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Friday, September 22, 2017

Catching up with the Mueller probe

by digby

I wrote about the latest for Salon this morning:

It's always risky to write a recap of the week's latest events in the Russia scandal on a Friday morning, since more often than not all hell breaks loose on Friday night. But this week's been so full of news, what with a horrible earthquake in Mexico, another devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico, a disastrous speech by Donald Trump speech at the UN and a calamitous health care bill poised to pass the Senate, that Russia news seems almost anti-climactic. But in any other week, the information that has emerged in the last few days about the investigation would be dominating the front pages of papers all over the country.

There are a number of threads to the story to pull together. The first is that special counsel Robert Mueller has sent requests to the White House asking for various documents pertaining to Trump's actions as president. These include the firing of James Comey and Michael Flynn, as well as requests for telephone records from Air Force One on the day the president helped draft the false statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting with a purported representative of the Russian government, in hopes of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. Even the White House lawyers are compelled to cooperate, thanks to Ken Starr and the Republicans' obsessive pursuit of Bill Clinton's sex life back in the 1990s. At that time, courts held that the president's attorneys had to reveal any information they might possess about potential crimes implicating him.

There is no longer any doubt that Mueller's office is investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation, and it doesn't seem to be limited to events surrounding the Comey firing.

We've known the outlines of this before, but the details of Mueller's requests show that he's stepping up the pressure on the White House and will be focusing on individual staff members to testify about what they saw and heard during this entire period. Notably, Mueller's staff has requested information from former White House press secretary Sean Spicer about his public comments pertaining to Comey's firing.

That request has in turn led to the revelation that Spicer has kept copious notes going all the way back to the Republican convention, the Trump campaign, the transition and into the administration. Those will undoubtedly be of great interest to the special counsel and possibly the congressional committees. When asked about these notebooks, Spicer told his old friend Mike Allen of Axios to stop texting and calling him or he'd "call the proper authorities." As the Mueller investigation starts to close in on the White House, things are getting tense in Trump world.

But for all that intrigue, it wasn't the biggest Russia investigation story of the week. Since he was the man who ran what was known as "The Torturer's Lobby" in Washington for many years, it's only fitting that Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is slowly roasting over a very hot spit. This week CNN confirmed that Manafort had been under a FISA surveillance warrant by American intelligence services from 2014 through 2016 under suspicion of ... something. The warrant wasn't in effect during the period Manafort worked for Trump's campaign, but the government reportedly began to track his communications once again from the fall of 2016 through at least the spring of this year.

Manafort has been involved with a lot of shady characters over the years (and I do mean a lot), so it's difficult to know specifically why he was a surveillance target. But the Washington Post reports that among the documents Manafort turned over to the congressional committees are emails he sent to an employee named Konstantin Kilimnik, who allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence. In those emails, Manafort appears to be offering to set up meetings between Trump and a notorious Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska, who has previously been denied entry into the U.S. because of ties to organized crime.

These emails seem to be written in a sort of code to obscure Deripaska's identity, but nobody has had much trouble figuring it out. At one point Manafort wonders if arranging this meeting will make him "whole." Manafort's spokesman said that he was just trying to collect some money owed to him, but since Deripaska had filed suit against Manafort in 2014 for $17 million, it might make more sense to conclude that Manafort was offering to trade contact with Trump for a relief of his debt, rather than the other way around.

This raises the the question once again as to why in the world Manafort was supposedly working for a billionaire candidate for free. It's not as if Manafort was a longtime Trump friend or a true believer in Trump's ideology, whatever that is. He's a hired gun and hired guns don't work for nothing. He is not the type of guy who doesn't get paid.

Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider put together a narrative of Manafort's tenure with the Trump campaign that's very useful in drawing the bigger picture. The bottom line is that it is starting to look very much as if Manafort was working for someone other than Donald Trump.

What we don't know is what other people on the campaign knew, including Trump himself. To this day he can't bring himself to say anything negative about Vladimir Putin. His irrational attempts to shut down the investigation do not suggest the behavior of a man with nothing to hide.

Manafort left his job as campaign chair in August 2016, but continued to be involved. He made one key decision before his official departure: He made sure that Trump chose Mike Pence as his running mate. When Pence took over the presidential transition team after Chris Christie was let go, according to the Daily Beast, Manafort came back in the tent, helping to choose cabinet members and speaking with Trump and Pence on a regular basis. He even advised the incoming administration on how to handle the Russia investigation.

So Manafort, who had resigned after a wave of reports detailing his shady relationships with Russia-aligned Ukranian politicians, was up to his neck in the Trump transition. During the same period when Jared Kushner was meeting with Russian bankers and talking to the Russian ambassador about back channels at the Russian embassy, and Mike Flynn was on the horn promising to lift the Russia sanctions. Nobody remembered to put any of these meetings on their applications for security clearance.

It's not clear whether Trump has stayed in contact with Manafort since he became president. I'm sure his lawyers go to bed every night praying that he didn't.



If anyone knows charters, it's Betsy DeVos

by Tom Sullivan

Learjet 60 by Igors Cernovs via Creative Commons.

Drain the swamp?

That was the promise. Maybe not as prominent as "build the wall" and "lock her up," but that was one of the president's campaign themes: to "drain the swamp" that is Washington, D.C. Then he took office and began constructing a nicer one. (Your're gonna love it! Believe me.)

Politico has the latest on the president's bigger, more beautiful swamp:

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken at least 24 flights on private charter planes at taxpayers’ expense since early May, according to people with knowledge of his travel plans and a review of HHS documents.

The frequency of the trips underscores how private travel has become the norm — rather than the exception — for the Georgia Republican during his tenure atop the federal health agency, which began in February. The cost of the trips identified by POLITICO exceeds $300,000, according to a review of federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

Price’s use of private jets represents a sharp departure from his two immediate predecessors, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially in the continental United States. HHS officials have said Price uses private jets only when commercial travel is not feasible.
His office claims that Price's recent flurry of private flights reflects his intense schedule in response to hurricane relief in Texas and Florida.

That's not what Politico's review reveals. The report includes, among others, the Learjet-60 Price chartered on a Saturday in June to take him from San Diego to the tony Aspen Ideas Festival. The plane dropped Price in Aspen 19 hours ahead of his scheduled panel at a cost to taxpayers of $7,100.

The Washington Post explains the reason the 12-year veteran of Congress books private charters is he was once delayed four hours in an airport, poor thing:
“This is Secretary Price, getting outside of D.C., making sure he is connected with the real American people,” said Charmaine Yoest, his assistant secretary for public affairs. “Wasting four hours in an airport and having the secretary cancel his event is not a good use of taxpayer money.”
In a companion piece, Politico reports that charter school advocate, billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, uses her personal jet for travel rather than commercial jets and private charters. At no expense to the taxpayer:
"Secretary DeVos travels on personally-owned aircraft, accompanied by her security detail and whenever possible, additional support staff, at zero cost to U.S. taxpayers," said spokeswoman Liz Hill in an email.

"The secretary neither seeks, nor accepts, any reimbursement for her flights, nor for any additional official travel-related expenses, such as lodging and per diem, even though she is entitled to such reimbursement under government travel regulations," Hill said.

DeVos is also planning to donate her government salary to charity.
Now, I've never been a fan of the charter schools movement or of Betsy DeVos. And perhaps Price simply doesn't have pockets as deep as hers. But having spent so much of her focus on public education, at least she has more of a sense for limited public resources than Price (or her boss) seems to.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trump's bff is a real no-nonsense guy

by digby

Trump invited this guy to the White House:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he will have his son killed if drug trafficking allegations against the younger politician are true, and that the police who carry out the hit will be protected from prosecution.

Paolo Duterte, 42, this month appeared before a senate inquiry to deny accusations made by an opposition lawmaker he was a member of a Chinese triad who helped smuggle in a huge shipment of crystal methamphetamine from China.

President Duterte did not refer to the allegations specifically but reiterated his statement from last year's election campaign that none of his children were involved in drugs, but they would face the harshest punishment if they were.

"I said before my order was: 'If I have children who are into drugs, kill them so people will not have anything to say'," Duterte said in a speech on Wednesday night before government workers at the presidential palace in Manila.

"So I told Pulong (Paolo's nickname): 'My order is to kill you if you are caught. And I will protect the police who kill you, if it is true'," he said.

Duterte, 72, won the presidential elections on a brutal law-and-order platform in which he promised an unprecedented campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in society by killing up to 100,000 traffickers and addicts.

Since he assumed office in the middle of last year, police have reported killing more than 3,800 people in anti-drug operations while thousands of others have been murdered in unexplained circumstances.

Duterte has as president said he would be "happy to slaughter" three million drug addicts, and described children shot dead in the drug war as "collateral damage".

Remember,Trump told him that he was handling the drug problem "the right way."

And lest you think Trump would never got that far, think again:

The story begins after the death of Trump’s father, Fred Sr., in 1999. As David Cay Johnston explains in his book The Making of Donald Trump, Fred Sr. had written a will after the death of his oldest son, Fred Jr., known as Freddy, in 1981. The will left the majority of Fred Sr.’s wealth to Donald and his surviving siblings. Freddy’s family was largely cut out.

When Fred Sr. died, Freddy’s children sued, claiming that the will “had been ‘procured by fraud and undue influence’ by Donald and the other surviving siblings,” according to Johnston.

Johnston writes that medical insurance had consistently been provided to the family through Fred Sr.’s company. This coverage was crucial for Freddy’s grandson (Donald’s grandnephew), who suffered from seizures and later developed cerebral palsy. So crucial, in fact, that a letter sent from a Trump lawyer to the insurer after the patriarch’s death in 1999 said that “all costs” for the sick child’s care should be covered, regardless of caps on the plan or medical necessity, according to Johnston. That didn’t last long.

A week after the lawsuit was filed in court, Freddy’s son (Donald’s nephew) received a letter informing him that the health insurance would be discontinued, meaning his ill son would be left without coverage. Donald openly admitted to the New York Daily News that he and his siblings took this action out of revenge.

“Why should we give him medical coverage?” Trump said, adding, “They sued my father, essentially. I’m not thrilled when someone sues my father.”

Trump hated his older brother. Why? Because he was an alcoholic.


QOTD: Judge Roy Moore

by digby

The theocratic former judge who was drummed off the Alabama Supreme Court and is now poised to take Jeff Sessions' place in the US Senate is also a poet:

“Babies piled in dumpsters, abortion on demand,Oh, sweet land of liberty, your house is on the sand.” 

“We’ve voted in governments that are rotting to the core,Appointing Godless judges who throw reason out the door. 
Too soft to put a killer in a well deserved tomb,But brave enough to kill that child before he leaves the womb. 

You think that God’s not angry, that our land’s a moral slum? 
How much longer will it be before His judgment comes?”

He seems nice.

Stephen Miller the alt-right survivor

by digby

I wrote about the odious Stephen Miller for Salon this morning:

After torch-bearing white nationalists marched in Charlottesville last month and a peaceful counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was murdered by a neo-Nazi, the leaders of the black, Hispanic, Asian and progressive caucuses in Congress sent a letter to President Trump. They asked that he fire White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.

They wrote:
Americans deserve to know that white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis are not in a position to influence U.S. policy.
It's hard to believe it somehow became necessary to write such a thing to the president of the United States about his high-level White House advisers, but it did. All three of those men have affiliations with or connections to white supremacists, "alt-right" groups and neofascist organizations. In the wake of those horrifying events in Charlottesville, and the president's insistence that the neo-Nazi marchers included "very fine people" and that anti-fascist protesters had created many of the problems, it seemed important to go on the record with this request.

As it happens, Bannon was exiled from the White House shortly afterward and Gorka followed a couple of weeks later. The press reported that they were both let go as part of a staff reorganization by John Kelly, the retired general who had come in to replace the hapless Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff and put an end to the chaos that had characterized the Trump administration from the beginning. For their part, Bannon and Gorka insisted that they had made the decision to leave because they believed they could better serve Trump from the outside. Let's just say that didn't sound convincing.

Most political observers, even many conservatives, were relieved. Gorka was an embarrassment, a man who literally wore medals associated with Nazi collaborators to the inauguration. The Daily Beast reported this week that he had landed a new job working for a pro-Trump super PAC called the MAGA Coalition, which is best known for its promotion of conspiracy theories, notably "Pizzagate," the imaginary child-rape ring allegedly run by Hillary Clinton out of a Washington pizza parlor. Gorka told Laura Ingraham on her radio show on Tuesday that the group plans to run primaries against "fake conservatives."

We know where Steve Bannon went. He's back at Breitbart making Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell miserable and plotting the apocalypse. Most observers saw Bannon as the most sinister presence in the White House, a white nationalist Rasputin with special access to Donald Trump's id. It was assumed that getting rid of Bannon meant that Kelly had removed the main influence that stoked Trump's darker impulses.

It turns out that Stephen Miller, the remaining member of the "alt-right" trio those House members demanded be fired, was the savviest political player among them. Rather than jockey for power with the president's powerful son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as Bannon did, Miller was smart enough to see that family would be the last people Trump would abandon. So he moved into Kushner's orbit.

After all the palace intrigue of the first eight months of Trump's administration, Miller is the one left standing. Judging from the president's "global carnage" speech this week to the United Nations -- an obvious sequel to the "American carnage" inaugural address -- Miller remains a highly influential adviser and a pernicious influence on our government.

Miller is a true white nationalist, going all the way back to his teenage years at Santa Monica High School, where he was known for his anti-Latino views. In college at Duke University he befriended Richard Spencer, future co-founder of the "alt-right" and the man who led a meeting of fellow fascists in a "Heil Trump" chant shortly after the election. Miller worked for the most anti-immigrant senator of the modern era, current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, before joining the Trump campaign and the administration, where his first assignment was to put together the new president's first botched Muslim ban.

Miller hasn't had his face on the cover of Time and nobody is parodying him (yet) on "Saturday Night Live," so Trump hasn't had reason to be jealous. His rare public performances have been the kind that the boss appreciates: combative, rude and extremely loyal to the president. Back in February he was dispatched to defend the president's assertion that fraudulent voters had stolen the popular vote, and he delivered an epic performance on "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos:

George, it is a fact, and you will not deny it, that there are massive numbers of non-citizens in this country who are registered to vote. That is a scandal, we should stop the presses and as a country we should be aghast about the fact that you have people that have no right to vote in this country registered to vote canceling out the franchise of lawful citizens of this country. That’s the story we should be talking about and I am prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime and repeat it and say the president of the United States is correct 100 percent.

Trump tweeted later that day:

Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2017

More recently, Miller took over the podium in the White House briefing room to defend the president's immigration policy. Most people thought his performance was creepy, but it likely made the president happy because Miller got into a spat with CNN's Jim Acosta, the reporter Trump just calls "fake news" and whose questions he refuses to take.

Miller's even caught up in the Russia investigation now, having been revealed to have helped Trump draft a scorching version of his letter firing FBI Director James Comey, which was rejected by White House counsel Don McGahn as inappropriate. Considering Miller's temperament, combined with Trump's, one can only imagine what it must have said.

Miller isn't just giving Trump the words to express his dystopian vision, he is exerting a toxic influence on policy. The New York Times reported that the White House rejected a study prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in revenue than they cost the government over the past decade. According to the Times, Miller “personally intervened in the discussions on the refugee cap to ensure that only the costs — not any fiscal benefit — of the program were considered.” Evidently, taxes paid by refugees don't count.

Stephen Miller is proving much more adept at seeing into Trump's psyche and stroking his racist id than Steve Bannon ever was. He's a smarter political player, he takes on the press, he's more focused on the details. He's getting the job done.


Everyone who knows anything about health care hates Graham Cassidy. Even the greedheads.

by digby

Congressman Don Beyer helpfully gathered a list of many of the opponents of the Graham-Cassidy bill which you can see below.
But the Deplorable assholes who vote GOP are demanding it so they are going for it:
Senate Republicans have made a calculated decision: Better to fail again trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act than not to try at all.

That bet, made out of fear rather than a sense that victory is any nearer than it has been all year, can be traced to this year’s August recess — the five-week stretch back home that immediately followed the Senate’s previous, failed attempt to overhaul the nation’s health-care laws. The late-summer break, distant as it already feels to many of us, remains fresh in some lawmakers’ minds.

It did not entail the kind of high-profile clashes at town halls that Democrats faced eight years ago as they began drafting the Affordable Care Act — or that House Republicans confronted at the start of the year, when their repeal effort took shape. Nevertheless, according to GOP senators and aides, Republicans faced an unrelenting barrage of confrontations with some of their closest supporters, donors and friends. The moments occurred in small gatherings that proved even more meaningful than a caustic town hall — at meetings with local business executives, at church, at parks.

It didn’t matter if those friends and allies were big-time supporters of President Trump or part of the “Never Trump” crowd of purist conservatives opposed to his hostile takeover of the GOP. By August, those two wings came together in their sheer, utter contempt toward a Republican-controlled Congress that could not back up its most basic promise, to repeal Obamacare. Trump’s hectoring via social media egged them all on.

That’s the driving reason behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to at least “consider” holding votes next week on new legislation to repeal the ACA. Stuck in what might become the greatest damned-if-he-does, damned-if-he-doesn’t moment of his political career, McConnell (R-Ky.) is, for now, siding with those clamoring for another vote to repeal the health law.

They hate the first black president so much that they are willing to kill people, even members of their own family, to prove it.

You should send this video to everyone you know

by digby

This young man and his mother make the argument for maintaining the healthcare system:

They are trying to kill Medicaid. They are monsters.

Seriously. I just don't see why we should excuse this anymore. They. Are. Monsters.

Spicey Butterfield?

by digby

Axios reports that Spicer has a treasure trove of notes:
The Watergate resonance of the Bob Mueller probe rose this week with a CNN report that the special counsel has details of wiretaps of "former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election."

Now we can tell you about another potential honey pot for Mueller. Former colleagues of Sean Spicer tell Axios that he filled "notebook after notebook" during meetings at the Republican National Committee, later at the Trump campaign, and then at the White House.

When Spicer worked at the RNC, he was said to have filled black books emblazoned with the party's seal. Spicer was so well-known for his copious notes that underlings joked about him writing a tell-all.

One source familiar with the matter said that the records were just to help him do his job.

"Sean documented everything," the source said.

That surprised some officials of previous White Houses, who said that because of past investigations, they intentionally took as few notes as possible when they worked in the West Wing.

When we texted Spicer for comment on his note-taking practices, he replied: "Mike, please stop texting/emailing me unsolicited anymore."

When I replied with a "?" (I have known Spicer and his wife for more than a dozen years), he answered: "Not sure what that means. From a legal standpoint I want to be clear: Do not email or text me again. Should you do again I will report to the appropriate authorities."

The WashPost reported Sept. 8 that Mueller "has alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview" Spicer and five other top current and former Trump advisers.

One White House official told me: "People are going to wish they'd been nicer to Sean. … He was in a lot of meetings."

About an hour after Spicer's texts, he replied to a polite email I had sent earlier, seeking comment:

Per my text:

Please refrain from sending me unsolicited texts and emails

Should you not do so I will contact the appropriate legal authorities to address your harassment


Sean M Spicer

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning ...

Please, just go golfing

by digby

So, so embarrassing:

And then he did this:


Rube Goldberg. Now with more rubes.

by Tom Sullivan

Jimmy Kimmell last night, responding to criticism over his on-air criticism of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill:

There’s no way President Trump read this bill that he says is ‘great.’ He just wants to get rid of it because Obama’s name is on it. The Democrats should just rename it ‘Ivankacare.’ Guaranteed he gets on board. Can you imagine President Trump sitting down to read a health care bill? It’s like trying to imagine a dog doing your taxes. It just doesn’t compute.
I read that as "Ivancare" and the joke still works for some reason.

The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein has his own criticisms of the Graham-Cassidy bill. It keeps too much of Obamacare's taxing and spending in place than previous GOP plans, he complains.

But Klein argues in the New York Times that turning health care over to the states as block grants (the GOP loves them some block grants) will unleash innovation, potentially 50 different flavors of it. Ask your doctor which state is right for you.

Besides, Klein writes, some states are younger. Others are older. Some are richer. Some are poorer. Some more urban. Others more rural. Heart disease and obesity are bigger problems in Mississippi than in Colorado. Pro tip: Don't move to Mississippi.

Klein concludes:
A more flexible system would give states latitude to pursue health care programs that are a better fit for their populations’ ideological sensibilities.
Forget all the column inches just devoted to demographic and geographic diversity. Because what's vital when treating your child's cancer, what's really important in a national health care plan, is having the proper ideology.

Hey, maybe Republicans should call it "Ivancare."

That Americans might have to pay the price for all that flexibility is less relevant to Klein than "genuine federalism in health care."

Kimmell got it all wrong on Tuesday, Cassidy complained to reporters, “I’m sorry [Kimmel] does not understand.” Kimmell fired back:
“Oh, I get it. I don’t understand because I’m a talk-show host, right? Well then, help me out. Which part don’t I understand? Is it the part where you cut $243 billion from federal health-care assistance? Am I not understanding the part where states would be allowed to let insurance companies price you out of coverage for having pre-existing conditions? Maybe I’m not understanding the part of your bill in which federal funding disappears completely after 2026? Or maybe it was the part where the plans are no longer required to pay for essential health benefits, like maternity care or pediatric visits?”
Not to mention (as Kimmell did) the dozen-plus national health care groups opposed to the plan.

But more people would be covered under his plan than under the present system, Cassidy insisted. The Washington Post fact checker tried to find support for that statement and found it lacking:
The block grants would grow according to an index lower than general inflation — not according to how many people are covered or what diseases they have — so the total pot would grow more slowly than under current law. All funding would be terminated by 2027, unless Congress acted at the time to continue it.
But of course with no time for the CBO to score the bill before the September 30 deadline for passing it with a simple GOP majority, it is hard to know how more people would get coverage with less money. And "innovation" is just vaporware.
Spokesman Ty Bofferding said the United States spends more than twice as much per person than countries in Western Europe – all of which have universal health-care systems – so it was reasonable to believe better outcomes were possible with fewer dollars.
Trust us. Those other countries use economies of scale, uniformity and predictability to keep down their costs. Surely, 50 different for-profit systems could be just as frugal, right?

Rather than improving on Obamacare, what Republicans are offering is to replace our private insurance-based system with something even more Rube Goldberg.

Now with more rubes.

* * * * * * * *

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

There is absolutely nothing to see here

by digby

The Daily Beast had a big scoop today that got lost in all the news:
Suspected Russia propagandists on Facebook tried to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida during last year’s election, The Daily Beast has learned.

The demonstrations—at least one of which was promoted online by local pro-Trump activists— brought dozens of supporters together in real life. They appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook in direct support of Donald Trump.
The Aug. 20, 2016, events were collectively called “Florida Goes Trump!” and they were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob,” unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state. It’s difficult to determine how many of those locations actually witnessed any turnout, in part because Facebook’s recent deletion of hundreds of Russian accounts hid much of the evidence. But videos and photos from two of the locations—Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs—were reposted to a Facebook page run by the local Trump campaign chair, where they remain to this day.

“On August 20, we want to gather patriots on the streets of Floridian towns and cities and march to unite America and support Donald Trump!” read the Facebook event page for the demonstrations. “Our flash mob will occur in several places at the same time; more details about locations will be added later. Go Donald!”

The Florida flash mob was one of at least four pro-Trump or anti-Hillary Clinton demonstrations conceived and organized over a Facebook page called “Being Patriotic,” and a related Twitter account called “march_for_trump.” (The Daily Beast identified the accounts in a software-assisted review of politically themed social-media profiles.)

Being Patriotic had 200,000 followers and the strongest activist bent of any of the suspected Russian Facebook election pages that have so far emerged. Events promoted by the page last year included a July “Down With Hillary!” protest outside Clinton’s New York campaign headquarters, a September 11 pro-Trump demonstration in Manhattan, simultaneous “Miners for Trump” demonstrations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in October, and a pro-Trump rally outside Trump Tower last November, after his election victory.


Watts, the former FBI agent and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, noted that “plausible deniability is built into any Russian active-measures strategy,” such as using troll farms in St. Petersburg or Macedonia to conceal influence campaigns. But compelling unsuspecting Americans to gather in the streets on behalf of Trump shows the reach and efficacy of those efforts.

The page earned such a large following, a known Macedonian fake news distributor, Nikola Tanevski, purchased BeingPatriotic.com this year, but the page is currently dormant. Tanevski runs popular, pro-Trump fake news factories USATwentyFour.com and TheAmericanBacon.com. Attempts to reach Tanevski did not receive a response.

The layers of deception went beyond Facebook posts and manufactured rallies. When it wasn’t organizing events, Being Patriotic encouraged violence against minorities in incendiary posts. “Arrest and shoot every sh*thead taking part in burning our flag! #BLM vs #USA,” Being Patriotic’s Twitter account posted in April 2016, using the hashtag for the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

The account also advertised a toll-free “Being Patriotic Hotline” to report instances of voter fraud on Election Day.
“Detected a voter fraud? Tell us about it! Call 888-486-8102 or take photo/video and send it to us,” the account wrote on Nov. 8. Being Patriotic’s sister account, @March_for_Trump, plugged the same phone number, as well as a hotline for the “Trump Lawyer Team.” The number is now disconnected.

When asked for comment, the White House referred The Daily Beast to the Trump campaign, which, in turn, did not respond to emailed questions. But Susie Wiles, who served as Trump’s campaign manager in Florida, told The Daily Beast that the Broward County portion of the flash mob “was not an official campaign event.”

That’s despite the fact that the event was promoted on “Official Donald J. Trump for President Campaign Facebook Page for Broward County, Florida.” Photos and videos of the demonstration were posted there afterward.

When emailed the link to the Facebook posting, Wiles told The Daily Beast: “There are groups such as this across the state—and maybe other places, too. Groups of people get together and establish a presence such as this but it is unaffiliated with the campaign, per se. The photos ring no bells with me.”

Wiles also said that the Trump campaign’s purported Broward County Facebook page, which markets itself as being “official,” was not set up by the campaign.

“The Donald Trump campaign did not set these Facebook pages up,” she told The Daily Beast. “Rather, supporters (like the lady registered as the contact) set them up to support the campaign and subsequently the president.”

The “lady” registered as the contact is Dolly Trevino Rump, the Trump campaign’s chairwoman for Broward County who, until this April, was also the secretary of the local Republican Party. The Miami Herald described her as “perhaps Broward’s most famous Donald Trump fan.” Rump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. Neither did the chairman of the Broward County Republican Party.

The Being Patriotic event listings for its Florida flashmobs included the names and phone numbers of people listed as local volunteer coordinators. When contacted by The Daily Beast, two of those coordinators vaguely recalled the events taking place, but not much else.
Betty Triguera, who was listed as a coordinator for a gathering in Sarasota, Florida, told The Daily Beast that she recalled but didn’t attend the event.

“We got the information from it on Twitter but I didn’t go,” Triguera said unable to remember other details.
Jim Frische, who was listed as a coordinator for an event in Clearwater, Florida, told The Daily Beast that he was called about organizing an event and put one together.

He said he was unsure if it was organized by the campaign.

“I don’t recall the group’s name,” Frische said. “I know somebody called and said would you organize something so I put together a group. “I remember doing it and I think we had a dozen or so people out on the street corner. I remember afterward hearing it had happened all over the state.”

I don't suppose his cult will ever admit they were manipulated by a foreign government's propaganda. But it's clear they were. And I'm going to guess it won't be too hard to do it again. Whether they decide it shoud be on Trump's behalf or someone else is the big question. Right now, the Republicans seem to be very sure that this will continue to benefit them in the future. I wonder why?

In Fox Bizarroworld, the real scandal is still her emails

by digby

Now they want to lock up Susan Rice in an adjoining cell. Jim Comey too.

This is from Greg Jarret, Fox news anchor:

Jeff Sessions should never have accepted the position of Attorney General of the United States.  His leadership has proven unproductive and ineffectual.

There are two reasons for this.

First, he deceived President Trump by concealing his intent to recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.  Hours after he was sworn in, Sessions began setting his recusal in motion by meeting with Department of Justice officials to discuss stepping aside from the probe.  Failing to disclose such a material matter to the president was an egregious betrayal.

Trump was reportedly disgusted and angry with Sessions when he learned of the recusal – rightly so.  “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have picked someone else,” said Trump at a news conference.  The president was entitled to know the truth, but Sessions actively hid it from him.  Sessions’ deception deprived him of Trump’s confidence and trust which are essential to the job of Attorney General.  This ethical impropriety renders him unfit to serve.

Second, Sessions appears either incapable or incompetent.  He has resisted producing the documents relevant to the anti-Trump dossier which were subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee.  He has failed to appoint a special counsel to reopen the case against Hillary Clinton for likely violations of the Espionage Act in the use of her email server, obstruction of justice for destroying 33,000 emails under congressional subpoena, and potential self-dealing for profit through her foundation.  The evidence is compelling.

Moreover, Sessions has taken no action to investigate the unmasking of Trump aides during intelligence surveillance by the Obama Administration.  Evidence continues to mount that the incoming president was spied upon for political reasons.  Transition officials were unmasked, perhaps illegally.  And in one case, the unmasking was leaked to the media which is a crime.  Yet Sessions is twiddling his thumbs.

And why hasn’t Sessions investigated the possible criminal conduct of James Comey?  The fired FBI Director appears to have falsely testified before Congress, stolen government documents, and leaked them to the media.

Jeff Sessions may have been a fine Senator, but he has proven to be a feckless Attorney General.  He should resign.  But before he does, he can attempt to rectify the wreckage he has wrought by initiating several necessary criminal investigations and/or appointing a special counsel to do so.

He goes on to lay out the current "cases" against all three. 

If you tune in to Fox these days, this is a huge story. They are talking about it 24/7. Perhaps there's nothing to worry about but I can't help but recall the study about Fox News being so influential that it accounts for several GOP victories over the past 20 years.

And e know that there's one 71 year old white Republican who tunes in every single day.

Graham-Cassidy is the worst of all of them

by digby

Sarah Kliff of Vox:

I have spent the bulk of 2017 writing about the different Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Graham-Cassidy, in my view, is the most radical of them all.

While other Republican plans essentially create a poorly funded version of the Affordable Care Act, Graham-Cassidy blows it up. The bill offered by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy takes money from states that did a good job getting residents covered under Obamacare and gives it to states that did not. It eliminates an expansion of the Medicaid program that covers millions of Americans in favor of block grants. States aren’t required to use the money to get people covered or to help subsidize low- and middle-income earners, as Obamacare does now.

Plus, the bill includes other drastic changes that appeared in some previous bills. Insurers in the private marketplace would be allowed to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, for example. And it would eliminate the individual mandate as other bills would have, but this time there is no replacement. Most analysts agree that would inject chaos into the individual market.

Taken together, these components add up to a sweeping proposal sure to upend the American health care system. Because the Senate hasn’t seen an independent analysis yet from the Congressional Budget Office, I can’t even say for sure how sweeping, and neither can any of the Republicans who have come out in support of it.

’m not the only one drawing this conclusion. The credit agency Fitch Ratings recently described Graham-Cassidy as “more disruptive” than the other Republican repeal bills. Edwin Park, a policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says that Graham-Cassidy is “more radical in the sense that you’re eliminating wholesale the marketplace subsidies and the Medicaid expansion.”

Robert Laszewski, a health consultant who is generally critical of the Affordable Care Act, says that “passage of this bill would create enormous market uncertainty.”

The Graham-Cassidy bill has, so far, received far less attention than the last bill the Senate considered in July or the one the House took up in May. But the reality is that this quiet bill would be far more disruptive.

They don't just want to repeal Obamacare. Apparently, they now want to take down the entire health care system.

Here's just one example of how they are going to throw the entire health care system into chaos. They plan to specifically punish people in states that have worked hard to get people covered:

Graham-Cassidy introduces an entirely novel funding mechanism for distributing this funding: moving money from states that have worked aggressively to expand coverage to those that have made little effort at all. It creates a funding formula that is meant to give states “more equal” health care funding, tethered to the size of their population.

Perversely, this punishes the states that have expanded coverage the most, either by expanding Medicaid or by getting a lot of people signed up for the marketplace (and thus have higher marketplace subsidies flowing into their state).

This, again, is something we do not see in the other Republican bills. No other bills contemplated simply taking money from Ohio, which expanded Medicaid, and sending it to Virginia, which didn’t.

Look, for example, at what happens in Florida, a state that hasn’t expanded Medicaid but has worked diligently to get its residents enrolled in marketplace coverage. Florida has signed up more of its Obamacare-eligible residents for coverage than any other state. It has the biggest marketplace in the country, and its residents received $5.8 billion in Obamacare tax credits in 2016.

What reward does Florida get in Graham-Cassidy for expanding coverage so dramatically? A $2.6 billion budget cut. And again, this happens specifically because Florida has signed up so many people for Obamacare coverage and thus its residents receive a generous amount of health law tax credits.

The idea of expressly cutting funding for states that have done the best at getting their residents coverage doesn’t show up in any other health care plan except Graham-Cassidy.

They want to ram this through with no hearings, no expert testimony (not even the health care lobbyists) and no CBO score to show how it will effect actual people and how much it will end up costing.

And there's a fairly good chance it will pass. They are only a handful of votes short --- the same people as last time except Dean Heller of Nevada who has apparently been convinced that killing his own constituents is the only way for him to get re-elected.

This proposal isn't dead until 12:01 October 1st.


Headline o' the day, UN edition

by digby

You cannot make this stuff up.

Yesterday her husband blandly threatened to kill millions of people in front of he whole world. He is the biggest bully on the planet. A total thug.

It's hard to believe anyone could be this tone deaf. I have to assume they aren't and they thought it would be a good idea to troll the UN with this nonsensical speech.


The Trump doctrine: Only I can fix the world

by digby

If one were to believe Donald Trump's speech before the United Nations, in his short tenure as president he has already fixed the domestic problems he outlined in his "American Carnage" inaugural address and is now prepared to apply his methods to the rest of the planet. One might even call this speech "Global Carnage." Trump described a Hobbesian world in which decent countries everywhere are under assault from "small regimes" trying to undermine their sovereignty and destroy their ways of life. Or, as he elegantly phrased it: "Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell."

This was very much the way he described America on the day he was sworn in. It too was a desolate, dystopian hellscape of smoldering ruins and abandoned cities, where bands of foreigners and gangsters roamed the land, raping and pillaging and leaving carnage in their wake. He promised to take the country back (reclaim its sovereignty, if you will) from people who were trying to impose their values and culture on the Real Americans. He told the world on Tuesday morning that he had largely accomplished that task.

Contrary to popular belief among the chattering classes, the people who loved his promise to "make America great again" were undoubtedly pleased to see him pledge to get the world in order as well. Trump was saying that it's none of America's business how you treat your own citizens (unless it interferes with business), and we are not going to honor any international treaties, laws or institutions that we don't like. But that doesn't mean other countries can do the same. We are a sovereign nation but we are also the richest and strongest superpower on earth, and we will decide when and where other people are allowed to exercise control over their own countries.

Not that the president said any of that explicitly, of course. He waxed on about sovereignty and the sanctity of the nation-state, even as he blathered unconvincingly about the greatness of the United Nations. But when it came to specifics, he made it quite clear that he defines what "sovereignty" actually means.

For instance, Trump declared that America did not "expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government" but denounced Cuba and Venezuela for their "failed" socialist economic systems. He called out Iran for human rights violations and support for terrorist organizations, while praising Saudi Arabia and ignoring its abysmal human rights record, as well as the monarchy's longtime support for what might well be called "radical Islamic terrorism."

Trump extolled the Marshall Plan, the United States' rebuilding of Europe after World War II, in the same breath as he complained about the U.S. paying for too much of the UN's operations. (He did say that if the UN would just get on with creating world peace it would be a worthwhile investment.) He careened wildly from some warped form of principled realism to threats of mass annihilation and back again.

This statement, which will be remembered for a long time, encompasses it all:
"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing, and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That's what the United Nations is all about. That's what the United Nations is for. Let's see how they do."
Yes, "hopefully it will not be necessary" to kill millions of innocent people. That would be a real bummer, especially for a nation that has such respect for other nations' sovereignty.

He demanded that North Korea "denuclearize" and said that ensuring that outcome is what "the United Nations is all about." He wants to "see how they do," as if the U.S. is merely an observer of that whole process while pondering whether it's necessary to obliterate an entire country.

It doesn't occur to Trump that by unilaterally withdrawing, for no good reason, from agreements the U.S. has made with other sovereign nations, he has helped create this problem. The world now believes that no agreement the U.S. signs is worth the paper it's written on -- which also means there's no point in making "deals" with Trump or any other president. He's basically made clear that America is completely untrustworthy.

Nor does Trump seem to understand that when nations like Iran and North Korea see the president of the United States issuing bellicose threats to kill all their people and destroy their country, they logically assume that having nuclear weapons at their disposal might be the only way to deter him. Apparently nobody in the U.S. government has the capacity to rein him in. What choice do they have?

Interestingly, with all of his bellicose saber-rattling against "small regimes," the president forgot one flagrant example of a major country interfering in the internal affairs of another nation. That, of course, would be the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential campaign of 2016. It also slipped his mind that Russia recently staged a military incursion into neighboring Ukraine -- but then, he has said more than once he thinks that's fine too. When it comes to Russia, there seems to be no limit to this president's tolerance.

We already knew that Trump's concern for the sovereignty of other nations was entirely contingent on his feelings about their leadership and whatever he heard most recently on "Fox & Friends." But it's still jarring to realize that he really doesn't even care about American sovereignty. As long as foreign actors interfere on his personal behalf he has no problem with it.

"America First" really means "Trump First." He is the sovereign, not the state or indeed the people (which is, at least notionally, the idea behind American democracy). Historically, that's the sort of arrogant assumption from which massive errors of judgment are made. Global carnage often follows.


The wrecking crew even trying to loosen regs on Equifax

by digby


Even as millions of consumers grapple with fallout from the Equifax data breach, Republican lawmakers are quietly backing legislation to deregulate credit agencies and make them even less accountable for wrongdoing.

Bills are pending in Congress to limit class-action damages for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and to give credit agencies more latitude in profiting from identity theft protection products.

The legislation is part of sweeping efforts by Republican lawmakers to reduce oversight of banks and other financial-services firms, and to cripple or eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has notched a successful track record of holding industry players accountable for unfair and illegal practices.

Democrats, for their part, introduced a bill Friday — the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation Act — that would require credit agencies to allow people to freeze and unfreeze their files at no cost, and that calls upon the CFPB to play a greater role in overseeing the companies.

Consumer advocates say the Equifax breach should serve as a wake-up call for Americans that the three leading credit agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are focused primarily on earning cash from people’s personal information, not keeping such information under lock and key.

“Consumers are not customers of these companies — they’re commodities,” said Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. “We have no say over what they do with our data.”

Ironically, the Republicans’ credit agency bills came up for a hearing this month by the House Financial Services Committee on the same day Equifax revealed that hackers may have gained access to the credit files of 143 million people.

Equifax’s shocking announcement was followed by reports that senior execs sold off shares in the company before the breach was made public and that consumers might not be able to sue because of an arbitration clause in Equifax’s terms of service.

The company subsequently clarified that the arbitration provision applied only to its credit monitoring, not the security breach. It then waived the arbitration clause in its entirety. Meanwhile, it was reported Monday that federal authorities are investigating the stock sales as possible insider trading.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), who chaired the recent hearing by the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit subcommittee, said the bills would “streamline regulatory requirements and eliminate inefficiencies” for credit agencies.

“The legislation discussed in the subcommittee today will better allow financial companies to serve their customers,” he declared.

Not really. What the legislation would do is reward credit agencies with greater regulatory elbow room and diminished accountability for screw-ups.

The FCRA Liability Harmonization Act is particularly noxious. Authored by Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), the bill would cap actual and statutory damages for class actions involving credit agencies at $500,000, and completely eliminate punitive damages.

Loudermilk said Friday that his bill “is aimed at curbing frivolous class action lawsuits against businesses under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” which contains many of the rules for credit agencies.

When he introduced the legislation in May, he said that “a small technical error, turned into a lawsuit, can affect everyone in a business, including employees, customers and vendors.”

What Loudermilk ignores, however, is that a “small technical error” by a credit agency can have disastrous consequences for consumers — particularly if the agency, as is so often the case, shows little interest in fixing things.

Take the case of Oregon resident Julie Miller, who said she repeatedly reached out to Equifax from 2009 to 2011 to correct errors in her credit report. They included accounts she never opened, uncollected debts she never ran up and even a Social Security number that wasn’t hers.

Atlanta-based Equifax apparently had merged Miller’s file with that of another woman with the same name and a similar Social Security number. Yet the company shrugged off Miller’s complaints.

In 2013, a jury awarded Miller $180,000 in compensatory damages and a whopping $18.4 million in punitive damages, reflecting a sense among outraged jurors that Equifax just couldn’t be bothered to help a distressed consumer.

A federal judge subsequently reduced the amount of punitive damages to $1.62 million, citing the precedent of earlier cases. Nevertheless, U.S. District Court Judge Anna J. Brown ruled that Equifax “engaged in reprehensible conduct.”

Under Loudermilk’s bill, Miller’s compensation would have been limited to the $180,000 in compensatory damages, with no punitive damages possible.

The second bill under consideration by the House is the Credit Services Protection Act, introduced by California’s Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). This one isn’t as shameless as Loudermilk’s legislation but nevertheless contains pitfalls for consumers.

The bill would undercut an existing law known as the Credit Repair Organizations Act, intended to prevent so-called credit repair firms from fleecing consumers with exaggerated promises of being able to boost a sagging credit score.

Among other things, the Credit Repair Organizations Act prevents such firms from demanding advance payments before rendering a service.

Royce’s legislation would exempt credit agencies from the act and allow them to demand payment upfront. They’d also be able to keep “reasonable value for services” even if the consumer cancels within three days.

In other words, a credit agency could still pocket a consumer’s cash just for having opened a file in that person’s name.

There's more. It's unbelievable.

Perhaps they will be too embarrassed to push this thing through after the Equifax breach. But I wouldn't count on it. They live in an alternate universe with alternate facts and they will simply tel their voters that they fixed the problem and if they have a problem it's Obama's fault. And their voters will believe it.

The Kimmel Test

by digby

Kimmel went deep. I hope it makes a difference:

Earlier this year, Kimmel talked about the wrenching experience of seeing his son go through open heart surgery, and he talked of the importance of lower and middle class families having such coverage in the event of such an emergency. After seeing the monologue and using the term "Jimmy Kimmel test," Cassidy appeared on his show.
But Kimmel said that Cassidy "just lied right to my face" when he was on the show, noting that he had said that his plan would not allow insurance companies to impose annual or lifetime caps on coverage. 
On Tuesday, Kimmel said that "this new bill actually does pass the Jimmy Kimmel test, but a different Jimmy Kimmel test. With this one, your child with a preexisting condition will get the care he needs — if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel. Otherwise, you might be screwed." 
He called for Cassidy to stop using his name "cause I don't want my name on it." 
Then he addressed Cassidy directly. "There's a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you, it's called the lie detector test. You're welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime," he said. 
Kimmel then posted his monologue on Twitter with the number for the Capitol Hill switchboard.



by Tom Sullivan

The Graham-Cassidy health bill in a nutshell, from the Washington Post Editorial Board:

The latest bill, from Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.), is about as execrable as the others that GOP lawmakers previously failed to approve. The process by which Republicans would pass it would be as sloppy and partisan as the one to which senators such as John McCain (R-Ariz.) objected earlier in the summer. The outcome would be no less destructive.
The gory details are as unimportant as they are limited. Even Vox has an explainer that doesn't explain a lot, details being so scant. It comes down to fewer Americans with insurance being "baked into the structure of the legislation."

Besides, "You could do a post office renaming and call it 'repeal-replace' and 48 Republican senators would vote for it sight unseen," one GOP aide told Axios.

Jimmy Kimmel minced no words in responding to Cassidy's last appearance on the show. Cassidy promised that any bill he would support had to pass the "Jimmy Kimmel test," which Kimmell summarized as "no family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can't afford it." He went on:
“This new bill actually does pass the ‘Jimmy Kimmel test’, but a different ‘Jimmy Kimmel test.’” Kimmel continued. “With this one, your child with a preexisting condition will get the care he needs if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel.”

If there is principle behind this rush job, it is good, old American, "every man for himself," as evinced in a tweet yesterday by CNBC’s John Harwood. White House economic adviser Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation provided the conservative view on this whole health care business:

It is why In God We Trust is on the money because screw everyone else. Americans shouldn't rely on one another in Moore's America.

No doubt Moore has passed on his insights into how pooled risk works to even duller tools in the shed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But Graham, Cassidy, et. al. need no schooling. They know just what they are doing. Their bill redirects Affordable Care Act monies to Republican states that refused the Medicaid expansion under the ACA.

John Cassidy of the New Yorker continues:

The authors of the bill probably thought that this was a clever wheeze, but it could end up backfiring. Some Republican-run states that did expand Medicaid stand to lose out, including Louisiana, Cassidy’s home. On Monday, Louisiana’s top health official, Rebekah Gee, wrote an open letter to Cassidy saying that his bill could cost the state $3.2 billion in federal funding through 2026, “making Louisiana the 8th biggest loser of those states affected by the Legislation, and by far the poorest and sickest state affected by these cuts.”
Indeed, Republican governors in states that did not are balking at Graham-Cassidy. The Washington Post calls the proposal a "policy disaster."

One would think the western hemisphere has had enough natural ones this summer without Republicans creating more man-made ones. Mexico has had two earthquakes and three(?) tropical storms in the last month. The U.S. has had Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with Maria hitting Puerto Rico this morning to destroy what remains of the U.S. territory's power grid after Irma's visit. And all Republicans can think of is denying millions health care?

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