Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Gordon Sondland's instant metamorphosis into just another coffee boy

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 10, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump is joined by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, second from right, as he arrives at Melsbroek Air Base, in Brussels, Belgium. According to text messages released the first week of October 2019 by House investigators, Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, discussed Trump wanting to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Trump's Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his family. The House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to meet in private with Sondland. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Donald Trump, his voice modulated to drown out the helicopter rotors and the shrieking shame goblins in his head, made a statement this morning on the White House lawn.

Summary: I WANT NOTHING! I WANT NOTHING! And who the fuck is Gordon Sondland?

Yes, as you almost certainly predicted, Trump doesn’t know Sondland very well, even though Trump gave Sondland an important ambassadorship after Sondland contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration/hellmouth grand opening.

“’What do you want from Ukraine, I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories. What do you want? What do you want?’ It was a very short and abrupt conversation that he had with me. ‘They said he was not in a good mood.’ I’m always in a good mood, I don’t know what that is. He just said, now he’s talking about what my response. So he’s going, ‘What do you want? What do you want? I hear all these theories. What do you want?’ And now, here’s my response that he gave, just gave. Ready? Do you have the cameras rolling? ‘I want nothing. That’s what I want from Ukraine, that’s what I said. I WANT NOTHING!’ I said it twice.
… I don’t know him very well, I have not spoken to him much, this is not a man I know well. Seems like a nice guy, though. But I don’t know him well. He was with other candidates, he actually supported other candidates. Not me. Came in late.”

He wants nothing, he knows nothing.

Donald Trump: Zen master

Of course, right now he doesn’t know Sondland. Soon he’ll remember him well enough to declare him a lightweight and a loser and a low-IQ individual and an incompetent and all the usual nonsense.

In other words, he’s going to project like his political life depends on it.

Which, I suppose, it does.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The 2019 War on Christmas© has begun

Two not-so-bright guys

As I write this in my living room in Wisconsin, I look out my windows to see icicles, snow, and a squirrel wondering just where under this white hellscape he buried that damn acorn. While the snow has fallen about a month early here, the culture wars are right on time. Scott Walker has fired the first shots of the War on Christmas©. I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that most people really do not give a crap whether you say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Christmas tree, holiday tree, or future firewood.

Of course, if there is a way to rev up the culture wars and to divide the populace, leave it to Scott Walker, former governor of Wisconsin and guy who has never worked a day in his life.

First some backstory: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers recently announced the state Capitol’s 2019 holiday tree theme, “Celebrate Science," and asked schoolchildren to submit science-related ornaments for the tree. Madison news website Channel 3000 reported, “Wisconsin politicians began referring to the tree as a holiday tree in 1985. Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker declared the tree a Christmas tree in 2011, drawing the ire of the Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation.”

Of course, 2018 gubernatorial race loser Scott “Divide and Conquer” Walker had terminated a tradition that had been observed by both Republican and Democratic governors without issue.

Last week on Twitter, he posted this:

This is a Christmas Tree that is used by people celebrating Christmas 🎄 This is not a holiday tree.

The War on Christmas© is just like everything else the American right throws out there. They know they can offer the American people nothing tangible, nothing that will improve their everyday lives. So they give us the culture wars, garbage that makes no difference to anyone. But it drums up the fervent, fanatical support of small vocal groups, amplified by the likes of Fox News, InfoWars, Breitbart, and other right-wing “news” outlets. As these culture wars are amplified through the right wing-media machine, the traditional media picks up the stories, making issues that matter to what amounts to a handful of people into a much larger thing that they really are.

Of course, Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, taking Walker’s lead, have now wasted time and taxpayer money on a ridiculous argument over what to call the dead pine tree in the state Capitol rotunda. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

Sixty Republicans and five Democrats voted to officially recognize the Capitol's holiday centerpiece as a Christmas tree, with GOP lawmakers who brought the resolution arguing it simply honors tradition and includes the Christian faith in the rotunda during the holidays where a Menorah also is kept.
"It is a Christmas tree. Everyone knows it's a Christmas tree. Changing the name of the Christmas tree to anything else would be a political game," Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said. "And that's what the governor did when he renamed it."
Note to Majority Leader Steineke: It was called a holiday tree for 25 years, and it did not bother anyone. The person who made it a political game was Scott Walker. Taking a pointless vote, on the taxpayer dime, over what to call a dead tree is making it a political game.

The reality is that the face of America is changing. One of the founding ideas of our nation was that there would be no state religion. As the United States has grown and changed, the composition of the nation has changed. We are a multicultural nation with people of many faiths and no faiths living and working side by side. Instead of doing and saying things that further divide us, we should be focusing on becoming a more inclusive society. A good step in that direction would be for the American right to stop fighting the fictional War on Christmas©

In case they have not noticed, Christmas won—it is not even Thanksgiving yet, and my TV is wall-to-wall Christmas ads. Walk into any Home Depot, and it looks like Christmas threw up in there.

Monday, November 18, 2019

For Trump, It's the White House or the Big House (and we don't mean the Michigan football stadium)

How long can Donald Trump escape the same fate as those who have served his interests? (photo: Unknown)
How long can Donald Trump escape the same fate as those who have served his interests? (photo: Unknown)

By Marc Ash, Reader Supported News
18 November 19

The University of Michigan football stadium, aka "The Big House" is not the destination legal authorities have in mind for President Trump.  The Big House where he will sooner or later end up is not an open-air facility, and his quarters will be somewhat smaller than the largest stadium in the U.S.
here is more than enough evidence to convict Donald Trump on a wide variety of federal and state criminal charges. He is no less guilty than all the other men now going to prison for him, and prosecuting the charges would be no more difficult.

From obstruction to campaign finance violations and bribery, the evidence already available far exceeds the legal threshold for indictment and conviction.

Right now, only two things are preventing Trump from being arrested and tried. The first is Attorney General William Barr. Barr, like Rudy Giuliani, is acting as Trump’s personal attorney first and as Attorney General of the United States second, if at all. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which Barr would allow the DoJ to take any formal legal action against Trump, the Fifth Avenue shooting hypothetical notwithstanding. Barr was installed to watch Trump’s back, and he has every intention of misusing his position as Attorney General to do just that.

The second is the oft-cited OLC Memos. The memos in their totality establish as DoJ policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Remember, that’s a DoJ guideline, not a constitutional principle or legal determination. Nonetheless, before Trump, the memos were regarded with sacred-cow reverence. Now that the nation is beset by Trump and Trumpism, the courts are finally starting to question the DoJ’s position.

The net effect of all this is that Donald Trump is effectively trapped in the Oval Office. If he leaves the presidency, either by impeachment-mandated removal or resignation, he will be subject to prosecution – and based on the evidence, likely conviction.

Sure, there is a back door. It’s the same one Nixon exited through. Resign and turn the reins of power over to a replacement who would then pardon you. Nixon had Ford, and at least at this stage, Trump has Pence, who would likely do as Ford did.

Caveat! A federal pardon might exempt Trump from federal prosecution, but it wouldn’t do anything to shield Trump or any of his family members from prosecution in state courts. Such states would include New York and Florida, both states in which Trump has long, well-documented histories of creative and eyebrow-raising financial dealings. Specifically, that would include Trump’s own and his family members’ state tax filings, items the state of New York is now actively seeking in a case apparently headed to the Supreme Court. However it’s unlikely that even this ridiculously autocrat-friendly court would find that Trump’s tax returns are beyond law enforcement review. That would be silly, right?

While Barr and the OLC memos may be preventing Trump from being prosecuted while in office, it’s the Republican members of the Senate who are preventing him from being removed from office by impeachment, and they are taking big personal risks to do it.

Others in recent memory have put themselves at personal risk to protect Donald Trump. Such noteworthy figures include his former personal attorney/fixer Michael Cohen, his former 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former National Security advisor Michael Flynn, and his 2016 campaign advisor Roger Stone. All of whom are convicted of federal felonies and two of whom are currently serving time in federal facilities.

Republicans in the Senate waiting for the Trump bus to take them to the promised land, the same bus incidentally that appeared in the infamous Access Hollywood video, might want to take a peek under that bus when it pulls up. They’ll notice two things: there are quite a few former Trump loyalists under there, and there’s room for quite a few more.

Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Happy Sunday, Christians: Have you heard the good news about the Trump Testament?

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Rudy Is Screwed

Rudy Giuliani. (photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Rudy Giuliani. (photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
By Bess Levin, Vanity Fair
16 November 19

The president’s lawyer is now the subject of three different Ukraine investigations.

ast Saturday, Rudy Giuliani was spotted dining out at a Manhattan hotspot and loudly gabbing about his plans to start a podcast, like a man without a care in the world. And in fairness, it’s possible that, thanks to the brain decay the ex-mayor has clearly suffered, he thinks he has nothing to worry about. Other people in his position, though, would likely be more than a bit concerned about their future, given that, based on a new report, the president’s lawyer is now the subject of three different investigations.

According to Bloomberg, Giuliani is being investigated by federal prosecutors for potential campaign-finance violations and failure to register as a foreign agent, as “part of an active investigation into his financial dealings, according to three U.S. officials.” (Giuliani, his lawyers, and the White House did not respond to Bloomberg’s requests for comment.) The probe could also reportedly include possible charges for conspiracy or violating laws against bribing foreign officials.

Incidentally, that probe is on top of a counterintelligence investigation as well as a criminal investigation into Giuliani’s business relationship with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two men who’ve been charged with conspiracy, falsification of records, and lying to the FEC about their political donations. (Parnas and Fruman have both pleaded not guilty.)

Giuliani’s work with Parnas was reportedly related to a company called Fraud Guarantee, though in addition, Parnas and Fruman are said to have introduced Giuliani to “several current and former senior Ukrainian prosecutors to discuss” Joe Biden, and in July, Parnas accompanied Giuliani to a breakfast meeting with Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine, where Giuliani allegedly mentioned that he was looking into Biden and 2016 election interference, according to the Wall Street Journal.

 In the indictment of Parnas and Fruman, prosecutors claimed that Parnas sought the assistance of a U.S. congressman in “causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” That ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was subsequently removed from her post after Giuliani told Donald Trump that she was undermining him and obstructing efforts to investigate Biden.

On Wednesday a pair of government officials told the House Intelligence Committee that Giuliani had been carrying out a shadow campaign in Ukraine at Trump’s direction. “I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle,” said George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state in the European and Eurasian bureau. Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said that there was an “irregular policy channel” with Ukraine that was being “guided” by Giuliani. But hey, at least the ex-mayor still has the support of the president, right? Wellll:
Top House Republican sources tell Axios that one impeachment survival strategy will be to try to distance President Trump from any Ukraine quid pro quo, with Rudy Giuliani potentially going under the bus.
On Thursday, Giuliani told a reporter that he is not worried about any sort of bus-throwing scenario, “but I do have very, very good insurance, so if [Trump] does, all my hospital bills will be paid.” (Giuliani‘s attorney Mark Costello immediately interjected to insist his client was just “joking.”)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Billionaires Fear Warren and Sanders - but They Should Fear Us All

By Robert Reich, Guardian UK
12 November 19

Wealth tax plans make sense but proper regulation could also cut Bezos, Dimon, Cohen and Neumann down to size

illionaires are wailing that wealth tax proposals by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are attacks on free-market capitalism.

Warren “vilifies successful people”, says Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase.

Rubbish. There are basically only five ways to accumulate a billion dollars, and none of them has to do with being successful in a genuinely free market.

The first way is to exploit a monopoly.

Jamie Dimon is worth $1.6bn. That’s not because he succeeded under free-market capitalism. In 2008, the government bailed out JP Morgan and four other giant Wall Street banks because it considered them “too big to fail”.

That bailout is a hidden insurance policy, still in effect, with an estimated value to the big banks of $83bn a year. If JP Morgan weren’t so big and was therefore allowed to fail, Dimon would be worth far less than $1.6bn.

What about America’s much-vaulted entrepreneurs, such as Jeff Bezos?

You might say the $110bn man deserves this because he founded and built Amazon. But Amazon is a monopolist with nearly 50% of all e-commerce retail sales in America, and e-commerce is one of the biggest sectors of retail sales. In addition, Amazon’s business is protected by a slew of patents granted by the US government.

If the government enforced anti-monopoly laws, and didn’t grant Amazon such broad patents, Bezos would be worth far less.

A second way to make a billion is to get insider information unavailable to other investors.

Hedge-fund maven Steven A Cohen ($12.8bn) headed up a firm in which, according to a criminal complaint filed by the justice department, insider trading was “substantial, pervasive, and on a scale without known precedent in the hedge fund industry”. Nine of Cohen’s present or former employees pleaded guilty or were convicted. Cohen got off with a fine and changed the name of his firm.

Insider trading is endemic in C-suites, too. SEC researchers have found that corporate executives are twice as likely to sell their stock on the days following their own stock buyback announcements as they are in the days leading up to the announcements.

If government cracked down on insider-trading, hedge-funders and top executives wouldn’t rake in nearly as much.

A third way to make a billion is to buy off politicians.

The Trump tax cut is estimated to save Charles and the late David Koch and their Koch Industries an estimated $1bn to $1.4bn a year, not counting their tax savings on profits stored offshore and a shrunken estate tax. The Kochs and their affiliated groups spent some $20m lobbying for the Trump tax cut, including political donations. Not a bad return on investment.

If we had tough anti-corruption laws preventing political payoffs, the Kochs and other high-rollers wouldn’t get the special tax breaks and other subsidies that have ballooned their fortunes.

The fourth way to make a billion is to extort big investors.

Adam Neumann persuaded JP Morgan, SoftBank and other investors to sink hundreds of millions into WeWork, an office-sharing startup. He used some of the money to buy buildings he leased back to WeWork and to enjoy a lifestyle that included a $60m private jet. WeWork never made a nickel of profit.

A few months ago, after Neumann was forced to disclose his personal conflicts of interest, WeWork’s initial public offering fell apart and the company’s estimated value plummeted. To salvage what they could, investors paid Neumann more than $1bn to exit the board and give up his voting rights. Most other WeWork employees were left holding near-worthless stock options. Thousands were set to be laid off.

If we had tougher anti-fraud laws, Neumann and others like him wouldn’t be billionaires.

The fifth way to be a billionaire is to get the money from rich parents or relatives.

About 60% of all the wealth in America today is inherited, according to estimates by economist Thomas Piketty and his colleagues. That’s because, under US tax law – which is itself largely a product of lobbying by the wealthy – the capital gains of one generation are wiped out when those assets are transferred to the next, and the estate tax is so tiny that fewer than 0.2% of estates were subject to it last year.

If unearned income were treated the same as earned income under the tax code, America’s non-working rich wouldn’t be billionaires. And if capital gains weren’t eliminated at death, their heirs wouldn’t be, either.

Capitalism doesn’t work well with monopolies, insider-trading, political payoffs, fraud and large amounts of inherited wealth. Billionaires who don’t like Sanders and Warren’s wealth tax plans should at least support reforms that end these anti-capitalist advantages.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Impeachment hearings confirm Republicans detached from reality. What does press do now?

Representative Jim Jordan(C), R-OH speaks during the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on November 13, 2019, at the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie US aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. - Donald Trump faces the most perilous challenge of his three-year presidency as public hearings convened as part of the impeachment probe against him open under the glare of television cameras on Wednesday. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Nothing sways the American people like giant posters—and the wisdom of Jim Jordan.

Republicans proudly advertised their radical ways during Wednesday's impeachment hearings into Donald Trump, wallowing in conspiracies and embracing debunked claims.

The question now: How does the Beltway media cover a party that has aggressively removed itself from reality? How does the news business describe and treat a political party that routinely echoes the most unbelievable claims from Fox News and the darkest corners of the right-wing media?

The truth is, this is a decades-long game of dare that Republicans have been playing with the press, as members of the party uniformly become more radical and more antidemocratic, and basically challenge the press to call them out, knowing full well it won't happen.

That's because the Beltway press basically revolves around the central idea that there are two major competing parties in this country and that they are mirror opposites of each other.

Republicans are just as conservative as Democrats are liberal. Republicans are just as serious as Democrats are. Republicans are just as fact-based and honorable as Democrats are. That false equivalency drives political coverage in this country, and has for decades.

Why this obsession? Because to concede that one party operates under a radically different set of guidelines (or no guidelines at all, in the case of the GOP), journalists have to do two things. They have to defend themselves against allegations of "liberal media bias," and they have to throw out the old, dependable rule book that allowed the press to lazily suggest that Republicans and Democrats function on the same plane, and therefore had to be treated similarly.

But how on earth do you watch the Republican performances during the public impeachment hearings and still cling to that claim? How do you pretend a party that spent hours asking witnesses about Alex Jones-type conspiracy theories somehow functions on a parallel track with Democrats, who spent the hearings ensconced in facts, testimony, and firsthand witness accounts?

The equivalent would be if, during a 2002 congressional hearing, Democrats had spent hours badgering witnesses with 9/11 Truther questions, and the press had pretended that it was totally normal. It's not! And neither is today's irrational and reckless GOP.

The problem is that the press won't accept that glaring fact. But there were signs after the first impeachment hearing that more and more D.C. journalists are willing to discuss just how far afield the Republican Party has gone as it follows Fox News down the rabbit hole. "We are living in a moment where we have a part of one of our major political parties that is just not accepting the premise, is just not accepting facts that are facts," conceded NBC's Chuck Todd.

Journalists really had no choice, given the stunning display Republicans put on at the hearings. And it wasn't just one or two rogue members who used their time to push fictional narratives about Ukraine supposedly double-crossing the United States during the 2016 American election, or claimed that there's simply no proof of an attempted "quid pro quo" with Ukraine, even though the White House transcript of a summer phone call with the country's leader clearly spells out exactly that.

It was the vast majority of Republican committee members, as well as the GOP's general counsel, who oversaw truly bizarre bouts of questioning that seemed to leave the witnesses at times stumped and confused, simply because the questions were not based in reality. Instead, they were based on close viewings of Sean Hannity's television program.

It wasn't spin or impassioned defense that was on display. It was up-is-down Orwellian rhetoric, and it had been telegraphed by Republicans for weeks, ever since the impeachment story broke, and ever since a parade of government officials began testifying about the obvious bribery scheme that was cooked up inside the White House. What happened with the hearings, though, was that the entire nation got to see the GOP’s descent into folly in full view.

But here's the key point: Most casual news consumers don't know that Republicans have become detached from reality as they watch the hearings unfold. (I mean, Republicans sound convincing when they spout convoluted claims about Ukraine working to elect Hillary Clinton.) And that's why it's important that journalists do their jobs and spell out what's truly going on, and not depend on the lazy both-sides crutch in order to avoid necessary truth-telling about the state of today's GOP.

This was a hallmark media failure during the Obama years, as the D.C. press steadfastly refused to report plainly on how radical the GOP was becoming.

Republicans routinely obliterated Beltway precedents when it came to granting Obama the leeway that previous presidents were given by their partisan foes in Congress. Yet at each step along the way, journalists pulled back, refusing to detail the seismic shift taking place. Instead, news outlets  portrayed the obstruction as routine, and often blamed Obama for not being able to avoid the showdowns.

We saw it with the GOP's gun law obstructionism, the sequester obstructionism, the government shutdown obstructionism, the Chuck Hagel confirmation obstructionism, the Susan Rice secretary of state nomination obstructionism, the Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstructionism, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

When Republicans wouldn't allow a vote on the Obama-backed background check bill in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre in Connecticut, even though the initiative enjoyed 90% public support, the press didn't depict the obstruction as radical. Instead, the news media often blamed Obama for not being able to work with Republicans. (He doesn't schmooze enough!)

When Republicans announced in the winter of 2016 that they would categorically ignore any Supreme Court nominee Obama put forward in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia's death, the press pretended that it was Obama who was sparking a "partisan" fight simply by fulfilling his constitutional duty. 

The impeachment hearings confirm that Republicans have taken complete flight from reality. It’s the media’s job to say so. 

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.