Friday, August 18, 2017
Slowly some Republicans are condemning Donald Trump's defense of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis who perpetrated domestic terrorism in Charlottesville as "fine people." But for the most part, Republican elected officials are dancing around the issue and refusing to condemn Trump even as they make spineless remarks about opposing racism and Nazis. One radio host raised the question this way: what does it say about the GOP base that GOP senators, congressman and others are seemingly afraid to condemn such people because they fear it could hurt them at the ballot box. The sad truth is that for decades now - ever since Richard Nixon launched the "Southern Strategy" - the Republican Party has pandered to the people that Trump describes as "fine people." This pandering was once discrete and utilized dog whistle calls to racists. Trump - and here in Virginia, GOP gubernatorial primary candidate Corey Stewart - have made the calls explicit. The only thing that has changed is the willingness of more Republicans to explicitly pander to hate-filled people. A column in the New York Times looks at the phenomenon:
Donald Trump chose Trump Tower, the place where he began his presidential campaign, as the place to plunge a dagger into his presidency.Trump’s jaw-dropping defense of white supremacists, white nationalists and Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., exposed once more what many of us have been howling into the wind since he emerged as a viable candidate: That he is a bigot, a buffoon and a bully.
He has done nothing since his election to disabuse us of this notion and everything to confirm it. Anyone expressing surprise is luxuriating in a self-crafted shell of ignorance.
And yet, it seems too simplistic, too convenient, to castigate only Trump for elevating these vile racists. To do so would be historical fallacy. Yes, Trump’s comments give them a boost, grant them permission, provide them validation, but it is also the Republican Party through which Trump burst that has been courting, coddling and accommodating these people for decades. Trump is an articulation of the racists in Charlottesville and they are an articulation of him, and both are a logical extension of a party that has too often refused to rebuke them. [I]n the modern age one party has operated with the ethos of racial inclusion and with an eye on celebrating varied forms of diversity, and the other has at times appealed directly to the racially intolerant by providing quiet sufferance.
It is possible to trace this devil’s dance back to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the emergence of Richard Nixon. After the passage of the act, the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln to which black people felt considerable fealty, turned on those people and stabbed them in the back.
In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. . . . Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The era Ehrlichman referred to was the beginning of the War on Drugs. . . . . The object of disrupting communities worked all too well — more than 40 million arrests have been conducted for drug-related offenses since 1971, with African-Americans being incarcerated in state prisons for these offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that for whites, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 1970, Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times, “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”
The Republican Party wanted the racists. It was strategy, the “Southern Strategy,” and it too has proved wildly successful. From there this cancer took hold. . . . . the white supremacy still survives and even thrives in policy. The stated goals of the Republican Party are not completely dissimilar from many of the white nationalist positions.
If you advance policies like a return to more aggressive drug policies and voter suppression — things that you know without question will have a disproportionate and negative impact on people of color, what does that say about you?
People think that they avoid the appellation because they do not openly hate. But hate is not a requirement of white supremacy. Just because one abhors violence and cruelty doesn’t mean that one truly believes that all people are equal — culturally, intellectually, creatively, morally. Entertaining the notion of imbalance — that white people are inherently better than others in any way — is also white supremacy.
This is passive white supremacy, soft white supremacy, the kind divorced from hatred. It is permissible because it’s inconspicuous. But this soft white supremacy is more deadly, exponentially, than Nazis with tiki torches.
This soft white supremacy is the very thing on which the open racists build. The white nationalists and the Nazis simply take the next step (not an altogether illogical one when wandering down the crooked path of racial hostility) and they overlay open animus.
White supremacy, all across the spectrum, is what lights the way to the final step as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated in his “The Other America” speech in 1967:
“In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. And he ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about six million Jews. This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him, if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.”
Republicans, these people and this “president” are your progeny. That is the other inconvenient truth.
Perhaps as a gay man I am more conscious of the reality of what King said: Christofascists for years - and still - say that I and millions of others in the LGBT community do not deserve to exist. When one lives with this ever present atmosphere of hate lingering in the background, you become much more sensitive to all forms of hate and bigotry. Decent Republicans need to decide whether they will embrace white supremacy or leave the GOP. The GOP will not change from within, so do not delude yourselves.
Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie has been working hard to dupe Virginia voters into believing that he is a moderate who will not follow in the policy footsteps of Donald Trump, head of the Republican Party nationally. To accomplish this message of trickery and deceit, Gillespie has adopted a campaign website that is little more than vague generalities and a tired rehashing of GOP from 30 years ago. He offers nothing new. Worse yet, he is striving to hide the reality that, if elected, he will (i) slavishly follow the culture war dictates of The Family Foundation, Virginia's leading hate group with strong historical ties to white supremacy, and (ii) pander to the near 50% of the GOP electorate that voted for Corey Stewart who campaigned on a racist/pro-Confederacy platform. A piece in the Washington Post looks at how Der Trumpenführer is making things more difficult for Gillespie to hide the toxicity he would bring to the governor's mansion. Here are highlights:
Republican Ed Gillespie has been fighting to keep the focus of his campaign for Virginia governor on state issues and away from President Trump.
That task grew more challenging this week after Trump defended some of the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville and bashed efforts to remove Confederate statues — directly injecting national politics into the Virginia governor’s race.
Gillespie, a longtime GOP operative and former Republican National Committee chairman, repeatedly said this week there’s no moral equivalence between white nationalists and the counterprotesters who clashed with them in Charlottesville.
The GOP candidate tweeted that the views of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “have no redeeming value whatsoever. Simple as that” — without ever mentioning the president.
While Trump is highly unpopular in Virginia, and lost the state by five points to Hillary Clinton last year, Gillespie needs support from some Trump voters in November if he is to beat Democrat Ralph Northam, who has a slight lead on Gillespie in recent polls.
“Gillespie seems to be faced with one hurdle after another that Trump is actually placing in front of him in Virginia,” said Bob Holsworth, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University professor and longtime observer of state politics. “In each of these hurdles, he is trying not to directly criticize Trump, but to significantly distance himself in some fashion from Trump. That’s quite a tightrope to walk.”
Northam, and groups supporting him, have seized on Gillespie’s “silence” about Trump. “It’s disappointing to see that my opponent won’t stand up to the president when he’s so clearly been wrong,” said Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, in an interview. “The leader of our country needs to stand up to the white supremacists and say, ‘No more, stop it, go home and go back.’ Ed Gillespie needs to tell President Trump the same thing.” Vice President Pence abruptly canceled two political appearances he was scheduled to make in Virginia with Gillespie on Saturday; aides said he needed to keep his weekend flexible.
Those cancellations may ease optics for Gillespie, whose campaign declined to comment Thursday about Trump but indirectly criticized the president’s remark that there were “fine people” in the white nationalist rally.
One Republican operative unaffiliated with the Gillespie campaign said it would be a mistake for the candidate to talk about Trump. “I don’t think Ed is going to play the game of commenting on what Trump says or doesn’t say because if he does, my God, that’s the only thing he’ll answer for between now and the election,” said the operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about strategy. Gillespie is trying to stake out a middle ground: He opposes the removal of Confederate statues but says historical context should be added.
His efforts are complicated by Corey A. Stewart, who came within one percentage point of beating Gillespie for the GOP nomination in June by making the preservation of Virginia’s Confederate heritage a signature issue.
Stewart, who has launched a campaign to challenge U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D) with a similar strategy, appeared in a combative interview Thursday on CNN in which he repeatedly denounced the “violent left” and criticized Republicans for being too apologetic after Charlottesville for fear of being branded racists.
“I can only imagine Gillespie’s people would love to pay Corey Stewart to go away, have a vacation on a Caribbean island,” Kidd said.
Again, voters should not be fooled by Gillespie's mealy mouthed dance shuffles. The Virginia GOP nowadays stands for white supremacy, the disenfranchisement of minorities and the Christofascists agenda of The Family Foundation. This reality needs to be exposed and Gillespie needs to be forced to take a stand. He does not get to have it both ways.
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.