Thursday, July 19, 2018

Weird Coincidences? Or Does The R Stand For Russia or Republicans?

Are these very weird coincidences or something else?  You decide.

First, on Monday, the US Treasury department

said it planned to end requirements that certain tax-exempt organizations identify their financial contributors on their tax returns.

The decision means groups such as the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, and the AARP will no longer have to tell the IRS who’s giving them money.
This plan would make it easier for dark money to hide. 

Then,  on Wednesday, a Russian citizen, Maria Butina,  was  indicted for working as the agent of a foreign power in the US without registering as one, and perhaps for even spying.  She used the NRA (National Rifle Association) to infiltrate various conservative groups.  Her Russian handler is reported to be Alexander Torshin, a close ally of Putin who used to be a Russian senator.    And:

...the FBI reportedly is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the Trump campaign through the NRA—which backed Trump with a record $30 million.
There we see a reference to possible dark money, funneled through the NRA.

Another similar pairing caught my eye:

First, we have all been debating if Trump will ever admit that Russia meddled with the 2016 elections, but the rest of us know that Russia did exactly that, and plans to meddle in the 2018 elections, too.*

Then, this happened:

House Republicans plan to vote Thursday on a spending bill that excludes new money for election security grants to states, provoking a furious reaction from Democrats amid a national controversy over Russian election interference.
At issue is a grants program overseen by the federal Election Assistance Commission and aimed at helping states administer their elections and improve voting systems; Democrats want to continue grant funding through 2019, while Republicans say the program already has been fully funded.

The Republicans in the House are acting in a way which might lend itself to several explanations.  But the most obvious one is that they don't want to have the elections monitored too closely, because that would stop some plan which benefits them.

And, perhaps also coincidentally, all this is exactly what Vladimir Putin desires.  His foreign policy aims at causing distrust in democracy inside the so-called Western liberal countries and at creating mistrust in the government among their citizenry.


* The Washington Post wrote:

Officially, Russia admits nothing about interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections, but Kremlin-controlled state media is not as reserved in its messages designed for internal consumption. Russian state TV hosts brazenly assert, “Trump is ours,” and joke that the U.S. lawmakers traveled to Russia “to make deals with our hackers, so they can rig the midterms in favor of Trump’s team.” They gleefully anticipate that Putin will run circles around “political neophyte” Trump, “educating” him about world events from the Russian perspective.
I don't know if that lawmakers' visit was the one a group of Republicans made over the US Independence Day, but I wouldn't be at all surprised.  The optics, as people say these days, are terrible about making a trip like that on the fourth of July.  But nevertheless, eight Republican Congress critters did exactly that. 


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

How Trump Thinks. My Theory.

 Auguste Rodin:  Thinker

It's impossible for me not to try to understand Donald Trump's mind.  I think it's impossible for a lot of other people, too.  And so I have spent some time making up theories about how he sees the presidency, how he sees the elections and how he sees the press.

These theories do not rule out his narcissism, his megalomania, his unpredictability or his very thin skin, but one, in particular, tends to explain his behavior well. (Let me know what you think.)

Here's the gist of that theory:

Trump's thinking is rigid and concrete and linked to the cult of personality.  He sees the presidency as a dictatorship, and the elections as a way of picking the personal characteristics, beliefs and values of the winning candidate for the nation as a whole,   from that point onward. 

When Trump was declared the winner in November 2016, he interpreted the meaning of this as follows:

Everything he believes is now what America believes.  Because he was already known to hate the European Union when he won, Americans showed that they want a president who hates the European Union, and because he was already known to love Putin* when he won, Americans showed that they want a president who loves Putin. 

Trump doesn't have to learn anything more.  It could even be against the will of the people who wanted what Trump already was.

This theory explains why Trump is so angry with any media criticism and why he equates that media criticism with being an enemy of the country.  The country has  chosen him as the dictator, he and the country are now the same, and to criticize him indeed IS to criticize the country.  Besides, people elected his values, opinions and actions.

The theory also explains why Trump could not anticipate the severe kind of criticism he received after the meeting with Vladimir Putin.  He is now the personification of the country, and any criticism is treasonable, or at least fake news.

Last, but not least, the theory explains Trump's obsession with the 2016 elections.  Now, any president would dislike doubts about his (or, perhaps one day in a thousand years, her) legitimacy, but given Trump's thought patterns, those doubts present an incredible threat to him.  If he didn't win fair and square, then all of what he is was rejected.

* Now why he loves Putin is a different question.  It could be that Putin has something on Trump, or it could be that Trump simply worships warlords and dictators.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

And Then Trump Said:. Or On the Helsinki Meeting And Its Aftermath.

There's a reason
 for treason
and a season, 

That's as far as I have gotten with my political ditty for yesterday, to celebrate the Helsinki* meeting (Putin looking like a sleek gray cat playing with a large tufted orange cat-toy, enjoying its squealing and its skittering, moving a firm paw to redirect it when needed).

Now, treason is a strong word to use, a word we should handle carefully, a word like a red-hot rain of doom, not to be splashed over all the Internet in cat-sized letters.  Let's keep the powder dry for the day when it's really needed... 

And if we keep screaming that the sky is falling, who will believe us when it actually does fall?

By the way, did you notice when it fell?  That might have been some time in 2016.  We may not have a proper word for what happened, a word strong enough, but we all felt that seismic shift.

So take it for granted that I was joking about treason in the above paragraphs, or not**.  Besides,  Trump is still loyal to himself and for him loyalty to himself is loyalty to the country  (" l'état, c'est moi").

After the debriefing with Putin, Trump tweeted this:

And in the meeting itself:

... Mr Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to allegations of meddling in the 2016 presidential vote.
"President Putin says it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be," he replied.

Who are you gonna believe?  Your own intelligence agencies or Vlad the Impaler?

This is such fun (of the sinister kind):  Now Trump tells us that he misspoke, 24 hours ago,  and had meant to say he saw no reason why it was not Russia that meddled.

His aides got to him, to get that correction,  though it will be fun to see how long that restraining hold might stick.  Or perhaps (I'm bending over backward to be kind here), Trump decided to wait a full day before correcting a mistake that completely changed the meaning of the sentence, one with great political significance, too?

Trump's antics are like a newly-formed scab on a scratch or a cut.  I can never keep my paws off that scab, even though I know that I shouldn't remove it, just to see what's happening under it. 

But I always do.  And so I write about the Trump Reich when there's no real value in such writing.


*  Helsinki is pronounced HELsinki, not HelSINKi.  That was the one informative bit in this post.  You are welcome.

**  I'm learning from the master of manipulation here, our Dear Leader.  Meaning is always whatever one means at a particular moment, truth is what makes one feel good, and every opinion and value can change in the blink of an eye.  The later is why other countries love our Donnie:  He keeps things fresh, life exciting,  and people on their toe tips.

Monday, July 16, 2018

And Then The Incredible Offer!

This is such a hilarious time to be alive (in the tragic sense, of course).  Trump traveled to report to his liege-lord (at the Helsinki briefing) and all went well.  Putin even made an incredible offer about the twelve Russians who work(ed) for Putin's government  and who have now been indicted for interfering in American elections in 2016:
Trump said Monday that Putin made an “incredible offer” to allow US investigators work alongside Russian investigators.
“He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer,” Trump said.

I cannot stop laughing.  I sound like a hyena now.   I bet Putin cannot stop laughing, either.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekend Reading: Other News About Women And Religion Etc.

The news snippets in the post are collected over time.  Some are very recent, others are a little older, but they are all of some interest, even though the urgency of the Trump reality has pushed them aside. I have marked some items with a plus-sign and some items with a minus-sign, depending on whether I view the news good or bad.

1 (-)  There are all sorts of far right men's organizations today, such as the Proud Boys.  Its founder, Gavin Innes,  tells us that the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is great news for the patriarchy*.  By that Innes literally means that men have the power, women obey, and all women should really stay at home, under the leadership of their lord and master.   And part of that plan, of course, is the denial of reproductive rights for women.

It's bitterly hilarious how similar those goals are to the gender-related goals of ISIS, given that the US far right pretends to hate ISIS.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Trump Goes To Europe

I have been reading about Trump's European policies. They are a fun reminder of the fact that those who voted for Trump are getting closer to breaking the whole world.  I have been told that they wanted change, and change they are getting.  If the outcome in foreign politics is a bit like hiring a hurricane to redecorate the living-room, well, the client knew the decorator is a hurricane, right?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

We Cannot have Enough Laughs With Brett Kavanaugh

That would be the Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's choice to replace Anthony Kennedy who is retiring from the Supreme Court.  Kavanaugh is a Catholic conservative guy and a white guy.  Nothing wrong with being any of those things, of course, though it's a little weird that Catholics are 22% of the US population, but 55% of the Supreme Court Justices*.  On the other hand, the white guy over-representation** can be explained easily by noting that the Republican Party is largely ruled by white guys, and that the world is mostly ruled by guys.

Here are a few fun things about the way various pundits and media giants have approached the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh:

First, the august Gray Lady, the New York Times, rushed a fun opinion piece into print yesterday.  It tells us liberals why Kavanaugh is really good for us.  The Gray Lady posted something similar about Neil Gorsuch earlier:

I immediately thought of all little bunny rabbits getting an email explaining to them why smart foxes are much better representatives of their interests than stupid foxes. 

Second, Byron York, a conservative commentator, tells us that Brett Kavanaugh respects women:

BYRON YORK (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): On the women's issue, obviously a lot of women voted for Donald Trump and if you looked at that ceremony last night, there was a lot of talk about Brett Kavanaugh's respect for, relationships with women. He has two daughters, he coaches their basketball teams. He reveres his mother, who is a teacher who went to law school and then became a judge. He talked a lot about the role of women in his life and the important roles that they play, women of accomplishment. He talked about hiring clerks, a majority of whom were women in his role as a circuit court of appeals judge. So there are two sides to that angle and I think you will hear a lot about Brett Kavanaugh's respect for women. 

Bolds are mine.

I come out in a nettle rash whenever I see the word "respect" applied to large demographic groups, not to something an individual has achieved or said,  because there's usually a hidden intention in that, more clearly put in this quote from the Turkish dictator, Recep Erdogan, in 2014:

"You cannot put women and men on an equal footing," he told a meeting in Istanbul. "It is against nature."


Women cannot do all the work done by men, he added, because it was against their "delicate nature".
"Our religion regards motherhood very highly," he said. "Feminists don't understand that, they reject motherhood."
He said women needed equal respect rather than equality.

And also from Erdogan in 2014:

“Our religion [Islam] has defined a position for women: motherhood,” Erdoğan said at a summit in Istanbul on justice for women, speaking to an audience including his own daughter Sumeyye.
“Some people can understand this, while others can’t. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.”
He recalled: “I would kiss my mother’s feet because they smelled of paradise. She would glance coyly and cry sometimes.
“Motherhood is something else,” he said, claiming that it should be a woman’s priority because Islam exalts women as mothers.

Bolds are mine, again.  Note the similar references to respect and to reverence.  Note the similar absence of equality of men and women as a possibility.

I also get these allergic reactions whenever I see the argument that societies should preserve "women's dignity."  The Catholic conservatives often use that formulation, presumably because it would be terribly undignified to see a woman attempt something and then see her flop on her face, maybe with her knickers showing.  So better not to let her try.   — The religious conservatives never speak about "men's dignity."

So, to translate all that into the world of bunny rabbits and foxes:  As long as the bunny rabbits act like nice little bunny rabbits, they will be respected and revered before being fricassed.

Enough with the fun stuff.  What's the planned role of Brett Kavanaugh***?

Your guess is as good as mine, but he just might be designed to guarantee that Roe v. Wade will be killed a slow death, with the thousand loving cuts by a conservative knife.  That's because a quick overturning Roe v. Wade would probably not be good for Republican votes.  Many single-issue (forced-birth) voters might then not bother to vote at all or might even vote for Democrats, and some women might even get a bit angry.

But those kinds of delicate manipulations are difficult to achieve, so we might just be prepared to kiss federal abortion rights a nice goodbye.  They are dead in practice in many areas already.


*  Or more, if we count by religious upbringing rather than what church the Justice currently belongs to, because Justice Neil Gorsuch  grew up as a Catholic but now attends an Episcopalian church. 

The over-representation of Jewish people is even larger, given that the percentage of Jewish Justices currently on the bench is  33% while Jews are 1.9% or 2% of the US population, though it's important to remember that the representation of small population groups in such small samples (n=9) cannot match their population percentages, except on average,  over exceedingly long time periods.  Indeed, even one Justice who is, say, Native American, would over-represent that demographic group while on bench. 

More generally, to evaluate the representativeness of these choices we would need to have data on the religions of all people who have legal training and experience sufficient to qualify them for the bench.

Still, it's fair to point out that the overall number of women who have ever served on the Supreme Court is dismally small, compared to the fact that women are one half of the general population.

And yes, I am aware of the No Religious Test clause.  It's still of some concern to note that so many men on the bench are conservative Catholics, given that the Catholic Church does not approve of abortion or even of contraception.  Access to contraception is an absolute prerequisite for women's social, political and economic equality. 

** Trump has been appointing white men into the judiciary at rates not seen for thirty years:

So far, 91 percent of Trump's nominees are white, and 81 percent are male, an Associated Press analysis has found. Three of every four are white men, with few African-Americans and Hispanics in the mix. The last president to nominate a similarly homogenous group was George H.W. Bush.

The group that is qualified for those jobs, especially when they must also be Republicans,  is probably whiter and more male than the general population.  But that alone doesn't explain the tilt Trump is bringing back.  As a reminder,  white men are roughly 32% of Americans in general, but 55% of the Justices on the bench.

***  Some cynical people say that Trump picked him because Kavanaugh might now be open to the idea that a sitting president might be exempt from criminal prosecution.  Should come in handy if Trump is found guilty in the Mueller investigation and then appeals that finding to the Supreme Court.  Well, a goddess can dream of something like that happening, though it will not.