[FROM THEATLANTIC.COM – MARCH 22, 2017 – FILED UNDER REAL NEWS]
During the 2016 election, dozens of voters told me they would vote for Donald Trump partly because they were sick of “social justice warriors” and political correctness. “There is no saying ‘Hey, I disagree with you,’ it’s just instant shunning,” a 22-year-old told me in a long exchange on the subject. “Say things online, and they’ll try to find out who you are and potentially even get you fired for it.”
Nothing was less popular among this cohort than those who targeted someone’s job, or took glee in their denying them the ability to earn a living, over their speech or political views.
And yet, as best I can tell, they are silent this week. There is no appreciable backlash among President Trump’s supporters to a Kentucky rally where he gleefully bragged about his role in publicly shaming a man for his political views, and the ongoing inability of that man to find a job because of his call-out.
The man is Colin Kaepernick, who became a subject of controversy during his time with the San Francisco 49ers. The quarterback would protest during the pre-game singing of the National Anthem, declaring that “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Many Americans took offense at the politically incorrect protest.
Today, Kaepernick is a free agent. It isn’t clear whether his bygone protests have prevented him from being signed or if he’d be having trouble finding a new job regardless.
Nevertheless, Trump is taking credit. In the past he has criticized Kaepernick. “And you know, your San Francisco quarterback,” Trump told that rally. “…it was reported that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that? I just saw that. I just saw that. I said if I remember that one I’m gonna report it to the people of the Kentucky. Because they like it when people actually stand for the American flag.”
The crowd cheered.
“Social Justice Warrior” is a pejorative some use for people whose progressive advocacy on race, gender, or other identity issues strays into excessive attacks on perceived enemies. At that Kentucky rally, Trump behaved like a Social Injustice Warrior. And those who cheered him demonstrated that they have no principled opposition to political correctness––just a desire that their sensitivities dictate who gets punished. They just happen to be more sensitive to perceived insults to the U.S. flag than perceived insults to African Americans or Hispanics or gay people or women.
President Obama offers an instructive contrast. Though frequently criticized for political correctness, he didn’t use the bully pulpit to shame any individual on the right or left for peaceful political protest (unless you count calling Kanye West a jackass in a remark not intended for the public after the rapper hijacked a Taylor Swift awards speech, among other shenanigans). Obama did once intervene in a political controversy when criticizing a police officer who handcuffed Henry Louis Gates in front of his house. But far from trying to get that public employee fired (then gloating about his dire job prospects), Obama invited everyone involved to a “beer summit” to smooth things over. Many on the right criticized even that gesture as an abuse of the bully pulpit—and no one can deny the singular power of the president and the unusual responsibility those who hold that office ought bear.
Perhaps I’ve even forgotten or failed to unearth another example of two from Obama. Yet many who upbraided Obama for criticism of individual citizens that was extremely rare and uniformly non-punitive remain untroubled, or at least silent, even as Trump regularly uses the presidential pulpit to bully private citizens, going so far as to openly brag about his personal role in keeping them unemployed!
Weeks ago I noted all the ways that Trump’s tenure is distorted by his embrace of political correctness. Add the attack on Kaepernick to his hypocrisy-filled rap sheet.
[MARCH 21, 2017 – ABCNEWS.COM – FILED UNDER REAL NEWS]
There, indeed, was an FBI wiretap involving Russians at Trump Tower.
But it was not placed at the behest of Barack Obama, and the target was not the Trump campaign of 2016. For two years ending in 2013, the FBI had a court-approved warrant to eavesdrop on a sophisticated Russian organized crime money-laundering network that operated out of unit 63A in Trump Tower in New York.
The FBI investigation led to a federal grand jury indictment of more than 30 people, including one of the world’s most notorious Russian mafia bosses, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. Known as the “Little Taiwanese,” he was the only target to slip away, and he remains a fugitive from American justice.
Seven months after the April 2013 indictment and after Interpol issued a red notice for Tokhtakhounov, he appeared near Donald Trump in the VIP section of the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Trump had sold the Russian rights for Miss Universe to a billionaire Russian shopping mall developer.
“He is a major player,” said Mike Gaeta, the agent who led the 2013 FBI investigation of Tokhtakhounov and his alleged mafia money-laundering and gambling ring, in a 2014 interview with ABC News. “He is prominent. He has extremely good connections in the business world as well as the criminal world, overseas, in Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, other countries.”
Gaeta, who ran the FBI’s Eurasian organized crime unit in New York, told ABC News at the time that federal agents were closely tracking Tokhtakhounov, whose Russian ring was suspected of moving more than $50 million in illegal money into the United States.
“Because of his status, we have kept tabs on his activities and particularly as his activities truly enter New York City,” Gaeta said. “Their money was ultimately laundered from Russia, Ukraine and other locations through Cyprus banks and shell companies based in Cyprus and then ultimately here to the United States.”
The FBI investigation did not implicate Trump. But Trump Tower was under close watch. Some of the Russian mafia figures worked out of unit 63A in the iconic skyscraper — just three floors below Trump’s penthouse residence — running what prosecutors called an “international money-laundering, sports gambling and extortion ring.”
The Trump building was home to one of the top men in the alleged ring, Vadim Trincher, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and received a five-year prison term. He is due to be released in July.
“Everything was moving in and out of there,” said former FBI official Rich Frankel, now an ABC News consultant.
“He would have people come in and meet with them. He would use the phones. He would also communicate, whether it was through e-mail or other communications through there,” Frankel said of Trincher. “His base of operations was in the Trump Tower.”
In court papers, the FBI described two years of intercepts of phone conversations and text message exchanges of the key figures in the gambling ring.
“Mr. Vladim Trincher was on one occasion intercepted speaking with a customer of the gambling operation who owed a debt of $50,000,” one court document stated. Trincher told the gambler about an enforcer who works with him named Maxin. On the recording, Trincher “threatens the customer that Maxin would come and find him, would come and find the money and that he should be careful, lest he be tortured and lest he wind up underground.”
Last fall, a Trump Organization spokesman told ABC News that Russians did not make up a disproportionate share of residents in Trump properties. Federal agents confiscated four units in connection with the poker ring: two in New York and two in Sunny Isles, Florida.
ABC News conducted a review of hundreds of pages of property records and reported in September that Trump-branded developments catered to large numbers of Russian buyers, including several who had brushes with the law. Russian buyers were particularly drawn to Trump licensed condo towers in Hollywood, Florida, and Sunny Isles. Local real estate agents credited the Russian migration for turning the coastal Miami-area community into what they called Little Moscow.
Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten told ABC News at the time that the firm did not track the nationality of buyers and that the company rarely plays a role in recruiting buyers — a job typically left to developers that buy rights to use the Trump name. Neither Garten nor Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller responded this week to questions from ABC News about the 2013 poker raid.
Nor did they respond to questions about Tokhtakhounov, who, despite Interpol’s international red notice, is regularly seen in Moscow at popular restaurants and other public places. The poker case was not the first to target Tokhtakhounov. He was indicted years earlier in the United States, accused of paying bribes to Olympic judges so that Russian figure skaters would win gold medals.
[FROM TIME.COM 3-21-17 4:00 PM – FILED UNDER NEWS]
Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday mocked President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings and challenged him to go to a Washington D.C. middle school to see after-school programs in action, after they were placed on the chopping block in the President’s proposed budget.
“Oh, Donald, the ratings are in, and you got swamped,” Schwarzenegger said in a video Tuesday. “Wow. Now you’re in the thirties?”
“But what do you expect?” he added. “I mean, when you take away after-school programs from children and Meals on Wheels from the poor people, that’s not what you call ‘making America great again.'”
The video is the latest addition to an ongoing feud between the two men. Trump regularly criticized the ratings of The New Celebrity Apprentice after Schwarzenegger took over as host earlier this year. The actor and former governor of California recently stepped down from the show after one season, prompting Trump to taunt him for “pathetic” ratings.
“Let me give you some advice,” Schwarzenegger said Tuesday. “Go to a middle school, to Hart Middle School right in Washington, six miles away from the White House. I’ll take you there, so you can see the fantastic work that they’re doing for these children.”
Schwarzenegger founded After-School All-Stars, a program that serves thousands of low-income students in 15 cities across the country, including at Hart Middle School. Trump’s proposed budget includes a $1.2 billion cut to after-school and summer programs. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said last week that there’s no evidence after-school programs benefit student performance, but research says otherwise.
[FROM VOX.COM MAR. 21, 2017 – FILED UNDER REAL NEWS]
Imagine someone had told you, a few years ago, that the FBI would soon be investigating a possible plot by a Republican presidential campaign to help Russia interfere in the US election — and that this interference had ultimately helped Donald J. Trump become president of the United States. You would have laughed in their face, or maybe accused them of confusing reality with a particularly lurid Tom Clancy novel.
But we learned on Monday morning that this is absolutely, 100 percent, without a doubt our reality. FBI Director James Comey confirmed it in testimony before the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence, telling the assembled representatives that his counterintelligence investigators were looking into the Trump team’s links to Russia.
“[The FBI is] investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” Comey said.
We’re so used to reports on Trump’s Russia ties that it’s easy to lose sight of the enormity here: There is an official FBI investigation into a presidential campaign’s possible collusion with a hostile foreign power for the first time in US history. Seasoned national security reporters, like the New York Times’s Matt Rosenberg, can scarcely believe it:
Amidst all the sturm und drang surrounding Trump’s fight with the press and intelligence community over leaks, all of the tweets and hours of congressional hearings, this is what matters. We’re in the midst of what’s already a significant scandal — and one that could, depending on what the FBI uncovers, end up being the biggest political scandal ever in our history.
And it’s not clear, judging by the behavior of the Republicans at the House Intelligence hearing, if our hyper-polarized political system is capable of handling it.
The Russia investigation is absolutely huge
The mere fact of an FBI investigation isn’t proof that the Trump administration has actually done anything illegal. But the fact that there is an investigation at all shows the suspicions are at least serious enough to warrant a full investigation. And in this case, the FBI’s suspicions are supported by a lot of information that’s already in the public record.
We already know, for example, that members of Trump’s campaign, including former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, were in touch with Russian intelligence officers. We know that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump during the campaign, met repeatedly with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the election. We know that Russian intelligence hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton ally John Podesta. And we know that Trump confidante Roger Stone admits that he spoke to the Russian intelligence cutout who claimed responsibility for the DNC hack (who goes by the name Guccifer 2.0).
When you put this all together, there’s a clear and demonstrated pattern of contact between Trump’s closest associates and Russian officials. That is, in and of itself, disturbing: Political campaigns are not typically in the habit of communicating with countries who are currently bombing US military partners.
What’s more, there’s also a consistent pattern of Trump administration officials being less than forthcoming about their Russia ties. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about his contacts with Kislyak, as did current Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The lies cost Flynn his job and forced Sessions to recuse himself from the FBI’s Russia investigation.
This is why, even if nothing else is uncovered, the FBI investigation is so important. The president’s team has links to Russia that are objectively worrying — and has a routine pattern of lying and blaming the media when confronted with them. There’s a question of fundamental credibility, of why they feel the need to dissemble, at stake here.
The thought that the president may be lying, or at least not being fully forthcoming, about his administration’s ties to a hostile power is disturbing enough in its own right. The very fact that the FBI is investigating the administration two months into its tenure shows that things are not going well in the most powerful office in the world.
But if the worst-case scenario comes to pass, and the FBI find hard evidence that the Trump campaign was in league with the Russians, then the already-serious scandal becomes a national crisis.
“If [there’s] coordination, then this scandal becomes Watergate-like,” Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, tweeted.
McFaul, if anything, understated the case. In Watergate, a presidential campaign authorized a break-in aimed at stealing sensitive information from the Democratic National Committee. This would be the exact same thing, only done digitally and with the help of a hostile foreign power.
It would represent collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin to undermine American — and Western — democracy.
The notion that a US president could be involved in something like that should seem preposterous. The fact that the FBI is taking it seriously says volumes.
If you want to understand how ill-prepared we are for a national debate over these allegations, look at Rep. Trey Gowdy’s performance during the hearing.
Gowdy was, in the last Congress, the chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, the ninth investigation into the 2012 attack on a US diplomatic mission in Libya. His committee spent two years and millions of dollars investigating allegations that the Obama administration or Hillary Clinton personally covered up the truth about what happened in Benghazi — and, like all eight prior investigations, found no evidence to substantiate these claims.
So you’d expect Gowdy, advocate for truth and transparency that he is, to vigorously question Comey about Trump’s leaks to Russia. Instead, Gowdy spent a substantial amount of time naming former Obama administration officials — national security adviser Susan Rice, top aide Ben Rhodes, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch — and asking if they would have access to the identity of Trump associates whom the US intelligence community had identified as having spoken to Russians.
Essentially, he’s suggesting the Obama team illegally leaked classified information in an effort to gin up a controversy about Trump.
“[By making] thinly veiled allegations against these former Obama administration officials by name … a member of Congress is intimating that particular Americans may have committed serious crimes,” a group of experts at the national security blog Lawfare write.
This is an allegation that you’ve seen, without any real substantiation, in some of the more unserious corners of the conservative press. Gowdy, by forcing Comey to admit that these people could have had access to relevant information, was seemingly intentionally fueling a conspiracy theory.
The Trump administration immediately jumped on this theory. Press Secretary Sean Spicer highlighted it in his afternoon briefing to reporters.
“Director Comey told the House Intelligence Committee that certain political appointees in the Obama administration had access to the names of unmasked US citizens, such as senior White House officials, senior Department of Justice officials, and senior intelligence officials,” Spicer said. “Before President Obama left office, Michael Flynn was unmasked and then illegally his identity was leaked out to media.”
Gowdy’s line of questioning illustrates the way that most Republicans are handling this Russia probe: Treating it not as an issue of major importance for the American public, but rather an issue of loyalty to their president. The other Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee spent most of their time casting doubt on the idea that Russia would have wanted Trump to be president and lambasting leakers.
In a normal hearing, it would not be particularly troubling to hear Republicans playing defense for a Republican president. But this isn’t anormal hearing. This was convened to discuss what are, best case, demonstrated lies from the president’s team about its contact with a hostile power. Worst case, it’s an investigation into a political crisis without precedent in US history.
Yet in a political environment so defined by polarization, it’s hard for Republican legislators to think outside of partisan boxes. That’s how they approached the Benghazi investigation, when they were in the opposition and thus had an incentive to look for scandal; it’s how the party is approaching the Trump-Russia investigation now, when they’re in government and thus have an interest in turning a blind eye.
This is a very serious problem. The New York Times reports that FBI counterintelligence investigations can take years and don’t often lead to criminal charges. A congressional investigation in which Republican lawmakers subpoena Trump officials and force them to testify under oath would be a vital way of providing the public with information about these extremely serious allegations.
But Republicans, judging by Monday’s performance, seem to have no interest in providing this kind of oversight. Since they’re in the majority, they control whether or not there’s an official congressional investigation — and thus whether or not Trump officials will be forced to testify under oath. Partisanship may well be destroying our ability to get to the bottom of an issue of vital national concern.
Monday’s hearing was stunning in more ways than one.
It’s hard out there for a potentially compromising conduit between Trump and Vladmir Putin.
This one strikes particularly close to home. Alex Oronov was found dead, according to a Facebook post by Andrii Artemenko, an Ukrainian MP. Oronov was apparently quite successful in agribusiness. He had an interest in an ethanol business set up by Michael and Bryan Cohen in the Ukraine. Michael Cohen is Donald Trump’s attorney. Bryan, in addition to being Michael’s brother, is Oronov’s son-in-law. With Artemenko and others, Oronov had organized a “peace plan,” which was described by The New York Times as a back-channel opportunity for the Trump administration:
Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Mr. Trump has confounded Democrats and Republicans alike with his repeated praise for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, and his desire to forge an American-Russian alliance. While there is nothing illegal about such unofficial efforts, a proposal that seems to tip toward Russian interests may set off alarms.
But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.
“A lot of people will call me a Russian agent, a U.S. agent, a C.I.A. agent,” Mr. Artemenko said. “But how can you find a good solution between our countries if we do not talk?”
Oh yeah, I’m sure this is completely altruistic on the part of Artemenko.
Artemenko’s announcement of Oronov’s passing does not include a cause of death (as best as I can tell from Facebook’s translation app), but does point a finger at the stress brought on by The New York Times article to being too much for Oronov to bear. I’m sure it could be natural causes, but there is a disturbingly significant number of suspicious deaths surrounding Trump and Putin. And remember, even if the official cause of death is something like a heart attack, that doesn’t mean his head wasn’t bashed in.
Because that’s the kind of thing that happens in Soviet….er, Trump’s America.