Saturday, September 01, 2018
The husband and I are headed to Paris with friends. We drive to Dulles International and then will fly to London on Virgin Atlantic and connect on Air France to Paris. We will spend a week in Paris followed by a week in London. Posting will be reduced for the next day or so while we travel, but I will post about our experiences as is my normal habit. On the home front, the house sitter/dog sitter is all arranged. This will be our friends' first trip to either city so the husband and I have served as trip planners and will be the tour guides, if you will. We kick of Paris with lunch at the Plaza Athenee where I staid many times in my days as in-house counsel. Bon voyage!
|Plaza Athenee courtyard restaurant.|
Driving between the firm's office and stuck in traffic at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, as I often do, I was listening to the POTUS channel on satellite radio and heard a portion of the ceremony for John McCain at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. In the course of the ceremony, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Mike Pence, men who are the antithesis of McCain's overall sense of honor and duty to country each spoke about McCain. Indeed, their insincerity and praise of values they have thrown aside in a quest for power was enough to make one want to vomit. I was not the only one disturbed by the dishonor to McCain by have these three men who are without honor or morality speak at the service. Former Republican Jennifer Rubin let loose in a column in the Washington Post. Here are excerpts:
I can think of only one living American politician who can compare to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in physical and moral courage, in international stature, and in length of career and breadth of accomplishments: President George H.W. Bush, who was shot down as a young pilot in World War II, who went to serve in Congress, the CIA, the vice presidency and the presidency and, like McCain, represents time-honored virtues. Aside from him, everyone else is going to come up short. That said, there are people worthy of expressing admiration and respect for McCain — two presidents who will speak Saturday at a memorial service, and former vice president Joe Biden, who spoke eloquently on Thursday.
And then there were the three who spoke on Friday. You had to control your gag reflex watching Vice President Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) extol McCain’s greatness as he was accorded the honor of lying in state.
Consider Pence for a moment. He began with a ludicrous declaration that broke all records for disingenuousness: “The president asked me to be here on behalf of a grateful nation, to pay a debt of honor and respect to a man who served our country throughout his life, in uniform and in public office. It’s my great honor to be here.” President Trump despised McCain and routinely mocked him. Suggesting that Pence was there to represent Trump would require him to insult and mock McCain. Pence accepted the vice presidency and stuck with Trump despite the “Access Hollywood” tape, despite Trump’s denigration of McCain’s service, despite overt racism and contempt for human rights. He has not batted an eye over the hush-money payments to women, the attacks on the rule of law, the evisceration of decorum. Only in Washington could such a spineless creature sally forth to declare McCain a hero.
To call McCain a hero is to recognize his heroic qualities, of which Trump has none. You can worship Trump or admire McCain; it’s metaphysically impossible to do both. Meghan McCain’s glare was an appropriate reaction to Pence’s hypocrisy.
McConnell acknowledged McCain as a “generational leader in the Senate.” McConnell said that McCain represented all the values the Capitol stands for. But what does McConnell stand for? He has accommodated Trump, ignoring or rationalizing his worst behavior. McConnell personally destroyed the comity in the Senate by denying Judge Merrick Garland a hearing and then extinguishing the filibuster for Supreme Court justices. He has refused to protect the rule of law by preventing a bill protecting the special counsel from reaching the floor. In short, he too is everything McCain is not, and has presided over the very changes in the Senate that McCain despised. . . . There is no principle for him beyond winning.
And then there was Ryan, come to pay his respects. When he repeated McCain’s admonition that “our identities and sense of worth were not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves,” you wondered whether Ryan is capable of self-reflection. . . . When exactly has Ryan exemplified those qualities? When has he demonstrated an ounce of courage to do what is right rather than expedient?
When Ryan urged us “to stand up and to embrace the cause of [McCain’s] life,” you wondered when and how Ryan will manage to do this. Might he remove Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) from chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, which Nunes has used to smear our intelligence community and the FBI? Perhaps he’d actually hold a hearing on the grotesque conflicts of interest and emoluments clause violation that Trump has committed? Don’t hold your breath. Instead of the causes dear to McCain — the rule of law, simple decency, the obligation to defend the country against abuses of power — Ryan has again and again taken the road of least resistance. He is quite simply a moral coward.
[H]aving this trio speak was the trade-off for allowing McCain to lie in state. In singing his praises, however, they demonstrated just how small, how weak they are. In the shadow of a giant like McCain, they should feel a pang of shame.
The reality is that nowadays Republicans who stillvalue honor and morality are the ones who have left the party in disgust at its immorality and indifference to the rule of law. Only the morally challenged and those driven by greed, a hatred of others, and a thirst for power at any cost remain. I am proud to be a former Republican.
Friday, August 31, 2018
Former Bush White House official Michael Gerson paints a dark - but in my view, an accurate - picture of today's Republican Party in a column in the Washington Post. Principle s gone, greed is king, and hate and fear motivate a dangerous tribalism, all of which is stoked by the foul occupant of the White House. Just as frightening, if Trump were to be forced from office, we face a prospect of Mike Pence, a religious extremist who would likely pursue those who did not adhere to his very scary religious beliefs with the passion of a torturer from the Spanish Inquisition. Despite all of this, most Republican elected officials do not seem to care. All that matters is retaining office and power, seemingly at any cost to their honor (if any of them still have any), morality and true loyalty to the U.S. Constitution which they swore to uphold and defend. Even Gerson implies that the sole hope for America is a Republican rout in the midterm elections. Here are column highlights:
One of the unpleasant surprises of your 50s (among many) is seeing the heroes and mentors of your 20s pass away. . . . I worked for Jack Kemp, who inspired generations of conservatives with his passion for inclusion. I worked against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries but came to admire his truculent commitment to principle.Perhaps it is natural to attribute heroism to past generations and to find a sad smallness in your own. But we are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime. And where are the Republican leaders large enough to show the way?
PresidentTrump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House capture where Republican politics is heading. “This November 6 election,” Trump said, “is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president[Trump] argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.
If religious get-out-the-vote efforts are insufficient, according to the president, “that will be the beginning of ending everything that you’ve gotten.” The gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but evidently Nancy Pelosi would.
“It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that [Democrats] will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.” Here Trump is preparing his audience for the possibility of bloodshed by predicting it from the other side. Christians, evidently, need to start taking “Onward, Christian Soldiers” more literally.
This is now what passes for GOP discourse — the cultivation of anger, fear, grievances, prejudices and hatreds. . . . principle is swiftly and effectively punished. In Florida’s recent primaries, significantly more Republican voters said they were loyal to Trump than to the GOP. In many places, the only way for an ordinary Republican senator or House member to maintain any political influence is to burn incense to the emperor.
Trump is not only making a challenge to the Republican establishment; he is also increasingly impatient with structures of democratic accountability. As Edward Luce argues in “The Retreat of Western Liberalism,” “the true populist loses patience with the rules of the democratic game.” He comes to view himself as the embodied voice of the people, and opponents as (in Trump’s words) “un-American” and “treasonous.”
As Robert S. Mueller III continues his inexorable investigation of Trump’s sleazy business and political world — and if Democrats gain the House and begin aggressive oversight — a cornered president may test the limits of executive power in the attempt to avoid justice.
If the GOP narrowly retains control of the House, Trump and others will take it as the vindication of his whole approach to politics. He will doubtlessly attack the independence of the FBI and attempt to make it an instrument of his will. He will doubtlessly continue his vendetta against responsible journalism and increase his pressure on media companies that don’t please him. On a broad front, Trump’s lunacy will become operational.
The separation of powers does not work automatically, like a washing machine. Republicans must pick their own point of principled resistance to a corrosive populism, if they have one at all.
No one expected the 2017 elections to see such a rout of Republicans as Democrats swept all statewide offices and 15 Republicans lost their seats in the House of Delegates, including anti-gay extremist Bob Marshall who lost to a transgender Democrat. What was the secret? Loathing of Trump played a role, but so too did disgust with Republicans who have for decades made low taxes for the rich and deference to Christian extremists their main agenda. People - including public school teachers - had simply had enough and took out their wrath at the ballot box. Now, Oklahoma seems to be seeing the beginnings of similar revolt. Between the primaries and run off elections 12 anti-public education Republicans went down to defeat. If the teachers and supporters continue the momentum into November, shock-waves could extend beyond Oklahoma and set an example of how to send the GOP into minority status. Here are highlights from New York Magazine:
For nearly a decade, Republican officials have been treating ordinary Oklahomans like the colonial subjects of an extractive empire. On Governor Mary Fallin’s watch, fracking companies have turned the Sooner State into the earthquake capital of the world; (literally) dictated policy to her attorney general; and strong-armed legislators into giving them a $470 million tax break — in a year when Oklahoma faced a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.Between 2008 and 2015, Oklahoma’s slashed its per-student education spending by 23.6 percent, more than any other state in the country. Some rural school districts were forced to adopt four-day weeks; others struggled to find competent teachers, as the GOP’s refusal to pay competitive salaries chased talented educators across the border into Texas. Students who were lucky enough to have both five-day weeks and qualified instructors still had to tolerate decaying textbooks.
Polls showed overwhelming public support for raising taxes on the wealthy and oil companies to increase investment in education. GOP lawmakers showed no interest in those polls.
But then, Oklahoma teachers decided to give their state a civics lesson. Inspired by their counterparts in West Virginia, Oklahoma teachers went on strike to demand long-overdue raises for themselves, more education funding for their students, and much higher taxes on the wealthy and energy companies — to ensure that those first two demands would be honored indefinitely.
They won one out of three. Despite the fact the teachers had no legal right to strike — and that the Oklahoma state legislature requires a three-fourths majority to pass tax increases of any kind — the teachers galvanized enough public support to force [GOP Governor Mary] Fallin to give an inch.. . . Oklahoma state lawmakers passed a tiny increase in the tax on fracking production (one small enough to leave Oklahoma with the lowest such tax rate in the nation), so as to fund $6,100 raises for the state’s teachers.
The strikers were pleased, but unappeased. They promised to make lawmakers pay for refusing to finance broader investments in education with larger tax hikes.
Last night, Oklahoma’s GOP primary season came to an end — and the teachers beat the billionaires in a rout. Nineteen Republicans voted against raising taxes to increase teacher pay last spring; only four will be on the ballot this November. As Tulsa World reports:
Republican voters handed out more pink slips to House members Tuesday. Six of 10 GOP incumbents involved in runoffs were turned out and a seventh narrowly survived . . . Between the first round on June 26 and Tuesday’s final results, a dozen incumbents — all Republicans, and all but one of them House members — lost primary or runoff races. . . . Each of those defeated Tuesday had, in some manner, earned the wrath of public education supporters during last spring’s occupation of the state Capitol.
Last spring, state representative Jeff Coody told students in his districts that their teachers’ demands were “akin to extortion.” On Tuesday night, GOP voters returned Coody to the private sector. His colleague, Bobby Cleveland — who scolded teachers for whining at the Capitol instead of teaching in their classrooms — will now be taking a hiatus from politics.
Representative George Faught of Muskogee had won five terms in the statehouse on the strength of his unwavering support for minimizing Harold Hamm’s tax bills. He lost his bid for a sixth to a political neophyte who credited the teachers’ strike for inspiring his campaign. “I walked with the teachers every day during the walkout — I worked to find out what issues they faced,” the new GOP nominee for House District 14 told the Muskogee Phoenix Tuesday night. “I think if you want to fix issues, you have to talk to the people on the front lines.”
Oklahoma’s historic primary season was no aberration. Last year, Democrats in the Sooner State won a series of special election upsets by speaking to popular outrage over disinvestment in education. In Kentucky this past May, a public school teacher defeated the state’s Republican House Majority Leader Jonathan Snell in a GOP primary. Snell had been considered a rising star in his party, and a protegé of Mitch McConnell. But he decided to spearhead a push to slash teachers’ pensions. So Kentucky teachers expelled him from office.
In Wisconsin, Scott Walker is facing the toughest challenge of his tenure — from the Democratic superintendent of the state’s schools. As the Koch brothers’ favorite governor falls behind in the polls, Walker has rebranded himself as “the pro-education” candidate. Meanwhile, back in Oklahoma, Mary Fallin’s 19 percent approval rating is giving Democrats a serious chance of reclaiming the Sooner State’s governor’s mansion this fall.
One could attribute these developments to the demonstrable failure of “the red state model.” The GOP promised voters in states like Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma that “small government” would bring them extraordinary economic growth, and effortlessly balanced budgets; instead they delivered four-day school weeks, crumbling roads, and slightly larger McMansions in the gated-off parts of town.
Eventually, something was going to give. . . . . And last night in Oklahoma, teachers left the GOP’s House caucus covered in debris.
Thursday, August 30, 2018
With all the problems that the Roman Catholic Church is facing ranging from declining membership (which at least so far has been partially masked by the growing Hispanic immigrant population) to the once again exploding sex abuse scandal, one would think that things other than discriminating against LGBT individuals would take a higher priority. Not so apparently in the Diocese of Philadelphia where the diocese Catholic Social Services sued the City of Philadelphia claiming that compliance with the City's non-discrimination laws would restrict its religious beliefs. If Philadelphia is like other jurisdictions, it likely had been paying Catholic Social Services for foster care placement services - money, the organization happily accepted. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take Catholic Social Services' appeal and the organization was left with the choice of ending its discriminatory practices or losing access to the taxpayer funded money trough. Reuters looks at the the ruling. Here are highlights:
In a decision that Catholic Social Services had said would force its foster care program to close, the justices refused the religious agency’s request for an injunction compelling the city to allow it to place children in foster homes while litigation over the dispute continues in lower courts.In the brief order that did not give any reasons for the decision, three conservative members of the court, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, said they would have granted the agency’s request.
Five of the nine Supreme Court justices are needed to grant an injunction, but the court is one member short since Justice Anthony Kennedy retired at the end of July. The court is split 4-4 between liberal and conservative justices. President Donald Trump has nominated conservative federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Kennedy.
“We hoped for a different decision today,” said Lori Windham, a lawyer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the agency. She said she was encouraged that three justices agreed with their position.
The dispute arose last March after the city suspended referrals with Catholic Social Services following a newspaper report on the agency’s policy to turn away same-sex couples.
At issue is Catholic Social Services’ policy of refusing to perform home studies on same-sex couples to evaluate and certify them as foster parents, which it says would amount to a written endorsement of same-sex marriage, according to court papers.
The case underscores increasing tensions in the United States between advocates for religious groups seeking exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, and gay rights proponents who say such exemptions would be a license to discriminate.
Philadelphia says that as part of its foster care contract with Catholic Social Services, the agency must follow a city anti-discrimination law, which covers sexual orientation.
Catholic Social Services, which is part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, filed suit in federal court arguing that the city had violated its religious and free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution.
I have zero sympathy or Catholic Social Services and similar groups that want to gobble up taxpayer funded money yet then think they should have a license to discriminate against some of the very same taxpayers who are footing the bill. If the agency cannot survive without public funds, then maybe that ought to send it message that the public doesn't support its exclusionary agenda. Currently in Virginia, similar groups have a license to discriminate thanks to Republicans who are always willing to perform the political equivalent of fellatio for The Family Foundation and similar anti-gay hate organizations. Hopefully, this state of affairs will end if Democrats retake control of the House of Delegates (and possibly the Senate) in the 2019 Virginia elections.
Donald Trump/Mike Pence and the Republican Party have used racial division and fanning the flames of white fears (especially working class white fears) over whites becoming a demographic minority in America as the number one means to mobilize their base. Study after study has shown that "economic anxiety" was NOT the motivating factor for why working class whites - and, I would argue a number of my Republican "friends" voted for Trump/Pence. It all boils down to racism and an irrational fear of anyone deemed "other." Having lived in Hampton, Virginia, a white minority city for the last nine (9) years, I find the fears ridiculous and irrational. If Hampton has economic problems, most stem from an incompetent white city manager who the City Council refuses to fire and replace with someone with some vision and imagination.
Meanwhile, the Hampton Yacht Club, once the bastion of white Hampton, has minority members and - the horror in the minds of Christofascists - gay members such as myself. The club in fact has record levels of membership and is doing just fine with an expanded membership base. As for "non-whites," both the husband and I have those who the Census Bureau would label as "non-white in our families. Indeed, under the Census Bureau standards I could be considered Hispanic given my mother's "origin" in Central America in a Spanish speaking country, not that anyone in my family has ever classified themselves as Hispanic. A lengthy column in the New York Times looks at the inaccuracies of how the Census Bureau defines race and the manner Trump and the GOP have cynically and dangerously whipped irrationally insecure whites into a frenzy: Here are highlights:
The question of whether America will become a majority-minority nation — and when that might happen — is intensely disputed, of enormous political import and extraordinarily complex.
Two articles that appeared in the opinion section of The Times over the past few years made the case that misleading statistical artifacts used by the Census Bureau have increased the fear of a majority-minority America, a fear that played a crucial role in the 2016 election.
Both Richard Alba, of CUNY, in “The Myth of the White Minority,” and Herbert Gans, of Columbia, in “The Census and Right Wing Hysteria,” argued that questionable census classifications led to an undercount of America’s white majority. This anxiety over the decline of white hegemony, in turn, helped propel a segment of conservative voters to cast ballots for Donald Trump.
Not so fast, say William Frey of Brookings, Lilliana Mason of the University of Maryland and Justin Gest of George Mason University. They argue that mixed-race Americans who identify as white are not always viewed — or accepted — as white by other Americans. As Mason put it to me in an email, “people who are racially motivated to dislike immigrants” will “not be assuaged by the argument that one day immigrants will just be white people.”
[I]n 2017, Alba addressed the interrelated questions of how mixed-race Americans classify themselves, how the census classifies them and how the census classification deals with the offspring of racially and ethnically mixed parents. Alba writes:
Currently, 14 to 15 percent of infants born in the United States are multiethnic or multiracial, a number that was just 11 to 12 percent in 2000. But despite the fact that most of those children have a white parent, inadequacies in the census classifications mean that the great majority of them are identified as nonwhites. This is important, because most partly white individuals behave like whites in sociological terms. They grow up in neighborhoods with many whites, have white friends as adults, think of themselves mostly as white or partly white, and marry whites.
In addition, according to Alba, “when individuals report having Hispanic ancestry, the Census Bureau assumes, following the O.M.B. standards, that they are only Hispanic regardless of their answers to the race question.” In other words, Hispanics who describe themselves as white are classified as minorities, not as whites.
The census defines as Hispanic or Latino “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” In the 2010 census, there were 50.48 million Hispanics, 53 percent of whom self-identified as white.
When Hispanics who identify themselves as white are added in, the white share of the population actually grew modestly between 2000 and 2017 from 75.1 percent to 76.6 percent.
This raises a question: If the census dropped the binary non-Hispanic white-minority division and instead stressed the large number of people of mixed ancestry who self-identify as white, would the anxieties of whites fearful of a majority-minority America be lessened?
A second question is how many Americans who are currently inclined to see immigrants as outsiders and as threats to the nation’s culture will perceive those coming from Asian, Latin American, African, Middle Eastern and North African nations as part of the American mainstream — even as more of those migrants intermarry. And what about the second-, third- and fourth-generation offspring of increasing numbers of Latino-white and Asian-white unions?
Trump has driven home not only to his base but to many others the message of a threatening majority-minority future.
[A] survey of 2,600 non-Hispanic whites conducted in July 2016, during the campaign, by Dowell Myers and Morris Levy, political scientists at the University of Southern California.
They asked one half of the respondents to read a story about the “conventional narrative about the decline of non-Hispanic whites” and the other half to read a story detailing “the growth of Hispanic and Asian-American populations” but that “also mentioned the rise of intermarriage and reported the Census Bureau’s alternative projection of a more diverse white majority persisting the rest of the century.”
Of those who read the first version, “46 percent of white Democrats and a whopping 74 percent of Republicans expressed anger or anxiety when reading about the impending white-minority status.” Of those who read the second version, “only 35 percent of white Democrats and 29 percent of white Republicans expressed anger or anxiousness.”
Justin Gest, a professor of public policy at George Mason University and the author of the book “The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality,” is far less optimistic. He wrote by email:
The image of these immigrants has been contaminated by Trumpian portrayals of criminals, benefit hunters, and opportunistic job competitors. Further, the vision of a more hybridized whiteness is still a couple decades away, and political minds are notoriously myopic.
It is not, Gest argued, a strategy to reassure white Trump supporters, “Don’t worry. Those immigrants will soon be white too.” There is a pervasive perception that Latinos, Africans and Asians are simply too different, too far removed from what Sam Huntington called the “American creed.”
Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, shares Gest’s pessimistic assessment. As a general rule of thumb, Mason argued, “people don’t respond well to being told that they’ll think differently one day. It comes across as patronizing and can cause them to stick to their original idea even more strongly.”
Bart Bonikowski, a professor of sociology at Harvard, argues that in the contemporary political climate, the fear of cultural disruption has become so pervasive on the right that realistic facts and figures make little difference. As he wrote in an email:
My sense is that actual levels of migration, shifts in immigrants’ ethnic identification, and changing rates of intermarriage are, at best, only loosely coupled with perceptions of cultural threat among white voters, particularly those with moderate levels of education and those living outside of urban centers. Even though actual levels of undocumented migration from Mexico — and net migration from that country in general — have decreased in recent years, this in no way diminished the potency of Donald Trump’s xenophobic discourse in the 2016 presidential election.
The reason for this is that many Trump supporters have long held strong ethnonationalist sentiments, but these sentiments have only recently become politically salient, as Trump, and other Republicans before him, have actively stoked fears of demographic and cultural change and channeled them into powerful resentments toward minority groups. For many voters, such resentments are not rooted in everyday experience, not least because they tend to live in ethnically homogeneous, predominantly white communities, but rather, they are shaped by powerful nativist narratives perpetuated by right-wing politicians, partisan organizations, and media outlets.
Could a more multifaceted narrative than the binary white vs. minority projection into the future lessen the anxiety of some whites? Michael Barber, a political scientist at Brigham Young, doubts it:
Their research shows, Barber writes, that partisans have extremely biased perceptions of the “other” party, including survey data showing that people “think that 32 percent of Democrats are LGBT (vs. 6 percent in reality) and 38 percent of Republicans earn over $250,000 per year (vs. 2 percent in reality).” With this in mind, Barber argued, “it isn’t a stretch to imagine that people think we’re already a majority-minority country when in fact we aren’t at all.”
“[A]s long as prominent leaders continue to mobilize white fear and anger on the issue, citizens who trust them will follow.”
Robert Jones, the C.E.O. of the Public Religion Research Institute, put the problem this way in an email:
Throughout American history in particular, the question of whiteness has been at the center of these debates, fueled by the fact that social privileges and political rights were tied to whiteness.
Historically, this has played out in the practices of the Census Bureau and the Citizenship and Immigration Services that “recorded race and ethnicity categories over time, e.g., ‘Celt’ and ‘Hebrew’ once appeared outside of the ‘Caucasian’ category.”
Sadly, Trump (and Pence who plays the same game) and the GOP have played upon what my late southern belle grandmother called the "white trash mentality" - only their skin color gave them more standing than blacks and other racial minorities. The irony is that most educated whites likely have far more in common with educated and effluent minorities than the do with poor, uneducated religiously extreme whites who, in my view, are the biggest threat to America.
|Grandpa Munster look-a-like Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke.|
As politicians go, GOP Texas Senator Ted Cruz has got to rank very high on the list of the most foul and most lacking in basic honesty and morality - Trump and Pence are in a league of their own - and, therefore, it would be a true delight to see him defeated in November, 2018. For a long time many thought that Cruz going down to defeat was near impossible given the reactionary nature of Texas, but Beto O'Rourke has surged in the polls and by some polls is even in a statistical dead heat with Cruz. While not yet to the point where Virginia is in terms of urban areas being able to out vote the backward, knuckle dragging areas of the state, Texas' cities are moving in that direction. Add to that a Hispanic population that, if it has any sense of self-preservation, should vote for any Democrat against any Republican. Now, Cruz allies are panicking and the insidious and misnamed Club for Growth - which wants even more tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations - has announced that it will launch an attack ad campaign against O'Rourke. Politico looks at this high profile contest. Here are excerpts:
Republicans are sounding the alarm about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s closer-than-expected reelection contest, with an influential conservative group racing to his aid.The Club for Growth, a Washington-based anti-tax group, is drawing up plans for a major TV ad campaign boosting Cruz — the first such intervention by a Republican outside group in this race. The move comes as Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an online fundraising behemoth who has attracted national support, continues to narrow the gap in polling.
David McIntosh, the Club for Growth’s president, said on Tuesday the organization is planning a seven-figure-plus offensive targeting O’Rourke. McIntosh was speaking from Texas, where he is meeting with pro-Cruz donors who could help fund the effort. “In the last five weeks, it’s become clear that the race has tightened,” said McIntosh.
Republican officials once saw Cruz, a failed 2016 presidential candidate, as safe given Texas’ conservative tilt, and in public, they have largely derided O’Rourke’s candidacy and public polls showing a close race. But, privately, they have grown increasingly concerned. An NBC News/Marist poll conducted earlier this month showed Cruz leading O’Rourke by a narrow 49 percent to 45 percent margin.
O’Rourke has emerged as a national liberal cause célébre. An online video of O’Rourke defending the right of NFL players to kneel during the national anthem has gone viral in recent days, and it was announced on Tuesday that O’Rourke would appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September.
The extent of the rescue effort remains an open question. While a pro-Cruz super PAC, Texans Are, has been established, other conservative outside groups have remained focused on other Senate contests.
The White House, meanwhile, has been monitoring the contest. Two senior Republicans said they expected
PresidentDonald Trump, who fought bitterly with Cruz during in the 2016 presidential race, to hit the trail for the Texas Republican ahead of the November election.
McIntosh said it had not been determined when the Club’s campaign would begin. But he said it would focus heavily on casting O’Rourke as an establishment figure who, contrary to the nonpolitical and outsider persona he has cultivated, is eager to climb the ranks of political power.
To some Cruz backers, the help cannot come soon enough, and many of them are eager to see Cruz’s donor network, which he forged during his 2016 presidential bid, activated for his reelection.
“I don’t think you can count anybody out at any point. This world is changing so rapidly. It’s pretty unbelievable,” said Lee Roy Mitchell, a Dallas-based Cruz donor and founder of the Cinemark movie theater chain.
“We’re solidly behind the senator, and I would like to think most Texans are. I believe they are,” said Mitchell, who with his wife Tandy has donated a combined $1 million to the pro-Cruz super PAC. “But there’s a tremendous amount of money being poured in here to change people’s opinions.”
One can only hope that Trump campaigning in Texas for Cruz will only further energize the Democrat base and convince the must go to the polls and vote Democrat as a means to strike back and the racist Trump.
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
The Atlantic has two disturbing articles that at first blush seem unrelated. One looks at ties between the Trump/Pence regime and white supremacists and the other looks at Russian efforts to infiltrate and/or fund far fight clubs, motorcycle gangs and other alt-right groups to sow division and inflame racism, homophobia and liberal ideologies in general. What is amazing or disturbing depending on one's perspective is the lengths, deviousness and reach of the Russian intelligence services directed by Trump BFF Vladimir Putin. Highlights from the first piece include emails linking some at the Department of Homeland Security with white nationalist groups which ought to be under DHS investigation rather than possible coordination. Here are excerpts:
In the past two years, leaders of an emboldened white nationalism have burst into the forefront of national politics and coalesced around an “alt-right” subculture as they have endeavored to make their ideology part of the mainstream. Recent developments have shed light on previously unknown connections between white nationalist activists and the Trump administration. Now, the Department of Homeland Security has denounced “all forms of violent extremism” following the resignation of a policy analyst who had connections with white nationalists, according to leaked emails obtained by The Atlantic.
The emails show that the official, Ian M. Smith, had in the past been in contact with a group that included known white nationalists as they planned various events. On one of the email threads, the address of alt-right white nationalist leader Richard Spencer is included as well as Smith’s. Another group of recipients includes Smith as well as Jared Taylor, the founder of the white nationalist publication American Renaissance, who calls himself a “white advocate.”
The messages, given to The Atlantic by a source to whom they were forwarded, paint a picture of the social scene in which white nationalists gathered for an “Alt-Right Toastmasters” night in 2016, and organized dinner parties and visits from out-of-town friends. And they provide a glimpse into how a group that included hardcore white nationalists were able to operate relatively incognito in the wider world, particularly in conservative circles. The revelation of these messages comes amid increasing scrutiny of white nationalists’ ties to the administration; a White House speechwriter named Darren Beattie left the administration after CNN reported earlier this month that he had attended a conference with white nationalists in 2016. The Washington Post reported last week that Peter Brimelow, the publisher of white nationalist website VDare, had attended a party at top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow’s house.
White nationalists have an affinity for the president, whom they believe shares some of their policy priorities. After counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, President Trump remarked that there were "very fine people on both sides" who attended the rally. After hearing the president's statement, Spencer told The Atlantic he was "really proud of him."
According to sources with knowledge of Smith’s role at DHS, he was a policy analyst working on immigration. He used to work for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, an anti-immigration legal organization associated with the right-wing Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Though the emails don’t show Smith and Spencer interacting, some of the messages indicate a familiarity on Smith’s part with Spencer’s projects. In another email sent on March 7, 2015, Smith refers to an event held by “NPI,” the acronym for the National Policy Institute, Spencer’s white nationalist non-profit, saying he had missed it because he was out of town. And in another on May 9, 2016, Smith recommended someone for a job at prominent, Trump-supporting media outlet, saying that the person was “currently working in development at LI” (the conservative training group the Leadership Institute) “writes for Radix, Amren, VDare and Chronicles under a pseudonym.”
The second article looks at Russian efforts across Europe and America to foster right wing, pro-Russia groups that play up white nationalism, anti-gay activism and disruption of liberal democracies in general. Many of these insidious operations go under the radar. Here are article highlights:
It seems almost too strange to be true: fight clubs, neo-Nazi soccer hooligans, and motorcycle gangs serving as conduits for the Kremlin’s influence operations in Western countries. It sounds more like an episode of The Americans with a dash of Mad Max and Fight Club mixed in. Yet this is exactly what is happening across Europe and North America as Russia’s intelligence services co-opt fringe radicals and angry young men to try to undermine Western democracies from within. And not just in the virtual world, but in real life.
After the Kremlin accelerated its covert war against Western democracies in the aftermath of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s intelligence services dramatically ramped up their “active measures” (in Russian intelligence jargon, aktivnyye meropriyatiya or “active measures” refers to a broad range of covert influence and/or subversive operations) using radical-right and fringe groups. These groups serve as the perfect unwitting agents to accomplish Moscow’s twin goals of destabilizing Western societies and co-opting Western business and political elites.
By forging ties to radical groups on the far right, and sometimes on the far left, the Kremlin has developed convenient local surrogates that can amplify its talking points, even as Russian trolls reinforce the divisive narratives such groups spread online.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that the partnerships between the Kremlin and these groups are always marriages of convenience. Many are genuine partnerships based on a shared aversion to liberal democracy and a desire to undermine it.
The Kremlin’s recruitment of skinheads, biker gangs, soccer hooligans, and street fighters does not usually appear geared toward the armed overthrow of democratic governments. Far more often, the recruitment, indoctrination, and manipulation of fringe right-wing groups seems aimed at sowing political chaos in Western democracies and subverting or weakening democratic institutions. But occasionally, as in Ukraine, these proxies can operate directly in support of Kremlin operations.
In the West, the majority of systema clubs [a particular type of martial-arts club, based on the systema combat style, which has its origins in medieval Russia] are exactly what they appear to be. However, according to an investigation by the EU Observer, a number of systema fight clubs in Europe and North America prominently display their links to Russia’s special forces and even use GRU or FSB insignia in their promotional materials. They appeal to nationalistically minded expatriates such as military veterans, and tap into a particular Russian-nationalist subculture that extols the secret services, much like that Spetsnaz club in South Florida. Many systema practitioners also travel regularly to Russia to receive advanced training.
If some Russian fight clubs in Europe and North America harbor a small fraction of GRU-affiliated agents instrumentally tapping into the street-fighting milieu to drive home an anti-Western (and pro-Russia) message, then their activity is not much different from the trolls who work for Russia’s Internet Research Agency. The key difference would be that the indoctrination and recruitment is being done in person rather than online.
The Kremlin makes use of far-right groups for a number of reasons. First, these groups can be manipulated and indoctrinated through social media, which makes them ripe targets for organizations like the Internet Research Agency, whose trolls can mobilize their members with carefully crafted messaging. Second, these groups are likely to find the Kremlin’s ideology of “traditional Russian values” appealing, particularly when contrasted with Western liberal values such as individual rights, tolerance, and self-expression. Right-wing groups are more easily drawn into the Russian orbit with anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-feminist rhetoric and by a narrative that stresses a collectivist, tribal, and racially exclusive worldview.
Finally, the Western radical right is attractive to the Kremlin not only because it provides a pool of recruits—often angry young white men—for stirring up social protests, but also because it serves as a backdoor for establishing ties with far-right political parties and anti-establishment politicians. The Kremlin views such politicians—like France’s Marine Le Pen, Germany’s Frauke Petry, and Italy’s Matteo Salvini—as battering rams that can be used to demolish democratic institutions and to challenge the political establishment’s support for NATO, the EU, and transatlantic ties. Although the Kremlin’s effort to co-opt Western politicians is beyond the scope of this article, it is a key reason why Russia invests resources in cultivating fringe radicals in the West.
In the United States too, the alt-right and Kremlin ideologues share a common cause. While many of these ties are the result of mutual admiration more than active recruitment, the recent charges against the gun-rights advocate Maria Butina for serving as a Russian agent prove the Kremlin is also actively seeking to cultivate groups on the American right.
Fringe-right groups already consider the Kremlin an ally. At the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, chants of “Russia is our friend!” were commonplace. Richard Spencer, who led the Charlottesville rally and directs an alt-right organization called the National Policy Institute, has praised Putin as a protector of the white race. His website, altright.com, features such articles as “Why Anti-Racism is Nothing but a Lie” and defends the alt-right’s associations with Putin by arguing that “Russia is one of the few countries left that supports and upholds Pro-European values such as strength, unity, racial awareness, etc.”
The lessons for the United States and its allies are clear. Russia’s manipulation of fringe far-right groups is part of a deliberate strategy to undermine Western democratic institutions. Russia’s trolls and intelligence services prey on social outcasts in order to radicalize them and recruit them to wage war on their countries’ liberal institutions. To do this, the Kremlin reinforces their belief that liberal democracy is rotten and cultivates their restless anger and propensity toward violence. In addition to stoking anger and resentment, the Kremlin also uses covert financing to bankroll their destructive agenda. These efforts occur both in person, via martial-arts studios and motorcycle clubs, and in the virtual world of social media, where they are largely hidden from law enforcement and the general public.
As disturbing as it may be having Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, in the White House, should he be impeached or keel over as a result of his horrid dietary habits, then America is faced with the prospect of Mike Pence replacing Trump. The only saving factor might be if Pence gets caught up in the Russiagate investigation - certainly a possibility given McConnell's efforts to block the American people from learning of the FBI investigation until after election day. Why is Pence such a frightening prospect in my mind? To be blunt, he's a crazed religious fanatic who would make Trump's efforts to make Christofascists a superior class of citizens look de minimis. In a piece in The Hill, Pence's biographer shares just how extreme Pence is in fact, and the fact that Pence is delusional and thinks he hears god calling him to be president. Here are article highlights:
Michael D’Antonio, a CNN contributor and biographer who wrote "The Truth About Trump," said in a new interview that Vice President Pence believes God is “calling him” to “function as a president-in-waiting.”"Absolutely everything Mike Pence does is oriented toward him becoming president," D'Antonio said during an appearance on CNN on Tuesday in promotion of his new book, "The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.”
"His decision to accept Donald Trump's offer to be his running mate — it even goes back much further,” D'Antonio claimed. “By the time he had left high school, he had decided that he was going to be president of the United States. ... He thought God was calling him to, now, be vice president and function as a president-in-waiting."
The author added that Pence has been "effective in this pursuit" by becoming a member of Congress, governor of Indiana and now vice president.
"We see Donald Trump in this huge crisis, this rolling chaos," D'Antonio said. "And I think, with every day, Mike Pence imagines he's one day closer to the Oval Office."
When asked by CNN host John Berman if he believes the vice president is “maneuvering to get the top job” at the expense of Trump, D'Antonio also replied: "Oh, I think yes."
[T]hough the vice president has been seen in recent weeks around the country promoting the president’s agenda, Pence is “really promoting the development of his own network.”
Out New York Times columnist Frank Bruni described D'Antonio's book as follows: "It presents an entirely damning portrait of Pence. You've seen his colors before, but not so vividly and in this detail."“He established a PAC before any vice president did. His infrastructure for running for office is complete," D'Antonio added. "So, should Trump stumble, should he decide not to run again, Pence 2020 would be an automatic thing."
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
|Trump and Christian extremist leaders at the White House.|
Donald Trump was back in Adolph Hitler mode as he addressed a who's who of evangelical Christian extremists and parasitic "professional Christians" such as Franklin Graham and white supremacist loving Tony Perkins. Specifically, Trump seemed to be messaging to his base that violence would be appropriate against liberals and Democrats if Republican candidates lose significantly in the 2018 midterm elections. In one of his typical lies, Trump attributed to liberals and Democrats that has been consistently engaged in by the far right of the GOP Base. The second big lie was that even as Trump was de facto encouraging violence, he lied to the Christofascists at the gather when he claimed to have changed laws that restrict churches from engaging in politically partisan election activities. Trump neither rescinded the so-called Johnson Amendment nor does he have the power to do so. His knuckle dragging, spittle flecked and hate-filled audience nonetheless ate up the lie. CNN looks at Trump's warnings of violence. Here are excerpts:
PresidentDonald Trump, facing scrutiny for hush money payments to a porn star and a former Playboy model, pleaded with evangelical leaders for political help during closed-door remarks on Monday, warning of dire consequences to their congregations should Republicans lose in November's midterm elections.
"This November 6 election is very much a referendum on not only me, it's a referendum on your religion, it's a referendum on free speech and the First Amendment. It's a referendum on so much," Trump told the assemblage of pastors and other Christian leaders gathered in the State Dining Room, according to a recording from people in the room.
"It's not a question of like or dislike, it's a question that they will overturn everything that we've done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence. . . . "You have tremendous power. You were saying, in this room, you have people who preach to almost 200 million people. Depending on which Sunday we're talking about."
But inviting the leaders to the White House only days after [Trump]
the Presidentwas newly implicated by his longtime personal lawyer's guilty plea underscored the degree to which Trump is trying to keep his supporters on his side.
"You have to hopefully get out and get people to support us," Trump said. "If you don't, that will be the beginning of ending everything that you've gotten."
The remarks from an attendee's recording offered a more dire view of the upcoming vote than Trump has projected in public. He often trumpets an upcoming "red wave" of Republican victories, downplaying suggestions that Democrats are poised to exploit his divisiveness and retake the House or Senate.
Trump didn't mention a "red wave" on Monday, instead acknowledging that midterms often present new presidents with a turnout challenge. . . . there's a real question as to whether people are going to vote if I'm not on the ballot. And I'm not on the ballot." That's a problem Trump said the evangelical leaders could help solve by galvanizing their congregations and followers to vote.
The New York Times described the event as Trump's "attempt to use the specter of violence at the hands of his political opponents and to fan the flames of cultural divisions in the country." As noted, at this gathering of the leaders of the American Taliban, Trump boasted about changes in the law that he has not made and lacks the power to make. NBC News looks at Trump's deliberate lies to the assembled Christofascists. Here are highlights:
In a closed-door meeting with evangelical leaders Monday night,
PresidentDonald Trump repeated his debunked claim that he had gotten "rid of" a law forbidding churches and charitable organizations from endorsing political candidates, according to recorded excerpts reviewed by NBC News.
In fact, the law remains on the books, after efforts to kill it in Congress last year failed.
But Trump cited this alleged accomplishment as one in a series of gains he has made for his conservative Christian supporters, as he warned, "You're one election away from losing everything that you've got," and said their opponents were "violent people" who would overturn these gains "violently."
Trump addressed the law and the upcoming midterms in private remarks Monday during a dinner with evangelical supporters at the White House after the press had left.
The law that Trump says he got rid of is the so-called Johnson Amendment, a provision inserted into law in 1954 by then-senator and future President Lyndon Johnson of Texas, who was miffed that a conservative nonprofit group was helping his opponent.
The law says churches and charities "are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."
"Now one of the things I'm most proud of is getting rid of the Johnson Amendment," the president said. "That was a disaster for you."
The president doesn't have the power to repeal a law — only Congress can do that. The Supreme Court can also rule a law unconstitutional, but that has not happened in this case.
In May 2017, Trump signed an executive order that purported to ease enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. But experts — and the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes repeal of the provision — say the Trump order was basically toothless.
In other words, religious organizations can express their religious views, as they always could — but still cannot formally participate in political campaigns.