Satire-day Morning Open Thread: Too. Much. News.

Schadenfreude Open Thread: Hire A Grifter, Prepare to Be Scammed

Oh, look, “No Labels” is up to their old tricks…

My sincere thanks to commentor TenguPhule for this link from the Washington Post“Contractors sue nonpartisan group No Labels”:

The nonpartisan political group No Labels, along with a number of affiliated super PACs, is facing a lawsuit from contractors who say they were stiffed for millions of dollars of work in the 2018 cycle, let go in favor of political strategists with ties to the group’s president, Nancy Jacobson — and her husband, Mark Penn.

In the complaint, which was filed in the Supreme Court of New York this week, strategists Matthew Kalmans and Sacha Samotin say that their firm, Applecart, helped conceive No Labels’s current strategy of creating PACs that can invest in primaries and general elections to boost centrist candidates; they seek $3.7 million in damages, saying that money they were owed was shunted away from them, in breach of contract…

Penn, a former political strategist for both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has gained new national attention for criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of the Trump administration. While not affiliated with No Labels, he used a Tuesday appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to talk up a plan — advanced by No Labels — to elect a speaker of the House with bipartisan support.

“There’s a problem-solvers group that is looking to have some influence, if the result is close, in terms of changing the rules and naming the speaker,” Penn said.

The 45-page complaint tells a story of political blunders that Applecart blames on Penn and that No Labels affiliates blame on Applecart. According to the complaint, it was Kalmans and Samotin, Republicans who identified as moderates, who presided over the group’s first political successes…

… Former senator Joseph I. Lieberman, a No Labels co-chair, said that Applecart had looked promising but wilted under inspection.

“They were charging us for things they had not even done,” Lieberman said.

Kalmans and Samotin say the pushback is simply false — that Applecart was simply not paid for 1,714 hours of completed work … That debacle, they say, was “a pretext on which to hand over strategic oversight of No Labels’ super PAC campaign to Penn.” And the rest will be fought out in court.

“No Labels” was a Repub scam from the get-go, with “Independent” Droopy Dawg Lieberman’s involvement as a leading indicator.

Nice to see the GOP is dumb or venal enough to pick up a guy who could outpush even the Clintons’ notorious loyalty to long-time associates, just in time for him to further sully the GOP’s “Okay, Trump’s A Criminal But Hey, Tax Cuts!” message for the midterms.

With my mind on my money and my money on my mind

Here’s Benny, laid back.

Let’s push Balloon Juice reader Aaron Matson over the 1K mark — he’s running for State Treasurer of South Dakota.

Goal Thermometer

If you want to stick it to the man by helping defeat Scott Walker, give here to Tony Evers, running for governor of Wisconsin.

Goal Thermometer

A lot of people are interested in giving to “under the radar” races, myself include. Anne Laurie highlighted one today, FL-15, and the Democrat there, Kristen Carlson, sounds very good, so I’m putting up a thermometer for that one too.

Goal Thermometer

Open Thread: The Waffle House Weather Index

Srsly. Per the Washington Post:

Yes, that’s right: One of the South’s most popular breakfast chains plays an important role in hurricane forecasting. Waffle Houses are known for staying open through anything, so when the company actually decides to close one of its locations due to bad weather, it means the storm is an unusually bad threat. It’s called the Waffle House Index, and FEMA monitors it. Seriously.

Former FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate came up with the Waffle House Index as a way to determine how an overall community was faring during a disaster.

“The Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound — it also tells us how the larger community is faring,” Dan Stoneking wrote on the FEMA Blog in 2011. “The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can reopen, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again — signaling a stronger recovery for that community.”

The Waffle House Index — which is, again, a real thing that our government uses — is color-coded. If Waffle Houses are open and offering a full menu, the index is green. If they’re offering a limited menu, it’s yellow. If locations in the affected area are forced to close, the index is red — and because Waffle Houses are very prepared, this is the rarest scenario…

Ah, capitalism. Putting workers’ lives at risk to be sure customers know your brand is reliable.

For the ones who had a notion, had a notion deep inside

If you’re a Balloon Juice reader and you run for office, we’ll do a fundraiser for you. It’s the least we can do for you while you’re out their busting your ass to make the world a better place.

Reader Aaron Matson is running for State Treasurer of South Dakota. Here is what he has to say:

I am a 4th-generation South Dakotan, and except for a couple years of seminary, I have lived in South Dakota my whole life. Before joining the South Dakota Democratic Party in my current role as their Communications Director, I was a reporter at the Watertown Public Opinion, and a Lutheran pastor in the Watertown and Brookings area. I received a Ph.D. in Political Science with a focus on Public Administration from the University of South Dakota in December of 2017. Like Harry Truman, I believe government isn’t just about dollars and cents, but rather, “there must be life and hope in government.”

I am running for State Treasurer because I believe that the political establishment has forgotten the key point about public administration and public service – it is first and foremost, about the public. As State Treasurer, I will always remember I answer to the taxpayer first – not banks, not special interests, but the people of South Dakota.

Let’s raise some money for him.

Goal Thermometer

Russiagate Open Thread: Follow the Money, Again

The classics, evergreen:

The documents show Aras Agalarov, a billionaire real estate developer close to both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, at the center of this vast network and how he used accounts overseas to filter money to himself, his son, and at least two people who attended the Trump Tower meeting. The records also offer new insight into the murky financial world inhabited by many of Trump’s associates, who use shell companies and secret bank accounts to quickly and quietly move money across the globe.

Now, four federal law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News, investigators are focused on two bursts of transactions that bank examiners deemed suspicious: one a short time after the meeting and another immediately after the November 2016 presidential election.

The first set came just 11 days after the June 9 meeting, when an offshore company controlled by Agalarov wired more than $19.5 million to his account at a bank in New York.

The second flurry began shortly after Trump was elected. The Agalarov family started sending what would amount to $1.2 million from their bank in Russia to an account in New Jersey controlled by the billionaire’s son, pop singer Emin Agalarov, and two of his friends. The account had been virtually dormant since the summer of 2015, according to records reviewed by BuzzFeed News, and bankers found it strange that activity in Emin Agalarov’s checking account surged after Trump’s victory.

After the election, that New Jersey account sent money to a company controlled by Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze, a longtime business associate of the Agalarovs and their representative at the Trump Tower meeting. Kaveladze’s company, meanwhile, had long funded a music business set up by the person who first proposed the meeting to the Trump camp, Emin Agalarov’s brash British publicist, Rob Goldstone…

The transactions came to light after law enforcement officials instructed financial institutions in mid-2017 to go back through their records to look for suspicious behavior by people connected to the broader Trump-Russia investigation. The bankers filed “suspicious activity reports” to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which in turn shared them with the FBI, the IRS, congressional committees investigating Russian interference, and members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Suspicious activity reports are not evidence of wrongdoing, but they can provide clues to investigators looking into possible money laundering, tax evasion, or other misconduct. In the case of the Agalarovs and their associates, bankers raised red flags about the transactions but were unable to definitively say how the funds were used.

Federal prosecutors have used suspicious activity reports not only to investigate possible election interference and collusion, but also to charge people, such as Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, with financial and other white-collar crimes. Manafort was convicted last month of bank and tax fraud, and Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia…

Beginning 13 days after the election, the Agalarovs’ bank account in Russia made 19 separate wire transfers to a New Jersey personal checking account belonging to Emin Agalarov and two friends from high school. That checking account, held at TD Bank, had been opened in 2012. Bank examiners thought it was unusual that the account had never before received a Russian wire transfer and that its only deposit since the summer of 2015 was for $200, in January 2016.

The postelection transfers to the checking account were in large, round-dollar amounts ranging from $15,000 to $175,000. Between November 2016 and July 2017, the sum topped $1.2 million.

But what triggered alarms wasn’t just that activity in the account had jumped since Trump’s election. It was also how the checking account handled the money. While some of it went toward credit card bills, mortgage installments, and other run-of-the-mill payments, TD Bank officials also saw the checking account quickly pass funds to an account controlled by another participant in the Trump Tower meeting.

On Nov. 21, 2016, Emin Agalarov’s checking account received $165,000 from an account based in Russia belonging to his family. The following day, the account sent $107,000 to Corsy International, a company run by Kaveladze, the longtime Agalarov associate who attended the Trump Tower meeting.

Bankers were suspicious for a number of reasons. For one, Kaveladze was an employee of the Agalarovs’ Crocus Group, their sprawling construction and real estate empire based in Russia. Why, bankers wondered, would the funds start in Russia, briefly make a pit stop in Emin Agalarov’s New Jersey account, and finally be sent to Corsy International? Balber, the attorney for Kaveladze and the Agalarovs, would not address questions about specific transactions, but said they were all legitimate.

Second, bankers noted that Kaveladze — who after the election pushed for an additional get-together with the Trumps and some of the original Tower meeting participants — had previously been investigated for money laundering. According to a Government Accountability Office report published in 2000, Kaveladze established more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian real estate brokers, then set up bank accounts for them in the US. The brokers used these accounts to launder about $1.4 billion, the report found. Kaveladze was never charged with a crime and he referred to the GAO’s probe as a “witch hunt.”…

Such comparatively penny-ante sums, considering the stakes involved. Just gives the whole process the genuine Trump Touch.

Wednesday Morning Open Thread

The Washington Post, company paper in a town where the monopoly industry is politics, certainly thinks so:

Republicans have grown increasingly worried about losing control of the Senate, as President Trump’s approval rating tumbles and Democrats gain steam in key battleground races.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday sounded some of the most doubtful notes of Trump’s presidency that Republicans will keep the upper chamber of Congress, telling reporters, “I hope when the smoke clears, we’ll still have a majority.”

His comments came as Republican strategists and officials fretted over a fresh round of private polling on the Senate races, while public polls registered further erosion in Americans’ approval of Trump. “Shipwreck” was how one leading strategist described the situation, adding an expletive to underscore the severity of the party’s problems…

At the start of Trump’s tenure, some Republicans envisioned enough wins to secure a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats, confident they could oust many of the 10 Democrats running in states Trump won in 2016. Even a few weeks ago, Republicans were talking more assuredly about flipping seats.

But less than two months till the Nov. 6 election, Republicans barely mention Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — states Trump won — as opportunities to knock out a Democrat, while McConnell reiterated that nine seats, plus Texas, were at stake.

“Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida. All of them too close to call, and every one of them like a knife fight in an alley; I mean, just a brawl in every one of those places,” McConnell told reporters in Louisville…

The dire warnings also could serve as a wake-up call to GOP donors for the final eight weeks of the campaign….

Sure, some of McConnell’s bluster is an old-school threat to those donors: Nice grift ya got goin’ here. Shame if some goo-goo Dems were to get voted in and take it away from ya. But more and more, it’s looking like a last desperate smash&grab, as the Repub looters stuff their pockets before the authorities show up.

It won’t be easy, rebuilding our institutions after the GOP arsonists are turfed out. But the ‘easy’ options — giving in to despair, or haring after third-party grifters — would only make things worse.