“Have we learned nothing?”

Once again, the volcanic clouds of chaos-ash emanating from Mount Trump at all times have obscured real news that we should care about. But we’re all distracted, panicked, and immobilized by the tiny-handed “ratings machine” that leads the free world, and the unnecessary drama he thrives on.

While we were all glued to our TVs watching the Comey hearings yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 233-186 for a bill that would undo much of Dodd-Frank. The Comey hearings will ultimately have no effect on your life, but the repeal of Dodd-Frank will. If we were hoping to have our outrage validated, we were watching the wrong show.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, as we apparently no longer remember, was passed after the 2008 financial crisis to try to rein in the excesses of Wall Street that very nearly caused a worldwide economic collapse.

The bill attempts to prevent predatory mortgage lending, restrict banks from making investments for themselves using your insured deposits, governs consumer lending by requiring clear disclosure of terms, separates the commercial and investment functions of a bank,  regulates derivatives such as the credit default swaps that were widely blamed for contributing to the 2008 financial crisis, and so on.

It was a bit like closing the barn door after the horses had gone, but trying to make it less likely that the barn door will be left open next time.

The House vote was, of course, along strict party lines. Walter Jones of North Carolina was the only Republican to vote against it. Maxine Waters of California said, “They are setting the stage for Wall Street to run amok and cause another financial crisis.”

This WaPo piece says,

Democrats defended the Dodd-Frank law, saying it has meant financial security for millions of people and that undoing it would encourage the kind of risky lending practices that invite future economic shocks.

They also oppose efforts to sharply curtail a consumer protection agency’s power to pursue companies that it determines have participated in unfair or deceptive practices in their financial products and services. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has returned $29 billion to 12 million consumers who were victims of deceptive marketing, discriminatory lending or other financial wrongdoing.

“All we’re doing is spending our time taking away protections for the American people and their futures. Have we learned nothing?” asked Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

Shortly after inauguration, Trump promised to do a “big number on Dodd-Frank”, calling it a “disaster”, the same term he uses to describe just about everything he doesn’t like. He’s attempting to deliver on yet another idiotic promise meant to accelerate the transfer of wealth from the many to the few, and the House of Representatives is proving a willing tool. Hopefully, the Senate will prevent Trump’s “big number” from doing further damage.

A lot of us were hoping Comey would do a “big number” on Trump. If only.

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Trump “charity”

CNN is really milking this Comey testimony thing. For days, they’ve had a permanent “countdown” displaying how many seconds are left before the Big Show.  Ratings! Revenue! Spectacle!

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It’s pretty pathetic. I’m going to risk my reputation as the present-day Nostradamus and predict that when we finally hear what Comey has to say, it will be absolutely nothing you don’t already know. Yes, the “news” outlets will go crazy all day tomorrow and for a few days after, assuming the man-baby doesn’t come up with some huge distraction, wilder even than “tapped my wires”. But, as for Comey,  there’s no there there.

First of all, Comey’s primary concern is his reputation for being incorruptible, non-partisan, fair,  and, above all, not vindictive. This requires him to make no overtly anti-Trump statements or statements that could be deemed to be self-serving in refuting what the man-baby has spammed us with for weeks, even including the made-up exculpatory verbiage in the termination letter he sent to Comey. Remember that stuff about having assured Trump on three occasions that he wasn’t under investigation?

Second, we already know Comey’s version of events from various other sources. And it’s a highly believable, even obvious, account. Trump tried to influence him to drop the Flynn/Russia investigation, thereby committing the crime of Obstruction of Justice, an impeachable offense. Shocker.

And last, his testimony can never live up to the absurd advance hype it’s getting, no matter what. Maybe it won’t be as disappointing and deflating as Rachel Maddow’s “We’ve got Trump’s tax forms, tune in at 10:00” debacle, but I can promise you it won’t be worth the wait. Stop licking your chops. You’re going to remain hungry after this feast.

But this doesn’t mean there isn’t a little red meat for you in today’s news to keep you satisfied, at least until lunch. Let’s try this one from Forbes: How Donald trump Shifted Kids-Cancer Charity Money Into His Business.

The ABC News version says:

According to IRS filings, the Eric Trump Foundation in 2012 spent $59,085 on its annual Golf Invitational fundraiser held at the Trump National Golf Club in Westchester County, New York — money that skimmed from donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Those expenses ballooned to $230,080 in 2013 and to $242,294 in 2014, according to the filings. It is unclear from these tax forms how much of those payments went to the Trump Organization.

Forbes reported that in 2011, costs for Eric Trump’s golf tournament fundraiser tripled because his father realized that the organization had not been charging for the event and there were no bills to prove it. The Foundation declined to provide Forbes with an itemized list of expenses for the tournament.

Charity experts told Forbes that the amount paid to the Trump Organization for a golf tournament fundraiser for St. Jude’s “defy any reasonable cost.”

This, of course, is further proof of the value of seeing Trump’s tax returns, but I guess that ship has sailed. No one who understands this needs to see this new evidence, and anyone who does need to see it isn’t listening and doesn’t care.

It does remind me once more of what Michael Bloomberg, someone who certainly knows,  said about Trump: bloomberg

Trump is who he is. He wants and needs to stiff everyone. Even kids with cancer.

Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride

It had to happen.

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Is there no one who can get Trump to stop tweeting? We’ve been asking this question since long before the election, and for a long time the answer has been quite clear. No, there is no one can who convince the man-baby that he would be much better off, and even enjoy higher approval ratings, if he could just control himself a little better. Not Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, or Sean Spicer.  Not even Jared or Ivanka, those two phantoms who allegedly have the strongest influence on him.

But he just can’t do it. Saying that he’s “impulsive” doesn’t describe what we’re seeing here. It’s more like a schizophrenic toddler with Tourette’s.

It’s often been noted that his tweets are craziest when he’s alone. At night before bed or when he’s just woken up in the morning is the real danger zone. There’s no one around to stop him then. Maybe it would be different if his spouse lived with him. Who has a greater interest in keeping your foot out of your mouth and the power to do it? Remember the strong and effective influence exerted by  Rosalynn Carter or Nancy Reagan?  It wasn’t a bad thing.

Sooner or later, Trump was going to make an international joke out of himself (and, thereby, all the rest of us), with some completely incoherent or accidental tweet. Last night was the night.

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Obviously, he hit “Send” before he meant to, probably while trying to correct what he’d written, but that’s exactly the point. He’s the President of the United States. Every word he says has the potential to move markets, dominate the international news, impact global alliances, or even start wars. He can’t be carelessly, accidentally, or even impulsively hitting “Send” any more than he can “Launch” or “Strike” or “Detonate” or whatever it actually says on that red button on the “nuclear football”.

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And he didn’t delete it for hours, prompting speculation that maybe he’d had a medical episode of some sort.

Almost immediately, #COVFEFE was trending on social media and all kinds of great jokes and memes were speeding around the internet. Check some of them out here. Trump is an international laughingstock. Again.

Coincidentally, the talent pool for new hires is also running dry. No one wants to work for this guy. Would you? Not knowing whether what you say today will be contradicted or undermined tomorrow? Knowing for sure that you’ll be fired at some point? The number of people who are willing to sign up for Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride now is tiny, and few competent pros are among them. Trump only really trusts family members, and they’re already all on the payroll.

What a mess.

A question of stamina

“She doesn’t have the stamina to be president.” That’s what Trump repeatedly said of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail back in September.  Click on this for a smile:

Hillary replied,

“As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee he can talk to me about stamina.”

This week, the man-baby ventured out of Mar-a-Lago for his first trip abroad, a perfect opportunity to impress us with his superior stamina. Well, as with all things Trump, it didn’t quite work out that way.

In Trump’s inspirational speech to the Muslim world, he stupidly referred to “Islamic extremism” when he should have said “Islamist extremism”, a difference his predecessor Barack Obama understood well.

Obama refused to use the expression “Islamic terrorism” for very good reasons, and FoxNews and Trump never stopped criticizing him for it. “How can we address the problem if we can’t even name it?” they howled. He won’t say the words because he romanticizes Islam, they said.

In using this expression that he has used so often before, Trump thereby offended the entire Muslim world (again!), something which his predecessor tried not to do. It isn’t helpful, Obama often explained. It makes things worse.

Well, now Trump’s White House is back in damage control mode as usual. Why did Trump use this foolish phrase? Does he not understand the distinction between “Islamic”, which describes things related to the religion, and “Islamist”, which describes an often violent political movement? No, no, of course he understands that. All that criticism of Obama was months ago. Ancient history. You can’t seriously be bringing that up now, can you?!

Well, why then? Are you ready? He was “exhausted”!  Apparently he lacks stamina! Unbelievable.

After one lousy plane ride, in which he had an entire 747 to himself with a full Trump-size bed to sleep in.

On Sunday night, a senior White House official said Trump’s decision to say “Islamic extremism” instead of “Islamist extremism” as written in his prepared remarks was not intentional but the product of exhaustion brought on by the rigorous travel schedule.

 

“Just an exhausted guy,” the senior White House official said.

 

If it’s too much to expect him to not make an idiot out of himself, and further incite the already insane,  because flying in total luxury and serenity for 14 hours is too difficult, well why send him in the first place?

 

We could just let good ol’ Rex take care of it. He’s got some stamina, doesn’t he? At least the stamina of any other Secretary of State. And a lot more than that tired old Crooked Hillary, right?

 

Asked on Air Force One about the President’s fatigue, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Monday, “He’s doing better than I am. And he’s got a few years on me.”

 

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“I’m Tired”

 

If you’re hoping that maybe someone in the Trump camp will say either that they were wrong to criticize Obama for trying to avoid intemperate language, or that they were wrong to be so strident in their attacks on Hillary’s stamina, well, we don’t have anything for you. It’s all old news, but thanks for the trip down memory lane, as Kellyanne Conway would say.

Ransomware and Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a “cryptocurrency” invented in 2009. It is an alternative to hard currency that exists only in the form of computer data stored in digital “wallets” that can be exchanged for goods and services (i.e. transferred to someone else’s wallet) with any party that accepts it as a form of payment.

Bitcoin has gained significant traction and acceptance in the last few years, and given rise to hundreds of competitors, collectively known as “altcoin”. Bitcoin is now legal in most countries, with these exceptions: Ecuador, Bangladesh, Bolivia & Kyrgyzstan.

Cryptocurrency has the advantages of anonymity, speed, and de-centralized control. It is very attractive to criminals as a great new way to launder money and avoid prosecution.

The value of a Bitcoin fluctuates and many have speculated in the currency, most notably the Winkelvoss twins, who have by far the largest hoard, and who recently filed S.E.C. papers to create an Exchange Traded Fund in Bitcoin, with an initial offering of $100 million.  The S.E.C denied the offering, giving Bitcoin and the Winkelvii a major headache. They said they thought it was too susceptible to fraud because of the unregulated nature of Bitcoin.

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The value of a Bitcoin today is $1820, up from $75 less than four years ago. Gains in the value of Bitcoin holdings are taxed in the U.S. like any other Capital Gain.

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The huge “ransomware” attacks experienced in over 150 countries this week, in which victims had all the files on their computers encrypted by attackers, relied on Bitcoin for payment. The hospitals, utilities, government offices, and all kinds of other industries that were victimized could not use their computer systems until they paid a ransom in Bitcoin.

Some people think the only reason Bitcoin has any value at all is its use in criminal activity. From the link:

If we could flip a switch and eliminate all illegal uses of Bitcoin, there would be nothing left of the cybercurrency.

It may be possible to eventually track down the source of the attacks by following the money, as some tracing of transactions is possible, but it seems unlikely that this will result in the prosecution or even identification of particular individuals.

This week’s ransomware code had three hard-coded bitcoin wallets specified that would receive payments.  An up-to-the minute record of Bitcoin transactions in the three accounts can be found on Twitter by following @actual_ransom. So far, not all that much has been paid into these accounts – less than $85,000 as of this morning. It’s not yet clear whether anyone who has paid the ransom has gotten their files back.

The Guardian had a nice explanation of the whole phenomenon this week, so to learn some more background, check it out.

The GOML summary: Bitcoin is a great innovation for criminals and Winkelvii.

 

Obstruction of Justice + Treason = ?

A few days ago, the President of the United States admitted to the crime of Obstruction of Justice on national television. In an interview, he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired the Director of the F.B.I., James Comey, because he was frustrated by the investigation into Russian meddling in the election, which he said wasn’t real but rather made up by Democrats who lost an election they should have won.

This is Obstruction of Justice, an impeachable offense.

He left out the part about how it was the very same Comey’s timely revelations about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails that tipped the scales of the election. It’s hard to remember now, but the reason everyone was so upset about which email account Clinton used was that she might reveal classified information to our nation’s enemies, e.g. Russia. Even though no such information was revealed, Trump repeatedly called for Clinton to be “locked up” for her imagined crimes.

But with Trump, Obstruction of Justice is like everything else. Nothing. Republicans in Congress said he had a right to fire whoever he wants (not if it’s Obstruction, he doesn’t), that it’s all smoke and no fire, and so on.

Only four days ago, I wrote,

By next week it will all be forgotten, replaced in the “news” by stories about the selection of the new F.B.I. director, who, by the way, will certainly be loyal to Trump. Or by some other craziness, maybe the new investigation into voter fraud, led by a proponent of Voter ID laws. Or more likely by something we just can’t see coming right now. Your assignment: come back here in a week and add a comment about what it turned out to be!

Well, don’t bother. It didn’t take a week and we already have the answer. Yesterday, we learned that the President revealed highly classified information to the Russians in that meeting that only the Russian news agency was allowed to cover. He was bragging to the Russians about all the “great intel” he gets every day (Really? Who’d have imagined?). The WaPo article says,

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

This is Treason, also an impeachable offense.

To summarize, Trump wanted to lock up Crooked Hillary Clinton because she couldn’t be trusted to keep our secrets out of Russian hands, and applauded James Comey for revealing that the F.B.I. was investigating her handling of emails, an investigation which ultimately resulted in nothing.

In a fit of petulance, he then fired Comey for investigating the Russian hacking of the very emails we’re talking about, because it might be revealed that his campaign staff colluded with the Russians. Such a firing is unjustified, improper, and completely without precedent.

He then disclosed highly classified information directly to our enemies on his own. Personally. To the Russians. While standing in the Oval Office. With the Russian State News Agency present.

Does any of this matter to the “No Regerts” crowd? Nah. As everyone knows, Trump is Draining the Swamp and Making America Great Again. Lock Her Up. That’s what matters. When his current 88% approval rating with those who voted for him starts to drop, then maybe something will be done about all this. But there’s apparently nothing that could ever have that effect, so don’t hold your breath.

Obstruction of Justice + Treason = Nothing.

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A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall

It was 54 years ago this week that a little-known folk singer named Bob Dylan told the most important figure in prime time television, Ed Sullivan, to take a hike.

In May of 1963, Dylan had a small following based on playing clubs around Greenwich Village and the release of his first album a year before, called “Bob Dylan”, which contained only two original songs. His second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, which would change  everything, had not come out yet.

freewheelin

Freeweheelin’ had a bunch of  soon-to-be-classic Dylan compositions on it, including “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Girl from the North Country”, “Masters of War”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

Before Freewheelin’ dropped, Dylan was like a lot of other people struggling to be heard. Unlike almost everyone else, though, he got a huge break in the form of an invitation to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, which at that time was the biggest thing anyone could hope for. It was the country’s highest rated variety show – a guarantee of a huge national audience.

But on May 12, Dylan walked off the show because network censors rejected the song he planned on performing, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”. The song lampooned the loony right for its tendency to see a “Communist” everywhere they looked, and the network worried they’d be sued because the song equated the views of the Birchers with those of Hitler.

They asked Dylan to choose a different song and he told them to choose a different singer.

As you may know, The John Birch Society was co-founded by Fred C. Koch, the father of David and Charles Koch, who have been doing their best for some time now to ruin this country with their Dark Money.

An excerpt from Amazon’s description of “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right”, by Jane Mayer:

Why is America living in an age of profound economic inequality? Why, despite the desperate need to address climate change, have even modest environmental efforts been defeated again and again? Why have protections for employees been decimated? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class workers?
     The conventional answer is that a popular uprising against “big government” led to the ascendancy of a broad-based conservative movement. But as Jane Mayer shows in this powerful, meticulously reported history, a network of exceedingly wealthy people with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. 
     The network has brought together some of the richest people on the planet. Their core beliefs—that taxes are a form of tyranny; that government oversight of business is an assault on freedom—are sincerely held. But these beliefs also advance their personal and corporate interests: Many of their companies have run afoul of federal pollution, worker safety, securities, and tax laws.
     The chief figures in the network are Charles and David Koch, whose father made his fortune in part by building oil refineries in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. The patriarch later was a founding member of the John Birch Society, whose politics were so radical it believed Dwight Eisenhower was a communist. The brothers were schooled in a political philosophy that asserted the only role of government is to provide security and to enforce property rights. 

The Kochs have changed the face of Congress by bankrolling candidates that can be relied upon to support their views, and by attacking their opponents with all manner of fake news, made-up scandals, and assorted dirty tricks.

One of the beneficiaries of the Koch largess has been Trey Gowdy, a partisan hack from South Carolina, who has been nicknamed “Hillary Slayer” for his absurd and relentless persecution of Hillary Clinton when he was chairman of the Benghazi hearings, a two-year long waste of the taxpayers’ money. His behavior more closely resembled that of a demented piranha than a U.S. Congressman.

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Guess who Trump’s first choice for the next Director of the F.B.I. is?

trey1 Trey Gowdy

Just when you think Trump can’t top himself, he surprises you. At least this time we don’t have to fret about whether Trump will again be so clueless as to ask Gowdy for his loyalty. Everyone already knows the answer to that one.  And it’s another big day for the sons of the Birchers – the Kochs are smiling about this.

As Dylan said all those years ago, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”

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