Good Anne Applebaum Piece

 

Apologies for the light blogging this week. I started a new job and am working crazy hours until the end of this week. I’m currently working on the second part of my Watergate series during the little time I have to myself.

In the meantime, I’m posting a piece from the foreign-policy-centric Anne Applebaum of WaPo. In case you missed it, Pence had quite the awkward time this weekend in Munich. Here he is telling the audience he brings greeting from Donald Trump.

*crickets*

An off-key Pence sings from the Trump hymnal to a stony European reception

 
February 17

MUNICH — Even inside a hotel so secure that it has body scanners at the entrance and snipers on the roof, Vice President Pence travels with a vast security detail. Its main function, it seems, is to elbow people out of the way so that the vice president and his unsmiling wife can walk through a lobby, crowded with European officials and military brass, and speak to no one. Which is perhaps unsurprising, for Pence was heading to the main forum of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday — an annual event whose origins lie deep in the Cold War — to make statements so tone-deaf and, frankly, peculiar that their intended audience could not have been the one in the room.

Part of his problem is the new context. Two years ago, when Pence spoke at the same forum, many in Europe were still hoping to work with the Trump administration. His speech was banal and uninspiring — it was “an entirely conventional restatement of American commitment to Europe,” I wrote at the time — but Europeans were so relieved to hear it that they decided, on balance, to believe him. Now they don’t. At a side event honoring the late senator John McCain, who had been the moving spirit of the Munich conference for decades, Pence announced that “I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.” He then waited for applause. None came.

But Pence’s keynote speech was more than merely embarrassing. It was awkwardly worded and stiffly delivered. It was sycophantic: Over and over again, he repeated the words “under President Trump’s leadership,” referring to the president as “a champion of freedom” and the “leader of the free world.” It was hypocritical: Pence’s voice seemed to crack when he spoke of the suffering of Venezuelan refugees — “We hugged their children. We heard of their hardship and their plight” — as if his administration hadn’t inflicted plenty of hardship on migrant children wrenched from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Pence’s speech was also ahistoric, even nonsensical. In one hard-to-follow chain of connections, he bundled together Auschwitz and Iran, somehow implying that Europeans who still back a deal designed to deprive Iran of nuclear weapons were supporting anti-Semitism. In a room full of people working for the European Union and NATO, institutions that were explicitly created, decades ago, to prevent another Auschwitz, this would have been offensive if anybody had actually understood what Pence was trying to say.

That, plus the undertone of maudlin religiosity — “I also have that faith, in those ancient words, that where the spirit of the Lord is, there’s liberty” — made it clear that this speech was not, as I say, directed at the Europeans in the room. It was made for the benefit of Trump, or maybe Pence’s evangelical friends and supporters back home.

And that isn’t surprising, for this administration’s foreign policy has long ceased to have much to do with people who are actually in the room. Just before Pence visited Munich, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended a surreal Middle East conference in Warsaw whose main purpose, as far as anyone could tell, was to boost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign ahead of an April 9 vote. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is allegedly hard at work on an equally surreal Middle East “peace plan,” which the president’s son-in-law is devising in secret and apparently without Palestinian input.

These peculiar efforts by Kushner, Pompeo and Pence keep them inside the president’s inner circle, and perhaps they cheer up a few donors and boosters. Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy appeared set on preventing the congressional delegation from encountering too many Germans in Munich, canceling members’ attendance at annual meetings and dinners that they have traditionally attended. Conference attendees didn’t know whether to feel insulted or to just laugh.

Certainly they have stopped paying lip service to an administration that has showed it prefers its authoritarian friends to its oldest allies. There is no point in nice state visits or in trying to cultivate Ivanka Trump. It’s better to speak bluntly, and on Saturday morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel certainly did. She mocked the idea that German cars made in South Carolina could be a “security threat” to the United States, as the tariff-minded Trump administration has suggested. She said the removal of U.S. troops from Syria will not spread freedom, but will “strengthen Russia and Iran’s hand.”

And, like other Europeans, she refused to heed Pence’s call to reimpose sanctions on Iran. European leaders have learned that there is no point in seeking agreement with Trump, for he doesn’t respect those who do. And this, in the end, is why Pence’s pseudo-patriotic speech sounded so off: America cannot be the champion of “liberty” or the “leader of the free world” if the free world — insulted by the U.S. president, snubbed by his surrogates — refuses to follow.

Elliott Abrams, parasite

Apologies for the lack of posts this week. I started a new job and have been working crazy hours. This week will be just as bad. Luckily, mi padre is going to write a few pieces to keep things moving. I’m working on part two of Watergate which I hope to have done soon.

In the meantime, I found a thread from historian and writer from the New Republic, Patrick Iber, concerning Iran-Contra and Elliott Abrams:

 

I don’t have time to do a proper Elliot Abrams thread but here is the issue as I see it: Abrams in the 1980s was not just an ordinary Reagan administration official, he was an especially hard-line Reagan administration official. We must remember that Reagan was facing an opposition Congress, which tried to cut off aid to forces that were using repression and murder as tools to achieve their political ends.

Abrams would say these were terrorist guerrilla forces. Alas, the peaceful, non-violent activists had mostly been killed by that point. Remember, in El Salvador they killed Oscar Romero, a mainstream social justice Catholic (not even a liberation theologian) while he said mass. When four U.S. churchwomen were murdered, Al Haig* tried to say there may have been an “exchange of gunfire.”

 

And all of this behavior, which brought so much suffering to El Salvador, to Guatemala, to Honduras, to Nicaragua, was seen by Abrams and his allies within the administration as the fault of international Communism. Now of course there was aid to guerrilla groups from Cuba and so on, nor were they perfect. But the truth commission reports put around 90% of the extrajudicial killings on government forces. And this was clear throughout the conflict.

And people who tried to make clear that the US-backed side of the conflict was committing serious human rights abuses and hold them accountable were seen by Abrams as doing the work of Communism. He saw advocates of dialogue as enemies. Here are a couple of paragraphs from William LeoGrande’s “Our Own Backyard,” the definitive book on U.S. politics in Central America in the 1980s. Abrams made targets of human rights advocates, not just guerrillas.


And, for example, he tried to use blackmail to make sure Costa Rica’s Oscar Arias (recently disgraced by allegations of sexual assault but a Nobel laureate for his role facilitating negotiations that led to peace) would cooperate with the illegal US war in Nicaragua.


Not to mention the lying to Congress, which, let’s remember, happened because the Reagan administration wanted to back an illegal war after having been specifically prohibited from doing so by law. Democracy promotion indeed! Look: I know the journalist who broke the El Mozote story, Alma Guillermoprieto. We’ve been friends for years. She is still traumatized by what she saw there. The US embassy officials in El Salvador, meanwhile, didn’t venture out. They didn’t want to see. They didn’t even want to understand what they were complicit in. To them it was just Commies and their allies over there and freedom-fighters on the other side.

Democracy promotion as Abrams understood it has a particular pedigree in Cold War anti-Communism. In my work I look at CIA democracy promotion through culture in the 50s/60s. After that got exposed in 1967, it was revived in the National Endowment for Democracy under Reagan. The longtime head of the NED, just like those Cold War anti-Communists, began as a socialist. The “State Department socialists” people sometimes call them, although Abrams is not that, he began his political life as a Scoop Jackson/Moynihan hawk.

And they’re both anti-dictatorship and anti-Communist. But when they’ve got a left-wing dictatorship on their hands, that’s when they really start salivating. And, like it or not, NED support has been there in Venezuela for the opposition for years. I’m not going to defend Maduro, and for someone on the left I have been publicly critical of not only Maduro but also of autocratic aspects of Chavismo over the years. Nor am I even going say that these connections to the US make Guaidó or his demands illegitimate.

But the very legitimate worry is that by having Abrams prominently involved in Venezuela will empower hard-liners in the opposition, who have their own problems with “democracy”. I’m not trying to make an equivalence here, but you can’t look at his record and think that this would be a person who will support a negotiation that could lead to a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Maduro has also an obstacle to that, no doubt.

But having Abrams involved sends the worst kind of signals about the intentions of the U.S., and about the frame of mind of those who are seeking to intervene. In my opinion Venezuela’s next leader should be elected in free and competitive elections, and be able to speak both to the legitimate concerns and needs of chavista voters as well as supporters of the opposition.

I don’t see why Abrams should have any role to play in this, and I don’t see why we should rehabilitate someone who, in my estimation, is guilty, has not paid for his crimes, and has not accepted that he is guilty.


*Al Haig served as Nixon’s Chief of Staff after H.R. Handleman was fired for the Watergate burglary. He also served as Reagan’s Secretary of State.

Watergate Was Worse Than You Realize

 

This is going to be another multi-part series. There’s too much to research, document, and verify to put it all in one place so I’ve decided to break it into sections. The reason I decided to write about Watergate is because Nixon was not an aberration; it’s how Republicans roll. Further proof that Trump didn’t come out of nowhere and when he’s finally gone people need to realize that Republicans will try to pull the same shit Nixon, Reagan, and every other Republican has again.

This is the first of what will be four parts:

  1. Daniel Ellsberg
  2. The Watergate Break-In
  3. The Precipice
  4. Unfinished Business

Part 1 – Daniel Ellsberg

 

The greatest scandal in American history took place almost a half century ago. I wasn’t around for it. Few who were of age could follow the twists and turns like we can today with 24/7 cable news and social media. If, like me, you’ve heard the phrase “worse than Watergate” tossed around, I’m here to tell you that that is a very high bar.

I spent a few days researching the entire saga and I was shocked at some of the lesser-known details. I didn’t truly understand the scope and magnitude of the 37th President’s lawlessness. Nixon pushed the United States to the precipice as the walls closed in. His last two years are the best template we have for when the Special Counsel releases its report, the House impeaches Trump, and the Senate does or does not convict.

First let me preface what I’m about to write with regard to Richard Milhouse Nixon by mentioning a critical component to his 1968 campaign: he ran as the “law and order” candidate. Yes, you read that right. Like any good Republican, he meant “law and order for thee, not for me.”

Rachel Maddow put together an excellent podcast called “Bagman” a few months ago. She goes into great detail about one of many constitutional crises brought on by the Nixon Administration – the resignation of Spiro Agnew. He resigned less than a year before Nixon did. It’s the most comprehensive work I’ve found on the disgraced Vice President.

As a matter of fact, there isn’t many documentaries on Agnew’s departure – a stunning scandal in its own right. I always found that to be odd. Well, now I understand why. Agnew’s boss was so dangerous, so corrupt, so out-of-control that his VP’s resignation amounted to little more than a footnote in the whole mess.

Nixon’s troubles began, in a sense, with a campaign promise he never planned on seeing through: ending the war in Vietnam. The president was too obtuse to recognize the mistake of expanding the war to Cambodia. A draft lottery – the first since WWII – had been instituted a year earlier.

It didn’t occur to Nixon how many students would have to fight for a cause they didn’t understand and wanted nothing to do with. I suppose this was because the so-called “Cold War” had little semblance to the Second World War. Whereas the United States reluctantly declared war on Hirohito and Hitler after multiple European capitals had been reduced to rubble, this conflict was a war of choice against a vague, nebulous enemy: communism.  Furthermore, the US had no business interfering in what was essentially a civil war.

Once twenty-eight national guardsmen killed four unarmed students and wounded nine others at Kent State University, American support for the war had fallen even further among the demographic that was needed to fight it. It’s about this time when Nixon became paranoid about the anti-war movement.

 

Nixon was so paranoid, in fact, that he thought somebody was “behind” the anti-war protests taking place across the country. The guy was a republican through and through – hopelessly out of touch with younger people and consumed by an insatiable appetite for power. You were either with him or against him. Much like the current occupant of the White House, Nixon detested our free press.

One of Tricky Dick’s first targets was Daniel Ellsberg (and his partner Anthony Russo).

Ellsberg was a former U.S. military analyst who made photocopies of a top-secret Pentagon study and sent copies to the New York Times. These came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. They showed that the last three administrations, dating back to John F. Kennedy, had hidden expansion of the war and misled Congress and the American people.

Nixon was irate. His administration tried to persuade the Times to stop publishing the leaks. He and Attorney General John N. Mitchell obtained a federal court injunction forcing The New York Times to cease publication after three stories. The injunction was appealed and eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision. By this time, Ellsberg had leaked more stories to the Washington Post. The stories would continue to be printed and there was nothing Nixon could do about it.

Or so it seemed.

It was around this time that Nixon had his subordinates put together a covert special investigations unit called “The Plumbers.” Think of it as the president’s secret police force – something we typically read about in authoritarian countries. They were to stop the leaks (hence the name).

The Plumbers first operation was to dig up embarrassing dirt on Ellsberg in order to discredit him, hoping to destroy his credibility. The first attempt involved breaking into his psychiatrist’s office in the dead of night.  This was approved by Nixon’s Chief domestic advisor, John Ehrlichman. They didn’t find information deemed embarrassing enough. But operations against Ellsberg didn’t end there.

Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent who teamed up with a former CIA agent, Howard Hunt, had other ideas. Liddy bragged, in his 1980 autobiography, that there was an “Ellsberg neutralization proposal” which involved dissolving LSD in his soup during a fundraising dinner in Washington. The goal was to “have Ellsberg incoherent by the time he was to speak” and thus “make him appear a near burnt-out drug case” and “discredit him.”

The plot involved Cuban waiters. According to Liddy, when the plan was finally approved, “there was no longer enough lead time to get the Cuban waiters up from their Miami hotels and into place in the Washington Hotel where the dinner was to take place” and the plan was “put into abeyance pending another opportunity.”

This plan was approved by Nixon’s advisors! That is just astounding.

Ellsberg later claimed a Watergate prosecutor told him of a plot Liddy hatched to have 12 Cubans, who once worked for the CIA, “totally incapacitate” him when he appeared at a public rally. It’s unclear whether ‘totally incapacitate’ meant kill or drug.

Ellsberg also shared his documents with the Brookings Institute. Nixon said he didn’t care how they made it happen, he wanted the documents. Chuck Colson, Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon, came up with his own scheme to firebomb the Brookings Institute, and in the ensuing panic and confusion, someone would slip inside and take the documents. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? This plan was approved by Ehrlichman until John Dean, the guy who would eventually help bring the president down, talked him out of it.

Dean gets a lot of credit for flipping on Nixon. And rightly so. But it wasn’t until Dean believed Nixon would make him the fall guy that he turned on the president.

Nixon’s thugs – of which John Dean was one – were just getting warmed up.

Cory Booker is not a Good Candidate

 

Too many Democrats are running for the nomination to take on and defeat Spanky McDotard in 2020. While I have no choice but to vote for whichever candidate has the ‘D’ next to their name in the general election, I do have a choice as to who that candidate will be. As of right now, there are some good choices and some awful choices.

A candidate like Tulsi Gabbard showed such poor judgement in the past that she’s irredeemable today. For instance, in the early 2000s Gabbard worked with The Alliance for Traditional Marriage – a PAC run by her father – that opposed pro-LGBT lawmakers and laws, and promoted conversion therapy. I sympathize with candidates whose views have evolved on the gay marriage since my own views have over time.

However I never supported or would support gay conversion therapy. It is cruel and inhumane. While she recently apologized for supporting such a wicked and stupid program, it’s an absolute deal breaker for me.

Gabbard was one of the first Democrats to meet with Trump after the 2016 Election (supposedly to influence his foreign policy). She did the same thing with Bashar al-Assad, the guy who gassed his own people. She did not join the 169 congressional Democrats who signed a letter of opposition to Steve Bannon’s appointment as Trump’s chief strategist.

More deal-breakers.

Gabbard also weighed in during the negotiations to end Trump’s government shutdown, blaming Democrats and Republicans for refusing to sit down together or give ground on some of their priorities.

“Both sides have completely hardened their positions and are unwilling to come together and work out the differences, and that’s the problem here,” Gabbard said. “Our federal employees and contractors and their families have gone far too long suffering as a result of this intransigence.”

Ah yes, both sides! Imagine if Pelosi took her advice.

Gabbard was also the first congresswoman to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016. My opinions on Bernie Sanders are well known. He wants to win over Trump supporters. Personally, I don’t want those people in our coalition nor do we need them to win a presidential election.

It’s true that anyone is better than Trump, but that doesn’t mean we should just settle for any democrat in the primary. The country has moved leftward over the last two years and the party is energized and radicalized for the first time in ages. Let’s make hay while the sun is shining.

This is the most right wing administration in American history. It no longer makes sense to nominate Clinton centrist-types as we have for decades. The days of picking a democrat based on who moderate republicans will vote for are over.

The problems we face – from climate change to the wealth gap to gun violence epidemic to systematic disenfranchisement of minorities – are grave. The next Democratic president can not make the mistake President Obama did during his first year and a half in office. There can be no compromise with the forces of fascism.

Cory Booker, who announced his candidacy last week, is dead set on finding common ground with the GOP. Some people like Booker’s loquacious style. Some still buy into the notion that if democrats just tried a little bit harder to find compromise, the ship will right itself.

This view should be rejected.

I watched Booker’s two debates with a legally blind, extremist Tea Party goofball from 2013. His name is Steve Lonegan. He was out of step with most voters in the blue state of New Jersey. And yet, he was a strong candidate in a different kind of way. He had command of the facts, unflinching in his beliefs. And he was authentic.

What should have been a cakewalk for Booker turned out to be a race. A good candidate would have crushed this guy. Lonegan could have won if New Jersey was a purple state. I think the reason Lonegan did so well is because he didn’t come off like a typical Washington politician. Booker sounded rehearsed and phony.

This is the final debate against Lonegan. Go to about the 34 minute mark.

Booker was ill-prepared for Lonegan’s attacks. You can hear the crowd getting behind Lonegan by the end of this performance.

And it showed on Election Day. Yes, Booker won. But he performed poorly in a race where a good candidate would have obliterated Lonegan. I mean by over 20 points. Trump is similar to Lonegan except he has name recognition, money, and the advantage of incumbency.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s how New Jersey voted in the last three presidential elections:

2008

Barack Obama/Joe Biden      57.14%

John McCain/ Sarah Palin      41.61%

 

2012

Barack Obama/Joe Biden        58.38%

Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan            40.59%

 

2016

Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine             55.45%

Donald Trump/Mike Pence        41.35%

 

This is how New Jersey voted in the special election (that took place in the during a government shutdown that Ted Cruz instigated.

2013

(D) Cory Booker             740,742 votes          54.92%

(R) Steve Lonegan       593,684 votes          44.02%

 

The special election for Frank Lautenberg’s senate seat only sent Booker to Washington for a year before he had to run for re-election in 2014. His next opponent was a former Reagan speechwriter named Jeff Bell. Bell was not a Tea party wacko but at times it seemed like he didn’t want to win. Bell hadn’t even lived in New Jersey for 30 years! He was rumored to be running his campaign out of a hotel lobby!  Booker’s numbers were better than in 2013, but still nothing to brag about.

2014

(D) Cory Booker          1,043,866 votes         55.84%

(R) Jeff Bell                     791,297 votes             42.33%

 

You can’t blame Booker’s under-performance on race. Obama won the state by an average of 16.66 points. Hillary won the state by over 14 points. The man Booker replaced, Frank Lautenberg, cruised to re-election in 2008 by 14 points.

Bob Menendez, who’s as crooked as they come, won his 2012 election by a whopping 19.5 points. Menendez hung on to win by 11.2 points last year after a mistrial had been declared in his corruption trial.

So why don’t people in Booker’s own state like him very much? And what damaging stuff could come out if he were to somehow win the nomination for the 2020 Election?

Here’s Olivia Nuzzi, who covered his campaign in 2014 for the Daily Beast:

All the while, from 2006 to 2011, Booker was still receiving annual payments, which totaled close to $700,000, from his former law firm – Trenk, DiPasquale, Webster – from which he had resigned once elected mayor to avoid “the appearance of impropriety.” Booker’s campaign spokeswoman, Silvia Alvarez, told me: “He was paid out by the firm as part of his separation agreement for work he performed before he became mayor.” OK, sure, but while Booker was profiting from the firm, they were profiting from Newark: over $2 million in work for Newark’s Housing Authority, the Watershed Conservation Development Corporation, and a wastewater agency.

And:

Meanwhile, it looked as though Booker’s record in Newark might be catching up with him. As mayor, he presided over and strengthened the Newark Watershed Conservation Development Corporation – a publicly funded entity that managed the city’s reservoirs and treated water for its residents. Pretty boring stuff. But a state audit by the comptroller’s office found that the agency’s director, Linda Watkins-Brashear, a donor and close ally of Booker’s, was using the Watershed like her own personal bank account – paying herself $1.98 million over seven years, when her salary came to just $1.16 million. She also doled out millions in no-bid contracts to her friends and husband. Further, Booker’s former law partner, Elnardo Webster, had been acting as the Watershed’s counsel – and his firm had profited $212,318. “He had nothing to do with the business the firm conducted with the Watershed,” Booker’s spokeswoman, Silvia Alvarez, told me.

Uh, okay. So Booker is either corrupt as hell or incompetent. Very inspiring stuff there, Cory.

When asked yesterday whether he thinks any liberal initiatives can become law with the filibuster in place, Booker said yes, he sees ways to keep the filibuster AND meet the 60-vote threshold.

What the hell is he talking about?

A democrat will never get liberal legislation through the senate with the filibuster in place. That’s why Obama was reduced to signing executive orders once he lost control of the House and Senate.

The filibuster is one of the least democratic tools in place. It keeps real change from ever happening, and while it has benefited democrats in the past, it has become. The ‘tell’ is how Mitch McConnell, who cares nothing about norms or ethics, refused to get rid of it when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress.

I don’t know if Booker is delusional or just naive, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s an empty suit and a walking platitude. Progressives finally have decent candidates who understand what’s up. We have the opportunity to take a left turn and start getting this country back on track. It would be foolish to think that candidate is Cory Booker.

Between the skeletons in his closet from his time as mayor of Newark and his tone deaf calls for compromise in the Age of Trump, Cory Booker is the wrong person to lead the Democratic Party. There are better choices.

Pay no attention to the flowery rhetoric. Look at his record. Watch what he does. We don’t need to settle for less.

The Golden Era of Corruption

 

Yes, that is how historians will describe the Trump Years. It’s so bottomless that not even people who cover this stuff for a living can keep up with it.

Just as an example, here are the myriad stories that broke about – just about the Trump Organization – over a 24 HOUR PERIOD this week:

 

1)Trump’s nonprofit Inaugural committee paid the Trump Hotel DC $175,000 per day for event space – that could violate tax laws prohibiting self-dealing.

by Ilya Marritz of WNYC and Justin Elliott of ProPublica

 

https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/new-evidence-emerges-possible-wrongdoing-trump-inaugural-committee

 

2) Sixteen men and women from Costa Rica and other Latin American countries said they were employed at Trump Bedminster. All said they worked without legal status – and their managers knew.

by Joshua Partlow, Nick Miroff, and David Farenthold of WaPo

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/my-whole-town-practically-lived-there-from-costa-rica-to-new-jersey-a-pipeline-of-illegal-workers-for-trump-goes-back-years

 

3) Since he took office, Trump has appointed at least eight people who identified themselves as current or former members of Mar-a-Lago to senior posts in his administration.

by Brad Heath of USA Today

 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/investigations/2019/02/08/donald-trump-picks-ambassadors-golf-club-mar-lago-members/2748260002/

 

4) Rep. Jackie Speier (D–CA) told CNN’s New Day she thinks President Trump’s real estate dealings violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which governs U.S. businesses’ dealings with foreign investors.

“I have thought for a very long time that the President, as a real estate developer, had violated what’s called the Foreign Corrupt Practices act.”

Speier says she’s focusing on three Trump hotel projects: Toronto, Soho and Panama.

5) Trump’s inauguration planner got a discount at the Trump Hotel DC, yet was told to submit her receipts to Reince Preibus (for reimbursement). Meaning the RNC is funneling money directly into Trump’s pocket!

by Emily Jane Fox of Vanity Fair

 

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/02/behind-the-scenes-of-trumps-107-million-inauguration

 

6) Citizens For Ethics (CREW) leaned that Ivanka Trump’s business picked up a new trademark in Canada.

So Ivanka now has trademarks for passport organizers in both Canada and Mexico even while her father tries to revise NAFTA.

 

 

7) The president’s businesses received nearly $3.8 million from political committees during the two-year 2018 campaign cycle, The top political customers: Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican Party. 

 

by Megan R. Wilson of Bloomberg News

https://about.bgov.com/news/trump-businesses-get-a-boost-from-republican-party-patronage/

 

8) The RNC has paid a firm owned by former Trump Org employee, and Donald Trump’s body guard, Keith Schiller, $225,000.

by Christina Wilkie of CNBC

 

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/08/firm-owned-by-trumps-longtime-bodyguard-has-received-225000-from-rnc.html

 

9) A U.S. Army regiment held its annual ball last night at the Trump Hotel DC- so soldiers were potentially sending money up the chain of command. Pictures of them in uniform in front of the hotel’s logo made it to social media.

by Zack Everson of 1100 Penn

 

https://zacheverson.substack.com/p/old-guard-parties-commander-in-chief

 

10) Senator Warren wrote a letter to three Mar-a-Lago members who’ve been influential in V.A. decisions. She does not believe any of the three are V.A. employees or contractors. She doesn’t believe they ever received VA ethics training. And she wants to find out what companies they’ve invested in.

https://www.warren.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2019.02.6%20Letter%20to%20Mar-a-Lago%20Trio%20re%20Personally%20Profiting%20from%20VA%20Interference.pdf

 

11) The Trump campaign spent nearly $100K of donor money on the law firm representing Kushner.

by Soo Rin Kim, Katherine Faulders, and Matthew Mosk of ABC News

 

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/429172-trump-campaign-spent-nearly-100k-of-donor-money-on-law-firm

John Dingell, American Treasure

 

I’m posting John Dingell’s final words, which he submitted to the Washington Post.

This was a public servant who truly made America great.

 


John D. Dingell in 2014. (Jeff Kowalsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
February 8 at 4:03 PM
 

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Think about it:

Impoverishment of the elderly because of medical expenses was a common and often accepted occurrence. Opponents of the Medicare program that saved the elderly from that cruel fate called it “socialized medicine.” Remember that slander if there’s a sustained revival of silly red-baiting today.

Not five decades ago, much of the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth — our own Great Lakes — were closed to swimming and fishing and other recreational pursuits because of chemical and bacteriological contamination from untreated industrial and wastewater disposal. Today, the Great Lakes are so hospitable to marine life that one of our biggest challenges is controlling the invasive species that have made them their new home.

We regularly used and consumed foods, drugs, chemicals and other things (cigarettes) that were legal, promoted and actively harmful. Hazardous wastes were dumped on empty plots in the dead of night. There were few if any restrictions on industrial emissions. We had only the barest scientific knowledge of the long-term consequences of any of this.

And there was a great stain on America, in the form of our legacy of racial discrimination. There were good people of all colors who banded together, risking and even losing their lives to erase the legal and other barriers that held Americans down. In their time, they were often demonized and targeted, much like other vulnerable men and women today.

Please note: All of these challenges were addressed by Congress. Maybe not as fast as we wanted, or as perfectly as hoped. The work is certainly not finished. But we’ve made progress — and in every case, from the passage of Medicare through the passage of civil rights, we did it with the support of Democrats and Republicans who considered themselves first and foremost to be Americans.

I’m immensely proud, and eternally grateful, for having had the opportunity to play a part in all of these efforts during my service in Congress. And it’s simply not possible for me to adequately repay the love that my friends, neighbors and family have given me and shown me during my public service and retirement.

But I would be remiss in not acknowledging the forgiveness and sweetness of the woman who has essentially supported me for almost 40 years: my wife, Deborah. And it is a source of great satisfaction to know that she is among the largest group of women to have ever served in the Congress (as she busily recruits more).

In my life and career, I have often heard it said that so-and-so has real power — as in, “the powerful Wile E. Coyote, chairman of the Capture the Road Runner Committee.”

It’s an expression that has always grated on me. In democratic government, elected officials do not have power. They hold power — in trust for the people who elected them. If they misuse or abuse that public trust, it is quite properly revoked (the quicker the better).

I never forgot the people who gave me the privilege of representing them. It was a lesson learned at home from my father and mother, and one I have tried to impart to the people I’ve served with and employed over the years.

As I prepare to leave this all behind, I now leave you in control of the greatest nation of mankind and pray God gives you the wisdom to understand the responsibility you hold in your hands.

May God bless you all, and may God bless America.

#NeverBernie (or Tulsi Gabbard)

This piece from The Atlantic sheds light on why Joe Kennedy III endorsed Elizabeth Warren today. My thoughts on Sanders are well known. He’s an awful candidate, a divisive figure, and a sketchy politician.

The more I think about it, the more I realize there is NO WAY I would vote for Sanders or Tulsi Gabbard. Both are completely unfit for the highest office in the land – just a tiny bit better than Trump. Speaking of which, expect Putin’s army of trolls and bots to descend on social media like locusts once again. These two will become the beneficiaries for 2020.

There are still a ton of unanswered questions about Sanders’ votes on Russia and his 2016 campaign manager’s ties to Russia.

Bernie Sanders

 

Bernie Sanders has seen himself as on a mission since he started running for office in the 1970s, and he sees no reason to stop now. He thinks he’s dramatically changed the conversation over the past three years, and he feels like he’s close to achieving his ultimate goal.

Plus, there’s Donald Trump.

When the president used his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to preview his own reelection campaign and warn against creeping socialism, Sanders was only encouraged. He’d love to take on Trump directly, and people around him think he’ll be able to use Trump’s threat to coalesce support in the primaries.

“Nothing unifies Democrats like being made a villain by Trump,” said one Sanders ally.

The senator from Vermont has been huddling with staff in meetings and brainstorming on phone calls over the past few weeks, chewing over plans. Barring a surprise, last-minute change of heart, he will jump into the 2020 race, convinced he can win, according to people familiar with his plans. His spokeswoman, Arianna Jones, did not return a request for comment on Sanders’s plans.

Last time, he didn’t get in until the end of April 2015. This time, the launch will be in February. He sees advantage in a much more crowded 2020 field. The left-leaning politics he campaigned on in 2016 have been broadly embraced in a progressive surge among Democrats, and Sanders has succeeded in diminishing the nominating power of so-called super delegates, the elected officials and party elders who help consolidate establishment power within the Democratic National Committee.

Sanders will likely announce an exploratory committee in the coming weeks, followed by a rally. One major early focus will be finding a campaign manager and other top-level staffers who are not white, and preferably not male, in light of his problems appealing to minority voters in 2016 and recent revelations of sexual harassment by lower-level staffers on the 2016 campaign. Staff interviews have been quietly under way.

But a core team of advisers will return from 2016, spearheaded by Sanders’s wife and closest adviser, Jane O’Meara Sanders.

His aides know this race will be different from his 2016 run against Hillary Clinton, when he surprised even himself with how close he came to knocking her off. Democratic leaders have been impressed by the extent to which the ideas from his campaign have carried forward, injecting far-left populism into the mainstream of Democratic politics—even as many in the party still bitterly point to his candidacy as weakening Clinton to the point that Trump was able to win.

Sanders has heard the argument that his stature would be diminished by running again if he doesn’t end up winning the nomination. He’s heard the argument that he might split the progressive vote and allow a more moderate candidate to win, but that hasn’t moved him either. That’s not how Sanders thinks, people who know him point out.

“He understands what happens in the streets is what prompts actions in Washington,” said Vincent Fort, a former Georgia state senator who supported the last campaign and has been in touch with Sanders’s team about this campaign.

There are also the nuts-and-bolts political considerations that Sanders doesn’t focus as much on, but that his team pays close attention to: He’s the one with the massive email list. Alone among those eyeing the Democratic nomination, he’s the one who had 40,000 people watching various live-streams of his State of the Union response. He’s the one whose team thinks he could, on day one, raise more money online and get more attention than any of the other candidates.

Sanders believes that he continues to have the strength in Iowa and New Hampshire to either win or come close there—especially with other candidates fragmenting support and lowering the bar for what it will take to win. Likewise, in a South Carolina primary that has both Cory Booker and Kamala Harris competing for African American votes and, likely, Joe Biden drawing on his own decades of connections there, Sanders sees a path to slip through and win.

Biden in the race, after all, would make it so that the senator isn’t the only white man in his 70s in the field.

If the early states all come together, Sanders would be positioned to power through the front-ended primary calendar that has California, Texas, and several other big states voting on the first Super Tuesday, March 4, just a month after Iowa. No one else in the field has anything like his proven success with both grassroots supporters and the small-dollar online fundraising that it will take to fund the kind of massive national operation any 2020 campaign will require.

“With all the other people in, the fact is, Bernie is the one whose ideas everyone else is ‘borrowing,’ whether it be Wall Street reforms, or Medicare for all, or free college. These are all ideas that Bernie came up with first and best,” Fort said. “I’m a little bit skeptical of the sincerity of some of the latecomers.”

Changes to DNC procedures, which Sanders and his team fought for, have diminished the role of the caucuses where Sanders ran the strongest in 2016, but they have also taken power away from the elected officials and party elders who might, for example, help tilt a tight race to Biden or another candidate who isn’t an outsider insurgent.

Sanders’s team has been eyeing Beto O’Rourke nervously, given the former Texas congressman’s strong online presence and appeal with many of the same types of voters that Sanders taps into. O’Rourke also drew significant support from young former Sanders staffers who helped build the 2016 campaign into what it was. But there’s a sense that O’Rourke’s support is flagging, as he continues to talk about running without making a decision.

Now a Sanders candidacy would seem to be the biggest threat to Elizabeth Warren, who’s been campaigning on her own anti-corporate platform, with proposals such as a new tax on the ultrarich. Aides to the senator from Massachusetts have been preparing her on how to respond. But though they will clearly compete for some of the same voters, Sanders and his aides have always seen him as a greater threat to her than she is to him, and have been encouraged by the continuing problems she’s facing from the controversy over her claims of Native American heritage. He’s the one with the devoted followers, Sanders and his aides believe, and some of them are still angry at Warren for deciding to sit out the 2016 primary race rather than endorsing him.

What a Sanders candidacy may do for Warren, though, is enable her not to seem as radical as his democratic socialism. It might also enable her to note that she’s a generation younger than Sanders, as opposed to currently being the oldest Democratic candidate in the field. And a Sanders candidacy might allow Warren to argue that she’s largely in line with him politically, but the one who could actually win.

A Warren spokeswoman declined comment on how Warren would position herself if Sanders runs.

Sanders boosters note that with a field this big, coming in first in Iowa might take only about 30 percent of the vote, and that he came just shy of 50 percent of the vote there against Clinton. Rules changes to the caucuses might also play to Sanders’s favor, clarifying an arcane process that weighs votes in a way that can make the final results not fully representative of the number of people who actually show up on caucus night.

But Sanders skeptics doubt that he fully appreciates how much of the approximately 45 percent of the primary vote he received in 2016 was fundamentally an anti-Clinton vote, and doubt that he realizes how many of those people might leave him once they realize how many other choices they have. Unlike in his last run, he will start right away with the spotlight of a presumed front-runner on him, and issues involving his background and record that were overlooked in 2016 will likely receive new scrutiny. Warren, Biden, and Harris have been the focus of most of the Republican attacks and reporters’ digging so far, but that dynamic may shift if Sanders continues to run as strong as public polling suggests.

There’s the potential that once he’s in, any stumbles will be higher profile, and any drop-off in the polls could suggest he’s leaching support. Already, in the past week he waited until after all the declared Democratic candidates to call for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to resign over the blackface/Ku Klux Klan–hood photo. He also faced outrage for doing his own State of the Union response for the third year in a row; this year’s followed Stacey Abrams’s official Democratic response. Some griped that he was being disrespectful, a charge that Sanders and his team found ridiculous, even as they dealt with the fallout.

He spent most of his response explaining how Trump’s supposed economic miracle hasn’t reached many people in the country.

“I know that this will probably not shock you—I hate to say this—but not everything Donald Trump said tonight was true or accurate,” Sanders said immediately after the president’s address in a live video on social media. “For many of President Trump’s billionaire friends, the truth is, they have never, ever had it so good. But for the middle class, and for the working families of our country, the truth is that the economy is not so good.”

A Crazy Day

 

The Associated Press reports:

Federal prosecutors in New York are probing whether the National Enquirer’s parent company violated a cooperation agreement in its handling of the story regarding Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Bezos claims American Media Inc. threatened to publish intimate photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the tabloid obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.

Two people familiar with the matter tell The Associated Press that prosecutors are looking at whether an email exchange Bezos published shows AMI violated an agreement it struck to avoid prosecution for alleged campaign finance violations. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The agreement requires AMI commit no crimes for three years. AMI did not respond to requests for comment.

It was a safe assumption this would happen after last night’s bombshell development.

What seems like a slam dunk – that David Pecker and AMI voided the plea agreement with the FBI’s Southern District of New York branch – I’m not entirely convinced the SDNY can prove AMI committed a crime.

Here’s Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor:

Did the National Enquirer and its parent company commit a crime or otherwise break the law in its recent actions towards Jeff Bezos?

In the Medium post contained in the tweet above, Amazon founder (and Washington Post owner) Jeff Bezos explains how the parent company of the National Enquirer engaged in what Bezos characterizes as “extortion and blackmail” towards him. It is worth reading.

In the Medium post, Bezos explained that he hired someone to conduct an investigation of the National Enquirer and its parent company. He notes that there are “now several independent investigations looking into this matter,” suggesting there are criminal investigations. To be clear, if the National Enquirer or its parent company caused someone to hack into Bezos’ computer, server, or smart phone, that is a crime. (The National Enquirer’s parent company claims it did not do so.) The subject of Bezos’s post is something that happened after.

Specifically, the parent company of the National Enquirer told Bezos that it had many compromising photos and texts that it had not published but would publish if he did not agree to certain terms, which it sent to Bezos, who included them within the Medium post. The terms were written by a Deputy General Counsel for AMI (the parent company), and they were sent *after* a descriptive email from AMI’s Chief Content Officer describing in graphic detail the private photos and messages that AMI had in its possession.

In the proposed terms, among other things, both sides (Bezos and AMI) agreed to release each other of any legal claims, Bezos agreed to state that AMI’s coverage of Bezos was not politically motivated, and AMI agreed not to publish any of the private material. The terms explicitly stated that if Bezos didn’t abide by the deal, AMI could publish the material. To be clear, when I say “terms,” I’m using a legal word–this is drafted as if they are terms in a settlement agreement between AMI and Bezos. That is important.

So is this extortion or blackmail, as Bezos claims?

Yes, given the ordinary meaning of those terms. But whether this is actually a *crime* is much more complicated than that. Situations like this are common and I have represented clients in a situation similar to Bezos.

What is extortion? Typically it’s when someone demands money in exchange for keeping something embarrassing private. While we ordinarily have a First Amendment right to say whatever we please, it can be a crime to threaten to say something unless money is paid.

This situation is more complex than that. Bezos has potential legal claims against AMI, if AMI engaged in wrongdoing against Bezos. Also, the AMI Chief Content Officer hinted that they believe the Washington Post will publish a false story about AMI. AMI would surely argue that this is a legitimate settlement of its dispute with Bezos. They realize that Bezos has claims against them, and perhaps they could make claims against Bezos or the Washington Post. The agreement would release those claims.

AMI would also argue that the agreement calls for both sides not to publish damaging information about the other side, and that the descriptive email from the Chief Content Officer was merely part of its settlement negotiations, to show Bezos that their offer had value.

To make this out as an extortion case, prosecutors would have to argue that the claims Bezos had against AMI constituted “money or property” of Bezos and that the whole settlement proposal was merely window dressing for the extortion of Bezos by AMI. You can make those arguments, but it would be a very hard trial to win. And that’s without considering a potential First Amendment defense. AMI would also have an advice of counsel defense, because those terms appear to have been drafted by a lawyer.
 
So what about the AMI Non Prosecution Agreement with the Southern District of New York federal prosecutors? (Link below.) The agreement would obligate AMI to fully cooperate with a SDNY investigation of this matter. But if this wasn’t a crime, it doesn’t violate the agreement. It does shift things to an extent because prosecutors could claim that this was a crime and use that to void the Non Prosecution Agreement.
 
AMI would certainly challenge that in court, but the standard would not be the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that they would be entitled to in a criminal trial. That said, for the reasons above, I don’t think federal prosecutors will go down that road. (If they did, they would spend a lot of resources fighting with AMI just to have the right to bring criminal charges against individuals at AMI that they were willing to forego bringing in the first place. Not a good use of prosecutorial resources.) As I mentioned earlier, moves like this are fairly common when there are legal disputes between people or companies as a way for one side to gain leverage over the other. It is despicable but I have had no success convincing federal prosecutors to bring charges.
 
Okay, so again, it’s unclear where the law stands with regard to what AMI and David Pecker attempted to do to Jeff Bezos.
 
But there’s much more going on here than just whatever happened with these two. I posted some of the things Will Bunch brought up earlier.
 
But there’s also this development: Ronan Farrow, one of the preeminent investigative journalists of the #MeToo era, posted the following statement today:
 
I and at least one other prominent journalist involved in breaking stories about the National Enquirer’s arrangement with Trump fielded similar “stop digging or we’ll ruin you” blackmail efforts from AMI. (I did not engage as I don’t cut deals with subjects of ongoing reporting.)
 
This prompted Ted Bridis, a former editor at the Associated Press, to reply:
 
We were warned explicitly by insiders that AMI had hired private investigators to dig into backgrounds of journalists looking into the tabloid’s efforts on behalf of Trump. Never saw evidence of this either way, and it didn’t stop our reporting.
 
I’d just like to remind people that this blackmail technique is very popular in Putin’s Russia. It’s used against political opposition, journalists, and probably even allies.
 
 

It Appears Something Truly Rotten Happened

 

One problem with Trump’s endless corruption and lawlessness is how stories that would potentially dominate the news get short shrift. This one has to do with an incident that took place in Houston last week.

EXCLUSIVE: KHOU11 Investigates confirms that a veteran Houston Police narcotics officer has been temporarily relieved of duty due to “ongoing questions” about his role in the drug search warrant served last week on Harding Street that ended in a deadly shootout.

 

 

This thread is from a person who follows police abuses.

A VERY TROUBLING THREAD: Remember that weird police shootout during a no-knock raid in Houston last week?

It was immediately obvious the raid was fishy. An anonymous 911 caller reported drugs at a home owned by 59-year-old disabled Navy veteran Dennis Tuttle and his wife Rhogena.

But neither had any criminal record. And friends and family say there’s no way they were dealers.

Dennis Tuttle & Rhogena Nicholas: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Some Houston detectives set up an investigation. They claimed they did a controlled purchase of brown powder heroin using a confidential informant. They also claimed to have kept the home under surveillance after the purchase and up until the raid.

 

https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/HPD-officer-connected-to-deadly-raid-shootout-13598143.php

The cops signed an affidavit stating there was heroin in the house along with a 9mm handgun. The cops swore they confirmed the informant was clean prior to the purchase, and that they personally inspected the heroin he allegedly purchased.

Before entering, the cops didn’t announce their presence, and upon entry, the lead officer shot the couple’s dog. The police were then met with gunfire from Mr. Tuttle using a .357 revolver. When the smoke cleared, Dennis and Rhogena were dead and five officers were wounded.

Everything was fishy. People started asking questions. What the hell happened? Were they at the wrong house? Activist groups were becoming vocal.
 
As criticism grew, Houston Police Department Union President made some wildly improper statements, threatening to track anyone “spreading the rhetoric that police are the enemy,” and “hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers.”
 
 
 
Nonetheless, Houston City Council members doubled-down on their unconditional support for Gamaldi and the Houston Police Department, scolding of Houston Black Lives Matter for having the audacity to express outrage about Gamaldi’s repulsive jack-booted tirade.
 
Fast forward a few days, and news breaks that one of the officers involved has been relieved of duty. And the rumor flying around among local journalists is not that police were at the wrong house…but that the “controlled purchase” NEVER EVEN HAPPENED.
 
As these whispers began to percolate among the media, HPD’s Chief released a statement acknowledging that an internal investigation was underway into “questions regarding the circumstances surrounding the search warrant.”
 
And the Harris County DA put out a statement saying their Civil Rights Division is tasked with the case:
 

Statement from District Attorney Ogg on the recent officer-involved shooting at the 7800 block of Harding:

“Our Civil Rights Division prosecutors are currently working with the Houston Police Department’s special investigation team to look at every aspect of this incident. As is our policy, every shooting by a police officer – in every instance – is presented to a grand jury to determine if any criminal charges are warranted.”

 

At the same time, the chorus calling for the firing of HPOU President Joe Gamaldi continues to intensify:

Activists Want Houston’s Police Union President Investigated For Inciting Tensions

 

The lead HPD case-agent for the botched raid remains in the hospital, unable to communicate due to his wounds. In the meantime, the community sits on pins and needles waiting to learn exactly what happened to Dennis and Rhogena and what reckoning must follow.

 

Peeling the Onion

  In light of Jeff Bezos accusing AMI of blackmail last night, the most important  questions are: How did AMI come into possession of Bezos’ texts? Was it someone working for the US government? Was it someone working for a foreign government? Was it done at Trump’s behest? Jared Kushner’s? How many other people has…

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