Friday, March 31, 2017

Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn Is Preparing To Sing Like A Birdie

Mike Flynn and Vlad Putin get their wine on

Mod: House and Senate Traitorgate investigations just keep on moving forward, and at a most deliberate pace. Yesterday President Donald Trump's former National Security AdvisorMichael Flynn, offered to spill his guts in exchange for immunity from any prosecution. The New York Times picked up on this exciting development, and shared the following with the world. The entire NYT article is available at the link.

Michael Flynn Offers to Testify Before Congress in Exchange for Immunity (The New York Times link): Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators who are examining the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, according to his lawyer and a congressional official.

But the congressional official said investigators were unwilling to broker a deal with Mr. Flynn — who resigned last month for misleading White House officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States — until they are further along in their inquiries and they better understand what information Mr. Flynn might offer as part of a deal.

In a statement on Thursday evening, Mr. Flynn’s lawyer confirmed discussions with the House and Senate intelligence committees about possible testimony by his client. The lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not provide specifics about the terms under which Mr. Flynn would testify, but said that “no reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch-hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.”

General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit,” the statement said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Mr. Flynn’s offer to testify.

The F.B.I. is investigating whether any of President Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government in its efforts to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. An immunity deal would make it extraordinarily difficult for the Justice Department to prosecute Mr. Flynn.

It is unclear whether any of Mr. Trump’s other former advisers have asked for immunity from the congressional committees.

It is common for witnesses to demand immunity in exchange for their testimony to ensure that their words cannot be used to prosecute them. Under federal law, Congress can grant witnesses immunity for their testimony, but lawmakers normally do so only after consulting with prosecutors.

Congress normally avoids doing anything that could disrupt a federal investigation. Federal law allows the Justice Department to delay a congressional immunity deal but not block it outright.

The Justice Department declined to comment on Thursday evening.

Michael Flynn in 2016: Immunity ‘means you probably committed a crime’ (Washington Post link): Neither a request for immunity from prosecution nor a grant of immunity constitutes an admission of guilt. It does not mean the individual seeking immunity has committed a crime, only that he or she fears prosecution on the basis of their words, which absent immunity, they would not utter, instead invoking their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

As Michael Flynn’s lawyer said in a statement Thursday about his client’s offer to cooperate with congressional investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution:

He is now the target of unsubstantiated public demands by Members of Congress and other political critics that he be criminally investigated. No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.

But Flynn saw immunity differently in September, 2016, when reports surfaced that aides around Hillary Clinton had been granted immunity by the government in exchange for talking freely to the FBI about Clinton’s private email server.

“When you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime,” Flynn, then a top campaign aide to Donald Trump, said on Meet the Press.

Today's Russia hearings actually revealed something new and important (Washington Post link): ... In a moment that stunned the hearing room, (former FBI special agent) Clinton Watts flatly stated that the president himself has become a cog in such Russian measures. When asked by Oklahoma Republican James Lankford, who appeared visibly dismayed, why, if Russians have long used these methods, they finally worked in this election cycle, Watts’ answer was extraordinary.

“I think this answer is very simple and is one no one is really saying in this room,” he said. Part of the reason, he went on, “is the Commander In Chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents.”

To buttress the claim that Trump (unwittingly or not) aided Russian disinformation efforts, Watts cited several instances. Among them: Trump’s citation of an apparently false Sputnik story at an October 2016 campaign appearance; his ongoing denial before and after the campaign of U.S. intelligence of Russian interference in the election; his claims of voter fraud and election rigging, which Watts said was pushed by RT and Sputnik; and Trump’s questioning of the citizenship of former President Barack Obama and even his primary rival Ted Cruz

Watts added that one of the reasons such tactics are working is that Trump and/or his surrogates have repeated some of the claims, further spreading them through social media accounts that are owned both by real people and bots. Thus, the disinformation is kept alive and gradually becomes more real and plausible. “Part of the reason active measures work is because they parrot the same lines,” Watts said.

Republicans on the committee today seemed to be grappling with the enormity of what this could mean — and, crucially, that this threat should not be seen through a partisan prism. Rubio questioned Watts about a series of such false news stories and hoaxes, including claims that a thousand Muslims had burned down the oldest church in Germany while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” that migrants had raped a German girl, and that the European Union planned to ban snowmen as racist.

If you’ve ever spent time on alt-right social media, there’s a familiar ring to these stories: they are exactly the sort of thing that gets spread and recycled, and reverberate as supposed evidence of the nefariousness of say, Muslims, or the overreach of “political correctness.”

Rubio seemed to suggest that he sees these tactics as intended to divide Americans from one another. “Aren’t we in the midst of a blitzkrieg, for lack of a better term, of informational warfare conducted by Russian trolls, under the command of Vladimir Putin,” Rubio asked, that is designed to divide Americans “politically, socioeconomically, demographically, and the like?” Watts confirmed that one of the aims of Russian active measures is to “play on ethnic divisions.”

It’s not clear yet how much significance these revelations have, if any, to the ongoing probe into possible Russian-Trump campaign collusion. But the gravity of today’s hearing — combined with the New York Times revelations — may prod Senate Republicans into stepping up, particularly to fill the vacuum caused by Nunes’ plummeting credibility.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pasadena Star News: Despite federal threats, Pasadena stops police, city employees from helping with deportations

Unlikely 2018 Rose Parade Participant
Mod: It looks like Sierra Madre's far larger west side neighbor is now standing up to Jeff Sessions and his demand that all cities allow ICE to seize their residents at will and throw them out of the country. Here is how the Pasadena Star News describes it.

Despite federal threats, Pasadena stops police, city employees from helping with deportations (Pasadena Star News link:) Undeterred by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ warning Monday, Pasadena’s City Council passed a policy preventing police and city employees from assisting with deportations. The city could lose more than $300,000 in Justice Department grants if Sessions follows through with a pledge to withhold funds from cities refusing to cooperate.

Pasadena will not be blackmailed,” said Mayor Terry Tornek.

Tornek said the city would follow any federal laws and court orders, but it would not give into politics of fear.

The protections included punishment for those who don’t comply. City employees who use official resources to unnecessarily collect and share information about a person’s immigration status could face disciplinary actions under the new policy, according to City Manager Steve Mermell.

“We don’t need to know about a person’s status to sign them up for adult soccer, or to sign them up for water or electric services,” Mermell said.

By never collecting the information, the city would not violate a federal law requiring police to notify federal officials about the immigration status of individuals in local custody.

The City Council did not declare Pasadena a “sanctuary city” and the designation received little attention during the council’s deliberations. In a staff report, Mermell wrote there is no legal definition or uniformity for “sanctuary cities.”

Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said he would have liked the city to make that declaration as a sign of a resistance to President Donald Trump’s administration. However, the policies adopted, in some cases, are stronger than in other municipalities labeled “sanctuary cities.”

“I would have liked that to happen, but at the end of the day, it’s just language, it’s irrelevant when it comes down to the actual protections,” Alvarado said. “What matters is how municipalities will protect immigrants, I think the council made the right decision last night. A policy is better than language.”

Mod: Becoming a "sanctuary city" without ever using the language associated with becoming such a thing might be a unique legal strategy, but will it be enough to hold off Beauregard Sessions? Last Monday the erstwhile Attorney General took some time off from defending himself against charges that he eagerly helped enable the Russians to undermine American democracy during last fall's election to do the following.

White House to States: Shield the Undocumented and Lose Police Funding (The New York Times link): The Trump administration, signaling its intent to toughen enforcement of immigration laws across the country, threatened on Monday to withhold or revoke law enforcement funding from states, cities and localities that block the police or sheriffs from telling federal authorities about undocumented immigrants in their custody.

In an announcement at the White House, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said state and local governments seeking certain law enforcement grants would have to certify that they were complying with a law that bars any official from withholding information from the Department of Homeland Security about a person’s immigration status. Those that are violating the policy could see such grants clawed back, he said.

Mr. Sessions’s appearance was an effort to threaten painful consequences for so-called sanctuary cities, those that decline to cooperate with the federal government in efforts to track and deport undocumented immigrants.

“I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws and to rethink these policies,” Mr. Sessions said. “Such policies make their cities and states less safe — public safety as well as national security are at stake — and put them at risk of losing federal dollars.”

Mod: No news yet if Sierra Madre will be making any kind of effort to join with Pasadena

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Is the Sierra Madre City Manager's Weekly Report Now a Thing of the Past?

I haven't seen the weekly report since Ex-City Manager Elaine Aguilar walked out of City Hall carrying cardboard boxes filled with mementos and drove off into the sunset. It used to be that her report occasionally offered key insights into what was going on downtown. However, since Ms. Aguilar's departure there hasn't been one. March 10 was the last edition. I've been checking.

Now being a civil and forgiving person you might have assumed that the reason for this was because the current City Manager, Gabriel Engeland, formerly of Trinidad "Rocky Mountain High" Colorado, is just getting settled in and hasn't found the time needed to get one done. And that would be a reasonable assessment of the situation. It is never easy starting a new job, especially in a town as complex as this one.

However, if you look on the City of Sierra Madre website, there are some disturbing indications that trouble might be afoot. The clues seem telling to me. Here are a couple for you to reflect upon.

As you can see to the left, the City Manager's Report is no longer dressed up with the words "administrative transparency." Rather it is now a "Weekly Report Archive." Archives, as you know, are places where things now considered to be a part of the past go. Here is how Wikipedia explains it (link):

"An archive is an accumulation of historical records or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of that person or organization ... In general, archives consist of records that have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation on grounds of their enduring cultural, historical, or evidentiary value. Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines for which many identical copies exist. This means that archives are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization, although archival collections can often be found within library buildings.

You could easily get the impression that perhaps the City Manager's Report really is a thing of the past. There is also this disturbing screen shot (link):

There used to be a section on this page where a new report would be slotted in, along with its issue date. That is now gone. In its place is the invitation to subscribe to that strictly vanilla Sierra Madre City Newsletter e-mail blast instead. Hardly a replacement since it has already been around for quite some time.

If my suspicions are correct, these are not happy signs. Sierra Madre never has been celebrated for city agency transparency, and the loss of this report does little to make that unfortunate impression any less obvious.

My guess? Someone is advising the city to put out as little information as possible. The purpose being to choke off possible resident arguments against that anticipated big fat tax hike in the works for 2018. The second in two years.

I hope I'm wrong.

Last night's Sierra Madre City Council meeting

Click here to see the video.

As we predicted on Monday, this was a fairly quick public City Council confab, lasting all of an hour and seventeen affable minutes. Ed Chen, the former campaign manager of that now imprisoned LA County Sheriff candidate and thug, Paul Tanaka, stepped up to talk about a different kind of trash.

That stormwater bill certain screwballs in Sacramento are pushing for was unanimously opposed by the City Council, and a letter will be sent to the appropriate officials stating their unhappiness. If it becomes law, this bill would cost cities like Sierra Madre huge amounts of money they don't have.

The 710 Tunnel was written off, which is a very good thing. Have you seen the 210 Freeway lately? Chris Holden, who was for the tunnel before he was against it, was commended by John Capoccia for his ability to flip the correct way.

The City Council then headed off to that backroom with the large table and chairs to discuss a couple of potential land use lawsuits with the City Attorney. Something that was expected to take at least a couple of hours. Unfortunately, this was all secret stuff so there is nothing more to report.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dick Cheney: 'No question' Russia meddled in the US election, and it could be 'an act of war'

Mod: Dick Cheney? I had to rub my eyes a couple of times before this one finally registered. So now even Dick Cheney is working to derail the Trump Train's Putin Express? Does this guy have any friends left at all? 

Dick Cheney: 'No question' Russia meddled in the US election, and it could be 'an act of war' (Business Insider link): In a wide-ranging speech at the Economic Times' Global Business Summit on Monday, former US Vice President Dick Cheney spoke unequivocally about Russia's meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

Cheney said there were a "rising number of threats" in the world that, beyond national security, "even pose a threat to the globalization movements you're here to talk about today."

Segueing into talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cheney warned of Russia's aggressive actions.

"I think he has designs on the Baltics. ... We know he wanted Crimea — he took it," said Cheney, who pointed to previous Russian cyber campaigns against Baltic states and Russia's recent moves to nuclearize its European enclave of Kaliningrad.

On the subject of the 2016 election, Cheney said Russia attacked the US in a possible act of war. "There's no question that there was a very serious effort made by Mr. Putin and his government, his organization, to interfere in major ways with our basic fundamental democratic processes," Cheney said. "In some quarters, that could be considered an act of war.

"I would not underestimate the weight that we as Americans assign to Russian attempts to interfere with our process," Cheney concluded.

Gallup: Trump's approval rating hits another low (USA Today link): President Trump's approval rating dipped to a new low after the Obamacare repeal debacle, according to a new poll.

The Gallup Poll found that as of Sunday, 36% of Americans approve of how the president is doing his job, while 57% disapprove.

The poll is conducted with 1,500 Americans and has a margin error of 3 points.

The most recent numbers, which are tracked daily, came a couple days after a vote was canceled on a GOP proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act. Trump had pushed for a vote, but after scrambling for support and coming up short, House Speaker Paul Ryan scrapped it.

Unpopularity Contest: Trump Is Off to a Historically Poor Start ( link): Every American president has had his ups and downs. But we've never seen this kind of down this early: A Gallup poll on Monday had President Trump's job-approval rating at 36% (it was conducted mostly after the failed health-care push). To put that standing into perspective, here's where Gallup had these other early presidencies at about this same point in time:

Barack Obama: 63% (March 16-22, 2009)

George W. Bush: 53% (March 26-28, 2001)

Bill Clinton: 53% (March 12-14, 1993)

George H.W. Bush: 56% (March 12, 1989)

Ronald Reagan: 60% (March 15, 1981)

Jimmy Carter: 75% (March 20, 1977)

What's more, George W. Bush never hit 36% in Gallup until 2006 -- well after Hurricane Katrina and after the Iraq war had turned south. And Obama never ever dropped to that level over his eight years as president, which included a government shutdown, a debt-ceiling crisis, and a HealthCare.Gov failure.

So we're at Day 68 of Trump's presidency, and he's at a dangerously low place. "In any other presidency, we'd be talking about 36% approval as an existential crisis," NBC's Benjy Sarlin quipped.

Wall Street no longer believes President Trump's agenda is a slam dunk (CNN Money link): The Dow fell on Monday for the eighth day in a row, its longest losing streak since 2011. Trump's stunning failure to repeal and replace Obamacare spooked investors, sending the Dow sinking as many as 184 points in the first few minutes of trading.

But the index rebounded from those early losses, closing down by 46 points. The Nasdaq eked out a gain of 0.1%. The recent market retreat is a reflection of rising fears on Wall Street that Trump's bold promises of sweeping tax reform, regulatory relief and infrastructure spending is in doubt. Investors have begun to contemplate that the Trump agenda will be delayed, watered down or even derailed.

"Global financial markets are in a risk off mode after the political spectacle that unfolded last week on Capitol Hill," analysts at Rabobank wrote in a report on Monday.

CNNMoney's Fear & Greed Index briefly tipped into "extreme fear." That's a dramatic reversal from "extreme greed" shortly after Trump took office. The Dow is on track for its first monthly decline since October and worst month since January 2016.

Is Donald Trump ... Emo?
Mod: Being a music loving kind of guy, I had to endure a particularly odious early 2000's pop trend called "Emo." The notion being that we are all misunderstood sufferers in this life, but harsh societal pressures prevent us from expressing our pain. Emo music attempted to correct that by enabling certain sensitive souls to let all of that hurt and anguish out. Which they did, both by the thousands, and endlessly.

For the video click here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Most Mysterious Sierra Madre City Council Meeting

Unhappy Ho Returns
Mod: Should you go to the City Council meeting agenda for tomorrow evening (link), you would discover that most of it will be held in a closed session. There are a couple of items that will be discussed in public, including the topic of "Stormwater related state legislation proposals." An important item for sure due to the possible big money involved.

But all of that should wrap up pretty quickly. After which the City Council (or at least those members who are in town this week - the others will remain on their cell phones I suspect), will swiftly repair to the back room with the City Attorney and key staff members to deal with what are apparently some thorny legal issues. And when we're talking big old mean lawsuits in Sierra Madre, you can usually win any bet you might care to place by wagering that at least one of these two closed session items has something to do with One Carter.

As you must certainly know, this has all been going on for longer than a decade now, and with absolutely no end in sight. Ever since the worst City Council this city has ever seen made some of the most destructive and boneheaded decisions ever in the land use category, these kinds of legal debacles have been hanging over this town. Those fools have probably cost Sierra Madre millions of dollars in legal expenses over the years (the city traditionally refuses to ever disclose any exact amounts of money spent on its Colantuono costs), and it is more than likely these troubles have only just begun.

For the more predatory developers owning property up on that hill, the only real treasure of Sierra Madre comes in the unhappy form of tacky and oftentimes vulgar McMansions. Or, as my dictionary puts it, "large houses that are considered ostentatious and lacking in architectural integrity."

The Wikipedia definition is kind of cool (link):

In suburban communities, McMansion is a pejorative term for a large "mass-produced" dwelling, constructed with low-quality materials and craftsmanship, using a mishmash of architectural symbols to invoke connotations of wealth or taste, executed via poorly thought-out exterior and interior design.

I've digressed. Here is how this dark cloud appears on tomorrow's horizon.

Outside of guess work, all we really have to go on here is that "Calif. Government Code Section" number. And even that doesn't tell us much more than the reason why this get-together is being held behind closed doors where the likes of you and I are never permitted.

But just in case you've ever longed for a guide to what those numbers might mean (and I know I sure have), here is a helpful guide that you can live by. It can be found on the Internet (also known as the World Wide Web) by clicking here.

That's what I have for you today. I'll be back tomorrow with something else.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sources say Mike Flynn may have turned on Trump and become a witness for the FBI

Mod: Are the rats deserting the ship? It would appear that the FBI is talking to some very interesting fellows in regards to Donald Trump and his decidedly counter-patriotic connections to murderous Russian gangster Vladimir Putin. Here's some articles that caught my news eye.

CNN analyst: Sources say Mike Flynn may have turned on Trump and become a witness for the FBI (Raw Story link): As of Saturday evening, rumors are swirling that Pres. Donald Trump’s ousted national security adviser Mike Flynn has cut a deal with the FBI and is now informing on his old boss, the president.

CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem discussed the possibility in a panel discussion on Friday night when she said that former Trump foreign policy consultant Carter Page, ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone will all testify before the House Intelligence Committee regarding their ties to Russia.

“It’s not that interesting to me because I don’t think they’ll be under oath,” Kayyem said. “The one name not mentioned is a name I mention often on this show: Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser.”

“It is starting to look like — from my sources and from open reporting — that Mike Flynn is the one who may have a deal with the FBI and that’s why we have not heard from him for some time,” she said.

Flynn, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General, was forced to step down from the Trump administration when it came to light that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and the public about his contacts with Russian Ambassador and former FSB spy recruiter Sergey Kislyak.

Michael Flynn reportedly turns on Donald Trump to cut deal with FBI, CNN reports (Blasting News link): The scandal involving Donald Trump and Russia took another turn after it was reported that Michael Flynn might have reached a deal with the FBI.

Even before Donald Trump was elected president, the rumors of Russia's involvement in the election and his campaign were running rampant. Since Election Day, many of those alleged rumors have been proven factual, with yet another bombshell possibly being uncovered over the weekend.

Flynn goes rogue
Not long after Donald Trump shocked the world with his historic upset win over Hillary Clinton last November, retired Gen. Michael Flynn was tapped to become the new National Security Adviser. However, Flynn wouldn't last long in the role after it was revealed that he had been in contact with top Russian government officials just weeks after the election.

Due to Trump's alleged ties to the Kremlin, the pressure mounted on the White House to make a move, and Flynn was asked to resign from his position. Since then, other members of Trump's campaign, or well-known outside advisers, have been exposed for their link to Russia. During a March 25 broadcast on CNN, a network analyst reported that Flynn may have reached a deal with the FBI to inform on Trump and the administration.

From my sources and what has been openly reported, it increasingly looks like #Flynn may have a deal with the FBI. #trumprussia — Juliette Kayyem (@juliettekayyem) March 25, 2017

Appearing on a Saturday CNN broadcast panel was Juliette Kayyem, the network's national security analyst, who revealed potentially troubling information about Michael Flynn and Donald Trump.

After confirming that three former Trump advisers, including ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort, former consultant Carter Page, and ex-campaign adviser Roger Stone, would all testify about their alleged ties to Russia in front of the House Intelligence Committee, Kayyem decided to shift the focus back to Flynn.

Poll: Most favor an independent commission to probe Trump-Russia ties ( link): A majority of registered voters are in favor of an independent commission to investigate the potential ties between President Trump's campaign and the Russian government, a new poll finds.

According to a Quinnipiac University survey released on Friday, 66 percent of those polled favor an independent commission, and 29 percent do not. Similarly, 65 percent consider Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election "very important" or "somewhat important."

The poll also found that 63 percent of registered voters are "somewhat" or "very" concerned about the president's relationship with Moscow. According to the survey, a majority disapproves of the way Trump is handling Washington's policy toward Russia, 59 percent to 27 percent.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why Trump the deal-maker came off looking incompetent

Why Trump the deal-maker came off looking incompetent (CNN link): A President who admires strongmen tried to strong-arm the Republicans who control the United States House of Representatives. Pass the repeal of Obamacare and replace it with Trumpcare, Donald Trump told the 247 Republicans, or else you'll be ousted in a primary.

When that failed to move them sufficiently he added another threat: Vote with me or you'll never get another chance at health care reform. The Republicans gathered for an emotional pre-vote caucus in the basement of the Capitol. As they departed, many said it was one of the most impressive conferences they had ever attended. But when House Speaker Paul Ryan offered little more than a brief statement and dashed off without answering reporters' questions, the signs of defeat were apparent.

Having practiced his usual method of deal-making, Trump then walked away from the hard work of political negotiating. White House spokesman Sean Spicer, insisting there was no "plan B," predicted victory. While Ryan tried to get his House in order, the President climbed into a big-rig tractor parked outside the White House, sounded the horn like an excited boy and pretended he was driving. (He hadn't looked so happy in weeks.)

Despite all these expressions of confidence, the Republicans who run Washington never could come together behind Trumpcare. Hours before the vote, The Daily Beast reported that, according to officials in the administration who spoke on condition of anonymity, Trump's top adviser, Steve Bannon, wanted him to make a list of his House GOP enemies so they might be punished.

When this last tough-guy tactic failed, Trump and Ryan slammed on the brakes and canceled the showdown vote. CNN and other networks reported the debacle in real time and both men were left humiliated and diminished.

No one should be surprised that Trump's first big legislative initiative collapsed in a cloud of chaos. Aside from the development of his enormous ego, nothing in Donald Trump's life experience prepared him to actually function as president of the United States.

This became evident during the presidential transition, when he proved incapable of bringing the country together and then, upon his inauguration, when he immediately began offering lies and distortions about everything from the size of the crowd at the inauguration to the claim that the recent election was marred by massive voter fraud.

The most remarkable thing about the Trump presidency may be our expectation that he would be any different.

Republicans Land a Punch on Health Care, to Their Own Face (The New York Times link): At the end of the long day, the alliance of conservative ideologues who once shut down the government over President Barack Obama’s health care law could not find the will to repeal it.

Since the Tea Party wave of 2010 that swept House Republicans into power, a raucous, intransigent and loosely aligned group of lawmakers known as the Freedom Caucus — most from heavily Republican districts — has often landed a punch to its own party’s face.

Friday’s defeat of the Republican leadership’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a return to form, handing an immense defeat to President Trump and embarrassing Speaker Paul D. Ryan in his own House. It also challenged the veracity of their long-held claims that a Republican president was all they needed to get big things accomplished.

The most important question for Republicans now is whether the members of the Freedom Caucus will find themselves newly emboldened in ways that may bring the new president more defeats — or whether Mr. Ryan will do what former Speaker John A. Boehner could not, and find a way to shred their influence for good.

“If you are defined by your opposition to leadership, it’s hard to be part of a governing coalition,” said Alex Conant, a onetime aide to Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who was once a Tea Party star. “Their opposition to Trump’s health care bill should surprise nobody who’s paid attention for the last six years. Even the world’s best negotiator can’t make a deal with someone who never compromises.”

But the Freedom Caucus has never been about compromise. In 2011, it picked a huge, costly fight over Planned Parenthood. In 2013, it orchestrated a government shutdown over funding for the health care law. Then, in its most striking move, it deposed Mr. Boehner in 2015. The common thread: It has continuously been an adversary of legislation itself.

But after years of opposing power — both in the White House, which was occupied by a Democrat, and in the leadership of their own party — the conservatives were offered a chance to negotiate directly with the president and his budget director, a former Freedom Caucus member, over the bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. The members pushed and pushed Mr. Trump to the far right edges of policy, just as they have done for years on other bills. But they still could not get to “yes,” and therefore became part owners of the expansive health law they were trying to undo.

Health Care Defeat Is a Brutal Loss for Speaker Paul Ryan (The New York Times link): House Speaker Paul Ryan guaranteed a win on the Republican plan to dismantle Barack Obama's health care law. Instead, he suffered a brutal defeat, cancelling a vote and admitting "we're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future."

Friday's painful rebuke is an ominous sign for President Donald Trump's agenda, from taxes to infrastructure to the budget. Looming in a few weeks is the need to agree on a bill to keep the government open. After the health care debacle, Trump told Republican leaders he's moving on.

The episode is a danger point for the relationship between Trump and Ryan, who had an awkward pairing during the campaign but worked in tandem on the GOP health measure.

"I like Speaker Ryan," Trump said. "I think Paul really worked hard."

Virtually every congressional Republican won election promising to repeal Obamacare. With a Republican in the White House, passage seemed almost guaranteed.

Ryan was steeped in the details, even at one point replicating for a nationwide cable news audience a detailed PowerPoint presentation he delivered to his members.

Earlier this month, he said flatly, "We'll have 218 (votes) when this thing comes to the floor, I can guarantee you that."

Ryan was thrust into the speaker's chair after the stunning 2015 resignation of John Boehner, R-Ohio, and a failed bid by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. At the time, Ryan held his dream job — chairman of the powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee — but took the job as the last viable option to lead a fractured House GOP.

While Ryan eased comfortably into the job, he's not the schmoozer Boehner was, a key skill in delivering like-minded but reluctant lawmakers. He lacked the steel and seasoning of Democratic rival Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who delivered Obamacare in the first place — and that took months, not weeks.

Even before the bill went down, Pelosi was piling on, taunting Trump and, by implication, Ryan, for rushing the bill to the floor too early.

"You build your consensus in your caucus, and when you're ready, you set the date to bring it to the floor," Pelosi said. "Rookie's error, Donald Trump. You may be a great negotiator. Rookie's error for bringing this up on a day when clearly you're not ready."

Ryan entered the health care debate without the experience of having ever managed a situation of such magnitude.

"We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do," a clearly disappointed Ryan said Friday. "And now, in three months' time, we've tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get ... people to agree with each other in how we do things."

Friday, March 24, 2017

‘There is no other word for it’: Former Bush ethics czar says FBI uncovering evidence of ‘treason’

Mod: My theory on yesterday's failure of the Republican dominated Congress to repeal Obamacare? Lack of respect. Trump, who gave it everything he had, could not carry the day because many in Congress do not consider him to be a President that matters anymore. A short timer, as it were, and as such someone who you just don't have to worry about.

‘There is no other word for it’: Former Bush ethics czar says FBI uncovering evidence of ‘treason’ (Raw Story link): The former ethics lawyer for George W. Bush believes the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia has uncovered evidence of treason. Richard Painter, who joined a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s foreign business ties, tweeted a link late Wednesday to a McClatchy report on a federal investigation into whether U.S. right-wing websites coordinated with Russian operatives to attack Hillary Clinton.

“(The) FBI uncovering evidence of treason,” Painter said. “There is no other word for it.”

Painter also agreed with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that an independent commission or select committee was needed to investigate possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Senator McCain is right – Congress has no credibility in undertaking the Trump-Russia investigation,” Painter tweeted.

Mod: Meanwhile, back in Russia, Putin's enemies, along with diplomats in a position to know about his intelligence operations here during last year's presidential election, are dropping like flies.

Denis Voronenkov's death latest in string of harm to prominent Russians (New York Daily News link): The death of former Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov, gunned down on a street in Kiev by an unidentified assailant, came as the latest in a list of important Russians seriously injured or found dead in recent months.

Voronenkov’s killing came only two days after Nikolai Gorokhov, the lawyer representing the family of a late anti-corruption investigator, mysteriously fell five stories from an apartment building in Moscow.

Gorokhov, 53, was set to represent the mother of Sergei Magnitsky at a court hearing on Wednesday before his fall the night before.

In the Last Six Months, a Number of Russian Officials Have Reportedly Died Unexpectedly ( link): Considering the current state of the news cycle, specifically as it pertains to President Trump and his cronies' deep and abiding love for all things Russian, it's probably a good idea for us as a nation to start keeping more of an eye on what's happening with Putin and company. 

So what's going on in the land of winter and Bond villains? Well, it turns out it's not just the deaths of investigative journalists that are strange and suspicious. No, in the last six months, seven different Russian officials have died unexpectedly, and many under shady circumstances.

Since late 2016, there's been a slew of odd-seeming deaths: Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died of a heart attack in New York; Russia's ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, died of a "brief illness," according to the Times of India; and Russian consul Andrei Malanin was found dead in his apartment in Greece. And that doesn't even include the fact that ex-KGB general Oleg Erovinkin, who is suspected of aiding the MI-6 agent who allegedly assembled the famous pee-pee dossier on Trump, was found dead in the back of his car.

Now, do we know that foul play happened in these cases? No. Of course not. But is it suspicious? Of course it is. And what is possibly most terrifying is that our current president and his administration are working overtime to hide what looks like abundant connections to that government. You know that old saying: Politics makes strange bedfellows. And playing footsie with Russia makes murderous-seeming bedfellows.

Mod: Interesting times.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Obamacare Repeal Vote: Does Today Have a Big Fail In Store for The Cheeto Benito?

Mod: The big vote could be coming up today in Congress, and it does not look especially good for the tied, dyed and microwave fried POTUS. Here is how CNN shared it with the world last night at 1:08AM, Washington DC time.

After dramatic day, GOP fails to reach health care deal (CNN link): A frenzied 24 hours filled with hushed deliberations on Capitol Hill, senior-level meetings at the White House and back-to-back phone calls with the President came to an end Wednesday -- quietly and unceremoniously. Well before midnight, this much was clear: Republicans still had no deal on their health care bill to repeal Obamacare, as a Thursday vote loomed around the corner.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and his top deputies huddled with a group of moderate Republicans in the Speaker's office Wednesday night, as members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus sounded increasingly optimistic that they were close to getting a major concession from the White House.

Hours later, Ryan and his top deputies never came out to speak to the cameras and dozens of reporters waiting outside, and it was clear that leadership had no good news to share. With the exception of a few members who rushed away without speaking to press, all leaders in the room, including Ryan, appeared to have ducked out using side exits.

While this gathering was wrapping up, House leaders had gotten more bad news: GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, the leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, released a statement opposing the current bill spearheaded by Ryan and President Trump.

The late-night session in Ryan's office came soon after what appeared to be a major breakthrough in the impasse. The Freedom Caucus, which had stubbornly opposed the GOP bill for days, was suddenly optimistic that a deal was possible. The White House was offering a provision that would strip the so-called "essential health benefits" from the House bill, and GOP leadership indicated they were open to this change.

Late Wednesday, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said: "We are very hopeful we can get this done."

Now, Trump and his GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill head into Thursday still unclear of the fate of their mission to repeal Obamacare.

"It has always been the case - pull the bill one way, risk losing members on the other end," a lawmaker involved told CNN.

The vote count has been tight. According to CNN's ongoing whip count, as of Wednesday night, 24 House Republicans have flat-out said they will vote against the bill, while four more have indicated they are likely to oppose it.

Mod: I guess we could know the results some time today. Even the if the Orwellian monikered  "Freedom Caucus" does convince Ryan to kill off enough poor people to make them happy and it does pass, there is still the Senate. An even tougher sell.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Does 'Pasadena Now' Have An Appropriation Problem?

Mod: Here at The Tattler we revel in the traditional blog practice of curating notable news articles, and then sharing them with our readers. So you know, we are always careful to cite the publications of origin and include links back to those sources. After all, I didn't write them and people do have the right to know who did.

Blogging of this kind is a pretty common Internet practice, and while some folks aren't too happy about it this does help get the word around while fostering community participation though commenting.

If you are not familiar with Pasadena Now (link), it is a website that fancies itself to be a kind of daily newspaper of the Internet. It is predominantly news lite and often features stories about the well-heeled denizens and politicians of Pasadena, plus lifestyle features and other social media-style culture rot. Photos of locals at tedious social functions are often found there, along with colorful pictures of the food they are eating. Which is often more interesting than those doing the chewing.

Pasadena Now also makes some fairly grand claims about the size of its readership. Here is how they say it:

Where else can you get this much daily news and information about Pasadena? 111,505 monthly readers, 21,410 email subscribers, 69,000 Social Media followers.

In comparison, the blog you're reading now does somewhere in the 50,000 to 60,000 hits a month range, nowhere near as large as what Pasadena Now declares for itself. Whether they are being straight with us about their numbers or not is hard to tell. No verifications are provided.

Appropriation, or plagiarism, is the unfortunate practice of claiming the work of others as your own. Below are three possible examples I found on the Pasadena Now site. What I did was lift a few sentences from each of these suspect articles and dropped them into that popular Google search engine you've heard so much about. Then checked to see what popped up. In these three instances they did pop.

The first involves a piece about Sierra Madre's current (and apparently governmentally ambitious) Mayor Pro Team, Rachelle Arizmendi. Here she can be seen accepting a gender specific service award of some sort from Assemblyman Chris Holden, a gent who is no stranger to getting his picture taken. Link here.

So you know, Chris is the taller one.

What follows below is nearly the exact same word stack from Assemblyman Chris Holden's official website. It was published there 12 days earlier. Note that there was no attribution attached to the Pasadena Now iteration. You may link to Holden's site here.

A positive impact is always good, although sometimes a negative impact is more fun.

The next example I am citing today involves a Pasadena City College lecture by none other than that renowned master of the mysterious inner workings of the human psyche', famed Stanford psychologist Philip "Dr. ZimboZimbardo. This one appeared on March 9, and can be found in its native habitat by clicking here.

It is good that Doctor Zimbo is a "living psychologist" because it would have made for a very dull lecture otherwise. However, I am sad to note that this was not the first appearance for this content. That was revealed a day earlier on the PCC school website, and you can link to it by clicking here. And again, there was no attribution from P-Now.

Our last example (and honestly, aren't three more than enough?), deals with those sturdy construction professionals at T&M Associates. Click here for the borrowed Pasadena Now version.

Regrettably, this too not the first time such verbiage was revealed. Despite Pasadena Now's claim that this emanated from something they call their "Staff Reports," the honor must instead go to T&M Associates themselves. Here is how it appeared on their website, and a full week earlier. Link here.

So there you go. Hopefully this is all just a big misunderstanding and will be cleared up soon. I'll let you know if I hear anything.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Raw Story: Adam Schiff Masterfully Connects the Dots Between Trump and Russia — and it’s Damning

Mod: It is flattering to think that Adam Schiff comes from our part of the world. If the upcoming Trump treason trials break the way I think they will, Schiff could end up becoming one of the most powerful figures in Washington DC. Not too bad for a guy who comes from Glendale, right?

Adam Schiff Masterfully Connects the Dots Between Trump and Russia — and it’s Damning (Raw Story link): Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) gave a lengthy statement Monday during the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election in which he expertly connected the dots between Trump’s campaign and Russia. In his statement, Schiff went through a timeline of events that linked Trump campaign officials such as former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and former campaign manager Paul Manafort to Russian government officials.

Furthermore, Schiff showed how members of the Trump campaign lobbied to change the Republican Party’s platform to delete a section that endorsed sending weapons to Ukraine — a change that was highly beneficial to the Russian government.

“The Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign,” Schiff explained.

Additionally, he outlined the way that Russian intelligence services meticulously leaked information damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign designed to do maximum political damage and undermine her candidacy.

Schiff concluded by saying that all of these contacts with Russian officials could be a coincidence — but he said that there’s enough smoke to demand a thorough investigation.

“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated, and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible,” he said. “But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.”

Click here for video.
Click here for video.

FBI chief debunks Trump's wiretap claim and confirms probe of possible campaign links to Russia (Los Angeles Times link): In a double-barreled assault on the White House, FBI Director James B. Comey on Monday knocked back President Trump's claim of wiretapping by the Obama administration and disclosed that the FBI is investigating possible “coordination” between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russian authorities.

Comey was the most senior U.S. law enforcement official to publicly debunk Trump’s extraordinary charges, first made on Twitter on March 4, that President Obama had wiretapped him at Trump Tower.

“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey told a drama-laced House Intelligence Committee hearing carried live for nearly five hours on cable TV. He added that the Justice Department and its components also had “no information to support” Trump’s accusation.

But Comey’s rebuke of Trump, which was echoed by Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, was overshadowed by disclosure of an active counter-intelligence and criminal investigation aimed at the top ranks of the president’s former campaign and potentially the White House.

All the President's Lies (The New York Times link): The ninth week of Donald Trump’s presidency began with the F.B.I. director calling him a liar.

The director, the very complicated James Comey, didn’t use the L-word in his congressional testimony Monday. Comey serves at the pleasure of the president, after all. But his meaning was clear as could be. Trump has repeatedly accused Barack Obama of wiretapping his phones, and Comey explained there is “no information that supports” the claim.

I’ve previously argued that not every untruth deserves to be branded with the L-word, because it implies intent and somebody can state an untruth without doing so knowingly. George W. Bush didn’t lie when he said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Obama didn’t lie when he said people who liked their current health insurance could keep it. They made careless statements that proved false (and they deserved much of the criticism they got).

But the current president of the United States lies. He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before. He has lied about — among many other things — Obama’s birthplace, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Sept. 11, the Iraq War, ISIS, NATO, military veterans, Mexican immigrants, Muslim immigrants, anti-Semitic attacks, the unemployment rate, the murder rate, the Electoral College, voter fraud and his groping of women.

Breitbart and Infowars under investigation for ties to Russia (Raw Story link): Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump's presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as "bots," to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.

The bots' end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said. Some of the stories were false or mixed fact and fiction, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the bot attacks are part of an FBI-led investigation into a multifaceted Russian operation to influence last year's elections.

Breitbart, which has drawn criticism for pursuing a white nationalist agenda, was formerly led by Stephen Bannon, who became chief executive officer of Trump's election campaign last August and now serves as Trump's strategic adviser in the White House. The news site's former national security editor, Sebastian Gorka, was a national security adviser to Trump's campaign and presidential transition team. He now works as a key Trump counterterrorism adviser.

Bannon and Gorka have controversial profiles. Bannon has been accused of taking anti-immigrant and racist positions. Last week, the Jewish newspaper Forward reported that Gorka had taken a lifelong loyalty oath to a Hungarian far-right group that for decades was allied with the Nazi Party.

Mod: And to think, we're only two months into this mess. It can't get any worse, can it?