Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Trump Doctrine, World Tour '17 Edition

Donald Trump's speech at the UN today was just as idiotically belligerent and mind-numbingly awful as I expected it to be, if not worse as he openly threatened the genocide of North Korea in front of an audience of world leaders.

President Donald Trump condemned authoritarian regimes in harsh and Trumpian terms during his first United Nations speech, lashing out at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” lamenting Iran’s "pursuit of death and destruction,” and warning that major portions of the world are “going to hell.” 
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,” Trump said Tuesday in a major address before the U.N. General Assembly. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

The president insisted that the U.S. is “ready, willing and able” but cautioned that “hopefully this will not be necessary.” 
“That’s what the United Nations is all about. That’s what the United Nations is for,” he said. “Let’s see how they do. It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future.” 
Trump also singled out Iran as he called on “the righteous many” to “confront the wicked few” to prevent “evil” from prevailing. 
“It is far past time for the nations of the world to confront another reckless regime, one that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room,” Trump said. “The Iranian government masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”

If the leaders of the world's countries somehow weren't convinced that America is now the most dangerous rogue nation on earth before, this speech sealed the deal.  We're under control of a madman with a nuclear arsenal that can wipe out every human on the planet dozens of times over again and he can use them at any time.

Daniel Larison zeroed in on the problem with Trump:

Trump’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly this morning contained a lot of ill-advised and dangerous remarks, but this one stood out:

If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. 
U.S. foreign policy already suffers from far too much self-congratulation and excessive confidence in our own righteousness, so it was alarming to hear Trump speak in such stark, fanatical terms about international affairs. Paired with his confrontational rhetoric directed towards North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Syria, Trump’s choice to cast these states as the “wicked few” portends more aggressive and meddlesome policies and gives the leaders of all of these governments reason to assume the worst about our intentions. It was similar to Bush’s foolish “axis of evil” remarks in 2002. The statement itself is also rather odd in that it talks about the many being righteous, when religious texts normally present the righteous as being the relatively few and embattled against the wicked multitude. If the “wicked” are so few, they must be badly outnumbered and don’t pose as much of a threat as Trump claims elsewhere. It also strains credulity that Trump speaks on behalf of righteousness when he embraces so many abusive despots and enables Saudi-led coalition crimes in Yemen. 
Trump declared the nuclear deal an “embarrassment,” which strongly suggests that he won’t agree to recertify the deal when the next deadline comes up in mid-October. He emphasized the importance of sovereignty for the U.S., but in everything else he had to say he showed that he was happy to trample on the sovereignty of other states when it suited him. While his threat to “destroy” North Korea was framed as a defense of the U.S. and allies, it will only make the North Korean government more determined than ever to develop its nuclear arsenal and missiles. He hinted that the U.S. would interfere more in Venezuela, which will almost certainly be used by Maduro and his allies to their advantage.

In 2017, America is a founding member of the "wicked few".  The rest of the world will not tolerate us for long should we end up in wars with Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela as we are in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen now.

By the way, note who did not receive any criticism whatsoever from Trump:  Russia.  A country we know who tried to influence our elections and possibly a lot more, and Trump gave them a pass because of course he did, he's using Putin's rhetoric now in public.

Sovereignty is not a point prior American presidents have pressed. When global leaders invoke sovereignty, they usually mean that no one possesses the right to oppose what they unleash within their borders. American presidents typically tailor their speeches at the UN to counterbalance a due respect for national sovereignty with calls for collective action against genocide, terrorism, disease, poverty, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

But now, Putin finally has an American president who considers national sovereignty as the end of the discussion, or at least in the cases where it serves their purposes. Trump’s call for a “respect for law, a respect for borders, a respect for culture” sounds unobjectionable – until it becomes clear that Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea will enjoy no such respect from Washington for their own sovereignty. Much as Putin said in 2015 that Russia recognizes “the fact that we can no longer tolerate the current state of affairs in the world,” Trump’s conception of sovereignty is inevitably reserves the U.S. the right to impose its will.

But the question remains: what will happen when the rest of the world decides something needs to be done about us?

I'm pretty sure that day is coming if we don't find a way to rein Trump in.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

We now have a lot more on the Paul Manafort FBI raid from July, and as you can imagine Trump's former campaign manager getting a no-knock lockpick special during breakfast, it's pretty amazing stuff.

Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

The moves against Mr. Manafort are just a glimpse of the aggressive tactics used by Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors in the four months since taking over the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election, according to lawyers, witnesses and American officials who have described the approach. Dispensing with the plodding pace typical of many white-collar investigations, Mr. Mueller’s team has used what some describe as shock-and-awe tactics to intimidate witnesses and potential targets of the inquiry.

Mr. Mueller has obtained a flurry of subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury, lawyers and witnesses say, sometimes before his prosecutors have taken the customary first step of interviewing them. One witness was called before the grand jury less than a month after his name surfaced in news accounts. The special counsel even took the unusual step of obtaining a subpoena for one of Mr. Manafort’s former lawyers, claiming an exception to the rule that shields attorney-client discussions from scrutiny.

“They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. “You want people saying to themselves, ‘Man, I had better tell these guys the truth.’”

A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment. Lawyers and a spokesman for Mr. Manafort also declined to comment. 

And if there was somehow any doubt at all that Manafort is rolling over on the boss because of that threat of an indictment, well it may not be just a threat as CNN follows up:

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe. 
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive. 
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is leading the investigation into Russia's involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications. 
A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party, the sources told CNN. 

Manafort's long been the center of Mueller's investigation, and while we've long suspected he was facing an involuntary stay in decidedly substandard federal housing, we now have confirmation that Mueller knows everything, even if somehow Manafort isn't rolling over.

There is a big caveat on that CNN leak story though, as the team at Lawfare blog reveals:

The CNN story is a different matter. The story discloses FISA wiretaps against a named U.S. person. Whatever Paul Manafort may have done, he is a citizen of this country, and this is an egregious civil liberties violation. It’s also a significant compromise of national security information. Simply put, FISA information should never leak. When it does, it erodes the systems through which the government protects national security—and it rightly erodes public confidence that the systems designed to protect civil liberties work as intended.

Political leaking of wiretapping information is the stuff of the Hoover era. It has no legitimate place in our politics.

That's a fair point to make, and something to keep in mind.  Leaking existence of a FISA warrant against a specific US person is a huge, huge deal, guys.

Still, I'm betting Trump is pissing himself tonight.  He knows that he's in real trouble.  This is the point in the chess match where the midgame is being fought and Trump's side just lost a rook, two knights and bishop, and Mueller maybe sacrificed a pawn or two, and that's because at this point we have to assume that Robert Mueller has Donald Trump's tax returns as part of his investigation.

In fact, people familiar with the type of investigation that Mueller is now running signal the near-certainty that Mueller has access to the president's tax returns. The purpose would be to use the tax returns as a road map to investigate potential Russian financial influence within Trump Organization limited liability companies.

"I believe Mueller has already obtained tax returns in the Russia investigation," Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in the Securities and Commodities Fraud Section of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, said on Twitter on Aug. 10. He later wrote in The Hill he often used tax returns in his own federal investigations, and that it is almost a necessity in an investigation like Mueller's. It's also done without knowledge of the subjects of the investigation.

"A federal prosecutor obtains tax returns by seeking an ex parte order from a federal judge. That means that the person who is being investigated doesn't know that the tax returns are being sought or if the judge issues the order," he said. "Basically, it's done in secret."

Mariotti also said that "the July FBI raid at the home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort tells us a great deal about the status of … Mueller's investigation."

Before taking "an aggressive, public action" like having the FBI search a subject's home, Mariotti wrote, a "typical step" federal prosecutors take in white-collar investigations is obtaining tax returns.

"A prosecutor would first take steps that can be done covertly, without the subject knowing, to gather evidence that can serve as the basis for more aggressive actions like search warrants," he wrote. "I worked with federal prosecutors who obtained tax returns in every single white-collar investigation they worked on."

Mariotti also said it ordinarily would require a senior Justice Department official to sign off on a request to the IRS for tax returns in a non-tax federal investigation. But, in this case, Mueller already has that authority.

"Mueller has authority to do so because the statute permits 'United States attorneys' to obtain tax returns and he has the power of a 'United States attorney' pursuant to the special counsel regulations," he wrote, noting that "even the tax return of someone other than Manafort" could be helpful to Mueller, and that "he could have tax return information for many individuals."

A lot of people in the White House are suddenly wondering if it's too late to talk to Mueller.  It probably is, all the good deals I'm betting are taken.  What remains, well.

We'll see.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Last Call For The Man Who Saved The World

We come to pay respects tonight to Stanislav Petrov, a Russian man who died in May, and if you don't know the name, the fact you're breathing non-irradiated air is thanks to him.

Early on the morning of Sept. 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov helped prevent the outbreak of nuclear war. 
A 44-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, he had begun his shift as the duty officer at Serpukhov-15, the secret command center outside Moscow where the Soviet military monitored its early-warning satellites over the United States, when alarms went off. 
Computers warned that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from an American base. 
“For 15 seconds, we were in a state of shock,” he later recalled. “We needed to understand, ‘What’s next?’ ” 
The alarm sounded during one of the tensest periods in the Cold War. Three weeks earlier, the Soviets had shot down a Korean Air Lines commercial flight after it crossed into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board, including a congressman from Georgia. President Ronald Reagan had rejected calls for freezing the arms race, declaring the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” The Soviet leader, Yuri V. Andropov, was obsessed by fears of an American attack. 
Colonel Petrov was at a pivotal point in the decision-making chain. His superiors at the warning-system headquarters reported to the general staff of the Soviet military, which would consult with Mr. Andropov on launching a retaliatory attack.

After five nerve-racking minutes — electronic maps and screens were flashing as he held a phone in one hand and an intercom in the other, trying to absorb streams of incoming information — Colonel Petrov decided that the launch reports were probably a false alarm. 
As he later explained, it was a gut decision, at best a “50-50” guess, based on his distrust of the early-warning system and the relative paucity of missiles that were launched. 
Colonel Petrov died at 77 on May 19 in Fryazino, a Moscow suburb, where he lived alone on a pension. The death was not widely reported at the time. It was confirmed by his son, Dmitri, according to Karl Schumacher, a political activist who, after learning in 1998 of Colonel Petrov’s Cold War role, traveled to Russia to meet him and remained a friend. The cause was hypostatic pneumonia.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we're not living in a nuclear wasteland.

Well, not yet, anyway.

Thank you for making the right call, Colonel Petrov.  Nazhderovye.

I (Don't) Want My Trump TV

If you still think FOX News is the center of Trump regime propaganda these days, it's not.  Your local Sinclair Broadcasting network affiliate is, and America's trusted neighborhood news outlets are now in the business of playing pro-Trump messages several times a week, including "Terror Alert" broadcasts that are manipulating people through fear in places like Provicence, RI.

The company that owns WJAR-TV is mandating the broadcast of multiple programs favorable to President Donald Trump on the state’s most-watched television station. 
Sinclair Broadcast Group, a rapidly growing media company that bought Channel 10 in 2014, produces “must-run” segments and distributes them to its local stations nationwide. They must air during daily news programming, Sinclair executives said. 
Sinclair is poised to become the nation’s largest owner of TV stations and, with its recent hire of former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, viewers can expect to see more of the chain’s political programming. 
The practice, which has infused a political flavor into the 68-year-old WJAR’s broadcasts, started quietly there at least a year ago. 
Three of the segments have rattled viewers and WJAR’s own news reporters, according to Fletcher Fischer, the business manager and financial secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1228, the union that represents broadcast workers there: 
‒ The Terrorism Alert Desk, advertised as a daily news update about terrorist activity. 
‒ News pieces from Epshteyn, Sinclair’s chief political analyst. 
‒ A clearly labeled opinion show featuring Mark Hyman, a former vice president of the company. 
These pieces are fed to Sinclair’s 174 stations in the United States every day.

Sinclair’s insertion of the segments into news programming has been harshly critiqued by Rhode Islanders and national commentators. 
Gloria Crist, a 54-year-old actress from Tiverton, says she’s stopped watching the station.
Rep. David N. Cicilline condemned the practice, saying: “Rhode Islanders rely on our local news being produced in Rhode Island, not directed by a national conglomerate for local broadcasters to deliver.” 
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote, “What Fox News is for cable, Sinclair could become for broadcast: programming with a soupçon — or more — of conservative spin.” 
And HBO’s John Oliver dedicated a show to what he calls Sinclair’s corporate propaganda. 
But Sinclair says it’s providing national commentary to “free up” reporters “to create more local news, which we considered to be squarely in the public interest.”

All while screaming about the "liberal media".

Sinclair mandating what news local stations have to broadcast should disturb the hell out of everyone but if you think Republicans are going to do anything about it, you're mad.   Some of the nation's largest local stations are running fake "terror alerts" daily, and believe me, people you know are watching.

Here in Cincinnati, Sinclair owns the CBS and the CW affiliates and the ABC and FOX affiliates in Dayton, as well as the ABC, CBS and CW affiliates in Columbus.  If the additional affiliates are approved, they'd have stations in Louisville and Lexington too.

And considering Sinclair is launching a "national investigative news team" to create these right-wing news segments to be played on nearly 225 stations daily, if you think the Democrats being able to get their message out was tough before, wait until two-thirds of the country is inundated by Sinclair's garbage for four years.

Russian To Judgment

I'm not a lawyer (IANAL as the Balloon Juice crew would say) but I gotta say that the first rule of being a White House lawyer when the boss is under federal investigation is "maybe you shouldn't get into lunchtime shouting matches about legal strategy with coworkers in public places where reporters from the New York Times can overhear."

President Trump’s legal team is wrestling with how much to cooperate with the special counsel looking into Russian election interference, an internal debate that led to an angry confrontation last week between two White House lawyers and that could shape the course of the investigation.

At the heart of the clash is an issue that has challenged multiple presidents during high-stakes Washington investigations: how to handle the demands of investigators without surrendering the institutional prerogatives of the office of the presidency. Similar conflicts during the Watergate and Monica S. Lewinsky scandals resulted in court rulings that limited a president’s right to confidentiality.

The debate in Mr. Trump’s West Wing has pitted Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, against Ty Cobb, a lawyer brought in to manage the response to the investigation. Mr. Cobb has argued for turning over as many of the emails and documents requested by the special counsel as possible in hopes of quickly ending the investigation — or at least its focus on Mr. Trump.

Mr. McGahn supports cooperation, but has expressed worry about setting a precedent that would weaken the White House long after Mr. Trump’s tenure is over. He is described as particularly concerned about whether the president will invoke executive or attorney-client privilege to limit how forthcoming Mr. McGahn could be if he himself is interviewed by the special counsel as requested.

When you understand that Cobb's job is to make sure that he's in it for saving Trump's ass and everyone else is expendable (including White House Counsel McGahn) you can see why things might be a little tense about Trump essentially ratting out his own people in order to try to save himself.

The Mango Mussolini ain't loyal.

The friction escalated in recent days after Mr. Cobb was overheard by a reporter for The New York Times discussing the dispute during a lunchtime conversation at a popular Washington steakhouse. Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying Mr. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to. He also mentioned a colleague whom he blamed for “some of these earlier leaks,” and who he said “tried to push Jared out,” meaning Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who has been a previous source of dispute for the legal team.

Oops.   Maybe not so loud next time, guys.

After The Times contacted the White House about the situation, Mr. McGahn privately erupted at Mr. Cobb, according to people informed about the confrontation who asked not to be named describing internal matters. John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, sharply reprimanded Mr. Cobb for his indiscretion, the people said.

Mr. Cobb sought to defuse the conflict in an interview over the weekend, praising Mr. McGahn as a superb lawyer. “He has been very helpful to me, and whenever we have differences of opinion, we have been able to work them out professionally and reach consensus,” Mr. Cobb said. “We have different roles. He has a much fuller plate. But we’re both devoted to this White House and getting as much done on behalf of the presidency as possible.”

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is investigating connections between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, including whether they conspired to influence last year’s election. Mr. Mueller is also looking into whether Mr. Trump’s decision to fire James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director initially leading the investigation, constitutes obstruction of justice. He has asked the White House for emails and documents related to these matters, and Mr. Cobb has organized the requests into 13 categories, but officials would not describe them in more detail. So far, officials said the White House has not turned down any request.

Mr. Trump’s aides said they were scrambling to respond to the requests to avoid a subpoena that might make it look as if the White House was not cooperating. Mr. Cobb hoped to turn over a trove of documents this week, according to people close to the legal team.

Mr. Cobb argues that the best strategy is to be as forthcoming as possible, even erring on the side of inclusion when it comes to producing documents, because he maintains the evidence will show Mr. Trump did nothing wrong. Mr. McGahn has told colleagues that he is concerned that Mr. Cobb’s liberal approach could limit any later assertion of executive privilege. He has also blamed Mr. Cobb for the slow collection of documents.

Complicating the situation is that Mr. McGahn himself is a likely witness. Mr. Mueller wants to interview him about Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the White House’s handling of questions about a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer said to be offering incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Mr. McGahn is willing to meet with investigators and answer questions, but his lawyer, Bill Burck, has asked Mr. Cobb to tell him whether the president wants to assert either attorney-client or executive privilege, according to lawyers close to the case. Mr. McGahn could face legal jeopardy or lose his law license should he run afoul of rules governing which communications he can divulge. He did not respond to requests for comment.

If Cobb gives up McGahn and everyone else, they can't invoke executive privilege later and get out of the trap.  And given Trump's long, long history of screwing his employees whenever it becomes slightly inconvenient for him personally, if I were Don McGahn I'd strongly consider rolling over on Trump before I ended up with a very long federal prison sentence.

After all, if everyone's innocent, McGahn should be taking Cobb's view.  The fact that Mueller is deep into grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, and with tomorrow's testimony by Trump business partner Michael Cohen in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee ready to happen, the clock for "giving up Trump to save yourself" may be running out.

And McGahn knows it.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Last Call For Diplomacy Is Hard You Guys

It seems after 8 months on the job that Trump regime UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has given up on her job or something, and really when it comes to dealing with North Korea, shooting things is just probably easier am I right?

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday the U.N. Security Council has run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States may have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we can do at the Security Council at this point,” Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that she was perfectly happy to hand the North Korea problem over to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

As world leaders head to the United Nations headquarters in New York for the annual General Assembly meeting this week, Haley’s comments indicated the United States was not backing down from its threat of military action against North Korea.

North Korea launched a missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday in defiance of new U.N. Security Council sanctions banning its textile exports and capping imports of crude oil.

China has urged the United States to refrain from making threats to North Korea. Asked about President Donald Trump’s warning last month that the North Korean threat to the United States will be met with “fire and fury,” Haley said, “It was not an empty threat.”

If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed. And we all know that. And none of us want that. None of us want war,” she said on CNN.

“We’re trying every other possibility that we have, but there’s a whole lot of military options on the table,” she said. 

Please remember that all of those military options lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of casualties on the Korean Peninsula, along with possibly Japan and China and Guam, and if nuclear weapons come into play, possibly everywhere.

There is no "military solution" to North Korea right now that avoids a truly staggering number of dead and injured civilians.

Now the UN Ambassador is saying that there is no diplomatic solution either.  Keep in mind Trump will address the UN General Assembly Tuesday morning, and it's going to be a disaster.

There's a very good chance that by this time next year we'll be in a shooting war (or worse a nuclear one) with North Korea. If Haley can't handle the job, she needs to resign and make way for someone who can.

Of course, same goes quadruple for Trump.

Another Milepost On The Road To Oblivion

Of course Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff is correct when he said today that Trump only cares about Trump.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on Sunday said President Donald Trump is neither conservative nor liberal, but simply “pro-Trump.”

On ABC’s “This Week,” Schiff called Trump’s discussions with Democrats “purely transactional.”

This is a president, look, who has no ideology. He’s not conservative, he’s not liberal; the only consistent theme seems to be, he’s pro-Trump,” he said. “He’s for his own personal interests.”

Schiff also questioned Trump’s reluctance to enforce policies implemented by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

“I don’t know why it is so hard for this administration, whether it’s on climate or on Iran or on our strategy of defeating ISIS, to acknowledge that the prior administration did some things right,” he said.

And so far his term has been 100% about enriching Donald Trump's bank account while treating everyone else like suckers who are beneath him, because he's the guy in the Oval Office and you're not, period.

That's it.  That's the pathology of Trump.

Sunday Long Read: O Canada, How Could You?

It's not just the US that has a terrible record with temp employees, immigrants and deadly laxity in safety records, but North America's second largest city, Toronto, proves the problem is pervasive and brutal in Canada as well. The Toronto Star goes undercover to bust one of these companies, Canadian bakery giant Fiera Foods.

There are two dozen of us crowded around a conveyor belt, bodies twisting to snatch dough off the line. The floor is strewn with raw pastries that seem to accumulate faster than anyone can sweep them up. They collect in bloated masses at our feet.

It is my first day as a temp at Fiera Foods, an industrial bakery that reeks of yeast and is alive with the constant drone of machinery.

We are forming and packing raw, circular pastry dough into wet plastic trays — a shoulder-crunching task called pinching. These may well be the croissants you eat for breakfast.

Supervisors shout at us to wake up. They shout at us to move faster, pinch nicer, work harder. No one talks through the noise and exhaustion.

The factory relies heavily on temporary help agency workers. Its health and safety record is checkered; three temps have died here or at Fiera’s affiliated companies since 1999.

Across the province, more and more people are relying on temp agencies to find work. When they do, statistics show they are more likely to get hurt on the job.

I am undercover to investigate why.

Fiera’s current clients include some of the continent’s biggest brands including Dunkin’ Donuts and Sobeys; over the years it has made pastries for Costco, Tim Hortons, Metro, Walmart, and Loblaw. Its factories churn out baked goods by the truckload, destined for markets across North America and around the world. They can produce 2 million bagels alone per day.

Fiera said health and safety is a “core principle,” in response to questions from the Star. It said it contributes to Ontario’s “economic well-being” with more than 1,200 people working at its facilities in the GTA, and that it believes strongly in helping immigrants “find work and build their futures in Canada.” It also said it uses strict criteria when choosing temp agencies to work with. The company says it has given almost $1.5 million to health-care initiatives and minority communities over the past decade.

It has also received some $4.7 million in government loans and grants to expand capacity and create good jobs. The company says all employees are given “in-depth training” and that Fiera has invested half a million dollars in health and safety initiatives over the past two years.

I get about five minutes of training in a factory packed with industrial equipment.

I am paid in cash with no deductions or pay stubs. I pick up my wages from a payday lender, a 35-minute bus ride from the factory.

Fiera has been slapped with 191 orders for health and safety violations over the past two decades, for everything from lack of proper guarding on machines to unsafely stored gas cylinders.

At least a dozen of the women I meet on my assembly line at Fiera, a multimillion-dollar company, are hired through temp agencies.

Temp agency workers are changing the face of labour in Ontario.

In workplaces around the province, the use of temp agencies limits companies’ liability for accidents on the job, reduces their responsibility for employees’ rights, and cuts costs.

When I walk into the factory, I see mostly people of colour. Many are new Canadians. Many told me they have taken this job for one reason: to survive.

In August, charges were laid against Fiera Foods under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for the 2016 death of a temp agency worker named Amina Diaby. Her hijab was caught in a machine, strangling her.

She was 23 years old. She was a refugee trying to save for nursing school. She had been on the job two weeks.

If anything, the worst labor practices of the US are finding a thriving home in Canada these days, and that's definitely not a good thing.  It's just another reminder that our neighbors to the north have their problems with labor laws, racism, corporate greed and worker deaths too.  The difference is that the Trudeau government will probably do something about it.  The Trump regime here could not give less of a damn.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Russian To Judgment, Con 't

So it's the time of the week where we review Friday's Trump/Russia news dump stories, and this week is no different. I asked a few days ago what Michael Flynn was doing in the Middle East when that story broke earlier this week, and now we have our answer and it's a doozy.

In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan.

The meeting — details of which have never been reported — is the latest in a series of secret, high-stakes contacts between Trump advisers and foreign governments that have raised concerns about how, in particular, Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner handled their personal business interests as they entered key positions of power. And the nuclear project raised additional security concerns about expanding nuclear technology in a tinderbox region of the world. One expert compared it to providing “a nuclear weapons starter kit.”

On the morning of Jan. 5, Flynn, Kushner, and former chief strategist Steve Bannon greeted King Abdullah II at the Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan, then took off in a fleet of SUVs and a sedan to a different location.

People close to the three Trump advisers say that the nuclear deal was not discussed. But a federal official with access to a document created by a law enforcement agency about the meeting said that the nuclear proposal, known as the Marshall Plan, was one of the topics the group talked about.

So yes, it's Flynn, Kushner and Bannon again, doing this before Donald Trump was president, meeting with a foreign leader to make a deal with him over nuclear technology, and failing to disclose the meeting.

But it gets worse, and we all know the reason why.

The Wall Street Journal reported that while Flynn’s White House disclosure forms state that he stopped working on the deal in December 2016, he in fact continued to push it even after he entered the White House. Flynn’s lawyer declined to comment on the claims in the Journal story.

The plan, for which Flynn was reportedly paid as a consultant, initially envisioned that the reactors would be built by US companies and security would be provided by the Russian state-owned firm Rosoboron, an arms exporter currently facing US sanctions. As the plan evolved, Russian involvement reportedly lessened, and it is not known whether Russia or its companies featured in the meeting with the Jordanian king. This week, Democratic members of the House Oversight Committee said they would turn over documents about the nuclear plan to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, contending that Flynn may have violated federal law by not disclosing foreign trips and meetings.

While it is not unusual for an incoming administration to meet with foreign dignitaries during the transition, Trump surrogates have repeatedly failed to acknowledge these contacts. Attorney General Jeff Sessions at first said he did not discuss campaign matters with Russian officials, only to later acknowledge at least two conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The United Arab Emirates set up a meeting between a military contractor close to the Trump administration and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin. And this week, CNN reported that Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, visited with Flynn, Kushner, and Bannon without alerting the American government beforehand.

The meeting with the king of Jordan had extremely high stakes: a discussion with the head of a key American ally that might have included plans about spreading nuclear power to one of the world's least stable regions, possibly with the help of one of America's main geopolitical enemies, Russia. The revelation of the meeting comes as Abdullah plans to visit the United States next week and speak with Trump.

So here we have all this done on behalf of a US businessman deep in bed with the Russians, and his presumptive National Security Adviser breaking basically every national security rule in the book pitching Russian nuclear reactors to Jordan.

And speaking of side deals with the Russians, that brings us to Moscow's favorite GOP Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher,who is now is deep trouble of his own.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), an eccentric lawmaker known for his pro-Russia stances, proposed to the White House a pardon deal for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a Wednesday phone call Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Rohrabacher suggested to President Trump’s chief-of-staff, John Kelly, that the administration end Assange’s various legal problems in the U.S. In exchange, Assange would turn over a digital storage device that Rohrabacher said would clear Russia of allegations of interference in the 2016 election, according to the report.

The congressman told Kelly that if what Assange turned over was not the proof promised, “he would get nothing, obviously,” according to the report. Over the course of summer 2016, WikiLeaks published thousands of emails from Democratic officials believed to have been the target of a hacking campaign backed by the Russians.

Rohrabacher traveled to London last month to meet with Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy, where the WikiLeaks founder is avoiding extradition to the U.S. Once the meeting was reported, Rohrabacher indicated his plans to tell Trump what he heard from Assange. On Thursday, he told the Los Angeles Times he had “spoken to senior people at the White House about arranging a meeting” with the President.

A Trump administration official told the Wall Street Journal that Kelly did not deliver Rohrabacher’s message to Trump, and that the chief-of-staff instead told Rohrabacher his idea “was best directed to the intelligence community.”

Really? Julian Assange gets a full pardon for leaking damaging information on Trump's enemies, while every indication points to Assange working for Putin as his intel laundry shop? Is Rohrabacher stupid or what? Of course Kelly didn't want to touch this, nobody in their right mind believes Assange these days.

And speaking of Russian intel laundering, that brings us to story number three: We know Russian shell companies who wanted to influence the 2016 election bought hundreds of thousands in ads on Facebook and other social media sites, but now Team Mueller is asking if those companies had a little inside help from Trump's people.

Mapping the full Russian propaganda effort is important. Yet investigators in the House, Senate, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office are equally focused on a more explosive question: did any Americans help target the memes and fake news to crucial swing districts and wavering voter demographics? “By Americans, you mean, like, the Trump campaign?” a source close to one of the investigations said with a dark laugh. Indeed: probers are intrigued by the role of Jared Kushner, the now-president’s son-in-law, who eagerly took credit for crafting the Trump campaign’s online efforts in a rare interview right after the 2016 election. “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Kushner told Steven Bertoni of Forbes. “We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff . . . We basically had to build a $400 million operation with 1,500 people operating in 50 states, in five months to then be taken apart. We started really from scratch.”

Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.

And now House Intelligence Committee Democrats have questions too, particularly about Kushner, Bannon, and Kushner's "friends in Silicon Valley", the now infamous Cambridge Analytica.

Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.” (Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.)

Senator Martin Heinrich is leading the charge to update American election laws so that the origins of political ads on social media are at least as transparent as those on TV and in print. Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is also part of the Senate Intelligence Committee that is tracing Russia’s 2016 tactics. “Paul Manafort made an awful lot of money coming up with a game plan for how Russian interests could be pushed in Western countries and Western elections,” Heinrich said, referring to a mid-2000s proposal Manafort pitched to a Russian oligarch. “Suddenly he finds himself in the middle of this campaign. If there is a person who I think is very sophisticated in this stuff, and runs in pretty dicey circles, that is the place where I would dig.”

No evidence has emerged to link Kushner, Cambridge Analytica, or Manafort to the Russian election-meddling enterprise; all have denied colluding with foreign agents. (Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”

As I said a few weeks ago, we had reached the end of the beginning of the Trump/Russia tale.  Now we're seeing where the pieces fit and how they go together, and at every turn we see Russian involvement in assisting Trump in manipulating the election in exchange for helping to get Russian businesses (and Putin and his cadre of oligarchs that own them) involved in every aspect of MAGA, Inc.

The evidence is piling up.  Mueller, House Democrats, and Senate Democrats (and even some Republicans, shockingly enough) are asking questions and conducting investigations.  When Mueller's final report comes (and that may be a while as he continues to hire prosecutors that are experts in forensic accounting and money laundering cases suggesting there's a LOT of evidence to chew through still) it's going to be thorough and devastating to the Trump regime.

What happens after is going to be the real story, and the real future of America as a democracy or as something else.

The American Taliban, Coming Soon

We're going to have to deal with the very real fact that Roy Moore is going to be a United States Senator in 2018, and that he is the personification of the American Taliban.

Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore suggested earlier this year that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks might have happened because the US had distanced itself from God. 
Moore, a hardline conservative running against fellow Republican and incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in a runoff primary race, made the comments in February during a speech at the Open Door Baptist Church, a video reviewed by CNN's KFile shows. Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama, quotes verses from the Old Testament's Book of Isaiah, which have been used by some fringe elements of Christianity to suggest that the Bible prophesied the attacks. 
"Because you have despised His word and trust in perverseness and oppression, and say thereon ... therefore this iniquity will be to you as a breach ready to fall, swell out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instance,'" Moore said, quoting Isaiah 30:12-13. Then he added: "Sounds a little bit like the Pentagon, whose breaking came suddenly at an instance, doesn't it?" 
Moore, continued, "If you think that's coincidence, if you go to verse 25, 'there should be up on every high mountain and upon every hill rivers and streams of water in the day of the great slaughter when the towers will fall.' You know, we've suffered a lot in this country, maybe, just maybe, because we've distanced ourselves from the one that has it within his hands to heal this land." 
Later in the same speech, Moore suggested God was upset at the United States because "we legitimize sodomy" and "legitimize abortion." 
The Moore campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Understand Roy Moore is going to win the primary, the polling averages show him with a 12 point lead or so right now with the primary run-off next week.  He'll win the general easily after, and this guy will be a US Senator before the end of the year.

By the way, my idiot Congressman Thomas Massie endorsed Moore last week.  That's all you need to know.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Last Call For Wrecked In Reykjavik

In countries that still have archaic concepts like "rule of law" and "honor", things like "family members of government leaders doing personal favors for convicted felons" is still enough to end that government.  Not so here in the States (where we call that "Tuesday") but in Iceland the ruling coalition has just come undone over allegations against the father of PM Bjarni Benediktsson.

A furore over a paedophile's links to Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson has triggered the collapse of Iceland's ruling coalition. 
The Bright Future party announced it was withdrawing from the three-party coalition after nine months in office. 
It blamed a "serious breach of trust within the government". 
Earlier it emerged that the prime minister's father had written a letter recommending a convicted paedophile have his "honour restored". 
This old Icelandic system permits convicts to have certain civil rights restored - enabling them to run for public office, qualify for certain government jobs or serve as an attorney or solicitor, for example - if three letters of recommendation from persons of good character are provided. 
But Icelanders have been horrified by the secret backing for Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson - convicted in 2004 of raping his stepdaughter almost every day for 12 years from when she was five. He served a five-and-a-half-year jail term. 
The Reykjavik Grapevine news site quotes the survivor of Hauksson's abuse as saying it was "surreal" that he should receive restored honour. 
The government has also been accused of an attempted cover-up after it refused to disclose who had written the letter of recommendation. 
It only emerged on Thursday that it was Benedikt Sveinsson, Prime Minister Benediktsson's father, but the prime minister is said to have been informed about his involvement in July. 
In a statement, Mr Sveinsson apologised for providing the recommendation for Hauksson, an old friend of his. 
Iceland's justice minister has said she is preparing a bill to reform the restored honour system in response to the furore.

It's never the crime, it's the cover-up.  C'mon, America figured that one out 45 years ago, Iceland.

The Return Of The Revenge Of The Son Of Trumpcare

Still two weeks before the September 30th deadline for Senate Republicans to get away with only needing 51 votes for repealing the Affordable Care Act and kicking tens of millions of Americans off their health coverage, and that means one last plan to try to kill them some poors.  Sponsored by "GOP moderates" like Huckleberry Graham, the bill would wreck America's health care system, end Medicaid expansion for millions, and throw millions more off Medicaid by turning it into block grants for states...who won't be compelled to spend a single dime on the program as a result.

Sens. Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, Dean Heller and Ron Johnson on Wednesday released an Obamacare repeal bill, framing it as the last, best hope to fulfill the GOP's promise to undo the health law. 
"There's a lot of fight left in the Republican Party" on repeal, Graham said.

The bill faces long odds: Even some of its GOP backers say it would be almost impossible to get a massive rewrite of the health care system through the Senate within 17 days, or before the expiration of fast-track procedural powers Republicans hope to use to bypass the threat of a Democratic filibuster. 
President Donald Trump praised the lawmakers for continuing to work on Obamacare repeal, citing the "complete nightmare" the law is for Americans. But he didn't indicate whether he would press lawmakers to support the measure. "I sincerely hope that Senators Graham and Cassidy have found a way to address the Obamacare crisis," he said in a statement. 
Graham called on Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate GOP leaders to help them gather 50 votes. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who brought up several repeal measures in July only to see all of them fail, has said he'd bring up any Obamacare repeal bill that has enough Republican support. McConnell on Tuesday refused to choose between the repeal bill or a bipartisan measure being drafted by GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

Oh, but it gets worse.

The $1.2 trillion bill, H.R. 1628 (115), which has been at the CBO for about one week, according to the senators, would provide states with block grants instead of Obamacare's tax credits, Medicaid expansion and cost-sharing payments. It would also repeal Obamacare's individual and employer mandates and the medical device tax. 
In general, Republicans favor giving the states a “block grant” of funding to create their own health care systems. The repeal bill attempts to equalize health care spending by the federal government to states. 
Some states, particularly high-cost places such as Massachusetts, are bound to be worse off under the measure than less expensive parts of the country. 
It’s unclear if the CBO would even have time to score the bill before the end of the month. It would also have to go before the Senate parliamentarian to ensure that it complies with the rules of the expedited procedure, called reconciliation.

Blue states would get billions less for sure, but imagine giving Wyoming (pop 600,000 or so) and California (pop 39 million and change) an equal amount to implement Medicaid.

That's what we're looking at.  And again, states would not be compelled to spend all the money on Medicaid.

But here's the best part: after 2026, funding for the block grants is zeroed out.

No more Medicaid.  Period.  Done.  Gone.  Over.

This is arguably the worst version yet of Trumpcare, and it's coming unless we help stop it.

Make those calls, folks.

Black Lives Still Matter, Con't

Before Ferguson, before Charleston, before Baton Rouge, before Baltimore and New York, there was Anthony Lamar Smith, killed by St. Louis police in 2011.  After six years, the officer in that killing, Jason Stockley, faces a verdict in the charge of first degree murder as prosecutors contend he planted a gun in Smith's car to justify killing him in "self-defense".

The problem isn't the jury here.  It's a bench trial.  The judge in the proceedings is expected to hand down a verdict any time now.  GOP Gov. Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, author, and Rhodes scholar, is still calling up the National Guard, just in case.

The entire city is on edge because we know what's going to happen.

With courthouse barricades up, police presence expanded and National Guard troops on standby, St. Louis is braced for Friday’s anticipated verdict in the murder trial of a white police officer accused of executing a black motorist. 
Former St. Louis police Officer Jason Stockley maintains the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith was in self-defense. If he is acquitted of a first-degree murder charge, officials fear the inevitable protests could turn violent. Some activists have hinted as much. 
Christina Wilson, Smith’s fiancée, appeared at a news conference with Gov. Eric Greitens Thursday evening to ask protesters to avoid violence if they demonstrate.

“However it goes, I ask for peace,” Wilson said. 
Greitens echoed Wilson’s sentiments, saying he understood that many people feel pain over the shooting. “Do not turn that pain into violence,” he said. “One life has been lost in this case, and we do not need more bloodshed.” 
Earlier Thursday, Greitens — who won office last year in part on a promise not to repeat mistakes he says officials made in responding to the racial unrest in Ferguson in 2014 — announced he is readying the Missouri National Guard to protect both protesters and property. 
“As Governor, I am committed to protecting everyone’s constitutional right to protest peacefully while also protecting people’s lives, homes, and communities,” Greitens said in a statement. “Taking the steps to put the Missouri National Guard on standby is a necessary precaution.” 
On Thursday, barricades went up around the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse downtown, and St. Louis and St. Louis County police prepared to move officers to 12-hour shifts Friday. The federal courthouse will be closed on Friday. 
“We want to ensure the community that our police department is prepared for any scenario,” the city police department said in a statement. “In the wake of an announcement, the department is committed to keeping our citizens updated and informed.” 
Stockley fatally shot Smith after a police chase on Dec. 20, 2011. Prosecutors have alleged Stockley planted a .38-caliber revolver in Smith’s crashed Buick after shooting him five times at close range. The defense has said Stockley shot Smith in self-defense because Stockley believed Smith was reaching for a gun. 
The bench trial before St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson ended Aug. 9. Some St. Louis black clergy and activists have pledged “mass disruption” if Stockley is acquitted. 
There has been no official word on the timing of the announcement of a verdict, but multiple sources have told the Post-Dispatch it will come down Friday.

We know what happens next.

Black Lives Still Matter. .
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