December 2017 News Reports

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative December 2017 news and views

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Dec. 31

djt christmas eve 2017 on phone no credit

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New York Times, For Trump, a Year of Reinventing the Presidency, Peter Baker, Dec. 31, 2017. In ways that were once unimaginable, President Trump has discarded the conventions and norms established by his predecessors. The office has become a blunt instrument to advance personal, policy and political goals. Will that change the institution permanently?

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Washington Post, In first year, Trump starts delivering on vow to shrink government, Lisa Rein and Andrew Ba Tran,  Dec. 31, 2017.By the end of September, all but three Cabinet departments had fewer permanent staff than when President Trump took office — with most shedding hundreds of employees, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.

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New York Times, Democrats in High-Tax States Try to Cushion New Law’s Jolt, Ben Casselman, Dec. 31, 2017. Officials are considering legal challenges, other sources of revenue and ways to, in effect, restore deductions that the overhaul scaled back. Governments, as a rule, have not sought to exploit tax loopholes. But state leaders said Congress, in singling out certain states, had broken an implicit compact with them.

Supreme Court Report On Federal Courts

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john roberts oWashington Post, Chief justice announces courts will examine sexual harassment protections, saying federal judiciary ‘is not immune,’ Robert Barnes,  The initiative will ensure there are proper procedures in place to protect law clerks and other court employees from sexual harassment, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. (shown at right) announced in his 2017 State of the Judiciary Report.

alex kozinski informal wThe statement, in Roberts’s 2017 State of the Judiciary Report, follows the retirement last month of Judge Alex Kozinski (shown at left), of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The influential 67-year-old judge stepped down after two reports in The Washington Post detailed allegations he had subjected former law clerks and other women to inappropriate sexual behavior.

Pay To Play

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mar a lago aerial CustomWashington Post, Ticket prices go up for Trump’s ‘very glam’ New Year’s Eve bash at Mar-a-Lago, Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Lori Rozsa and Ashley Parker, Dec. 31, 2017 (print edition). Critics say a boost in ticket prices to $750 for the annual party at the Florida club and President Trump’s regular trips to Trump Organization properties show how he is using his position to promote his brand.

Historical Truths, Human Rights

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The Indicter, Assessing New JFK Records, Alec Baldwin's Slam Of NBC Cover-up, Andrew Kreig, Dec. 31, 2017. The Indicter is a global human rights journal, marcello ferrado de noli glassesfounded and edited by Professor Emeritus Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Ph.D. (shown at left), a torture victim in the 1970s and retired medical school professor based in Sweden and Italy. This month's release of documents related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy continued the Trump administration's chaotic process that confuses the public under a guise of compliance with a law requiring full release this year that Congress had passed unanimously in 1992.

alec baldwin pr headshotMary Ferrell Foundation President Rex Bradford has described the Trump release process as a "travesty" and Future of Freedom Foundation President Jacob Hornberger called it a "fiasco," as we have previously reported.

Fortunately, the famed actor Alec Baldwin helped cut through the confusion last month with a bold, civic-minded revelation of how the NBC and MSNBC continue to support the disputed Warren Commission view of the murder and suppress alternative discussion.

This column also was reprinted here by The Education Forum, a UK-based global web encyclopedia and discussion group founded by John Simkin.

Inside Washington

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devin nunes head oWashington Post, Devin Nunes, targeting Mueller and the FBI, alarms Democrats and some Republicans with his tactics, Karoun Demirjian​, Dec. 31, 2017 (print edition). Actions by the California Republican, a Trump loyalist who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, have prompted rare public warnings that he should temper his attacks on federal law enforcement.

 

Consortium News, An Apology and Explanation, Robert Parry, Dec. 31, 2017. Robert Parry, a noted journalist and author, is founder and editor of Consortium News, and is shown at right below:

robert parry new hsFrom Editor Robert Parry:

For readers who have come to see Consortiumnews as a daily news source, I would like to extend my personal apology for our spotty production in recent days. On Christmas Eve, I suffered a stroke that has affected my eyesight (especially my reading and thus my writing) although apparently not much else. The doctors have also been working to figure out exactly what happened since I have never had high blood pressure, I never smoked, and my recent physical found nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps my personal slogan that “every day’s a work day” had something to do with this.

Perhaps, too, the unrelenting ugliness that has become Official Washington and national journalism was a factor. It seems that since I arrived in Washington in 1977 as a correspondent for The Associated Press, the nastiness of American democracy and journalism has gone from bad to worse.

Which brings us to the crisis that is Donald Trump. Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton has solidified the new paradigm of “liberals” embracing every negative claim about Russia just because elements of the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency produced a report last Jan 6 that blamed Russia for “hacking” Democratic emails and releasing them via WikiLeaks. It didn’t seem to matter that these “hand-picked” analysts (as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called them) evinced no evidence and even admitted that they weren’t asserting any of this as fact.

Hatred of Trump had become like some invasion of the body snatchers – or perhaps many of my journalistic colleagues had never believed in the principles of journalism that I had embraced throughout my adult life. To me, journalism wasn’t just a cover for political activism; it was a commitment to the American people and the world to tell important news stories as fully and fairly as I could; not to slant the “facts” to “get” some “bad” political leader or “guide” the public in some desired direction.

 

Race Relations Around the Nation: Tennessee

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Washington Post, The show was supposed to bring black and white students together. It almost tore them apart,  Robert Samuels, Dec. 31, 2017 (print edition). Over several years, the step show at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga became a point of pride and annual excitement — the centerpiece of homecoming weekend. Black and white Greek organizations practiced together, supporting one another onstage and off. In 2016, that changed as the campus became a microcosm of the country’s racial issues.

Iran Street Protests

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iran flag mapWashington Post, As protests turn deadly, Iran warns demonstrators will ‘pay the price’ for unrest, Erin Cunningham​, Dec. 31, 2017.  The government blocked access to two social media apps in an attempt to blunt the protests, which are the largest in Iran since 2009 and appear to have caught the country’s leadership off guard. Two protesters were shot and killed as the unrest spread across Iran for a third day.

Dec. 30

whowhatwhy logoruss baker 2017 2018 portrait Custom 2WhoWhatWhy, Analysis: Massive Erie Snow Dump Facilitated by Climate Change, Claire Wang and Kirsty Vitarelli, Dec. 30, 2017. (Russ Baker, founder of the WhoWhatWhy site, is shown at right.) Snowpocalypse Brings Wild 2017 Weather to a Fitting End. Record-breaking snowfall in Pennsylvania earlier this week turns out to be another symptom of the earth heating up at record-breaking speeds, according to government scientists, while President Donald Trump thinks global warming could help eradicate the current cold snap.

Why did so much snow fall? And does Trump have a point — does all this snow mean our climate crisis is over? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the arm of the government that helps Americans “make decisions on how to manage climate-related risks and opportunities they face,” they say on their website. WhoWhatWhy reached out to them for an answer.

“this weather event wouldn’t have occurred.”

“The Erie snow was driven by a lake-effect event,” said Jake Crouch, scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “It’s been fairly warm there and the lake was not yet frozen.”  

Normally, when air this cold arrives, much of Lake Erie is frozen solid, so the cold air would pass across the lake surface without gathering up much moisture. This year, the air drew up moisture from the warmer water — which then fell as masses of snow.

When the year’s weather is looked at in totality, climate change and its devastating impact on the entire world comes into clear focus: the epic hurricane season which decimated Puerto Rico and left Houston and its surroundings underwater; wildfires still burning in California; flooding in Bangladesh; drought in Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Middle East; and the brutal summer heatwave in Europe.

Inside Trump HQ

President Trump undertaking 'Sword Dance' with Saudis on trip to Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017 (White House photo)

President Trump undertaking 'Sword Dance' with Saudis on trip to Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017 (White House photo)

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Washington Post, Images of Yemeni crisis led to Trump’s ‘spontaneous’ rebuke of Saudi Arabia, officials say, Missy Ryan and Josh Dawsey, Dec. 30, 2017 (print edition). The president’s unusual public criticism of the Saudis highlights the powerful role that depictions of civilian suffering overseas have had on him, sometimes leading to sudden, consequential responses.

James mattis oSee also, Washington Post, Mattis defends U.S. efforts to prevent civilian casualties in Yemen: ‘Don’t screw with me on this,’ Dan Lamothe, Dec. 30, 2017 (print edition). Defense Secretary James (nicknamed "Mad Dog" as a general) Mattis, shown at right.

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Washington Post, Trump’s respite at Mar-a-Lago creates headaches for White House staffers, Ashley Parker and Josh Dawsey, Dec. 30, 2017 (print edition). The president is often at his most unrestrained and unfettered when he visits his golf club in Palm Beach, Fla., making it harder for his aides to control his daily media diet and personal contacts.

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Washington Post, Analysis: In 30-minute interview, Trump makes 24 false or misleading claims, Glenn Kessler, Dec. 30, 2017 (print edition). President Trump gave an impromptu interview to the New York Times this week. We combed through the transcript and found he made a false or dubious claim at a rate of one every 75 seconds.

ShareBlue Media, White House says diabetics don’t deserve health insurance, Oliver Willis, Dec. 30, 2017. Donald Trump's budget chief again revealed the Republicans' callous approach to health care, arguing that some diabetics simply do not deserve health insurance, because of how they may have developed the illness.

Prosecution Probe of Trump

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george papadopoulos linked in croppedNew York Times, Russia Inquiry Began Over a Drink and a Revelation, Sharon LaFraniere, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, Dec. 30, 2017. In 2016, George Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser (shown at right), revealed to a top Australian diplomat over drinks that Russia had information on Hillary Clinton.

Palmer Report, Opinion: New evidence reveals GOP may have known election was rigged for Trump when it blocked Merrick Garland, Bill Palmer, Dec. 30, 2017. Today we learned that Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos knew a whole lot more than we thought. Now the timeline suggests the Republican Senate may have known Russia was rigging the election when it made the decision to block President Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

The New York Times published a lengthy profile today documenting that the Trump-Russia investigation began in mid-March of 2016, when George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragged about conspiring with Russia to an Australian diplomat, who promptly ratted him out (Russia Inquiry Began Over a Drink and a Revelation). This provides additional context to the original Papadopoulos guilty plea, which states that he first learned about Russia’s willingness to help rig the election on March 14th of 2016.

merrick garlandJust two days later, key Senate Republican John Cornyn announced that he intended to block the Merrick Garland nomination. In other words, immediately after the Trump campaign learned that Russia was going to rig the election, the Republican Party decided to stall the Supreme Court nomination of Garland (right) so a Republican President could fill it after the election.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Robert Mueller is investigating Trump-Russia election rigging in Michigan and Wisconsin. Here’s why, Bill Palmer, Dec. 30, 2017. Last night we received arguably the most significant news yet in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia scandal: he’s probing how the Trump campaign, the Republican Party, and Russia conspired to alter the outcome of the election in Michigan and Wisconsin.

The report first came from New York Magazine last night that Mueller is indeed investigating how Trump, the RNC and Russia rigged these two states (link). So let’s take a look at what we already know about what went down in Michigan and Wisconsin. While the polls were generally correct on a national level, they were wildly and suspiciously off in these two states. There was no reason for anyone to expect that Trump had any chance to win in either state. Yet at least two of the people running Trump’s campaign somehow knew otherwise.

Global News

SouthFront, Army Discovers Two Mass Graves Of Civilians And Soldiers In Western Raqqa Countryside (Photos), Staff report, Dec. 30, 2017. On Dec. 29, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) discovered two mass graves in the village of al-Wawi in the western Raqqa countryside after receiving information from the locals, according to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). The SANA said that the two mass graves included bodies of Syrian civilians and soldiers executed by ISIS when the area was under the terrorist group’s control. According to SANA, 115 bodies had been already recovered from one of the mass graves. The mass graves likely include the bodies of 350-700 SAA soldiers executed by ISIS on August 2014.

Dec. 29

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New York Times, Trump Veers Away From 70 Years of U.S. Foreign Policy, Mark Landler, Dec. 29, 2017 (print edition). President Trump has transformed the world’s view of the United States from an anchor of the international order into something more inward-looking and unpredictable.That is a seminal change from the role the nation played for 70 years, and it has lasting implications for how other nations chart their futures.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump fires entire White House panel over the holidays just to be a jerk, Bill Palmer, Dec. 29, 2017. Donald Trump cemented his role as Scrooge this week when he took advantage of the holiday distraction and summarily fired an entire White House panel.

He’s given no reason whatsoever, but there are two strong possibilities for why he might have done it. Both explanations are nothing short of pure evil, one of them policy related, the other perhaps a personal tantrum in response to a recent media report that embarrassed Trump.

Trump has fired all sixteen remaining members of the White House panel on HIV and AIDS, according to a new Daily Beast Report. Just to heighten the villainy, he fired them by mail over the holidays in order to avoid having to deal with them personally. So why would Trump make such an oddly specific and plainly harmful move?

The first explanation would be that he doesn’t want the panel standing in the way of his efforts to cut funding for HIV/AIDS patients, as he continues to try to screw the middle class and redirect all the money to his wealthy puppet masters. The second would be that, just days after the media embarrassed Trump by reporting that he said Haitians “all have AIDS,” he’s now retaliating in the most evil way he can think of, by trying to harm AIDS patients. If you think either of these two explanations might be too extreme, you haven’t been paying attention to Trump over the past year.

Bookstore Shakeout

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New York Times, Bookstore Chains, Long in Decline, Are Undergoing a Final Shakeout, David Streitfeld, Dec. 29, 2017 (print edition). This fall, at a moment when retailers traditionally look forward to reaping holiday profits, the owner of the fourth-largest bookstore chain in the country surrendered to the forces of e-commerce.

Book World, founded in 1976, sold hardcovers, paperbacks and sometimes tobacco in malls, downtowns and vacation areas across the Upper Midwest. It had endured recessions, the expansion of superstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble, and then the rise of Amazon. But the 45-store chain could not survive the shifting nature of shopping itself, and so announced its liquidation.

“Sales in our mall stores are down this year from 30 to 60 percent,” said Bill Streur, Book World’s owner. “The internet is killing retail. Bookstores are just the first to go.”

As e-commerce becomes more deeply embedded in the fabric of daily life, including for the first time in rural areas, bookstores are undergoing a final shakeout. Family Christian Stores, which had 240 stores that sold books and other religious merchandise, closed this year, not long after Hastings Entertainment, a retailer of books, music and video games with 123 stores, declared bankruptcy and then shut down.

“Books aren’t going away, but bookstores are,” said Matthew Duket, a Book World sales associate waiting for customers in the West Bend, Wis., store.

In a famous passage in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” a novel that Book World used to sell, a character is asked how he went bust. “Two ways,” he answers. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

That more or less mirrors what happened to Book World and other bookstore chains. A few years ago, e-books were widely assumed to be driving the physical book — and the physical bookstore — to extinction. Instead, e-book sales leveled off, and the physical book has retained much of its appeal. But readers are increasingly ordering those books online, getting them delivered with their clothes and peanut butter and diapers.

Legalized Corruption In U.S. Politics

Wall Street Journal, The Modern Campaign-Finance Loophole: Governors Associations, Susan Pulliam and Brody Mullins. Dec. 29, 2017. In many states, corporations can’t give large sums directly to campaigns, but they can funnel funds through groups that support Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates.

At the Republican Governors Association's (RGA) nondescript headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, top staff met in the summer of 2014 where they discussed, among other things, helping Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker using money committed by casino magnate Steve Wynn, according to a person in the room at the time. 

On Oct. 1, 2014, Mr. Wynn’s company donated $2 million to the RGA, its largest-ever donation to the group. That same day, the RGA donated $1.1 million to help support Mr. Baker, the Massachusetts Republican candidate. It gave $1.1 million more eight days later, IRS filings show, one part of the organization’s significant investment in the race. In total, the RGA gave $10.75 million in 2014 to a political committee supporting Mr. Baker’s campaign, including $5.7 million in October.

 

Infrastructure Featherbedding Probe

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New York Times, The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth, Brian M. Rosenthal, Dec. 29, 2017 (print edition). The estimated cost of the Long Island Rail Road project, known as “East Side Access,” has ballooned to $12 billion, or nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world. The recently completed Second Avenue subway on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the 2015 extension of the No. 7 line to Hudson Yards also cost far above average, at $2.5 billion and $1.5 billion per mile, respectively.

The Times found that a host of factors have contributed to the transit authority’s exorbitant capital costs.

For years, The Times found, public officials have stood by as a small group of politically connected labor unions, construction companies and consulting firms have amassed large profits.

Trade unions, which have closely aligned themselves with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other politicians, have secured deals requiring underground construction work to be staffed by as many as four times more laborers than elsewhere in the world, documents show.

Construction companies, which have given millions of dollars in campaign donations in recent years, have increased their projected costs by up to 50 percent when bidding for work from the M.T.A., contractors say.

Consulting firms, which have hired away scores of M.T.A. employees, have persuaded the authority to spend an unusual amount on design and management, statistics indicate.

Public officials, mired in bureaucracy, have not acted to curb the costs. The M.T.A. has not adopted best practices nor worked to increase competition in contracting, and it almost never punishes vendors for spending too much or taking too long, according to inspector general reports.

At the heart of the issue is the obscure way that construction costs are set in New York. Worker wages and labor conditions are determined through negotiations between the unions and the companies, none of whom have any incentive to control costs. The transit authority has made no attempt to intervene to contain the spending.

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Washington Post, After chilly forecast, Trump tweets U.S. ‘could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming,’ Dino Grandoni, Dec. 29, 2017 (print edition). As president, Donald Trump has held back on repeating his disbelief in the wide scientific consensus that human activity is indeed warming the planet — until now.

U.S. Politics: Florida

Politico, Billionaire kingmakers swarm Florida governor's race after Trump endorsement, Marc Caputo and Alexandra Glorioso, Dec. 29, 2017. Not long after an admiring presidential tweet, Congressman Ron DeSantis won the backing of some of the most influential players in GOP politics. After Donald Trump appeared to endorse Ron DeSantis’ campaign for Florida governor last week, a handful of the biggest and most influential billionaires in Republican politics threw their support behind the three-term GOP congressman, upending the race in the nation’s biggest swing state.

The stable of billionaires and millionaires listed on DeSantis’ “Finance Leadership Team,” obtained by POLITICO, includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, hedge fund heiress Rebekah Mercer, investment tycoon Foster Friess and other donors who have funded the conservative Koch brothers’ network and President Trump’s campaign. Just last week, Trump weighed in on Twitter to say that DeSantis “would make a GREAT Governor of Florida.”

As a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, DeSantis is a frequent Fox News guest who has earned a reputation as a small-government conservative, an opponent of the independent federal investigation of Trump and a supporter of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And donors have so far loved what they have heard.DeSantis, 39, is a Yale and Harvard Law School graduate and served as a military prosecutor in the Iraq War before he won his congressional seat in 2012. Putnam, 43, has continuously served in elected office since he was elected to the Florida House at the age of 22, then Congress and then to the position of agriculture commissioner.

Global Affairs

UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem, June 7, 2017.(U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Nikki Haley meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem, June 7, 2017 (Image credit: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv).

philip giraldiOpEdNews, Opinion: Nikki Haley, The De Facto Agent of Influence, Philip Giraldi, Dec. 29, 2017  Philip Giraldi (right) is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest and a recognized authority on international security and counterterrorism issues. He is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer who served eighteen years overseas in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Spain.

My candidate for most likely to be a de facto Israeli agent of influence is America's United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. Haley has from the start made it clear that she is all about Israel and she has done nothing since to change that impression, most dramatically so over the past week when she was "taking names" and threatened retaliation against any country that was so "disrespectful" as to dare to vote against Washington's disastrous recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which she also helped to bring about.

As governor of South Carolina, Haley first became identified as an unquestioning supporter of Israel. Immediately upon taking office at the United Nations she complained that "nowhere has the U.N.'s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel" and vowed that the "days of Israel bashing are over." On a recent visit to Israel, she was applauded -- honored -- by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In February, Haley blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to a diplomatic position at the United Nations because he is a Palestinian. In a congressional hearing this past week, she was asked about the decision: "Is it this administration's position that support for Israel and support for the appointment of a well-qualified individual of Palestinian nationality to an appointment at the U.N. are mutually exclusive?" Haley responded yes, that the administration is "supporting Israel" by blocking every Palestinian.

Haley is inevitably a hardliner on Syria and Iran, reflecting the Israeli bias. She has said that regime change in Damascus is a Trump administration priority.

I would point out that none of these positions taken by Haley is an actual American interest, but they all involve Israeli preferences. As in the cases of Kushner, Friedman and Greenblatt, I would like to know how frequently she meets alone with Israeli officials and, most particularly, intelligence officers. Is she taking direction from the Israeli government? Is she an Israeli agent of influence or just a gullible fool? The American public, which pays her, and has to bear the consequences of her actions need to know.

iran flag mapMoon of Alabama, Opinion: Iran: Regime Change Agents Hijack Economic Protests, B, Dec. 29, 2017. Yesterday and today saw some small protests in Iran. They are probably the first stage of a large "regime change" operation run by the U.S. and Israel with the help of Iranian terrorist group.

Some of these protests have genuine economic reasons but get hijacked by other interests. This very early engagement of the MEK -its first report was published yesterday at 10:26 am- is extremely suspicious. In 2012 it was reported that Israel had used the MEK terrorist organization to assassinate nuclear scientists in Iran.

Courts and Crime

Merced Sun-Star, Louisiana police arrest 'Nigerian prince' scammer, Don Sweeney, Dec. 29, 2017. Meet your ‘Nigerian prince.’ Police say he’s behind hundreds of scam emails.  Anyone with an email address has likely gotten a message from a Nigerian prince or two offering hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in secret inheritances or, in some cases, payment for assistance laundering ill-gotten gains from mining conglomerates or royal treasuries.

Police in Slidell, Louisiana, say they finally caught up with one of the people behind some of those emails. He’s not exactly Nigerian royalty, either, police wrote in a Facebook post.

Michael Neu mug nigerian princeMichael Neu, 67, of Slidell, Louisiana (shown in a mug shot), faces 269 counts of wire fraud and money laundering following an 18-month investigation, police wrote. They say Neu took part in hundreds of financial transactions involving phone and online scams to con money from people across the United States.

In these scams, the supposed Nigerian prince (or other official) asks for the person’s personal banking information in order to speed the transfer of the purported inheritance or temporarily hold the allegedly pilfered funds. The information can then be used to withdraw funds from the victim’s accounts.

Dec. 28

bo prince harry social media bbc interview 12 27 2017 Custom 2

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Washington Post, In interview with Prince Harry, Obama says leaders shouldn’t use social media to divide, William Booth, Dec. 28, 2017 (print edition). In his first interview since leaving office, former president Barack Obama didn’t mention President Trump by name, but he really didn’t have to: He told his host, Prince Harry, that leaders shouldn’t use social media to stoke division. “All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the Internet,” Obama said.

The interview (shown above from a screenshot of the program) took the form of a warm chat between the 44th U.S. president and Prince Harry, who was serving as guest host on BBC Radio 4’s popular “Today” program.

“One of the dangers of the Internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases,” Obama said. “It is harder to be as obnoxious and cruel in person as people can be anonymously on the Internet.”

He continued, “The question is: How do we harness this technology that allows a multiplicity of voices, a diversity of views but does not lead to a Balkanization of our society but, rather, continues to promote ways of finding common ground?”

Inside Washington

Wall Street Journal, Opinion: A Big, Beautiful Trump 2018 Issue: Civil-service reform could get bipartisan support, even in a rough election year, Kimberley A. Strassel, Dec. 28, 2017. President Trump is on the hunt for a 2018 issue — a strong follow-up to his tax-cut victory that will motivate voters and gain bipartisan support.

Democrats are pushing for an infrastructure bill, inviting the president to spend with them. House GOP leaders are mulling entitlement reform — a noble goal, if unlikely in a midterm cycle.

New York Magazine, Mueller Probing Whether Trump Digital Team Aided Russian Disinformation Campaign, Adam K. Raymond, Dec. 28, 2017. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s influence on the 2016 election has begun to zero in on the joint digital operation that got Donald Trump elected, Yahoo News reports.

Mueller’s team is trying to determine if members of the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee, who worked together on the digital arm of Trump’s campaign, provided assistance to Russian trolls attempting to influence voters. It’s the latest scare for Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who managed the digital campaign and has already come under scrutiny by the special counsel for his foreign contacts.

Mueller’s move appears to concern the disproportionate targeting of swing districts by Russian trolls during the presidential campaign. CNN reported in October that ads placed by Russia-linked Facebook accounts targeted Michigan and Wisconsin in particular, with many “geared at swaying public opinion in the most heavily contested battlegrounds.”

Tax Plan or Scam?

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New York Times, One Sure Thing About Complex Tax Bill: New Loopholes, Natalie Kitroeff, Dec. 28, 2017. A 2004 tax change by Congress may provide a cautionary tale: You can mine a lot of tax breaks from just one word. Already, lawyers and accountants are eyeing provisions in the new law that investors and companies could potentially exploit.

irs logoThe Hill, IRS warns taxpayers that prepaying property taxes might not work, Naomi Jagoda, Dec. 28, 2017. The IRS is warning taxpayers in new guidance issued Wednesday that they might not be able to deduct their prepaid 2018 property taxes on their 2017 returns.

Taxpayers expecting their bills to rise because of the new tax law’s restrictions on deductions for local, state and property taxes have reportedly rushed to prepay taxes for 2018, hoping to do so before the new law takes effect.

But in an advisory issued late Wednesday, the agency said that the prepaid taxes are only deductible if the property taxes are both assessed and paid in 2017.

Financial Manipulations

Bloomberg View, The U.S. Is Becoming the World’s New Tax Haven, Staff report. Dec. 28, 2017. Shuttering foreign tax shelters only to steal their business is a bad move. Seven years ago, the U.S. led an effort to address a problem facing governments everywhere. Each year, people manage to avoid paying an estimated $2.5 trillion in income tax -- a giant sum that could be used to combat poverty, update infrastructure or lower tax rates for law-abiding citizens.

Now, however, the U.S. is becoming one of the world’s best places to hide money from the tax collector. It’s a distinction that the country would do well to shed.

In 2009, amid growing budget deficits and a tax-fraud scandal at Swiss bank UBS AG, the Group of 20 developed and developing nations came to an agreement: They would no longer tolerate the network of havens, shell companies and secret accounts that had long abetted tax evasion. A year later, the U.S. passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which required foreign financial institutions to report the identities and assets of potential U.S. taxpayers to the Internal Revenue Service.

Under threat of losing access to the U.S. financial system, more than 100 countries -- including such traditional havens as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands -- are complying or have agreed to comply.

The U.S. was expected to reciprocate, by sharing data on the accounts of foreign taxpayers with their respective governments. Yet Congress rejected the Obama administration’s repeated requests to make the necessary changes to the tax code. As a result, the Treasury cannot compel U.S. banks to reveal information such as account balances and names of beneficial owners. The U.S. has also failed to adopt the so-called Common Reporting Standard, a global agreement under which more than 100 countries will automatically provide each other with even more data than FATCA requires.

While the rest of the world provides the transparency that the U.S. demanded, the U.S. is rapidly becoming the new Switzerland. Financial institutions catering to the global elite, such as Rothschild & Co. and Trident Trust Co., have moved accounts from offshore havens to Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota. New York lawyers are actively marketing the country as a place to park assets. A Russian billionaire, for example, can put real-estate assets in a U.S. trust and rest assured that neither the U.S. tax authorities nor his home-country government will know anything about it. That’s a level of secrecy that not even Vanuatu can offer.

brad birkenfeld npc 10 18 16 IMG 0317Justice Integrity Project Editor's comment: To educate readers, this column should have noted, especially in light of the new U.S. tax law, the bold and instrumental role that Swiss bank whistleblower Brad Birkenfeld (shown at right in a Justice Integrity Project photo) played in exposing money-laundering by VIPs and UBS, the world's largest financial institution. The story is described in Lucifer's Banker, his memoir describing his imprisonment in trumped-up charges after he brought the scandals to light.

Law and Courts

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New York Times, Sessions Says to Courts: Go Ahead, Jail People Because They’re Poor, Chiraag Bains, Dec. 28, 2017. Ferguson’s so-called debtors’ prisons devastated its black community. Sessions wants to keep it that way.

Alabama Senate Election

roy moore cowboy hat no gunTPM, Moore Files Lawsuit Hours Before State Expected To Declare Jones Winner, Nicole Lafond, Dec. 28, 2017. Former Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore still won’t accept the outcome of his stunning defeat in the deep red state earlier this month. Late Wednesday evening, the embattled candidate (shown in a file photo from the campaign) filed a lawsuit in an Alabama Circuit Court to try to block the state canvassing board from officially declaring Jones the winner, which it is set to do Thursday.

Moore’s complaint alleges that there were enough irregularities in 20 precincts in just one Alabama county — Jefferson County — to reverse the outcome of the election.

Update: Alabama certified the election of Jones on Dec. 28. He takes office in the Senate on Jan. 3, reducing the GOP majority to 51 votes.

Truthout, How Cheney and His Allies Created the North Korea Nuclear Missile Crisis, Gareth Porter, Dec. 28, 2017.  The Trump administration has been telling people for months that the crisis with North Korea is the result of North Korea's relentless pursuit of a nuclear threat to the US homeland and past North Korean cheating on diplomatic agreements. However, North Korea reached agreements with both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations that could have averted that threat, had they been completed.Dec. 27

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New York Times, Years of Attack Leave Obamacare a More Government-Focused Health Law, Robert Pear, Dec. 27, 2017 (print edition). The Affordable Care Act was conceived as a mix of publicly funded health care and privately purchased insurance, but Republican attacks, culminating this month in the death of a mandate that most Americans have insurance, are shifting the balance, giving the government a larger role than Democrats ever anticipated.

And while President Trump insisted again on Tuesday that the health law was “essentially” being repealed, what remains of it appears relatively stable and increasingly government-funded.

In short, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement is becoming more like what conservatives despise — government-run health care — thanks in part to Republican efforts that are raising premiums for people without government assistance and allowing them to skirt coverage.

By ending the tax penalty for people who do not have coverage, beginning in 2019, Republicans may hasten the flight of customers who now pay the full cost of their insurance. Among those left behind under the umbrella of the Affordable Care Act would be people of modest means who qualify for Medicaid or receive sizable subsidies for private insurance.

Law and Courts

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michael flynn microphoneWashington Post, Trump team plans to cast Flynn as a liar if he accuses president, aides of wrongdoing, Carol D. Leonnig, Dec. 27, 2017.  President Trump’s legal team plans to attack the credibility of former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy. The approach would mark a sharp break from Trump’s previously sympathetic posture toward Flynn (shown at right), who is cooperating with the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

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William Barber II FacebookNew York Times, Opinion: Trump’s Terrible Choice for Judge, William Barber II, Dec. 27, 2017 (print edition). William Barber II (shown at right) is a co-chairman of the new Poor People’s Campaign and the author of “The Third Reconstruction.” 

A lawyer with roots in white supremacy has no place on the federal bench. Among President Trump’s worrisome nominees to the judiciary, perhaps none is as alarming as Thomas Alvin Farr, a protégé of Jesse Helms, the former North Carolina senator, and a product of the modern white supremacist machine that Mr. Helms pioneered.

Mr. Farr, nominated to serve on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, began his career as counsel for Mr. Helms’s Senate campaigns, where he participated in racist tactics to intimidate African-American voters. This alone is reason to reject his nomination, as is his apparent lying on the topic to the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Mr. Farr’s connections to Mr. Helms’s white supremacist causes and political network go much deeper.

Having lived in North Carolina since childhood, I know Mr. Helms’s racist legacy and I hold no doubts that Mr. Farr perpetuates it. An unabashed segregationist, Mr. Helms was affiliated with the Council of Conservative Citizens, an outgrowth of the White Citizens’ Councils that promoted white supremacy.

Mr. Helms, who served in the Senate for 30 years, used his honorable seat to support the apartheid regime in South Africa while opposing desegregation, civil rights legislation and the creation of the Martin Luther King’s Birthday holiday in this country. Mr. Helms also belittled Carol Moseley Braun, the only black senator at the time, by singing “Dixie” to her in the Senate elevator.

ryan zinke lolita zinkeRaw Story, Trump’s interior secretary seems to be a nexus between shady government deals, private spies and white supremacists, Travis Gettys, Dec. 27, 2017. President Trump’s interior secretary seems to be the nexus for a shady government energy deal, a proposed private spy agency and white supremacists all based in a Montana town. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former Republican congressman, has links to each of the troubling national stories out of Whitefish, the tiny rural town where he grew up, reported Alternet.

His office insists Zinke (shown with his wife Lolita Zinke) had no role in securing a private contract for Whitefish Energy to rebuild Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure after Hurricane Maria, but the Cabinet secretary admits he’s acquainted with CEO Andy Techmanski. “Whitefish is a small town where ‘everybody knows everybody,'” the office said in an email.

Mexican Justice Crisis

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Washington Post, A U.S.-backed plan aimed to fix Mexico’s justice system. It has resulted in chaos, Joshua Partlow, Photos by Michael Robinson Chavez​, Dec. 28, 2017. For a country torn apart by drug violence, authorities see the overhaul as crucial to restoring order. But bickering and confusion reign at each link in the legal chain — and powerful drug cartels are exploiting the weaknesses in the new system and strong-arming authorities with death threats and bribes.|

Middle East

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New York Times, Assad Must Go, Says Turkey’s Leader, Seeking Leverage as War Winds Down, Anne Barnard, Dec. 27, 2017. Turkey’s leader denounced President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Wednesday as a terrorist mass murderer with no place in that country’s postwar future, scrapping a softened approach that Turkish officials had taken toward Mr. Assad in recent years.

The statement by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey (shown above right) came as Mr. Assad seemed more confident than ever that he has won the war and will remain Syria’s leader for the foreseeable future. It also came against the backdrop of maneuvering by many powers — most notably Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s most important allies — to influence the outcome of a devastating conflict that has reshaped Middle East politics.

Dec. 26

Constitutional Convention To Attack Social Security?

The Hill, Opinion: The GOP tax bill could kill two birds with one stone, Nancy MacLean, Dec. 26, 2017. Nancy MacLean is the author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (Viking, 2017) and the William H. Chafe professor of history and public policy at Duke University. 

Why doesn’t the GOP seem to care that its tax bill will drive up the deficit by $1.5 trillion? After all, for most of its modern history, the Republican party has campaigned on controlling the debt. Many answers have been offered, some quite illuminating. Here’s one that hasn’t been considered, and it may be the most urgent to understand.

Running up the deficit so extravagantly would serve two strategic purposes: One, as many have pointed out, is to create a fiscal emergency that justifies massive cuts to and even possible privatization of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

But there’s a second reason you likely haven’t heard about: sealing the case for a constitutional convention. And the real action on this front will not be in Washington, but out in the states, where almost no one is looking.

While the eyes of most journalists and citizens have been fixed on the White House and Congress, scores of organizations and elected officials funded by Charles Koch and his donor network have quietly achieving control over state governments. With the aid of the powerful lobby group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), 28 of the 34 states needed to call such a convention have passed measures calling for one. Many state legislatures were persuaded in part by the lure of a Balanced Budget Amendment. A ballooning deficit could help get the remaining six on board.

Justice System Updates

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, On Boston Bombing, Right to Know is Zero, James Henry, Dec. 26, 2017. It has been nearly five years since two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and nearly three years since the conclusion of the trial of the sole surviving Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar. And yet, the government continues to maintain radio silence over many crucial questions related to the bombing.

Since the 2013 bombing, WhoWhatWhy has made dozens and dozens of records requests through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other records request laws, from multiple government agencies, in an effort to fill in some of the many holes in the story that remain after a secretive federal investigation and trial. The results have been mixed, to say the least.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev HSMost of the ongoing secrecy relates to the deceased mastermind and main bombing perpetrator: the older brother Tamerlan (shown at right).

The lead prosecutor who secured the conviction against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, William Weinreb, even admitted that “it is fair to say that there are still a number of questions unanswered about that case.” And a surprising number of Boston’s local law enforcement question whether the FBI is coming clean about what it knows about the now-deceased Tsarnaev brother.

As we wrote back in July, some of these enduring questions are:

* How was Tamerlan able to travel back and forth to the country from which he sought asylum in 2012, despite being on multiple terror watchlists?

* Why was he not questioned about the 2011 murder of three of his friends?

* Was Tamerlan working for the US government in some capacity?

* Was the FBI or some other federal agency using Tamerlan’s desire to become a US citizen as leverage?

Other Justice System Stories

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New York Attorney Gen. Eric Schneiderman

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New York Times, New York’s Attorney General in a Battle With the President, Danny Hakim and William K. Rashbaum, Dec. 26, 2017. Eric Schneiderman’s office recently took its 100th legal or administrative action against “the biggest threat” to New Yorkers: the federal government.

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 Justice Department logoWashington Post, Justice Department faulted for ‘systemic’ mishandling of sex harassment cases, Sari Horwitz, Dec. 26, 2017. While allegations of sexual misconduct have been increasing over the past five years, supervisors at the Justice Department have often mishandled the complaints, and some perpetrators have been given little discipline or even later rewarded with bonuses or performance awards, according to the department’s inspector general.By The Justice Department has “systemic” problems in how it handles sexual harassment complaints, with those found to have acted improperly often not receiving appropriate punishment, and the issue requires “high level action,” according to the department’s inspector general.

Justice supervisors have mishandled complaints, the IG said, and some perpetrators were given little discipline or even later rewarded with bonuses or performance awards. At the same time, the number of allegations of sexual misconduct has been increasing over the past five years and the complaints have involved senior Justice Department officials across the country.

The cases examined by the IG’s office include a U.S. attorney who had a sexual relationship with a subordinate and sent harassing texts and emails when it ended; a Civil Division lawyer who groped the breasts and buttocks of two female trial attorneys; and a chief deputy U.S. marshal who had sex with “approximately” nine women on multiple occasions in his U.S. Marshals Service office, according to investigative reports obtained by The Washington Post under a Freedom of Information Act request.

“We’re talking about presidential appointees, political appointees, FBI special agents in charge, U.S. attorneys, wardens, a chief deputy U.S. marshal, a U.S. marshal assistant director, a deputy assistant attorney general,” Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said in an interview.

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harvey weinsteinWashington Post, Why Harvey Weinstein? How a powerful but obscure figure touched off a social movement, Paul Farhi, Dec. 26, 2017. The Hollywood producer's story of abusing women whipped up a wave that is still crashing. But why Harvey Weinstein (right) and not, say, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton or Bill Cosby?

Perhaps the most important factor was the identity of the victims, not of the alleged perpetrator.

“The first [Weinstein] stories had highly identifiable victims, people everyone knew,” said Teresa Younger, chief executive of the Ms. Foundation for Women, a charitable organization. “These were wealthy white women whose images people have seen for years and years. . . . They were trusted and believed” in ways that previous accusers might not have been.

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nikki haley oNew York Times, Trump’s Envoy Hints at More U.N. Budget Cuts to Come, Rick Gladstone, Dec. 26, 2017 (print edition). Ambassador Nikki R. Haley (shown at right) coupled her applause for a $285 million cut in the 2018-2019 budget with a suggestion that she would seek further reductions. At least four times in the past week, the Trump administration has linked financial support for the United Nations to compliance with American demands.

First President Trump and his ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, fumed that all countries with seats on the Security Council except the United States had opposed American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his decision to put the United States Embassy there.

Then Mr. Trump dared the General Assembly to follow the Security Council’s example. “Let them vote against us,” he said. “We will save a lot.”

When the General Assembly voted 128 to 9 against the Americans, Ms. Haley said she would take names and remember them the next time the United States was asked for financial help from members who disagreed with its stance on Jerusalem. The vote against the United States, she said, would make a difference “on how we look at countries who disrespect us at the U.N.”

SUN logotrategic Culture Foundation, Opinion: How the US and Israel Extort Votes at the UN, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 26, 2017. On Dec. 21, 2017, 128 member states of the United Nations General Assembly voted against the United States in condemning the Donald Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Moreover, the General Assembly called on member states not to move their embassies in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, warned the members of the UN that she would be “taking names” of countries voting against the United States on Jerusalem. Not content with acting like some snippety schoolmarm, Haley took the pollyannaish course of inviting countries voting against, abstaining, or absenting themselves from the General Assembly Jerusalem resolution to a “friendship party” in New York in January 2018.

In an accusatory speech before the General Assembly, rivaled only by previous bombasts by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu against the assembly and its majority of nations, Haley whined, “The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation.”

In bellyaching about America’s right to sovereignty, Haley held no such pretensions for those nations that voted against the United States and Israel. She threatened those who did not stand with the Trump administration and Israel with the loss of American economic aid, merely because those nations exercised their own rights of sovereignty against diplomatic bluster and bellicosity from Washington.

In the General Assembly vote, the Trump administration and Israel could only rely on seven countries to vote along with them. These seven nations represented either small and poor Pacific island states, all endangered by rising ocean levels and heavily-dependent on international assistance, or small dictatorships propped up by advanced Israeli surveillance and riot-control technology.

Media: CIA influence & Russian Pranksters

Moon of Alabama, Opinion: From Snowden To Russia-gate - The CIA And The Media, B, Dec. 26, 2017. The promotion of the alleged Russian election hacking in certain media may have grown from the successful attempts of U.S. intelligence services to limit the publication of the NSA files obtained by Edward Snowden.

glenn greenwald hsIn May 2013, Edward Snowden fled to Hongkong and handed internal documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) to four journalists, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian and separately to Barton Gellman who worked for the Washington Post. Some of those documents were published by Greenwald (shown at right) in the Guardian, others by Barton Gellman in the Washington Post. Several other international news site published additional material though the mass of NSA papers that Snowden allegedly acquired never saw public daylight.

In July 2013 the Guardian was forced by the British government to destroy its copy of the Snowden archive.

In August 2013 Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for some $250 million. In 2012 Bezos, the founder, largest share holder and CEO of Amazon, had already a cooperation with the CIA. Together they invested in a Canadian quantum computing company. In March 2013 Amazon signed a $600 million deal to provide computing services for the CIA.

In October 2013 Pierre Omidyar, the owner of Ebay, founded First Look Media and hired Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. The total planned investment was said to be $250 million. It took up to February 2014 until the new organization launched its first site, the Intercept. Only a few NSA stories appeared on it. The Intercept is a rather mediocre site. Its management is said to be chaotic. It publishes few stories of interests and one might ask if it ever was meant to be a serious outlet. Omidyar has worked, together with the U.S. government, to force regime change onto Ukraine. He had strong ties with the Obama administration.

Snowden had copies of some 20,000 to 58,000 NSA files. Only 1,182 have been published. Bezos and Omidyar obviously helped the NSA to keep more than 95% of the Snowden archive away from the public. The Snowden papers were practically privatized into trusted hands of Silicon Valley billionaires with ties to the various secret services and the Obama administration.

The motivation for the Bezos and Omidyar to do this is not clear. Bezos is estimated to own a shameful $90 billion. The Washington Post buy is chump-change for him. Omidyar has a net worth of some $9.3 billion. But the use of billionaires to mask what are in fact intelligence operations is not new. The Ford Foundation has for decades been a CIA front, George Soros' Open Society foundation is one of the premier "regime change" operations, well versed in instigating "color revolutions".

 

nikki haley prank call vladirmir kuznetsov alexei stolyarovUS. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, at right, was fooled by Russian pranksters Vladimir Kuznetsov, at left, and Alexei Stolyarov

Al Arabiya English, UN envoy Nikki Haley gets prank called by Russian comedians, Staff report, Dec. 26, 2017. It comes as no surprise that Russian comedians targeted Nikki Haley for quite an elaborate prank. The UN Ambassador to the United States has been in the news recently after she gave a scathing speech in response to the United Nations vote earlier this week against President Donald Trump’s decision to consider Jerusalem as the new capital of Israel. .

Hours after the UN’s decision was announced, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov gave Haley a call in which they made her believe that she was speaking to Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister.

As one of the 35 countries abstaining from the anti-American vote, Haley highly praised this decision from Poland and begun the call by showing her gratitude: “Let me start with very much thanking you for the support we received on the vote today.”

Although Poland didn’t vote on America’s side and merely abstained, Haley thought this was memorable, adding: “We will never forget it.”

The pranksters continued the conversation and directed Haley’s attention to the topic of a “tense situation” on the island of Binomo in the South China Sea. “Do you know Binomo? They have declared independence. We suppose Russians had its intervention.”

This was met by Haley agreeing, “Yes, of course they did. We’ve been watching that very closely. I think we will continue to watch as we deal with the issues about the South China Sea.”

However, Binomo does not exist.

As the conversation progressed, Haley expressed her thoughts on Russia, stating that the country was “trying to be relevant in every region and they are trying to have some sort of say in every region.”

She continued: “They do try to cause some disruption, but we manage them and we continue to remind them what their place is.”

maria zakharovaOnce exposed, Haley’s comments cost her on a global scale, attracting attention from the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakarova (shown in a file photo), who responded “Nikki, do you really want Russia to remember all of its ‘places’ in the world?” on Facebook.

Interestingly, Haley’s mishap has yet to be covered by American media, who often praise Haley’s neo-conservatism to the point that she is now seen as a likely presidential contender.

Dec. 25 

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jeff flake oWashington Post, Departing GOP lawmakers warn of potential party losses in 2018, Karoun Demirjian, Dec. 25, 2017 (print edition).  “By and large, we’re appealing to older white men, and there are just a limited number of them,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), shown at right. He and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) urged Republicans to diversify the party and warned the president that catering only to his base would drive other voters to look for an alternative.

Nightly Business Report, An investigative story on the role Wall Street played in wiping out the savings of some Puerto Ricans, Leslie Picker, Dec. 25, 2017 (video). The banking giant UBS and Wall Street played a role in wiping out the savings of some Puerto Ricans.

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Washington Post, Trump retweets an image of ‘CNN’ squashed beneath his shoe, Amy B Wang, Dec. 25, 2017 (print edition).  Trump spends Christmas Eve calling troops, golfing and tweeting. The image originated as a reply to one of the president's tweets boasting about his first-year achievements. Critics deemed the picture and its Christmas Eve timing offensive.

djt cnn squished 12 24 17 twitter

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump is having the worst Christmas Eve ever, Bill Palmer, Dec. 24, 2017. Here’s how Donald Trump is spending Christmas Eve: ranting and raving like an unhinged lunatic who thinks the entire world is about to come crashing down on him, and is desperately looking for someone – anyone – to blame for his own impending demise.

It’s almost difficult to put into words how far off the deep end Trump is going today. Thus far he’s dishonestly attacked Hillary Clinton, Andrew McCabe, the FBI, ObamaCare, the media, and everyone who is not part of his own “base.”New York Times, Opinion: America Is Not Yet Lost, Paul Krugman, Dec. 25, 2017. Many of us came into 2017 expecting the worst. And in many ways, the worst is what we got.

cnn logoHe’s yelled “fake news” three times and then he yelled “fake polls” as well. He retweeted an image of himself with CNN splatted on his shoe like a bug. ivanka trump prison stripesMerry Christmas, he seems to be saying, while encouraging violence against the media. And that’s just for starters.

It’s difficult to point to any point in this year in which this pitiful excuse for a human being has been particularly enjoying himself. But it’s clear that, here on Christmas Eve, he’s far more miserable and defensive than usual.

fbi logoPerhaps that’s because he’s figured out he can’t fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or the leadership at the FBI, and combined they have enough evidence to take down him and his family.

Truthout: Opinion on Peace: A Christmas Present to Yourself, William Rivers Pitt, Dec. 25, 2017. If you're having trouble understanding just how thrilled Republicans in Congress and the White House are about the passage of this profoundly unpopular tax package, look no further than last Thursday, when Mike Pence and Ben Carson (right) actually prayed to Donald Trump.

ben carsonThey didn't pray with him or for him, or even at him. They prayed to him, lavishing honeyed compliments on him for everything from the bill (which he assisted by staying almost completely out of the way) to his courage in facing down the "fake news."

They prayed to him as the articulated realization of a dream three generations in the making, the supply-side savior, the God of Trickle-Down made flesh, with Reagan the Father smiling beatifically down from his heavenly steed like Death on its white horse.

The GOP donors who demanded this tax bill fiasco have gotten what they wanted, the GOP gets to run on "See, government doesn't work" with their campaign coffers full now that they've broken government again, and so they prayed to Donald Trump and gave voice to their joy, and it was a creepy dispiriting mess.

Is it a law yet? Yes, as of Friday morning.

I am supposed to be using this space to talk about Christmas, about the tree furnishing my floor with needles, about how I am utterly incompetent in the wrapping department, about food and family, the hell of shopping and maybe some snow on the big day.

I am supposed to be talking about that, but this is a Christmas like no other in living memory. We are, each and every one of us, watching the guy wires supporting this country snap under the weight of a homegrown televised fascism that appears finally ready to become the juggernaut it thinks it is.

I left something for myself under the tree this year, and I hope you do the same for yourself in whatever way best suits your approach to the season. Not long ago, I offered a plea to all of you for endurance, that you never allow any of this to become normal or routine.

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paul krugmanNew York Times, Opinion: America Is Not Yet Lost, Paul Krugman (shown at right), Dec. 25, 2017. Many of us came into 2017 expecting the worst. And in many ways, the worst is what we got.

Yet I’m ending this year with a feeling of hope, because tens of millions of Americans have risen to the occasion. The U.S. may yet become another Turkey or Hungary — a state that preserves the forms of democracy but has become an authoritarian regime in practice. But it won’t happen as easily or as quickly as many of us had feared.

Early this year the commentator David Frum warned that the slide into authoritarianism would be unstoppable “if people retreat into private life, if critics grow quieter, if cynicism becomes endemic.” But so far that hasn’t happened. What we’ve seen instead is the emergence of a highly energized resistance.

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Washington Post, Opinion: Trump’s first year was even worse than feared, Eugene Robinson, Dec. 25, 2017. Many of us began 2017 with the consoling thought that the Donald Trump presidency couldn’t possibly be as bad as we feared. It turned out to be worse.

Austerity In DC

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Washington Post, Deaths of mother and newborn triggered obstetrics ward to close at D.C.’s only public hospital, Peter Jamison, Dec. 25, 2017 (print edition). Regulators identified errors in the treatment of a D.C. woman and her daughter that led to the temporary closure of the ward at United Medical Center in August. The decision this month to permanently shut its delivery rooms and nursery has broad consequences for women in the poor and predominantly African American neighborhoods nearby.

Global News

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Washington Post, Russian election officials bar protest leader Navalny from running against Putin, Andrew Roth, Dec. 25, 2017. The decision, which was widely expected, cites a previous conviction for fraud that Alexei Navalny has said was politically motivated. 

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New York Times, ISIS Is Resilient in Afghanistan Despite U.S. Campaign, Mujib Mashal, Dec. 25, 2017. The Islamic State is far from being vanquished in eastern Afghanistan, surviving intense pressure from American airstrikes and raids by United States and Afghan forces. The group has waged brutal attacks that have displaced thousands of families and forced even some Taliban fighters to seek government protection.

Dec. 24

trickle down cartoon

 A Joke?

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Washington Post, Charities fear tax overhaul will change philanthropy, leaving it only to the rich, Todd C. Frankel, Dec. 24, 2017 (print edition). The  source of concern is how the tax overhaul, which President Trump signed into law Friday, is expected to sharply reduce the number of Americans who qualify for the charitable tax deduction — a big driver of gifts to nonprofits. The biggest declines are projected to come from the middle class — the rich will mostly keep their ability to take the tax breaks.

GOP Ramping Up Trump Defense

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robert muellerWashington Post, How criticism of the Mueller probe has grown from a whisper to a clamor, Michael Kranish, Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian, Dec. 24, 2017. The allegation that FBI and Justice Department officials are part of a broad conspiracy against President Trump is suddenly center stage, amplified by conservative activists, GOP lawmakers, right-leaning media and Trump himself. The partisan atmosphere is a sharp departure from the near-universal support that greeted Robert Mueller III’s selection as special counsel in May. (He is shown at right.)

Global News

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New York Times, For Rohingya Women, Abuse Continues in Camps, Hannah Beech, Dec. 24, 2017 (print edition). Even after escaping Myanmar, survivors of rape and other trauma find themselves still vulnerable and commodified in the brokenness of refugee life.

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Washington Post, Russia warns that U.S. decision to arm Ukraine will fuel new bloodshed, Carol Morello and David Filipov, Dec. 24, 2017 (print edition). The U.S. move to provide heavy armaments to Ukraine for the first time brought a sharp rebuke from Moscow, which has tacitly backed separatists while denying it actively supports them.

The Intercept, Can the Supreme Court Continue to Live with Our Arbitrary and Capricious Death Penalty? Liliana Segura, Dec. 24, 2017. Rudolph J. Gerber has never forgotten where he was when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty over 45 years ago. He was a new lawyer in Phoenix, working as the associate director of the Arizona Criminal Code Commission. The landmark 1972 ruling in Furman v. Georgia invalidated death sentences across the country, including those of 16 people on Arizona’s death row. Outraged politicians vowed to bring back capital punishment; one Phoenix Republican declared his candidacy for Maricopa County attorney that very day.

The next day, Republican State Sen. Sandra Day O’Connor, a member of Arizona’s Senate  Judiciary Committee, came to Gerber’s office. She dropped the Furman decision on his desk. “I said, ‘What do you think we should do about it?’” Gerber recalled in a recent phone interview. “And her exact words were, ‘Rudy, I want you to write a death penalty we can live with.’”

Dec. 23

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Washington Post, Can GOP boost its 2018 outlook by selling the tax bill? Dan Balz, Dec. 23, 2017.  As President Trump signed the sweeping legislation into law, he said, “I think it’s selling itself.” But every Republican running in a competitive midterm race next year faces an uphill climb to turn his words into reality after the tax plan — with benefits heavily weighted toward corporations and the wealthiest Americans — was pushed through Congress with record speed.

naomi klein portrait Custom 2Truthout, Trump Embodies the Crisis of Capitalism: A Conversation With Naomi Klein, Laura Flanders, Dec. 23, 2017. (Interview excerpted below): How did we get to the Trump presidency and the current political moment? How might things get worse and what can we do to build an alternative? In her new book, No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein (shown at right) offers what she describes as "a plan for how, if we keep our heads, we might just be able to flip the script and arrive at a radically better future."

Laura Flanders: After the spate of disastrous floods, fires and quakes that have shocked us this year, this is a good time to revisit Naomi Klein, whose work continues to dig deep into the way that the global capitalists use shock and chaos to advance their agenda, regardless of the impact on the vulnerable. It's hard to think of a national or global emergency that Donald Trump hasn't tried to exploit for his own purposes, but still, a year after his election, roughly 30 percent of Americans polled continue to support his presidency.

Naomi Klein No Is Not EnoughWhat is Trump selling? Who's buying? And why? And what do those who consider themselves part of the resistance need to say "yes" to, after so many months and years of saying "no" to Trump and Trumpism? Naomi Klein is the author of 2017's No Is Not Enough, as well as The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything.

So, what you say in the book is that we replace that story of "capitalism will help everybody" with the story of "it's winners and losers and you don't want to be a loser."

Naomi Klein: Donald Trump Cover Art of the DealRight, right, and that is key to understanding Trump, because what he has been selling in this period as the wealth gap has widened, this period of a small group of super winners, and a whole lot of people who are just losing, is: "I will teach you how to be a winner." I think it's really important to understand that that is what he has been promising since he wrote The Art of the Deal. Like, "I'm going to teach you how to be like me, never mind that wealth is inherited, never mind that everything was handed to me...." And this is what he was selling at Trump University. "I'm going to turn you into the next Donald Trump." University, right. That's what "The Apprentice" was, right?

mike pence o SmallLaura Flanders: I was reminded in your book of how the right come into a crisis. When you reminded me that it was Mike Pence who was behind that post-Katrina plan to basically do away with all the protections for workers that had been put in place by activists on the Gulf Coast for many years ... and I'm left always, reading your wonderful work with this sense of, "How can we take advantage of crisis with as much oomph as they did...?" And maybe you just need to remind our audience who is Mike Pence and what it was [like] to come across him again.

Naomi Klein: Well, when I was writing The Shock Doctrine, the book begins with Hurricane Katrina as the ultimate example of this tactic that the book focuses on: of using periods of severe collective trauma to push through policies that you'd never be able to push through without a crisis, because there's no consent. I mean, it's the ultimate abuse of the principle of consent democracy, whatever you want to call it, and New Orleans -- it was particularly abusive because people were not in their city. I mean, they were not home.

There had been many of them put onto buses and planes at gun point and given one-way tickets out of the city, and when they were gone, that's when their housing projects were demolished. That's when their schools were turned into charter schools or shut down completely, and New Orleans became this laboratory for these pet ideological, very profitable projects, and so, there was this meeting where this was all mapped out when New Orleans was still partially under water. It was at the Heritage Foundation....

Donald Trump Mike Pence logo SmallYou can put a checkmark next to a lot of them today ... and when Trump appointed Mike Pence as his running mate, I knew I knew the name from somewhere, but I couldn't quite place it, and then I remembered that his name was at the bottom of that document, because he was at that time, the chair of the Republican study group.

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fbi logoWashington Post, FBI deputy director, facing onslaught of GOP criticism, plans to retire, Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian​, Dec. 23, 2017.  Andrew McCabe was the right-hand man to former agency director James Comey, which meant he was involved in most of the FBI’s actions that vex President Trump. He plans to step down in a few months when he is eligible for full pension benefits, people familiar with the matter said.

andrew mccabe c span may 11 2017Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s deputy director who has been the target of Republican critics for more than a year, plans to retire in a few months when he becomes fully eligible for pension benefits, according to people familiar with the matter. McCabe (shown via a C-SPAN clip of priory testimony) spent hours in Congress this past week, facing questions behind closed doors from members of three committees. Republicans said they were dissatisfied with his answers; Democrats called it a partisan hounding.

McCabe, 49, holds a unique position in the political firestorm surrounding the FBI. He was former director James B. Comey’s right-hand man, a position that involved him in most of the FBI’s actions that vex President Trump as well as the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, a matter that still riles Democrats.

Trump versus Puerto Rico?

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Washington Post, Opinion: The cameras go off, and then comes the collapse, Dana Milbank, Dec. 23, 2017.  Trump devastates Puerto Rico twice. President Trump awarded himself a 10 out of 10 score two months ago for his response to Hurricane Maria, which leveled Puerto Rico.

“If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died,” Trump said as he toured Puerto Rico in October. “What is your death count, as of this moment — 17?”

“Sixteen certified,” the governor of Puerto Rico replied. “Sixteen versus literally thousands of people,” Trump said. “You can be very proud.” How proud we are now.

This week, we learned the truth. Some 1,065 more Puerto Ricans died in September and October of this year than in previous years, almost certainly storm-related deaths, according to the Center for Investigative Journalism. When all is tallied, the destruction in Puerto Rico will be very much on par with what Trump considers “a real catastrophe like Katrina,” which killed about 1,800.

Incredibly, a large portion of the island remains without power — three months after the storm. It was reported this week that power may not be fully restored until May. Puerto Ricans — American citizens — are still awaiting tarps and temporary roofs to shelter them after an untold number of homes were destroyed.

Transitions

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Washington Post, William W. Graham, lawyer, investor and philanthropist, dies at 69, Matt Schudel, Dec. 23, 2017.  William W. Graham, a lawyer, investor and philanthropist who was a member of the family that owned and published the Washington Post for many years, died Dec. 20 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 69. The cause was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said his brother Donald E. Graham, a former Post publisher and chief executive. Mr. Graham was a lawyer at the prominent Washington firm of Williams & Connolly in the 1970s before settling in Los Angeles, where he taught trial law at his alma mater, the University of California at Los Angeles.

Global News: Saudi Arabia

SouthFront, One Of High Profile Persons Detained In Saudi ‘Anti-Corruption Crackdown’ Was Tortured To Death – Media, Staff report, Dec. 23, 2017. Major General Ali Alqahtani, who was detained in November as part of the Saudi ‘anti-corruption crackdown,’ has reportedly died under torture, the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported.

According to the report, Major General Alqahtani was a member of the royal guard forces and the manager of the private office of Prince Turki Bin Abdullah, the son of former king Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. He and many other high profile persons were held at the Ritz Carlton. Alqahtani allegedly died on 12 December after being tortured with electric shocks. Furthermore, the newspaper said that his family struggled to recognise him after receiving his body.

In November, reports appeared that Saudi princes and billionaire businessmen arrested in the crackdown were tortured by by US private security contractors hired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Dec. 22

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Washington Post, Opinion: This tax deal is great for Trump. What a coincidence! Eugene Robinson, Dec. 22, 2017 (print edition). One of the biggest beneficiaries of the massive, slapdash tax bill that President Trump and Republican lawmakers celebrated at the White House on Wednesday will be, wait for it . . . President Trump. What a coincidence!

The rest of Trump’s wealthy family will benefit lavishly as well, including his son-in-law and all-purpose adviser, Jared Kushner. And, of course, it’s not a coincidence at all. The chance that this president would preside over a revision of the tax code without lining his own pockets was zero. Anyone who believed Trump’s claim that the tax bill would “cost me a fortune” hasn’t been paying attention.

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Major Investigation: Trump's Puerto Rico psychopathy, Dec. 22, 2017. (Subscription required; excerpted with permission.) When it comes to the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States where the residents are all U.S. citizens, Donald Trump maintains an extreme psychopathy.

Global News

australian flag wavingSouthFront, Australia To End Its Operations Against ISIS In Syria And Iraq, Staff report, Dec. 22, 2017. Australia’s Defense Minister, Marise Payne, announced on December 22 that Australia will withdraw its six F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets from the Middle East, and stop its airstrikes on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, according to Reuters. Payne said that the decision was taken after discussions with the US-led coalition and the Iraqi government.

Other members of the US-led coalition will likely end their missions against ISIS in Syria and Iraq in the upcoming months. One the other hand, US officials stressed on many occasions that US troops will maintain its presence in Syria after defeating ISIS for political reasons. If the US remains alone in Syria, it will face an additional pressure from the international community as its presence in the country will be lacking any legal bases or proper support from its own allies.

Whistleblowing Benefits To Taxpayers

chuck grassley officialChuck Grassley, Grassley Reform Credited with Recovering More Than $56 Billion Lost to Fraud, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dec. 22, 2017. More than $3.7 Billion in Taxpayer Funds Recouped from Fraudsters in 2017 Alone. Senator Chuck Grassley’s False Claims Act reforms helped the federal government recover more than $3.7 billion from fraudsters in fiscal year 2017, according to a Justice Department announcement yesterday. That brings the total amount of taxpayer dollars recovered from fraud since Grassley’s reforms to more than $56.1 billion. 

“Over and over again the False Claims Act has proven to be the single most effective tool for recovering taxpayer dollars lost to fraudsters who exploit the government. It encourages whistleblowers to raise the alarm when they encounter unscrupulous crooks and prevents further government waste. And it clearly works. To those who doubt the value of whistleblowers and the False Claims Act, I’d just say: $56 billion and counting,” Grassley said. “Yesterday’s announcement marks yet another significant milestone in our efforts to protect taxpayers against fraud.” The False Claims Act was enacted to prosecute fraud against taxpayers by unscrupulous companies and government contractors. Grassley, the current Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, authored reforms to the False Claims Act in 1986 to encourage whistleblowers to come forward with information involving such fraud.

In the last decade, the government has clawed back an average of nearly $3.6 billion annually, thanks in large part to Grassley’s qui tam provisions, which allow whistleblowers to share in the government’s recovery. Of the more than $3.7 billion recovered in the last fiscal year, over $3.4 billion are related to law suits filed under the qui tam provisions. Many of the recoveries were initiated by whistleblowers who took advantage of Grassley’s provisions allowing them to bring their own case on the government’s behalf. Grassley also led an effort in 2009 to pass the Fraud Enforcement Recovery Act, which bolstered existing tools and resources for government investigators and prosecutors to combat fraud.

Dec. 21

Donald Trump (Defense Department photo by Dominique Pineiro)

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New York Times, With Tax Overhaul, Trump Tries to Defy the Economic Odds, Patricia Cohen, Dec. 21, 2017. President Trump and congressional Republicans are betting that their tax code rewrite will ultimately raise wages and create jobs, but few independent analyses offer similarly rosy forecasts.

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Washington Post, Rush to pass massive rewrite of tax code sows confusion, Renae Merle and Aaron Gregg, Dec. 21, 2017. Many workers will have to wait until 2019 to find out whether they will pay more or less to the federal government under the GOP tax bill. Tax attorneys, accountants and corporate payroll departments also are scrambling to adjust to looming changes.

Homeowners are already peppering local officials with questions about whether they can — and should — prepay their 2018 property taxes in the less than a dozen days left in 2017, before new limits on such deductions take effect. Others are asking their accountants whether there are expenses — such as moving costs — that they should pay now before they are no longer eligible for preferential tax treatment.

Much of the confusion is the result of how quickly Republican lawmakers were able to pass the legislation.

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Washington Post, One potential loser in the new GOP tax bill: Puerto Rico, Ed O'Keefe, Dec. 21, 2017. The storm-ravaged island’s governor warns a new tax on foreign entities could affect its critical manufacturing sector.

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Washington Post, Once again, Ivanka Trump shows off her cluelessness, Jennifer Rubin, Dec. 21, 2017.She’s a walking advertisement for the danger of nepotism, an exemplar of class privilege and a perfect representative for Republican know-nothingism. She was supposed to be the brains of the family and the moral ballast; instead, she’s a self-righteous enabler.

We’re speaking of Ivanka Trump, as you might have divined. She was out talking nonsense again on Thursday: “I’m really looking forward to doing a lot of traveling in April when people realize the effect that this has … The vast majority will be [doing their taxes] on a single postcard.” Thunk.

 There’s no postcard. That was a prop. And the filing for the first year under the new tax code will be in 2019.

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New York Times, G.O.P. Wins on Tax Cuts, but Faces a Brutal Election Year, Jonathan Martin, Dec. 21, 2017. The sweeping tax overhaul approved by Congress this week hands Republicans a long-sought achievement they believe will bolster their defenses in next year’s midterm campaign.But party officials concede the measure can only mitigate their losses in what is shaping up to be a punishing election year.

Scandal In Miss America Contest Leadership

Huffington Post, The Miss America Emails: How The Pageant’s CEO Really Talks About The Winners, Yashar Ali, Dec. 21, 2017. Internal correspondence reveals name-calling, slut-shaming and fat-shaming in emails between the Miss America CEO, board members and a pageant writer.

In late August 2014, the CEO of the Miss America Organization, Sam Haskell, sent an email to the lead writer of the Miss America pageant telecast, Lewis Friedman, informing him of a change he wanted to make in the script: “I have decided that when referring to a woman who was once Miss America, we are no longer going to call them Forever Miss Americas....please change all script copy to reflect that they are Former Miss Americas!”

Friedman replied, “I’d already changed “Forevers” to “Cunts.” Does that work for you?”

Haskell’s short reply came quickly: “Perfect...bahahaha.”

At that point, Haskell had been the leader of Miss America for nine years, after rising through the ranks at a top Hollywood talent agency. Many prior winners, or as they’re called, “formers,” consider the pageant a wonderful, wholesome activity for young women. But Haskell’s behavior behind closed doors shows he regularly maligned, fat-shamed and slut-shamed the former Miss Americas, calling them shocking names and in one case laughing at the suggestion that one of the women should die.

When it came to one particular former, Haskell took his efforts so far that she lost her pageant coaching business.

Two Miss America board members served as a virtual rubber stamp for Haskell’s behavior: Tammy Haddad, a media consultant and D.C. power connector; and Lynn Weidner, a Las Vegas socialite. And though Friedman was never a board member, he regularly sent offensive and sexist messages to Haskell, which Haskell often responded to by indicating he thought Friedman was funny or endorsed what Friedman was saying.

For this story, HuffPost reviewed nearly three years of internal emails provided by two sources. They reveal a CEO who regularly wrote and responded to unprofessional, offensive emails about the women who poured their hearts into the pageants and the organization he was leading.

(Update: The board suspended Haskell on Friday, hours after an open letter from 49 former Miss Americas called for top-level resignations, adding, “The Board will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained. In addition, the Board wishes to reaffirm our commitment to the education and empowerment of young women, supporting them in every way possible.”)

Bannon Tees Off On Trump?

stephen bannon cropped npc 2013Palmer Report, Opinion: Steve Bannon launches vicious personal attack against Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 21, 2017. Steve Bannon takes off the gloves and decides he wants Donald Trump to go down with him.

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon (shown in a file photo) have been frenemies since the day Trump pushed Bannon out of the White House this summer. At times they’ve informally plotted together, and at other times they’ve backed rival candidates or taken indirect shots at each other. It looks like the middle ground is finished, however. Bannon just launched a vicious personal attack against Trump, essentially calling him a child rapist in the process.

Bannon previously ripped into Ivanka Trump while campaigning for alleged child molester Roy Moore, using her “special place in hell” line against her. Now that Moore has lost, humiliating both Bannon and Donald Trump in the process, Bannon is squarely blaming Ivanka for having condemned Moore. However, Bannon is targeting Ivanka this time by criticizing her for ignoring the things that her father has been accused of doing.

Steve Bannon said this about Ivanka Trump to Vanity Fair “What about the allegations about her dad and that 13-year-old?” (link). This is in reference to a lawsuit brought by a woman who alleged that Trump raped her when she was thirteen. That lawsuit has since been dropped, and there are no criminal charges pending in the matter. However, that isn’t stopping Bannon from dredging it up again and trying to use it to harm Trump’s already battered reputation. So what is Bannon trying to do?

Vanity Fair, “I Have Power”: Is Steve Bannon Running for President? Gabriel Sherman, Dec. 21, 2017. On a whirlwind tour around the globe, Trump’s former aide and alter ego reveals what really went down in the White House, his unfettered thoughts on Javanka, his complicated relationship with his erstwhile boss — and his own political ambitions.

...And now Roy Moore’s Alabama Senate candidacy was threatening to implode. When I met Bannon at John F. Kennedy Airport, an hour before boarding the Tokyo flight, he’d turned the first-class lounge into a makeshift war room. A few days earlier, The Washington Post published allegations that Moore had pursued romantic and sexual relationships with teenagers in the 1970s while he was an assistant district attorney. One woman told the paper he molested her when she was 14—and he was 32....

The siege on Roy Moore’s campaign continued. The previous day, Ivanka Trump told the Associated Press “there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”

Bannon was incredulous she’d make the comment. “What about the allegations about her dad and that 13-year-old?” he said, referring to the California woman who alleged Trump raped her when she was a teen (the suit has since been dropped.) “Ivanka was a fount of bad advice during the campaign.”

Civilian Toll Rises In Allied Victory in Iraq

ap logoAssociated Press, Mosul is a graveyard: Final IS battle kills 9,000 civilians, Susannah George, Dec. 21, 2017. The price Mosul’s residents paid in blood to see their city freed was 9,000 to 11,000 dead, a civilian casualty rate nearly 10 times higher than what has been previously reported. The number killed in the nine-month battle to liberate the city from the Islamic State group marauders has not been acknowledged by the U.S.-led coalition, the Iraqi government or the self-styled caliphate.

But Mosul’s gravediggers, its morgue workers and the volunteers who retrieve bodies from the city’s rubble are keeping count. Iraqi or coalition forces are responsible for at least 3,200 civilian deaths from airstrikes, artillery fire or mortar rounds between October 2016 and the fall of the Islamic State group in July 2017, according to an Associated Press investigation that cross-referenced independent databases from non-governmental organizations.

No Fed Shutdown

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 Washington Post, Congress averts partial shutdown as Senate passes stopgap spending bill, Dec. 21, 2017. Mike DeBonis and Erica Werner, The measure extends current federal funding, but pushes into January showdowns on spending, immigration, health care and national security. Earlier in the day, House GOP leaders scrambled to gather votes for the bill, seeking to defuse squabbling that erupted after Republicans passed a landmark tax overhaul. See also: New York Times, G.O.P. Lawmakers Rush to Avoid Government Shutdown.

Washington Post, Angry Hispanic Caucus members confront Schumer as prospects for DACA deal slip again, Dec. 21, 2017.

CIA Involvement In Anti-Castro, JFK Plots

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, Codebreakers and Killers: CIA Covert Ops and the JFK Assassination, Jimmy Falls, Dec. 21, 2017. To those not acquainted with the multifaceted narrative of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the idea that US intelligence was somehow involved sounds like wild speculation — an alternative reality deserving of the pejorative label “conspiracy theory.” But to those more familiar with the facts surrounding the case, and knowledgeable about the formation and history of operations of the various intelligence agencies — particularly the CIA — this doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all.

cia logoOne of the more notorious CIA operations involved recruiting elements of the American mafia — no friends of Castro after he had closed down their casinos — to whack the dictator through famed mafioso and CIA liaison Johnny Roselli.

These assassination attempts fell under the auspices of a top-secret assassination program, code name ZR/RIFLE, which was hidden in a strange place — inside the confines of a CIA signals intelligence section called “Staff D.” From what we can tell, Staff D was a kind of liason to the National Security Agency (NSA), which was in the business of breaking codes. Staff D’s goal was to provide the NSA with code books to decrypt foreign signals — by hook or crook. And the man in charge of this section was a notorious CIA figure — William “Bill” Harvey.

To help us understand who Harvey was, the origins and mission of these covert programs, and how Kennedy fell out of favor with the project’s leaders, esteemed JFK researchers Larry Hancock and Bill Simpich gave this joint in-depth talk (1:09:47 hrs. video here) at the recent JFK Lancer conference in Dallas.

UN Defiance To Trump, Israel

un vote jerusalem dec 21 2017 Custom 2

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New York Times, U.N. Votes 128-9 to Rebuke U.S. Over Jerusalem Move, Rick Gladstone, Dec. 21, 2017. The vote (shown above) amounted to a collective act of defiance toward the Trump administration at the United Nations, the world’s biggest diplomatic stage.

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A majority of the world’s nations delivered a stinging rebuke to the United States on Thursday, denouncing its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ignoring President Trump’s threats to retaliate by cutting aid to countries voting against it.

In a collective act of defiance toward Washington, the General Assembly voted 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions, to demand that the United States rescind its Dec. 6 declaration on Jerusalem, the contested holy city.

jerusalemThe resolution is nonbinding and therefore largely symbolic, but the lopsided vote indicated the extent to which the Trump administration’s decision to defy a 50-year international consensus on Jerusalem’s status has unsettled world politics and contributed to America’s diplomatic isolation.

Major allies like Britain, France, Germany and Japan all voted for the resolution, though some allies, like Australia and Canada, abstained.

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Carrying out a promise to his base of supporters, Mr. Trump’s decision on Jerusalem upended decades of American policy, aggravating an emotional issue that has festered since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when the Israelis occupied the entire city. 

Aside from Israel, the only countries to side with the United States by voting no were Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.

james foley isis 2012 via abc

Journalist James Foley shortly before he was executed by an Islamic State operative in August 2014

bo dodhq 7 6 15More Global News

Consortium News, Did Obama Arm Islamic State Killers? Daniel Lazare, Dec. 21, 2017. A new study shows that U.S. government weapons ended up in the hands of Islamic State jihadists, but no one in Washington seems interested in how they got there or what President Obama knew, writes Daniel Lazare.

Did Barack Obama (shown in a meeting at Defense Departgment headquarters) arm ISIS? The question strikes many people as absurd, if not offensive. How can anyone suggest something so awful about a nice guy like the former president? But a stunning report by an investigative group known as Conflict Armament Research (CAR) leaves us little choice but to conclude that he did.

CAR, based in London and funded by Switzerland and the European Union, spent three years tracing the origin of some 40,000 pieces of captured ISIS arms and ammunition. Its findings, made public last week, are that much of it originated in former Warsaw Pact nations in Eastern Europe, where it was purchased by United States and Saudi Arabia and then diverted, in violation of various rules and treaties, to Islamist rebels seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The rebels, in turn, somehow caused or allowed the equipment to be passed on to Islamic State, which is also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, or just the abbreviation IS.

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Mike PenceWashington Post, Pence pays surprise visit to Kabul, Jenna Johnson, Dec. 21, 2017. Vice President Pence arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday for an unannounced visit with U.S. troops, many of whom were just children when the war began here more than 16 years ago, and to meet with top Afghan leaders to discuss President Trump’s strategy for the conflict.

Politics Around the U.S.

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Washington Post, ‘We’re losing the war for truth’: Sen. Franken denounces Trump, GOP in final floor speech, Elise Viebeck, Dec. 21, 2017.  The Minnesota Democrat bade farewell to Capitol Hill with a lengthy broadside against the policies of the Trump administration and a call for politicians to commit themselves to “honesty in public discourse.”

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Washington Post, And the winner is ... Virginia will leave it up to fate to decide tied race, Fenit Nirappil, Dec. 21, 2017. A recount in a wild Virginia House of Delegates contest has Del. David Yancey tied with Democrat Shelly Simonds. The state board of elections will determine a winner by drawing a name from a bowl next Wednesday.

Yet the plot thickened Wednesday, when a three-judge court that was supposed to certify the recount accepted a last-minute challenge from Republicans, who argued a questionable ballot that had been set aside during the recount should be tallied in Yancey’s favor. The judges declared a tie between Simonds and Yancey, with 11,608 votes each and no winner.

Stakes are especially high because Republicans would lose their 50-49 majority in the chamber- for the first time in 17 years —  if Simonds prevails. If she wins, it would force Democrats and Republicans to negotiate a rare power-sharing arrangement.That will not be the end; the loser can seek a second recount.

Climate Change

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New York Times, Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater, Michael Kimmelman, Dec. 21, 2017. A tsunami of human-made troubles in the Indonesian capital poses an imminent threat to the city’s survival. And it has to deal with mounting threats from climate change.

Rasdiono remembers when the sea was a good distance from his doorstep, down a hill. Back then he opened the cramped, gaily painted bayside shack he named the Blessed Bodega, where he and his family sell catfish heads, spiced eggs and fried chicken.

It was strange, Rasdiono said. Year by year, the water crept closer. The hill gradually disappeared. Now the sea loomed high over the shop, just steps away, held back only by a leaky wall.

With climate change, the Java Sea is rising and weather here is becoming more extreme. Earlier this month another freakish storm briefly turned Jakarta’s streets into rivers and brought this vast area of nearly 30 million residents to a virtual halt.

 

Courts, Crime

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Washington Post, To curb illegal border crossings, Trump administration weighs new measures targeting families, Nick Miroff​, Dec. 21, 2017. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is considering new measures to halt a surge of Central Americans coming across the Mexican border, including a proposal to separate parents from their children, according to officials with knowledge of the plans.

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Washington Post, Judge dismisses lawsuit alleging Trump violated Constitution, David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell, Dec. 21, 2017. A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Thursday alleging that President Trump violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause because his hotels and restaurants do business with foreign governments while he is in office.

The plaintiffs argued that because Trump properties rent out hotel rooms and meeting spaces to other governments, the president was violating a constitutional provision that bans the acceptance of foreign emoluments, or gifts from foreign powers.

But Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York ruled that the plaintiffs, led by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), lacked standing to bring such a case, saying it was up to Congress to prevent the president from accepting emoluments.

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Washington Post, Not-guilty verdicts for first six people on trial in violent Inauguration Day protests, Keith L. Alexander and Ellie Silverman, Dec. 21, 2017. The six defendants were acquitted of multiple charges of rioting and destruction of property. More than 150 additional defendants are set to face trial in the coming months.

Space Wars?

 The Atlantic,Space Warfare Could Be On The Horizon, Thomas González Roberts, Dec. 21, 2017. This article (first published Dec. 15 and excerpted Dec. 21) is edited from a story shared exclusively with members of The Masthead, the membership program from The Atlantic.

Congress recently came close to creating a United States Space Corps, a new branch of the U.S. military intended to defend American interests in space. It would have been the first new military branch since Congress created the Air Force in 1947.

Although there has never been a military conflict in space, the history of human activity above our atmosphere is not entirely benign. In 1962, the United States detonated a 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon 250 miles above the Earth’s surface. The blast destroyed approximately one third of satellites in orbit and poisoned the most used region of space with radiation that lasted for years. Although the United States, Russia, and others soon agreed to a treaty to prevent another nuclear test in space, China and North Korea never signed it.

 No treaties address this kind of test, the creation of space debris, or the endangerment of other satellites.The U.S. has the most to lose in a space-based conflictWith by far the most satellites in orbit, the U.S. has the most to gain by establishing norms, but also the most to lose. Almost half of all operational satellites are owned and operated by the United States government or American commercial companies. That’s twice as many as Russia and China, combined.

Consumer News: Apple

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Washington Post, Apple slows your iPhone as the battery ages, but doesn’t give you a cheap way to replace it, Geoffrey A. Fowler, Dec. 21, 2017. The practice leaves owners with the impression that they should buy a new phone when all they really need is a new battery. And Apple could have been a little more transparent about the software update.  Washington Post, Residents can’t prepay property taxes in Montgomery County. But they can in Fairfax, D.C., Rachel Siegel​, Dec. 21, 2017. The option lacked support from lawmakers, who said there would be too much to sort out by the end of the year.Dec. 20

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irs logoWashington Post, Washington Post, Congress sends massive GOP tax plan to Trump, Damian Paletta and Jeff Stein, Dec. 20, 2017. President calls bill ‘an incredible Christmas gift’ for taxpayers. House Republicans gave final approval to the tax overhaul this afternoon, meaning President Trump's signature is all that's required for the sweeping set of changes to the tax code to become law.

Trump may wait until January to sign the measure, an adviser said. GOP lawmakers plan to go to the White House later today to celebrate the bill’s passage, which marks their first major legislative victory since Trump took office nearly a year ago.

marco rubio official.jpg SmallThe bill passed the Senate 51 to 48 just before 1 a.m., with no Democrats backing the bill while all Republicans present voted for it. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not attend the vote as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer. He said earlier this month that he supported the bill. The plan’s passage had not been in doubt since Friday, when holdout Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), right, and Bob Corker (Tenn.) pledged to support it.

GOPer Ouster of Trump?

Palmer Report, Opinion: Here’s who the Republicans are really trying to protect by sabotaging Robert Mueller (hint: not Donald Trump), Bill Palmer, Dec. 20, 2017. It all makes sense now. The Republicans in Congress have spent the past two weeks trying to sabotage the reputation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. If they wanted him gone, they’d just oust him. Instead they’re trying to bloody him. But why?

djt official SmallCertainly not to protect Donald Trump, whom they couldn’t care less about, and would rather be rid of under the right circumstances. But now the GOP’s latest moves, combined with Trump’s latest countermove, point to the attacks on Mueller being aimed at protecting someone else entirely.

On Wednesday, after the GOP had recklessly and riskily tried to hurry up and ram through its tax scam bill before the holiday break, Trump announced he won’t sign it until after the holidays. The White House is floating some fuzzy math about Medicare, but it doesn’t add up. This is about something else: leverage. The GOP tried to hurry up the bill for a reason. It began blocking Trump’s nominees this week for the same reason.

Trump’s buddy Steve Bannon has been saying for weeks that he believes the Republicans will strategically oust Trump the minute he signs the tax bill.

Mike PenceThey’d rather have Mike Pence anyway. He’s damaged goods too, but he’s far more their speed. Trump is waiting to sign the bill until January for fear that the GOP might try to quietly oust him over the holidays, either by blackmailing him into resignation or by simply having Pence (shown at right) invoke the 25th Amendment. This brings us back to why the GOP is trying to bloody Robert Mueller’s nose.

Again, if the Republicans were trying to protect Donald Trump, they’d simply push Mueller out the back door. Instead it’s clear they want him to finish taking Trump down; they just want him to lose credibility along the way.

That’s because once Trump is gone, they will in fact try to dump Mueller before he can also take down Mike Pence in the Russia scandal. The GOP is hoping the public will be satisfied with Trump’s demise, and leave Pence be. They’re probably wrong about that part. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is their strategy.

Maine Senator Folds On Health Safety Net Issues

Roll Call, GOP Will Wait 'Til Next Year on Health Insurance Stabilization, Joe Williams, Dec. 20, 2017. Susan Collins made vote on taxes contingent on passage of bills. Key Republicans announced on Wednesday they would no longer push for legislation to stabilize the health insurance markets to hitch a ride on a short-term measure to fund the government.

susan collins oSenate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have been pushing the legislation, with Collins (shown at right) even staking her vote for the GOP tax bill in part on the measure passing before the end of 2017. The decision by the two lawmakers clears a major hurdle to Congress passing a measure to fund the government beyond Dec. 22, when current funding expires.

The release from Collins and Alexander also indicated Congress would wait until next year to fully reauthorize a popular children’s health insurance program. Funding for CHIP expired at the end of September. Several states say they will need to start freezing enrollment or even shutting down parts of their programs soon if Congress does not authorize the program. 

Media Bias, Corruption

djt signing papers oval wh photoNew York Magazine, Wall Street Journal Killed Editorial on Trump’s Mob Ties, Jonathan Chait, Dec. 20, 2017. In a short period of time, five staffers have departed The Wall Street Journal editorial page. The general cause of their departures, willing and otherwise, is known: the Journal editorial line has increasingly conformed with the pro-Trump dictates of the rest of the Murdoch media empire. (Most recently, Journal editorials, which once presented Ken Starr as the last hope to preserve the rule of law, have fomented various right-wing conspiracy theories about Robert Mueller and called for his firing.)

Sam Tanenhaus, deep into his excellent story on the dwindling band of anti-Trump conservative intellectuals, reports more specifically on the circumstances surrounding their departure. As Trump’s chances of winning the nomination grew, the paper buried an editorial highlighting his underworld connections:

Those were heavy losses in pages whose content is managed by fewer than thirty people in total. And the reason, according to several defectors, was the Journal’s skidding reversal once Rupert Murdoch realized Trump could win.

ted cruz oSeveral sources pointed to the editorials by one writer, James Freeman. “All-in for Ted Cruz” (shown at right) during the primaries, Freeman wrote a strong attack on Trump’s Mob dealings, and had a second ready to go. But as Trump got closer to clinching the nomination, Paul Gigot kept delaying publication, saying “it needed work.” Once Trump became the likely Republican nominee, Freeman executed a neat volte-face. “The facts suggest that Mrs. Clinton is more likely to abuse liberties than Mr. Trump,” he wrote. “America managed to survive Mr. Clinton’s two terms, so it can stand the far less vulgar Mr. Trump.”

(Trump’s Mafia connections are the sort of scandal that would have killed an ordinary candidacy but barely even register on the outsize scale of Trump scandals.)

The Journal editorial page is famously close to Paul Ryan, and generally reflects the priorities and interests of the Republican Party’s ruling money wing. Its complete submission to Trump is perfectly emblematic of the choice the party has made.

Immigrant Gang Violence

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Washington Post, ‘People here live in fear’: MS-13 menaces a community seven miles from the White House, Michael E. Miller and Dan Morse​, Dec. 20, 2017. It took Abigail Bautista less than a month to learn that her new neighborhood in Maryland had its own set of laws, written not in statutes but in gang graffiti and blood. Then her son Denis found himself on the fringes of MS-13 — and in grave danger.

Disgraced Boston Cardinal Dies

bernard law

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Washington Post, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, Boston archbishop who became a symbol of Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal dies at 86, Emily Langer, Dec. 20, 2017 (print edition). Bernard F. Law (shown above in a file photo) rose from parish priest to Boston archbishop and became one of the most influential Catholic leaders in the United States before resigning in 2002 amid revelations that he and other priests had known for years of rampant child molestation by parish priests.

Ponzi Scheme Aftermath

KSTP.com 5 (Minneapolis), Judge Approves Final Distribution of Funds to Vennes Victims in Ponzi Scheme, Michael Oakes, Dec. 20, 2017. A federal judge on Tuesday approved the final distribution of payments to victims of a Ponzi scheme perpetrated in part by ex-con Frank Vennes.

The $3.65 billion scheme was orchestrated by Minnesota businessman Tom Petters, who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 50 years in 2009. Vennes, who was connected to Petters through Palm Beach Capital and Arrowhead Capital and helped bring investors to the scheme, was convicted of fraud in 2013 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

On Tuesday, Judge Ann D. Montgomery issued the order to approve final payments to Vennes's victims and dissolve the trusteeship established to administer the funds, according to a release from the U.S. District Attorney's Office in Minneapolis. In all, 22 victims or creditors were named. The trustee, Gary Hansen, was tasked with the liquidation of a complex web of assets ranging from multiple businesses; office buildings, apartment buildings and other real estate; a rare coin collection; as well as other assets spread across the country.

The total value of assets and cash distributed will total about $20 million, according to the release.

Dec. 19

U.S. House logo

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New York Times, House Passes Tax Bill, Putting Republicans Closer to Victory, Staff report, Dec. 19, 2017. The House approved the $1.5 trillion G.O.P. tax plan along party lines. The Senate is expected to vote as early as Tuesday evening. Last-minute changes, however, will force the House to vote on the bill again.

How Each Member Voted on the Tax Bill

  • Republicans: 227 12   0
  • Democrats:       0 191 2
  • Total:            227  203 2

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New York Times, Tax Cuts Benefit the Ultra Rich, but Not the Merely Rich, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Dec. 19, 2017.  Many wealthy Americans are complaining bitterly that the new tax code will have them paying more, not less, in taxes.

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irs logoWashington Post, As final GOP tax bill heads to a vote, analysis shows the wealthy remain the biggest winners, Jeff Stein, Dec. 19, 2017 (print edition). While the bill, which heads to the House floor today, has a bit more in tax relief for the middle class, on average cuts for the highest earners far exceed those of people making less, the Tax Policy Center said. 

ted cruz oInternational Business Times, Cornyn Pipeline Amendment Enriches GOP Lawmakers, Jay Cassano, Josh Keefe and David Sirota, Dec. 19, 2017. Language Inserted As Cornyn’s Former Aide Lobbied On The Issue. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, inserted language into the final tax bill that would enrich three different constituencies: fossil fuel firms, Republicans’ major campaign donors and a handful of Cornyn’s GOP congressional colleagues including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (the 2016 presidential candidate shown at right) and two other Texas lawmakers in the House.

Cornyn originally added the language in an amendment to the Senate bill at the same time his former chief of staff was lobbying both the House and Senate on the tax treatment for those same oil and gas partnerships.

Cornyn’s amendment ensures Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs), which are publicly traded partnerships that aren’t required to pay corporate income taxes, get the “pass-through” tax break in the final tax bill. Congressional Republicans have  settled on a 20 percent deduction for some types of pass-through entities in their final tax bill as a way to give those businesses, which don't pay corporate taxes, some of the tax relief the bill gives to corporations, which do pay the corporate levy.

MLPs were first created in the 1980s, but by the end of the decade lawmakers, worried about revenue loss, restricted their use to certain industries — primarily natural resource extraction. Today they are mostly used by investors in oil and gas pipelines, who use the vehicles to raise capital and avoid corporate taxes.

An International Business Times investigation last week revealed that 16 members of Congress — 13 Republicans and three Democrats — are invested in between $4.6 million and $10.6 million worth of MLPs. Those lawmakers stand to benefit from Cornyn’s amendment, which reduces levies on income from MLPs, leaving more money for distributions to investors. Reps. David Trott of Michigan and Thomas MacArthur of New Jersey and Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, all Republicans, are among those who may see the biggest tax reductions. (See list below.)

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National Whistleblower Center, Opinion: Tax Bill Betrays Whistleblowers, Stephen Kohn (shown at right, and an attorney and author of The Whistleblower's Handstephen kohnbook), Dec. 19, 2017. Urge NO Vote!  The House-Senate Conference Committee has cut from the Tax Reform Bill two essential anti-fraud provisions to protect whistleblowers who report major criminal tax frauds.

stephen kohn bookSection 11079 (“Clarification of Whistleblower Awards” page 690-695) would have ensured that whistleblowers who testify in Grand Juries, or who report criminal tax frauds, such as those committed by big banks, Wall Street moguls or millionaires who hide monies in illegal overseas accounts, are covered under the whistleblower protection law and could qualify for rewards based on criminal fines and sanctions collected by the government.

Section 11078 (“Attorneys’ Fees Relating to Awards to Whistleblowers” pages 689-690) ensured that corporate whistleblower would not have been subjected to double-taxation on rewards in securities fraud cases.

This decision undercuts the very foundation of the tax whistleblower law. Cutting it from the final bill was a gift to every corporate criminal who fears detection from whistleblowers. It was a direct attack on accountability.

It is simply irresponsible to enact major tax legislation without ensuring that whistleblowers can detect and report criminal tax and corporate frauds necessary to protect honest Americans who pay their fair share of taxes.  

Please urge your representatives to VOTE NO on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act! Demand that the two whistleblower provisions, sections 11078-79 of the Senate bill, be put back into the law or immediately passed as free-standing legislation! We must show our government that attacks on whistleblowers will not be tolerated, and they must be protected and rewarded when speaking out against corporate fraud! In order to address your message to the appropriate recipient, we need to identify where you are.

Trump Team Efforts To Kill Muller Probe

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Mueller's "grand inquisitor" in Congress has a record of DWIs and a suspicious death, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 19, 2017 (Subscription required; excerpted with permission)

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Washington Post, Trump team’s meeting with Mueller’s office could ratchet up tensions, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig, Dec. 19, 2017 (print edition).  President Trump’s lawyers are expected to seek assurance that the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller will soon end and their client will be cleared. But people with knowledge of the probe said it could last at least another year.

NJ.com, Christie: Kushner 'deserves the scrutiny' in Mueller probe, Susan K. Livio, Dec. 19, 2017. Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday said Jared Kushner "deserves to be scrutinized" in the Russia collusion probe because Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and adviser, attended the transition team meetings in question as a senior adviser. 

Asked during an interview with MSNBC whether Kushner -- whose father Christie prosecuted and jailed when Christie was New Jersey's U.S. attorney -- deserves to be scrutinized by the special counsel investigation, Christie didn't hesitate in his response: Of course, the governor said.

Politics: One Vote Flips Virginia House To Dems. Amazing.

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Washington Post, Democrat wins Va. House seat in recount by single vote, creating 50-50 tie in legislature, Gregory S. Schneider​, Dec. 19, 2017.  Republican incumbent David Yancey had held a tenuous 10-vote lead over Shelly Simonds before today’s recount. Her victory now resets politics in the state capitol.​ The balance of power in Virginia’s legislature turned on a single vote in a recount Tuesday that flipped a seat in the House of Delegates from Republican to Democrat, leaving control of the lower chamber evenly split.

The outcome, which reverberated across Virginia, ends 17 years of GOP control of the House and forces Republicans into a rare episode of power sharing with Democrats that will refashion the political landscape in Richmond. It was the culmination of last month’s Democratic wave that had already diminished Republican power in purple Virginia.

Democrat Shelly Simonds emerged from the recount as the apparent winner in the 94th House district, seizing the seat from Republican incumbent David Yancey. A three-judge panel still must certify the results, an event scheduled for Wednesday. Of the 23,215 votes cast in the district on Election Day, Yancey held a tenuous lead of just 10 votes going into Tuesday’s recount.

But five tedious hours later, after painstaking counting overseen by local elections officials and the clerk of court, Yancey’s lead narrowed before it gradually disappeared and then reversed. The final tally: 11,608 for Simonds to 11,607 for Yancey.

Politics: Another Conservative Pundit Turns Against Trump

paul craig roberts head sternPaulCraigRoberts.org, Opinion: Trump's National Security Speech, Paul Craig Roberts, shown at right, Dec. 19, 2017. Paul Craig Roberts is a conservative scholar and former Reagan assistant Treasury Secretary and Wall Street Journal associate editor who has strongly supported President Trump almost entirely until this column.

Trump has surrendered to the real rulers of America -- the powerful interest groups such as the military/security complex, the Israel Lobby, the environmental polluters, Wall Street and the banks "too big to fail."

America is a country in which, despite the hopes flyover America had in Trump, an oligarchy rules. The American people, regardless of who they elect, have no voice, no input, no representation.

Crime and Courts

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Washington Post, Va. pastor, wife found guilty of defrauding friends, flock out of millions of dollars, Rachel Weiner, Dec. 19, 2017.  The Alexandria couple told their parishioners that they could benefit themselves and do good by investing in a Christian-based company. The Alexandria, Va., pastor told his parishioners they could benefit themselves while doing good if they invested in his Christian-based company lending small amounts of money to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Instead, a jury in Alexandria federal court agreed that Terry Millender and his wife Brenda Millender, who together ran Victorious Life Church, defrauded their friends and flock out of millions of dollars.

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Washington Post, Teacher in Oregon accused of having sexual relationship with underage student, Lindsey Bever, Dec. 19, 2017. A 29-year-old teacher in Oregon is accused of numerous sex crimes after authorities said she had carried on a sexual relationship with an underage student. Andrea Nicole Baber, who taught literature, writing and speech at Logos Christian Academy in Springfield, started a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student in 2016, officials with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said.

U.S. Train Disaster

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New York Times, Derailed Train Was Traveling 80 M.P.H. in a 30-M.P.H. Zone, Kirk Johnson and Richard Pérez-Peña, Dec. 19, 2017. The first passenger train on a newly opened Amtrak route jumped the tracks near Tacoma, killing three and injuring dozens. Related story: Washington Post, Amtrak train was traveling at 80 mph in a 30-mph zone before deadly derailment in Washington state, officials say, Rodika Tollefson, Luz Lazo and Ashley Halsey III, Dec. 19, 2017 (print edition).

Global Wars: Syria

SouthFront, Syrian Army Advances In Southern Idlib, Staff report, Dec. 19, 2017 (2:35 mins. video). On Dec. 18, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the National Defense Forces (NDF) liberated the village of Ruwaydah in southern Idlib from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda).

bashar al assad greets troops fileSyrian President Bashar al-Assad described US-backed forces in eastern Syria as “traitors” during a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Dec. 18. “When we talk about those referred to as ‘the Kurds,’ they are in fact not just Kurds. All those who work for a foreign country, mainly those under American command…are traitors,” the president’s office quoted Assad in an online statement. He is shown in a file photo greeting SAA troops.

The US-led international coalition, particularly Washington, has given a military assistance and various supplies to the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Thanks to the US military support, the SDF had seized a notable part of eastern Syria, including the cities of Raqqa and Manbij.

History Lesson On North Korea?

wayne madsen reportStrategic Culture Foundation, US Germ Warfare Apology to North Korea Could Advance Dialogue, Wayne Madsen (shown at right), Dec. 19, 2017. With mounting evidence that the US conducted germ warfare operations against North Korea during the Korean conflict, a US apology to the North Korean people could go a long way toward bringing Washington and Pyongyang into a dialogue over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile programs. During the Korean War, there were substantive charges from the international community that the United States used chemical and biological weapons (CBW) on the Korean peninsula.

cia logoA formerly Secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) memorandum, dated July 7, 1953, from Horace S. (“Pete”) Craig to CIA director Allen Dulles, discussed a proposal to use the findings of the US Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) to counter efforts by the international community to investigate charges of US CBW use in Korea.

 Although the State Department memo admitted that the scientists who signed the ISC report were “highly competent people” and that their “handiwork” was “difficult to attack,” a team of State Department, CIA, and Pentagon officials -- backed by US ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge, President Dwight Eisenhower’s psychological warfare adviser C. D. Jackson, and Allen Dulles (shown on a Time Magazine cover) -- set out to discredit the ISC report.

allen dulles time coverColonel Arthur Long, the Pentagon’s representative on the PSB team and the Army’s chief epidemiologist called the ISC report a “fabrication” based on “evidence” that could not be “demolished” by the United States. In other words, the ISC report was based on facts that were uncomfortable for the CIA and the US foreign policy and military establishments. Because the ISC had substantially proven that the US was using biological weaponry in Korea, the US sought to discredit the report without criticizing the international team of reputable scientists who participated in the ISC study.

The PSB arranged for the intelligence community-linked National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to appoint a committee led by Dr. Detlev Bronk to punch holes in the ISC report. Bronk, a biophysicist, was president of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York and a person who was no stranger to the CIA’s and Pentagon’s secret biological weapons programs conducted under such CIA programs as MK-ULTRA, MK-NAOMI, and MK-DELTA.

Bronk actually expressed some displeasure over the NAS’s reliance on Colonel Long’s “findings” about the use of BW in Korea. These findings were circulated by the NAS among the international scientific community for review. However, Bronk ensured that Long’s conclusions were given a “low-key” treatment by the NAS.

The CIA’s and PSB’s goal was to arrange for a group of international scientists to challenge the ISC report before the U.N. General Assembly. The British Foreign Office rejected a US State Department proposal for Britain to lead off the condemnation of the ISC report. London was opposed to a proposal for leading British scientists to join the NAS in calling the ISC report baseless and without merit.

JFK Document Release

jefferson morley the ghost coverjefferson morley newJFKFacts.org, From the JFK files, a spymaster’s dictum on national security, Jefferson Morley (biographer, shown at left, in the recently published book The Ghost of the late CIA Counter-Intelligence Chief James J. Angleton, shown at right), Dec. 19, 2017.  From the new JFK files comes the long-suppressed testimony of CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton. Among other things, he spoke on the nature of the national security state: “It is inconceivable that a secret intelligence arm of the Government has to comply with all of the overt orders of the Government.”The transcript of Angleton’s closed-door testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities in September 1975, was released for the first time 42 years later, on December 15, 2017.

Dec. 18

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irs logoWashington Post, Opinions: Republicans are joining a festival of corruption, E.J. Dionne Jr., Dec. 18, 2017 (print edition). The tax bill is the epitome of the Washington “swamp.” The  bill the GOP is trying to foist on the country is not only an unfair and deficit-bloating hodgepodge written on the fly. It is also deeply corrupt. Every Republican who votes for this bill will be joining a festival of venality.

Donald Trump

NBC, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Trump's FBI Speech, the GOP Tax Plan and Bob Corker: A Closer Look, Seth Meyers, Dec. 18, 2017. Seth Meyers is an American comedian, political commentator, and television host.

 Sex Scandals: Dishonable Intentions?

donald trump jr fileWayne Madsen Report (WMR), Trump has the real "Pizzagate" scandal on his tiny hands, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 18, 2017 (subscription required: excerpted with permission). On Dec. 15, Donald Trump, Jr. (shown at right) raised eyebrows when he "liked" a tweet sent by far-right conspiracy monger Mike Cernovich citing a New York Times op-ed calling pedophilia a mental illness and not a crime. The 2014 article was written by Rutgers University Law Professor Margo Kaplan.

joe manchin oHuffington Post, Sen. Joe Manchin Says He’s ‘Moved On’ From Trump Sexual Misconduct Allegations, Alanna Vagianos, Dec. 18, 2017. Alabama’s Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones also urged Congress to “move on.” Manchin appeared on CNN’s “New Day” on Monday morning to discuss the recent ethics investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

During the conversation, Manchin (shown at right) also commented on the numerous accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump. When asked if he believes Trump should be investigated, Manchin said he’s “moved on.”

“You know I’m not going to make that determination because he went through an election process with all of this in the open,” he told CNN. “If people feel that to be done, I think we have other things to be done too. I think women ought to have a right to come forward, they feel very strong about this. They should be protected, they can’t be retaliated on.”

Trump has been publicly accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to assault and rape, by 21 women. Manchin is up for re-election next year in West Virginia, a predominantly Republican state.

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 alex kozinski informal wWashington Post, Federal appeals judge announces immediate retirement amid investigation prompted by accusations of sexual misconduct, Matt Zapotosky​, Dec. 18, 2017. Alex Kozinski, a powerful judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit shown at right, was accused of subjecting 15 women to inappropriate sexual behavior.

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Washington Post, A new sisterhood of Trump’s accusers pushes for action, Frances Stead Sellers and Mark Berman, Dec. 18, 2017 (print edition) (video: 2:51 mins.). Trump's accusers speak out, again: 'This time, the environment's different.'

Rachel Crooks and Samantha Holvey had never met. But through a twist of fate, they became players this week at the center of a national political storm over sexual misconduct that has now reached President Trump. Both women have accused Trump of inappropriate advances earlier in his career, and a liberal film producer brought them together for the first time Sunday evening at a private dinner in Manhattan.

djt official SmallThe White House says all the women are lying, and the president tweeted this week that their allegations — first made public during the presidential campaign last year — were “false accusations and fabricated stories.”

But Crooks and Holvey said their memories of Trump remain vivid and unsettling. No one had thought to try to forge a sisterhood of Trump accusers until former Hollywood producer Robert Greenwald and his colleague Shira Levine reached out to Crooks, Holvey and other women willing to step forward once again with their stories.

The filmmakers from Brave New Films had created a short video in November from old clips of 16 women making a range of allegations against Trump. When they posted it on YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms, it went viral. They decided to contact the women and bring some of them together for a Monday appearance on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today” and a news conference that attracted international coverage.

douglas jonesLegal Schnauzer, Doug Jones' comments about Donald Trump and Senate Republicans indicate he's already planning to sell out black, female voters who put him in office, Roger Shuler, Dec. 18, 2017. Donald Trump should not resign from office over sexual harassment and assault allegations, newly elected Alabama U.S. Senator Doug Jones said in an interview yesterday on CNN's State of the Union. This is the same Jones (shown at right) who said during his campaign against Roy Moore that former Minnesota Senator Al Franken, a Democrat, should resign over sex-related allegations that seem far less serious than those leveled at Trump.

In the same interview, Jones said he likely would vote with Senate Republicans on certain issues, listing an upcoming infrastructure bill as one possibility. "Don't expect me to vote solidly for Republicans or Democrats . . . ," Jones said. "I don't think anybody should be able count on my vote for anything."

What's going on here? Regular readers of Legal Schnauzer know what's going on. Not even a week has passed since the election -- and Jones hasn't been installed in office, and he is proving that our reporting on his right-wing leanings are on target. How goofy are Jones' comment about Trump? Jones essentially is saying the most corrupt president in U.S. history, who has admitted to being a sexual predator, should be allowed off the hook on those issues. .

True Puerto Rican Death Toll?

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puerto rico map world atlasWashington Post, Puerto Rico said 64 people died after Maria. But analyses say the actual number is likely more than 1,000, Arelis R. Hernández, Dec. 18, 2017. The territory’s governor ordered agencies to reopen their books and initiate a recount of certified deaths related to the hurricane after weeks of reporting from news outlets pointing to a severe undercount of fatalities. See also:

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Washington Post, Life Without Power, Arelis R. Hernández, Whitney Leaming and Zoeann Murphy, Dec. 14, 2017 (video). Puerto Rico’s apagón, or “super blackout,” is the longest and largest major power outage in modern U.S. history. Without electricity, there is no reliable source of clean water. School is out, indefinitely. Health care is fraught. Small businesses are faltering. The tasks of daily life are both exhausting and dangerous. There is nothing to do but wait, and no one can say when the lights will come back on.

Trump Targets China, Russia

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Russian Flag

Washington Post, President touts ‘America First’ strategy, casts China and Russia as competitors, Anne Gearan and Steven Mufson, Dec. 18, 2017.  The president placed himself at the center of a new national security strategy, casting his election as a pivot from failed policies of the past and emphasizing his view that the United States has been cheated and taken advantage of abroad.

Poll Shows American Fears Of Politics

Cato Institute, Polls Reveals 58% of Americans Are Afraid of Sharing Political Views & 71% Say Political Correctness Has Silenced Discussions Society Needs to Have, Staff report, Dec. 18, 2017. The Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey, a new national poll of 2,300 U.S. adults, finds that 71% Americans believe that political correctness has silenced important discussions our society needs to have. The consequences are personal-58% of Americans believe the political climate prevents them from sharing their own political beliefs.

Democrats are unique, however, in that a slim majority (53%) do not feel the need to self-censor. Conversely, strong majorities of Republicans (73%) and independents (58%) say they keep some political beliefs to themselves.

JFK Document Release

Daily Mail, How the FBI LOST the fingerprints taken from rifle that killed JFK fifteen years after the president was assassinated, new files reveal, Amanda Cashmore, Dec. 18, 2017. The FBI lost fingerprints taken from the rifle agents found in the Texas School Book Depository after the president was assassinated in Dallas, new files have revealed. At the time of the investigation in 1963, agents and outside experts concluded that a palm print taken from the barrel off the rifle belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald.  

But 15 years later in July 1978, the agency revealed that the fingerprints had gone missing in their vast archives. Dallas Police say they sent over the original fingerprints to the FBI, and that those prints were never returned to them.

Dec. 17

Opinion: Tax Scam Bill Near Passage 

bob corker closeupInternational Business Times, Tax Bill: Bob Corker Demands Answers From Chairman Orrin Hatch About Last-Minute Tax Provision, David Sirota and Josh Keefe, Dec. 17, 2017. Facing a firestorm of criticism, Republican Sen. Bob Corker (TN) (shown at left) sent a letter Sunday night to Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asking how the final tax bill ended up including a special tax cut provision experts say would particularly benefit investors in real-estate related LLCs.

The letter follows an International Business Times investigative series showing that Corker, President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and a handful of key GOP lawmakers overseeing the tax bill have multimillion-dollar ownership stakes in such LLCs, meaning they could be personally enriched by the provision, which was added to the final tax legislation released on Friday.  

Corker this week could decide the fate of the entire $1.5 trillion tax bill in the closely divided U.S. Senate. He cast the lone Republican vote against the original Senate bill, which did not include the provision, but on Friday he announced he would support the final version of the legislation after GOP leaders added the provision to the final bill. Economist Dean Baker estimated that based on his financial holdings, “Corker could be saving as much as $1.1 million from this late addition to the tax bill.”

Under fire for switching his position after a personally lucrative provision was added to the legislation, Corker demanded to know how the language got into the final bill.

At issue is so-called “pass-through” income generated by entities such as LLCs, partnerships and S-corporations which don’t pay corporate taxes. Since reducing the tax burden on businesses has been a central tenet of the Republican tax reform effort, House and Senate Republicans passed bills that would both reduce the corporate tax rate and give a new tax break to pass-through businesses.

Speaking to IBT on Saturday, Corker said he didn’t have any knowledge of the provision, and admitted he had not read the final tax bill before switching his vote from “no” to “yes.” Just hours before the final bill was publicly released Friday, Corker issued a statement announcing he would support the bill, which he called “far from perfect.”

orrin hatch bob corker“But after great thought and consideration, I believe that this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss.

Corker (shown in a file photo with Hatch above right) is under intense pressure: since reversing himself and announcing he would support the bill, he has faced a wave of outrage -- including the Twitter hashtag #CorkerKickback -- for switching his vote.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Bob Corker may be facing legal trouble after voting for Donald Trump’s tax scam bill, Bill Palmer, Dec. 17, 2017. Remember those five minutes when Republican Senator Bob Corker tried to position himself as the principled conservative opposition to Donald Trump?

Bob CorkerThat ended this week, when the GOP bribed Corker into voting for his tax scam bill by adding a provision that benefitted him financially. It turns out Corker is nothing more than a financially corrupt conservative who happens to personally dislike Trump. Now it turns out Corker could be in actual legal trouble for his vote.

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Washington Post, GOP faces a five-day sprint to pass its tax bill, forge a deal with Democrats to avoid a shutdown, Jeff Stein, Mike DeBonis and Patrick Reis, Dec. 17, 2017. Republicans plan to vote on the tax bill early in the week, leaving them little time to strike a deal with Democrats to authorize funds to keep the government running.

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john mccain 2009 wWashington Post, John McCain, battling brain cancer, leaves D.C. for Christmas break before vote on tax bill, Dan Lamothe, Dec. 17, 2017. Sen. John McCain left the nation’s capital Sunday to spend Christmas in Arizona with his family as he battles brain cancer, giving his Republican Party one less vote as it is expected this week to attempt to push through a contentious tax bill along party lines.

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irs logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Tax Bill That Inequality Created, Editorial board, Dec. 17, 2017 (print edition). The tax bill is a consequence of a fraction of the population taking control of the nation’s wealth and, with it, the nation’s political power.

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Washington Post, Years of conservative attacks hamper IRS oversight of political activity by nonprofits, Robert O'Harrow Jr., Dec. 17, 2017. The fall in oversight, a byproduct of cuts to the IRS budget, comes as the number of politically active and financially complex charities grows. It represents a success for conservatives who were emboldened by the 2013 revelations of the IRS’s extra scrutiny of tea party groups. “This completely neutered” the IRS, one observer said. “The will is totally gone.”

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New York Times, File Taxes on a Postcard? A G.O.P. Promise That Fell Short, Jim Tankersley, Dec. 17, 2017 (print edition).  The tax bill on the cusp of being passed by Congress is not the grand simplification of the code that Republicans promised. Their ambitions fell to the powerful forces of lobbying and the status quo.

DEA Cover-Up Of Corporate Opiod Ring?

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Washington Post, We feel like our system was hijacked’: DEA agents say a huge opioid case ended in a whimper, Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham, Dec. 17, 2017. After two years of painstaking investigation, David Schiller and the rest of the Drug Enforcement Administration team he supervised were ready to move on the biggest opioid distribution case in U.S. history.

dea badge logoThe team, based out of the DEA’s Denver field division, had been examining the operations of the nation’s largest drug company, McKesson Corp. By 2014, investigators said they could show that the company had failed to report suspicious orders involving millions of highly addictive painkillers sent to drugstores from Sacramento, Calif., to Lakeland, Fla. Some of those went to corrupt pharmacies that supplied drug rings.

The investigators were ready to come down hard on the fifth-largest public corporation in America, according to a joint investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.”

The DEA team — nine field divisions working with 12 U.S. attorney’s offices across 11 states — wanted to revoke registrations to distribute controlled substances at some of McKesson’s 30 drug warehouses. Schiller and members of his team wanted to fine the company more than $1 billion. More than anything else, they wanted to bring the first-ever criminal case against a drug distribution company, maybe even walk an executive in handcuffs out of McKesson’s towering San Francisco headquarters to send a message to the rest of the industry. But it didn’t work out that way.

“This is the best case we’ve ever had against a major distributor in the history of the Drug Enforcement Administration,” said Schiller, who recently retired as assistant special agent in charge of DEA’s Denver field division after a 30-year career with the agency. “I said, ‘How do we not go after the number one organization?’ ”

dea sealInstead, top attorneys at the DEA and the Justice Department struck a deal earlier this year with the corporation and its powerful lawyers, an agreement that was far more lenient than the field division wanted, according to interviews and internal government documents. Although the agents and investigators said they had plenty of evidence and wanted criminal charges, they were unable to convince the U.S. attorney in Denver that they had enough to bring a case.

Foreign Affairs

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vladimir putin portrait unknownWashington Post, Putin phoned Trump to thank him for intel that foiled an attack in Russia, David Filipov​, Dec. 17, 2017. Russian President Vladimir Putin (shown in a file photo) told President Trump that information provided by the CIA allowed Russian agents to detain suspects who planned to bomb the Kazan Cathedral and other locations in St. Petersburg. The unusual call — countries often share intelligence, but presidents rarely publicly thank one another for it — was confirmed by the White House, which lauded the tip as “an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together.”

The CIA tip apparently provided the breakthrough that allowed Russian authorities last week to detain seven members of what officials identified as Islamic State cells. The suspects, investigators said, had been planning a suicide bombing this weekend in Kazan Cathedral, a St. Petersburg landmark located on Nevsky Prospect, its main thoroughfare. The cathedral was built between 1801 and 1811, and, controversially at the time, was designed along the lines of a Roman Catholic basilica.

Mueller Probe

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robert muellerWashington Post, Trump says he won’t fire Mueller as campaign to discredit Russia probe heats up, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Sari Horwitz​, Dec. 17, 2017. President Trump criticized Robert S. Mueller III (shown at right) for gaining access to transition team emails, telling reporters the situation was “not looking good.” A spokesman for the special counsel denied any wrongdoing, and some legal experts questioned the claim that the emails were improperly obtained.

Palmer Report, Donald Trump’s legal team may not even have the emails Robert Mueller has been sitting on, Bill Palmer, Dec. 17, 2017. Donald Trump’s attorneys in the Russia scandal have routinely come off as so inept that they either have no idea what they’re doing, or they’re following some legal strategy that no one on the outside understands. On Saturday we learned that they went months without realizing Robert Mueller had the Trump transition team emails all along. Now we’re learning new details which strongly suggest Trump’s lawyers may not even have their own copies of the emails in question.

ty cobb hogan lovalisTrump’s legal team (led by Ty Cobb, shown at right) initially responded to the revelation by asserting that Mueller had acquired the emails in improper fashion, because some of them may have been privileged. This strategy was largely laughed off by the legal community at large.

But now Trump’s lawyers are demanding that Mueller give all of the emails back. In so doing, they may have unwittingly tipped off that they don’t have the emails themselves. It’s not as if these are printouts or physical documents; they’re digital files. Trump’s team could have easily gotten copies of these emails from the General Services Administration just like Mueller did, right? Except it sounds like maybe they never did.

fbi logoWe know that the Trump transition team was using ptt.gov email addresses which were served from the GSA, and they were also using GSA-issued laptops and cellphones. This creates the very realistic possibility that they turned in that equipment without making local copies of the emails for themselves, and thus never retained their own emails. Is it possible that no one on Trump’s staff or legal team ever thought to go back and get copies of those emails until now?

For the moment, there is no way to know for sure. But when you consider that the Donald Trump administration was too inept to figure out that Robert Mueller got these emails from their own GSA back in August, and Trump’s attorneys have come off like bumblers throughout, it really does sound like they just admitted they don’t even have the emails in question – and now they’re so desperate to find out what Mueller has, they’re asking him for copies.

Global News: Syria-Iran

SouthFront, First Iranian Military Convoy Enters Syria Through Land Route From Iraq – Reports, Staff and wires, Dec. 17, 2017.  The first Iranian military convoy crossed into Syria coming from Iraq through the Tell al-Badi crossing during this week, the UK-based news outlet the New Arab reported on December 16.

Many Syria pro-government activists claimed before that the main aim of the US intervention in Syria was to control the Syrian-Iraqi border, and to close it in the face of Iran. These claims were confirmed later when former spokesman of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Tala Silo, revealed that the main aim of the US-led coalition attack in Deir Ezzor governorate was to reach the cities of Mayadin and al-Bukamal in the southeastern Deir Ezzor countryside before the SAA in order to control the borders.

MSNBC Payoff To Chris Matthews Accuser

chris matthews screenshotMediaite, NBC Reportedly Paid Settlement to Former Employee Who Accused Chris Matthews of Harassment, Ken Meyer, Dec. 17, 2017. A new report states that NBC paid off a former employee who claimed she was sexually harassed by Chris Matthews when she used to work on his show.

According to The Daily Caller, a former assistant producer for Hardball spoke with network executives in 1999 and complained about some sexually-charged comments Matthews (shown above in a screenshot) made about her. The report states that Matthews was “formally reprimanded” after a review on the matter, but even though his remarks were considered “inappropriate” and “juvenile,” the network determined they were not intended as propositions.

Nonetheless, two sources told Daily Caller that the network paid Matthews’ accuser $40,000 to settle the incident. NBC addressed the report by confirming that there was a separation-related compensation involved when the woman left the network. However, the network disputed the $40,000 figure, insisting that the package was actually a lot smaller than that.

Murdoch Steps In Scandal Controversy

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jennifer rubin twitterWashington Post, Opinions: The final straw: Rupert Murdoch needs to go, Jennifer Rubin (shown at right), Dec. 17, 2017. Unless you’ve been living under a rock — or are the aging executive chairman of News Corp. —  you know that Fox News has been ground zero in the epidemic of sexual assault scandals in which powerful men have abused younger, more vulnerable women. Fox, of course, has been slammed by a series of sexual harassment cases that cost the company tens of millions in settlement money and ended the careers of Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Eric Bolling and Fox News co-president Bill Shine (who  was accused of covering up a culture of sexual predation).

 rupert murdoch 2009 world economic forumwSo it was more than a bit stunning that News Corp.’s executive chairman Rupert Murdoch (shown at right in a 2009 file photo) chose to brush off the epidemic of sexual harassment that has bludgeoned his company — especially during a cultural firestorm in which star news personalities, entertainment moguls and politicians have been forced out of their jobs (and in a few egregious cases now face criminal investigations) for accused sexual misconduct. Everywhere the code of silence that protected abusive men is crumbling — but the elderly news tycoon seems oblivious.

fox news logo SmallTo all but deluded Trumpians, Fox News has become a horror show for victimized women and a journalistic bad joke, disgraced by its cheerleading for the administration, ludicrous attacks on Trump adversaries (e.g. James Comey, the FBI as a whole, the special prosecutors) and bizarre conspiracy theorizing (e.g. Seth Rich). It would be hard to find a more precise encapsulation than Fox News not only of the plague of sexual violence and misogyny in American workplaces but also of the anti-democratic attacks on the (real) free press and on the notion of objective truth itself. Fox News’s damage to our political culture and to the intellectual integrity of the right is hard to measure.

Inside the White House

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real reason Donald Trump hasn’t posted any of his own tweets since Roy Moore lost, Bill Palmer, Dec. 17, 2017. One theory would be that the Alabama election broke his spirit. He threw all his weight behind Moore, even after his own party cautioned him not to, and the result was nothing short of humiliating for him. It’s also possible that he’s finally figured out how screwed he is in the Trump-Russia scandal, and he’s not even sure what to say. In any case, his staff seems worried enough to jump in and keep up appearances by creating the illusion that he’s still tweeting.

Dec. 16

Does Special Counsel Have 50,000 Trump Transition Emails Legally?

robert muellerPalmer Report: Opinion: Robert Mueller just pulled an ace from his sleeve, and Donald Trump’s team just flinched, Bill Palmer, Dec. 16, 2017. What, you thought Special Counsel Robert Mueller was just going to sit back and risk the possibility that Donald Trump might try to fire him? Mueller (shown at right) dropped a bomb on Trump’s entire team on Saturday night, and he did it in public.

It came largely in the form of a warning: back off or you’re all immediately going down, because I have far more dirt on all of you than you know. Less than an hour later, the Trump team indeed predictably flinched in equally public fashion.

It all began around around 5pm on Saturday when Axios reported (Scoop, below) that Mueller has been sitting on fifty thousand emails from the Trump transition team all along (link). Mueller had kept this a secret, and had tricked Trump’s people into a false sense of security by requesting copies of the emails that he already had. Trump’s people only turned over the non-incriminating emails, and thought they were covered. This means he has a whole lot of people nailed for various crimes. If Trump tries to make a move, Mueller can begin arresting them all before Trump can complete the complicated process of trying to fire him.

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Axios, Scoop: Mueller obtains "tens of thousands” of Trump transition emails, Mike Allen, Dec. 16, 2017. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has obtained “many tens of thousands" of Trump transition emails, including emails of Jared Kushner, transition team sources tell Axios.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence logoTrump officials discovered Mueller had the emails when his prosecutors used them as the basis for questions to witnesses, the sources said. The emails include 12 accounts, one of which contains about 7,000 emails, the sources said. The accounts include the team's political leadership and the foreign-policy team, the sources said.

Why it matters: The transition emails are said to include sensitive exchanges on matters that include potential appointments, gossip about the views of particular senators involved in the confirmation process, speculation about vulnerabilities of Trump nominees, strategizing about press statements, and policy planning on everything from war to taxes. “Mueller is using the emails to confirm things, and get new leads," a transition source told me.

How it happened: The sources say Mueller obtained the emails from the General Services Administration, the government agency that hosted the transition email system, which had addresses ending in “ptt.gov," for Presidential Transition Team.

Taking fight public: Charging "unlawful conduct," Kory Langhofer, counsel for the transition team, wrote in a letter to congressional committees Saturday that "career staff at the General Services Administration ... have unlawfully produced [transition team] private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel's Office."

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Washington Post, Mueller unlawfully obtained emails, Trump transition team says, Anne Gearan and Philip Rucker, Dec. 16, 2017. A lawyer for the Trump for America transition team contends the federal government should not have provided thousands of pages of emails to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III because transition documents are private property, not government records. The organization argues Mueller overstepped the law in acquiring private records without a warrant or subpoena.

djt official SmallTransition documents are private property, not government records, the organization contends. The letter invokes federal law and decades of precedent to argue that Mueller overstepped.

The transfer of transition documents is “unlawful conduct that undermines the Presidential Transition Act of 1963,” the letter said, “and will impair the ability of future presidential transition teams to candidly discuss policy and internal matters that benefit the country as a whole.”

Taxing Times

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irs logoWashington Post, The final GOP tax bill is complete. Here’s what is in it, Heather Long​, Dec. 16, 2017 (print edition). The plan would amount to the largest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years, affecting nearly every American business and family. Here’s a rundown of what it entails, including a massive corporate tax cut, new cuts for the rich and an expanded credit for working families.

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New York Times, What’s in the Final Republican Tax Bill, Wilson Andrews and Alicia Parlapiano, Dec. 16, 2017. The legislation would cut taxes for corporations. American taxpayers, in large part, would also get cuts, though most of the changes affecting them would expire after 2025.

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GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump campaigned last year in North Carolina with Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee

International Business Times, Last-Minute Real Estate Tax Break In GOP Bill Will Benefit Trump, Josh Keefe and David Sirota, Dec. 16, 2017. President Donald Trump has made tens of millions of dollars of a specific kind of income that could be subjected to a last-minute tax break inserted into the Republicans’ tax legislation released Friday, according to federal records reviewed by International Business Times.

The same is true for Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker — a commercial real estate mogul who suddenly switched his vote to “yes” on the tax bill after the provision was added to the legislation. Previously, Corker was the only Republican to vote against the Senate version of the bill.

Trump told a Missouri crowd on Nov. 29 that he would personally take a hit from the GOP tax plan. “This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me...I have some very wealthy friends. Not so happy with me, but that’s OK," Trump said. But a variety of experts have concluded that the tax bill overwhelmingly favors the wealthiest Americans — especially those with complex real-estate investments.

The reconciled tax bill includes a new 20 percent deduction for so-called “pass-through” entities, business structures such as LLCs, LPs and S-Corporations that don’t pay corporate taxes, but instead “pass through” income to partners who pay individual tax rates on that money. The Senate version of the bill included safeguards that would only allow businesses to take advantage of the new break if they paid out significant wages to employees. But the new provision, which wasn’t included in either version of the bill passed by the House and Senate, and was only added during the reconciliation process, gives owners of income-producing real estate holdings a way around that safeguard, effectively creating a new tax break for large landlords and real estate moguls.

"This change will primarily benefit wealthy investors with lots of assets and few employees,” Matt Gardner, a Senior Fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, told IBT in an email. “You can't describe this as a job-creation strategy with a straight face, which begs the question of why anyone thinks this last-minute change was a good idea."

Because the new language wasn’t in the bills passed by the House and Senate, Democrats cannot offer a floor amendment to eliminate the provision, which experts say would reduce the amount of money that Trump, Corker and other wealthy lawmakers owe to the IRS on their real-estate-related pass-through income.

Bob CorkerInternational Business Times, Senator Bob Corker Said He Hasn’t Read The Tax Bill, Denies Changing His Vote In Exchange For Personal Tax Breaks, Josh Keefe and David Sirota, Dec.16, 2017. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker made a series of rapid-fire telephone calls to International Business Times, declaring that he has not read the $1.4 trillion tax legislation that he said he will cast a pivotal vote for. He insisted that he did not switch his vote to "yes" on the bill in exchange for GOP lawmakers inserting a special provision that could enrich him. Corker at first slammed the provisions, but then called back to say he needed more time to study them.

IBT has published a series of investigative reports showing that GOP lawmakers added a provision to the final tax bill that could enrich real estate moguls like Corker and President Donald Trump, as well as top Republicans writing the tax bill. Corker had voted against the original Senate bill, but then suddenly said he would support the final bill -- after GOP leaders added the provision to the conference report on Friday night.Top Democratic senators have cited IBT's revelations as reasons the bill should be blocked.

A few minutes later, however, Corker called back, and tried to back off that criticism.

“I don’t really know what the provision does to be honest. I would need an accountant to explain it,” Corker said. “I had no knowledge of this and would have no knowledge of it except for you guys are calling me about it. I have no idea whatsoever whether it impacts me or doesn’t impact me.”

The provision was not included in the bills that originally passed the House and Senate. Corker previously said he opposed the legislation because he was concerned about it increasing the deficit, but on Friday he announced he would support it -- even though Congress’s own Joint Committee on Taxation projects that the legislation will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion.

sherrod brown o 2009Responding to IBT's revelations, Democrats denounced the provision as a giveaway to the wealthy. Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen called the tax break "unconscionable." Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (shown at right) denounced it as an example of a deal cut "for millionaires behind closed doors."

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, blasted the provision in a statment to IBT.

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New York Times, Homeowners Have It Good. Too Good, Says the Tax Bill, Conor Dougherty, Dec. 16, 2017. The tax code has long offered rewards for buying rather than renting, an equation that has troubled some economists — and that the Republican bill upends. The bill will increase many homeowners’ monthly housing costs by scaling back deductions that allow them to reduce mortgage interest and property taxes.

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susan collins official SmallWashington Post, Sen. Collins is taking a big leap of faith with the tax bill. Critics say she’s getting played, Erica Werner, Dec. 16, 2017 (print edition). In exchange for her support for the bill, Republican Susan Collins of Maine (shown at right) extracted commitments from the Trump administration and Senate leaders to back legislation pumping money into the health-care system. She will have to vote on the tax bill without knowing for certain that the commitments will be honored.

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Washington Post, Analysis: 'America First’ was supposed to keep jobs here, but the tax plan might push them out, David J. Lynch, Dec. 16, 2017. President Trump has vowed to prevent economic dislocation and repeatedly has proclaimed the imminent return of millions of U.S. jobs. But experts say the bill fails to eliminate longtime incentives for companies to move abroad and, in some cases, may even increase them.

Nonpartisan tax experts say one reason offshoring is attractive is that the more equipment a corporation has in other countries, the more tax-free income it can earn. The legislation thus offers corporations “a perverse incentive” to shift assembly lines abroad, one expert said.

Packing the Courts With Conservatives

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Washington Post, Trump’s push to fill courts with conservative judges hits head winds, John Wagner, Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Karoun Demirjian, Dec. 16, 2017 (print edition). The president’s effort to fill scores of federal court vacancies with conservative judges hit severe turbulence this week as he was forced to withdraw two nominees and an embarrassing video went viral showing a third struggling to answer rudimentary questions about the law.

President Trump’s aggressive push to fill scores of federal court vacancies with conservative judges hit severe turbulence this week, as he was forced to withdraw two nominees and an embarrassing video went viral showing a third struggling to answer rudimentary questions about the law.

The White House said Friday that it is standing by the nomination of Matthew Petersen, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, despite a clip from his confirmation hearing posted on Twitter in which Petersen was unable to answer questions about legal and courtroom terms posed by a Republican senator.

The episode offered more ammunition to Democrats, who have accused Trump of tapping inexperienced nominees in a rush to reshape the federal judiciary. Even some Republicans have suggested they’ve felt pressured by the White House to move forward with his picks.

This year is the first since 2006 in which the GOP has controlled both the presidency and Senate, presenting a prime opportunity to fill lifetime appointments to what are currently 143 vacancies on the federal bench.

Trump Claims FBI 'Tainted,' Must Be Reformed

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fbi logoWashington Post, Analysis: President Trump claims the FBI is tainted and its reputation in tatters. This graph shows he’s wrong, David Lewis, Dec. 16, 2017 (print edition). “It’s a shame what’s happened with the FBI,” President Trump told reporters yesterday, “really, really disgraceful.” He was building on criticisms he’d levied earlier this month, when he labeled the Federal Bureau of Investigation “tainted” and said its reputation was “in tatters.” The president claimed that ideological bias was behind the FBI’s decisions about criminal investigations involving Hillary Clinton and Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing special counsel investigation.

Is the FBI biased? The legitimacy of our legal system depends upon apolitical law enforcement. Justice demands that all citizens be treated equally before the law. Calling the FBI biased is a very serious charge.

The president charges FBI bias because some attorneys and investigators on special counsel Mueller’s team gave campaign contributions to Democrats, including two donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Further, some top officials on Mueller’s team exchanged a series of anti-Trump texts.

rod rosenstein oath cropped no credit SmallHowever, Mueller and Rod J. Rosenstein (shown in a file photo), who appointed Mueller, are both longtime Republicans. The former FBI director James B. Comey and current FBI director Christopher A. Wray have both previously donated to Republicans.

All agencies this size include employees who donate to Democrats and others who donate to Republicans — donations that are protected as part of their free speech rights. That does not tell us enough to judge bias.

California Wildfires

california wildfires near burbank verdugo mountains scott l flickr cc by sa 2.0

A Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter drops water while fighting the La Tuna Fire in the Verdugo Mountains above Burbank, California, September 2, 2017. Photo credit: Scott L / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

WhoWhatWhy, Deadly Wildfires Prompt Longest Red Flag Warning In History, Kirsty Vitarelli, Dec. 16, 2017. It is hard to imagine the impact the California wildfires have had on those in their path. All demographics are touched — from millionaire landowners to immigrant day laborers. And they are unrelenting — not even two months ago WhoWhatWhy wrote about the presumed cause of fires in October.

This time around firefighters are facing a seemingly insurmountable battle — the “Thomas” fire in Santa Barbara, Summerland and Montecito has burned more than 395 square miles, and is currently only 35% contained. It has claimed the lives of at least two people, one a firefighter, and has destroyed more than 900 buildings. This fire has contributed to an unprecedented 13-day long string of red-flag warnings from the

his time around firefighters are facing a seemingly insurmountable battle — the “Thomas” fire in Santa Barbara, Summerland and Montecito has burned more than 395 square miles, and is currently only 35% contained. It has claimed the lives of at least two people, one a firefighter, and has destroyed more than 900 buildings. This fire has contributed to an unprecedented 13-day long string of red-flag warnings from the National Weather Service.

No one knows for sure how the latest fires started, and the internet is buzzing with unlikely causes. Aside from the colorful ideas touted in the comments section of YouTube, actual investigations are pointing towards snapped and sparking power lines as the cause of at least one of these fires, and the loss of 12 multi-million homes is being blamed on a cooking fire gone wrong at a homeless people’s encampment in a nearby ravine.

There is little doubt that climate change has contributed to the ferocity of the fires. Powerful seasonal winds have whipped the fires along, eating up the mass of new growth which sprung up when rains broke a 5-year drought earlier in the year.

Inside Washington

pentagon dc skyline dod photo

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Washington Post, Head of Pentagon’s secret ‘UFO’ office sought to make evidence public, Joby Warrick, Dec. 16, 2017. The chief of a little-known agency said the Pentagon did not take his UFO investigations seriously. He quit, but before leaving his job, intelligence officer Luis Elizondo quietly arranged for the release of three of the most unusual videos in the Pentagon’s secret vaults:  raw footage from encounters between fighter jets and “anomalous aerial vehicles” — military jargon for UFOs.

The videos, all taken from cockpit cameras, show pilots struggling to lock their radars on oval-shaped vessels that, on screen, look vaguely like giant flying Tic Tacs. The strange aircraft — no claims are made about their possible origins or makeup — appear to hover briefly before sprinting away at speeds that elicit gasps and shouts from the pilots.

Elizondo, in an internal Pentagon memo requesting that the videos be cleared for public viewing, argued that the images could help educate pilots and improve aviation safety. But in interviews, he said his ultimate intention was to shed light on a little-known program Elizondo himself ran for seven years: a low-key Defense Department operation to collect and analyze reported UFO sightings.

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Washington Post, Opinion: Roy Moore lost, but his type of right-wing white populism still dominates the GOP, Joseph Lowndes, Dec. 16, 2017. Joseph Lowndes is associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon and author of "From the New Deal to the New Right." Roy Moore won’t be in Washington next year, after all. But the Republican Party isn’t anywhere near rid of his style of racialized right-wing rhetoric — or of politicians like him.

Exit polls showed that 91 percent of Republicans who voted in Alabama’s special election Tuesday supported the controversial former judge, even as Doug Jones became the first Democrat since 1997 to represent the state in the Senate. Right-wing populism has been an influential force in the GOP for decades, and it’s now dominant.

American Politics

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Washington Post, Opinion: How Doug Jones won, Anne Applebaum, Dec. 16, 2017. “How did he do it?” That’s the question I was asked more than once by European friends the day after Alabama’s Senate election: How did Doug Jones win? The question was not idle. In many ways, the electoral challenge Jones faced in Alabama was strikingly similar to the challenge facing European politicians of the center-left and even — or maybe especially — the center-right: How to defeat racist, xenophobic or homophobic candidates who are supported by a passionate, unified minority?

roy moore cowboy hat no gunThis was the same question asked after the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the French elections, and part of the answer, in both cases, was luck. Nobody predicted a Roy Moore (shown in photo) sex scandal. Nobody predicted that the French political establishment would fold so quickly either. France’s previous, center-left president was so unpopular that he discredited his party;

But beyond luck, both Macron and Jones also tried to reach across some traditional lines, in part by appealing to traditional values. In Alabama, Jones used remarkably similar language.

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Washington Post, Rep. Ruben Kihuen won’t seek reelection amid sexual harassment allegations, Elise Viebeck, Dec. 16, 2017 (print edition). The freshman lawmaker, a Nevada Democrat, is the seventh member of Congress felled by such accusations since October. He said the allegations, which he denies, would be “a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a reelection campaign.”

Once considered a rising star in Democratic politics, Kihuen announced Saturday that he will leave Congress at the end of his first term. Kihuen has been accused of making unwanted advances toward multiple women, including an employee on his 2016 congressional campaign and a lobbyist during his time as a state legislator.

Hollywood Scandals

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Washington Post, The two expat bros who terrorized women correspondents in Moscow, Kathy Lally, Dec. 16, 2017. Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames trafficked in hideous stereotypes and body-shaming. There’s more than one way to harass women. A raft of men in recent weeks have paid for accusations of sexual harassment with their companies, their jobs, their plum political posts.

But one point has been overlooked in the scandals: Men can be belittling, cruel and deeply damaging without demanding sex. (Try sloughing off heaps of contempt with your self-esteem intact.) We have no consensus — and hardly any discussion — about how we should treat behaviors that are misogynist and bullying but fall short of breaking the law.

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Washington Post, Anita Hill chosen to lead Hollywood sexual harassment commission, Ellen McCarthy,  Dec. 16, 2017. A group of entertainment executives formed the commission to combat the kind of  sexual misconduct that recent revelations have shown to be pervasive in Hollywood.

As announced late Friday by the commission — an initiative spearheaded by producer Kathleen Kennedy, along with attorney Nina Shaw, venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein and Nike Foundation co-chair Maria Eitel — the goal of the new group is to help combat the kind of sexual misconduct that recent revelations have shown to be pervasive in Hollywood. In her new role, Anita Hill once again will find herself leading the charge against sexual harassment, a mission that began when she testified on Capitol Hill at the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Hill’s name has been in the news lately, as harassment allegations mount. Earlier this week, former vice president Joe Biden expressed regret over the way Hill had been treated in 1991 when she testified about Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he was the chairman of at the time. “I wish I had been able to do more for Anita Hill,” the former Democratic senator from Delaware said in an interview with Teen Vogue. “I owe her an apology.”

Natural Disaster: California Wildfires

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Washington Post, Deadly California wildfire rages on, threatening coastal Santa Barbara County, Danielle Paquette, Dec. 16, 2017. Aerial photos showed the blaze was about 40 percent contained, a fire official said. But the risk remains high for people living near the foothills of Montecito — home to a number of celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

Dec. 15

Taxing Times

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New York Times, With Billions at Stake, Tax Lobbyists Played Hardball, Kenneth P. Vogel and Jim Tankersley, Dec. 15, 2017. The rapid pace of the tax bill moving through Congress left lobbyists with little time and few lawmakers to press for changes in the $1.5 trillion overhaul.

As the largest tax rewrite in decades powered through Congress, lobbyists found themselves sprinting to keep up and find ways to persuade, influence or cajole the small group of lawmakers empowered to tweak language in the final version of the joint Senate and House bill.

The lobbyists and their allies opened their wallets wide to fund advertisements, phone banks and field campaigns. They leaned on longstanding relationships with lawmakers and staff, dashed off letters to congressional leaders and wrote checks to secure a few minutes of precious face time at fund-raisers.

They brought families struggling with rare diseases to Capitol Hill. Some deployed an outside-in approach, enlisting rank-and-file allies in both chambers to bend those writing the bill to their point of view. Others went for the jugular, trying to use partisan politics to prevent a provision from getting through.

The winners and losers in the $1.5 trillion bill are just beginning to emerge after a scramble that, in different times, would have taken months or weeks, instead of days, and involved scores of lawmakers, not a handful.

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paul krugmanNew York Times, Opinion: Republicans Despise the Working Class, Paul Krugman (shown at right), Dec. 15, 2017 (print edition). You can always count on Republicans to do two things: try to cut taxes for the rich and try to weaken the safety net for the poor and the middle class. That was true under George W. Bush, who sharply cut tax rates on the top 1 percent and tried to privatize Social Security. It has been equally true under President Trump; G.O.P. legislative proposals show not a hint of the populism Trump espoused on the campaign trail.

But as a terrible, no good, very bad tax bill heads for a final vote, something has been added to the mix. As usual, Republicans seek to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable, but they don’t treat all Americans with a given income the same. Instead, their bill — on which we don’t have full details, but whose shape is clear — hugely privileges owners, whether of businesses or of financial assets, over those who simply work for a living.

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marco rubio fx wallace.jpgWashington Post, GOP expands child tax credit in bid to win support from Rubio, Damian Paletta, Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis​, Dec. 15, 2017. The change was added to meet demands from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla., shown in a file photo), who threatened to oppose the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul. A Rubio spokeswoman said the senator was reviewing the final measure to see if it was enough to meet his demands. Update: Rubio will vote for the bill.

GOP Internet Takeover?

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Washington Post,The never ending battle over net neutrality is far from over. Here’s what’s coming next, Brian Fung, Dec. 15, 2017. The Federal Communications Commission's vote on Thursday to repeal its net neutrality rules marked the end of a brief experiment by the network regulator to rein in the tremendous power of Internet providers by treating them like the highly-regulated telecoms. Now, providers will be allowed to speed up some websites — and block or slow down others — so long as they disclose it to the public, and violations will largely be handled after the fact by the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC.

Far from settling the matter, the Republican-led FCC has simply opened a new chapter in a bruising Washington battle that stretches back nearly as far as the dot-com boom itself.

ed markey“We will fight the FCC’s decisions in the courts, and we will fight it in the halls of Congress,” said Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass., shown at center in a file photo), who promised Thursday to introduce legislation along with more than a dozen other lawmakers to overturn the FCC vote. New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, announced Thursday he intends to file a multistate lawsuit against the FCC.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers in California and Washington have said they will try to write their own legislation to replace the federal rules — though that effort could be swiftly quashed. The FCC's decision on Thursday explicitly sought to preempt states from going around the federal rules, and agency officials made clear they would act against such attempts.

Under President George W. Bush, the FCC concluded all consumers deserved to enjoy four fundamental freedoms online: The freedom to access any Web content of their choice, so long as it was legal; the freedom to use any online application; the freedom to use their home broadband connections on any device; and the freedom to get subscription information from their own providers.

First unveiled in a speech in 2004 by Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell, those principles were formalized as an “Internet policy statement” in 2005. Those provisions were nonbinding, and they didn't have the force of regulation.

 Inside The Courts

alex kozinski c span nov 2014 Customny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Who Will Judge the Judge? Editorial Board, Dec. 15, 2017 (print edition). Alex Kozinski is one of the nation’s most respected and influential federal judges. Appointed by President Ronald Reagan (and shown above delivering a 2014 lecture), he has served more than three decades on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the largest in the country. He is an outspoken and iconoclastic jurist with a quick, irreverent wit. A clerkship in his chambers, coveted by top law students, often leads to the biggest prize of all, a clerkship at the Supreme Court.

And if Judge Kozinski (shown below in the main photo illustrating his Wikipedia profile) were anything but a federal judge with life tenure, he’d most likely be out of a job by now.

alex kozinski informal wLast week, The Washington Post reported the allegations of six women who had worked for the judge as clerks or staff members, and who accused the judge in detail of crude behavior and sexual harassment.

What is the right way to deal with unacceptable conduct over many years by a life-tenured judge? The Constitution says federal judges “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” By any reasonable measure, Judge Kozinski’s behavior has not been good for a long time, yet he has been able to skate by.  

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Washington Post, Nine more women say judge subjected them to inappropriate behavior, including four who say he touched or kissed them, Matt Zapotosky, Dec. 15, 2017. Nine more women say that Alex Kozinski — a high-profile judge who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — subjected them to sexual comments or other conduct, including four who say he touched them inappropriately.

Kozinski, known for his libertarian views and colorful written opinions, already had been accused of subjecting several women to a range of inappropriate sexual conduct or comments, and the circuit’s chief judge on Thursday took the first step in launching an investigation into his behavior. The matter was assigned Friday to the 2nd Circuit judicial council.

The new allegations — which span decades and include not just those who worked for Kozinski but those who encountered him at events — bring the total number of women accusing the judge of inappropriate behavior to at least 15.

State Department News

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rex tillerson suggests regime change venezuelaWashington Post, Trump allies say Tillerson has ‘not learned his lesson’ and cannot continue in job for long, Josh Dawsey and Anne Gearan, Dec. 15, 2017. The secretary of state (shown in a file photo) exasperated President Trump and White House officials when he went off script with another invitation for talks with North Korea.

More JFK Assassination Documents Released

national archivesNational Archives, New Group of JFK Assassination Documents Available to the Public, Staff report, Dec. 15, 2017. In the sixth public release this year, the National Archives today posted 3,539 documents subject to the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (JFK Act).  Released documents are available for download.

The versions released today were processed by agencies and, in accordance with the President’s guidance, are being posted expeditiously in order to make the documents available to the public, even before the 2018 deadline established by the President on October 26, 2017.  This is the last release planned by the National Archives for this year. 

At this point, with the exception of 86 record identification numbers where additional research is required by the National Archives and the other agencies, all documents subject to section 5 of the JFK Act have been released either in full or in part.  Any information subject to section 5 of the Act, which has been redacted from documents in any of the six public releases this year, remains subject to further review by the agencies and the National Archives, in accordance with the President’s direction. 

The National Archives will release additional documents in 2018 based on the outcome of the reviews conducted pursuant to the President’s direction.

The National Archives previously released 10,744 documents on Nov. 17, 13,213 documents on Nov. 9, 676 documents on Nov. 3, 2,891 documents on Oct. 26, and 3,810 documents on July 24. The National Archives established the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection in November 1992, and it consists of approximately five million pages. The vast majority of the collection has been publicly available without any restrictions since the late 1990s.

nara logoRelated records site: National Archives, JFK Assassination Records: 2017 Additional Documents Release. The National Archives is releasing documents previously withheld in accordance with the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act.  The vast majority of the Collection (88%) has been open in full and released to the public since the late 1990s. The records at issue are documents previously identified as assassination records, but withheld in full or withheld in part. These releases include FBI, CIA, and other agency documents (both formerly withheld in part and formerly withheld in full) identified by the Assassination Records Review Board as assassination records. The releases to date are as follows:

  • July 24, 2017: 3,810 documents (read press release)   
  • October 26, 2017: 2,891 documents (read press release)   
  • November 3, 2017: 676 documents (read press release)   
  • November 9, 2017: 13,213 documents (read press release)   
  • November 17, 2017: 10,744 documents (read press release)   
  • December 15, 2017: 3,539 documents (read press release)

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whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, Breaking: National Archives Releases Yet Another 3,500+ JFK Files, Staff report, Dec. 15, 2017. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) today released its sixth 2017 batch of records that may in some way relate to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The agency’s press release states that this latest cache includes 3,539 documents. It appears that 1,240 files are labeled “withheld-in-full,” meaning the public has never seen these documents before, and 2,259 labeled “withheld-in-part”, meaning they had previously been released to the public, but with some information blacked out. Yet another 439 files on their index give no indication at all of their status.

The documents from this release appear to originate from a mix of government agencies including the FBI, CIA, Army, NSA, and various congressional committees — although approximately 35 percent of the documents listed are not labeled in NARA’s index with an originating agency.

It remains to be seen what percentage of the redactions the various agencies will unredact by the April deadline.

Thus far, only a few of the documents have drawn keen interest — in part, perhaps, because of the unlikelihood that any “smoking gun” documents ever existed, or if they did, the likelihood they have already been removed from government files. Still, experts and aficionados expect to find “breadcrumbs” that, put together, can help paint a better picture of what did happen on November 22, 1963 in Dallas. Polls have consistently shown that the public doubts the conclusion of the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, was responsible.

WhoWhatWhy’s research team has been diligently sifting through these documents since the first release, sorting and analyzing them to try and understand their significance. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest.

Dallas Morning News, New JFK files show FBI misplaced Oswald's fingerprints, and CIA opened his mail -- and John Steinbeck's, Todd J. Gillman and Charles Scudder, Dec. 15, 2017. The 3,539 records include FBI and CIA reports on Soviet spies, the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City a few weeks before he murdered President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

 This batch likely will be the last released pending a final review of records. Many remain sealed at the request of the FBI, CIA and other agencies that pressed for more time ahead of a deadline set a quarter century earlier.

For decades, debate has raged not only over whether Oswald acted alone but whether the FBI and CIA could have stopped him. The latest documents provide fresh proof that he was in their sights: a 1975 CIA memo marked "top secret" shows that Oswald was on a "watch list" of people whose mail would be intercepted from Nov. 9, 1959, to May 3, 1960, and again from Aug. 7, 1961, through May 28, 1962.

The same watch list included Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot shot down on May 1, 1960. His mail was opened until two months after his release by the Soviets. CIA also opened the mail of Earl Browder, the head of the Communist Party of the United States, playwright Edward Albee, novelist John Steinbeck, and a daughter of David Rockefeller, chairman of Chase Manhattan bank.

Another revelation comes from a July 1978 memo to an attorney on the staff of the House Select Committee on Assassinations: The FBI was unable to locate the original fingerprints lifted from the rifle found at the sniper's perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.

Dallas police turned those over a few days after the assassination and never got them back. Top FBI officials told House investigators that finding the prints would be a "mammoth research effort."

The head of the bureau's fingerprint section told House investigators that standard procedure would have required returning the original prints to Dallas police, but "this case was not routine, nor was it handled as such."

Donor Payments Sought For Trump Accusers?

lisa bloomThe Hill, Exclusive: Prominent lawyer sought donor cash for two Trump accusers, John Solomon and Alison Spann, Dec. 15, 2017. A well-known women’s rights lawyer (shown at right in a file photo) sought to arrange compensation from donors and tabloid media outlets for women who made or considered making sexual misconduct allegations against Donald Trump during the final months of the 2016 presidential race, according to documents and interviews.

California lawyer Lisa Bloom’s efforts included offering to sell alleged victims’ stories to TV outlets in return for a commission for herself, arranging a donor to pay off one Trump accuser’s mortgage and attempting to secure a six-figure payment for another woman who ultimately declined to come forward after being offered as much as $750,000, the clients told The Hill.

The women’s accounts were chronicled in contemporaneous contractual documents, emails and text messages reviewed by The Hill, including an exchange of texts between one woman and Bloom that suggested political action committees supporting Hillary Clinton were contacted during the effort.

Bloom, who has assisted dozens of women in prominent harassment cases and also defended film executive Harvey Weinstein earlier this year, represented four women considering making accusations against Trump last year. Two went public, and two declined.

In a statement to The Hill, Bloom acknowledged she engaged in discussions to secure donations for women who made or considered making accusations against Trump before last year’s election.

“Donors reached out to my firm directly to help some of the women I represented,” said Bloom, whose clients have also included accusers of Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly.

Bloom said her goal in securing money was not to pressure the women to come forward, but rather to help them relocate or arrange security if they felt unsafe during the waning days of a vitriolic election. She declined to identify any of the donors.

And while she noted she represented sexual harassment victims for free or at reduced rates, she also acknowledged a standard part of her contracts required women to pay her commissions as high as 33 percent if she sold their stories to media outlets.

“Our standard pro bono agreement for legal services provides that if a media entity offers to compensate a client for sharing his or her story we receive a percentage of those fees. This rarely happens. But, on occasion, a case generates media interest and sometimes (not always) a client may receive an appearance fee,” she said.

Bloom told The Hill she had no contact with Clinton or her campaign, but declined to address any contacts with super PACs that supported the Democratic presidential nominee.

Josh Schwerin, the communications director for Priorities USA Action, the largest pro-Clinton super PAC, told The Hill that the group had no relationship with Bloom and had no discussions with her about supporting Trump accusers.

One Bloom client who received financial help from Bloom was New York City makeup artist Jill Harth. The former beauty contestant manager filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Trump in 1997 and then withdrew it under pressure. The news media discovered the litigation during the election, and Harth’s name became public in the summer of 2016. She asked Bloom to represent her in the fall after hearing Trump describe her allegations against him as false, and became a vocal critic of Trump.

“I consider myself lucky to have had Lisa Bloom by my side after my old lawsuit resurfaced. She advised me with great competence and compassion,” Harth told The Hill.

White House Speaks On Trump Accusers

The Hill.com, WH clarifies Trump tweet claiming he “never met” women accusers, Dec. 15, 2017. Videos and photos showing President Trump with some of the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct are resurfacing after Trump in a tweet Tuesday said his accusers are "women who I don’t know and/or have never met."

"Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia — so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met. FAKE NEWS!" Trump tweeted Tuesday.

People magazine published a photo later in the day showing Trump standing alongside Natasha Stoynoff, a former foreign correspondent for the magazine, while at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in 2005. People said that the photo was taken the same day that Stoynoff, in 2016, accused Trump of forcibly kissing her.

Democrat Drops From House Race

Roll Call, Top Democratic Candidate Drops Out of Kansas Race After She Faced Sexual Harassment Allegations, Bridget Bowman, Dec. 15, 2017. Ramsey had been endorsed by EMILY’s List and was a top potential challenger. Democrat Andrea Ramsey dropped out of the race to take on Kansas GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, after sexual harassment allegations surfaced against her — and, she claimed, national Democrats abandoned her campaign.

Ramsey announced she was pulling out of the race Friday, in a lengthy statement denying that she engaged in any harassment or retaliation against a former colleague. The Kansas City Star first reported Ramsey's decision, which came after the outlet approached her about a 2005 lawsuit involving a male subordinate.

The case stems from Ramsey’s time as vice president of human resources at the company LabOne, according to the Kansas City Star. She allegedly made sexual advances towards a subordinate and retaliated against him when he rebuffed them.

The man was eventually fired. He sued the company and included the accusations against Ramsey in the case, which was eventually dismissed. Ramsey was not party to the lawsuit, so she was not involved in resolving the case.

“Had the false allegations been brought against me directly, I would have fought to exonerate my name and my reputation,” Ramsey said. “I would have sued the disgruntled, vindictive employee for defamation.”

james mattis mohammad bin salman

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Unz Review, Analysis: Mohammed Bin Salman's Ill-Advised Ventures Have Weakened Saudi Arabia, Patrick Cockburn, Dec. 15, 2017. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) of Saudi Arabia is the undoubted Middle East man of the year, but his great impact stems more from his failures than his successes. He is accused of being Machiavellian in clearing his way to the throne by the elimination of opponents inside and outside the royal family. But, when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s position in the world, his miscalculations remind one less of the cunning manoeuvres of Machiavelli and more of the pratfalls of Inspector Clouseau.

Dec. 14

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Washington Post, Analysis: The suburban revolt against Trump continued in Alabama, James Hohmann, Dec. 14, 2017. The backlash in the suburbs against President Trump is one of the most significant political stories of 2017. If Democrats win the House next year, it will be the main reason.

doug jones senateIn Alabama, Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D, shown at right) flipped or came close on Tuesday in suburban counties that Trump had won around Birmingham and Montgomery. His victory offers the latest data points for a trendline that stretches back to April, when a special election in Kansas to replace Mike Pompeo — who gave up his House seat to become CIA director — was unexpectedly close because of Democratic strength and high turnout in the Wichita suburbs, specifically Sedgwick County.

In Virginia last month, Chesterfield County — which includes the suburbs around Richmond — backed a Democratic gubernatorial candidate for the first time since 1961. Several GOP state legislators unexpectedly went down in suburban districts that were not thought to be in play. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) won the district held by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) in the D.C. suburbs by 13 points. Four years before, Terry McAuliffe got 60 percent in Fairfax County. Northam pulled 68 percent.

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New York Times, How the Tide Turned Against Roy Moore, Ford Fessenden and K.K. Rebecca Lai, Dec. 14, 2017 (print edition). Big cities, college towns and black communities sent a wave of energized voters to cast ballots for Doug Jones, the Democratic Senate candidate.

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New York Times, Loss in Alabama Race Aggravates Rifts for Republicans, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, Dec. 14, 2017. With the Republican majority in the Senate down to a single seat, the party’s establishment is uneasy about what the populist wing could do in next year’s primary races.

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New York Times, Will Backing Moore Stain Evangelicals? Some Are Worried, Laurie Goodstein, Dec. 14, 2017. Reflexive support for divisive, scandal-plagued figures like the Alabama Senate candidate Roy S. Moore is hurting their movement’s image, some evangelical Christians say.

Is GOP Tax Plan Based On Lies, Hurting Middle Class, Safety Net, Charities?

TheRealNewsNetwork.com, Virtually No Economist Believes the GOP Tax Bill Will Generate Much Growth, Sharmini Peries interviews Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C and the author of several books, Dec. 14, 2017. The $1.5 trillion growth dividends that Republicans project on their tax bill remained the same at 20% and at 21% , this shows that they are picking the figure out of the air, and it is "pretty far-fetched," says economist Dean Baker.

ady barkan msnbc dec 14 2017MSNBC / All In, Activist with ALS: Kill the GOP tax bill & save my life, Host Chris Hayes, Dec. 14, 2017 (with 7:19 mins. video). Ady Barkan (shown above) has been lobbying Republican Senators to oppose the bill, which could slash the safety net to finance tax cuts for the rich. Editor's note: The young father is telling senators that he will die if the bill is passed because of his medical expenses. 

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Washington Post, Bad news for nonprofits: Will people still give or as much if they can’t get a tax deduction for their charitable giving? Michelle Singletary, Dec. 14, 2017. There’s a lot of worry in the nonprofit world. Republicans are hashing out their differences in an overhaul of the tax system and if things go as planned, a boost in the standard deduction may result in fewer people itemizing. And, without itemizing, not as many taxpayers will be able to deduct charitable contributions. The tax deduction has been a mighty powerful tool in getting people to be generous.

irs logo“The tax cuts bill the GOP is trying to get through Congress before Christmas would make 2017 the last year tens of millions of Americans would get a tax break for donating to charity,” reports Ashlea Ebeling for Forbes. “The reason: a new higher standard deduction of $24,000 per couple ($12,000 single) would mean that only 5 percent of taxpayers would take itemized deductions, such as those for charitable gifts.”

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New York Times, Republicans Hunt for Ways to Pay for Tax Cuts, Alan Rappeport and Thomas Kaplan, Dec. 14, 2017. Republicans plan to unveil a final bill Friday with the aim of voting early next week and delivering it to President Trump before Christmas.But many of the last-minute changes are expected to drive up the bill’s cost, and Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, said

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Washington Post, White House wants technology cuts, pay freeze to fund border wall, according to Democrats, Nick Miroff, Dec. 14, 2017 (print edition). The Trump administration is planning to offset the steep cost of a Mexico border wall by instructing the Department of Homeland Security to cut spending on surveillance technology and freeze the pay of federal officers in the 2019 fiscal year, according to a report released Wednesday by the Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The report, which the staffers said was based on information provided to them by “a whistleblower” in late November, said the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) told DHS to boost its projected spending on border wall construction for the 2019 fiscal year to $1.6 billion, an amount that would be “$700 million more than the Department’s original budget request.”

The $1.6 billion would be used to build additional physical barriers in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the border’s busiest sector for illegal immigration. To offset some of the costs, OMB instructed DHS to decrease its funding request for border security technology and equipment by nearly $175 million, the report said.

Inside Washington

paul ryan oPalmer Report, Opinion: Paul Ryan just completely imploded, Bill Palmer, Dec. 14, 2017. Paul Ryan’s friends are now telling major news outlets that he’s considering not seeking reelection in 2018, and he’s even considering resigning before his current term is up. Ryan’s office is vaguely denying the reports. But it’s difficult to imagine Ryan’s friends telling something like this to the media unless he wanted them to. So why is the sitting Speaker of the House (shown at right) trying to spread the word that he’s on the verge of quitting? There are a few potential explanations, and the timing may be key.

Ryan is politically savvy enough to know that Trump’s toxic unpopularity and exploding Russia scandal mean that the rest of the legislative term is essentially over. The political focus for the entirety of 2018 will be about Trump’s downfall and demise, and there will be little room for any organized effort at passing partisan legislation.

World Crisis

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Washington Post, Trump plan to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem angers Middle East Christians, Loveday Morris, Dec. 13, 2017. Some of the festive cheer was missing this weekend at a public Christmas tree lighting near the site where Christians believe an angel proclaimed Christ’s birth to local shepherds.

“Our oppressors have decided to deprive us from the joy of Christmas,” Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the former archbishop and Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the crowd in the town of Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Mr. Trump told us clearly Jerusalem is not yours.”

The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there has provoked widespread opposition among Christians across the Middle East. When Vice President Pence arrives next week on a trip touted as a chance to check on the region’s persecuted Christians, he will be facing an awkward backlash. Update: Pence will postpone his trip if his vote is needed on the congressional tax vote.

The pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church, who leads the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East, has called off a scheduled meeting with Pence in Cairo. The Chaldean Church in Iraq warned this week that the White House move on Jerusalem risks sparking regional violence and extremism and demanded that the Trump administration respect U.N. resolutions on the city.

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which is about 12 percent Christian and is a scheduled stop on Pence’s tour, religious leaders turned off the city’s Christmas tree lights last week to protest the White House announcement.

Murder Charge Upgraded In Supremacist Attack

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charlottesville ny daily news cover death hate august 13 2017 custom 3Washington Post, Charge upgraded to first-degree murder for driver accused of ramming Charlottesville crowd, Paul Duggan, Dec. 14, 2017.  A self-professed neo-Nazi who allegedly used his car as a weapon, killing a woman and injuring 35 other people during a demonstration by white supremacists, was charged with first-degree murder after being jailed for the past four months on a lesser homicide charge.

james fields mugJames Alex Fields Jr., 20, who was arrested Aug. 12 in the death of 32-year-old counterprotester Heather D. Heyer, had been charged with second-degree murder, punishable by five to 40 years in prison. But moments after Fields (shown in a mug shot) entered a courtroom Thursday for a preliminary hearing — his first extended appearance before a judge since the violent demonstration — prosecutor Joe Platania announced that the main charge against him had been upgraded to first-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 20 years to life behind bars.

Authorities had initially said that 19 people were injured, in addition to Heyer, when Fields allegedly rammed his 2010 Dodge Challenger into another vehicle on purpose on a crowded street. But testimony at the preliminary hearing revealed that there were many more victims. Besides first-degree murder, Fields, who lived in Ohio before his arrest, is charged with eight counts of “aggravated malicious wounding,” meaning that at least eight of the 35 people who were hurt suffered what Virginia law describes as “permanent and significant physical impairment.”

Media Changes

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New York Times, Net Neutrality Rules Are Repealed, Giving Providers Free Rein, Cecilia Kang, Dec. 14, 2017. The Federal Communications Commission scrapped Obama-era rules meant to protect an open internet in a 3-to-2 vote along party lines.

fox news logo SmallAdweek, Disney Will Acquire 21st Century Fox For $52.4 Billion, Jason Lynch, Dec. 14, 2017. Fox's TV and film studios, FX, and Hulu stake are included, but not Fox TV or Fox News. A deal that would have been unimaginable just a couple months ago has now been finalized: Walt Disney Company announced that it will acquire 21st Century Fox, including Twentieth Century Fox movie and TV studios, most of its cable networks, international assets like Star and Sky and its stake in Hulu for $52.4 billion. Just before the acquisition, assuming it passes regulatory hurdles, Fox will spin off news sports and the broadcast network to its shareholders and create “a new Fox.”

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Washington Post, FCC poised to repeal net neutrality rules in a sweeping act of deregulation, Brian Fung​, Dec. 14, 2017. Internet providers would be able to speed up service for some apps and websites — and block or slow down others — in the expected repeal of Obama-era rules for broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon.

Tony CárdenasBroadcasting & Cable, Rep. Cárdenas: Doing a Number on Diversity, U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Dec. 14, 2017. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif, shown at right.) weighs in on another big FCC vote Dec. 14 -- launching the review of the 39% national broadcast audience reach cap.

This holiday season, the Federal Communications Commission has made it clear they have massive broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair Broadcasting on their “nice” list while an independent and local media will only be receiving coal.  At Thursday’s public FCC meeting, this coal comes in the form of a proposal passed right under our noses -- in the thick of net neutrality talks -- that will set us on the path to blowing the cap off the laws that keep a single voice from controlling our nation’s airwaves. 

fcc logoCurrently, the national media ownership cap is set at 39% of television households in the United States. This means a single broadcast group cannot own stations that reach more than 39% of households. This rule prevents a single company, with a single agenda, from controlling everyone’s local news.  Other countries that don’t have rules like this – like the former USSR – sometimes end up forcing their citizens to only get their information from one source. Sometimes it’s one corporation, and sometimes it’s the government, but whether it’s private or public, 100 percent is 100 percent. The FCC is proposing blowing the cap off the rule that ensures there is more than one source of information.

ajit pai headshot customThe Hill, FCC chair dances with Pizzagate proponent in video promoting net neutrality repeal, Max Greenwood, Dec. 14, 2017. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai (shown at right) appeared Wednesday in a video promoting his impending net neutrality repeal, dancing with a woman who has a history of promoting the so-called "Pizzagate" conspiracy.

The baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which proliferated during the final days of the 2016 presidential race, posits without evidence that high-ranking Democrats were involved in a nonexistent pedophile ring based out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. In December 2016, a man motivated by the conspiracy theory fired a gun in the business.

The video, produced by the conservative Daily Caller, features Pai insisting that the FCC's impending, highly criticized repeal of net neutrality will not affect what users can do online. In one clip, Pai is seen dancing alongside Martina Markota, a video producer for The Daily Caller.

Gizmodo reports that Markota had previously included an unlisted YouTube video on her website, in which she talks about Pizzagate. “This is not something I’m making up because I’m trying to, you know, put in my fantasy version of what’s going on and interject it into these email scandals, this is independently of the campaign I know what cheese pizza is,” Markota reportedly says in the clip, according to Gizmodo.

Scandals Around the Nation

jackie speier abcTPM, Dem Reps Urge Ethics Office To Probe Trump Sexual Misconduct Allegations, Caitlin MacNeal, Dec. 14, 2017. Two Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday asked the Office of Government Ethics to investigate sexual misconduct allegations made against President Donald Trump before he took office. In a letter, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), the chair of the House Democratic caucus, and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA, shown in a file photo), a leading voice in the #MeToo movement in Congress, noted that the ethics committees in the House and the Senate have launched probes into claims about lawmakers’ conduct but that accusations against Trump have not been investigated.

“Following the release of a video tape in October 2016 in which then-candidate Donald Trump admits ― and brags about ― making unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances toward women, numerous individuals came forward to share their own personal stories of their encounters,” they wrote in the letter.

us house logo“We believe public officials must set the gold standard for professional behavior, particularly those who hold the high offices of representative, senator, and ― especially ― president of the United States,” the Democratic lawmakers added. “That is why it is incredibly important that you conduct an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct by the president. No individual is above the law, regardless of his or her profession, persona, or power.”

Several Democratic members of Congress asked the House Oversight Committee to investigate the sexual misconduct claims against Trump earlier this week, but Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) declined to launch a probe and referred the matter to the Justice Department.

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 The married Rpublican Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold, in the duck pajamas at right, frolicked with models from "The Crush Girls" agency at the Corpus Christi nightclub Abyss shortly before his first election

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Washington Post, Farenthold won’t seek reelection amid allegations of sexual harassment, Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck, Dec. 14, 2017. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), who settled a complaint with his former communications director but has denied engaging in improper behavior, plans to serve out the rest of his term, according to three Republicans familiar with his plans.

blake farenthold oRep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), who settled a complaint with his former communications director but has denied engaging in improper behavior, plans to serve out the rest of his term but will not seek reelection in 2018. He is shown both in an official photo and one above from his appearance at The Abyss Club in Corpus Christi.

His appearance and behavior prompted a news report last July in The Hill newspaper, Collins on hot mic: Farenthold 'so unattractive, it's unbelievable,  when U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was overheard on an open microphone speaking with a colleague

Mediaite, GOP State Rep Commits Suicide After Denying Sexual Misconduct Allegations, Joseph A. Wulfsohn, Dec. 13, 2017. A Kentucky lawmaker took his own life just days after he denied allegations of sexual misconduct. Republican state Rep. Dan Johnson reportedly shot and killed himself on a bridge in Mt. Washington, KY. Police told WDRB they have recovered the gun he used.

Dan Johnson Kentucky rep. suicide screenshot croppedOn Monday, The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published an exposé with an accuser, who was friend of his daughter, saying that Johnson raped her when she was 17 years old. She alleged that the assault took place in 2012 at a New Years Eve sleepover party when he was a pastor. “This allegation concerning this lady, this young girl, absolutely has no merit,” he said Tuesday. “It is the season. Last election it seemed to be racism. This election it seems to be sexual impropriety.”

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New York Times, Music Mogul Russell Simmons Is Accused of Rape by 3 Women, Joe Coscarelli and Melana Ryzik, Dec. 14, 2017.  Mr. Simmons, a powerful gatekeeper in the media and entertainment worlds, damaged careers and self-confidence with his pattern of sexual assault and harassment, the women say.

The Cut, Dustin Hoffman Accused of Sexually Assaulting Two Women, Exposing Himself to a Minor, Jackson McHenry, Dec. 14, 2017. Two women have accused Dustin Hoffman of sexual assault, while another has accused him of exposing himself to her when she was a minor, according to a report from Variety. Cori Thomas was 16 years old and a high-school classmate of Hoffman’s daughter Karina when she met him in 1980. One night, she says she was left in a hotel with the actor waiting for her parents to pick her up after Karina went home. Hoffman went into the shower and then emerged, according to Thomas, with a towel wrapped around him, which he dropped to reveal himself naked. She alleges he then put on a robe and asked her to massage his feet. “I didn’t know that I could say no, so I did it,” she said. “And he kept telling me, ‘I’m naked. Do you want to see?’”

Melissa Kester, who met Hoffman while her boyfriend was working on the music for Ishtar, alleges that Hoffman grabbed her while in the recording booth and then stuck his fingers inside of her while her boyfriend was watching. “He kind of laughed,” she said. “Then I just ran out of there, and I sat in the bathroom crying. I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ I felt like I’d been raped. There was no warning. I didn’t know he would do that.” Hoffman has also recently been accused of sexual harassment by actress Kathryn Rossetter, who was in Death in a Salesman with him; Anna Graham Hunter, a PA on Death of Salesman’ and Wendy Riss Gatsiounis, an executive producer of Genius.

The Cut, The Head of the Congressional Ethics Office Is Accused of Assaulting Women, Madeleine Aggeler, Dec. 14, 2017. In a federal lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania last month, the head of the Office of Congressional Ethics — which reviews allegations of misconduct against members of the House of Representatives, and decides which cases will be sent to the Committee on Ethics for further investigation — was accused of assaulting three women and using his position in the federal government as a way to influence local law enforcement, Foreign Policy reports.

According to the lawsuit brought by Greg Martucci, on the night of Valentine’s Day, 2015, Omar Ashmawy was verbally abusive to two women, and physically assaulted two others. In a police statement given by one of the women, Dawn Jorgensen, she claimed she saw Ashmawy “clearly sexually harassing” the female bartender, and that he said “You’ll give me drinks, but you won’t fuck me.” She also said she saw Ashmawy grab the bartender by the wrist, and when she tried to intervene, he grabbed her by the wrist “so tightly that he falls down to the ground landing to the left of me.” Jorgensen’s husband then reportedly came and dragged Ashmawy outside.

When the police arrived, Ashmawy was injured and bloody. Months later, Martucci, Jorgensen, and another man were charged with assaulting him. The charges against Martucci were later dropped, but he was still suspended from his job as a federal air marshal.

Omarosa 'Firing' From White House

omarosa manigault newman gage skidmore custom 2Mediaite, Omarosa Blasts April Ryan Over Firing Report: ‘Personal Vendetta to Bring Me Down,’ Aidan McLaughlin, Dec. 14, 2017. Omarosa Manigault appeared on Good Morning America Thursday to give her account of the mystery — and supposed drama — surrounding her ouster from the White House. The former Apprentice star, who served a tempestuous almost-year in in the White House as Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison, pushed back against the myriad of reports that indicated her “resignation” was a messy affair (some even suggested Secret Security “physically dragged” her out.)

“I resigned, and I didn’t do that in the Residence as being reported,” Omarosa told ABC’s Michael Strahan. Manigault described reports to the contrary as “100% false,” claiming she calmly discussed her resignation with Chief of Staff John Kelly in the Situation Room. Manigault claimed that she wanted to last a year in the White House before going back to her life, which is why her resignation is slated for January 20.

She also took aim at old White House foe April Ryan, correspondent at American Urban Radio Networks, who led the charge on reports that Manigault’s exit was a messy one. “Let’s be clear, only one person,” Manigault asserted, “no one else has reported what she’s reporting. And this is the one person who has attacked me for the past year — so you know this is personal.” (Fact check: a number of outlets reported Manigault was removed from the White House in a less than ceremonious fashion.)

Manigault also claimed that the deactivation of her White House pass was a means of restricting her access to certain areas, but that she will still have another pass for her remaining month in the White House.

“But when I have my story to tell as the only African-American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people and when I can tell my story, it is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear,” Manigault concluded.omarosa manigault abc ml 12 14 17 Custom

Omarosa Manigault, speaking on ABC's Good Morning America about her resignation from the White House as its most senior African-American appointee

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Washington Post, Without Omarosa Manigault, lack of diversity in White House becomes even more pronounced, Vanessa Williams and David Nakamura, Dec. 14, 2017. One of the president’s most prominent African American supporters (Omarosa Manigault, shown in a portrait by Gage Skidmore) resigned under pressure after a confrontation with Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had grown frustrated with her abrasive and attention-seeking style.

secret service logoPalmer Report, Secret Service disputes Donald Trump’s claims about Omarosa’s firing and removal, Bill Palmer, Dec. 13, 2017. The Donald Trump administration parted ways with White House senior adviser Omarosa on Wednesday, officially characterizing it as a resignation, but admitting to various news outlets that it was a calamitous firing. One White House source told the Wall Street Journal that she was physically “dragged” out of the building, while other sources told other news outlets that she was “escorted” out of the building. This removal was attributed to the Secret Service. Now the Secret Service is disputing that version of events.

The Secret Service used its official Twitter account to assert that “Reporting regarding Secret Service personnel physically removing Omarosa Manigault Newman from the White House complex is incorrect.” It went on to add “The Secret Service was not involved in the termination process of Ms Manigault Newman or the escort off of the complex. Our only involvement in this matter was to deactivate the individual’s pass which grants access to the complex.”

However, CBS News is now reporting that the White House is claiming Omarosa was dragged out after she tried to “tried to get into the White House residence after she was fired, tripping security alarms.” In such case the Secret Service would absolutely have responded. Let’s assume that the Secret Service is telling the truth here, and that not even a con artist like Donald Trump can get the revered agency to lie on his behalf. That would mean that none of this actually happened, and it was all some kind of mutually coordinated stunt.

Omarosa recently got married. Let’s say that she was planning to resign anyway, as the hours involved in White House jobs do not leave time for personal lives in general. Donald Trump desperately needed a distraction today, after his humiliating loss in Alabama last night. Omarosa has spent her entire reality television career carefully staging meltdowns for publicity, with each controversy leading to yet another TV gig for her. Did she go along with a phony controversial firing today, so she could use the resulting publicity to market herself for her next gig? Stay tuned. There’s much more to this story.

California Wildfires

california wildfires near burbank verdugo mountains scott l flickr cc by sa 2.0

A Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter drops water while fighting the La Tuna Fire in the Verdugo Mountains above Burbank, California, September 2, 2017. Photo credit: Scott L / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Los Angeles Times, Bel-Air fire displays L.A.'s extremes of wealth and misery, Steve Lopez, Dec. 14, 2017. Sunbaked and wind-battered Los Angeles, blessed and burdened city of extremes, is home to those with everything and those with nothing. Last week, the two worlds intersected when a cooking fire at a homeless encampment destroyed six homes and damaged a dozen others in Bel-Air, where affluent residents complain now and then about the scale of colossal estates that dwarf their own mansions.

We have more than 34,000 homeless people within city limits alone, and all the efforts to do something about this — including City Council approval Wednesday of a so-called linkage fee on new development to pay for affordable housing — are never enough to meet ever-growing demand.

“As soon as that fire erupted I said to myself, ‘Oh, God, I’ll bet it’s going to be from that homeless encampment near the 405.’ And that’s exactly what it turned out to be,” said Nickie Miner, vice president of the Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council.

Global News

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Washington Post, Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked, Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker, Dec. 14, 2017. Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an unprecedented assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House. Interviews with more than 50 U.S. officials show that the personal insecurities of the president have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat, with Trump resisting or attempting to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account as he tries to forge a partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Media and Elections

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Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC (left) talks about his latest book, “Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics” at a National Press Club Headliners Book Rap, Dec. 13, 2017. He's joined on stage by 2016 NPC President Thomas Burr, Washington Bureau Chief of the Salt Lake Tribune. (Photo/Image: Noel St. John)

National Press Club, O’Donnell talks politics then and now, Dominique Maria Bonessi, Dec. 14, 2017. Talking about his new book on the 1968 election of Richard Nixon as president, Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” on Wednesday night drew strong parallels to the 2016 election of Donald Trump.

“I wanted to write about the craziest presidential campaign we’ve ever had,” O’Donnell said. He added that the 2016 presidential campaigns were invented by Nixon in his 1968 campaign, with the exception of “one eccentric candidate.

Dec. 13

orrin hatch oRoll Call, Senate, House Reach Tax Overhaul Agreement, Niels Lesniewski, Dec. 13, 2017. Senate and House Republicans have reached a broad agreement on a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch said Wednesday. As he was leaving for the White House, the Senate Finance Chairman confirmed the House and Senate have reached a deal on overhauling the tax code.

irs logo“We reached the agreement,” the Utah Republican told reporters. He said he planned to update President Donald Trump on the agreement when he reached the White House, declining to answer any questions about specifics, such as the final corporate tax rate or when exactly the deal was reached.

Hatch also did not say whether he and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, intended to announce the details while with the president. Hatch also said he was confident there would be enough votes in each chamber to approve the conference report on the tax bill.

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Washington Post, GOP reaches compromise tax plan to drop corporate tax rate to 21 percent, cut rates for top earners, Staff report, Dec. 13, 2017. House and Senate Republican leaders have reached an agreement in principle that would lower the corporate tax rate to 21 percent beginning in 2018, a person briefed on the discussions said, part of a compromise $1.5 trillion tax plan they hope to vote into law by next week. The agreement would also lower the top tax rate for families and individuals to 37 percent, a change that would deliver a major tax cut for upper-income households.

Alabama Democratic Senate Victory

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douglas jonesWashington Post, Jones wins in Democratic upset, but Moore refuses to concede, Sean Sullivan, David Weigel and Michael Scherer. Dec. 13, 2017. In a surprising flip of a solidly Republican state, Doug Jones (shown with his wife at victory party and at right) became the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama since 1992 in a victory that showed the increasing power of sexual misconduct allegations and the limits of President Trump’s political influence. Roy Moore told his supporters “it’s not over” and suggested that the race might go to a recount, but the Alabama Republican Party said it would not support his push for one.

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Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Nation tires of pedophile politicians; Defeat of Roy Moore just the beginning, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 13, 2015 (subscription required, reprinted with permission). The historic victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama special election to fill the seat of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent a message across the country that voters have no stomach for politicians convicted or accused of sexually preying on children.

roy moore cowboy hat no gunLegal Schnauzer, Opinion: Donald Trump develops a "Roy Moore Problem" as outtakes from "The Apprentice" reportedly show him speaking approvingly about sex with underage girls, Roger Shuler, Dec. 13, 2017. Roy Moore went down in yesterday's Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate, largely because of lower-than-expected turnout in his rural strongholds -- and that likely was driven by allegations during the campaign that Moore had, as a 30-ish district attorney, dated teen-aged girls.

Now, another GOP politician might be developing a "Roy Moore Problem." And his name is Donald Trump. Outtakes from The Apprentice include scenes of Donald Trump speaking approvingly about sex with underage girls, according to a report from a D.C.-based investigative journalist. Officials at NBC have taken steps to make sure the outtakes remain out of public view, reports Wayne Madsen. From a recent article at the Wayne Madsen Report (WMR): Trump’s “Apprentice” outtakes reportedly reveal boasts about sex and young girls. The Wayne Madsen Report is a subscription-only Web site, but Legal Schnauzer has received permission to publish portions of its content.

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Washington Post, Republicans point fingers after Jones stuns in Alabama Senate race, Moore refuses to concede, says ‘it’s not over,’ Sean Sullivan, Elise Viebeck, David Weigel and Michael Scherer, Dec. 13, 2017. Doug Jones’s win in a part of the Deep South that has not elected a Democratic senator since 1992 left Republicans picking through the wreckage after a blow that showcased voter backlash to sexual misconduct allegations and the limits of President Trump’s influence. Trump, who supported the losing candidates in both the GOP primary and on Tuesday, defended his record by saying he knew Roy Moore would lose. “Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!,” Trump tweeted.

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douglas jonesNew York Times, Roy Moore Loses, Sanity Reigns, Editorial Board, Dec. 13, 2017 (print edition). Doug Jones strikes a blow against Donald Trump and for morality in American politics. That Alabama’s voters chose Doug Jones for the United States Senate is cause for celebration. A triumph for decency and common sense in a state that seemed for a time at risk of abandoning both, Mr. Jones’s win narrows the Republicans’ Senate majority and delivers a deeply deserved rebuke to President Trump. It is hard to get too intoxicated by a slim victory over an atrocious candidate, a suspected sexual abuser with bigoted politics, but Alabama, the Senate and the nation will be a whole lot better off with Mr. Jones than with Roy Moore.

Alabama’s deep-red politics argued against Mr. Jones’s chances. A former federal prosecutor, Mr. Jones won convictions of two Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four girls, and no Democrat had won a Senate race in two decades. But a report in The Washington Post in which four women accused Mr. Moore of sexually harassing or abusing them as teenagers turned the race into a close contest. Mr. Jones’s victory came thanks to overwhelming support from Alabama’s African-American voters.

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kirsten gillibrand oWashington Post, Trump attack on Gillibrand criticized as sexually suggestive and demeaning, John Wagner, Ed O'Keefe and Ashley Parker, Dec. 13, 2017 (print edition). The White House disputed the characterization of the president’s tweet as sexually suggestive. But Democratic calls increased for congressional investigations or Trump’s resignation.

President Trump attacked Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in a sexually suggestive tweet Tuesday morning that implied Gillibrand would do just about anything for money, prompting a swift and immediate backlash.

“Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Charles E. Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump,” the president wrote. “Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”

usa today logodjt official SmallPalmer Report, Opinion: USA Today editorial board: Donald Trump is “unfit to clean toilets,” Bill Palmer, Dec. 13, 2017. After he endorsed a child molester in a Senate race, Donald Trump found a whole new way to reach a new low when he launched a bizarre attack on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. After Gillibrand called on Trump to resign, Trump responded by accusing her of having offered him sexual favors in exchange for political favor. Suffice it to say, Trump faced severe pushback and condemnation. But as it turns out, USA Today hit him the hardest of anyone.

USA Today is far from a liberal newspaper, and it has taken Republican positions on various matters. But its editorial board is slamming Donald Trump for his attack on Gillibrand. The article starts off like this: “A president who’d all but call a senator a whore is unfit to clean toilets in Obama’s presidential library or to shine George W. Bush’s shoes.” From there it finds a way to be even more harsh.

House Oversight Hearing Of FBI Probe

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Washington Post, Rosenstein defends Mueller after anti-Trump texts from senior FBI officials surface, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, Dec. 13, 2017. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein told the House Judiciary Committee that he had not seen good cause to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III amid questions over whether bias might have infected the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

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fbi logoWashington Post, Texts from FBI officials reveal pair’s contempt of Trump, Devlin Barrett, Dec. 13, 2017 (print edition). The messages — now the subject of an ethics probe — show two senior officials involved in probes of President Trump and Hillary Clinton exchanging harsh opinions of politicians, such as describing Trump as “a loathsome human” and calling Sen. Bernie Sanders “an idiot like Trump.”

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robert muellerNew York Times, Republicans Plan to Accuse Justice Department of Bias, Nicholas Fandos, Dec. 13, 2017. The release Tuesday night of F.B.I. officials’ text messages describing the possibility of a victory by Donald J. Trump as “terrifying” and saying that Hillary Clinton “just has to win” is certain to fuel a Republican campaign to attack the impartiality of the Justice Department and its special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III (shown at right) — and possibly hamper him with an investigation of the special counsel’s office.

Accusations of bias, primed by the newly released texts from an F.B.I. agent, Peter Strzok, and an F.B.I. lawyer, Lisa Page, are likely to take center stage on Wednesday when Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mr. Mueller as special counsel, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee.

Republicans say they will press Mr. Rosenstein to appoint a second special counsel to investigate political partisanship in the department and to scrutinize Mr. Trump’s former presidential rival, Mrs. Clinton.

Inside Washington

peter kingCNN, GOP congressman to Chris Cuomo: Bannon like 'some disheveled drunk that wandered onto the political stage,' Maegan Vazquez, Dec. 13, 2017. Rep. Peter King says Roy Moore's election loss in Alabama is partly a result of the American people's "revulsion" toward former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon's divisive style and political views.

"You know, I was even raising this, not even so much as a political issue almost as a moral issue," the New York Republican told CNN's "New Day." "This guy does not belong on the national stage. He looks like some disheveled drunk that wandered onto the political stage."

joe biden meagan mccain CustomABC News "The View," Meghan McCain Gets Emotional With Joe Biden, Staff report, Dec. 13, 2017 (7:56 mins.). Her Dad Has The Same Cancer as Joe's Son Did....Couldn't Finish Biden's Book About Beau!!

FCC Threatens 'Net Neutrality' In Unpopular Vote

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Washington Post, Analysis: Net neutrality keeps the Web from running like an airport security line. And it might go away, Geoffrey A. Fowler, Dec. 13, 2017. Without neutrality rules, Internet providers could set up their own fast lanes — meaning certain websites could buy first-class treatment, while others are stuck in cattle class. Who could suffer most? Start-ups.

Inside the White House: The Apprentice

Donald Trump Apprentice

omarosa manigault newman gage skidmore custom 2Associated Press via Bloomberg, Omarosa Manigault Newman Plans to Leave the White House Next Month, Darlene Superville, Dec. 13, 2017. The White House says Omarosa Manigault Newman — one of President Donald Trump's most prominent African-American supporters — plans to leave the administration next month. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Manigault Newman's resignation is effective Jan. 20, one year since Trump's inauguration. She is shown in a portrait by Gage Skidmore.

Manigault Newman's decision comes at the start of what's expected to be a round of departures heading into the new year. The White House said last week that deputy national security adviser Dina Powell will leave the administration early next year. Manigault Newman is a former contestant on Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice." She joined the administration as director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison, working on outreach to various constituency groups.

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New York Times, Omarosa Manigault Newman to Leave White House Job Next Month, Maggie Haberman and Yamiche Alcindor, Dec. 13, 2017. Omarosa Manigault Newman, who achieved a measure of fame playing a villain on “The Apprentice” and cemented a relationship with President Trump that led to a White House appointment, will be leaving her position in January, the administration said on Wednesday.

Ms. Newman “resigned yesterday to pursue other opportunities,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “Her departure will not be effective until Jan. 20, 2018. We wish her the best in future endeavors and are grateful for her service.”

One of the president’s prominent African-American supporters, Ms. Newman served as director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison. But the division, which was absent a clear leader for most of the year, atrophied with her in a key position.

Two people close to the administration said that Ms. Newman neglected to find enough attendees for a Black History Month event early in the administration, for instance. And the office — which is key for building coalitions — became seen as what one person close to the White House described as the “island of misfit toys,” where people who couldn’t be slotted into other roles were sent. Reached by phone on Wednesday, Ms. Newman referred a reporter to Ms. Sanders’s statement about her departure.

Twitter and CNN, April D Ryan. I heard there was drama and she was escorted out of the building and off campus. American Urban Radio White House Correspondent and CNN contributor April Ryan told CNN colleagues on Dec. 13 these findings from her reporting from sources, excerpted here with ellipses omitted:

"It was very ugly, It was high drama from what I'm hearing. He (chief of Staff John Kelly) was tired of all the drama. There were concerns about her wedding, how she brought all the guests to the White House. He’s had enough. According to TMZ, there was some sort of tension last evening. They worked out a negotiation for her to leave Jan. 20. That didn’t sit very well with Omarosa. She tried to see the President. We've never seen anything like that. They wondered what she was doing for her $180,000 a year salary. And it did not end well."

TMZ, Omarosa Butted Heads with Trump Over Charlottesville, Roy Moore, Staff reports, Dec. 13, 2017. The White House is officially saying Omarosa quietly resigned, but multiple sources tell TMZ there was plenty of drama between her, Donald Trump and his Chief of Staff prior to her departure. Sources close to Omarosa tell us she started thinking about resigning back in August after the Charlottesville riots, because she disagreed with Trump's handling of the crisis. We're told she took issue with Trump saying there were good people on both sides ... which, of course, included the neo-Nazis.

Our sources in Omarosa's camp say she also didn't appreciate Trump beefing with Rep. Frederica Wilson, or bungling a call with an African-American Gold Star widow. We're told Trump's endorsement of Roy Moore was the last straw. Now, people in Omarosa's camp say she pulled the trigger on resigning Tuesday night. However, other White House sources tell us she was "fired" by Gen. John Kelly after she tried to get an audience with the Prez following Moore's loss. Even our Omarosa sources admit she had frequently bumped heads with Kelly. We're told she talked to Trump every other day, and Kelly wasn't happy she had so much access.

Other TMZ accounts: Omarosa Battled Trump & Gen. Kelly Prior to White House 'Firing'....Omarosa Yeah, I'm Out ... But the Prez & I Are All Good!

The Hill, Omarosa Manigault Newman leaving the White House next month, Mallory Shelbourne, Dec. 13, 2017. Trump administration aide Omarosa Manigault Newman reportedly set off White House alarms in an attempt to gain access to the residence after learning that she had been fired from her job.

According to a report from CBS News, Manigault Newman tried to enter the White House residence after chief of staff John Kelly told her that her employment in the administration would end in January. Manigault Newman, a former star of President Trump’s former NBC show “The Apprentice,” has served as the director of communications for the White House Office of Public Liaison.

April Ryan, a journalist with American Urban Radio Networks, reported during an on-air appearance with CNN that "everything blew up" when Kelly attempted to discuss Manigault Newman's walk-in privileges and access to Trump.

Franken Resignation

RollCall, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith Picked to Replace Al Franken in Senate, Simone Pathé, Dec. 13, 2017. Says she will run for election in 2018 in Likely Democratic race. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday appointed Lt. Gov Tina Smith to fill the Senate seat vacated by outgoing Sen. Al Franken, who has yet to announce his resignation date.

Smith said Wednesday she will run for the remainder of Franken’s term, which is up in 2020. The special election will be held concurrently with next year’s midterms, when Democratic-Farmer-Labor Sen. Amy Klobuchar also faces voters.

“It is up to Minnesotans to decide for themselves who they want to complete Sen. Franken’s term. I will run in that election,” Smith said. Dayton was under pressure to appoint a woman after Franken resigned amid allegations he inappropriately touched women.

Tavis Smiley Fights PBS Suspension

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Washington Post, This has gone too far,’ says defiant Tavis Smiley after PBS suspends his show for ‘misconduct,’ Samantha Schmidt, Dec. 13, 2017. PBS is “indefinitely” suspending distribution of the late-night talk show “Tavis Smiley” after multiple misconduct allegations emerged against the show’s 53-year-old host, PBS announced Wednesday.

While a statement from a PBS spokeswoman did not say what sort of misconduct was alleged, “PBS News Hour,” on its website, said the allegations involved “sexual misconduct.”

In a Facebook video posted early Thursday morning, Smiley said he was “shocked” to hear PBS’s sudden announcement and intends to “fight back” against the network’s “so-called investigation.”

He said he has the “utmost respect” for all women, and celebrates “the courage of those women who have come forth of late to share their own truth.”

“Let me also assure you that I have never groped, inappropriately exposed myself or coerced any colleague in the workplace ever in my 30-year career,” Smiley said.

“If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us,” he added in a written statement posted on Facebook.

The news was first reported by Variety on Wednesday afternoon. The probe revealed allegations that Smiley had engaged in sexual relationships with multiple subordinates, Variety reported, citing unnamed sources. Some witnesses “expressed concern that their employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley,” Variety reported. They described the longtime TV personality as creating a “verbally abusive and threatening environment” and raised concerns about retaliation, according to Variety.

FCC Chairman Dances With "Pizzagate" Fake News Promoter

ajit pai pizzagate martina markola

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, center, dances with Fake News "Pizzagate" promoter Martina Markota, at right, during the "Harlem Shake" portion of their video promoting the FCC's expected vote on party lines to end "Net Neutrality" 

Gizmodo, Ajit Pai Thinks You're Stupid Enough to Buy This Crap, Tom McKay, Dec. 13, 2017. Update: One of the 7 Things Is Dancing With a Pizzagater. On Thursday, the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Verizon BFF Ajit Pai, will hold a vote on whether to repeal Barack Obama-era net neutrality rules. If passed, the FCC would allow ISPs to begin setting up a tiered internet designed to suck as much money from customers’ pockets as possible while screwing with their ability to access competitors’ content, or really anything that might suck up amounts of bandwidth inconvenient for their profit margins.

fcc logoThe plan is immensely unpopular, even with Republicans. This type of situation would typically call for a charm offensive, though Pai has apparently decided to resort to his time-honored tactic of being incredibly condescending instead. In a video with the conservative site Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson — the dude who got fired from BuzzFeed for plagiarizing Yahoo Answers — Pai urged the country to understand that even if he succeeds in his plan to let ISPs strangle the rest of the internet to death, they’ll let us continue to take selfies and other stupid bullshit.

“There’s been quite a bit of conversation about my plan to restore Internet freedom,” Pai says in the cringe-inducing clip. “Here are just a few of the things you will still be able to do on the Internet after these Obama-era regulations are repealed.”

Pai then pantomimed things users will supposedly still be able to do, like being able to “gram your food,” “post photos of cute animals, like puppies,” “shop for all your Christmas presents online,” “binge watch your favorite shows,” and “stay part of your favorite fan community.”

“You can still drive memes right into the ground,” Pai added before breaking into a literal Harlem Shake segment. Astute viewers may remember that this was an intolerable meme from all the way back in 2013 which has not grown any less intolerable in the intervening four years. Pai then pantomimed things users will supposedly still be able to do, like being able to “gram your food,” “post photos of cute animals, like puppies,” “shop for all your Christmas presents online,” “binge watch your favorite shows,” and “stay part of your favorite fan community.”

“You can still drive memes right into the ground,” Pai added before breaking into a literal Harlem Shake segment. Astute viewers may remember that this was an intolerable meme from all the way back in 2013 which has not grown any less intolerable in the intervening four years.

All of these claims on what users “will still be able to do” are actually questionable, seeing as under Pai’s plan, ISPs could easily hit up their customers with crushing fees to let them access any of these services at reasonable speeds—particularly those binge-watching streaming services he claims to love so much. Strangely, Pai didn’t mention torrenting, one of the applications of the internet he believes ISPs should be able to turn off entirely to save on bandwidth.

Update 12/14/2017: As first discovered by Twitter user and musician Alexander Smith, one of the Daily Caller employees that danced alongside Pai in the video seems to be a proponent of Pizzagate, the infamous and completely baseless internet conspiracy theory claiming prominent Washington, D.C. Democrats were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a local pizza restaurant.

The woman in question, Daily Caller video producer Martina Markota, appears to the right of Pai during the Harlem Shake portion of the video.

Smith directed Gizmodo to Markota’s website. There, one of her demo reels included an unlisted YouTube video in which she discussed a sprawling conspiracy theory intertwining the Clinton political dynasty, John Podesta, email scandals, cocaine, “government pedo programs,” and “cheese pizza,” which she alleged was a code word referring to sex with children.

“This is not something I’m making up because I’m trying to, you know, put in my fantasy version of what’s going on and interject it into these email scandals, this is independently of the campaign I know what cheese pizza is,” Markota continued.

Several prominent Pizzagate proponents, including far-right personalities Mike Cernovich and Alex Jones, quickly distanced themselves from the whole mess after a gunman stormed a D.C.-area pizza restaurant. That perhaps explains why the video is unlisted on Markota’s YouTube feed.

Earlier in the day, Markota additionally appeared to have referenced her presence in Pai’s video on Twitter, writing “Party hard with the chairman of the FCC? Why not.”

Roger Stone's New Book On Trump

roger stone donald trump2Newsweek, It’s ‘Painfully Obvious’ Trump Will Be Charged by Mueller, Says President’s Ally Roger Stone, Marie Solis, Dec. 13, 2017. One of President Donald Trump's longtime allies is foretelling doom for the commander in chief, who is embroiled in multiple controversies that threaten his office. Political strategist Roger Stone (shown in a file photo with Trump) said it's only a matter of time before special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and the Trump sexual misconduct allegations that number well into the double digits catch up to the president.

"It’s painfully obvious Mueller will bring charges," Stone told Vanity Fair. "The theory is Mueller will indict him on some process-related matter.... The only people who don’t seem to know it are [Trump lawyers] Ty Cobb, [John] Dowd, and the president."

Stone, however, may also be sticking a knife in the president's back. The political consultant has a long history of self-promotion, from his many conspiracy theorist books to his radio show to his eponymous blog StoneColdTruth.com.

Stone stepped away from Trump's presidential campaign in 2015, though there was some dispute about whether he left of his own volition or was fired by Trump's campaign aides, who believed Stone had "sought attention for himself instead of the candidate," according to The Washington Post.   

nikki haley oAlso, Stone said it's telling that members of Trump's cabinet, including Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, seem to be turning against him. During a Sunday interview on CBS's Face the Nation, Haley (shown in an official photo) said the 19 women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment or assault "should be heard" and "dealt with." Two unidentified sources later told the Associated Press that the president was angry about her comments—as he should be, Stone told Vanity Fair.

“Nikki Haley stuck a knife in his back," he said. Stone said he has been compiling anecdotes about the political strife that has punctuated Trump's presidency into a book to be called The Fall of Trump, reportedly the first in a series he'll publish with Skyhorse Publishing. Stone said he's been adding to the book "as we go along" in Trump's presidency.

U.S. Military Interventions Overseas

jacob hornberger headshotFuture of Freedom Foundation, Why Are There Still Any Foreign Interventionists? Jacob G. Hornberger, Dec. 13, 2017. For the first hundred years of American history, the United States was founded on the concept of a limited-government republic, one whose government did not intervene in the affairs of other nations, specifically in Europe and Asia. America’s non-interventionist philosophy was summed up by John Quincy Adams’ Fourth of July address to Congress in 1821, the title of which is “In Search of Monsters to Destroy.”

Later generations of Americans abandoned that founding foreign-policy principle and adopted the opposite philosophy — interventionism. The big turn came in 1898 with the Spanish American War, continued with World War I and World War II, followed by the Korean War and Vietnam War, culminating in today’s forever wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, with coups, invasions, assassinations, kidnappings, and partnerships with and support of foreign dictators thrown into the mix.

Americans today have a choice: Restore America’s founding principle of non-interventionism or continue embracing foreign interventionism. The good news is that according to an excellent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Texas A&M professor Elizabeth Cobbs, a Pew organization poll conducted in 2016 found that 57% of Americans said that the United States should  “‘mind its own business’ and allow other countries to get along on their own.” That was up from 52% in 2013.

That means that we might well be very close to a critical mass that brings one of those gigantic societal shifts that have periodically occurred in history in the direction of freedom.

Hastert Scandal

dennis hastert mugDaily Mail, Disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is barred from being alone with minors and watching porn following conviction in sex abuse case, Associated Press and Keith Griffith, Dec. 13, 2017. A judge has barred disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert from being alone with minors or watching porn. Tuesday's court order in Chicago requires that Hastert never be left alone with anyone under 18 unless another adult is present who is aware of his conviction in a sex abuse hush-money case.

US District Judge Thomas M. Durkin didn't explain in his brief order why that and other new restrictions on the 75-year-old were called for now, three months into his two-year period of supervised release from prison. Others new requirements included barring Hastert from possessing pornography and using 'any sex-related telephone numbers.'

He also must allow - and pay for - the installation of software that records all his computer activity, from browser history to email correspondence and internet chats. The new restrictions on Hastert came a day after a report filed under seal by his probation officer, which likely explained why the officer felt they were necessary.

dennis hastert wrestling cnn 1960sIt is unclear what prompted the new probation restrictions, which follow a report filed under seal by a probation officer on Monday 'You think about shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation -- the Hasterts of the world have so much trust and respect over you that you really have a hard time processing and understanding it,' Cross added.

In a memo written in advance of his 2016 sentencing hearing, prosecutors spelled out in graphic detail how Hastert (shown above left in a 1960s photo as a high school wrestling coach) sexually molested or inappropriately touched five teenagers who trusted him as their wrestling coach. And as Hastert rose to power, believing that his wrongdoing would never be made public, his victims struggled with the effects of the abuse, prosecutors wrote. At the time of sentencing, Durkin said he would have given him a longer sentence if it had not been for his age and poor health.  

Dec. 12

Unz Review, Bad Moon Rising, Philip Giraldi, Dec. 12, 2017.  A new cabinet will mark neocon ascendancy. Back during the admittedly brief shock and awe period that immediately followed on the Trump electoral victory, it appeared that there might be an actual realignment of American foreign policy. The neoconservatives virtually unanimously had opposed Donald Trump in the most vile terms, both in the GOP primaries and during the actual electoral campaign, making clear that Hillary was their choice for a future full of unrelenting, ideologically driven warfare to convert the world to democracy. By that metric, one would assume that Trump would prefer to be roasted on a spit rather than have neocons on his national security team, and many in the punditry did agree with that analysis and went on to share that view.

Which brings us to the latest shuffle in the Donald Trump cabinet and what it is likely to mean down the road. Multiple sources are predicting Tillerson out and Mike Pompeo in at State Department with Pompeo replaced at CIA by Senator Tom Cotton. The White House is denying the story, calling it “fake news,” but it is clear that Trump is uncomfortable with the current arrangement and Tillerson will be gone sooner or later.

Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State replaces a somewhat bumbling businessman adept at dealing in energy futures contracts who has been struggling with reducing State’s enormously bloated payroll. Pompeo, a real hard-nosed political hardliner who tends to see complex issues in fairly simplistic ways, has become a presidential confidant, briefing Trump frequently on the state of the world, most recently pushing for the horrific decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In a recent speech , Pompeo criticized the CIA, observing that it had both forgotten how to spy, which is almost certainly true, while adding that it will have to become “more vicious” to accomplish its mission of making the United States “safe.” Pompeo would like to turn the United States into an unleashed wrecking ball directed against the enemies of the American Way and he appears intent on starting that process in the Middle East.

And Pompeo will be replaced as CIA Director by Tom Cotton. The less said about Tom the better, but I will attempt to summarize in 8 words here: Tom is completely owned by the Israel Lobby. In his 2014 election as junior Senator from Arkansas, he received $1 million from the Emergency Committee for Israel headed by Bill Kristol as well as additional assistance from the Republican Jewish Coalition. In March 2015, Tom paid those supporters back when 47 Republican United States Senators signed a letter allegedly written by him that was then sent to the Iranian government directly, warning that any agreement over that country’s nuclear program reached with President Barack Obama would likely be overturned by the Congress. The letter, which undercuts the authority of the American president before an international audience, was signed by the entire Republican Party leadership in the Senate and also included then presidential contenders Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

I do not wish to imply that Cotton and Pompeo are somehow stupid, but they do tend to see the world in a very monochromatic fashion, just like their boss. Pompeo was first in his class at West Point and Cotton graduated from Harvard as an undergrad and also from the Law School. Trump claims to be the smartest person in the room no matter where he is standing. But for all the academic credentials and other posturing, it is hard to imagine how the new choices could possibly be worse from a common-sense perspective unless one includes Nikki Haley, who is, fortunately, otherwise engaged. Haley really is stupid. And ambitious. And is also owned by the Israel Lobby, which appears to be a thread that runs its way through all the Trump foreign policy appointees.

What is wrong about the whole Trump team is that they all seem to believe that you can go around the world kicking the shit out of everyone without there being any consequences. And they all hate Iran for reasons that continue to be obscure but may be connected to their relationships with – you guessed it – the neoconservatives and the Israeli Lobby!

Yes, the neocons are back.

Activist Post, DOJ Wall Street – Get Rich Quick – Revolving Door$, Aaron Kesel, Dec. 12, 2017. This is the fourth part of an investigative series concerning the troubling matter of Wall Street crimes protected by federal agents switching sides to protect their secret buddies’ “bizness” schemes by conflict of interests and “revolving doors.”

In this segment, we’ll look into apparent acts of federal agents’ incompetence, willful blindness and observable acts of clear duplicity. Today we will be looking at what are known as Deferred Prosecution Agreements. (“Defers”) aren’t even slaps on the wrists, because those fines are paid by the stockholders and not Wall Street executives who should be convicted.

An even more alarming fact is that the more this reporter digs and talks to the eToys federal case whistleblower Laser Haas, the more cases that show numerous occasions where federal agents are turning up directly connected to this revolving door; some even have payoffs involved to exiting prosecutors under the guise of Deferred Prosecution Agreements.

A good majority of the population, not so long ago, had another phrase coined for federal agents getting millions of dollars to forego prosecutions! But it seems today that the rule of law has been forgotten.

Back in 2001, with smoking guns unearthed in 2004, several Wall Street crimes were brought to the attention of federal agents and agencies alike, such as the SEC, DOJ, FBI and United States Trustee program, in Delaware, by the eToys federal case whistleblower.

Unbeknownst to the eToys whistleblower at the time, the Delaware United States Attorney, Colm Connolly, had been a partner of the very MNAT law firm that Laser Haas sought to be indicted for a plethora of alleged crimes. This single case of Colm Connolly & MNAT is corroborative proof that the “revolving door” paradigm needs to be addressed by Congress. But this isn’t the only instance of revolving doors you will hear about in this series. As noted by his résumé (archived), Connolly was a clerk for a 3rd Circuit Justice who was, coincidentally, a partner of MNAT.

Media

usa today logoDonald Trump Apprentice USA Today, Opinion: Will Trump's lows ever hit rock bottom? Editorial Board, Dec. 12, 2017. A president who'd all but call a senator a whore is unfit to clean toilets in Obama's presidential library or to shine George W. Bush's shoes: Our view. With his latest tweet, clearly implying that a United States senator would trade sexual favors for campaign cash, President Trump (portrayed in a photo from his NBC show "The Apprentice.") has shown he is not fit for office. Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low.

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New York Times, ‘Fake News,’ Trump’s Cry, Is Now a Cudgel for Strongmen, Steven Erlanger, Dec. 12, 2017. Leaders who don’t like to be criticized or investigated have embraced the term. Scholars fear that it further erodes trust in democracy.

Inside Washington

irs logoHuffPost, Doug Jones’ Victory Could Be Trouble For Tax Reform, Arthur Delaney, Dec. 12, 2017. Senate Republicans already have a thin margin for error, but they’re hoping to finish their tax bill before the Alabama winner is seated. The Republican tax agenda could face an additional obstacle now that Democrat Doug Jones has defeated Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election on Tuesday.

Jones likely won’t be seated until January, which is after Republicans plan to send a tax bill to the president’s desk. But if for some reason the legislation were delayed, Senate Republicans would have an even thinner margin for success without Moore as a senator. The Senate approved its version of tax reform earlier this month by a margin of 51-49, so having one fewer Republican would not necessarily imperil the bill, since Vice President Mike Pence can break a 50-50 tie.

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Washington Post, Judge bars disgraced former House speaker Dennis Hastert from being alone with children, Samantha Schmidt, Dec. 13, 2017. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert must not be left alone with children unless another adult is present who knows that he paid money to conceal that he’d sexually abused teenage boys, a federal judge in Chicago ordered on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

dennis hastert prison wheelchair abcHastert, who admitted in 2015 to doling out hush money and lying about it to the FBI, is also barred from possessing pornography and using sex chat lines. The Illinois Republican (shown in a file photo being wheeled by his wife) left a federal prison in Minnesota in July after serving nearly 13 months of his 15-month sentence. He is now on supervised release.

Zero Hedge via SouthFront, Opinion: "Trump Should Go F Himself" – Texts Leak From FBI Agents On Russia Probe, Hillary Emails Investigation, Staff report, Dec. 13, 2017. Over 10,000 text messages sent between two top FBI investigators – one of whom led both the Clinton email investigation and the early Trump-Russia probe, have been turned over to Congress Tuesday evening and promptly leaked to the press.

Peter Strozk Lisa PageThe profanity-laced messages reveal a deep hatred for Trump between veteran agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, who were having an extramarital affair while working together on the Clinton email investigation when the texts were exchanged. Strzok and Page were fired from Robert Mueller’s special counsel in mid-August over the messages, yet the reason was not revealed until last month. Strzok notably changed the wording of then-FBI Director James Comey’s statement on Clinton’s mishandling of classified information from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.”

fox news logo SmallIn one exchange obtained by Fox News sent on March 4th, 2016 – right around the time Trump emerged as a serious threat in the GOP primary race, Page texted Strzok “God, Trump is a loathsome human,” to which Strzok responded “Yet he many[win]” Strzok responded, adding “Good for Hillary.” Later that day, Strzok texted Page, “OMG [Trump’s] an idiot” to which Page replied “He’s awful.” Strzok then texted Page “America will get what the voting public deserves,” to which Page responded “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Fox reporter Shannon Brem tweeted that Fox News producer Jake Gibson has obtained 10k texts between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, one of which says “Trump should go f himself,” and “F TRUMP.”

Inside Washington

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Washington Post, Investigation: NOAA nominee’s financial conflicts, efforts to curb agency’s role draw rare criticism from former chiefs, Robert O'Harrow Jr., Dec. 12, 2017. Three former administrators of the agency responsible for the government’s vast weather forecasting system have serious concerns about the businessman President Trump has nominated to be its next leader, and two of them say the nominee has conflicts of interests that should disqualify him, documents and interviews show.

It is the first time in the half-century history of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, that former administrators have voiced such strong opposition, agency veterans say. The nominee, Barry Myers, is among a growing number of controversial figures Trump — who has promised to disrupt and downsize the federal government — has selected for key posts.  

hope hicks strategic communications directorPalmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump may have just sent some of his own White House advisers to prison, Bill Palmer, Dec. 12, 2017. Now that Hope Hicks (shown at right) has spent two full days cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and Donald Trump has figured out that it means she’s given him up, he’s throwing a tantrum. Trump is suddenly stomping his feet and making new demands that he can’t legally make or enforce. Yet some of his own top White House staffers will likely go along with it, meaning they might as well report directly to prison.

Trump has announced through his attorneys today that he’ll no longer allow any more of his current White House advisers to be interviewed by Mueller. Even though it’s been reported by several major news outlets and came straight from Trump’s own attorney’s mouth, it’s still an incredible development. Trump doesn’t have the legal power to block his employees from speaking to Mueller. More importantly, Mueller does have the legal power to compel all of these people to sit down with him.

Robert Mueller has also already gotten to White House Counsel Don McGahn, White House adviser Stephen Miller, and former White House advisers Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer. Based on how long their interviews lasted, it appears they were all fully cooperative – which would mean that they gave Donald Trump up for obstruction as well. Keep in mind none of these staffers were necessarily involved in the Russia scandal, only the coverup. Mueller already has his star collusion witness, Michael Flynn, in hand.

Sex Crime Claims, Politics, Hyopocrisy

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Washington Post, Accused of molesting a teenage girl, Kentucky lawmaker refuses to resign, Marwa Eltagouri, Dec. 12, 2017. State leaders from both parties are calling for state Rep. Dan Johnson’s resignation after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published an exposé detailing allegations about his actions with a daughter’s friend.

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Washington Post, Why is Trump attacking Kirsten Gillibrand, the only female senator who has said he should resign? Amber Phillips, Dec. 12, 2017. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) isn't the first Democratic senator this week to say President Trump should resign over allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances on more than a dozen women. But she is the first woman to say it. And she is the one to get attacked by the president for it. But she is definitely not the first female critic of the president to get attacked with overtly sexist language.

The battle Trump launched with Gillibrand is not politically advisable, as The Fix's Aaron Blake points out. But based on his past behavior, it was entirely predictable.

Here are a couple likely reasons Trump is attacking Gillibrand and leaving the other senators alone.

Police Terror Suspect Claims Entrapment By FBI

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Washington Post, Former police officer argues FBI pushed him to support terrorism, Rachel Weiner, Dec. 12, 2017. Nicholas Young, who worked for the Metro Transit Police, hopes to be the first person since the­ Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to win a terrorism trial by arguing that he was entrapped by law enforcement.

In the years Nicholas Young went to work patrolling Washington’s Metro system, a federal prosecutor said, an FBI agent was lying awake at night worrying about what he might do.

fbi logoAs the first police officer to face terrorism charges in the United States goes to trial in federal court this week, FBI special agents and undercover operatives explained to jurors how they began investigating Young in 2010 — and why he was not arrested until August 2016. It was then that Young bought Google Play gift cards that prosecutors say he thought would be used by Islamic State recruits to download encrypted messaging applications.

During the years-long investigation of the Alexandria, Va., native, several law enforcement officials testified, Young repeatedly made violent remarks that were concerning but did not prompt immediate action. Prosecutors said a sting operation involving the gift cards was necessary to get a dangerous radical not just off the streets, but also out of law enforcement.

Media Changes

john pilgerConsortium News, Silencing of Courageous Documentaries, John Pilger (documentary film maker shown at right), Dec. 12, 2017. Historically, documentaries have told important truth in powerful ways and often challenging powerful groupthinks, but such brave films are becoming an endangered species.

Britain remains one of the few countries where documentaries are still shown on mainstream television in the hours when most people are still awake. But documentaries that go against the received wisdom are becoming an endangered species, at the very time we need them perhaps more than ever.

In survey after survey, when people are asked what they would like more of on television, they say documentaries. I don’t believe they mean a type of current affairs program that is a platform for politicians and “experts” who affect a specious balance between great power and its victims. Observational documentaries are popular; but films about airports and motorway police do not make sense of the world. They entertain.

The Coming War on China, which I completed last year, has been broadcast in the United Kingdom but not in the United States – where 90 per cent of the population cannot name or locate the capital of North Korea or explain why Trump wants to destroy it. China is next door to North Korea.

According to one “progressive” film distributor in the U.S., the American people are interested only in what she calls “character-driven” documentaries. This is code for a “look at me” consumerist cult that now consumes and intimidates and exploits so much of our popular culture, while turning away film-makers from a subject as urgent as any in modern times.

Dec. 11

doug jones senateLegal Schnauzer, Campaign finance reports for Democrat Doug Jones show quite a few of his boosters are longtime donors to GOP stalwarts like Sessions, Shelby, and Bachus, Roger Shuler, Dec. 11, 2017. Anyone who doubts Alabama Republicans have backed Democrat Doug Jones' run for the U.S. Senate should be able to take it to the bank now. An article over the weekend at Politico shows, in black and white, that long-time GOP donors make up a meaningful portion of Jones' financial support -- and still, polls show he is likely to lose tomorrow to Republican theocrat and child molester Roy Moore.

We've already shown that GOP luminaries such as Karl Rove, Tom Donohue, Rob Riley, and Bill Canary have been backing Jones. But Politico adds to the right-wing equation backing Jones. From the article by Daniel Strauss and Luis Sanchez:

A small group of Alabama Republicans have joined forces with Democrat Doug Jones’ campaign ahead of Tuesday’s special Senate election. But they are having trouble swaying many friends and family members to cross the aisle, too.

Democrat Doug Jones’ campaign finance reports are dotted with longtime donors to Alabama Republicans like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sen. Richard Shelby and former Rep. Spencer Bachus. Republican attorneys in Birmingham and Mobile who have disliked Moore since he was a judge have banded together to offer support to Jones. The Republicans for Jones include Gina Dearborn, an Alabama lobbyist and former Shelby staffer who has backed Jones on social media and is married to White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn.

Roy Moore is a detestable candidate in the eyes of many Alabamians with functioning cerebrums -- and many held that view long before reports that Moore, as an early 30-ish district attorney, had a taste for the flesh of teen-aged girls. But what do you get with Jones? A "Democrat" who likely will be taking marching orders from right-wingers like Sessions, Shelby, Rove, Donohue, and Riley.

Jones' documented ties to Rob Riley should be troubling for anyone with the slightest hint of a moral compass. The two of them worked to help generate $51 million in attorney fees from a HealthSouth lawsuit -- while Jones, at the same time, was "defending" former Gov. Don Siegelman, whose co-defendant was former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. It's hard to imagine a more glaring conflict of interest than that. Plus, Jones charged Siegelman $300,000 for a criminal defense he didn't perform; Jones bailed out before trial, because of his own scheduling conflict, and apparently did not repay a dime of the money he took from Siegelman.

Global News: Syria

New Yorker, Trump to Let Assad Stay Until 2021, as Putin Declares Victory in Syria, Robin Wright, Dec. 11, 2017. Despite the deaths of as many as half a million people, dozens by chemical weapons, in the Syrian civil war, the Trump Administration is now prepared to accept President Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule until Syria’s next scheduled Presidential election, in 2021, according to U.S. and European officials. The decision reverses repeated U.S. statements that Assad must step down as part of a peace process.

As recently as October, after a swing through the Middle East, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “The United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar al-Assad in the government.” He told reporters travelling with him, “The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. The only issue is how that should that be brought about.”

The U.S. decision reflects the Administration’s limited options, the military reality on the ground, and the success of Syria’s Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah allies in propping up the beleaguered Assad regime. In a surprise visit to Syria, on Monday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin declared victory against both ISIS jihadis and Western-backed rebels. “In just over two years, Russia’s armed forces and the Syrian Army have defeated the most battle-hardened group of international terrorists,” Putin told Russian forces stationed at an airbase in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia. Russia’s decision, in 2015, to provide air power to Assad is widely considered the pivotal turning point for the regime, which has now defied steep odds to hold on to power.

Over the past few months, facts on the ground have led the Administration to accept that Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for almost a half century, may be around for as much as four more years. Syria now controls the majority of territory — including cities such as Damascus, Hama, Homs, Latakia, and Aleppo, which was once the opposition’s crown jewel — that U.S. analysts refer to as “useful Syria.” The regime and its foreign allies — Russia, Iran, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — have consolidated what were, a year ago, unconnected patches of territory. And Assad’s rule has been restored over the majority of the Syrian population.

Diplomatically, Washington has been marginalized by the powerful troika of Russia, Iran, and Turkey, which now dominates the peace process. Several rounds of talks sponsored by the United Nations, in Geneva, have made no progress. The U.N. effort has been superseded by the Russian-led troika’s peace talks, launched in January, held in Astana, Kazakhstan. After his visit to Syria, Putin flew to Turkey to discuss the next steps in that process with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Dec. 10

Bloomberg, The Trump-Russia Probe Is About to Get UglierUnpleasant facts are spilling out. Republicans don't want to know them, Albert R. Hunt, Dec. 10, 2017. Here are two certainties about the Trump-Russia investigation. It won't end soon. It will get uglier. A new shoe drops almost daily in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. First, Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying and agreed to cooperate. Then the White House changed its story (again) on what President Donald Trump knew after he was first advised in January that Flynn posed security problems.

Last week came news that Mueller had subpoenaed financial records from Deutsche Bank pertaining to people affiliated with Trump. Then Donald Trump Jr. said he wouldn't tell Congress about conversations he had with his father about his 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer, invoking a dubious claim of attorney-client privilege.

This is not a saga in its closing chapter. Equally clear is that no matter what is revealed, Trump and his allies won't go quietly. Already, some congressional Republicans are trying to smear Mueller, the most experienced and respected special counsel in more than 40 years. If cornered, does anyone doubt that Trump will summon his core supporters to the streets?

The constant revelations create such a blur that context sometimes is overlooked. Trump and his operatives have lied repeatedly, denying that they had any contacts with Russians. We now know of at least 19 meetings among 31 interactions.

Dec. 9

wayne madsen presstvWayne Madsen Report (WMR), Trump’s “Apprentice” outtakes reportedly reveal boasts about sex and young girls, Wayne Madsen (shown in a screen shot), Dec. 9, 2017 (subscription required, exceerpted with permission). There are reports from media insiders that Donald Trump made favorable comments about sex with underage girls during several taping sessions of “The Apprentice” reality television show during its 11-season run. These comments are in addition to previously reported remarks by Trump that were racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic in nature.

Chicago Tribune, Commentary: I study liars. I've never seen one like Donald Trump, Bella DePaulo, Dec. 8, 2017. I spent the first two decades of my career as a social scientist studying liars and their lies. I thought I had developed a sense of what to expect from them. Then along came President Donald Trump. His lies are both more frequent and more malicious than ordinary people's.

Dec. 7

Flynn Allegedly Tweeted About Gaining Private Riches During Trump Inauguration

michael flynn flickr gage skidmore phoenix 10 29 2016

 Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen Michael Flynn at a campaign rally for Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Oct. 29, 2016. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

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New York Times, Russian Sanctions Would be ‘Ripped Up,’ Flynn Said, Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt, Dec. 7, 2017 (print edition). A whistle-blower told Congress that Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, thought that ending the sanctions would help a business project he was once involved with.

Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” as one of the Trump administration’s first acts, according to an account by a whistle-blower made public on Wednesday.

Mr. Flynn believed that ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward, according to the whistle-blower. The account is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately, and suggests that Mr. Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia.

Mr. Flynn had worked on a business venture to partner with Russia to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East until June 2016, but remained close with the people involved afterward. On Inauguration Day, as he sat behind the president listening to the inaugural address, Mr. Flynn, according to the whistle-blower, texted the former business associate to say that the project was “good to go.”

The account is detailed in a letter written by Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. In the letter, Mr. Cummings said that the whistle-blower contacted his office in June and has authorized him to go public with the details. He did not name the whistle-blower.

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Washington Post, Flynn told former business associate that Russia sanctions would be ‘ripped up,’ according to congressional witness, Tom Hamburger, Dec. 7, 2017 (print edition). During President Trump’s inaugural address, the new national security adviser allegedly sent a text that a plan to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East in partnership with Russian interests was “good to go.

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fbi logoWashington Post, GOP steps up criticism of Mueller, FBI as Russia probe intensifies, Devlin Barrett and Sean Sullivan, Dec. 7, 2017. For months, President Trump and his allies have been seizing on any whiff of possible impropriety by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team or the FBI to argue that the Russia investigation is stacked against Trump — potentially building the political support needed to dismiss the special counsel. 

Global News: Israel

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israel flagWashington Post, In Jerusalem move, Trump delivers on campaign promise despite warnings, Josh Dawsey, Missy Ryan and Karen DeYoung, Dec. 7, 2017. The president’s choice to align himself with prominent proponents of the decision underscored his determination to break with past policy and keep a pledge to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — despite the potential risks to U.S. interests in the region.

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Washington Post, ‘This will be bad’: Clashes break out in West Bank and Gaza Strip, Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash​, Dec. 7, 2017.  Israeli forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of Palestinian protesters who gathered near Ramallah to air their anger after President Trump announced that his administration would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

DC Sex Scandal Fallouts

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Washington Post, As calls grow for Franken to resign, senator is set to make announcement about his future, Elise Viebeck, Ed O'Keefe and Karen Tumulty, Dec. 7, 2017. A majority of Senate Democrats said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) should step aside after determining that they could no longer tolerate his presence in their midst as a growing number of women accused him of sexual harassment. But Franken’s office disputed a report that the senator plans to resign.

Inside Washington

Palmer Report, Opinion: Everyone piles on after Donald Trump’s teeth appear to fall out during speech, Bill Palmer, Dec. 7, 2017. Donald Trump gave a nationally televised speech on Wednesday in which he announced the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It was a blatantly timed attempt at provoking a war in the Middle East, as he desperately tries to create a distraction from his worsening Russian treason scandal. Instead, most people ended up focusing on the fact that Trump’s teeth appeared to fall out during the speech. No, really.

While Trump was giving his speech, he began slurring his words rather severely. That slurring kept getting worse until he ended his speech by saying what sounded like “God blesh the United Shesh.” The whole time, it looked like his teeth were moving around in his mouth, which led many to wonder if his dentures had come loose. There’s no shame in a seventy-one year old man having dentures, but it sure goes a long way toward proving that he’s been flat broke for years, or else he’d have implants. In any case, the hashtag #DentureDonald began trending on Twitter as people piled on.

Global News: Syria

SouthFront, Military Situation In Syria And Iraq, Staff report, Dec. 7, 2017. This map provides a general look at the military situation in Syria and Iraq. The Syrian Arab Army, Hezbollah and their allies have taken a full control over the Deir Ezzor-al-Bukamal highway closing the last gap in the large land route, which links Lebanon and Iran.

Dec. 6

Donald Trump Jr. Ducks Questions On Disputed Legal Privilege

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donald trump jr. fox screenshot customWashington Post, Donald Trump Jr. grilled about Russian contacts by House intelligence committee, Karoun Demirjian and Rosalind S. Helderman​, Dec. 6, 2017. In his roughly seven-hour interview, the president’s eldest son (shown in a file photo) was queried about a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer and his contact with WikiLeaks in October 2016.

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New York Times, Trump Jr. Tells Panel He Won’t Discuss Call With Father, Sharon LaFraniere and Nicholas Fando, Dec. 6, 2017. Donald Trump Jr. refused on Wednesday to provide a congressional committee details of a July telephone conversation with his father about a meeting last year at which Trump campaign officials had expected to receive damaging information from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton.

Testifying in a closed session before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Trump claimed that his conversation over the summer with his father, two days after The New York Times disclosed the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, was protected under attorney-client privilege because lawyers for both men were on the call.

What, if anything, Donald J. Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting as a presidential candidate — and his role in drafting a misleading statement about it once he was president and it became public — are key questions for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the election.

Donald Trump Jr. had agreed to the meeting after receiving an email stating that a Russian government lawyer would provide incriminating facts about Mrs. Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” He has said that no damaging information was delivered.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Robert Mueller exposes how Russian banks literally bought Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 6, 2017. Based on his actions, it’s been clear all along that Donald Trump is a financial puppet of the Russian government. It’s why he allowed the Russians to run his campaign at every level, and it’s why his political policies are so blatantly pro-Russia. The tricky part has been figuring out how Russia took financial control of Trump to begin with. Now, just one day after learning that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was seeking Trump’s banking info, we have at least part of the answer.

Yesterday’s news had Robert Mueller seizing financial records from Deutsche Bank, which has loaned a suspiciously large amount of money to Donald Trump over the years. Deutsche Bank was also caught earlier this year having facilitated the laundering of billions of dollars of Russian money into the hands of clients in the United States. This may have been how Russia funneled money to Trump in order to put him even further in debt to the Kremlin.

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New York Times, G.O.P. Works to Fix Tax Bill Differences as Cost Fears Loom, Alan Rappeport, Dec. 6, 2017. The Senate voted to begin the formal process of reconciling its tax bill with the House version as lawmakers continued to discuss changes to the legislation.

House Leader Seeks Austerity To Pay For Tax Cuts

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paul ryan oWashington Post, Ryan says Republicans to target welfare, Medicare, Medicaid spending to ‘tackle the debt,’ Jeff Stein, Dec. 6, 2017. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan's remarks add to the growing signs that top Republicans aim to cut government spending next year. Democrats say the GOP will use higher deficits — in part caused by their tax bill — as a pretext to cut government health-care and social-service spending.

Rampant LA Wildfires

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Washington Post, Ferocious wildfires force thousands to evacuate in Southern California, Mark Berman and Eli Rosenberg​, Dec. 6, 2017. Authorities and forecasters warned that dangerous fires could endanger the region for days. The largest of the wildfires has already engulfed 50,000 acres.

Trump Partners With Israel On Jerusalem

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israel flagWashington Post, Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israeli capital in reversal of longtime U.S. policy, David Nakamura, Dec. 6, 2017.  The president said he remains fully committed to a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians even as his announcement brought recriminations in the Middle East. Washington Post, ‘It’s catastrophic’: U.S. allies reject Trump’s Jerusalem pronouncement.

Pressure Grows On Franken To Resign Senate Seat

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Roll Call, Senate Democratic Women Call on Franken to Resign, Niels Lesniewski, Dec. 6, 2017. Nearly simultaneously, a series of Senate Democratic women issued calls for Democratic Sen. Al Franken (shown at right) to resign Wednesday morning including Patty Murray, a trusted lieutenant to Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and rising star Kamala Harris. “I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” Murray said in a statement. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. “It’s time for him to step aside,” she said. Murray was not alone.

The message from Gillibrand was roughly simultaneous as a statement from Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii who serveson the Judiciary Committee with Franken. The calls for Franken to leave the Senate come amid an increasing number of allegations of inappropriate conduct toward women by the Minnesota senator.

Related Story: Washington Post, Senate Democrats increase calls for Franken to resign amid sexual harassment allegations, Elise Viebeck, Ed O'Keefe and Karen Tumulty​, Dec. 6, 2017. The growing push raises the possibility that Minnesota Democrat will become the second lawmaker to step aside over recent accusations of inappropriate behavior. Franken has denied intentional wrongdoing and has apologized.

Massive U.S. Election Voter Hacking Threat Seen

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Washington Post, Trump’s voter fraud commission plans to create a massive voter database, Hamza Shaban, Dec. 6, 2017. Former national security officials say it could be hacked. The data collected by Trump's voter fraud commission could be manipulated by foreign actors, leading the administration to wrongfully purge legitimate voters, experts say.

More than a half-dozen technology experts and former national security officials filed an amicus brief Tuesday urging a federal court to halt the collection of voter information for a planned government database.

James Clapper oFormer national intelligence director James R. Clapper Jr. (shown in a file photo), one of the co-signatories of the brief, warned that a White House plan to create a centralized database containing sensitive information on millions of American voters will become an attractive target for nation states and criminal hackers.

This summer, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity issued a sweeping request to state officials to submit voter data to "analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting.” The commission, which is chaired by Vice President Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), was established after President Trump claimed that he would have won the popular vote if not for as many as 5 million illegally cast ballots. State officials haven't found any indication that there was widespread voter fraud.

Trump Probes Heat Up

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fbi logoWashington Post, As Russia investigation intensifies, Republicans take aim at Mueller, FBI, Devlin Barrett and Sean Sullivan​, Dec. 6, 2017.  Several law enforcement officials said they are concerned that the drumbeat of criticism from GOP activists and lawmakers seems designed to erode special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s credibility, making it more politically palatable to ignore his recommendations as his inquiry moves further into President Trump’s inner circle.

U.S. Politics: Bannon Blasts Romney At Moore Rally

roy moore cowboy hat no gun

steve bannon heritage foundation

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Washington Post, Bannon unloads on Mitt Romney in Alabama speech: ‘You hid behind your religion’ to avoid Vietnam, David Weigel, Dec. 6, 2017. Former White House political strategist Stephen K. Bannon (shown in a file photo) rallied for Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore (shown above in a file photo) by picking another fight with a figure from the so-called Republican establishment: 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney (shown in a file photo below).

mitt romney w“Judge Roy Moore has more honor and integrity in that pinkie finger than your entire family has in its whole DNA,” Bannon said in his 30-minute speech at Oak Hollow Farm. “You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam. Do not talk to me about honor and integrity,” he said, referencing Romney’s Mormon faith.

Romney, one of many Republicans who called on Moore to quit the race last month, had taken another swing at the candidate after President Trump officially endorsed him. Like all but one of those Republicans — Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — Romney criticized Moore without urging voters to support his Democratic rival.

New Call For GOP Accountabiilty On Harassment Claims

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Washington Post, Opinion: Fellow conservatives, it’s time to call on Clarence Thomas to resign, Jay Kaganoff, Dec. 6, 2017. Jay Kaganoff is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. He has written for National Review Online and Commentary Magazine, among others.

In this new environment, several on the left have begun reconsidering their support for Bill Clinton. Clinton should have resigned, wrote Matt Yglesias at Vox; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also said that Clinton should have resigned. Alyssa Rosenberg went even further, arguing that Democrats even now should shun Clinton.

Those of us on the right could use a reckoning, too. Obviously, Donald Trump has no business being president; I opposed his candidacy and I oppose his presidency, so I don’t need to reiterate that further. The same is true for Roy Moore. But I’ve been thinking about Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, and I think it’s time conservatives seriously reconsider our continued support for Thomas in light of his past.

Corrupt Media Power Plays?

harvey weinstein

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New York Times, Weinstein’s Complicity Machine: I’m Harvey Weinstein — you know what I can do,’ Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Susan Dominus, Jim Rutenberg and Steve Eder, Dec. 6, 2017. ‘I am a man who has great resources.... ‘I have ears and eyes everywhere!’

The producer Harvey Weinstein (shown at right) relied on powerfulrelationships across industries to provide him with coveras accusations of sexual misconduct piled up for decades.

Inside Washington

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New York Times, Under New Boss, Consumer Watchdog Loses Its Bite, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Stacy Cowley, Dec. 6, 2017. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is showing a softer regulatory touch under President Trump’s new appointee. And internal resistance is brewing.

The defanging of a federal consumer watchdog agency began last week in a federal courthouse in San Francisco.

After a nearly three-year legal skirmish, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau appeared to have been victorious. A judge agreed in September with the bureau that a financial company had misled more than 100,000 mortgage customers. As punishment, the judge ordered the Ohio company, Nationwide Biweekly Administration, to pay nearly $8 million in penalties.

All that was left was to collect the cash. Last week, lawyers from the consumer bureau filed an 11-page brief asking the judge to force Nationwide to post an $8 million bond while the proceedings wrapped up.

mick mulvaney omb SmallThen Mick Mulvaney (head of the White House Office of Management and Budget and a former South Carolina congressman shown at right) was named the consumer bureau’s acting director.

Barely 48 hours later, the same lawyers filed a new two-sentence brief. Their request: to withdraw their earlier submission and no longer take a position on whether Nationwide should put up the cash.

It was a subtle but unmistakable sign that the consumer bureau under Mr. Mulvaney is headed in a new direction — one that takes a lighter touch to regulating the financial industry. The reversal is part of a broad push by the Trump administration to unfetter companies from Obama-era regulations.

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New York Times, The CHIP Program Is Beloved. Why Is Its Funding in Danger? Abby Goodnough and Robert Pear, Dec. 6, 2017. A children’s health insurance program popular with both Republicans and Democrats is in limbo because of partisan rancor that has stymied legislative action in Washington.

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us house logoWashington Post, House votes to kill Texas lawmaker’s Trump impeachment effort, Mike DeBonis, Dec. 6, 2017. Republicans and most Democrats in the House banded together Friday to stop an attempt to impeach President Trump.

Outside Washington

Fox Business, Bankrupt Toys R Us execs could still get up to $21 million in holiday bonuses, Jade Scipioni, Dec. 6, 2017. Toys R Us won court approval on Tuesday to pay its top executives up to $21 million in holiday bonuses, including CEO David Brandon, even though the company was driven into bankruptcy earlier this year.

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irs logoNew York Times, Groups Seeking Support for Tax Cuts Find It a Tough Sell, Jeremy W. Peters, Dec. 6, 2017.  Conservative groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity are trying to convince ordinary Americans that the Republican tax bill is good for them too. Some are not convinced.

Russian Defamation Suit Dropped

oleg deripaskaPolitico, Russian oligarch Deripaska drops libel suit against Associated Press, Josh Gerstein, Dec. 6, 2017. A Russian oligarch (shown at right) whose business dealings have come under scrutiny by investigators probing Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election has dropped a libel suit against the Associated Press. Lawyers for aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, who worked closely with indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort several years ago, joined with the news service Tuesday in a joint court filing dismissing appeals of a judge's decision in October tossing out the defamation lawsuit.

Deripaska's suit, filed in May, alleged that an AP story published two months earlier falsely implied that Deripaska was paying Manafort for work aimed at advancing the goals of the Russian government and Russian president Vladimir Putin.The suit also said the article created the false impression that Deripaska's dealings with Manafort were intertwined with the Trump campaign, despite the fact that the two men ended their work together by 2009

Dec. 5

Probe of Trump White House

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Washington Post, New defense by Trump’s lawyer is dismissed by legal experts, leaves aides baffled, Sari Horwitz and Philip Rucker, Dec. 5, 2017. The brazen assertion by President Trump’s personal lawyer that a president cannot be found guilty of obstruction of justice has political advisers increasingly concerned about the legal advice Trump is receiving.

german flagPalmer Report, Opinion: How Robert Mueller is using Deutsche Bank to prove Russia bought off Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 5, 2017. Many Americans were surprised to learn today that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is working with a bank in Germany to try to connect the dots between Donald Trump and the Russian government. If you’ve been reading Palmer Report since January, you’re not surprised to see this story at all. All year long it’s been inevitable that Mueller would target Deutsche Bank in the Trump-Russia scandal. We know exactly what he’s looking for, because the biggest clues have long been hiding in plain sight.

robert muellerFor years, Deutsche Bank has been loaning unreasonably large sums of money to Donald Trump. Even after most banks worldwide concluded that Trump had become too unlikely to repay his loans and had thus stopped lending to him, Deutsche Bank continued floating Trump almost single handedly. Even after Deutsche Bank hit hard times of its own and should’t have been making risky loans of any kind, it continued to keep Trump afloat for no apparent reason. Then in January of 2017, we learned what appeared to be the reason.

Regulators in the United States and Europe busted Deutsche Bank for having laundered billions of dollars in Russian money into the hands of clients in places like New York City. The story was widely reported in the British press at the time, but it barely got a mention in the American press.

Nonetheless it wasn’t difficult to put the pieces together: the Russian government appeared to be sending money to Deutsche Bank, which the bank then turned around and “loaned” to Donald Trump, as a way of funneling money to him. 

mike pence o SmallPalmer Report, Opinion: Robert Mueller reveals he’s taking down Mike Pence along with Donald Trump, Bill Palmer, Dec. 5, 2017. For quite some time, it’s been clear that Mike Pence (shown at right) willfully lied to the American public in an attempt at protecting Michael Flynn and covering up Donald Trump’s Russia scandal. That means Pence is guilty of obstruction of justice and maybe a lot more. The big question has been whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller would try to take Pence down along with Trump, or wait to tackle Pence until after Trump has been ousted. Now we’re getting our answer.

Flynn is admitting that he was notifying the Trump transition team in real time about his efforts to get the Russian Ambassador to delay the Russian government’s sanctions response.

Mike Pence was the head of the transition team. So unless the entire team conspired to keep this information from Pence, which is not a believable scenario, Pence knew that Flynn was committing crimes. That means Pence lied a month later when he claimed he had no knowledge of Flynn doing anything wrong.

Global News On Jerusalem

President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs file photo)

President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs file photo)

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New York Times, U.S. Will Recognize Jerusalem as Israeli Capital, Trump Says, Mark Landler and David M. Halfinger, Dec. 5, 2017. President Trump told Israeli and Arab leaders of the decision, which upends U.S. policy and risks unrest.

 President Trump told Israeli and Arab leaders on Tuesday that he plans to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a symbolically fraught move that would upend decades of American policy and upset efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

israel flagMr. Trump is expected to announce his decision on Wednesday, two days after the expiration of a deadline for him to decide whether to keep the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Palestinian officials said Mr. Trump told the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, that the United States would move the embassy to Jerusalem. Jordan said the president gave a similar message to King Abdullah II.

American officials, however, said such a move could not occur immediately for logistical reasons, given the lack of facilities to house the embassy staff. As a result, Mr. Trump is expected to sign a national security waiver that would authorize the administration to keep it in Tel Aviv for an additional six months.

Still, Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital — and to set in motion an embassy move — is his riskiest foray yet into the thicket of Middle East diplomacy. Arab and European leaders warn that it could derail any peace initiative and even ignite fresh violence in the region.

King Abdullah II strongly cautioned against the move, “stressing that Jerusalem is the key to achieving peace and stability in the region and the world,” according to a statement from the royal palace in Amman.

Sex Scandal Fallout

john conyers press clubRoll Call, The Race to Replace John Conyers, Simone Pathé, Dec. 5, 2017. Retirement of longest-serving member will spark crowded Democratic primary. Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. (shown in a file photo) endorsed his son, John Conyers III, to replace him Tuesday after announcing he’s retiring from Congress. First elected in 1964, Conyers is the longest-serving current member of the House.

Conservative 'Examiner' Probes Alabama's Moore

roy moore senate campaign robe Custom 2Washington Examiner, Court records suggest Roy Moore dated wife while she was still married, Gabby Morrongiello, Emily Jashinsky and Philip Wegmann, Dec. 5, 2017. Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore's account of when he began dating his wife Kayla would place the start of their courtship before her divorce from her first husband, according to court documents.

This comes as the Moore campaign's defense of the retired judge against multiple allegations of sexual misconduct hinges on disputing minute details of the accusers' versions of events.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Washington Examiner asked Moore's campaign to explain apparent contradictions between his account of his relationship with Kayla Kisor and information contained in public records.

“Regardless of when they met, Judge and Kayla did not date while she was still with her ex-husband or legally married,” campaign spokesman Brett Doster responded by email.

Moore claims in his 2005 book So Help Me God to have met Kayla at a church gathering the week before Christmas in 1984.

Divorce records obtained by the Washington Examiner show that Kayla, however, had not yet even filed for divorce from her first husband, John Charles Heald, by the time she caught Moore’s attention at the Christmas gathering. In fact, Kayla and Heald had only just separated on Dec. 1, 1984, two weeks before her and Moore’s serendipitous introduction.

The same records show Kayla filed for divorce at a courthouse in Floyd County, Ga., on Dec. 28, 1984. The divorce was finalized nearly four months later on April 19, and a permanent custody judgment was issued on Jan. 9, 1989.

Washington Examiner, Roy Moore suggests George Soros is going to hell, Caitlin Yilek, Dec. 5, 2017. Roy Moore suggested liberal billionaire George Soros is going to end up in hell because of the “sexual” agenda he’s pushing. “He is pushing an agenda and his agenda is sexual in nature, his agenda is liberal, and not what Americans need,” the Republican Alabama Senate candidate said on American Family Radio on Monday. Moore did not clarify what was “sexual” about Soros’ agenda. “It’s not our American culture,” he continued.

"Soros comes from another world that I don’t identify with,” he added. Moore then suggested Soros would be condemned to hell. “No matter how much money he’s got, he’s still going to the same place that people who don’t recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going,” Moore said. “And that’s not a good place.”

Moore is facing allegations from at least nine women that he sexually harassed or assaulted them when they were teenagers or young adults. Moore has denied the allegations.

Legal Schnauzer, Roy Moore supporters scuttled Bill Pryor's chances for SCOTUS seat, but new report doesn't tell full story about Pryor's ties to badpuppy.com and gay porn, Roger Shuler, Dec. 5, 2017  Roy Moore supporters helped stick a fork in Bill Pryor's chances for a U.S. Supreme Court seat earlier this year by arguing Pryor too often sided with gay interests, according to a report at a conservative news/propaganda site. A prominent Alabama whistle blower and opposition researcher suggests the site, Yellowhammer News (YH), isn't telling the whole story.

Toys R Us won court approval on Tuesday to pay its top executives up to $21 million in holiday bonuses, including CEO David Brandon, even though the company was driven into bankruptcy earlier this year.

Lawyers for the toy giant argued that even though the retailer filed for bankruptcy in September, the bonus money is needed to help incentivize executives to boost sales during its critical year-end shopping season.

"The company is laser-focused on the holidays," Joshua Sussberg, a Toys R Us lawyer said at a hearing at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Virginia Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Quin Hilyer, author of the YH article, takes Democrat Doug Jones to task for a recent ad hinting that Moore, while chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, went easy on child sexual abusers because -- as reported in a string of investigative articles connected to the Moore v. Jones U.S. Senate special election (set for Dec. 12) -- Moore himself is a child sexual abuser.

Hilyer decries Jones' attack on Roy Moore, just as he finds Moore's earlier attack on Bill Pryor to be unseemly. But Hilyer does not complete the circle with the Pryor story and essentially sets up a false equivalency. Siegelman-case whistle blower Jill Simpson, in a post at her Facebook page, is more than happy to complete the circle that allegedly torpedoed Pryor's SCOTUS hopes.

 In so doing, she raises the likelihood that -- regardless of what Roy Moore supporters might have done -- the genesis of the Pryor implosion rests with our reporting at Legal Schnauzer on the judge's ties to 1990's gay pornography. In fact, Simpson adds some fascinating history about the Pryor gay-porn photos, which are connected to a couple of Montgomery lawyers -- one on the right and one on the left.

Fake News: Media's Cover-up of JFK Assassination News Leads)

jacob hornberger headshotFuture of Freedom Foundation, Opinion: The Mainstream Media’s Deference to Authority in the JFK Assassination, Jacob G. Hornberger (shown at right), Dec. 5, 2017.

I just finished watching an interesting documentary film entitled The Searchers by Randolph Benson, who teaches at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. The film focuses on private researchers during the aftermath of the JFK assassination who have questioned and investigated the official narrative put out by the Warren Commission and the Washington, D.C., establishment.

randy benson npc capa noel st johnAccording to an interview of Benson (Editor's note: shown in a photo by Noel St. John at a National Press Club lecture ignored by the mainstream media), his work “has appeared on the Bravo Network and Canal Plus-France, and his film Man and Dog received several awards, including a Gold Medal from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Student Academy Awards.” According to its home page, The Searchers is the 2017 Winner of the Orson Wells Award at the Tiburon International Film Festival, a 2017 Official Selection by the International Freethought Film Festival, and a 2017 Official Selection of the Let’s All Be Free Film Festival.

randy benson searchers poster 001Early JFK researchers featured in the film include Mark Lane, John Judge, Cyril Wecht, Robert Groden, Josiah Thompson, Jim DiEugenio, Jim Marrs, Gary Aguilar, Rex Bradford, Penn Jones, Vincent Salandria, Debra Conway, Harold Weisberg, Mary Farrell, Lisa Peace, Walt Brown, Mae Brussell, Ray Marcus, Shirley Martin, Lisa Pease, and John Kelin, most, if not all, of whom would be recognized by people who have delved into the JFK assassination.

There were two things that struck me about the film.

One, how the researchers are ordinary, regular, down-to-earth people who came to the realization that there was something fundamentally wrong with the official narrative in the JFK assassination and who decided to devote much of their lives to seeking the truth about the assassination.

Two, how reporters and commentators within the mainstream media overwhelming did the opposite, automatically deferring to the official account and steadfastly declining to pursue any investigation to determine whether the official account was truthful.

Much of the film focuses on this unusual dichotomy. After all, ordinarily you would think that it would be enterprising reporters who would be investigating a story that is riddled with contradictions, anomalies, inconsistences, secrecy, mysteries, and lies by federal and state officials and that everyone else would be content to read the results of their investigations.

In the JFK assassination, it was (and is) the exact opposite. The mainstream media rolled over, and a group of self-selected individuals has done the investigating and ferreting out of the truth.

Of course the obvious question arises, one that the film does not answer or try to answer: Why?

Why did the reporters and the mainstream media simply roll over and accept the official story from the very start? Why didn’t they consider the possibility that they were being lied to? Why didn’t they even consider the possibility that the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was telling the truth when he denied having committed the crime and, going a critical step further, alleged that he was being framed for the crime? Why did they leave it to ordinary citizens to uncover the vast amount of circumstantial evidence, most of which U.S. officials kept secret, that has ultimately pointed in the direction of a U.S. national-security regime-change operation conducted against Kennedy?

Why weren’t they even a bit suspicious about how the entire investigation into what was purportedly a lone-nut assassination was shrouded in national-security secrecy for decades? Why didn’t they at least wonder whether all that secrecy was designed to cover up evidence of a crime?

Media: Right-Wing Pizzagate Advocate Forces Out Sam Seder From MSNBC

Washington Post, MSNBC is cutting ties with Sam Seder. ‘I think they’re afraid’ of Mike Cernovich & Co., he says, Erik Wemple, Dec. 5, 2017. Over the course of just one week, one of the leading names in the U.S. news business took personnel cues from Pizzagate Inc.

Seder got a call from Errol Cockfield, senior vice president of communications at MSNBC. Do you know who Mike Cernovich is, Seder was asked on the call. Of course: Cernovich describes himself as a “journalist, documentary filmmaker and best-selling author of Gorilla Mindset.”

Others, however, know him as an advocate of the Pizzagate conspiracy — in which a D.C. restaurant served as a pedophilia hub; not — and the generator of vile tweets on the topic of women and rape. “By the media’s standards, Sam Seder has Tweeted out something far worse than even my most sarcastic or satirical Tweet. And the media won’t say anything, because Sam Seder is one of them,” wrote Cernovich on Medium in a blast at Seder.

In response, Seder tells the Erik Wemple Blog, he sent Cockfield an email explaining the situation.

Dec. 4

GOP Senate Tax Planners Showing Their Greed, Arrogance?

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Washington Post, Opinion: Two ugly quotes from Republicans reveal the truth about their tax plan, Paul Waldman, Dec. 4, 2017. With Republicans well on their way to passing a dramatic overhaul of the tax code, they have presented to the public a sweeping, comprehensive vision not just of what taxes should look like, but also of what government is there for, what our obligations are to one another and even how each of us should think about our value as human beings.

irs logoThis is a moment of uncommon clarity.

 We’ll get to how the tax bill itself fits into that picture, but first I want to present a couple of things influential Republican senators said in the past few days. Let’s start with Iowa’s Chuck Grassley (shown at right, who made this comment on the estate tax:

chuck grassley official“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley said, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Right now, the first $5.5 million of any estate is not subject to the tax. Because of that, fewer than one in 500 estates owes any tax at all. So Grassley is saying that 99.8 percent of Americans lead contemptible lives of waste and folly, while only that remaining sliver of the extra-wealthy have shown the virtue that should win their heirs the ability not to pay taxes on the fortunes bequeathed to them. The Senate bill would double the tax’s exemption, while the House bill would eliminate the tax entirely; depending on how the final version turns out, Eric Trump may finally be free of the fear that he’ll have to pay taxes on his inheritance.

Now let’s turn to Utah’s Orrin Hatch, who explained why, despite his support of a bill offering trillions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, we absolutely must start slashing the social safety net immediately:

“I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything.”

Grassley and Hatch (shown above at right) orrin hatch oare being criticized for these remarks, but we should appreciate that this isn’t one of those occasions when politicians are just spinning. There isn’t much political advantage in saying that if you die with less than $5.5 million in assets, like nearly all Americans do, that means you were lazy and self-indulgent, while only the wealthy have proved their moral worth by the size of their bank accounts.

So when someone says something like that, you can be pretty sure he’s expressing his actual beliefs.

Trump Backs Alabama GOPer & Teen 'Groper' Moore For Senate

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The New York Daily News front-paged the story, as shown above

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Washington Post, Trump offers his most explicit endorsement to date of Roy Moore in Alabama race, Philip Rucker, Dec. 4, 2017. “We need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,” the president tweeted, leaving no question that he was supporting a Senate nominee that many other Republican leaders have repudiated and called upon to quit the race.

Roll Call, RNC Reverses Course, Backs Roy Moore After Pulling Support, Bridget Bowman, Dec. 4, 2017. National party changes position following Trump’s endorsement of Alabama Republican.  The Republican National Committee is reversing course and once again backing Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, after initially pulling its support following allegations of sexual misconduct. 

New Veracity, Teen Dating Evidence Against Alabama's Roy Moore

debbie wesson gibson

Debbie Wesson Gibson, shown at high school graduation in Alabama

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Washington Post, Woman shares new evidence of relationship with Roy Moore when she was 17, Stephanie McCrummen, Dec. 4, 2017. Debbie Wesson Gibson, who says she dated Roy Moore in 1981, recently found a high school graduation card she says he gave her at the time and inscribed to her. Moore, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, said in a campaign appearance last week, “I do not know any of these women, did not date any of these women and have not engaged in any sexual misconduct with anyone.”

roy moore cowboy hat no gunDebbie Wesson Gibson was in her attic hauling out boxes of Christmas decorations last week when she noticed a storage bin she said she had forgotten about. Inside was a scrapbook from her senior year of high school, and taped to a page titled “Those Who Inspire” was a graduation card.

“Happy graduation Debbie,” it read in slanted cursive handwriting. “I wanted to give you this card myself. I know that you’ll be a success in anything you do. Roy.”

The inscription, Gibson said, was written by Roy Moore (shown in a campaign file photo), the Alabama Republican nominee for U.S. Senate who in recent days has repeatedly denied the accounts of five women who told The Washington Post that he pursued them when they were teenagers and he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s.

roy moore 8 accusers CustomSince those allegations were published last month, four more women have come forward to allege that Moore made unwanted sexual advances.

The accounts in The Post included those of Leigh Corfman, who said she was 14 when Moore touched her sexually, and Gibson, who said that she publicly dated Moore when she was 17 and he was 34, a relationship she said she “wore like a badge of honor” until she began reevaluating it in light of the accounts of other women, and now, Moore’s own denials.

Shortly after the allegations first surfaced, Moore said in a radio interview with Sean Hannity that he did not know Corfman, but that he remembered Gibson as well as Gloria Thacker Deason, who had told The Post that she dated Moore when she was 18. He called each one “a good girl,” and said that he did not remember dating them.

But at two campaign events in recent days, Moore has backtracked.

At a Nov. 27 campaign event in the north Alabama town of Henagar, Moore said, “The allegations are completely false. They are malicious. Specifically, I do not know any of these women.”

At a Nov. 29 rally at a church in the south Alabama town of Theodore, Moore said, “Let me state once again: I do not know any of these women, did not date any of these women and have not engaged in any sexual misconduct with anyone.”

debbie wesson gibson hillary clinton rallyGibson (who identifies herself as a Republican who work in educational services) now said that after finding the scrapbook, she was not sure whether to make it public given the threats she received after publication of the original story.

Then she heard what Moore said last week, she said, and contacted The Post. Gibson is shown in a file photo providing sign interpretation at a Hillary Clinton campaign speech.

Trump Blasts FBI Probe Again

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fbi logoNew York Times, Trump Lashes Out on Twitter, Saying F.B.I. Is in ‘Tatters,’ Michael D. Shear, Dec. 4, 2017 (print edition). In an extraordinary attack on the top law enforcement body in his own government, Mr. Trump accused the F.B.I. and its career investigators of having a bias against him.

 ap logoAssociated Press via Chicago Tribune, Prosecutors: Manafort wrote op-ed with colleague in Russia, Chad Day and Eric Tucker, Dec. 4, 2017. While facing several felony charges, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been working on an op-ed essay with a longtime colleague "assessed to have ties" to a Russian intelligence service, according to court papers filed Monday by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller.

paul manafortIn a court filing, prosecutors say Manafort (shown at right) and the colleague sought to publish the op-ed under someone else's name and intended it to influence public opinion about his work in Ukraine. The op-ed was being drafted as late as last week, with Manafort currently under house arrest. Prosecutors did not name the colleague but noted the person is based in Russia.

Palmer Report: Opinion: Robert Mueller forced Michael Flynn to agree to wear a wire, Bill Palmer, Dec. 4, 2017. This week Special Counsel Robert Mueller finalized a plea agreement with Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who agreed to testify in the Trump-Russia scandal in exchange for sentencing leniency. Now that the deal is official, its details are becoming a matter of public record. Among the most fascinating aspects of the plea deal: Mueller forced Flynn to agree to wear a wire.

robert muellerIn exact words, the deal required Flynn to agree to participate “in covert law enforcement activities,” as dug up by the Guardian (link). In other words, Flynn had to agree to spy on other suspects or targets involved in the Trump-Russia scandal. In Flynn’s case that could only have meant wearing a wire, planting a bug, or something similar.

We don’t know that Flynn actually did wear a wire, only that he was forced to agree to wear a wire. The strange part is that the clause is being included in Flynn’s plea deal just now, as his deal is becoming public, so everyone in the Trump-Russia scandal now knows not to talk to Flynn anyway. Some will argue that this is merely boilerplate language. But I believe there are two other possible, and more specific, explanations.

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Washington Post, Opinion: The populist mask is slipping for Trump and the GOP, E.J. Dionne Jr., Dec. 4, 2017. The date Dec. 1, 2017, will be remembered as the day when the vast majority of Americans fully grasped the consequences of the 2016 elections. They installed a man in the White House “likely to be under investigation for criminality for a very, very long time to come.” And they gave power to a Republican Party whose only purpose is to comfort the already extremely comfortable.

The day after Michael Flynn’s guilty plea on Friday, Trump compounded his legal jeopardy with a tweet suggesting that (contrary to what he had said before) he knew Flynn, his onetime national security adviser, had lied to the FBI.

Trump’s lawyers will keep trying to explain his tweet away, but his overall vulnerability on obstructing justice has increased exponentially.

But it’s almost as important that Friday was also the day Senate Republican leaders brought forth a tax bill heralding the death of anything resembling a populist form of conservatism within the Republican Party. Plutocracy will now be the GOP’s calling card. Facing one of the most scandalous special-interest tax bills in a long history of such measures, even supposedly moderate members of the party caved in before the power of big money when the votes were counted early Saturday morning.

Politics, Sexual Assault, Scandal and Entertainment

Donald Trump, Arianne Zucker, Billy Bush via Then entertainment and business figure Donald Trump, Arianne Zucker, Billy Bush via "Access Hollywood" screenshot

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New York Times, Billy Bush: Yes, Donald Trump, You Said That, Billy Bush, Dec. 4, 2017 (print edition). The president is currently engaging in some revisionist history.

He said it. “Grab ’em by the pussy.” Of course he said it. And we laughed along, without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America’s highest-rated bloviator. Along with Donald Trump and me, there were seven other guys present on the bus at the time, and every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act. He was performing. Surely, we thought, none of this was real.

We now know better. Recently I sat down and read an article dating from October of 2016; it was published days after my departure from NBC, a time when I wasn’t processing anything productively. In it, the author reviewed the various firsthand accounts about Mr. Trump that, at that point, had come from 20 women.

Some of what Natasha Stoynoff, Rachel Crooks, Jessica Leeds and Jill Harth alleged involved forceful kissing. Ms. Harth said he pushed her up against a wall, with his hands all over her, trying to kiss her.

“He was relentless,” she said. “I didn’t know how to handle it.” Her story makes the whole “better use some Tic Tacs” and “just start kissing them” routine real. I believe her.

Kristin Anderson said that Mr. Trump reached under her skirt and “touched her vagina through her underwear” while they were at a New York nightclub in the 1990s. That makes the “grab ’em by the pussy” routine real. I believe her.

President Trump is currently indulging in some revisionist history, reportedly telling allies, including at least one United States senator, that the voice on the tape is not his. This has hit a raw nerve in me.

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Washiington Post, Trump may face a reckoning in case brought by former ‘Apprentice’ contestant, Frances Stead Sellers​, Dec. 4, 2017. If a defamation case proceeds to trial, attorneys for Summer Zervos, who had been a contestant on the reality show, could gather and make public incidents from Trump’s past, and the president could be called to testify, with the unwelcome specter of a former president looming over him: Bill Clinton.

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Washington Post, How Jimmy Kimmel’s operative ruined Roy Moore’s rally, Avi Selk, Dec. 4, 2017. What Roy Moore hoped to do inside Magnolia Springs Baptist Church, as the Associated Press saw it, was put the drama behind him.

roy moore senate campaign robe Custom 2He wanted to get away from the accusations that have entangled his Senate campaign — that he preyed on teen girls as a younger man — and get back to the Christian-infused politics that had made him a popular judge-turned-candidate in Alabama.

And he wanted to do it with a half-hour speech, written especially for an intimate crowd of worshipers at a small-town church outside Mobile on a Wednesday night.

More Harassment Charges

blake farenthold crush girls abyss club

 The married Rpublican Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold, in the duck pajamas at right, frolicked with models from "The Crush Girls" agency at the Corpus Christi nightclub Abyss shortly before his first election

Politico, A congressman's accuser: Blackballed and babysitting for cash, Rachal Bade, Dec. 4, 2017. North Carolina native Lauren Greene (shown at right) aspired to a career in politics when she arrived on Capitol Hill as an intern in 2009. She spent the next five years climbing the Capitol Hill ladder, ultimately becoming a communications director for a congressman in 2014.

lauren greeneBut Greene’s budding career imploded, she said, the minute she accused Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) of sexually harassing her.

Since the summer of 2014, when she says Farenthold (shown below in an official photo) fired her for raising concerns about a hostile work environment, Greene has been unable to land a full-time job. She’s making $15 an hour working temporary gigs for a homebuilder. She babysits on the side to earn extra cash.

Her family has had to support her financially. And Greene, now 30, has left D.C., with no illusions that she will ever work in politics again.

blake farenthold o“It’s definitely turned my life upside down,” Greene said in her first interview since she made the accusations against Farenthold. “It’s been a tough road. Emotionally, it was tough. Professionally, it’s been hard to figure out next steps. And it’s definitely had an impact on my career.”

While the nation has overwhelmingly embraced and supported victims of sexual harassment who’ve spoken out since Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, many victims in congressional offices are loath to come forward, figuring doing so will dash their hopes of careers in politics.

Greene did, and she says she’s paid a heavy price. Her one comfort, however, is her firm belief that she did the right thing. Teh Daily Mail reported on her allegations in 2014: Drunken Congressman 'flirted with women, talked about a threesome and said an aide could show her nipples whenever she wanted to,' claims ex-staffer in lawsuit by Francesca Chambers, Dec. 16, 2014:

Republican lawmaker Blake Farenthold's former communications alleges that the congressman sexually harassed her on multiple occasions. The former aide says the married congressman had 'sexual fantasies' and 'wet dreams' about her, according to his personal assistant. The ex-staffer claims she was fired in July after she brought her concerns about her 'hostile work environment' to her boss.  Farenthold also made headlines this week after a Twitter user discovered that he owns the domain name blow-me.org.

bill oreilly 2010New York Times, Bill O’Reilly Accuser Sues, Saying He Violated Settlement, Emily Steel, Dec. 4, 2017. Mr. O’Reilly (shown in a file photo) has said harassment allegations that led to his ouster at Fox News have no merit. One woman says that violates the conditions of their settlement, and is suing for defamation and breach of contract.

Supreme Court Hands Trump Interim Victory On Travel Ban

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New York Times, Travel Ban May Proceed While Appeals Heard, Justices Say, Adam Liptak, Dec. 4, 2017. The decision was a win for the Trump administration after its mixed success before the Supreme Court over the summer, when justices dismissed disputes over the second version. The court’s orders mean that the administration can fully enforce its new restrictions on travel from eight nations, six of them predominantly Muslim.

Another Crook Exits Congress

corrine brown oRoll Call, Former Rep. Corrine Brown Sentenced to Five Years, Eric Garcia, Dec. 4, 2017. Florida Democrat (shown at right) convicted in May on fraud and corruption charges. A federal court sentenced former Florida Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown to five years in prison Monday for fraud and conspiracy charges. Brown was found guilty in May for fraudulently taking thousands of dollars from her bogus charity One Door for Education, concealing income on financial filings and filing false tax returns.

Brown’s former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and his ex-girlfriend, Carla Wiley, who ran the bogus charity, were sentenced to 48 months in jail and 21 months in jail with a three-year supervised release, respectively. Wiley and Simmons both pleaded guilty.

More Scandal Among Entertainers, Academics

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New York Times, Met Opera Suspends James Levine After New Sexual Abuse Accusations, Michael Cooper, Dec. 3, 2017. The Metropolitan Opera suspended James Levine, its revered conductor and former music director, on Sunday after three men came forward with accusations that Mr. Levine sexually abused them decades ago, when the men were teenagers.

Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, announced that the company was suspending its four-decade relationship with Mr. Levine, 74, and canceling his upcoming conducting engagements after learning from The New York Times on Sunday about the accounts of the three men, who described a series of similar sexual encounters beginning in the late 1960s. The Met has also asked an outside law firm to investigate Mr. Levine’s behavior.

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New York Times, Sexual Assault Furor Roils 2 Historically Black Colleges, Caitlin Dickerson and Stephanie Saul, Dec. 4, 2017 (print edition). Spelman and Morehouse, the historically black colleges in Atlanta, are among a number of schools nationwide fielding complaints about sexual misconduct.

Health Care

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New York Times, CVS Agrees to Buy Insurance Giant Aetna for $69 Billion, Michael J. de la Merced and Reed Abelson, Dec. 4, 2017 (print edition). The deal would shake up the health care industry by combining the drugstore giant with one of the United States’ biggest health insurers. It reflects the increasingly blurred lines between traditionally separate spheres of the industry.

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Washington Post, Mega-merger between CVS, Aetna could shake up health-care industry, Carolyn Y. Johnson​, Dec. 4, 2017 (print edition). As part of the $69 billion blockbuster deal, which could set off even more mergers in the health-care industry, CVS Health plans to transform its pharmacy storefronts into medical hubs for primary care and basic procedures to serve Aetna’s 22 million medical members.

Inside Washington

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New York Times, As Shutdown Looms, Republicans Work on Stopgap Measure, Thomas Kaplan, Dec. 4, 2017 (print edition).  With government funding set to expire Friday, and President Trump embroiled in a feud with Democratic leadership, Republicans are trying to pass a two-week delay to negotiate a long-term spending package. To force the issue, Democrats could draw a line and withhold their support for a measure to fund the government. But Mr. McConnell warned against that approach on Sunday, noting that Mr. Trump had given Congress until March to find a solution on DACA.

“I don’t think that Democrats would be very smart to say they want to shut down the government over a nonemergency that we can address anytime between now and March,” Mr. McConnell said. “That’s a very untenable position.”

JFK Asassination Records Suppression

jefferson morley newJFKFacts.org, CIA conceals files on wiretapped newsman who broke a big JFK story, Jefferson Morley (shown at right), Dec. 4, 2017. In this Washington Post piece (When the CIA bugged my dad in our Prince George’s home), Jim Scott tells the story of how the CIA wiretapped his father, news reporter Paul Scott, for decades. In the 1960s, Paul Scott and his partner Robert Allen wrote a syndicated column on Washington politics that was driven, not by punditry, but by investigations. One reason Scott was targeted: his JFK reporting.

In March 1967, Allen and Scott published a sensational item in their column. The then-secret records of the Warren Commission, held by the National Archives, contained a State Department cable about suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald dated October 11, 1963.

The scoop was a threat to the CIA’s cover story about Oswald. The cable first reported by Paul Scott is a verbatim copy of the CIA cable that Jim Angleton’s staff sent to Mexico City the day before, on October 10.

In early 1967, the agency was still claiming, falsely, that its personnel knew little about Oswald’s visit to Mexico City in October 1963. When Warren Commission staffers asked in March 1964 for copies of the cable traffic concerning Oswald, Angleton said he preferred to “wait out” the Commission.

The Agency was also mobiilzing against the investigation of New Orleans District Attorny Jim Garrison. Leading publications such Life and Look, two of the country’s most popular magazines, were calling for reopening the JFK investigation.

When Mexico City station chief Win Scott (no relation) read the Allen-Scott report he immediately cabled Langley. He warned against declassification of the cable saying it would open the CIA and State Department to “criticism” over “poor security.”

Foreign Policy Commentary

Future of Freedom Foundation, Russia: Our New (and Old) Official Enemy, Jacob G. Hornberger, Dec. 4, 2017. Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration confirms the overarching power of the national-security establishment section of the federal government and what happens when a president bucks that power.

At the center of the controversy is Russia, which the Pentagon and the CIA and their assets and acolytes in the mainstream press and Washington, D.C., establishment, have deemed to be an official enemy of the United States.

No, there is no war going on between Russia and the United States, at least not in the shooting and bombing sense. This war is a repeat of the old Cold War that began after World War II, when U.S. officials decreed that America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union (whose principal member was Russia), was now to be considered an official enemy by the American people.

Central to any national-security state is the need for official enemies, ones that are used to frighten and agitate the citizenry. If there are no official enemies, the American citizenry might begin asking some discomforting questions: What do we need a national-security state for? Why not abolish the CIA and dismantle the military-industrial complex and the NSA. Why can’t we have our limited-government, constitutional republic back?

Houthi Rebels In Yemen Reportedly Kill Former Ally

ap logoAssociated Press via New York Times, Rebels Kill Yemen's Strongman Saleh as Alliance Collapses, Staff report, Dec. 4, 2017. Yemeni rebels killed their erstwhile ally Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country's former president and strongman, as their forces battled for control of the capital, Sanaa, officials said. The collapse of their alliance throws Yemen's nearly 3-year-old civil war into unpredictable new chaos.

The circumstances of Saleh's death were unclear but Houthi officials said their forces caught up with him as he tried to flee Sanaa.

It was a grisly end for a figure who was able to rule the impoverished and unstable country for more than three decades and remained a powerhouse even after he was ousted in a 2011 Arab Spring uprising. His death recalled another Arab leader killed in the midst of his own country's uprising, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, whose body was shown in a video being abused by rebels who killed in him 2011.

Saleh's death was announced by the rebels, known as Houthis, who have been fighting Saleh's forces for the past week.

Middle Eastern Roundup: Saudis To Undercut Palestinians?

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Washington Post, Arab nations issue dire warnings to stop Trump from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Loveday Morris​, Dec. 4, 2017.  President Trump promised he would relocate the U.S. Embassy during the campaign, but he has reluctantly held off as his administration attempts to broker peace.

For more than two decades, successive U.S. presidents have signed a waiver every six months that allows them to delay a move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on national security grounds. During his campaign, Trump vowed to relocate the U.S. Embassy but reluctantly signed the waiver six months ago as his administration attempts to broker a peace process.

The White House is mulling a proposal to delay moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem but, as a compromise measure, to issue a formal declaration that the city is Israel’s capital. Related story:

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New York Times, Saudi Peace Plan That Snubs Palestinians Roils Mideast, Ann Barnard, David M. Halbfinger and Peter Baker, Dec. 4, 2017. A plan that the Saudi crown prince was said to foist on the Palestinians would offer them limited sovereignty and deny them Jerusalem as the capital.

'ISIS Hunters' Syrian Government Group Exacts Revenge

South Front, Russian-Trained 5th Assault Corps Eliminated ISIS Members Allegedly Involved In Capturing Two Russian Nationals (Graphic Photos), Staff report, Dec. 4, 2017. On December 4, ISIS Hunters of the Russian-trained 5th Assault Corps of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) reported that their fighters have eliminated ISIS members allegedly involved in capturing and executing two Russian nationals in Syria.

ISIS Hunters conducted a special operation north of the border city of al-Bukamal. Most likely, the statement refers to two Roman Zabolotniy and Grigory Surkanov captured by ISIS in late September. The ISIS-linked media outlet Amaq argued that the captured persons were Russian soldiers. However, the victims appeared to be volunteers supporting the Syrian government, according to the Russian media.

Global News: SDF Whistleblower Against U.S.?

SouthFront, US Intelligence Chief Promised SDF Corridor To Mediterranean Sea – Former SDF Spokesman, Staff report, Dec. 4, 2017. Talal Silo, former spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), revealed during his interview with the Turkish Anadolu News Agency that a U.S. intelligence chief promised the SDF leadership that the U.S. support will support their plans to reach the Syrian coast if they attacks ISIS in Deir Ezzor.

“If you direct towards Deir Ezzor, the U.S. will give the necessary support to provide a post towards the sea to the SDF and the Syrian Democratic Parliament,” the U.S. intelligence chief told the SDF leadership, during a meeting according to Silo.

If true, this means that the SDF and the U.S. have not only conspired to attack the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), but also to capture strategic positions along the Syrian coast that’s considered a heartland for Russia in Syria. Many Syrian pro-government activists have warned before that the U.S. might use the SDF to fight the SAA once ISIS is defeated.

Developers Gain On Western Lands

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Washiington Post, Trump shrinks two national monuments in Utah by about 2 million acres, Josh Dawsey and Juliet Eilperin, Dec. 4, 2017. The move to scale back the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments immediately sparked an outpouring of praise from conservative lawmakers as well as activists’ protests outside the White House and in Utah. It is the largest reduction of public lands protection in U.S. history.​

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New York Times, Trump Set to Shrink Monument in Utah by as Much as 90%, Julie Turkewitz, Dec. 4, 2017. The drastic cuts to Bears Ears National Monument, which the president is expected to announce on Monday, could touch off a legal battle that alters the course of American land conservation.

 Media: Public Slams Media In Poll

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Washington Post, Yikes: Nearly half of Americans believe news media fabricates stories about Trump, Erik Wemple, Dec. 4, 2017. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that media outlets fabricate stories about President Trump “more than once in a while,” according to the just-released 2017 Poynter Media Trust Survey. The breakdown goes like this: 24 percent believe that the media fabricates Trump stories “about half of the time,” 14 percent “most of the time,” and 6 percent “all of the time.”

Ouch, right?

Those staggering tallies would seem to reflect the success of Trump’s “fake news” wars, in which he counters negative coverage by insisting it’s all made up. In his 318 days as president, in fact, Trump has tweeted about “fake news” 155 times, according to the Trump Twitter Archive. He also delights in alleging that when media outlets base information on anonymous sources, those sources don’t actually exist.

The Poynter study speaks to the impact of the president’s media attacks, though it does so in a complicated manner. As the study’s authors — Andrew Guess of Princeton University, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter — explain, they gave respondents one of four different articles — one on a big error by CNN, one on a “fake news” attack by Trump related to Russia, one a neutral (placebo) news story on the Russia investigation and one a control story about cooking sauces.

Dec. 3

Democratic-Republican Campaign logos

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Washington Post, Tax vote sparks brawl over populism that will carry into midterms, David Weigel, Robert Costa and Paul Kane, Dec. 3, 2017 (print edition). As Democrats attacked the legislation as a “scam” to benefit wealthy donors and corporations, Republicans, who promised years of growth once the bill becomes law, acknowledged that they face a difficult task convincing voters to have faith in the plan.

irs logoThe Senate Republicans’ chaotic late-night vote Friday to overhaul the tax system widened the country’s partisan divisions Saturday — sparking a political grudge match that lawmakers vowed to carry into next year’s midterm elections.

Democrats, united in their opposition, attacked the legislation as a “scam” passed to benefit wealthy donors and corporations. Republicans, promising years of wage and job growth once the bill becomes law, acknowledged that they face a difficult task convincing voters to have faith in a measure that received support from the GOP alone.

Mitchell McConnell“They tend not to be popular,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky., shown at right), referring to bills passed with only one party’s support, told The Washington Post in an interview Saturday. “Generally speaking, in the beginning, people decide they don’t like it.”

The test for Republicans is whether they can convince voters that this legislation will put more money in their wallets — and the GOP leader is not sure whether they can do that in time for the 2018 elections.

bernie sanders oJust hours after the vote, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT, shown at left), who ever since his unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination has been a leading voice pushing the party to the left on economic matters, demonstrated his intention to make the tax bill a marquee issue in 2018.

Sanders headed to the airport for an urgent trip across the Midwest, starting at Dayton’s Masonic Temple to try to rally 1,300 supporters against the bill, and telling them they could still defeat it when a conference committee is formed to combine differing House and Senate packages.

“The president was lying to you,” Sanders said. “This is class warfare, and we’re going to stand up and fight.”

Voter Suppression, Election Fraud

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Washington Post, I’m on Trump’s voter fraud commission. I’m suing it to find out what it’s doing, Matthew Dunlap, Dec. 3, 2017 (print edition). Matthew Dunlap, a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, is Maine’s secretary of state.

Why is a presidential advisory panel on elections operating in such secrecy? On Nov. 9, I filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeking to obtain the working documents, correspondence and schedule of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. What’s remarkable about my lawsuit is that I’m a member of the commission, and apparently this is the only way I can find out what we’re doing.

The commission was formed in May to answer monster-under-the-bed questions about “voter fraud,” but the implicit rationale for its creation appears to be to substantiate President Trump’s unfounded claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in 2016.

michael flynn flickr gage skidmore phoenix 10 29 2016

 Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen Michael Flynn at a campaign rally for Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Oct. 29, 2016. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

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Washington Post, ‘I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn’: Trump issues series of tweets criticizing the FBI, John Wagner, Dec. 3, 2017. President Trump issued a fresh denial Sunday that he asked former FBI director James B. Comey to halt an investigation into the conduct of his dismissed national security adviser Michael Flynn.

fbi logoTrump lawyer John Dowd drafted the president’s tweet, according to two people familiar with the message. Its authorship could reduce how significantly it communicates anything about when the president knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI, but it also raises questions about the public relations strategy of the president’s chief lawyer. Two people close to the administration described the tweet simply as sloppy and unfortunate.

Palmer Report, Opinion: How Robert Mueller takes Donald Trump down from here, Bill Palmer, Dec. 3, 2017. Special Counsel Robert Mueller (shown below at left) has cut a plea deal with Michael Flynn, who in return will provide sufficient evidence to prove Donald Trump and Jared Kushner guilty of serious crimes. Mueller will end up cutting a deal with Kushner which will provide proof of even more crimes committed by Trump. Now that we’re nearing that point, it’s time to talk about what comes next. It’s complex, and widely misunderstood, but it is ultimately understandable.

robert muellerIn real world terms, Robert Mueller’s job is to dismantle Donald Trump and his entire crime syndicate for all to see, such that the American people leave the Republican Congress with no choice but to oust Trump for fear of getting wiped out in the midterms.

Mueller knows this. He’s been beating a path toward Jared Kushner all along for a reason. He knows that Kushner is the only member of the Trump family who’s willing to flip on Trump to save himself, and he knows that Kushner is uniquely vulnerable due to the activities he’s been tied to.

Once Kushner flips, Mueller will be able to prove for all to see that Trump is a career criminal and traitor. That will push his approval rating so low that the Republicans will have no choice but to dump him in the hope of getting themselves reelected.

Trump Slammed In New 'Saturday Night Live' Skit

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Washington Post, SNL’s Trump gets spooked by Michael Flynn, and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Elahe Izadi, Dec. 3, 2017 (print edition). Alec Baldwin returns as President Trump, who is confronted by Billy Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton. It was another busy news week full of headlines about powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. But “Saturday Night Live” tackled that later in the show, and instead kicked off by making fun of President Trump with a Dickens-inspired sketch.

Alec Baldwin returned to play the president, who despite the tax bill’s Senate passage, has left the White House Christmas party early and is feeling down about the FBI probe. Baldwin’s Trump wants to instead think back on all the good he’s done over the year.

Soon, he’s spooked by a Michael Flynn character, who has just pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He’s wearing heavy chains and appears as Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol,” or, as SNL’s Flynn says, “the ghost of witness flipped.”

Tax-Exempt Koch Funds Support Black Op Propagandists

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Washington Post, Project Veritas received $1.7 million last year from charity associated with the Koch brothers, Robert O'Harrow Jr., Dec. 3, 2017 (print edition).  Project Veritas, an activist group that mounts undercover video stings of liberals and mainstream news organizations, received nearly $1.7 million in donations last year from a giant charity associated with the Koch brothers, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

The donations pushed Project Veritas contributions to new highs during the 2016 presidential election and highlight the prominent spot the group occupies in a national network of conservative nonprofits that strongly supported Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

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New York Times, Emails Dispute White House Claims That Flynn Acted Independently on Russia, Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon LaFraniere and Scott Shane, Dec. 2, 2017. When President Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in February, White House officials portrayed him as a renegade who had acted independently in his discussions with a Russian official during the presidential transition and then lied to his colleagues about the interactions.

 sergey kislyak headshotBut emails among top transition officials, provided or described to The New York Times, suggest that Mr. Flynn was far from a rogue actor. In fact, the emails, coupled with interviews and court documents filed on Friday, showed that Mr. Flynn was in close touch with other senior members of the Trump transition team both before and after he spoke with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak (shown at right), about American sanctions against Russia.

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.

Global News: U.S. Strategies In Syria

Brent McGurk with former Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani via Twitter

Brent McGurk, center, with former Kurdistan Regional President Masoud Barzani, right, via Twitter

SouthFront, Former Spokesman for SDF Reveals Important Details About Its Command Structure And Relations With U.S., Staff report, Dec. 3, 2017. On December 2, Talal Silo former spokesperson for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) revealed during an interview with the Turkish Anadolu Agency that the US and Kurdish factions -- including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party -- (PPK) agreed to found the SDF only as an excuse to provide arms and supplies to Kurdish militias: the PPK, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women Protection Units (YPJ).

Brent McGurkThe former spokesmen for the SDF also said that the US gave the leadership of the SDF to the Kurds and the PKK: Brett McGurk, the Special US Presidential Envoy for the US-led coalition shown at right, was behind the idea of using the Arab units as a tool to traffic arms to the PKK and other Kurdish militias.

The US and a leader of the PKK and the SDF named “Shahin Jilo” agreed to allow ISIS fighters to withdraw from Raqqa, according to Silo. According to Silo, the US didn’t monitor the weapons it was suppling to the YPG and the PKK, and continued supplying the weapons whenever the SDF leadership demanded more.

According to this, the entire SDF is only a branch of the PKK in Syria. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization not only by Turkey, but also by the US, the main backer of the SDF. While many would doupt Silo statements for many reasons, the fact that he was the “third man” in the SDF proves that he knew a lot about the SDF, before he willingly defected from it on November 15.

Dec. 2

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Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, shown in a file photo

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New York Times, A Historic Tax Heist, Editorial board, Dec. 2, 2017. With barely a vote to spare early Saturday morning, the Senate passed a tax bill confirming that the Republican leaders’ primary goal is to enrich the country’s elite at the expense of everybody else, including future generations who will end up bearing the cost. The approval of this looting of the public purse by corporations and the wealthy makes it a near certainty that President Trump will sign this or a similar bill into law in the coming days.

susan collins official SmallThe votes for the bill by Susan Collins of Maine (shown at right) and John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona were particularly disheartening. Ms. Collins, who helped sink an effort to effectively repeal the A.C.A. in September, blithely voted for a tax bill that will leave a gaping hole in that law by repealing its requirement that most people have insurance or pay a penalty. She traded away her vote for an inadequate deduction for property taxes and empty promises from Mr. Trump and the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, that they would help shore up the A.C.A., which they have repeatedly tried to sabotage.

john mccain 2009 wMr. McCain (at left), who previously voted against tax cuts in the Bush era because they were heavily tilted in favor of the rich rather than the middle class, seemed unconcerned that this bill was even worse in that regard. Then there is Mr. Flake, who has spoken powerfully against Mr. Trump and who is not seeking re-election. He folded on the basis of vague assurances about protecting the Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

irs logoRepublicans offered one fantasy after another to make the case for their budget-busting tax cuts. For example, the White House has said that cutting the corporate tax to 20 percent from 35 percent will lead to a boom in investment and wages — an argument disputed by most credible economists. Almost all of those extra profits will enrich senior executives and shareholders, experts say.

The bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade, a debt that will be paid by the poor and middle class in future tax increases and spending cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other government programs. Its modest tax cuts for the middle class disappear after eight years. And up to 13 million people stand to lose their health insurance because the bill makes a big change to the Affordable Care Act.

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djt official SmallWashington Post, Trump waffles on corporate tax cut, hours after Senate bill meets his demands, Damian Paletta, Dec. 2, 2017. President Trump suggested for the first time that he would consider significant changes to the emerging tax overhaul plan, including setting the corporate tax rate at 22 percent, higher than the red line he had drawn for weeks during negotiations. He did not explain why he was now considering allowing a different rate.

Palmer Report, Opinion: After tax bill vote, Donald Trump opens his mouth about it and belatedly puts the bill in jeopardy, Bill Palmer, Dec. 2, 2017.  Late on Friday night, after most Americans had gone to bed, the Republican Senate rammed through a hastily written and criminally corrupt piece of tax legislation which steals from the working class and gives it all to the wealthy. There are now only a few small steps required to sign the travesty into law. But for reasons known only to him, Donald Trump opened his mouth about the tax bill on Saturday and he may have put the legislation in jeopardy.

There was such widespread backlash against the bill’s passage on Saturday, including some pushback from Trump’s own supporters, he ended up publicly waffling in his own support for it. Trump now says that the corporate tax rate should be two points higher than what the Senate bill dictates, according to a Washington Post article (link). It’s not clear what Trump is trying to do here, but he’s suddenly making a mess for his own side.

Trump may be publicly disagreeing with the bill simply so he can blame the Republicans in Congress for it when he signs it.

Common Dreams, NYC Greets Trump: "Lock Him Up! Lock Him Up! "Staff report, Dec. 2, 2017. President Trump was greeted in New York City on Saturday by thousands loudly chanting “Lock Him Up! Lock Him Up!”, "Shame on You!" and “Traitor!”

The NY Post reports: “I believe it’s time to stop lining the pockets of the rich and stealing from the poor,” said John Eng, a 54-year-old real estate agent from Manhattan who was holding a sign declaring, “The poor will have to eat the rich.”

The protesters were particularly enraged by the Senate’s early-morning passage of a $1.2 trillion tax reform bill supported by Trump. A few shouted “Kill the bill, don’t kill us.”

Trump is in town to attend a series of Republican fundraisers - including one for his reelection campaign - and is being accompanied by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, The Hill reported.

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bob corkerWashington Post, Senate passes Republican tax plan, Erica Werner and Damian Paletta, Dec. 2, 2017. Massive changes to the tax code mark a major victory for Trump and party leaders. Senate Republicans passed a $1.5 trillion tax bill that would bestow massive benefits on corporate America and the wealthy while delivering mixed blessings to everybody else.

After a frantic round of negotiations, Republicans came together in near unanimity behind the landmark legislation. The final vote was 51 to 49, with Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee (shown above right), the lone GOP holdout. Democrats were unanimously opposed.

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Washington Post, Analysis: Who will save more on taxes: You or a senator? Amy Goldstein​, Dec. 2, 2017. Tax bill’s ripple effects could be enormous for health-care system. The GOP-backed plan would not end the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate but would eliminate tax penalties for flouting that requirement.

That could cause an extra 13 million people to become uninsured and drive up insurance premiums in marketplaces created under the law, according to an estimate by Congress’s nonpartisan budget analysts.

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Washington Post, 7 differences Republicans must resolve between the House and the Senate proposals, Jeff Stein, Kim Soffen, Reuben Fischer-Baum and Kevin Uhrmacher, Dec. 2, 2017. The two tax bills have a lot in common — including dramatic cuts in corporate tax rates and the elimination of a number of personal tax deductions — but they also have crucial differences that must be reconciled before a final version can be sent to the president.

Inside Washington

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david bossie gage skidmoreWashington Post, Former Trump aides reveal a campaign filled with screaming fits, constant rivalries, Big Macs, Michael Kranish, The Washington Post obtained an advance copy of “Let Trump Be Trump,” scheduled for release Tuesday. Written by former aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie (shown in a Gage Skidmore portrait), it paints a portrait of a campaign with an untested candidate and staff rocketing from crisis to crisis, in which a cast of mostly neophyte political aides learned on the fly and ultimately accepted Donald Trump’s propensity to go angrily off message.

Media: Russian Retaliation

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Washington Post, Russia rolls out plan to bar American media from parliament in RT retaliation, Andrew Roth, Dec. 2, 2017 (print edition). Russian lawmakers declared Friday that they probably will ban all U.S. media from entering both houses of the Russian parliament in retaliation for a U.S. decision to block Moscow-funded broadcaster RT from Congress.

ap logoThe decision — which could come as early as next week — is part of escalating tit-for-tat actions that began in October with a Justice Department order to add RT to a list of media entities that must register as foreign agents.

cnn logoThe Russian ban would affect at least 21 news outlets, the Russian news agency Interfax said, citing a government list of accredited U.S.-based news organizations.

They include state-funded Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, private news agencies such as Bloomberg News and the Associated Press, and other media entities including the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, CBS and NBC.

More Media

brian ross abc screenshotThe Wrap, ABC News Suspends Brian Ross for 4 Weeks Without Pay: ‘Effective Immediately,’ Jon Levine, Dec. 2, 2017. ABC News has announced that Brian Ross would be suspended for four weeks without pay “effective immediately.” Ross came under considerable fire on Friday after he erroneously reported on live television that then-candidate Donald Trump had instructed Michael Flynn to make contact with the Russians. In a correction seven hours later, the channel admitted that it was “President-elect” Trump who had made the request of Flynn — a pretty significant difference.

FBI Agent Reassigned In Trump Probe

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fbi logoWashington Post, Top FBI official assigned to Mueller’s Russia probe said to have been removed after sending anti-Trump texts, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett, Dec. 2, 2017. The former top FBI official assigned to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election was taken off that job this past summer after his bosses discovered he and another member of Mueller’s team had exchanged politically charged texts disparaging President Trump and supporting Hillary Clinton, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

Peter Strzok, as deputy head of counterintelligence at the FBI, was a key player in the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server to do government work as secretary of state, as well as the probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.

During the Clinton investigation, Strzok was involved in a romantic relationship with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who worked for Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. The extramarital affair was problematic, these people said, but of greater concern among senior law enforcement officials were text messages the two exchanged during the Clinton investigation and campaign season, in which they expressed anti-Trump sentiments and other comments that appeared to favor Clinton.

Dec. 1

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michael flynn stephen miller jared kushner reince priebusWashington Post, Michael Flynn charged with making false statement to FBI, Josh Dawsey, Dec. 1, 2017. President Trump’s former national security adviser (Michael Flynn, shown at center in a file photo with other top administration officials) is expected to appear in federal court this morning after being charged with making a false statement to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. It marks another monumental development in the wide-ranging probe of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

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djt official SmallNew York Times, Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to the F.B.I., Eileen Sullivan, Adam Goldman and Michael D. Shear, Dec. 1, 2017. Ex-Trump Aide Says He Is Cooperating in Russia Inquiry. The guilty plea by Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, brings the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election into Mr. Trump’s inner circle. Mr. Flynn acknowledged that he is cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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New York Times, Michael Flynn’s Guilty Plea: 10 Key Takeaways, Harry Litman, Dec. 1, 2017. Impeachment just became a lot more likely.

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New York Times, After Flynn, Are Kushner and Don Jr. Next? Richard W. Painter and Norman L. Eisen, Dec. 1, 2017. The Flynn deal opens the door to charges against the president’s inner circle.

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fbi logoNew York Times, What the Flynn Court Documents Show, Charlie Savage, Dec. 1, 2017. Mr. Flynn admitted lying to the F.B.I. What is notable is what he was not charged with.

Trump Tax Plan

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New York Times, G.O.P. Says It Has Votes to Pass Tax Bill, Staff report, Dec. 1, 2017. Republican Holdouts Lining Up Behind Sweeping Overhaul. The Senate has resumed debate on the tax bill and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said voting will begin later Friday.

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New York Times, Senate Scorekeeper Says Bill Adds $1 Trillion to Deficit, Jugal K. Patel and Alicia Parlapiano, Dec. 1, 2017.  Senate Republicans’ tax cut would not pay for itself, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.

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ron johnson o CustomWashington Post, Senate inches closer to passing GOP tax bill after Johnson backs measure, Damian Paletta and Erica Weiner, Dec. 1, 2017. The announcement by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis., shown at right) removes one of the last few GOP holdouts and puts party leaders close to assembling the votes they’d need to pass the package. Johnson had withheld support over complaints the bill favors corporations over other businesses, but he says his concerns have been addressed.

He has long complained that the tax cut package does not provide enough benefits for a certain type of business, though he has requested numerous changes in recent days and it could not be immediately learned what precisely made him decide to back the bill.

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irs logoNew York Times, Republican Tax Bill Hits Snag Over Deficit Concerns, Thomas Kaplan, Alan Rappeport and Jim Tankersley, Dec. 1, 2017 (print edition). Senate Republicans scrambled to find ways to raise about $500 billion after some members expressed concerns that the bill would balloon budget deficits. Despite the bill’s rapid momentum coming to a grinding halt, a final vote is expected on Friday after a series of amendments are considered.

Verified Politics, Opinion: NY Times Just Dropped A Red Alert Bombshell About Trump’s Tax Plan, Benjamin Locke, Dec. 1, 2017. President Trump gave Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin a lead role in promoting his tax reform proposal to the public, business and especially Congress, but he has proven to be so awkward, unsuited to his role and inept in explaining the facts that House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested it would be better if he didn’t lobby on Capitol Hill.

steven mnuchin wNow, it turns out he also has lied to everyone about the one thing he really needed to do. For weeks, Mnuchin (shown at left) has been saying that a team of over 100 economists and experts has been working in the Treasury Department on a plan that would prove the promise he and Trump have made that the growth of the economy caused by their tax plan would more than make up for the trillion and a half dollar rise in the national debt.

This refers to the so-called “dynamic analysis” of the plan, which would not be based just on the existing numbers, but on the impact of Trump and Mnuchin’s projections that this tax reform will make the economy grow at a pace of about three percent a year – which would be double or triple what it has done in recent years.

One report released this week came from the Joint Committee on Taxation, a government group that works with the House and Senate, which said even with economic growth, the Trump tax plan will add $1 trillion to the national debt in the coming decade. That leaves a gap of at least half a trillion beyond what Trump has promised, which is a big problem for Senators and others who believe it is important to keep the deficit down. So the report that Mnuchin has promised from the Treasury is more important than ever. Yet even as the vote nears, the report has never been made public.

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New York Times, Markets Pass Milestone, as Investors Cheer the Prospect of Tax Cuts, Staff report, Dec. 1, 2017 (print edition).

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Washington Post, After tax reform, Republicans eye cuts to welfare, entitlement programs, Jeff Stein, Dec. 1, 2017. High-ranking Republicans are hinting that they'll look at cutting spending on welfare, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and other parts of the social safety net.

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Washington Post, Opinion: Apparently Republicans want to kick the middle class in the face, Catherine Rampell, Dec. 1, 2017. It’s not enough to give money to rich people. Apparently, Republicans want to kick the poor and middle class in the face, too.

I used to think the Republican Party’s obsession with top-heavy tax cuts was about pleasing wealthy donors and maybe also fulfilling some misguided Randian fantasy. If the poor and middle class happened to be collateral damage, so be it.

But it’s starting to look like shafting the little guy has become a feature, not a bug, of the GOP’s budget-busting tax plan.

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Washington Post, Analysis: Here’s how income tax cuts will affect individual senators (and you), Philip Bump, Dec. 1, 2017. An interactive tool including data on every senator. The Joint Committee on Taxation, for example, figures that nearly every household making $75,000 or more a year will see a cut of at least $100 by 2019, compared with only about half of households earning less than that amount. By 2027, after the income tax cuts expire, wealthier households are still much more likely to see substantial savings than are poorer households.

There are 100 people in Congress who will soon decide whether to move this bill forward: the 100 members of the U.S. Senate. The vote will mostly fall along partisan lines, it seems, but the Senate is united in one respect: They all make enough to see the biggest income tax benefits.

The base salary for a senator is $174,000 a year, with senators in leadership positions making slightly more. What’s more, senators are also allowed to earn limited outside income, which inflates that total even more. The Center for Responsive Politics gathers data on outside income (including income from spouses), the most recent data for which is from 2015 filings. (That means it excludes some new senators.)

michael flynn flickr gage skidmore phoenix 10 29 2016

 Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen Michael Flynn at a campaign rally for Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Oct. 29, 2016. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

Consortium News, The Scalp-Taking of Gen. Flynn, Robert Parry, Dec. 1, 2017. The Russia-gate prosecutors have taken the scalp of ex- National Security Adviser (and retired Lt. Gen.) Flynn for lying to the FBI. But this case shows how dangerously far afield this “scandal” has gone.

fbi logoRussia-gate enthusiasts are thrilled over the guilty plea of President Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about pre-inauguration conversations with the Russian ambassador, but the case should alarm true civil libertarians.

What is arguably most disturbing about this case is that then-National Security Adviser Flynn was pushed into a perjury trap by Obama administration holdovers at the Justice Department who concocted an unorthodox legal rationale for subjecting Flynn to an FBI interrogation four days after he took office, testing Flynn’s recollection of the conversations while the FBI agents had transcripts of the calls intercepted by the National Security Agency.

In other words, the Justice Department wasn’t seeking information about what Flynn said to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – the intelligence agencies already had that information. Instead, Flynn was being quizzed on his precise recollection of the conversations and nailed for lying when his recollections deviated from the transcripts.

Trump, Crime, Courts

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Washington Post, Trump calls acquittal of illegal immigrant in San Francisco killing ‘a complete travesty of justice,’ Fred Barbash, Dec. 1, 2017. President Trump had cited the death of Kate Steinle to justify his proposed border wall and a crackdown on “sanctuary cities.” The suspect in the slaying, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, had been deported multiple times.

A San Francisco jury acquitted an illegal immigrant Thursday charged with killing Kate Steinle, the 32-year-old woman whose death President Trump used to justify his proposed border wall and his crackdown on “sanctuary cities.”

Steinle was shot in the back as she and her father strolled along Pier 14 in San Francisco on July 1, 2015. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a much-deported illegal immigrant from Mexico, had been released from jail, where he was being held on a drug charge, even though federal immigration authorities had sought to detain him.

The case was one of the most politicized criminal trials in years, a fact the judge instructed the jurors to ignore. n a tweet hours after Thursday’s verdict, Trump called it “disgraceful.”

Inside Washington

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Washington Post, Trump tells confidants that a government shutdown might be good for him politically, Josh Dawsey, Sean Sullivan and Ed O'Keefe, Dec. 1, 2017. The president’s mixed messages on a partial shutdown has hampered Republicans ability to negotiate with Democrats on spending legislation. Trump also is said to be focusing on his hard-line immigration stance as a way to win back supporters unhappy with his past outreach to Democrats, 

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al frankenWashington Post, Franken fighting for political survival as Democrats demand ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual misconduct, Karen Tumulty, Elise Viebeck and Ed O'Keefe, Dec. 1, 2017 (print edition). On the same day that a fifth accuser stepped forward with allegations against the senator from Minnesota, a move by top Democrats to force out Rep. John Conyers showed a growing eagerness to immunize the party on an issue that is turning into a social movement.

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Washington Post, Opinion: Trump wants to gut America’s progress against AIDS, Michael Gerson, Dec. 1, 2017 (print edition). The Trump administration is proposing a reduction in funding and a shift in strategy in the fight against global AIDS that together would increase infections, cost lives and threaten the extraordinary progress of the past 15 years.

In its 2018 budget, the Trump administration proposes an $800 million cut in America’s bilateral HIV/AIDS programs (along with a $225 million cut for the Global Fund). The State Department, in turn, has written a new AIDS strategy to reflect this lower level of funding. Resources would be concentrated on 13 “priority” countries, while current levels of treatment would be maintained in other places. Neither South Africa nor Nigeria — which together have about a quarter of AIDS cases in the world — would be in the “priority” category.

The results? According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 800,000 fewer people (compared with the current trajectory) would be placed on treatment in the first year of the new strategy, and 2.7 million fewer by 2020. One recent study estimates 26 million additional AIDS infections and 4 million more preventable deaths over the next 15 years. When you are not moving forward against an epidemic, you end up moving backward, and rapidly.

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New York Times, Trump Denies Reports He Planned to Fire Tillerson, Gardiner Harris, Dec. 1, 2017. President Trump tweeted on Friday that reports he would soon fire Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson were “fake news,” and that “I call the final shots.”

More Sex Scandal News

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blake farenthold oNew York Times, Taxpayers Paid $84,000 to End Sex Harassment Claim Against Texas Lawmaker, Yamiche Alcindor and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Dec. 1, 2017, Representative Blake Farenthold, Republican of the Corpus Christi section Texas (shown at right and below left at a party), used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim, one of six settlements for workplace issues ranging from veteran status discrimination to age bias that were paid out by a secretive congressional office since 2013.

 blake farenthold with bunny customThe six settlements for malfeasance in House offices totaled $359,450.

Details of the settlements emerged Friday after Congress’s Office of Compliance answered demands for information from the Committee on House Administration, part of an extensive review of sexual harassment and discrimination in congressional offices.

The sexual harassment and indiscretion scandals that had already ensnared Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, and Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, pulled in two more lawmakers, Mr. Farenthold and Representative Ruben Kihuen, Democrat of Nevada.

A former finance director of Mr. Kihuen’s congressional campaign told Buzzfeed News that the up-and-coming young Democrat repeatedly propositioned her for sex and touched her inappropriately until she abruptly quit the campaign.

JFK Records Suppression Continues

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Washington Post, When the CIA bugged my dad in our Prince George’s home, Jim Scott, Dec. 1, 2017. Twenty-five years apparently is not enough time to properly review the most sensitive documents about the Kennedy assassination. Now the CIA and FBI require another 180 days to complete this extended vetting process. The agencies are running out of time to prevent us from viewing the long-held and perhaps embarrassing secrets regarding Lee Harvey Oswald and his activities prior to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

I can relate to this delaying tactic by the CIA and FBI.

cia logoMore than 54 years ago, the agencies started wiretapping my dad’s work phone and our home phone in Prince George’s County. I’ve been working since 2008 to get access to the papers that would help me understand why they wiretapped my father, nationally syndicated columnist Paul Scott — and what they heard. I won’t end my search until all critical material is made public.

The notable stories he covered before and after the wiretap included the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kennedy assassination.

I hoped the release of more JFK files would expedite the declassification and release of material I sought regarding my father. It’s frustrating enough that it takes years for agencies to make a determination, but their responses often contain bureaucratic language, redacted pages or statutory exemptions without detailed explanation.

In response to my most recent Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for 40 pages in my dad’s files, the agency declassified the material but then applied a security exemption to prevent public release. I still have no idea of the time frame or subject matter of the documents that could be more than 50 years old. Why can’t the FBI simply redact sensitive or personal info and not delete entire pages? I also can’t imagine that sources and methods used more than 50 years ago can’t be disclosed.

It’s even more frustrating dealing with the CIA. I learned a few months ago that I could not inquire about the status of my latest FOIA request (initiated in 2015) until June 30. And, even if I uncover information useful in the search, the CIA makes it extremely difficult to contact a case manager. Since my request with the CIA focuses primarily on locating the wiretap transcript, I posed these questions to the CIA: Could a CIA historian explain whether the transcript still exists? Was it destroyed or transferred to another government agency?

Accused JFK Killer's Brother Dies

Dallas News, Robert Oswald, brother to JFK's assassin, dies in Wichita Falls, Charles Scudder, Dec. 1, 2017. Robert Edward Lee Oswald, whose brother Lee Harvey Oswald killed President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, died Monday in Wichita Falls. He was 83.

His obituary in the Wichita Falls Times Record News made no mention of his brother's infamous place in history except to say "he spent his youth in Louisiana with his brothers Lee and John Pic before joining the Marine Corps in 1952 at age 18."

Oswald often said he believed the findings of most experts that his brother acted alone in killing the president on Nov. 22, 1963. Late in life, he said he still didn't understand why. "This is mind over heart," Oswald once told ABC News. "The mind tells me one thing, the heart tells me something else, but the facts are there."

Global News: Turkey Indicts Former Top CIA Executive Graham Fuller On Coup Charge

turkey flagHurriyet, Turkey issues arrest warrant for former CIA official Graham Fuller over coup attempt, Toygun Atilla, Dec. 1, 2017. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Dec. 1 issued an arrest warrant for Graham Fuller, the former vice-chairman of the National Intelligence Council of the CIA, over his alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt.

The arrest warrant alleges that Fuller was in Turkey during the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and left the country after the failure of the attempted military takeover.

Graham FullerThe warrant accuses Fuller (shown in a file photo) of “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey and obstructing the duties of the Republic of Turkey,” ”obtaining state information that must be kept secret for political and military espionage purposes,” and “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.”

It also states that Fuller was in contact with American academic Henri Barkey, who was also previously subject of an arrest warrant in Turkey, as well as other figures who played a role in the coup attempt. Barkey is accused by prosecutors of organizing and coordinating the coup attempt in a meeting on Istanbul’s Büyükada island between July 15 and July 16, 2016.

cia logoProsecutors claim that Fuller also participated in this meeting. The arrest warrant comes after notorious Russian strategist Alexander Dugin had claimed during a recent TV broadcast in Turkey that both Barkey and Fuller attended the meeting on Büyükada. Dugin also stated that Russian intelligence agencies had “concrete evidence that CIA agents commanded the failed coup attempt.”

In 2006 Fuller wrote a letter supporting the U.S. green card application of Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey considers the coup's mastermind.

Global News: ISIS Atrocities

syrian pilot killed isis major azzam eid CustomSouthFront, ISIS Burns Syrian Pilot To Death, Executes 13 Syrian Soldiers In Brutal Propaganda Video, Staff report, Dec. 1, 2017. On November 29, the ISIS media agency al-Hayat released a 58-minuate long propaganda video named “Flames of War II”. The video shows ISIS terrorists burning a pilot of the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) to death after he was chained at the neck.

The Syrian pilot was identified as Major Azzam Eid (shown above), from the city of Salamiyah located in the eastern Hama countryside. Major Eid’s warplane, a Soviet-made MiG-23BN, crashed near Tall al-Dakwah in the eastern Qalamun region on April 22, 2016. Back then, the ISIS-linked news agency Amaq claimed that Major Eid’s warplane was shot down by ISIS fighters and released a video that shows him being captured by ISIS fighters.

Al-Hayat’s propaganda video also shows ISIS fighters executing 13 soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and a video of ISIS attack on a column of the Egyptian Army in northern Sinai on September 14. The propaganda video also included footage of many old ISIS attacks in Syria, Egypt and Iraq.

Major Eid was not the first pilot burned alive by ISIS. On February 3, 2015, the ISIS media agency al-Furqan released a propaganda video showing ISIS terrorists burning Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh to death. Al-Ksasbeh was captured by ISIS fighters after his warplane crashed near the city of Raqqa on December 24, 2014.

Experts believe that the new propaganda release is a desperate attempt by ISIS to raise the low morale of its supporters, epically after the last ISIS defeats in Syria, Iraq and Egypt. Despite the collapse of ISIS’ self-proclaimed Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group’s media branch is still able to produce high-quality propaganda.

Global News

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 New York Times, Snubbing the U.S., Russia and Egypt Near Deal on Bases, David D. Kirkpatrick, Dec. 1, 2017 (print edition). Moscow and Cairo signed a preliminary agreement to allow Russian military jets to use its airspace and bases, giving the country its deepest presence in Egypt since the Soviet era.

Inside Washington

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Steve Rudin ABC7. @SteveRudinABC7 The National Tree Lighting ceremony was beautiful this evening - but hard not to notice the empty seats. #Christmas #DMV #USA

Verified Politics, Opinion: Trump Just Held His White House Tree Lighting Ceremony And The Obamas Must Be CRACKING UP, Sheila Norton, Dec. 1, 2017. Tonight at the White House tree lighting ceremony, President Trump suffered a familiar self-inflicted wound.

bo xmas tree lighting 2016By constantly bragging about his giant imaginary crowds and comparing himself to his predecessor — a man whose shoes he is not fit to look at much less fill — Trump has invited unnecessary scrutiny to a game he cannot win.

Because of his bluster, photographers could not help grabbing shots of the many empty seats at tonight’s ceremony — a stark contrast to the packed crowd from President Obama’s ceremony a year ago. (Photos above from this year and at right from last year.)

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rex tillerson exxon mobilWashington Post, White House lays groundwork for seismic personnel change with plan to oust Tillerson, Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey​, Dec. 1, 2017 (print edition), The plan to force out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (shown at right) and install loyalists to President Trump in two top national security positions, which has been confirmed by two administration officials, would shake up an already turbulent presidency.

The White House is readying a plan to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and install loyalists to President Trump in two top national security positions, laying the groundwork for another seismic personnel change in an already turbulent presidency, two administration officials confirmed Thursday.

tom cotton o CustomThe emerging strategy to stabilize the floundering State Department, which is under active consideration by the president and might change further, could have CIA Director Mike Pompeo replacing Tillerson and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) being elevated to succeed Pompeo.

The plan, first reported by the New York Times, was confirmed by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House has not publicly announced any moves.

Pompeo has become one of the most personally loyal and ­politically savvy members of Trump’s national security team, while Cotton is one of Trump’s most steadfast congressional defenders and a confidant to national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials.

 Media: Geraldo Apologizes

geraldoThe Wrap, Geraldo Rivera Apologizes to Bette Midler, Women Named in His ‘Tawdry’ Memoir, Beatrice Verhoeven, Dec. 1, 2017. “I’ve deeply regretted its distasteful & disrespectful tone & have refrained from speaking about it,” Fox News contributor writes.

Geraldo Rivera has apologized to Bette Midler and other women named in his “tawdry” memoir, saying he is “embarrassed and profoundly sorry to those mentioned.” Rivera tweeted, “27 years ago I wrote a tawdry book depicting consensual events in 1973-45 years ago – I’ve deeply regretted its distasteful & disrespectful tone & have refrained from speaking about it-I’m embarrassed & profoundly sorry to those mentioned – I have & again apologize to anyone offended.”

On Thursday, Midler demanded an apology from the Fox News contributor after a video re-surfaced of the veteran singer and actress telling Barbara Walters in 1991 that Rivera and a producer “groped” and drugged her in a bathroom in the 1970s.

CIA Spy Studies

cia logoThe Telegraph, Did traitor Kim Philby have a gay affair with former director of the CIA? Jefferson Morley, Dec. 1, 2017. Kim Philby and Jim Angleton first met at Bletchley Park, in early 1944. Angleton, a precociously literate 26 year old Yale graduate, had been spotted as a promising spy by his professors and sent to the British intelligence centre for espionage training. There, Philby, chief of MI6 intelligence operations in Spain and Portugual, taught him the black arts of counterintelligence.  

The men renewed their friendship in Washington in late 1949, when Philby took over the MI6 station here. Angleton, then a rising star at the newly-created CIA - and who would go on to become its counterintelligence chief - never guessed that his friend was really a communist spy, who was passing on his every confidence straight to Moscow.