration nationwide. The Washington Post reported:

The federal judge’s ruling, which was broader than similar ones before it, set up a high-stakes legal confrontation between the new president and the judicial branch over his temporary ban on entry by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries as well as refugees. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart wrote that “fundamental” to the court’s work was “a vigilant recognition that it is but one of three equal branches of our federal government.”

“The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government,” he wrote.

The ruling is temporary, and the ultimate question of whether Trump’s executive order will pass constitutional muster will fall to higher-level courts. Legal analysts have said the ban could be difficult to permanently undo because the president has broad authority to set immigration policy.

Robart granted a request from the state of Washington who had asked him to stop the government from acting on critical sections of Trump’s order. Justice and State department officials had revealed earlier Friday that about 60,000 — and possibly as many as 100,000 — visas already have been provisionally revoked as a result of Trump’s order. A U.S. official said that because of the court case, officials would examine the revoking of those visas so that people would be allowed to travel, Learn more here.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson hailed the case as “the first of its kind” and declared that it “shuts down the executive order immediately.” Robart, a judge appointed by George W. Bush, said in his written order that U.S. officials should stop enforcing the key aspects of the ban: the halting of entry by refugees and citizens from certain countries. He did not specifically address the matter of those whose visas already had been revoked.

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart

Nevertheless the Department of Homeland Security has suspended tRump’s Muslim ban for now. CNN:

The Department of Homeland Security announced it has suspended all actions to implement the immigration order and will resume standard inspections of travelers as it did prior to the signing of the travel ban.

Also, a State Department official tells CNN the department has reversed the cancellation of visas that were provisionally revoked following the President’s executive order last week — so long as those visas were not stamped or marked as canceled.

The State Department has said fewer than 60,000 visas were revoked since the signing of the order. It was not immediately clear how many from that group will continue to be without their visas because their visas were physically canceled.

Following the judge’s ruling — before the government’s announcements Saturday morning — the International Air Transportation Association, a leading airline industry group, wrote to its members to follow procedures “as if the executive order never existed.”

But tRump doesn’t like this one bit. As usual, he broadcast his tantrums on Twitter. Business Insider: Trump blasts ‘so-called judge’ who temporarily blocked immigration ban in morning tweetstorm.

President Donald Trump on Saturday blasted the federal judge who issued a nationwide hold on the executive order temporarily barring immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries.

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Trump tweeted.

“Interesting that certain Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban,” the president continued. “They know if certain people are allowed in it’s death & destruction!”

Yes folks, tRump referred to a Republican federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush as a “so-called judge.” Are we having a constitutional crisis yet?

Yesterday we learned that the tRump administration secretly ordered the revocation of as many as 100,000 legally issued visas. For now, that order has been reversed. The Washington Post:

The State Department says previously banned travelers will be allowed to enter the United States after a federal judge in Washington state on Friday temporarily blocked enforcement of President Trump’s controversial immigration ban.

“We have reversed the provisional revocation of visas under” Trump’s executive order, a State Department spokesman said Saturday. “Those individuals with visas that were not physically canceled may now travel if the visa is otherwise valid.”

Department of Homeland Security personnel “will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure.”

Immigrant advocates said they were encouraging travelers from the affected countries to get on planes as soon as possible, since the Trump administration has said it plans to appeal the stay on the travel ban.

Solicitor General Noah Purcell (C) and Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (R) speak at a press conference outside U.S. District Court, Western Washington, on Feb. 3, 2017

Solicitor General Noah Purcell (C) and Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (R) speak at a press conference outside U.S. District Court, Western Washington, on Feb. 3, 2017

Now what? Supposedly the White House plans to fight the judge’s order, but they are going to have to come up with better arguments than what DOJ lawyers argued yesterday–basically that a president’s orders cannot be questioned. From MyNorthwest.com:

The DOJ argued that Washington’s case has no standing, or injury because of case-by-case waivers included in the executive order. The DOJ argued that the president is granted broad powers over immigration. The federal lawyer said that the ban does not target any religion, but favors those facing religious persecution.

Attorney Noah Purcell argued the case for the state.

“I did say at one point the Department of Justice’s argument was frightening,” Purcell said. “And the argument was, essentially, that if the president says, ‘I’m doing this in national security interest,’ then a court cannot review if that was the real reason, or if there is any rational reason for the president’s action. Our view is that’s not the law. That’s a scary view of the law. Luckily, the judge rejected that idea.”

While hearing arguments, Judge Robarts stated that he must decide if Trump’s executive order is “rationally based” in facts. The DOJ, however, disagreed that was necessary.

Wow. We’re way past Watergate at this point, and tRump has only been in office for two weeks. Josh Rogin has some background on the machinations that have been going on between the administration over the Muslim ban: Inside the White House-Cabinet battle over Trump’s immigration order.

On the evening of Saturday, Jan. 28, as airport protests raged over President Trump’s executive order on immigration, the man charged with implementing the order, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, had a plan. He would issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, a.k.a. green-card holders, from the seven majority-Muslim countries whose citizens had been banned from entering the United States.

White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon wanted to stop Kelly in his tracks. Bannon paid a personal and unscheduled visit to Kelly’s Department of Homeland Security office to deliver an order: Don’t issue the waiver. Kelly, according to two administration officials familiar with the confrontation, refused to comply with Bannon’s instruction. That was the beginning of a weekend of negotiations among senior Trump administration staffers that led, on Sunday, to a decision by Trump to temporarily freeze the issuance of executive orders.

The confrontation between Bannon and Kelly pitted a political operator against a military disciplinarian. Respectfully but firmly, the retired general and longtime Marine told Bannon that despite his high position in the White House and close relationship with Trump, the former Breitbart chief was not in Kelly’s chain of command, two administration officials said. If the president wanted Kelly to back off from issuing the waiver, Kelly would have to hear it from the president directly, he told Bannon.

John Kelly and Steve Bannon in the foreground

John Kelly and Steve Bannon in the foreground

Bannon left Kelly’s office without getting satisfaction. Trump didn’t call Kelly to tell him to hold off. Kelly issued the waiver late Saturday night, although it wasn’t officially announced until the following day.

That did not end the dispute. At approximately 2 a.m. Sunday morning, according to the two officials, a conference call of several top officials was convened to discuss the ongoing confusion over the executive order and the anger from Cabinet officials over their lack of inclusion in the process in advance.

On the call were Bannon, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, White House Counsel Donald McGahn, national security adviser Michael Flynn, Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State designee Rex Tillerson, who had not yet been confirmed.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

I’ll wrap this up with some corruption news.

The New York Times: Trust Records Show Trump Is Still Closely Tied to His Empire.

While the president says he has walked away from the day-to-day operations of his business, two people close to him are the named trustees and have broad legal authority over his assets: his eldest son, Donald Jr., and Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. Mr. Trump, who will receive reports on any profit, or loss, on his company as a whole, can revoke their authority at any time.

What’s more, the purpose of the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust is to hold assets for the “exclusive benefit” of the president. This trust remains under Mr. Trump’s Social Security number, at least as far as federal taxes are concerned….

While the trust structure, outlined in documents made public through a Freedom of Information Act request by ProPublica, may give the president the appearance of distance from his business, it drew sharp criticism from experts in government ethics.

“I don’t see how this in the slightest bit avoids a conflict of interest,” said Frederick J. Tansill, a trust and estates lawyer from Virginia who examined the documents at the request of The New York Times. “First it is revocable at any time, and it is his son and his chief financial officer who are running it.”

Click on the link to read the rest.

Vincent Viola

Vincent Viola

Again from The New York Times: Vincent Viola, Nominee for Army Secretary, Drops Out.

Vincent Viola, a billionaire Wall Street trader and President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Army, abruptly withdrew his name for the post on Friday night after concluding it would be too difficult to untangle himself from his business ties, two government officials said.

Mr. Viola is an owner of the Florida Panthers hockey club and a majority shareholder in Virtu Financial and Eastern Air Lines, among a number of other business interests. This week The New York Times reported that Mr. Viola had been negotiating to swap his stake in Eastern Air Lines for a stake in Swift Air, an airline with government subcontracts.

If his nomination had continued, he would have faced certain scrutiny for potentially becoming a government official who benefits from federal contracts.

The Trump administration did not announce his withdrawal, which was first reported Friday by The Military Times, but a senior administration official and a Pentagon official separately confirmed his decision, which the White House accepted Friday. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.

That’s all I have for you today. Now I’m going back to bed to nurse my ongoing terrible cold. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below, and have a nice weekend.


Tuesday Reads: Netanyahu Speech, Hillary-Hate, and Nonsensical SCOTUS Case that could Hurt 8 Million Americans

coffee-break2

Good Afternoon!!

I wanted to touch on a couple of issues this afternoon: the latest Hillary Clinton “scandal,” and the upcoming Supreme Court case that could doom Obamacare once and for all.

But before I get to those stories, I want to share this good article by James Fallows on the possible motivations behind Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this morning.

The Mystery of the Netanyahu Disaster, and a Possible Explanation.

Fallows enumerates the possible motivations for the Netanyahu slap in the face to President Obama:

“Was it simple tin ear on his side, and Ambassador Ron Dermer’s?” Fallows asks? That’s not likely according to Fallows, because Netanyahu is far too sophisticated and knowledgeable about U.S. politics. Fallows also discounts the theory that it was only about “election-year politicking” in Israel. Perhaps that’s part of it. Is it because Netanyahu has so often been right in his previous predictions?

Hardly. I can’t believe that he’s fooled even himself into thinking that his egging-on of war with Iraq looks good in retrospect. And for nearly two decades Netanyahu has been arguing that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. When you’re proven right, you trumpet that fact—and when you’re proven wrong, you usually have the sense to change the topic. Usually.

Was it because Netanyahu “has a better plan?”

No. His alternative plan for Iran is like the Republican critics’ alternative to the Obama healthcare or immigration policies. That is: It’s not a plan, it’s dislike of what Obama is doing. And if the current negotiations break down, Iran could move more quickly toward nuclear capacity than it is doing now—barring the fantasy of a preemptive military strike by Israel or the U.S.

Fallows also doesn’t buy the argument that Netanyahu actually believes that Iran “faces an “existential threat” if Iran develops a nuclear weapon?

Let me explain. No person, nation, or community can define what some other person (etc) “should” consider threatening….But from the U.S. perspective I can say that the “existential” concept rests on two utterly unsupportable premises. One is that Iran is fundamentally like Nazi Germany, and the world situation of 2015 is fundamentally like that of 1938. Emotionally you can say “never forget!” Rationally these situations have nothing in common—apart from the anti-Semitic rhetoric. (To begin with: Nazi Germany had a world-beating military and unarmed Jewish minorities within its immediate control. Iran is far away and militarily no match for Israel.) The other premise is that Iran’s leaders are literally suicidal. That is, they care more about destroying Israel than they care about their country’s survival. Remember, Israel has bombs of its own with which to retaliate, so that any attack on Israel would ensure countless more Iranian deaths.

BNT-206-2

What then? Fallows refers to an article at The National Interest by Paul Pillar.

Pillar’s assessment is that the ramped-up “existential” rhetoric is a screen for the real issue, which is a flat contradiction between long-term U.S. and Israeli national interests as regards Iran. It is in American interests (as I have argued) to find some way to end Iran’s excluded status and re-integrate it with the world, as happened with China in the 1970s. And it is in Israel’s interests, at least as defined by Netanyahu for regional-power reasons, that this not occur. As Pillar writes:

The prime objective that Netanyahu is pursuing, and that is quite consistent with his lobbying and other behavior, is not the prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon but instead the prevention of any agreement with Iran. It is not the specific terms of an agreement that are most important to him, but instead whether there is to be any agreement at all. Netanyahu’s defense minister recently made the nature of the objective explicit when he denounced in advance “every deal” that could be made between the West and Tehran. As accompaniments to an absence of any agreements between the West and Iran, the Israeli government’s objective includes permanent pariah status for Iran and in particular an absence of any business being done, on any subject, between Washington and Tehran.

That is, as long as Netanyahu keeps the attention on nukes and “existential” threats, he’s talking about an area where the U.S. and Israel might differ on tactics but agree on ultimate goals. Inflammatory as that topic is, it’s safer than talking about re-integrating Iran as a legitimate power, where U.S. and Israeli interests may ultimately differ.

I thought that was pretty good food for thought.

Before I get to the Clinton e-mails issue, here’s an interesting piece at the Washington Post on Hillary’s relationship with Netanyahu.

The phone call between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lasted 45 minutes. For 43 of them, she talked and he listened.

The U.S. secretary of state lectured the Israeli leader, accusing him of trying to do an end run around American opposition to settlement-building and embarrassing Vice President Biden during a visit to Israel, according to interviews with people present during the 2010 call or who were briefed on it afterward. She read from a script for part of the lecture, so as not to miss any key points.

“The word ‘humiliation’ appeared very prominently,” recalled Michael Oren, then the Israeli ambassador in Washington. “As in ‘You have humiliated the United States of America.’ ”

There probably aren’t many times in Netanyahu’s professional life when he has listened to anyone for 43 minutes. Netanyahu prefers to do the lecturing….And there aren’t many people who could make Netanyahu sit still for a tongue-lashing. Clinton is one of them.

Starry-Night-Mocha-Latte-Coffee-House-Series-Sold

The story of the phone call comes from Clinton’s book on her time as Secretary of State, Hard Choices. Read more about it at the link. It would seem that experiences like this would stand Clinton and the U.S. in good stead if she ends up in the White House.

On the latest “scandal” about Hillary using a private e-mail as Secretary of State, I’m not sure what to think. It certainly does give ammunition to Republicans and to potential Democratic opponents like Martin O’Malley.

Here’s the NYT Story that started the fuss: Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules. You’ll need to read it at the link, because the Times has fixed their website so that I, at least, can’t copy and paste any excerpts. Here are some reactions to the story. First, the debunkers:

From USA Today, Clinton aide: State Department e-mails preserved.

A spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that while she used a personal e-mail account during her years as secretary of State, those records have been maintained pursuant to federal rules.

“Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. “As a result of State’s request for our help to make sure they in fact were, that is what happened here.”

Merrill responded to a New York Times story saying that Clinton, a prospective presidential candidate in 2016, used a personal e-mail account during her four years at the State Department and “may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.”

The Times reported that Clinton’s “expansive use of the private account was alarming to current and former National Archives and Records Administration officials and government watchdogs, who called it a serious breach.”

From Media Matters, The New York Times‘ Deceptive Suggestion That Hillary Clinton May Have Violated Federal Records Law: It Was Only After Clinton Left The State Department That The Law Concerning Private Emails Was Changed.

Yes, the president signed the new law two years after Clinton left the State Department. The NYT wants to punish her retroactively. Not surprising, considering the Times’ longstanding hatred for and sliming of the the Clintons. Please go read the whole Media Matters post. It won’t stop the Clinton haters from using this, but it’s the truth. Arm yourself.

Coffee, Leon Zernitzky

Coffee, Leon Zernitzky

Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter: That Story About Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Account Isn’t as Awful as It Seems.

Again, please go read the whole thing, and prepare yourself for the coming onslaught. This is only the beginning.

A few more links to folks who either don’t know or don’t care about the time of the law and the fact that Clinton preseved all her emails.

A fairly Hillary-friendly post from Charles Pierce, Hillary Finds A Rake To Step On: The First Clinton Bombshell.

LA Times, Hillary Clinton used personal email while serving as secretary of state.

Mashable, Clinton email revelation: You did what, Hillary?

Incidentally, I was shocked to see this from Joseph Cannon:

Hillary’s secret email account. Let’s be honest: If a Republican did this, we’d be worried. Actually, Republicans have done exactly that.

The most important point here is sub-textual: If the NYT has turned against Hillary Clinton, then we should suspect that she has privately revealed to her closest aides that, if elected, she will do things that she cannot now state out loud. Of course, nothing is truly private these days.

“If the times as turned against Hillary Clinton”??!!! Joseph, why aren’t you aware that the NYT –brave champion of Dubya’s Iraq war–has always loathed the Clintons and has published innumerable attacks on them?

Finally a few links to prepare you for tomorrow’s SCOTUS hearing on King v. Burwell, during which the justices will consider whether to throw about 8 million Americans off their health care plans.

Charles Pierce, The Tell: What This Week’s Attack On Obamacare Is Really About.

…the Nine Wise Souls on Tuesday will hear King v. Burwell, the highly imaginative, if constitutionally laughable, attack on the grammar and punctuation in the Affordable Care Act, which the NWS should have laughed off months ago….

It is the Universal String Theory Of Wingnut Conjuring Words in full view, the complete text of one of the spells. A fake scandal being used to excuse the shabby underpinning of a fake lawsuit that will have real and devastating consequences to thousands of people.

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That’s it in a nutshell. But here are more links to check out for more details.

Slate: Exchanges No One Can Use? We rely on courts to interpret laws impartially. When it comes to Obamacare, they don’t always oblige.

Politico: No easy fix if Supreme Court halts Obamacare cash. (No sh$t Sherlock.)

Republicans are getting nervous about what will happen if they get their wish. From The Hill: GOP fears grow over ObamaCare challenge.

Ezra Klein at Vox: Republicans say they have a plan if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare. They don’t.

Stephen Brill at Reuters: The Supreme Court hears an Obamacare fairytale.

US News (not known for liberal views): The Silliest Obamacare Challenge Yet. The King v. Burwell case could cause 8 million to lose health insurance.

SCOTUS should never have agreed to hear this case, but they did. Is John Roberts okay with going down in history as a buffoon? We’ll find out in June.

Please share your views along with the stories you’re following today in the comment thread.

 


Monday Reads: In Search of the American Dream

the-american-dream-by-salvadore-dali

Good Morning!!

Whatever happened to the American dream? Did it ever exist in reality?

We baby boomers can look back to the post-WWII years, when the economy was humming along and the GI Bill made it easier for our dads to get college degrees, find good jobs, buy houses for their families.

In those days, one salary was enough to support a couple and several kids. My dad did it on a college professor’s salary. It was a struggle early on, but those government programs for veterans gave us a push into the professional class.

Eisenhower was President then–a Republican who wouldn’t even recognize his fellow Republican today. Later on, after John Kennedy was murdered and Lyndon Johnson was brought down by the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon presided over the end of the good times. After about 1973, it was over; and since then, wages have essentially remained stagnant.

That was when we entered a new America, in which it took two salaries to support a family. Women went to work, not just because they wanted to, but to keep their families afloat. Children went to day care. So many thing changed. What happened to the American dream? Were those post-war years just an outlier, a brief period of prosperity that meant nothing in the greater scheme of things?

Yesterday, I read a piece by Joseph Stiglitz–in Politico of all places–that addressed some of these questions: The Myth of America’s Golden Age: What growing up in Gary, Indiana taught me about inequality. Stiglitz was born in 1943. Growing up in the industrial “company town” of Gary, he was able to observe the underside of the “golden age” of capitalism–“discrimination, poverty, and bouts of high unemployment.” The big steel companies deliberate brought in desperately poor African Americans from the south in order to keep wages low–to divide and control the work force. Stiglitz writes that he never bought into the notion of the free market as the answer to all ills.

Nearly half a century later, the problem of inequality has reached crisis proportions. John F. Kennedy, in the spirit of optimism that prevailed at the time I was a college student, once declared that a rising tide lifts all boats. It turns out today that almost all of us now are in the same boat—the one that holds the bottom 99 percent. It is a far different boat, one marked by more poverty at the bottom and a hollowing out of the middle class, than the one occupied by the top 1 percent.

Most disturbing is the realization that the American dream–the notion that we are living in the land of opportunity–is a myth. The life chance of a young American today are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in many other advanced countries, including “old Europe.”

American Dream, by Skip Hunt

American Dream, by Skip Hunt

Stiglitz points to Thomas Picketty’s research as evidence. Picketty’s work shows that capitalism leads inevitably to inequality. The post-war era of my childhood and early adulthood was an “aberration.”

Today, inequality is growing dramatically again, and the past three decades or so have proved conclusively that one of the major culprits is trickle-down economics—the idea that the government can just step back and if the rich get richer and use their talents and resources to create jobs, everyone will benefit. It just doesn’t work; the historical data now prove that. [….]

Ironically enough, the final proof debunking this very Republican idea of trickle-down economics has come from a Democratic administration. President Barack Obama’s banks-first approach to saving the nation from another Great Depression held that by giving money to the banks (rather than to homeowners who had been preyed upon by the banks), the economy would be saved. The administration poured billions into the banks that had brought the country to the brink of ruin, without setting conditions in return. When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank engage in a rescue, they virtually always impose requirements to ensure the money is used in the way intended. But here, the government merely expressed the hope that the banks would keep credit, the lifeblood of the economy, flowing. And so the banks shrank lending, and paid their executives megabonuses, even though they had almost destroyed their businesses. Even then, we knew that much of the banks’ profits had been earned not by increasing the efficiency of the economy but by exploitation—through predatory lending, abusive credit-card practices and monopolistic pricing. The full extent of their misdeeds—for instance, the illegal manipulation of key interest rates and foreign exchange, affecting derivatives and mortgages in the amount of hundreds of trillions of dollars—was only just beginning to be fathomed.

American Dream, by Gordon Wendling

American Dream, by Gordon Wendling

I can’t quote any more, but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite enough that you’ll go read the whole thing. While you’re at that link, you might also take a look at this article by “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer, The Pitchforks are Coming for Us Plutocrats. Here’s just a small taste–it’s a long read.

The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.

The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.

What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.

It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines—and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.

Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators.

Is it possible that because these articles appear in conservative Politico, even a few powerful people  in Washington might read them and stop for a moment to think about what what is really happening to America?

American Dream by Matt Sesow

American Dream by Matt Sesow

Also in the news today:

NBC NEWS: Yes, Perceptions of Washington Are Even Worse Than Last Year.

This is a six-month report card time, and it’s failing grades for all of Washington. President Obama’s approval rating stands at 41% in our recent NBC/WSJ poll, his fav/unfav is upside down (at 41%-45%), and a majority of Americans (54%) no longer think he’s able to lead the country and get the job done. Republicans and Congress are in even worse shape. The GOP’s fav/unfav in the NBC/WSJ poll is 29%-45% (versus the Democratic Party’s 38%-40% score). Just 7% of the country has confidence in Congress (compared with 29% for the presidency and 30% for the Supreme Court, per Gallup. And when it comes to congressional productivity, the 113th Congress (2013-2014) has passed just 121 bills into law — fewer than at this same point in the historically unproductive 112th Congress (140 bills into law). Maybe it doesn’t FEEL worse, because there hasn’t been an epic showdown or confrontation like the government shutdown. But the numbers tell a different story — it has gotten worse.

From James Risen at the NYT, scary revelations about the murder of 17 civilians by Blackwater thugs in Iraq in 2007: Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.

Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.

American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.

After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”

“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”

I have a few more links, but I’m going to put them in comments; because I’m having terrible issues with WordPress today. I hope you’ll also post your thoughts and links in the thread below.