Saturday, August 19, 2017
For the record, I find Steve Bannon to be a foul and toxic individual whose view are often frightening. Some have tried to argue that Bannon is responsible for unleashing the nastiest elements of Donald Trump's disturbed psyche. I'd argue instead that Trump has been foul and disturbed for decades. In Bannon Trump simply found a kindred spirit. Having fired Bannon, some now predict that Bannon is going to "go nuclear" and that the number one casualty will be the Trump administration. My only hope is that, if this occurs, that Mike Pence is among those mowed down by Bannon's quest for revenge. Both Trump and Pence need to be removed from office and I suspects that Bannon knows where the bodies are buried as the saying goes. The Atlantic has this on Bannon's suspected counterattack:
In firing Steve Bannon, President Trump has lost his chief ideologue, the man who channeled his base and advocated for the populist-nationalist policies that helped propel Trump to victory.
But he has gained an unpredictable and potentially troublesome outside ally who has long experience running a media organization, and an even longer list of enemies with whom he has scores to settle both outside the administration and inside. “Steve is now unchained,” said a source close to Bannon. “Fully unchained.”
“He’s going nuclear,” said another friend. “You have no idea. This is gonna be really fucking bad.”
Bannon had in recent days mused about leaving, according to people who have spoken with him; he has expressed to friends that he feels the administration is failing and is a sinking ship. And last week, he told people in a meeting that he would have 10 times more influence outside the White House than inside it.
Already, Breitbart is on a war footing. “It may turn out to be the beginning of the end for the Trump administration, the moment Donald Trump became Arnold Schwarzenegger,” editor Joel Pollak wrote on Friday, referring to the actor-turned-California governor, who won office as a populist outsider and exited with a 23 percent approval rating. Another friend of Bannon’s doubted this: “Why would he help them from the outside at this point? Run the outside group and then Jared Kushner takes credit?” Two sources close to Bannon said that he has for some time complained about Kushner being an issue in the Russia investigation; one of the sources said Bannon regards Kushner as “the weak link” in the White House when it comes to the investigation.
Bannon’s animus towards the “globalists” in the administration is well known. Now, from the outside, he no longer has any reason to play nice. . . . “when Steve feels the Trump administration is wrong, will he point to the people he has the inside knowledge about who are pushing for certain policies? I assume he will.”
Bannon’s exit will be extremely consequential to the inner workings of the White House, which has been marked by infighting between his nationalist faction and the more moderate influences who have been brought in. In his departure, the nationalists lose their leader while some of Trump’s key campaign promises—the border wall, for example—still go unfulfilled. Bannon famously kept a whiteboard full of those promises in his office, checking them off as they were fulfilled.
I suspect that Bannon will satisfy his love of blood sport and the already dysfunctional Trump administration will be further rocked by incoming fire from Bannon and his white nationalist followers. That said, the sooner the Trump administration is destroyed and driven from office, the better for America.
While there has been an exodus of corporate CEO's from Der Trumpenführer's advisory boards and charities and organizations have been cancelling conferences at Trump's Florida estate, one group - with one exception - has remained true to Trump: members of his evangelical advisory board. (The Guardian has a piece that provides a who's who of this group, a number of whom have a long documented history of religious extremism). While a majority of Americans have been appalled by Trump's embrace of white supremacy and Neo-Nazism (and rightfully so), the evangelical crowd seemingly has no problem with open racism. Why? I would argue it is because if you look at the Southern Baptist Convention and certainly the Southern evangelical groups, they ARE racists and long standing proponents of white supremacy and unchallenged white privilege. The Southern Baptist Convention was indeed formed to continue church support f slavery. In March of 1861, the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens in his so-called Cornerstone Speech summed up this agenda well:
"The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution." he continued: "... the great truth [is] that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth."
The take away is that one should not expect to see many defections by evangelicals from the Trump white supremacist/Neo-Nazi train. Here in Virginia, The Family Foundation - a Christofascists hate group - traces it roots to segregationists who supported "Massive Resistance" and the closure of public schools rather than desegregate. Indeed, the only refugee today from Trump's evangelical advisory board is not surprisingly from the North. The Washington Post looks at this lone defection:
Most of President Trump’s evangelical advisers have stood by him this week following much criticism over his response to violent clashes in Charlottesville, even as several CEOs left business advisory councils and members of his Committee on the Arts and Humanities have announced they are leaving the panel.
In a first for his evangelical advisory council, New York City megachurch pastor A.R. Bernard announced Friday that he had stepped down from the unofficial board of evangelical advisers to Trump.
Bernard’s Brooklyn-based Christian Cultural Center, which claims 37,000 in membership, has been described by the New York Times as the largest evangelical church in New York City. He said he submitted a formal letter on Tuesday, the same day Trump made controversial remarks about the events that took place in Charlottesville. Bernard was part of Trump’s advisory council during the campaign, but he told the Times last year that he had stepped away from that election role because he felt more like “window dressing” than a genuine adviser. The Times also reported that Bernard is a registered Republican, though he voted twice for Bill Clinton and twice for President Obama. Other leaders, including Southern Baptist pastors Jack Graham and Robert Jeffress, Tony Suarez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and televangelist Mark Burns, doubled down in their support of the president. A rising number of Americans wants Trump to resign a Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted in early August found, but white evangelicals remain most opposed to the idea. Among white evangelicals, 79 percent oppose the calls to impeach Trump compared with half of Americans who say Trump does not deserve to be impeached. On Sunday, Jonathan Falwell, who leads the megachurch Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., denounced racism from his pulpit. His brother Jerry Falwell Jr., who leads Liberty University, remained silent for several days until he tweeted support for Trump on Wednesday. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, defended Trump earlier this week.
I have long argued that few elements in American society are more morally bankrupt than evangelical Christians who ignore the Gospel message and have turned Christianity into a cult of hate. They are utterly self-centered, see themselves as above the law, and celebrate their embrace of ignorance and hatred of others. Their continued support of Trump underscores their moral bankruptcy.
Friday, August 18, 2017
Slowly some Republicans are condemning Donald Trump's defense of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis who perpetrated domestic terrorism in Charlottesville as "fine people." But for the most part, Republican elected officials are dancing around the issue and refusing to condemn Trump even as they make spineless remarks about opposing racism and Nazis. One radio host raised the question this way: what does it say about the GOP base that GOP senators, congressman and others are seemingly afraid to condemn such people because they fear it could hurt them at the ballot box. The sad truth is that for decades now - ever since Richard Nixon launched the "Southern Strategy" - the Republican Party has pandered to the people that Trump describes as "fine people." This pandering was once discrete and utilized dog whistle calls to racists. Trump - and here in Virginia, GOP gubernatorial primary candidate Corey Stewart - have made the calls explicit. The only thing that has changed is the willingness of more Republicans to explicitly pander to hate-filled people. A column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon:
Donald Trump chose Trump Tower, the place where he began his presidential campaign, as the place to plunge a dagger into his presidency.Trump’s jaw-dropping defense of white supremacists, white nationalists and Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., exposed once more what many of us have been howling into the wind since he emerged as a viable candidate: That he is a bigot, a buffoon and a bully.
He has done nothing since his election to disabuse us of this notion and everything to confirm it. Anyone expressing surprise is luxuriating in a self-crafted shell of ignorance.
And yet, it seems too simplistic, too convenient, to castigate only Trump for elevating these vile racists. To do so would be historical fallacy. Yes, Trump’s comments give them a boost, grant them permission, provide them validation, but it is also the Republican Party through which Trump burst that has been courting, coddling and accommodating these people for decades. Trump is an articulation of the racists in Charlottesville and they are an articulation of him, and both are a logical extension of a party that has too often refused to rebuke them. [I]n the modern age one party has operated with the ethos of racial inclusion and with an eye on celebrating varied forms of diversity, and the other has at times appealed directly to the racially intolerant by providing quiet sufferance.
It is possible to trace this devil’s dance back to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the emergence of Richard Nixon. After the passage of the act, the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln to which black people felt considerable fealty, turned on those people and stabbed them in the back.
In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. . . . Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The era Ehrlichman referred to was the beginning of the War on Drugs. . . . . The object of disrupting communities worked all too well — more than 40 million arrests have been conducted for drug-related offenses since 1971, with African-Americans being incarcerated in state prisons for these offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that for whites, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 1970, Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times, “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”
The Republican Party wanted the racists. It was strategy, the “Southern Strategy,” and it too has proved wildly successful. From there this cancer took hold. . . . . the white supremacy still survives and even thrives in policy. The stated goals of the Republican Party are not completely dissimilar from many of the white nationalist positions.
If you advance policies like a return to more aggressive drug policies and voter suppression — things that you know without question will have a disproportionate and negative impact on people of color, what does that say about you?
People think that they avoid the appellation because they do not openly hate. But hate is not a requirement of white supremacy. Just because one abhors violence and cruelty doesn’t mean that one truly believes that all people are equal — culturally, intellectually, creatively, morally. Entertaining the notion of imbalance — that white people are inherently better than others in any way — is also white supremacy.
This is passive white supremacy, soft white supremacy, the kind divorced from hatred. It is permissible because it’s inconspicuous. But this soft white supremacy is more deadly, exponentially, than Nazis with tiki torches.
This soft white supremacy is the very thing on which the open racists build. The white nationalists and the Nazis simply take the next step (not an altogether illogical one when wandering down the crooked path of racial hostility) and they overlay open animus.
White supremacy, all across the spectrum, is what lights the way to the final step as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated in his “The Other America” speech in 1967:
“In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. And he ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about six million Jews. This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him, if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.”
Republicans, these people and this “president” are your progeny. That is the other inconvenient truth.
Perhaps as a gay man I am more conscious of the reality of what King said: Christofascists for years - and still - say that I and millions of others in the LGBT community do not deserve to exist. When one lives with this ever present atmosphere of hate lingering in the background, you become much more sensitive to all forms of hate and bigotry. Decent Republicans need to decide whether they will embrace white supremacy or leave the GOP. The GOP will not change from within, so do not delude yourselves.
Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie has been working hard to dupe Virginia voters into believing that he is a moderate who will not follow in the policy footsteps of Donald Trump, head of the Republican Party nationally. To accomplish this message of trickery and deceit, Gillespie has adopted a campaign website that is little more than vague generalities and a tired rehashing of GOP from 30 years ago. He offers nothing new. Worse yet, he is striving to hide the reality that, if elected, he will (i) slavishly follow the culture war dictates of The Family Foundation, Virginia's leading hate group with strong historical ties to white supremacy, and (ii) pander to the near 50% of the GOP electorate that voted for Corey Stewart who campaigned on a racist/pro-Confederacy platform. A piece in the Washington Post looks at how Der Trumpenführer is making things more difficult for Gillespie to hide the toxicity he would bring to the governor's mansion. Here are highlights:
Republican Ed Gillespie has been fighting to keep the focus of his campaign for Virginia governor on state issues and away from President Trump.
That task grew more challenging this week after Trump defended some of the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville and bashed efforts to remove Confederate statues — directly injecting national politics into the Virginia governor’s race.
Gillespie, a longtime GOP operative and former Republican National Committee chairman, repeatedly said this week there’s no moral equivalence between white nationalists and the counterprotesters who clashed with them in Charlottesville.
The GOP candidate tweeted that the views of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “have no redeeming value whatsoever. Simple as that” — without ever mentioning the president.
While Trump is highly unpopular in Virginia, and lost the state by five points to Hillary Clinton last year, Gillespie needs support from some Trump voters in November if he is to beat Democrat Ralph Northam, who has a slight lead on Gillespie in recent polls.
“Gillespie seems to be faced with one hurdle after another that Trump is actually placing in front of him in Virginia,” said Bob Holsworth, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University professor and longtime observer of state politics. “In each of these hurdles, he is trying not to directly criticize Trump, but to significantly distance himself in some fashion from Trump. That’s quite a tightrope to walk.”
Northam, and groups supporting him, have seized on Gillespie’s “silence” about Trump. “It’s disappointing to see that my opponent won’t stand up to the president when he’s so clearly been wrong,” said Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, in an interview. “The leader of our country needs to stand up to the white supremacists and say, ‘No more, stop it, go home and go back.’ Ed Gillespie needs to tell President Trump the same thing.” Vice President Pence abruptly canceled two political appearances he was scheduled to make in Virginia with Gillespie on Saturday; aides said he needed to keep his weekend flexible.
Those cancellations may ease optics for Gillespie, whose campaign declined to comment Thursday about Trump but indirectly criticized the president’s remark that there were “fine people” in the white nationalist rally.
One Republican operative unaffiliated with the Gillespie campaign said it would be a mistake for the candidate to talk about Trump. “I don’t think Ed is going to play the game of commenting on what Trump says or doesn’t say because if he does, my God, that’s the only thing he’ll answer for between now and the election,” said the operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about strategy. Gillespie is trying to stake out a middle ground: He opposes the removal of Confederate statues but says historical context should be added.
His efforts are complicated by Corey A. Stewart, who came within one percentage point of beating Gillespie for the GOP nomination in June by making the preservation of Virginia’s Confederate heritage a signature issue.
Stewart, who has launched a campaign to challenge U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D) with a similar strategy, appeared in a combative interview Thursday on CNN in which he repeatedly denounced the “violent left” and criticized Republicans for being too apologetic after Charlottesville for fear of being branded racists.
“I can only imagine Gillespie’s people would love to pay Corey Stewart to go away, have a vacation on a Caribbean island,” Kidd said.
Again, voters should not be fooled by Gillespie's mealy mouthed dance shuffles. The Virginia GOP nowadays stands for white supremacy, the disenfranchisement of minorities and the Christofascists agenda of The Family Foundation. This reality needs to be exposed and Gillespie needs to be forced to take a stand. He does not get to have it both ways.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
As noted during my recent visit to Great Britain, most Britons view Donald Trump with revulsion and rightly so. Indeed, it was an embarrassment to be American and have to repeatedly stress that the majority of voters had voted AGAINST him and continued to oppose his toxic regime. I have also noted - many times - my impatience with what I call "good Christians" who fail to take on and directly challenge and condemn their supposed coreligionists who traffic in hate and bigotry and seemingly utterly ignore the Gospel message. Their cowardice and refusal to call evangelical and fundamentalists out as hate merchants and modern day Pharisees parallel's those who sought to appease Adolph Hitler in the late 1920's and into the 1930's. Bad people and bad ideologies need to be strongly confronted and condemned. Politeness and attempts at quiet and calm reasoning gets nowhere with such people. Yet too many liberal/progressive Christians do nothing more that occasionally write letters or hold prayer services that do nothing to openly and vigorously confront the hate merchants of the "Christian Right." Anglican Bishop, Nicholas Baines, Bishop of Leeds, shows us how "good Christians" should be acting. Here are highlights from a piece in Christian Today:
An Anglican Bishop has launched a scathing attack on the 'narcissistic amorality' of 'lying' Donald Trump, along with the American 'Christian Right' for failing to recognise the president's traits before he was elected last November.
Nicholas Baines, the liberal-leaning Bishop of Leeds, launched his comprehensive assault on 'shameless' Trump and his evangelical backers in a blog post written in the wake of the violence carried out by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, which Trump initially failed specifically to condemn.
Bishop Baines issues blame on what he calls the 'Christian Right' for failing to see the disastrous presidency coming.
'His misogyny, amorality, financial track record, sexual behaviour, narcissism and nepotism (to name but a few of the obvious challenges) would have ruled out the candidacy of any other semi-reputable politician for the Presidency of the United States of America. His subsequent lying, shamelessness, vindictiveness and inhabiting of some "alternative reality" (in which things that happened didn't happen and things that didn't happen did happen; in which things he said he didn't say and things he didn't say he did say) cannot have come as a disappointing revelation to anyone with half a brain or ears to hear.
His espousal of the alt-right has not come as news. His condemnation of anyone and anything he sees as a challenge to himself ([former President Barack] Obama, for instance) is weighed against his silence in the face of inconvenient truth or facts.
'Yet, none of this is a surprise. It was all there to be seen before he was elected. How on earth did the Christian Right even conceive of the possibility of backing a man who can't put a sentence together and who epitomises narcissistic amorality? If Hillary Clinton couldn't be trusted because of her handling of an email server (or because Americans had had enough of political dynasties), by what stretch of moral imagination could Trump have been thought of as a cleaner, brighter alternative? To which base values did he appeal?'
Turning to Charlottesville, Baines says that the 'brazen impunity' of the white supremacists there 'is only possible because the fascists believe they can get away with it – or might even get approval from the top'.
Baines adds that 'there are moments in history where a tipping point is reached and it matters that people stand up and challenge the danger. This is one of them. Charlottesville is only one (relatively small) town in an enormous country, and most of the USA will have been as horrified as the rest of us at what they witnessed this weekend; but, the images coming out of this one place become iconic of a deeper malaise. People are right to look for consistency in the rampant condemnations and criticisms of their President in his favoured medium Twitter. If he damns Islamic terrorists and wet liberals for their actions, we can expect him to damn right-wing militias and neo-Nazi criminals when they walk his streets and drive cars into ordinary people. Silence.'
I remain incredulous that evangelical Christian leaders, Bible in hand, can remain supportive of the President and administration that is corrupting their country. When will the Republican Party take responsibility, stop wringing their hands, and stand against this regime that will be able to do little without their support?'
Before I continue, let me disclose for the record, that I have my own Confederate ancestors through my maternal grandmother, a New Orleans belle in her youth. Not only were some of these family members of the past in the Confederate army (I would qualify for membership in the sons of Confederate Veterans if I were ever to apply, which I won't), but one was even a prisoner held in a Union prison camp in Michigan for a period of time. No one still living can comment on whether any of these ancestors were slave owners, but there is a good chance that they were.
I have read a great deal about the Civil War and the Southern effort to undo Reconstruction's empowerment of former slaves. Sadly, Virginia - which has so often been on the wrong side of history- was a leader in this effort. Thus, I am well aware of the horrible things done after Reconstruction ended and whites regained virtual total political, social, and economic control. Knowing the "real history" of the Old South and the Jim Crow era, there is no way I can support the Trump/Pence and alt-right effort to bring back the Jim Crow era and to exalt white privilege (no moral person can). I am also cognizant of the fact that the Confederate monuments now embroiled in controversy in Charlottesville and elsewhere were for the most part erected when Jim Crow laws were reaching their pinnacle. Their purpose? To intimidate blacks and to send the message that white privilege was untouchable. A piece in Mother Jones looks at this reality. Here are highlights:
[A]ll the way to 1890 there were very few statues or monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders.
[Here's an] oversimplified summary:
1861-1865: Civil War.
1865-1875: Reconstruction Era.
1875-1895: Reconstruction Era ends. Blacks are steadily disenfranchised, allowing Southern whites to enact Jim Crow laws. In 1896, Jim Crow is cemented into place when the Supreme Court rules it constitutional.
1895-1915: With blacks disenfranchised and Jim Crow laws safely in place, Southern whites begin a campaign of terror against blacks. Lynchings skyrocket, the KKK becomes resurgent, and whites begin building Confederate statues and monuments in large numbers.
1915-1955: Jim Crow reigns safely throughout the South.
1955-1970: The Civil Rights era starts after the Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education that Jim Crow laws are unconstitutional. Southern whites mount massive and violent resistance, and start putting up Confederate monuments again.
Yes, these monuments were put up to honor Confederate leaders. But the timing of the monument building makes it pretty clear what the real motivation was: to physically symbolize white terror against blacks. They were mostly built during times when Southern whites were engaged in vicious campaigns of subjugation against blacks, and during those campaigns the message sent by a statue of Robert E. Lee in front of a courthouse was loud and clear.
No one should think that these statues were meant to be somber postbellum reminders of a brutal war. They were built much later, and most of them were explicitly created to accompany organized and violent efforts to subdue blacks and maintain white supremacy in the South. I wouldn’t be surprised if even a lot of Southerners don’t really understand this, but they should learn. There’s a reason blacks consider these statues to be symbols of bigotry and terror. It’s because they are.
Too many have said "let the monuments remain, they are part of history." Sadly, they typically do not know all of the real history. The Old South was not the pretty picture of Gone With the Wind. Behind the beautiful plantation homes there was much suffering and brutality - some inflicted by falsely labeled "pragons of virtue" like Robert E. Lee. Even Lee's great grandson has said he id OK with the removal of the monuments.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
While Donald Trump's embrace of white supremacists and the KKK has been dominating the news headlines, special prosecutor Robert Mueller has been continuing his investigation of the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia and, perhaps most importantly, following the money in Trump's seemingly Russian financed projects where suspicions of money laundering abound. A very lengthy piece in The New Yorker looks at what Mueller may find and the possibility that Trump may yet try to fire Mueller if he gets too close to exposing the truth about the ugly underbelly of Trump's real estate empire. The article suggests that Trump has good reason to fear Mueller's scrutiny of his deals since many appear to (i) have ties to Kremlin cronies, and (ii) been structured to launder money. Here are article highlights:
Donald Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow recently told me that the investigation being led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, should focus on one question: whether there was “coördination between the Russian government and people on the Trump campaign.” Sekulow went on, “I want to be really specific. A real-estate deal would be outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.” If he senses “drift” in Mueller’s investigation, he said, he will warn the special counsel’s office that it is exceeding its mandate.[I]f Mueller and his team persist, Sekulow said, he might lodge a formal objection with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who has the power to dismiss Mueller and end the inquiry. President Trump has been more blunt, hinting to the Times that he might fire Mueller if the investigation looks too closely at his business dealings.
Several news accounts have confirmed that Mueller has indeed begun to examine Trump’s real-estate deals and other business dealings, including some that have no obvious link to Russia. But this is hardly wayward. It would be impossible to gain a full understanding of the various points of contact between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign without scrutinizing many of the deals that Trump has made in the past decade. Trump-branded buildings in Toronto and the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan were developed in association with people who have connections to the Kremlin.
Other real-estate partners of the Trump Organization—in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere—are now caught up in corruption probes, and, collectively, they suggest that the company had a pattern of working with partners who exploited their proximity to political power.
One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a Trump Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as “red flags” for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump.
Trump did very little to develop the Batumi property. The project was a licensing deal from which he made a quick profit. In exchange for the million-dollar payment, he granted the right to use his name, and he agreed to visit Georgia for an elaborate publicity campaign, which was designed to promote Georgia’s President at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a business-oriented reformer who could attract Western financiers. The campaign was misleading: the Trump Tower Batumi was going to be funded not by Trump but by businesses with ties to Kazakh oligarchs, . . . few Western investors or brands were willing to put money into the country. Saakashvili himself was increasingly unpopular, and the Trump deal was meant to help salvage his reputation.
Virtually none of the things that Saakashvili and Trump said about the deal were true. The budget of the Trump Tower Batumi was not two hundred and fifty million dollars but a hundred and ten. Trump, meanwhile, could hardly have invested such a sum himself. He professed to be a billionaire, but a few months earlier an appeals court in New Jersey had shut down Trump’s legal campaign against Timothy O’Brien, the author of “TrumpNation,” which argued that Trump had wildly inflated his fortune, and was actually worth less than a quarter of a billion dollars. . . . The country’s economy was floundering, and shortly after Trump’s visit it was revealed that the government had been torturing political opponents.
The developer that had paid Trump and invited him to Georgia—a holding company known as the Silk Road Group—had been funded by a bank that was enmeshed in a giant money-laundering scandal. And Trump, it seemed, had not asked many questions before taking the money.
It would have taken only a Google search for the Trump Organization to discover that the Silk Road Group had received much of its funding from B.T.A. Bank, which, at the time of the Batumi deal, was mired in one of the largest fraud cases in recent history. The Silk Road Group had even been business partners with the central figure in the scandal: Ablyazov and the Silk Road Group were two of the owners of a bank in Georgia.
When I described to John Madinger, the retired Treasury official, the various entities and transactions involved in the funding of the Trump Tower Batumi, he said, “That is what you would expect to see in a money-laundering operation: multiple shell companies in multiple countries. It’s designed to make life hard for people trying to follow the transaction.”
With minimal due diligence, Trump Organization executives would have noticed that the Silk Road Group exhibited many warning signs of financial fraud: its layered and often hidden ownership, its ornate use of shell companies, its close relationship with a bank that was embroiled in a financial scandal. Trump’s visit to Georgia occurred while his company was making a series of similar foreign deals.
Trump had defaulted on loans multiple times, and nearly every bank in the U.S. refused to finance deals bearing his name. And so Trump turned to people in other countries who did not share this reluctance to give him money. In 2012 alone, the Trump Organization negotiated or finalized deals in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, India, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. . . . . According to former executives at the Trump Organization, the company lacked rigorous procedures for assessing foreign partners.
A month after Trump visited Georgia, he agreed to license his name to, and provide oversight of, a luxury hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, a deal that I examined in an article in The New Yorker earlier this year. Trump received several million dollars from the brother and the son of an Azerbaijani billionaire who was then the Minister of Transportation—a man who, U.S. officials believe, may have been simultaneously laundering money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The Financial Action Task Force, headquartered in Paris, is led by representatives from thirty-seven nations. In 2007, the task force issued a report about the use of real-estate projects for money laundering. The report makes note of several red flags. It warns of “complex loans” in which businesses “lend themselves money, creating the appearance that the funds are legitimate.” It also warns of the use of offshore shell companies and tangled corporate legal structures, especially those in which third parties are hired to administer a company and conceal its true ownership. These intertwined companies can then trade property among themselves, in order to create inflated valuations: “An often-used structure is, for example, the setting up of shell companies to buy real estate.
The report states that money launderers often find that “buying a hotel, a restaurant or other similar investment offers further advantages, as it brings with it a business activity in which there is extensive use of cash.” Casinos—like the one planned for the Trump Tower Batumi—are especially useful in this regard.
So many partners of the Trump Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence. In criminal law, there is a crucial concept called “willful blindness”: a person can be convicted of a crime even if he was unaware of certain aspects of the crime in which he was engaged. In U.S. courts, judges routinely explain to juries that “no one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious.”
The Trump Organization, with its extensive experience in the luxury real-estate market, could surely sense that it would not be easy to enlist hundreds of wealthy people to buy multimillion-dollar condominiums in Batumi. I asked several New York real-estate developers to assess the proposed tower. One laughed and said that the Batumi deal reminded him of “The Producers,” the Mel Brooks movie about two charlatans who create a horrible musical designed to fail. Another New York developer, who spent years making deals in the former Soviet Union, told me, “A forty-seven-story tower of luxury condominiums in Batumi is an insane idea. I wouldn’t have gone near a project like this.”
Keith Darden is a political scientist at American University who has written extensively on the use of compromising information—kompromat—by former Soviet regimes against people they want to control. He told me that Kazakh intelligence is believed to collect dossiers on every significant business transaction involving the country. This would be especially true if a famous American developer was part of the deal, even if it would not have occurred to them that he might one day become the U.S. President. “There is no question—they know everything about this deal,” Darden said.
Darden explained that Kazakh intelligence agents work closely with their Russian counterparts.
Robert Mueller has assembled a team of sixteen lawyers. One of them is fluent in Russian, and five have extensive experience investigating and prosecuting cases of money laundering, foreign corruption, and complex financial conspiracies. The path from Trump to Putin, if one exists, might be found in one of his foreign real-estate deals.
When Mueller was appointed special counsel, his official writ was to investigate not just “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
When investigating a businessperson like Trump, “you have to follow the money and go wherever it leads—you must follow the clues all the way to the end.”
While Trump's embrace of white nationalists and white supremacists may well reveal the true Donald Trump, the ensuing media storm may be welcomed by Trump as a distraction that takes media attention off of his many questionable transactions.
Many continue to express shock at the behavior and statements of Donald Trump, yet I am dumbfounded by their claimed shock. One needed only to look back over Trump's career all the way back to when his companies were hit with civil rights law suits here in the Norfolk, Virginia, area for discriminating against blacks to know that the man has racists inclinations. Then of course, there is Donald Trump's arrest at a KKK rally in Queens, New York, in 1927 (Der Trumpenführer denies that the arrest happened even though documentation proves that it happened). Add to this Trump's embrace of birthers who were outraged by a black man occupying the White House. The evidence of Trump's foulness is available at every turn, including the course of his business dealings for decades. No one hid any of this. Instead, people simply chose to close their eyes and allow themselves to support a toxic, amoral man. To now plead surprise over Trump is to either admit that one is an idiot or a disingenuous liar. A column in the Washington Post looks at this reality:
President Trump’s initial response to events is always the truest expression of his outlook. The scripts that follow are post-facto damage control by his staff and never stick. In the case of Trump’s remarks on the horrific events in Charlottesville — his third go-around — he not only undid his aides’ handiwork but also confessed the words he read on Monday didn’t represent his true views.
“First, he tried to argue that he initially hesitated to condemn the explicitly racist elements at Charlottesville only because he didn’t have enough information to do so.” When has Trump ever required facts to make an assertion? Indeed, after three days he decided that the facts as we all had seen them — neo-Nazis and white nationalists chanting anti-Semitic statements, bearing tiki torches, engaged in street battles, and one of their ilk committing an act of domestic terrorism, killing one and injuring dozens — didn’t really matter. He alone was convinced there was equivalence between the neo-Nazi and the protesters objecting to the white supremacist message. . . . But only one side killed someone, right? Trump did not make that distinction.
And to top it off, he equated Robert E. Lee, who waged war against the United States and fought to continue enslavement of fellow-human beings, with George Washington. Plainly, the New York education system, Fordham University and Wharton School of Business have failed Trump, promoting him without ensuring that he possessed basic reasoning skills and a grasp of American history. But in these institutions’ defense, he is unteachable, we have learned.
Unless and until Republicans are willing to censure the president, withhold endorsement for a second term and vigorously pursue avenues for impeachment, they are wasting their breath and our time.
How bad was his press conference? Well, when you lose Fox News you might as well throw in the towel. ( “It’s honestly crazy for me to have to comment on this right now because I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life what I just watched. It was one of the biggest messes that I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it happened. . . . It shouldn’t be some kind of bold statement to say, ‘Yes, a gathering full of white supremacist Nazis doesn’t have good people in it. Those are all bad people, period.’”
We should be clear on several points. First, it is morally reprehensible to serve in this White House, supporting a president so utterly unfit to lead a great country. Second, John F. Kelly has utterly failed as chief of staff; the past two weeks have been the worst of Trump’s presidency, many would agree. He can at this point only serve his country by resigning and warning the country that Trump is a cancer on the presidency, . . .
Finally, Trump apologists have run out of excuses and credibility. He was at the time plainly the more objectionable of the two main party candidates; in refusing to recognize that they did the country great harm. They can make amends by denouncing him and withdrawing all support. In short, Trump’s embrace and verbal defense of neo-Nazis and white nationalists should be disqualifying from public service. All true patriots must do their utmost to get him out of the Oval Office as fast as possible.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
|St. Paul's Episcopal where people were trapped by torch carrying white supremacists and Neo-Nazis|
Today Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, threw aside his mealy mouthed condemnation of the KKK, white supremacists, and Neo-nazis during a press conference where he attacked the press, liberals and a creation of his disturbed imagination, the "alt-left." During the press conference, Trump made it clear that he prefers defending the white nationalists which comprise his most loyal base to recognizing the terror that they inflicted on residents of a generally peaceful small city.
I and 9 of my extended family members are alumni of the University of Virginia and a former brother -in-law was mayor of Charlottesville a number of years ago. The husband and I were in Charlottesville just a couple of months ago. My sister and her family live in Charlottesville. Bottom line: We know Charlottesville far better than Der Trumpenführer whose only contact has been his purchase of the former Kluge winery south of the city (where he employs foreign laborers rather than American employees).
A piece in Religion Dispatches gives a taste of what law-abiding residents suffered at the hands of Donald Trump's would be brown shirts and storm troopers. For those unfamiliar with Charlottesville, St. Pauls Episcopal Church referenced in the article (and pictured above) is located across the street from the north portico pf the Rotunda on the UVA campus. Here are article excerpts:
Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, an RD contributor . . . . is currently in Charlottesville, Virginia. . . . [She] was inside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Friday night when torch-bearing white supremacists surrounded the church, trapping congregants who had gathered for a prayer service ahead of Saturday’s planned “Unite the Right” rally. On Saturday, Henderson-Espinoza and Rev. Traci Blackmon were outside Emancipation Park offering prayerful presence and witness when neo-Nazis, fascists, and unhooded Ku Klux Klan members descended on the intersection, unleashing violence that caused the security detail protecting Blackmon and Henderson-Espinoza to literally yank Rev. Blackmon off-camera during a live interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid.
Just a few hours later and only blocks from where Blackmon and Henderson-Espinoza had been standing, counter-protestor Heather Heyer was dead and 19 others were injured in an act of domestic terrorism when a white supremacist rammed his Dodge Challenger through a packed crowd that was marching peacefully down a narrow street.
I spoke with Dr. Robyn on Monday morning, asking for their first-hand account of the chaos white supremacists unleashed on Charlottesville this weekend. Henderson-Espinoza was clear about the roots of this violence, and particularly the silence—from the Trump Administration and white clergy members—that continues to embolden neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and proud racists to terrorize communities. . .
We gathered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, for training and a legal briefing. And then we had an interfaith worship service. During that worship service, I was getting security briefings and updates that white supremacists were having their torch rally, and were moving toward the church. And that some of them were gathered outside the church.
So in the middle of a peaceful worship service, a prayer service for the city of Charlottesville, I was unable to be present in the work that I had been brought in to do because of safety concerns. . . . . Security became a real concern; not just for those of us who were in clergy-wear. . . . we could not release people into the streets, because white supremacists were gathering a block away.
It was unsafe for people to leave the church, so essentially, we were held hostage in a place of worship—and it was not safe.
These people [the white nationalists] were carrying bats as weapons, and sticks as weapons, and fire-burning tiki torches.
[W]hen antifa [anti-fascist] and other counter-protestors encountered nazis, it was just an outright battle. It was a war scene—a war zone. Also, let me make clear that without antifa and anarchists being present in the streets, I may have been killed at the hands of fascists and white supremacists. This is important. . . . . You had armed militia there, standing, with assault rifles—you know, the Three Percenters were there in their camouflage and assault rifles.
The nazi groups just kept coming and coming. This is an exaggeration, but it felt like there were a million nazis, to like, 100 counter-protestors. That’s an exaggeration, but I’m just saying, that the number of nazis compared to counter-protestors was unreal. I’m just like, where in the hell did all these people come from?
These people had literally taken over the fucking city, and were beating people up in their neighborhoods. What amazes me is that these white supremacists are filled with so much hate and rage, that they just dominated the city. And our current [White House] administration did not condemn white supremacy. They were complacent and silent about it, which means that our administration gave consent.
I think that that is what is so amazing to me: these people are filled with so much hate and rage, that they can’t just have a rally. They have to take over a city, colonize the city with their violence. And that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.
Charlottesville is hurt and broken. But this is not just about Charlottesville: this is a resurgence of white nationalism that is being supported by our current [White House] administration.
[W]hite people need to get real serious about the parasitic relationship between Christian supremacy and white supremacy. And if white clergy are preaching about social justice on Sunday mornings behind their pulpits, and refusing to get into the streets, to hold the hand of a dying person who has been pulverized by a car—or refusing to stand side-by-side with the antifa who were opposing the nazis, then they need to stop preaching about social justice on Sunday morning.
[M]y plea for white clergy, and for white people of conscience, is this: please take your body out of the safety of your worship places and your churches, and move into the streets. Please. People are dying. People are dying because white clergy, in particular, refuse to speak out against white supremacy and white nationalism.
And what that has done is create a religion of white nationalism. The liturgy of white nationalism is this culture of violence. And the outcome of that religion and liturgy is death.
I agree 100% with the remark about the ties between white Christian supremacy and white supremacy. If one does their research, almost every "family values" Christian organization traces back to ant-desegregation groups and, in some cases such as Family Research Council have leadership which has documented ties to white supremacy groups. Some may find it offensive, but when I see evangelical Christians I automatically assume that they are white supremacists until it is documented otherwise. As noted numerous times, here in Virginia, The Family Foundation traces directly to those who supported Massive Resistance and the maintaining of the Jim Crow laws.
One of the main cries of apologists for the white supremacists who went on a rampage in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend is that maintaining statutes honoring Confederate figures is honoring history and Southern heritage. Never mind that these statutes sit not in museums where they could be used for history lessons but instead in public squares often near court houses and city halls. In the case of the Lee statute in Charlottesville that triggered white supremacists' wrath on others, it used to sit literally in the courthouse square where it no doubt sent a message to black Virginians - as was the intent behind it in the first place. Thus, those who bleat that these statutes represent history ignore the purpose behind them. Anything rather than have to face the reality of their own feelings or the motivations of hate groups. A piece in The Atlantic makes the case for the removal of such statutes and their relegation to museums and other locations that do not give a stamp of approval to what lay behind the South's rebellion: slavery and maintaining it as an institution. Blather about state's rights is merely a well crafted smoke screen. Here are article highlights:
On Saturday in Charlottesville, a rally in defense of a statue of Robert E. Lee turned into a reenactment of the cause he led—white supremacists marching behind the Confederate battle flag, their opponents left injured or dead on the ground.
But like Lee’s soldiers, today’s defenders of white supremacy are fighting for a losing cause, a defeat that their violence will only serve to make deeper and more lasting than it otherwise would have been. Across the United States, the statues are starting to topple, the streets renamed, the memorials removed. These visible inscriptions of white supremacy into the American landscape are being erased. . . . . This was the rising tide of change that the Charlottesville rally hoped to stem.
As of August 2016, there were still more than 1,500 public commemorations of the Confederacy, even excluding the battlefields and cemeteries: 718 monuments and statutes still stood, and 109 public schools, 80 counties and cities, and 10 U.S. military bases bore the names of Lee, Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate icons, according to a tally by the Southern Poverty Law Center. More than 200 of these were in Virginia alone.
And one sits in the center of Charlottesville. . . . . His defenders today insist that Lee’s heroism lay not least in his laying down his sword when the war was done, deciding to “promote harmony once he recognized defeat.” The speakers at the dedication likewise stressed Lee’s role as a peacemaker; one went so far as to imagine the statute depicted “not the lurid splendor of the battlefield,” but instead, Lee riding to Lexington to begin his tenure as a university president.
Yet this is not what the statue depicts. Not this one, nor the others. Where are the statues of Lee seated at Appomattox, signing the terms of that surrender? Where are the marbles and bronzes of Lee the college president, wearing civilian clothes, ensconced behind a desk piled high with paperwork? Why is this peacemaker always immortalized girded for war? . . . . And the reconciliation he offered was between whites—it pointedly excluded those he had held as property, whose freedom the war secured, but whose equality he bitterly contested.
Lee himself, after the war, encouraged a friend to banish the 90 newly freed women, children, and old men working on his plantation. The government could pay for their care, Lee advised; better to replace them with white labor. “I have always observed that wherever you find the negro, everything is going down around him, and wherever you find a white man, you see everything around him improving.” That is the harmony Lee promoted.
Lee’s army was ordered to respect white property, but chose to regard the blacks it encountered as contraband—to be seized and returned to the South, whether born free, manumitted, or escaped. The army seized scores of their fellow Americans as slaves, actions sanctioned at the highest level of command; it took as many as a thousand back to Virginia.
Lee’s army, retreating in defeat, released some, but most were hauled South to the auction block. For the crime of refusing to cross back to Virginia, one boy was horribly mutilated, doused in turpentine, his genitals sliced off, and left to die in a barn by his Confederate captors. . . . . At the Battle of the Crater, Lee’s army slaughtered black prisoners; one soldier lamented that some survived because “we could not kill them as fast as they [passed] us.” This is what the uniform Lee wore represented; this is what the army he commanded did; this is the pose in which he is immortalized in the center of Charlottesville.
There is a reason why statues of Confederate generals are still powerful political symbols; a reason why a candidate came a hair’s breadth from securing the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Virginia by campaigning to preserve them. The statues in public squares, the names on street signs, the generals honored with military bases—these are the ways in which we, as a society, tell each other what we value, and build the common heritage around which we construct a nation.
The white nationalists who gathered in Charlottesville saw this perhaps more clearly than the rest of us. They understood the stakes of what they were defending. They knew that Lee was honored not for making peace per se, but for defending a society built upon white supremacy—first by taking up arms, and then when the war was lost, by laying them down in such a way as to preserve what he could.
The myth of reunion was built around this understanding, that the nation should treat both sides in a war that killed three-quarters of a million Americans as equal, or at least not inquire too closely into the merits of each cause. And that unity would come not from honestly grappling with events, but from studiously ignoring injustice, and condemning those who oppose it as hateful.
This is why the city council of Charlottesville voted, a century after it was commissioned, to remove the statue of Robert Edward Lee.
And ultimately, it is why the others will come down, too. The statues will be moved, the streets renamed, and the military bases will honor patriots who fought for their country and not against it. Because a century and a half after Reconstruction began, America is still working on the project of constructing a more equal society, and reinvesting in the experiment of a multi-ethnic democracy.
The white nationalists in Charlottesville hoped to halt this project. Instead, they have simply given it fiercer, redoubled urgency.
Much in history is ugly and not something to be honored or glorified. Pretending that the ugliness did not occur or wrapping it in the "Lost Cause" myth, however, does not change the real facts. Defenders of these statutes ignore the hideous crimes committed by the Confederacy while at the same time longing for the white supremacy that it and the Jim Crow laws embodied. Decent people should not mindlessly defend the indefensible by merely pretending they are protecting history. Indeed, the history they are protecting is a false one compared to the ugly reality.
|White nationalists carry torches on the grounds
of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11 |
over a plan to remove the statue of a Confederate general from a city park
I left both the Republican Party and the Roman Catholic Church years ago because of the former's subversion of the U.S. Constitution and the mortal bankruptcy of the latter as exemplified by the worldwide sex abuse scandal. Yet in recent years, far right Catholics and evangelical Christians have bonded over their mutual opposition to abortion and a mutual hatred of LGBT individuals. One of the examples of this poisonous alliance is the fact that Donald Trump currently occupies the White House thanks to the support these two groups (especially by evangelicals). Now, in the wake of the white supremacists terror in Charlottesville, Virginia, some are conjecturing that this unholy alliance may become strained or even collapse. Whether this is nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of Catholics who want to give Neo-Nazism a wide berth - especially given the Catholic Church's failure to adequately oppose the rise of Hitler and his agenda that included genocide - remains to be seen A piece in the Jesuit publication America looks at this hopefully fraying alliance. Here are excerpts:
The first photos from the Charlottesville white supremacist rally began to appear on social media late on Friday night, surreal images of young white men marching by torchlight to kick off what became a violent weekend of hate culminating in the death of a counterprotester allegedly at the hands of a Nazi sympathizer.
Responses from Catholic leaders began to appear late Saturday afternoon, with many of them initially calling for unity, peace and for both sides to come together. But by Sunday evening, the statements were unequivocal in denouncing white supremacy and neo-Nazism, the ideologies that drove the events in Charlottesville.
Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of the Diocese of Richmond, which includes Charlottesville, wrote in a statement on Saturday afternoon: “I pray that those men and women on both sides can talk and seek solutions to their differences respectfully.”
As for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it released its first statement on Saturday afternoon.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the conference, said he condemned the “violence and hatred” on display in Charlottesville, which he called “an attack on the unity of our nation” and urged “fervent prayer and peaceful action.”
Sentiments like that led to some backlash on social media, with some people pointing out that such statements failed to condemn racism and white supremacy, both considered sins by the Catholic Church. Some Catholics pointed to a 1979 document written by U.S. bishops that begins, “Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church.”
By Saturday night, messages from some church leaders became more pointed. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, for example, tweeted, “When it comes to racism, there is only one side: to stand against it,” seemingly a reference to President Trump’s initial comments on the violence, which have been widely criticized.
On Sunday morning, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia released a statement, which began, “Racism is a poison of the soul.”
“It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed,” he continued. “Blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity. Thus the wave of public anger about white nationalist events in Charlottesville this weekend is well warranted. We especially need to pray for those injured in the violence.”
But he also said “we need more than pious public statements.”
“If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, nothing will change,” he continued. “We need to keep the images of Charlottesville alive in our memories. If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others.”
The following day, Sunday, U.S. bishops took the unusual step of releasing a second statement about the same event.
Whereas the first statement did not name the ideology driving the protests in Charlottesville, the second statement was more direct: “We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” . . . the statement continued, “At Mass, let us offer a special prayer of gratitude for the brave souls who sought to protect us from the violent ideology displayed yesterday,” in reference to local clergy and people of faith who demonstrated against the white supremacists.
Audrey Gyolai, a student at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., told America that the priest where she attended Mass preached about Charlottesville during a homily about institutional sin. In addition to the rally, the priest also talked about deportations, highlighting a local case where a woman had been deported by federal agents.
If we are lucky, the unholy alliance of right wing Catholics and evangelical Christians/white supremacists will collapse.