Saturday, March 04, 2017

As noted in the previous post, the non-stop reporting on ties between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence agents has Der Trumpenführer in a foul mood and seems to be linked to his delusional claim that Barack Obama had the phones in Trump Tower wire tapped.  Why the hysteria?  Because polls indicate that many Americans support further investigations of the Trump-Russia ties be it through Congressional investigations or otherwise. If collusion indeed with a hostile enemy foreign power occurred - and let's face it, Trump is well aware as to whether it occurred or not - Trump has ever reason to want to shut down investigations before the truth is revealed.  Politico looks at the popular support for further investigation which has to have Trump worried.  Here are excerpts:
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this week asked Americans if they believe that Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin is “too friendly” or not. A 38 percent plurality called the Trump-Putin relationship too friendly, more than the 29 percent who said it wasn’t too friendly. Nearly a third, 32 percent, didn’t have an opinion.
When it comes to the Trump-Russia issue, there are two parallel trends that should raise red flags for the White House. First, as Americans have formed opinions on the issue, it has been to Trump’s detriment. Since December, the percentage of undecided Americans on the Trump-Putin relationship has declined from 44 percent to 32 percent. At the same time, the percentage who view Trump as too friendly with the Russian leader has risen from 31 percent to 38 percent.
Moreover, while nearly two-thirds of Democrats feel Trump is too friendly with Putin, only half (52 percent) of Republicans feel he isn’t too friendly with his Russian counterpart. Independents are unsure about Trump’s relationship with Putin — but more feel they are too friendly (35 percent) than think they aren’t (27 percent).
[M]ultiple surveys show widespread support for new and continued investigations into Trump’s connections with Russia, despite the president’s assertions that the controversy is contrived by the media to obscure the much-reported fact that Trump won last year’s election.
In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, majorities think the Congress should investigate both whether or not there was contact between Russian officials and individuals in Trump’s campaign (53 percent) and whether the Russian government interfered with the election (54 percent).

If Trump is guilty of possible treason, even his narcissistic ass has to be very worried.

Trump Lies and Claims Obama Wire Tapped His Phones

Apparently the ongoing disclosures of a large network of contacts between his campaign officials and other henchmen with Russian agents is beginning to unsettle Der Trumpenführer who let loose with tweets claiming the Barack Obama had Trump's phones wire tapped.  Of course, in typical fashion, he offers no proof backing up his allegations which are seemingly yet another attempt to distract the media and change the political topic of conversation.  It's yet another example of Trump's use of the Nazi propaganda playbook. Sadly, Trump's base will eat it up since their racism inclines them to believe anything negative about the nation's first black president.  This bigotry combined with the alternate universe spun by Fox News will no doubt have the right wing fringe foaming at the mouth.  Here are highlights from the New York Times on Der Trumpenführer's campaign of lies:
President Trump on Saturday accused former President Barack Obama of tapping his phones at Trump Tower the month before the election, taking to Twitter to call his predecessor a “bad (or sick) guy.”
Without offering any evidence or providing the source of his information, Mr. Trump fired off a series of Twitter messages claiming that Mr. Obama “had my ‘wires tapped.’ ”
A spokesman for Mr. Obama, Kevin Lewis, issued a statement dismissing the claims. “A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” he said. “As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
Officials from the Obama administration called Mr. Trump’s accusation shocking and untrue. They pointed to longstanding laws and procedures intended to ensure that presidents cannot wiretap a rival for political purposes.
Mr. Trump’s decision to lend the power of his office to such a claim — without offering any proof — was remarkable, even for a leader who has repeatedly shown himself willing to make assertions that are false or based on rumors.
It would have been difficult for federal agents, working within the law, to obtain a wiretap order to target Mr. Trump’s phone conversations. It would have meant that the Justice Department had gathered sufficient evidence to persuade a federal judge that there was probable cause to believe he had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal investigation or a foreign intelligence one.
Speculation online quickly turned to the possibility that Mr. Trump had been reading an article on the Breitbart News site or listening to the conservative radio host Mark Levin; both have embraced the theory in recent days. 
Ben Rhodes, a former top national security aide to Mr. Obama, said in a Twitter message directed at Mr. Trump on Saturday that “no president can order a wiretap” and added, “Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you.”
It has been widely reported that there is a federal investigation, which began during the 2016 presidential campaign, into links between Trump associates and the Russians.
Mr. Trump’s mood was said to be explosive before he departed for his weekend in Florida, with an episode in which he vented at his staff. The president’s ire was trained in particular on Donald F. McGahn, his White House counsel, according to two people briefed on the matter.
Mr. Trump was said to be frustrated about the decision by Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, to recuse himself from participating in any investigations of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mr. Trump has said there were no such connections.
 As I said, he doth protest too much.  Let's hope the intelligence agencies come up with conclusive proof of collusion with the Russian very soon so that Trump can not only be impeached but also face treason charges.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Christofascist Groups Pushing Trump for "Religious Liberty" Executive Order

As noted in previous post, in June, 2016, Donald Trump met with a who's who of Christian extremists and hate group leaders such as Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, in New York City.  The goal of the meeting? To win the support and, ideally endorsement, of these individuals in order to swing the fundamentalist and evangelical Christian vote to Trump.  Trump was successful and in the process reportedly promised to appoint anti-gay justices to the Supreme Court and to sign the dishonestly named "First Amendment Defense Act" which would allow Christian extremists to discriminate against gays and anyone else who did not conform to the Medieval sexual mores of the Christofascists.  Seemingly, Trump may have also promised to sign an executive order allowing open discrimination based on professed religious belief. Trump has honored part of his bargain by nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch who believes that religious belief should override civil rights of others as demonstrated in his opinions at the 10 Circuit Court of Appeals.  Now, the Christofascists are demanding that Trump give them the promised executive order.  Right Wing Watch looks at the situation:
More than the 150 members of the secretive right-wing network known as the Council for National Policy have signed a letter calling on President Trump to sign an executive order “protecting the practical exercise of religious freedom,” something Religious Right leaders have been clamoring for since Trump took office. 
On Wednesday, Fox News pundit and serial promoter of bogus religious persecution stories Todd Starnes outed himself as a member of the CNP in writing about the letter.
The Council for National Policy is a network of leaders from the religious and political right, whose membership includes both big names and lesser-known fringe figures. A 2014 membership list obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that the CNP even has room for extremists like neo-confederate Christian Reconstructionist Michael Peroutka. According to Starnes, who says Trump’s election was the result of divine intervention, other signers include “CNP President Tony Perkins, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, Morton Blackwell, Bob McEwen, Kelly Shackelford, Becky Norton Dunlop, Chad Connelly, Dr. James Dobson and Penny Nance.”
A month ago, Sarah Posner reported in The Nation on a leaked draft of the executive order, which legal experts said was of “sweeping” and “staggering” scope. If signed it would create wholesale exemptions from a range of nondiscrimination laws and regulations “for people and organizations who claim religious objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity.” The order could empower government employees to refuse to provide basic government services to gay people or couples or unmarried parents.
Posner’s article quotes a Lambda Legal attorney who says the draft order is similar to a law signed by the Mississippi governor last year, “which a federal district court ruled violated both the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.” That case is on appeal.
The desire to get federal courts to embrace the right’s vision of religious liberty was one of the major reasons Religious Right leaders rallied around Trump after he promised them the Supreme Court of their dreams. In that regard, it is noteworthy that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ruled as an appeals court judge in the Hobby Lobby case, which for the first time gave for-profit corporations the right to claim exemption from laws protecting their employees based on the religious beliefs of the company and its owners. That’s a major reason that the Religious Right is thrilled about the Gorsuch nomination.
Those who believe in religious freedom for all should be very fearful of this effort to grant special rights to Christofascists via these efforts to grant a license to discriminate to right wing Christians.

Catholic Church Crimes: Mass Grave of 700+ Children of Unwed Mothers in Ireland

Thanks to the constant political turmoil in America, media coverage has been diverted from the continuing moral bankruptcy of the Roman Catholic Church.  Sex abuse scandals continue to rage in Australia, Guam and other parts of the world with the Church hierarchy fighting tooth and claw to cover up crimes against children and youths and to avoid paying compensation to rape and abuse victims.  Now a new bombshell has come out of Ireland, once a bastion of Catholicism, where a mass grave of 700 to 800 children has been discovered at the Mother and Baby Home operated by the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours in Tuam, Ireland.   These small victims are but more of the lives destroyed over the centuries by the Church's warped 12th century approach to human sexuality and the obsession of bitter old men, many closeted self-loathing gays, with all things sexual. The hypocrisy and toxicity of the Church is mind numbing and I again ask how anyone moral and decent can continue to attend and financially support the institution.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post on the gruesome discovery:
Between 1925 and the 1960s, in a tiny town called Tuam in western Ireland’s County Galway, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Mother and Baby Home operated by the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours. After a period of involuntary service and penance, many of the women who came to the home left to resume their lives, as The Post’s Terrence McCoy reported in 2014.
But some of the children did not leave. And what became of them remained a mystery into which few cared to inquire.
But after painstaking research, a local historian named Catherine Corless became convinced in 2014 that the infants and small children — perhaps 700 to 800 of them — died in the home and were buried without markers in mass graves beneath the property, perhaps in an underground structure such as a septic tank.
The story, which attracted worldwide publicity, was met with skepticism and even suggestions that it was a hoax. It wasn’t.
A commission established by the Irish government in response to her research and the ensuing controversy has reportedfinding “significant quantities of human remains” in 17 “underground chambers” inside a buried structure.
 There is no uncertainty about the remains.
A small number of them were recovered for analysis, the commission reported. “These remains,” it said, “involved a number of individuals with age-at-death ranges” from approximately 35 fetal weeks to 2-to-3 years.
“Radiocarbon dating of the samples recovered suggest that the remains date from the time frame relevant to the operation of the Mother and Baby Home,” the commission said. “A number of the samples are likely to date from the 1950s.”
The commission said it was “shocked” by the discovery and “is continuing its investigation into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way.” “This is very sad and disturbing news,” Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s minister for children and youth affairs, said in a statement. “It was not unexpected, as there were claims about human remains on the site over the last number of years.” In a statement published in the Irish Times, the Bon Secours sisters said they were “fully committed to the work of the commission regarding the mother and baby home in Tuam. … On the closing of the home in 1961, all the records for the home were returned to Galway County Council, who are the owners and occupiers of the lands of the home. We can therefore make no comment on today’s announcement, other than to confirm our continued cooperation with and support for the work of the commission in seeking the truth about the home.” Without means to support themselves, women by the hundreds wound up at the Home, Corless told The Post in 2014. “Families would be afraid of neighbors finding out, because to get pregnant out of marriage was the worst thing on Earth. It was the worst crime a woman could commit, even though a lot of the time it had been because of a rape.” Corless’s research found that infant mortality at the home in Tuam was particularly high. Records for that home show that babies died at the rate of two per week from malnutrition and neglect, and from diseases such as measles and gastroenteritis, Corless told the Post in 2014.
Her interest in a subject others preferred to forget began when she was doing research for an annual local historical journal. 
The commission is already investigating how unmarried mothers and their babies were treated between 1922 and 1998 at 18 religious institutions used by the state. . . . . the religious [orders] knew it and it was just all nicely covered in and forgotten about.

The truth is the last thing that the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours or the Church hierarchy wants exposed to daylight.  

Vladimir Putin's Insidious Agenda

A post from yesterday looked at what the CIA and FBI knew about Donald Trump's ties to Russia before the 2016 presidential election and paints a frightening picture.  But the picture is not complete unless one looks at the history and agenda of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin who Trump seemingly wants to emulate in his own rule over America.  That a figure like Putin would be a role model for an American president is both bizarre and frightening.  Worse yet, Trump seems to be following Putin's game plan for attacking the media and has displayed a similar contempt for the truth.  If Trump's lips are moving, he's either lying or boasting about himself.  Meanwhile, rather than open their eyes, far too many Republicans are simply whining that the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump need to "get over" the fact that they lost the 2016 presidential election.  A very lengthy piece in The Atlantic looks at Putin's rise to power and the dictatorial rule that Trump is so enamored with.  The article ends with a hope that Trump will disavow Putin.  Candidly, I am not optimistic.  I suspect that Putin not only has blackmail information on Trump and his regime - e.g., evidence of collusion with the hack of the DNC or other things - but that Trump's real estate empire is too dependent on Russian money to risk alienation of Putin.  The only real solution is the removal of Trump from office.  The sooner the better. Here are article excerpts:
Each year on December 20, the Russian intelligence community pays homage to its enduring guardianship of the Motherland. It was on this date in 1917, six weeks after the Bolshevik Revolution, that Vladimir Lenin established the Cheka, an acronym for “Emergency Commission.” Over the ensuing decades, the commission’s nomenclature and organization chart mutated: It became the OGPU from 1923 to 1934, the NKVD until the early 1950s, and then the KGB for nearly 40 years. After the collapse of the USSR, the sprawling institution was split into separate foreign and domestic agencies. Operatives of both are still called chekists, and they share Lenin’s original purpose: countering Russia’s enemies at home and abroad.
President Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer for 15 years leading up to the fall of the Soviet Union, and the director of domestic intelligence in the late 1990s during his meteoric rise to power. He regularly throws a gala at the Kremlin on December 20 to extol the “sacred mission” of the state security services, recall their past heroes, and highlight their latest exploits. For the last 22 years, Chekist’s Day has been an official holiday in Russia.
Last December, Putin must have been in particularly ebullient sprits. Over the course of 2016, he oversaw the boldest, most consequential covert operation against Russia’s principal ideological and geopolitical foe for much of the last century, breaching the firewall of American democracy and influencing a high-stakes presidential election. Putin seemed to have made a big bet and come away with a trifecta: He could congratulate himself for settling old scores with a traditional foe, relish the prospect of a Russia-friendly counterpart in the White House, and let the ripple effect of the U.S. election further confound and further unsettle the democracies in a wobbly Europe.  
Ever since Lenin dispatched the first Soviet undercover agent across the Atlantic in 1921, Kremlin leaders have sought, with some success, to undermine the United States. . . . . . But most of these efforts failed, and all of them pale next to Russia’s attempts to hack both major U.S. political parties, and subsequent leak of a trove of documents in an effort to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Two weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration, U.S. intelligence agencies released a public report describing the Russian operation as a Putin-ordered influence campaign intended “to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” Putin’s government, the intelligence community concluded, “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Putin saw Clinton as a serial regime-changer, eager to foment yet another “color revolution” in Russia like those in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, three former Soviet republics. He made no secret of this conviction. . . . .  Aside from his anyone-but-Clinton mindset, Putin had additional reasons to boost her opponent: Candidate Trump’s admiration for Putin; his declared preference for nationalism over globalism; his apparent intention to revert to a world order based on great-power spheres of influence; his skepticism toward the European Union (he has urged members to follow Britain to the exit); and his denigration of NATO as “obsolete.”
Putin has managed to rewrite history for much of Russia’s citizenry and for himself, in order to justify a revanchist foreign policy. Therefore, he had every reason to cast his own vote in the U.S. election and, on November 8, celebrate the result. U.S. intercepts of Russian communications indicate that top officials in Moscow did not wait until Chekist’s day to pop the champagne bottles when they heard the final returns. They toasted Trump’s victory—and their own.
The vast damage to American interests wrought by Putin is likely to deepen for years to come. It is bad for Trump, since the ongoing revelations of a foreign adversary’s contamination of an American election undermines the outcome’s validity. This would be the case however Trump handled the matter, but he has exacerbated the qualms and controversy. His fury over leaks from U.S. intelligence agencies and investigative stories by the mainstream American media created the impression that he is shooting the messengers in order to divert attention from the core message that Russia successfully attacked America’s democracy, tarnished its reputation worldwide, and cast a pall over its president’s legitimacy. Trump has seemed more outraged at his own government than Putin’s,
While Trump’s team seems to have sent a welcome signal to Moscow, the president himself declared a vendetta against his own agencies. The White House put out the word that a billionaire financier and political ally of Trump’s, Stephen Feinberg, would conduct a broad review of the U.S. intelligence community. The episode seemed like punishment of the agencies for gathering information on contacts between the president’s campaign aides and Russian agents over the last year and for leaking them. In February, when details of an ongoing FBI probe into that embarrassing and potentially criminal matter appeared in the press, Trump’s White House leaned on the bureau to discredit them. The FBI refused.
Meanwhile, longstanding allies and friends of the United States are appalled by his constant effort to change the subject whenever the Russian mega-hack comes up. While the president’s national-security team has sought to reassure America’s allies around the world, many leaders, especially in Europe, are concerned that he remains in thrall to Putin who, in some cases, continues to meddle in their own elections.
Two weeks ago, his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put Putin’s goal in stark, smug terms: The world is on the brink of a “post-West” order, he said. The unmistakable implication is that the locus of global power will move eastward, reinforcing the Kremlin’s ability to design and enforce an order that suits its national and nationalistic interests.
Given how Russia has manifested those interests—perpetuating the carnage of Syria’s civil war, annexing Crimea and virtually occupying the Donbass region of Ukraine, keeping ethnic conflicts simmering in the Caucasus, attempting to overthrow a pro-Western government in Montenegro, engaging in constant military incursions, cyberattacks, provocations, and bullying in the Baltics—we have a clear idea of what sort of “order” Putin has in mind.
Putin’s scheme to affect the 2016 election was, almost certainly, intended to remain a secret. In that regard, it was a failure. Its exposure now threatens to overwhelm the American political leader who was supposed to be the beneficiary of the Russian operation.  
Trump now has less support and political capital to forge ahead with his much-ballyhooed project to improve White House-Kremlin relations in ways that would please Putin and further unsettle Russia’s neighbors. 
Trump has further hobbled himself by waging his two-front feud with the intelligence community and the Fourth Estate. The longer he keeps this up, the more they will defend their independence and fight back with facts that the president has ignored or belittled. ­­And the more it will look like the president is hiding something.
If these factors—congressional and constituent pressure, along with advice from within the president’s inner circle—converge, it is possible that when the centenary Chekist’s Day rolls around next December, the atmosphere may be more sober than the celebration of three months ago. Russia’s chekist-in-chief may come to recognize that his breathtaking effort to manipulate the U.S. election has generated a salutary backlash in America, the new administration toward a healthy posture of continuity with its predecessors. If President Trump embraces that trend, Putin’s victory could turn out to be a Pyrrhic one.
Again, do not hold your breath waiting for Trump to change course.  He is little better than a Russian agent regardless of his bloviating about "making America great again." He and his coquetry of propagandists and henchmen are the real threat to America and democracy in this country. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Friday, March 03, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

The Trump Regime - Hello Raw Dishonesty

For eight years I was what would have been considered a Republican activist: City Committee member, precinct captain and on a first name basis with most of the Republican delegation from Virginia Beach and many in from other cities in the region.  Back then, the party did not lie shamelessly and I and others tried to be accurate with our facts and figures.  Then something began to change the GOP, both locally and nationally.  The right wing Christians - many of whom had and continue to have strong white supremacist leanings - began to rise in the part y base.  Worse yet, they began to be elected to local city and county committees.  With this change came a willingness to lie and disseminate falsehoods if it furthered the party agenda, or more specifically, the religious fanaticism of much of the base and the greed of the plutocrats who ultimately fund the GOP.  Having closely followed many of the "family values" organizations that now control the party base for over 20 years, there is NO ONE who lies with such abandon or viciousness than these individuals posing as "godly Christians." This disregard for truth and I would argue true morality, has now culminated in the election of Donald Trump, a/k/a Der  Trumpenführer, as president of the United States, with 81% of evangelical Christians voting for a man that is thoroughly bankrupt morally.  As a column in the New York Times notes, raw dishonesty and lies are now the norm.  The question becomes one of who will stop this dangerous course.  Here are column excerpts:
The latest big buzz is about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. It turns out that he lied during his confirmation hearings, denying that he had met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. In fact, he met twice with the Russian ambassador, who is widely reported to also be a key spymaster.
Not incidentally, if this news hadn’t come to light, forcing Mr. Sessions to recuse himself, he would have supervised the investigation into Russian election meddling, possibly in collusion with the Trump campaign.
But let’s not focus too much on Mr. Sessions. After all, he is joined in the cabinet by Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who lied to Congress about his use of a private email account; Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, who lied about a sweetheart deal to purchase stock in a biotechnology company at a discount; and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who falsely told Congress that his financial firm didn’t engage in “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents, seizing homes without proper consideration.
And they would have served with Michael Flynn as national security adviser, but for the fact that Mr. Flynn was forced out after the press discovered that, like Mr. Sessions, he had lied about contacts with the Russian ambassador.
At this point it’s easier to list the Trump officials who haven’t been caught lying under oath than those who have. This is not an accident.
[A]ll indications are that the age of spin is over. It has been replaced by an era of raw, shameless dishonesty.
In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S. political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently as Donald Trump. But this isn’t just a Trump story. His ability to get away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers: almost all of his party’s elected officials, a large bloc of voters and, all too often, much of the news media.
What we’re getting from Mr. Trump is simply on a different plane from anything we’ve seen before. . . . . On matters of policy, politicians used to limit their misrepresentations of facts and impacts to relatively hard-to-verify assertions. . . . Mr. Trump, however, makes claims like his assertion that the murder rate — which ticked up in 2015 but is still barely half what it was in 1990 — is at a 45-year high. Furthermore, he just keeps repeating such claims after they’ve been debunked.
And the question is, who’s going to stop him?
The moral vacuity of Republicans in Congress, and the unlikelihood that they’ll act as any check on the president, becomes clearer with each passing day. Even the real possibility that we’re facing subversion by agents of a foreign power, and that top officials are part of the story, doesn’t seem to faze them as long as they can get tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor.
Meanwhile, Republican primary election voters . . . . live in a Fox News bubble into which awkward truths never penetrate.
And what about the Fourth Estate? Will it let us down, too? . . . . you watch something like the way much of the news media responded to Mr. Trump’s congressional address, and you feel despair. It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but read calmly off the teleprompter — and suddenly everyone was declaring the liar in chief “presidential.”
The point is that if that’s all it takes to exonerate the most dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we’re doomed. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.

What The CIA and FBI Knew About Trump Before 2016

With coverage of Donald Trump's Russian ties resurgent in the news again and more and more stories about his campaign officials and surrogates having on going contact with Russian officials, it is a timely question to ask what did the FBI and CIA know about Trump's Russia ties prior to the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign.  As a very lengthy piece in Talking Point Memo lays out, the answer is plenty and none of it positive.  As it turns out, one individual on the Trump organization had a history of securities fraud, ties to Mafia crime families and the Russian mob.  In fact, it looks likely that Trump Soho in New York City was largely financed by Russian money and funds from favored Russian money launderers.  The take away?  That Trumps claims that he has no previous ties to Russia are utter lies.  Here are article highlights (read the entire piece):
As you've likely inferred from my recent posts I've spent a lot of time in recent days and weeks piecing together different elements of the Trump/Russia story. I've brought other colleagues into the work and plan to expand that once we have people hired for the three new investigative positions I discussed last month. Today everyone is talking about the inexplicable news about Jeff Sessions. But there's another dimension of the Trump/Russia story which has only become clear to me recently but which provides a critical backstory for understanding the background of this scandal and news story.
Let's go back to the story of Felix Sater, the Russian-American immigrant, convicted felon and longtime Trump business associate we discussed last week.
Let me review two separate streams of information which are critical to understanding the story. First, here are some basic and well-attested facts about Felix Sater.
The US government went and continues to go to extreme lengths to keep Sater's cooperation and work for the government a secret. Until quite recently, it went to great lengths to keep Sater's conviction itself, and all documents related to it, a secret. It took the extraordinarily rare step of managing the entire adjudication of Sater's crimes in secret, with all documents kept secret. Federal judges even pursued what might reasonably be called a vendetta against two lawyers who used leaked information about Sater's case in lawsuits growing out of a failed Trump building venture, Trump Fort Lauderdale, as well as lawsuits on behalf of victims in the original pump and dump scheme.
The federal government also kept Sater on as a cooperating witness for fully 11 years before finally sentencing him in 2009 for the plea deal in 1998. In a $42 million securities fraud case, Sater received no jail time, was not forced to pay restitution and was fined a mere $25,000. In other words, he walked away from the crime with close to no punishment. 
It is impossible to know precisely what Sater was doing during this decade. But statements from government officials, news reports and Lauria's book make clear that it required him to have extensive associations with and knowledge of the mafia and touched not just on organized crime but specifically on critical matters of national security. Based on published reports and Lauria's book, it seems extremely likely that it also required him to have extensive knowledge of and contacts in the criminal underworld in the former Soviet Union. Clearly the US government saw Sater's cooperation as highly important. Otherwise it would not have gone to such lengths to get it, to keep it secret and to protect Sater after the fact. 
My aim here is simply to demonstrate who Felix Sater is, his connections with a transnational criminal underworld stretching from New York's Outer Boroughs to Central Asia and (quite likely but not totally proven) meeting up with the weapons market where organized crime touches on international terrorist networks.
We don't just know this information about Sater. Just as importantly we know that the FBI, attorneys in the Eastern District of New York and almost certainly the CIA also knew about Sater's connections with these worlds since they were enlisting his apparently extremely valuable cooperation to help conduct investigations and national security operations in those realms.
Here's where I think this becomes significant to the present moment. If you line up Sater's story and his time as a cooperating witness with his time as a top business associate and finally employee of Donald Trump, they overlap almost exactly.
Trump first met Sater and got into business with Bayrock Capital, where Sater was a cofounder, in 2003. In Bayrock, Sater partnered with Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet trade and commerce official from Kazakstan. Trump and Bayrock partnered together on numerous building projects and Sater was the point man on most of them. The most notable is Trump Soho, which was financed with money from Russia and Kazakstan. There was also Trump Fort Lauderdale, the Sater-managed project whose collapse first triggered the revelation of Sater's 1998 securities fraud conviction. Trump's work with Bayrock continued until 2010 when Sater went to work for the Trump Organization full time - again, putting together deals and financing for Trump-branded building projects.
Let's put this together.
The federal government knew who Sater was, his ties to the criminal underworld, business ties into that world in the former Soviet Union, etc. They also had to know of his deep and longstanding association with Donald Trump, his key role in numerous Trump projects during the first decade of this century and his role arranging financing for these projects. We don't know if the federal government had specific knowledge of the details of these business transactions or whether or how deeply Donald Trump was reliant on capital from Russia and more generally the murky world of oligarchs and underworlds that Sater is clearly immersed in and from which he appeared to draw investment capital. But they likely would have suspected as much, at least that Trump had uncomfortably close ties to someone like Sater.
As long as Donald Trump was just a high-profile and frequently clownish real estate tycoon from New York and the star of The Apprentice, this probably didn't matter very much. After all, as I've noted, there's no specific evidence that Trump was involved in any of Sater's criminal activity.
But at some point in 2014 or 2015, Donald Trump started moving toward having a credible shot at becoming the President of the United States. By early 2016 that became a real possibility.
It seems quite probable that as Trump moved closer to the presidency in the early months of 2016, alarm bells started to go off in the FBI and the CIA, as the relevance of business partnerships with Sater and reliance on capital out of the former Soviet Union suddenly became dramatically more relevant. Again, as I said, as long as Donald Trump was just Donald Trump this didn't matter that much. There's plenty of dirty money sloshing around the New York real estate world. But when it started to seem plausible that he might become the next President, this would start to be a matter of great concern.
All of what I've said here would be an issue even if the Russian government had never inserted itself into the US election. It almost certainly predates any awareness within the US national security and law enforcement worlds that that was happening. But I suspect it is a critical backdrop for how this evidence was interpreted once it began to come to light. It quite possibly also informed and drove some of the scrutiny that was applied to Trump and his associates once it did.

53 Corporation file Amicus Brief Supporting Gavin Grimm's Case at Supreme Court

The bigoted and spineless Gloucester County school board
Corporate America has increasingly supported LGBT rights in case ranging from Eddie Windsor's case challenging DOMA to the 2015 marriage equality case before the U.S. Supreme Court to now transgender rights in G.G. v. Gloucester County.  In the latter, 53 corporations - many are tech firms - joined in an amicus brief supporting Gavin Grimm's arguments.  Some are truly major players such as Apple, IBM Corporation, Microsoft and Massachusetts Mutual.   A piece in USA Today looks at the signories of the brief which can be found here:
The 53 mostly tech companies that signed an amicus brief in support of the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia high school student who sued after his school district denied him access to the restroom corresponding to his chosen gender.
1. Affirm, Inc. 2. Airbnb, Inc. 3., Inc. 4. Apple 5. Asana, Inc. 6. Box, Inc. 7. Codecademy 8. Credo Mobile, Inc. 9. Dropbox, Inc. 10. eBay Inc. 11. Etsy 12. Fastly, Inc. 13. Flipboard, Inc. 14. Gap Inc. 15. General Assembly Space, Inc. 16. GitHub, Inc. 17. IBM Corporation 18. Intel Corporation 19. Kickstarter, PBC 20. Knotel, Inc. 21. LinkedIn Corporation, a subsidiary of Microsoft Corporation 22. Lyft 23. M Booth 24. MAC Cosmetics Inc. 25. Mapbox, Inc. 26. Marin Software Incorporated 27. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance 28. Microsoft 29. Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams 30. MongoDB Inc. 31. NetApp, Inc. 32. Next Fifteen Communications Corporation 33. Nextdoor 34. Pandora Media, Inc. 35. PayPal Holdings, Inc. 36. Postmates Inc. 37. Replacements, Ltd. 38. RetailMeNot, Inc. 39. Salesforce 40. Shutterstock, Inc. 41. Slack Technologies, Inc. 42. Spotify 43. The OutCast Agency 44. The WhiteWave Foods Company 45. Tumblr, Inc. 46. Twilio Inc. 47. Twitter Inc. 48. Udacity, Inc. 49. Warby Parker 50. Williams-Sonoma, Inc. 51. Yahoo! Inc. 52. Yelp Inc. 53. Zendesk, Inc.

The companies joining in the brief stated their interest in the issue as follows:
Amici share core values of equality, respect and dignity for all people, regardless of their gender identity.  Amici support and defend public policies that protect civil rights and foster acceptance and equal treatment for all of their employees, their customers, and the families of both.
 Many amici employ and/or serve transgender people, and all amici are concerned about the stigmatizing and degrading effects of the policy adopted by the Gloucester County School Board (the “Policy”), which restricts access to public school restrooms for transgender youth. The Policy, and the policies and statutes of other government entities that would be permitted if the Policy is sustained, adversely affects amici ’s businesses, employees, and customers, and undermines amici ’s ability to build and maintain the diverse and inclusive workplaces that are essential to the success of their companies. 

Fifty-three significant companies and employers opposing the embrace of ignorance and discrimination juxtaposed against a spineless School Board that allowed one two bit right wing part time pastor to whip the local community into a frenzy of hatred.  It's little wonder that Gloucester county is a backwater and likely to remain one for a long. long time. 

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Is It Political Suicide for Republicans if They Block a Trump/Russia Investigations?

With news reports seemingly changing by the minute - and not for the better for Der Trumpenführer (who spent the day role playing at Newport News Shipbuilding in nearby Newport News) and his possibly treasonous coquetry of henchmen and stooges - the question becomes one of when does it become political suicide for Republicans to continue to protect Trump and block meaningful investigations into Trump/Russia ties?  The reality is that Republicans have prostituted themselves to Trump out of fear of his ignorance embracing and racist supporters.  Now, it's as if they know that a full, unfettered investigation will reveal what they know in their hearts to be true about Trump and his ties to Russia, and they want to keep the truth bottled up.  The risk, of course, is that if they play this game, European allies may yet provided the smoking gun evidence to take Trump down and fawning Republicans with him.  A column in the Washington Post argues that Republicans are playing a game of Russian roulette (no pun intended).  Here are highlights:
President Trump's Russia problems just got a whole lot worse.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice in 2016, according to The Washington Post, conversations that run directly counter to Sessions's assertions during his confirmation hearing to be the nation's top cop.
In that Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 1o, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Sessions whether he was aware of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence officials. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions replied.
It does not take a political genius to understand how big a problem this is for Sessions, Trump and congressional Republicans more broadly. (Sessions's response — I talked to a lot people! — isn't going to cut it.)
Before this report, most congressional Republicans were resistant to the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials and surrogates — insisting that the ongoing FBI investigation and congressional committees looking into the issue were more than enough.
That's going to become an untenable position for Republicans — starting with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — in light of this new information about Sessions. Not only is there a very serious question about whether Sessions misled — purposely or accidentally — his colleagues while under oath, but this is also the latest incident involving unanswered questions about the ties among Trump, his top advisers and Russia.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn lost his job last month after lying to Vice President Pence — and lots of other people — about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak. Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin while insisting that stories about his ties to Russia are “fake news.”
In short: Where there's smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, most reasonable people will assume there is fire — or that there should be an independent investigation to determine whether there is fire. Arguing that “there's nothing to see here” is simply not a tenable position for Republicans at this point.
The details here — particularly given the Flynn resignation — almost certainly will force an act of political triage from GOPers. They need to find a way to wall themselves off from what, with each passing day, is becoming more and more toxic. Otherwise, the spillage could leak all over them.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2

Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking

The New York Times is carrying a piece that ought to concern truly patriotic Americans.  It concerns the issue of Russian efforts to throw the 2016 presidential election to Der Trumpenführer and the steps taken by the Obama administration to protect information on possible treason so that it would not be destroyed by Der Trumpenführer's henchmen once they took over control of the executive branch.  The risk remains, of course, that Republicans in Congress will kill any meaningful investigation to get to the truth about Trump/Putin ties.  To far too many Republicans, political party now takes precedence over the good of the nation.  As often noted, I have little doubt that Trump would have rejected Russian assistance.  The man is a dangerous narcissist who throughout his career has deemed himself above the law and willing to engage in corrupt and illegal practices to further his interests. Why anyone would expect him to change is dumbfounding.  Here are article highlights:
In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn’t duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators.
American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Mr. Trump’s associates.
Then and now, Mr. Trump has denied that his campaign had any contact with Russian officials,  . . . .Mr. Trump’s statements stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed — or its sources exposed — once power changed hands. What followed was a push to preserve the intelligence that underscored the deep anxiety with which the White House and American intelligence agencies had come to view the threat from Moscow.
As Inauguration Day approached, Obama White House officials grew convinced that the intelligence was damning and that they needed to ensure that as many people as possible inside government could see it, even if people without security clearances could not. Some officials began asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers would be archived and could be easily unearthed by investigators — including the Senate Intelligence Committee, which in early January announced an inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the election.
At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at a relatively low level of classification to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the government — and, in some cases, among European allies. This allowed the upload of as much intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret wiki used by American intelligence analysts to share information.
More than a half-dozen current and former officials described various aspects of the effort to preserve and distribute the intelligence, and some said they were speaking to draw attention to the material and ensure proper investigation by Congress.
Some Obama White House officials had little faith that a Trump administration would make good on such pledges, and the efforts to preserve the intelligence continued until the administration’s final hours. This was partly because intelligence was still being collected and analyzed, but it also reflected the sentiment among many administration officials that they had not recognized the scale of the Russian campaign until it was too late.
But it wasn’t until after the election, and after more intelligence had come in, that the administration began to grasp the scope of the suspected tampering and concluded that one goal of the campaign was to help tip the election in Mr. Trump’s favor. In early December, Mr. Obama ordered the intelligence community to conduct a full assessment of the Russian campaign.
Beyond leaving a trail for investigators, the Obama administration also wanted to help European allies combat a threat that had caught the United States off guard. American intelligence agencies made it clear in the declassified version of the intelligence assessment released in January that they believed Russia intended to use its attacks on the United States as a template for more meddling.
“We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned,” the report said, “to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies.”

Norfolk Bans LGBT Hiring Discrimination

While Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly continue to push a Christofascist backed anti-LGBT agenda, Virginia's cities lead the way in creating a business friendly economy and society welcoming to all.  The latest example id Norfolk amendment of its City Code to ban hiring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  No doubt there is gnashing of teeth going on among the hate merchants at The Family Foundation and Regent and Liberty universities.  The Virginian Pilot looks at the development which will hopefully pressure other Hampton Roads cities to follow suit.  Here are story highlights:
Discrimination in city hiring or contracting based on sexual orientation or gender identity is now illegal.
In two 8-0 votes, the City Council voted Tuesday night to add protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – among others – to the law. They took effect immediately.
Councilman Martin Thomas Jr. said he was “very proud” to vote for the new measures.
“It was something that needed to be done,” he said. “Norfolk is an inclusive and diverse city.”
Michael Berlucchi, president of the LGBT rights group Hampton Roads Pride, called the changes “a big deal.”
“It changes policy, but it also changes culture,” Berlucchi said. “It sends a message about the posture our government takes toward a minority community like LGBT, and that’s really significant.”
Virginia Beach also has a policy prohibiting discrimination in city hiring based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a city spokeswoman said. Chesapeake lists sexual orientation as a protected class, but not gender identity, according to a city regulation. The anti-discrimination laws in Suffolk and Portsmouth do not include either category.
In Norfolk, city contractors were already barred from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, disability or national origin.
The law passed Tuesday requires any city contract above $1,000 to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, age, genetic information, marital status, political affiliation, whistleblower activity, parental status and military service. Another new law provides all the same protections in city hiring.
Councilwoman Andria McClellan said Norfolk’s government has already been respectful of LGBT rights for years and has guidelines for how to treat an employee undergoing a gender identity transition.
But she and Thomas said they wanted to make sure the protections were codified in law.  “I prefer to be on the cutting edge of equality,” Thomas said.

Meanwhile, in rural Republican voting regions in Southwest Virginia most residents cling to their bibles and bigotry and wonder why few, if any, businesses want to relocate to their areas.  Bigotry carries an economic price - something lost on Christofascists and their self-prostituting Republican representatives.   Kudos to Norfolk.