Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dallas Official Calls On NRA To Find New City For National Convention In May

By Nicole Lafond | February 20, 2018 11:28 am

Amid another national debate about how to respond to mass shootings after a massacre at a Florida high school last week, a top official in Dallas has asked the National Riffle Association to “reconsider coming to Dallas” for its annual exhibition and convention in May.

Dwaine Caraway, the mayor pro tem in Dallas, said that while he is a “believer in the Second Amendment” and is the owner of five guns, he doesn’t want the event in Dallas and said it would likely be met with protest. He asked the organization to come together with lawmakers to “address this madness,” according to a video of the press conference, published by ABC News affiliate ABC13.

“It is a tough call when you ask the NRA to reconsider coming to Dallas, but it is putting all citizens first, and getting them to come to the table and elected officials to come to the table and to address this madness now,” Caraway said during the press conference. “At the end of the day, we need to connect the dots. The NRA needs to step up to the plate, and they need to show leadership. We should not allow people to possess assault rifles and weapons.”

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What the latest Mueller indictment tells us about his strategy

Dutch attorney Alex van der Zwaan’s indictment shows how Mueller is trying to get to the big fish — in this case, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

By Zack  Feb 20, 2018, 11:40am EST

On Tuesday morning, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office released yet another indictment — but this one was kind of a puzzler. The indictment targets Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch attorney based in London, for making false statements to the FBI.

Van der Zwaan’s connection to the Russia case runs through Rick Gates, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s deputy whom Mueller indicted in October, along with Manafort, on charges of money laundering and illegal lobbying.

The connection is convoluted, dealing with an internal Ukrainian political dispute from more than a decade ago — but it nonetheless says some interesting things about the state of the Russia investigation right now.

Here’s what the indictment says, and why it tells us something important about Mueller’s strategy.

What the indictment literally says

In the early 2010s, van der Zwaan was working in the London office of Skadden Arps, one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporate law firms. His work seemed to focus on the former Soviet Union.

During this same time period, Manafort and Gates were working for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych — a Kremlin-backed leader with dubious democratic credentials.

Yanukovych was in the midst of a power struggle with another prominent Ukrainian politician, which he decided to solve by jailing her in the fall of 2011. Manafort and Gates’s job was to run cover for this clearly undemocratic prosecution. So they retained a team from Skadden Arps, which included van der Zwaan, to put together a “report” that conveniently concluded that there was no political motive for putting her in jail.

This was a big deal in Ukraine but a relatively obscure issue for most of the rest of the world. Manafort and Gates continued their work for Yanukovych afterward, and van der Zwaan moved on to other things — most notably marrying Eva Khan, the daughter of Ukrainian-Russian billionaire German Khan, in the summer of 2017. (One of Khan’s companies is, somewhat curiously, mentioned in the infamous Steele dossier.)

But the Mueller investigation would soon deliver van der Zwaan an unhappy honeymoon. In the process of looking into Manafort and Gates’s ties to the Kremlin, Mueller’s team started investigating the Skadden Arps report. According to the indictment, FBI agents personally questioned van der Zwaan in November 2017 about his communications with Gates and an unidentified Person A (which seems likely to be Manafort, though that’s not 100 percent clear).

Van der Zwaan told them that his last communication with Gates was in August 2016 and was an “innocuous text message,” and that he hadn’t spoken to Person A since 2014. This, according to the indictment, is a lie — van der Zwaan was actually secretly communicating with Gates and Person A about the Skadden report.

“In or about September 2016, he spoke with both Gates and Person A regarding the Report, and surreptitiously recorded the call,” the indictment says.

The indictment also alleges that van der Zwaan deleted an email between himself and Person A sent around the same time as those conversations — and told the FBI that he “did not know” where the email was.

Van der Zwaan is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday at 2:30 pm EST to answer the indictment. He is expected to plead guilty, according to reports.

What did we learn from this?
The key piece of information in all of this is the timing: Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign manager on August 19, 2016 — weeks before the alleged conversations between Gates, Person A, and van der Zwaan. The resignation was the result of widespread reporting about Manafort’s shady ties to Yanukovych, particularly an allegedly off-the-books payment.

If Gates and van der Zwaan were talking about the Skadden report in September 2016, and van der Zwaan felt the need to lie to the FBI about it, it suggests that there may have been something criminal about the report’s production — or at least, something whose release would be politically damaging.

Interestingly, both CBS News and the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday that Gates had struck a plea deal with Mueller and would testify against Manafort, his former boss. It’s not a stretch to think that evidence provided by van der Zwaan — like his “surreptitious” recording of his call with Gates and Person A — helped Mueller build a case strong enough that Gates had no choice but to flip.

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The Trump administration is quietly helping states defund Planned Parenthood

Democrats fear anti-abortion advocates are writing Trump’s health care policy — and the results could harm patients nationwide.

By Anna North  Feb 20, 2018, 1:20pm EST

Republicans in state legislatures have been trying for years to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. In January, the Trump administration gave them a gift, reversing Obama-era guidance regarding Medicaid funds.

The change could make it harder for low-income patients in red states to get reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood, and some fear it could ultimately affect patients in blue states as well. But that’s not all.

According to documents provided to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) by a whistleblower and released earlier this month, the move by the Trump administration may have been inspired by a letter from the right-wing legal group Alliance Defending Freedom. Congressional Democrats now say they fear the Trump administration essentially let an anti-abortion group write its health care policy. Cummings’s office is now requesting all documentation leading up to the January decision, including any communications with ADF.

The January change appears to be part of a larger pattern in the Trump administration: policies on everything from birth control coverage to reproductive health access for unaccompanied minors are being forged by people with deep ties to anti-abortion groups, and sometimes, apparently, by those groups themselves.

The Trump administration has made it easier for states to strip funding from Planned Parenthood
To understand the Trump administration’s decision and its impact, you need to go back to 2015. That year, an anti-abortion group released hidden-camera videos in an effort to convince the public that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for a profit, which is illegal. The videos actually did not include evidence of this, and multiple investigations thereafter did not uncover any. But the videos touched off a wave of calls, at the state and federal level, to strip funding from Planned Parenthood.

One way states have tried to do this is by barring Planned Parenthood from being reimbursed for treating Medicaid patients. In 2016, the Obama administration sent a letter to states advising them that this was illegal; states could not bar providers from receiving Medicaid reimbursements unless those providers were unfit to perform medical services or to bill appropriately for those services.

On January 19, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a short letter rescinding the Obama administration’s 2016 guidance, arguing that it “limited states’ flexibility with regard to establishing reasonable Medicaid provider qualification standards.”

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The 3 Choices When it Comes to Trump


First, you can complain. Yell. Bang on the dinner table. Tell your family and friends the man is a dangerous fool. Explode every time you read something about him. Swear every time you see him on TV. Go ballistic when you listen to him or about him on the radio.

Complaining may feel good, but it won’t help. 

Your second choice: You can bury your head in the sand. Pretend he’s not there. Stop reading the news. Turn off the TV and radio. No longer visit political Internet sites. When family or friends bring up his name, change the subject.

Burying your head in the sand may also feel good, but it certainly won’t help, either.

You have a third choice. You can get active, and make it harder for Trump to damage America. This coming November 6, 34 senate seats, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and 36 governorships will be up for election or re-election.

Support primary candidates who will resist Trump. Mobilize to get out the vote. Organize so that November 6 becomes a total repudiation of Donald Trump and all he stands for.

Start right now. Find an Indivisible group near you. Go and become part of the solution. If you’re already in a blue state and want to reach out to purple or red parts of the country, visit or

Democracy is fragile, it requires all of us to protect it.


Trump - a bit off the mark

But making suggestions was deeply complicated. Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: he didn’t process information in any conventional sense—or, in a way, he didn’t process it at all. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate. (There was some argument about this, because he could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post’s Page Six.) Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he just didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate—total television. But not only didn’t he read, he didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking. And he trusted his own expertise—no matter how paltry or irrelevant—more than anyone else’s. What’s more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention. The organization therefore needed a set of internal rationalizations that would allow it to trust a man who, while he knew little, was entirely confident of his own gut instincts and reflexive opinions, however frequently they might change.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 114). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Religiously speaking

News, opinions, tweets and more 2.21.2018

Posters 2.21.2018

Not letting up on the Parkland Florida shooting