Friday, August 18, 2017
Thursday, August 17, 2017
As noted during my recent visit to Great Britain, most Britons view Donald Trump with revulsion and rightly so. Indeed, it was an embarrassment to be American and have to repeatedly stress that the majority of voters had voted AGAINST him and continued to oppose his toxic regime. I have also noted - many times - my impatience with what I call "good Christians" who fail to take on and directly challenge and condemn their supposed coreligionists who traffic in hate and bigotry and seemingly utterly ignore the Gospel message. Their cowardice and refusal to call evangelical and fundamentalists out as hate merchants and modern day Pharisees parallel's those who sought to appease Adolph Hitler in the late 1920's and into the 1930's. Bad people and bad ideologies need to be strongly confronted and condemned. Politeness and attempts at quiet and calm reasoning gets nowhere with such people. Yet too many liberal/progressive Christians do nothing more that occasionally write letters or hold prayer services that do nothing to openly and vigorously confront the hate merchants of the "Christian Right." Anglican Bishop, Nicholas Baines, Bishop of Leeds, shows us how "good Christians" should be acting. Here are highlights from a piece in Christian Today:
An Anglican Bishop has launched a scathing attack on the 'narcissistic amorality' of 'lying' Donald Trump, along with the American 'Christian Right' for failing to recognise the president's traits before he was elected last November.
Nicholas Baines, the liberal-leaning Bishop of Leeds, launched his comprehensive assault on 'shameless' Trump and his evangelical backers in a blog post written in the wake of the violence carried out by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, which Trump initially failed specifically to condemn.
Bishop Baines issues blame on what he calls the 'Christian Right' for failing to see the disastrous presidency coming.
'His misogyny, amorality, financial track record, sexual behaviour, narcissism and nepotism (to name but a few of the obvious challenges) would have ruled out the candidacy of any other semi-reputable politician for the Presidency of the United States of America. His subsequent lying, shamelessness, vindictiveness and inhabiting of some "alternative reality" (in which things that happened didn't happen and things that didn't happen did happen; in which things he said he didn't say and things he didn't say he did say) cannot have come as a disappointing revelation to anyone with half a brain or ears to hear.
His espousal of the alt-right has not come as news. His condemnation of anyone and anything he sees as a challenge to himself ([former President Barack] Obama, for instance) is weighed against his silence in the face of inconvenient truth or facts.
'Yet, none of this is a surprise. It was all there to be seen before he was elected. How on earth did the Christian Right even conceive of the possibility of backing a man who can't put a sentence together and who epitomises narcissistic amorality? If Hillary Clinton couldn't be trusted because of her handling of an email server (or because Americans had had enough of political dynasties), by what stretch of moral imagination could Trump have been thought of as a cleaner, brighter alternative? To which base values did he appeal?'
Turning to Charlottesville, Baines says that the 'brazen impunity' of the white supremacists there 'is only possible because the fascists believe they can get away with it – or might even get approval from the top'.
Baines adds that 'there are moments in history where a tipping point is reached and it matters that people stand up and challenge the danger. This is one of them. Charlottesville is only one (relatively small) town in an enormous country, and most of the USA will have been as horrified as the rest of us at what they witnessed this weekend; but, the images coming out of this one place become iconic of a deeper malaise. People are right to look for consistency in the rampant condemnations and criticisms of their President in his favoured medium Twitter. If he damns Islamic terrorists and wet liberals for their actions, we can expect him to damn right-wing militias and neo-Nazi criminals when they walk his streets and drive cars into ordinary people. Silence.'
I remain incredulous that evangelical Christian leaders, Bible in hand, can remain supportive of the President and administration that is corrupting their country. When will the Republican Party take responsibility, stop wringing their hands, and stand against this regime that will be able to do little without their support?'
Before I continue, let me disclose for the record, that I have my own Confederate ancestors through my maternal grandmother, a New Orleans belle in her youth. Not only were some of these family members of the past in the Confederate army (I would qualify for membership in the sons of Confederate Veterans if I were ever to apply, which I won't), but one was even a prisoner held in a Union prison camp in Michigan for a period of time. No one still living can comment on whether any of these ancestors were slave owners, but there is a good chance that they were.
I have read a great deal about the Civil War and the Southern effort to undo Reconstruction's empowerment of former slaves. Sadly, Virginia - which has so often been on the wrong side of history- was a leader in this effort. Thus, I am well aware of the horrible things done after Reconstruction ended and whites regained virtual total political, social, and economic control. Knowing the "real history" of the Old South and the Jim Crow era, there is no way I can support the Trump/Pence and alt-right effort to bring back the Jim Crow era and to exalt white privilege (no moral person can). I am also cognizant of the fact that the Confederate monuments now embroiled in controversy in Charlottesville and elsewhere were for the most part erected when Jim Crow laws were reaching their pinnacle. Their purpose? To intimidate blacks and to send the message that white privilege was untouchable. A piece in Mother Jones looks at this reality. Here are highlights:
[A]ll the way to 1890 there were very few statues or monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders.
[Here's an] oversimplified summary:
1861-1865: Civil War.
1865-1875: Reconstruction Era.
1875-1895: Reconstruction Era ends. Blacks are steadily disenfranchised, allowing Southern whites to enact Jim Crow laws. In 1896, Jim Crow is cemented into place when the Supreme Court rules it constitutional.
1895-1915: With blacks disenfranchised and Jim Crow laws safely in place, Southern whites begin a campaign of terror against blacks. Lynchings skyrocket, the KKK becomes resurgent, and whites begin building Confederate statues and monuments in large numbers.
1915-1955: Jim Crow reigns safely throughout the South.
1955-1970: The Civil Rights era starts after the Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education that Jim Crow laws are unconstitutional. Southern whites mount massive and violent resistance, and start putting up Confederate monuments again.
Yes, these monuments were put up to honor Confederate leaders. But the timing of the monument building makes it pretty clear what the real motivation was: to physically symbolize white terror against blacks. They were mostly built during times when Southern whites were engaged in vicious campaigns of subjugation against blacks, and during those campaigns the message sent by a statue of Robert E. Lee in front of a courthouse was loud and clear.
No one should think that these statues were meant to be somber postbellum reminders of a brutal war. They were built much later, and most of them were explicitly created to accompany organized and violent efforts to subdue blacks and maintain white supremacy in the South. I wouldn’t be surprised if even a lot of Southerners don’t really understand this, but they should learn. There’s a reason blacks consider these statues to be symbols of bigotry and terror. It’s because they are.
Too many have said "let the monuments remain, they are part of history." Sadly, they typically do not know all of the real history. The Old South was not the pretty picture of Gone With the Wind. Behind the beautiful plantation homes there was much suffering and brutality - some inflicted by falsely labeled "pragons of virtue" like Robert E. Lee. Even Lee's great grandson has said he id OK with the removal of the monuments.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
While Donald Trump's embrace of white supremacists and the KKK has been dominating the news headlines, special prosecutor Robert Mueller has been continuing his investigation of the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia and, perhaps most importantly, following the money in Trump's seemingly Russian financed projects where suspicions of money laundering abound. A very lengthy piece in The New Yorker looks at what Mueller may find and the possibility that Trump may yet try to fire Mueller if he gets too close to exposing the truth about the ugly underbelly of Trump's real estate empire. The article suggests that Trump has good reason to fear Mueller's scrutiny of his deals since many appear to (i) have ties to Kremlin cronies, and (ii) been structured to launder money. Here are article highlights:
Donald Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow recently told me that the investigation being led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, should focus on one question: whether there was “coördination between the Russian government and people on the Trump campaign.” Sekulow went on, “I want to be really specific. A real-estate deal would be outside the scope of legitimate inquiry.” If he senses “drift” in Mueller’s investigation, he said, he will warn the special counsel’s office that it is exceeding its mandate.[I]f Mueller and his team persist, Sekulow said, he might lodge a formal objection with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, who has the power to dismiss Mueller and end the inquiry. President Trump has been more blunt, hinting to the Times that he might fire Mueller if the investigation looks too closely at his business dealings.
Several news accounts have confirmed that Mueller has indeed begun to examine Trump’s real-estate deals and other business dealings, including some that have no obvious link to Russia. But this is hardly wayward. It would be impossible to gain a full understanding of the various points of contact between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign without scrutinizing many of the deals that Trump has made in the past decade. Trump-branded buildings in Toronto and the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan were developed in association with people who have connections to the Kremlin.
Other real-estate partners of the Trump Organization—in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and elsewhere—are now caught up in corruption probes, and, collectively, they suggest that the company had a pattern of working with partners who exploited their proximity to political power.
One foreign deal, a stalled 2011 plan to build a Trump Tower in Batumi, a city on the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia, has not received much journalistic attention. But the deal, for which Trump was reportedly paid a million dollars, involved unorthodox financial practices that several experts described to me as “red flags” for bank fraud and money laundering; moreover, it intertwined his company with a Kazakh oligarch who has direct links to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin. As a result, Putin and his security services have access to information that could put them in a position to blackmail Trump.
Trump did very little to develop the Batumi property. The project was a licensing deal from which he made a quick profit. In exchange for the million-dollar payment, he granted the right to use his name, and he agreed to visit Georgia for an elaborate publicity campaign, which was designed to promote Georgia’s President at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a business-oriented reformer who could attract Western financiers. The campaign was misleading: the Trump Tower Batumi was going to be funded not by Trump but by businesses with ties to Kazakh oligarchs, . . . few Western investors or brands were willing to put money into the country. Saakashvili himself was increasingly unpopular, and the Trump deal was meant to help salvage his reputation.
Virtually none of the things that Saakashvili and Trump said about the deal were true. The budget of the Trump Tower Batumi was not two hundred and fifty million dollars but a hundred and ten. Trump, meanwhile, could hardly have invested such a sum himself. He professed to be a billionaire, but a few months earlier an appeals court in New Jersey had shut down Trump’s legal campaign against Timothy O’Brien, the author of “TrumpNation,” which argued that Trump had wildly inflated his fortune, and was actually worth less than a quarter of a billion dollars. . . . The country’s economy was floundering, and shortly after Trump’s visit it was revealed that the government had been torturing political opponents.
The developer that had paid Trump and invited him to Georgia—a holding company known as the Silk Road Group—had been funded by a bank that was enmeshed in a giant money-laundering scandal. And Trump, it seemed, had not asked many questions before taking the money.
It would have taken only a Google search for the Trump Organization to discover that the Silk Road Group had received much of its funding from B.T.A. Bank, which, at the time of the Batumi deal, was mired in one of the largest fraud cases in recent history. The Silk Road Group had even been business partners with the central figure in the scandal: Ablyazov and the Silk Road Group were two of the owners of a bank in Georgia.
When I described to John Madinger, the retired Treasury official, the various entities and transactions involved in the funding of the Trump Tower Batumi, he said, “That is what you would expect to see in a money-laundering operation: multiple shell companies in multiple countries. It’s designed to make life hard for people trying to follow the transaction.”
With minimal due diligence, Trump Organization executives would have noticed that the Silk Road Group exhibited many warning signs of financial fraud: its layered and often hidden ownership, its ornate use of shell companies, its close relationship with a bank that was embroiled in a financial scandal. Trump’s visit to Georgia occurred while his company was making a series of similar foreign deals.
Trump had defaulted on loans multiple times, and nearly every bank in the U.S. refused to finance deals bearing his name. And so Trump turned to people in other countries who did not share this reluctance to give him money. In 2012 alone, the Trump Organization negotiated or finalized deals in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, India, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. . . . . According to former executives at the Trump Organization, the company lacked rigorous procedures for assessing foreign partners.
A month after Trump visited Georgia, he agreed to license his name to, and provide oversight of, a luxury hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, a deal that I examined in an article in The New Yorker earlier this year. Trump received several million dollars from the brother and the son of an Azerbaijani billionaire who was then the Minister of Transportation—a man who, U.S. officials believe, may have been simultaneously laundering money for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The Financial Action Task Force, headquartered in Paris, is led by representatives from thirty-seven nations. In 2007, the task force issued a report about the use of real-estate projects for money laundering. The report makes note of several red flags. It warns of “complex loans” in which businesses “lend themselves money, creating the appearance that the funds are legitimate.” It also warns of the use of offshore shell companies and tangled corporate legal structures, especially those in which third parties are hired to administer a company and conceal its true ownership. These intertwined companies can then trade property among themselves, in order to create inflated valuations: “An often-used structure is, for example, the setting up of shell companies to buy real estate.
The report states that money launderers often find that “buying a hotel, a restaurant or other similar investment offers further advantages, as it brings with it a business activity in which there is extensive use of cash.” Casinos—like the one planned for the Trump Tower Batumi—are especially useful in this regard.
So many partners of the Trump Organization have been fined, sued, or criminally investigated for financial crimes that it is hard to ascribe the pattern to coincidence, or even to shoddy due diligence. In criminal law, there is a crucial concept called “willful blindness”: a person can be convicted of a crime even if he was unaware of certain aspects of the crime in which he was engaged. In U.S. courts, judges routinely explain to juries that “no one can avoid responsibility for a crime by deliberately ignoring what is obvious.”
The Trump Organization, with its extensive experience in the luxury real-estate market, could surely sense that it would not be easy to enlist hundreds of wealthy people to buy multimillion-dollar condominiums in Batumi. I asked several New York real-estate developers to assess the proposed tower. One laughed and said that the Batumi deal reminded him of “The Producers,” the Mel Brooks movie about two charlatans who create a horrible musical designed to fail. Another New York developer, who spent years making deals in the former Soviet Union, told me, “A forty-seven-story tower of luxury condominiums in Batumi is an insane idea. I wouldn’t have gone near a project like this.”
Keith Darden is a political scientist at American University who has written extensively on the use of compromising information—kompromat—by former Soviet regimes against people they want to control. He told me that Kazakh intelligence is believed to collect dossiers on every significant business transaction involving the country. This would be especially true if a famous American developer was part of the deal, even if it would not have occurred to them that he might one day become the U.S. President. “There is no question—they know everything about this deal,” Darden said.
Darden explained that Kazakh intelligence agents work closely with their Russian counterparts.
Robert Mueller has assembled a team of sixteen lawyers. One of them is fluent in Russian, and five have extensive experience investigating and prosecuting cases of money laundering, foreign corruption, and complex financial conspiracies. The path from Trump to Putin, if one exists, might be found in one of his foreign real-estate deals.
When Mueller was appointed special counsel, his official writ was to investigate not just “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
When investigating a businessperson like Trump, “you have to follow the money and go wherever it leads—you must follow the clues all the way to the end.”
While Trump's embrace of white nationalists and white supremacists may well reveal the true Donald Trump, the ensuing media storm may be welcomed by Trump as a distraction that takes media attention off of his many questionable transactions.
Many continue to express shock at the behavior and statements of Donald Trump, yet I am dumbfounded by their claimed shock. One needed only to look back over Trump's career all the way back to when his companies were hit with civil rights law suits here in the Norfolk, Virginia, area for discriminating against blacks to know that the man has racists inclinations. Then of course, there is Donald Trump's arrest at a KKK rally in Queens, New York, in 1927 (Der Trumpenführer denies that the arrest happened even though documentation proves that it happened). Add to this Trump's embrace of birthers who were outraged by a black man occupying the White House. The evidence of Trump's foulness is available at every turn, including the course of his business dealings for decades. No one hid any of this. Instead, people simply chose to close their eyes and allow themselves to support a toxic, amoral man. To now plead surprise over Trump is to either admit that one is an idiot or a disingenuous liar. A column in the Washington Post looks at this reality:
President Trump’s initial response to events is always the truest expression of his outlook. The scripts that follow are post-facto damage control by his staff and never stick. In the case of Trump’s remarks on the horrific events in Charlottesville — his third go-around — he not only undid his aides’ handiwork but also confessed the words he read on Monday didn’t represent his true views.
“First, he tried to argue that he initially hesitated to condemn the explicitly racist elements at Charlottesville only because he didn’t have enough information to do so.” When has Trump ever required facts to make an assertion? Indeed, after three days he decided that the facts as we all had seen them — neo-Nazis and white nationalists chanting anti-Semitic statements, bearing tiki torches, engaged in street battles, and one of their ilk committing an act of domestic terrorism, killing one and injuring dozens — didn’t really matter. He alone was convinced there was equivalence between the neo-Nazi and the protesters objecting to the white supremacist message. . . . But only one side killed someone, right? Trump did not make that distinction.
And to top it off, he equated Robert E. Lee, who waged war against the United States and fought to continue enslavement of fellow-human beings, with George Washington. Plainly, the New York education system, Fordham University and Wharton School of Business have failed Trump, promoting him without ensuring that he possessed basic reasoning skills and a grasp of American history. But in these institutions’ defense, he is unteachable, we have learned.
Unless and until Republicans are willing to censure the president, withhold endorsement for a second term and vigorously pursue avenues for impeachment, they are wasting their breath and our time.
How bad was his press conference? Well, when you lose Fox News you might as well throw in the towel. ( “It’s honestly crazy for me to have to comment on this right now because I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life what I just watched. It was one of the biggest messes that I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it happened. . . . It shouldn’t be some kind of bold statement to say, ‘Yes, a gathering full of white supremacist Nazis doesn’t have good people in it. Those are all bad people, period.’”
We should be clear on several points. First, it is morally reprehensible to serve in this White House, supporting a president so utterly unfit to lead a great country. Second, John F. Kelly has utterly failed as chief of staff; the past two weeks have been the worst of Trump’s presidency, many would agree. He can at this point only serve his country by resigning and warning the country that Trump is a cancer on the presidency, . . .
Finally, Trump apologists have run out of excuses and credibility. He was at the time plainly the more objectionable of the two main party candidates; in refusing to recognize that they did the country great harm. They can make amends by denouncing him and withdrawing all support. In short, Trump’s embrace and verbal defense of neo-Nazis and white nationalists should be disqualifying from public service. All true patriots must do their utmost to get him out of the Oval Office as fast as possible.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
|St. Paul's Episcopal where people were trapped by torch carrying white supremacists and Neo-Nazis|
Today Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, threw aside his mealy mouthed condemnation of the KKK, white supremacists, and Neo-nazis during a press conference where he attacked the press, liberals and a creation of his disturbed imagination, the "alt-left." During the press conference, Trump made it clear that he prefers defending the white nationalists which comprise his most loyal base to recognizing the terror that they inflicted on residents of a generally peaceful small city.
I and 9 of my extended family members are alumni of the University of Virginia and a former brother -in-law was mayor of Charlottesville a number of years ago. The husband and I were in Charlottesville just a couple of months ago. My sister and her family live in Charlottesville. Bottom line: We know Charlottesville far better than Der Trumpenführer whose only contact has been his purchase of the former Kluge winery south of the city (where he employs foreign laborers rather than American employees).
A piece in Religion Dispatches gives a taste of what law-abiding residents suffered at the hands of Donald Trump's would be brown shirts and storm troopers. For those unfamiliar with Charlottesville, St. Pauls Episcopal Church referenced in the article (and pictured above) is located across the street from the north portico pf the Rotunda on the UVA campus. Here are article excerpts:
Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, an RD contributor . . . . is currently in Charlottesville, Virginia. . . . [She] was inside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Friday night when torch-bearing white supremacists surrounded the church, trapping congregants who had gathered for a prayer service ahead of Saturday’s planned “Unite the Right” rally. On Saturday, Henderson-Espinoza and Rev. Traci Blackmon were outside Emancipation Park offering prayerful presence and witness when neo-Nazis, fascists, and unhooded Ku Klux Klan members descended on the intersection, unleashing violence that caused the security detail protecting Blackmon and Henderson-Espinoza to literally yank Rev. Blackmon off-camera during a live interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid.
Just a few hours later and only blocks from where Blackmon and Henderson-Espinoza had been standing, counter-protestor Heather Heyer was dead and 19 others were injured in an act of domestic terrorism when a white supremacist rammed his Dodge Challenger through a packed crowd that was marching peacefully down a narrow street.
I spoke with Dr. Robyn on Monday morning, asking for their first-hand account of the chaos white supremacists unleashed on Charlottesville this weekend. Henderson-Espinoza was clear about the roots of this violence, and particularly the silence—from the Trump Administration and white clergy members—that continues to embolden neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and proud racists to terrorize communities. . .
We gathered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, for training and a legal briefing. And then we had an interfaith worship service. During that worship service, I was getting security briefings and updates that white supremacists were having their torch rally, and were moving toward the church. And that some of them were gathered outside the church.
So in the middle of a peaceful worship service, a prayer service for the city of Charlottesville, I was unable to be present in the work that I had been brought in to do because of safety concerns. . . . . Security became a real concern; not just for those of us who were in clergy-wear. . . . we could not release people into the streets, because white supremacists were gathering a block away.
It was unsafe for people to leave the church, so essentially, we were held hostage in a place of worship—and it was not safe.
These people [the white nationalists] were carrying bats as weapons, and sticks as weapons, and fire-burning tiki torches.
[W]hen antifa [anti-fascist] and other counter-protestors encountered nazis, it was just an outright battle. It was a war scene—a war zone. Also, let me make clear that without antifa and anarchists being present in the streets, I may have been killed at the hands of fascists and white supremacists. This is important. . . . . You had armed militia there, standing, with assault rifles—you know, the Three Percenters were there in their camouflage and assault rifles.
The nazi groups just kept coming and coming. This is an exaggeration, but it felt like there were a million nazis, to like, 100 counter-protestors. That’s an exaggeration, but I’m just saying, that the number of nazis compared to counter-protestors was unreal. I’m just like, where in the hell did all these people come from?
These people had literally taken over the fucking city, and were beating people up in their neighborhoods. What amazes me is that these white supremacists are filled with so much hate and rage, that they just dominated the city. And our current [White House] administration did not condemn white supremacy. They were complacent and silent about it, which means that our administration gave consent.
I think that that is what is so amazing to me: these people are filled with so much hate and rage, that they can’t just have a rally. They have to take over a city, colonize the city with their violence. And that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.
Charlottesville is hurt and broken. But this is not just about Charlottesville: this is a resurgence of white nationalism that is being supported by our current [White House] administration.
[W]hite people need to get real serious about the parasitic relationship between Christian supremacy and white supremacy. And if white clergy are preaching about social justice on Sunday mornings behind their pulpits, and refusing to get into the streets, to hold the hand of a dying person who has been pulverized by a car—or refusing to stand side-by-side with the antifa who were opposing the nazis, then they need to stop preaching about social justice on Sunday morning.
[M]y plea for white clergy, and for white people of conscience, is this: please take your body out of the safety of your worship places and your churches, and move into the streets. Please. People are dying. People are dying because white clergy, in particular, refuse to speak out against white supremacy and white nationalism.
And what that has done is create a religion of white nationalism. The liturgy of white nationalism is this culture of violence. And the outcome of that religion and liturgy is death.
I agree 100% with the remark about the ties between white Christian supremacy and white supremacy. If one does their research, almost every "family values" Christian organization traces back to ant-desegregation groups and, in some cases such as Family Research Council have leadership which has documented ties to white supremacy groups. Some may find it offensive, but when I see evangelical Christians I automatically assume that they are white supremacists until it is documented otherwise. As noted numerous times, here in Virginia, The Family Foundation traces directly to those who supported Massive Resistance and the maintaining of the Jim Crow laws.