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« on: December 06, 2018, 02:28:38 PM »
The Wisconsin power grab is part of a bigger Republican attack on democracyThe GOP’s turn against democracy may be a greater threat to the American experiment than President Trump.
By Zack Beauchamp@firstname.lastname@example.org Dec 6, 2018, 10:10am EST
The Wisconsin Republican Party is nullifying the results of the 2018 election.
On Wednesday morning, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill that would seize key powers from incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who defeated incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in November. Walker is expected to sign it in the coming days.The bill blocks Evers’s ability to change state welfare policy and withdraw from a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act — two things he campaigned on. It limits the state’s early voting period, a move that would make it harder for Democrats to win future elections. And this is all happening during the lame-duck session before Evers takes power, rushed through quickly in an explicit effort to weaken Democrats and prevent the new governor from doing what he was elected to do. In essence, Wisconsin Republicans are telling the state’s voters that their preferences will be ignored.This would be troubling enough if it were a one-off. But it’s not.Michigan Republicans are currently weighing similar plans, and both are following in the footsteps of North Carolina Republicans, who passed a power-stripping bill after a Democratic victory in the 2016 governor’s race. State Republicans in three of the country’s most vital swing states are displaying open contempt for the most basic principle of democracy: that when you lose an election, you have to hand over power to your opponents. The national party hasn’t condemned these power grabs, giving the state legislatures tacit permission to rewrite the rules.
These power grabs highlight one of the most disturbing facts about American politics today: The Republican Party has become institutionally indifferent to the health of democracy. It prioritizes power over principle to such an extreme degree that it undermines the most basic functioning of democracy.
In the long run, the GOP’s turn against democracy could well be a greater threat to the American experiment than anything President Donald Trump has done.Why the state power grabs are so scary
The specifics of the power-stripping efforts vary from state to state — my colleague Tara Golshan has a great explanation of the details in each case — but share a fundamentally similar structure. Each one curtails the governor’s ability to make changes to Republican-backed policies like welfare work requirements, and political rules like campaign finance regulation
. Republican-controlled legislatures are given enhanced powers to block governors’ moves through measures such as handing them control over state bureaucracies
. And these bills all happen during lame-duck sessions, specifically subverting the results of elections that just happened.Republican legislators sometimes bill the laws as high-minded protections of the separation of powers, but no one is fooled. The goal is to prevent Democrats from overturning Republican policy initiatives and electoral rules that help Republicans win statewide elections.Wisconsin Speaker of the House Robin Vos was quite clear on this point during the debate over the bills. At one point, he warned Republicans that if they don’t pass the power grab, they “are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.” That “very liberal governor” had of course just been voted in by the people of Wisconsin, presumably to enact the policies he had campaigned on.To understand why this is especially troubling, we need to take a step back and think about the purpose of a democratic political system.
Democracy is premised on the idea that political power is only legitimate when exercised with the consent of the governed. But in reality, people disagree about fundamental political and moral issues; no elected government will ever have 100 percent support of the population, or anything close to it. The purpose of a democratic political system is to bridge that gap: to create a system for resolving these disagreements that everyone thinks is fair. That way, everyone will accept the outcome of the election as basically legitimate even when their side loses.
The post-election power grabs amount to Republicans declaring that they no longer accept that fundamental bargain. They do not believe it’s legitimate when they lose, or that they are obligated to hand over power to Democrats because that’s what’s required in a fair system. Political power, to the state legislators in question, matters more than the core bargain of democracy.
Now, a certain level of working the refs is inevitable in a democratic system. American politicians, as Georgetown’s Matt Glassman notes, have always tinkered with the system’s rules to give themselves and their favored policies a leg up. For instance, Democrats in Massachusetts back in 2004 tried to amend the rules for Senate vacancies to make sure that then-Gov. Mitt Romney couldn’t appoint a Republican to the Senate if then-Sen. John Kerry won his bid for the presidency.But literally stripping powers from officials of the opposing party after they win elections goes well beyond this kind of tinkering. It’s nothing less than a rejection of the idea that the people should get to decide who rules them, a point that many political scientists were quick to highlight after the Wisconsin bill passed.
“By undermining the results of the midterms, the GOP makes a mockery of the notion that elections matter,” Jaime Dominguez, a political scientist at Northwestern University, told me via email. The Wisconsin law is “a breathtaking assault on the most basic democratic norm: the willingness of the loser of an election to let the winner rule,” Yascha Mounk, a fellow at Harvard scholar who studies democratic breakdown, tweeted.There’s also a broader context. Republicans have, for years now, engaged in a systematic and nationally coordinated effort to rewrite the rules of the political game in their favor. What’s happening in Wisconsin and Michigan is only the latest manifestation of a broader anti-democratic trend, which in the past decade or so has become part of the party’s identity.The spread of extreme partisan gerrymandering and voter ID laws, tools used by Republicans to marginalize minorities and other Democratic-leaning constituencies, are the most obvious examples.The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wrote draft legislation that Republican state legislatures around the country quickly and easily adapted into their own voter ID laws. Another effort, Project REDMAP, an initiative of the Republican State Leadership Committee, was a national coordinating committee helping Republicans at the state level put together extreme partisan gerrymanders in the wake of their sweeping 2010 victories.
In both cases, Republican or GOP-aligned organizations at the national level spearheaded a campaign to systematically undermine the fairness of the electoral system. It’s the flip side of the Wisconsin-Michigan-North Carolina laws: Instead of trying to nullify Democratic victories after they happen, they’re trying to change the system so Democrats can’t win in the first place. At times, they’re even honest about it.
“I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map in a way to help foster what I think is better for the country,” North Carolina state Rep. David Lewis, chair of the legislature’s redistricting effort, once said in defense of his gerrymander.And there is simply no parallel on the other side. While state Democrats have certainly gerrymandered — Maryland being a particularly egregious case — it’s not nearly as nationally systematic as it has been on the Republican side. And Democrats certainly have not engaged in large-scale efforts to suppress Republican voters or strip powers from Republican officials after they win office. Republican officials don’t seem to feel constrained by the basic, principled norms of democracy the way that Democrats are
“There’s really an assault on electoral fairness, I would say, in Republican-governed states,” Daniel Ziblatt, a Harvard professor and author of How Democracies Die, tells me. “It’s really only in Republican-governed states where this has taken place.”Republican indifference to democracy is a threat to the system
For most of American history, elections have not been free or fair. Vast swaths of the country were not permitted to vote based solely on their race or gender. Even after voting rights were inscribed in the Constitution, Jim Crow laws and campaigns of racist terrorism prevented African Americans from exercising the right to vote. It’s only recently, really since the 1965 Voting Rights Act, that the United States even approximated a fully egalitarian democracy.And that’s what makes these Republican moves so alarming. It’s not that Republicans are anti-democratic, in the sense of wanting to tear down American democracy and replace it with an authoritarian alternative. It’s that they’re democracy-indifferent, unconcerned with the fact that their pursuit of power echoes some of the undemocratic practices we’ve seen in both American history and failing democracies abroad.In Hungary, a once-vibrant democracy I visited recently, the ruling Fidesz party has spent the past eight years building an electoral system that quietly eliminated democratic competition without having to nakedly rig the vote counts.Parliamentary districts were redrawn and gerrymandered to give Fidesz a leg up. The new constitution packed the country’s courts, creating new seats that Fidesz Prime Minister Viktor Orbán filled with loyalists. Civil servants were fired en masse, and Fidesz allies were installed in vital roles, like election supervision. Hungary’s state broadcaster was brought under the control of a new media board, and its editorial outlook began to mirror Fidesz’s positions.No single one of these moves destroyed democracy in Hungary. Cumulatively, though, they created a system in which it was very difficult for the opposition to compete on a fair playing field. Minor changes to the political and electoral system, each one potentially defensible on its own terms, amounted to an attempt to undermine the functioning of the democratic system.The parallels with what Republicans are doing in the states are obvious. And while the 2018 election has proven that America is not even close to this far gone — Democrats won about 40 seats in the House — there’s a risk that this Republican anti-democratic behavior will escalate if it proves successful.
(In fact, one could argue, it already has: The Wisconsin and Michigan bills are building on North Carolina’s example.)There has not been a hint of hand-wringing from President Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (who happens to be from Wisconsin). They do not object because they do not object: The past few years have shown that the national Republican leadership is perfectly fine with power grabs, and at times willing to back them.
“Once partisan goals trump democratic commitments, everything is on the table,” writes Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan. “Scholars of democratic erosion know how dangerous this situation can be,”It’s not clear what the bottom is — when more responsible Republicans will start to see that they’re walking down the same road as authoritarian political parties like Fidesz. Is the Republican Party too far gone, too willing to countenance anti-democratic behavior, to be able to reform itself?If that’s the case, then American democracy is in serious trouble.
« on: November 29, 2018, 12:59:17 PM »
President Donald Trump abruptly cancels Vladimir Putin meeting at G-20 summit, hours after Michael Cohen guilty plea
John Fritze and Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY Published 10:52 a.m. ET Nov. 29, 2018 | Updated 12:39 p.m. ET Nov. 29, 2018
BUENOS AIRES – President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a stunning decision that he described as a response to Russia’s seizing of three Ukrainian ships over the weekend.
But the move also came just hours after his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower development in Moscow. Trump has repeatedly denied having business interests in Russia.
"Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin," Trump tweeted from Air Force One as he flew from Washington to the two-day G-20 summit in Argentina.
"I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!"
Though Trump hinted earlier in the week he might cancel the face-to-face with Putin, he was widely expected to go through with it. Minutes before the tweet, Trump told reporters that he would "probably" meet Putin and said he believed it was "a good time to have the meeting." The president also said he intended to review more information about the incident on the flight.
The Kremlin, which had insisted for days that the meeting was still on, indicated Russian officials did not receive confirmation of the cancellation through official channels. A Kremlin spokesperson told a Russian state media outlet that if the meeting was off, Putin would have several hours freed up for other important meetings.
Donald J. Trump
Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting....
A long-awaited meeting between Trump and Putin was already the subject of intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill, including from fellow Republicans still reeling from Trump's much-criticized performance with the Russian leader in Helsinki this summer. That tension increased amid the diplomatic crisis unfolding after Russia fired on and then seized three Ukrainian ships over the weekend in the Sea of Azov.
"It's just about standing up for what we believe in because I think when you don’t stand up to Russia, or other countries that would take that kind of aggressive activity, they take from it that it’s somehow acceptable,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told USA TODAY.
Russia is holding two dozen Ukrainian sailors involved in the skirmish. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has said his country is under threat of "full-scale war" with Russia.
Donald J. Trump
Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting....
Donald J. Trump
....in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!
Even before the uncertainty over the meeting, Republican lawmakers were pressing Trump to take a tougher posture with Putin, framing a meeting as an opportunity for a do-over of the heavily criticized appearance at NATO back in July.
At the time Trump said he believed both sides were to blame for tense U.S.-Russian relations and he described Putin’s denial that Moscow tried to influence the election as “extremely strong and powerful.” He later walked back part of those remarks, saying he didn’t see any reason why it "wouldn't" be Russia that interfered in the election.
Cohen's plea with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, added another twist to what would have been a tricky meeting, in part because it gives an impression that Trump sought help from Moscow.
Trump is set to arrive at the G-20 late Thursday.
« on: November 19, 2018, 04:00:02 PM »
How Democrats’ Rust Belt Success Alters 2020 Picture
By Gerald F. Seib
Nov. 19, 2018 11:48 a.m. ETHow Democrats’ Rust Belt Success Alters 2020 Picture
Counties that voted for Trump in 2016 flipped back in midterms, raising questions about power of president’s trade policiesWhen Michigan’s Macomb County, just north of Detroit, flipped to vote Republican in the 1980s, it became the very symbol of the “Reagan Democrats”—previously loyal middle-class Democratic voters who abandoned the party in that decade. In 2016, Macomb County did it again: It voted for Republican Donald Trump by 12 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
This year? Macomb County flipped back. A majority of its voters went for Democrats in statewide races for governor and a U.S. Senate seat.As that suggests, the most intriguing and important results of this year’s midterm elections came in the upper Midwest—the traditional industrial heartland that provided President Trump the biggest dose of rocket fuel he needed for his shocking presidential election victory two years ago.This year, the very states that propelled Mr. Trump across the finish line—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—all went the other way. All elected Democrats to both the U.S. Senate and to their governor’s offices. In all three, Democrats won a majority of the House votes.
That outcome has broad political significance on two fronts. First, it raises questions about the power of Trump trade policies, which seem almost designed to appeal specifically to workers in those three industrial states. And second, the outcome in the upper Midwest tells us a lot about the intriguing early contours of the 2020 presidential campaign map.
It’s always possible to read too much into one set of election results, of course. Democrats this year had the natural advantage that always accrues to the party out of power in a president’s first midterm election. In both Pennsylvania and Michigan, their chances statewide were enhanced by the fact that Republicans ran what were widely considered to be weak candidates for governor
.Moreover, as Mr. Trump took great pains to remind viewers on a Fox News Sunday interview this week, he wasn’t running personally: “My name wasn’t on the ballot.” So it’s risky to assume how he would have done, as opposed to how other Republicans did.Still, Mr. Trump tried hard to make the 2018 elections about him, telling voters repeatedly to act as if he were on the ballot. More striking, though, is the extent to which Trump trade policies—decrying existing free-trade agreements, renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, imposing steel tariffs on trading partners and launching a virtual trade war with China—didn’t translate into electoral success in the states that seemed most likely to be grateful for steps designed to protect traditional industrial areas of the country.That doesn’t necessarily mean voters there don’t appreciate Trump trade efforts. It may simply mean other issues were more on the minds of voters. Democrats everywhere found that health care was at least as high a priority as economic issues.Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic mayor of Chicago, says Democrats won in the upper Midwest because they stressed not “sizzle but substance”—school funding, infrastructure—while Mr. Trump stressed cultural issues, particularly immigration. “Trump ran on culture and walked away from the economics,” Mr. Emanuel says.Moreover, a study of Trump voters and political independents in Macomb County last year by Democracy Corps, a research organization run by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, found that support for the president was offset by deep misgivings about his style.
Whatever the cause of Republican setbacks in the Rust Belt, the results there and around the country suggest an intriguing electoral map is taking shape for the 2020 presidential race, presenting challenges for both parties.For Democrats, a key will be to find a candidate capable of holding onto those voters in the upper Midwest—moderates who again will assume their role as the ultimate swing voters. In that region, they need to hold on to Minnesota, the rare state where Republicans turned a couple of House seats their way. Meanwhile, some states seem to have moved more clearly toward the Democratic column—Nevada and Virginia—while the key state of Ohio seems to have moved away.For Mr. Trump, the midterm results suggest he will have to fight what Doug Sosnik, who was political director for President Clinton, calls a “two-front war.”
He will need to regain his grip on those upper Midwest states, obviously. But this year’s results suggest he now also has to worry about GOP slippage in states in the South and Southwest that Republicans once took for granted.
Democrats came close to winning a governor’s race in Georgia and a Senate race in Texas. Moreover, Democrats prevailed, barely, in a key Senate race in Arizona.
And then there is Florida, home of two photo finishes in big Senate and governor’s races this year, both carried by Republicans with the narrowest of margins. Nobody should be surprised if 2020 is decided, once again, in the Sunshine State.
Write to Gerald F. Seib at email@example.com
« on: November 14, 2018, 01:48:53 PM »
Over 1,600 lawyers sign letter saying Mueller probe must be protected
The American Constitution Society Wednesday released a letter signed by over 1,600 attorneys nationwide calling for lawmakers and Justice Department officials to protect the special counsel's Russia probe in light of Matthew Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general.
“President Trump’s removal of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is clearly a maneuver to obstruct or to end Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible illegal activities by the President’s campaign. The Mueller investigation has already uncovered serious crimes committed by the President’s closest associates,” the signatories said in the letter.
“The Special Counsel’s investigations into Russian interference in our nation’s democratic processes must be allowed to continue. They must continue, even if they implicate persons or institutions connected to the President, to his campaign, or to his businesses."
The lawyers also warned about the consequences of eroding of the independence of prosecutors.
"To allow the independence of the prosecutorial function in this nation to be sacrificed, to protect the President, endangers the very rule of law, on which our nation and our Constitution are based,” the letter also said.
The attorneys then demanded that Whitaker either recuse himself or be removed from overseeing the special counsel’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, while calling on Congress to pass legislation protecting Mueller and his probe.
Whitaker was appointed after Trump effectively fired former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, ending an acrimonious relationship between the president and the nation’s top cop. Whitaker had been Sessions’ chief of staff.
Whitaker will replace Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in overseeing the probe after making several comments in the past that were critical of the inquiry.
He touted in a 2017 interview that there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia, adopting a favorite line from the president. He also said in 2014 that the courts were intended to be the "inferior" branch of government.
Whitaker also wrote an op-ed for The Hill in May 2017 criticizing the idea of appointing a special counsel for the DOJ’s investigation.
“Serious, bipartisan congressional investigations into the Russian allegations have been under way for weeks and they have made progress. Hollow calls for independent prosecutors are just craven attempts to score cheap political points and serve the public in no measurable way,” he wrote.
His past comments led several high-profile Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to call for his recusal.
Meanwhile, the attorney generals for Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, California, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and Rhode Island signed on to a letter echoing the calls made by the lawyers.
“As prosecutors and law enforcement officials committed to the rule of law, we believe that the independent Special Counsel must have the full authority to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute any violations of federal law,” the attorneys general wrote.
« on: November 14, 2018, 01:46:53 PM »
Mueller-themed ice cream truck rolls into DCBY JUDY KURTZ - 11/14/18 01:31 PM EST
A progressive group is serving up the latest scoop on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, with a Robert Mueller-themed ice cream truck hitting the streets of Washington
.The “Guilty Pleasures” truck
, which hit the road for the first time on Wednesday, is the brainchild of the liberal advocacy group MoveOn. The aim, the organization says, is to "draw attention to the impact and importance" of the Mueller investigation.The dessert-centric vehicle will hand out free treats to Washingtonians and will feature “information about the latest guilty please, guilty verdicts, and indictments produced by the [special counsel's] probe,”
according to the group. The truck news was first reported by Washingtonian.The truck will dole out four rotating
, pun-filled flavors (such as "IndictMint Chip") each day
. Rather than a cone, ice cream-eaters can get their frozen goodies in either a "cup or Cohen
," referring to President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
🍦 Cartel Almond Brittle
🍦Fudge the Truth Chocolate
🍦Putin’s Vanilla Delight
« on: November 13, 2018, 08:30:02 AM »
PG&E Utility emailed woman about problems 1 day before fire started
Posted 9:49 p.m. yesterday
By MARTHA MENDOZA and GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press
PULGA, CALIF. — A day before a deadly blaze destroyed a California town, the giant utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. got in touch with Betsy Ann Cowley, saying they needed access to her property because their power lines were causing sparks.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. What is known is that it started Thursday near Cowley's property in the tiny town of Pulga, incinerated the neighboring town of Paradise and killed dozens of people.
On Monday, fire investigators declared the area surrounding power lines on Cowley's property, in an oak-filled canyon, a crime scene. Security guards would not let PG&E inspectors pass.
Cowley said she was on vacation last Wednesday when she got a surprise email from PG&E. Details of that exchange, described to The Associated Press, combined with the utility's track record in California wildfire history has again brought the company under scrutiny.
The email said that crews needed to come to her property to work on the high-power lines, Cowley said. PG&E told her "they were having problems with sparks," she said. They visited her property but she said she wasn't there Wednesday and was not aware of their findings.
Cowley was back at the property Monday and expressed gratitude at finding most of the 65 structures on it still standing, just a few hundred feet from the crime scene where investigators worked to determine what had happened to spark the massive fire.
The former landscaper bought Pulga, an abandoned and decrepit historic gold prospecting town, in 2015 and embarked on a project that transformed it into a picturesque private destination. She cleared overgrown brush, patched up buildings and added new ones. With Bay Area artists and architects, she recreated a town, complete with a stage and school house. And then, a year ago, she opened for business, renting out Pulga for corporate retreats.
As she reached the site of her own home, she raised her hand to her cheek.
"It's gone," she said. 'That's where all my stuff was, but it's not there anymore."
She paused and picked up a mug that somehow had survived the inferno. "It's OK," Cowley told herself quietly. "It's OK."
PG&E declined to discuss the email it sent Cowley with AP, saying it has provided an "initial electric incident report" with state regulators and will fully cooperate with any investigations.
Publicly, PG&E has said it experienced a problem on an electrical transmission line near the site of the massive fire, minutes before the blaze broke out.
In its Friday filing to the state Public Utilities Commission, it said it had detected an outage on an electrical transmission line near the site of the blaze. It said a subsequent aerial inspection detected damage to a transmission tower on the line.
The area where CalFire says the blaze started, and where PG&E says sparks were detected on Cowley's property is roughly the same, according to an AP reporter at the site.
The utility, which has been criticized and sued in a number of other large and deadly fires across California, had announced before the blaze started that it might shut down power in nine counties, including Butte County where Pulga and Paradise are, because of extreme fire danger. But it never did.
Later Thursday, PG&E said it had decided against a power cut because weather conditions did not warrant one.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Redwood City Democrat and longtime critic of the utility, called the report of troubles on PG&E's lines in the area extremely worrisome.
"If PG&E is found responsible for burning down the state again, at some point we have to say enough is enough and we have to ask should this company be allowed to do business in California?" Hill said. "These fires take a spark, and at least in the last few years fires have been caused by negligent behavior by PG&E. We need to see how we can hold them responsible, or look at alternative way of doing business."
California utility regulators are working with CalFire staff on their own, separate investigation into whether PG&E complied with state rules and regulations in areas that were torched in the fire.
The California Public Utilities Commission will be evaluating PG&E's maintenance of their facilities, vegetation management and emergency preparedness and response, said commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper.
This is not the first time PG&E's management practices have come under question in the drought-stricken state.
In 2014, regulators ordered the state's investor-owned utilities to set priorities for inspecting and removing dead and sick trees near their power lines, warning that "climate change has facilitated and exacerbated numerous wildfires" that have damaged and threatened their facilities.
But after a wildfire killed two people, destroyed 475 homes and scorched 70,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada foothills the following year, homeowners and their attorneys questioned whether PG&E had done enough to clear dry trees flanking its power lines. In 2016, Cal Fire ultimately found PG&E was responsible for that fire, after tree maintenance by PG&E and its contractors led to a tree falling on a power line.
Investigators have determined that PG&E equipment started several of the 2017 wildfires in Northern California wine country that killed 44 people. The company says it expects to pay more than $2.5 billion.
« on: November 13, 2018, 08:24:28 AM »
FOX NEWS FIRST: Anger simmering in Florida over recount
THE LEAD STORY - PUBLIC CONFIDENCE CRISIS IN FLORIDA? - A judge on Monday urged opposing sides in the Florida recount struggle to ease their rhetoric, saying it is eroding the public's confidence in the state's election for the U.S. Senate and governor ...
Arguably, both sides may agree the public's confidence in Florida's election system was shaken long before the current recount controversy. "An honest vote count is no longer possible," President Trump said Monday, as he and other Republicans alleged the fraud and illegal activity have taken place in Florida since the polls in the midterms closed last week. Law enforcement officials and state monitors have found no evidence of wrongdoing, but anger is festering in Florida
The Senate race is perhaps the most contentious. Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott declared victory on election night, but incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson never conceded the race. According to the Florida Division of Elections’ website, total votes show Scott with 50.07 percent of the ballots counted to Nelson’s 49.92 percent. In the governor’s race, unofficial results show that Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis led Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points.
By mid-afternoon Monday, Miami-Dade was about halfway through their recount process while Broward had not started. Much of the blame fell on the shoulders of Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes, who has a history of election missteps that even her supporters labeled amateurish at best.
« on: November 13, 2018, 08:11:37 AM »
PHOENIX — Republican Rep. Martha McSally has conceded Arizona's Senate race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally made the announcement in a video posted to Twitter. She said: "I just called Kyrsten Sinema and congratulated her on becoming Arizona's first female senator after a hard-fought battle."
The race between Sinema and McSally was one of the most closely watched in the nation. Sinema was declared the winner Monday as her lead grew insurmountable during Arizona's lengthy vote-count, The Associated Press reports.
"I am so honored that Arizonans chose our vision of a better Arizona. And now it's time to get to work," Sinema said in a victory speech Monday night.
Sinema is a former liberal activist who became a centrist member of Congress. Her win follows years of Democratic shutouts at the statewide level in Arizona and shows that the longtime Republican bastion is becoming a swing state.
McSally hammered Sinema over her former liberal stances and claimed she was pretending to be a centrist.
Sinema criticized McSally's vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and kept her distance from national Democrats.
Sinema succeeds Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who opted not to run.
« on: November 09, 2018, 09:47:33 PM »
Ignorant, unscientific and very short-sighted analysis (blaming the 18% of black woman that voted for DeSantis) for the lost of the Governors House...
According to this pollster, the following is true:
1 Latino's make up 15% of the electorate (Women 38%, Men 46%) for DeSantis
2 Black's make up 14% of the electorate (Women 18%, Men 8%) for DeSantis
3 Whites make up 66% of the electorate (Women 35%, Men 31%) for DeSantis
4 Asians+Indigenous make up the 5% unaccounted for electorate. (Women 00%, Men 00%) for DeSantis
White Men 31%
White Women 35%
Black Men 6%
Black Women 8%
Latino Men 6%
Latino Women 9%
---- Total >>>>>> 95% Where and who are the other 5 percent... See number 4 above** This pollster decides to highly the group whose (1) race match the candidate Andrew Gillum, (2) sort them by gender and (3) then blame the gender with the "least support" on a percentile basis for the demise of that candidate - that is unscientific and disingenuous at best...
Maybe the 5% of voters unaccounted for were not swayed by the Democrats Platform - Gillum lost by less than this amount... Actually he loss by less than 1 percentage point
... Here's the State of Florida Voter Registration Log: Registered Voters in the State of Florida by Party Only
Registered Democrats >>>>>>>>> 4,918,415 (+257,185 more Voters than GOP)
Registered Republicans >>>>>>> 4,661,230
Unaffiliated Voters >>>>>>>>>> 3,521,905 (Must sway, your way Voters)
Minor Parties >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 99,322 (Protest Voters)
Tot Active Registered Voters 13,200,872
Number of Active Registered Voters that cast a ballot: 8,250,000Reasons Why Andrew Gillum Lost to Ron DeSantis - IMHO
1) The Voter Turnout in Miami-Dade County 56.89 and Broward County 57.37
Note: Historically these two counties are where Democrats in "State Wide" races have gone to pile up margins for victories...
2) Democrats failure to "Get Out The Vote"
There are 257,000 plus more Democrats than Republicans in the State of Florida, and the aforementioned counties were atrocious in their interest in this election cycle...
3) Latino support of Black Candidates is Dismal
There is a continued disconnect between Latinos and Black Candidates on the issues that matter, because Latinos represent a larger "voting bloc" in Florida than Blacks (15% vs 14%), and they have a large contingency that are supporters of the GOP's platform...
New community, social and business partnerships and collaboration must be forged between these two communities in order for them to swing election outcomes their way in statewide elections, IMHO...
4) The Democrats must find a way to convince the "unaffiliated" voters to support them
Although, Midterm elections never have the level of voter interest that Presidential elections foster upon the US Electorate, Florida's unaffiliated voters represent 26.7% of the electorate, to not have them on-board supporting your platform is a failed policy as they potential will cast more than 1 in 4 votes. Democrats need to find out what is important to this block of voters and integrate their interest into to the Democrat's overall platform...
5) Greater Push Back on Modern Jim Crow Era (Black Codes) Voter Suppression Tactics
The voter suppression tactics have got to be eliminated - the Democrats have to make fighting and eliminating these flashbacks to "Jim Crow and Black Codes Era" policies higher priority, challenging them prior to their legislative implementation and suing like crazy whenever and wherever they are codified into law...
6) Focusing in on elections that precede our Federal Census is an imperative
The GOP has won the USA's State-level contests for 7 consecutive decades in the elections prior to the US Census being taken. They understand and focus on being in charge when the re-drawing of state-wide districts for Federal elections and those for State elections are Drawn. The Democrats need to have a "focus group" whose only purpose is to address this issue and this issue only - coming up with strategies and legal maneuvers to counter the Republicans tactics that have them on a current 7 decade winning streak...
7) Finally, funding raising, promoting viable candidates and being the party of inclusiveness are imperativesIn order for Democrats to sway voters to go beyond voter registration to actually "going out" and casting ballots, when it matters the most... When "voter registration" does not translate into "ballot casting", then the party has failed miserably...
« on: November 09, 2018, 01:37:09 PM »
Can Trump stop the FBI? Ask the 4 presidents who tried.Facts can’t be fired, even if the commander in chief only faces them as a regular citizen.
By Tim Weiner
November 9 at 9:35 AMPresident Trump can’t fire the FBI.
Minutes before ridding himself of Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, Trump answered a question about the Russia investigation at a White House news conference: “I could end it right now. I could say, ‘That investigation is over.’ ”
He could try.
He could order Sessions’s replacement, Matthew G. Whitaker, who has mused wistfully about stifling the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, to play the role of political assassin. He could direct Whitaker to cut the special counsel’s budget to zero. He could tell him to limit the inquiry’s scope. He could try to oust Mueller and to make sure his investigative report never sees the light of day. He could fire the FBI director, Christopher Wray — just as he fired the previous director, James Comey, last year — and put a political puppet in his place.
He could do any or all of these things, as politically foolhardy and constitutionally perilous as they might seem, while the Republicans who control the Senate look on and do nothing.
But short of sending tanks down Pennsylvania Avenue and blowing the J. Edgar Hoover Building to smithereens, Trump cannot stop the FBI. No commander in chief ever has, not before Hoover died 46 years ago, and certainly not since.
President Trump is treating the midterm elections like a mandate to do what he wants. He does not quite have it, says columnist Dana Milbank. (Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome, Breanna Muir/The Washington Post)
The 21st-century FBI, for all its flaws, has escaped the darkness of Hoover’s shadow, a legacy of warrantless wiretapping and vengeful attacks against the director’s enemies. It is in great part the creation of Mueller, who ran it from 2001 to 2013. It is decidedly not a political tool to be manipulated by presidents. It is as independent as a hog on ice — once launched, it has a mind of its own. I’ve been convinced of this while working on a five-hour documentary about how the FBI has confronted presidents who violated their oath of office. (“Enemies ” debuts Nov. 18 on Showtime.) The FBI has faced down five commanders in chief who threatened to run the ship of state aground: in the Watergate scandal, in the Iran-contra imbroglio, in the Monica Lewinsky affair, in the matter of post-9/11 spying on Americans and in its criminal investigation of the Trump team. Its record isn’t perfect, but it has by and large upheld the rule of law.
In no case was a president able to disrupt or derail an FBI investigation. In every case the bureau preserved evidence, pursued facts and persevered. The truth is that the FBI has the power to say no to presidents, but presidents can’t easily say no to the FBI.
Presidents have been caught bending and even breaking the bounds set by their oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. The bureau can check them with its immense investigative force, which gives it the ability to execute subpoenas and seize records inside the West Wing, to reveal the deepest secrets and expose the boldest lies: “I’m not a crook.” “We did not — repeat, did not — trade weapons or anything else for hostages.” “I did not have sexual relations with that woman. ” The FBI proved these presidential statements false.
The FBI can’t thwart Trump’s long train of abuses against the Constitution, common sense and common decency. But in time — since neither can Trump cavalierly counteract the momentum of the evidence accumulating against him and his close confidants -- it may establish that he is a common crook.
President George W. Bush couldn’t stop Mueller, then the FBI director, from compelling him to scale back his illegal eavesdropping on Americans. “I am forced to withdraw the FBI from participation in the program,” Mueller wrote in a letter he carried to the White House in 2004. If the president did not back down, “I would be constrained to resign as Director of the FBI.” (Senior Justice Department officials, including Comey and, lest we forget, Wray, also threatened to resign in protest.) Bush backed down.
President Bill Clinton couldn’t stop the FBI from drawing blood from his arm; the DNA evidence proved he had lied under oath about his sex life. That led directly to his impeachment.
President Ronald Reagan couldn’t stop the FBI from raiding the National Security Council’s offices, where agents found proof that the United States had sold weapons to Iran and skimmed the profits to finance the Central American counterrevolutionaries known as the contras, aid that Congress had expressly forbidden. The bureau’s work resulted in the indictments of 12 top national security officials. President George H.W. Bush pardoned the Iran-contra gang, but a law-breaking administration had been caught red-handed and brought to heel by the FBI.
Not even Richard Nixon could stop the G-men. God knows he tried. Trump is no student of history, but he would do well to recall Nixon’s battle with the bureau.
When Hoover died in May 1972 — six weeks before the Watergate break-in — Nixon installed a politically loyal stooge, L. Patrick Gray, in his place. “You’ve got to be a conspirator,” Nixon counseled Gray. “You’ve got to be totally ruthless.” Nixon tried to sabotage the FBI as soon as it started looking into the break-in, ordering the CIA to obstruct the bureau’s investigation, on spurious national security grounds. Gray destroyed devasting evidence linking the White House to the Watergate burglars. But to a man, the FBI agents on the case fought furiously against Gray’s attempts to undermine them.[Trump’s real problem is that he obstructed justice, and Mueller can prove it. Here’s how.]
Five leakers at high levels of the bureau made sure word got out. These included not only Associate Director Mark Felt, a.k.a. “Deep Throat,” but the head of the Washington field office, the supervisor who kept the running chronology of the case, and the chief and the lead agent of the white-collar-crime division. “They would meet at the end of the day and discuss what happened, what they knew, in the investigation,” Paul Daly, an intelligence division agent, said in an FBI oral history. “They would make a decision, a conscious decision, to leak to the newspapers. They did that because of the White House obstructing the investigation.”
Defying the president, his attorney general and the FBI director, they followed the evidence that made Nixon an unindicted co-conspirator in the obstruction of justice — and sent the men who had served as his campaign manager, attorney general, chief of staff and counsel to prison.
Nixon fired the Watergate special prosecutor and got rid of the attorney general and his deputy, who stood in the way of his wrath. It was all in vain. Though many despaired in the immediate wake of this “Saturday Night Massacre” — the special prosecutor’s spokesman said he was going home to read up on the Reichstag fire — a new special prosecutor went to work, and a new attorney general supported him. The wheels of justice rolled on.
Trump may be counting on Whitaker to be his ruthless executioner. The acting attorney general should take care not to become the president’s co-conspirator in any obstruction of justice. Mueller’s grand jury might judge him harshly.
If Trump follows Nixon down the road to hell, the FBI will be on the case. As Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent, recently wrote in the New York Times, “To ‘shut down’ the investigation at this point would require not just a face-off with Mr. Mueller but also with special agents in charge of multiple field offices with a vested interest in seeing their responsibilities through.” Trump may fight the law, but the law will win in the end.
The FBI has been toiling on this investigation for almost 18 months. It has the power to pore over the president’s tax returns and his business records. It has proved, through the guilty plea of Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, that his hush-money payoffs broke campaign finance laws. Cohen knows the inner workings of the Trump Organization. Paul Manafort knows a great deal about the 2016 Trump campaign, which he ran during and after the Republican National Convention. The government may reveal the extent of their cooperation at their imminent sentencings. Trump cannot derail investigations and prosecutions that may arise from their revelations.
FBI agents have gathered a mountain of evidence for Mueller and for U.S. attorneys in Washington, New York and Virginia. They know a lot about Trump that we do not know. And that evidence can be preserved on flash drives that cannot be deleted by presidential edict — or shredded by criminal enablers.
Trump could fire the federal prosecutors — but others would replace them. And under the law, Mueller can be fired only for “good cause,” such as legal misconduct or a conflict of interest. There is no such cause, despite the president’s baseless assertions that the investigators are politically biased.
Even if Whitaker tries to deep-six the special counsel’s report, the underlying facts cannot be erased. The report will not be easily sealed and suppressed. Democrats in Congress will use subpoena power to try to lay hands on it. They can certainly call Mueller as a witness.
The FBI and Mueller already have established through indictments and convictions that members of Trump’s team (and Vladimir Putin’s) participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy to “obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit.” The statute at the root of the investigation — 18 USC 371 — covers violations of tax laws and election laws, witness tampering, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Trump potentially has criminal exposure on at least some of these fronts. And if that catches up to him while he is in office, he has only one clear way out: He can pardon himself. That would abrogate the ancient rule of law holding that no one can be his own judge and jury. Even his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has called that idea “unthinkable.”
A Justice Department guideline holds that a sitting president cannot be indicted. And so Trump may serve out his time in office untouched by the long arm of the law, unruffled by the prospect of a Senate trial on impeachment, untroubled by the threat of indictment. Citizen Trump, by contrast, may face considerable peril.
His “enemies,” as Nixon once described any who got in his lawless way, may hold a sliver of hope that someday public servants with the FBI emblem on their backs will visit him in one of his gilded palaces and bring him to justice.
« on: November 08, 2018, 12:12:25 AM »
President Donald Trump endorsed nearly 100 candidates for Senate, House and governor in Tuesday’s elections as he tried to sway Americans to vote for like-minded politicians who will help determine how successful his second two years in office will be.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 46 of 80 endorsed candidates whose races had been called won, giving Trump a 57 percent success rate. Twenty-nine endorsed incumbents won, while 12 lost.
Would you give President Trump A Passing Grade on his Endorsement, based on a current 57 percent success rate???
« on: October 31, 2018, 02:04:02 PM »
Tariffs Are Costing Jobs: A Look At How Many
Stuart Anderson, Contributor
Tariffs kill jobs. To be more precise, tariffs kill jobs and raise prices for consumers. While this is well-known among economists and in the business community, it’s a lesson often lost on politicians, including the president of the United States.
Many of those jobs lost to tariffs can be identified. “A months-long spike in the price of paper, driven by federal tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Canadian suppliers, is slamming newspapers at a time when the news about the news industry wasn’t very good to begin with,” reported the Washington Post. “Newspapers, magazines and print advertisers have seen the cost of their most basic commodity rise at double-digit rates since the Commerce Department began imposing the tariffs in March on Canadian imports.”
Newspapers typically employ journalists, drivers, plant workers, office support and many others. But when costs rise, particularly at a time of declining demand, people lose their jobs. In response to the tariffs, the Tampa Bay Times eliminated 50 jobs (7% of its workforce). McClatchy Newspapers laid off 140 employees. “Nearly half of the 272 newspaper publishers who responded to the [News Media Alliance] survey said they had laid off staff as a direct result of newsprint price increases,” according to the Washington Post.
In late August, the U.S. International Trade Commission voted unanimously to end the tariffs on Canadian newsprint, in effect, overturning a U.S. Commerce Department decision. However, the damage to those who lost their jobs was already done.
If the tariffs on Canadian newsprint were the only protectionist trade policies the Trump administration enacted, then U.S. businesses and workers would be in much better shape. Unfortunately, the tariffs on newsprint are just one of many.
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The higher taxes – tariffs are taxes – started with solar panels and washing machines, making those items more expensive for American consumers. But the administration was just getting warmed up.
In March 2018, Donald Trump announced he would impose tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum. These tariffs were justified by citing Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, with a claim the imports “threaten to impair the national security” of the United States. Since nearly all steel and aluminum imports come from U.S. allies, most analysts found the “national security” claim to be little more than exploiting a loophole in U.S. trade law.
In September 2018, Trump announced new tariffs of 10% on $200 billion in Chinese imports, which will increase to an eventual tariff rate of 25%. U.S. consumers will pay for the tariffs through higher prices for many goods. In between the latest China tariffs and the steel and aluminum tariffs, Trump threatened to impose tariffs on cars and auto parts, a blow to Americans shopping for cars.
It has turned into the joke Ronald Reagan used to tell: “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” This accurately describes Donald Trump’s trade policy: After farmers lost sales when other countries retaliated against U.S. tariffs and trade regulation, the administration’s solution was to subsidize farmers with $12 billion in aid.The tariffs already enacted will eliminate 94,303 full-time equivalent jobs, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation.
If the Trump administration goes forward with its announced tariffs on automobiles and a wider range of Chinese imports, then it would lead to 292,648 fewer jobs, concludes the Tax Foundation. Retaliation from China, Canada and Europe would eliminate another 72,864 jobs
. (And for those who think these tariffs are a good negotiating tactic note that the Chinese government has canceled trade talks with the U.S.)Overall, the Tax Foundation estimates the impact of enacted and announced tariffs from the Trump administration would cause employment in the United States to decline by 459,816.The Tax Foundation estimates are conservative
. In June, a Trade Partnership analysis looked at the steel and aluminum tariffs alone and concluded, “The tariffs, quotas and retaliation would increase the annual level of U.S. steel employment and non-ferrous metals (primarily aluminum) employment by 26,280 jobs over the first one-three years, but reduce net employment by 432,747 jobs throughout the rest of the economy, for a total net loss of 400,445 jobs.” The analysis found, “16 jobs would be lost for every steel/aluminum job gained.”And there is other research. Imposing tariffs on autos, as Trump has threatened, would result “in the loss of up to 715,000 American jobs,” according to a study by the Center for Automotive Research.
The irony is that while Trump administration policies are built primarily on the premise that both trade and immigration “take jobs” from U.S. workers, a recent study for the National Foundation for American Policy by Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at the University of North Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville, found the opposite: “Having more immigrants reduces the unemployment rate and raises the labor force participation rate of U.S. natives within the same sex and education group.” Various studies conclude that economic freedom is better than protectionism.
Historical perspective is helpful. The Los Angeles Times noted that Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on another $200 billion in Chinese imports is “one of the most severe economic restrictions ever imposed by a U.S. president.” (Emphasis added.)
Donald Trump recently told Apple – one of the most successful companies ever – it should now reorganize its business by making and assembling its products entirely in the United States to avoid the tariffs that Trump himself imposed. Greg Ip, chief economics commentator for the Wall Street Journal, explained that Trump’s solution for Apple to make its iPhones in the U.S. makes little economic sense for the company.
Conservatives are fighting to confirm a justice on the Supreme Court who they hope will adhere closely to the original intentions of the drafters of the U.S. Constitution. However, their opposition remains mild to a U.S. trade policy that is nothing like the principles the country was founded upon.
Where in the Constitution did the founding fathers intend that whoever receives the most Electoral College votes gains the power to set tariff rates unilaterally for every American citizen and to dictate where American companies should make their products? Trump administration trade policies are costing many Americans their jobs and something even more important – their freedom.
I am the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan public policy research organization focusing on trade, immigration and related issues based in Arlington, Virginia.
« on: October 31, 2018, 01:39:57 PM »
GM offering buyouts to cut North American salaried staff
BY JOSEPH WHITE, REUTERS - 10:11 AM ET 10/31/2018
DETROIT, Oct 31 (Reuters) - General Motors Co (GM)said on Wednesday it plans to cut its North American salaried workforce, starting with voluntary buyout offers but resorting to layoffs if necessary.
The Detroit automaker began notifying employees of the cost-cutting move as it reported third quarter profits that beat Wall Street estimates. GM, however, has had to cut its forecast for automotive cash flow, and for the first nine months of 2018 has burned $300 million in cash in its core auto operations, as costs for steel and other commodities have risen
In a statement, the automaker said it will consider involuntary layoffs "after we see the results of the voluntary program and other cost reduction efforts." Rival Ford Motor Co (F) has also said it plans to cut its salaried staff.
(Reporting By Joe White Editing by Nick Zieminski)
« on: October 23, 2018, 02:57:12 PM »
Money-Laundering Probe Tied to Russia Expands to $230 Billion in Transactions By Patricia Kowsmann and Drew Hinshaw
Updated Sept. 19, 2018 12:47 p.m. ET
COPENHAGEN—A massive Russia-linked money laundering case swelled in scope Wednesday when Denmark’s largest bank said more than $230 billion in transactions flowed through its tiny Estonian branch, a disclosure accompanied by the resignation of the bank’s chief executive.
The sheer size of the cited sums—much larger than previously reported—points to Danske Bank being the nexus of a colossal pipeline for carrying illicit money out of Russia and other former Soviet states. It has drawn scrutiny from U.S. criminal investigators, as well as European authorities, who suspect the remote outpost branch, which fell between the regulatory cracks, was used to help funnel billions in ill-gotten gains into the West.
Danske Bank Chief Executive Thomas Borgen resigned as the bank published results of a lengthy investigation into how the bank failed over several years—and despite repeated warnings—to curb thousands of accounts from churning billions of dollars and euros through the Baltic former Soviet Republic. The report said a “large portion” of the transactions identified are suspected to be laundered money, but it said that after a year of studying the issue, it couldn’t determine how much, nor who exactly was behind the accounts.
“It is clear that Danske Bank has failed to live up to its responsibility in the case of possible money laundering in Estonia. I deeply regret this,” Mr. Borgen said at a press conference Wednesday. The investigation didn’t find breaches of legal obligations on the part of Mr. Borgen, though it did cite him for failing to inform the bank’s board of directors of an internal report on the matter as early as 2014, more than a year before the questionable accounts were shut down.
Banking supervisors in Denmark and Estonia said Wednesday that they will assess the latest findings to decide whether to take further steps against the bank. Meanwhile, Danish prosecutors have been looking into the case, and in Estonia the leadership of the branch is under investigation by prosecutors, who suspect staff members may have actively helped clients get around money-laundering rules. The bank’s report said some 42 agents, branch employees and former employees “have been deemed suspicious.”
Danske’s woes have shaken the small Nordic nation of Denmark, where the bank controls a third of the country’s banking deposits and is considered “too big to fail.” The revelations have triggered calls for tougher punishment against bankers and higher fines instituted for rule breakers, something currently being discussed in parliament.
“This is a scandal of enormous proportions,” said Karel Lannoo, chief executive of the Center for European Policy Studies, a Brussels think tank. “We are talking about a country that has the reputation of being one of the cleanest in the world. And this is their largest bank.”
The report outlines how a tiny bank branch—based in a six-story building across the street from a liquor store–in a small nation on Europe’s eastern flank became a major backdoor for Russians suspected of financial wrongdoing to move their money into countries that use the euro.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that as much as $150 billion of transactions were being examined. The enlarged number disclosed in the report—€200 billion ($233 billion)—included more than 6,200 client accounts “deemed suspicious,” indicating that the problems facing the bank are far more serious than previously thought.
The investigation is ongoing and there are 8,800 customers who still need to be analyzed, though they are considered less risky. Danske Bank shares, which fell 6% in European trading on Wednesday, have lost a third of their value this year.
“Failure to quantify suspicious transactions is an overhang” on the stock, Jefferies analyst Kapilan Pillai said, adding that the size of fines the bank could face remains unclear. Analysts expressed frustration over the lack of details provided by the bank in an analyst call Wednesday.
U.S., Danish and Estonian authorities are all probing the case. In May the Danish banking supervisor told Danske to set aside $800 million in capital to handle any risks. The Danish prosecutor told The Wall Street Journal results from its investigation could be expected next year.
The biggest risks for Danske could come from the U.S. The Treasury is empowered to fine the bank or order U.S. regulated banks to cut Danske’s access to U.S. dollars, particularly if it finds the lender violated U.S. sanctions. Danske uses U.S. banks to clear U.S. dollar transactions. Treasury officials say they are focused on cutting off Europe’s inflows of what they view as illicit money from Russian oligarchs who in many cases earned their fortunes in the lawless years after the Soviet Union collapsed.
The bank declined to comment on ongoing investigations in its press conference, but the report said so far there were no findings of sanction violations. As part of the bank’s probe, customers have been screened for sanctions, but not the recipients of their money transfers.The sum of €200 billion, while not all labeled as illicit, is a significant amount, equal to nearly half of all Russian central government spending in 2015, or 26 times the rate of overall government spending in Estonia in 2015, the year most of the accounts were shut. It is also equivalent to two years of exports from Denmark.
The transactions were mostly in dollars and euros, and nearly a quarter of the funds originated in Russia before entering Danske’s Estonia branch, which is based in the capital city of Tallinn.
While the report didn’t identify any bank clients, it noted that about 250 accounts were associated with cases known in anticorruption circles as the “Russian laundromat” and “Azerbaijani laundromat,” involving funds spirited out of Russia and other ex-Soviet states. Those Danske accounts were held by U.K. registered companies.
Employees at the branch were supposed to ask basic questions about these customers and their business partners, such as the source of the billions of dollars they collectively wired through its accounts. Instead, several dozen employees may have colluded with those customers to circumvent such background checks, the investigation said. It has reported some employees and former employees to Estonian authorities, including the police.
Danske launched its in-depth money-laundering investigation in September of last year. More than six years earlier, in 2010, the bank’s executive board raised the issue of the many Russian transactions at the Estonian branch. Mr. Borgen said at the time as the head of the bank’s international operations that he hadn’t “come across anything that could give rise to concern.”
Later, an executive encouraged him to drop some of the bank’s riskier clients, Wednesday’s report said. He responded that they should instead consider “the need for a middle ground,” the report said, citing meeting minutes.
The number of suspicious accounts continued to swell. Of the 6,200 questionable accounts identified by the bank, more than 2,000 were opened after 2010. Profits generated from the branch were a salve through tough times, generating more than 10% of pretax profits in 2011 when Danske’s main businesses suffered through the European sovereign-debt crisis.
The bank said it will donate $240 million it made from the nonresident clients in Estonia between 2007 and 2015 to an independent anti-money-laundering foundation.
Mr. Borgen became Danske’s CEO in 2013. The report said he failed to communicate to the bank’s board the results of an internal audit in 2014 about the Estonian operations. “Insufficient information was shared,” the report said.
The bank’s chairman, Ole Andersen, who wasn’t found in breach of his duties and is staying in his role, called the case “a deplorable matter.”