Monday, January 22, 2018

Zee Germans Stay In It

The Merkel government barely avoided collapse on Sunday as the largest partner in Germany's government voted narrowly to stay in the current coalition and avoided snap elections...for now.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives start preparing for formal coalition talks with the Social Democrats (SPD) on Monday, wasting no time after the center-left party narrowly voted to go ahead following months of political deadlock.

At a nail-biter of a party congress, 56 percent of SPD delegates voted to pursue coalition talks with Merkel’s conservative bloc on the basis of a blueprint agreed earlier this month. 
That was a narrower margin than many analysts had predicted and could embolden the SPD’s leaders to negotiate harder in talks. 
Eyeing a fourth term as chancellor, Merkel wants the SPD to agree to a re-run of the ‘grand coalition’ that has ruled Europe’s economic powerhouse since 2013. 
She said she looked forward to intensive talks on forming a stable government and her priorities were preserving Germany’s economic strength and ensuring social justice and security. 
The SPD vote will be a relief to investors who worry that policymaking, both at home and in Europe, has ground to a halt. 
Merkel, SPD leader Martin Schulz and the leader of Merkel’s Bavarian allies, Horst Seehofer, may meet on Monday and the full talks may start as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. 
Seehofer has said he expects a new government to be in place in the first half of March.

Of course, Merkel still has to actually get the SPD to agree to these talks, and they're going to come at quite a cost.  But a vote failure Sunday would have meant new elections without a government even being formed, and Merkel would have been done as a result.

Merkel gets one more chance this way, and we'll see if she can take advantage of it.

StupidiNews!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Last Call For Deportation Nation, Con't

Rural Trump voters who voted for the GOP so they would "send all them Mexicans criminals home" and who scoffed at sanctuary city protections as "Democrats covering up for the damn illegals who vote for them" are shocked to discover that the places hardest hit by ICE raids are small towns full of rural Trump voters.




Pacific County, Washington is on the coast just north of Astoria, Oregon and the Columbia River in the bottom western corner of the state, population of about 20,000.  There's not much here, with the local fishing industry and canneries ravaged by climate change and cranberry bogs who need migrant workers suffering the downturn of rural America.  Since 1952 this has been one of the most Democratic counties in America, but that changed when Trump came along and got 49% of the vote.  The 42% that Clinton got in 2016 was the lowest Democratic percentage in the county since Al Smith in the Prohibition era 90 years ago.

They listened to Trump's dog whistle to "Make America Great Again".  Now they're realizing too late that the hounds are among them.

Long Beach, Oregon has 1,400 residents.  In 2017 ICE arrests and deportations went up here by 400% over 2016.  Arrests of people who have lived in the county for a decade or more.  They just now understand that places like Pacific County are low-hanging fruit for ICE. Kids vanishing from classrooms.  Workers are disappearing from the bogs and canneries.

The economy in Pacific County, already teetering, is going over the cliff into the sea.

And the people of Pacific County have nobody to blame but themselves.

Sunday Long Read: Tech Uber Alles

Silicon Valley bad boy and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's crash and burn over 2017 was a lot more manic and disturbing than people knew, and there's a reason why he's held up as the poster child for everything wrong in the tech business in America today.

A year ago, before the investor lawsuits and the federal investigations, before the mass resignations, and before the connotation of the word “Uber” shifted from “world’s most valuable startup” to “world’s most dysfunctional,” Uber’s executives sat around a hotel conference room table in San Francisco, trying to convince their chief executive officer, Travis Kalanick, that the company had a major problem: him.

The executives were armed that day with something unusual for Uber Technologies Inc.: the results of a survey. Kalanick operated by gut feeling and with a stubborn sense of how people should feel, not how they did. Jeff Jones, Uber’s new president and former chief marketing officer for Target Corp., wanted more substantial insights. Conclusions drawn from the survey were printed and hanging on the walls. About half the respondents had a positive impression of Uber and its convenient ride-hailing app. But if respondents knew anything about Kalanick, an inveterate flouter of both workplace conventions and local transportation laws, they had a decidedly negative view.

As usual with Kalanick, the discussion grew contentious. Jones and his deputies argued that Uber’s riders and drivers viewed the company as made up of a bunch of greedy, self-centered jerks. And as usual, Kalanick retorted that the company had a public-relations problem, not a cultural one.

Then a top executive excused herself to answer a phone call. A minute later, she reappeared and asked Kalanick to step into the hallway. Another executive joined them. They hunched over a laptop to watch a video that had just been posted online by Bloomberg News: grainy, black-and-white dashcam footage of Kalanick in the back seat of an UberBlack on Super Bowl weekend, heatedly arguing over fares with a driver named Fawzi Kamel.

“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit!” Kalanick can be heard yelling at Kamel. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else!”

As the clip ended, the three stood in stunned silence. Kalanick seemed to understand that his behavior required some form of contrition. According to a person who was there, he literally got down on his hands and knees and began squirming on the floor. “This is bad,” he muttered. “I’m terrible.”

Then, contrition period over, he got up, called a board member, demanded a new PR strategy, and embarked on a yearlong starring role as the villain who gets his comeuppance in the most gripping startup drama since the dot-com bubble. It’s a story that, until now, has never been fully told.

The melodrama began, in a sense, with Donald Trump. On Jan. 27 the newly inaugurated president issued his executive order imposing border restrictions on people from seven Muslim countries. Outrage erupted. People took to the streets; tech workers in Silicon Valley walked out of their offices in symbolic protest. And in New York, a small union called the New York Taxi Workers Alliance declared that there would be no taxi pickups from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday night at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

For Uber, that would create extra demand at the airport, which meant it could charge more—but this would probably cause a backlash. That had happened before when the company let its “surge pricing” algorithms do their thing. So the New York managers decided to be good citizens and suspend surge pricing for the night.

The backlash hit anyway. After years of negative revelations—spying on passengers, dubious driverless-car experiments in San Francisco, the CEO’s bragging about sexual conquests, to name just a few—the public was already inclined to believe the worst of Uber. If the company wasn’t price gouging this time, maybe it was trying to break up the JFK strike. A new hashtag was trending on Twitter: #deleteuber. Users deleted their accounts by the thousands. Lyft Inc., the rival service that branded itself the anti-Uber, capitalized on the moment and donated $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Further stoking the flames was Kalanick’s decision to join Trump’s business advisory council. Kalanick argued that his participation in the council wasn’t an endorsement of the president; he just wanted a seat at the table, along with Elon Musk, International Business Machines Corp.’s Ginni Rometty, and Walt Disney Co.’s Bob Iger. But intentions didn’t seem to matter. Criticism from riders and drivers intensified, and Kalanick spent days talking to his executives about what to do. They considered whether he should go to the first meeting and find some pretense to object and leave; he even floated the idea of wearing a protest T-shirt to the council meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Ultimately, Kalanick decided the whole thing wasn’t worth the trouble and his minders set up a call so he could politely say no to Trump. A chronic pacer, Kalanick walked away from his desk at the appointed time. The first call from the White House came—and went to Kalanick’s voicemail. Then came the second call. Trump was on the line, and Kalanick walked into a glass-walled conference room to deliver the news. The conversation apparently went as one would expect. Kalanick emerged to tell his colleagues that the president was “super un-pumped.”

And from there, Kalanick's enfant terrible story just got worse.  Pretty sure there's going to be a book and a movie about this implosion actually, and the story is pretty shocking.

The bottom line remains however that Silicon Valley is in desperate need of being bulldozed if only to get San Francisco housing prices back into the realm of reality.

First, Do Some Harm

The Trump regime wants the Health and Human Services department's civil rights office to shift from "stopping discrimination in health care practices" to "enshrining the right of discrimination in health care practices if Jesus says so."

The Trump administration on Thursday will announce an overhaul of the HHS civil rights office as part of a broader plan to protect health workers who don't want to perform abortions, treat transgender patients seeking to transition or provide other services for which they have religious or moral objections. 
Under a proposed rule — which has been closely guarded at HHS and is now under review by the White House — the civil rights office would be empowered to further shield these workers and punish organizations that don’t allow them to express their religious and moral objections, according to sources on and off the Hill. That would be a significant shift for the office, which currently focuses on enforcing federal civil rights and health care privacy laws.

HHS is planning to announce the changes at its headquarters Thursday morning.
The department's leaders have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for rolling back regulations dating to the George W. Bush administration that legally insulated health care workers while affirming their religious freedoms. 
Roger Severino, the Trump administration appointee who now leads the HHS civil rights office, has repeatedly stressed that strengthening conscience protections for health care workers is a top priority for his office. 
That's alarmed advocates for LGBT patients, who say they're already fighting to overcome stigmas and discrimination and who warn that the policy shift will only worsen their situation. 
"This is the use of religion to hurt people because you disapprove of who they are," said Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Any rule that grants a license to discriminate would be a disgrace and a mockery of the principal of religious freedom we all cherish."

This will give "legal protections" to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals who refuse to treat certain patients or perform certain procedures.  In other words, if you're LBGTQ and go to the ER and the doc on duty says "I don't treat transgender or gay people" and you die, the Trump regime's top priority is getting that doc off the legal hook.  Yay!

I don't understand how you get "conscience protections" as a health care worker.  It's like the Trump regime wants a Supreme Court case where an ER doc or paramedic says "I don't want to treat this gay person/Muslim/black person because I am a devout Christian" and the patient dies as a result.

That's where this is going to go, and it's going to be brutally ugly when it gets there.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Last Call For Here We Go Again

Yet another Republican in Congress is facing calls to resign after a sexual misconduct scandal, this time it's Republican Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, who actually is on the House Ethics Committee looking into sexual harassment scandals.

Representative Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican who has taken a leading role in fighting sexual harassment in Congress, used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her, according to several people familiar with the settlement.

A married father of three, Mr. Meehan, 62, had long expressed interest in the personal life of the aide, who was decades younger and had regarded the congressman as a father figure, according to three people who worked with the office and four others with whom she discussed her tenure there.

But after the woman became involved in a serious relationship with someone outside the office last year, Mr. Meehan professed his romantic desires for her — first in person, and then in a handwritten letter — and he grew hostile when she did not reciprocate, the people familiar with her time in the office said.

Life in the office became untenable, so she initiated the complaint process, started working from home and ultimately left the job. She later reached a confidential agreement with Mr. Meehan’s office that included a settlement for an undisclosed amount to be paid from Mr. Meehan’s congressional office fund.
Sexual misconduct accusations against powerful men across a range of industries in recent months have prompted a national conversation about gender dynamics in the workplace, and the inadequacy of support systems for victims. In Congress, several lawmakers have left office or announced their retirements in recent months over sexual harassment claims.

Still, Congress remains a workplace where victims say they have few effective avenues for recourse.

Mr. Meehan’s case sheds new light on secretive congressional processes for handling such complaints, which advocates say are slanted to favor abusers, allowing them to use the vast resources of the federal government to intimidate, isolate and silence their victims.

Meehan has to go, of course.  But the bigger political picture means this was a disctrict the GOP definitely wanted to keep, one where Meehan won handily in 2016 but Clinton carried his district.  It's exactly the kind of race the Democrats need to win in order to take the House back.

And now Meehan just handed it to them.  Nice.

School's Out Forever

After years of the state resisting, Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin and state Republicans approved charter schools in the state last year, the last Southern state to do so.  They should have paid attention to the biggest charter school scandal in America just across the Ohio River, where the Education Classroom of Tomorrow program, ECOT, just blew up into $80 million in taxpayer fraud and thousands of students with no classes to attend on Monday.

The west side of Columbus, Ohio, is a flat expanse of one-story houses, grimy convenience stores, and dark barrooms, and William Lager, in his business wear, cut an unusual figure at the Waffle House on Wilson Road. Every day, almost without fail, he took a seat in a booth, ordered his bottomless coffee, and set to work. Some days he sat for hours, so long that he’d outlast waitress Chandra Filichia’s seven-hour shift and stay on long into the night, making plans and scribbling them down on napkins. 
The dreams on the napkins seemed impossibly grandiose: He wanted to create a school unlike anything that existed, a K-12 charter school where the learning and teaching would be done online, and which would give tens of thousands of students an alternative to traditional public schools across the state. It would offer them unheard of flexibility—a teen mom could stay with her child and study, while a kid worried about being bullied could complete lessons at home. And it would be radically cheaper than a traditional classroom, since there would be no buildings to maintain, no teachers’ unions to bargain with. At the time—the late 1990s—it was a revolutionary idea. Lager called it, in the heady days when the internet seemed to promise a solution to every problem, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. 
But back then—before Lager had his mansion and lake house, before he rose to become a hero of the school choice movement, before Jeb Bush flew in to give ECOT’s commencement speech and Betsy DeVos helped him and his cohort transform Ohio’s educational landscape—Filichia, the Waffle House waitress, could tell Lager seemed broke. Balding, round-faced, and concentrating intently as he scribbled, she even once caught him trying to pass off photocopies of discount coffee coupons. But he didn’t plan on using a Waffle House as his office forever. “One of these days I’m going to have a real big business,” she remembers him telling her, “and you can come work with me, and you won’t ever have to work anywhere else.” 
Lager kept his promise, sort of. His back-of-the-napkin vision soon became an improbable reality, and though she’d never gone to college, in 2000 Lager hired Filichia, and eventually, she says, she became one of ECOT’s registrars. In that role, the 24-year-old had a front-row seat to watch the company’s growth. As it expanded from an upstart to a juggernaut—this year it educated some 12,000 students across Ohio, and two years prior its student body was the largest in America—she began to turn on Lager, angered that the school seemed to provide some students with a sham education, functioned more like a profit center than an educational institution, and ignored its own attendance policies, a fact later corroborated by court documents. “I am a single mom, so obviously I needed money and stayed there,” Filichia told me. “But after so long, when I saw how bad these poor kids were doing, I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Yesterday, after 17 years of operation, the school came to a spectacular end, and many of Filichia’s concerns suddenly seemed prophetic. (Lager and ECOT officials did not reply to repeated requests for comment.) Despite years of critics raising similar concerns, the school’s demise happened quickly, after two Ohio Department of Education reviews from 2016 and 2017 found that ECOT had overbilled taxpayers by $80 million for thousands of students it couldn’t show were meeting the department’s enrollment standards. As a result, last summer the state ordered the school to begin paying back almost $4 million per month in school funds, which ECOT claimed it was was unable to do. Then, last week, the school’s charter sponsor, the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, claiming concern that ECOT wouldn’t have the funds to last out the year, suddenly announced plans to drop the school. Many of ECOT’s 12,000 current students learned on the nightly news or read in newspapers that unless an emergency deal could be worked out, the institution was in imminent danger of folding up before the start of next semester, set to begin on January 22, leaving many parents confused and panicking, with only days to choose a new school and get their child enrolled.

The drama reached its climax yesterday. The board members of Lake Erie West held a public meeting in Toledo to vote on how they would respond to ECOT’s plea that they remain the school’s sponsor, at least temporarily. About 40 students, parents, and teachers, some of them breaking down in tears, reportedly showed up. “If this is really about our children,” one parent, Lisa Burford, pleaded, “I hope that you consider our children.” Burford explained that her daughter, who was deaf, had struggled with Toledo’s traditional schools and had been better off in ECOT’s online program, where she was scheduled to graduate in May. ECOT had been deeply troubled long before this year—it had a graduation rate of just 40%, and produced more dropouts than any other school in the nation, according to an investigation by the New York Times. But, for some, it was a school of last resort, and now that last resort was about to vanish. All three board members of Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West voted to withdraw their sponsorship of ECOT, effectively shuttering the school immediately. The decision cast doubt over whether or not Burford’s daughter, and thousands like her, would be able to graduate at all this year. But it also cast a doubt over why Lager’s troubled school had been allowed to operate so long, and why it had been given almost a billion dollars in taxpayer money that would otherwise have gone to local school districts. “A lot of these students,” Burford said, “don’t have any other choices.” 
Now, with ECOT imploding, some state politicians have floated the idea that Lager, who has made millions in profits off the school and come a long way from the Waffle House, should be personally held responsible for paying back some of the $80 million owed to the state. But while the coming days will reveal if the political will or mechanisms exist to make this happen, it’s unclear how he might ever be held accountable—because the real scandal is that ECOT grew up legally, with the support of state politicians and national GOP power brokers, and that in many ways it has served as a model for schools like it across the country. Now, the same districts ECOT pulled its funds from are scrambling to find a way to take in its former students, and Ohio is facing a reckoning, after nearly two decades when the state became one of the country’s freest laboratories for pro-charter policies. “Why did it take a generation and a half of kids to go through this crappy system for us to do something about it,” Stephen Dyer, a former Ohio state representative asked me in exasperation in December. “The reason is because a lot of money came in.”

ECOT was held up all though the 2000's as the model of charter schooling and remote learning in America, where the country was sure to be headed in primary education, where expensive teachers and school buildings would be replaced by inexpensive technology and we could educate all of the kids and it would be magical, except what happens is we take your money because we've turned your child's education into a profit center and besides, we need uneducated people to do grunt work and vote Republican.

Meanwhile on this side of the river in Bevinstan, Matt Bevin's promise not to cut education funding lasted about as long as a butterfly fart in a hurricane.

Scott County Schools Superintendent Kevin Hub estimates, after hearing Gov. Matt Bevin’s budget address Tuesday, that his district could take at least “a $10 million hit” in state budget cuts, $2.1 million of that in transportation. 
Hub is among the Kentucky school officials concerned about picking up most of the tab for student transportation. Hub said the district was already covering half of its needed transportation expenses. 
“Everybody expects us to put good, well-maintained buses with well-experienced drivers on the road, and we are not going to scrimp on those funds. We’re going to be receiving less than $1 million for a fixed expense that costs us nearly $5 million,” Hub said. 
Bevin’s budget proposal would cut about $138 million in state funds for student transportation in school districts. In his speech, Bevin said he wanted districts to make up that money by spending some of the $950 million in their reserve funds. 
“We are going to expect the local school districts to contribute to transportation more than in the past... they are not going to be funded to the same degree by the state as they have historically,” Bevin said. 
Administration officials said they wanted to focus on the classroom, so the savings came from transportation. 
The shift of costs “will be a significant concern” to many districts, especially those that are large geographically and are already financially strained, said Eric Kennedy of the Kentucky School Boards Association.

Guess who will bear the brunt of those cuts?  That's right, urban schools in Lexington and Louisville will take about half those cuts by themselves, while poor mountain districts with limited tax bases and students that depend on buses getting through winding roads will hurt too.

But considering Bevin is also cutting $112 million from the roads budget, it's going to be a grim trek for kids to get to school in Kentucky.  Or much of anywhere, for that matter.

And I guarantee you the state GOP will follow through with Bevin's cuts.  They've been wanting to do it for decades.

Immigration Elmination

The House GOP has their own DACA fix bill called the Securing America's Future Act, which is such a massively horrible immigration bill that even the Cato Institute's David Bier finds it repugnant.

By far the worst aspect of the SAF Act cuts overall legal immigration by 25 percent—some 2.6 million people per decade (pp. 5-21). Given how fiscally and economically positive the average immigrant to the United States is, this is a huge unnecessary blow to the economy. Eliminating the random diversity visa lottery is welcome, but unlike the bipartisan Senate deal—which replacesit with a merit-based system—SAF simply eliminates those green cards. Even ending the other family based categories might be worth swallowing if the bill shifted the numbers to the employment-based side. But the employment-based increase is just 55,000 compared to a reduction of more than 315,000 elsewhere. 
SAF also changes asylum law to make it more difficult for asylum seekers to apply by greatly increasing the standard of proof to apply for asylum (p. 23). I have previously written about how these changes will make it virtually impossible for asylum seekers who don’t already have attorneys waiting for them and evidence gathered to prove their claims to even apply for asylum. 
The worst enforcement provision is criminalizing simply being in the United States without status or violating any aspect of civil immigration law (p. 170). This would turn millions of unauthorized immigrants into criminals overnight. It would also criminalize legal immigrants who fail to update their addresses, carry their green card with them at all times, or otherwise abide by the million inane regulations that Congress imposes on them. Take, for example, the status provided to Dreamers in this bill. It requires them to maintain an annual income of at least 125 percent of the poverty line (p. 396). If they fall below that level for 90 days—not only are they subject to deportation again—they would be criminals. This bill literally criminalizes poverty among Dreamers. This legislation would immediately undo much of the progress that the Feds have made on criminal justice reform and reducing its prison population
Several other security provisions are also problematic. Mandatory E-Verify (p. 87) will impose massive regulatory costs on small businesses, establish a federal national identification system that includes all U.S. workers, and cause hundreds of thousands of Americans to have their jobs delayed or lost entirely due to database errors—all while having a track record of failure in every state that has tried to use it to prevent illegal employment. My detailed comments on this specific E-Verify proposal are here
Biometric exit (p. 356) is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle that would add absolutely nothing to security while imposing huge costs of travelers and intruding into Americans privacy. Increasing the number of Border Patrol agents by 25% at a time when each agent is already catching less than two crossers per month makes no sense (p. 319). Authorizing states to use the National Guard along the border on the U.S. taxpayer dime is another provenwaste of money (p. 286)—even Border Patrol says so
The bill authorizes spending of $124 billion over five years on border security alone (p. 348). The bill makes little effort to find a means to pay for this gargantuan sum. For comparison, the entire Border Patrol budget last year was $3.8 billion
Republicans are essentially asking Democrats to trade the legalization of 700,000 unauthorized immigrants for the criminalization of all others, banning 2.6 million legal immigrants over the next decade, the elimination of almost all family sponsorship preference categories and the diversity visa lottery, deporting tens of thousands of asylum seekers, huge increases in border security spending, a massive new regulatory program that applies to every employee and employer in the country (“E-Verify”), and so much else. This bill has no chance of becoming law, but it is a remarkable illustration of how far apart the parties are on this issue.

I disagree with Bier on that last part.  Republicans could make this bill law in days if they wanted to.  There's nothing stopping Mitch McConnell from ending the filibuster and passing this in the House and Senate and putting it on Trump's desk other than will.

They still might tie this thing to must-pass budget or debt bills.  Who knows at this point anymore.

But understand that Republicans want to criminalize and deport millions, maybe tens of millions.  They are looking for a way to do it, and they keep moving to put the infrastructure they will need to do it in place.

Jared, The Galleria Of Crime

The Trump money laundering empire doesn't just involve Russian money, as two stories involving Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner hit yesterday, buried under the government shutdown fight.  First, Kushner is the point man behind the Trump organization's Chinese financial ties. And once again the focus is on a foreign ambassador to the US, in this case China's chief diplomat in America, Cui Tiankai, and Rupert Murdoch's ex-wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch.

By the spring of 2017, investigators in charge of evaluating whether to give Kushner a permanent security clearance had new information to consider. U.S. intelligence agencies aggressively target Chinese government communications, including Cui’s reports to Beijing about his meetings in the United States.

According to current and former officials briefed on U.S. intelligence about Chinese communications, Chinese officials said that Cui and Kushner, in meetings to prepare for the summit at Mar-a-Lago, discussed Kushner’s business interests along with policy. Some intelligence officials became concerned that the Chinese government was seeking to use business inducements to influence Kushner’s views. The intelligence wasn’t conclusive, according to those briefed on the matter. “I never saw any indication that it was successful,” a former senior official said, of Chinese efforts to compromise Kushner. The Chinese could have mischaracterized their discussions with Kushner. But the intelligence reports triggered alarms that Chinese officials were attempting to exploit Kushner’s close relationship with the President, which could yield benefits over time. “They’re in it for the long haul,” the former official said. (A spokesman for Kushner said, “There was never a time—never—that Mr. Kushner spoke to any foreign officials, in the campaign, transition, and in the Administration, about any personal or family business. He was scrupulous in this regard.”)

In March, 2017, Bill Priestap, the F.B.I.’s chief of counterintelligence, visited the White House and briefed Kushner about the danger of foreign-influence operations, according to three officials familiar with the meeting. Priestap told Kushner that he was among the top intelligence targets worldwide, and was being targeted not only by China but by every other major intelligence service as well, including those of the Russians and the Israelis. Priestap said that foreign spy agencies could use diplomats and spies masquerading as students and journalists to collect information about him. (An F.B.I. spokesperson declined to comment.)

Priestap and Kushner discussed some of Kushner’s contacts, including Wendi Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch. Kushner and Ivanka Trump had known her for about a decade, and she was a regular guest at their Washington home. U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials have long speculated about Wendi Murdoch’s ties to the Chinese government. Internally, some Chinese officials spoke about her in ways that suggested they had influence over her, the former senior official, who was briefed on the intelligence, said. Other officials said that the intelligence was inconclusive.

The allegations against Wendi Murdoch are complicated by her divorce from Rupert Murdoch. On January 15th, some of the allegations were published in the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. (A spokesperson for Wendi Murdoch said, “The idea that she is involved in anything covert is so absurd, it could only have come from an unnamed source.” A spokesperson for Rupert Murdoch said that Murdoch does not believe Wendi is a spy.)

When Kushner was briefed by the F.B.I., he saw little cause for alarm, according to a person close to Kushner. He had no doubt that China and other countries were trying to persuade him to do things or to provide information, but he was, despite his inexperience in diplomacy and intelligence, confident in his ability to navigate these situations. After all, he told others, New York real estate is not “a baby’s business.”

Kushner thought he was smarter than the intelligence communities of both Russia and China.  Of course, he was wrong.  Not only does the FBI have Kushner in their sights, but so does Robert Mueller.  And Mueller just got a heap of new ammo to use in his fight from the Germans, who are cleaning house over at the Trumps' favorite European money laundering outfit, Deutsche Bank.

A German business magazine is reporting that Deutsche Bank, the German financial giant which is a major lender to both President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, identified “suspicious transactions” related to Kushner family accounts, and has reported them to German banking regulators. The bank is reportedly willing to provide the information to special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s team of investigators.

Manager Magazin, a respected German business magazine, reported in its latest print edition, which hit German newsstands on Friday, that Paul Achleitner, chairman of Deutsche Bank’s board, had the bank conduct an internal investigation and the results were troubling. Those results have been turned over to the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority—Germany’s bank regulatory agency, which is commonly known as BaFin.

“Achleitner’s internal detectives were embarrassed to deliver their interim report regarding real estate tycoon [Jared] Kushner to the financial regulator BaFin,” the Manager Magazin article, translated from German, reports. “Their finding: There are indications that Donald Trump’s son-in-law or persons or companies close to him could have channeled suspicious monies through Deutsche Bank as part of their business dealings.”

The magazine did not provide additional details about the “suspicious monies”, but Manager Magazin reports that Deutsche Bank’s leadership is worried about the public relations hit the bank might take when—not if—the results of the investigation are turned over to Mueller. “But what BaFin will do about [the bank’s findings] is not the bank’s greatest concern,” the article states. “Rather, it’s the noise that US special counsel Robert Mueller (73) will make in his pursuit of Trump. For he will likely obtain this information—a giant risk to [the bank’s] reputation.”

The article also claims that the investigation into Kushner and his family business is not over, and that internal technical issues are complicating the search, adding that “Achleitner simply doesn’t have a view of the whole picture.” Deutsche Bank did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s personal attorney.

If the report is true, it joins a flurry of efforts to unravel the Kushners’ financial dealings with the bank. In December, a German newspaper reported that Mueller had subpoenaed documents from Deutsche Bank —a report that Trump’s attorneys pushed back on. The bank is, by far, Trump’s largest creditor, having lent him more than $300 million in recent years through it’s private bank—a division that caters to wealthy clients and is sometimes willing to make loans that the commercial banking division won’t. The Trumps and Kushners relationship to Deutsche Bank is a particularly large conflict of interest, given the bank’s history of clashing with regulators—it has made several multi-billion dollar settlements with regulators in the US and Europe for its role in the LIBOR-rigging scandal and the 2008 mortgage crisis. It continues to be under investigation for its role in a possible money-laundering scheme that helped Russians evade sanctions and move money out of that country.

In other words,  Kushner's involvement in both the money laundering side and the political influence side of the Mueller investigation is as deep as it gets.  I wonder if he'll rat out his father to save his own neck?

Ahh, but we know Steve Bannon is cooperating with Mueller, so maybe Kushner's window has closed.  We'll see.  2018 is when Mueller closes in on the biggest scandal in US history.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Last Call For Shutdown Countdown

Senate vote to keep the government open failed.  Republicans couldn’t even get 50 votes from their own caucus to pass the House GOP bill, so a shutdown at his point seems inevitable. Five Democrats voted for the cloture measure: McCaskill, Heitkamp, Manchin, Donnelly and Doug Jones, but cloture needed 60 votes and Republicans Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee, Jeff Flake and (of course) Rand Paul voted against it.

GOP just shut down the government.

Awesome.

Just A Steel Clown Guy On A Saturday Night

Steel workers in the Rust Belt voted for Trump because of "economic anxiety" and whatnot, abandoning the Dems in the hope that The Donald would treat blue-collar union workers better than the black guy did a couple years ago.  Turns out that the steel industry lined up to be the among the first shafted by Trump's promises.

The president of the United Steelworkers union says the group is "terribly disappointed" with President Trump, who he says has done nothing to protect American jobs since taking office last January.

In an interview with CNN, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said that American workers are in some ways worse off now than they were just a year ago.

"We're terribly disappointed and hugely frustrated," Gerard told CNN. "There's been no action that has done anything to protect and defend American jobs. ... In some cases we're worse off now than we were then."Chief among Gerard's concerns is the Trump administration's investigation, announced last April, into steel and aluminum imports from China and other countries suspected of violating trade practices.

At the time, Trump called the investigation “a historic day for American steel and, most importantly, for American steelworkers," and predicted that his administration would take action stemming from the investigation by the summer. So far, no action has been taken.

Part of the Trump administration's dialing back of pressure on China has been due to North Korean aggression, which Trump hopes China will help the U.S. solve.

To recap, Trump's stupid belligerence only made things worse with North Korea, and then Trump screwed over US steelworkers to make China happy so that they would agree to help him clean up his mess with Pyongyang.

But hey Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, this is the guy you voted for, who would save US steel jobs because the Democrats were too busy helping those people and not you.  Well, guess what?  Trump always screws over the people he works with, and we warned you that would happen.  You didn't listen, because you hated Hillary more than you loved common sense.

Now you've been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency in under a year.

Still think he'll make your America great again?

The Next Flipping Point

Republican Tim Murphy resigned from the House late last year after an ugly scandal involving multiple affairs and an abortion and the special election to replace him is the next major political contest in 2018 and it's one the Democrats can definitely win.

After a shocking win in a rural Wisconsin senate race Tuesday, Democrats are feeling increasingly bullish they can win another target deep in Trump territory, flip their first House seat since Trump’s 2016 victory and strike fear into the hearts of Republicans across the country. 
Their target: a blue-collar southwestern Pennsylvania House seat recently vacated by disgraced former Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) in territory national Democrats haven’t seriously contested this decade.

Strategists in both parties see a surprisingly close race developing in the district ahead of the March 13 special election. After some major investments, Republicans are pulling out the big guns on Thursday: A visit from President Trump himself, who will hold an official event on the district’s edges where he’s expected to boost the Republican candidate. 
“Clearly there’s a lot of intensity and energy on the Democratic side and they’ve outperformed their recent numbers in other special elections. We’ve got to take this very, very seriously,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) told TPM. “I do think we are taking this seriously and I think we’re going to win, but we’re not going to be asleep at the switch.” 
Republicans know a loss in this deep-red, blue-collar district after blowing an Alabama Senate race, getting crushed in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and losing more than 30 statehouse seats in the past year would further alarm their party — and be a sign that the 2018 Democratic wave might be large enough to drown some members who never thought they’d even need to swim. 
If we lost that race, it’d be quite an earthquake. I don’t know if I’d say on the scale of Alabama, but it’d be close,” one Pennsylvania Republican congressman told TPM.
Republicans have reason for concern.

Democrats have landed a top-notch recruit in Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old former Marine and federal prosecutor whose family is a Democratic powerhouse in the Pittsburgh area. Republicans have by their own account nominated a somewhat lackluster candidate, dubbed “not Jack Kennedy” by one national Republican. State Rep. Rick Saccone (R) is a conservative firebrand who’s known as a weak fundraiser. 
That matchup, paired with white-hot opposition to the president from the left, has created a single-digit race, according to private polling from both sides. And while Democrats admit it’s an uphill battle in the GOP-friendly district, they’re feeling bullish that they can pull off an upset that would prove they can win in rural, populist terrain. 
“I think he’s going to win,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told TPM Monday night, calling it “a very strong indicator of a good year” for Democrats that the race is competitive.

I think Conor Lamb has an excellent chance, and the reason why is Trump's absolute failure in Steel Country.  The GOP isn't taking chances after Tuesday's disaster and Roy Moore's crash and burn.  They think Trump will help, so Trump will be on the road "helping" them.

More on Steel Country this afternoon. Trump is very vulnerable there and it's why he wants to scrap NAFTA.

StupidiNews!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't


The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy
FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said. 
It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections. 
It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up. 
All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because Mueller’s investigation is confidential and mostly involves classified information. 
A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined comment.

You have to admit, Russians funneling money to Trump through the NRA is about the maximum GOP in GOP scandal. And this isn't the first time Alexander Torshin's name has come up in the Russian collusion investigation, either.

Allegations of collusion continued to pile up against Donald Trump Jr. this week, with the New York Times reporting Friday that the first son went to a May 2016 dinner attended by a top Russian official who was trying to set up a covert meeting with the campaign.

NBC News confirmed Saturday that Donald Trump Jr. talked with Alexander Torshin, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the deputy head of the country's central bank, at an event hosted by the National Rifle Association in Kentucky. But the first son's lawyer insisted the duo didn't sit together.

Don Jr. met with Torshin at an NRA event in 2016 right here in Kentucky.  Hmmm.  Jared Kushner is linked to the same NRA event too.

President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, failed to disclose what lawmakers called a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite" involving a banker who has been accused of links to Russian organized crime, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News. 
An email chain described Aleksander Torshin, a former senator and deputy head of Russia's central bank who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as wanting Trump to attend an event on the sidelines of a National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 2016, the sources said. The email also suggests Torshin was seeking to meet with a high-level Trump campaign official during the convention, and that he may have had a message for Trump from Putin, the sources said.

Torshin has quite the reputation internationally, it turns out.  He's been in Washington DC a lot, lately, like the time he tried to meet Trump himself at the National Prayer Breakfast last spring.

The leader of the delegation, central bank Deputy Chairman Alexander Torshin, a former senator who laughs off Spanish claims that he’s a crime boss, was even hoping to shake hands with Trump, an old acquaintance. But the White House nixed the meet-and-greet at the last minute without explanation, according to two Russians familiar with the matter. 
The brief meeting Torshin was due to have with Trump was canceled after a White House aide realized the Russian had been suspected of being a mafia “godfather,” Yahoo News reported, citing five people it didn’t identify. 
The White House said a meeting with Torshin at the National Prayer Breakfast was never on Trump’s agenda. 
Torshin declined to elaborate on his trip, saying only that he’s been to the annual event 12 times. In an interview with Bloomberg last year, the gun enthusiast said he’s known Trump for five years and the two men last had a jovial exchange at the National Rifle Association convention in Tennessee in 2015, just before the future president announced his run for the White House.

Spanish cops pretty much know he's a mobbed up, and rather deep.

On February 1, Alexander Porfirievich Torshin, 63, a Russian politician and banker who is close to Vladimir Putin and whom the Spanish anti-corruption prosecutor and the Civil Guard define in their reports as a godfather from a notorious Russian mafia organization, had in his diary for the next day an appointment to meet in Washington with the world’s most powerful man: Donald Trump. The encounter was due to take place before an official and well-attended breakfast meeting, which Torshin attended as the head of a Russian delegation. The meeting was canceled that very night, according to sources from the White House, given the wave of criticism in the US press related to the influence of certain Russian circles in President Trump’s power teams. But the information reveals the heights to which this person, who has been investigated by the Spanish authorities, had reached in his rise to the upper echelons of the American leader’s circle.

Now the FBI is investigating Torshin and any illegal campaign contributions he may have made to the NRA.  Better believe Mueller knows far more about this subject than the story lets on, too.

Stay tuned.

Shutdown Countdown, Con't

There seems to be little chance that parts of the US federal government will be operating on Saturday. House Republicans can't get their act together, Senate Republicans don't have the votes either, and Trump is all over the place on what he may or may not do, calling the current proposal "horrible" and saying he won't sign it.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday aligned himself solidly with conservative Republicans on immigration, criticizing a proposed bipartisan deal as “horrible” on U.S. border security and “very, very weak” on reforms for the legal immigration system.

The Senate proposal - aimed at addressing Democrats’ demands for protections for young adults brought to the United States illegally as children and dubbed “Dreamers” - fell far short of what most Republicans believe needs to happen, the president said.

“It’s the opposite of what I campaigned for,” Trump told Reuters in an interview.

The plan was presented to Trump last week by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

Trump drew international condemnation after reports emerged that he had questioned the value of taking immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean nation of Haiti during a closed-door meeting with lawmakers at the White House last Thursday, referring to them as “shithole” countries.

Trump has denied using that word. Trump in the interview on Wednesday declined to say what specific words he used.

“I‘m not going to get into what I said, but I will tell you, it was a tough meeting,” Trump said.

Many Democrats have said they will not vote for spending legislation to keep the federal government funded past a Friday deadline without an immigration deal, and Republicans will need at least some Democratic votes to pass the funding extension in the Senate.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to try to help a deal along, but Kelly basically told them to go make tortillas or something, and it did not go well.

In a sign of the new low bar set for policy talks in Washington, several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus insisted to TPM that their meeting with Kelly never became heated or devolved into profanity. But neither did it give them a clear path forward on eleventh-hour negotiations around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“The problem is not the ability to have a cordial conversation, the problem is having a substantive conversation where we learn what the administration wants in return for saving the DREAMers,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) complained in Spanish as he exited the meaning. “I didn’t get a sense that the administration has a clear bottom line.”

Menendez added that, while unclear, the White House’s demands seemed to be “way beyond” what is realistic.

“What they want in return [for DACA] is a continuously moving target, and it continuously expands,” he said, in English. “Interior enforcement, more border patrol, a wall, asylum reform—these are the type of things we talked about for a comprehensive immigration package that covered broader 11 million undocumented people. The administration continues to seem to want everything Democrats were willing to give in the process of considering comprehensive reform just for these 700,000 young people [under DACA]. But holding them hostage to that type of view is simply not acceptable.”

In the meeting, members said, they pushed Kelly to narrow the scope of a deal, putting aside the President’s previous demandsfor terminating the diversity lottery visa program and for dramatically cutting back on family reunification programs, and focusing instead just on DACA paired with some form of border security. Kelly did not agree to this framework, the lawmakers said, though he “listened respectfully.”

At this point, Trump doesn't even know what Trump wants, so there's not going to be a deal until somebody talks the old man into it.

Meanwhile come Monday a lot of Americans are going to suffer most likely.  There's still a possibility that we could go through a short-term punt into next month, but at this point who knows.

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