Monday, July 16, 2018

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Whatever scintilla of a doubt that somehow had not been crushed into atoms that Donald Trump was not fully compromised and conducting US foreign policy at the behest of one Vladimir Putin was annihilated this morning in Helsinki at the joint press conference following Trump's two-hour private meeting with his Russian supervisor.

Asked whether he believes his own intelligence agencies, which say that Russia interfered in the 2016 United States election, or Mr. Putin, who denies it, Mr. Trump refused to say, but he expressed doubt about whether Russia was to blame
Mr. Trump raised the matter of Russian electoral meddling, the two leaders said at a news conference after their meetings, and Mr. Putin reiterated his denial of Russian involvement. 
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and other American intelligence officials “said they think it’s Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.” 
But when asked directly whom he believes, Mr. Trump changed the subject to misconduct by Democrats during the campaign. 
The president’s ambivalence, after the indictments of Russian intelligence agents for the election hacking, and after the findings of congressional committees, represents a remarkable divergence between Mr. Trump and the American national security apparatus. 
Mr. Putin said: “President Trump mentioned the so-called interference of Russia in the American elections. I had to reiterate things I said several times: that the Russian state has never interfered, and is not going to interfere, in internal American affairs, including the election process.” 
He offered to have Russian intelligence agencies work with their American counterparts to get to the bottom of the matter.

“I addressed directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference in our elections,” Mr. Trump said. “I felt this was a matter best discussed in person. President Putin may very well want to address it, and very strongly, because he feels very strongly about it, and he has an interesting idea.”

To recap: Trump went to Finland to meet the leader of a country that did untold damage to our electoral process, shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and said "I don't believe you did it" and not only did he not confront Putin about the 2016 election hacking of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party, he publicly sided with Putin in front of him over America's entire intelligence community.

Needless to say, the unprecedented and historical damage from today will reverberate for decades.  Germany, arguably our most important ally in the EU and NATO right now, with a $4 trillion economy, has all but given up on the US coming to its senses.

Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday Europe could not rely on Donald Trump and needed to close ranks after the U.S. president called the European Union a “foe” with regard to trade. 
We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.” 
He added: “Europe must not let itself be divided however sharp the verbal attacks and absurd the tweets may be.”

For Berlin to admit this on the same day as this summit is staggering.  The NATO alliance is crumbling before our eyes.  Both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel should resign in protest over this, along with the US Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

None of them will however.  The reality is that Trump is so weak that he can't accept that he didn't win without Russian help and everyone knows it, so on we will go with this farce until something happens that's just too much for us to take and we shut him down.

Meanwhile, while all this was happening, there was yet another arrest and indictment in the Mueller investigation to greet Trump when he arrives back in the states on charges of being an unregistered foreign agent.

A Russian woman who tried to broker a pair of secret meetings between candidate Donald J. Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, during the 2016 presidential campaign, was charged Monday and accused of carrying out a secret Russian effort to influence American politics. 
The Justice Department said in court documents that the woman, Mariia Butina, worked to establish “back channel” lines of communication with American politicians. “These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.” 
Ms. Butina, whose first name is more commonly spelled Maria, twice tried to set up a meetings between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin in 2016. The charges announced Monday do not name Mr. Trump but they make clear that Ms. Butina’s overtures were part of a Russian intelligence operation.

The affidavit that goes along with this arrest is astonishing.

I understand the argument that the 12 Russian GRU agents indicted on Friday will never see the inside of a US courtroom, but Maria Butina is under federal arrest right now and she was arranging meetings to influence politicians in our nation's capital.

Again, this is Mueller laying out Americans working with Russian agents with then intent of influencing US politics.  It's a bad, bad look for US Person 1 and US Person 2 here, and I'm willing to bet cash money that one or both of these American citizens were part of the Trump campaign at the time.  there's also no doubt that the Russian Official is Butina's boss, our old friend and Russian gun aficionado Alexander Torshin.

Oh, and speaking of working for the Russians:

Hi, NRA. Howsit going over there?  You guys doing OK?  Cause US Person 1 sounds like they might be former NRA President and Moonie Times opinion page editor David Keene, or possibly even the most recent NRA president, Wayne LaPierre.

The Washington Post believes Person 1 is GOP consultant Paul Erickson, who was the fixer for the proposed meeting between Donald Trump, Butina, and Torshin at the 2016 NRA Convention in Louisville, while Casey Michel at Think Progress believes Person 2 is George O'Neill Jr., a Rockerfeller heir who has been big in GOP circles and threw quite a dinner that included Butina, Torshin, and Erickson.

I wouldn't hold your breath for the sanity part, as Trump as the GOP are in too deep, but we still ostensibly have an election in November that could go a long way in restoring sanity to our country.  But as Charlie Pierce notes, that may be far too late.  Republican senators could stop Trump now if they wanted.

The fact is that there is only one constitutional method by which this renegade presidency* can be stifled before the November midterm elections—and it needs to be reined in as quickly as possible. The only available option is to have two or three Republican senators announce that, hereafter, they will caucus and vote with the Democratic minority between now and November. 
It is clear that nobody can control the president*. Impeachment has to begin in the House of Representatives, and, at the moment, the House is a barn full of maniacs and its speaker is an invertebrate life-form who can’t keep woodchucks from eating his car. The Democratic caucuses on Capitol Hill are very limited, institutionally, in what they can do. The people in general have to wait until this fall to make their feelings known, and that through a compromised system of national elections.

They will do nothing, of course.  They are compromised just as much as Trump is, and they know it.

We are being sold out in real time, guys.  Putin made it clear what Trump's marching orders are.  We'll only find out when it's far past time we could have done anything about it.

Trump's War On Women, Con't

Slate's Christina Cauterucci makes the case that Trump's inhumane migrant family separation policy is absolutely tied to his monstrous disregard for reproductive rights, and that the goal has always been punishing women as a deterrence and control mechanism.

The Trump administration and Trump’s surrogates have proved callous to the pain of the children and parents they’ve been dividing up and shipping all over the country
. (Listen, if you haven’t already, to former Trump campaign chief Corey Lewandowski groaning “womp, womp“ when informed that a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome had been separated from her parents.) No plea for humanity rang true to the dozens of people behind the “zero tolerance” border policy—not the medical argument that the trauma could harm these children for the rest of their livesand reverberate for generations, not the human-rights argument that people seeking asylum shouldn’t be treated like criminals, not the family-values argument that parents and children should be kept together whenever possible. To justify the policy, Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen invoked the same simplistic rationale. People crossing the border are breaking immigration laws. People who break laws get jailed. People who get jailed lose their kids. 
The inaccuracies in this line of reasoning aside—for one, people seeking asylum aren’t breaking any laws—it was a useful bit of evidence that Trump and his cronies view children, and the pain they can cause their parents, as a disciplinary tool. For this administration, the cruelty of the family-separation policy was its primary selling point. In order for the policy to serve as a deterrent, it needed to be so inhumane that potential migrants would be scared into staying home despite the risk of extreme danger. (The fact that migrants haven’t been deterred from crossing the border demonstrates just how horrific the violence is in many parts of Central America.) The fact that children would suffer was a feature of the policy, not an unfortunate side effect. 
Deterrence is also a key element of the right wing’s philosophy on contraception and abortion. Some anti-abortion activists argue that permitting women to terminate their pregnancies encourages wanton behavior—specifically noncommittal, unprotected sex. In this sense, the prospect of forced pregnancy and childbirth, and the physical and/or emotional pain that goes with them, is meant as a punishment for the crime of promiscuity. 
Denying women abortions isn’t, as anti-abortion advocates often claim, just about saving the lives of unborn children. It’s also about imposing a moral judgment on women for having sex. Pro-lifers tend to frame childbirth as a consequence any sexually active single woman should be ready to assume. The phrase abortion on demand, a popular encapsulation of the presumed position of the pro-choice set, suggests that certain women, by virtue of their reasons or circumstances, deserve abortions more than others. Many, but not all, right-wing politicians make room within their anti-abortion frameworks for exceptions in cases of rape and incest. Their thinking goes something like this: A woman who was raped had no ability to prevent her pregnancy. Every other woman who gets pregnant bears the responsibility for doing so, and their bodies must suffer for failing to accept that responsibility, even if it means bringing a child into a family who is unable or unwilling to properly care for it. 
Consigning a woman to pregnancy and childbirth against her will is not a physically neutral act. It is corporeal punishment with lasting bodily impact. A woman who gives birth is 14 timesmore likely to die during or after labor than to die from complications of a legal abortion. Pregnancy, labor, and recovery all carry with them the inevitability of discomfort and, to varying degrees, pain. When the state forces a woman to give birth, it is extracting pain as a physical penalty—a price no cisgender man who has sex for nonprocreative purposes will ever have to pay. During his presidential campaign, Trump envisioned a world in which women who assert control over their own bodies would also have to pay a price. If Roe v. Wade were to fall, he told Chris Matthews, there would need “to be some form of punishment” for women who get illegal abortions—an “if she breaks a law, she must pay the price” philosophy that echoes the administration’s justification for family separation.

This has been the GOP goal for decades now, but Trump's personal animosity towards women, African-Americans, Latinx and Hispanic Americans, and LGBTQ Americans I think goes back to Trump's treatment by President Obama at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner.  Donald Trump has never, ever forgiven Barack Obama for publicly embarrassing him seven years ago and Trump swore revenge not only on Obama, but Clinton, Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and everyone who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

He's wanted to punish the Obama coalition for years.  He's now been given the chance to do exactly that, and the first 18 months of his term has been utter rancor against Obama voters, seeking our destruction and surrender at his feet.

But Cauterucci is absolutely correct: Trump is all about punishing women in the most brutal fashion imaginable, with their own bodies as prisons, and with their own families as collateral damage.

The Party Of Trump, Con't

Once again, it's worth noting that the Republican party is the party of Trump, and Trump is the Republican party.  The cult of personality is so pervasive now, the GOP so metastasized now, that removal of Trump, the cancer on the party, would kill the patient, and yet the cancer is so widespread that not removing it will also be fatal.  Ryan Lizza asks Republicans what they think of Dear Leader, and the answer is grim resignation to being the party of Trump.

As the country awaits whatever conclusions Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation brings, the most important question in politics may be whether there is any red line Trump could cross and lose significant party support. Four and a half decades ago, Republicans stuck with Richard Nixon until incontrovertible evidence of his crimes emerged. Democrats never abandoned Bill Clinton because they believed his misdeeds weren’t impeachable. What is the red line for a contemporary GOP increasingly built around a personality cult? I put that question to a dozen Republicans in the House and Senate, a mix from across the ideological spectrum and from every region of the country. The conversations revealed a lot about the Trump GOP, but the red line, with respect to Trump’s behavior generally, or his conduct specific to the Mueller probe, was vanishingly thin and difficult to detect. And every time you think you see it—pee tape, porn-star liaison, erratic diplomacy, threats to fire Mueller—it keeps moving. As Republican senator Jeff Flake of Arizona put it, “I don’t know that there is one.” 
Flake never supported Trump and has been the president’s most consistent critic in Congress, though one who still votes for much of his agenda. When Flake was deciding whether to run for reelection this year, one of his political consultants told him there was only one path: “You’ve got to be okay with Trump’s policies or be quiet about them and be okay with his behavior or be quiet about it.” Flake decided to retire instead. 
Jenkins, the congresswoman from Kansas, relayed a conversation she recently had with a factory owner back home, who told her that while the guys on his shop floor “hate” Trump—they are from the Bible Belt, after all, she noted—“they love what he’s doing.” She then offered the most honest explanation I’ve heard for this phenomenon. “It’s kind of like supporting your favorite team and there’s a talented trash-talking personality on the other team,” she said. “That player is the worst human being on the face of the earth, but if that same talented player is on our team, well, you know, they’re our team, so we give him a pass.” 
Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, was known as one of Trump’s most vociferous critics. I caught Graham on his cell phone while he was visiting Iraq in July. During the 2016 campaign, he called Trump “a kook,” adding, “I think he is unfit for office.” Graham is now much more diplomatic, offering himself up as a kind of translator between the #NeverTrump movement and the party’s base. On the plus side for him were the judges, the tax cuts, the fight against ISIS, and the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement. On the other side were Trump’s “uncertainty about our commitment” to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; his trade policy; and his lack of seriousness about Russian meddling in American elections. “This constant minimizing of Putin and his agenda—very problematic.” 
Those were his toughest words for Trump. I was surprised how much he was soft-selling his well-known disagreements with the man on foreign policy, especially Trump’s retreat from defending our democratic allies. I asked him if the American president was still the leader of the free world. He paused for five seconds before telling me, “America First is one or two things. It’s an understanding that we’re a unique country and it’s about burden sharing,” he said. “You gotta remember, he won. I think when the president talks of how other countries are taking advantage of us, we’re fighting their wars, we’re spending too much for their defense, that resonates with people.” He never did answer the question.
Earlier this year, Graham made the case that if Trump fired Mueller, “it would be the end of President Trump’s presidency.” I asked if he still believed that about Mueller. He let out a deep sigh. “He’s done such a number on this guy, I don’t know,” he said, referring to Trump’s attacks on Mueller’s credibility
Leonard Lance, a congressman from New Jersey, was one Republican, albeit a moderate, who volunteered a red line: “Personal collusion by Trump with the Russians during the campaign.” But if Republicans keep the House and the Senate this fall, Trump will have a political fortress protecting him in Washington. That prospect has led a few anti-Trump Republicans, like Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, to openly support a Democratic takeover of Congress. In their minds, there is no red line for the GOP. I came to the same conclusion after my hours of interviews. 
Conservative Trump critics fear becoming the next Sanford and stay quiet—what Flake and others call the “don’t poke the bear” mind-set. Meanwhile, many of the moderate anti-Trump Republicans are leaving office. Congressman Ryan Costello, a Republican from Pennsylvania who decided to quit (redistricting gave him a bluer constituency), said, “If I were running for reelection, every single time that I saw on the TV screen that the president was going to hold another rally, I’d be like, ‘Oh, fuck!’ Because he’s going to say fifty things that aren’t accurate.”

They're leaving rather than opposing him, or stopping him, or attacking him.  They are retiring in near-record numbers.  They know they're done in November.  They're going to let the Democrats deal with him, because the GOP doesn't have the courage, and because nearly 90% of Republican voters love Trump anyway.

And so it goes.


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