Friday, May 26, 2017
|A viper behind a pretty face?|
Now that it is known that he is a person of interest in the Russiagate investigation, I suspect that we will be learning much more about presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Based on a piece in Politico's magazine section, what we are likely to learn is not going to be good or flattering. Seemingly, in the opinion of the article's author, beneath the polite veneer he works to maintain, Kushner is far more like his thuggish father-in-law and only too willing to play dirty and engage in underhanded conduct. One would have thought that Kushner would have realized the truth would come out at some point. His ties to Russiagate will likely accelerate that process and his reputation in society circles could well take a hit. Here are brief highlights from a very long article:
He was supposed to be the calm one, cool and unflappable under his Ray-Bans and beltless blue bespoke suits. If Steve Bannon was the Rumpelstiltskin of the administration, donning multiple half-tucked dress shirts at a time and always carrying a clutch of briefing papers and barreling through the administrative state, Jared Kushner, through pedigree and temperament, could reach out one of his long, elegant fingers and tap everyone in the West Wing on the shoulder and urge them to just cool out a bit. In a White House sullied by ties to Russia and all sorts of unsavory characters from the fringe, Kushner was set to float above, surrounding himself with fellow figures from the elite worlds of Manhattan finance and real estate and deep-sixing the harder-edged ideas of the White House’s “nationalist” wing.Except that this isn’t quite how it has gone in the White House over the last several months. It was Kushner who reportedly pushed for the firing of FBI Director James Comey over the objections of Bannon. And it was Kushner who was the lone voice urging for a counterattack after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the appointment of a special prosecutor, according to the New York Times. And it is now Kushner whose family’s business activities leave him open to the same level of charges of conflict of interest that have dogged his wife and father-in-law, and Kushner who appears to be as closely tied to the Russian government as anyone serving in the White House: NBC News and the Washington Post reported Thursday that the FBI is taking a close look at his contacts with the Russians.
The widespread assumption liberals make about Kushner seems to be this: Because he is soft-spoken, slim and handsome, with degrees from Harvard and NYU and a family that donates to Democrats, he couldn’t possibly be the same guy knifing his West Wing rivals and urging the president to go to war with the Justice Department and the FBI. But that assumption is wrong. . . . . those who know him from his days as a young New York real estate magnate and newspaper publisher say that America is just getting to know the Jared Kushner they have always known. . .
By all accounts, Jared was deeply affected by his father’s prison sentence [for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering], and visited him weekly.
And so in an effort to rehabilitate the family name, Kushner focused the family business on Manhattan and purchased the New York Observer, a pink-paged society weekly that made up in influence among the social and literary elite what it lacked in circulation or profitability (full disclosure: I worked as a political reporter there from 2010-2012). But the paper soon expanded into coverage of Kushner’s home turf of commercial real estate, and people in that world saw the paper’s editorial resources devoted to pushing Kushner’s agenda or settling his scores.
“The Observer became his mouthpiece in the world of New York City real estate,” said one prominent real estate broker who asked to remain anonymous because “like everybody else in New York and New Jersey real estate I realize there is no upside to talking about Jared Kushner or Donald Trump.”
[T]he anger toward him among former Observer employees runs deep. . . . . Just before the election, Kahlon described her former boss on Facebook thusly: “We’re talking about a guy who isn’t particularly bright or hard-working, doesn’t actually know anything, has bought his way into everything ever (with money he got from his criminal father), who is deeply insecure and obsessed with fame (you don’t buy the NYO, marry Ivanka Trump, or constantly talk about the phone calls you get from celebrities if it’s in your nature to ‘shun the spotlight’), and who is basically a shithead.”
Meanwhile, damaging stories keep landing as journalists dig into the Kushner real estate empire, which is said to have taken part in at least $7 billion worth of acquisitions over the past decade and, according to Forbes, to have a worth close to $1 billion. A recent investigation by ProPublica revealed that Kushner Companies have bought thousands of distressed apartment complexes in Rust Belt cities in recent years, hardly the stuff of Manhattan dreams. A subsidiary that manages the complexes has been ruthless in pushing out those who didn’t pay their rent, ProPublica reported, hitting them with steep late fees and even going after them in court.
Read the whole piece.Alec MacGillis, who reported the story, found that few of the “Kushnerville” residents he met knew their money was going to a company owned by the son in law of President Trump. “That Jared Kushner?” one exclaimed. “Oh, my God. And I thought he was the good one.”
|A man in Welch, W.Va., with groceries from a food bank that supports local families|
Between the latest GOP Trumpcare proposal and the budget proposal put forth by the White House, it is very evident that the combined agenda is one that favors the very wealthy and shows nothing but contempt for pretty much everyone else. The most special contempt is reserved for the poor, the sick, and low income workers. Under both the latest Trumpcare proposal and Der Trumpenführer's budget proposal, the wealthy would receive literally trillions of dollars in tax cuts while programs that assist the less fortunate would be devastated. Yet, too many white Americans continue to vote for Republicans such as happened in Montana where the GOP candidate had been charged with assault. Apparently, many whites will vote for their own economic and financial destruction as long as appeals are made to their racism, religious extremism and xenophobia. Paul Krugman looks at the ugliness of the Trump/GOP proposals.
For journalists covering domestic policy, this past week poses some hard choices. Should we focus on the Trump budget’s fraudulence — not only does it invoke $2 trillion in phony savings, it counts them twice — or on its cruelty? Or should we talk instead about the Congressional Budget Office assessment of Trumpcare, which would be devastating for older, poorer and sicker Americans?There is, however, a unifying theme to all these developments. And that theme is contempt — Donald Trump’s contempt for the voters who put him in office.
You may recall Trump’s remark during the campaign that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Well, he hasn’t done that, at least so far. He is, however, betting that he can break every promise he made to the working-class voters who put him over the top, and still keep their support. Can he win that bet?
When it comes to phony budget math — remember his claims that he would pay off the national debt? — he probably can. We’re not talking about anything subtle here; we’re talking about a budget that promises to “abolish the death tax,” then counts $330 billion in estate tax receipts in its rosy forecast. But even I don’t expect to see this kind of fraud get much political traction.
The bigger question is whether someone who ran as a populist, who promised not to cut Social Security or Medicaid, who assured voters that everyone would have health insurance, can keep his working-class support while pursuing an agenda so anti-populist it takes your breath away.
To make this concrete, let’s talk about West Virginia, which went Trump by more than 40 percentage points, topped only by Wyoming. What did West Virginians think they were voting for?
They are, after all, residents of a poor state that benefits immensely from federal programs: 29 percent of the population is on Medicaid, almost 19 percent on food stamps. The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare is the main reason the percentage of West Virginians without health insurance has halved since 2013.
Beyond that, more than 4 percent of the population, the highest share in the nation, receives Social Security disability payments, . . . . people who suffer from chronic diseases, like diabetics — whom Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, thinks we shouldn’t take care of because it’s their own fault for eating poorly.
And just to be clear, we’re talking about white people here: At 93 percent white, West Virginia is one of the most minority- and immigrant-free states in America. . . . . they also believed that he was a different kind of Republican. Maybe he would take benefits away from Those People, but he would protect the programs white working-class voters, in West Virginia and elsewhere, depend on. What they got instead was the mother of all sucker punches.
Trumpcare, the budget office tells us, would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance, largely through cuts to Medicaid — remember, the program that benefits almost a third of West Virginians. It would also lead to soaring premiums — we’re talking increases on the order of 800 percent — for older Americans whose incomes are low but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid. That describes a lot of Trump voters. Then we need to add in the Trump budget, which calls for further drastic cuts in Medicaid, plus large cuts in food stamps and in disability payments.
What would happen to West Virginia if all these Trump policies went into effect? Basically, it would be apocalyptic: Hundreds of thousands would lose health insurance; medical debt and untreated conditions would surge; and there would be an explosion in extreme poverty, including a lot of outright hunger.
Oh, and it’s not just about crucial benefits, it’s also about jobs. Coal isn’t coming back; these days, West Virginia’s biggest source of employment is health care and social assistance. How many of those jobs would survive savage cuts in Medicaid and disability benefits?
Now, to be fair, the Trump budget would protect West Virginians from the ravages of the estate tax, which affects around 20 — that’s right, 20 — of the state’s residents each year.
In the case of West Virginians, this scam could end up pretty much destroying their state.
Will they ever realize this, and admit it to themselves? More important, will they be prepared to punish him the only way they can — by voting for Democrats?
True, I have little sympathy for the cretins who fell for Trump's and the GOP's lies that they would take care of then. With more than 30 years of history to show that "trickle down economics" only benefits the rich, they should have known better and closed their ears to appeals to racism and misogyny. But those I have the most disgust with are those whites in particular who will not be hurt by the Trump/GOP proposals who go to church on Sundays and feign fealty to the Gospel message (some post falsely pious things on Facebook as well) even as they vote for politicians that are pushing agendas diametrically the opposite of what a true Christian should support. Their churches are little more than social clubs. They most assuredly are not fighting for implementing the Gospel message. It's these folks - and the Christofascists - who have helped me to walk away from Christianity. They are hypocrites and modern day Pharisees with whom I want to have as little contact as possible.
Donald Trump ranted against the 9th Circuit when his first attempt at a ban against Muslims went down in flames. Now, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has struck down Der Trumpenführer's second attempt at banning Muslims from entering America. In its ruling, the Court recognized the motivation behind the executive order: religious based intolerance and animus. The ruling will not sit well with Christofascists but ought to be encouraging for those who continue to believe in true religious freedom - not the perverted Christofascist version - and the First Amendment. Salon looks at the ruling which will likely push the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here are highlights:
Yet another federal court ruled against President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from six majority-Muslim nations. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the so-called Muslim travel ban executive order “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.” The court refused to lift a nationwide injunction blocking the ban.In a 10-3 ruling, the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, noted that President Trump’s power to deny entry to immigrants, while “broad,” isn’t “absolute.”
[A]n Executive Order that in text speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination. Surely the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment yet stands as an untiring sentinel for the protection of one of our most cherished founding principles—that government shall not establish any religious orthodoxy, or favor or disfavor one religion over another. Congress granted the President broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked
Trump’s revised ban “cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it,” Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote.
Trump’s revised ban was announced in March after the first version of the ban was shot down by federal courts. But the ban on people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days never got off the ground because federal courts blocked it just hours before it was set to go into effect.
While Donald Trump kissed the asses of members of the Saudi royal family and said not a word about Saudi Arabia's horrific human rights abuses and religious extremism, he apparently has no qualms about trashing America's European allies. In addition to deriding NATO countries and shoving the president of Montenegro out of his way during a photo, Trump decided to pick a fight with Germany and bitched about the sale of German cars in America, seemingly oblivious to the reality that many BMW's and Mercedes-Benz's are built in states like South Carolina and Alabama and that the two companies employ thousands of Americans. Volkswagen Chattanooga (Tennessee) employs another 2,000 Americans. The Raw Story looks at Trump's anti-German statements. Here are excerpts:
President Donald Trump is ready to fight Germany in an auto battle according to Germany’s Der Spiegel.
Trump got a chilly reception at the NATO summit in Belgium after attacking fellow members. But he was caught pledging a battle with German automakers as part of his anger with “back dues” he feels the country owes to NATO. As CNN’s Jake Tapper noted Thursday, “Trump seems to think it’s like a country club.”
In a discussion about the country’s trade surplus, Trump said. “The Germans are evil, very evil.” “Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US, and we’ll stop that,” sources told Der Spiegel.
According to the report, EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker took up for Germany explaining that “free trade is good for all.”
According to a report from the “Süddeutsche Zeitung,” the EU allies were horrified by the willingness of the Americans to view global trade with such a lack of awareness. Trump’s economic consultant Gary Cohn was said to have chided German auto trade during a discussion between the US and Germany and the USA and Belgium. Trump had previously attacked them during another conversation.
“I would say to BMW if they want to build a factory in Mexico and sell cars to the US without a 35 percent tax, they can forget that,” Trump said at the time.
Trump is bothered by Germany’s trade surplus because many other countries have deficits, particularly the U.S.
The man is an idiot. Meanwhile, the husband and I have owned or now own 7 Mercedes-Benz's and a Volkswagen. Why? Because of the quality of the cars for the money. Perhaps if American automakers focused more on quality and fuel efficiency rather than big ass SUV's Germany would have fewer car sales in America.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
While Der Trumpenführer is on his first foreign trip - and no doubt hoping he can distract the media from Russiagate coverage here at home - the Washington Post and New York Times, among others, continue to have new stories that are not only keeping Russiagate alive, but breathing even more new life into the roiling scandal, Now, the Washington Post has released a story that reveals that Jared Kushner is a target in the probe due to (i) his numerous meetings with Russian officials and bankers, and (ii) his failure to report such meetings when he applied for security clearance. Frankly, it makes sense that Trump would have used Kushner as his go between with Russian operatives since he is both a family member and reportedly one of Trump's closest advisers. That said, Mike Flynn, who had received payments from Russia, also remains a target of the investigation. Here are highlights from the story:
Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians, the people said.
FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.
The Post has not been told that Kushner is a target — or the central focus — of the investigation, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing. “Target” is a word that generally refers to someone who is the main suspect of investigators’ attention, though prosecutors can and do bring charges against people who are not marked with that distinction.
In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.
In early December, Kushner met in New York with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and he later sent a deputy to meet with Kislyak.
Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
In addition to the December meetings, a former senior intelligence official said FBI agents had been looking closely at earlier exchanges between Trump associates and the Russians dating to the spring of 2016, including one at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Kushner and Kislyak — along with close Trump adviser and current attorney general Jeff Sessions — were present at an April 2016 event at the Mayflower where then-candidate Trump promised in a speech to seek better relations with Russia. It is unclear whether Kushner and Kislyak interacted there.
In many ways, Kushner is a unique figure inside the White House. He is arguably the president’s most trusted adviser, and he is also a close member of the president’s family. His list of policy responsibilities is vast — his foreign policy portfolio alone includes Canada and Mexico, China, and peace in the Middle East — yet he rarely speaks publicly about any of them.
A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was recently notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing.
Investigators are continuing to look aggressively into the dealings of Flynn, and a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., recently issued a subpoenas for records related to Flynn’s businesses and finances, according to people familiar with the matter.
Separately from the probe now run by Mueller, Flynn is being investigated by the Pentagon’s top watchdog for his foreign payments. Flynn also received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization.
Keep the popcorn coming. To be honest, I want to see Trump - and Pence - go down and whoever needs to go with them is fine with me.
With Republicans pushing for "bathroom bills" and "religious freedom laws" - better described as special right to discriminate laws - and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wanting to "bring God back into the classroom," the atmosphere for LGBT children and youths could quickly become toxic. And then there is racist and homophobic Jeff Sessions' reversal of Justice Department support for the protection of LGBT youth under existing laws that would grant protection against discrimination due to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It is a troubling situation, especially given the higher drop out and suicide rate for LGBT youth, not because of their sexuality or gender identity per se, but because of the mistreatment and abuse the "godly folk" and their off spring believe they have the right to inflict upon them. Indeed, Betsy DeVos' family has given millions of dollars to groups that seek to guaranty the continued right to abuse and bully LGBT students and obstruct efforts to protect them. A piece in The Advocate looks at the problem and proposes some solutions that may be difficult to achieve given the anti-LGBT agenda being pushed by the Trump/Pence regime. Here are excerpts:
A recently released RTI International study sheds new light on the school safety issues facing LGBTQ youth. The study, which examined two decades of research on victimization among LGBTQ youth, uncovered a troubling picture of the environments LGBTQ students face in schools.
Physical and verbal bullying of LGBTQ students is commonplace. In a representative sample of eighth-graders in Washington State, 14 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls reported being bullied because of their perceived sexual orientation in the past 30 days alone. LGBTQ students are two to three times more likely than their peers to be physically assaulted or threatened at school.
Students who experience anti-LGBTQ bullying are significantly more likely to report depression and suicide attempts, skipping school, poorer school performance, and dropping out of school. Victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying tend to fare worse than students bullied for other reasons, perhaps due to the ways that hate-related victimization reinforces existing perceptions of hostility (e.g., hearing homophobic comments at school).
Even within this scenario, Orwellian equality rears its head. While research shows many LGBTQ students are victimized, some are more likely to be than others. Transgender youth and youth with unique gender expressions are at a higher risk for bullying, as are those in rural or impoverished communities and those who attend schools without gay-straight alliances.
As LGBTQ individuals come out earlier than before, it’s becoming even more pressing for schools to create a safe environment for their students.
Action is urgently needed to address the hostile environment that LGBTQ youth face at school and its effects on school engagement, mental health, and long-term opportunities. Our study points to three potential strategies that could help to address these issues:
• Competency and advocacy training for school psychologists and teachers — who generally report supportive attitudes toward LGBTQ students but lack the knowledge and skills to advocate for them — could help create more supportive, less hostile climates in schools.
• Fostering the development of gay-straight alliances in schools, which seem to offer some protection against school-based victimization risk, is another promising approach. Although secondary schools are not permitted to ban gay-straight alliances if they allow other extracurricular groups (per the Federal Equal Access Act of 1984), school principals still commonly take measures to exclude them (American Civil Liberties Union, 2015). Such discriminatory practices must be addressed and replaced with active support for groups and services that make schools safer.
• Increasing resources to respond to victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying, particularly to prevent suicide and school dropout. Affirming and culturally responsive services for LGBTQ bullying victims are critical, particularly given the fact that help-seeking often requires LGBTQ students to disclose not only the stigmatized experience of bullying and victimization, but also a stigmatized gender or sexual identity to school counselors or other professionals.
While I was not "out" in high school - I remained closeted for over two decades after I graduated - I recall some of the bullying and harassment I received. No student should ever be place in a situation where thoughts of suicide are ever present and suicide seems to be the only means of escape. I experienced this first hand.
There are two groups that the 81% of evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, hate just as fervently as Hispanic immigrants: gays and blacks. If one looks, beneath the veneer of most supposedly Christian "family values" groups - think Family Research Council or The Family Foundation here in Virginia - there is a strong white supremacist undercurrent. The anti-gay agenda of these groups is in open view for all to see. Thus, who would be pleased by drastic cuts in AIDS treatment programs? The Christofascists and "family values" crowd, of course. And in his proposed budget cuts, Trump appears anxious to please this portion of his base. The consequences in Africa would be horrific and cost a million lives. These lost lives would be black individuals, so Trump and his evangelical Christian base seemingly believe this is just fine. A piece in the New York Times looks at this ugly proposal (Note: funding for contraception - another thing opposed by the Christofascists - would also be slashed) . Here are story highlights:
At least one million people will die in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, researchers and advocates said on Tuesday, if funding cuts proposed by the Trump administration to global public health programs are enacted.
The United States currently spends more than $6 billion annually on programs that buy antiretroviral drugs for about 11.5 million people worldwide who are infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. The Trump administration has proposed slashing those programs by at least $1.1 billion — nearly a fifth of their current funding, said Jen Kates, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“These are lifesaving interventions, and these levels of reductions will significantly curtail service delivery,” Ms. Kates said.
Much of the success of anti-AIDS efforts in Africa has come from a guarantee in many countries that people who test positive for H.I.V. can immediately receive treatment.
With a huge share of Africa’s population reaching sexual maturity in the next four years, the virus could again imperil much of the continent if fewer people are treated, said Brian Honermann, deputy director at amfAR, a foundation that invests in AIDS research.
Much of the United States government’s funding for AIDS treatment and research is funneled through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, which was established in 2004 by President George W. Bush in an effort to save Africa from an epidemic that threatened to kill much of the population of entire countries, like Botswana and Namibia.
President Barack Obama expanded Pepfar, and combined with the Global Fund and other international efforts, the spending is widely credited with arresting the AIDS epidemic.
The Trump administration has also proposed eliminating $524 million in funding for contraceptives and other family planning efforts that mostly benefit women in developing nations.
It is unclear how many lives could be lost as a direct result of the budget cuts, but the Global Fund estimates that every $100 million invested saves about 133,000 lives. An amfAR calculation found a similar effect, suggesting that the administration’s proposed cuts to AIDS programs alone could cost more than one million lives and orphan more than 300,000 children.
“All of these programs have multiplier effects beyond just those immediately served by them,” said J. Stephen Morrison, who directs global health work at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “For the first time ever, after 15 years of steady growth, we’re going to see a radical regression that will have huge effects.”
Even George W. Bush - an individual I continue to loath - supported these AIDS programs. Sadly, since 2009, the GOP and is allegedly Christian base has become increasingly hideous and callous to the lives of others.
|Trump and Jeff Sessions|
As noted in prior posts, I have been acquainted with former Senator and now U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions since my days in Alabama in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The man was foul and reprehensible then and he is equally so now. Here's what I said about Sessions back in early February:
While I was still living in Mobile, a 19 year old black man named Michael Donald was murdered in what was the last recorded lynching in the United States. Several Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members beat and killed Michael Donald, and hanged his body from a tree. Session's office did not prosecute the case, but both men were arrested and convicted. Subsequently, due to the efforts of Thomas Figures, the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Mobile, FBI agent James Bodman, and Michael Figures, a state senator and civil rights activist, the killers were ultimately arrested over two and a half years after the murder and were prosecuted, with one receiving the death penalty. After dropping the ball on the Donald case, Sessions prosecuted three black community organizers in the Black belt of Alabama, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s former aide Albert Turner, for voter fraud, alleging tampering with 14 absentee ballots. The prosecution stirred charges of selective prosecution of black voter registration. The defendants, known as the Marion Three, were acquitted of all charges by a jury.
In addition to being a racist, Sessions is also a virulent homophobe and, as CNN reports, a liar. Specifically, when Sessions submitted forms for his top security clearance, Sessions lied about every having meet with Russian intelligence and other Russian government officials. Here are article excerpts:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance, the Justice Department told CNN Wednesday.
Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn't note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list "any contact" he or his family had with a "foreign government" or its "representatives" over the past seven years, officials said.
The new information from the Justice Department is the latest example of Sessions failing to disclose contacts he had with Russian officials. He has come under withering criticism from Democrats following revelations that he did not disclose the same contacts with Kislyak during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier this year.
A legal expert who regularly assists officials in filling out the form disagrees with the Justice Department's explanation, suggesting that Sessions should have disclosed the meetings.
"My interpretation is that a member of Congress would still have to reveal the appropriate foreign government contacts notwithstanding it was on official business," said Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who specializes in national security law.
Zaid added that in a similar circumstance he advised a member of Congress to list all foreign contacts -- including those made during official US government business.
To obtain a security clearance, a federal official is not required to list the meetings if they were part of a foreign conference he or she attended while conducting government business. Sessions' meetings, however, do not appear to be tied to foreign conferences.
The omission comes after problems that Trump adviser Jared Kushner and the President's ex-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have had on their own security forms. Kushner prematurely submitted his SF-86 form without listing foreign contacts and had to notify the FBI the next day that he was willing to provide the information. Flynn is under investigation for not properly disclosing payments linked to Russia for his foreign trips.
Lawmakers have raised questions about Sessions' meetings with Russian officials while he played a prominent role in the Trump campaign -- meetings that he only disclosed after The Washington Post revealed them. He is under scrutiny as well for his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey despite his recusal from the Russia investigation.
At his confirmation hearing January 10, Sessions testified that he "did not have communications" with the Russians during the campaign. He made the same assertion in an official questionnaire.
Lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees say it is possible that Sessions could be questioned about those meetings and his role in the campaign -- as well as the circumstances around the Comey firing.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat on the judiciary committee, called for Sessions to testify publicly after the news of Sessions' omissions broke. On CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer," Blumenthal said that the news requires "intense and immediate investigation."
Sessions, of course, claims to be a devout Christian - even though lying, refusing to prosecute KKK killers and racial bigotry don't exactly conform to Christ's gospel message.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Remember all the bloviating by Paul Ryan and a host of other Republicans - including Der Trumpenführer about how the American Health Care Act, a/k/a Trumpcare or Ryancare depending on your inclination to lay blame, would lower costs and expand coverage? Well, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office scoring released today underscores the magnitude of the lies uttered by these individuals. The CBO says that Trumpcare would cause 23 million Americans to lose healthcare coverage. As for the promise of lower premium costs and "quality coverage," that too is a lie. Older Americans in particular would be severely hard hit as would those with seriosus healthcare issues. Indeed, a senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the major takeaway from the CBO score is that Republicans’ talking points simply do not hold up. That is a polite way of saying that Republicans are lying. For Republicans, apparently the Commandment against lying has been excised from the Ten Commandments. Candidly, the only beneficiaries of Trumpcare are the wealthy who would enjoy a huge tax break. First these excerpts from the New York Times:
A bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that narrowly passed the House this month would increase the projected number of people without health insurance by 14 million next year and by 23 million in 2026, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. That 10-year figure is slightly less than originally estimated.
It would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion over a decade, less than the $150 billion in savings projected in late March for an earlier version of the bill. And in states that seek waivers from rules mandating essential health coverage, the new law could make insurance economically out of reach for some sick consumers.
“Premiums would vary significantly according to health status and the types of benefits provided, and less healthy people would face extremely high premiums,” the budget office concluded.
The new forecast of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper, is another blow to Republican efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. The Senate has already said it will make substantial changes to the measure passed by the House, but even Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, is sounding uncertain about his chances of finding a majority to repeal and replace the health law.
The report provided fresh ammunition for Democrats trying to kill the repeal bill, which they have derided as “Trumpcare.”
Democrats say much of that instability [of the Affordable Health Care Act] stems from Republican efforts to repeal and undermine the Affordable Care Act. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, harshly criticized House Republicans for voting on their revised repeal measure without an updated analysis from the budget office.
Under the House bill, states could opt out of certain provisions of the health care law, including one that requires insurers to provide a minimum set of health benefits and another that prohibits them from charging higher premiums based on a person’s health status.
Think Progress was even more unkind. Here are highlights:
Jacob Leibenluft, senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the major takeaway from the CBO score is that Republicans’ talking points don’t hold up. AHCA supporters still claim that the waivers wouldn’t harm anyone who needed essential health benefits or anyone with preexisting conditions, but this bill doesn’t bear that out.“What the changes of bills have effectively done is resulted in system where sicker and older people are even worse off in terms of how much they would pay and quality of insurance coverage they would get.” Leibenluft said. Those changes would do little to boost overall coverage numbers, either.
“I think what that points to is how deeply unfixable the basic structure is. The problem is they’re pursuing hundreds of billions in tax cuts in a bill that needs to reduce deficit and that requires deep cuts to health coverage. And it’s not possible to undo those cuts to coverage while maintaining that basic structure.”
In the aftermath of the horrific bombing in Manchester, it is appearing increasingly certain that the suicide bomber was either acting on behalf of ISIS or at a minimum following its anti-Western, anti-modernity religious based jihad. While shocking, the atrocity is in keeping with what religion has unleashed throughout history: hatred and violence against those with different beliefs and those who have cast off Medieval ignorance and myths. Be it Catholic versus Protestant, Hindu versus Muslim, or Christian versus Muslim, religion and the tribalism that it needs to survive are the common threads. The religious tenets of ISIS, like those of fundamentalist Christians in America, are threatened by science, knowledge and modernity and those who through there lives demonstrate that there is another way of believing and living become hated an targeted. ISIS uses murder and violence. Here in America, at least to date, Christofascists push for passage of anti-LGBT laws and special rights to discriminate against others. Differing responses, yet both reactions to perceived threats to fairy tale based beliefs, or, in the case of Islam, the delusional writings of an individual who would likely be in a mental institution nowadays. An editorial in the New York Times looks at the horrible situation. Here are excerpts:
By Tuesday, 22 people had died, and 59 others had been hospitalized, some with life-threatening injuries. The dead included 8-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, who had come with her mother and older sister, and 18-year-old Georgina Bethany Callander, who had posted an image of her brand new driver’s license on Instagram.
The Islamic State said one of its “soldiers” had carried out the bombing, which took the life of the man British police officials believe was behind it, Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old whose parents emigrated from Libya. It is still unclear whether Mr. Abedi acted alone or as part of a network. No one yet knows what motivated him to commit such a horrific deed. It is also unclear whether the Islamic State’s claim is legitimate. Only further investigation can answer these questions.
Meanwhile, as hard as it is amid the shock and the mourning, it is important to recognize this attack for what it is: an attempt to shake Britain — and, by extension, the rest of Europe and the West — to its core, and to provoke a thirst for vengeance and a desire for absolute safety so intense, it will sweep away the most cherished democratic values and the inclusiveness of diverse societies.
The Islamic State wants nothing more than to watch Western democracies embrace its mad version of a holy war pitting Muslims against Christians, the newly arrived against others. This has been the goal of other attacks in Europe. With cold calculation, extremists have ripped apart the lives of people simply out enjoying themselves — whether at a concert or sitting around cafe tables in Paris in November 2015, or gathering for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice last year, or shopping at a Christmas market in Berlin in December.
Maximum vigilance is needed, and Britain raised its threat level from severe to critical. Public spaces must be made as safe as possible, even as people recognize that more attacks will very likely occur, despite our best defenses. In Britain, as in the rest of Europe and in the United States, it is critical that immigrants, especially Muslims, are not stigmatized. As Richard Barrett, former director of global counterterrorism operations at MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, said, “engaging the community and letting the community inform us” is one way “to understand why people do this” and to prevent future attacks.
The quickest way for open societies to lose the freedoms they enjoy and the Islamic State seeks to destroy would be to whip up divisive ethnic, racist and religious hatreds. But there will be those who try. The Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson tweeted on Tuesday: “We need a State of Emergency as France has. We need internment of thousands of terror suspects now to protect our children.” Then there was the unbelievably vile tweet by Katie Hopkins, a British commentator: “We need a final solution.” She later changed “final” to “true” in a new tweet after her original was widely condemned.
Throughout history religion has needed an "us versus them" mentality to survive just like any cult or gang. It is easy to reflexively blame Islam, but the real driving force is the rejection of knowledge and the embrace of ignorance and antiquated, myth based beliefs. Religion is the real enemy of humankind be it Islam or Christianity. Both have destroyed countless lives through the centuries and brought death and destruction.
If one has followed the career of Donald Trump and to a lesser extent the family of hs son-in-law, Jared Kushner, there is a predominate thread: a obsession with money and a willingness to enter into dealings with whoever can aid in the quest to amass more and more money. Trump has not blinked an eye in dealing with the Mafia, the Russian mob, and others if it furthers his unquenchable greed. A piece in New York Magazine suggests that Russiagate may also involve financial corruption, not just Trump's egomaniac thirst for power. With more block buster disclosures yesterday by former CIA director John Brennan, this greed and financial corruption may have first opened the door for Russian influence in subverting the 2016 presidential election, Let's not forget that Trump was unable to secure funding from American banks and was increasingly desperate for foreign funding sources after Deutsche Bank froze making further loans to Trump. Here are article highlights.
It may not have made “sense” for Donald Trump to fire James Comey, let alone for him to proceed to confess — in a public interview with Lester Holt, and then a putatively private meeting with Russian diplomats — that he did so in order to stop the Russia investigation. But the flurry of new reports over the last few days has given the puzzling sequence of events a more coherent shape. Within the warped internal logic of the Trump presidency — where it is taken as a given by essentially everybody around him that the president is impulsive and grotesquely ignorant — his shocking actions and statements have a more understandable basis.
A week ago, it appeared that the probe would center around the activities of a handful of figures who are now marginal within Trumpworld: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and deposed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. That has changed. The Washington Post reported Friday that investigators have identified a current White House official as a person of interest in its financial probe. (The story hinted, and New York Magazine contributor Yashar Ali confirmed, that the person is Jared Kushner.)
Ominously for Trump, the Post reports that the FBI is “determining whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president.” While Kushner’s public persona differs wildly from that of the president in the functioning of his real-estate work, he is a kind of mini Trump. Inheriting an empire from his father, he has operated in gray areas of the world economy and positioned himself to gain handsomely from Trump’s election. Kushner has met with the head of a Russian bank functionally controlled by Vladimir Putin. He appears to be eager to use his proximity to Trump to make a buck; his family business is exploiting the familial connection to sell visas in China. Trump himself has a long, nontransparent history of business dealings with organs of the Russian state. (Last week, The Wall Street Journal dug up another case.)
All this implies that the probe is scrutinizing the financial aspects of Trump’s business, which is a family operation. While some Trump advisers opposed the firing of Comey, Kushner reportedly advocated for it. That fact may seem strange if one thinks of Kushner as a voice of pragmatism. But it is easier to understand if you think of him as a figure sitting near the heart of a financial scandal, who harbors a strong interest in suppressing the investigation.
Another thing that has changed over the last week is the centrality of Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser. While his tenure was extremely brief, Flynn turns out to have been both far more corrupt and far closer to Trump than previously understood. . . . During his brief tenure, Flynn engaged in breathtaking corruption of his official duties. As national security adviser, Flynn ordered a delay in a key assault on ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. The delay comported with the desires of the Turkish government, which had paid Flynn more than half a million dollars. While largely blotted out by the shock of daily revelations about Trump, in a normal news environment this revelation would have mushroomed into a first-tier scandal of its own. It is hard to think of a historical case in which a major American military action has been influenced so corruptly by a foreign power.
And while the broad contours of Flynn’s relations with Turkey and, especially, Russia have been known, the depths have not. One report found Russians boasting privately that they believed they could use Flynn to manipulate Trump.
What do these new revelations tell us? Flynn’s legal risk, and Trump’s personal investment in him, are both much higher than we understood. And we are seeing that financial corruption is playing a more central role in the scandal.
From Trump’s campaign to ensure the loyalty of his FBI director, to his subsequent firing of him, to his tweet-rages against the special prosecutor as an unfair witch hunt — all of this indicates high levels of panic in the Oval Office. Trump has almost certainly engaged in obstruction of justice for the simple reason that there is a lot of justice to obstruct.
The proposed Trump/Pence regime budget released today follows through on past GOP priorities: massive cuts to social safety net programs such as food stamps, aid for the disabled, and the working poor while granting huge (obscene might be the more appropriate word) tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Stated another way, Trump wants the wealthy to enjoy an even more self-centered and opulent life style while the poor and poorly paid working class citizens are literally left to die. It is the antithesis of the Gospel message that Republicans and the pathological liar who goes by the name of Donald Trump falsely claim to honor. And it is critical to remember that this is the agenda that 81% of evangelical Christians voted for. The lies, hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy are all off the charts. I cannot help but ask: where are the supposedly "good Christians"? Why don't we see them loudly opposing, protesting and denouncing these budget cuts? Lastly, why don't we see Trump voters opening their eyes and realizing that they have been played for fools and been betrayed? They feel like lemmings to Trumps call to racism and white supremacy. A piece in Politico looks at this reprehensible proposed budget. Here are article highlights:
Donald Trump, whose populist message and promises to help American workers propelled him to the White House, issued a budget proposal on Tuesday that instead takes aim at the social safety net on which many of his supporters rely.
Rather than breaking with Washington precedent, Trump’s spending blueprint follows established conservative orthodoxy, cutting taxes on the wealthy, boosting defense spending and taking a hatchet to programs for the poor and disabled – potentially hurting many of the rural and low-income Americans who voted him into office.
The president’s budget plan calls for more than $1 trillion in cuts to a wide range of social programs with millions of beneficiaries, from farm subsidies to federal student aid. That includes a $600 billion cut to Medicaid over 10 years, despite Trump’s repeated promises on the campaign trail not to cut the program. The budget also takes an ax to the federal food stamp program and Social Security Disability Insurance.
Trump also proposes some of the deepest cuts to agriculture subsidies since Ronald Reagan, squeezing out nearly $50 billion over 10 years.
Trump’s budget would drastically cut domestic programs controlled by Congress, slashing $1.7 trillion over 10 years. At the end of the decade, the U.S. would spend nearly twice as much on defense as on other domestic programs. Domestic discretionary spending would be capped at $429 billion per year, below 2004 levels, while military spending soars to $722 billion.
There’s a certain philosophy wrapped up in the budget and that is — we are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, one of the budget’s chief architects, told reporters on Monday.
Mulvaney rejected accusations that Trump’s budget unfairly targets the poor, arguing instead that it amounts to a broad rethink of the country’s welfare system. “We need folks to work. We need people to go to work. If you’re on food stamps, and you're able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you’re on disability insurance and you're not supposed to be, we need you to work,” he added. . . . . Mulvaney said the budget does not touch “mainline” or “core” Social Security, but it does cut Social Security’s disability insurance.
Trump’s budget would tighten the belt on programs for low-income families ranging from cash assistance to the child tax credit. Nearly $200 billion in cuts will come directly from the federal food stamp program, which helps feed 44 million people each year.
Trump would also slash $72 billion by tightening the rules for programs for people with disabilities — programs that Trump’s advisers have described as riddled with fraud and abuse.
Democrats vowed on Tuesday to ensure that the GOP pays a political price for the massive social safety-net cuts in Trump's budget, regardless of whether Congress follows through on enacting them.
“If I’m a Republican member of the House, do you really think I’m looking forward to going home to whatever state I came from to say, ‘Yeah, I just voted for incredibly large tax breaks for billionaires. Oh, by the way, we’re going to cut Head Start and child care and after-school programs and health care and education’?" Bernie Sanders, the senior Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, asked reporters.
“I’m deeply concerned about the severity of the domestic cuts,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a long-time member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, told POLITICO on Friday.
Rogers has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s proposed cuts to programs that benefit rural regions like his home state, like the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“I think we do need healthcare reform. I think we do need welfare reform. But the kinds of reductions that he’s talking about go exactly against the states that brought [Trump] to the dance, so to speak,” said G. William Hoagland, a former long-time Republican Senate budget aide.