Russiagate Open Thread: About That Russian Lawyer Lady

But according to Russian-born ace reporter Julia Ioffe, from inside the Kremlin kleptocracy, it’s not that simple:

[T]he actual story says something very different about Veselnitskaya and the work she did for the FSB from 2005 to 2013. “The documents show that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, successfully represented the FSB’s interests in a legal wrangle over ownership of an upscale property in northwest Moscow between 2005 and 2013,” it says. The work, according to the story, concerned a real-estate dispute in which Veselnitskaya helped the FSB wrest ownership of a valuable building from a private company by alleging that the original sale was based on fraudulent documents.

This is a classic technique used in Russia to raid businesses and extort property owners, and it is a tactic at which both Veselnitskaya and the FSB excel. Veselnitskaya is currently going after IKEA in Russia, on behalf of a private client, using the same legal tactic—the land it sits on is extremely valuable—and the FSB has built an empire in the same way, making minigarchs out of rank-and-file FSB officers whose salaries don’t square with the posh lifestyles they lead.

Under Putin’s leadership, first as FSB head in the 1990s, and then as president of Russia, the FSB has become not just a seat of political and geopolitical power, but also a powerful economic empire. With the specter of state violence and the courts at their backs, officers of the FSB, as well as other security services agencies, have expropriated thousands of small and medium businesses, seized land, run protection rackets, embezzled state funds, and employed every trick under the sun to enrich themselves…

In other words, the Reuters story is not about espionage but about corruption. It fills in a portrait of Veselnitskaya as well as her connections to the organs of the Russian state, and the methods by which she operated. But it is yet another example of how American readers, frenzied by the drip-drip of Trump-Russia revelations, can take a bit of information, tear it out of its context, strip it of its real meaning, and run with it toward all kinds of political conclusions about the administration’s dealings with Russia. There is plenty of damning information out there, but this particular story isn’t damning quite in the way some people want it to be.

And yet it’s understandable that Donald Trump would be enchanted by the idea recreating such a kleptocracy here in America… and how the leaders of the GOP would be only too glad to assist him.

Late Night Farewell to Sean Open Thread (aka, ‘Piss Off A Pack of Journalists At Your Own Risk’)

Jeb Lund:

Maybe White House press secretary Sean Spicer cast his eyes toward the horizon and saw that the sky looked like it was going to rain indictments. Maybe the word “dignity” came up recently in his word of the day calendar. Either way, he’s gone…

Spicer’s planned demotion would be enough to make you feel pity for him — if you ignored everything else about Spicer and his job. After Spicer’s foully contemptuous and bullying introduction to the nation’s press, nothing was more appealing in some quarters than flirting with pity for the man whose boss undercut him repeatedly. That sort of light comedy is always entertaining for people — like the White House press corps — who would never truly be imperiled by what Spicer promoted and defended. Games are fun when you aren’t going to die…

The story he probably won’t tell his kids is this: Before taking the White House press secretary position, their dad was the Republican Party’s communications director for six years. His entire professional utility was and is his ability to tell lies to people, and his goal was telling more, better lies for progressively more important people until he could retire at 55 with a multimillion-dollar nest egg…

Their dad was vicious, lying scum, and the fact that his old boss and his new boss are worse doesn’t obviate his complicity in trying to destroy the very baseline idea of shared reality in service of a vain and cancerous meringue sowing fear and uncertainty among the citizenry, when his policies don’t merely immiserate or kill them. Their dad carried water for the worst president in American history, and now that the investigations are drawing further into the White House, Spicer can bail out and blame his new boss for wrecking the plane. Let it never be said that, when times got tough, their dad was just a liar: He was also a chickenshit…

In other words, it wasn’t Spicer (or Trump) trying to punish the press; it was about Spicer trying to avoid being punished by his babyman boss. SAD!

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NATO’s Video on the Forest Brothers

We and the news media are so entrapped by the doings in Washington that we miss stuff going on in the rest of the world. That’s not without reason; having an unqualified boor as president of the most powerful nation on earth provides a great deal of scary copy. But the other side is an opportunity cost. There is stuff going on besides the Trump-manufactured crises. Other nations have their own ideas as to what is important, although they are affected by the crazy too.

The Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – are members of the EU and NATO. They were absorbed into the Soviet Union after World War II, but most nations of the world continued to recognize them as independent states. They were instrumental in breaking up the Soviet Union in 1991.

After World War II, resistance fighters continued in all three states. They were called the Forest Brothers and were widely supported by the population. Their activity continued through the 1980s. The last Forest Brother in Estonia drowned himself in 1978 rather than be taken by the Soviets.

I figured when Russia seized Crimea that Baltic young people were consulting their grandparents and that stocks of guns, ammunition, and food were being hidden away. Earlier in July, NATO released a video about the Forest Brothers, with interviews from two people who were involved. Here’s a longer history of the Forest Brothers, and a bit more. And here’s the video.



And open thread!

Open Thread: Trumpcare ‘Not Dead Yet’ (But It Smells Kinda Funny)

Who’s got a sturdy cudgel? Yes, the ongoing fight to protect Obamacare is serious, but watching the REPUBS IN DISARRAY! is delicious. Alice Ollstein, at TPM, “Trump’s Ham-Handed, Incoherent Health Care Message Leaves Senate Flailing“:

On Wednesday, [Trump] summoned all 52 Republican senators to the White House to try to browbeat them into passing some form of a health care bill. The president previewed his message for the lawmakers in an interview with televangelist Pat Robertson—saying he’ll be “very angry” if they can’t pass a bill—and in tweets Wednesday morning that made no case for the merits of the legislation or the difficult politics of curtailing the benefits of millions of people.

At the meeting, he threatened bill critic Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), asking as TV cameras rolled if he wants to “remain a senator,” and demanded the Senate stay in session through the summer recess until they “get it done” on health care…

Trump’s tin ear for Washington politics was on full display Monday night—the night Republican defectors drove the final nail into the coffin of the latest Obamacare repeal bill. The president hosted a group of senators at White House ostensibly to discuss health care over an elegant steak dinner, but did not invite any of the on-the-fence lawmakers he needed to convince to support the repeal effort. Instead, he dined with a group that already supported the bill, and according to the Washington Post, spent most of the evening recounting his recent trip to France…

“For seven years, Republicans have told the voters: ‘If you elect us, we’ll repeal Obamacare,’” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), carefully choosing his words as he walked through the Capitol’s underground tunnels surrounded by half a dozen reporters. “I think we will look like fools if we can’t deliver on that promise.”

But that message is unlikely to resonate with the moderate senators opposing the legislation who have repeatedly promised to protect their constituents’ Medicaid benefits and advocate for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Any time you’re over at the White House and the president is talking to you about his opinions, it can provide a pretty strong case,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) acknowledged. “But,” she added with a laugh, “we have our strong opinions too.”

Hmmm… piss off their voters, or Ted Cruz? How tough a choice is that?

Long Read: “How Being Wrongly Pegged as the Dallas Cop Sniper Changed Mark Hughes’ Life Forever”

Dan Solomon, at Fusion:

Mark Hughes has a sense of humor about what happened to him last summer. On July 7, 2016, Hughes was wrongly identified by Dallas Police and news organizations around the world as a suspect in that day’s sniper attack at a Black Lives Matter march in the city, and when I meet him in the office of the tax prep company he owns in nearby Arlington, Hughes asks me with a straight face: “Are you familiar with the July 7th event?” Then, pointing to his desk neighbor: “You know, he was the one who was actually doing the shooting.”

It’s hard to imagine how Hughes would have survived the past year without cracking a few jokes. Almost everything about his life has been affected by the day his photograph was emblazoned on local news, CNN, and the Dallas Police Department’s official Twitter account, with the words “This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him!” above his photo.

Hughes had seen groups like Open Carry Tarrant County, whose members—and leadership, which is white—carry long-arm rifles on the street in front of his tax-prep business, in accordance with the law. And as he made plans to attend the march he decided, for the first time, that he should do the same. Philando Castile, the Minnesota man whose shooting death had been captured on video prior to the march, had his right to carry a gun violated by the officer who shot him. Hughes decided that meant he had a responsibility to assert his own.
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Sunday Evening Open Thread: Not So Bright Fast, Junior


Delicious cold dish for a summer evening! A Washington Post op-ed from Elizabeth Spiers, former Kushner Observer employee and Gawker editor — “The real lesson of the Trump family’s troubles? Nepotism doesn’t pay”:

New York real estate is very dynastic and insular; a few families have run the largest companies over the course of several generations. One of them is the family of Jared Kushner, then the Observer’s owner and now a senior White House adviser and son-in-law to President Trump. Another, of course, is Trump’s. Both Kushner and Trump are second-generation executives in their family businesses (I would use the word “were” here, but neither of them have completely divested themselves), and Trump’s children are third-generation.

So when the Trump family business became running the United States of America, naturally, the head of the household could not resist installing his nearest and dearest in positions of senior management…

Trump has made it no secret that he views Ivanka as a potential successor of sorts — he once suggested he could name her as his running mate. So although it was wildly inappropriate, it’s not the least bit surprising that both of them thought it was fine for her to sit in for Dad at the G-20 summit. The conclave was not, of course, a Take Your Daughter to Work event. But for someone who recently claimed to “stay out of politics,” Ivanka didn’t seem to have any objection to being slotted into a position with very big political stakes. In her mind, apparently, it was hers to take. Similarly, her husband seems to feel qualified, despite a lack of anything resembling relevant experience or expertise, to assume the mantle of director in charge of everything the president doesn’t understand or wants to delegate or that Kushner would simply like to run…

Ultimately, the mess Trump and his administration have landed in was an obvious consequence of this most disastrous of family-run enterprises. People related to the president were put in senior positions, once again, despite having no being woefully unqualified or incompetent or both. They were, and are, regarded as un-fireable and not held to normal performance standards. And much of this is driven by the family patriarch’s fantasies of political dynasty…


Family drama or otherwise, what’s on the agenda as we wrap up the weekend?

The Future’s So Bright, We’ll Have to Wear Chem Suits

This piece via the HuffPost on the devastation caused to by the DuPont chemical company on the people of Parkersburg is your must read of the day:

The Tennant clan farmed the fertile patch of soil around the home place for more than a century. In the 1950s, Jim’s father ran off, leaving his wife to look after nine cows, two mules, one hog and five children. But the family got by, eating turtle and muskrat and peddling anything it could grow or forage—wild watercress and elderberries in the spring; ginseng and lima beans in the summer; hay and apples in the fall. Their West Virginia farm eventually grew into a 700-acre operation, with more than 200 head of cattle and enough corn to pack a 35-foot silo. Jim and his wife Della bought a house on an adjoining plot of land and swapped the outhouse for an indoor toilet.

Then, in the early 1980s, DuPont, which ran a sprawling chemical plant called Washington Works in nearby Parkersburg, approached the family about buying some acreage for a landfill. The Tennants were wary of having a waste dump so close to the farm. But DuPont assured them it would only dispose of non-toxic material like ash and scrap metal, and so they agreed to sell.

Shortly after the deal closed, Jim and Della, whose home abutted the new landfill, say their two young daughters started wheezing and hacking. Worried about the girls’ health, they moved to a house in town. But most of their relatives stayed, and Jim and Della continued hunting game and eating beef grazed on the farm.

Della took her daughters’ Girl Scout troop there to catch tadpoles in the creek and make plaster molds of deer tracks. Then, at some point in the mid-1990s, the water in the creek turned black and foamy, and the family began finding dead deer tangled in the brambles. The cattle started going blind, sprouting tumors, vomiting blood.

“One time this cow was coming down the road and it was just bellowing, the awfulest bellow you ever heard,” Della told me. “And every time it would bellow, blood would gush from its mouth and its nose. It just bellowed and bellowed and blood just kept flying, and then it would fall down, and it would try to get up … We didn’t have anything to shoot it with, so we just had to watch it until finally the cow bled to death.”

It got worse, and the people were helpless until the lawyers and EPA stepped in, and that was after decades. The state DEP was worthless as they were paid off by DuPont.

This is what is going to happen to the entire country under Pruitt’s stewardship.