Thursday, December 13, 2018
|Russian spy, Maria Butina, with the NRA's Wayne LaPierre.|
Excluding right wing "Christian" organizations, in my view perhaps the most toxic element in American politics is the National Rifle Association ("NRA") which has long put gun manufacturer profits ahead of the safety of American citizens through its opposition to any form of common sense gun control. No lie or deception has proven too great for the NRA and its henchmen. Thus, it is wonderful to learn that the NRA may be about to be exposed as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Putin's Russia. That at least is what Russian spy Maria Butina's "boyfriend" (more likely her stooge who was played by her) claimed in email communications. Butinia has apparently worked a plea deal with Robert Mueller's team - something very unusual for a Russia operative - and could well provide documentation that links the NRA to a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign aimed at flipping the 2016 presidential election to Trump by an influx of Russian funds for pro-Trump campaign ads. If documented, this could well be the beginning of the end of the NRA, home of so many false patriots if they were accomplices in election interference. Here are highlights from a piece in Salon (note how the organizers of the so-called National Prayer Breakfast were also trolled):
Admitted Russian spy Maria Butina’s Republican operative boyfriend wrote in private communications that he was involved in setting up a “very private line of communication” between Russia and the Trump campaign using the National Rifle Association as a “conduit.”Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist, worked for years to cultivate relationships within Republican and NRA circles. She was charged with working as an agent of the Russian government earlier this year and on Monday agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges and cooperate with prosecutors.
In her plea deal, Butina admitted that she and “US Person 1,” who is longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official,” whose description matches Russian banker and close Putin ally Alexander Torshin, for Butina to “act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General,” ABC News reported.
According to ABC News, federal prosecutors have notified Erickson, who had a romantic relationship with Butina, that he is now a target in the ongoing investigation.
According to her agreement, Butina admitted that with Erickson’s help she drafted a proposal called “Description of the Diplomacy Project” in March of 2015 in which she wrote that she had “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration.”
According to prosecutors, Erickson “worked with Butina to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics,” including the NRA and the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast.
Erickson appears to have known about Butina’s work and was helping her establish connections.
Erickson wrote in October 2016, in an email to an acquaintance now in possession of the FBI, “I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [unnamed political party] leaders through, of all conduits, the [unnamed gun-rights organization].”
FBI investigators raided Erickson's South Dakota home and found a note in which he mused, “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” The FSB is Russia’s intelligence agency and the successor to the infamous KGB.
Butina continued to attend “friendship dinners” with prominent conservatives and later arranged for a group of Russians to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in February of 2017. In an email to Erickson, Butina wrote that the Russians were coming to the breakfast “to establish a back channel of communication,” The Daily Beast reported.
As these efforts were ongoing, the NRA was breaking spending records with sums of cash never before seen from the group.
The NRA, relying on an arm of the group that is not required to disclose its donors, spent more than $30 million to elect
PresidentDonald Trump, nearly triple the $12.5 million they spent to help Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. They spent $54 million in total to elect Republicans in 2016. Since the 2016 election, the NRA has cut its spending drastically.
But the NRA didn’t just spend a lot of money to help Trump win. Watchdog groups filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the NRA and the Trump campaign of illegally coordinating ads to influence the 2016 election. According to The Trace, both the NRA and Trump campaign illegally coordinated to the point where their ad buys were authorized by the same person at the National Media Research firm.
After Trump’s election win, Butina wrote to Torshin, “I am ready for further orders.” She was arrested earlier this year and has now agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Erickson appears to be facing the threat of prosecution himself. And Torshin? He appears to have been forced into retirement.
Butina’s cooperation will also likely lead to charges against Erickson, whose relationship with Butina is not entirely clear. Prosecutors claimed that Butina “appear[ed] to treat [her relationship with Erickson] as simply a necessary aspect of her activities” and privately expressed “disdain” for having to live with him.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
How high up in the Vatican do charges of sexual abuse of minors go? Very high it appears. A jury in an Australian court unanimously convicted Cardinal George Pell - the No. 3 figure in the Vatican hierarchy and former Archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne - of sexual molesting two choir boys. That's right it was a unanimous verdict. Details are scarce since the court had imposed a gag order in the case to prevent details from leaking out and potentially impacting the trial and jury. Pell had been on a "leave of absence" from his Vatican posts and now, albeit belatedly, Pope Francis has dropped him like a hot potato and removed Pell from Francis' informal cabinet (a Chilean cardinal implicated in sex abuse cover ups has likewise been dropped). As a former gay Catholic, I now wonder why I ever allowed myself to be filled with guilt and self-hate by the dictates of what is now so clearly a morally bankrupt and corrupt Church hierarchy. The Daily Beast has details on the trial and jury verdict:
The Vatican’s third most powerful official has been convicted in Australia on all charges he sexually abused two choir boys there in the late '90s, according to two sources with knowledge of the case.
A unanimous jury returned its verdict for Cardinal George Pell on Tuesday (Australian time) after more than three days of deliberations, the sources said, in a trial conducted under a gag order by the judge that prevented any details of the trial being made public.
Pell, the Vatican’s finance chief and the highest Vatican official to ever go on trial for sex abuse, left Rome in June 2017 to stand trial in Melbourne.
As that trial was about to get underway in June, a judge placed a suppression order on all press coverage in Australia, according to the order reviewed by The Daily Beast. Prosecutors applied for the order and it was granted to “prevent a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice.” That order remains in place in Australia.
That trial, known as “the cathedral trial,” was declared a mistrial earlier this year after a hung jury, the sources say. A retrial began immediately and ended this week with the unanimous verdict.
Pell was accused by two former choir boys of sexual abuse while he was archbishop of Melbourne in the '90s. The boys sang in the choir at St. Patrick's cathedral and were allegedly abused by Pell in a room in the confines of the church. Pell’s office told The Guardian in 2017 he “repeats his vehement and consistent denials of any and all such accusations.”
Sadly, Pell is likely to be far from a lone predator in light of the resignations of two former archbishops of Washington, D.C., one of whom was credibly accused of sexual abuse of seminarians and others, and the other of whom was implicated in cover ups of sexual abuse. The Sydney Morning Herald looks at Francis dropping Pell like a hot potato. Here are excerpts:A second trial known as “the swimmers trial” is due to get underway early next year, according to sources familiar with the case. That trial is expected to hear evidence that Pell “sexually offended” two men when they were boys playing games in a swimming pool in Ballarat, Victoria.
Pope Francis has removed two cardinals from his informal cabinet amid the Catholic Church's sex abuse and cover-up scandal, shedding embarrassing advisers ahead of a high-stakes Vatican summit on abuse early next year.The Vatican said on Wednesday that Francis in October had written to Cardinal George Pell and Chilean Cardinal Javier Errazuriz thanking them for their five years of service on the so-called Group of Nine, or C-9.
Their continued presence on the C-9 had been a source of scandal for Francis, given the explosion of the abuse and cover-up crisis this year. Francis himself was implicated in the scandal after he strongly defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up for the country's most notorious predator priest - a position he took apparently on the advice of Errazuriz.
No doubt right wing extreme Catholics will continue to scapegoat gays as the root cause of the sex abuse by Catholic clergy rather than admit that the real roots of the problem are : (i) the Roman rite priestly celibacy requirement , (ii) the Church's warped and ignorant 12th century dogma on sex and human sexuality, and (iii) the Church's unhealthy structure of seminary high schools and seminaries that have long guaranteed abnormal psycho-sexual development of candidates for the priesthood.Though he has been away from Rome since announcing his leave of absence in June 2017, Pell technically remains prefect of the Vatican's economy secretariat.
If one is a decent, moral Catholic, the only option is to leave the Catholic Church until such time as(A) a thorough house cleaning is done of all implicated bishops and cardinals, and (B) the Church discards its warped (and anti-woman) dogma on sex and sexuality. The Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America offer wonderful alternatives that have a Catholic like liturgy and are free from the corrupt, feudal Catholic Church hierarchy.
|Refugee children being warehoused compliments of Trump/Pence.|
One of America's shameful episodes - one of many that include genocide of Native Americans and slavery and then Jim Crow - is the manner in which Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Germany and areas it had conquered were refused admission to the United States. Many went back to Europe to their deaths in death camps or other forms of mass murder. Why were they refused entry? Simple. They were Jewish and "different." Fast forward to today and a similar cruelty is taking place along the U.S./Mexico border. Some who have been refused entry or deported have returned to their home countries and, like European Jews before them, have met their deaths - precisely what they said would happen to them and why they sought asylum in this country. Der Trumpenführer depicts them all as terrorists and criminals, a claim that like most things flowing from his mouth, is a lie. America and Americans are losing their souls and decent moral people (sorry, but that excludes evangelicals) should be very upset. A column at NBC News looks at the steady loss of America's soul. Here are highlights:
A bleak irony is emerging in Tijuana's border zone. For all the raging conservative rhetoric about how Central American migrants are lawbreakers who refuse to just “get in line” and enter the “legal” way, the asylum seekers are actually "getting in line” — or what passes for a line — by forming an ad hoc queue that Mexican authorities have improvised to maintain some social order.
Every day, migrants line up to be “processed” with a black number scrawled onto their arms — an informal label used to secure a “spot” on a theoretical waiting list. Yet, as they wait indefinitely for their number to be called, the basic institutions of due process they hope to invoke are disintegrating in a dysfunctional, backlogged immigration court system.
The White House remains hell bent on keeping them out, however, and the plan appears to be to warehouse asylum seekers in Mexico with the underlying aim of discouraging them from trying to cross at all. So a ragged encampment in Tijuana is slowly sinking into chaos as heavily militarized American border authorities block and repel refugees.
The situation is not “immigration enforcement” in any meaningful sense. Instead, it's a reprise of historical pattern of exclusion, displacement and oppression that has always surrounded the nation’s southern boundary — lines of class, race, gender and culture are deliberately drawn to police a social gateway to the country. And to
PresidentTrump, these refugees are the wrong kind of people.
Whether or not the migrants are ultimately admitted, the crisis at the border is not about who is coming, but who we are; their transgression of an arbitrarily-drawn border is dwarfed by the savagery the U.S. government commits in the name of “security.” The plight of asylum seekers reflects the flagging promise of America as a land of refuge; their suffering is our own self-sabotage.
[M]igrant rights advocates on the other side of the border see a side of crisis that Trump seems incapable understanding: They are desperate families fleeing for safety, they are survivors, they are refugees of social catastrophe. And Trump is right that they're unstoppable, but only because they are following international law and the basic moral principles enshrined in the constitution.
[R]ights advocates say this is a crisis of Trump’s own making. Michelle Brané, an advocate with the Women’s Refugee Commission, notes that, compared to Mexico, the U.S. asylum system has adequate resources for dealing with the influx of Central American migrants, but refuses to honor its obligations under domestic and international law to process their claims in U.S. courts.
Migrant women and youth are often the most excluded. Women are typically vulnerable to sexual violence, human trafficking, and other forms of gendered coercion and violence. So-called “unaccompanied minors” — young people who migrate alone — are exposed to gang violence and trafficking. Now Brané worries that desperate asylum seekers might eventually be forced to pay bribes, or to trade sex to secure a slot in line, and youth could get roped into trafficking rings.
Though they have narrowly escaped their hells to seek refuge at the border, Trump’s answer to their humanitarian appeal is to make America as inhumane as possible.
The migrants escaping Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are not only connected to diaspora communities in the U.S. but, in many ways, their mass exodus stems from generations of U.S. military and political intervention. From Cold War-era political domination, to destabilizing “free trade” deals, to the violent policies of the War on Drugs, social disruption, fueled in large part by U.S. policy, has unraveled Central American societies, unleashing economic deprivation, crime, corruption and gender-based violence.
And now Trump is actively deploying state brutality as a deterrence tactic, imprisoning migrants in detention centers, and even systematically ripping children from their parents and leaving countless families traumatized.
The administration has argued that systematic violence against women and children is a mere private “misfortune,” too personal to merit humanitarian reprieve. Foreclosing those claims would keep countless women and youth from invoking well-established legal precedents for granting humanitarian protection.
Here during the Christmas season, the irony is that as evangelicals blather about the "war on Christmas," the real war on the values of Christmas and the gospel message is being waged by a foul regime that evangelicals strongly support (and, indeed, put in office). All they see is brown skin and refuse to see common humanity. Meanwhile, the real Jesus, if he existed, was a brown skinned man from Palestine, not the white Jesus of the evangelicals. America is losing its soul and the loss is being spearheaded by the false pious "godly folk" and the politicians they support.
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
New analysis of the 2018 midterm election results indicate that cracks may be developing in the coalition that thanks to a failure on the part of Electoral College electors put Trump in the White House. The results of the new analysis also underscores the reality that evangelicals are the principal pestilence in both America's political and social discourse. Evangelicals reflectively vote Republican and support policies harmful to the poor, the elderly, the sick, and which are decidedly racist and anti-black and anti-Hispanic (the term modern day Pharisees is too kind, in my view). Meanwhile, the splintering of non-evangelical, non-college educated whites from the Trump coalition could provide an opening for Democrats in 2020 both at the presidential election level and at the Congressional level. Here are lengthy highlights from a long piece at CNN that looks at this new analysis:
Cracks have emerged in Donald Trump's hold on his core constituency of white working class voters, new data from the 2018 election reveal.
Though Republican candidates almost everywhere registered large margins among white voters without a college degree, Democrats ran much more competitively among the roughly half of that group who are not evangelical Christians, according to previously unpublished results from the 2018 exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool, a consortium of media organizations including CNN.
Democrats, the analysis found, ran particularly well this year among white working-class women who are not evangelicals, a group that also displayed substantial disenchantment in the exit poll with Trump's performance. Those women could be a key constituency for Democrats in 2020 in pivotal Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where relatively fewer blue-collar whites are also evangelical Christians.
Nationwide, nearly three-fifths of blue-collar white women who are not evangelicals voted Democratic in last month's House races, while an equal number said they disapproved of Trump's performance in office, the analysis of exit poll results found.
"It's another overlay to the conclusion that there are some parts of the white non-college population that are open to Democrats and can be moved a few points in your direction," says Ruy Teixeira, a long-time Democratic analyst of voting trends who now serves as a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress.
Though these distinctions sound like fodder for a cocktail hour argument at a political science faculty lounge, they actually inform a backstage debate simmering among Democratic strategists about 2020. This debate has clear implications for the message the party develops over the next two years and the kind of nominee it chooses against Trump in the next presidential election.
At issue is how much emphasis the party should place on trying to recapture white working-class voters as opposed to maximizing turnout among its new base of minority, millennial and college-educated white voters, especially women and those in urban areas.
Strategists in this camp argue it would be a mistake for the party to downplay outreach to white working-class voters who are not evangelicals, especially the women in that group.
This bubbling private debate has given rise to a new and improbable acronym that some Democrats see as a potentially pivotal group for 2020: WNCNEW, as in white non-college, non-evangelical women.
"WNCNEW is the group Democrats should care about," one Democratic strategist insisted in an email. Those women represented about one in nine voters nationally this year and an even larger share in key Rust Belt battlegrounds.
In practical terms, the party and its presidential nominee in 2020 inevitably will try to turn out its new base and to regain blue-collar voters of both genders from Trump: the decision facing the party is not either/or. But Democrats will face a genuine choice of emphasis.
The detailed exit poll results provided to CNN show clear openings for Democrats with some groups of white working-class voters. But they also indicate that Democrats still face significant headwinds with most of those blue-collar whites and that white evangelical Christians look increasingly monolithic in their support for Republicans. That's a big challenge for Democrats in many southern states, where half or more of working-class whites are also evangelical Christians.
To illuminate these subtle but critical distinctions, Edison Research analyzed results from the 2018 exit poll in its national sample and in seven states where voters were asked whether they are evangelical Christians.
Nationwide, the exit poll found that evangelical Christians this year comprised fully 45% of all white voters without a college degree, a substantial portion of the total electorate. By contrast, evangelicals represented only one-fourth of college-educated white voters.
At least 77% of white evangelicals without a college degree voted against the Democratic Senate candidates in Florida, Missouri and Tennessee, while 72% opposed defeated Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly in Indiana, the exit polls found. In the Georgia governor's race, a breathtaking 89% of non-college white evangelicals voted for Republican Brian Kemp over African-American Democrat Stacey Abrams; 84% of those voters picked Ted Cruz over O'Rourke in Texas. Only Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia ran competitively, losing those voters by a narrow 52% to 46% margin.
In House races, the exit polls found that exactly three-fourths of white evangelicals without a college degree voted Republican, while only about one-fifth supported Democrats. . . . . The picture wasn't appreciably better among white evangelicals with a college degree.
The collapse of any meaningful distinctions among evangelicals reflects both their hardening loyalty to the GOP and the contraction of their overall numbers, says Robert P. Jones, chief executive officer of the Public Religion Research Institute, a non partisan group that studies religion, values and politics.
In PRRI surveys, he notes, evangelical Christians have declined from about 21% of the total population in 2008 to 15% this year. That erosion, Jones says, has been "asymmetrical," with younger and better-educated members becoming the most likely to leave the faith. That's left behind a group that is older and more uniformly conservative.
But if the 2018 election results highlight the solidifying uniformity of white evangelicals — male and female, college-educated or not — the findings simultaneously illuminate pressing reasons for Republican concern about white voters who are not evangelicals, both those with and without college degrees.
Democrats carried fully two-thirds of college-educated whites that are not evangelical Christians. That included not only a head-turning 71% of college educated white women who are not evangelicals but also 59% of the equivalent men. The shares that said they disapproved of Trump's performance were even higher in both groups: 74% of the women and 63% of the men.
Democrats carried about three-fifths of these non-evangelical white-collar whites in the Florida Senate race and about two-thirds of them in Indiana, Tennessee and Missouri. Even in Texas, O'Rourke carried 61% of them, while Abrams won 55% of them in the Georgia governor's race. Those geographically dispersed results testify to the breadth of the recoil from the Trump-era GOP among these well-educated white voters that Republicans in an earlier generation considered part of their base.
In the national House exit poll, Democrats actually carried a slim 52% to 46% majority among non-college whites who are not evangelicals, though with a significant gender gap. While Democrats won the blue-collar women who are not evangelicals by 16 percentage points, Republicans won the equivalent men by 9 points. And while 56% of those non-evangelical blue-collar men said they approved of Trump's performance in office, 58% of the equivalent women said they disapproved. Those are the so-called WNCNEW that some Democrats see as an essential target for 2020.
[T]he 2018 exit polls showed that among both working-class white men and women who are not evangelicals, Democratic House candidates won a measurably higher share of the vote than Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 presidential race. In the heavily blue-collar Rust Belt states that tipped the 2016 election to Trump — particularly Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — even small improvements might be enough to tilt the result the other way. As Teixeira says, when trying to reverse Trump's narrow margin of victory in the decisive states, "it all counts."
What do you do when those with an education who are not detached from objective reality, who reject your Bronze Age religious beliefs, overt racism and overall embrace of ignorance, find your party and its agenda repugnant? Blame your unpopularity on the news media which - excluding Fox News and right wing outlets that are the actual purveyors of fake news - are accused of reporting fake news and also blame the Internet search engines for being biased against "conservatives." Truth be told, the majority of the nation's population are not buying what the GOP, white supremacists, and Christian extremists are peddling and, as a result, no one should be shocked that the search engines follow the majority's interests and outlook, framed in part by Internet searchers' search questions. Yet, one hears ad nausea from the right that they are victims and subject to discrimination, if not persecution, merely because ultimately the majority of Americans find the so-called conservative agenda anathema to their sense of morality and decency. A column in the Washington Post looks at the deliberate and disingenuous claims of anti-conservative bias. Here are column highlights:
[O]n Tuesday, Republicans in the [GOP controlled] House summoned the company’s [Google] chief executive, Sundar Pichai, to Washington so he could answer the burning question of whether its search results are biased against conservatives:
In an unusual move, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy kicked off the hearing — despite not sitting on the committee — by cautioning the tech mogul against letting political bias color its services. The lawmaker, who’s been a leading voice among the prominent Republicans accusing top tech firms in Silicon Valley of censoring conservative speech, said he hoped Pichai could reassure the committee that “any political bias within Google’s workforce does not creep into its search products.”
Every public congressional hearing is a performance, and McCarthy was signaling something important by coming to this one to make this claim. He was applying an old technique to a new phantom problem, a technique sometimes referred to as “working the refs.” It has worked effectively for conservatives for decades in their confrontations with the news media, so why not try to use it against Internet companies, too?
It's pretty simple. Conservatives make unceasing, angry accusations of liberal bias, no matter what the content of news (or Google searches) actually is. . . . . the accusation never changes.
It serves two functions, which are best understood on the news media side. First, constantly attacking reporters for having liberal bias makes them bend over backward to show that they’re being objective, often by treating Democrats harshly.
The second target of the “liberal bias” attack is conservatives themselves. By convincing them that everything they read in the newspaper or see on the network news is a lie concocted by liberals to distort their view of the world, you not only drive them toward conservative media alternatives but also make them far more susceptible to your own propaganda. So when, say, the New York Times publishes an exhaustively documented investigation showing that Donald Trump and his family committed an absolutely epic degree of tax fraud worth hundreds of millions of dollars, it doesn’t penetrate the conservative bubble. Most rank-and-file conservatives won’t hear about it, and the ones who do will dismiss it out of hand, because it comes from the liberal media and therefore must be bogus.
Attacking Google (or Facebook or Twitter or any other Internet company) for supposed liberal bias serves the same two functions. For “evidence,” conservatives look to analyses such as this one from PJ Media, which shows that Google searches on things such as the president are more likely to produce results from supposedly liberal news organizations such as CNN or The Post than they are to feature sources such as the Daily Caller or World Net Daily. How could there possibly be any other explanation than liberal bias?
You might think that you'd have to be some kind of paranoid halfwit to actually believe that Google's search algorithm is intentionally built to make the right look bad, but some people do believe it. . . . .
Even if this kind of attack isn’t going to get Google to change its search algorithm, the second function of the charge is still being served. More than ever before, in the Trump era the right needs rank-and-file conservatives to distrust any information they receive from non-conservative sources, so they’ll believe whatever outlandish thing the president tells them. It’s also important to keep the GOP base feeling aggrieved and resentful, like they are society’s only true victims.
Even if on a personal basis most of the people who work for Google are indeed liberal, its broader goals — such as maximizing profits and avoiding antitrust regulation — usually aren’t. But that won’t stop conservatives from insisting that the company’s search results are biased against them. It’s a strategy that has yielded far too much to ever abandon.