The Evening Blues - 12-5-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features folk blues guitarist and storyteller Roy Book Binder. Enjoy!
Roy Book Binder - It Coulda Been Worse, Step Right Up, The Good Book
“But they can rule by fraud, and by fraud eventually acquire access to the tools they need to finish the job of killing off the Constitution.'
'What sort of tools?'
'More stringent security measures. Universal electronic surveillance. No-knock laws. Stop and frisk laws. Government inspection of first-class mail. Automatic fingerprinting, photographing, blood tests, and urinalysis of any person arrested before he is charged with a crime. A law making it unlawful to resist even unlawful arrest. Laws establishing detention camps for potential subversives. Gun control laws. Restrictions on travel. The assassinations, you see, establish the need for such laws in the public mind. Instead of realizing that there is a conspiracy, conducted by a handful of men, the people reason—or are manipulated into reasoning—that the entire population must have its freedom restricted in order to protect the leaders. The people agree that they themselves can't be trusted.”
-- Robert Anton Wilson
News and Opinion
The Trump Administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency. ...
“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.” ...
The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran. ... At the heart of the scheme being considered by the White House are Blackwater founder Erik Prince and his longtime associate, CIA veteran John R. Maguire, who currently works for the intelligence contractor Amyntor Group. Maguire also served on Trump’s transition team. Amyntor’s role was first reported by Buzzfeed News.
“[Maguire] said there were people inside the CIA who joined in the previous eight years [under Obama] and inside the government and they were failing to give the president the intelligence he needed,” said a person who was pitched by Maguire and other Amyntor personnel. To support his claim, Maguire told at least two people that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, in coordination with a top official at the National Security Agency, authorized surveillance of Steven Bannon and Trump family members, including Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. Adding to these unsubstantiated claims, Maguire told the potential donors he also had evidence H.R. McMaster used a burner phone to send information gathered through the surveillance to a facility in Cyprus owned by George Soros.
Amyntor employees took potential donors to a suite in the Trump Hotel in Washington, which they claimed was set up to conduct “secure communications.” Some White House staff and Trump campaign supporters came to refer to the suite as “the tinfoil room,” according to one person who visited the suite. This account was confirmed by another source to whom the room was described. “John [Maguire] was certain that the deep state was going to kick the president out of office within a year,” said a person who discussed it with Maguire. “These guys said they were protecting the president.”
Yemen's deposed former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed on Monday during clashes in the capital city of Sana’a, marking a dangerous new turn in the country’s civil war. Three days earlier, Saleh had turned against his Houthi rebel allies, switching sides in a conflict that has been raging for roughly three years. Saleh’s gambit failed, however, as the Houthis were reportedly able to quell the brief uprising led by his forces. ...
The Yemeni war has already become one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in the world, and the death of Saleh has the potential to make the conflict even worse. His brief turn against the Houthis and realignment with the Saudi-backed central government seemed to be part of a strategy by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the leaders of the United Arab Emirates to turn the tide of the war and isolate the rebels. The Saudis had publicly welcomed Saleh’s about-face, but any hope of a radical change in the balance of power in the conflict appears to have been terminated along with Saleh’s life.
It is unclear what the future now holds for Yemen. Yet, by all accounts, the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia taking place inside the country looks set to intensify.
China sent fighter jets over the seas bordering North Korea in recent days, a reaction to U.S. and South Korean forces amassed in the region for their annual joint military airborne drills.
Reconnaissance planes, fighter jets and an early warning and control aircraft were dispatched by the People’s Liberation Army on routes and in areas “never flown before,” military spokesman Shen Jinke said. He did not detail exactly when the flights took place. The aircraft, which flew over the Yellow and East seas close to the Korean Peninsula, were joined by surface-to-air missile units, Jinke added.
The People’s Liberation Army plans to make these military drills a regular feature of its training, as it seeks to safeguard the country’s strategic regional interests, Jinke said. “The timing of this high-profile announcement by the PLA is also a warning to Washington and Seoul not to provoke Pyongyang any further,” Beijing-based military expert Li Jie told the South China Morning Post.
An unpredictable leader with nuclear weapons is making Germans nervous.
More nervous than North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. And more than Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
It’s the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
A new poll found Germans twice as likely to call the United States under Trump their country’s biggest foreign policy challenge than to name either Russia or North Korea.
The survey by the Koerber Foundation found 19 percent called the U.S. their biggest global anxiety, followed by Turkey with 17 percent, North Korea at 10 percent and Russia at 8 percent. The only thing that scares Germans more than Trump is the flood of refugees that’s been pouring into Europe lately, which scored 26 percent.
Ukraine’s prosecutor general has called Mikheil Saakashvili a “fugitive from justice” after security service agents detained the former Georgian president at his Kiev apartment, only for him to escape into an angry crowd of supporters.
Yuri Lutsenko said allies of Saakashvili had taken money from a Russia-based oligarch to destabilise Ukraine, and gave Saakashvili until 9am on Wednesday to hand himself in to prosecutors and face questioning. Saakashvili dismissed the charges as politicised “lies”. Saakashvili, 49, was once an ally of the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, who gave him Ukrainian citizenship to allow him to become governor of Odessa region in 2015. The pair have since fallen out, with the feud playing out in the streets of Kiev.
Saakashvili’s game of cat and mouse with Ukrainian authorities began before dawn on Tuesday, when officers from the SBU security service entered his flat in central Kiev. He fled to the roof and threatened to jump, Ukrainian media reported. He was dragged down by masked security forces agents, but later there were clashes on the ground as supporters of Saakashvili blocked the van holding him from driving away. Teargas was used against protesters during the hour-long standoff after which Saakashvili was released from the van.
He led a group of supporters to parliament, where he gave a speech denouncing Poroshenko as a “traitor to Ukraine” and “the head of an organised crime gang”. He said Poroshenko’s government was “trying to get rid of a loud voice telling them they are thieves”. Lutsenko said Saakashvili’s activities in the country were funded by Sergei Kurchenko, an ally of the deposed president Viktor Yanukovych, who is in exile in Russia. Saakashvili dismissed this as nonsense: “There is no greater enemy of Putin in the post-Soviet space than Mikheil Saakashvili,” he said, insisting it was Poroshenko who was acting to benefit the Russian president.
Tuesday morning’s arrest was the latest chapter in the bizarre and incongruous recent biography of a man who was once considered the reformist hope of the post-Soviet region. It is also the latest episode in an increasingly bitter feud between the former Georgian leader and the current Ukrainian president.
Donald Trump appears to have missed a deadline for signing a waiver on a US law requiring its embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, in an act of brinkmanship over one of the Middle East’s most fraught issues. According to diplomats and Palestinians officials, the original deadline was expected to have fallen on Friday at midnight and was pushed to Monday. That deadline passed without an announcement after a White House official said no action would be taken on Monday.
Amid mounting anxiety over Trump’s intentions, the US president was facing a growing chorus of warnings over potential repercussions over a unilateral US decision regarding Jerusalem’s status.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, described the status of Jerusalem as a “red line” for Muslims that could lead to a severing of relations with Israel, while the European Union warned of possible “serious repercussions”.
Saudi Arabia – which has been enjoying a discreet warming of relations with Israel – cautioned against taking any step that would “obstruct the ongoing efforts to revive the peace process”.
Some reports suggest Trump may reluctantly announce the signing of the waiver in the coming days, others that he may also announce that he plans to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The latter would result in the Palestinian leadership “stopping contacts” with the US, a diplomatic adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas said.
U.S. President Donald Trump told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah that he plans to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Tuesday, according to Abbas' spokesman and Jordanian reports. Trump also called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and Saudi King Salman to inform them of the decision.
Trump will deliver remarks about his decision on whether to move the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv on Wednesday, the White House said Tuesday, adding that Trump is pretty solid in his thinking on the issue. Senior U.S. officials said Tuesday Trump is likely to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital while delaying relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv for another six months, though he is expected to order his aides to begin planning such a move immediately. The officials said, however, that no final decisions have been made.
Following the call, Abbas urged the Pope and the leaders of Russia, France and Jordan to intervene against Trump's declared intention to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Abbas's spokesman said.
A Spanish judge has lifted the extradition order on the former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and four former cabinet members who fled to Belgium to avoid charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. In a surprise move as campaigning officially began for this month’s Catalan election, supreme court judge Pablo Llarena withdrew European arrest warrants for the five, but national warrants still stand – meaning they would be likely to face arrest if they chose to return to Spain.
Puigdemont said after the supreme court decision he would stay in Belgium “for the moment”. Llarena said he had been moved to act after becoming aware of a discrepancy between Belgian and Spanish law that would limit the charges under which the Catalans could be extradited and therefore be charged on their return.
Sources in Brussels believe Puigdemont’s lawyer was preparing to argue that the definitions in Belgian law for the crimes of sedition and rebellion are different to those on the Spanish statute books. Extradition through the European arrest warrant in most cases requires “double criminality”, meaning the crimes must exist in the statutes of both countries. The only charge on which the Belgians would have agreed to extradition was believed to be the lesser one of misuse of public funds for which the accused would be fined and banned from holding public office but not imprisoned. ...
Llarena also said, somewhat mischievously, that since the five had “shown a willingness to return to Spain to assume elected office” there was no reason to pursue their extradition.
Headlining at Verizon Headquarters, FCC Chair Ajit Pai Dismisses Net Neutrality Defenders as 'Desperate'
Net neutrality advocates geared up for protests as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) head Ajit Pai headed to Verizon's headquarters in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to speak at an telecommunications policy event, days before a planned vote on net neutrality protections that's expected to benefit Verizon—Pai's former employer—and other internet service providers (ISPs).
"This is the kind of corruption that turns your stomach," said Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, of Pai's plan to speak at Verizon as he ignored his opponents' arguments. "Ajit Pai is an embarassment to his own party and under his leadership the FCC has made a mockery of our democratic process. With a rogue FCC commissioner blatantly captured by the industry he is supposed to provide oversight for, Congress must do their job and take action to stop the FCC vote on December 14."
The City of New York joined with internet freedom and consumer protection groups to send a letter (pdf) to Pai on Monday, urging him to delay the vote until after a pending court case regarding AT&T's throttling of their customers' mobile Internet connections. "Rushing to a vote before the Ninth Circuit resolves this decision cavalierly risks the purported safeguards that you and other supporters of the Draft Order have repeatedly declared will protect consumers from abusive or anti-competitive practices," read the letter.
Pai dismissed the concerns of the signers, releasing a statement calling the letter "evidence that supporters of heavy-handed Internet regulations are becoming more desperate by the day...The vote will proceed as scheduled on December 14." ... What Pai refers to as "heavy-handed regulations" are net neutrality rules which prevent ISPs including AT&T and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking content on the Internet. Without these rules, companies would be able to give preferential treatment to websites that pay extra fees to make it easier for users to view their content, relegating other sites to a "slow lane" where they would struggle to reach users.
Corporation meets free speech, decides against it.
In the wake of the multiple sexual harassment and abuse scandals across the globe, Facebook has been suspending women for “hate speech” against men after posting variations of the phrase “men are scum”. Despite Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg warning of a potential backlash against women as scandals rock companies and political institutions, the social network continues to ban women speaking out against men as a group.
New York-based standup comic Marcia Belsky was banned in October for 30 days from Facebook for posting “men are scum” as a comment on her friend Nicole Silverberg’s photo album detailing the abuse Silverberg had received after writing a list of ways men can treat women better on Twitter, which was later published by the Guardian. ...
Belsky is not alone in her censorship and bans by Facebook. Fellow comedian Kayla Avery says she routinely gets banned for comments such as “men are garbage fires”, “the worst”, “trash” and other derivatives. After several suspensions, Avery set up a community project called Facebook Jailed, highlighting the stories of those suffering similar bans for posting comments.
A private Facebook group of about 500 female comedians also got together on 24 November to stage a protest, posting derivatives of “men are scum” all at once. Nearly every woman who took part in the protest got banned by Facebook, according to the Daily Beast.
Britain’s opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Morgan Stanley that bankers are right to regard him as a threat because he wants to transform what he cast as a rigged economy that profits speculators at the expense of ordinary people. Morgan Stanley cautioned investors on Nov. 26 that political uncertainty in Britain was a bigger threat than Brexit given the risk of Corbyn winning power and then dismantling what was once seen as one of the world’s most stable free-market economies.
“Bankers like Morgan Stanley should not run our country but they think they do,” Corbyn, a 68-year-old socialist, said in a video posted on Twitter that showed the towers of the City of London and Canary Wharf financial districts. “So when they say we’re a threat, they’re right: We’re a threat to a damaging and failed system that is rigged for the few,” he said.
Morgan Stanley declined to comment.
Kept in power with the support of a small Northern Irish political party, Prime Minister Theresa May has just over a year to negotiate Britain’s divorce from the EU that will shape Britain’s prosperity and global influence for generations to come. Now many investors fear Corbyn, who was once dismissed by his own party as an out-of-touch peace campaigner with no hope of ever winning power, could win the top job if the political turmoil continues in London.
One senior executive at a top U.S. investment bank said that at a meeting in New York recently concerns over Corbyn trumped concerns about Brexit. “Their top concern was not what’s happening in Germany and Spain, or North Korea and Trump: their main concern was what’s happening in the UK and what Corbyn might mean for the country,” the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity said. “It’s like Cuba without the sun,” the executive said.
While Senate Republicans last week hashed out the details to pass a bill that would hike taxes for the middle class in order to slash them for corporations, House Republicans unveiled a higher education bill that would broadly reshape how the federal government pays for and regulates college — by cutting back on various student aid programs while also lifting current regulations that require for-profit colleges to meet certain thresholds to receive tax dollars.
Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Friday introduced the bill, titled the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform, or PROSPER, Act. Foxx, who chairs the committee, and Guthrie are the point people for House Republicans when it comes to higher education policy and will now start looking for co-sponsors for the bill, which has a long road to passage. ...
The bill would ... completely eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives student loans for borrowers who work for a nonprofit or in a state, local, or federal government job and make 120 qualifying monthly payments over a period of 10 years. More than half a million borrowers have utilized the program since 2007 to help them deal with student debt. Gregory Crespi, a Southern Methodist University law professor who studies the program told the ABA Journal that roughly a quarter of jobs in the U.S. economy would be considered public interest jobs. ...
University of Southern California Law School professor Michael Simkovic wrote in a blog post that he worries such caps could would be most beneficial to the private lending market. “These measures, if enacted, would be a boon to private student lenders like Sallie Mae, who would be able to both increase their prices and increase their market share as federal student loans become less competitive and less available,” Simkovic wrote. “Consequently, expected financing costs for students will likely increase, to the detriment of both students and educational institutions.”
After pretending for a brief moment in 2016 that the Republican Party stood for working people, the Republican-controlled Congress reverted back to trickle-down form on Friday when they passed a tax reform bill that overwhelmingly favored the rich. Not to be outdone, though, Senator Chuck Grassley made clear his disdain for those not benefiting under the new tax law.
“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies,” Grassley told the Register in a story posted yesterday.
It’s difficult to think of a more condescending, elitist worldview – that if you’re not ultra-wealthy, it’s clearly because you’re wasting all your money on alcohol, frivolous fun and prostitutes (I assume that’s what he meant when he said women). Certainly it couldn’t be because people are struggling to find decent-paying jobs, are saddled with debt from the college education they need to attain better jobs, or are paying outrageous sums for health insurance and medical bills. Nope, it must be because they’re all getting hand jobs from hookers in the back of a dark movie theater while downing a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
That’s also an interesting assumption that perhaps only the men in a household make and spend money.
If Grassley wanted to make an ideological economic argument, he could have – that conservatives believe that money invested into businesses by the rich is what drives growth, not spending by consumers – without also needlessly maligning the working class. Because it takes a certain kind of arrogance to assume that every person who isn’t as rich as you are got that way because they’re lazy or dumb or wasteful in their spending habits.
Meet the object of Chuck Grassley's ire. It's pretty heartbreaking. Fortunately for Grassley, he has no heart to break.
Millions of Americans are wrestling with the impossibility of a traditional middle-class existence. In homes across the country, kitchen tables are strewn with unpaid bills. Lights burn late into the night. The same calculations get performed again and again, through exhaustion and sometimes tears. Wages minus grocery receipts. Minus medical bills. Minus credit card debt. Minus utility fees. Minus student loan and car payments. Minus the biggest expense of all: rent. In the widening gap between credits and debits hangs a question: which bits of this life are you willing to give up, so you can keep on living?
During three years of research for my book, Nomadland: Surviving America in The Twenty-First Century, I spent time with hundreds of people who had arrived at the same answer. They gave up traditional housing and moved into “wheel estate”: RVs, travel trailers, vans, pickup campers, even a salvaged Prius and other sedans. For many, sacrificing some material comforts had allowed them to survive, while reclaiming a small measure of freedom and autonomy. But that didn’t mean life on the road was easy.
My first encounter with one group of the new nomads came in 2013, at the Desert Rose RV park in Fernley, Nevada. It was populated by members of the “precariat”: temporary laborers doing short-term jobs in exchange for low wages. Its citizens were full-time wanderers who dwelled in RVs and other vehicles, though at least one guy had only a tent to live in. Many were in their 60s and 70s, approaching or well into traditional retirement age. Most could not afford to stop working – or pay the rent. Since 2009, the year after the housing crash, groups of such workers had migrated each fall to the mobile home parks surrounding Fernley. Most had traveled hundreds of miles – and undergone the routine indignities of criminal background checks and pee-in-a-cup drug tests – for the chance to earn $11.50 an hour plus overtime at temporary warehouse jobs. They planned to stay through early winter, despite the fact that most of their homes on wheels weren’t designed to support life in subzero temperatures.
Their employer was Amazon.
Amazon recruited these workers as part of a program it calls CamperForce: a labor unit made up of nomads who work as seasonal employees at several of its warehouses, which the company calls “fulfillment centers”. While other employers also seek out this nomadic workforce – the available jobs range from campground maintenance to selling Christmas trees and running amusement park rides – Amazon has been the most aggressive recruiter. “Jeff Bezos has predicted that, by the year 2020, one out of every four work-campers – the RV- and vehicle-dwellers who travel the country for temporary work – in the United States will have worked for Amazon,” read one slide in a presentation for new hires. ...
Despite mounting pressures – including a nationwide crackdown on vehicle-dwelling – America’s modern-day nomads show great resilience. But how much of that toughness should our culture require for basic membership? And when do all the impossible choices start to tear people – a society – apart? The growing ranks of folks living on the road suggest the answer might be: much sooner than we think.
“As a mother myself, of three young children, I know how hard it is to work while raising a family. And I also know that I’m far more fortunate than most.” Those were the words of Ivanka Trump at the 2016 Republican national convention, moments before her father took the stage to accept his party’s nomination for president. Standing at the podium before a crowd of thousands in Cleveland, with millions more watching across America, Ivanka touted Donald Trump as a champion of working women while vowing to fight for gender equality “right alongside of him”. ...
But nearly one year into the Trump administration, Ivanka’s portfolio on a host of women’s economic issues – from paid family leave to equal pay and affordable child care – remains largely devoid of policy victories. Her efforts have mainly amounted to public advocacy, seemingly far remote from her father’s agenda.
Last week, her push for an expanded child tax credit paid minor dividends during the Senate debate over tax reform. But critics said her preferred approach to the issue would largely favor wealthy Americans, while an alternative that would have enabled more working families to receive the benefit was rebuffed by Republicans in Congress. “If her priority or her plan was to create and advance policies domestically and internationally that would advance women’s opportunity in the workplace, they haven’t come to fruition,” said Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.
Leading up to the tax vote, Ivanka was in India touting paid family leave plan that would require employers to offer six weeks of paid leave for new parents. Republicans meanwhile moved toward a far narrower proposal as part of their tax legislation, effectively ignoring a White House budget blueprint released in May that adopted Ivanka’s model.
With the GOP's tax plan moving ahead and the Obamacare fight in the rearview mirror, Republicans in Congress are setting their sights next on deregulating Wall Street. But unlike the previous battles, they can count on Democratic help in this fight.
They will also face an invigorated populist wing of the party. During the debate over whether to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Elizabeth Warren, not yet a senator, famously said at a crucial moment that her first choice was a strong agency, and her second was “no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”
She’ll get her chance Tuesday in the Senate Banking Committee. Warren was stymied from running the CFPB itself, lacking the votes to get Senate confirmation. So she now represents Massachusetts and has teed up 23 different amendments for a markup on S.2155, the “Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act.” The Orwellian-named bill would actually deregulate several parts of the financial sector and unravel consumer protections in a corrupt alliance between Republicans and pro-Wall Street Democrats.
The amendments offer a stark choice between gift-giving to some of the largest banks in America and maintaining regulatory standards to prevent taxpayer bailouts and runaway financialization. Democratic aides characterize S.2155 as the next wave of corporate largesse after last week’s passage of a tax overhaul, with next to nothing for consumers, despite the bill title. If some conservative Democrats want to ally with Republicans on this effort, Warren wants to make sure everybody knows their names and their priorities.
Four Democrats — Banking Committee members Joe Donnelly, Ind.; Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.; Jon Tester, Mont.; and Mark Warner, Va. — negotiated S.2155 with Republican leaders. In all, 10 Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, giving it enough support to break a Senate filibuster if all Republicans sign on. That makes the deregulatory effort more than theoretical; it’s a real risk to pass.
Since Donald Trump won the presidency, concerns about whether Russia played a hidden role in the 2016 election have simmered, and lawmakers have warned about the prospect of stealth foreign influence over American politics. But data compiled by International Business Times and MapLight show that foreign influence is hardly confined to the shadows. It’s a big, open, bipartisan business, with foreign government lobbyists delivering millions of dollars of campaign cash to elected officials in Washington.
In all, during the last election, those lobbyists gave more than $4.5 million to federal lawmakers and candidates. Foreign lobbyists and their firms’ political action committees were also responsible for packaging a total of $5.9 million in donations for candidates and party committees, through an influence-enhancing tactic known as “bundling.”
Because the donations come from foreign governments’ U.S.-based lobbyists, they effectively circumvent American laws designed to bar direct foreign donations. Under federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to any federal, state, or local campaigns, or political parties. But foreign governments frequently hire U.S. citizens to represent their interests, and those people face no such contribution ban. ...
Top foreign lobbying firms have been ensnared by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian influence on American elections. For instance: Mercury Public Affairs, a bipartisan lobbying firm, has been subpoenaed about its work with one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on behalf of a Ukrainian political party allied with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta -- who is the brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta -- resigned from his lobbying firm after Mueller’s indictment of Manafort alluded to the firm’s work for the same Ukrainian interests. Lobbying records show Podesta’s firm was also hired to represent Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. Podesta -- whose firm represented at least a dozen foreign clients during the 2016 cycle -- was a major fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the top 2016 recipient of money from foreign government lobbyists.
Other top recipients include lawmakers in positions to shape foreign policy issues, including arms deals, tariffs and international tax policy. They include Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who serves on an appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who chairs a Senate foreign relations subcommittee; and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Tuesday that he will retire, following numerous allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we’re going through now. This too shall pass. My legacy will continue through my children,” Conyers, the longtime ranking Democrat from Michigan on the House Judiciary Committee, told a Detroit radio show. “I’m retiring today.” ...
Several other members of Congress are also dealing with sex scandals. Five women have now said Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken inappropriately touched them, and it was revealed last week that Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold spent $84,000 in taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment claim with a former staffer.
Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, also said this week that he won’t seek re-election after a naked photo of him surfaced online, alongside sexually explicit messages he sent to a tea party activist.
Robert Mueller has gone fishin'. Adam Schiff has become a fountain of frothy excitement.
Donald Trump’s banking information has formally been turned over to Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating whether the president’s campaign conspired with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.
Deutsche Bank, the German bank that serves as Trump’s biggest lender, was forced to submit documents about its client relationship with the president and some of his family members, who are also Deutsche clients, after Mueller issued the bank with a subpoena for information, according to media reports. The news was first reported by Handelsblatt, the German newspaper.
The revelation makes it clear that Mueller and his team are investigating the president’s finances. Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, is also a client.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, which is investigating the Trump campaign, said Mueller’s reported subpoena of Deutsche Bank “would be a very significant development." “If Russia laundered money through the Trump Organization, it would be far more compromising than any salacious video and could be used as leverage against Donald Trump and his associates and family,” Schiff said in a statement. He was referring to a private investigator’s unsubstantiated allegation that the Kremlin had video proof of the president’s involvement in a salacious sex act.
Donald Trump was widely condemned on Monday for drastically shrinking two national monuments, representing the biggest elimination of public lands protection in US history.
The move – a repudiation of past presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton – seems certain to be challenged in court. ...
“This is a shameful and illegal attack on our nation’s protected lands,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and now head of Defenders of Wildlife. “Teddy Roosevelt is rolling in his grave. We’ll be seeing President Trump in court.”
Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist at Friends of the Earth, said: “Donald Trump is overseeing the largest elimination of protected areas in US history. Dismantling these monuments is Trump’s latest gift to the corporate interests who backed his campaign. This action is unprecedented and will end up in court.
“Public lands are to be managed for the public, not plundered by private interests that want to make billions off public resources. The majority of Americans want to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
Fire engulfed Southern California early Tuesday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. Dubbed the Thomas Fire, the flames spread from about 50 acres to 45,000 in only a matter of hours, according to an early-morning update from the Ventura County Fire Department. By early Tuesday morning, it had made its way into the Ventura city limits, where more than 100,000 people live. ...
Local officials expressed doubt that they’ll be able to get the fire under control without some help from the weather. “The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said during a pre-dawn press conference. “Really, Mother Nature is going to decide.” ...
The fire was able to spread so quickly partially due of the continued drought in Southern California — and droughts are only expected to get worse as climate change takes its course. A new study suggests that the region will get 15 percent less rainfall over the course of the next 20 to 30 years.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Roy Book Binder - That'll Never Happen No More
Roy Book Binder - Rag Mama
Roy Book Binder – I'm Going Home Someday
Roy Book Binder – King Edward Blues
Roy Book Binder - Police Dog Blues
Roy Book Binder - You Can't Do That No More
Roy Book Binder - Let's Get Drunk Again
Roy Bookbinder - Candyman
Roy Bookbinder - Hesitation Blues