Saturday, July 22, 2017

Are There Three Republicans Who Put Country Ahead of Party?

U.S. Senate
The last post looked at the impeding constitutional crisis that Donald Trump is likely to trigger if he tries to fire Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, who it seems increasingly is focusing in on the root cause of the Trump campaign's willingness to collude with Russia: illegal financial transactions with Russians and likely money laundering. Trump and his family are all most likely involved as is Jared Kushner and a number of Trump cronies. As conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin notes in a column, "Why would he [Trump] do those things unless there was something really, really bad to find?"  You simply do not slander and undermine a special prosecutor and consider pardon powers if there is nothing to be found. In this situation, it will take three Republican senators to join with Democrat senators to stop Trump's demolition of the rule of law.  A piece in The Atlantic ponders whether and who those senators could be.  Will they put the nation ahead of their political party.  Here are article excerpts:
By midnight on July 20, 2017, it seemed increasingly likely that Donald Trump will fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Mueller embodies what is admirable in U.S. public service: a wounded and decorated Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, longtime prosecutor and U.S. Attorney under both Republican and Democratic presidents, 12-year director of the FBI under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, unconnected to scandal or partisan suspicions at any point.
Donald Trump embodies the reverse.
Yet for now Trump has the legal power, directly or indirectly, to dismiss Mueller, if the investigation gets too close to Trump’s obviously sensitive financial concerns. And Trump himself, unaware of history and oblivious to rules, norms, and constraints, has given every indication that this will be his next step.
What happens then? Brian Beutler, of the New Republic, has just put up a bleak scenario, arguing that there really are no guardrails—or, as we observed in Mitch McConnell’s unprecedented stonewalling of a Supreme Court nomination, that the constitutional system’s real protections have been norms rather than formal rules. Someone unconcerned by those norms—McConnell last year, Trump now—can in fact blast right through them. “At the moment there are no reliable sources of accountability,” Beutler writes. “None.”
There are 52 Americans who have it within their power to prove that dark assessment wrong. Really, it would take a subset of just three of those 52. With the 52-48 current party lineup in the U.S. Senate, a switch of three votes of conscience is all it would take to have this branch of government fulfill its checks-and-balances function.
With three votes, a Senate majority could issue subpoenas and compel sworn testimony from Administration officials. It could empower its own thorough investigation, even re-hiring Robert Mueller to lead it. It could compel Donald Trump to release the tax returns about which he is so evidently nervous. It could act as if America in fact possessed a system of rule-of-law, rather than whim-of-one-man.

Ben Sasse could be one of those three, if he were willing to back up his lectures and essays about ethical public life. Lindsey Graham could, since he and John McCain have kept making the case about Trump’s recklessness. Chuck Grassley, who would be 89 years old the next time he’d have to face the voters. Dean Heller, who is in trouble anyway in a state Hillary Clinton carried, and whom Trump demeans and insults. Rob Portman, who has served in “normal” Republican administrations and could ally himself with his state’s governor, John Kasich, as forces for a principled future GOP. Jeff Flake, who in speeches has positioned himself with appeals to a more moderate politics, and who could take up the Maverick mantle of his colleague John McCain. Of course, McCain himself. Lisa Murkowski, who originally won without Republican Party support. Susan Collins, who drew a line at the rushed health-care bill. Richard Burr, who has made more-or-less common cause with his Democratic colleague Mark Warner on the Senate intelligence committee. Ron Johnson, who has just won re-election  and appears to be mad at Trump. Rand Paul, also just elected, if he believed his radical limited-government pitch. Ted Cruz, if he had the courage of his anti-Trump stand at last year’s GOP convention. Even—let’s imagine here—the likes of Tom Cotton, if he were willing to roll the dice and elevate himself as a national figure, for the post-Trump leadership contest against the likes of Sasse, Cruz, and the rest. There are half a dozen other conceivable candidates.
It would take only three. Some—Grassley? Heller? McCain if he is able to vote?—might think: What do they have to lose? They might as well wind up with dignity. Others—Paul, Burr, Johnson, Murkowski—are so far away from re-election that a lot will happen in the meantime. And all of them are senators, part of a body self-consciously proud of its independence, its individual judgment, its role in defending the long-term principles of governance.
A country of 300-plus million people, with the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, should not rely for its orderly stability on the decisions-of-conscience of just three people. But the United States may soon be in that situation. These names will go down in history, depending on the choices they make.  
Sadly, the morality of Republican senators is not what it was back in the Watergate era. Be very afraid.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2


Is America on the Brink of a Constitutional Crisis?


In the first six months of his regime, Donald Trump and his Sergeant Schultz aping Vice President, Mike Pence (younger voters can Goggle "Hogan's Heroes" if they don't get the meaning), have more than lived up to my worse fears.  It is difficult to decide which is worse, the criminality, incompetence or corruption of this foul regime. Despite all of the frightening developments, evangelical Christians are standing by their führer and confirming for all to see that they are morally bankrupt and place their racism, hatred of others, and desire for special rights under the smoke screen of "religious liberty" above the demands of the Gospels' social ministry message.  Now, they have delivered America where we are on the brink of a constitutional crisis which could well determine the fate of American democracy.  A piece in The New Republic looks at the danger point that we are rapidly reaching.  Here are highlights:
With President Donald Trump reportedly contemplating radical measures to defend his beleaguered administration from investigation, the United States stands on the brink of a constitutional crisis. According to The New York Times, Trump’s staff is trying to dredge up opposition research to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal team on the investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia in last election’s election interference. The Washington Post reports that Trump has inquired as to whether he can pardon associates, family members, and himself. And firing Mueller is a real possibility. As the New Republic’s Brian Beutler argued last night, there’s every indication that the Republican-controlled Congress will give a pass to these abuses of power, edging the American republic closer to authoritarianism. Bob Bauer, former White House Counsel to President Barack Obama, wrote Thursday on the blog Lawfare that Trump’s gambit would end the investigation and leave only impeachment as a remedy, with Trump counting on Republicans in the House and the Senate to support him no matter what. This could pay off if the Republicans stay in line ahead of the 2018 midterm elections: at worst, if the Democrats took back the House, Trump would be impeached, but would remain in power since Democrats won’t have the two-thirds votes necessary in the Senate to remove him. Last night, Emma Loop of BuzzFeed interviewed four Republican senators about whether firing Mueller would be a mistake. Only one, Marco Rubio of Florida, unequivocally said yes. All of this suggests that the constitutional crisis is also a political crisis. Democrats and the larger resistance needs to make Mueller the next big political battle. Defending the special counsel goes beyond defending one single investigation; it would be a proxy for a larger effort to guard the rule of law from a president with authoritarian aspirations. It would also be aimed at the Republican Party, letting them know that if they refuse to stand up to Trump’s thrashing of the rule of law, they will be held accountable at the election booth. It is time to make saving Mueller’s job the focus of a nationwide campaign. . . . If Trump fires Mueller before the Democrats can make it a national issue, then the public will be playing catch-up with the story. The better known Mueller is, the more costly his firing would be to Trump. Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is also thinking along these lines, suggesting that high-level Department of Justice officials be prepared to resign if Mueller is fired . . . Democratic representatives and senators can raise a fuss in the halls of Congress, forcing their Republican counterparts to defend Mueller’s job. If Republican lawmakers don’t take a stand, and Mueller is fired, they’ll be tainted as enablers in the next election.
Trump’s recklessness is raising the stakes, such that the only eventual remedy may be impeachment. The claims that Trump and his legal team are putting forward are already radical: that Trump can’t be charged with obstruction of justice because it’s in his power to terminate an investigation at any time.
Trump, if this account is accurate, is preparing to drive the political system over the cliff. Democrats must try to be the brakes, and they need to slam on them right now.

One historic parallel is the end of the Roman Republic when the Roman Senate allowed Octavian, who adopted the title Augustus Caesar, to  place himself above the law and become the first emperor. Frighteningly, most Congressional Republicans seem prepared to allow something similar to happen to America.  Yes, the trappings of the Congress and Senate would remain - just as they did under Augustus' take over of power - but true democracy will be dead.  

How Trump and GOP Can Still Sabotage Health Care for Millions

Moral bankruptcy: Republicans laughing it up when millions would be harmed.  

One can hope that Trumpcare is finally dead, but even if Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan - in my view two of the most horrible, amoral men in America after Der Trumpenführer - admit that they cannot summon the votes to pass a bill mostly motivated by a desire to give huge tax breaks to the wealthy, there remain numerous ways in which they can, and likely will sabotage the Affordable Health Care Act damaging access to health care for millions of Americans.  Why would they do this?  In my view, two main reasons: (i) they have lied about Obamacare for 8 years and they will want to make their lies become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and (ii) if they can cause the ACA to fail, they open a back door route to kill it and give those ever sought at tax cuts to the wealthy.  That millions will be harmed simply doesn't matter because many of those to be harmed are viewed  rightly or wrongly as as "those people" - blacks, Hispanics, people in big cities - and the rest don't matter in the GOP quest for a new Gilded Age.  Paul Krugman looks at the insidious means of sabotage that may be employed.  Here are highlights:
Is Trumpcare finally dead? Even now, it’s hard to be sure, especially given Republican moderates’ long track record of caving in to extremists at crucial moments. But it does look as if the frontal assault on the Affordable Care Act has failed.
And let’s be clear: The reason this assault failed wasn’t that Donald Trump did a poor selling job, or that Mitch McConnell mishandled the legislative strategy. Obamacare survived because it has worked — because it brought about a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance, and voters didn’t and don’t want to lose those gains.
Unfortunately, some of those gains will probably be lost all the same: The number of uninsured Americans is likely to tick up over the next few years. So it’s important to say clearly, in advance, why this is about to happen. It won’t be because the Affordable Care Act is failing; it will be the result of Trump administration sabotage.
Notably, [under the ACA] people aren’t automatically signed up for coverage, so it matters a lot whether the officials running the system try to make it work, reaching out to potential beneficiaries to ensure that they know what’s available, while reminding currently healthy Americans that they are still legally required to sign up for coverage. You can see this dependence on good intentions by looking at how health reform has played out at the state level. States that embraced the law fully, like California and Kentucky, made great progress in reducing the number of the uninsured; states that dragged their feet, like Tennessee, benefited far less. Or consider the problem of counties served by only one insurer; as a recent study noted, this problem is almost entirely limited to states with Republican governors.
But now the federal government itself is run by people who couldn’t repeal Obamacare, but would clearly still like to see it fail — if only to justify the repeated, dishonest claims, especially by the tweeter in chief himself, that it was already failing. Or to put it a bit differently, when Trump threatens to “let Obamacare fail,” what he’s really threatening is to make it fail.
On Wednesday The Times reported on three ways the Trump administration is, in effect, sabotaging the A.C.A. (my term, not The Times’s). First, the administration is weakening enforcement of the requirement that healthy people buy coverage. Second, it’s letting states impose onerous rules like work requirements on people seeking Medicaid. Third, it has backed off on advertising and outreach designed to let people know about options for coverage.
Actually, it has done more than back off. As reported by The Daily Beast, the Department of Health and Human Services has diverted funds appropriated by law for “consumer information and outreach” and used them instead to finance a social media propaganda campaign against the law that H.H.S. is supposed to be administering — a move, by the way, of dubious legality. Meanwhile, the department’s website, which used to offer helpful links for people seeking insurance, now sends viewers to denunciations of the A.C.A.
And there may be worse to come: Insurance companies, which are required by law to limit out-of-pocket expenses of low-income customers, are already raising premiums sharply because they’re worried about a possible cutoff of the crucial federal “cost-sharing reduction” subsidies that help them meet that requirement.
[T]his isn’t about policy, or even politics in the normal sense. It’s basically about spite: Trump and his allies may have suffered a humiliating political defeat, but at least they can make millions of other people suffer.
Can anything be done to protect Americans from this temper tantrum? In some cases, I believe, state governments can insulate their citizens from malfeasance at H.H.S. But the most important thing, surely, is to place the blame where it belongs. No, Mr. Trump, Obamacare isn’t failing; you are.
I'm sorry if I offend my Republican "friends," but Trump is basically human excrement.  The man is foul and toxic and he is harming the nation - perhaps at Vladimir Putin's bidding - and will harm millions of Americans before his reign of terror is over. 

Saturday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1


Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2


Trump Voters and the Fear of Change and Downward Mobility


Try as I might, I cannot get inside the heads of Trump voters, especially evangelical Christians who is the antithesis of the Gospel message that they purportedly respect.  I was at a family funeral yesterday at a church I once attended many years ago and one of the readings struck me since it put in such sharp contrast what Christians should be doing versus the agenda of Donald Trump and the Republican Party in general:
Matthew 25:35-40
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Unless it impacts them themselves, Trump supporters are all too happy to support the trashing of the social safety net, bear a hatred towards those who are different, and flocked to support a rich man who throughout his life has done none of what the foregoing passages call for.   

A column in the New York Times suggests that the answer to the question of why those who claim to be decent people voted for someone who clearly is not and who appears to be considering admitting guilt of crimes against America by trying to pardon himself and his family:  a fear of downward social mobility and desire to blame anyone else for their predicament except themselves.  I have written about the fear of loss of white privilege that I continue to believe motivated many Trump voters.  But also at play is a refusal to adjust to economic change and modernity and discontent with the consequences of one's own bad choices, e.g., dropping out of high school, refusing to relocate for better jobs, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.   One might call it a mindset of victim-hood even though a good portion of the circumstances they hate stem from their own actions.  Here are some column highlights:
I have written before about the fear of falling down the socioeconomic ladder, the fear of an irremediable loss of status, authority and prestige — and the desperate need to be rescued from this fate. But the topic bears further exploration because it has been such a prime motivation for one slice of the electorate, the swing voters who made President Trump’s unexpected triumph possible.
The question that persists six months after Mr. Trump’s inauguration is why six key states — Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, along with 220 counties nationwide — flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. Why did these voters change their minds? These are men and women who are, in the main, still working, still attending church, still members of functioning families, but who often live in communities where neighbors, relatives, friends and children have been caught up in disordered lives. The worry that this disorder has become contagious — that decent working or middle class lives can unravel quickly — stalks many voters, particularly in communities where jobs, industries and a whole way of life have slowly receded, the culminating effect of which can feel like a sudden blow.
One suggestive line of thinking comes from Arlie Hochschild, the author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” and professor emerita of sociology at Berkeley. Hochschild has studied Americans whom she calls “the elite of the left-behind.” Her findings shed light, I think, on the concerns of some of the voters who tipped the balance for Trump last year. Hochschild wrote to me that common refrains among these voters were “America’s heading downhill” and “I think our kids are headed for hard times.” In these conversations, she said,
it wouldn’t take long before another topic spontaneously came up, blacks, their problems, their call on government help. At the bottom of the imagined slide was the situation of blacks — teen single moms, kids out in the street at night, slacking off in school, drugs, drink. So, yes, the feeling was, “if we don’t turn this thing around, that could be us.”
Nancy Isenberg, a history professor at Louisiana State University and the author of “White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America,” responded to my inquiry about Americans anxious about losing their place:
Yes, the fear was about rearranging the “pecking order.” But many working-class and middle-class whites without college educations also hate poor whites, who they see as lazy and worthless. Historically, poor whites have shared the same stereotypes applied to poor blacks: lazy, uncouth, living on handouts, and not just having too many children, but practicing “inbreeding.”
The 2016 campaign:
tapped into anxieties of all who resented the government for handing over the country to supposedly less deserving classes: new immigrants, protesting African Americans, lazy welfare freeloaders, and Obamacare recipients asking for handouts. Angry Trump voters were convinced that these classes, the “takers,” were not playing by the rules (i.e., working their way up the ladder) and that government entitlement programs were allowing some to advance past the more deserving (white, native born) Americans. This is how many came to feel “disinherited.”
There is no question that the communities where Trump received crucial backing — rural to small-city America — are, in many ways, on a downward trajectory.
From 1990 to 2009, the percentage of births to single mothers among whites without high school diplomas grew from 21 to 51 percent; among those who completed high school, the percentage rose from 11 to 34 percent.
Along parallel lines, the percentage of intact marriages among white adults 25 to 60 years old without high school degrees fell from 70 percent in the 1970s to 36 percent in the 2000s. For those who finished, the percentage fell from 76 to 46 percent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 that the number of opioid prescriptions outnumbered the number of people in 12 states. All 12 of these states voted for Donald Trump: Arkansas, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. . . . . the overdose death rates in 2015 for opioids, including heroin, were far higher for whites, 13.9 per 100,000, than for blacks, 6.6 per 100,000, and Hispanics, 4.6 per 100,000.
While whites without bachelor’s degrees flocked to Trump in the belief that he was their savior, the reality is that the many Americans are caught in a vicious cycle that Trump is in no way equipped to address.
As these processes continue and accelerate, many Trump voters — the neighbors, relatives, friends, parents and children of those who have become mired in this “geography of desperation” — are deeply apprehensive about what might happen if Trump fails to fulfill his promise to make America great again.
Trump will fail to change this cycle because dropping out of school, not marrying, unwed motherhood, and drug use are all things that track back to personal responsibility - something the GOP claims to laud and even demand of individuals.  In addition, globalization and economic and societal change will march on and many Trump voters will face a bleak fate if they do not let go of their fear of modernity and take steps to change their fate, steps that may include moving away from backward and/or economically depressed areas (the two usually go hand in hand).

Trump Exploring Pardon Powers - An Admission of Guilt?


Once again I find myself feeling either as I am reliving some of the high drama days of Watergate or, worse yet, Hitler's seizing of power in Germany in 1933.  As the Washington Post reports, Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, is exploring his powers to pardon himself, or his children, staff and other possible co-conspirators as the Russiagate investigations roll forward.  Clearly, Trump increasingly sees himself as above the law and looks to utterly subvert the law and cover up criminal offenses.  Obviously, a pardon is not necessary unless one is guilty of a crime against the United States. Moreover, accepting a presidential pardon is tantamount to an admission of guilt.  If Trump and his children - who seem to be garish modern day versions of Marie Antoinette - have commuted no crimes as claimed, why the need for pardons?  I suspect that the truth is that they are guilty of many crimes - a reality that special prosecutor Robert Mueller may be getting closer to proving - and know that they are guilty.   Here are article highlights: 
Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.
Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.
With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.
 
The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller’s probe could reach into his and his family’s finances, advisers said.
Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face. His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.
 
Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
 
Trump is coming face-to-face with a powerful investigative team that is able to study evidence of any crime it encounters in the probe — including tax fraud, lying to federal agents and interference in the investigation.
“This is Ken Starr times 1,000,” said one lawyer involved in the case, referring to the independent counsel who oversaw an investigation that eventually led to House impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. “Of course, it’s going to go into his finances.” 
 
Some Republicans in frequent touch with the White House said they viewed the president’s decision to publicly air his disappointment with Sessions as a warning sign that the attorney general’s days were numbered. Several senior aides were described as “stunned” when Sessions announced Thursday morning he would stay on at the Justice Department.
Another Republican in touch with the administration described the public steps as part of a broader effort aimed at “laying the groundwork to fire” Mueller. . . . .  “Who attacks their entire Justice Department?” this person said. “It’s insane.”
 
[I]f Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.
 
The power to pardon is granted to the president in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the commander in chief the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means pardon authority extends to federal criminal prosecution but not to state level or impeachment inquiries.
No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it. Although Kalt says the weight of the law argues against a president pardoning himself, he says the question is open and predicts such an action would move through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.
I have always maintained that if Trump had nothing to hide, he would not have refused to release his tax returns or continually lied and attempted to undermine investigations.    Only someone guilty of crimes behaves in such a manner. Trump and his entire regime, including Mike Pence, need to be forced to resign and, if appropriate, criminally prosecuted.  

Friday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2


Russia and the Trumps: It Was Always About the Money


Other than trying to satisfy his own insatiable ego and narcissism, Donald Trump has only one god: money and acquiring more money.   Like far to many, Trump needs things and money to instill a sense of self-worth.  Whatever he got, he needed - and still needs - more.  In light of his numerous business bankruptcies and literally thousands of lawsuits against his entities, American banks ultimately learned that he was a bad risk and the money spigot so crucial to supporting his purported real estate empire was turned off.  That left him seeking loans from the Bank of China and from Germany's Deutsche Bank the latter of which is facing subpoenas and questioning from special prosecutor Robert Mueller as The Guardian reports:  
Executives inside Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump’s personal bankers, are expecting that the bank will soon be receiving subpoenas or other requests for information from Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
A person close to the matter who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity said that Mueller’s team and the bank have already established informal contact in connection to the federal investigation.
Deutsche’s relationship with Trump and questions about hundreds of millions in loans have dogged the German bank and the White House for months. They have also been the subject of intense scrutiny among some Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have demanded the bank turn over detailed information about the president’s accounts.
Any move by Mueller’s team to pursue Trump’s personal financial record comes as the bank continues to negotiate a settlement with the Department of Justice over its so-called mirror trading scheme, in which the bank’s former Moscow branch is alleged to have allowed $10bn to flow out of Russia
According to an analysis by Bloomberg, Trump now owes Deutsche, his biggest creditor, around $300m. He has four large mortgages, all issued by Deutsche’s private bank. The loans are guaranteed against the president’s properties: a new deluxe hotel in Washington DC’s old post office building, just around the corner from the White House; his Chicago tower hotel; and the Trump National DoralMiami resort.
Tellingly, Deutsche Bank ceased making new loans to Trump quite some time ago.  This left Trump ultimately with one source of funding: Russia and Russian oligarchs eager to move money out of Russia, much of it in need of laundering.  A column in Esquire looks at how the quest for Russian money has now perhaps begun to unravel for Trumpenführer.  Here are highlights:
It was always about the money. The reason we never saw the tax returns was because of what they would show about the money. The reason we can't get a straight answer about the family's dealings with the Russians is the money. Preet Bharara got fired because of the money and how the money had been allegedly laundered. James Comey got fired because of the money. Without the money, specifically the money from Russia, the Trump empire likely would have collapsed under a hail of writs and the paterfamilias would have been rendered invisible, even in the mirrors of Mar-a-Lago.
It always was about the money. The meeting on June 6, 2016 ultimately was about the money, as we learned today from CNN. The network reported that it had identified the eighth participant in that now-famous Trump Tower confab. Contrary to the previous load of hooey dispensed by Junior and the first family, this dude was not a translator.  . . . Here's Ray from The New York Times:
In a nine-month inquiry that subpoenaed bank records, the investigators found that an unknown number of Russians and other East Europeans moved more than $1.4 billion through accounts at Citibank of New York and the Commercial Bank of San Francisco. The accounts had been opened by Irakly Kaveladze,  . . . . More than $800 million was wired from abroad to 136 accounts that Mr. Kaveladze opened at Citibank for Russian clients, and most of that was then sent to overseas accounts . . .
It's not hard to believe that Junior wanted this guy's name kept out of the stories, especially now that, as the guy's attorney says, Robert Mueller has come knock, knock, knocking at the door.
The fact is that the president* was never as rich as he said he was, a circumstance that was of outsized importance to nobody except his own narcissistic self. (I don't think it would have changed a single vote if it had been revealed that he wasn't as rich as he was saying he was.) He did, however, always have an outsized sense of himself in the world. He had to keep acquiring to stay true to his self-image. I believe the collision between these two factors left him with no options but to obtain loans except overseas, and the Russian money was easy money. Then he got elected president and it all unraveled.
If obstruction of justice doesn't take Trump - and his children and son-in-law - down, money laundering and other financial crimes likely will do so.  Just imagine Ivanka in bright orange prison garb.  

Quote of the Day: Russiagate - It’s Probably A Lot Worse Than We Thought


As noted numerous times, my gut feeling is that Donald Trump and his campaign sought to collude with Vladimir Putin's operatives to throw the 2016 presidential election to Trump.  I further believe that Putin likely has blackmail information on Trump either involving personal misconduct - remember the "golden shower" rumor? - or more likely financial improprieties involving  money laundering and/or undisclosed financial reliance on Russian funding, the latter explaining Trump's refusal to release his tax returns.  As the train wreck that is the Trump presidency hurls down the tracks towards disaster, the increasing smoke plumes suggest that the Russiagate situation is likely far worse than many want to admit.  Josh Marshall explains why:
Yesterday we learned that President Trump had a second, undisclosed discussion with President Putin for as long as an hour with only Putin’s translator present. In other words, no other American citizen was there to make a record of or hear what was discussed.
It’s been noted that President Obama spoke for a few minutes one-on-one once with Dmitry Medvedev when he was President or Russia. My understanding is that Medvedev actually speaks decent English; so translation is less of an issue. But no one had any reason to believe that President Obama was compromised by the Russian government or somehow in league with it. We have plenty of reasons to believe that about President Trump. (Is this circular reasoning? No, as I’ll explain in a moment.) I see no plausible explanation for this latest revelation other than President Trump wanting to discuss things with President Putin that he does not want any other American citizen to hear.
I know that sounds ominous and even hyperbolic. But what is the alternative explanation – when all the other relevant evidence is considered? I can’t see any.
Add into the mix that even if you think that most or all of the Trump/Russia stuff is a bum rap, it is clearly the case that speaking privately with Putin for an hour – with no witnesses – would raise an insane level of suspicion. Why would you do that? You would only do that if you thought having the conversation was really, really, really important. It’s not circular reasoning because the suspicion is a fact; courting it for no reason is all but impossible to explain.
The mix of President Trump’s bizarre toadying to Russia and Putin himself, combined with the latest revelations about Don Jr and the rest make it no longer credible that there’s any innocent explanation to this mystery. I think a lot of higher-ups in government have not fully thought through and absorbed what this means.


Trump v. Mueller - Is A Constitutional Crisis At Hand?


Since being sworn into office Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, has routinely lied and ignored the rule of law and separation of powers as well as the independence of the FBI.  In an interview with the New York Times, Trump made it clear that he wants the FBI to report to him and to be loyal to him personally.  Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution on the part of government officials is nowhere on the radar screen for Trump who seemingly wants the FBI to act in the same manner as Vladimir Putin's intelligence agencies and secret police.  Equally disturbing is Trump's threats toward the Justice Department and special prosecutor, Robert Mueller who is apparently investigating both Donald Trump, Jr., meeting that sought to collude with Russia and many of the Trump financial transactions.  Should Trump attempt to fire Mueller, the parallels with Watergate will be almost complete but for the fact that Trump's possible crimes far exceed those of Richard Nixon during the Watergate era. Frighteningly, I have little faith in Congressional Republicans putting America first over the short term power of the Republican Party.  Here are excerpts from the New York Times on the very troubling interview:  
In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, the president also accused James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Mr. Trump criticized both the acting F.B.I. director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.
Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.
Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
He said that as far as he knew, he was not under investigation himself, despite reports that Mr. Mueller is looking at whether the president obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey. Trump left little doubt during the interview that the Russia investigation remained a sore point. His pique at Mr. Sessions, in particular, seemed fresh even months after the attorney general’s recusal. Mr. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump’s candidacy and was rewarded with a key cabinet slot, but has been more distant from the president lately.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’
The president added a new allegation against Mr. Comey, whose dismissal has become a central issue for critics who said it amounted to an attempt to obstruct the investigation into Russian meddling in the election and any possible collusion with Mr. Trump’s team. . . . Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Comey told him about the dossier to implicitly make clear he had something to hold over the president. Mr. Comey testified before Congress that he disclosed the details of the dossier to Mr. Trump because he thought that the media would soon be publishing details from it and that Mr. Trump had a right to know what information was out there about him. Mr. Trump was also critical of Mr. Mueller, a longtime former F.B.I. director, reprising some of his past complaints that lawyers in his office contributed money to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. The president also expressed discontent with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, a former federal prosecutor from Baltimore. . . . He complained that Mr. Rosenstein had in effect been on both sides when it came to Mr. Comey. The deputy attorney general recommended Mr. Comey be fired but then appointed Mr. Mueller, who may be investigating whether the dismissal was an obstruction of justice.

The take away?  Trump is a vindictive liar and only too willing to tell untruths about others and to throw the nation into a constitutional crisis in a desperate attempt to deflect attention from his own actions and the possible criminal activities of his son, son-in-law, and Trump sycophants.  Be very, very afraid.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 1


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Morning Male Beauty - Pt 2


Eighth Person in Trump, Jr., Meeting Linked to Money Laundering


For years Donald Trump, Sr., has skirted the edge of the law and cut deals with both domestic and Russian mobsters, often in connection with his real estate projects.  The latter have for years provided a means for dirty Russian money to be used to acquire real estate in America - the USA, unlike many other nations has few restrictions on foreigners buying property - which when sold effective launders the money and makes it "clean."  Hence it should be no surprise that the now identified 8th person in the June, 2016, meeting with Trump, Jr., at Trump Tower had ties to money laundering. Literally, with every passing day some new sleazy and/or questionable detail of the meeting unfolds which further underscores the lies that were first used to explain the meeting which sought to collude with Russian operatives.  Here are details from Politico on this new information (Note Senator Mark Warner's pointed comment): 
The eighth attendee at a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top Trump associates and a politically connected Russian lawyer is a business associate of a top Moscow oligarch and was once the focus of a congressional money-laundering probe.
Irakly "Ike" Kaveladze, until now the mysterious eighth person in the room, attended the meeting on behalf of Aras Agalarov, a billionaire real estate magnate with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Trump family friend. A lawyer for Agalarov has confirmed Kaveladze’s attendance to other news outlets, though he did not respond to requests for comment from POLITICO.
Business filings list Kaveladze as founder of a company called IBC Group, which shares a New Jersey address — 333 Sylvan Ave. in Englewood Cliffs — with several shell companies connected to Aras Agalarov.
One of those firms is Saffron Property Management, which Agalarov reportedly used to purchase an $11 million condo in Florida last year.
A POLITICO reporter visiting the nondescript office building where all of these companies are based found that the suite linked to Agalarov and Kaveladze was empty, with unopened mail by the door. A sign in the lobby indicated that the suite belonged to IBC and Russian Art Mall, which was founded in 2000 and registered to Emin Agalarov, who is a partner in his father's business.
"They're current on the rent. They're on our rent roll, they're just quiet," said George Sayrafe, who said he has managed the building for 20 years. "I hadn't heard anything. Some tenants bother you, you know what I mean? These people, I haven't seen them in a long time."
Kaveladze’s identity is among many facts about the 2016 meeting that Donald Trump Jr. has failed to disclose in multiple public statements. And his background may add to the questions members of Congress and investigators have about the meeting, which Trump officials say was brief and inconsequential but which Democrats call evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“I doubt if this individual who had a history of setting up thousands of fake accounts in Delaware was really there to talk about Russian adoptions,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday.
Kaveladze was named in a round of news stories in November 2000, after the General Accounting Office issued a report on Russian money laundering through U.S. financial institutions.
At the time, Kaveladze was identified in contemporaneous news reports as the originator of thousands of Delaware-based shell corporations.
Through his company, which was at the time called International Business Creations, Kaveladze formed 2,000 corporations for Russian brokers, which helped steer more than $1.4 billion in wire transactions through U.S. banks, according to the congressional inquiry.
The Agalarovs and Kaveladze are represented by Scott Balber, a New York white-collar defense attorney and former legal partner with Abbe Lowell, an attorney handling Russia matters for Kushner. Balber told The Washington Post on Tuesday he got a call this weekend from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office seeking an interview with Kaveladze — an ask that marks the first public signal the special counsel is investigating the Russia meeting.

Hundreds of German Choir Boys Abused Over Six Decades


As the Roman Catholic Church remains outwardly hostile towards LGBT individuals and continues to let go of its 12th century understanding of human sexuality (and the writings of church fathers who seemingly had some mental health issues), a new report out of Germany reminds us that the Church's unnatural and bizarre approach to human sexuality inflicts a cost on many, especially children and youths.  Sadly, the Church's celibacy requirement for its all male priesthood makes that priesthood a safe haven for the psycho-sexually dysfunctional and abnormal particularly when the near obsession with all things sexual is combined into the mix.  Sex abuse cases continue to unfold in America, all hell is breaking lose in Australia where the number three man at the Vatican has been charged with sex crimes, including rape, and similar stories are unfolding in Guam, India and various parts of Africa.  The problem is systemic yet no high cleric who was involved in aiding and abetting or covering up for such sex crimes has been punished.  Pope Francis' commission to address this has done nothing. As an institution, the Church is morally bankrupt.   Here are highlights from the BBC on the latest bombshell:
At least 547 young members of the Regensburger Domspatzen boys choir in Germany were subjected to physical and in some instances sexual abuse over a period of 60 years, a new report says.
The report accuses 49 members of the Catholic Church of carrying out the abuse between 1945 and the early 1990s.
The alleged perpetrators are unlikely to face criminal charges because of the amount of time that has elapsed.
Victims said the experience was like "a prison, hell and a concentration camp".
The alleged physical abuse relates to children attending both the Regensburger Domspatzen's pre-school and high school, according to the lawyer tasked with investigating the abuse, Ulrich Weber.
Among those singled out for criticism in the report was former choirmaster Georg Ratzinger, elder brother of retired Pope Benedict XVI.
Mr Weber said that while Mr Ratzinger, now 93, had no knowledge of sexual abuse, "one can accuse him of looking the other way and failing to intervene".
Presenting his findings on Tuesday, Mr Weber said the investigation had found 500 cases of physical abuse and 67 instances of sexual abuse over six decades.
However, he said he was unable to contact or speak directly to a number of former students and said he estimated the true number of victims to be as high as 700.
Of the 49 church members who carried out the abuse under what was described as a "culture of silence", nine were found to have been involved in sexual abuse, Mr Weber added.
He said the alleged perpetrators had been identified but were not expected to face criminal charges because the alleged crimes took place too long ago to be legally valid.
He said the victims described their experiences at the boarding schools in southern Germany as "the worst time of their lives, characterised by fear, violence and hopelessness".
The 1,000-year-old choir was initially rocked by allegations of widespread sexual abuse in 2010.  A 2016 report into the allegations found that 231 children had been abused.
Mr Weber also criticised Regensburg Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who is now a cardinal, for the weaknesses of the initial review of the scandal when it first came to light in 2010. The cardinal has rejected his findings.
The UN has accused the Vatican of "systematically" adopting policies allowing priests to sexually abuse thousands of children.


I ask again: how can  a morally decent person remain a member in this church and, worse yet, continue to support it financially? 

Dallas Morning News Column Trashes Trump's "Achievements"



The former Washington Bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News - one of the largest newspapers in Texas - has a scathing column in that newspaper that is scathing in its treatment of  Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, as he nears the six month mark in his toxic presidency.   The column is a handy compilation of some of the worse results of the Trump presidency, all of which ought to disturb patriotic Americans and those who do not embrace the Republican Party's slashing of the social safety net and reverse Robin Hood agenda in general.  Here are highlights from the column:
President Donald Trump's first six months have been defined by his often angry and tasteless tweets, his ham-handed efforts to denigrate and undercut the multiple investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 election and the stalemated legislative battle to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But Trump is right in saying he has significantly influenced government and the nation's image -- though much of his impact has been negative.
Here are some other Trump "achievements:"
FOREIGN POLICY
-Embraced autocrats in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Egypt and abandoned longtime U.S leadership in seeking to enhance democracy and human rights.
-Insulted U.S. allies in Europe, especially Germany, and undercut longstanding U.S. treaty commitments.
-Compromised Israel's intelligence sources.
-Spurred more divisiveness in an already divided Middle East by setting off a squabble between Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally, and Qatar, home of the region's biggest U.S.  military base.
-Undermined U.S. global leadership on climate change by withdrawing from the Paris agreement, joining only Syria and Nicaragua as nonparticipants.
-Reversed decades of Republican support for free trade, ceding leadership in Asia to China by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and elsewhere by encouraging the British exit from the European Community.
DOMESTIC POLICY
-Proposed a budget with massive cuts that would shred the social safety net and cripple longstanding governmental functions.
-Created uncertainty in the nation's health care system by sending inconsistent administrative signals and supporting legislation that could deprive millions of people health insurance coverage, undermine Medicaid health support for lower income Americans and give wealthy taxpayers a massive tax cut.
-Mismanaged the federal government by failing to fill many top spots and installing an inexperienced, dysfunctional White House staff.
-Expanded the policy of deporting dangerous illegal aliens by including many people with minimal records, stable jobs and American families.
-Created a commission to investigate his unproven allegations of voter fraud because he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
-Reversed decades of bipartisan cooperation in extending environmental preservation of national landmarks.
-Hired foxes to watch the chicken coops by filling his administration with archconservatives, many with records opposing the very agencies in which they work, and curbing civil rights and environmental enforcement.
INSTITUTIONAL DAMAGE:
-Committed potentially impeachable offenses of obstructing justice that prompted appointment of a Special Counsel by firing FBI Director James Comey, because of his probe into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia, and urging other intelligence officials to pressure Comey to halt the probe.
-Undermined the courts with denunciations of judges and their decisions affecting his administration's policies, especially those curbing his hastily issued ban on Muslim travel from certain countries.
-Without evidence, accused former President Barack Obama of illegally wiretapping his phones.
-Repeatedly misrepresented his administration's policies and trashed officials with whom he has disagreements, calling the  ousted Comey "a nut job," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer the "head clown" and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi an "incompetent."
-Intensified racial and other divisions by reducing governmental civil rights guarantees and reversing protections for sexual and racial minorities.
-Violated his own self-proclaimed ethics laws by allowing officials to deal with issues affecting their former employers. Permitted multiple instances in which he and other family members benefit financially from his presidency.
-Waged a vendetta against news outlets subjecting his administration to scrutiny, calling the mainstream media the "enemy of the American people" and denouncing unfavorable stories as "fake news." Undercut White House press institutions intended to facilitate dialogue between the presidency and the public.
Trump has failed so far to enact promised measures to increase economic growth, resulting in reduced long-term forecasts. Many economic numbers he touts exaggerate his impact and denigrate the carryover effect of positive Obama policies. Military progress against ISIS has not eased its terrorist threat.
The result: the least support for any new modern president, an exacerbation of domestic divisions, and unprecedented global disdain and embarrassment.
If you add up all these negatives, Trump has done a great deal in six months and none of it has been positive.