Sunday, February 25, 2018

Midnight Meme Of The Day!


by Noah

Yeah, right, Mr. Trumpanzee. Those NRA people you praise in your childish single-digit IQ tweets are "Great People," just like those nazis who marched in Charlottesville and so vocally support you and the rest of your sicko party are "very fine people."

Only in the minds of the truly demented and insane are merchants of death who attack innocent victims "Great People." But, let's take a deeper look at what's behind this tweet: Trumpanzee has announced that he is strongly in favor of arming the nation's teachers. It's no coincidence that that idea is also the NRA's, whose primary reason for existence is to represent the "needs" of the corporate gun manufacturers. Trumpanzee sees arming teachers as the "solution" to the mass shooting problem. Hell, the NRA doesn't even view mass shootings as a problem but as an opportunity. That's why the plan to arm teachers is actually their idea. Trumpanzee is just falling in line, and falliing in line with a perverted purpose. That's also why the NRA's immediate jack-booted response to any concerns about the proliferation of war weapons throughout every city, town, and village in America, is a reaction of anger, fear and total lunatic rhetoric about gun confiscation and socialism, although what socialism has to do with any of this is hidden to the rational mind.

Whether it's arming all 700,000 teachers in our country or even just 20% of them, the potential for additional tragedy is plain as day to the sentient brain. Trumpanzee talks about training the teachers. That sounds nice, but what weapon will teachers have? Will they have their very own AR-15? No, Trumpanzee is yapping about "concealed carry." Swell, a handgun against an AR-15. Who do you think wins that one? It's not much better than the proverbial "bringing a knife to a gunfight." My first reaction to Trumpanzee's (the NRA's) idea was that it would be like attempting to cut down a tree in your backyard with a straightrazor.

Even trained police officers miss with most of their shots. Adrenaline has a really bad effect on one's aim. Getting a high score on a target range is nowhere near the same as shooting in a life and death situation; life and death for you, the gun-firing madman, and the panicked students you are hoping to protect. And, suppose you are a member of a swat team that's been sent to a school: What are the chances that you might shoot the first person you see with a gun? What if that's the math teacher or baseball coach? Then, of course, there are those times when a student gets in a heated argument with a teacher or a fellow student. What could go wrong there?

But, remember what I said about the NRA's mission to be an advocate for the gun manufacturers. The sale of tens if not hundreds of thousands of guns to teachers will be a major windfall to them. Then add in the stone cold fact that the NRA's other business is buying politicians. The kickbacks coming to Trump and his party for making this idea happen will grow the cycle of graft enormously. It's another republican cash grab. Just like their tax scam will eventually amount to taking money out the pockets of the 99%, this plan might as well be a plan to steal money off of the bodies of dead and wounded students and teachers, or whoever the victims of the next mass shooting are. No politician who's been on the take from the NRA is going to want that to stop. Rubio? Cruz? Trump? Ryan? McConnell? None of them. Once they've fed at the trough of the NRA, they not only aren't going to stop. And, they'll be fighting for position to get more.

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Which Member Of Congress Does Putin Love More, Dana Or Devin?


The last time I spoke with Dana Rohrabacher was on a staircase in Pasadena. We were talking about how Ted Lieu, who is helping Democratic candidates for Rohrabacher's Orange County seat hone their messages, was working with him on a bill to legalize marijuana. My friend David was with me and when Rohrabacher started complaining that his back was hurting because he had been surfing earlier, Dave asked, "Where, in the Moscow River?" David and I had recently returned from Moscow and had stayed at at the Baltschug Hotel, right across the Moskva River from the Kremlin, overlooking the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge where Putin opponent Boris Nemtsov had been murdered, upsetting David.

As you probably know by now, Trump factotum Richard Gates has now plead guilty to conspiracy and lying about a Russia-oriented meeting between his former Kremlin lobbyist and spy Paul Manafort and Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats and a notoriously pro-Putin congressman. Three days after the meeting Manafort, who was working for the Kremlin, gave Rohrabacher a $1,000 check for his reelection campaign. Gates had told the FBI that the meeting was not about the Russia's attempts to take over the government of Ukraine through Viktor Yanukovych. But it was.

Reporter Sarah Wire, who's on the Putin beat for the L.A. Times, put it politely: "Rohrabacher has long believed that the United States needs to build a friendlier relationship with Russia, and he's never tried to hide it. He's been a frequent defender of Moscow on cable news for years, and his colleagues have speculated privately about the reasons he's willing to work with much-maligned Russian President Vladimir Putin." Less privately, Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told congressional Republicans that Rohrabacher is on Putin's payroll, something Paul Ryan asked them to not speak about publicly. The Putin-Rohrabacher relationship is certainly being investigated by the FBI. Rohrabacher's story "involves Russian tax fraud, foreign adoptions, dinner with a foreign agent and a meeting in Trump Tower with the soon-to-be president's son. And much of it has just recently come to light."
A warning from the FBI

FBI agents sat Rohrabacher down in the Capitol and warned him that a Russian spy was trying to recruit him as an "agent of influence"-- someone the Russian government might be able to use to steer policymaking.

When the New York Times first reported the meeting in May amid swirling accusations about Russia's election meddling, Rohrabacher said he appreciated the warning but didn't need it.

"Any time you meet a Russian member of their Foreign Ministry or the Russian government, you assume those people have something to do with Russian intelligence," he told the newspaper.

The newspaper's sources said there was no evidence the recruiters succeeded or that Rohrabacher had been paid by a foreign government.

March 19, 2013
A 'nice little' dinner with Paul Manafort

When former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was working on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party in 2013, he met with just one U.S. politician-- Rohrabacher.

Rohrabacher said in an interview the meeting happened over dinner at the Capitol Hill Club, a popular Washington Republican social club. He said Manafort billed it as a chance to get reacquainted decades after they worked together in the 1970s on President Reagan's campaign. Still, he assumed Manafort had an agenda.

"I assume when old friends call me up and are wanting to get reacquainted and stuff I always assume they are in some way under contract with somebody," Rohrabacher said. "We discussed a myriad of things, a lot of personal stuff, a lot of different analysis of the politics of the day. It was a nice little dinner."

Manafort didn't file as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, or disclose the dinner, until he came under scrutiny during the Russia investigation.

On Feb. 23, 2018, Manafort's longtime business partner and former Trump campaign aide Richard W. Gates III pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the contents of that dinner meeting. Documents show that Gates originally told agents the meeting was not about their work for Ukraine, when in fact he and Manafort had reported back to Ukraine that the meeting with Rohrabacher went well.

April 2016
A meeting in Moscow

During a congressional trip to Russia in 2016, Rohrabacher and his longtime friend and employee Paul Behrends met privately with high-ranking Russian justice officials.

At the time, Congress was considering expanding the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which prevented Russians believed to be involved in certain human rights abuses from traveling to the United States or spending money in the country.

The law was named for whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison after he accused several top Russian officials of misappropriating $230 million in taxes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was incensed by the restrictions. In retaliation, he halted U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

During the April meeting, according to multiple news reports, Rohrabacher was given a memo stamped "confidential." Deputy general prosecutor Viktor Grin, one of the Russians whose foreign accounts were frozen under the Magnitsky Act, was in the room, according to news accounts.

"Changing attitudes to the Magnitsky story in the Congress... could have a very favorable response from the Russian side," the memo said, according to the Daily Beast.

It contested the details of the Magnitsky case, including how the lawyer died, and leveled accusations against Magnitsky's American-born boss, financier Bill Browder. They wanted Rohrabacher to cast doubt on what had happened to Magnitsky, and try to at least get Magnitsky's name removed from the law.

Politico also reported that Rohrabacher huddled with Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya while he was in Moscow, a meeting Rohrabacher hasn't confirmed. The pair later went on to lead lobbying efforts against the expanded Magnitsky Act when Rohrabacher returned to Washington.

Rohrabacher called stories about the trip and the document a "nothing burger" this month, saying that as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats he has an obligation to get information from many sources. He said foreign governments often pass on information to try to prove their point.

"The criminal justice department in Moscow had done a study of the Magnitsky case and had investigated it, and I was asked if I would look at it, and I said sure," Rohrabacher said. "I'm the chairman of the subcommittee that's supposed to focus on Russia. It's absolutely appropriate, and I think anybody that doesn't spend that time focusing on their responsibility is derelict in their duty."

May and June 2016
Lobbying fellow House members

Soon after Rohrabacher and Behrends returned to Washington, Rohrabacher delayed further consideration of the expanded Magnitsky Act.

"The congressman came across some information that puts the Magnitsky narrative as we know it into some question, and he wants to pursue it," Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs told National Review at the time.

Rohrabacher and Behrends began setting up a subcommittee hearing on the Magnitsky Act with plans to invite Browder and show a documentary disputing the facts of the Magnitsky case.

Also trying to sway members of Congress at this time were the lobbyist and lawyer Rohrabacher had reportedly met with in Moscow months before: Akhmetshin, a registered lobbyist for Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative, a group started by Veselnitskaya to lift the adoption ban, but widely thought to be focused on getting rid of the Magnitsky Act sanctions.

But Rohrabacher's plan for a subcommittee hearing was waylaid by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), who instead arranged for the full committee to discuss U.S. policy toward Russia in June, a move that meant Royce controlled who would be called as a witness.

Veselnitskaya can be seen in video of the hearing sitting behind then-U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

Neither Akhmetshin or Veselnitskaya registered as foreign agents with the Justice Department, but Akhmetshin did register as a lobbyist. His 2016 registration lists three foreign clients, all Moscow residents.

One of them, Denis Katsyv, owns Prevezon, the company sued by then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara for using the stolen money Magnitsky was investigating to buy Manhattan real estate.

Bharara was fired by Trump along with other U.S. attorneys, and his replacement settled the case against Katsyv and Prevezon in May for $6 million. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the timing of the settlement, which came just days before the trial was set to begin and for about half of what the Justice Department initially sought.

June 9, 2016
A meeting in Trump Tower

Around the same time as Rohrabacher was organizing the subcommittee hearing that never happened, the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., agreed to meet with some people with Russian ties after he was told he would be given derogatory information about Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," according to emails.

He brought along his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, to the Trump Tower gathering.

Veselnitskaya provided Trump Jr. with material she said showed improper donations to the Democratic National Committee. Then Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin began to talk about the Magnitsky Act and Russian adoptions, according to multiple news accounts.

Huntington Beach businessman Ike Kaveladze also attended the meeting. Rohrabacher said in an interview he'd never heard of Kaveladze, a constituent who lives near Rohrabacher's Costa Mesa home, until after the Los Angeles Times identified him as a meeting attendee.

Reports on who attended the meeting thrust Rohrabacher's efforts to remove Magnitsky's name from the sanctions law back into the spotlight.

June 15, 2016
'There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump'

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a GOP California colleague of Rohrabacher's, speculated in a private meeting that Trump and Rohrabacher were being paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump," McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said in a recording of the exchange, first reported by the Washington Post in May. At that point, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan cut off the conversation and swore those who were there to secrecy.

A transcript of the tape noted that McCarthy was laughing during the conversation with other Republican leaders. After the transcript leaked, both McCarthy and Ryan said the comment had been a joke.

Sept. 20, 2016
A meeting with Trump campaign advisor Michael Flynn

Rohrabacher allegedly met in Washington with Trump campaign advisor Michael Flynn in the weeks before the election. Also attending were Flynn's son, Michael G. Flynn, and Flynn's lobbying associates at the Flynn Intel Group.

Flynn went on to briefly serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump administration before he was caught lying about conversations with the Russian Ambassador, prompting an intense look by the FBI into past work with foreign governments done by Flynn and his son.

In November 2017, NBC News reported that the FBI was interviewing witnesses about the content of the meeting Rohrabacher attended.

Spring 2017
A canceled trip to Russia

After promoting a trip to meet with the Russian parliament in January, Rohrabacher canceled it with no notice weeks later.

Rohrabacher said in an interview that he decided not to go because he was worried the national focus on Russia would make it difficult to have serious conversations with Russian officials.

"In the middle of a chaotic, public brouhaha, you're not going to be able to get the serious job done that you need to get done," he said.

But a senior House GOP aide who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters said Royce declined Rohrabacher's request to travel to Moscow shortly after the inauguration.

July 21, 2017
Accused of violating Russian sanctions

Rohrabacher has now been accused of violating the Russian sanctions he fought against by the man who convinced Congress to approve them.

In a complaint filed with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Browder alleged that by getting information from Grin-- one of the Russians sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act-- and using it to try to change U.S. law, "Rohrabacher's and Behrends' reported actions thus provided services to one of the central figures targeted by the Magnitsky Act."

Such complaints are most commonly made about the actions of big banks or private citizens, not a sitting member of Congress.

In a statement responding to the compliant, Rohrabacher said, "anyone who knows me understands that I am the member of Congress least likely to take directions from government officials, especially foreign government officials."

Aug. 16, 2017
A meeting with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Rohrabacher traveled to London during the August congressional recess to meet with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is living in asylum at the Ecuadorean embassy there. The meeting was arranged by far-right blogger and provocateur Chuck C. Johnson.

Rohrabacher said in a statement afterward that the Australian fugitive "emphatically stated that the Russians were not involved" in the theft of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Rohrabacher says he has further information about who did steal the emails and will present that only to President Trump as part of discussions for some kind of pardon for Assange. Rohrabacher says he's been blocked from meeting with Trump by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

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Is Mobster Sheldon Adelson Paying For The Trumpist Embassy In Jerusalem?


Bad for the Jews?

As far as I know, Henry Ford never offered to pay for an embassy Berlin. Tokyo Rose never offered to put up the yen to build an American embassy in Tokyo. Nor did Benedict Arnold offer to pay for one in London in 1780. But the Republicans appear to be ready for a whole new theory of outsourcing and the privatization of foreign policy. Early yesterday morning, AP reported that Señor Trumpanzee is considering an offer from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to pay for at least part of a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Lawyers at the State Department are looking into the legality of accepting private donations to cover some or all of the embassy costs, the administration officials said." How about the Saudis? Are they chipping in too?
In one possible scenario, the administration would solicit contributions not only from Adelson but potentially from other donors in the evangelical Christian and American Jewish communities, too. One official said Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate and staunch supporter of Israel, had offered to pay the difference between the total cost-- expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars-- and what the administration is able to raise.

Under any circumstance, letting private citizens cover the costs of an official government building would mark a significant departure from historical U.S. practice. In the Jerusalem case, it would add yet another layer of controversy to Trump’s politically charged decision to move the embassy, given Adelson’s longstanding affiliation with right-wing Israeli politics.

It’s not clear if there is any precedent, nor whether government lawyers would give the green light to accept Adelson’s or anyone else’s donations for the embassy.

Adelson’s unconventional offer was made around the time Trump announced in December he would move the embassy to the disputed city of Jerusalem. It would address the president’s stated distaste for shelling out eye-popping sums for overseas diplomatic facilities. Although Trump has promoted the Jerusalem move as fulfilling a key campaign promise, he also was outspoken last month in blasting the $1 billion price tag for a new embassy in London.

Since Trump’s announcement, his administration has been sifting through options for fast-tracking the Israel embassy’s relocation. Last month, Vice President Mike Pence announced during a visit to Israel that the embassy would move by the end of 2019-- possibly earlier. Ambassador David Friedman, who lobbied for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, has advocated moving the embassy as soon as possible.

The U.S. has looked at several possible sites. The most likely plan involves a phased approach to opening the embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood at an existing U.S. facility that handles consular affairs like passports and visas. The U.S. could initially retrofit a small suite of offices in that facility to accommodate Friedman and one or two top aides such as his chief of staff.

That would allow the administration to hang an “embassy” sign over the door and formally open it, perhaps in the next few months. The ribbon could be cut in time for Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, which takes place in April.

The rest of the embassy staff would remain at first in America’s current facility in Tel Aviv. Over time, the Arnona facility would be expanded to accommodate more embassy personnel. The expansion could ultimately involve an adjacent property that currently houses a home for senior citizens, officials said. That property is already set to come under U.S. control in the next few years under a previous arrangement.

Retrofitting just a few offices could be accomplished at minimal cost. But expanding the new embassy into a full-fledged complex that houses the bulk of America’s diplomatic staff in Israel would easily cost more than $500 million dollars, officials familiar with the process said. Particularly pricey are the strict security requirements for embassies that are written into U.S. law.

It’s unclear how much of the cost Adelson might be willing to cover.

...Kathy Bethany, the former cost management director for the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, said she couldn’t recall any instances of the U.S. government accepting donations to build embassies during her tenure, which ended in 2014.

“I don’t know how well that would work,” Bethany said. “Would we be beholden to putting their name on the building? I’ve never heard of that.”

There are several ways, in theory, that it could happen. Short of donating directly to the embassy, citizens could always cut a general check to the U.S. Treasury, as politicians occasionally do to make a point about the national debt. The donors could unofficially “earmark” their dollars as being intended to offset the embassy’s cost.

The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual also lays out a formal process for accepting gifts from private citizens, including real estate. The process says gifts must be rigorously evaluated on a case-by-case basis and only allowed when the gift “would not give the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Adelson, who donated $5 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, is one of the Republican Party’s biggest donors and a major supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson also finances Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu newspaper that is distributed free throughout Israel.

If lawyers decide to allow donations for the embassy, it would come with significant political risk for Trump. The president already faces major criticism from Palestinians and others who say his decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem-- also claimed by the Palestinians for the capital of their future state-- tipped the scales unfairly in Israel’s favor.

Mort Klein, president of the pro-Israel group Zionist Organization of America and a close associate of Adelson, said accepting donations would be ill-advised. Klein said he knew Adelson was “deeply interested” in seeing the embassy relocate to Jerusalem but was unaware that the casino mogul had offered to help pay for it himself.

“This is a government project. It’s a government-run embassy,” Klein said. “I don’t want people to be able to say it was Jewish money.”
Ambassadorships are openly sold to wealth campaign supporters. So why not embassies? How about foreign policy in general? Is there anything Trump wouldn't sell?

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The U.S. Is A Corrupt Country-- Now More Than Ever... Is That The Swamp?


The House Ethics Committee still hasn't taken up the very serious charges against ex-Congressman Tom Price (R-GA) and current Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY), who have both engaged in flagrant insider trading while serving on committees that were able to influence the value of sticks they were trading. It's been over a year. A 29-page report from the Office of Congressional Ethics strongly suggests that there was insider trading by both Collins and Price and on July 14, 2017 recommended that the House Ethics Committee pursue a formal investigation. It hasn't.

The report reads that there's "a substantial reason to believe that … Collins shared material nonpublic information in the purchase of Innate stock, in violation of House rules, standards of conduct and federal law.” Collins is on the board of directors of Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited as well as in Congress. Price also traded extensively in Innate stock while serving in Congress, reportedly on Collins' suggestion that he could make a killing.

This is another reason why people hate Congress so much. Nor do Americans trust government. And most of the time, we shouldn't. This week MarketWatch reported that Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio is seeing a growing chance iff a recession as the U.S. enters a "pre-bubble stage." What's Congress doing to protect us? Nothing to protect anyone but themselves-- as Collins and Price have done-- but everything to accerbate the underlying problems. Which brings us to the much-shared essay by Juan Cole Thursday at Truthdig! Top 10 Signs the U.S. Is the Most Corrupt Nation in the World. I spent years in Asia and corruption is woven into the fabric of life. It's as bad here-- just not as visible. I was shocked when I was forced to negotiate at a post office in New Delhi for the price of sending a postcard to America.
Those ratings that castigate Afghanistan and some other poor countries as hopelessly “corrupt” always imply that the United States is not corrupt. This year’s report from Transparency International puts the US on a par with Austria, which is ridiculous. All kinds of people from politicians to businessmen would go to jail in Austria today if they engaged in practices that are quite common in the US.

While it is true that you don’t typically have to bribe your postman to deliver the mail in the US, in many key ways America’s political and financial practices make it in absolute terms far more corrupt than the usual global South suspects. After all, the US economy is worth over $18 trillion a year, so in our corruption a lot more money changes hands.

1. A sure sign of corruption is an electoral outcome like 2016. An addled nonentity like Donald Trump got filthy rich via tax loopholes a predatory behavior in his casinos and other businesses, and then was permitted to buy the presidency with his own money. He was given billions of dollars in free campaign time every evening on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and other channels that should have been more even-handed, because they were in search of advertising dollars and Trump was a good draw. Then, too, the way the Supreme Court got rid of campaign finance reform and allowed open, unlimited secret buying of elections is the height of corruption. The permitting of massive black money in our elections was taken advantage of by the Russian Federation, which, having hopelessly corrupted its own presidential elections, managed to further corrupt the American ones, as well. Once ensconced in power, Trump Inc. has taken advantage of the power of White House to engage in a wide range of corrupt practices, including an attempt to sell visas to wealthy Chinese and the promotion of the Trump brand as part of diplomacy.

2. The rich are well placed to bribe our politicians to reduce taxes on the rich. The Koch brothers and other mega-rich troglodytes explicitly told Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan in 2017 that if the Republican Party, controlling all three branches of government, could not lower taxes on its main sponsors, there would be no billionaire backing of the party in the 2018 midterms. This threat of an electoral firing squad made the hundreds of bribe-takers in Congress sit up and take notice, and they duly gave away to the billionaire class $1.5 trillion in government services (that’s what Federal taxes are, folks, services–roads, schools, health inspections, implementation of anti-pollution laws–things that everyone benefits from and which won’t be there any more. To the extent that the government will try to continue to provide those slashed services despite assessing no taxes on the people with the money to pay for them, it will run up an enormous budget deficit and weaken the dollar, which is a form of inflation in the imported goods sector. Inflation hits the poor the worst. As it stands, 3 American billionaires are worth, as much as the bottom 150 million Americans. That kind of wealth inequality hasn’t been seen in the US since the age of the robber barons in the nineteenth century. Both eras are marked by extreme corruption.

One sign of American corruption is the rapidity with which American society has become more unequal since the 1980s Reagan destruction of the progressive income tax. The wealthier the top 1 percent is, the more politicians it can buy to gather up even more of the country’s wealth. In my lifetime the top one percent has gone from holding 25% of the privately held wealth under Eisenhower to 38% today.

3. Instead of having short, publicly-funded political campaigns with limited and/or free advertising (as a number of Western European countries do), the US has long political campaigns in which candidates are dunned big bucks for advertising. They are therefore forced to spend much of their time fundraising, which is to say, seeking bribes. All American politicians are basically on the take, though many are honorable people. They are forced into it by the system. The campaign season should be shortened to 3 months (did we really need 2 years to get an outcome in which a fool like Trump is president?), and Congress should pass a law that winners of primaries don’t have to pay for political ads on tv and radio.

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated in 2012, soon thereafter French police actually went into his private residence searching for an alleged $50,000 in illicit campaign contributions from the L’Oreale heiress. I thought to myself, seriously? $50,000 in a presidential campaign? Our presidential campaigns cost a billion dollars each! $50,000 is a rounding error, not a basis for police action. Why, George W. Bush took millions from arms manufacturers and then ginned up a war for them, and the police haven’t been anywhere near his house.

American politicians don’t represent “the people.” With a few honorable exceptions, they represent the the 1%. American democracy is being corrupted out of existence.

4. Money and corruption have seeped so far into our media system that people can with a straight face assert that scientists aren’t sure human carbon emissions are causing global warming. Fox Cable News is among the more corrupt institutions in American society, purveying outright lies for the benefit of the fossil fuels billionaire class. The US is so corrupt that it is resisting the obvious urgency to slash carbon production. Virtually the entire Republican Party resists the firm consensus of all respected scientists in the world and the firm consensus of everybody else in the world save for a few denialists in English-speaking countries. This resistance to an urgent and dangerous reality comes about because they are bribed to take this stance. Even Qatar, its economy based on natural gas, freely admits the challenge of human-induced climate change. American politicians like Jim Inhofe are openly ridiculed when they travel to Europe for their know-nothingism on climate.

5. That politicians can be bribed to reduce regulation of industries like banking (what is called “regulatory capture”) means that they will be so bribed. Scott Pruitt, a Manchurian candidate from Big Oil, has single-handedly demolished the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of polluting industry. This assault on the health of American citizens on behalf of vampirical corporations is the height of corruption.

6. The US military budget is bloated and enormous, bigger than the military budgets of the next twelve major states. What isn’t usually realized is that perhaps half of it is spent on outsourced services, not on the military. It is corporate welfare on a cosmic scale. I’ve seen with my own eyes how officers in the military get out and then form companies to sell things to their former colleagues still on the inside. Precisely because it is a cesspool of large-scale corruption, Trump’s budget will throw over $100 billion extra taxpayer dollars at it.

7. The US has a vast gulag of 2.2 million prisoners in jail and penitentiary. There is an increasing tendency for prisons to be privatized, and this tendency is corrupting the system. It is wrong for people to profit from putting and keeping human beings behind bars. This troubling trend is made all the more troubling by the move to give extra-long sentences for minor crimes, to deny parole and to imprison people for life for e,g, three small thefts.

8. The National Security Agency’s domestic spying was a form of corruption in itself, and lends itself to corruption. With some 4 million government employees and private contractors engaged in this surveillance, it is highly unlikely that various forms of insider trading and other corrupt practices are not being committed. If you knew who Warren Buffett and George Soros were calling every day, that alone could make you a killing. The American political class wouldn’t have defended this indefensible invasion of citizens’ privacy so vigorously if someone somewhere weren’t making money on it.

9. As for insider trading, it turns out Congress undid much of the law it hastily passed forbidding members, rather belatedly, to engage in insider trading (buying and selling stock based on their privileged knowledge of future government policy). That this practice only became an issue recently is another sign of how corrupt the system is.

10. Asset forfeiture in the ‘drug war’ is corrupting police departments and the judiciary. Although some state legislatures are dialing this corrupt practice back, it is widespread and a danger to the constitution.

So don’t tell the global South how corrupt they are for taking a few petty bribes. Americans are not seen as corrupt because we only deal in the big denominations. Steal $2 trillion and you aren’t corrupt, you’re respectable.

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Pennsylvania Looking Even Better For Most Democratic Candidates


Republicans worry they can't win when there are fair sensible boundaries

Corrupt gerrymandrerers, Republican Senate President Joe Scarnati and state House Speaker Mike Turzai, are not taking the new ungerrymandered congressional map of Pennsylvania laying down. They're asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step in-- and step on-- the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
But experts have said Republicans face an uphill battle. Several noted that Mr. Scarnati and Mr. Turzai have fought the court’s ruling for weeks in an increasingly nasty political and legal battle but have been unsuccessful.

Just days after the state Supreme Court overturned the congressional district map, the top Republican lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and stay the order, arguing that the state court was usurping the legislature’s power. That request was denied by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who did not refer the matter to the full court, as is often done, noted Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

“If you’re a Republican defending a map and you can’t even get Justice Alito to refer the thing to the whole court, that’s a pretty weak challenge,” he said Monday, saying he could not think of one that would be successful.
The Republican advantage in 13 of the state's unfairly carefully-drawn 18 districts will now yield far more competitive seats where Democratic voters have a chance to elect candidates who represent them. The Republican advantage disappears entirely in 3 districts. Democrats will now have an even-- or better than even-- chance to win seats that are currently held by Republicans Pat Meehan, Brian Fitzpatrick, Charlie Dent, Ryan Costello and Keith Rothfus. This morning Tom Prigg, the progressive candidate who decide to take on Rothfus when it looked like an impossible climb, is very happy with the new district lines. "The new district map has made my district far more competitive. The previous District 12 was 200 miles long and could take 3 hours to drive from end to end. The Partisan Voter Index gave the Republicans an 11 point advantage. Now it's far more compact, an hours drive with only a 3 point Republican advantage. This is a significantly improved district. Not all Pennsylvania districts were so lucky, but mine gives me a much better chance to beat an undesirable incumbent."

Scarnati and Turzai, not to mention Señor Trumpanzee and congressional Republicans and their big money allies, are screaming like stuck pigs. How dare anyone try to keep them from cheating? What's this world coming to? Their whining is likely to fail. Elena Schneider for Politico: "most operatives and experts see little hope in a legal challenge to the new districts... [B]ehind the scenes, Republican consultants are already urging their clients to get ready for these new districts in 2018... 'The likelihood that [Republicans] will get a response from the [U.S.] Supreme Court is near zero,' said Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles."

And, of course, the Republican version of the DCCC-- the NRCC-- is already in court demanding the right to cheat. Naturally, their statement didn't call it cheating: "state and federal GOP officials will sue in federal court as soon as tomorrow to prevent the new partisan map from taking effect. The suit will highlight the state Supreme Court’s rushed decision that created chaos, confusion, and unnecessary expense in the 2018 election cycle."
For Republicans, it’s not clear yet what legal avenue they plan to proceed with first, or what relief they will seek. But if they return to the U.S. Supreme Court, experts said it’s unlikely the court will change its position from earlier this month, when it rejected a request for a stay.

“The one thing they have going for them now is that the state Supreme Court has now acted, as opposed to threatening to act, but the big factor against that is [Justice Samuel] Alito already turned them down,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine. “They’re playing a weak hand.”

“Republicans have no real option left,” said Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who’s worked on several redistricting cases. “It’s the same argument that the U.S. Supreme Court failed to entertain last time, and I don’t expect them to entertain it this time.”

“The map you see is the map we’re going to have [in 2018],” Elias added.

That map opens up opportunities for Democrats-- who currently hold only five of the 18 House seats in the battleground state-- particularly in the greater Philadelphia area.

The Pennsylvania case isn’t the only partisan gerrymandering case working its way through the federal courts. Similar suits in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin are also currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the court did intervene in North Carolina, setting aside a ruling that threw out that state’s congressional map. But unlike the Pennsylvania case, the other cases involve questions of federal, not state, law.

...Dan Meuser-- a Republican running to replace Rep. Lou Barletta, who is running for Senate-- exemplified that tension with a post on Facebook on Monday.

“We will note, the court-drawn 9th Congressional District overlaps many areas in the 11th District where we have been campaigning hard for the past five months,” Meuser wrote. “At this time, we are going to continue to campaign in what was the original 11th Congressional District and will comment further once all legal challenges are resolved and district lines become definitive.”
Meuser is an imbecile who, unfortunately, has little to worry about. Barletta's hellhole of a red district, the 11th, went for Trump by 24 points. The new hellhole's boundaries wound have seen Trump winning by an even greater margin-- +34. What was once an R+10 district will be completely untouchable for a Democrat. The Blue Dogs have a hopeless candidate of their own running, Denny Wolff and he's raised $208,775, but two Republicans-- Meuser and Stephen Bloom has each outraised him, with Meuser way out ahead-- $530,293. In 2016 Barletta beat Democrat Mike Marsicano 194,889 (63.7%) to 111,025 (36.3%).

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Will There Be Races Where A GOP Candidate Is More Progressive On Guns Than A DCCC Candidate?


The video up top is from 2010 and if you didn't know better you might think Ann Kirkpatrick is a Republican, especially when she starts repeating racist GOP talking points about immigration and criticizing Obama. Just before the 4 minute mark she starts her oft-repeated schpiel about the NRA. The DCCC is crushing the campaigns of local progressives Matt Heinz and Mary Matiela for this carpetbagging blood-soaked murderess who bragged about her longtime love affair with the NRA: Like protecting our rights, like our right to bear and keep arms. And that's why I have an A rating with the NRA." After decades of puplicly licking the NRA's ass she's now trying to pretend she isn't responsible for all the children who have been slaughtered in the schools when she could have walked up to each one of them and shot them in the head for how she has voted on gun legislation. Brian Robinson, Matt Heinz' Campaign Manager spoke out yesterday on the DCCC gun nut: "Ann is what everybody hates and distrusts about career politicians. When she ran for Congress in Flagstaff, she bragged about her NRA A rating, vocally opposed reinstating the Assault Weapons ban, and even praised the NRA as 'one of the country's oldest continuously operating civil liberties organizations.' Make no mistake, the gun crisis is a problem of her making... Maybe if she had spent more time living down here, she would know that Southern Arizonans can spot a fraud from a mile away."

Along with Kirkpatrick (AZ), Jeff Van Drew (NJ) and Anthony Brindisi (NY) are two more of the many right-of-center Republican-lite Democrats who generally see as eye-to-eye with the NRA as your garden variety Republican does. But these three were aggressively recruited by Nancy Pelosi and Ben Ray Lujan of the DCCC. And yes, Nancy and Ben were very much aware that Kirkpatrick, Van Drew and Brindisi are all gun nut fanatics with long, bloody records of supporting the NRA and of support from the NRA. All three are on the DCCC "Red to Blue Page" and all three have been endorsed by the Blue Dogs and/or the New Dems, together the Republican Wing of the Democratic Party. There are only 24 candidates on the Red to Blue page, representing the exact number of seats the Democrats have to flip to win back control of the House. Most of them are garbage candidates but few are as overtly conservative as Kirkpatrick, Van Drew and Brindisi. The only one I can confirm being a bona fide progressive in the whole lot of them is Lisa Brown (WA), although we're still trying to figure out Andy Kim in New Jersey.

Most of the DCCC candidates are keeping purposefully mum about on guns. Read through their skimpy campaign websites are you'll be hard-pressed to know if they will or won't support a bill to prevent the sale of assault rifles. There are Republicans with better positions on guns than many of the DCCC candidates! Take Brian Mast (R-FL). Generally speaking, Mast is a hopeless and clueless Republican, as awful as the rest of them. Yesterday, however, he penned an OpEd for the New York Times considerably more progressive than what most of the DCCC have done (or would do): I'm Republican. I Appreciate Assault Weapons. And I Support a Ban. He wrote that he supports a ban on the sales of assault or tactical firearms, including the AR-15. Like putative Democrats Kirkpatrick, Van Drew and Brindisi, Mast was elected with the support of the NRA. Unlike the DCCC-Dems, he's breaking with them in a very major way. A decorated and grievously wounded vet from the Afghanistan War, he wrote, "I have fired tens of thousands of rounds through that rifle, many in combat. We used it because it was the most lethal-- the best for killing our enemies. And I know that my community, our schools and public gathering places are not made safer by any person having access to the best killing tool the Army could put in my hands. I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our people being used to kill children I swore to defend."

The NRA gave him $4,950 when he ran in 2016 and spent another $26,569 on his behalf to help flip his district from blue to red. He wrote that he doesn't "fear becoming a political casualty" and that although he supports the 2nd Amendment it "does not guarantee that every civilian can bear any and all arms." Many of his positions are sure to drive the NRA folks wild with rage. He wrote that he backs expanding background checks, raising the minimum age for gun purchasers, outlawing bump stocks and that he opposes allowing people barred from flying because of terrorism concerns from purchasing guns. He also backs lifting the ban on federal research into gun violence as a public health threat. Don't be surprised if the NRA seeks revenge by backing New Dem Lauren Baer, whose website says she has a dog named Biscuit but doesn't say how she stands on banning assault weapons, just that she wants to create "a bright future" which includes "enacting common sense gun safety measures that protect our families," something that says nothing and could be a position that any Republican or any Democrat takes.

Last night I reached out to the candidates Blue America has endorsed and asked them if they will vote for an assault weapons ban. Some people have actual lives and it was Friday night so I couldn't reach everyone but everyone I reached seemed quite enthusiastic about an assault weapons ban. The very first response came from Alan Grayson (D-FL) who reminded me that when he was in the House he had already worked on a bill to ban assault weapons. "I introduced a one-sentence bill to accomplish that. I called it the Freedom From Fear Act, HR 5615. The wording was very clear and Grayson's co-sponsor was Barbara Lee (D-CA): "To reinstate the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons." Boom! That's it. Paul Ryan buried it in the House Judiciary Committee and refused to ever allow a vote on it.

Goal ThermometerThe next response was from state Rep. Kaniela Ing from Hawaii. I already knew what his response would be, but of course he'd vote for a ban. "It worked in 1994, and should be reinstated." I love these clear answers with no "ifs," "ands" or "buts." Here are the rest of the responses in the order they came in:

Randy Bryce (WI)- "I would back it. The .223 round is designed to ricochet once it penetrates the body. I'll never forget being taught that in basic training."

Ellen Lipton (MI)- "I back an assault weapons ban. I grew up in Alabama, and i understand hunters. Assault weapons are not for hunting."

Tim Canova (FL)- "Yes, I would back an assault weapons ban. Here’s my two minute statement on the gun crisis and mass shooting."

Paul Clements (MI)- "Yes certainly."

DuWayne Gregory (NY)- "I would definitely support a ban on assault weapons!"

Dan Canon (IN)- "Yeah, I'm not convinced it's the best approach and it's certainly not a panacea, but I'd back anything that had the slightest chance of saving even one kid's life. Anything is better than nothing."

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (NM)- "Yes, I unequivocally support an assault weapons ban.  Military weapons have no place on our streets."

Lillian Salerno (TX)- "Yes, I will back an assault weapons ban."

Kara Eastman (NE)- "I favor a ban on assault weapon sales. Loudly."

Tom Guild (OK)- "Yes, I will support and vote for a ban on the sale of assault weapons. Thanks for asking."

Wouldn't it be great if the DCCC was on this list with their name crossed out too? (Don't hold your breath)

UPDATE: Democratic Incumbents Who Also Suck

There are plenty of Democratic incumbents in the NRA's pockets and I didn't address that in this post at all. But Darren Soto in the nice blue district (PVI D+5) Alan Grayson used to represent is a good example. After the Orlando massacre Soto tried painting himself as a leader on gun control. "In fact," wrote Peter Schorsch, "the opposite is true. Throughout his 10-year-career in the Florida Legislature, Soto has consistently sided with the gun lobby-- on everything from “Stand Your Ground” to 'Docs vs. Glocks' and more. Soto even received an 'A' rating from the National Rifle Association as a state representative and as a senator.
[In 2015] Soto voted to strengthen Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” gun law (SB 344), making it harder for prosecutors to try gun cases. Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, a black teenager killed in Jacksonville in a 2012 dispute over loud music, urged the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to vote down SB 344. Soto sided with the gun lobby rather than grieving mothers when he voted for the bill, which the NRA deemed a “must-pass priority.”

In 2014, he voted to extend “immunity” to gun owners who brandish their firearms under the “Stand Your Ground” Law (HB 89).

In 2008, Soto voted for a bill to allow employees to bring their guns to work-- even if those employees worked at daycare centers (HB 503). The bill was backed by the gun lobby, including the NRA. Soto also voted to rescind all local gun laws-- including rules against bringing guns into public buildings or city parks. In 2011, he voted for HB 45, a law that prohibits local governments from regulating firearms and ammunition in their communities.

Soto’s pro-gun record is so extreme, he even voted to prohibit doctors from talking to patients about gun safety (HB 155 in 2011). The Florida Pediatric Association opposed the bill (referred to as the “Docs vs. Glocks” bill)-- for asking a patient a question that could save his or her child’s life, a doctor in Florida could lose her medical license or be fined $10,000.

Soto has voted for a number of other bills backed by the gun lobby, including an NRA-backed bailout of gun clubs-- costing taxpayers $1.2 million (HB 33-A) and a 2015 bill (SB 290) that would allow unlicensed gun holders to carry a firearm in an emergency evacuation. His loyalty to the NRA extends even beyond state lines-- he was one of only four Florida Democrats who signed onto a 2009 Supreme Court Amicus Brief opposing a Chicago handgun ban.

Make no mistake-- politicians like Soto have helped create a toxic environment in which the gun lobby reigns supreme in our state.

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Midnight Meme Of The Day!


by Noah

A simple question for us all: Can you imagine yourself needing crib notes when you encounter someone who has lost a dear friend or loved one in a hail of bullets? Even their child! I doubt that you are that devoid of empathy for others. Only the worst examples of humanity are. Clearly, Donald J. Trump is one of those.

On Wednesday, Trump, held a little pretend-you-care get together in the oval office. His staff, or at least someone on his staff, knows what they have for a boss. However, the horrific circumstances in Parkland Florida and the national reaction to them forced the White House to do more than what their boss had done over the weekend (a quick, obviously reluctant visit with some of the kids, a now infamous joking, thumbs up smily face, photo op with some local police, and then a night of champaign guzzling and happy disco dancing at his Mar-a-lago resort, followed by some golfing during the funerals after saying he would honor the victims by not doing so). Hence, the need for the White House get together. Trump took some time off from blaming the victims and the Mueller investigation to hold the meeting, but someone who works for him knew he'd better have some handy little empathy buzz phrases ready. I call it Empathy For Dummies.

Trump needed some of that "empathy thing" just like George H.W. Bush once asked how he could get some of that "vision thing." The difference, though, was that Bush was self-aware whereas Trump has no sense of humanity. So, Trump's handlers gave him a piece of paper, a cue card, and they held their breath while they hoped that he wouldn't say anything insane. "Stick to this script, Mr. President. This isn't tweeting. These people are victims, real victims, right in front of you. Just refer to your notes here." So, there he sat, looking uncomfortable and unpresidential. He looked like a man who couldn't wait to get the meeting over with. Stupidly, he held the piece of paper for all the world to see, not that it revealed anything we didn't already know. We already know that Trump is incapable of empathy. Being incapable of empathy for others is at the top of the list for being a psychopath. It's not at the top of the list for being a president, even though presidents often have to make decisions that will cause their fellow humans to die. Having empathy helps a president make difficult decisions. Being a psychopath enables senseless tragedies.

Perhaps, one of the attendees at the oval office meeting had the best comment of all. When Stoneman Douglas student shooting survivor Sam Zeif was asked if he felt he was heard at the White House, he replied:
"I know I was heard because I saw it on Trump's little card."

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Billy Graham Died


Ever watch the Last Kingdom? There's a dramatic scene towards the end of the second episode of the second season where Alexander Dreymon's character, Uhtred, the dashing heathen protagonist, dares the evil Abbot Eadred to "say it one more time and go meet the devil." She he does... and he does. Big deal that he killed a man of God, with big consequences, despite it being the arch-villain of the first couple of episodes of Season Two. I'm guessing that thou shalt not kill abbots was a big megillah back in the 9th Century.

Yesterday Billy Graham, who's been hectoring America for as long as I can recall-- not in the 9th Century, but definitely throughout the 20th-- died. No one killed Graham. Like Eadred, Graham was on the wrong side of history. His legacy is that evangelicals stand by while racial tensions and our planet get hot. "The world’s most famous evangelist let his apocalyptic anticipation of the coming kingdom of God blind him to the realities of living in this world." But my old friend in Asheville, Cecil Bothwell, wrote the obit for us:

Billy Graham And The Gospel Of Fear
by Cecil Bothwell

“We are selling the greatest product on earth. Why shouldn’t we promote it as effectively as we promote a bar of soap?”
- Billy Graham, Saturday Evening Post, 1963
Billy Graham was a preacher man equally intent on saving souls and soliciting financial support for his ministry. His success at the former is not subject to proof and his success at the latter is unrivaled. He preached to millions on every ice-free continent and led many to his chosen messiah.

When Graham succumbed to various ailments this week at the age of 99 he left behind an organization that is said to have touched more people than any other Christian ministry in history, with property, assets and a name-brand worth hundreds of millions. The address lists of contributors alone comprise a mother lode for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, now headed by his son and namesake, William Franklin Graham, III.

Graham also left behind a United States government in which religion plays a far greater role than before he intruded into politics in the 1950s. The shift from secular governance to “In God We Trust” can be laid squarely at this minister’s feet.

Graham’s message was principally one of fear: fear of a wrathful god; fear of temptation; fear of communists and socialists; fear of unions; fear of Catholics; fear of homosexuals; fear of racial integration and above all, fear of death. But as a balm for such fears, he promised listeners eternal life, which he said was readily claimed through acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s savior.

Furthermore, he assured listeners that God loved us so much that He created governments, the most blessed form being Western capitalist democracy. To make this point, he frequently quoted Romans 13, particularly the first two verses. In the New American Standard Version of the Bible, they read, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

The question of whether this was actually the recorded word of God or a rider inserted into the bill by Roman senators with rather more worldly aims never dimmed Graham’s insistence that all governments are the work of the Almighty. Almost perversely, he even endorsed the arrest of a woman who lofted a Christian banner during his Reagan-era visit to Moscow, opting for the crack-down of “divine” authority over the civil disobedience of a believer.

Governments, he reminded his Moscow listeners, do God’s work.

Based on that Biblical mandate for all governments, Graham stood in solid opposition to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, all but addressed to Graham, King noted, “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ … If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.”

Fear is the stock in trade of most evangelists, of course, comprising the necessary setup before the pitch. As historian William Martin explained in his 1991 account of Graham’s early sermons, “… even those whose personal lives seemed rich and fulfilling must live in a world filled with terror and threat. As a direct result of sinful humanity’s rebellion against God, our streets have become jungles of terror, mugging, rape, and death. Confusion reigns on campuses as never before. Political leaders live in constant fear of the assassin’s bullet. Racial tension seems certain to unleash titanic forces of hatred and violence. Communism threatens to eradicate freedom from the face of the earth. Small nations are getting the bomb, so that global war seems inevitable. High-speed objects, apparently guided by an unknown intelligence, are coming into our atmosphere for reasons no one understands. Clearly, all signs point to the end of the present world order.
“… Graham’s basic mode of preaching in these early years was assault. … Then, when he had his listeners mentally crouching in terror, aware that all the attractively labeled escape routes-- alcohol, sexual indulgence, riches, psychiatry, education, social-welfare programs, increased military might, the United Nations-- led ultimately to dead ends, he held out the only compass that pointed reliably to the straight and narrow path that leads to personal happiness and lasting peace.”
Columnist and former priest James Carroll had much the same take, noting that “Graham had his finger on the pulse of American fear, and in subsequent years, anti communism occupied the nation’s soul as an avowedly religious obsession. The Red scare at home, unabashed moves toward empire abroad, the phrase ‘under God’ inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance, the scapegoating of homosexuals as ‘security risks,’ an insane accumulation of nuclear weapons, suicidal wars against postcolonial insurgencies in Asia—a set of desperate choices indeed. Through it all, Billy Graham was the high priest of the American crusade, which is why U.S. presidents uniformly sought his blessing.”

While Carroll had most of that right, the record suggests that, over and over again, it was Graham who sought presidential blessing, rather than the other way around. Letters enshrined in the presidential and Graham libraries reveal a preacher endlessly seeking official audience. As Truman said, years after his presidency, “Well, I hadn’t ought to say this, but he’s one of those counterfeits I was telling you about. He claims he’s a friend of all the presidents, but he was never a friend of mine when I was president.”

Of course, politicians have often brandished fear as well, and the twin streams of fear-based politics and fear-based religion couldn’t have been more confluent. Communist infiltrators, missile gaps and the domino effect each took their turn, as did the Evil Empire and, more recently, Saddam, Osama bin Laden and an amorphous threat of global terrorism.

In light of the Biblical endorsement of rulers, Graham supported police repression of Vietnam war protesters and civil rights marchers, opposed Martin Luther King’s tactic of civil disobedience, supported South American despots, and publicly supported every war or intervention waged by the United States from Korea forward.

Born on a prosperous dairy farm and educated at Wheaton College, Graham first gained national attention in 1949 when the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, searching for a spiritual icon to spread his anti-communist sentiments, discovered the young preacher holding forth at a Los Angeles tent meeting. Hearst wired his editors across the nation, “puff Graham,” and he was an instant sensation.

Hearst next contacted his friend and fellow publisher Henry Luce. Their Wall Street ally, Bernard Baruch, arranged a meeting between Luce and Graham while the preacher was staying with the segregationist Governor Strom Thurmond in the official mansion in Columbia, S.Car. Luce concurred with Hearst about Graham’s marketability and Time and Life were enlisted in the job of selling the soap of salvation to the world. Time, alone, has run more than 600 stories about Graham.

The man who would become known as “the minister to presidents” offered his first military advice in 1950. On June 25, North Korean troops invaded South Korea and Graham sent Truman a telegram. “MILLIONS OF CHRISTIANS PRAYING GOD GIVE YOU WISDOM IN THIS CRISIS. STRONGLY URGE SHOWDOWN WITH COMMUNISM NOW. MORE CHRISTIANS IN SOUTHERN KOREA PER CAPITA THAN ANY PART OF WORLD. WE CANNOT LET THEM DOWN.”

It was the first time Graham encouraged a president to go to war, and with characteristic hyperbole: Korea has never topped the list of Christian-leaning nations. Subsequently, Graham gave his blessing to every conflict under every president from Truman to the second Bush, and most of the presidents, pleased to enjoy public assurance of God’s approval, made him welcome in the White House. Graham excoriated Truman for firing General Douglas MacArthur and supported the general’s plan to invade China. He went so far as to urge Nixon to bomb dikes in Vietnam-- knowing that it would kill upward of a million civilians-- and he claimed to have sat on the sofa next to G.H.W. Bush as the bombs began falling in the first Gulf War (though Bush’s diary version of the evening somehow excludes Graham, as does a White House video of Bush during the attack).

According to Bush’s account, in a phone call the preceding week, Graham quoted poetry that compared the President to a messiah destined to save the world, and in the next breath called Saddam the Antichrist. Bush wrote that Graham suggested it was his historical mission to destroy Saddam.

Through the years, Graham’s politics earned him some strange bedfellows. He praised Senator Joseph McCarthy and supported his assault on Constitutional rights, then scolded the Senate for censuring McCarthy for his excesses. He befriended oil men and arms manufacturers. He defended Nixon after Watergate, right up to the disgraced president’s resignation, and faced public scorn when tapes were aired that exposed the foul-mouthed President as a schemer and plotter. Nixon’s chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, reported on Graham’s denigration of Jews in his posthumously published diary-- a claim Graham vehemently denied until released tapes undid him in 2002. Caught with his prejudicial pants down, Graham claimed ignorance of the hour-and-a-half long conversation in which he led the antisemite attack.

As reported by the Associated Press on March 2, 2002:
“Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon . . . some 30 years ago,” Graham said in a statement released by his Texas public relations firm. “They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks.”“Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon . . . some 30 years ago,” Graham said in a statement released by his Texas public relations firm. “They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks.”
Whether or not the comments reflect Graham’s views at the time or thirty years later, it is his defense that bears much closer scrutiny. What were we to make of a preacher who insisted that his words didn’t reflect his beliefs? Were we to believe him then or later, on other matters?

Graham was a political operative, reporting to Kennedy on purported communist insurgencies in Latin America, turning over lists of activist Christians to the Republican party, conferring regularly with J. Edgar Hoover and networking with the CIA in South America and Vietnam. He was even assigned by Nixon’s operatives to talk George Wallace out of a second run for the White House.

To accomplish the latter, he phoned Wallace as he was coming out of an anesthetic stupor after one of his numerous post-assassination-attempt surgeries. While the long suffering gunshot victim asked the minister to pray for him, the minister asked him not to make a third-party bid for the presidency. “I won’t do anything to help McGovern,” Wallace replied.

There are many who would argue that the good that Graham did outweighs whatever political intrigue he embraced, and even the several wars he enthusiastically endorsed. To the extent that bringing people to Christ is of benefit to them, an untestable hypothesis, he was successful with his calls to come forward. He accrued hundreds of millions of dollars which were used to extend his ministry and thereby bring more people to “be saved,” which is self-justifying but fails as evidence of goodness.

If Christian beliefs about the hereafter prove correct, we will all presumably discover what good he accomplished, or what chance for salvation we missed, in the sweet by and by.

In talking to one of his biographers, Graham recalled his mood during his fire and brimstone declamations, “I would feel as though I had a sword, a rapier, in my hand, and I would be slashing deeper and deeper into the consciences of the people before me, cutting away straight to their very souls.”

In that regard, Graham’s largest and most lasting monument is a highway cut through Beaucatcher Mountain, blasted through a majestic land form that once bisected Asheville, N.Car. He helped convince recalcitrant landowners to permit the excavation and construction through the cut of the short stretch of Interstate highway subsequently named the Billy Graham Freeway.

Downwind residents report that the weather has permanently shifted due to the gaping mountain maw and the future of the highway that transects the city continues to be one of the most divisive issues in that southern metropolis.

“Straight to their very souls,” indeed.

In every way, Graham was the spiritual father of today’s right-wing religious leaders who so inhabit the national conversation. If he cloaked his suasion in public neutrality it was the hallmark of an era in which such intrusion was deemed unseemly. If today’s practitioners are less abashed, it is in many ways reflective of the secure foundation Graham built within Republican and conservative circles.

Graham endorsed and courted Eisenhower and compared a militaristic State of the Union speech to the Sermon on the Mount, fanned anti-Catholic flames in the Nixon-Kennedy contest, backed Johnson and then Nixon in Vietnam, lobbied for arms sales to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan years, conveyed foreign threats and entreaties for Clinton and lent his imprimateur to G.W. Bush as he declared war on terrorism from the pulpit of the National Cathedral.

Billy Graham approved of warriors and war, weapons of mass destruction (in white, Christian hands) and covert operations. He publicly declaimed the righteousness of battle with enemies of American capitalism, abetted genocide in oil-rich Ecuador and surrounds and endorsed castration as punishment for rapists. A terrible swift sword for certain, and effective no doubt, but not much there in the way of turning the other cheek.

Graham will be cordially remembered by those who found solace in his golden promises and happy homilies, but the worldly blowback from his ministry is playing out in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chechnya and Korea, the Phillipines and Colombia-- everywhere governments threaten human rights and pie in the sky is offered in lieu of daily bread.

In the words of  Graham’s ministerial and secular adversary, Dr. King, “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

Farewell Reverend Graham. Let justice roll.

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