Wednesday, March 01, 2017
Donald Trump and his henchmen have loudly disavowed the 35 page dossier prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele. Many of his fellow Republicans who put party above country have followed suit and painted a picture of the dossier and its author as unreliable. Now, it seems that the FBI though otherwise and had planned to pay Steele to continue his work to ferret out Trump/Russia ties until the dossier was leaked and the political storm surrounding it broke. In my gut, I continue to believe that there is fire beneath the smoke contained in the dossier and that the most important thing the intelligence agencies can do is to document Trump's treason (and that of his minions, hopefully, including Mike Pence). A piece in the Washington Post looks at the FBI's plan to have engaged Steele. Here are excerpts:
The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump’s political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement.The agreement to compensate former MI6 agent Christopher Steele came as U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus that the Russians had interfered in the presidential election by orchestrating hacks of Democratic Party email accounts.
While Trump has derided the dossier as “fake news” compiled by his political opponents, the FBI’s arrangement with Steele shows that the bureau considered him credible and found his information, while unproved, to be worthy of further investigation.
Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials, according to the people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
Steele was familiar to the FBI, in part because the bureau had previously hired him to help a U.S. inquiry into alleged corruption in the world soccer organization FIFA. The FBI sometimes pays informants, sources and outside investigators to assist in its work. Steele was known for the quality of his past work and for the knowledge he had developed over nearly 20 years working on Russia-related issues for British intelligence. The Washington Post was not able to determine how much the FBI intended to pay Steele had their relationship remained intact.
The revelation that the FBI agreed to pay Steele at the same time he was being paid by Clinton supporters to dig into Trump’s background could further strain relations between the law enforcement agency and the White House.
A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment. Steele’s London-based attorney did not respond to questions about the agreement.
Steele’s frustration with the FBI peaked after an Oct. 31 New York Times story that cited law enforcement sources drawing conclusions that he considered premature. The article said that the FBI had not yet found any “conclusive or direct link” between Trump and the Russian government and that the Russian hacking was not intended to help Trump.
After the election, the intelligence community concluded that Russia’s interference had been intended to assist Trump.
Despite Donald Trump's vague speech last night that boasted about how he would "make America great again," the agenda that his party is pursuing will be a continuation of what has decimated the American middle class while shifting riches and benefits to the wealthiest citizens. For the working class, the prospects are bleak especially since no details exist as to how manufacturing jobs will magically return. And, if one is a member of a minority population, there are growing and well based fears of coming discriminatory policies that will favor Trump's white, heterosexual, right wing Christian base. His base will not reap economic benefits, but their egos will be satiated by their ability to look down upon and brutalize those they deem "other." The goal is to play up the base's sense of white privilege to delay their realization that they were conned. Meanwhile, to the north of America, what used to be the so-called American Dream is thriving, in no small part because Canada has embraced policies that are anathema to today's GOP and Der Trumpenführer. This article looks at this reality:
From the very moment of its creation, Americans have always imagined their country to be a beacon of opportunity for the world. Thomas Jefferson lit that torch when he wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
But where once America stood alone as the land of opportunity, there are now dozens of other countries that have surpassed the United States; chief among these is its unassuming northern neighbour, Canada. Where do you go now for “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Canadians live 2.5 years longer than Americans. They are six times less likely to be incarcerated. And the World Economic Forum ranks Canadians as the 6th happiest people in the world, while Americans lag behind at 13th.
Every aspect of the American dream is now more easily found in Canada. In the United States, 46 per cent of the population has been able to obtain a college degree—in Canada it’s 59 per cent. After graduation, Canadians are more likely to find work, with an employment rate four points better. You are more likely to afford a house with a white picket fence in Canada, where home ownership rates are five per cent higher. Canadians also have more time to enjoy their homes, as they work over 80 hours fewer per year—and they take an extra three days vacation.
Compared to Canada, America isn’t even the “land of the free”, anymore. The Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index considers Canadians to be the sixth freest people in the world, while Americans limp in at 23rd, behind Poland. The conservative Heritage Foundation, based in Washington, ranks Canada and the U.S. seventh and 17th respectively for economic freedom. Free speech? Reporters Without Borders scores Canada 18th for press freedom; in spite of its much vaunted First Amendment, America only manages 41st.
The American Dream promised equality, a level playing field where everyone could pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but that too is more a Canadian thing.
By virtually every measure, Canada has surpassed the United States as the shining city on the hill, where everyone is safe to reach their potential. And people around the world have begun to notice. From the United States, refugees and asylum seekers are now fleeing into Canada hoping for a fair immigration hearing and a better future.
It is often noted that in the early 20th century, Canadian prime minister Sir Wilfred Laurier declared, “Canada shall be the star towards which all men who love progress and freedom shall come.” Let’s make that line as famous and meaningful as this once was: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Admitting the truths set out in this article is heresy to Trump voters, especially militant Christian extremists who have worked to weave their toxic religiosity into American policies that are the opposite of the Gospel message and which have abetted America's decline. Depending how bad the coming anti-LGBT jihad becomes, places like British Columbia look like a possible welcoming refuge.
In his address before Congress, Der Trumpenführer spoke out one side of his mouth and condemned a growing wave of anti-Semitic attacks on schools and synagogues. Meanwhile, Haaretz is reporting that Trump told a gathering of state Attorney Generals that the current wave of anti-Semitic incidents could be “false flags” – perpetrated by the left or by Jews themselves in order to make his administration and supporters look bad. That's right, Der Trumpenführer, is blaming Jews and liberals for attacks rather than his white supremacist base that has been emboldened by his racist demagoguery. Here are story highlights:
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday indicated for the second time that he believes it is possible that the current wave of anti-Semitic incidents could be “false flags” – perpetrated by the left or by Jews themselves in order to make his administration and supporters look bad.
Trump spoke to a gathering of state attorneys general from across the country that included Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Shapiro told reporters in a conference call after the meeting that Trump suggested that the attacks could reflect something other than anti-Semitism, saying that “the reverse can be true” and “someone’s doing it to make others look bad,” according to Philly.com.
The suggestion that the wave of attacks are false flags meant to perpetuate the impression that they were being committed by Trump supporters has been a theme on right-wing conspiracy theory websites and is being promoted aggressively by white supremacist David Duke on his Twitter account. Trump supporter and informal adviser Anthony Scaramucci tweeted a similar suggestion on Tuesday.
At a press conference on February 16, Trump suggested a false flag conspiracy was being perpetrated by his “opponents” in order to bolster claims that his election and presidency was fueling racism and anti-Semitism. “You have some of the signs and some of that anger caused by the other side,” charged Trump. “They’ll do signs and drawing that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be people on the other side to anger people like you,” he said.
In response to the reports, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League told Buzzfeed: "We are astonished by what the President reportedly said. It is incumbent upon the White House to immediately clarify these remarks."
Let be candid. Trump is a liart of the worst type. If his lips are moving, odds are at 8 out of 10 that he is lying.
One of the main theme's of Donald Trump's, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, campaign pitches was to fan racism, xenophobia and a hatred of those white reactionary Americans deemed as "other." The later category includes LGBT individuals, non-Christians, and, of course with skin of a different color. With Trump's election due to the failure of the Electoral College to protect the nation from a dangerous demagogue, the forces of hate within the ranks of both white supremacists and Christian extremists have been emboldened. Even in gay friendly Key West, a gay couple was assaulted by an individual who sounds like a Southern red neck, who yelled to the victims that they were in Trump's America now. A significant part of my client base is comprised of Indians from India who I have found to be loyal clients and wonderful people. After a hate crime motivated shooting in Kansas that left a young engineer dead, many in the Indian community in America are fearful. Like other minorities, they fear what may be coming under the Trump/GOP agenda of diminishing the rights of those who are not white, heterosexual right wing Christians. The Washington Post looks at the disturbing situation. Here are highlights:
To most Americans, a shooting in Kansas last Wednesday will be remembered as just another incident of gun violence in a country where homicides are tragically commonplace and where far too many disturbed loners have ready access to firearms.the harshest warning yet about the reality of President Trump’s America.
Kuchibhotla, an engineer at satellite navigation company Garmin, was having an after-work drink with his friend and colleague Alok Madasani at their regular bar in Olathe, a town 20 miles southwest of Kansas City. The duo, both Indian nationals who received master's degrees in the United States, were confronted by 51-year-old Adam Purinton, who hectored them with ethnic slurs.
"He asked us what visa are we currently on and whether we are staying here illegally," said Madasani to the New York Times. "We didn’t react. People do stupid things all the time."
But an enraged Purinton returned with a shotgun and opened fire, killing Kuchibhotla, 32, and injuring Madasani and Ian Grillot, an onlooker who intervened in defense of the Indian men. Eyewitness accounts suggest Purinton yelled at the pair to "get out of my country."
Purinton was arrested at another restaurant in Missouri after telling an employee there that he needed a place to hide because he had just shot some "Middle Easterners." News reports described Purinton as a mentally troubled man with an alcohol problem, but the racial undertones of his actions are unmissable.
The shooting led to anguish and anger both in India and among the South Asian diaspora in the United States, with many linking Kuchibhotla's senseless death to the xenophobic populism of the Trump campaign.
"There is a kind of hysteria spreading that is not good because so many of our beloved children live there," said Venu Madhav, a relative of Kuchibhotla, to India's ANI news agency.
Indians rank among the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the United States, but there are signs they could face tougher times under Trump. The White House is reportedly keen on curtailing the H-1B work visa program that has enabled tens of thousands of Indian nationals like Kuchibhotla to work for American tech companies. Trump's chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, one of the architects of the president's "America First" doctrine, previously articulated his dismay with the way in which South Asians supposedly dominate Silicon Valley.
[T]he shooting has deepened the fears of many South Asians — and other minorities living in the United States — over the racial tensions taking hold.
"The situation seems to be pretty bad after Trump took over as the U.S. president," said Kuchibhotla’s distraught father to local media in India. "I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the United States in the present circumstances."
The Trump administration dismissed any suggestion of a link between the shooting, which could be justifiably defined as a terroris attack, and Trump's rhetoric.
[T]he Trump campaign rose in part through the unleashing of xenophobic passions and with the gleeful support of white nationalists. . . . But while Trump tweets incessantly about jihadist threats around the world, the White House has remained rather silent about the violence carried out by white nationalists against minorities, including a deadly attack on a mosque in Canada last month. So far, he has not tweeted anything about the Olathe shootings.
"Toxic rhetoric has contributed to scapegoating immigrants and religious minorities," said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) in a statement on Friday in which he linked Purinton's alleged xenophobia to Trump's politics of walls and bans.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
With the ascent of Der Trumpenführer to power, the moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party has become complete. The same holds for the leaders of "family values" organizations and the 81% of evangelicals who voted for this vile and unfit individual, although the behavior of the "godly Christians" is the less surprising of the two groups since they long ago proved that lies and hatred toward others was their stock in trade. The reality is that dictators and tyrants rarely come to full power without the complicity of others who could have perhaps change the course of history if they had but the backbone to stand up for decency and not put short term personal gain ahead of the national interest and protecting the lives and liberties of all citizens. A column in the Washington Post correctly compares the complicity of today's GOP with the behavior of the Catholic Church as Mussolini rose to power in Italy. Advantage has been placed ahead of morality and decency. Here are excerpts:
Despite his jutting jaw and comical bravado, President Trump is not another Benito Mussolini. The Italian dictator had six children, one wife and several mistresses, the most loyal of whom, Claretta Petacci, chose to die with him and was hanged upside down in a Milan gas station. Most of Trump’s women have fared better.On the other hand, the similarities between Trump and Mussolini are so obvious that it would amount to journalistic malpractice not to mention some of them. Mussolini was vain, bombastic, vulgar and, while the creator of fascism, he believed in nothing aside from himself. A former Italian prime minister, quoted in David Kertzer’s book “The Pope and Mussolini,” thought that Mussolini’s chief attribute “was his devotion to the cult of his own personality.” Is this our guy or what?
The most cogent parallel is contained in the book’s very title: the pope. Strip him of his vestments, and Pius XI becomes a politician much like Reince Priebus, Mike Pence or any other member of the Republican establishment for whom, in exchange for something of value — lower taxes, less regulation or, in the case of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a comforting certainty in the loo — a deal can be made. These Republicans and others would accept Trump and gamble on American democracy and world peace.
In Mussolini’s day, the Catholic Church, too, had its demands and grievances. The Italian state had seized church lands, reducing the pope’s realm to itsy-bitsy Vatican City. The state had taken over the schools. It was no longer financially supporting the church. It had permitted divorce. Pius XI wanted to return to the status quo ante. In exchange for recognition of Mussolini’s fascist government, by 1929 Il Duce was willing to oblige.
Mussolini was hardly religious. . . . . Still, he was willing to do business with the Vatican. Mussolini’s only principle was his own self-interest.
As for Pius XI, he had many principles — but none of them stood in the way of making a deal with a fascist whose goons routinely beat up priests, attacked Catholic social centers and murdered the occasional dissident. Violence displeased the pope. What displeased him more, however, were current church-state relations. What the pope feared most of all was the threat of communism and, of course, the entirely hallucinatory power he attributed to the Jews. Mussolini was willing to destroy them both.
Pius XI did not like Mussolini — not his swagger, not his use of violence, not his libidinous ramblings and not his vanity. Bit by bit, however, he came to terms with what he loathed and instead concentrated on what was good for the church. This amorality is often called pragmatism.
In today’s Republican Party, a similar process is under way. The princes of the GOP have elevated business concerns to the level of national interest. . . . . when it comes to Trump, they have managed to overlook his mocking of the disabled, his insults regarding Mexicans, his attacks on the press, his cooing at Russian President Vladimir Putin, his name-calling, his spectacular lying and his daunting ignorance.
“[T]he new Trumpian conservatives have made their peace with their new political master” to those pathetic souls who once found virtue, if not inevitability, in Stalinism. But the billionaires and politicians who sit around Trump’s table and chortle cravenly at the boss’s jokes do not fear for their lives or their jobs.
It is instructive to read how the Vatican, a moral institution, once put its own self-interest above its moral duty and embraced Mussolini. It is just plain depressing to note how history repeats itself. The Vatican, at least, sold out for church privileges. The GOP business and political class has sold out for greed.
Here in Virginia, at least for the moment, LGBT citizens are protected from the worse hatred and bigotry that Republicans and their Christofascist puppeteers due to the fact that we currently have a Democrat governor and attorney general. After the November, 2017, elections, that could frighteningly change if the Democrat base does not mobilize and get to the polls. In other Southern states, we are already seeing what the consequence for LGBT Virginians might look like and it is not pretty. Tennessee offers a particularly ugly example of the efforts being done to strip away legal rights and protections won by same sex couples through marriage and underscores the viciousness of the "godly folk" who cannot tolerate the very existence of those who do not subscribe to their myth and legend based beliefs. Sadly, among those targeted are the children of same sex couples whose security, safety and access to heath care coverage means nothing to the members of the Christian Taliban. A piece in Salon looks at the coordinated attacks on same sex families in Tennessee. Here are excerpts:
Heather MacKenzie bought her wedding ring at Wal-Mart. MacKenzie, now 38, proposed to her wife, Charitey, by driving to the top of Tiger Hill in Murfreesboro, a town located near the couple’s Tennessee home. . . . The pair said “I do” in June 2015, just days after the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling legalized marriage between same-sex couples in their state. The MacKenzies were wed in Nashville in front of the courthouse under a magnolia tree.
Over a year later, the couple are expecting a child: Charitey is 12 weeks pregnant with a son. A trio of recently proposed laws, however, could jeopardize the future of their growing clan. This legislation seeks to erase any hint of legal recognition for LGBT couples in Tennessee, all but declaring war on the families of same-sex parents living in the state.
Filed by State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, House Bill 1406 would prevent a couple from listing on the birth certificate the second parent (the spouse not giving birth) after a woman becomes pregnant through artificial insemination. The legislation would nullify a provision of the Tennessee Code Annotated 68-3-306, which was issued as part of the Vital Records Act of 1977. The law states, “A child born to a married woman as a result of artificial insemination, with consent of the married woman’s husband, is deemed to be the legitimate child of the husband and wife.”
If Weaver’s bill passes, Heather would not be considered the legal guardian of the child on the way. In order to gain that status, she would have to file for a second-parent adoption, a process that’s both costly and time intensive.
If Charitey were to be in a car wreck, for instance, Heather could make legal decisions for her but not for their expected child. The newborn would have no rights to Heather’s inheritance or her insurance — an added complication for the couple. If HB 1406 were to be passed, it would go into effect on July 1, three months before Charitey is expected to give birth. Heather receives health care benefits through her workplace, but if the new baby would not be longer eligible for that coverage, who would pay for the hospital costs?
The legislation leaves a terrifying number of unanswered questions, few of which have been answered by HB 1406’s authors. Although Weaver claimed in a Facebook post that the legislation is not intended to target same-sex families, she didn’t address the fact that her bill does exactly that.
HB 1406 isn’t the only bill, however, that would make lives more difficult for same-sex couples in the state. Republican state Rep. Mark Pody has refiled House Bill 892, also known as the Tennessee Natural Marriage Defense Act. Voted down by the General Assembly last year, the legislation seeks to override the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex unions in favor of the state’s definition — or lack thereof. In 2006, 81 percent of voters cast a ballot saying that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
In addition, there’s also House Bill 33. Sponsored by state Reps. Janice Bowling and John Ragan, the bill would “[require] that the words ‘husband,’ ‘wife,’ ‘mother,’ and ‘father’ be given their natural and ordinary meaning” in any legal or legislative context. According to The Tennessean, HB 33 could have extreme, sweeping effects on same-sex couples in the state, erasing the rights and benefits afforded to their relationships at every turn.
[E]ven if these three discriminatory pieces of legislation are unconstitutional, it “could take years before they are overturned,” as Sarah Warbelow, Human Rights Campaign’s legal director, explained. In the interim, they could do enormous damage to the lives of LGBT families. For instance, HB 33 would stipulate that if one member of a same-sex couple dies, he or she doesn’t have to be treated as a legal spouse possessing the same property rights granted heterosexual couples. And because he or she wouldn’t be recognized under the traditional definitions of “husband” or “wife,” the surviving partner could be forced out of the home they shared.
“The real victims will be the children of same-sex couples and of all couples who are conceived by means of fertility clinics,” Littrell said, noting that the artificial insemination bill would also affect opposite-sex parents. “It seems awfully counterproductive.”
[T]hese bills hurt everyone, they are part of a targeted legislative push to make LGBT Tennesseans feel unwelcome and unsafe in their own state. This trinity of anti-marriage legislation coincides with the re-introduction of a bathroom bill, filed by Rep. Pody and state Sen. Mae Beavers, intended to prevent trans people from using the public restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. A similar law had been considered last year but tabled following overwhelming backlash — much like the controversy that has followed North Carolina’s House Bill 2.
While LGBT people in the South have been fighting against right-wing bigotry for decades, Melissa Snarr said it feels “brutally personal” this time. “We’re used to that sort of thing in Tennessee, but after the election, it’s become even more brutal,” said Snarr, who teaches at Vanderbilt University’s School of Divinity.
Singer Jackie Evancho performed the national anthem at Der Trumpenführer's inauguration and ended up catching grief from anti-Trump forces and from much of the anti-LGBT Christofascist base of the Republican Party offended by her transgender sister. The thanks she received from Trump was the withdrawal of transgender protections advanced by the Obama administration. Now, as BuzzFeed reports, Evancho's sister and two co-plaintiffs have won a federal lawsuit against their public school district for its anti-transgender bathroom policies. The ruling relied on equal protections guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Here are highlights from BuzzFeed:
The [Juliet Evancho] transgender sister of a performer who sang at President Trump’s inauguration and two of her schoolmates must be given access to school restrooms that match their gender identity, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled on Monday, less than a week after the Trump administration withdrew a policy that said schools must provide that access to transgender students.US District Court Judge Mark R. Hornak issued a temporary injunction barring Pine-Richland School District from enforcing a policy that said transgender students could either use single-person bathrooms or facilities matching their birth sex. In issuing his opinion suspending that policy, Hornak ruled that the students would likely prevail on their claims that the rule denied their equal protection rights under the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. However, the court sidestepped a national debate about whether civil rights laws already ensure transgender students access to restrooms — a question scheduled to go before the Supreme Court in March. In doing so, Hornak did not address the question about whether the students would prevail on a claim the school district policy violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The court found, instead, that the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee provided relief for the students — and that they are likely to succeed on those claims.
The plaintiffs include three students at Pine-Richland High School, including Juliet Evancho, who is the sister of Jackie Evancho, who sang at Trump’s inauguration. The other plaintiffs are Elissa Ridenour and another student identified only as A.S. Hornak wrote in an order Monday, “The Plaintiffs appear to the Court to be young people seeking to do what young people try to do every day-go to school, obtain an education, and interact as equals with their peers. … [T]he Plaintiffs have shown a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the District’s enforcement of Resolution 2 as to their use of common school restrooms does not afford them equal protection of the law as guaranteed to them by the Fourteenth Amendment.”