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Category: General

Crime infested inner city housing

[ 62 ] March 22, 2017 |

725 5th Ave., NYC. Thanks to CaptainBringdown for the alert.

There, indeed, was an FBI wiretap involving Russians at Trump Tower.

But it was not placed at the behest of Barack Obama, and the target was not the Trump campaign of 2016. For two years ending in 2013, the FBI had a court-approved warrant to eavesdrop on a sophisticated Russian organized crime money-laundering network that operated out of unit 63A in Trump Tower in New York.

The FBI investigation led to a federal grand jury indictment of more than 30 people, including one of the world’s most notorious Russian mafia bosses, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. Known as the “Little Taiwanese,” he was the only target to slip away, and he remains a fugitive from American justice.

Seven months after the April 2013 indictment and after Interpol issued a red notice for Tokhtakhounov, he appeared near Donald Trump in the VIP section of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Trump had sold the Russian rights for Miss Universe to a billionaire Russian shopping mall developer.


The FBI investigation did not implicate Trump. But Trump Tower was under close watch. Some of the Russian mafia figures worked out of unit 63A in the iconic skyscraper — just three floors below Trump’s penthouse residence — running what prosecutors called an “international money-laundering, sports gambling and extortion ring.”

The Trump building was home to one of the top men in the alleged ring, Vadim Trincher, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and received a five-year prison term. He is due to be released in July.

Questions I hope reporters ask, a lot, because I like watching Press Sec. Skeevy Spice twitch:

  1. Is this the wire “tapp” that tRump keeps complaining about?
  2. If so, what’s his problem with busting up an international gang?
  3. How well does he know Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov?

McConnell Wants TrumpCare Killed Quickly

[ 122 ] March 22, 2017 |


I’ve seen several people assume that if the House passes TrumpCare it will get through the Senate, because McConnell is promising to do so. Only McConnell is not saying that he has the votes, only that he wants TrumpCare off his calendar in a timely manner:

Trumpcare may or may not grind out enough votes to pass the House. In the Senate, it’s hopelessly short of the 50 votes it needs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has laid out a wildly aggressive time frame, under which his chamber would essentially xerox the House bill and pass it into law within a few days — no hearings, no negotiations. A few weeks ago, I suggested the possibility that McConnell’s plan was not wildly aggressive but actually designed to fail. His latest comments make this scenario seem far more likely.

“We’re not slowing down,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “We will reach a conclusion on health care next week.” And while he is brimming with certainty about the speed of the process, he is hardly confident of its outcome: “We’ll either pass something that will achieve a goal that we’ve been working on,” he said. “Or not.”

The only possible way a health-care bill could pass the Senate would be a heroic feat of negotiation to bridge the chasm between Republicans who think the House bill provides too much care (Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz) and those who think it provides too little (a group numbering perhaps as many as a dozen, depending on how one interprets various fretting remarks). Republicans can lose no more than two votes in the upper chamber. What’s more, one of their senators, Georgia’s Johnny Isakson, is out indefinitely while recovering from back surgeries. Isakson’s absence in the short term cuts the GOP’s margin for error in half, which means — unless he rushes back faster than expected — a vote next week is all the more hopeless.

If McConnell has concluded that there’s no way he can get 50 votes for anything the House passes — and I haven’t seen any whip count suggesting that they’re even particularly close to 50 — all failing to “conclude” the process means is that it will drag on for a long time and still fail. And having TrumpCare linger will get in the way of voting on Gorsuch an tax cuts, which are almost certainly much higher priorities for McConnell than health care anyway.

Anyway, if McConnell starts saying he has the votes, be very worried. If he keeps saying he will “conclude” the process one way or another quickly, he wants TrumpCare dead and is telling the House to forget health care and get to work on a stand-alone upper-class tax cut.


[ 39 ] March 22, 2017 |


Today, I am participating in an event at my university about supporting immigrants against Trump’s racist and fascist immigration regime. In preparing for it, I thought this piece on the sanctuary movement of the 1980s and its relevance today was quite useful and important.

In Guatemala, the decades-long civil war would eventually claim 200,000 lives, with state forces responsible for 93 percent of the violence, according to a UN report; in El Salvador, 75,000 were killed, with state forces responsible of at least 85 percent of the crimes. The Reagan administration also covertly and illegally armed and supported paramilitary “contra” forces against the Sandinista government, financing this illicit venture through clandestine arms deals with Iran.

As these anti-communist proxy wars ravaged Central America, a massive grassroots response arose in the United States.

This movement, sometimes referred to as the Central America solidarity movement or the Central America peace movement, encompassed a vast and diverse amalgamation of organizations and tactics fighting to halt U.S. support for the wars, defend the revolutionary projects of Central American popular movements, and protect Central American refugees seeking a safe haven in the United States.

As part of the movement, activists traveled to Sandinista Nicaragua under siege from the contras, indigenous communities facing genocidal violence in Guatemala, liberated guerilla territory in El Salvador, and Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras to witness first-hand the collective organizing for social and economic justice so fiercely opposed by the “Free World” and to gather testimonies on the depredations of U.S. foreign policy. In the United States, they engaged in collective acts of civil disobedience, put their lives on the line in courageous direct actions, waged national political campaigns, provided aid and services for victims of the violence, and organized mass mobilizations.

As an array of forces again raise the mantel of “sanctuary,” it’s important to remember that the sanctuary movement of the 1980s was but one component of a broad-based, cross-border, anti-imperialist liberation struggle. This is the radical heritage that our organized responses to mass deportations, refugee bans, and imperialist wars must claim today.

There are of course critical differences between the sanctuary movement then and now, the most important of which is that the movements of the 80s were closely connected to particularly awful Central American governments. Those governments aren’t that great today, but protecting people from Efrain Rios Montt and Jose Napoleon Duarte gave very concrete targets because of their relationship to Reagan’s horrendous Central American policies that the drug wars don’t. That said, breaking the law to protect people’s rights to stay in this country is going to be absolutely necessary for resisting Trump’s whitening of America. I’m not entirely sure of quite what that should look like of course, but past movements ranging from the Underground Railroad to ACT-UP to the sanctuary movements of the 1980s provide real, concrete examples we can learn from. Because if we care about protecting our immigrant neighbors, that might mean hiding them in our houses, allowing them to stay in our churches, and shuttling them to Canada for their safety.

Trump’s campaign manager was paid $10 million per year to be an agent for Putin

[ 154 ] March 22, 2017 |

Secret agent man.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Manafort’s plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.

It’s also unclear whether Manafort used an unsecured email server when he committed treason in return for tens of millions of dollars.


TrumpCare Is Class Warfare

[ 68 ] March 22, 2017 |


Some House wingers have their price for voting for what would already be one of the worst statutes ever passed by the United States Congress, and the price is making it even worse:

The “manager’s amendment” changing the legislation, which is set to be released Monday night by House leaders and expected to be adopted through a House Rules Committee vote before the full House votes on Thursday, includes new provisions cracking down on Medicaid beneficiaries. The changes would allow states to impose work requirements on able-bodied childless adults getting Medicaid, and to receive funding in a “block grant” that doesn’t rise at all with enrollment, which would likely amount to a still-larger cut.

The amendment would also eliminate federal funding for Medicaid beneficiaries making over 133 percent of the poverty line — a cut that would hurt states like New York that have generous Medicaid programs. And it would cut off states’ ability to join the Medicaid expansion immediately, before phasing out the expansion for states that joined before March 1 of this year.

The measures were reportedly adopted to win over House conservatives, like Republican Study Committee’s leader Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who vocally opposed the bill at first. Walker is now on board with the plan after securing the Medicaid changes. “The president asked us specifically: Would we support him on this American Health Care Act [with the increased Medicaid restrictions],” Walker told the Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis. “We all agreed, to a man.”

The original legislation was already a historic cut to aid for the poor. “No legislation enacted in recent decades cut low-income programs this much — or even comes close,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Robert Greenstein told me when the CBO’s score was released. But the two new provisions — allowing work requirements and enabling states to take a block grant — are both major changes that will diminish access to Medicaid even further. They make a bill that already represented a historic cut to the health care safety net for poor Americans even more harmful.

The fact that the fate of the ACA may well rest on members of Congress who think TrumpCare is still insufficiently cruel to the poor is not terribly reassuring.

Ketchup, Steaks, Classism and Barro

[ 189 ] March 21, 2017 |

Recently had a weird experience reading Matthew Continetti column on the hubbub over Trump’s steak-related fake pas; I actually agreed with some of it. Expecting to sneer my way through the column, I instead found myself cringing a little at some of the distinctly classist critiques of Steakgate he catalogued.

The idea of eating a steak well-done and topping it with ketchup sounds really unappealing to me. But I like to eat my steaks cooked medium and I sometimes eat them Bearnaise. I imagine some people would find that offensive. So, the bottom line is that I’m sometimes a tad squeamish about harshly critiquing people’s food choices, especially if there’s a classist bent to the critique. In other words, have fun making fun Trump’s (pretty gross, to me) habits, but for crying out loud, don’t pull a Barro:

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 4.40.54 PM


Of course, Continetti gives away the game later in the column:

“Trump eats $50 steak with ketchup, foodies aghast,” reports It is hard to read stories like these without coming to the conclusion that so much of our elite’s abhorrence of Trump is a matter of aesthetics, of his not fitting in, of his stubborn devotion to practices and ideas deemed retrograde by opinion leaders but that still appeal to, oh, about half the country.

This is, of course, Kobe-grade, dry-aged bullshit. People–even most elites–don’t dislike him because he’s tacky and crude. They dislike him because he is petty, childish, stupid and cruel, all perfectly legitimate reasons to dislike someone.

That being said, I had to address the Barro tweet, because he is sometimes right, but when he’s wrong, he’s spectacularly wrong. It comes with being spectacularly privileged and being a Democrat for about 2 minutes. His tweet is classist, ugly and cruel. (Oh, and fat-shamey!)

I have issues with fast food. I don’t mind it existing and partake of it myself from time to time. But I do think it’s palate-perverting empty calories and I wish people didn’t subsist on it. That being said, I understand why people do–it’s cheap and easy.

Eating good food can be expensive and time-consuming. I’m a stay-at-home mom and even I sometimes just DON’T. FEEL. LIKE, COOKING. Then I remember there are people who cook while working outside the home, while working and having kids, while being a single parent, while doing it on a tight budget. And I get my ass in the kitchen.

So do I understand the lure of fatty, salty, quick (tasty, sometimes) food? You bet I do. So let’s try to create a world where fast food is a once in awhile treat (or necessity), not a way of life. We probably can’t do that by posting nasty, judgmental, classist, shitty tweets. There is good snobbery and bad snobbery and my god that is THE WORST kind of snobbery.


[ 68 ] March 21, 2017 |


I see Donald Trump is trying the same tactics people that some people are convinced would have led to a much better ACA but Obama Didn’t. Even. Try:

President Trump stormed Capitol Hill on Tuesday to sell the House Republican leadership’s plan to overhaul the health-care system, warning his party that not passing the legislation would yield a political crisis and sweeping electoral defeats.

The president addressed a closed-door meeting of House Republicans days before the measure is expected to come to a vote on the House floor.

Trump used both charm and admonishment as he made his case, reassuring skittish members that they would gain seats in Congress if the bill passed — and singling out Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, in front of colleagues.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’ ” Trump said, according to several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

And you have to admit his political analysis is pretty shrewd:

“If we get this done, and tax reform, he believes we pick up 10 seats in the Senate and we add to our majority in the House,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress who endorsed Trump’s presidential bid. “If we don’t get it done, we lose the House and the Senate.”

Sure, seems plausible that passing a massively unpopular bill will be worth +10 in the Senate for the in party.

Anyway, I think Sean McElwee has the basic dynamic exactly right:

If the Freedom Caucus kills TrumpCare by voting no and attacking it from the right, it will hurt Trump and Ryan much more than it hurts them. I don’t think there’s much leverage to be used against them if they’re determined to stop the bill; the question is how determined they are.

Ryan’s best chance of passing a bill would be to make it even more wingutty and drop it on the Senate’s lap and let them kill it. But Ryan and Trump want something that can actually pass the Senate for a variety of reasons but most importantly because they’d prefer that the next round of upper-class tax cuts be permanent rather than having to sunset. But getting the House to pass anything that would have a chance in the Senate will not be easy, and hopefully it will fail.

Of course, we also have to hope that Donald Trump doesn’t try writing down the names of marginal House votes on index cards, because then we’d be totally doomed.

Feminism and Class at Harvard

[ 179 ] March 21, 2017 |


This is an outstanding essay about the class divisions within feminism, using Harvard as a background. Sarah Leonard and Rebecca Rojer note that both famed Harvard graduate Sheryl Sandberg and Harvard president and historian Drew Gilpin Faust talk about feminism but neither of them cares at all about the 90 percent female workforce at the Doubletree that Harvard owns in Cambridge. Noting how the workers and their student allies had to fight for years to finally win a union while Sandberg spoke repeatedly to rich women at the school and Faust has done everything in her power to hurt the school’s workers, the essay gets at a critical issue in feminism: a feminism that only speaks to rich white women really isn’t a feminism at all.

 What the majority of women want has, in many ways, not changed—economic security, good and accessible childcare, freedom from violence, the pleasures of life with enough education and leisure time to allow us to flourish. But intractable problems remain: Pregnancy is penalized by lack of time off, or time off for women but not for men, which exacerbates the wage gap. Childcare has been deemed unaffordable by the Department of Health and Human Services in every single state. Ninety-eight percent of women in abusive relationships are subject to financial abuse, and a woman without an income has a hard time getting away—a topic that was the subject of Sandberg’s own undergraduate thesis, “Economic Factors and Intimate Violence.” Luckily, we actually know quite a bit about how to fix these things. In Sweden, women and men are motivated to take parental time off (if the man doesn’t take his time, they both lose some), ensuring family time and a smaller wage gap. We know that universal childcare, as organized in Norway, produces happy kids and greater gender equity. In fact, America almost had something comparable in 1971, when a bill for universal childcare passed both houses, only to be vetoed by Nixon under the influence of a young Pat Buchanan.

Lobbying for universal childcare, unionization, or any of the other things we know help most women would mean making enemies in a way that advocating for “empowerment” or “banning bossy” never would. It would mean a fight not just with Republicans (Sandberg gives money mostly to Democrats, although she has paid into Olympia’s List and Facebook’s PAC, both of which have supported several Republicans), but with Democrats, too, and maybe even some of Sandberg’s pals on the Davos circuit. It would mean being political, and it would not serve her as PR. It would not help Facebook. But it would place her considerable resources in the service of women. Without solidaristic feminism, in the words of Osorio, “you haven’t solved the problem. You’ve just solved your problem.”

When I asked Lemus what she would have Sandberg do, she offered that Sandberg had enough money to make the government listen to the needs of women. Osorio noted that Sandberg might listen to women who are unlike her. The problem is not that women like Sandberg and Faust have failed to be saviors; as the DoubleTree workers have shown, working-class women are leading their own movements and stand at the head of their own struggles. It’s that women like the DoubleTree housekeepers are doing the concrete work of increasing equality, and women like Faust and Sandberg are thwarting instead of helping them. It is possible for a woman to sound like a feminist, and serve the function of The Man. We don’t need them to lead us, but if they aren’t going to express solidarity, they can at least get out of the way.

That’s the conclusion but the whole thing is really well worth your time. I will also say that Faust is an embarrassment to the reputation of historians. Faust herself works on issues of justice in her writing and yet has sold out all the way. I really struggle to understand how you can know everything she knows and then want to treat pregnant hotel workers or impoverished dining hall workers in this way. I guess that’s why I will never climb the corporate ladder.

Today In For-Profit Law School Grifting

[ 3 ] March 21, 2017 |


If I might be forgiven for violating the biblical proscription of horning in on thy co-blogger’s racket, Elie Mystal has a good story about colleges partnering with diploma mill law schools at the expense of their students:

This month, Bethune-Cookman, a historically black university in Daytona Beach, Fla., announced an “affiliation” deal with Arizona Summit Law School, a for-profit institution in Phoenix. A joint scholarship program will send Bethune-Cookman students and students from other historically black colleges to the law school. Other programs, including intensive LSAT prep classes, have been announced as part of the deal.

Bethune-Cookman doesn’t have a law school, so it makes sense that it would want to partner with an accredited institution. But there’s a problem: Arizona Summit, formerly known as the Phoenix School of Law, may be accredited, but only 25 percent of its graduates passed the Arizona bar exam on their first try last year.

That’s an embarrassing result for any school. To compare, the law school at Arizona State posted a 77 percent pass rate for first-time test takers of the same bar. Statewide, 64 percent of first-time test takers passed. In other words, Arizona Summit’s results weren’t even in the ballpark of respectability.

Arizona Summit can’t blame the aptitude of its students for its low bar passage rate. The median LSAT score at Arizona Summit is 143, which is on the low end, but about the same as the median score at Florida A&M University College of Law. Still, over half of Florida A&M law school graduates passed the Florida bar last summer. And Florida A&M charges about $14,000 in yearly in-state tuition, a fraction of the cost of Arizona Summit, which charges about $45,000 in tuition and fees per year. That doesn’t include the cost for Bethune-Cookman students to move from Florida to Phoenix.

Of course, as Diamond Steve Diamond has observed, if you oppose this rank exploitation of predominantly African-American students it’s because of your desire to restore Jim Crow.

The Republican War on Workers: Iowa Edition

[ 105 ] March 21, 2017 |


Colin Gordon has an excellent if depressing summary of the horrors Iowa Republicans have pushed through this year, which has included an anti-union bill that makes Scott Walker look like a piker and the repeal of local ability to set wages or other progressive standards. The state’s workers comp system is next. Why? Because unions support Democrats.

In this sense, ALEC is accelerating the “risk shift” brought about by the growth of precarious employment and the fraying of the social safety net. The assault on workers’ compensation in Iowa, for example, is animated not by “out of control” claims and costs but by a desire to further shift the burden from employers onto the backs of injured workers and taxpayers, as uncompensated claims end up on the balance sheets of Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. The prohibition on bargaining over health care, in turn, is widely regarded as the first step in the state’s retreat from offering any meaningful health coverage via public employment.

The final, and perhaps decisive, motive for Iowa Republicans is starkly political. The peculiar enmity for public-sector workers and their unions is less about fiscal constraint than it is about their critical role in the Democratic Party. The state’s largest public-sector unions (AFSCME and ISEA, the teachers’ union) contributed nearly $1 million to Democrats in the 2016 cycle. The collective-bargaining law (especially the dues and recertification provisions) is simply meant to turn off that faucet. This is what has played out in Wisconsin, where public sector unions have lost almost half their members (from 175,000 in 2010 to 91,000 in 2016): AFSCME has retreated to a single statewide council, and political contributions—and energies—have withered. The icing on this cake, unsurprisingly, is a new voter-ID law whose burden would fall largely on Democratic supporters.

Some in the statehouse may genuinely believe that this path makes sense for Iowa, but the evidence suggests otherwise. This is a frighteningly destructive agenda, virtually guaranteed—as we have seen play out in Kansas and in Wisconsin—to undermine the prosperity, security, and mobility of most Iowans. State Republicans and ALEC know this, which is why they’ve made sure to pair their economic agenda with measures designed to defang and defund their political opponents. The warm epigram from Field of Dreams—“It’s not heaven, it’s Iowa”—now sounds like a cruel joke.

This is of course the national Republican agenda and there’s a very real chance much of this goes nationwide by 2020.


[ 14 ] March 21, 2017 |

We are aware that most comments are going into moderation right now. We don’t know why. Probably the Russians. Don’t tell Glenn Greenwald, he’ll accuse us of McCarthyism. Anyway, we are working on it.

The Kinderhook Kickback

[ 12 ] March 21, 2017 |


You may have heard about the Empire State Emolument designed to keep upstate and western New York Republicans in the fold for TrumpCare:

An amendment to the American Health Care Act that would shift county costs for Medicaid to the state that drew the ire of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Friday has the blessing of Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, who proposed such a plan during the 2016 campaign.

Faso said in a phone interview he worked with Collins on the amendment and supports an approach to end “New York’s 51-year-old mistake of foisting what should be the state’s share, the state’s cost of Medicaid on local property tax payers.”

Faso said the amendment has been withdrawn while members await to see if the Congressional Budget Office will score it. He said New York City would be exempted under the amendment because it has an income tax that other local governments do not have.

“It’s high time that Albany took responsibility for this program like virtually every other state does,” Faso said.

Here’s the thing — on the narrow issue, Faso is right. Medicaid should be funded entirely or almost entirely from the general state fund, and requiring counties to pick up a significant percentage of Medicaid funding is irrational. The disparities in property tax rates the policy helps to produce tend to create negative equilibria. To take the area I know best, the effective property tax rate in Saratoga County(1.6%) is somewhat lower than Albany County [city proper has a lot of poverty but mitigated by significant population in middle-class-to-tony suburbs–1.92%] and much lower than Rensselaer [gentrifying-but-still-quite poor Troy largely surrounded by rural areas–2.36%] and Schenectady [essentially a rust belt area–2.64%] Counties. Now, I suppose it’s possible that people in Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park and Loudonville and Latham care less about the quality of public schools than their counterparts across the Mohawk or Hudson. What seems much more likely is that when you replace poor people with state employees and software engineers and horse owners with pied-a-terre condos this reduces your Medicaid outlays. Most rural counties have rates similar to or higher than Schenectady because they just don’t have the tax base to pay for Medicaid expenses. And Onondaga [Syracuse], Erie [Buffalo] and Monroe [Rochester] have even higher rates than Schenectady.

Needless to say, while there’s a real problem here the Buffalo Bribe is hardly the way to deal with it. First, there’s the exclusion of New York City which is wrong — it should be made a state-funded program, period. And even worse, of course, is that it’s attached to a bill that is cyanide-laced dog vomit, not least because it would devastate Medicaid funding and put states like New York that actually want to provide health insurance to poor people in a much worse position. I mean, say this for Ben Nelson — at least he was trying to get more Medicaid money for his state.

Paying Medicaid expenses at the county level is bad policy. Electing Republicans looking to cut deals to facilitate the passage of what would be one of the worst statutes ever passed by the United States Congress is much, much worse. Collins, Faso, Stefanik, Katko and Tenney all need to be relieved of their duties in 2018, and if they vote for TrumpCare this should be front-and-center in every campaign against them whether it ultimately passes or not.

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