March 27, 2017

The Russian connection

The FBI cannot tell us what we need to know about Trump’s contacts with Russia because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting mobsters tied to Putin — and to Trump. But the Feds’ stonewalling risks something far more dangerous: Failing to resolve a crisis of trust in America’s president. WhoWhatWhy provides the details of a two-month investigation

Washington Times - President Donald Trump's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, met with the CEO of Russia's state-owned Vnesheconombank in December 2016, The New York Times reported. The meeting — which had not previously been disclosed and came on the heels of Kushner's meeting with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, at Trump Tower — recently caught the eye of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election and whether any members of Trump's campaign were complicit.

Kislyak reportedly orchestrated the meeting between Kushner and Vnesheconombank CEO Sergey N. Gorkov, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2016 as part of a restructuring of the bank's management team, Bloomberg reported last year. Gorkov, who graduated from the Federal Security Service (FSB) Academy of Russia in 1994, was the vice-president of Russia's state-controlled Sberbank before joining Vnesheconombank.

Putin first revamped Vnesheconombank, known as Russia's bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs, in 2007. The Russian leader turned it into "a pillar of his Kremlin-driven economy at the height of the oil boom" and took "personal control over key lending decisions," according to Bloomberg, which characterized it as "the bank that financed Vladimir Putin’s grandest ambitions."

Between 2012 and 2014, Vnesheconombank was used as cover for Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov as he attempted to recruit New York City residents as intelligence sources for Moscow, according to the Department of Justice.

Daily Kos - While Donald Trump was begging the Russians to dig into Hillary Clinton’s email, and members of Trump’s staff were possibly in collusion with the Russian government to feed Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, the RNC was taking its own extraordinary approach to finding dirt—and amazingly, it also had a Russian connection. As the general election was taking shape last summer, the Republican National Committee initiated a series of payments to a low-profile firm started by retired Central Intelligence Agency officers that worked closely with an ex-Russian spy. The payments attracted attention in political and intelligence circles, largely because the Virginia-based firm, Hamilton Trading Group, had particular expertise in Russia, which was emerging as a major campaign issue at the time.

Huffington Post - House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) met a source on White House grounds last week, one day before he alleged that President Donald Trump and his team were subjected to surveillance during the final months of the Obama administration. Nunes met the source on White House grounds in order to view sensitive information in a “secure location,” Jack Langer, Nunes’ communications director, said Monday in a statement, CNN first reported... The revelation about Nunes adds to speculation that he coordinated with Trump’s team before making allegations about the previous administration’s information-gathering. 

The Trump administration was silent for hours after Russia arrested hundreds of protesters. Thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest corruption under President Vladimir Putin, and the police cracked down. The Trump administration had no comment for 12 hours.

Time - Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law, will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. "Throughout the campaign and transition, Jared Kushner served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials. Given this role, he has volunteered to speak with Chairman [Richard] Burr's Committee, but has not yet received confirmation," a White House official told TIME.

Kushner, one of Trump's top advisers, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, along with Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired after he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his discussions with Kislyak. Kushner also met with Sergey Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank, Russia’s state-owned development bank, the New York Times reported.

Daily Beast - The Senate Intelligence Committee will have its time in the spotlight this week as it holds its first open hearings on prior Russian “active measures” and influence operations in the world. The panel has been essentially quiet on the progress of its investigation since it was announced in January.

The investigation has remained bipartisan, with members of both parties continuing to support the ongoing probe, and without any of the bickering that has characterized the House’s efforts.

“This is the most important thing that I’ve ever done in my public life,” said Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. “We know that the Russians massively interfered in our elections… And we have the series of people that are very closely affiliated with the president who’ve had extensive ties with Russia.”

Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee investigation continues to reel after its independence and credibility were badly undercut last week.

A divisive hearing with the FBI director led to the revelation that the bureau was undertaking an ongoing investigation into ties between Trump associates and Russia. Committee Chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, held a shocking press conference in which he announced that Trump transition officials were “incidentally” surveiled, and then briefed the White House before his own committee.

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The return of real Christians

Reuters - Since President Donald Trump's election, monthly lectures on social justice at the 600-seat Gothic chapel of New York's Union Theological Seminary have been filled to capacity with crowds three times what they usually draw.

In January, the 181-year-old Upper Manhattan graduate school, whose architecture evokes London's Westminster Abbey, turned away about 1,000 people from a lecture on mass incarceration. In the nine years that Reverend Serene Jones has served as its president, she has never seen such crowds.

"The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action," she said.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the "religious left" is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.

This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump's policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

"It's one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn't done a good job of organizing," said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York.

"It has taken a crisis, or perceived crisis, like Trump's election to cause folks on the religious left to really own their religion in the public square," Hornbeck said.

North Carolina's bathroom fetish could cost it billions

The Hill - North Carolina's "bathroom bill" will cost the state more than $3.76 billion over the next dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis.

The law, which requires that people use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificates, has already resulted in lost business.

Several artists have pulled out of concerts scheduled in North Carolina, and the NCAA avoided the state as a host site for its annual basketball tournament.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said he has spoken with business leaders who have decided to conduct projects in other states. "Companies are moving to other places because they don't face an issue that they face here," he told a World Affairs Council of Charlotte luncheon last month, according to the AP.

The sin of crayons

Catherine Malley, Bad Ass Teachers  Association -  Crayons are illegal today, classroom contraband, reeking of play.

My box of new September crayons: Flawless, sharp tipped, begging to escape their yellow and green striped Crayola box. Each color was perfectly placed in the spectrum: red, maroon, scarlet, brick red and my favorite, magenta. Magenta fell somewhere in the purples, but it was rarely returned to its identified space. At seven, I revered the fuchsia hue, utilizing it at every opportunity to color lips, tulips, and princess gowns.

Now my second grade students’ crayons maintain their sleek points most of the year. They are rarely used for any length of time. Crayons are illegal, especially when they are gloriously scattered under a desk just as the principal walks in to observe my classroom at reading time. I watch two pony tailed girls, one mahogany, one peach, scramble to take exquisite measures to lovingly return errant colors to the box. They roll the crayons in their palms, check for broken tips, set them in rainbow hues. ROYGBIV, a mantra for the order of color. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet – the progression as sacrosanct as the words of a prayer.

The careful placement of each color in the Crayola box takes too much time, is too engaging, enables the students to avoid decoding and reading comprehension. As the principal typed comments on his IPad, I knew the act of crayon spilling would have consequences.

Daisies, sunflowers and a soft gray cat with a celestial blue collar. Panda bears and butterflies. My students can barely contain their excitement when given rare opportunities for free time – crayons, scissors and folded paper are exponentially exciting. Soon enough, we will be back to searching for the main idea in a story, identifying the problem and solution and making inferences.

For those lessons, hands are kept still and quiet on top of their desks.

Instead, small child, put that crayon box away; You won’t need sixty-four colors, just the color gray. “Testing one, two, three” is the only goal; All colors but gray will be leached from your soul.

.... One child expresses his frustration by breaking crayons. Shards of red-orange and medium violet spray like flecks of mosaic glass around his chair. He strips off the paper, erases the identity of lavender or turquoise, leaves naked stubs piled like wax corpses in the recesses of his desk. It’s the only way he can access his crayons on a daily basis. By systematically destroying them, he protests the dearth of creativity in my classroom. The curriculum dictates that I pass out piles of Xeroxed papers, littered with hulls of multiple choice questions, assigned in preparation for standardized tests.

... I sit in the principal’s office for my observation conference. He brings up the crayon incident. What were those children doing anyway? It’s because of your lack of classroom management skills that students waste time in your class and have no accountability for their learning. I think back, remember the day it happened, remember watching in horror as sixty-four crayons tumbled to the floor. Knowing the students would not get back on task quickly because for a brief moment, pleasure had escaped. The reverential act of collecting crayons was much more compelling for them than reciting sounds of long and short vowels at reading time. Small fingers, touching color, holding imagination in their fists. Dropping crayons, a last revolutionary act of childhood, a fervent cry for freedom.

There’s no grade for a child on the blue of their sky, no percentage for joy in an orange butterfly. At the end of the conference, my teaching is marked as Ineffective

Trump dump

U.S. President Donald Trump handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel a bill for money supposedly owed to NATO when they met l in Washington DC, the Sunday Times reported. The gesture was “outrageous,” the paper quoted an unnamed German minister as saying. “The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” the minister is further cited as saying. According to the Times, the bill handed to Merkel was thought to be for more than $300 billion. It was reportedly calculated by adding the amounts by which Germany have fallen short on annual payments to NATO since 2002 — and adding interest.

Trump Heads To Golf Club For the Twelfth Time In 9-Week Presidency

Tip to the media: Stop calling Trump's tax changes a "reform"

One of the ways the media is unknowingly assisting the Trump regime is referring to his proposed tax changes as "tax reform." As Merriam Webster puts, it to reform something is "to put or change into an improved form or condition" or "to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses" or "to put an end to (an evil) by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action." None of these can be expected from Trump's proposed tax changes.

China plans megacity the size of New England

NBC - China's rulers are planning a megacity that would be home to 130 million people and cover an area the size of New England.

Sitting on the northeast coast of China, Jing-Jin-Ji — which stands for "Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei" — is a central plank of the country's economic development plan over the next century.

The sheer numbers are startling. In November, the government approved $36 billion to build 700 miles of rail within three years.

Residents of bedroom communities just outside Beijing's city limits, who now spend five to six hours a day on their commutes, are expected to be the main beneficiaries of a new transportation system serving the megalopolis.

With 13,670 miles, China already boasts of the world's longest network of high-speed rail lines, which serve trains traveling 120 mph to 220 mph. The next two countries are Spain, with 1,930 miles, and Japan, with 1,887 miles. And China plans to build 10,000 more miles.

March 26, 2017

Partners in slime: OJ Simpson and DJ Trump

Sam Smith – Watching the superb Ezra Edelman documentary on the OJ Simpson tale, it suddenly occurred to me how much OJ and DJ had in common. Two men who had learned how to make celebrity crush reality and how unembarrassed dishonesty can intimidate and suppress the truth. The thought first came as a Simpson friend described the way the sports star had given three different answers to people who had asked what had caused his cut hand. Obviously, at least two out of the three weren’t true. And the crowds of Simpson fans cheering him on, heavily indifferent to the facts.
It turns out I wasn’t the first to have this thought as the stories below indicate. What does this all mean? Are people like Simpson and Trump merely beneficiaries of a media and its gullible audience that has made reality redundant in favor of image? 

John Zeigler, Mediaite, Nov 9 -Several times this year, while I was incorrectly predicting that Donald Trump would not win the presidential election,  I compared elements of the presidential campaign to the O.J. Simpson case. Obviously, I should have followed that analogy to its ultimate conclusion because I might have caught on sooner to how it would all really end. For me, an unqualified liberal celebrity/conman being elected president with mostly conservative votes is a lot like a celebrity/football player who has lived a mostly “white” life getting away with double murder thanks to the votes of mostly black jurors  

Ken Meyer, Mediaite, Oct 12  - Donald Trump had this idea once on how to drum up better ratings for Celebrity Apprentice: have O.J. Simpson on as a competitor. In a Howard Stern interview retrieved by Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott, Trump talked about how Stern and Simpson were both his wedding guests when he married Marla Maples in 1993. As the discussion went on, Trump said that he wanted Simpson on his show, but “NBC went totally crazy” and the idea was scrapped...Throughout the conversation, Trump noted that he used to be friendly with The Juice before the latter went on trial in 1995 over Nicole Brown‘s murder. Trump went on to say that Simpson would’ve agreed to be on the show, but when Stern asked if the mogul actually talk to him about it, Trump sidestepped and said “I hadn’t spoken to him in years, I don’t like people that kill their wives.”

Bradley Tusk, Hollywood Reporter, Dec 22 - Here at the end of 2016, after the election of Donald Trump, the astonishing resurgence of O.J. makes almost perfect sense. In fact, the clash of tactics and personalities at his 1994 trial provides a chilling template for the election we just experienced. It’s almost as if the entertainment industry was sending the country a heads-up about Trump.

Pop Matters, Dec 21 - The most immediate and necessary connection between the two events are the similarities between Simpson and Trump. They emerged from different backgrounds but had obtained an uncanny similar kind of celebrity. In 1968, artist Andy Warhol famously pronounced, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” This suggested a certain banality and artificial quality to celebrity. Both Simpson and Trump’s fame embody these qualities.

Where Simpson and Trump start to develop similarities is when they both decided to leverage their fame into a career in the entertainment industry. .... On the business side, few business leaders share the same passion for the limelight as either Trump or Cuban, but no one ever succeeded as well as Simpson and Trump, who ended up turning their names into brands.

They share a genius for banality. Simpson’s first introduction to everyone in America other than football fans was in a series of commercials for Hertz Rent-a-Car. The series began with him running through an airport, bag in hand, hurdling and spinning his way through obstacles...

Throughout the ‘90s Trump would try to stay in the spotlight through appearances on shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, or appearing on the Howard Stern Radio Show. For the great majority of his life, he was a minor curiosity. He was a kind of predecessor to Kim Kardashian—famous mainly for being famous. His celebrity really took off when he became the center of a television project called The Apprentice.

.... Both Simpson and Trump became a champion for a community that believed itself to be oppressed. Leading up to the trial, Los Angeles had become the epicenter of American’s racial conflict. On 3 March 1991, Rodney King was pulled over by several police men and beaten. The images were captured on video. The acquittal of four police officers led to a week-long series of riots from 29 April through 4 May 1992. So, when Simpson was arrested, he became the personification of justice for both the local Los Angeles community and to a large extent for the entire national African American community.

Trump’s genius, be it deliberate or just by luck, is that he became the great apologist for disaffected white Americans. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump took on the moniker “Blue-Collar billionaire”. Trump embraced excessive consumption unfettered by taste or decorum. He cultivated the image of living the life an average working man could live—if he won the Powerball—clearly, a highly condescending view of working class America. Mexicans, liberals, Muslims, elites, bankers, the Chinese, the poor and politicians were all responsible for the stagnation of the American economy and their oppression. This created a political jiu-jitsu where the power of any attack against him got redirected and therefore reinforced his belief that others were trying to oppress him.

...There’s a big difference between supporting someone and seeing them as embodying your cause. The former allows for some dissent. They (Simpson and Trump) are individuals, and individuals are allowed strengths and flaws. As emblems of movements, as representatives of people who believe they have been neglected and abused, flaws were irrelevant. If anything, hostility toward one’s champion was viewed by some as an extension of all kinds of slights. Through some proportion of blind luck, charisma, and a little political genius, both Simpson and Trump got themselves cast in such a role.

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