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The Koch Brothers’ Favorite Congressman Could Be Secretary of State

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Old News To You Then
Old News To You Then. 

Speaking of the potential new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo…

In the “Republican Wave” election of 2010, when brothers Charles and David Koch emerged as defining figures in American politics, the greatest beneficiary of Koch Industries largess was the newly elected Congressman Mike Pompeo. Since his election, Pompeo has been referred to as the “Koch Brothers’ Congressman” and “the congressman from Koch.

[Pompeo] is a foreign-policy hawk who has fiercely opposed the Iran nuclear deal, stoked fears of Muslims in the United States and abroad, opposed closing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, and defended the National Security Agency’sunconstitutional surveillance programs as “good and important work.” He has even gone so far as to say that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden “should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.”

Pompeo’s open disregard for privacy rights in particular and civil liberties in general, as well as his penchant for extreme language and more extreme policies, mark him as a profoundly troublesome pick to serve as the head of a powerful intelligence agency. But he is also one of the most remarkably conflicted political figures in the conflicted city of Washington, thanks to his ties to the privately held and frequently secretive global business empire that has played a pivotal role in advancing his political career.

(click here to continue reading The Koch Brothers’ Favorite Congressman Will Be in Charge of the CIA | The Nation.)

Two powerful constituencies within the Trumponovela, Koch Brothers and the Kremlin are both pleased by Pompeo’s elevation.

In the Sixteenth Minute
In the Sixteenth Minute

You know, these guys:

 

The Tea Party movement’s dirty little secret is that its chief financial backers owe their family fortune to the granddaddy of all their hatred: Stalin’s godless empire of the USSR. The secretive oil billionaires of the Koch family, the main supporters of the right-wing groups that orchestrated the Tea Party movement, would not have the means to bankroll their favorite causes had it not been for the pile of money the family made working for the Bolsheviks in the late 1920s and early 1930s, building refineries, training Communist engineers and laying down the foundation of Soviet oil infrastructure.

 

The comrades were good to the Kochs. Today Koch Industries has grown into the second-largest private company in America. With an annual revenue of $100 billion, the company was just $6.3 billion shy of first place in 2008. Ownership is kept strictly in the family, with the company being split roughly between brothers Charles and David Koch, who are worth about $20 billion apiece and are infamous as the largest sponsors of right-wing causes. They bankroll scores of free-market and libertarian think tanks, institutes and advocacy groups. Greenpeace estimates that the Koch family shelled out $25 million from 2005 to 2008 funding the “climate denial machine,” which means they outspent Exxon Mobile three to one.

Here is a better historical fact, one that the Kochs don’t like to repeat in public: the family’s initial wealth was not created by the harsh, creative forces of unfettered capitalism, but by the grace of the centrally planned economy of the Soviet Union. The Koch family, America’s biggest pushers of the free-market Tea Party revolution, would not be the billionaires they are today were it not for the whim of one of Stalin’s comrades.

 

 

(click here to continue reading The Roots of Stalin in the Tea Party Movement | Alternet.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 13th, 2018 at 9:38 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

Rex Tillerson Out as Trump’s Secretary of State, Criticized Russia Yesterday

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Snacks

Another chapter in the continuing saga.

Yesterday, Rex Tillerson said this about the UK poisoning:

SANTA MARIA, Cape Verde — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Monday called the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain “an egregious act” and added, “It appears that it clearly came from Russia.”

The statement, made in an interview with reporters at the end of a five-nation tour of Africa, was the clearest statement yet from the Trump administration, after several days of equivocation in which American officials declined to explicitly blame Russia for the March 4 attack.

“I’ve become extremely concerned about Russia,” Mr. Tillerson said in the interview. “We spent most of last year investing a lot into attempts to work together, to solve problems, to address differences. And quite frankly, after a year, we didn’t get very far. Instead what we’ve seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive.”

He added: “And this is very, very concerning to me and others, that there seems to be a certain unleashing of activity that we don’t fully understand what the objective behind that is. And if in fact this attack in the U.K. is the work of the Russian government, this is a pretty serious action.”

(click here to continue reading Poisoning of Russian Ex-Spy Is ‘Almost Beyond Comprehension,’ Tillerson Says – The New York Times.)

and today, Rex is gone. Can’t besmirch the mother country1 and work for Trump, Exxon Mobil oil rights in the Arctic notwithstanding…

 

President Trump announced on Tuesday that he had ousted Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and will replace him with Mike Pompeo, now the C.I.A. director, ending the 14-month tenure of the nation’s chief diplomat who repeatedly had found himself at odds with the White House on a variety of key foreign policy issues.

 

“We were not really thinking the same,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House, explaining his decision to replace Mr. Tillerson.

 

He added: “Really, it was a different mind-set, a different thinking.”

 

Mr. Tillerson found out he had been fired before dawn, shortly after his flight returned from a weeklong trip to Africa, said Steve Goldstein, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy. There was no indication during the five-nation visit that Mr. Tillerson’s departure was imminent; Mr. Goldstein said on Tuesday morning that the secretary had been expected to remain in office for the foreseeable future.

 

The president did not personally call Mr. Tillerson, and Mr. Goldstein said he did not know how the chief diplomat learned he had been fired.

 

Mr. Trump announced his decision on Twitter.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Rex Tillerson Out as Trump’s Secretary of State, Replaced by Mike Pompeo – The New York Times.)

If this were a telenovela, it would be a little too obvious of a plot twist, but since it is the Trumponovella, the swirl continues unabated.

And as Steven K Johnson noted on Twitter, this also implies that the Kremlin is A-OK with Mike Pompeo being the new Secretary of State. Hmmm.

Discarded Cautions
Discarded Cautions

Footnotes:
  1. Russia []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 13th, 2018 at 9:04 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

Artist Anish Kapoor disgusted that The Bean appears in NRA ad

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Contemplation of the Winter Bean
Contemplation of the Winter Bean

As are many urban dwellers, especially those who live in and around Chicago, and who aren’t afraid of walking down the street. No matter what you might have heard, walking down the street in an American city like Chicago isn’t akin to being in a war zone. It just isn’t.

The artist who made Chicago’s iconic Cloud Gate says he is “disgusted” that the National Rifle Association used video of the Millennium Park sculpture in a political advertisement that he said “seeks to whip up fear and hate.

Anish Kapoor — the Indian-born, British sculptor responsible for the work colloquially known as The Bean — said the 2017 ad titled “The Clenched Fist of Truth” and starring NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch used footage of the sculpture without his consent “by the NRA to promote their vile message.”

The sculpture was used as a stand-in for former President Barack Obama in the ad, which was widely criticized at the time of its release in April. The ad paints a nightmarish vision of modern city life and states that “the only way to save our country, the only way to fight this violence of lies is with the clenched fist of truth.”

In a statement issued by a New York gallery 1 that represents him, Kapoor also said that his sculpture and other works of iconic modern architecture were used by the NRA in the ad to represent a hidden and threatening “other,” or a version of “Liberal America” against which NRA members need to arm themselves.

While tourists are free to photograph the sculpture, Kapoor owns the copyright to commercial images of Cloud Gate and did not give the NRA permission to use it, he wrote.

(click here to continue reading Artist Anish Kapoor ‘disgusted’ that The Bean appears in NRA ad – Chicago Tribune.)

I’m not linking to the NRA’s hate site, but you can find the video if you search for it. I’d rather post a few more photos of Cloud Gate… ((taken as a tourist, naturally)) 

Cleaning Cloud Gate
Cleaning Cloud Gate

Sometimes I am a Tourist
Sometimes I am a Tourist

Millennium abstraction
millennium abstraction

Smiley Face Snow Bean
Smiley Face Snow Bean

Shiny objects
Shiny objects

Urban Bubble
Urban Bubble

Bean and Ice
Bean and Ice

Footnotes:
  1. presumedly Lisson Gallery []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 12th, 2018 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Arts,Chicago-esque,politics

Tagged with ,

Betsy DeVos is a demon – School choice gutted Detroit’s public schools

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Erected by the Board of Education 1892
Erected by the Board of Education 1892.

From Vice before the demon DeVos was (barely) confirmed to be Trump’s Education minister:

The gutting of Detroit’s public schools is the result of an experiment started 23 years ago, when education reformers including Betsy DeVos, now Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department, got Michigan to bet big on charters and school choice. The Obama administration has promoted competition, but DeVos looks set to take free-market education policy to new heights. She has made clear her goal is to use charters to eventually get public dollars to private and religious schools, but the consequences of her school choice policy in Detroit leave gaping questions about how she will also care for America’s public schools.

In Detroit, choice has come largely at the expense of the traditional public school district and schools like Oakman. As students joined new charters, public school enrollment and funding fell. Unregulated competition pushed these schools into near-unrecoverable insolvency and allowed dubious for-profit charter operators to prosper without establishing a track record of better outcomes for students. A 2014 analysis showed 17 percent of Detroit charter school students were rated proficient in math, versus 13 percent of traditional public school students. Last year less than 1 percent of the city’s schools got an A or B+ rating from Excellent Schools Detroit, a local reform group that provides school information to families. Nearly 70 percent earned a D+ or lower, and 40 percent of those bottom-performers were charters. Earlier this year, seven Detroit students sued the state of Michigan for failing to provide basic access to literacy — two of the kids were enrolled in local charter schools.

(click here to continue reading School choice gutted Detroit’s public schools. The rest of the country is next. – VICE News.)

Charter schools performing even worse than gutted public schools, yet still being promoted is like Supply Side Economics still being promoted despite a single success story.

Washington Elementary School
Washington Elementary School

Relevant because Ms. DeVos spluttered and muttered her way through an interview aired on 60 Minutes March 11th, 2018:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night and stumbled in answering questions that journalist Lesley Stahl asked during a pointed interview.

Stahl repeatedly challenged the education secretary, at one point suggesting that DeVos should visit underperforming public schools to learn about their problems. DeVos responded, “Maybe I should.” The secretary also said she is “not so sure exactly” how she became, as Stahl described her, “the most hated” member of President Trump’s Cabinet but believes that she is “misunderstood.”

DeVos, who rarely gives interviews to journalists, is a longtime school choice advocate who once said that traditional public education is “a dead end,” and she has made clear that her top priority as the nation’s education chief is expanding alternatives to traditional public schools. She is  a champion of using public funds for private and religious school education, and critics say she is determined to privatize public education. DeVos has denied that.

DeVos, a billionaire who has spent millions of dollars on school efforts in her home state of Michigan, has been perhaps the most controversial of Trump’s Cabinet members. She became the first Cabinet nominee in history to need a tie-breaking vote from the vice president to be confirmed by the Senate. Her January 2017 confirmation hearing before the Senate education panel was marked by her inability to answer basic questions about education.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, more than a year after becoming education secretary, DeVos again had trouble answering questions and seemed to contradict herself.

 

(click here to continue reading Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stumbles during pointed ‘60 Minutes’ interview – The Washington Post.)

Why go To Night School
Why go To Night School?

and as Philip Bump reports:

 

“In places where there is a lot of choice that’s been introduced,” DeVos told CBS’s Lesley Stahl, “Florida, for example, studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually, the results get better as well.”

 This is DeVos’s core case. Introducing charter schools forces public schools into the sort of competition you see in the free market, forcing the public institutions to improve. It’s a market-based proposal for solving the endemic problem of low-performing schools. Florida, DeVos argues, is an example of where it works.

 But Stahl was prepared for this.

 “Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” Stahl asked. Michigan is a key litmus test because it’s the place where DeVos’s pre-government advocacy was centered. DeVos stumbled over a response.

 “Your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better is not working in Michigan,” Stahl said. “Where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here.” She later added, “The public schools here are doing worse than they did.”

A 2009 study from the RAND corporation found “little evidence that the presence of charter schools affects the achievement scores of students in nearby traditional public schools either positively or negatively.” A number of studies since have found similarly murky results.

We can look at this another way. Using data from the Education Department, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, we looked at how charter school enrollment and educational achievement looked in nearly 30 states between 2005 and 2015.

The educational achievement data indicated the percentage of students in fourth or eighth grade who’d attained basic proficiency in math and reading. We compared the change in those four percentages with the national change from 2005 to 2015. Then, we cross-referenced those changes with the increase in charter school student enrollment as a percentage of public school enrollment. (In other words, if there were 10 charter and 20 public school students in 2005 and 15 charter and 25 public in 2015, the percent change was from 50 percent to 60 percent — an increase of 10 percentage points.)

Overall, the correlation was small, meaning that you couldn’t predict an increase in achievement in math and reading proficiency based on the increase in charter school enrollment. The strongest link was in eighth-grade reading scores

 

 

(click here to continue reading Why it was so easy for ’60 Minutes’ to rebut Betsy DeVos’s charter-school arguments – The Washington Post.)

She is just another Trumpian demon, intent upon dismantling the America we know so that Trump can become dictator-for-life. 

Written by Seth Anderson

March 12th, 2018 at 10:10 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with ,

The Case of Russian Gun Lovers, the NRA, and Donald Trump

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It Might Rain Money It Might Rain Fire
It Might Rain Money It Might Rain Fire

The NRA has been receiving sketchy money from unknowable sources, like Russia, ever since the Citizens United decision opened up the dark money spigots. Did some of that Russian money work its way into the Trump 2016 campaign? Probably, and no doubt Mueller is investigating, but we don’t know for certain. Did some Russian money also end up in other Republican coffers? Probably. Traitors. Send them to Gitmo…

Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy first reported a few months ago:

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.

However, the NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump – triple what the group devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Most of that was money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.

Two people with close connections to the powerful gun lobby said its total election spending actually approached or exceeded $70 million. The reporting gap could be explained by the fact that independent groups are not required to reveal how much they spend on Internet ads or field operations, including get-out-the-vote efforts.

 

(click here to continue reading FBI investigating whether Russia funneled cash to NRA to aid Trump’s campaign | McClatchy Washington Bureau.)

Strange. In our lifetimes, Republicans have gone from being pro-law enforcement, and anti-Russia to the exact opposite. Power corrupts, as the cliché goes.

First Stop Guns
First Stop Guns

Continuing to explore the subject, Denise Clifton and Mark Follman write in Mother Jones:

For more than a year now, reports have trickled out about deepening ties among prominent members of the National Rifle Association, conservative Republicans, a budding gun-rights movement in Russia—and their convergence in the Trump campaign.

Now attention is focused around a middle-aged Russian central bank official and a photogenic young gun activist from Siberia who share several passions: posing with assault rifles, making connections with Republican presidential candidates, and publicizing their travels between Moscow and America on social media. Alexander Torshin and his protégé Maria Butina also share an extraordinary status with America’s largest gun lobbying group, according to Torshin: “Today in NRA (USA) I know only 2 people from the Russian Federation with the status of ‘Life Member’: Maria Butina and I,” he tweeted the day after Donald Trump was elected president.

Of particular interest are their overtures to Trump. Butina asked him straight-up at a campaign event about the future of “damaging” sanctions against Russia. Torshin twice tried to meet with Trump, according to the New York Times, and did meet with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event. Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee has heard sworn testimony about possible Kremlin “infiltration” of the NRA and other conservative groups. And the FBI reportedly is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign through the NRA—which backed Trump with a record $30 million.

(click here to continue reading The Very Strange Case of Two Russian Gun Lovers, the NRA, and Donald Trump – Mother Jones.)

A bit more background:

 

A conservative operative trumpeting his close ties to the National Rifle Association and Russia told a Trump campaign adviser last year that he could arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald J. Trump and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, according to an email sent to the Trump campaign.

 

A May 2016 email to the campaign adviser, Rick Dearborn, bore the subject line “Kremlin Connection.” In it, the N.R.A. member said he wanted the advice of Mr. Dearborn and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, then a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump and Mr. Dearborn’s longtime boss, about how to proceed in connecting the two leaders.

 

Russia, he wrote, was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S.” and would attempt to use the N.R.A.’s annual convention in Louisville, Ky., to make “ ‘first contact.’ ” The email, which was among a trove of campaign-related documents turned over to investigators on Capitol Hill, was described in detail to The New York Times.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Operative Offered Trump Campaign ‘Kremlin Connection’ Using N.R.A. Ties – The New York Times.)

Killing People Is Rude
Killing People Is Rude

and NPR earlier this month:

 

A prominent Kremlin-linked Russian politician has methodically cultivated ties with leaders of the National Rifle Association and documented efforts in real time over six years to leverage those connections and gain deeper access into American politics, NPR has learned.

 Russian politician Alexander Torshin said his ties to the NRA provided him access to Donald Trump — and the opportunity to serve as a foreign election observer in the United States during the 2012 election.

 Torshin is a prolific Twitter user, logging nearly 150,000 tweets, mostly in Russian, since his account was created in 2011. Previously obscured by language and sheer volume of tweets, Torshin has written numerous times about his connections with the NRA, of which he is a known paid lifetime member. NPR has translated a selection of those posts that document Torshin’s relationship to the group.

 These revelations come amid news that the FBI is investigating whether Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia, illegally funneled money to the NRA to assist the Trump campaign in 2016.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, told NPR this week that the committee’s members have asked relevant witnesses about the NRA through the course of their investigation.

“I can’t go into what we’ve been able to learn thus far on that issue. I can tell you it’s one of deep concern to me and to other members of the committee, that we get to the bottom of these allegations that the Russians may have sought to funnel money through the NRA,” Schiff said. “It would be negligent of us not to investigate.”

Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of research firm Fusion GPS, alluded to Torshin and the NRA during his closed-door testimony before the House intelligence committee in November.

“It appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA. And there is more than one explanation for why,” Simpson told lawmakers. “But I would say broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations. And they targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise, and they seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA.”

 

 

(click here to continue reading Depth Of Russian Politician’s Cultivation Of NRA Ties Revealed : NPR.)

Citizens United is the worst thing to happen to America democracy, even worse than gerrymandering. If foreign hostile nations can pour untraceable funds into our system of elections, democracy is not preserved.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 10th, 2018 at 9:39 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,

Democrats to unveil $1 trillion infrastructure plan, seek reversal of GOP tax cuts to finance it

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Jammed Up

Speaking of the Democrats alleged “lack of an agenda1, here’s one item that sounds good to me…

As the White House struggles to finance an ambitious infrastructure plan, Senate Democrats are proposing one alternative — albeit one unlikely to pass muster with President Trump: rolling back the recently passed Republican tax overhaul.

The proposal unveiled by Democratic leaders Wednesday would plow just over $1 trillion into a wide range of infrastructure needs, including $140 billion for roads and bridges, $115 billion for water and sewer infrastructure and $50 billion to rebuild schools.

The spending would be offset by clawing back two-thirds of the revenue lost in the Republican tax bill by reinstating a top income tax rate of 39.6 percent, restoring the individual alternative minimum tax, reversing cuts to the estate tax, and raising the corporate income tax from 21 percent to 25 percent.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview Tuesday that the plan sets up a stark contrast for voters ahead of the midterm elections.

“We believe overwhelmingly the American people will prefer building infrastructure and creating close to 15 million middle-class jobs than giving tax breaks for the wealthy,” he said.

(click here to continue reading Democrats to unveil $1 trillion infrastructure plan, seek reversal of GOP tax cuts to finance it – The Washington Post.)

We’ve long lamented about the lack of infrastructure investment in America. Whatever happened to our can-do attitude that built railroads where there were none, built the Hoover Dam, built the interstates, yadda yadda. The Koch Brothers and their minions would rather have the tax cuts, but the rest of us would rather have bridges that didn’t fall down and water supplies that don’t have lead.

Footnotes:
  1. which is an obviously false statement []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 8th, 2018 at 2:14 pm

2017 Seychelles meeting was effort to establish back channel to Kremlin

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Imperia Russian vodka
Imperia Russian vodka…

Speculated in the press for a while, but good to know that Mueller is catching up.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has gathered evidence that a secret meeting in Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin — apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter.

In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladi mir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations.

A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

(click here to continue reading Mueller gathers evidence that 2017 Seychelles meeting was effort to establish back channel to Kremlin – The Washington Post.)

One wonders why any incoming administration would need to have a back channel to the Kremlin? Enough that multiple efforts to set it up have been discovered1

Remember Erik Prince:

 

Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a security firm that became a symbol of U.S. abuses in Iraq after a series of incidents, including one in 2007 in which the company’s guards were accused — and later criminally convicted — of killing civilians in a crowded Iraqi square. Prince sold the firm, which was subsequently re-branded, but has continued building a private paramilitary empire with contracts across the Middle East and Asia. He now heads a Hong Kong-based company known as the Frontier Services Group.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel – The Washington Post.)

225 W Randolph St Cyanotype
225 W Randolph St Cyanotype

Jared “dimpled slumlord” Kushner also tried to setup a back channel to the Kremlin, using the Russian embassy’s secure facilities. Strange, no?

 

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

 

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

 

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The State Department, the White House National Security Council and U.S. intelligence agencies all have the ability to set up secure communications channels with foreign leaders, though doing so for a transition team would be unusual.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin – The Washington Post.)

Why not have normal diplomatic communications with a supposedly hostile nation? What do the Trumpsters have to conceal about their relationships with Putin and the Kremlin? Why all the secrecy? 

Exc Corpse Notify
Exc Corpse Notify

And there was that weird computer server that connected Trump Tower to Alfa Bank for a still unexplained reason:

 

In late July, one of these scientists—who asked to be referred to as Tea Leaves, a pseudonym that would protect his relationship with the networks and banks that employ him to sift their data—found what looked like malware emanating from Russia. The destination domain had Trump in its name, which of course attracted Tea Leaves’ attention. But his discovery of the data was pure happenstance—a surprising needle in a large haystack of DNS lookups on his screen. “I have an outlier here that connects to Russia in a strange way,” he wrote in his notes. He couldn’t quite figure it out at first. But what he saw was a bank in Moscow that kept irregularly pinging a server registered to the Trump Organization on Fifth Avenue.

 

More data was needed, so he began carefully keeping logs of the Trump server’s DNS activity. As he collected the logs, he would circulate them in periodic batches to colleagues in the cybersecurity world. Six of them began scrutinizing them for clues.

The researchers quickly dismissed their initial fear that the logs represented a malware attack. The communication wasn’t the work of bots. The irregular pattern of server lookups actually resembled the pattern of human conversation—conversations that began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow. It dawned on the researchers that this wasn’t an attack, but a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank.

The researchers had initially stumbled in their diagnosis because of the odd configuration of Trump’s server. “I’ve never seen a server set up like that,” says Christopher Davis, who runs the cybersecurity firm HYAS InfoSec Inc. and won a FBI Director Award for Excellence for his work tracking down the authors of one of the world’s nastiest botnet attacks. “It looked weird, and it didn’t pass the sniff test.” The server was first registered to Trump’s business in 2009 and was set up to run consumer marketing campaigns. It had a history of sending mass emails on behalf of Trump-branded properties and products. Researchers were ultimately convinced that the server indeed belonged to Trump. (Click here to see the server’s registration record.) But now this capacious server handled a strangely small load of traffic, such a small load that it would be hard for a company to justify the expense and trouble it would take to maintain it. “I get more mail in a day than the server handled,” Davis says.

Earlier this month, the group of computer scientists passed the logs to Paul Vixie. In the world of DNS experts, there’s no higher authority. Vixie wrote central strands of the DNS code that makes the internet work. After studying the logs, he concluded, “The parties were communicating in a secretive fashion. The operative word is secretive. This is more akin to what criminal syndicates do if they are putting together a project.” Put differently, the logs suggested that Trump and Alfa had configured something like a digital hotline connecting the two entities, shutting out the rest of the world, and designed to obscure its own existence. Over the summer, the scientists observed the communications trail from a distance.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Was a server registered to the Trump Organization communicating with Russia’s Alfa Bank?.)

Footnotes:
  1. or alleged, or whatever []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 8th, 2018 at 10:19 am

Trump and Corruption

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What Are You Hiding Trump
What Are You Hiding, Trump?

If one had paid attention to Donald Trump over the years, either as a running joke, or as an example of crony capitalism run amok, one would have noticed his frequent skirting of ethical norms. I’ve always considered Trump to be a wanna-be gangster. Everything is permitted, as long as Donnie gets his beak wet. Sadly, in the 2016 election, Trump and his enablers were able to switch media focus onto other shiny objects: Hillary Clinton’s emails, “economic nationalism”, sexual misconduct and so forth. There could have been a thousand television segments aired in 2016 about Trump’s corrupt business practices in Panama, Vancouver, the Republic of Georgia, and wherever else, instead Trump was allowed to call in by telephone, guide the conversation, and get thousands of hours of free media coverage.

Trump has always been a swamp dweller, Bannon’s “Drain the Swamp” branding was ironic, but never based in reality. The Trump White House is filled with ethically challenged corrupt people of all levels of mendacity.

Anyway, can’t go backward. 

Ben Smith writes about Trump and Trump’s love of corruption…

When Donald Trump was elected, reporters and editors all over sat down to think through the possible reporting tracks on the Trump presidency: There was his new populist movement, his personality and family, his policy plans.

And then there was the corruption beat: Trump had a long history of enriching himself at taxpayers’ expense, and he and his circle did not come out of a tradition that knew the meaning of the term public service.

But a year ago, there was no reporting to do on the corruption story for a simple reason: The Trump administration hadn’t been around long enough.

Well, now it’s been around long enough.

And in recent weeks there has been an escalating series of stories about self-dealing, money flowing to cronies, and high-stakes policy decisions impossibly tangled with personal wealth. What Trump and his critics appear not to have realized is that this — not conspiracies, porn actresses, or divisive comments — is the starkest threat to his presidency.

That is another way of saying that what we typically call corruption isn’t a criminal matter. It’s a political one.

This is an axiom of politics: You can get away with horrible policy, bad leadership, and complicated conflicts of interest. But when you’re caught doing something easier to explain — sexually harassing staffers or stealing even modest amounts of money — you’re announcing your resignation.

Former Rep. Aaron Schock, for instance, is still fighting corruption charges — but his Downton Abbey–styled office made the appearance of corruption too easy to fight. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. blew campaign funds on a Rolex, fur coats, and Bruce Lee memorabilia, and went to jail without even stealing any public funds. And while former secretary Tom Price dodged concerns about insider trading that could have been worth millions of dollars, expensive plane travel — mere thousands! — ended his career.

(click here to continue reading The Real Threat To Trump Isn’t Russia, Racism, Or Incompetence. It’s Corruption..)

Adam Davidson of The New Yorker:

 

Several news accounts have confirmed that Mueller has indeed begun to examine Trump’s real-estate deals and other business dealings, including some that have no obvious link to Russia. But this is hardly wayward. It would be impossible to gain a full understanding of the various points of contact between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign without scrutinizing many of the deals that Trump has made in the past decade. Trump-branded buildings in Toronto and the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan were developed in association with people who have connections to the Kremlin.

Other real-estate partners of the Trump Organization—in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere—are now caught up in corruption probes, and, collectively, they suggest that the company had a pattern of working with partners who exploited their proximity to political power.

One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a Trump Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as “red flags” for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump. (Sekulow said that “the Georgia real-estate deal is something we would consider out of scope,” adding, “Georgia is not Russia.”)

 

 

(click here to continue reading Trump’s Business of Corruption | The New Yorker.)

Trump Tax Chicken
Trump Tax Chicken

Matthew Yglesias of Vox:

 

The reality of Trump’s presidency has been just the reverse.

 

There is nothing blind about his finances — his business empire is merely managed on a day-to-day basis by his adult sons, with whom he is in regular contact and who also work as leading members of his political operation.

 

His daughter and son-in-law serve as high-ranking officials in the White House, he operates a hotel in the nation’s capital that serves as an informal headquarters for his administration, and he spends a majority of his weekends at his private resorts in Florida, Virginia, and New Jersey.

 

Some of the grifting that results from this is almost comical, as in the periodic stories about the Secret Service spending thousands of dollars at a time renting golf carts from clubs that the president owns.

 

But lining his pockets with vast sums of public money is the least of the problems with Trump’s conduct in this regard. The real issue is that by joining one of Trump’s private clubs, wealthy individuals are putting cash directly in the president’s pocket while also gaining access to him. Trump seems to regularly — and quite openly — poll Mar-a-Lago members for their thoughts on the issues of the day. But it’s also an opportunity for more subtle lobbying in unprecedented ways.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Trump’s corruption deserves to be a central issue in the 2018 midterms – Vox.)

It Pays to Play
It Pays to Play

and

 

An early Trump administration controversy that now seems almost quaint came when presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway used a television news appearance from the White House grounds to tout Ivanka Trump’s shoe brand. It wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but this kind of low-level legal violation keeps happening in the Trump era, right up to an apparent Hatch Act violation from Jared Kushner as he touted Brad Parscale’s appointment as campaign manager of the Trump 2020 reelection bid.

 

But the list gets longer and contains more serious violations:

 

US intelligence agencies have reports of multiple foreign governments discussing ways to use Kushner’s business interests to compromise his work for the federal government.

This week, four political appointees at the Commerce Department lost their jobs after they flunked background checks.

Even as Ben Carson’s tenure at the Department of Housing and Urban Development was facing an inspector general investigation over improper involvement of the Carson family in public business, Carson apparently demoted a career staffer after she objected to his plan to spend $31,000 on a dining set for his office.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was caught improperly accepting Wimbledon tickets and charging the public for his wife’s travel.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is flying first-class at public expense so he could avoid having unpleasant interactions with fellow passengers. T

hese kinds of problems will only grow worse the longer Trump’s own conflicts of interests are permitted to go unabated. Maintaining a high standard of ethical conduct across a sprawling bureaucracy overseen by dozens of political appointees is genuinely challenging, even when elected officials are trying to do it.

 

When the president of the United States doesn’t care about ethics and the predominant attitude of his co-partisans in Congress is that ignorance is bliss, corruption will grow like mushrooms in the shade.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Trump’s corruption deserves to be a central issue in the 2018 midterms – Vox.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 6th, 2018 at 11:13 am

Kremlin Blocked Romney As Trump’s Secretary Of State, Requested Tillerson Instead

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Mitt Zombie  900 W Randolph
Mitt Zombie – 900 W Randolph

Wow! Hope Mueller’s team has good evidence of this explosive claim because that’s cray-cray!

One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.

As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it. In a humiliating public spectacle, Trump dangled the post before Romney until early December, then rejected him. There are plenty of domestic political reasons that Trump may have turned against Romney. Trump loyalists, for instance, noted Romney’s public opposition to Trump during the campaign. Roger Stone, the longtime Trump aide, has suggested that Trump was vengefully tormenting Romney, and had never seriously considered him. (Romney declined to comment. The White House said that he was never a first choice for the role and declined to comment about any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.) In any case, on December 13, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, the job. The choice was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson’s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm. (In 2011, he brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft.) After the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in retaliation for its interference, but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting them.

(click here to continue reading Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier | The New Yorker.)

This entire Jane Mayer piece is worth reading, twice, so go ahead and read it now.

No Puppet No Puppet
No Puppet! No Puppet!

Written by Seth Anderson

March 5th, 2018 at 10:22 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , , ,

Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier

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Forgive Yourself Trump Tower

Jane Mayer has written a deep dive into Christopher Steele and infamous dossier. We should all study it. I trust someone on Mueller’s team has a subscription to The New Yorker…

The dossier painted a damning picture of collusion between Trump and Russia, suggesting that his campaign had “accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It also alleged that Russian officials had been “cultivating” Trump as an asset for five years, and had obtained leverage over him, in part by recording videos of him while he engaged in compromising sexual acts, including consorting with Moscow prostitutes who, at his request, urinated on a bed.

In the spring of 2016, Orbis Business Intelligence—a small investigative-research firm that Steele and a partner had founded, in 2009, after leaving M.I.6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service—had agreed to do opposition research on Trump’s murky relationship with Russia. Under the arrangement, Orbis was a subcontractor working for Fusion GPS, a private research firm in Washington. Fusion, in turn, had been contracted by a law firm, Perkins Coie, which represented both Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Several months after Steele signed the deal, he learned that, through this chain, his research was being jointly subsidized by the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. In all, Steele was paid a hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars for his work.

Steele had spent more than twenty years in M.I.6, most of it focussing on Russia. For three years, in the nineties, he spied in Moscow under diplomatic cover. Between 2006 and 2009, he ran the service’s Russia desk, at its headquarters, in London. He was fluent in Russian, and widely considered to be an expert on the country. He’d also advised on nation-building in Iraq. As a British citizen, however, he was not especially knowledgeable about American politics. Peter Fritsch, a co-founder at Fusion who has worked closely with Steele, said of him, “He’s a career public-service officer, and in England civil servants haven’t been drawn into politics in quite the same way they have here. He’s a little naïve about the public square.”

And so Steele, on that January night, was stunned to learn that U.S. politicians were calling him a criminal. He told Christopher Burrows, with whom he co-founded Orbis, that the sensation was “a feeling like vertigo.” Burrows, in his first public interview on the dossier controversy, recalled Steele telling him, “You have this thudding headache—you can’t think straight, you have no appetite, you feel ill.” Steele compared it to the disorientation that he had felt in 2009, when his first wife, Laura, had died, after a long illness, leaving him to care for their three young children.

(click here to continue reading Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier | The New Yorker.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 5th, 2018 at 9:30 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

The Mitt-Hawley Fallacy and Trade Wars

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F Trade
F Trade…

Since we discussed tariffs earlier, it is only fair to note that Dr. Paul Krugman disagrees with the premise that the Smoot-Hawley tariff act was a cause of the Great Depression, and with the idea that tariffs are by themselves a bad thing…

protectionism in general should reduce efficiency, and hence the economy’s potential output. But that’s not at all the same as saying that it causes recessions.

But didn’t the Smoot-Hawley tariff cause the Great Depression? No. There’s no evidence at all that it did. Yes, trade fell a lot between 1929 and 1933, but that was almost entirely a consequence of the Depression, not a cause. (Trade actually fell faster during the early stages of the 2008 Great Recession than it did after 1929.) And while trade barriers were higher in the 1930s than before, this was partly a response to the Depression, partly a consequence of deflation, which made specific tariffs (i.e., tariffs that are stated in dollars per unit, not as a percentage of value) loom larger.

(click here to continue reading The Mitt-Hawley Fallacy – The New York Times.)

The Trade Union Vow
The Trade Union Vow

…and on the Lord Little Hands Dotardo’s tariff threats in general:

 So what will happen when the Trump tariffs come?

 There will be retaliation, big time. When it comes to trade, America is not that much of a superpower — China is also a huge player, and the European Union is bigger still. They will respond in kind, targeting vulnerable U.S. sectors like aircraft and agriculture.

And retaliation isn’t the whole story; there’s also emulation. Once America decides that the rules don’t apply, world trade will become a free-for-all.

Will this cause a global recession? Probably not — those risks are, I think, exaggerated. No, protectionism didn’t cause the Great Depression.

What the coming trade war will do, however, is cause a lot of disruption. Today’s world economy is built around “value chains” that spread across borders: your car or your smartphone contain components manufactured in many countries, then assembled or modified in many more. A trade war would force a drastic shortening of those chains, and quite a few U.S. manufacturing operations would end up being big losers, just as happened when global trade surged in the past.

An old joke tells of a motorist who runs over a pedestrian, then tries to fix the damage by backing up — and runs over the victim a second time. Well, the effects of the Trumpist trade war on U.S. workers will be a lot like that.

 

(click here to continue reading And the Trade War Came – The New York Times.)

Emphasis mine.

Hmmm, so maybe I shouldn’t lay awake worrying about the upcoming conflagration? That Trump is not trying to sabotage the world economy so that totalitarian governments will rise around the world? I suppose we’ll see for ourselves, if Trump even follows through with his trade threats.

One Chromosome Too Many
One Chromosome Too Many

 

Trump has threatened to withdraw NAFTA pact since the 2016 campaign, saying the 24-year-old deal allowed manufacturers to relocate to Mexico and take advantage of cheaper labor. Even a number of Democrats have said NAFTA should be reworked, but Canada and Mexico have resisted Trump’s strong-arm tactics.

 

And a number of GOP lawmakers are apoplectic about what would happen if Trump withdrew from NAFTA, warning it could devastate the U.S. agriculture industry.

 

Tying NAFTA to the steel and aluminum tariffs shows that Trump is trying to use his new trade gambit as leverage, though it’s unclear if it will work.

 

Trump on Thursday surprised much of Washington — and his own staff — by announcing that he would impose a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. A formal announcement is expected this week or next. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and top trade adviser Peter Navarro are both supportive of the tariffs, but even they were hard pressed to explain how the new restrictions would work.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Trump says Canada and Mexico will only escape new tariffs after NAFTA concessions – The Washington Post.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 5th, 2018 at 8:53 am

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with , ,

Dan Lipinski is a horrible Democrat, and deserves to lose in the primary

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Bipartisanship Is An Anachronism
Bipartisanship Is An Anachronism

Dan Lipinski is a horrible Democrat, and deserves to lose in the primary.

As the midterm election season gets underway with races in Texas on Tuesday and Illinois on March 20, contests like this one illustrate the turmoil of the Trump-era Democratic Party. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to take back control of the House and are hoping a surge of grass-roots energy, activism and fund-raising at levels unseen since the rise of Barack Obama can help play a crucial role.

Yet the backlash to President Trump’s divisive politics has also fueled a demand by the party’s progressive wing for ideological purity and more diverse representation, a tension that could reshape what it means to be a Democrat.

“This is part of the reason Donald Trump won,” Mr. Lipinski said in an interview, adding, “Democrats have chased people out of the party.”

(click here to continue reading As Primaries Begin, Divided Voters Weigh What It Means to Be a Democrat – The New York Times.)

I would strongly disagree with this spin. First, Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes1. He won the Electoral College because of gerrymandered districts, and via the stripping of many’s people right to vote using tools like Cross Check, and maybe with the aid of Russian hackers penetrating our electronic voting systems.

Second, fake Democrats like Dan Lipinski are also why Trump won. If the perception is that there is little to no difference between Democrats and Republicans, voters don’t come out to vote, because their vote doesn’t matter in terms of policy. The truth is there is more of a difference between Maxine Waters and Dan Lipinski than there is between Lipinski and his soul brother, Paul Ryan. If the Democratic party had less Lipinski types and more Jan Schakowsky types, voters would have a clear choice and would be more enthusiastic. For all the talk about the Democratic Party and its lack of clear ideas, the Dems do have a platform: $15/hour minimum wage, universal access to quality healthcare, reducing income inequality by taxing the 1% and corporations more, marriage equality, reproductive rights, cannabis law reform as part of a larger justice reform, participation in the Kyoto Accord, and a general belief that facts matter, science is not faith-based, etc. etc.

Dan Lipiniski voted against the Affordable Care Act, against the Equality Act, against the Dream Act, and is a staunch anti-abortionist. The only issue I know of where the Democratic Party and Lipinski overlap is with labor unions, and I strongly suspect Lipinski’s support for collective bargaining rights is more about the money he reliably collects from union bosses rather than ideological support.

But it is Mr. Lipinski who is testing just how much today’s voters in the Democratic primary contest are willing to accept in a safe seat. In addition to his deviation from orthodoxy on abortion and gay rights, he also opposed the Affordable Care Act and until recently did not support a $15 minimum wage or offering legal status to children brought to the country illegally.

“I am running with the district. I’m not voting against the district,” Ms. Newman said.

Mr. Lipinski, who makes no apology for opposing the health law, has embraced donations from anti-abortion Republicans helping fund a “super PAC” in his favor and says it is Ms. Newman’s ardent support for abortion rights that is “extreme” for the district.

 

Footnotes:
  1. 2,868,691 to be precise []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 4th, 2018 at 9:15 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

Trade wars: Tariffs on bourbon, Harleys and blue jeans

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Col Sanders Day 1995
Col Sanders Day 1995

This does make me a bit nervous about the economic near-future of the US. We can hope that Trump chickens out again, letting one of his lackeys claim that Trump never meant to impose tariffs, but I’m not sanguine this Trump-train won’t keep steaming until we reach 1930s-era economics. After all, the rise of totalitarian governments soon followed in those times, perhaps Trump1 has a plan for emulation.

President Donald Trump declared Friday that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

But European Union officials are already planning retaliatory actions, targeting products from politically sensitive Republican-run states, including the imposition of tariffs on Harley-Davidsons made in Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin; duties on bourbon made in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky; and duties on orange juice from Florida, a critical swing state.

“We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans — Levis,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told German television. Commissioners from the EU’s 28 member countries plan to discuss the countermeasures on Wednesday.

Across the globe, Trump’s plan to impose a 25 percent duty on steel and a 10 percent duty on aluminum imports would alienate dozens of countries in Europe, North America and Asia, many of them longtime allies and trading partners, who could turn the tables by targeting key U.S. sectors such as agriculture and aircraft, based in states that elected him and fellow Republicans.

(click here to continue reading Trade wars: Tariffs on bourbon, Harleys and blue jeans – POLITICO.)

We can also take heart that perhaps the long-term effect of Trump nuking the world economy will drive historically GOP friendly corporations away from the Republican Party, sectors like agribusiness, automotive, manufacturing and the like.

Polishing
Polishing

Also amused at these targeted tariffs, that’s fairly clever, make the states that vote in these Republican monsters pay an economic price for their negligence and enabling behavior. 

Orange You Glad This Isn t A Banana
Orange You Glad This Isn’t A Banana?

Anyway, Hawley and Smoot, authors of the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill, don’t have many bridges or post offices named after them…

 

Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot have haunted Congress since the 1930s when they were the architects of the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill, among the most decried pieces of legislation in US history and a bill blamed by some for not only for triggering the Great Depression but also contributing to the start of the second world war.

 

Pilloried even in their own time, their bloodied names have been brought out like Jacob Marley’s ghost every time America has taken a protectionist turn on trade policy. And America has certainly taken a protectionist turn.

Hawley, an Oregon congressman and a professor of history and economics, became a stock figure in the textbooks of his successors thanks to his partnership with the lean, patrician figure of Senator Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle known as the “sugar senator” for his protectionist stance towards Utah’s sugar beet industry.

Before he was shackled to Hawley for eternity Smoot was more famous for his Mormonism and his abhorrence of bawdy books, a disgust that inspired the immortal headline “Smoot Smites Smut” after he attacked the importation of Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, Robert Burns’ more risqué poems and similar texts as “worse than opium … I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books.”

But it was imports of another kind that secured Smoot and Hawley’s place in infamy.

The US economy was doing well in the 1920s as the consumer society was being born to the sound of jazz. The Tariff Act began life largely as a politically motivated response to appease the agricultural lobby that had fallen behind as American workers, and money, consolidated in the cities.

 …

Hawley started the bill but with Smoot behind him it metastasized as lobby groups shoehorned their products into the bill, eventually proposing higher tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods.

Siren voices warned of dire consequences. Henry Ford reportedly told Hoover the bill was “an economic stupidity”.

Critics of the tariffs were being aided and abetted by “internationalists” willing to “betray American interests”, said Smoot. Reports claiming the bill would harm the US economy were decried as fake news. Republican Frank Crowther, dismissed press criticism as “demagoguery and untruth, scandalous untruth”.

In October 1929 as the Senate debated the tariff bill the stock market crashed. When the bill finally made it to Hoover’s desk in June 1930 it had morphed from his original “limited” plan to the “highest rates ever known”, according to a New York Times editorial.

The extent to which Smoot and Hawley were to blame for the coming Great Depression is still a matter of debate. “Ask a thousand economists and you will get a thousand and five answers,” said Charles Geisst, professor of economics at Manhattan College and author of Wall Street: A History.

What is apparent is that the bill sparked international outrage and a backlash. Canada and Europe reacted with a wave of protectionist tariffs that deepened a global depression that presaged the rise of Hitler and the second world war. A myriad other factors contributed to the Depression, and to the second world war, but inarguably one consequence of Smoot-Hawley in the US was that never again would a sitting US president be so avowedly anti-trade. Until today.

 

(click here to continue reading Anyone, anyone? What happened when the US last introduced tariffs | US news | The Guardian.)

Dusty bottle of Old Kentucky Tavern
Dusty bottle of Old Kentucky Tavern

Footnotes:
  1. or someone wormtonguing Trump’s ear []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 3rd, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Business,government,politics

Tagged with ,

Kushner’s Family Business Received Loans After White House Meetings

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225 W Randolph St
225 W Randolph St is owned by Kushner Co’s.

Speaking of the dimpled slumlord, Jared Kushner, apparently he is his father-in-law’s favorite for a reason: corruption comes as easily as breathing…

Early last year, a private equity billionaire started paying regular visits to the White House.

Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, was advising Trump administration officials on infrastructure policy. During that period, he met on multiple occasions with Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said three people familiar with the meetings. Among other things, the two men discussed a possible White House job for Mr. Harris.

The job never materialized, but in November, Apollo lent $184 million to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies. The loan was to refinance the mortgage on a Chicago skyscraper.

Even by the standards of Apollo, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the previously unreported transaction with the Kushners was a big deal: It was triple the size of the average property loan made by Apollo’s real estate lending arm, securities filings show.

It was one of the largest loans Kushner Companies received last year. An even larger loan came from Citigroup, which lent the firm and one of its partners $325 million to help finance a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.

(click here to continue reading Kushner’s Family Business Received Loans After White House Meetings – The New York Times.)

For the record, I walked by 225 W. Randolph today, currently the regional headquarters of AT&T, leased from Kushner, and the building looked pretty run-down from the outside.

Slightly Run Down Entrance to 225 W Randolph
Slightly Run Down Entrance to 225 W Randolph

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post adds:

 

“Kushner represents a total failure in every possible dimension,” says ethics guru Norm Eisen. “His appointment was a violation of the federal anti-nepotism statute. We now know that he has the worst ethics and conflicts issues of anyone in the administration with the possible exception of his father-in-law. He could not even fill out his financial disclosures and security clearance forms properly, with dozens of amendments being required.” He adds, “His contacts with the Russians and other foreign governments are deeply problematic. His security clearance has been downgraded to the level of a White House intern, making it impossible for him to do the jobs for which he is purportedly there. He must go before he does any more damage.”

 

News this week that Kushner received jumbo loans from two banks after meeting with Citigroup and Apollo Global Management highlights the risk he poses. How many other suspect meetings have been taken? What ones are planned? Kushner apparently has no appreciation for the appearance of conflicts of interest, let alone actual conflicts. Because he is so heavily indebted and still operates his real estate company, we cannot be sure whether performance of his White House duties are for his own benefit or the country’s. If he meets with a bank executive, or representatives of one of the four countries attempting to influence there is at the very least the appearance of corruption. And because Kushner’s portfolio is so broad it seems unlikely he wouldn’t inevitably make some decision that affects his own financial interests and/or those of his lenders.

 

All of this goes to the legal and ethical implications of his continued presence in the White House. However, the political ramifications are nearly as bad, It’s now painfully obvious he is there solely by nepotism and that the president knew or should have known about the security risks and conflicts Kushner brought with him. To allow him to remain simply reaffirms the president’s comfort level with ethical malfeasance. Just as keeping Rob Porter for so long signaled the White House really didn’t think spousal abuse was that big a deal, Trump’s retention of Kushner suggests that the president doesn’t much care if his inner circle is beholden to foreigners.

 

 

(click here to continue reading The Jared time bomb – The Washington Post.)

Don t Say I Never Warned You
Don’t Say I Never Warned You

From NBC:

 Federal investigators are scrutinizing whether any of Jared Kushner’s business discussions with foreigners during the presidential transition later shaped White House policies in ways designed to either benefit or retaliate against those he spoke with, according to witnesses and other people familiar with the investigation.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has asked witnesses about Kushner’s efforts to secure financing for his family’s real estate properties, focusing specifically on his discussions during the transition with individuals from Qatar and Turkey, as well as Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates, according to witnesses who have been interviewed as part of the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election.

Kushner’s family real estate business, Kushner Companies, approached Qatar multiple times, including last spring, about investing in the company’s troubled flagship property at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York, but the government-run sovereign wealth fund declined, according to two people familiar with the discussion. Another discussion of interest to Mueller’s team is a meeting Kushner held at Trump Tower during the transition in December 2016 with a former prime minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, or HBJ, according to people familiar with the meeting.

HBJ had been in talks with Kushner Companies about investing in its Fifth Avenue property, which is facing roughly $1.4 billion in debt that is due in 2019, these people said. Those talks with the company continued after Kushner entered the White House and stepped away from the business, but last spring HBJ decided against investing, these people said.

In the weeks after Kushner Companies’ talks with the Qatari government and HBJ collapsed, the White House strongly backed an economically punishing blockade against Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, citing the country’s support for terrorism as the impetus. Kushner, who is both President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a key adviser, has played a major role in Trump’s Middle East policy and has developed close relationships with the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

 Some top Qatari government officials believe the White House’s position on the blockade may have been a form of retaliation driven by Kushner who was sour about the failed deal.

 

(click here to continue reading Mueller team asking if Kushner foreign business ties influenced Trump policy – NBC News.)

Trump Eventually We Will Get Something Done
Trump: Eventually We Will Get Something Done

From Newsweek:

 

New York’s banking regulator has reportedly requested loan information about Jared Kushner, his family and real estate business Kushner Companies, from three banks including Deutsche Bank AG, which is steeped in another controversy involving the presidential adviser.

 

New York State’s Department of Financial Services last week sent letters to Deutsche Bank, Signature Bank and New York Community Bank requesting loan applications and processes, and information about the institutions’ relationships with Kushner and his business assets, a person familiar with the correspondence told Bloomberg in a report published Wednesday.

Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, took on more debt over the past year from lenders including Signature Bank and New York Community Bank, recent government disclosures show. The couple had unsecured lines of credit of $5 million to $25 million from each of the three banks, according to a disclosures filing from late December.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Jared Kushner’s Loans From Deutsche Bank, Other Lenders Sought by Banking Regulator: Report.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 2nd, 2018 at 8:16 pm

Kushner Cos. Claims Jared Is a Victim of Harassment

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Absent the Human Voice bleached
Absent the Human Voice… 

For your chuckle of the day, check out Bess Levin’s “Jared Kushner, dimpled slumlord” piece in Vanity Fair, which begins…

Though we can’t say for certain, in all likelihood, Jared Kushner spent the afternoon rocking back and forth in a fetal position under his desk, emitting soft moans that left White House aides frantically searching for what they assumed was a wounded animal loose in the building. After entering the West Wing last year with a slate of modest goals that included solving America’s opioid epidemic, bringing peace to the Middle East, overhauling I.T. infrastructure, and more or less “re-invent[ing] the entire government,” and rounding out his first year there with approximately zero of these items accomplished, the First Son-in-Law on Wednesday found his downpour of a week upgraded to a Category 5 shit-storm.

Within a 48-hour period, Kushner had his interim security clearance downgraded; learned that his P.R. guru is quitting; and was the subject of a mortifying article in The Washington Post alleging that officials in at least four countries have discussed ways to manipulate him “by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.” To cap things off, on Wednesday, multiple outlets reported that the New York Department of Financial Services has requested information from several banks “about their relationship with Kushner and his finances,” among them Signature Bank, New York Community Bank, and Deutsche Bank, the latter of which Kushner has been a client for years, and from which he and the First Daughter have unsecured lines of credit between $5 million and $25 million, while Kushner and his mother, Seryl, reportedly have an unsecured line of credit valued at up to $25 million. In December, The New York Times also reported that the Kushner family business, Kushner Companies, had received a $285 million loan from Deutsche in 2016, and that Jared had “ordered up a glowing profile of [executive Rosemary] Vrablic in the real-estate magazine he owned,” with a disclosure about their connection at the very end of the article. According to The Wall Street Journal, the inquiries are “expansive” and “comprehensive,” meaning the senior adviser to the president can expect the equivalent a full-body cavity search of his finances.

Obviously, it’s a situation the boy prince never expected to find himself in, given that his life thus far has primarily involved working at institutions run by his ex-con father or his father-in-law, where he was accustomed to never being told no. And speaking of Charles Kushner, who went to prison for, among other things, setting up his brother-in-law with a prostitute, taping the encounter, and sending it to his sister as retaliation for cooperating with the government, perhaps he’ll have some fatherly words of wisdom to impart re: the big house, should things progress to that point.

(click here to continue reading Kushner Cos. Claims Jared Is a Victim of “Harassment” | Vanity Fair.)

Jared Kushner has been a wormtongue to Trump for a long time. If he had any self awareness, or perhaps paid attention to the history of other Trump sycophants, Kushner might have been aware of what being in Trumpland inevitably leads to – debasement, humiliation, degradation, and even possible jail time. 

Sad! Jarvanka might not get the last laugh at Bannon’s expense after all…

That Is The Way It Goes
That Is The Way It Goes

The polite term for slumlord is predatory capitalist, but it doesn’t have quite the zing. And since I had to refresh my memory:

 

In a feature for ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine, journalist Alec MacGillis shined light on the role of Jared Kushner—son-in-law and close adviser to President Trump—as a real estate developer and landlord. In 2011 and 2012, seeking a stable source of revenue, Kushner and his partners purchased thousands of units of working-class housing in the inner-ring suburbs of cities like Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Their largest holdings are in Baltimore County, Maryland, where they control 15 complexes that house up to 20,000 people in total. And in managing these properties, reports MacGillis, Kushner is a harsh and unforgiving landlord.

 

Kushner’s company is relentless in its pursuit of “virtually any unpaid rent or broken lease—even in the numerous cases where the facts appear to be on the tenants’ side.” Residents are slapped with thousands of dollars in fees and penalties, even if they had previously won permission to terminate a lease. All of this is compounded by poor upkeep of facilities. MacGillis describes one family that has had to deal with mold, broken appliances, and physical damage to their unit—even after paying the management company for repairs. In one complex, a resident “had a mouse infestation that was severe enough that her 12-year-old daughter recently found one in her bed.” In another, raw sewage flowed into the apartment.

 

 

(click here to continue reading Jared Kushner’s life as a predatory capitalist..)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 28th, 2018 at 8:32 pm

Posted in humor,politics

Tagged with ,