Monday, January 23, 2017

Sierra Madre's Newly Hired City Manager: So Who Exactly Is Gabriel Engeland? Prepare To Be A Little Surprised!

Gabe Engeland

Mod: You probably haven't seen The Mountain Views News report on Sierra Madre's newly selected City Manager since yesterday's big rain melted all of the pulpy piles of this city's woebegone weekly stacked down by the local liquor stores. So here is their publicity release-style take on the guy who is now about to replace Elaine Aguilar.


Mod: OK, so that is the air brushed version of this story. But since we're The Tattler, an independent news source that doesn't need to kiss the fanny of City Hall to stay in business, we set out to do a little searching around the Internet to see what we might be able to find. And it turns out Gabe Engeland had some interesting adventures in his previous City Manager gig. That being in Trinidad, Colorado, population 8,000. First, a little something you might not have known about the very colorful City of Trinidad.

In the Age of Caitlyn Jenner, Trinidad Is No Longer World's Sex-Change Capital (Westword link): Transgender talk is all around these days, with I Am Cait, the reality series that debuted Sunday on E!, showing the former men’s decathlon Olympic gold-medal winner as the woman she always knew she was. But the first episode didn’t cause much fuss in Trinidad, despite the fact that for more than three decades, this small city in southern Colorado was known as the Sex-Change Capital of the World.

If the title seems unlikely, the story behind it is just as unusual. Stanley Biber, a hometown boy who became a general surgeon, thought he’d seen it all when he was a medic in Korea. But then one day in the late ’60s, he got a request he’d never considered: A social worker asked Biber if he could perform a sex-change operation. Biber talked to a doctor in New York who’d done the surgery, studied some plans from Johns Hopkins, and in 1969 did his first sex-assignment surgery at Mount San Rafael, Trinidad’s only hospital. Before Biber set aside his scalpel in 2003 — when the eighty-year-old doctor could no longer find insurance — he estimated that he’d performed some 6,000 sex-reassignment operations there. “I didn’t retire — I was forced to retire,” Biber told us at the time. “I’m in great shape. I work out every day; I out-lift the kids. But they wouldn’t insure me.”

Mod: Things hadn't always been that economically fine in Trinidad. But there was a solution coming, as you shall see. Sierra Madre also has it's challenges, so it is good to see there is a financial problem solver heading into town. But first, the Tragedy of Trinidad. This item ran on May 7, 2015.

Trinidad Hit Hard by Layoffs (KRCC.org link): Around 100 people are losing their jobs at the Pioneer Natural Resources branch in Trinidad. The Texas-based oil and gas company was the largest employer in the city, says Gabriel Engeland, Trinidad's City Manager, who adds that the layoffs are devastating both economically and socially.

"I think Trinidad now is really at a place where it has to find its identity," says Engeland. "If we’re not going to have the natural resource production in the area, then what replaces it? I don’t think we have an answer to that yet."

He says Trinidad officials are looking at impacts on the community, including everything from sales tax revenue to possible changes in school enrollment. In a statement, Pioneer Natural Resources says the layoffs are due to a drop in natural gas and crude oil prices. The company plans to offer severance packages and other services.

The statement says the company’s work in the Raton Basin will now be managed from its home office in Dallas, and that it's also closing its Denver office. Of the 70 employees there, about one-third will be offered relocation possibilities. In Trinidad, the layoffs represent nearly half of Pioneer Natural Resources’ southern Colorado workforce.

Mod: Help was on the way, however. As the groovier readers of this blog must know, Colorado citizens voted to legalize marijuana awhile back. And as the next four stories shall reveal, the City of Trinidad has today become the leading center of Colorado's marijuana trade. And Sierra Madre's newly selected City Manager, Gabe Engeland, was at the very heart of this green colored renaissance.

Engeland responds to developer’s recent comments about new ‘Pot Mall’ opening (The Chronicle-News link): When marijuana business owner Sean Sheridan commented in a Thursday, January 14 press release about the burgeoning number of legalized marijuana businesses now open or soon to be open in Trinidad, City Manager Gabe Engeland said Friday that he wanted to clear the air about some of the comments Sheridan had made. Sheridan’s press release and marketing for a “pot mall” was picked  up as a news story by two Colorado TV news stations  over the weekend.

While acknowledging that Sheridan, whose company has received City approval to open five marijuana businesses at contiguous addresses from 409 – 419 N. Commercial St., had the right to say what he wanted to say, Engeland said in interview in his office that he felt there were certain inaccuracies in some of the things Sheridan had written in his press release, and he tried to clarify the situation.

Sheridan wrote that, “With currently approved development plans the city is expecting to house more than one dispensary per 1,000 residents in 2016,” that is, 10 dispensaries in a city with a population estimated at 9,300 people. Engeland said some of the inaccuracies in the press release related to the specific numbers of marijuana businesses licensed in Trinidad.

“So some of the inaccuracies are around the total number,” Engeland said. “We currently have seven retail dispensaries operating. We have a total of 26 that have applied for a CUP (Conditional Use Permit), and out of those, 19 have been granted a CUP. So in addition to the seven that are operating, if the plans for all of the CUPS go through, Trinidad would be looking at 26 retail marijuana stores, which is actually higher that what he (Sheridan) put in here. In addition to that, that doesn’t include cultivation. So I believe we have, right now, a total of four cultivation licenses, with two more pending, bringing the total marijuana operations in Trinidad to 31, which is pretty significant for a town of our population.”

Colo. entrepreneurs have high hopes for marijuana mini-mall (The Santa Fe New Mexican link): On the first day the state of Colorado allowed the sale of recreational marijuana, Chris Elkins waited two hours in the freezing cold to buy weed.

“The line was down the stairwells, down the sidewalks, around the buildings, down the street,” Elkins, who had traveled to Colorado from Arkansas for a long-planned ski trip, recalled about that New Year’s Day in 2014.

“We’re all just standing out in the cold, shaking,” he said. As Elkins braved the winter weather with scores of stoners, the budding businessman saw an opportunity to cash in.

“Being an entrepreneur, I recognized that there’s going to be plenty of sales in this industry,” he said. “People are going to need to expand — that’s a difficult thing to do — and I took it upon myself to jump in the industry at that time.”

More than two years after that fateful day, Elkins and his business partner, Sean Sheridan, are making a run for the Colorado border.

The two commercial real estate developers are pushing a plan to open what they’ve dubbed the “World’s First Pot Mini-Mall” with five marijuana stores operating side by side under the same roof in downtown Trinidad, an old coal mining town some 12 miles north of the New Mexico state line.

(Later ..) Trinidad City Manager Gabriel Engeland said legal marijuana has already breathed new life into downtown.

“One of the goals of council was to rehab and make usable the buildings again and bring tenants again,” he said. “Retail marijuana, at least in these instances, has done that. I think that there’s the potential that it could be a catalyst. It’s just too soon to tell if the fuse is going down to a big boom or if the fuse is going down to a fizzle.”

While city officials are trying to transform Trinidad into an arts destination, Elkins and Sheridan want it to be known as the most marijuana-friendly city in the world, an idea that some residents and elected officials aren’t eager to embrace.

“I’m not comfortable with any more marijuana stores. I think we have enough,” said former Trinidad Mayor Joe Reorda, 81.

“We used to be called the Sex-Change Capital of the Nation. Now we’re going to be called the Marijuana Capital of the Nation,” he said. “I don’t know which is worse.”

Mod: Breathing new life into a moribund downtown? Well sure, why not? This next story went national, and comes from CNN. Fame came suddenly to Mr. Engeland.

Did pot money save small town from 'abyss of nothingness'? (CNN link): Anthony Mattie walks down Main Street confronted by a shell of the town he once knew. The retired state patrolman-turned-mayor pro tem stares at vacant building after building, his reflection bouncing off the empty glass storefront windows. The streets are lined with century-old facades, but not much more, except for a few cars slowly passing by. Still, Mattie maintains a sparkle in his eye and a boyish grin as he shares the plan to bring his town back to life -- thanks to marijuana money. "The abandoned Pepsi plant became a marijuana dispensary. People resurrected these buildings that were about to fall and collapse," he says.

It's in large part thanks to at least $800,000 in marijuana tax revenue. The green rush is bringing hope back to this once-booming coal mining town in rural southeast Colorado, just 11 miles from the New Mexico border, where generations of Mattie's family have lived. Residents pride themselves on the town's pioneer reputation and Wild West spirit.

"This is the place where Bat Masterson was the marshal. This is where Jesse James' gang did run. This is the place where Doc Holiday was a dentist and owned a brothel. This is the place," says Cy Michaels, a hotel owner and leader of the town's tourism board.

It was also home to one of the first places in the nation for gender reassignment surgery, earning it the unofficial title of "sex change capital of the world" in the early 2000s. But the doctor left, mines shut down and businesses closed, leaving the town searching for a new identity. So the city turned to marijuana, hoping to fill the economic void.

Compared with 30,000 in its prime, 8,200 residents live here now. But Mattie and others hope weed dispensaries, grow facilities and a high-scale commercial chocolate edibles company can be a shot in the arm.

"I expect that the sale of medical and recreational marijuana in the city of Trinidad is transitional," Mattie says. "That it gets us over this abyss of nothingness."

The town is in many ways an experiment that other cities across America are watching. They're only starting to see the good, the bad and the uncertainty that comes with a small town green-lighting weed. The town waded slowly into the controversial legal marijuana industry, waiting and only allowing medical marijuana business first.

"It's like tipping your toe in the water, testing the water," Mattie says. "And we said, 'Alright, this is not the big problem we maybe thought it could be.'"

In November 2014 the first recreational retail pot shop opened in Trinidad. Then, the money started flowing beyond expectations.

The $800,000 in tax revenue from marijuana sales in one year makes up just about 10% of the town's general fund, City Manager Gabe Engeland says. Mattie says they anticipated about $200,000. And so began the transformation of the town. With the marijuana tax money, the city spent $70,000 on a new fire engine, a pumper truck. Some of the money has allowed the city to expedite replacing old water pipes.

"About 60% of our water pipes were installed between 1890 and 1950," Engeland says. "They're edging towards catastrophic failure."

The city bought several rundown buildings in the heart of town with plans to convert them into live-work lofts and galleries, to attract artists and craftspeople to Trinidad.

It's money that's making a difference for this struggling town and a trend being seen across the state.

Mod: Anyone see any obvious parallels developing here? Old water pipes, a financially at risk and moribund downtown, the burning need for more (and more) tax revenue? Here with the answer Sierra Madre might be looking for is our final news item.

Marijuana tax revenue keeps on growing (The Chronicle News link): Trinidad’s legalized marijuana industry continues to be a major tax revenue generator for the city. As of April 30, 2016, year-to-date retail marijuana sales in the city totaled approximately $4.232 million, according to information shared by new city Finance Director Cheryl Navarette, who started in her new job in mid-March this year.

Navarette said those four months of sales revenue generated approximately $352,000 in city tax revenues. The city imposes a 5 percent sales tax on those sales, along with a 4 percent general sales tax. It also receives 1.5 percent in tax rebate revenue from state marijuana taxes, though the state rebate revenues have a one-month lag before the city receives them. That’s a total tax of 10.5 percent.

Last year, the city received approximately $891,000 in total retail sales tax revenue on marijuana sales of approximately $8.654 million. The tax revenue goes partly to the city’s General Fund and partly to the city’s Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) Fund. The CIP Fund gets one cent from all city retail tax revenues, both for marijuana sales and all other retail sales.

In a memo to the Mayor and City Council members, City Manager Gabe Engeland provided an updated look at marijuana-licensed locations and what the current legalized marijuana map looks like in Trinidad.

Trinidad currently has approved 16 locations for Marijuana, with nine of these approved locations open and operational,” Engeland wrote. “15 of the 16 approved locations include some type of ‘retail’ component in the license. In addition to this, the Planning and Zoning Variance Commission has either approved, or will have before them shortly, another 32 locations seeking to operate a marijuana business. In total, the number of locations in Trinidad which could seek formal Marijuana licensing from the City Council will be 48.

This includes all types of licenses and not all of the 48 locations will have a retail component, though the majority will. This number also includes CUPs (Conditional Use Permits), which the Planning, Zoning and Variance Commission will likely declare expired during their May and June meetings. Staff anticipates three or four will be declared expired in May and an additional three or four will be declared expired in June.

“From a very high level, the projections and estimates staff had provided to Council in the third quarter of last year appear to be holding true. As an industry, marijuana sales are averaging between $1 million to $1.2 million per month, meaning the City is collecting, roughly, $100,000-$120,000 per month in sales tax revenue. Staff still believes, over the summer months this year, the sales will increase to somewhere between $1.3 million to $1.6 million, where they will peak, prior to settling at around the $1.1million mark as the median number for 2016.”

There’s much more to the legalized marijuana industry than just making money, whether it’s for the businesses, their employees, their investors or the City. Engeland talked about the social implications of the new industry in Trinidad, the conversations he had had with multiple parties about it and what its future might be in relation to the City during a Wednesday interview at City Hall. He said that despite the limit of 20 marijuana locations in the city, anyone who applied for a marijuana-related CUP before the May 1 deadline could get their CUP approved, which could result in their being more marijuana businesses in town than the market could support, with a related decline in City marijuana tax revenues.

Mod: That really is a remarkably large amount of tax revenue for so little a town. Can this be why Gabe Engeland has been brought to Sierra Madre to serve as the new City Manager? Because of his vast experience managing the small Colorado city now known by some as the Marijuana Capital of the West? Has the City Council here decided that in order to rescue Sierra Madre from its rotten water company and $60 million big ones in bond and CalPERS debt, it will throw a Hail Mary pass and try to become a leading marijuana retailing California city? Considering the above news stories, I really did feel the need to ask.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 22, 2017

So Why Would Trump Lie About This?

View video here.

Mod: Donald Trump, the guy who promised so many big changes, sure got awfully petty fast. Politicians do lie, and after they get into office they lie even more. No big deal, that is how life is. Everyone knows the rules, and they plan accordingly. But as Vladimir Putin so thoughtfully points out in the video just above, you still have to pick your battles. And lying about the size of the crowd at your presidential inauguration can be easily checked with modern innovations. Such as photographs. So why even bother? I guess if you are as thin-skinned as Donald Trump, crowd size really does matter. 

On 'SNL' even Putin makes fun of Trump's Inauguration crowds (USA Today link): The day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, Saturday Night Live opened not with Alec Baldwin's lip-pursing impression of Trump, but with a shirtless Beck Bennett as Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing the American people.

"Relax. I got this. Putin's going to make everything OK."

After joking that he wouldn't let anything bad happen to the United States ("it's the most expensive thing we've ever bought"), Bennett as Putin addressed Donald Trump, bringing up the size of the Inauguration crowds, which has already been a hot topic with Trump and his press secretary Sean Spicer.

"I'm glad to see so many people turned up to your inauguration," he said, showing a photo of huge crowds in Washington, D.C.

"Oh wait, that's the Women's March!" he cried as the audience cheered. "This is the inauguration," he added, and the photo changed to the sparser crowds from Friday.


Trump Accuses Media of Lying About Inauguration Crowd Size During Bughouse CIA Speech (Slate link): President Donald Trump went to the CIA on his first full day as president in what was supposed to be a symbolic gesture after his harsh criticism of the intelligence community over the past few months. The president may have spent the run-up to the inauguration criticizing the work of the nation’s intelligence agencies, but on Saturday he knew just who to blame for what he characterized as a misrepresentation of his views: the dishonest media.

“As you know, I have a running war with the media, they are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth and they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community,” Trump said as people could be heard clapping on the sidelines. “And I just want to let you know … it is exactly the opposite.” The truth is, he said, that “I am with you 1,000 percent.”

While standing in front of a wall that honors CIA agents who have been killed in the line of duty, Trump then went on to flat out lie about the size of the crowd at his inauguration and accuse the media of misrepresenting the facts to make him look bad. The president said the crowd “looked honestly like a million-and-a-half people,” falsely adding that “it went all the way back to the Washington Monument.” But instead of the crowds, the media showed “an empty field and it said we drew 250,000 people. Now that’s not bad, but it’s a lie,” Trump said. Later, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, took it further and said Trump had the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period.”

Trump Administration Goes To War With The Media Over Inauguration Crowd Size (NPR link): The Trump Administration spent its first full day in office taking shots at the media and arguing about crowd sizes at Friday's inauguration.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer delivered a fiery broadside against the Fourth Estate from the White House Briefing Room Saturday evening, claiming that reporters had engaged in "deliberately false reporting" in the past 24 hours since President Trump took the oath of office. And, after berating the press, he walked away without taking any questions. "Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall," Spicer claimed.

He blamed new floor coverings on mall areas that "had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past the grass eliminated this visual." And Spicer claimed that fences and magnetometers going further back than ever prevented "hundreds of thousands of people from being able to access the mall as quickly as they had in years past."

However, CNN reporter Ashley Killough tweeted out a photo showing that floor coverings had in fact been used at Obama's second inauguration.

Women's March
There Are More People At National Mall For Women’s March Than Attended Trump Inauguration (PoliticusUSA link): It isn’t even close. Trump’s inaugural is being blown away by a roar from the American people in resistance to what the new majority in the US government is planning on doing.

Donald Trump hailed a failed inaugural that was poorly attended and lacked enthusiasm. To use Trump terms, his inauguration was low energy and sad. The majority of voters did not vote for Donald Trump to be the next president, and that majority is demonstrating that while Republicans may temporarily control the federal government, it is the majority who are fighting back in America.

The AP reports that data suggests there are more people at the March than were at Trump’s inaugural, “Figures from transportation officials in Washington suggest more people may be on the National Mall for the women’s march than came for President Donald Trump’s inauguration. As of 11 a.m. Saturday, 275,000 people had taken trips on the city’s subway system. On Inauguration Day, 193,000 trips had been taken as of that time, and the rail system opened an hour earlier that day, at 4 a.m.”

Inaugural: Just a smattering of Trumpies.

Trump And His Press Secretary Flagrantly Lied On Their First Full Day In Office. That Matters. (Huffington Post link): On Saturday, President Donald Trump’s first full day in office, he gave a speech at CIA headquarters in which he lied about the size of the crowd at his inauguration and falsely claimed that he had never feuded with the U.S. intelligence community. Hours later, his press secretary emerged from the West Wing, lied about the size of the inaugural crowd and took no questions.

The most important news here is not the crowd size, or whether Trump feuded with America’s spies (he did), or even that the president and his press secretary lied. Politicians lie. What’s remarkable is that the president and his administration chose to lie, repeatedly, on their first full day on the job, about a relatively trivial ― and easily checkable ― matter.

Journalists should inform readers when the administration is not telling the truth. They shouldn’t credulously promote Trump and his team’s falsehoods in headlines and opening paragraphs, with the truth buried somewhere below. They should focus attention on the fact that the administration lied, not the content of the lie itself. Some media outlets did a good job of this on Saturday. Others didn’t.

“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed, falsely, Saturday evening.

Here’s the truth, which exists even if the administration doesn’t want to admit it: Fewer people attended Trump’s inauguration than attended some previous inaugurations. Keith Still, a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University and expert on crowd estimates, told The New York Times that, based on photographs, he believed Trump’s crowd was about one-third the size of the group that gathered for Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

 

750K Flock to Downtown LA for Women's March Los Angeles (NBC Southern California link): Some 750,000 people flooded the streets of downtown Los Angeles Saturday to march in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington, according to organizers for the event.

Event organizers for the Women's March-Los Angeles say the day is designed to unify communities and make a stand for "justice and equity for all."

The mission statement for the march reads in part, "We stand together in solidarity for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families -- recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country."

Mod: It might have been the Trump hats. Apparently even they weren't exactly true.

'It's made in Vietnam!' At inauguration, origin of red Trump hats shocks many (Reuters link): One of the biggest cheers President Donald Trump received from supporters watching his inaugural address on Friday was his call to "Buy American and hire American."

It was a moment rich in irony.

Many of those supporters were sporting Trump's trademark red "Make America Great Again" baseball caps that were made in China, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Some were horrified when they discovered their Trump hats were foreign made.

Rob Walker, 44, who had driven to Washington from Georgia with his wife Abby, 36, had stopped at a truck stop on the way to buy a "Make America Great Again" cap.

"Oh God, I hope it's not made in China," Abby said, flipping the cap over to check. She looked at its label. "China! Don't tell anyone!"

The Trump hats available for purchase on Trump's official campaign website are made in the United States and cost between $25 and $30, according to the label inside those caps.

But they are also more expensive than the $20 versions sold by street vendors in Washington on Friday. Joshua Rojas, 25 and Alyssa Young, 28, had traveled from Texas to watch the inauguration. Young was wearing a pink "Make America Great Again" hat.

"I loved it as soon as I saw it. I bought it right over there from one of the vendors for $20," she said.

So was it made in America?

"I don't know where it was made actually," Young said. "Let me check." She took off the hat to check the label.  "Oh no," she cried. "It's made in Vietnam!"

Mod: There is one born every minute.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is Pasadena Ahead Of The Curve & About To Do What Other Cities Will Soon Need To Do, Or Just Looking to Raise Taxes?

Mod: The following interesting article ran recently in the Pasadena Star News. By all appearances it would seem that the current Mayor of Pasadena, Terry Tornek, is now contemplating that most unappreciated of solutions to the cost of government there, letting employees go. Even members of the Police Department

Pasadena may need to eliminate jobs, cut services, mayor says during State of the City address (Pasadena Star News link): At his second annual State of the City address, Mayor Terry Tornek warned that the city may have make cuts to its staff of 2,200 employees and reduce programs if the city does not increase revenues within the next year.

Expenses are expected to surpass revenues by $3.6 million when the city’s 2018 fiscal year starts this summer.

“Since more than 70 percent of our budget is spent on personnel and since we must pay our employees a competitive wage, the inevitable conclusion is that we cannot support the existing payroll of 2,200 employees indefinitely,” Tornek said to a crowded gymnasium Wednesday. “If we are to maintain high quality services, personnel reductions will mean eliminating some programs altogether.”

The city has already implemented the “obvious savings,” so future discussions about cuts are not likely to be popular, he said.

“My primary message to you tonight is that this is not an acceptable outcome,” he said.

Attorney Dale Gronemeier asked Tornek whether the city is looking for cuts in the Pasadena Police Department, which he has argued is overstaffed compared to other agencies around the country. Other councilmen have called for increases to police staffing in light of recent shootings in Pasadena.

“The answer is absolutely yes,” Tornek said, adding there are studies ongoing to determine appropriate staffing levels. “All of us together have to sort of figure out how we prioritize and how we work our way through (the deficit).”

City Manager Steve Mermell said an annual report given to the audience said that 2017 will have challenges, particularly because of rising employee pension costs.

Mod: You can read the rest of this article by clicking on the link provided above. As you probably already know, a lot of this is being caused by the huge amount of CalPERS debt Pasadena, like most cities in this state, are being forced to carry. According to Stanford's California Pension Tracker (link), here is what Pasadena's colossal pension debt load is looking like these days.


Mod: Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. That is $1.545 billion dollars in Pasadena "Market Pension Debt." In a city of approximately 137,000 souls, that comes out to around $11,000 per resident, including the itty bitty babies. Would it even be possible raise taxes enough to cover all of that? Would you want to? By way of comparison, Sierra Madre's pension debt is at the $40,000,000 mark, or about $3,600 per resident. Good luck with that as well.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Friday, January 20, 2017

On Inauguration Day Donald Trump's Team Is Being Investigated As A Possible Counterintelligence Threat

Mod: Obviously this is something the United States has never faced before. Until now.

U.S. counterintelligence officials are examining possible ties between Russia and Trump associates (Washington Post link): U.S. counterintelligence officials are sifting through intercepted communications and financial data as part of a wider look at possible ties between the Russian government and associates of President-elect Donald Trump, officials said.


But while it has been clear for months that a broad investigation is underway, what remains murky — even to lawmakers receiving closed briefings — is its scope and target. It is unclear if the intercepts being examined have any connection to the Trump campaign.

But the investigation adds to the uncertainty surrounding Trump’s relationship with Russia even as he is sworn in as president. U.S. intelligence agencies have already concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win.

FBI Director James B. Comey has been chastised by Democratic lawmakers for refusing to even acknowledge that it was investigating alleged links between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin.

Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has been under FBI scrutiny for some time, including for allegations of illegal financial dealings in Ukraine, current and former U.S. officials said. Manafort has done business in Russia and Ukraine.

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, CIA and the National Security Agency, which intercepts phone calls, emails and other electronic communications of foreigners overseas, are also involved in the probe, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it is an ongoing matter.

In September, The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies were investigating a broad, covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the 2016 election. The BBC last week and McClatchy this week reported that six U.S. government agencies were involved in a probe of potential Russian interference in the campaign, to include possible covert funneling of money by the Kremlin to help Trump win.

The New York Times on Thursday reported that the U.S. authorities were scrutinizing intercepted communications and financial data as part of a wider probe of possible links between Trump associates, including Manafort, and Russia.


Near-Treasonous Trump Thrills Russia by Calling NATO "Obsolete" (Daily Banter link): Let's just dispense with the pleasantries and call Donald Trump what he is: a bourgeoning traitor to the United States of America. There's a very strong possibility he's been compromised by Vladimir Putin, so says a detailed report that our intelligence agencies had enough confidence in to brief President Obama, and even if he hasn't his history of praise for Russia -- even at the expense of support for the U.S. and its president -- creates enough circumstantial evidence to be damning. Now before the Trump trolls descend, demanding a trove of incontrovertible proof they'd simply dismiss anyway, keep in mind that these very same people were more than willing to chant "lock her up" and insist that Hillary Clinton was a hardened criminal based on nothing but innuendo and Russian hacks designed to damage her and install Trump.

Mod: The thought that this country is inaugurating someone under this kind of a cloud is mind-boggling. 

Nancy Sinatra not happy Trump using father's song at inauguration (CNN link): Famed singer Frank Sinatra's eldest daughter, Nancy Sinatra, has never been a fan of President-elect Donald Trump.

Now that he's about the assume the presidency, the younger Sinatra let the world know how she feels about one of her father's famous songs being used in the inauguration festivities.

According to inauguration chairman Tom Barrack, Trump and his wife, Melania, have selected "My Way" by Frank Sinatra for their first dance as the first couple at the Liberty Ball on Inauguration Day. Nancy Sinatra, when asked for a response about the song selection on Twitter, said: "Just remember the first line of the song."

The first line of the song is, "And now, the end is near."

Mod: The remaining portions of these stories are available through the links posted above.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wm. Kefalas Lawyers Up & Other News From Tonight's Planning Commission Meeting Agenda

To view this Planning Commission meeting click here.

There were two items on the agenda for tonight's Planning Commission meeting, but one of them has been continued until later this February. Here is how it reads (link):


The lawyer recently retained by Willam and Anastasia Kefalas wrote a letter to City Hall asking for a little more time. He apparently needs a little space to grasp the full impact of what he is now walking into. Here is his letter.

  
Some may have noticed the name of Richard McDonald on this note. Richard is also the attorney representing the McMansion developers of the properties at One Carter, along with some similar big house interests in Arcadia. He is making quite a career for himself locally.

You just know things are going to get exciting. Who knows, maybe some day Richard will actually win something around here. You never can tell.

The other item, which is now the only one under consideration this evening, would have hopefully prevented all of the above had it been in place back when the Henry A. Darling home was still in one piece. However, today that horse is so far out of the barn it might already be several counties away. Here is how it reads (link):


Tonight the Planning Commission will be fine-tuning the language for this proposed new version of the Discretionary Demolition Permit. This is being done before it moves on to the City Council for its final approval.

The wheels are turning. We will post a link to the YouTube site showing tonight's Planning Commission meeting just as soon as it becomes available this afternoon. It is by far the best place to view such meetings on your computer.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

L.A. Times: Ban developer contributions to City Hall?

Mod: This editorial ran in the LA Times on Jan. 14, and I thought it was interesting enough to repost here. What has had more influence on city council elections and business affairs than developer cash from their various lobbies and organizations? Would it actually be possible to outlaw such monetary contributions in order to restrict their influence? Think of the huge difference that might make.

Would this have been possible without developer campaign contributions?

Ban developer contributions to City Hall (Los Angeles Times link): Faced with a growing distrust of the process by which the city approves new development — including widespread concern that political contributions drive land-use decisions — several Los Angeles City Council members have proposed what once seemed unthinkable: They want to ban campaign contributions from developers.

The proposal was introduced last week by Council members Paul Krekorian, Joe Buscaino, Paul Koretz, Mike Bonin and by David Ryu, who already rejects developer contributions voluntarily. It calls for the city Ethics Commission to devise an ordinance that would prohibit contributions from developers with projects currently or recently before city decision makers. The ban would apply to elected officials and candidates for city office. Or if it is determined to be illegal to ban contributions from developers (courts have equated money with speech, and have struck down broad efforts to limit contributions), the motion asks the Ethics Commission to look at other ways to limit the possibility of a quid pro quo, such as requiring elected officials to recuse themselves from a land-use decision if they have accepted donations from the developer.

Why was this once unthinkable? After all, individuals bidding on city contracts are already barred from making political contributions. But developers are different. There is a deeply embedded culture in Los Angeles City Hall in which real estate interests give heavily to local officials, presumably because they believe political contributions will buy them the zoning exemptions and other land-use decisions they want, or at least provide them with the access they need to make their best cases.  Elected officials, in turn, rely on developer money for their reelection campaigns and to pay for office expenses and trips. So there’s never been the political will to turn off the contribution spigot even though it creates the appearance of pay-to-play and undermines public trust in the City Hall.

Mod: The rest of this editorial is available by clicking on the link provided above. Think of how different the recent history of cities like Sierra Madre and Arcadia would have been had developer cash contributions been banned here by city law. 

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

CalExit: Why Russia Loves the Idea of California Seceding

Mod: So is this yet another Hate America initiative that has its origins in Russia? Is anybody starting to pick up on a theme here? Why would California break away from the United States? Why would anyone here actually advocate for such a thing? Perhaps the better question to ask is who would it help? Not us.

Why Russia Loves the Idea of California Seceding (Politico.com link): On a sunny late September day, a trio of tourists gathered on Moscow’s Red Square. Well-dressed, carrying a Russian flag, the visitors bunched in front of the Kremlin’s walls to snap a selfie. Like so many others before, the man taking the photo, Louis Marinelli, took to his Twitter account, and shared the shot for the world.

But Marinelli wasn’t your average American tourist, and neither were his friends. That weekend, Marinelli was ensconced in a conference room in the capital, where he delivered a speech for an unusual cause: the secession of California from the United States. “As not only a representative of the nation of California, but also as the founder and the leader of the independence movement as recognized by the state of California itself, it is my honor to speak on behalf of my people at this conference on the right of self-determination,” Marinelli told his audience. “Our campaign exists to explain why we should free ourselves from the shackles of statehood, and instead embrace the freedoms of nationhood.”

Marinelli, 30, was an unlikely messenger for the “Calexit” cause. He doesn’t live in California. He lives in Yekaterinburg—about 1,000 miles from Moscow—with his Russian wife. But it was not surprising that he had found a platform for his YesCalifornia movement in Moscow. Secession is a popular topic here—as long as it’s from someone else’s country. The Dialogue of Nations Conference, which attracted separatist-minded contingents from Ireland, Spain and Italy, was hosted by a man named Alexander Ionov, whose group had used money from the Kremlin to pay the travel expenses of one of Marinelli’s pals from Red Square: Nate Smith. Smith is one of the leaders of Texas Nationalist Movement that’s pushing to—you guessed it—break away from the United States.

The strategic advantage of making an argument for the secession of an American state to an audience in central Moscow is hard to gauge; after all, it’s voters in the States who would decide this matter. But the value to Russian interests seems more obvious, at least in the estimation of the leader of a separate and competing California secession movement, who actually lives in the state.

YesCalifornia isn’t a Californian movement,” said Jed Wheeler, the general secretary of the California National Party. “YesCalifornia is a movement whose optics are all designed for a Russian audience to reinforce [Vladimir] Putin, by talking about…how terrible America is, and reinforcing [the idea that] Putin is this great guy who is admired all over the world.”

While the conference was going on, of course, the Kremlin-led hacking campaign against the Democratic National Committee was having its effect on the American presidential election, a provocation that has unwound relations between Moscow and Washington (with the exception of the president-elect) to their lowest levels since the pre-Gorbachev days. Since the election, while Washington (again with the exception of the president-elect) debates what the response should be for Russia’s meddling in the American political process, Marinelli and his handful of supporters are flaunting their ties with Russia, or at least the ones they hope to build. To that end, in mid-December, Marinelli held a news conference, helpfully covered by the state-run RT television station, declaring the opening of a “California Embassy” in Moscow.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as nonsense driven by publicity-hungry amateurs, but people who know the Russian political playbook say winking at these fringe movements—and even giving them a boost—is a part of a very real strategy. Not only is this a way of puffing Russia’s domestic claims at turmoil in the U.S., but it fits firmly within the Kremlin’s modus operandi of cultivating fringe groups in the West—including, most especially, those who would fracture the United States in a reprise of the Soviet Union’s demise, over a quarter-century later.

Mod: You can read this rest of this article by clicking on the link provided above.

YesCalifornia's website looks like this:


Mod: If you want to see more of the finest sedition Russia's money can buy, click here.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Monday, January 16, 2017

Something for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Mod: The irony of attacking one of the heroes of the civil rights movement, a close colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King no less, and just days before the national holiday celebrating America's great icon in the struggle for racial equality, seems lost on the troubled man who will be inaugurated as our next president in a few days. But not on the thousands of people who responded to the tinpot tweeter. Here is what the editor of The New Yorker magazine, David Remnick, had to say about all of this.

JOHN LEWIS, DONALD TRUMP, AND THE MEANING OF LEGITIMACY (The New Yorker link): John Lewis represents Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, one vote of four hundred and thirty-five. He is also the singular conscience of Capitol Hill. Lewis is a dismal institution’s griot, a historical actor and hero capable of telling the most complex and painful of American stories—the story of race. That is his job, his mission. With Dr. King and Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker long gone, Lewis remains nearly alone in his capacity to tell the story of that era as a direct witness and, because of all that he has seen and endured, to issue credible moral judgment.

Only a heedless few would reject that judgment out of hand, no matter how wounding. Who would think to call John Lewis “all talk, talk, talk—no action or results”? Who would have the impoverished language to dismiss the whole of John Lewis as “sad”? As it happens, the President-elect of the United States.

Donald Trump reveals his nature through the objects of his affection and the targets of his insults. He took his time before disavowing support from the likes of David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He has only praise for Vladimir Putin. He flatters Alex Jones, the leading crackpot conspiracy theorist of the airwaves, as a man of “amazing” reputation.

Trump chose to launch his political career as a bloviating booster of the racist conspiracy theory known as “birtherism,” declaring, in effect, that the Presidency of Barack Obama was illegitimate. But when Lewis went on “Meet the Press” this weekend and challenged the legitimacy of Trump’s election, citing charges of Russian involvement in the campaign, Trump immediately reached for his phone.

Trump’s inability to restrain himself is on daily display. Meryl Streep is “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood.” “Saturday Night Live” is “really bad television!” Hillary Clinton is “guilty as hell.” He refuses to school himself on policy, but it is a priority of state to sound off on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on the revival of “The Apprentice.” Trump admires the concision of his own writing. “Somebody said I’m the Ernest Hemingway of a hundred and forty characters,” he said in a speech in South Carolina, without identifying the “somebody.” If Trump doesn’t like someone or something that somebody says, well, “bing, bing, bing—I say something really bad about them.” Just like Abraham Lincoln.

Lewis, for his part, cited on “Meet the Press” what American intelligence agencies have described as a one-sided, pro-Trump attempt to meddle in the 2016 Presidential campaign—an information and cyber assault, the agencies concluded, that ranged from the production and distribution of phony stories discrediting Clinton to the hack of the Democratic National Committee. The declassified version of the intelligence report lacks the kind of evidence that the American people and a firm conclusion require, but Lewis was not prepared to wait before delivering his opinion. It’s not hard to imagine why. At least one reason for his harsh judgment surely has to do with his level of outrage at the racist and misogynist tenor of the Trump campaign. This is a colossal offense. Another reason is almost certainly Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Testifying at Sessions’s confirmation hearing, Lewis said, “Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’s call for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then.”

“We’ve made progress, but we are not there yet,” he continued. “There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward. As the late A. Philip Randolph, who was the dean of the March on Washington, in 1963, often said, ‘Maybe our forefathers and our foremothers all came to this great land in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.’ It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you, but we need someone who’s going to stand up and speak up and speak out for the people that need help, for people who are being discriminated against.”

For years, Lewis has led commemorations of “Bloody Sunday,” the confrontation on March 7, 1965, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Alabama, between Alabama state troopers and six hundred peaceful demonstrators. Sessions appeared alongside Lewis at one such event, but Lewis says he is not prepared to invite Trump to the annual occasion.

One can agree or not with Lewis when he calls Trump’s legitimacy into doubt. What cannot be doubted is Lewis’s exemplary life, his moral gravity and authority. He is the rare figure who reminds a people of the fragility of their freedoms and puts his body on the line to protect and demand them. In his astonishing memoir, “Walking with the Wind,” Lewis remembers Bloody Sunday in Selma, the disorienting quiet, the discipline of the marchers, the sobriety, “almost like a funeral procession”:

There was no singing, no shouting—just the sound of scuffling feet. There was something holy about it, as if we were walking down a sacred path. It reminded me of Gandhi’s march to the sea. Dr. King used to say there is nothing more powerful than the rhythm of marching feet, and that was what this was, the marching feet of a determined people.

Lewis was at the head of the long double-file line. He wore a tan raincoat and carried a knapsack containing a book and a couple of pieces of fruit, just in case he got hungry later in jail. The protesters were facing off against countless blue-helmeted Alabama state troopers armed with whips and truncheons. Lewis saw one trooper with a rubber hose wrapped in barbed wire. The streets were lined with “about a hundred whites, laughing and hollering, waving Confederate flags.” Lewis could hear one trooper’s horse snort and wheeze.

Given one minute to disperse by the troopers, Lewis had the protesters kneel in prayer. They would not leave. “And then they were upon us.” The troopers charged, and the first among them brought down a nightstick on the left side of Lewis’s skull. His legs gave way. “I really thought I was going to die,” he said. He curled up on the ground, as he had been trained, in a “prayer for protection” position.” The trooper hit him again. And then came the canisters of tear gas. His skull fractured, his coat a mess of mud and blood, Lewis refused to go to the hospital. Barely conscious, he reached Brown Chapel, the headquarters of the movement, ascended to the pulpit, and told those gathered, many of them still gasping from the tear gas, “I don’t know how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam. I don’t see how he can send troops to the Congo. I don’t see how he can send troops to Africa, and he can’t send troops to Selma, Alabama. Next time we march, we may have to keep going when we get to Montgomery. We may have to go on to Washington.”

That night, an audience of forty-eight million people watched a fifteen-minute report on Selma. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had urged civil-rights leaders to force his hand if they wanted him to support a voting-rights bill, now saw that it was time to promote one. On national television, he compared Selma to Lexington and Concord as a “turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.” And the Voting Rights Act—now under assault in many ways—became law.

Nevertheless, Trump did not think twice before dismissing Lewis, bing, bing, bing, as “all talk,” and that, in turn, unleashed his chorus. Roger Stone, one of Trump’s more notorious campaign operatives, said on Twitter that Lewis “negates his heroism on the Edmund Pettis [sic] bridge by acting like a partisan hack asshole, never to [sic] taken seriously again.” Nearly as eloquent, Dinesh D’Souza tweeted, “John Lewis is not a ‘legend’—he was a minor player in the civil rights movement, who became a nasty, bitter old man.”

Trump avoided the draft by citing bone spurs in his feet. He has said he has made “a lot of sacrifices” for his country because he has created jobs and “built great structures.” The sacrifices that Lewis has made for his country and for the cause of justice are manifest in the scars on his skull. It is a safe bet that he will not be wounded by any tweet. And there are those who know well what he has done to advance the cause of justice and human rights. Eight years ago, at a lunch following the inaugural ceremonies, the new President signed a piece of paper for him with the inscription “Because of you, John. Barack Obama.” John Lewis surely believes in the orderly transfer of power as a tenet of democracy, but asking him to keep quiet and sit through the inaugural ceremonies this time is asking too much.

Mod: Enjoy your day off.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is Sierra Madre Close To Appointing A New City Manager?

This isn't quite as momentous as choosing someone like a new Pope, but for the dozens of residents who follow City Hall affairs it can be a very important thing. And judging by the two secret meetings of the City Council held this Friday and Saturday morning, the big announcement could be getting near. Here are abbreviated screenshots of the two pertinent agenda reports found on the City of Sierra Madre agency website.



At 7:45 in the morning, and on a Saturday no less! Most decent people haven't even stopped drinking at that hour. And for good reason.

There is also the matter of holding such a meeting on Friday the 13th. I am not sure Sierra Madre needs to add the kinds of problems associated with that date to its long list of already existing difficulties. What were they thinking?

Of course, some of you might be wondering why these fine City Manager candidates (whoever they might be) couldn't have been interviewed before the 5 or 6 regular resident attendees at City Council meetings. Not including the Tournament of Roses Princesses or Paulie Goosebumps, who have been known to show up from time to time. And that would be a good question.

Let me know if you come up with an answer.

Donald Trump (and friend) returns to Saturday Night Live

click here to view

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

New York Daily News: U.S. intelligence warned Trump about Russian 'perverted sexual acts' blackmail

Mod: It looks like Trump really is going to "Make America Grate." As in grate their teeth. The thought that the United States could soon have a Commander In Chief that has been blackmailed by Russian intelligence operatives armed with raunchy sex tapes should trouble most people. 

U.S. intelligence warned Trump about Russian 'perverted sexual acts' blackmail, report says (New York Daily News link): U.S. intelligence agencies warned Donald Trump about claims Russian operatives held potential blackmail information against him involving alleged “perverted sexual acts” during stays in Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to reports.

A two-page summary of the unsubstantiated allegations was presented to Trump and President Obama last week in meetings with the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and director of national intelligence, CNN reported Tuesday.

A longer document that the summary was allegedly based on was published in full by BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. It said that during a 2013 trip to the Russian capital, Trump made Russian prostitutes defile a Ritz-Carlton bed where President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had stayed on a previous occasion.

It said the incident was captured on surveillance cameras.

Mod: What is the chance that video footage will emerge before Trump is inaugurated? I guess it depends on how many members of the U.S. intelligence services want to stay in their jobs. 

These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia (BuzzFeed link): A dossier making explosive — but unverified — allegations that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks.

The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians. BuzzFeed News reporters in the US and Europe have been investigating various alleged facts in the dossier but have not verified or falsified them. CNN reported Tuesday that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Obama and Trump.

Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.

Mod: It appears that the FBI sat on this information for a very long time.

Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele's frustration as FBI sat on Donald Trump Russia file for months (The Independent link): Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump’s alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.

Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries.

However, say security sources, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

BBC: Multiple sources say Russians blackmailing Trump with sex tapes (Daily Kos link): First of all, I congratulate the BBC reporter at the Trump presser who simply said “thank you” when Trump sneered “BBC News, that's another beauty”… anyhow, BBC is saying there are multiple sources claiming Trump is compromised with these sex tapes and business deals (attempted bribery?). And of course, with such compromising intel on Trump, Trump is likely getting blackmailed by the Russians and then went all in with collaborating with them on the hacking, at least with the leaks

Either this is a massive Russian disinformation campaign going back many months or the US spy agencies have real intel on a compromised Donald Trump. FBI requesting FISA court search warrants on Trump associates? There’s more than smoke and mirrors here.

During a BBC 4 radio broadcast on Wednesday, The BBC's Paul Wood revealed that the former British spy was not the only source claiming to have knowledge that Russia is possession of sex tapes that could embarrass the president-elect.

“The rumors or the allegations or whatever you want to call them have been circulating for a number of months now,” Wood explained. “I saw the report, compiled by the former British intelligence officer, back in October. He is not, and this is the crucial thing, the only source for this.”

Mod: Of course, if you cross Vladimir Putin, or one of his special people, terrible things can happen. Which is what the subject of this next story obviously fears.

This former British spy was identified as the Trump dossier source. Now he is in hiding. (The Washington Post link): The former British intelligence officer who had a key role in drafting the dossier that alleged Russia holds compromising material and information on President-elect Donald Trump has gone into hiding, according to British reports.

Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer and the director of a private-sector security firm in London, was named as the author of the 35-page packet making the explosive claims.

According to British media reports, Steele, 52, fled his home in Runfold, a village about 40 miles southwest of London on Wednesday morning before he was identified later in the day in a Wall Street Journal report.

Before leaving his residence, Steele called his next-door neighbor Mike Hopper and asked if he could look after his three cats. Steele moved in about 18 months ago with his wife and four kids, his neighbor said.

Mod: Rather like a spy novel, right?

Christopher Steele’s Trump Dossier Allegations Defended By Sir Andrew Wood, Ex-Ambassador To Russia (Huffington Post UK link): A former British ambassador to Russia has said that Christopher Steele, the former British spy at the centre of an explosive dossier about US president-elect Donald Trump, would not have “just made it up”.

Sir Andrew Wood said he knows Steele as a “very competent, professional operator”. The former MI6 officer has reportedly gone into hiding after being identified as the author of the report claiming Moscow held incriminating material on Trump which it could use to blackmail him.

Steele, who runs the London-based Orbis Business Intelligence Service, is said to have originally compiled the report for political opponents of Trump in Washington.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 Today’s progamme on Friday, Wood said: “I know him (Steele) as a very competent, professional operator who left the secret service and is now operating his own private company.”

Mod: And how is Mr. Popularity himself holding up under all of this unwelcome news? Politically not very well, apparently.

Gallup Poll: Trump’s Approval Rating Lowest Of Any PEOTUS In Decades (TalkingPointsMemo link): Donald Trump has historically low approval ratings for how he has handled his transition to the White House, with 51 percent of Americans saying they disapprove of his performance, according to a Gallup poll released Friday. Only 44 percent of Americans said they approved.

These figures set him far apart from his predecessors. A week before Inauguration Day in 2009, 83 percent of Americans said they approved of President Barack Obama's management of the transition, with only 12 percent saying they disapproved. Even George W. Bush, who, like Trump, lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College, had 61 percent approval to 25 percent disapproval a week out from Inauguration Day in 2001.

Trump’s numbers have dipped since Gallup’s December survey, when the public split 48 percent to 48 percent on approval versus disapproval. They have also remained steadily and starkly split by political party, with 87 percent of Republican approving of Trump’s transition in the January poll compared to 86 percent last month. The percentage of Democrats who approve fell to 13 percent in January from 17 percent in December.

Part of the President-elect’s historically low numbers seems to be the public’s lackluster view of his Cabinet picks. Trump’s nominees were rated “below average/poor” by 44 percent of respondents, compared to only 10 percent of Obama’s and 13 percent of Bush’s nominees.

Mod: Can it be that Trump is an actual traitor?

Why Does Donald Trump Continue to Defend Russia and Attack U.S. Intelligence? (Slate.com link): I don’t believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee. I don’t think anyone working on Trump’s behalf met with anyone working for Vladimir Putin. That allegation—which appeared in clearly erroneous form in the sketchy “dossier” published by BuzzFeed on Tuesday—could turn out to be true. But nothing I’ve seen so far, dossier included, has convinced me.

But that leaves all of us with a problem: How do we explain the overtly pro-Russian behavior of Trump and his surrogates? If they’re not Russian puppets, why do they work so hard to defend Putin and Russia against American investigators and reporters? Why do they divert blame to other countries and victims of the hack? Why, instead of targeting the Russian intelligence agencies that infiltrated us, do they attack the American intelligence agencies that exposed the Russians?

This behavior has been going on for months. In June, Trump openly invited Putin to hack more Democratic emails. Trump’s allies excused this as a joke, but Trump kept going. In July, he defended Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Even after the election, and after U.S. intelligence agencies had reported that senior Russian officials directed the hack “to interfere with the US election process,” Trump ridiculed the intelligence agencies and scoffed: “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody.”

Last week’s intelligence briefing on the hack was supposed to bring Trump around. “If, after the briefing, he is still unsure,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, “that will shake me to my core about his judgment.” But the briefing has changed almost nothing. Trump continues to belittle the intelligence, question Russia’s guilt, divert scrutiny, and attack the intelligence community.

Mod: Yep.

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