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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What the right thinks is acceptable today

by digby

Think Progress:

On Wednesday morning, President Trump blasted Kathy Griffin for posing for a photo holding a bloody head that looked like President Trump. The tasteless photo was widely condemned and cost Griffin her job as a co-host of CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve program.

First Lady Melania Trump released a statement calling the photo “disturbing” and added, “a photo opportunity like this is simply wrong and makes you wonder about the mental health of the person who did it.”

Trump’s son, Donald Jr., went further, saying the Griffin photo represents “what the left thinks is acceptable today.”

But there’s glaring hypocrisy involved in the Trump family’s denunciations of Griffin. Just last month, Trump invited rock star Ted Nugent to the White House for dinner, despite Nugent’s repeated calls for the deaths of then-President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Back in 2012, Trump even went out of his way to defend Nugent after Nugent said that if President Obama were reelected, he’d “either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”

During Trump’s presidential campaign, Nugent’s well-documented history of racism and violent threats didn’t deter Trump from featuring him in his campaign ads and at his rallies. Nor did it deter Trump from inviting Nugent to the White House and posing for photos with him.

During an off-camera news conference on Wednesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about discrepancy.

“Obviously [Griffin’s] conduct has been widely condemned, and it’s not a partisan thing to say joking about violence toward the president is unacceptable,” a reporter said. “But on that note, I wanted to ask about Ted Nugent, who joked multiple times about assassinating President Barack Obama, who said Hillary Clinton should be hanged. He was invited to the White House for dinner by President Trump. Do you believe that was appropriate? And if Trump is offended by this incident, why was he not bothered by all of Mr. Nugent’s comments?”

Spicer had no answers.

“With respect to Kathy Griffin, I think the president, the first lady, and the Secret Service have all made statements on that that I’ll let stand,” Spicer said, ignoring Nugent altogether. Pressed on the matter, Spicer said he’d “have to look back and see what those statements were, and what the reaction was at the time,” before quickly pivoting to another topic.

Here's a little reminder of the kind of stuff honored White House guest Ted Nugent says:

In case you can't stomach listening to him:
Obama, he's a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun. Let's hear it for him. And then I was in New York. I said, "Hey, Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch. Since I'm in California, how about [Senator] Barbara Boxer [D-CA], she might want to suck on my machine gun. And [Senator] Dianne Feinstein [D-CA], ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions? 
About Hillary Clinton:
"You probably can't use the term `toxic cunt' in your magazine, but that's what she is. Her very existence insults the spirit of individualism in this country. This bitch is nothing but a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro."  
He also called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel."

 There's a lot more of Ted Nugent's indecency here. 

Oh, and by the way, in case you forgot, Trump says he loves waterboarding and endorses torture and beheading.


He needs a babysitter

by digby

This is just downright idiotic:
One day after tweeting that he had "not spoken to Roger [Stone] in a long time," President Trump called Stone after watching him on various news shows in the aftermath of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, per The New Yorker.

The reason for Trump's call: Simply to tell Stone that he did a good job on television — not surprising, as Trump is known to value loyalty above all else.

But a wrinkle: Because Stone is a witness at the center of the federal government's Russia investigation, this could compound potential obstruction of justice concerns for Trump. One of Obama's White House ethics lawyers told The New Yorker: "Trump just added another item to the investigators' checklist."

It's not a wrinkle. It's legal exposure.

QOTD: Bizarroworld edition

by digby

Dennis Prager, ladies and gentlemen:
I have concluded that there are a few reasons that explain conservatives who were Never-Trumpers during the election, and who remain anti-Trump today.

The first and, by far, the greatest reason is this: They do not believe that America is engaged in a civil war, with the survival of America as we know it at stake. While they strongly differ with the Left, they do not regard the left–right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do.

That is why, after vigorously opposing Trump’s candidacy during the Republican primaries, I vigorously supported him once he won the nomination. I believed then, as I do now, that America was doomed if a Democrat had been elected president. With the Supreme Court and hundreds of additional federal judgeships in the balance; with the Democrats’ relentless push toward European-style socialism — completely undoing the unique American value of limited government; the misuse of the government to suppress conservative speech; the continuing degradation of our universities and high schools; the weakening of the American military; and so much more, America, as envisioned by the Founders, would have been lost, perhaps irreversibly. The “fundamental transformation” that candidate Barack Obama promised in 2008 would have been completed by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

To my amazement, no anti-Trump conservative writer sees it that way. They all thought during the election, and still think, that while it would not have been a good thing if Hillary Clinton had won, it wouldn’t have been a catastrophe either. That’s it, in a nutshell. Many conservatives, including me, believe that it would have been close to over for America as America if the Republican candidate, who happened to be a flawed man named Donald Trump, had not won. Moreover, I am certain that only Donald Trump would have defeated Hillary Clinton. In other words, I believe that Donald Trump may have saved the country. And that, in my book, covers a lot of sins — foolish tweets, included.

He is speaking for millions of conservatives.

Be nice. It's wrong to criticize them for this because they are people who have lost their jobs and unlike you and I who have never had a moment of economic anxiety in our whole lives. We have to go along with Donald Trump without complaint because to do otherwise would be cruel to the people who believe him.

Apparently, if we admit that we are destroying the country then they might vote for our candidates.


Trump's Isolationist Manifesto: "All the world's a battlefield and we're going to kick every one of your asses."

by digby

This is from a WSJ op-ed today by Economic adviser Gary Cohn and national Security adviser H.R. McMaster:

The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. We bring to this forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.
That's exactly what I meant when I said a zillion times during the campaign that when Trump talked about "America First" he means "We're number one!" The idea was never that America would withdraw behind its big beautiful border wall. It was that we don't need no stinking allies, we're kicking ass and taking names. Our way or the highway. That's Trump. That's his voters. And that's why the rest of the world is rapidly concluding that we have become so dangerous that they have to do something about us.

These are the "grown-ups" by the way. The ones who are supposed to temper his more outrageous ambitions.

His voice is a trigger

by digby

At least for me. I find myself enraged at the mere sound of it. I know I have a problem. But I suspect I'm not alone:

I doubt Pence would wear very well if people had to listen to him very often either. His furrowed brow sanctimony certainly didn't wear well in Indiana.

Whither the hyperpatriots?

by digby

I wrote about Trump's bffs using his talking points and the GOP hawks' sudden loss of interest in national security for Salon this morning:

Despite all the testimony from American intelligence and law enforcement officials confirming that the Russian government was behind the hacking of Democratic Party and Clinton campaign official John Podesta’s emails, President Donald Trump still insists that the whole controversy is a plot by Democrats to explain away their defeat in the 2016 presidential election. Earlier this month he’s said he still wasn’t convinced. He told John Dickerson of CBS a few weeks ago that it “could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.”

On Tuesday, the president tweeted:

Trump is not alone in this assessment. That same day, AP reported:
In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, [Vladimir] Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russian involvement in the hacking of Democratic emails. The interview was recorded during Putin’s Monday trip to Paris and released Tuesday. 
He said the claims of Russian meddling are driven by the “desire of those who lost the U.S. elections to improve their standing by accusing Russia of interfering.”
Putin added that the “people who lost the vote hate to acknowledge that they indeed lost because the person who won was closer to the people and had a better understanding of what people wanted.”

Those comments are so similar to Trump's it makes you wonder if that covert back-channel wasn’t created after all.

But President Putin isn’t the only politician parroting the Trump party line on this. Talking Points Memo reports that House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told prospective donors at a fundraiser last month that he stepped down from the investigation because “left-wing activist groups” filed ethics complaints against him for his midnight shenanigans coordinating with the Trump White House. He said:
The Democrats don’t want an investigation on Russia. They want an independent commission. Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that’s the reason that he won, because Hillary Clinton could have never lost on her own; it had to be someone else’s fault. They have tried to destroy this Russia investigation, they’ve never been serious about it.
Considering that they are practically completing each other’s sentences, Trump and Putin certainly sound like besties these days. Nunes too, for that matter.

It’s possible that some Republican voters truly believe the Russia investigation is a Clinton plot to delegitimize Trump’s election victory. Of course, those same people may also believe that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster and ran a pedophile ring out of a Washington pizza parlor, so this is downright benign by comparison. But I’m going to take a wild guess that neither Trump, Putin nor Nunes actually believes any of those things.

Even more cynical than this crude misdirection is the reaction to the Russia probes among other GOP leaders. Their casual dismissal of the hacking during the election campaign and the possibility of collusion between members of the Trump team and the Russian government is a serious abdication of responsibility. It’s certainly possible that this is all essentially innocent on the part of the Trump people. That would make them stupid and inept but not criminal, and they might very well ride out the storm. But if members of Trump’s team did collude with a foreign government or have some kind of blackmail material hanging over their heads, the Republican leadership needs to gird itself and prepare for it to come out because eventually it will. They will be held liable for failing to take it seriously.

Less than a year ago, this is what House Speaker Paul Ryan had to say after FBI Director James Comey held his famous press conference to explain that the bureau was closing the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server:

These days he can hardly rouse himself to comment on the ongoing Russia scandals despite the presence of a special counsel, several congressional probes and daily or hourly, breaking news stories indicating that some of Trump’s closest confidantes who currently hold security clearances behaved very suspiciously prior to the inauguration. As of this writing Ryan has had little or nothing to say about the fact that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser is being investigated for having met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and allegedly requesting a covert back channel to Moscow, using private Russian communications technology.

On the Senate side, John McCain said he didn’t “like it” that Trump transition members might have met with Russians and failed to report it on their security clearance applications. Sen. Bob Corker, on the other hand, praised Trump’s overseas trip as if he were Alexander the Great, fatuously proclaiming that it was “executed to near perfection.”

As for the reports about Kushner, Corker could only reply,”He’s been overseas and I’m sure he’ll make clear what his intentions were and what his thoughts were at the time if any.”

Senator Lindsey Graham told CNN said he suspects Kislyak used an open line to spread disinformation that Kushner sought a covert back channel. That might be a reasonable if it weren’t for the fact that the White House hasn’t denied it, suggesting they might be concerned that “someone” has Kushner on tape. And that inevitably raises the question of whether the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law may opened himself up to possible blackmail.

There are numerous strands connecting various actors in Trump’s orbit with Russian mobsters, oligarchs, propagandists and government officials. Republicans who were screaming bloody murder over Hillary Clinton’s private email server are now shrugging off all these connections as if they are a mundane affair or a tainted donation. If it turns out that national security really was put at risk, these officials will not only be exposed as the hypocrites they are, they will also be seen as derelict in their duty to the Constitution and accomplices to the crime. So far there is little sign that they care.

Explaining the unexplainable

by digby

The job of a career state department official isn't easy these days. Esquire's Jack Holmes:

The heavily memed image of President Trump caressing The Orb with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud was an unsettling reminder of the United States' deep ties to Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud is our key partner in the Middle East, despite the state's rampant human rights abuses and subjugation of women, the extended royal family's documented funding of terrorist groups, and of course the fact that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy. For decades, the answer to this little riddle was easy: oil. But now that the United States is challenging—and at times surpassing—the Saudis as the world's largest energy producer thanks to the natural gas boom, our dependence on foreign oil is dwindling. That's part of the reason President Obama was empowered to pursue the nuclear deal with Iran and chill our romance with King Salman's clique just a bit.

Now there's a new man in the White House, however, and he's all in on Saudi. The Trump administration is taking a hardline stance against Iran, whose elected leaders we do not like, in favor of the Saudis, whose kings and princes we do. In a press conference following the president's Reluctant World Tour, State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones was asked just why this is. His answer is telling:

That long silence is what the honest truth sounds like. There is no longer any moral or strategic reason for our position on Saudi Arabia, a country that employs a broad interpretation of Sharia law to cut off thieves' hands and drug dealers' heads. (It has also set up schools in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, to spread its extremist vision of Islam, Wahhabism, there.) Then there's the fact that the Saudis and Iranians are battling for dominance in the region using Islam's Sunni and Shia denominations—a split that occurred in the year 632—as uniforms. We are in effect backing one side in a conflict that has raged for more than a millennium in the most consistently war-torn part of the world.


Sometimes the simplest lessons

by Tom Sullivan

Over the weekend, I ran across the fascinating tale from 2014 of the North Pond Hermit. Christopher Thomas Knight had spent 27 years alone in the Maine woods. He survived by raiding unoccupied cabins and summer camps for food and supplies in the middle of the night. When finally captured, he could barely speak. Michael Finkel interviewed him through letters and jail visits trying to get at what mystical insights he might have gleaned from 27 years of isolation.

Knight said, "Get enough sleep."

Sometimes the simplest lessons are the most profound.

Another of those deep mysteries I learned when Jim Dean and Democracy for America (DFA) brought their campaign school to town in 2006. A bunch of us political junkies settled in for the weekend at the local university's student union to learn about running political campaigns. Impressive for a liberal enterprise, it was run with almost military precision. It was like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. I learned a lot about campaign-craft. But what I remember most is something they kept drumming into our heads. Something we needed to remember when speaking with voters. "You are not normal people."

Normal people don't spend their weekends learning about campaign tactics. We needed to remember that when knocking doors, for example. Our job is not to engage voters in policy debates. Our job is to smile, listen, drop the literature, and most of all leave a good impression. Because if people like you, they will vote for your candidate. That's it. Sorry.

The title of Michael Tomasky's "Elitism Is Liberalism’s Biggest Problem" in the New Republic raised a sigh and some caution flags. But in the end, it echoed DFA's message, one that tends to get as lost as we do in the heat of ideological battle. Out there in stretches of America far from the lights of the bright, blue cities, there are plenty of "liberalish moderates" who are potential allies that we are not reaching. And by constitutional design, such people in heartland red states may be the key to a disproportionate number of U.S. Senate seats, plus a few in the House as well. Not to mention state legislatures. Just because those voters are not coastal liberals does not make them adversaries or people "whose support no self-respecting Democrat would want."

Tomasky writes:

First of all, middle Americans go to church. Not temple. Church. God and Jesus Christ play important roles in their lives. Elite liberals are fine with expressions of faith among African Americans and Latinos, but we often seem to assume that white people who are religious are conservative. It’s not remotely the case.

Second, politics simply doesn’t consume middle Americans the way it does elites on the coasts. Many of these people have lots of friends—and sometimes even spouses—who are Republicans. They don’t sit around and watch MSNBC and talk politics. They talk kids, and local gossip, and pop culture, and sports. They don’t have a position on every issue, and they think Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame for partisan rancor and congressional gridlock.

Third, their daily lives are pretty different from the lives of elite liberals. Few of them buy fair trade coffee or organic almond milk. Some of them served in the armed forces. Some of them own guns, and like to shoot them and teach their kids how to shoot them. Some of them hold jobs in the service of global capital and feel proud of their work.

Fourth, they’re patriotic in the way that most Americans are patriotic. They don’t feel self-conscious saluting the flag. They don’t like it when people bad-mouth our country. They believe that America is mostly good, and that the rest of the world should look more like America.
I know plenty of those people. Not far outside my little island of blue, it gets red really fast. Out where volunteer firefighters are rock stars, it might as well be another country. Some have as much use for cities and their concerns as the North Pond Hermit. But there are allies out there we are working to empower to win their neighbors' hearts and minds. In statewide races, winning doesn't mean winning every county outright. Sometimes it's enough to shave the margins.

We have been under siege from the state capitol since 2011. (For readers living under Republican-controlled state legislatures, I feel your pain.) Unless we expect urban sprawl to do it for us, the only way to end the siege is to win more legislative seats in the countryside with the help of allies more "normal" than we are. The trick is how to help them do it. We're learning.

Tomasky concludes:
A person can still be “on the team” even if they think the minimum wage should be raised only to $10, or don’t consider the placement of the crèche on the courthouse square for two weeks in December a constitutional crisis, or haven’t yet figured out how they feel about transgender bathrooms.
It's a process.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Spending More Time With the Family

by tristero

No one wants to work for Trump. Can't say I blame them. It's just about the worst thing you could do for your career:

...as he considers casting off old aides, Mr. Trump is finding it challenging to recruit new ones. 
The disclosures from investigations stemming from Russian meddling in last year’s election — coupled with the president’s habit of undercutting his staff — have driven away candidates for West Wing jobs that normally would be among the most coveted in American politics, according to people involved in the search. 
By the time the first change in what may be a broader shake-up was announced Tuesday, the White House was left without a replacement. Michael Dubke, the White House communications director, said he would step down, but four possible successors contacted by the White House declined to be considered, according to an associate of Mr. Trump who like others asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. 
At the same time, talks with two former advisers, Corey Lewandowski and David N. Bossie, about joining the White House staff grew more complicated. Mr. Bossie, a former deputy campaign manager, signaled that he does not plan to join the staff, citing family concerns...
It's a two-edged sword, but ultimately I think it's the right call. No one will be able to stave off the disaster that's about come, or mitigate it. It's best to stay out away and not get hurt.

It's also the morally right thing to do. You cannot appease an autocrat.
What to Read While Waiting for Trump's Comeuppance

By Spocko

Great piece by Rebecca Solnit. The Loneliness of Donald Trump. On the corrosive privilege of the most mocked man in the world

I have often run across men (and rarely, but not never, women) who have become so powerful in their lives that there is no one to tell them when they are cruel, wrong, foolish, absurd, repugnant.
Solnit talks about not just Trump, but the people like him who live in a world without honest mirrors.

I've worked with and trained smart people who have become some of the richest, most powerful people in the world --Brin, Page, Musk, Sandburg, Mayer and many others. One of the reasons they got to where they are is the people around them (usually women, professional communicators) knew these people needed to see how they were coming across to others. Obliviousness could end up hurting them professionally (and often personally) unless they dealt with it.  These women brought me and my training partners in to hold up a mirror to these people and say, 'This is how you come across to the media, to investors, to employees. Is that really what you want?"

Dave, one of my training partners, used to quote Emerson to them:
"What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary."
As people get more and more powerful, it can become harder for them to listen to and accept what others say, especially if they don't see the person as an equal, someone worth listening too. More from Solnit's piece.
Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society. Inequality creates liars and delusion. The powerless need to dissemble—that’s how slaves, servants, and women got the reputation of being liars—and the powerful grow stupid on the lies they require from their subordinates and on the lack of need to know about others who are nobody, who don’t count, who’ve been silenced or trained to please. This is why I always pair privilege with obliviousness; obliviousness is privilege’s form of deprivation. When you don’t hear others, you don’t imagine them, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it, and that surely makes you starving, though you know not for what, if you have ceased to imagine others exist in any true deep way that matters. This is about a need for which we hardly have language or at least not a familiar conversation.
The right wing radio and tv hosts gave an entire group of people a mendacious narrative to internalize and then permission to, as Janeane Garofalo put it, "Bring out their inner asshole." Tim, one of my best friends back on Vulcan had a response to the phrase, "If you are so smart, why aren't you rich?" It was, 'If you are so rich why aren't you nice?"

I've been instrumental in the financial destruction of the right wing media's advertising revenue stream, which led to the ousting of some of their biggest names. I've very proud of that, and while it is satisfying to see them get their comeuppance, during the time prior to their fall they spread hate, envy and anger. This is the right wing strategy and it is a national tragedy. I just wish my friends and I could have made it happen faster.

During this time I've learned there is more to the phrase "Speaking truth to power" than most people realize. Power usually doesn't want to hear your truth. And, contrary to schoolyard wisdom, when you stand up to a powerful bully they don't just back down. They fight back, often with lawyers, guns and money. So you must persist.

One of the things that I've learned is that even powerful people need allies. People who get something in exchange for their help. We focus on Trump because he is the face of this coalition of craven allies. But if those allies see the cost of support is greater than the benefit, they will find an excuse to walk away.

Before we alerted the advertisers that the cost of sponsoring right wing media was greater than the benefit, the RW media distributors made a lot of money. We gave advertisers an excuse to walk away, "The hosts are tainting our brand." Later, we gave media institutional investors an excuse to push the hosts off radio and TV. "We aren't making enough money on them this quarter."

The media should now ask Trump's allies,"Is the cost of supporting Trump greater than the benefit?" If yes, what are you going to do about it?

Read the whole piece. It's great.

BTW, Mrs. Spocko spotted Solnit grocery shopping the other day. I wish I had run into her after I had read this piece. I would tell her how spot on it is. I would also ask her if she has tried the bulk curry (which is wonderful) or the chocolate almond milk ice cream, since I like to share the things I love with my fellow Americans, no matter what side of the aisle they are on.
Meanwhile, the wrecking crew just keeps going

by digby

So much for civil rights:
The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights.

As outlined in Labor’s fiscal 2018 plan, the move would fold the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, now home to 600 employees, into another government agency in the name of cost-cutting.

The proposal to dismantle the compliance office comes at a time when the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices.

The new leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has proposed eliminating its environmental justice program, which addresses pollution that poses health threats specifically concentrated in minority communities. The program, in part, offers money and technical help to residents who are confronted with local hazards such as leaking oil tanks or emissions from chemical plants.

Under President Trump’s proposed budget, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights — which has investigated thousands of complaints of discrimination in school districts across the country and set new standards for how colleges should respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment — would also see significant staffing cuts. Administration officials acknowledge in budget documents that the civil rights office will have to scale back the number of investigations it conducts and limit travel to school districts to carry out its work.

And the administration has reversed several steps taken under President Barack Obama to address LGBT concerns. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, has revoked the guidance to implement a rule ensuring that transgender people can stay at sex-segregated shelters of their choice, and the Department of Health and Human Services has removed a question about sexual orientation from two surveys of elderly Americans about services offered or funded by the government.

The base would be very pleased to know this but it's even hard for this administration to trumpet this accomplishment to average voters.

Still, even as they are falling apart at the seams they're gettin' her done.

He's bringing people together

by digby

In other countries anyway:

Here's Trump earlier today:

He still doesn't know that the EU countries trade as a bloc. I don't think anyone can get through to him.

He's got very clean money. The cleanest.

by digby

So President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen is under investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Shocker. You'll recall that he's the guy who said to the Daily Beast:
“I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know … So I’m warning you, tread very f---ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f---ing disgusting.” 
He's a very classy fellow with great integrity who would never do anything untoward so this is all just part of the Democratic plot to deny Donald Trump his yuge victory.

In case you were wondering what kind of things Cohen might do for Trump, he seems to be the type of fellow who "handles" money for clients in ways that might look suspiciously like money laundering:

Long before he became Donald Trump’s feared attack dog, or began to visit the White House as the president’s personal attorney, or took a position with the Republican National Committee, or partnered with powerhouse lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, Michael Cohen ran a small legal practice in Hell’s Kitchen.

He was a one-man show and handled a little bit of everything, from personal injury cases to a Ukrainian investment fund to a fleet of taxis to a trust account he managed for clients.

One day in 1999, a check for $350,000 was deposited into that trust account, to be disbursed to a woman living in South Florida. As the lawyer in charge of the account, Cohen was supposed to ensure that she got the money.

But he didn’t.

Why not? And what ultimately happened to all that money?

“I don’t recall,” Cohen said in a deposition.

The missing $350,000 — which has never been recovered — became the centerpiece of a 2009 lawsuit in Miami, where Cohen was accused of civil fraud. After years of litigation, Cohen prevailed, in part because the suit was filed past the statute of limitations.

Cohen, in an interview with BuzzFeed News, said he was first questioned about the money eight years after it was deposited, by which time he said he could not recall much about it. “I honestly don’t remember who gave me the deposit at the time,” he said. “This is another poor attempt to malign my impeccable reputation and attempt to connect me to a Russian conspiracy.”

But Cohen’s own testimony in the case reveals that the man who is now the president’s personal lawyer failed to execute one of the core duties of an attorney — properly handling money placed in his trust — and was cavalier about that failure.

“One of the things lawyers are most likely to be disciplined for is misusing clients’ funds,” said Deborah Rhode, a legal ethics expert from Stanford University, who said that properly accounting for and disbursing funds is a critically important obligation for many attorneys.


The $350,000 mystery involves four other important characters: Vladimir Malakhov, a professional hockey player who wrote the original check; Yulia Fomina, a Russian woman who asked Malakhov to loan her the money and put her condominium up as collateral; Vitaly Buslaev, a Russian businessperson who was Fomina’s boyfriend; and Symon Garber, a Ukrainian-born taxi baron who was Cohen’s business partner.

In 1999, Malakhov was playing defense for the Montreal Canadiens. He would play in the NHL for a decade, win a Stanley Cup, and collect about $30 million in salary. Along the way, he attracted the attention of Russian organized crime. During Senate hearings, a former gangster testified that someone tried to shake down Malakhov at a restaurant in Brooklyn’s heavily Russian neighborhood, Brighton Beach. The man who made the threats reportedly worked for Vyacheslav Ivankov, a notorious Russian mafia boss who was later assassinated in 2009.

“Malakhov spent the next months in fear,” according to the testimony, “looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed, avoiding restaurants and clubs where Russian criminals hang out.”

Malakhov was playing for Montreal in 1999 when Buslaev and Fomina entered the picture.

Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian-American historian, reports that Buslaev was dating Fomina and supported her in the United States, helping her purchase a condominium, an Aston Martin, and a Mercedes-Benz. There are few public records available on Buslaev, but Russian business registrations show him as a manager of at least three companies near Moscow.

Court records show that around that time, Buslaev encouraged her to ask Malakhov and his wife, with whom she was friendly, for a loan.

Buslaev was looking for a hedge against “the instability of the Russian ruble on the foreign exchange market,” Malakhov’s sports agent wrote in an affidavit. At the agent’s suggestion, Malakhov demanded some collateral. (The agent, Paul Theofanous, did not return a message left at his office last week.)

So Fomina put up the deed to her condo and Malakhov wrote the check.

But he didn’t write it to her. At what he would later say was Fomina’s request, Malakhov wrote it to the trust account that Cohen controlled.

Two years later, claiming that Fomina failed to repay the loan, Malakhov’s wife went to court to take possession of the condo.

Fomina was in Russia at the time. When she returned to Florida, she filed suit, claiming she had been taken advantage of and didn’t speak enough English to understand the loan documents she signed. She and the Malakhovs did not return phone calls seeking comment, and Buslaev could not be reached. But Fomina’s lawsuit set off more than five years of litigation, and Malakhov’s lawyers eventually questioned Cohen about his role in the matter.

During a deposition, they showed him the check that Malakhov wrote, which had been endorsed with what appeared to be Cohen’s signature. Cohen declined to say whether it really was his.

“It could be,” he allowed.

He said that he didn’t know Malakhov, Fomina, or Buslaev.

The trust account, he explained, was used for “negligence settlements” or “property damage claims.” Perhaps the money was meant for the Ukrainian investment fund he managed, Cohen said.

Again and again — at least six times — Cohen said he didn’t recall why the $350,000 was deposited or what became of it.

Russians just keep turning up everywhere you look with this crew. Normally one wouldn't think too much of that. But under the circumstances it is bound to draw scrutiny.


Tweet o' the day

by digby

Trump of course:

Think about that. He's saying AGAIN that they didn't actually meddle in the election. I think we've all assumed that he was doing this out of defensiveness over his lack of a popular vote win and a partisan explanation for the Russian probes.  But after Comey, after his behavior in Europe and everything else we've learned, that isn't looking much like a reasonable explanation anymore is it? It's looking like he's publicly defending the Russian government against the analysis of his own in spite of tremendous pressure to simply keep his mouth shut.

If it were anyone but this cretinous imbecile we'd simply assume that he was doing the bidding of this foreign government. Everything points in that direction. But since he IS a cretinous imbecile, we still cannot be sure that he isn't just acting in a totally self-destructive, moronic fashion.

My God, what a mess.

The man in the tinfoil hat

by digby

Rundgren and Fagan have The Donald's number:

They're always the victim, no matter what

by digby

This first person account of the stabbing in Portland from the Oregonian is just harrowing:
Even with headphones on, Rachel Macy said, she heard a man shouting and spewing foul language as soon as he boarded the eastbound MAX Green Line train Friday night at Lloyd Center.

"He was just being really belligerent and loud,'' she said.

The man, since identified as Jeremy Joseph Christian, entered through doors on one side of the train, and stepped across the aisle to a pole by the doors on the opposite side of the train.

"He was screaming that he was a taxpayer, that colored people were ruining the city, and he had First Amendment rights,'' Macy said.

Then he made anti-Muslim slurs.

"I didn't want to look. I was too afraid. It felt really tense,'' said the 45-year-old Southeast Portland resident of Native American descent. "I'm a woman of color. I didn't want him to notice me.''

The seats on the train were all taken, and other passengers were standing but it hadn't reached the rush-hour crush yet as the train headed toward the Hollywood station around 4:30 p.m., she said.

Macy noticed a young man quickly brush past her seat, while talking on the phone. He looked nervous and was moving away from Christian. Something didn't feel right, she said. She'd later learn that was Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23.

Rick Best, 53, stood closest to Christian. He was trying to calm Christian down, by letting him know he had heard him.

"He was repeating back what this guy was saying. Like, 'I know you're a taxpayer. But this is not OK, that he was scaring people,' '' recalled Macy, whose account provides the most detailed chronology of the chaos that ensued.

Christian didn't seem to respond; just kept shouting. "He was not hearing anybody, just talking louder,'' she said.

At one point, the train operator got on the loudspeaker, saying something like whoever is creating the disturbance needed to exit the train immediately, Macy said. The operator also threatened to call police.

Christian screamed out that he was getting off the train at the next stop, and that "if anyone (expletive) followed, they were going to die,'' Macy recalled.

Namkai-Meche turned back toward Christian and briskly walked over to him, and loudly implored him, "You need to get off this train. Please, get off this train.''

Passengers Best, Namkai-Mache and a third man, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, were trying to deescalate the tense situation, intervene and get Christian off the train, she said. Macy said she didn't know where the two teenage girls who were the target of his racist rants were seated. She said it appeared as if the men who were stabbed "were trying to be a barrier'' between Christian and the girls.

Someone attempted to move Christian away from the girls he was verbally harassing with a slight push or shove. "Touch me again, or I'm going to kill you,'' Macy heard Christian respond.

Namkai-Meche was holding up his phone, Macy said. She wasn't sure if Namkai-Meche was trying to show Christian something on the phone or was recording the interaction.

Suddenly, Christian hit the phone away and stabbed Namkai-Meche in the neck, she said.

"It was just a swift, hard hit,'' she said. "It was a nightmare.''

Macy said she didn't know which man was slashed with the knife first but believes the train may have been just pulling into the Hollywood station or had just stopped when the stabbings occurred.

The attacker looked at the other passengers, cursed at them and then fled.

"One minute people were on the train, and the next minute, next to nobody,'' she recalled.

Best didn't take more than a few steps and fell to the floor, she said. At least two men came to his aid. "Stay with us. You are strong. Stay with us,'' she recalled them saying.

Michael Kennedy was one of those men. He came up to the front car from the second car of the train, as other passengers raced away from the commotion. In written messages to The Oregonian/OregonLive, he said he and two other men started CPR chest compressions on Best until emergency medics arrived.

"It never occurred to me to do otherwise,'' wrote Kennedy. He said his training as a paramedic from more than a decade ago kicked in.

Namkai-Meche stumbled along the aisle away from Christian past Macy. She turned to face him. His flannel shirt was covered with blood; his face pale.

Holding his neck, he said, "I'm going to die,'' according to Macy.

"I looked at him and said, 'we can handle this. Lay down.' ''

He lay on the floor of the train. Macy crouched beside him, pulled off her black tank top and gave it to Namkai-Meche. He pressed the shirt to his neck wound. She placed her hand over his.

She noticed a deep, long gash along Namkai-Meche's neck.

Another man who she described as a veteran also tried to comfort Namkai-Meche and keep him from panicking. He told Namkai-Mache that his heart was beating, and he was OK, pointing out the sound of sirens and help on its way.

 "I just kept telling him, 'You're not alone. We're here,'' Macy said. "What you did was total kindness. You're such a beautiful man. I'm sorry the world is so cruel.''

And she prayed.

"When I said 'pray with me,' he just closed his eyes and tried to keep breathing,'' she recalled.

Fletcher stumbled off the train holding his neck, she said.

Macy remained on the train until police and emergency medics arrived. Medical personnel tried to work on Best but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Medics put Namkai-Meche on a stretcher. Macy stayed by his side. Before he was carried away, he had a last message, she said: "Tell everyone on this train I love them. 

It speaks for itself. These people were heroes.

The president finally weighed in saying that the stabbings are "unacceptable" which is nice. Now, take a look how one local Republican leader is responding:
Multnomah County GOP chair James Buchal told the Guardian that recent street protests had prompted Portland Republicans to consider alternatives to “abandoning the public square”.

“I am sort of evolving to the point where I think that it is appropriate for Republicans to continue to go out there,” he said. “And if they need to have a security force protecting them, that’s an appropriate thing too.”

Asked if this meant Republicans making their own security arrangements rather than relying on city or state police, Buchal said: “Yeah. And there are these people arising, like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters.”

Asked if he was considering such groups as security providers, Buchal said: “Yeah. We’re thinking about that. Because there are now belligerent, unstable people who are convinced that Republicans are like Nazis.”

Buchal ran for Oregon attorney general in 2012 and has stood for election to Congress and the state legislature. The Oath Keepers are described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the US”, recruiting current and former military and law enforcement personnel. They have recently appeared at rallies from Berkeley, California, to Boston, standing with activists from the far right, activists holding what were once fringe positions who have recently risen to national prominence.

The Three Percenters are described by Political Research Associates as “a paramilitary group that pledges armed resistance against attempts to restrict private gun ownership”. They were a highly visible presence in Burns, Oregon, before and during the occupation of the Malheur wildlife refuge by rightwing militia early in 2016.

Buchal told the Guardian it was important not to become involved with extremists, and said that on the Three Percenters website, “right there on the front page there is what looks like a solid commitment to this not being about race at all.

Evidently the stabbing of three men who were standing up against a right wing fanatic is seen as a threat to right wing fanatics. There is no circumstance in which these people are not victims. Just look at the whiner in chief who has never once taken responsibility for anything in his life.

And by the way, he calling for a private brownshirt "militia." It's just a local thing at the moment and probably not a big deal. But it's worth noting.


The grown-ups are enablers

by digby

I wrote about Bush's grown-ups and Trump's generals for Salon this morning:

In January 2001 after a protracted postelection legal battle that ended with the Supreme Court seating George W. Bush in a 5-to-4 partisan decision, the Beltway establishment was giddy that the jejeune Bill Clinton administration was finally out of office and responsible adult leadership was back in town. The late conservative commentator Kate O’Beirne memorably put it this way on the eve of the inaugural:
There’s a whole lot less Hollywood this weekend than there is Houston, and it’s not a boomer — baby boomer inaugural, despite the fact that George W. qualifies as a baby boomer. The grownups are back in charge.
Whatever reservations Washington may have had about the incurious George W. Bush, they were soothed by the presence of the old Republican guard represented by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and others who reminded them of a time before Bill Clinton and his boomer buds had roared into their “little village” and “wrecked the place.”

The new president himself was a man who acted like a frat boy most of the time and could barely string together a coherent sentence. Recall just a few of the memorable quotes from the man who would soon be sitting in the Oval Office as these pundits were excitedly welcoming the adults back to Washington:

“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”
— Nashua, New Hampshire, Jan. 27, 2000

“Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”
— Florence, South Carolinea, Jan. 11, 2000

“We’ll let our friends be the peacekeepers and the great country called America will be the pacemakers.”
— Houston, Sept. 6, 2000

“Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”
— LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Oct. 18, 2000

It was obvious that our new president’s antenna didn’t pick up all the channels, if you know what I mean. But the pundits didn’t care because it wasn’t important. The grand poobahs of the GOP establishment would make America great again.

We all know what happened: Sept. 11. Democrats rallied around the president and his approval ratings shot up to a 90 percent and stayed at 60 percent to 70 percent for the better part of the next two years. This was when the grown-ups led the nation — first into a war in Afghanistan that has really never ended, and then into Iraq, making their longtime fever dream of an occupation come true.

Their agenda had little to do with the challenges of terrorism. These men of the past were fighting the last war — the Gulf War of 1991, which many of them believed had been mistakenly left unfinished. Indeed, even the untried son, Bush Junior, openly proclaimed that he was proposing the war as an act of revenge for an earlier assassination attempt on his father, former President George H.W. Bush. And many members of the administration had signed on years before to an American imperialist agenda, with an invasion of Iraq serving as the fulcrum for “benevolent global hegemony.”

It turned out that these éminence grises, these respectable men in suits and ties who were going to bring honor and dignity back to the White House, were radicals. And the man they were charged to instruct in the ways of Washington was more than willing to be just as radical as they were.

One would have thought Americans had learned their lesson after having lived through the disaster of the Bush years. But 16 years later the Republican Party served up another unqualified, ill-equipped nominee, and he, too, became president without winning the most votes. Once again the establishment tried to reassure the public that he would be held in check by the vice president and the respectable appointees: Gen. Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, Gen. John Kelly at Homeland Security and — after the first choice was fired — Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser. Since the military is the only institution left in America that maintains even the slightest respect among the public, this seemed like a good idea. These men had commanded legions; surely they could control the likes of President Donald Trump.

That’s not happening. The people who were supposed to help Trump become a responsible leader have instead followed their boss into his morass of lies, corruption and incompetence. As Tom Ricks (who encouraged these people to join the administration for the good of the country) pointed out in a piece for Politico, they have degraded their reputations without making the slightest improvement in Trump’s performance as a leader.

Defense Secretary Mattis embarrassed himself on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on this past Sunday by bizarrely asserting that by appointing him, a big supporter of NATO, the president had endorsed the alliance. This came despite the fact that Trump had behaved like an ill-mannered boor at the annual NATO meeting in Brussels and refused to publicly affirm the mutual defense imperative known as Article 5. Mattis claimed that it doesn’t matter what Trump said; we should be content that he deigned to attend the meeting at all.

Also on Sunday the secretary of homeland security, Gen. Kelly, appeared on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” and blithely dismissed reports that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner had asked the Russian ambassador to use secure Russian embassy communications facilities for a covert channel to the Kremlin. Kelly said, “Any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they’re good friends or not-so-good friends, is a smart thing to do.” His reputation, already strained by his willingness to enact Trump’s draconian immigration agenda, is now no better than that of a partisan hack.

McMaster is the only one of the Trump “grown-ups” still in uniform. As Ricks points out, that means he is required to tell the truth and shun conduct unbecoming of his position. Ricks suggested that McMaster should feel compelled to resign rather than continue to spin Trump’s obviously inept behavior and now believes that these experienced hands are doing nothing more than enabling a president who will never listen to them.

The lesson in all this is that it is foolish to count on advisers and appointees to make up for what’s lacking in our leaders. These aides can be malevolent or ineffectual, but either way they can’t fix the fundamental problem of an unqualified president. The political establishment needs to stop assuming they can. The person sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office is the one who needs to be a “grown-up.” It’s a basic requirement of the job.



The British Empire sends its sympathies

by Tom Sullivan

Donald Trump didn't have the guts to exit the Paris Climate Accord and say so, in person, to the faces of real world leaders.

The G7 summit ended a few days ago without the United States in the person of President Donald J. Trump pledging its commitment to the Paris accord, and without an affirmative U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO charter that pledges allies to mutual defense.

"I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!" President Trump tweeted on Saturday. This is Donald Trump we're talking about, the man who makes decisions based on the opinions of the person with whom he last had a conversation.

ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods sent a letter to Trump urging him to keep the United States a part of the accord. Other business leaders, fossil fuel companies among them, have urged Trump to remain, including, "IT firms Intel and HP, the Dow Chemical Company, sportswear maker Nike, hotel chain Hilton, auction website Ebay, and food giants Mars and Mondelez, maker of Oreo's," reports Deutsche Welle:

Finally, and not least importantly, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who both act as close advisors to the president, have reportedly urged Trump to stay in the climate deal. White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, on the other hand, is pushing for an exit, along with Scott Pruitt, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, who doubts that carbon dioxide emissions are a primary contributor to climate change.
Axios reported Saturday that Trump privately told several people, including Pruitt, that he plans to leave the accord.

"I'm quite certain the president is wide open on this issue as he takes in the pros and cons of that accord," Defense Secretary James Mattis told CBS on Sunday. Meaning there is no telling what he might actually do or who might talk to him about it last.

The upshot of the president's Tour de Chance is that under Trump the United States has exited the stage as a world leader. What's left is a petulant adolescent armed to the teeth. From this side of the Atlantic, Trump-in-Europe seemed more interested in measuring his manhood than in doing the job for which he was hired: in this instance, mastering complex policy issues and reinforcing historical alliances that have stabilized the world for nearly seven decades. The impression Trump left was not one of strength or resolve, but lack of seriousness and preparation. That he found time on his trip to block a comedy writer on Twitter puts exclamation point to that impression.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the G7 talks as “six against one” and “very difficult, if not to say very unsatisfactory.” In a speech upon her return from the summit she said:

The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.
The Hill reports that after Trump's European meetings, a former U.S. envoy to NATO concluded the same:
“This seems to be the end of an era, one in which the United States led and Europe followed,” Ivo H. Daalder told The New York Times. "Today, the United States is heading into a direction on key issues that seems diametrically opposite of where Europe is heading."

“The president’s failure to endorse Article 5 in a speech at NATO headquarters, his continued lambasting of Germany and other allies on trade, his apparent decision to walk away from the Paris climate agreement – all suggest that the United States is less interested in leading globally than has been the case for the last 70 years.”
The British Empire sends its sympathies.

Monday, May 29, 2017

These modern day Borgias are something else

by digby

This is what the president's top adviser and dutiful daughter's "brand" is selling on Memorial Day:

They really don't have a clue do they? The first daughter and top presidential adviser has an ongoing "lifestyle" business even as she works in the White House. On Memorial Day, a federal holiday to mourn America's war dead, her business is hawking champagne popsicles.

You cannot make this stuff up.

Stop, hey, what's that sound?

by digby

Politico reports:

Two White House officials said Trump and some aides including Steve Bannon are becoming increasingly convinced that they are victims of a conspiracy against Trump's presidency, as evidenced by the number of leaks flowing out of government — that the crusade by the so-called “deep state” is a legitimate threat, not just fodder for right wing defenders.

Step out of line, the men come and take you away ...

These are people who pimped the birther nonsense and Pizzagate and Clinton Cash and dozens of other bogus stories designed to discredit and destroy their political rivals. They have benefited from foreign propaganda and disinformation.

Live by the conspiracy theory, die by the conspiracy theory.

The conservative crush on Vladimir Putin

by digby

Trump isn't alone in his fondness for the strongman types. Back in December of 2015 when he was still the hilarious gadfly all the pundits assured us would flame out any minute, I wrote this piece for Salon. I thought it was a good time to re-up it as we wait patiently for the Republicans to locate their consciences:

Despite the fact that this past weekend featured a Democratic Party presidential debate, the news continues to be Donald Trump and the GOP race. One assumes the press was not interested in the debate simply because the three candidates are professional, intelligent, well-informed and serious. In other words they are not a circus act. Luckily we still have Trump to entertain them, and he’s doing a bang up job.

For instance, when “Fox and Friends” ran a clip on Sunday of Clinton criticizing him in the debate the night before, Trump, on the phone, responded, “could you imagine that as president? I’m just watching and to see that as president just doesn’t work.” That got a big smile from one of the hosts, Tucker Carlson, who is know for a famous quip about Clinton which he repeated often in the last election:

“She scares me. I cross my legs every time she talks…every time, involuntarily. It is like those pictures you see of the soccer goalie when they’re about to get the free kick. That’s me when she talks. I can’t help it.”

But Trump’s comment about Clinton was a throwaway line. What the Sabbath Gasbags were most interested in were his comments about Vladimir Putin. Trump has been saying for some time that he and Putin would get along great. Months ago he told Anderson Cooper, “I think the biggest thing we have is that we were on ’60 Minutes’ together and we had fantastic ratings. One of your best-rated shows in a long time. So that was good, right? So we were stable mates.” They weren’t actually on “60 Minutes” together, there were simply stories about each of them on the same program, but that’s Trump. They made ratings together so that makes them blood brothers.

In fact, they’ve never met.

Nonetheless, on that and on numerous other occasions, Trump has said that he believed he and Putin would  “probably work together much more so than right now.” And last week, Putin returned the compliment. In an end of year press conference he called Trump “a very bright and talented man,” and an “absolute leader.”

Trump nearly swooned at the compliment saying, “it is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” It didn’t matter in the least that the media was gobsmacked, he was thrilled, telling Joe Scarborough “when people call you brilliant, it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia.” He even went out of his way to defend him against the charges that Putin had been responsible for the deaths of opposition journalists, saying “our country does plenty of killing.”

On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday he went to the mat for him:
“They are allegations. Yeah sure there are allegations. I’ve read those allegations over the years. But nobody’s proven that he’s killed anybody, as far as I’m concerned. He hasn’t killed reporters that’s been proven.”
He said it would be terrible if true, but “this isn’t like somebody that stood with the gun and taken the blame or admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it. He’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody. You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country.”

This is the same man who calls for the summary execution of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in every stump speech, usually followed by a nostalgic comment about how we used to do such things “when we were strong.” It’s also the same man who routinely points to the press in the back of the hall at his rallies and calls reporters disgusting and “scum,” sometimes even naming names.

The GOP establishment is clutching their pearls over all this under the assumption that saying you admire Vladimir Putin surely will be the ultimate put-away shot. After all, we just had a debate in which the candidates were variously vowing to “punch Russia in the nose” and to shoot Russian planes out of the sky. Perhaps the most bellicose was Chris Christie who has long criticized President Obama for being soft, saying a few months back, “I don’t believe, given who I am, that [Putin] would make the same judgment. Let’s leave it at that.” Evidently, “who he is” is so macho that Putin will roll himself into a ball and have a good old fashioned cry if Christie looks at him sideways.

Mitt Romney tweeted furiously about Trump’s coziness with Putin and his former advisers were all up in arms throughout the week-end calling him a “seriously damaged individual.” Trump responded by saying, “they’re jealous as hell because he’s not mentioning” them.

Trump doesn’t care one whit about any of this carping. His reasoning is clear in this one comment:

He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.”
Later he said, “I think that my words represent toughness and strength.”

Trump understands the base of the GOP a lot better than Mitt Romney and the Sunday talking heads. These GOP base voters like Putin. Like so much else, Trump is just channeling an existing right wing phenomenon. Marin Cogan at National Journal wrote about the right wing Putin cult two years ago:

Putin­phil­ia is not, of course, the pre­dom­in­ant po­s­i­tion of the con­ser­vat­ive move­ment. But in cer­tain corners of the In­ter­net, ad­or­a­tion for the lead­er of Amer­ica’s No. 1 frenemy is un­ex­cep­tion­al. They are not his coun­try­men, Rus­si­an ex­pats, or any of the oth­er re­gion­al al­lies you might ex­pect to find al­lied with the Rus­si­an lead­er. Some, like Young and his read­ers, are earn­est out­doorsy types who like Putin’s Rough Rider sens­ib­il­ity. Oth­ers more cheekily ad­mire Putin’s cult of mas­culin­ity and claim re­l­at­ive in­dif­fer­ence to the polit­ic­al stances — the anti-Amer­ic­an­ism, the sup­port for lead­ers like Bashar al-As­sad, the op­pres­sion of minor­it­ies, gays, journ­al­ists, dis­sid­ents, in­de­pend­ent-minded ol­ig­archs — that drive most Amer­ic­ans mad. A few even ar­rive at their Putin ad­mir­a­tion through a strange brew of an­ti­pathy to everything they think Pres­id­ent Obama stands for, a re­flex­ive dis­trust of what the gov­ern­ment and me­dia tells them, and polit­ic­al be­liefs that go un­rep­res­en­ted by either of the main Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al parties…

[T]he Obama’s-so-bad-Putin-al­most-looks-good sen­ti­ment can be found on plenty of con­ser­vat­ive mes­sage boards. Earli­er this year, when Putin sup­posedly caught — and kissed — a 46-pound pike fish, posters on Free Re­pub­lic, a ma­jor grass­roots mes­sage board for the Right, were over­whelm­ingly pro-Putin:

“I won­der what photoup [sic] of his va­ca­tion will the Usurp­er show us? Maybe clip­ping his fin­ger­nails I sup­pose or maybe hanging some cur­tains. Yep manly. I can’t be­lieve I’m sid­ing with Putin,” one wrote. “I have Pres­id­ent envy,” an­oth­er said. “Bet­ter than our met­ro­sexu­al pres­id­ent,” said a third. One riffed that a Putin-Sarah Pal­in tick­et would lead to a more mor­al United States.

Is it any wonder that Trump is saying he’s “honored” that Putin thinks highly of him?

But the pearl clutching about all this Putin love from the other presidential candidates is seriously hypocritical. They may not be tapping into the macho Putin cult as directly as Trump, but they are very much on Putin’s authoritarian wavelength. Just like Putin they are very upset at the idea gay people might have equal rights and they are prepared to use government power to discriminate against them:

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee vowed to push for the passage of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), legislation that would prohibit the federal government from stopping discrimination by people or businesses that believe “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” or that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

The pledge is supported by three conservative groups: the American Principles Project, Heritage Action for America, and Family Research Council Action.

Apparently, Bush, Graham, Paul and Trump, have also publicly expressed support for FADA. In the name of freedom, of course, just as the old Soviets would have done. These liberty lovers may shake their fists and pretend they are in opposition to Putin’s tyrannical ways, but when you get down to it they’re all on the same page.

And the rest of us should probably stop laughing and start paying attention according to a warning from someone who knows what she’s talking about, Maria Alekhina, aka Masha of Pussy Riot:

“When Putin came to his first term or second term, nobody [in Russia] actually thought that this is serious. Everybody was joking about it. And nobody could imagine that after five, six years, we would have a war in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, and these problems in Syria,” in which Russia has become involved.

“Everybody [is] joking about Donald Trump now, but it’s a very short way from joke to sad reality when you have a really crazy president speaking about breaking every moral and logic norm. So I hope that he will not be president. That’s very simple.”

Strongman cults of the likes of Putin and Trump are often dismissed as silly and unserious at first. And then, all at once, it’s too late.
Soldier's Things: A Memorial Day Mix Tape

By Dennis Hartley

Memorial Day, like war itself, stirs up conflicting emotions. First and foremost, grief…for those who have been taken away (and for loved ones left behind). But there’s also anger…raging at the stupidity of a species that has been hell-bent on self destruction since Day 1.

And so the songs I’ve curated for this playlist run that gamut; from honoring the fallen and offering comfort to the grieving, to questioning those in power who start wars and ship off the sons and daughters of others to finish them, to righteous railing at the utter fucking madness of it all, and sentiments falling somewhere in between.

1. The Doors- “The Unknown Soldier” – A eulogy; then…a wish.

2. Pete Seeger- “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” An excellent question. You may not like the answer. When will we ever learn?

3. Tom Waits- “Soldier’s Things” – Behold the power of a simple inventory. Kleenex on standby.

4. Bob Marley- “War”– Lyrics by Haile Selassie I. But you knew that.

5. The Isley Brothers- “Harvest for the World”– Dress me up for battle, when all I want is peace/Those of us who pay the price, come home with the least.

6. Buffy Sainte Marie- “Universal Soldier”– Sacrifice has no borders.

7. Bob Dylan- “With God On Our Side” – Amen.

8. John Prine- “Sam Stone” – An ode to the walking wounded.

9. Joshua James- “Crash This Train” – Just make it stop. Please.

10. Kate Bush- “Army Dreamers”– For loved ones left behind…

Posts with related themes:

A War
The Kill Team
The Messenger
Waltz with Bashir
Sir! No Sir!
The Deer Hunter
The Monuments Men
Inglourious Basterds
The Wind Rises & Generation War
City of Life and Death
Le Grande Illusion
Paths of Glory