Friday, September 22, 2017

The Russians Have Always Preferred American Presidents Who Are Corrupt

One of Alistair Cooke's BBC letters from America has this interesting paragraph, written in 1973, about Watergate. During that earlier scandal, Nixon (like Trump) had a defender in Moscow, who said the charges against the American president were a conspiracy and a hoax cooked up by "reactionary” liberal elements.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Russian Money May Explain Republican Attack on Americans' Access to Affordable Healthcare


From that very Texan and very middle American newspaper, the Dallas Morning News...

"Donald Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain accepted $7.35 million in contributions from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin's favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank.
"During the 2015-2016 election season, Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard "Len" Blavatnik contributed $6.35 million to leading Republican candidates and incumbent senators. Mitch McConnell was the top recipient of Blavatnik's donations, collecting $2.5 million for his GOP Senate Leadership Fund under the names of two of Blavatnik's holding companies, Access Industries and AI Altep Holdings, according to Federal Election Commission documents and"


(This is separate from the millions which were paid by the Russians to Trump’s campaign manager and national security advisor and millions more laundered through his Commerce Secretary’s Cypriot bank.)


Bloomberg is reporting that Russian billionaire oligarchs (and there are no oligarchs in Russia who are not close to Putin) have invested heavily in corporate healthcare and Big Pharma in the U.S.

(Essentially, Russians are confident that for-profit healthcare and Big Pharma will very soon see a big growth in profits. How do they know this? Maybe they have the Republican Congress and the Republican White House in their pocket.)



The Russians who gave this big money will expect their Republican congressmen and senators to deliver, why else would they have given them the money? The Guardian is reporting that the Koch Brothers who give millions to Republicans every election cycle have signaled that the money will dry up if the Republicans don’t repeal Obamacare and cut billionaires’ taxes. Republicans are listening because they are afraid. They do what their billionaire donors tell them.





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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Republicans Again Targeting The Poor And The Sick On Healthcare Access

Lawrence O’Donnell played the Kimmel monologue a bit early last night so prime time audiences could hear Kimmel tell how Cassidy (of Graham-Cassidy) "lied right to my face.” Kimmel then urges everyone to phone Republicans in the Senate to tell them how evil this bill is.

202 224 3121

Again, the swing Republicans on this issue are Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John McCain of Arizona, and Susan Collins of Maine. Try to explain to them why this bill is so hard on the most vulnerable Americans, and why it is so damned unfair and cruel. Because they have a hard time comprehending it.

Earlier, Cassidy went on Kimmel’s show and smiled and promised his Obamacare repeal would not target the poor and the sick. It does target the poor and the sick. It cuts funding for the poor and the sick more aggressively than the previous Republican bills did.

Republican Senator Cassidy quickly responded to Kimmel's charges by saying Kimmel "just doesn't understand..." Saying his plan does indeed cover people with pre-existing conditions.

Reported in The Hill newspaper

Sure it does––but it allows insurers to jack their premiums sky high to punish them for being sick. What a cynical liar. Just as all Americans have the right to live in million dollar homes all Americans do have the right to buy decent health insurance––but they can’t afford it. Obamacare forced health insurers to stop offering junk coverage and also forced them to stop penalizing the people with preexisting conditions. The Republicans keep trying to push the poor back onto junk coverage that doesn’t really cover anything serious, and their plans keep punishing the sick for being sick.

The Republicans are rich. The Republicans represent the rich. The Republicans, like all members of Congress, have paid guaranteed Cadillac healthcare coverage for life and don’t give a damn about anyone else because they don’t comprehend what everyone else faces.

Here is President Trump’s healthcare advisor’s reasoning on the issue (via John Harwood): Trump adviser Moore on unfairness of the healthy subsidizing the sick: “People want insurance for their own families, not other peoples’ "

Which misses the entire point of health insurance, that the many who are healthy help support the few who are sick or in fear of their life. The Republican excuse is similar to their refusal to vote for hurricane relief because their districts weren't hit by the hurricane. (Until they were hit and then they demanded it.) The whole reason for covering everyone is the cost advantage of economies of scale.

It’s the familiar Republican refrain “I got mine. Fuck you.” Which they usually phrase more delicately.

So we need to flood the Senate with phone calls again: 202 224 3121

Because as long as they control the Congress they will keep trying to screw the poor and the sick.

It seems more likely the Republicans will kill our much improved healthcare system this time because they are being bribed/blackmailed by the giant money teats, the Koch Brothers, who have threatened to withhold cash from Republican candidates in 2018 unless they deliver on healthcare (removing millions from it) and tax “reform” (tax cuts for billionaires).

Koch blackmail on healthcare vote reported in The Guardian

Here is a discussion with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut earlier on Ari Melber's program

The Republicans are also attacking access to healthcare in another way, by drastically defunding the assistance poor Americans need to afford it: Analysis of how the GOP Reinsurance Plan would end up screwing the poor and the sick, from the StarTribune

Need more evidence that there’s something sinister about the Republicans’ healthcare strategy? News that a Russian oligarch (read mobster and Putin ally) is working with Washington insiders to invest millions of rubles in American healthcare.

Russian mob money targeting American healthcare reported by Bloomberg

Why? Because Republican healthcare is what’s known as a Killer Business Model.

The Republicans want to re-weaponize our healthcare system against us for profit.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

The GOP Has Begun To Act Like A Criminal Syndicate

The style and concern demonstrated by the law enforcement pros going after the Russian election began looking like a RICO investigation quite a while ago. There has been an historic deference toward major political parties and politicians because there were accepted norms, but the norms were violated decades ago. It’s been Republican administrations who have violated the law, and they’ve done it in broad and aggressive ways; look at Watergate; look at Iran Contra.

Perhaps the deference remained so long because so many law enforcement professionals are registered Republicans or at least express conservative values. That deference has been insulted for decades. So many of the FBI’s and other law enforcement investigations have been directed at the major financial crimes enabled by the legal latitudes given to major financial criminals by Republican legislation; these professionals have to feel insulted and demoralized that the Republicans not only ensure that violent criminals have easy access to more weapons but also that major financial crooks have easy ways of evading justice. Not only have the Republicans enabled major crime but they and their allies and operatives have begun to resemble major criminal organizations. Which may be why we are hearing more discussion of RICO strategies being used by the various investigations into the Russian election hack to put Trump in office. (Trump has been cozy with criminal gangs his whole career. No doubt he feels very much at home.)

Now the efforts to neutralize criminal investigations is being pushed and directed by White House appointees. This is one of the abuses of power that forced Nixon from office: his willingness to handicap our national security and investigative agencies in order to keep himself in power.

Has the White House neutered our counterintelligence agencies to protect Putin and Trump and the Republican Party? Is there more concern for their own Republican security than National Security? (Note NYMag story below on how the GOP keeps redirecting investigations away from Russia and Trump.)

This from Lawfareblog:

"Pompeo is not the first politician to lead the CIA, but his relentless brand of politics and close ties to Trump have led to fears that he cannot remain impartial about the Russia probe. In particular, critics worry that he will inhibit the work of the Agency’s Mission Center for Counterintelligence, which may possess damaging information about Russia’s role in last year’s election. The Center is the Agency’s hub for tracking foreign intelligence efforts in the United States, and according to the Post, a conduit to the FBI. Pompeo reportedly ordered the Center to report to him directly, which makes sense given his commitment to track down leakers and the sensitivity of the issue. But some within the Agency worry that he could use his position to discourage it from pursuing the investigation at all.”

Did the White House settle a big Russia case in NY to protect Putin and Trump? Is this why they decided to fire Preet Bharara?

This reported by BusinessInsider:

"Last summer, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected attorney in an attempt to obtain information 'that would incriminate Hillary,'" the Democrats wrote, citing the emails he published. "Earlier this year, on May 12, 2017, the Department of Justice made an abrupt decision to settle a money laundering case being handled by that same attorney in the Southern District of New York.

"We write with some concern that the two events may be connected — and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts."

The Prevezon case garnered high-profile attention, given its ties to a $230 million Russian tax-fraud scheme and the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose suspicious death aroused international media attention and spurred the passage of the Magnitsky Act in 2012. Denis Katsyv and Veselnitskaya have become the face of Moscow's lobbying efforts against the Magnitsky Act in recent years.

Democrats now want to know whether Veselnitskaya was "involved at any point in the settlement negotiations," and they have asked Sessions to provide the committee "with the prosecution files and any other explanatory materials related to the settlement."

It appears Facebook created a huge and powerful weapon and made it available for use by the Russians––or anyone who wanted to corrupt our democracy. The only thing FB cared about was whether the trolls and bots and foreign spies and domestic fascists and racists paid for everything they wanted FB to do.

This, again, from BusinessInsider:

FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the "inauthentic" accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.

The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN.

Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller's investigation into Russia's election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump's campaign team.

"This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference 'deniers,'" said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to aim law enforcement back at the people who reported the crime and putting our counterintelligence agencies to work protecting and assisting the Russian spy agencies. Remember when Trump announced a plan to team up with Russia to find out the truth? It begins to appear the entire Republican apparatus is with the Russians.

From NYMagazine

Donald Trump’s Republican allies have always sought to discredit the Russia investigation by going on offense. (It’s impossible to defend a president who’s constantly beset by written emails by his associates accepting invitations from Russians offering election help and cackling “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” and other comically incriminating revelations.) Their first attempt at offense focused on Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice, who Republicans spent days attacking as a sinister “unmasker,” until the charges against Rice quietly collapsed earlier this month.

They have found a new target: the famous dossier on Donald Trump compiled by British intelligence agent turned private investigator Christopher Steele, which they hope to use to discredit former FBI director James Comey.

If Trump is removed from office, Pence becomes president. Mike Pence, Trump’s wingman. Mike Pence, Trump’s solid defender and helpful liar. Pence has his own Russia problems, beginning with his saying last summer that Putin is “inarguably a better leader than Obama.” For Pence, the Russian dictator is “inarguably” preferable to an elected U.S. president of the other party (and a different race.)

From Bill Moyers: a timeline of Pence's culpability

Newsweek describes VP Pence's adjacence to worst things Trump people are alleged to have done.

While Pence and his office keep evading questions, his only defense appears to be cluelessness. That appears unlikely.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Are Our Laptops And Smartphones Spying On Us? Why? And For Whom?

Beginning a few years ago we began to feel like our laptops could read our mind. We'd be on social media and something we'd talked about recently would pop up in our newsfeed, as if someone creating that newsfeed had been listening in.

Our laptops gave us the tool we needed to investigate this bizarre suspicion and we found articles about it at ComputerWorld, the BBC, and WebProNews. Funny, though, articles relating to this conversation did not begin appearing in our newsfeed. There are some theories and investigations the gods of the internet do not want circulated.

How does our Facebook feed know what we’ve been thinking? It collects all our clicks and our likes and feeds them into computers to create algorithms that organize how the newsfeed works, but it seemed like someone was listening to our conversations too.

Thinking and behavior are the products that Facebook sells to its paying customers. (We are not FB’s paying customers, we are the product FB sells.) Facebook sells their product widely, not just to clothing stores and car dealers and treatment centers and plastic surgery clinics. They sell it to whoever has money to buy that information. How raw is that data? Is it fully targeted? Are that data and the algorithms that sort that data user friendly enough that a 400 lb. man on his bed in Macedonia or Hungary or Belarus or Russia can climb inside the heads of millions of Americans from halfway around the globe? What other players helped Russia and the Trump campaign weaponize our personal computers against our democracy?

Facebook might not be the main spy. They might be the main evidence that spying is going on. Which is the tail and which is the dog? Facebook might only be the weapon the manipulators are using. How firm a hold does Facebook have on how its algorithms are used? The only real criterion it seems to focus on before enabling a manipulation of the newsfeed is this: has the manipulator paid to use the Facebook algorithm; if so they get permission to go ahead.

When Trump happened it seemed creepily possible that a new force was abroad in the world upsetting the usual ways consensus is created and public decisions are made. Surprising upsets had exploded key western alliances. In the months since it became evident that those upsets had been engineered in very cynical, undemocratic ways. Russia had helped hack the Democratic Party in this country, but there were other operators involved.

Multiple bad actors working toward one goal = Conspiracy.

The multinational Big Data corporation Cambridge Analytica began to pop up in news stories from The Guardian, the DailyKos and others. There was concern and speculation about their manipulations of their Big Data because of what was known about the man who owned the company.

Since Brexit and Trump, Russian meddling was evident in the Netherlands and in France, failing in both elections. Then, this summer, the BBC reported Cambridge Analytica has been busy in the Kenyan election.

Cambridge Analytica is just one of the companies devoted to reading our minds and manipulating our behavior for profit. CA is owned by right wing libertarian/authoritarian Robert Mercer, one of the biggest supporters of Trump, a Bannon patron and mentor, a backer of Breitbart, America’s leading purveyor of right wing memes and falsehood. The president’s son-in-law Jared was Trump’s deputy for this kind of online mischief during the campaign. (He may be more puppet than tech wizard, but a puppet is more useful to the Russians than a wizard would be.)

Late this week Vanity Fair reported a story that tried to sort out the relationships between Kushner and Mercer and Russia and how our election was manipulated.

We have big data companies messing with our minds via our laptops which are weaponized to spy on us. What do we do to keep ourselves safe? We buy software from cybersecurity companies. The dominant player in this field is located where?

The world’s leading cybersecurity software company, Kaspersky Labs, is located in Russia, founded and built into a global software giant by a Russian computer wiz. Kaspersky Labs is also cozy with the Russian government’s spy agencies. (No one becomes a billionaire in Russia today without being cozy with Putin and his spy agencies.)

This article from Bloomberg explains some of the worries about the Kaspersky/Putin relationship which Kaspersky says does not exist.

Before we jump to too many conclusions (half of the conclusions would be enough to worry about if they are correct) this article in Wired says it wouldn’t have been necessary for the Russians to have American collaboration to hack our election, but they say they still may have had that collaboration. And a U.S. citizen acting as a co-conspirator is just as culpable if he is only a puppet.

Targeting has been the keyword as the Russian election hack has been reported. For Trump to run the table on an election that every poll said he had no chance of winning required some incredible luck, incredible assistance from bad actors, or else incredible sophistication in operation and targeting, and the best description of the Trump campaign was “seat of the pants” and “ad hoc.” The candidate’s message was undisciplined and bizarre. There were none of the traditional deployments, none of the usual planning, none of the kinds of organization and structure that successful campaigns need to win. This was why the result smelled so fishy. Maybe it required a crib––having all the answers beforehand. The how and by whom part of this story has been unfolding all summer. We know the Russians hacked computers and flooded the voters with falsified news stories, lurid rumors, and counterfeit reporting. But how was it targeted. The targeting required deep understanding of how Americans think and behave and how to manipulate that thinking and behavior.

This is how the picture was coming together in July:

Newsweek: Did Russia use Kushner's data operation to target Democratic voters?

Philadelphia Inquirer: to understand the Russian hacking of our election follow the data

The National Memo reports some of the details of how Trump and Russian election strategies were aligned

I get angry to think that the useful public utility developed with our tax-funded research and launched to make it easier for everyone to participate on a level basis (see Net Neutrality) with quick and easy and fair access has been turned against us, turned into a tool to manipulate us and subvert our democracy, weaponized against us. And that this has happened with the willing and profitable cooperation of our new president and his allies foreign and domestic.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Three Card Monte of Republican Tax "Reform"

Republican tax reform [sic] always means tax cuts, first of all.

Tax cuts means tax cuts for the rich, not for working people or the middle class, at least not significantly, and certainly not guaranteed.

So the Republicans negotiate a "Tax Reform" bill with Democrats, who demand that it contain some benefits for working people and the middle class, things that will help restore the economic balance, fixing the imbalances caused by the top-favoring of 35 years of Republican tax and labor policies.

After the bill is passed, if it is passed, there are mechanisms in the bill, put there by “strict budget disciplinarians” to claw back any benefits that are judged "unaffordable." (Insincere Sad Face)

These middle class benefits in the tax reform [sic] bill will be judged unaffordable when, quelle surprise, it turns out tax cuts do not actually result in revenue increases. So obligations to working people are always unaffordable and promises made to working people are always contingent and easily backed out of. Benefits to rich people are always sacred and guaranteed. This became true in the years since 1980 when Reaganomics became an American religion, a fake promise.

This fake promising is similar to the way back-end participation works in Hollywood: you are promised profit participation on the profits of a blockbuster film but these profits are carefully wiped out by the payouts distributed to the producers further up the food chain, after which there is seldom any left. (Insincere Sad Face)

It is also similar to the way Donald Trump’s many many independent contractors were left unpaid by Trump Inc. “Sorry. None left. Sue me.” (Trump doesn't pretend to be sad he can't pay, he just smiles.)

When this kind of scheme enables the Republicans in government to screw the working people and pay off the rich it has twin benefits (for Republicans): it makes the rich clientele very happy and likelier to share their booty in the form of campaign donations and lucrative jobs on retirement, while making working people hate government, which is the second most important objective of the Republicans, who hate government.

There is the phrase Republicans once used to demonize Democratic tax policy: the Two Santa Clauses. The Democratic Santa offers government help to the less fortunate. The Republican Santa offers tax cuts to the more fortunate, but also to the middle classes who feel the tax burden and buy the idea that lower taxes raise dividends.

But the Republicans have turned this on its head. They do deliver like Santa to the rich, but they also benefit by turning the Democratic Santa into a Democratic villain who demands taxes, who gouges the middle classes via taxes, and whose payout to the middle class and working people is unaffordable because the Republicans have already paid it out to their clients. And the Republicans make damn sure the taxes on Democrats rise every year as the taxes on Republicans go down, or at on least rich Republicans. When Republicans see their taxes go up they ALWAYS blame Democrats.

So the benefits of tax cuts and easy evasions and wonderful tax subsidies to the rich are ironclad and eternal whether the federal budget is fully funded or short of cash. Cuts are sacred and guaranteed.

Meanwhile the benefits to the people who work for a living are contingent upon how well the budgets balance out, similar to the way Trump screws his contractors and film companies screw the less preferred classes of producers and profit participants. The phrase “Sorry, but we can’t afford it” is often used. And the middle class being screwed understands the phrase. It's too familiar. It's a part of the game.

The rich are entitled to their tax free ride because their entitlement is figured out first. Once they’ve eaten their fill the leftovers are counted out for the less rich and there is seldom enough left to fulfill those obligations.

Again. Rich entitlements are sacred and guaranteed. Payouts always begin at the top.

Working class entitlements are contingent and often reneged on. The way Trump screws the people he hires. The way the rich have screwed working people for centuries.

Promise and fail to deliver. This is done in a planned and deliberate way.

This ritual doesn’t stain the rich who ate all the working class entitlements (who demanded to eat those entitlements, who demonized those entitlements in careful ways over recent decades) it stains the government, helping to teach generations of working people that government is not to be trusted., that government is a thief, that government is the enemy.

After all, it was the government who stepped in and began passing laws to hoist the workers out of permanent poverty. That is how the rich learned to hate government: because it was a better Santa Claus than the rich employers were who tossed out niggling scraps at Christmastime but screwed the poor the rest of the year. The rich needed to make their benefits immune from workers’ hatred and opposition and needed to kill the liberal/progressive Santa Claus of government, who was more than a gift giver, he was also a Superman, a hero, a protector, a guarantor of fair play in the economy. Fair play was and is anathema to the rich and their Republican agents.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Follow The Rubles, Follow The Lies

Follow the Money. The key to what the Russians wanted might be found in the firing of Preet Bharara and the quick settlement of the Prevezon case after the firing, on Russia’s terms. (Their words.) The motivation supplied to Trump came in over a decade of many millions of rubles pouring into Trump Inc.

A VOX interview with a Russia Expert who says the answer is in the money that changed hands. Russian money kept Trump from being a business failure.

Follow the Kompramat: apparently much of the Steel Dossier Republicans are trying to discredit has already been corroborated.

The article on SLATE

(By the way, it wasn’t created at the request of or by Democrats. It was commissioned by Republicans, created by a respected former MI6 professional and handed to the FBI by a top Republican, John McCain.)

The Facebook aspect of Russian spying, explained by POLITICO.

Non-Linear Warfare and the Russians:

A short video on Vladislav Surkov, Putin's magician

The inventor of non-linear warfare––Vladislav Surkov, a profile in The Atlantic.

If a foreign enemy wanted to destroy the U.S. this is how they might do it. Worst case scenario laid out in The Atlantic. And in fact, it is a worst case scenario. Install a presidency whose intention is to degrade and destroy all of our democratic systems, all of our safeguards, all of our laws, all of our public trust, all of our global standing. Mission Accomplished!

If Putin or anyone wanted to destroy faith in our president they couldn’t pick a better liar to install than Donald Trump, liar par excellence. He’s been lying for decades about his Russian connections and his Russian money flow.

From David Corn at Mother Jones

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