Category Archives: Media

The anatomy of a right-wing conspiracy theory, debunked

The conservative media entertainment complex is a mixture of wild conspiracy theories and right-wing propaganda. Its goal is to create alternative facts and to distract from the known truth, in creating a post-truth society in which facts do not matter. In a just world, this would be considered a crime against humanity.

This week the Rupert Murdoch owned Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel and National Review’s Andrew McCarthy opined that a secret “source” of the FBI and CIA was used against the Trump campaign. When he appeared on Rupert Murdoch owned FAUX News aka Trump TV’s Fox and Friends, McCarthy went further: “There’s probably no doubt that they [FBI] had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.”

As we all have sadly come to learn, from Fox and Friends lips to the ears of the Twitter-troll-in-chief Donald Trump: a conspiracy theory is born. Trump marks Mueller anniversary by claiming FBI ‘spied’ on his campaign.

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Cohen payments get curiouser and curiouser (Updated)

Last week we were left wondering how Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels attorney, got his hands on Michael Cohen’s financial information, which appeared to come from a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). Avenatti’s memo was quickly confirmed by news media outlets.

We still don’t know how Avenatti got his hands on the SAR report, but we now know how the media was able to confirm the financial information in his memo so quickly: a government whistleblower provided the news media with a copy of the SAR report.

The New Yorker reports, Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records:

Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.

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‘Economically forgotten’ have much in common with America’s poor

Axios.com has an Exclusive: 40% in U.S. can’t afford middle-class basics:

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Data: United Way; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

At a time of rock-bottom joblessness, high corporate profits and a booming stock market, more than 40% of U.S. households cannot pay the basics of a middle-class lifestyle — rent, transportation, child care and a cellphone, according to a new study.

Quick take: The study, conducted by United Way, found a wide band of working U.S. households that live above the official poverty line, but below the cost of paying ordinary expenses. Based on 2016 data, there were 34.7 million households in that group — double the 16.1 million that are in actual poverty, project director Stephanie Hoopes tells Axios.

Why it matters: For two years, U.S. politics has been dominated by the anger and resentment of a self-identified “forgotten” class, some left behind economically and others threatened by changes to their way of life.

  • The United Way study, to be released publicly Thursday, suggests that the economically forgotten are a far bigger group than many studies assume — and, according to Hoopes, appear to be growing larger despite the improving economy.
  • The study dubs that middle group between poverty and the middle class “ALICE” families, for Asset-limited, Income-constrained, Employed. (The map above, by Axios’ Chris Canipe, depicts that state-by-state population in dark brown.)
  • These are households with adults who are working but earning too little — 66% of Americans earn less than $20 an hour, or about $40,000 a year if they are working full time.

When you add them together with the people living in poverty, you get 51 million households. “It’s a magnitude of financial hardship that we haven’t been able to capture until now,” Hoopes said.

By the numbers: Using 2016 data collected from the states, the study found that North Dakota has the smallest population between poverty and middle class, at 32% of its households. The largest is 49%, in California, Hawaii and New Mexico. “49% is shocking. 32% is also shocking,” Hoopes said.

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The Trump Swamp: ‘pay to play’ corruption

Over the weekend the New York Times and the Washington Post did some excellent investigative reporting into the shady finances of Donald Trump and his consigliere Michael Cohn. The more we learn about Cohn’s “pay to play” scheme, and the two pending lawsuits challenging Trump’s “pay tp play” scheme under the emoluments clauses of the U.S. Constitution, the more this feckless GOP-controlled Congress has an obligation to investigate Trump’s tax records and financial dealings as president to “drain the swamp”: this is the most corrupt administration in recent American history.

Steve Benen has a decent short summary, The closer one looks at Trump’s finances, the louder the questions become:

Last summer, Donald Trump sat down with the New York Times, which asked whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller will have crossed “a red line” if the investigation into the Russia scandal extends to include examinations of the resident’s finances. “I would say yeah. I would say yes,” he replied, adding, “I think that’s a violation.”

Naturally, this generated no shortage of speculation as to why Trump is so concerned about scrutiny of his finances. For that matter, there’s no reason to separate questions about the president’s finances with the Russia scandal – because as Rachel Maddow has explained on her show more than once, there’s an amazing number of people from Russia who’ve purchased Trump properties over the years. (My personal favorite is the story of Dmitry Rybolovlev, the fertilizer king, who purchased a derelict Florida estate from the future president at an extreme markup.)

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Rep. Devin Nunes would endanger a top-secret intelligence source in his quest to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation

The New York Times reported last week that top Justice Department and FBI officials “suspect that some GOP lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence” about the Special Counsel’s evidence and work product in the Russia probe that could be handed over to the White House.

As I previously explained, GOP House Freedom Caucus members are accessories to a conspiracy for obstruction of justice.

But no one has been more blatant in his attempts to obstruct justice than Midnight Run Devin Nunes (R-CA), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Daily Kos reported Nunes threatens to hold Sessions ‘in contempt’ for not turning over documents he doesn’t even read:

[Nunes] has routinely demanded documents from the Department of Justice be handed over to him that, given the chance to review instead of actually take into his possession, he has declined to read.

Unfortunately, the fact that Nunes chairs the House Intelligence Committee is more than just a perverse joke by the universe, since he’s wielding his ignorance like a battering ram against the Justice Department’s special counsel investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.

On Sunday, Nunes threatened anew to hold a Justice Department official “in contempt” of Congress for not producing more documents he has no interest in actually reading. This time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions found himself in the crosshairs alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has previously earned Nunes’ uninformed ire.

“The only thing left to do is we have to move quickly to hold the attorney general of the United States in contempt and that is what I will press for this week,” Nunes told Fox News.

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Follow the money: Russian money flowed into Michael Cohen’s business, but to whom did it flow, and for what purpose?

Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti is not saying how he came into possession of financial records of Michael Cohen, but at some point he may be required to disclose this to the court.

On Tuesday, Avenatti posted online a “Project Sunlight” executive summary (.pdf) for reporters to review. Avenatti examines Essential Consultants LLC, a Delaware company, on Oct. 17, 2016, just a few weeks before Election Day. The company’s banking records are from the First Republic Bank branch (“First Republic”) located in Manhattan, New York City, New York.

Avenatti alleges that representations made to the bank to open the account “were false when made and continued to be false at all material times based on the activity occurring in the account. This likely constitutes bank fraud.”

The media narrative has been that Essential Consultants LLC was used as a cut out for the payment of the $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, which it was.

But Michael Cohen was also using his company for a “pay to play” scheme to sell his access to Donald Trump as his personal attorney.

Avenatti alleges that “From October 2016 through January 2018, Mr. Cohen used his First Republic account to engage in suspicious financial transactions totaling $4,425,033.46.” Among these transactions include:

  • Chief among these suspicious financial transactions are approximately $500,000 in payments received from Mr. Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian Oligarch with an estimated net worth of nearly $13 Billion. Mr. Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC (“Columbus”) beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.
  • Columbus Nova is a private equity firm founded in 2000 with over $2 billion in assets. Mr. Intrater is the CEO of Columbus Nova. Columbus Nova is the U.S. investment vehicle for Renova Group, a multi-national company controlled by Mr. Vekselberg. Renova group holds investments in various interests, including mining, oil, and telecommunications .
  • Also included in these suspicious financial transactions are four payments in late 2017 and early 2018 totaling $399,920 made by global pharmaceutical giant Novartis directly to Essential in four separate transactions of $99,980 each (just below $100,000).
  • In addition, Essential received $200,000 in four separate payments of $50,000 in late 2017 and early 2018 from AT&T.
  • Essential also received a $150,000 payment in November 2017 from Korea Aerospace Industries LTD.

There are a several other financial transactions highlighted in Avenatti’s executive summary.

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