Saturday, May 19, 2018

More Saturday Male Beauty

The Flaw in Trump's Russiagate Excuse That the FBI Set Him Up

Satan is sometimes referred to as the "Lord of Lies."  In 2018 America, the name also applies to the occupant of the White House who - like his evangelical supporters - must be assumed to be lying if his lips are moving.  Sadly, the same applies to most of the Republican leadership in Congress.  The latest lie being circulated is that somehow the FBI plotted to "entrap" Trump and his minions in a scandal of Russian collusion.  Never mind the issue that if one has no criminal or sinister intent, it is hard to be entrapped in the first place.  Plus, as a piece in New York Magazine lays out, the key to the supposed plot - an "October surprise" - never occurred.  If anything, James Comey's baseless letter in October about reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton, shows that Trump and devin Nune' latest manufactured conspiracy theory is absolutely ridiculous.  Not, of course, that Trump's mindless base of support will ever be swayed but the baselessness of the newest effort to undermine the FBI and the Russiagate investigation.  Here are article excerpts:

There has been no more barometrically reliable insight into the Trump administration’s defense strategy on Russia than Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel. Her weekly missives, essentially transcribed straight from the fevered mind of Devin Nunes, bring the readers up to date on every twist and turn in the developing conspiracy theories about the nefarious Deep State plot to frame the innocent president.
Strassel’s latest missive brings into view the latest working theory. It holds that James Comey planted a spy in the Trump campaign, in order to set in motion an investigation that would be used to smear Trump as a Russian tool, and thereby to hand the election to Hillary Clinton. This is the theory Trump is referring to when he rages about a plot that is “worse than Watergate.”
Put aside for a moment whether it is actually scandalous for the FBI to use an informant to uncover evidence of criminal conduct. The argument is that the clear purpose of this maneuver was to influence the 2016 election.Except there’s one tiny flaw in this theory: They never sprang the October surprise. The FBI kept a tight lid on the investigation — so tight, in fact, they floated a misleading story in the New York Times conveying the false impression that they saw no ties to Russia. Clinton did help finance Christopher Steele’s investigation, but also did not publish his reporting. And the Obama administration also kept a tight lid on the disturbing details that emerged. The farthest Obama went was to ask leaders of both parties to join in a bipartisan statement warning Russia not to interfere with the election — and when Mitch McConnell refused, they did nothing. When voting took place in November 2016, as far as the public was concerned, Clinton had been under FBI investigation and Trump had not.
This alleged secret plan to smear Trump only works if you actually let people know about it.
The details of the FBI investigation and Steele’s report did begin to leak out in January 2017. But there’s a reason the trick is called “October surprise” and not “January After the Election surprise.”

NRA and Its Republican Prostitutes Have More Blood on Their Hands

Yesterday saw another deadly school shooting that took ten (10) lives and left another dozen physically injured and many, many more left emotionally and psychologically harmed.  How could it happen again so soon after the Parkland massacre?  Simple, the United States is the sole advanced nation that has ridiculous and insane gun laws which, combined with a perverse gun mania among too much of the citizenry, nearly guarantees endless pools of blood.  No other country has the level of gun violence and, contrary to the talking points of the National Rifle Association, study after study have documented that more guns makes people less safe.  Indeed, later in the day after a high school graduation near Atlanta, Georgia, a shooting claimed a life when a dispute broke out and an armed individual used a gun at a venue where no gun ever should have been present. When will the insanity stop and when will the Supreme Court clamp down and interpret some sanity into the 2nd Amendment.   An editorial in the New York Times looks at the unique irresponsibility of America's gun laws and continued failure of Congress to act as the blood continues to flow.  It's time to make change happen.  Enough with the bullshit of "thoughts and prayers" which do absolutely nothing constructive.  Here are editorial highlights:
Inevitably, predictably, fatefully, another mass shooting breaks our hearts. This time, it is a school shooting in Texas.
But what is perhaps most heartbreaking of all is that they shouldn’t be shocking. People all over the world become furious and try to harm others, but only in the United States do we suffer such mass shootings so regularly; only in the United States do we lose one person every 15 minutes to gun violence.
So let’s not just mourn the dead, let’s not just lower flags and make somber speeches. Let’s also learn lessons from these tragedies, so that there can be fewer of them. In particular, I suggest that we try a new approach to reducing gun violence — a public health strategy.
The first step is to understand the scale of the challenge America faces: The U.S. has more than 300 million guns – roughly one for every citizen – and stands out as well for its gun death rates. At the other extreme, Japan has less than one gun per 100 people, and typically fewer than 10 gun deaths a year in the entire country.
Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.
We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them – and limit access to them – so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent since 1921.
The left sometimes focuses on “gun control,” which scares off gun owners and leads to more gun sales. A better framing is “gun safety” or “reducing gun violence,” and using auto safety as a model—constant efforts to make the products safer and to limit access by people who are most likely to misuse them.
What would a public health approach look like for guns if it were modeled after cars? It would include:
Background Checks: 22 percent of guns are obtained without one. Protection Orders: Keep men who are subject to domestic violence protection orders from having guns. Ban Under-21s: A ban on people under 21 purchasing firearms (this is already the case in many states). Safe Storage: These include trigger locks as well as guns and ammunition stored separately, especially when children are in the house. Straw Purchases: Tighter enforcement of laws on straw purchases of weapons, and some limits on how many guns can be purchased in a month. Ammunition Checks:  Experimentation with a one-time background check for anybody buying ammunition. End Immunity: End immunity for firearm companies. That’s a subsidy to a particular industry. Ban Bump Stocks: A ban on bump stocks of the kind used in Las Vegas to mimic automatic weapon fire. Research ‘Smart Guns’: “Smart guns” fire only after a fingerprint or PIN is entered, or if used near a particular bracelet.If someone steals my iPhone, it’s useless, and the same should be true of guns. Gun manufacturers made child-proof guns back in the 19th century (before dropping them), and it’s time to advance that technology today. Some combination of smart guns and safe storage would also reduce the number of firearms stolen in the U.S. each year, now about 200,000, and available to criminals.
It is true that guns are occasionally used to stop violence. But contrary to what the National Rifle Association suggests, this is rare. One study by the Violence Policy Center found that in 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides by a private citizen using a firearm. . . . . The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence finds that states where guns are more regulated tend to have lower gun death rates.
The evidence is overwhelming that overall more guns and more relaxed gun laws lead to more violent deaths and injuries. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a gun in the house was associated with an increased risk of a gun death, particularly by suicide but also apparently by homicide.
[R]emember that although it is mass shootings that get our attention, they are not the main cause of loss of life. Much more typical is a friend who shoots another, a husband who kills his wife – or, most common of all, a man who kills himself. Skeptics will say that if people want to kill themselves, there’s nothing we can do. In fact, it turns out that if you make suicide a bit more difficult, suicide rates drop.
For skeptics who think that gun laws don’t make a difference, consider what happened in two states, Missouri and Connecticut. In 1995, Connecticut tightened licensing laws, while in 2007 Missouri eased gun laws.  The upshot? After tightening gun laws, firearm homicide rates dropped 40 percent in Connecticut. And after Missouri eased gun laws, gun homicide rates rose 25 percent.
In many places, there is more rigorous screening of people who want to adopt dogs than of people who want to purchase firearms.
There’s simply a scandalous lack of research on gun violence, largely because the N.R.A. is extremely hostile to such research and Congress rolls over. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did try to research gun violence, Congress responded by cutting its funding.
[T]he blunt, damning truth: Friday’s school shooting was 100 percent predictable. After each such incident, we mourn the deaths and sympathize with the victims, but we do nothing fundamental to reduce our vulnerability. . . . more Americans have died from gun violence, including suicides, since 1970 (about 1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history going back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.3 million). And it’s not just gang-members: In a typical year, more pre-schoolers are shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are.
So let’s not just shed tears for the dead, give somber speeches and lower flags. Let’s get started and save lives.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty

Friday, May 18, 2018

More Friday Male Beauty

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The Growing Toxicity of the GOP

As I and many other former Republicans have noted, one of the ironies in politics today is the allegiance of so-called "Christian conservatives" and evangelical Christians to Donald Trump and the Republican Party.  Trump embodies everything that a true Christian should reject - greed, indifference to the plight of others, gluttony based on his obesity, and general cruelty and racism - and the agenda of the GOP to destroy the social safety net is the antithesis of the Gospel's call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick.  The result?  More than of Millennials have rejected religion and the term Christian has become synonymous with hypocrisy, hatred of others and cruelty in general.  Seemingly, no one within the GOP sees this ugliness for what it is or, if they do, they are too fearful of a primary challenge to call out horrific behavior.  Sadly, Trump is normalizing reprehensible behavior - at least within the Republican Party, which is why many of us walked away from the GOP.  The descent of the GOP into a moral cesspool did not happen overnight.  I saw the beginning of the trend two decades ago and left the GOP after years of activism.  The catalyst for the GOP's embrace of the ugly and reprehensible?  The rise of evangelicals in the party base.  They, not the leadership, brought the bigotry and open racism with them.  The leadership out of shortsighted opportunism merely embraced the values evangelicals  brought with them.  Trump is merely the result of the mainstreaming of these ugly values within the GOP.  A column in the Washington Post by a former Republican White House official bemoans what has become of the GOP.  Here are column excerpts:

In Georgia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams drives around in a bus he promises to fill with “illegals” who will be deported to Mexico. On the rear is stamped: “Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molestors [sic], and other criminals on board.” In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate (and former Maricopa County sheriff) Joe Arpaio is a proud “birther” with a history of profiling and abusing Hispanic migrants. Vice President Pence recently called Arpaio “a great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.” In Wisconsin, Republican House candidate Paul Nehlenruns as a “pro-white Christian American candidate.”
In the Republican Party, cranks and bigots are closer to legitimacy than at any time since William F. Buckley banished the John Birch Society.
For some of us, this was a concern from the beginning of President Trump’s rise — not just the policies he would adopt but also the attitudes he would encourage and the passions he would provoke.
The problem is one of social psychology. Human beings are wired to favor their ingroup and to view people in outgroups as interchangeable and dispensable. We are willing to form ingroups at the drop of a hat, based even on minor characteristics. We tend to believe that bad things that happen to people in our ingroup are bum luck, while bad things that happen to people in outgroups are evidence of a just universe. Because we are inherently predisposed toward stereotyping, we are particularly vulnerable to propaganda.
Whatever else Trumpism may be, it is the systematic organization of resentment against outgroups. Trump’s record is rich in dehumanization. It was evident when he called Mexican migrants “criminals” and “rapists.” When he claimed legal mistreatment from a judge because “he’s a Mexican.”  . . . When he attacked Muslim Gold Star parents. When he sidestepped opportunities to criticize former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. When he referred to “very fine people” among the white-supremacist protesters in Charlottesville. When he expressed a preference for Norwegian immigrants above those from nonwhite “shithole countries.” This is more than a disturbing pattern; it is an organizing political principle. And it has resulted in a series of radiating consequences.
First, it has given permission for the public expression of shameful sentiments. People such as Blankenship, Williams, Arpaio and Nehlen are part of a relatively (and thankfully) small political group. But the president has set boundaries of political discourse that include them and encourage them. Even when Trump opposes their candidacies, he has enabled the bolder, more confident expression of their bigotry. . . . Trump’s Christian supporters in particular must be so proud.
Second, Trump’s attacks on outgroups have revealed the cowardice of a much broader faction within the GOP — those who know better but say little. Some Republican leaders (see House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin) have been willing to criticize specific instances of Trump’s prejudice. But few — and very few with a political future — have been willing to draw the obvious conclusion that Trump is prejudiced, or to publicly resist the trend toward prejudice among the GOP base.
In Republican Senate primaries such as the one in Indiana, candidates have engaged in a competition of who can be the most exclusionary. Mainstream attitudes toward refugees and legal immigration have become more xenophobic. Trump has not only given permission to those on the fringes; he has also changed the Republican mean to be more mean.
As I have noted before, nowadays I do not believe a decent and moral person can be a Republican.  Those who remain in the GOP are little better than the "good Germans" who sat by as Hitler rose to power. Bad things happen when decent, moral people do nothing. 

43% of American Households Struggling to Afford Basic Middle Class Life

The United Way has compiled a new study that ought to be shocking news for the wealthiest nation in the world.  It is even more shocking in the context of the Trump/GOP tax cuts which gave little of no meaningful tax cut relief to average Americans while showering lavish tax cuts on the 1% and large corporations - corporations that have not shared their huge tax cut windfall with employees in the form of salary increases and/or improved benefits. A piece in CNN looks at the shocking findings which are compiled on a state bay state and county by county basis.  Here are story highlights:

The economy may be chugging along, but many Americans are still struggling to afford a basic middle class life.
Nearly 51 million households don't earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone, according to a study released Thursday by the United Way ALICE Project. That's 43% of households in the United States.
The figure includes the 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that the United Way has dubbed ALICE -- Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This group makes less than what's needed "to survive in the modern economy."
"Despite seemingly positive economic signs, the ALICE data shows that financial hardship is still a pervasive problem," said Stephanie Hoopes, the project's director.
California, New Mexico and Hawaii have the largest share of struggling families, at 49% each. North Dakota has the lowest at 32%.
Many of these folks are the nation's child care workers, home health aides, office assistants and store clerks, who work low-paying jobs and have little savings, the study noted. Some 66% of jobs in the US pay less than $20 an hour.

As noted, if one goes to the study itself, a state by state report is available.   Here's a summary for Virginia:

ALICE – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – defined: Despite being employed, many households earning more than the Federal Poverty Level still cannot afford housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care.

In Virginia, there are 859,079 ALICE households, while another 342,112 households live below the poverty level. In total, 39 percent of Virginia households earn below the ALICE Threshold.

• Households with income below the ALICE Threshold – including both ALICE households and those living in poverty – make up between 22 and 66 percent of households in the 95 counties and 38 independent cities in Virginia.

Nearly one third – 32 percent – of senior households in Virginia qualify as ALICE, more than triple the 9 percent of senior households in poverty.

• The racial and ethnic makeup of ALICE and poverty-level households nearly mirrors the overall Virginia population: 70 percent of Virginia households are White, while 61 percent of ALICE households and 58 percent of poverty-level households are White.

There are 890,549 families with children in Virginia, and 37 percent of them have income below the ALICE Threshold.

• Reflecting the changing household composition across the country, “other” households – single and cohabiting households younger than 65 with no children under 18 – account for 48 percent of the state’s households with income below the ALICE Threshold.

• Several demographic groups in Virginia are more likely to fall into the ALICE population, including women, LGBT individuals, people of color, those with lower levels of education, those with a disability, undocumented or unskilled immigrants, younger veterans, formerly incarcerated people, and immigrants facing language barriers.

As disturbing as the Virginia figures are - Virginia, an increasingly blue state, ranks among the top ten wealthiest states yet has 39% of its household earning less than the ALICE threshold - in Louisiana, a red state,  23 percent of all Louisiana households are ALICE and another 19 percent live in poverty.  Altogether, 42 percent of all Louisiana households cannot afford basic expenses – housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and taxes. 

What is dumbfounding to me is who working class whites have shifted to supporting Republicans.  even though GOP policies are harmful to their own financial best interests.   Here in Virginia, Medicaid expansion would aid 400,000 Virginians in working class families who are struggling.  Yet Republicans oppose Medicaid expansion.  It is disturbing that GOP calls to racism and religious extremism outweigh simple economic sense for many in the GOP base.  Denigrating others and/or feeling superior to others do not pay the bills.  This ought to be a no brainer.

Friday Morning Male Beauty

Thursday, May 17, 2018

More Thursday Male Beauty

GOP Leaders Scramble to Kill House Immigration Rebellion

Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy seek to kill debate on immigration reform.
Donald Trump is not the only anti-immigrant Republican.  The entire GOP Congressional leadership opposes meaningful comprehensive immigration reform despite the support for such legislation by a majority of Americans.  Given the majority support of voters, some Republicans in the House facing re-election have filed a discharge petition to force debate on an immigration reform bill.  The move sent the GOP leadership into a panic given that open debate would underscore the anti-immigrant animus of the GOP agenda.  As of yesterday, the GOP leadership was scrambling to kill the rebellion of those in their party who seemingly want to pass legislation that will address the concerns of a majority of voters, not just the white supremist and white Christian nationals of the GOP base.  The Washington Post looks at the frantic effort to stop debate.  Here are article highlights:
House Republican leaders made a full-court press Wednesday to forestall a GOP immigration rebellion that they fear could derail their legislative agenda and throw their effort to hold the majority in doubt.
The effort began in a closed-door morning meeting where Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned that a freewheeling immigration debate could have sharp political consequences. It continued in the evening, when the leaders of a petition effort that would sidestep were summoned to a room with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), McCarthy and three other top leaders.
Their message, according to attendees, was that efforts were underway at the highest levels, including with the White House, to get immigration legislation on the House floor before the midterm elections.
The House leaders presented no firm plan for action at the meeting, and the petition effort will continue, Curbelo and others said afterward.  Reps. John Katko (N.Y.) and David A. Trott (Mich.) became the 19th and 20th Republicans to sign the petition Wednesday. If all 193 Democrats join the petition, five more Republican signatures are needed to force action, which could come as soon as next month. The immigration issue has bedeviled congressional Republicans, with members in swing districts eager to strike a compromise that would legalize “dreamers” — young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children — while conservatives have been wary of granting anything that could be construed as “amnesty” for lawbreakers, at least not without major policy concessions. McCarthy had a blunter message, according to two members present who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting and as first reported by Politico: Signing the discharge petition and paving the way for passage of a moderate immigration bill could hurt Republicans in November’s elections by depressing conservative turnout and upending leadership’s plans to focus on tax cuts and other GOP successes. Curbelo and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), another leader of the discharge effort, responded inside the meeting by recalling months of promises that the House would act. “This is something the American public is demanding,” Denham said in an interview, adding, “I also believe the majority is at stake if we do nothing.”
[T]hey also face pressure from their right flank to block the discharge effort.  Members of the House Freedom Caucus are threatening to hold up passage of a massive farm bill this week unless leaders schedule a vote on a conservative immigration bill co-authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.). 
The discharge petition would set up votes on a series of bills, including the Goodlatte-McCaul bill, which has been written to please conservatives but has languished well short of the majority necessary to pass. Two bipartisan bills are more likely to pass if brought up for a vote, but they are likely to win more support from Democrats than Republicans and could violate the informal GOP leadership rule barring the consideration of bills not supported by a majority of Republicans. Neither includes the wall or visa restrictions that Trump has demanded. Still, the 20 House Republicans who have signed the petition have made clear they are done waiting after years of hoping their party’s leaders would bring some immigration bill — any immigration bill — to the floor. Hours before signing the petition, Trott said his own patience had nearly run out and Congress needed to resolve the uncertainty created by Trump’s cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.  “I didn’t hear a plan today,” he said after leaving the morning meeting. “Time’s running out. We need to do something.”
What a refreshing concept: passing legislation that the public wants, not just pandering to right wing extremists and open racists.  Let's hope the discharge effort is successful.

Trump on Immigrants: These are Animals

During a rant yesterday, Donald Trump finally gave voice to the real animus of his supporters towards undocumented immigrants - and I would argue by extension gays, non-whites, non-Christians on the part of evangelicals - when he described them as animals.  Not fellow human, but animals, the implication being that they are deserving of mistreatment and even death.  When America comes to the point where it deliberately and willingly separates children and warehouses them like animals on military bases, we have reached the point of utter moral bankruptcy.  Yet John Kelly and Trump, and Jeff Sessions - a longtime racist - seemingly fully support such cruelty.  And the evangelicals continue to rally to Trump's standard.  Is it any wonder a third of Millennials want nothing to do with religion?  A piece in USA Today looks at Trump's attack on immigrants who, in his mind, all have brown skin, and other Trump lies and untruths.  Here are excerpts:
President Trump used extraordinarily harsh rhetoric to renew his call for stronger immigration laws Wednesday, calling undocumented immigrants "animals" and venting frustration at Mexican officials who he said "do nothing" to help the United States.
“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them, but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are," Trump said. 
"These aren't people. These are animals."
Trump's comments came in a freewheeling, hour-long White House meeting with local California leaders opposed to so-called "sanctuary city" policies.
Trump's remarks were reminiscent of his first press conference as a presidential candidate in 2015, when he said the United States had become a "dumping ground" for people other countries didn't want.
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he said then. "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."
In other comments, Trump:
► Called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning undocumented immigrants of an upcoming sweep by immigration agents. "You talk about obstruction of justice, I would recommend that you look at obstruction of justice for the mayor, Jeff," the president said.
► Expressed frustration at his southern neighbor for not doing more to stop the flow of refugees and immigrants into the United States. "Mexico does nothing for us, they do nothing for us. Mexico talks, but they do nothing for us, especially at the border," he said. "Certainly don’t help us much on trade."
► Blamed Democrats for a policy of separating children from their parents when undocumented families enter the United States. 
"I know what you're going through with families is very tough," he told Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. "But those are the bad laws the Democrats gave us. We have to break up families. The Democrats gave us that law. It's a horrible thing we have to break up families."
The attempt to blame Democrats was a huge lie - what else is new with Trump - given that the policy of separating children from parents only began after Trump took office.  As for the "devout Christians" supporting Trump, they should cease the hypocrisy of going to church and feigning piety.  I suspect Christ would find them repulsive and rightly so.

May 16, 2018: A Very Bad Day for Trump

Recently I heard political pundits talking about the exhaustion many Americans are experiencing as they try to keep up with the breaking news stories swirling around the Trump/Pence regime and the Russiagate investigation, not to mention the short term news distractions that seemingly are manufactured almost daily by Der Trumpenführer.  Wednesday was a day that saw numerous stories break, none of which portend well for Trump and/or his co-conspirators and sycophants.  The day began with the news that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a report finding that Russia had indeed sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  The story was so damning that even Fox News was forced to report on it no doubt to the shock of Fox viewers who have been constantly told that claims of Russian interference were all false.  Here's a taste:
“Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions,” {Senator Richard} Burr said in a statement. “There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections.  . . . [Senator Mark] Warner said, “After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the ICA conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”
Next came the release of transcripts by the Senate Judiciary Committee of the testimony of the participants in the infamous Trump Tower meeting, including Trump, Jr., who made utterly ridiculous statements strongly suggesting he was lying.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this debacle for Trump.  Here are excerpts:
[S]everal significant facts emerged. First, notes from Paul Manafort, who was present at the meeting, contain some curious clues including “Offshore — Cyprus” and “Active sponsors of RNC,” presumably meaning the Republican National Committee. This is the first we’ve heard of these meeting topics. It is of course illegal to take foreign assistance for an election campaign (more about that later), but it is noteworthy that the purpose of the meeting (adoptions) according to a White House statement — which Trump Jr. conceded may have included his father’s input — was the last item on Manafort’s list, perhaps an afterthought thrown in after discussions about far more controversial matters  . . .  The notion that no one from the campaign ever met with any Russians to discuss the campaign looks more and more like a lie. Second, Trump Jr. says he cannot remember (!) if he talked to his father after the meeting or the calls to set up the meeting (although there is a record of a four-minute call from a blocked number, followed by a short call with Emin Agalarov, who initiated the meeting). Failing to remember if he talked to his father after a group meeting with Russians strikes one as entirely improbable, but in any event, he says he later talked to Hope Hicks about the meeting, which is the virtually the same as talking to President Trump directly.  Third, this is confirmation of eagerness to receive something of value (dirt on Clinton) from a foreign source. And that’s a big legal problem, according to campaign finance and ethics gurus. “Federal law provides that ‘No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation,’ ” former White House ethics counsel Norman Eisen tells me. “That is not limited to only cash contributions but also includes in kind ones, such as the opposition research that Don Jr. and through him the Trump campaign solicited in connection with the Trump Tower meeting.” He adds, “As time passes and more information comes out such as the Senate release today, the evidence of collusion (or rather, of the various legal claims that we loosely refer to using that term) becomes stronger and stronger.”  Even though the actions occurred before the election, Trump may find himself in a legal fix. Constitutional scholar and co-author of a new book “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment” Laurence Tribe says, “Under the U.S. criminal code, soliciting a bribe is an independent offense even if the bribe doesn’t come through. And under the federal election code, soliciting prohibited foreign assistance in a U.S. election is an offense even if the assistance isn’t provided. The Trump family’s problems don’t end there, since ‘acts of solicitation’ can become overt acts that form part of a conspiracy to commit another crime.” One final note: Whenever Trump shouts “No collusion,” the response to that should be: “There’s airtight evidence of attempted conspiracy by the highest levels in the Trump campaign to obtain foreign help.” As Bergmann puts it, “According to Donald Trump Jr.’s own testimony, he was disappointed by the meeting because the collusion the Russians were offering wasn’t good enough. So we know the Trump campaign wanted to collude and we know the Russians ran an aggressive campaign to help Trump. Given the mounting evidence it really isn’t a question anymore if they colluded, it’s a question of how deep the collusion went.” No wonder Trump is so freaked out about the Russia investigation.

Then there was the bombshell via New York Magazine that reported that Michael Cohen was gathering large amounts of foreign money that was being passed through to Trump and his family.  Here are highlights from that story:
Last night, the Daily Mail reported a development in the Michael Cohen saga of seismic scale. In a December 2016 meeting in Trump Tower, the British tabloid reports, Cohen asked Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, who runs a $100 billion Qatari investment fund, to send him “millions” which, the story claims, would go “through him to Trump family members.” 
The Daily Mail report deepens the trouble in two crucial ways. First, it extends Cohen’s scheme from domestic corporations (or, in one case, domestic corporations controlled by foreign entities) to direct overseas fundraising. Second, and more ominously, it alleges that Cohen funneled the money to Trump’s family. . . . Now the story suggests he was enriching them, transforming the Cohen bribery story into a Trump bribery story. [T]here is plenty of contextual evidence to support the charge. One is that, after Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti published Trump Tower surveillance video of Al-Rumaihi, he suspiciously denied attending the meeting, only for his firm to admit it later. Another reason is that, multiple reports have linked both Qatar as a source of players in the broader web of shady Trump financial dealings with Russia, and Cohen as a key conduit. So it would fit the pattern for Cohen to be soliciting a bribe from Qatar on behalf of the Trump family. And yet another reason is Trump’s notorious resentment of other people making money off of him. If Cohen used Trump’s election to solicit bribes, it seems highly likely Trump would demand a taste. And then there is another reason to credit this allegation: Direct bribery of Trump is still happening, in plain sight.  Trump has defied all modern precedent by retaining control of his family company while serving as president, allowing interests domestic or foreign to curry favor by enriching him personally.
What’s clearly true is that the usual restraints against such behavior are altogether absent. There is an old phrase that used to be bandied around the media constantly: “the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Officials were held to this standard, which required them to avoid even looking like they might be tempted to allow their personal interest to influence their decisions. And of course, petty corruption often won out even in the face of this putatively strict public ethic. But it had to travel through a wick Roger et of rules guarding against outright corruption.
The Trump family, by contrast, is operating in a rules-free environment. The appearance of a conflict of interest is not even in question. There are proven conflicts everywhere, and the only question is straight-out quid pro quo bribery. The only authority empowered to uncover the alleged bribes is Robert Mueller.
Lastly, as icing on the cake, news broke that subpoenas were delivered late last week to lawyers representing Jason Sullivan, a social media and Twitter specialist Trump sycophant Roger Stone hired to work for an independent political action committee he set up to support Trump.  Reuters has details: 
U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued two subpoenas to a social media expert who worked for longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone during the 2016 presidential election campaign. The subpoenas suggest that Mueller, who is probing Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is focusing in part on Stone and whether he might have had advance knowledge of material allegedly hacked by Russian intelligence and sent to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published it.
Stone appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee last September and denied allegations of collusion between the president’s associates and Russia during the election. “I am aware of no evidence whatsoever of collusion by the Russian state or anyone in the Trump campaign,” Stone told reporters at the time.
According to sources familiar with the ongoing investigation, Mueller also has been probing whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign may have helped Assange or the Russians time or target the release of hacked emails and other social media promoting Trump or critical of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Sullivan told Reuters that he heads, a social media firm, and “worked on the Trump campaign serving as Chief Strategist directly to Roger J. Stone Jr.” 
Personally, I consider any news that is bad news for Trump on the Russiagate front as wonderful news for America and same, rational America and supporters of the rule of law.  My only fear is what lunatic thing Trump might do as he strives to distract the media and the public from the seemingly tightening noose. 

Thursday Morning Male Beauty

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

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Court Rejects Manafort’s Bid To Have Case Dismissed

In other bad news for Der Trumpenführer, who continues to bleat that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is a "witch hunt" and that there was "no collusion with Russia," a federal court refused to dismiss criminal charges against Trump's main Russia contact, Paul Manafort.  Indeed, the judge found the investigation of Manafort to be within the scope of Mueller's investigation and that Manafort was a natural person of interest given his lengthy and slimy relations with Kremlin backed figures.  The court's refusal to dismiss the case will increase the pressure on Manafort to strike a deal and go state's evidence against Trump and others in the campaign - let's hope Pence is included - who sought to coordinate with the Putin backed interference in the 2016 presidential election.  Here are highlights from CNN:

Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Tuesday rejected former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's attempt to invalidate the criminal case against him in Washington.
Manafort had claimed special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment order was too broad, and thus his investigation had overstepped its legal authority.
But Berman Jackson concluded for several reasons that Mueller's investigation and prosecution of Manafort is legal -- and that the special counsel still can maintain some independence while working within the Department of Justice.
"It bears emphasizing at this stage that Manafort is presumed to be innocent of these charges, and it will be the prosecution's burden to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the indictment will not be dismissed, and the matter will proceed to trial," Berman Jackson wrote in her opinion Tuesday.
She added that it was appropriate for federal investigators to look into Manafort's business connections in Russia and Ukraine while Mueller's office investigated possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
"Who had connections to the Russian government? Who attended meetings on behalf of the campaign?" Berman Jackson wrote. "Given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest."
"The Special Counsel would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government," she wrote later in the opinion.
Manafort is scheduled for trial in DC in September. . . . Berman Jackson previously dismissed a civil lawsuit Manafort had attempted to use to undercut Mueller's authority.

FBI and Justice Department Investigating Cambridge Analytica

The New York Times dropped more potentially bad news for Donald Trump: the Justice Department and FBI are investigating right wing financially backed Cambridge Analytica.  In particular, scrutiny is being directed to the company's finances and bank accounts and also how it received the information taken from Facebook.  The obviously question is whether or not Russian Intelligence personnel   stole the data from Facebook and then provided it to Cambridge Analytica and ultimately the Trump campaign.  If the three main players were connected, then the case of collusion increases.  Here are highlights from the Times piece:

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department and the F.B.I. are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the now-defunct political data firm, and have sought to question former employees and banks that handled its business, according to an American official and other people familiar with the inquiry.
Prosecutors have questioned potential witnesses in recent weeks, telling them that there is an open investigation into Cambridge Analytica — which worked on President Trump’s election and other Republican campaigns in 2016 — and “associated U.S. persons.” But the prosecutors provided few other details, and the inquiry appears to be in its early stages, with investigators seeking an overview of the company and its business practices.
The investigation compounds the woes of a firm that has come under intense scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators in the United States and Britain. . . . 
This month, Cambridge Analytica announced that it would shut down and declare bankruptcy, saying that negative press and cascading federal and state investigations had driven away customers and made it impossible for the firm to remain in business.
Cambridge Analytica, the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment.
[T]he firm found itself at the center of a trans-Atlantic furor after the Times and Observer articles appeared. It was then dealt another blow when a British news channel broadcast undercover video in which Alexander Nix, the company’s suspended chief executive, suggested that the company had used seduction and bribery to entrap politicians and influence foreign elections.
The federal investigation in the United States appears to focus on the company’s financial dealings — investigators have reached out to the company’s banks, for instance — and how it acquired and used personal data pulled from Facebook and other sources, according to the American official, who was briefed on the inquiry, and other people familiar with it.
In addition, the investigators have contacted Facebook, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation. The official would not provide any other details, and Facebook declined to comment.
[T]he prosecutors involved is the assistant chief of the Justice Department’s securities and financial fraud division, Brian Kidd. The effort is being assisted by at least one agent who investigates cybercrime for the F.B.I., those people said.
The new company was overseen by Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, and then adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, both of whom went on to enjoy influential positions in Mr. Trump’s circle before the president’s break with Mr. Bannon this year.
Also in 2014, a contractor for the new firm used quiz apps and other programs to gather private profile information from as many as 87 million Facebook users, data former Cambridge employees said provided the critical basis for the new company’s voter profiles. The Times also reported in March that the company had sent personnel from Canada and Europe to work on various campaigns in the 2014 midterm elections and in 2016 campaigns, raising questions about Cambridge’s compliance with federal election law, which limits the involvement of non-citizens in election campaigns.

Trump’s New CDC Director: AIDS Is ‘God’s Judgment’ Against Gays

Trump’s New CDC Director: AIDS Is ‘God’s Judgment’ Against Gays (Image via YouTube)

As noted frequently, the only demographic that Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, seems to want to please is right wing evangelical Christian extremists.  From moving the American embassy to Jerusalem - to satiate evangelicals delusion that the move is key to sparking Armageddon - to filling his cabinet with Christofascists who want to destroy the public schools  (which, horror of horrors, teach science, evolution and fact based sex education) when not lining his own pockets, Trump is doing all that he can to keep evangelicals behind him.  Meanwhile, evangelicals have shown their moral bankruptcy by supporting a man who is anathema to true followers of Christ.  Now, Trump has thrown evangelicals another bone by appointing an anti-science, anti-LGBT zealot to the directorship of the Centers for Disease Control.  The new CDC director, Robert Redfield is on record as stating that AIDS is god's punishment to gays for not complying with Christofascist dogma.  Never mind that legitimate science and every legitimate medical and mental health association in America stands for the reality that gays' sexual orientation is "normal" and not a choice.  A piece in Patheos looks at this totally unfit Trump appointee.  Here are highlights:
Trump’s new CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, is a dangerous Christian extremist with a history of demonizing gays and single parents.
Dr. Robert Redfield, the new Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has long standing ties with conservative Christian groups that are hostile to gays, single parents, and anyone else that offends their “family values.”
In the past, the new CDC director has worked closely with the Christian organization Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy. The group claims that AIDS was “God’s judgment” against gays, and was punishment from God for an America weakened by single-parent households and a loss of “family values.”
CNN reports on Redfield’s deplorable record:
As an Army major at Walter Reed Medical Institute, he designed policies for controlling the disease within the US military that involved placing infected personnel in quarantine and investigating their pasts to identify and track possible sexual partners. Soldiers were routinely discharged and left to die of AIDS, humiliated and jobless, often abandoned by their families. . . . . In other words, Redfield used his prominent position in the U.S. military to design a policy that would ultimately humiliate and punish gay soldiers suffering from the AIDS virus.
Foreign Policy reports on the disastrous effect of Redfield’s odious policy decisions:
The military seemed intent on administratively punishing infected soldiers for their HIV status. Soldiers described being summoned to meet with a chaplain, who would inform them that they had tested positive for HIV, and counsel them while military police rifled through their barracks searching for evidence of homosexuality and the names of possible sex partners. . . . . Anecdotally, many of these young men committed suicide, and most were drummed out of the military without medical coverage, dying impoverished from their AIDS disease…
More on the new CDC director’s deplorable record via CNN:
In the 1980s Redfield worked closely with W. Shepherd Smith, Jr. and his Christian organization, Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy, or ASAP. The group maintained that AIDS was “God’s judgment” against homosexuals, spread in an America weakened by single-parent households and loss of family values.
Redfield wrote the introduction to a 1990 book, “Christians in the Age of AIDS,” co-written by Smith, in which he denounced distribution of sterile needles to drug users and condoms to sexually active adults, and described anti-discrimination programs as the efforts of “false prophets.”
In the early 1990’s, ASAP and Redfield also backed H.R. 2788, a House bill sponsored by deeply conservative Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-California). It would have subjected people with HIV to testing, loss of professional licenses and would have effectively quarantined them.
[F]or Redfield, the new CDC director, the best way to prevent HIV is not a science-based program promoting clean needles and condoms; instead, the so-called scientist recommended a faith-based program built around abstinence and Jesus.
Bottom line: Trump’s new CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, is yet another dangerous Christian extremist holding a prominent position in the Trump administration.  Can you feel the creeping Christian theocracy?
Sadly, Redfield embodies the mind set of today's evangelicals and unfit and unqualified Christian extremists that Trump has elevated to cabinet positions and other high ranking positions.  Be very afraid.

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