Emerald triangle get ready; time pay tribute to the tyrant Trump

With a promise to use “care and professionalism,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions has moved to expand a scandal-plagued program of asset forfeiture that allows law enforcement officials to seize money and goods from individuals suspected of crimes, in many cases without a criminal conviction or even a charge. While it is nice to pledge care and professionalism, aspects of this program have proved rife with abuse, and it must be reformed.

The logical foundation of asset forfeiture is recovering the proceeds of criminal activity, such as drug deals. “No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime,” Mr. Sessions declared in a speech Monday in Minneapolis to the National District Attorneys Association. Again, it is hard to argue with the principle. But in reality, as a Post investigation showed in 2014, asset forfeiture has turned out to be an opportunity for police to seize cash and valuables from drivers stopped for minor infractions, and it often can be extremely difficult for the innocent to recover their property. The bounty is often parceled out to law enforcement agencies, creating a perverse profit motive.

In 2015, the Justice Department under President Barack Obama announced curtailment of a kind of forfeiture that allowed local police to share part of their proceeds with federal authorities. This was known as “adoptive” forfeiture, under which state and local authorities would get the seizure cases processed, or “adopted,” under more permissive federal statues, rather than stricter state laws. The 2015 order all but ended adoptive forfeiture. Now, Mr. Sessions is turning the spigot back on, as a Justice Department policy announcement on Wednesday made clear.

The Post report in 2014 revealed onerous seizures from the innocent. In one case, a 40-year-old Hispanic carpenter from New Jersey was stopped on Interstate 95 in Virginia for having tinted windows. Police said he appeared nervous and consented to a search. They took $18,000 that he said was meant to buy a used car. He had to hire a lawyer to get his money back.

While asset forfeiture is justified in huge drug busts, its abuse in highway arrests and in grabbing small sums from people has gone too far. Mr. Sessions declared in his address to the Minneapolis group: “Helping you do your jobs, helping the police get better, and celebrating the noble, honorable, essential and challenging work you do will always be a top priority of mine.” Wouldn’t it be in service of these goals to curb wrongful asset forfeitures and put in place strong protections against further exploitation by police of innocent Americans?

The Justice Department is promising to implement such protections, and Mr. Sessions said he would instruct department officials to use an “abundance of caution” for seizures involving vehicles and residences, where many mistakes have occurred. That’s not enough. Congress ought to consider legislation introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) with bipartisan support that would increase the government’s burden of proof before seizing assets.

Opinion from Washington Post

Sessions greenlights police to seize cash, property from people suspected of crimes but not charged

The Justice Department announced a new federal policy Wednesday to help state and local police take cash and property from people suspected of a crime, even without a criminal charge, reversing an Obama administration rule prompted by past abuse by police.

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said the Justice Department will include more safeguards to prevent the kind of problems that have been documented in the past. Police departments will be required to provide details to the Justice Department about probable cause for seizures, and federal officials will have to more quickly inform property owners about their rights and the status of the seizures.

“The goal here is to empower our police and prosecutors with this important tool that can be used to combat crime, particularly drug abuse,” Rosenstein said at a news briefing. “This is going to enable us to work with local police and our prosecutors to make sure that when assets are lawfully seized that they’re not returned to criminals when there’s a valid basis for them to be forfeited.”

Two years ago, then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. barred state and local police from using federal law to seize cash and other property without criminal charges or warrants. Since 2008, thousands of police agencies had made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a Justice Department civil asset forfeiture program, which allowed local and state police to make seizures and then share the proceeds with federal agencies.

A Washington Post investigation in 2014 found that state and local police had seized almost $2.5 billion from motorists and others without search warrants or indictments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Post series revealed that police routinely stopped drivers for minor traffic infractions, pressed them to agree to searches without warrants and seized large amounts of cash when there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Police then spent the proceeds from the seizure with little oversight, according to the Post investigation. In some cases, the police bought luxury cars, high-powered weapons and armored cars.

“You’re never going to eliminate allegations of abuses,” Rosenstein said, “never going to eliminate mistakes 100 percent. But I think this new policy is going to position us very well to make sure there are very few credible allegations of abuse, and where there are we’re going to make it a priority to follow up.”

The new policy from Attorney General Jeff Sessions authorizes federal “adoption” of assets seized by state and local police when the conduct that led to the seizures violates federal law. Rosenstein said that the department is adding safeguards to ensure that police have sufficient evidence of criminal activity when property is seized. Property owners will receive notice of their rights within 45 days, which is twice as quickly as required by current law. Law enforcement agencies will be required to provide officers with more training on asset forfeiture laws, he said.

State and local law enforcement officials supported the change, but Democratic and Republican lawmakers were skeptical.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called Sessions’s policy “troubling” and said it would “expand a loophole that’s become a central point of contention nationwide.”

“Criminals shouldn’t be able to keep the proceeds of their crime, but innocent Americans shouldn’t lose their right to due process, or their private property rights, in order to make that happen,” Issa said in a statement.

Holder tweeted that Sessions’s policy was “another extremist action” and said the Obama administration policy was “a reform that was supported by conservatives and progressives, Republicans and Democrats.”

Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the action “outrageous.”

“We are talking about people who have not been convicted of a crime and are often not given a day in court to reclaim their possessions,” Bennett said. “Civil asset forfeiture is tantamount to policing for profit, generating millions of dollars annually that the agencies get to keep.”

At a meeting with county sheriffs on Feb. 7, President Trump made clear to law enforcement officials that he is a strong supporter of the civil asset forfeiture program and told the Justice Department to rescind the Obama administration restrictions.

On Wednesday, Sessions defended the reversal at a meeting with representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and other law enforcement officials who back the new policy.

“Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels,” Sessions said.

Earlier this week, Sessions told the National District Attorneys Association that “no criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.”

But the ACLU’s Bennett said, “The problem is that we are not talking about criminals.”

“We are talking about Americans who have had their homes, cars, money and other property taken through civil forfeiture, which requires only mere suspicion that the property is connected to a crime,” she said.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/sessions-greenlights-police-to-increase-seizures-of-cash-and-property-from-suspected-criminals/2017/07/19/3522a9ba-6c99-11e7-96ab-5f38140b38cc_story.html?utm_term=.2092cd3ed2ce

 

While you console yourself with all of Trumps failures, remember he’s still a wrecking ball swinging through our country

Trump has been paralyzed on healthcare and tax reform, but his administration has been active in eroding safeguards and protections elsewhere

 

Six ways Trump is ‘dismantling’ the US after six months in office

Business and the economy

Given all that Donald Trump promised the business world during his bombastic campaign, it’s tempting to dismiss the president’s first six months with a “meh”. It would also be myopic.

While protesters are worried about the future, the president has so far failed to pass his tax reforms, which business wanted. But at the same time fears that his China rhetoric, threats of trade wars and Tweets about penalties for US businesses who ship jobs overseas, have not amounted to much.

The economic trends started under Obama have continued: stock markets have continued their giddy ride to uncharted highs, unemployment has continued to drift down and interest rates have remained low.

Trump’s overture may seem a little weak but the president has already made significant moves and still more may be happening in the wings. Trump has ordered a review of Dodd-Frank, the regulations brought in to tame US financial institutions after they triggered the worst recession in living memory. He has appointed a sworn enemy of net neutrality over at the Federal Communications Commission who is now working to dismantle Obama-era open internet protections. He has freed up energy firms to start polluting rivers again and scrapped a rule which barred companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history of violating wage, labor or safety laws.

After years of gains for consumer, environmental and worker rights groups, the pendulum is being swung the other way – but most often those changes are happening behind closed doors.

In March, Trump pledged to “remove every job-killing regulation we can find” and deregulation teams have been set up to comb through the statutes looking for rules to cull. A recent ProPublica and New York Times investigation found Trump’s deregulation teams were being conducted in the dark in large part by appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts of interest.

It’s hardly surprising given that the Trump administration has literally removed the White House visitors book, so we may never know who has been whispering in the president’s ear. Six months in, it is hard to tell what is being cut and by whom. We may never know the consequences of Trump’s regulation death squads until it’s too late. Dominic Rushe

The environment

In the past week, both Emmanuel Macron and Sir Richard Branson have claimed that Donald Trump has been gripped by regret over his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement. But hopes that the US president will reverse this decision sit uneasily with the consistency of his administration’s environmental rollbacks.

In Scott Pruitt, Trump has an Environmental Protection Agency chief who understands how the agency works and how to hobble it. Pruitt, who has dismissed the mainstream scientific understanding of climate change, has spearheaded a concerted effort to excise or delay dozens of environmental rules.

Emissions standards for cars and trucks, the clean power plan, water pollution restrictions, a proposed ban on a pesticide linked to developmental problems in children, regulations that stop power plants dumping toxins such as mercury into their surrounds – all have been targeted with efficacious zeal by Pruitt.

The EPA administrator was also a fierce proponent of a US exit from the Paris accord, ensuring that Trump wasn’t swayed by doubts raised by Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and Ivanka Trump, his daughter and adviser. The US won’t be able to officially pull out until 2020, but the decision has dealt a hefty blow to the effort to slow dangerous global warming and provided a tangible victory for the nationalist, climate change denying elements that now roam the White House.

Elsewhere, public land has been thrown open to coal mining – an industry repeatedly fetishized by Trump – and oil and gas drilling is being ushered into America’s Arctic and Atlantic waters. Two dozen national monuments are under review, several may be shrunk or even eliminated. In less than six months, Trump has begun to tear up almost all of the key planks of Barack Obama’s environmental agenda. This blitzkrieg is likely to slow now that it faces a thicket of legal action launched by enraged environmental groups and some states, such as New York. But to Trump’s supporters, the president, who pledged during the campaign to reduce the EPA to “tidbits”, is delivering on his crusade to transport the environmental and industrial outlook of the late 19th century to the modern day. Oliver Milman

Immigration

Donald Trump’s bluster over his harsh immigration reform – namely the implementation of a diluted Muslim-targeted travel ban and a crackdown on undocumented immigrants – belies the cost these self-proclaimed victories have had on both the fundamental institutions of democracy and the most vulnerable communities in the United States.

Take the travel ban, which targets refugees and visa applicants from six Muslim majority countries. The president’s first failed order, haphazardly issued in January, provoked scenes of chaos at airports around the country – temporarily separating families, canceling legitimately issued visas and propelling the country towards a constitutional crisis, before a series of federal courts intervened to block it.

After his second attempt in March was blocked again in the lower courts, the president, seemingly without care for due process or respect for the co-equal branches of government, threatened to simply abolish the federal appeals court he incorrectly identified as responsible for the decision.

‘I have the right to be here’: becoming an American under a Trump presidency

Trump’s bullish perseverance on the ban, which has left many in Muslim and refugee communities around the US living in fear, has resulted in a temporary ruling in the supreme court that allows a much-diluted version of the order to come into effect. Although the president heralded the decision a victory, the ultimate test comes in autumn when the country’s highest court will ultimately rule on the ban’s constitutionality.

The president has also moved quickly to supercharge efforts to round up and deport undocumented immigrants. By empowering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), the federal agency responsible deportations, to target essentially anyone in the country without legal paperwork, the number of immigration arrests has soared. Although the administration has celebrated this uptick, it has actually been able to deport people at a much slower rate due to the crippling backlog inside America’s immigration courts.

Trump’s attempt at a solution to this has been to create a network of new courts, attached to remote detention centers and far from the reach of immigration attorneys. The strategy, plagued with due process concerns, has enjoyed mixed success. But, once again, it is those most vulnerable – many of whom have lived in America without paperwork for decades and have no criminal history – who have paid the highest price. Oliver Laughland

no one wants to sit next to the mean kid

Diplomacy

First, the good news. Donald Trump has not started a war. He has, therefore, so far, avoided the worst case scenario that some predicted for his presidency. One-eighth of the way through his term, he does not yet have a stain on his record like George W Bush has with Iraq. Instead, his Twitter spats with cable TV hosts and their indulgence by the media are a luxury of peacetime.

But in other, important ways, the US president has set about diminishing America’s global leadership role and diplomatic standing. He has emphasized the defense of America and western civilization and downplayed democracy and human rights. He has warmed to authoritarian leaders in China, the Philippines, Russia, and Saudi Arabia while going cold on Britain (still no visit), the European Union and Australia. His attacks on the press send an alarming message to dictators everywhere.

The world has noticed. A major survey of 37 countries by Pew Research last month found that just 22% of respondents had some or a great deal of confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. After his performance at Nato and G7 meetings, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said pointedly: “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.” At the G-20, he cut a lonely, isolated figure.

Trump appears to push aside Montenegro PM at Nato photocall

This damage could be undone relatively quickly but the “America first” president’s proposed 30% cut to the state department, where many top staff have left and not been replaced, threatens to be a lasting legacy. Max Bergmann, a former official, wrote in Politico: “The deconstruction of the state department is well underway… This is how diplomacy dies. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. With empty offices on a midweek afternoon.”

The outlier in Trump’s foreign policy came on 6 April, when the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airfield in Syria in retaliation for the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. It was a move welcomed by hawks and loathed by “anti-globalists” in Trump’s support base. But the most urgent issue, enough to test any US president, is North Korea. There is little evidence so far to suggest he will succeed where others have failed. David Smith

 

Gender and Equality

Trump’s White House has wasted little time erasing many of the changes that advocates for trans rights, reproductive rights and survivors of sexual assault achieved under the Obama administration.

The Trump team is in the middle of sharply reversing how the federal government enforces laws against gender bias. In February, the administration withdrew the Obama-era guidelines requiring schools to give transgender students unfettered access to bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. And Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, may restrict the federal government’s ability to intervene when colleges and universities do a questionable job of handling students’ complaints of sexual assault.

Trump is also attempting to dismantle the nation’s public safety net for family planning, with an assist from his party in Congress. The president has signed legislation encouraging states to withhold federal family planning dollars from Planned Parenthood. The latest version of Republican’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act would eliminate the birth control mandate – which is also under fire from Trump’s health department – not to mention maternity coverage requirements.

Every repeal attempt has contained a measure to block women on Medicaid from using their insurance at Planned Parenthood – measures that would shutter scores of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. And the administration is poised to give the green light to states, like Texas, that axe Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs.

The White House also has aims to zero out funding for the government-funded Legal Services Corporation, which is the main source of legal assistance for women attempting to escape domestic violence, when Congress passes a budget this fall.

Finally, there’s US supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia, who observers say “has all the makings of an extreme anti-abortion justice”. Trump named Gorsuch eleven days into his presidency, fulfilling a longtime campaign promise to nominate justices who will vote to overturn Roe v Wade. Molly Redden

 

Criminal justice

Much of what the federal government can do on criminal justice is left to Congress since most criminal justice happens at state and local, rather than federal levels. However, Trump’s administration hasn’t spared much time doing what it can to reverse a roughly decades long retreat from the peak of tough-on-crime, mass-incarceration dogma.

So far, efforts on criminal justice have been much more sizzle than steak, but the prospect of dramatic policy change looms just around the corner. Stuffed in a suite of executive orders signed in February, Trump commissioned a task force to make recommendations on combating “the menace of rising crime”, which has been an enduring theme of the administration despite being debunked by experts. That task force, which reportedly, and curiously, does not include police chiefs or criminologists is scheduled to make its recommendations on 27 July.

“If you’re going to see anything from the Trump administration proposing new [or longer] mandatory minimums and a general return to the tough on crime tactics, I think you’ll see those recommendations made by the task force,” said Ames Grawert, a criminal justice researcher with the Brennan Center for Justice.

It remains unclear how much support there might be in Congress for taking up such recommendations. As recently as December there was real momentum behind a bipartisan bill to make sentencing less punitive, not more.

In the interim, attorney general Jeff Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to seek the highest possible penalty in every case and has championed initiatives to push state cases for federal prosecutors to obtain harsher sentencing.

In another reversal from the Obama era, Sessions has also signaled that the DoJ will not use its authority to investigate or reform local police departments, even in cases where gross negligence, or rampant civil rights violations may be occurring. Sessions tried and failed, to pause a consent decree negotiated in Baltimore after the Freddie Gray unrest, and his department has so far flaked-out of a similar effort that was slated for Chicago under the previous administration.

“We will not sign consent decrees for political expediency that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of the criminals,” Sessions wrote in an April 18 op-ed in USA Today. Jamiles Lartey

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/19/six-ways-trump-is-dismantling-america-after-six-months-in-white-house?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=235673&subid=9599609&CMP=GT_US_collection

Even the Wall Street Journal is completely embarrassed by Donny

The Wall Street Journal unloaded on President Donald Trump late Monday night, lambasting the president for being mired in an investigation into Russian involvement in his campaign and for continually hiding damaging details that inevitably are leaked.

Following a weekend when Trump’s attorney attempted to put out the fire – and failed spectacularly — the Journal editorial board finally had enough.

Under the heading “The Trumps and the Truth,” they wrote, “Even Donald Trump might agree that a major reason he won the 2016 election is because voters couldn’t abide Hillary Clinton’s legacy of scandal, deception and stonewalling. Yet on the story of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Mr. Trump and his family are repeating the mistakes that doomed Mrs. Clinton.”

“Don Jr. released his emails that showed the Russian lure about Mrs. Clinton and Don Jr. all excited—’I love it.’ Oh, and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Beltway bagman Paul Manafort were also at the meeting. Don Jr. told Sean Hannity this was the full story,” they continued. “But then news leaked that a Russian-American lobbyist was also at the meeting.”

“Even if the ultimate truth of this tale is merely that Don Jr. is a political dunce who took a meeting that went nowhere—the best case—the Trumps made it appear as if they have something to hide. They have created the appearance of a conspiracy that on the evidence Don Jr. lacks the wit to concoct,” they wrote.

The Journal then brought the heat.

“Don’t you get it, guys? Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating the Russia story. Everything that is potentially damaging to the Trumps will come out, one way or another. Everything. Denouncing leaks as “fake news” won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36% approval rating shows,” the editorial continued.

According to the Journal, Trump needs to come clean, releasing “every detail that might be relevant to the Russian investigations.”

“That means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or email. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years,” they wrote.”This should include every relevant part of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which the President will resist but Mr. Mueller is sure to seek anyway.”

Writing, “Mr. Trump will probably ignore this advice,” the editors concluded, “Mr. Trump somehow seems to believe that his outsize personality and social-media following make him larger than the Presidency. He’s wrong. He and his family seem oblivious to the brutal realities of Washington politics. Those realities will destroy Mr. Trump, his family and their business reputation unless they change their strategy toward the Russia probe. They don’t have much more time to do it.”

http://www.rawstory.com/2017/07/dont-you-get-it-guys-wsj-eviscerates-oblivious-trump-over-russia-scandal-in-devastating-editorial/

Where’s all that macho bravado now? Lil’ Donny snowflake hides out in Poland

President Snowflake: Trump Needs a Safe Space in Europe

He’s a self-proclaimed brawler, but Trump didn’t head straight for the handshake-snubbing Macron or mean lady Merkel at the G-20. No, first he needed an adoring hug from Poland.

“Fuck your feelings” was a resonant refrain among many Trump supporters during the 2016 campaign.

In their view, we were living in a country where the coddling of youthful sensitivities had run amok, and Donald Trump was the unvarnished antidote to the left’s assault on American toughness. Can’t handle it? Then leave, snowflake.

But President Trump, champion of fuck your feelings, has proved to be the most delicate snowflake of all. While every modern president has favored sympathetic media outlets and friendly crowds, Trump is different in the degree to which his promises differ from his actions. Unlike his predecessors, his appeal is built around a bravado he won’t or can’t exhibit.

In the first six months of his presidency, the self-professed brawler has dodged the press, favoring pillow fights with Fox & Friends over substantive exchanges with critical journalists.

He’s lived in denial of his unpopularity, choosing instead to fluff his insatiable ego before campaign-style rallies where he makes wild claims he then sends his unprepared lackeys to defend.

He pulled out of the Paris climate deal reportedly because his feelings were hurt by French President Emmanuel Macron’s handshake snub.

He responds to negative news coverage with tantrums and personal insults on social media, where he can duck behind his army of anonymous affirmers.

He fired the FBI director and a U.S. attorney after both reportedly rebuffed his inappropriate overtures.

His closest aides fear exposing him to unflattering news coverage, lest they bruise their boss’ ego.

The man never apologizes.

The president’s true-believing base and the suckling underlings who see him as a means to an end still publicly express support for him. His social-media coordinator and barking sons, loyal to Trump as a trio of undersocialized rescue dogs, have never met a pro-Trump conspiracy theory they wouldn’t help spread.

But beyond that, the number of people who are willing to tell Donald Trump that he is wonderful is dwindling. Stateside, all the polling has him at a sub-40 percent approval rating, with no rally in sight. Internationally, it’s worse. In Europe, it’s abysmal.

Given Trump’s complete inability to process dissent, this week’s G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, puts President Snowflake directly in harm’s way. Thankfully, there’s Poland.

Poland is not on the way to Hamburg from the United States. It’s an overshoot. But it’s the closest place to the G-20 the president could land with the reasonable expectation that he wouldn’t be triggered by hordes of protesters the second he landed.

Just to be on the safe side, Polish officials bused extra Trump fans into Warsaw from across the countryside, armed with cheers and enthusiasm, and none of that scary dissent that frightens Donald so very much. Just what a brave president would want. Trump delivered a speech worthy of a B- from a middle-school civics teacher, and the crowd lost its mind. Stateside, Morning Joe, recently the target of one of Trump’s cowardly lobs, tiptoed around Trump’s ineptitude, apparently aware of what’s at stake globally if Trump’s in a bad mood on international trips.

Who knows what would have happened if the president had visited, say, Stockholm or Nice. Feelings could have been hurt! Feelings with nuclear launch codes!

The rest of this week promises to be even rougher for President Trump and his eggshell emotions. At the G-20, he’ll have to face the aforementioned Macron, the rude handshaker, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a mean lady who refuses to praise him even though he has done everything he is capable of as president, which is nothing.

Trump will have to face a harsh world, one far from the safe space of his office with the enormous TV screen and the approving hedgehog face of Sean Hannity.

Trump will also have a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump once halfway invited to a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Apart from governing from the same city where a Miss Universe pageant once occurred, Putin is also a tiny despot, the sort of man Trump believes himself to be in the same way a cat watching a nature show on TV believes itself to be a lion. Incidentally, Russia is one of the only places in the world where Trump is popular.

Putin is also the sort of man most of America would hope the president would have the stones to confront, if given the opportunity. Putin is also behind an attempt to meddle in the 2016 American presidential election, according to every intelligence organization.

Trump will not be dwelling on this fact, according to The New York Times, because Russia meddling in the U.S. election undermines Trump’s electoral win, which he is apparently more proud of than he is in the continued integrity of the American electoral system. His fear of the disapproval of a masculine caricature is greater than any feeling of obligation to serve the interests of the country that elected him.

A normal person would take mass disdain—of the U.S., of Europe, of the industrialized world as a whole—as a clue that they, perhaps, are personally doing something wrong.

Not Donald Trump. Trump could drive northbound in the southbound lane of an expressway and interpret the other drivers’ honks as affronts to his inherent rightness, so fearful is he of being wrong.

It’s hard to fathom a person who demands so much personal toughness of those around him yet displays so little. Trump’s critics have called this behavior childlike, immature, id-driven. Even his supporters would find fault in a man so frightened by confrontation that he’s willing to fly several hundred miles out of the way to avoid it.

Trump is a wimp, a baby, a wuss, a chicken, a cupcake. To borrow from the vocabulary of the “Fuck your feelings” crowd: a puppet. Or something else that starts with a “p.”

ERIN GLORIA RYAN The Daily Beast

Trump successfully diverted us with misogyny yesterday while real news on collusion broke

Forget the stupid tweets: There’s big news on Trump’s Russia connections — and he doesn’t want you to read it
New reports link Michael Flynn to hacking and reveal Trump’s massive business deals in the former Soviet Union

Well, Thursday was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? We got to spend the day wallowing in presidential misogyny, a treat we haven’t been able to savor since we heard Donald Trump brag about getting away with random crotch grabbing because he is such a “star.” No one can be surprised. We knew he was a snake before we let him in.

As much as the president’s grotesque tweets served as a grim reminder of his true character, Trump did manage to do the one thing he has been dying to do for weeks: move the press off the Russia story. Sadly for him, it only lasted a few hours before yet another late-breaking Russia scoop hit. The Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris published a story that links former national security adviser Michael Flynn to a longtime right-wing operative named Peter W. Smith, who told Harris he had engaged with Russian hackers to obtain the so-called “missing emails” from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Smith also claimed he was in touch with Michael Flynn and possibly his son, both of whom he knew through some earlier business dealings.

Harris also reports that “investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary.” That would be quite a coincidence if there were two different operations described exactly that way. As they say, stay tuned. There’s no way of knowing if this man was just blowing smoke about Flynn or whether it represents the first evidence that there was some collusion between the campaign and Russia, in this case through an outside intermediary steeped in right-wing opposition research for decades.

Smith died in May, but his history suggests it’s at least plausible that what he told Harris is true. Murray Waas wrote in Salon way back in 1998 about Smith’s role as the instigator of  “Troopergate,” which led to the Paula Jones lawsuit against Bill Clinton (with which Kellyanne Conway’s husband George was intimately involved) and the rest was history. Smith is exactly the kind of man who would have involved himself in a nefarious scheme like this.

That story will undoubtedly be picked over quite a bit in the coming days. Unfortunately, another big Russia story, arguably even more significant, landed yesterday and few people seem to have noticed. Kevin G. Hall and Ben Weider of the McClatchy Washington bureau reported that Trump’s business dealings in countries of the former Soviet empire were much more substantial than he’s let on and his ties to bankers, oligarchs and politicians in the area are much more consequential. They write:

McClatchy’s investigation reveals how Trump sought a foothold not just in Russia but across the former Soviet empire. Not known before, the Trump Organization in 2012 negotiated with then-Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov for an obelisk-shaped tower to be built near the presidential palace, designed by architect John Fotiadis, who also did the Batumi project and lists offices in New York and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Trump Diamond lost out to a rival project in Astana for the tallest building in Central Asia, the 75-story Abu Dhabi Plaza.

That’s the tip of the iceberg. The Trump Organization was involved in dozens of deals throughout the region with money traced back to Russian sources, in some cases including the big oil company Rosneft. Once again, Trump’s close relationship with Bayrock CEO Felix Sater, a known mob associate with ties to the CIA, the FBI and the Russian government, was implicated along with another controversial company called the Silk Road Group. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, who has strong personal and business ties to Ukraine, was also involved with many of these negotiations. (Cohen was recently served with a subpoena by the House Intelligence Committee.)

What’s most interesting about all of these deals is their recent vintage. Indeed, the big tower project in Georgia mentioned in the McClatchy report wasn’t canceled until Jan. 6, 2017, two weeks before Trump took office. Trump said it was solely for business concerns (since he believes that it’s impossible for a president to have conflicts of interest) but the company he was involved with, Silk Road, said it was because of the massive publicity that was sure to follow, which hardly seems like convincing.

More likely the project was ditched because of the company’s relationship with Russia and Iran, two countries under U.S. sanctions. That would have been a bit of a problem for a sitting U.S. president, even one who believes that nothing is illegal if the president does it.

McClatchy reports that “none of this is revealed in Trump’s financial disclosure statements. And since he hasn’t released his tax returns, these sorts of relationships are not apparent.” We don’t know how many more situations like this exist that are still quietly percolating with Trump’s full knowledge while the country is kept in the dark.

There is a reason why Trump has been so desperate to end the Russia probe, and Occam’s razor says this is probably the reason. A G-Man with an unlimited mandate looking into all his dicey business dealings undoubtedly has him waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, the president has prevailed against all advice and will sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G-20 meeting. Trump’s political advisers tried to impress on him just how bad it will look to be glad-handing with Vlad, while his policy advisers are surely petrified that he will make a major error. Trump’s vaunted negotiating skills have turned out to be hype, and nobody know if he’s going to give away the store.

According to the Guardian, Trump has tasked his staff to come up with some “deliverables” for his pal Putin, with no plans to ask for anything in return. One thing we know he won’t be doing is broaching the subject of cyber attacks. According to this report by CNN, his team cannot get him to devote any time or attention to the problem:

“I’ve seen no evidence of it,” one senior administration official said when asked whether Trump was convening any meetings on Russian meddling in the election. The official said there is no paper trail — schedules, readouts or briefing documents — to indicate Trump has dedicated time to the issue.

He is simply not interested. But then, in Trump’s worldview, if the Russian helped him get elected why would he do anything to stop them from doing it again? What he does want is to stop the investigation from delving too deeply into his relationships and business dealings in the region. It turns out there are a lot more of them then he’s admitted up until now.

HEATHER DIGBY PARTON – Salon

http://www.salon.com/2017/06/30/forget-the-stupid-tweets-theres-big-news-on-trumps-russia-connections-and-he-doesnt-want-you-to-read-it/

Trump Takes a Dump on America’s global standing

America’s global standing plummets under Donald Trump

A new survey from Pew Research Centre shows sharp drops in approval

They love him in Russia!

It’s no surprise that a fast-tweeting, obnoxious pugnacious President, with little regard for diplomatic niceties or enthusiasm for treaty obligations, is not much liked outside his borders. Nonetheless, the magnitude of the change in global opinions on America’s leadership since Doofus Donald took office is still remarkable.

A new survey by the Pew Research Centre of 40,447 people in 37 countries shows that trust in Trump pales in comparison with Barack Obama’s final ratings. Whereas 64% of those surveyed had confidence in Obama to do the right thing, just 22% are similarly optimistic about his successor, whom they described as “arrogant” (75%), “intolerant” (65%) and “dangerous” (62%). Citizens in Western Europe put no more stock in Trump—who took office just five months ago—than they did in George W. Bush, the architect of the highly unpopular war in Iraq when he limped out of the White House in 2008. Respondents’ approval rating for America overall has also slumped, from 64% to 49%.

Of all the countries surveyed by Pew, Trump’s worst ratings come from Mexico, America’s southern neighbor. The president has characterized its immigrants to his country as rapists and promised to force its government to pay for a wall on their shared border. Sure enough, just 5% of Mexicans say they are confident in him.

At the other extreme, respondents in only two countries prefer Trump to his predecessor. Israelis are fonder of him by seven percentage points, perhaps because he has sounded, at times, friendlier toward settlements and harsher towards Iran. A far greater gain comes from Russia, where only 11% liked Barack Obama, but 53% say that they like Trump. The FBI is currently investigating whether anyone involved in Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election on his behalf.

Even in countries where he is mostly despised, Trump still found some support from those who share his ideology. Across Europe, people with favorable views of their hometown populist party have much higher appraisals for Trump—though, even among them, confidence was not above 50%. Of those who approve of the National Front, 39% express confidence in Trump; for those who disapprove of Marine Le Pen’s party, that number is just 6%.

America’s president is often described as the “leader of the free world”. Trump may be making that moniker an anachronism. Given his reluctance to reiterate America’s commitment to NATO’s collective defense policy, it is little wonder that Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and a staunch defender of liberal internationalism, inspires more confidence than Trump does. However, he also fell short of leaders with far weaker democratic credentials. Even autocrats like Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin scored better.

info from The Economist

http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/06/daily-chart-19

Trump’s business partnerships with shadowy Russians in New York real estate deals

A bombshell Bloomberg View report dropped Wednesday morning detailing President Donald Trump’s shadowy business partnerships with Russian investors on New York City real estate deals.

Rachel Maddow teased the report, which links the president to possible money laundering operations through his business associate Felix Sater — a mob informant and felon who has boasted of his ties to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence.

While special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether Trump obstructed justice in firing former FBI Director James Comey, the investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia also continues. As The Washington Post reported last week, the investigation into Trump also involves tracking concerning financial activities. The New York Times went even further, saying that Mueller is looking into whether Trump associates laundered payoffs from Russians and funneled them through offshore accounts.

“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,” Trump said during a 2007 deposition. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.”

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. said a year later.

A troubling history of possibly compromising business relationships has scored cash for Trump for years, according to Bloomberg. The Bayrock Group, a now-dormant development firm that operated in Trump Tower, partnered with Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump on a series of deals between 2002 and 2011. The largest of the deals was part of a project in Manhattan, the Trump Soho Hotel.

During the years that the two worked together, Bayrock was a link between several dark projects in the U.S. and Europe that once named after Trump. Bayrock used Icelandic banks to launder money from government investors, legislators and others, Bloomberg reported.

One principal was a career criminal, according to Bloomberg, named Felix Sater, who worked with organized crime in both the U.S. and Russia. Before he brought the company to Trump he worked as a mob informant for the FBI and ran to Moscow to avoid any criminal charges.

Trump, Arif and Sater, at right

A former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, admitted that he left the firm out of fear the company was a front for a money laundering scheme and filed a lawsuit claiming he’d been swindled out of millions by cash skimming and tax dodging.

A federal judge agreed in December that Kriss’ suit could move forward as a racketeering case.

Trump claims he barely knows Sater, but the two met frequently at Trump Tower and Sater showed Trump’s children around Moscow on a visit, and he also carried Trump Organization business cards.

Sater was also involved with Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen and former national security adviser Michael Flynn on a Ukrainian peace proposal.

He went to prison for 15 months in 1993 for slashing the man’s face open with a margarita glass during a bar fight, and Sater later fled to Moscow after federal prosecutors charged him and his associates with laundering about $40 million from elderly Holocaust survivors for the mob.

Sater “was always hustling and scheming, and his contacts in Russia were the same kind of contacts he had in the United States,” Lauria wrote in his 2003 memoir, “The Scorpion and the Frog.” “The difference was that in Russia his crooked contacts were links between Russian organized crime, the Russian military, the KGB, and operatives who played both ways, or sometimes three ways.”

He eventually came back to the U.S. to face charges but traded on his knowledge of Stinger missiles for sale on the black market in Afghanistan to strike a plea deal in the money laundering case, which was then sealed.

Sater and Kriss joined Bayrock, headquartered at Trump Tower, in 2002 with a $10 million investment from former Soviet official Tevfik Arif, who reportedly made his fortune running upscale hotels in Turkey that catered to wealthy Russians.

Marketing documents for Bayrock pitched prospective investors claiming a former Soviet oligarch, Alexander Mashkevich, was one of Bayrock’s primary sources of capital.

According to Bloomberg, Bayrock was never out of money, despite running a small development firm. Kriss’ lawsuit alleges they could operate “month after month, for two years, in fact, more frequently, whenever Bayrock ran out of cash.” If times got tight, Bayrock’s owners would “magically show up with a wire from ‘somewhere’ just large enough to keep the company going.”

Both Sater and Arif wooed Kriss to Bayrock by promising him 10 percent of the firm’s profits, according to the lawsuit. Being located in Trump Tower gave “an air of success” to the company, according to Kriss — as well as an opportunity to work with Trump.

Sater was the one who built the relationship with the future president, according to court records. He used three Trump Organization executives to eventually lead him to Trump in 2002, when the celebrity real estate developer wasn’t in a good place financially and had barely escaped personal bankruptcy in the 1990s. His reputation was sunk and no bank wanted anything to do with him, so Trump turned to developing golf courses. Arif and Sater pitched him the idea of doing international hotel chains with Trump’s name, according to Kriss — which they claimed would help pump up his “brand.”

The relationship proved mutually beneficial, and both Bayrock and Trump saw their fortunes rise after the debut of his reality show, “The Apprentice,” in 2004.

“That put Bayrock in a great position once the show debuted,” Kriss said. “The show did it for Trump, man. Nobody was interested in licensing his name before that.”

Bayrock promised Trump an 18 percent equity stake in the Trump Soho hotel, which would provide a steady stream of cash from fees and his name on a Manhattan building. No one knows whether Trump did any research into the Bayrock partners backgrounds, but Bloomberg alleges that Trump was known for lacking concern for such matters.

Sater claims he revealed his convictions to Trump Organization members and assumed they relayed it to Trump, but he can’t say for sure.

“It’s not very hard to get connected to Donald if you make it known that you have a lot of money and you want to do deals and you want to put his name on it,” said Abe Wallach, who served as Trump’s right-hand man from 1990 to 2002. “Donald doesn’t do due diligence. He relies on his gut and whether he thinks you have good genes.”

Due to a language barrier, Arif had little to do with Trump, so it was left to Sater and Kriss — who had most of their interactions with Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, but the future president always had final say.

According to a deposition, Sater met with Trump multiple times a week to talk about business, including a plan to use Sater’s Russian connections to build a “high-rise” in Moscow.

Sater claimed he wouldn’t call Trump “my friend” in a 2008 deposition, but the two traveled together to look at deals. “Anybody can come in and build a tower,” he said. “I can build a Trump Tower because of my relationship with Trump.”

They began the international hotel-condo projects by exploring deals in Turkey, Poland, and Ukraine. Sater took Ivanka and Don Jr. to Moscow looking for land for a Trump-branded hotel, but none got past the planning stages. In the U.S., however, Bayrock and Trump projects moved forward.

Developing a Phoenix hotel became a nightmare when a zoning debate surfaced and Sater ended up in court with a local investor named Ernest Mennes. In a lawsuit, Mennes claimed he threatened to reveal Sater’s criminal history, and Sater said that he had a cousin that would “electrically shock Mr. Mennes’ testicles, cut off Mr. Mennes’ legs, and leave Mr. Mennes dead in the trunk of his car.”

Mennes also claimed Bayrock and Sater skimmed money off of the development. They ultimately settled the suit, sealed the court documents and Sater’s lawyers deny Mennes’s allegations

They then started the Trump International Hotel and Tower project in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005. It ultimately ended up in foreclosure. Finally, Bayrock and Trump built the Soho hotel with a Trump, Sater and Arif photo from a launch party in 2007 — which Trump advertised as part of “The Apprentice.”

An influx of funding came in from an Icelandic investment bank named the FL Group. Sater and Lauria had a longtime mob ally recruited into FL. Trump didn’t seem concerned about vetting the firm despite operating in a country with problematic banking systems. The FL Group went under, a little more than a year after its investment, but was never prosecuted despite other Icelandic banks being jailed for money laundering.

In an interview, Kriss said competitors of the FL Group also asked to invest in Bayrock. He took the proposal to Sater and Arif, who told him that the money from Icelandic banks “was mostly Russian,” and that the group was forced to take FL’s funds for other deals with Trump because the firm was “closer to Putin.”

“I thought it was a lie or a joke when they said Putin,” Kriss remembers, though he doesn’t have financial records to prove it. “I didn’t know how to make sense of it at all.”

When Kriss complained he was owed a payout after the FL deal, but he said that Sater threatened him, so he took $500,000 and eventually quit.

By December 2007 Sater’s past was splashed across the New York Times, and he began using an alternative spelling of his name, “Satter.” Just days following that article, Trump sat for a deposition with the Bloomberg story’s author, Timothy O’Brien, as part of a libel lawsuit Trump had filed for “TrumpNation.” O’Brien’s attorneys asked if Trump planned to sever ties with Sater because of the organized crime ties and The Times article. Trump said he wasn’t sure yet.

“Have you previously associated with people you knew were members of organized crime?” one of O’Brien’s lawyers asked Trump.

“No, I haven’t,” Trump replied. “And it’s hard to overly blame Bayrock. Things like that can happen. But I want to see what action Bayrock takes before I make a decision.”

When asked about Sater any time since Trump claimed they weren’t close. In a 2013 deposition around the failed Fort Lauderdale project, Trump was asked about Sater again.

“He was supposedly very close to the government of the United States as a witness or something,” Trump claimed. “I don’t think he was connected to the Mafia. He got into trouble because he got into a barroom fight.”

“I don’t know him very well,” Trump swore under oath. He then claimed he hadn’t spoken much to Sater. “If he were sitting in the room right now I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

Trump continued, claiming that he didn’t think any questions about Sater’s background should have influenced his business partnership. “Somebody said that he is in the Mafia. What am I going to do?” Trump said.

By 2008, Sater was forced to resign from Bayrock. The Trump Soho hotel was a flop, opening in 2010 with unfilled units. Those who did buy condos sued Bayrock and Trump and it was forced into foreclosure.

When Kris left Bayrock he set up another firm and sued Sater, Arif, Trump and Bayrock in Delaware in 2008. He claimed Bayrock was a criminal operation and demanded back pay. The case was moved to New York in 2010. Interestingly, however, Sater accidentally left a copy of his deal with the government for the Stinger missile on an old Bayrock computer. An employee found it and gave it to Kriss’s attorney, who filed it as an exhibit.

Trump was ultimately dropped from the case, and Sater came after Kriss with multiple lawsuits claiming, among other things, that Kriss used the courts to come after Slater.

Kriss then began receiving threatening emails, and he discovered there were hundreds of websites that had false and disparaging information about him. He moved to sue the anonymous authors for defamation and the court ruled in his favor and the sites were delisted from Google. He used the court order to find the source of the sites and found them tracked back to Sater’s home address in Sands Point.

At one point, Kriss claims “goons” showed up at his real estate projects in Brooklyn asking his workers if they knew the stories about their boss. Letters questioning his background arrived in every mailbox of every resident in two buildings where Kriss had apartments. Investors in his new company, East River Partners, stood by him but Kris said that Sater’s digital attack on him may be impossible to overcome.

His new attorney, Bradley Simon, stated that he continues to be mystified by how Sater has managed to stay in business this long.

“Sater was a cooperating witness for the Eastern District of New York and he continued going on a crime rampage,” says Simon. “He’s filed all kinds of frivolous lawsuits, but that’s what he does. He seems to have unlimited funds.”

After leaving Bayrock, the Trump Organization briefly employed Sater as a consultant and more recently he was named in other litigation for an Ohio shopping mall where millions allegedly disappeared. The case was settled in 2013.

Sater and others at Bayrock would not comment for O’Brien’s expose.

http://www.rawstory.com/2017/06/trumps-links-to-russian-money-laundering-raises-new-questions-about-secret-real-estate-deals-since-election/