Do the Right Thing: Break Some Eggs and Impeach

[NB: Check the byline. This piece may not reflect the opinions of other emptywheel contributors. /~Rayne]

There’ve been a lot of eggs cracked today. Not all of the eggs in need of cracking came in pretty dyed shells.

Like the oeuvre floating around out there claiming impeachment is bad for the country. (I’m looking at you, Tumulty.)

There’s really no question about what must be done. There’s only a fight against spin protecting an un-indicted co-conspirator, or worse. Sadly, some of the spin comes from the left and it needs to be smashed right now.

But why impeach? they ask.

Because it’s the right thing to do when a law enforcement investigation reveals a pattern of unlawful behavior.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the president systematically engages in abuse of power and unethical behavior, causing states and non-governmental groups alike to sue to protect human rights.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the president breaks his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the president fails to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Because it’s the necessary thing to do when the president’s incompetence or bigotry results in the deaths of thousands of American citizens without so much as an apology.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the president permits and/or encourages dangerous deviations — some in secret — from national security policy without debate, advice, and consent by Congress.

Because it’s the right thing to do when the executive usurps co-equal branches’ power to check the executive.

Because failure to do so yields the co-equal power of Congress to the executive for the worst of reasons — because it’s too much trouble, timed inconveniently, unpopular.

Because failure to do assures future unethical presidents, they, too, need not worry they will be held to account by the branch of government charged with doing so; they’ll feel protected, insulated from rebuke and punishment.

Because failure to do so assures a certain class of person they are above the law while telling the average citizen they belong to a second and lower class.

Because failing to do so sends a message to foreign powers that tampering with our elections will go unchecked; a mere censure will only enrage a malignant narcissistic executive while doing nothing to deter hostile foreign actors.

Because we are a nation of laws, and the law provides for the rebuke and removal of an executive guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, including unlawful orders, bad faith execution, unethical behavior, and abuse of office.

Because we must lead the future by example, demonstrating the exercise of oversight powers which include impeachment of a failed executive even when a country is divided by popular opinion.

There are far too many constructive reasons why we should impeach the executive; the risk from failing to attempt impeachment is far greater, considering the hollowing out of government and undermining of long-term policy continuing apace. The common good demands it.

Do we proceed directly to impeachment? This is a matter of conjecture — I believe we need to investigate the gaps in the Special Counsel’s report, including counterintelligence, so that we address each item in full view of the public with the exception of classified matters. The executive must be fully accountable to the people; he governs only with their consent which is already thin based on his loss of the popular vote.

Will investigative and impeachment hearings get in the way of legislative business? No. Congress has investigative hearings all the time in addition to legislative business. The legislative work to date has been piling up at the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk because he is obstructing House Democrats by gatekeeping. Will any less legislation be passed by the Senate if the House dedicates any more time to investigative hearings? No, thanks to McConnell.

Read the Special Counsel’s report for yourself. Ask yourself if what you read represents the combined work of a candidate and president and his campaign and administration who are truly intent on serving the best interests of this entire country. Were these individuals willing to set their personal interests aside and work toward a more perfect union, establishing Justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty for all?

Or were they working for themselves and personal or familial enrichment, for their personal glory and entitlement, and for the benefit of some other non-U.S. entities to our likely detriment?

Begin the impeachment process. Let’s break some eggs.

~ ~ ~
A happy Easter to those of you who observe the holiday. Hope that those of you who observed Passover were able to do so with friends and loved ones.

This is an open thread.

Three Things: Big Day, Big Top

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s going to be a big day under the big top. Attorney General Bill Barr has planned quite the circus, beginning right now with his so-called press conference. But first, three things, one of which includes hygiene for the day ahead.

~ 3 ~

Let’s face it: it’s Maundy Thursday, the weather in West Palm Beach is supposed to be partly sunny tomorrow and Saturday, and sunny on Easter Sunday. Which means Trump will likely be on Air Force One this afternoon, winging his way to Mar-a-Lago and the promise of golf at one of his courses because that’s about all he can focus on for more than the time it takes to send a tweet.

This is likely why he wants to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to golfer Tiger Woods after winning his latest green jacket at The Masters this past weekend. Trump said,

So shallow and self-centered, recognizing a fellow marital cheat and a golfing buddy, one who designed a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai.

And yet par for this pathetic hole.

~ 2 ~

I don’t write often about Trump-Russia because it’s Marcy’s beat — there’s little she hasn’t scrutinized and picked apart during the course of the Special Counsel’s investigation. But this one thing has stuck in my craw, especially after all the hubbub this past week about Julian Assange’s removal from the Ecuadoran embassy and arrest by Metropolitan Police-UK.

It’s in this email exchange from October 2016, about WikiLeaks’ 10th anniversary when Assange was supposed to have made a big announcement and didn’t. The following

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

What was that this morning???

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Roger Stone
TO: Steve Bannon
EMAIL:
Fear. Serious security concern. He thinks they are going to kill him and the London police are standing done.

However —a load every week going forward.

Roger stone

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

He didn’t cut deal w/ clintons???

Why did former Trump campaign chief executive and former White House adviser Steve Bannon express surprise that Assange hadn’t cut a deal with the Clintons?

Was it a given that Assange would have attempted to extort money from one or both of the Clintons to halt the release of hacked emails?

Why would Bannon in particular have thought this? Was it common knowledge in certain circles that Assange would use blackmail? Or has blackmail been one of the other unaddressed methods by which targets have been compromised and evidence simply hasn’t been shared because it’s classified?

Did Special Counsel’s Office ask any member of the Clinton campaign or Bill Clinton or any Clinton family support staff whether they had been contacted about hacked materials in an attempt to extort money or performance from them?

It seemed like odd hyperbole at the time in early August 2016 that Assange would accuse Hillary Clinton of electoral extortion, claiming she tried to scare the electorate into voting for her. But was it really a form of projection to muddle possible leaks about other extortion attempts? (Yes, the source at that link above is a right-wing outlet, but that’s the point: they carried water for this effort.)

Ecuadoran official said they are investigating whether Assange attempted to blackmail President Moreno. It looks more like a pattern of behavior based on WikiLeaks’ handling of Vault 7 and if Bannon’s email assumed an earlier attempt on the Clintons

~ 1 ~

Okay, I’ll skip a third non-Barr report item because we’re all a little short on patience. If you need something to preoccupy your time you can focus on taking action.

See Celeste_pewter’s Twitter thread for calls you can make, or check her TinyLetter site; once again she’s done the heavy lifting and prepared scripts for you.

She’s also laid out the anticipated schedule today for AG Barr’s three-ring circus:

9:30 AM: Barr and Rosenstein will hold a press conference on Mueller report

(Mueller not in attendance)

10:30 AM (approx): Trump will issue a rebuttal

11:00 – 12:00 PM: DOJ will provide hard copies of the report to Congress

TBD: Trump MAY give a press conference at this point

2:00 PM (approximate): Report posted on special counsel website (https://www.justice.gov/sco)

I’m setting up a list in my Twitter account to follow folks for analysis and feedback on the Trump-Russia investigation including today’s Barr report.

(And yes, I’m calling it the ‘Barr report’ because the method of its reception will have been substantially shaped by Barr.)

~ 0 ~

Lastly, the matter of hygiene: this site will be busy. Trolling may be heavy depending on what’s visible in the report and what is pointed out by Marcy in particular. If the site bogs down, please be patient.

If necessary, reach one of us via Twitter though you may not get an immediate response because we’re going to be busy.

Moderation will be firm and aggressive. We don’t have time for temper tantrums, trolling, or for internecine squabbles.

Keep all off topic discussion to this thread; if it gets too deep, like more than 200 comments, I will open a new thread for off topic material. Posts Marcy opens related to the report should remain on topic.

This is going to be a long day. Pace yourselves. Drink water regularly. Take a break from social media when you’re getting worked up. Digest this pile of elephant one bite at a time.

We have plenty of time after the circus’s acts have finished to sweep up and dig through the animal poo they leave behind.

This is an open thread.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

You’re Fired (Undocumented Trump Worker): What Odd Timing

[NB: Byline — check it!/~Rayne]

I’ve had this squirreled away in the cupboard; I was working on it just as the government shutdown ended. But now there’s good reason to dust it off and air it out.

~ ~ ~

The issue of Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) remains critically important even though government has been reopened and Trump received a pittance toward a wall.

The Washington Post reported on January 26 that undocumented workers were fired from their long-time jobs with Trump organization businesses.

What odd timing. Take a look at the sequence of events:

06DEC2018 — NYT, CNN other outlets reported the Trump organization employed undocumented workers.

22DEC2018 — Shutdown began at midnight

10JAN2018 — Citizenship applicant Matthew Helmsley was called a year earlier than expected by U.S. immigration for a pre-naturalization interview; he was asked after the interview if he was available on Saturday, January 19.

11JAN2019 — First government employee paycheck missed.

17JAN2019 — Trump announcement scheduled for Saturday, January 19, after a swearing-in ceremony for newly naturalized immigrants; the announcement regarded the ongoing government shutdown.

18JAN2019 — Media speculated about Trump’s proposal. After exchanging emails for a week with immigration personnel, citizenship candidate Helmsley received an email in that morning advising the swearing in would be at the White House the next day.

18JAN2019 — Undocumented immigrants terminated at Trump org facilities.

19JAN2019 — Trump’s proposal including tweaks to TPS and DACA floated some time between late Friday and early Saturday. House Democrats rejected the proposal ahead of Trump’s television speech — they insisted on funding and reopening government without conditions, and no money wall.

19JAN2019 — Just before his speech, Trump swore in Helmsley and a cohort of carefully selected naturalize immigrants, handpicked for political optics, in the Oval Office.

19JAN2019 — Trump gave a televised speech after 3:00 p.m., added limited TPS extension and modified DACA to his demand for wall funding.

25JAN2019 — Trump ‘caved’.

26JAN2019 — WaPo reports on firing of undocumented employees.

29JAN2019 — Original date scheduled for State of the Union address from House chambers

See that right in the middle? Undocumented personnel were fired roughly 24 hours before Trump made his special address making a counter offer.

The White House as well as the Trump organization knew more than a month before Trump’s counter proposal that undocumented workers were employed at multiple Trump business locations.

They waited until after the holidays to terminate them so as to avoid a stink.

They waited until they could use TPS and DACA as proposal items to demand wall funding, hoping the workers’ terminations would be lost in the noise about the shutdown.

And news media missed the timing.

Now here’s the other point the media missed within the last week: if Trump’s government funding proposal including limited TPS and modified DACA were offered immediately following termination of undocumented workers at Trump organization businesses — the two events coordinated and synced as if by one entity — is there any separation at all between Trump as president and Trump as head of the Trump organization?

If there isn’t, wouldn’t that make the DOJ’s so-called “narrow interpretation of a law ” this week, allowing federal officials to attempt to influence Trump by doing business with the Trump organization, really a permission slip for outright corruption via emoluments?

Meanwhile, DACA’s repeal remains up in the air, leaving roughly 800,000 residents up in the air. And TPS for Hondurans has been terminated effected November this year, forcing 86,000 to uproot from the U.S.

The Facts: There Is No Crisis and No Emergency, Just Trump’s Campaign

[NB: Check the byline. /~Rayne]

After mixing it up with a old conservative over spring break — someone who doesn’t watch Fox News but spends too much time with people who do — it’s clear Trump’s and Fox’s lies have deeply infected right-wing minds.

They believe Trump’s falsehoods about a crisis at the border, that there was reason for Trump to declare an emergency.

They’re also incapable of fact checking. They’re authoritarians and believe whatever current authority figure tells them; the motivation to validate authority doesn’t exist.

They appear unable to analyze what they do see to make an independent assessment of their own. It doesn’t occur to them to ask, What would be so bad a family with toddlers and infants would flee their home, walking over a thousand miles for more than a month and through a desert to escape?

They’re sheep — our country is regressing under the leadership of fascist sheep.

I wanted to cram a bunch of facts in this conservative’s head but I honestly don’t know if they’d bother to read anything I gave them because I’m not a Fox talking head.

~ ~ ~
Fact: Trend data from DHS’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) about so-called illegal immigrants border crossings indicates it has trended lower over the last 15 years:

(source: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Nationwide Illegal Alien Apprehensions Fiscal Years 1925-2018 pdf)

From another perspective there is no migrant crisis, shows Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) in this graph using CBP’s own data:

Fact: Trend data graphed by Pew Research drawn from DHS’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) about the so-called wave of asylum seekers Trump has called animals in his eliminationist rants reveals a wave of family units migrating from Central America, not Mexico:

Fact: Instead of performing a root cause analysis to determine why families and unaccompanied minors are so desperate to enter the U.S. to seek asylum, Trump wants to cut funding to Central American countries, which will exacerbate the underlying problems internal to the affected countries.

Fact: The largest number of families and children reaching the border came from Guatemala, fleeing crime and drought.

Fact: Guatemala’s volatility may have been exacerbated by multiple volcanic eruptions in 2018, affecting at least two million Guatemalans. The plume from a June eruption was visible from space:

Fact: Many Hondurans fleeing to the U.S. are also fleeing crime and violence; women in particular are fleeing because femicide has been a growing epidemic during the last six years, 95% of which has gone unpunished.

Fact: The U.S. ratified the U.N. protocol to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1968. This expressed the country’s intent to acknowledge and recognize the rights of asylum seekers. The U.S. has not retracted its ratification.

Fact: Asylum seekers can request asylum under Title 8 U.S. Code § 1158, on either side of the border:

(a) Authority to apply for asylum
(1) In general
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

Fact: Trump said “the system is full, can’t take you any more,” which is in opposition to U.S. law on asylum.

Fact: Until it became legal problem for the Trump organization, Trump’s golf courses hired undocumented workers from Central America, some of them for years. This illegal hiring practice, out of compliance with decades-long rules about screening hirees, didn’t become an issue until Trump wanted to use DACA and Temporary Protected Status as a bargaining chit to obtain funding for his “fucken wall” during the government shutdown.

Fact: El Paso, Texas, isn’t in a state of crisis; its mayor attests to this, and asked Trump to stop lying about it. But Trump wanted to shut down the border at El Paso altogether because of his lie that the border is in crisis.

Fact: When told that closing the border as he requested would cause serious damage to the U.S. economy by throttling free trade, Trump said, “I don’t care.

Fact: Trump has insisted that families be separated at the border because he believes it will discourage them from seeking asylum in the U.S.

Fact: Trump, “ranting and raving” at White House and DHS staff, stressed the “border is my issue” while issuing unlawful orders to separate families at the border. He isn’t following through on carefully considered policy but on a campaign issue — one from 2016, and now one for the 2020 race.

~ ~ ~
The bottom line: Trump both as president and as a business owner has violated federal law.

He has done so, deliberately employing cruelty and at cost of human lives, in order to fulfill a campaign promise in 2016, as a campaign theme in 2018 to assist the GOP in mid-terms, and as a campaign stunt for re-election in 2020. As he said, the “border is my issue.”

He has issued unlawful orders as part of his ongoing campaigning under influence of former adviser anarchist Steve Bannon and white nationalist Stephen Miller, a current White House adviser.

The Republican Party aids and abets this — endorses this — as political practice as long as it fails to check the de facto leader of their party. Cruelty and indifference to non-white, non-English-speaking people including infants and families is now their brand along with disregard for treaties and laws.

In doing so, the Republican Party destroys any pretensions to legitimacy if it supports systematic unlawful behavior.

We need to ask if it is now fact that there is no Republican Party.

Trump’s Gone Full Jessep

[NB: The byline is mine. /~Rayne]

If you haven’t haven’t recently watched the 1992 film, A Few Good Men, it’s a good time to do so. Especially for this particular monologue delivered from the stand by Colonel Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson (spoiler alert: this scene is the climax of the movie):

The colonel gave an illegal order — a Code Red — to his men to dispense extrajudicial punishment to PFC William “Willie” Santiago after which Santiago died.

Up to this point Jessep has been a hard ass, bordering on rude. But this particular monologue depicts Colonel Jessep at his worst, when the mask slips off and the monster who can justify his worst impulses does so because his ego won’t permit any serious questioning of his authority.

This is Trump — from reports based on feedback from those in his presence, he’s gone full Jessep and whatever mask he’s worn has slipped off. He’s given illegal orders, in direct opposition to his oath of office and the Constitution, the law and a court order, when he demanded the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border while “ranting and raving” that “border security security was his issue.”

He believes he is the law, as if he’s king.

No one in the White House seems able to disabuse him of this concept — if they are trying at all.

A number of senior staff have been fired throughout Trump’s 26 months in office, the latest such termination resulting in the departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

It’s not clear whether the departure of Secret Service director Randolph Alles was for the same reason; he denies it but the timing is suspicious given the appearance of a purge across DHS leadership.

One employee whose continued employment suggests they aren’t explaining the limits of executive authority is White House counsel Pat Cipollone. His presence was noted in reports about a meeting in which Trump had a narcississtic meltdown about DHS’ inability to stop asylum seekers at the border. Why was Nielsen the sole target two weeks later instead of Cipollone?

~ ~ ~

In A Few Good Men, the story arc centers on the two Marines charged with Santiago’s death as a result of the Code Red. They argued they were following orders from their superior officer, and as we see in the climax, Col. Jessep finally admits he gave the order. The court renders its verdict:

The Nuremberg defense will not hold; an illegal order is illegal no matter the rank of the person issuing it, and obeying it is illegal as well. Government employees who commit illegal acts even at the order of the president violate the law as well as their oaths of office:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” (5 USC 3331)

Support and defend the Constitution. Well and faithfully discharge the duties of office. Obeying an illegal order fulfills neither of these.

Founding father John Adams said, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” Walls are useless if they defend not the law and our country’s values, but one man’s sick, skewed ego.

The Rwandan Genocide’s 25th Anniversary

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. / ~Rayne]

25 years ago today — within hours after the assassination of Rwanda’s and Burundi’s presidents — Rwanda’s Hutus began systematic killing of minority member Tutsi and Pygmy Batwa.

By mid-July 1994, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandan citizens had been brutally killed — 70% of the Tutsi and 30% of the Pygmy population wiped out by xenophobic rage. It’s not clear exactly how many Rwandans had been slain during the roughly 15-week period because the deaths weren’t documented as they occurred.

The U.S. knew about the threat of violence having intelligence about Hutus seeking “a final solution” but chose to do nothing because the Clinton administration worried they might face another ‘Blackhawk Down’ scenario as they did in Somalia during the Battle of Mogadishu the previous October.

The UN pulled out and did nothing after 10 Belgians serving the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) had been killed during the first week of the genocide. They had been protecting Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana who was slain 25 years ago today; she was the country’s first and so far only female prime minister.

In an interview with Radio France later in the evening on April 6, 1994, she said,

There is shooting, people are being terrorized, people are inside their homes lying on the floor. We are suffering the consequences of the death of the head of state, I believe. We, the civilians, are in no way responsible for the death of our head of state.

Her children survived the attempts on their lives by hiding behind furniture as she and her husband went outside to meet Rwandan soldiers seeking her. They were later smuggled out by a UNAMIR volunteer to safety.

The violence had been fomented for years, its roots likely in the manner by which colonialist Belgium and Germany distinguished for arbitrary reasons the Tutsi over the Hutu, inculcating an idea of separation and otherness with the Rwandan people.

The mounting xenophobia was further fed by hate speech over broadcast radio programming, via Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. Tutsi were depicted as alien, intent on subjugating the majority Hutu, and as non-Christian.

They were killed in horrible ways; in weeks ahead of the genocide, machetes had been imported in much greater quantities than in previous years. Tutsis were also subject to a broad campaign of torture by rape, resulting in maiming, unwanted pregnancies, and death in many cases, as well as a surge in HIV infections which remain with the survivors and those born after to this day.

~ ~ ~
Some may say that what the U.S. is currently experiencing is just politics, matters of opinion in which some like our president may get carried away with their rhetoric. But we’ve seen politics become deadly after systematic use and normalization of hate speech and eliminationist talk, often exemplified in Nazi, Germany of the 1930s.

We don’t need to look back a lifetime for an example of the deadly effects institutionalized hate speech can have on populations. People responsible for decisions that led to many deaths 25 years ago still walk among us. Survivors still bear witness to the genocide and the events that led to it.

We’ve already seen marked a marked uptick in hate crimes since the 2016 election because hate speech by American leaders gives implicit permission to escalate hate. Trouble is brewing here now, and media whether broadcast or social plays a role in its spread. It’s on us to call it out and reject it.

Hate speech and eliminationist talk is not acceptable. It is toxic and corrosive to a democratic society in which every human is equal under the law. Do not look away or ignore xenophobic talk; it is already excusing the loss of lives both American and Central American alike and it can get worse without intervention.

We owe it to the Rwandans who died 25 years ago to learn something from the hateful madness which took them.

This is an open thread.

Three Things: Hey You, Mr./Ms./Mx. Pissed-Off

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

I get it. You’re furious, en fuego, royally pissed off. You’ve traveled through shock and traversed anger, raging for days now since Attorney General Bill Barr issue that POS four-page letter chock full of holes big enough to drive a 40-foot dry van through again and again.

And now you’ve hit bottom, burned out and blue having reached another stage in the grieving process.

We all know this isn’t the end of it, no matter how much gaslighting and abuse the White House, its proxies, the right-wing horde, and asshats like David fucking Brooks spew. You know what you saw in the speaking indictments, plea agreements, and sentencing memos produced over the last two years.

We all know who ‘Individual 1’ is no matter how much he and his myriad minions and handlers would like us to forget his role as an unindicted co-conspirator who denied the public the right to know the truth about his past during the 2016 election.

At least one conspiracy to defraud the American public is right there spelled in black and white under our noses, and again in congressional records as part of Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House. Trump worked with Cohen to lie to the voting American public, violating campaign finance laws in doing so.

“If the people don’t have the facts, democracy doesn’t work,” as Judge Amy Berman Jackson told former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort during his sentencing hearing, another liar Trump brought into his team, allowing Manafort to change the Republican’s platform on Ukraine without a wide and open discussion among conservatives about it.

Trust your eyes and ears. You’re right to be angry and disappointed. Take a deep cleansing breath in and center yourself, feel that righteous burn of indignation, then let out the poison.

And then take another deep breath, roll up your sleeves, grab your phone, and let’s kick some ass.

~ 3 ~
What: Barr didn’t confine himself to his four-page POS summary on Sunday. Oh no. He had to make it really fucking personal for a huge swath of Americans by refusing to allow the DOJ to defend the Affordable Care Act. From the ABA Journal:

The DOJ’s new stance would strike down additional provisions that allow children to have coverage on their parents’ policies until age 26 and that guarantee “essential health benefits” such as mental health, maternity and drug coverage. The stance also would eliminate an expansion of Medicaid and free preventive services for people on Medicare.

Quite literally Americans could die because of this move.

Needed:
— Call your representatives and tell them you support the current ACA legislation in the absence of a better, Medicare for All replacement.
— Ask your reps to do what’s necessary to ensure the DOJ fulfills its mission to enforce the laws of this country, which at this time includes ACA.

You can see Barr is now setting a precedent for a unilateral executive branch which can pick and choose the laws it will enforce in spite of precedent backing existing laws. This can’t go any further.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 2 ~
What: Betsy ‘Multi-Yacht’ Devos decided disabled Americans do not merit an opportunity to achieve; she’s proposed ending funding for Special Olympics.

That shallow, stupid wretch has no real idea what Special Olympics means to the disabled, especially children and their parents. One of my family members has worked for more than a decade at a Special Olympics camp, spending weeks with children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to camp like abled children. The kids meet other kids like themselves, make new friends, learn new skills, hone their physical abilities, begin to see themselves as capable of so much more. And their parents get a much-needed respite from caring for children who may need around-the-clock monitoring.

But as the former director of the Office of Government Ethics says, the cruelty is the point. Devos is Cruella De Ville who will kill puppies for their coats given the chance. Pro-life, my foot; she cares not a whit what life is like for the disabled after birth.

She quite literally wants to axe Special Olympics and take the money to give to charter schools, which fail at around 25% rate. The money she will steal from the disabled will literally go down a rat hole and nobody except the charter school profiteers will benefit from this scam.

In fact the amount we spend as taxpayers providing additional support to Special Olympics could be offset easily if Trump spent four less weekends at his golf courses on our dime.

There are those who argue it’s really Trump who insisted on this cut and Devos is merely is grunt doing the scut work of hurting the disabled. Sure — but a person whose values are genuinely aligned with caring for fellow humans would have told Trump to stick this sidewise and quit their post instead.

The chances of this proposal passing the House are slim to none, especially after Devos was grilled by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) on Tuesday, but it’s a line in the sand we should draw.

Needed: Call your members of Congress in both houses and let them know this kind of cruelty to disabled Americans is unacceptable and it will not fix the inherent problem of making schools into privatized profit centers with an unacceptably high rate of failure.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 1 ~
What: Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as Trump’s corrupt nominee for Interior Secretary.

If you have a moment or two, watch for the swamp monster — the one in the green mask sitting behind Bernhardt, not Bernhardt (because when you’ve seen one of the fleshy pink swamp monsters, you’ve seen many).

Needed: This guy is selling out our national resources. Call your senators and tell them hell no on this dirtbag, we don’t need another swamp monster helming the Interior Department.

Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

~ 0 ~
Don’t forget to check your phone’s battery charge. Get calling!

This is an open thread, by the way.

Three Things: Boeing Boing

[NB: The byline – check it. /~Rayne]

That U.S. flights of Boeing’s model 737 Max aircraft were suspended is a good thing, I think we can agree though perhaps not all for the same reasons. I’ve had suspicions about Boeing for some time now and not because of the company’s products or its management. Three things have bothered me and the deadly crash on March 10 has only added to previous concerns.

~ 3 ~

I’ve noted before that Boeing has been a possible target for stock manipulation; in fact I wrote about my suspicions a year ago:

You can imagine my surprise on December 6, 2016, when then-president-elect tweeted about Boeing’s contract for the next Air Force One, complaining it was too expensive. Was it Boeing the spies were discussing? But the company didn’t fit what I could see in the indictment, though Boeing’s business is exposed to Russia, in terms of competition and in terms of components (titanium, in particular).

It didn’t help that Trump tweeted before the stock market opened and Boeing’s stock plummeted after the opening bell. There was plenty of time for dark pool operators to go in and take positions between Trump’s tweet and the market’s open. What an incredible bonanza for those who might be on their toes — or who knew in advance this was going to happen. …

And while Boeing 737 Max equipment safety was under public debate after Sunday March 10th crash, Trump tweeted this Luddite position on contemporary aircraft complexity on March 12:

How interesting that he avoided naming Boeing specifically, but at the same time he managed to post the first of these two tweets at exactly 10:00 a.m.; the second tweet didn’t publish for another 12 minutes, leaving those following his tweets closely to assume he was going to discuss Boeing specifically during the interim.

I can’t help think Trump has an ulterior motive with regard to Boeing considering how often he has stepped into their business one way or another since December 6, 2016.

It’d be nice to know who’s been shorting NYSE:BA before his tweets and in which stock exchanges.


[Graphic: NYSE:BA moving average and trading volume from midday Monday 11-MAR-2019 to midday Tuesday 12-MAR-2019 via Barron’s.]

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Trump’s personal demands have also affected Boeing directly with regard to system updates. The government shutdown delayed for five weeks work by the Federal Aviation Administration toward certification of a software “fix” for the 737 Max flight control system.

In other words, eight more American citzens traveling on the doomed flight this past weekend may have paid the ultimate price for Trump’s gross incompetence and corruption, not to mention the other truly marvelous human beings lost to the world when that flight met the earth two weeks ago.

Boeing’s business model needs to be revisited, though, if the flight control system “fix” wasn’t treated with adequate urgency based on feedback from Boeing to the FAA. There’s a fundamental question of a product’s safety for its intended purpose if it must have a software update to fly safely but that update is an additional feature outside the product’s purchase agreement and must bought before it can be added. Smells like product liability with a whiff of extortion.

Would we tolerate this business model in other situations where so much is at stake? Imagine your computer’s operating system needs a patch before you can use it — and you must pay for the patch, it’s not included in the licensing agreement for the operating system. Oh, and the computer runs your insulin pump or your pacemaker wihout which you are likely to die.

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The FAA as well as Boeing need to be reevaluated based on complaints the government agency is too closely linked to the aerospace company to provide appropriate oversight. The FAA has been relying on Boeing to self-monitor via component safety inspections because the FAA doesn’t have adequate personnel or resources.

Recall recent reports of supply chain vulnerabilities — is it at all possible Boeing components have been as compromised as other military suppliers have been? How would the public know if it has relied on the FAA’s self-inspection “designee program”?

This sounds eerily familiar, like the claims related to firmware updates needed on servers when it was possible the Supermicro motherboard hardware had been compromised.

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Treat this as a open thread. We could use a break from what will continue to be a flood of news relate to the Special Counsel’s Office report, especially after the Golfer-in-Chief parks his cart for the weekend and begins shit posting on Twitter in earnest again.

Foiling a Good Walk

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Don’t be surprised if Donald Trump decides to spend even more time at his golf courses between now and 2020. He should be worried if the courses will remain a part of the Trump organization let alone how much more time he can spend golfing in his lifetime.

At two points during the House Oversight Committee hearing this past Wednesday, Trump’s golf courses came up.

When Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked Michael Cohen about the “catch-and-kill” program by which Trump avoided being publicly exposed by his extra marital sexual partners, Cohen explained why he ended up financing the payment to Stormy Daniels (Miss Clifford).

Transcript (01:45:13) —

Cohen: Well, going back into the story as I stated when we — Allen Weisselberg and I — left the office and went to his office to make the determination on how the money was going to be wired to the IOLA, the interest on the lawyer’s account for Keith Davidson in California, I had asked Allen to use his money. I didn’t want to use mine. He said he couldn’t. We then decided how else we could do it and he asked me whether or not I know anybody that wants to have a party at one of his clubs that could pay me instead or somebody who may have wanted to become a member of one of the golf clubs. And I also don’t have anybody that was interested in that. And it got to the point where it was down to the wire. It was either we — somebody — wire the funds and purchase the life rights to the story from Miss Clifford or it was going to end up being sold to television and that would have embarrassed the president and it would have interfered with the election.

In his response, Cohen shares three different methods used to launder money, two of which would have gone through a Trump golf course. In a previous post examining profiteering and money laundering through a golf club, these same methods were mentioned as possibilities. A new member’s initiation fee could easily match the amount needed to pay off Miss Cliffords as could charges or fees for a single event held at a Trump course.

Given Cohen’s inability to say how many ‘catch-and-kill’ stories Trump or his organization had to pay off, it’s reasonable to suspect golf courses have been used this way to launder hush money let alone launder money for other purposes.

Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortes asked Cohen about the property value of a Trump golf course after noting the exceptionally sweet deal Trump org received when developing the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, New York.

Transcript (04:50:13) —

Ocasio-Cortes: Thank you very much. The last thing here. The Trump golf organization currently has a golf course in my home borough of the Bronx and Queens. In fact, the Washington Post reported on the Trump links Bronx course in an article titled, ‘Taxpayers Built this Golf Course and Trump Reaps the Rewards’. Many learned that taxpayers spent $127 million to build Trump links in a, quote, generous deal allowing President Trump to keep almost every dollar that flows in on a golf course built with public funds. And this doesn’t seem to be the only time the president has benefited at the expense of the public. Mr. Cohen, I want to ask you about your assertion that the president may have improperly devalued his assets to avoid paying taxes. According to an August 21st 2016 report by the Washington Post, while the president claimed in financial disclosure forms that the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, was worth more than $50 million, he had reported otherwise to local tax authorities thaAt the course was worth, quote, no more than $5 million. Mr. Cohen, do you know whether this specific report is accurate?

Cohen: It’s identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club at Briarcliff Manor.

Briarcliff offers a good example of Trump org’s treatment of municipal regulations as well as state and local laws. The course management damaged the local storm sewage system with unauthorized modifications, causing damage to residents’ and Ossining’s property. Goodwill was further damaged by years of fighting local tax assessments:

Nowhere has the conflict between the tax assessments on Trump’s properties and his claims of soaring value been more apparent than in Ossining, New York, where his lawyers argued to the city assessor that his Westchester County golf club was worth $1.4 million in 2015, less than a tenth of its appraised value. On the financial disclosure statement candidates are required to file, he valued it at more than $50 million. The city assessor’s office, which valued the property at $15 million, did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump and his organization fought the valuations of all Trump courses in Florida over the last handful of years as well as Mar-a-Lago and several small non-golf estates. The value of the Jupiter course, reported as $50 million on financial disclosure forms furnished to the government, was estimated by Palm Beach County at $19.7 million. But Trump org sued Palm Beach for a fifth time disputing the county’s valuation, electing to pay taxes on a property worth $5 million less than the county’s estimate.

Trump org also appealed its tax bill for the Trump National Doral Golf Club; they’ve tried for each of the last five years to shave its tax liability with Miami-Dade county. They weren’t sucessful.

Briarcliff and the Florida golf clubs aren’t the only courses for which Trump’s organization claimed lower property values in order to avoid tax obligations.

Trump National Golf Course in Hudson Valley, New York, was assessed at $6 million; the organization claims the property is only worth $2 million. The Trump organization doesn’t own the real estate, operating instead as a lessee. It’s not clear if ownership factors into Trump org’s argument against paying higher taxes; the municipality charges the lessee, however.

The Bedminster course was used to claim a $39.1 million federal tax deduction in 2005 relying on a land conservation rule, and a deduction as farmland because the course kept a small number of goats on the premises.

The Los Angeles course may be the most confusing to make sense of its value. Trump said it was worth $264 million when it opened in 2006, claimed it was worth at least $50 million on federal financial disclosure filings, but only $10 million when filing property taxes in 2008.

While the average business makes a reasonable effort to reduce its tax burden, the Trump organization made it a pattern of habit, particularly with its golf course businesses. It’s odd that each course’s asset valuation established by a local municipality was questioned multiple years in a row, even when the municipality had already gone out of its way to provide unusual benefits to the Trump organization (ex. a long-term lease of county-owned property adjoining the West Palm Beach airport while allowing the course to contest the value the county assigned to the real estate).

The pattern of behavior was tightly entwined with asset inflation for other purposes. One reason was for bank loans, elevating the amount the Trump organization could borrow. Cohen testified that he knew Deustche Bank had received these arbitrary numbers.

Rep. William Clay (D-MO) asked about specific Trump organization financial statements from 2011, 2012, and 2013 Cohen had in his possession pertaining to Trump and his organization, with regard specifically to manipulation of asset values.

Transcript (01:48: ) —

Clay: Thank you…can you explain why you had these financial statements and what you used them for?

Cohen: These were used by me for two purposes. One was discussing with media, whether Forbes or other magazines, to demonstrate Mr. Trump’s significant net worth. That was one function. Another was when we were dealing later on with insurance companies. We would provide them with copies so that they would understand that the premium on the individuals’ capabilities to pay would be reduced.

It’s not clear whether Cohen meant individuals singular or plural. The proliferation of disparities between asset valuations reported by media, by members of the Trump family and organization, and by different government entities now makes more sense — the confusion allows easy misrepresentation of value for insurance purposes.

Transcript (04:43.46) —

Ocasio-Cortes: Okay, thank you. Secondly, I want to ask a little bit about your conversation with my colleague from Missouri about asset inflation. To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?

Cohen: Yes.

Mr. Trump’s federal financial disclosure statements need to be audited for false statements if they were completed using manipulated asset data.

The House Oversight Committee now has testimony and evidence suggesting further investigation into bank and insurance fraud by Trump and the Trump organization is warranted.

But it isn’t the House Oversight Committee alone which should now investigate insurance fraud. While insurance in the U.S. must comply with federal law, it’s regulated at state level. Insurance commissioners and state attorneys general in each state where the Trump organization owns, operates, and insures businesses including golf courses should now review Trump’s insurers and policies. How did insurers write policies for Trump organization for so long given the disparities between property values established by municipalities and the asset values published by so many different media outlets?

It’s easy to see there’s a problem with the perception of Trump org’s asset valuations by comparing a few articles written about the golf courses. Outside Florida it’s not well known that Trump org doesn’t own the real estate underneath Trump International Golf Club, West Palm Beach, Florida. It’s even less well known that Trump org does not own the real estate beneath the Hudson Valley, New York course. Many articles reported, however, that these courses are wholly owned by Trump without any additional detail about what assets are included.

How has this gap in public knowledge been used?

The entire financial industry needs to take a good look at itself and consider how it may have been played. Cohen mentioned media outlets like Forbes coming to him for asset valuations which they published, replicating and dispersing deceit read most often by finance people. Because he appeared to own multiple golf courses in addition to other real estate, the perception of Trump’s wealth wasn’t adequately questioned.

It will hurt not only municipalities if Trump org golf courses were to suddenly cease operations.

This is an open thread.

Initial Working Thread on Cohen’s Prepared Testimony

Okay, it is late but people may be interested in getting a jump on reading Michael Cohen’s prepared statement ahead of tomorrow’s hearing in the House Oversight Committee. With no further adieu:

Here is the prepared testimony. And it is pretty juicy!

Have some fun with it!

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