Saturday, March 31, 2018

Mueller makes two points: Manafort had active ties to Russia and don't mess with the special counsel

UNITED STATES - JULY 12: GOP nominee Donald Trump, flanked from left by campaign manager Paul Manafort, and daughter Ivanka Trump, checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday July 21, 2016. (File Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
Trump, Manafort, Trump
Documents filed on Tuesday in connection with the indictment of Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan give some fresh insight into the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Among the information made public: A business associate of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had a direct connection to Russian intelligence—and that includes during the 2016 campaign.
Manafort, 68, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and tax and bank fraud charges related to his lobbying work for a Russian-friendly political party in Ukraine and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. …
Prosecutors made the allegation without naming the Manafort associate but described his role with Manafort in detail. The description matches the Russian manager of Manafort’s lobbying office in Kiev, Konstantin Kilimnik.
The associate, named in court documents as “Person A,” is described as a former GRU (the main military foreign-intelligence service of the Russian Federation) officer—a description that fits Kilimnik.
During Kilimnik’s time working for Manafort in Kiev, he had served as a liaison for Manafort to the Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, with whom Manafort had done business. Emails previously described to The Post show that Manafort asked Kilimnik during the campaign to offer Deripaska “private briefings” about Trump’s effort.
According to the court documents, “Person A” was in communication with Manafort and Gates during the 2016 campaign and had continued contact with Manafort’s former associates in Ukraine.

The second item revealed is no surprise: Robert Mueller is seriously invested in the idea that lying to the special counsel’s office should generate more than a slap on the wrist. 

Alex van der Zwaan seems on the surface like a very small player in the whole Trump-Russia investigation. But there’s a difference between his indictment last month on charges of lying to investigators and similar charges against Rick Gates, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos—van der Zwaan is not a cooperating witness. He’s just … indicted.

And despite claims that van der Zwaan wants to get this behind him and get home to his pregnant wife, Robert Mueller doesn’t seem in a hurry to signal that he’ll overlook van der Zwaan’s actions.
In court papers filed late Tuesday, special counsel Robert Mueller's office argued that a judge shouldn't rule out jail time for Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who pleaded guilty to lying to prosecutors and the FBI in the Russia investigation.
Van der Zwaan’s indictment may not have come with an agreement to testify, but it did come as part of a plea deal that allowed van der Zwaan to avoid additional charges based on multiple instances of lying to investigators and withholding documents pertinent to the investigation. While van der Zwaan’s attorney’s are arguing that his indictment should carry the minimum sentence—a fine and no jail time—the special counsel has a particular reason to see van der Zwaan cooling his heels for at least a few months.
"The defendant was expressly warned by the government that it is a crime to lie to the Special Counsel’s Office, that lying could constitute a federal crime, and that such conduct would carry with it the possibility of going to jail if he were convicted. van der Zwaan stated that he understood. He thereafter deliberately and repeatedly lied," they wrote.
He was warned, but he persisted … in lying to the special counsel’s office. Which is not the kind of behavior that any special counsel is going to take lightly. After all, there are still a lot of people who haven’t taken their turn in Mueller’s chair, and they should all know that not telling the truth there carries serious consequences.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Abbreviated pundit roundup: Trump's lawyers make a mess of things


We begin today’s roundup with Margaret Hartmann’s analysis of the clown show that is Michael Cohen and his lawyer:
From his assertion that marital rape is legal to his insistence that a $130,000 preelection payment to Stormy Daniels doesn’t violate campaign finance laws because he paid it himself (which might actually be a bigger campaign finance violation), President Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen has offered up ample evidence that he’s not the sharpest legal mind. That makes sense, as Cohen was hired years ago to be Trump’s ultraloyal “fixer,” not an expert in litigation involving the president.
However, that doesn’t explain why Cohen’s attorney and spokesperson, David Schwartz, is doing such a poor job defending his client in the media — unless he was hired to be Trump’s fixer’s fixer, not someone with a good grasp on the law. [...]
But that’s not all. Later in the interview Schwartz suggested Cohen regularly set up these sorts of agreements without telling his client — which seems to back up reports that Trump’s attorneys “took care” of dozens of women during the campaign.
Callum Borchers at The Washington Post:
Take, for example, lawyer Michael Cohen's $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump, beginning in 2006: In an elaborate act of distancing, the president has left the talking to White House spokesmen, who have referred reporters' questions to Cohen, who has hired his own lawyer and spokesman, David Schwartz, who told CNN on Wednesday night and NBC on Thursday morning that Trump did not know about the payment for Daniels's silence. Follow that? Good.
“No one believes that, David,” NBC's Megyn Kelly told Schwartz.
“Lots of people believe it,” Schwartz countered.
If future evidence were to contradict Schwartz, Trump could add another layer of know-nothingness, contending that he did not know what someone so far down the chain would say about the president's lack of knowledge. The plausible deniability in the Daniels saga is truly dizzying.
Next, The New York Times writes about the shakeup at the VA, with the appointment of Dr. Ronny Jackson as head of the department:

The man Dr. Jackson would replace as head of this long-troubled department, David Shulkin, whom Mr. Trump fired on Wednesday, was the highest-ranking holdover from the Obama administration and among the few Trump cabinet members with demonstrated ability at their jobs.
Dr. Shulkin had strong bipartisan support in Congress — he was confirmed 100 to 0 by the Senate — and was backed by almost all veterans groups.
He guided important legislation through Congress, a rare accomplishment for this White House. These laws led to an expansion of the G.I. Bill for post-9/11 veterans, an easier process to remove bad employees and quicker appeals on disability benefits.
The department’s inspector general found “serious derelictions,” though, in the way Dr. Shulkin spent his time and taxpayer money during a European trip, during which he had improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon. That’s a serious problem. But it’s laughable to think that this would be a disqualification for a president for whom corruption is a continuing business model and who has watched some cabinet members treat self-dealing as a perk.
Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast:

Dan Scavino started off as Trump’s golf caddy, and ended up an assistant to the president. Hope Hicks did PR for Ivanka’s fashion line before becoming White House communications director. At one point, Trump put his personal pilot on the shortlist to head the Federal Aviation Administration. And I don’t think I need to reiterate the fact that Trump’s advisers also include his daughter and son-in-law. [...]
The last thing we need is to risk another “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie” moment in the V.A. Haven’t these poor veterans been through enough already?
Trump likes to govern from the gut, but his hiring decisions of late seem to cut against what might have been a strength for him—his promise to “hire the best” people. The problem is the way Trump defines “the best.” It’s not people who have experience or expertise—qualities that might cause someone to occasionally think for themselves. It’s trusted loyalists.
Matthew Walther at The Week explains how flattery of the president is the top requirement for a cabinet position:

It's really not that complicated. If you or I appeared on Fox and Friends tomorrow and said that Trump's golf swing was looking terrific, we would probably find ourselves getting appointed ambassador to the Seychelles or Martinique or secretary of the National Endowment for the Humanities sometime next spring. [...]
The fact that Jackson has been nominated by the president for cartoonishly self-involved reasons doesn't mean he is going to do a bad job at the VA. Jackson is by all accounts a good doctor and a decent man.
When he was mocked by Saturday Night Live for his press conference, he was defended by former colleagues in the Obama administration. "There is no one better than Ronny. No one. He is a saint and patriot," said Alyssa Mastromonaco, one of Obama's deputy chiefs of staff.
But there is also no reason to expect that he will be successful. If he fails it might not even be his fault. So right now he seems like a sensible competent adult professional? Yawn. Everyone said the same things about John Kelly, who now spends his days pretending that domestic violence is no big deal and firing cabinet secretaries while they are on the toilet.
 And don’t miss Eugene Robinson’s take on the matter:

The man Trump has named to become secretary of veterans affairs, Ronny L. Jackson , happens to be the president’s personal doctor. More to the point, given Trump’s perpetual hunger for sycophancy, is the fact that Jackson showered the president with hyperbolic Dear-Leader-style praise during a widely viewed television appearance in January. [...]
[I]t should be hard to get a job running any organization as big, complex and vital as the Department of Veterans Affairs. Perhaps Jackson has an innate genius for management that awaits only the opportunity to flower. If not, Trump will be doing a grave disservice to men and women who are owed the nation’s thanks and gratitude.

Knoll Wildfire grows to 70 acres

Payson, AZ, March 31, 2018 —For Immediate Release.
  • Approximately 13 miles northeast of Payson
  • Nearest town is Payson, Arizona

Start Date:      March 30, 2018     Size:      70 acres        Percent Contained:  0%
Cause:   Initial investigation indicates this wildfire was human caused by fireworks.  Fireworks are ALWAYS illegal on all National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico.

Summary:  The Knoll Wildfire has grown to approximately 70 acres, and continues to burn in brush, juniper and ponderosa pine near Robert’s Mesa.  Firefighting resources include three 20-person crews, 8 engines, 1 dozer, 5 water tenders, 1 airtanker and 1 light helicopter. The public is asked to stay away from this area to allow firefighters to concentrate on suppressing this wildfire.

This new fire comes at the end of Wildfire Awareness Week and demonstrates why the wildfire community continues to stress that Arizona is in a drought and it only takes one spark to start a wildfire.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Conservatives belittle marchers—while the NRA peddles conspiracy theories about them

As the nationwide fury over flimsy national gun laws continues, the National Rifle Association insists they are not, in fact, the conspiracy-peddling domestic terrorism lobby that their critics have declared them to be. As evidence of their non-crackpot, non-violence-defending stances, they spent the last week promoting lunatic conspiracy theories about the marchers with claims that they are the "violent" ones, and that it's not that American students have their own burning desire to not be murdered in school, it's that a secret cabal of "Hollywood elites" are tricking them into it.
“Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous,” the post declared. “Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”
This should be further evidence that whatever the group once was, it is now merely a violence-peddling, conspiracy-mongering cult. Organization literature and videos regularly promote lunatic theories of so-and-so coming to take your guns, or of terrorists appearing suddenly at your doorstep, or hint darkly of the need, possibly soonish, to take up arms against our nation's own government and start murdering people if the cult feels some future law has slighted them one too many times.

At this point this includes belittling survivors of actual shootings, because of course it does. And as always, the only "solution" any of the cult members will tolerate is the one where more people are doing shooting:
In another NRA TV clip posted Thursday, Noir had harangued the Parkland survivors, saying “no one would know your names” if someone with a gun had stopped the shooting at their school. “These kids ought to be marching against their own hypocritical belief structures,” Noir said, adding: “The only reason we’ve ever heard of them is because the guns didn’t come soon enough.”
It is a cult. It is a lobby for gun violence, specifically. It is a garbage fire with membership cards.

Other conservatives also seem eager to throw themselves onto that pyre. Fox News summoned up the ghost of Mary Rosh himself to grouse that intolerance for school murders was the new "in thing", among celebrities; he spent his time pretending at not knowing the difference between semi-automatic rifles and others, while at the same time praising the semi-automatic versions for their more efficient lethality.

Television half-pundit Rick Santorum used to be an actual senator, a long time ago.

Now he exists only as evidence of a decaying media landscape dedicated more to sensationalism than to either news or the needs of the nation. The "news network" CNN pays him to come on television and say outrageous things, which they then can peddle as news of itself: the frothy mixture was perfectly willing to oblige with his own dismissal of student marchers. Why are you marching, and demanding laws?

Why not shut up and learn to be more responsible victims?
“How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations where there is a violent shooter?” Santorum said.
Before you get angry with Rick Santorum for being, well, whatever that is, take a breath: redirect that anger to CNN, which pays this tediously unearnest and otherwise unemployable pie-tosser to be an asshole on television so that they have something to talk about. Rick Santorum doesn't know a goddamn thing about gun violence. Rick Santorum couldn't care less if 17 Florida high schoolers were shot dead on a given day or 1700. Rick Santorum has less to offer, in this conversation, than nearly anyone else in the country.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

For a moral future, take Congress away from men


By George Templeton
Rim Country Gazette Columnist

“Me Too” Reveals Stormy Seas
The Way We Were:  Where have you gone, Brigitte Bardot?  A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  And God created woman, they say.  Why have you left and gone away?

The Way We Are:  You’re going to need an ocean of calamine lotion, the minute you start to mess around.

The Way We Should Be:   Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding, no more falsehoods or derisions.
The Way We Were 
It is natural for women to have the role of bearing children and raising the family.  It is the life they were made for.  It requires a large investment of time and energy.  Perhaps this is the reason why men have always tried to keep women in their place.  It is why we survived.  The Bible records it.

For indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake”.  “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man.”   “Do not give your strength to women.” 

It’s Not Nice
“How can he be clean who is born of woman?”

Devil Woman
The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate."

“But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.”

“For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”

The Faithful Word Baptist Church advocates that women’s duties are to behave themselves and be good wives and mothers.  “Women who have ideas and questions should not speak out.  They should not have the right to vote or have any say in running our country.  They should ask their husband.  They do not have the right to rebel and disobey him, or to get a job and make their own money.  When women are allowed to dress like men it makes them act like men.”

Conviction and rationality are not mutually exclusive, but it is important to keep questions of faith and science separate.  Empirical evidence can never resolve questions of value.

Men aspire to power over women, but women have an important social and political role to play, as told by the book of Esther.  She was a beautiful woman who rose to the apex of political power, saving the Jewish nation.  Failure to recognize female power caused the downfall of the Ottoman Empire.  What better way is there to smother the future than to confine the women who raise their children?  Thousands of years have softened our views, but now women’s rights and their privileged treatment are in conflict.
The Way We Are
It seems that the mind and the soul cannot be explained by brain scans.  Our brains are plastic and can be rewired.  We don’t know whether what we see causes our behavior or reflects our experience.  We don’t know what is innate, created by God, an evolutionary thread, or learned.

With luck, bacteria are potentially immortal, but multiplying by dividing was not enough.  Life found a way in a billion years.  Sex was the answer, but it also required death.  It is the ultimate loss of innocence.  We are condemned to die as a condition of our birth.  It is one of the tools the Almighty uses to shape a fetus.  As it grows, parts of it have to commit suicide to be replaced by essential ones, like hands, ears, and the central nervous system.  Programmed death (apoptosis) is necessary for life.  It is why parrots live longer than dogs.  This is the additional information needed to explain the fall and death in the Garden of Eden story, but it cannot account for consciousness.
Sex’s Demise  
Our behaviors differ more in degree than in kind.  The permutations and combinations of sex, sexuality, and gender result in a wide range of ambiguous characteristics.  If you are old enough, you remember the ukulele player, Tiny Tim, who sang Tiptoe through the Tulips, and was married to Miss Vicky on The Tonight Show.  With that in mind, we turn to common thought.

She Too
The modern woman is:  accepting, nurturing, emotional, passive, naive, choosy, and flirtatious.  She uses non-verbal forms of communication to invite others.  C.S. Lewis wrote, “Even to see her walk across the room is a liberal education.”

He Too
Caring, loving men are viewed as feckless.  Self-examination is a weakness.  Males are: confident, aggressive, authoritarian, assertive, hasty, undiscriminating, insensitive, and ambitious.  They communicate to command and enhance status.  Commercialized sexuality was their idea.  Their arrogant pride wins the approval of other men and the adoration of women.

What Are Our Differences?
Society believes that women are the cause of social conflict.  When they go wrong, men go after them!  Men are more valuable because they “float the boats up”.  Now, men fear women, but only a few of them will lose their jobs.

There are differences between men and women, but they are controversial.  A book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, claimed that relationship problems between men and women result from fundamental differences.  Ethel Mertz, on the I Love Lucy show, explained, “Just because we’re married to men doesn’t mean we’ve got anything in common with them.”  It is not what you are that counts.  It’s what they think you are.

“Why don't women need driver's licenses?  It is because there are no roads between the laundry room and the kitchen!”  Finally, in June, women will be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.    

In Italy, it is a complement to pinch an unsuspecting girl’s bottom if you say “Scusami”.  Does leniency encourage depravity?  Women contribute to it when they advertise their readiness.  How she looks is not what she is.

Does a young girl who uses make-up advertise?  In the fifties, a girl who wore pants to school would be sent home.  In the sixties, some ladies wore mini-skirts and panty hose to work.  It was fashion, politics, and philosophy.  Peer pressure to conform leads to expected behaviors and appearances.

There is a difference between appreciation, harassment, and rape.  The assignment of meaning is up to the woman, who should never be objectified or treated as a means to an end.

A Double Standard
Women have been unequal, in voting, controlling their own bodies, and getting equal pay for equal work.  The sudden proliferation of sexually harassed females in the news does not signal the end of patriarchy.  Men will still run the world.  Instead of marginalizing women, men should show support.

We need to look no further than the priests, preachers, coaches, congressmen, and the very pinnacle of power to find opportunists.  They succeed once in their conquest and from then on, like Pavlov’s dogs, they salivate at every possible opportunity.  They no longer respect the special dignity of women.  Lustful men think about women’s bodies, while shameless women market their own.

In India, I watched a television program where a portly old man, with a monocle eyepiece and a watch on a gold chain, is chauffeured in a Rolls Royce to a poverty stricken teen-age girl’s rock pile house.  The two of them dance a Hindu ritual, with arms waving every which way, before he whisks her off to happiness.  Wealth and power sways a young girl’s heart. 

Consent is what it is all about.  Women are getting fed up.  They recognize that there is also a tide in their affairs which must be taken at the flood or lost forever.  In some cases they have held their anger inside for twenty years or more and now the unfairness of their life-changing disparagement finally explodes.  Now, the Time’s Up movement has established a legal defense fund for women who feel that the organizations employing them are guilty of systemic sexual harassment, assault, or abuse.

Men have little to lose by being promiscuous.  Some women feel that it is not the men in their life that counts.  It is the life in their men.  When culture changes, consequences are different, and so will be gender behaviors.
The establishment is a good old boys’ club.  They support the members of their tribe, accept misbehavior, and just look the other way.  Power distorts vision.  There is an unwritten code.  It is the difference between the actual and the mythical.  Prejudice is communicated by a loaded word, a look, and a smile.  It is politically but not gender correct.

Leaders dictate their values to everyone.  In the 1950’s no politician could be elected who had been divorced.  Statesmanship, intellect, and civility were prerequisites.  It seems that what man believes is what God believes!  Trump, the president accused by more than a dozen women, was God’s choice.  He had to be, because of his misogyny, lack of empathy, egocentrism, deep superficiality, and infatuation with force.  For him, sex is nothing more than a business transaction.  His personal success qualifies him as our national role model.  But are his values what America wants to see when she looks in her rear view mirror?  The majority of white women voted for him.  He represents what they stand for.  They like naughty boys!

The Way We Should Be
By 2030, one in five residents will be older than age 65 and deaths will outpace births.  By 2025 the number of elderly over age 65 will be eighty percent more than in the year 2000.  Younger people paying the taxes that support the elderly will not grow without immigration.  Anti-immigration policies reduce the nursing assistants, home health care aids, and personal care attendants that fill the low-pay jobs that make eldercare feasible.  Block grants and per capita caps focus on reducing Medicaid funding instead of needs.  Reckless tax cuts and irresponsible budgets injure America.

Where do you draw the line between thinking what you want and acting on your thoughts?  Our current politics is more interested in who makes the rules than what the rules are.  Thomas Jefferson reminded us, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”  We don’t want a society that is not human, that mistreats people.  We need to reward freedom of conscience, our highest common denominator, and hope that there will be enough people who care for one another to sustain our society and form of government.  Will ignoring women and the elderly make America great?  Does putting America first mean putting them last?  Would leadership become empathetic and compassionate with females in power?  If we want change, if we hope for a more moral future, we will have to take congress away from men.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

John Paul Stevens: Repeal the Second Amendment

A musket from the 18th century, when the Second Amendment was written, and an assault rifle of today. Credit Top, MPI, via Getty Images, bottom, Joe Raedle/Getty Images .

Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect. They reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of schoolchildren and others in our society.

That support is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms. But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.

For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation. In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated militia.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned Chief Justice Burger’s and others’ long-settled understanding of the Second Amendment’s limited reach by ruling, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that there was an individual right to bear arms. I was among the four dissenters.

That decision — which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable — has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.

That simple but dramatic action would move Saturday’s marchers closer to their objective than any other possible reform. It would eliminate the only legal rule that protects sellers of firearms in the United States — unlike every other market in the world. It would make our schoolchildren safer than they have been since 2008 and honor the memories of the many, indeed far too many, victims of recent gun violence.