Sunday, March 18, 2018
I'm not sure what the problem is, but the Blogger platform I use for this blog is not allowing me to upload photos. Hopefully, it is a short lived problem. Once it is back up and functioning, photos will be added.
Politico is reporting, the Federal Election Commission is investigating the NRA to determine if that organization - a front for gun manufacturers - may have funned Russian funds to the Trump campaign. In an earlier time with a different occupant in the White House, such a possibility would have seemed impossible. Now, it seems all too possible. Here are highlights from the piece in Politico:
The Federal Election Commission has launched a preliminary investigation into whether Russian entities gave illegal contributions to the National Rifle Association that were intended to benefit the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, according to people who were notified of the probe.The inquiry stems in part from a complaint from a liberal advocacy group, the American Democracy Legal Fund, which asked the FEC to look into media reports about links between the rifle association and Russian entities, including a banker with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A spokesman for the NRA . . . . declined to comment on the FEC’s probe.
An FEC spokesman also declined to comment, saying the agency is prohibited by law from confirming or denying any investigations until they’re complete.
Under FEC procedures, the preliminary investigation is likely to require the NRA to turn over closely guarded internal documents and campaign finance records. Depending on what FEC investigators and lawyers find, the agency could launch a full-blown investigation, impose fines or even make criminal referrals to the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, people familiar with the probe said.
The preliminary investigation focuses on issues similar to those raised recently by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, as part of his investigation into possible collusion between the NRA, the Trump campaign and Russia.
Wyden is particularly interested in whether Russian-backed entities helped the Trump campaign by funneling contributions to the gun-rights group that “inappropriately and illegally influenced our election,” according to a Feb. 2 letter Wyden sent to the NRA.
Woodhouse, a longtime Democratic Party activist, said the FEC inquiry is a significant step in getting to the bottom of a very complicated series of relationships between the NRA, the Trump campaign and Russian entities.
“This story sounds more like a Tom Clancy novel than a reality,” said Woodhouse. “But in the age of Donald Trump and possible collusion with Russia, not only is it possible that it’s true, but it’s possible enough that it needs to be fully investigated.”
The FEC . . . can look at whether or not the NRA is taking illegal foreign money to conduct political activity, and whether money is passed on to support the campaign,” Woodhouse said. “They would have to investigate all of those linkages to determine whether there was any illegal election activity.”
New Yorker looks at Trump's ongoing effort to destroy the rule of law. Something that ought to distress every patriotic American. That latter category, of course excludes Trump's base and evangelical Christians, perhaps the most morally bankrupt people in America, if not the world. Here are article excerpts:
If you wanted to tell the story of an entire Presidency in a single tweet, you could try the one that President Trump posted after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I., on Friday night.
Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms established by Presidents of both parties. Every sentence displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds.
The President has crusaded for months against McCabe, who is a crucial corroborating witness to Trump’s attempts to stymie the F.B.I.’s investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia.
McCabe behaved with the dignity and the ethics consistent with decades of distinguished service in law enforcement. He played by the rules. He honored his badge as a special agent. But his service threatened the President—both because of the past exoneration of Clinton and the incrimination of Trump, and for that, in our current environment, he had to be punished. Trump’s instrument in stifling McCabe was the President’s hapless Attorney General, who has been demeaning himself in various ways to try to save his own job.
After McCabe was dismissed, on Friday night, he said in a statement that the “investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week.” The idea that this alleged misdeed justifies such vindictive action against a distinguished public servant is laughable.
In his statement, McCabe spoke with bracing directness. “Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” he said. In other words, McCabe was fired because he is a crucial witness in the investigation led by Robert Mueller . . .
What’s clear, though, is the depth of the President’s determination to prevent Mueller from taking his inquiries to their conclusion, as his personal attorney, John Dowd, made clear. . . . Rosenstein is on notice that his failure to fire Mueller might lead to his own departure. And Sessions, too, must know that his craven act in firing McCabe will guarantee him nothing. Trump believes that loyalty goes only one way; the Attorney General may still be fired at any moment.
Sessions could be replaced with someone already confirmed by the Senate—perhaps Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the E.P.A.—who could take office in an acting capacity. At the moment, Mueller’s investigation is supervised by Rosenstein, the deputy Attorney General, but presumably a new Attorney General, without Sessions’s conflict of interest, would take over that role. And that new Attorney General could fire Mueller. Such scenarios once seemed like the stuff of conspiracy theories. Now they look like the stuff of tomorrow’s news.
[T]his is far from a great day for the men and women of the F.B.I., who now know that they serve at the sufferance of unethical men who think that telling the truth amounts to “sanctimony.” The lies in this story are about the F.B.I., not from the F.B.I. The firing of McCabe, and Trump’s reaction to it, has moved even such ordinarily restrained figures as John O. Brennan, the former director of Central Intelligence, to remarkable heights of outrage: . . . . When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America...America will triumph over you.
The haunting question, still very much unresolved, is whether Brennan’s confidence in America’s ultimate triumph is justified.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
So far our annual trip to Key West has been great fun even though I spent a good part of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning working on loan documents for a large securitized loan transaction. At least I got to sit and review documents in a tropical paradise at a quiet table away from the activities around the pools at The Equator. Thursday evening, a group of us from the guesthouse went to Seven Fish for a wonderful dinner (see the image above). As is always the case, the guests at the Equator are from all over the USA and a number of foreign countries. Among our group at dinner was a guy from St. Petersburg, Russia and his American husband and a Canadian (included in the price of the stay at The Equator is a daily evening happy hour aimed at encouraging guests to meet each other.) Several other couples are visiting from Virginia and I may have picked up a new real estate client. Yesterday, we did the historic homes tour and then had dinner at 951 Prime. Today we are headed to Latitudes on Sunset Key for lunch with a group of clients/friends.
For those who have never visited Key West, I encourage you to visit. This is my 10th trip! For the husband, it is probably his 30th visit. Making it even better, the weather has been absolutely perfect.
If one listens to right wing Catholics - e.g., delusional sites like "Church Militant which wants to return to the days of the Spanish Inquisition - the woes of the Church in today's world lies with the younger generations who are accused of moral and intellectual failings. Any and every excuse and scapegoat is preferable to acknowledging that most of the Catholic Church hierarchy is a moral cesspool. (A similar denial of reality afflicts the leadership of the Republican Party.) If right wing Catholics and members of the hierarchy want to understand why younger generations are fleeing Catholicism like passengers fleeing a sinking ship, they need to look in the mirror. Ditto for the Republican Party. A piece in the National Catholic Reporter responds to the self-delusion of the Catholic right. Here are excerpts:
If the recent conference at the University of Notre Dame — where speakers postulated reasons for young people's disassociation from the Catholic Church — represents the approach going into the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people, we would beg church officials to postpone the gathering.What we heard was a familiar litany, placing blame for missing young people on:· Technology — specifically youths' obsession with smartphones — which supposedly robs them of the contemplative mind and makes them "suckers for irrelevancy."According to this analysis, it is the young people, not the church, who are in crisis.
· An aversion to "orthodoxy," a term the user brandished with the certainty that his strain of orthodoxy is the immutable version of the truth.
· The "dumbing down of our faith."
· The pervasiveness of pornography and relativism, of course.
· And a new danger — the "bland toleration" of diversity, a curious addition.
It isn't that healthy young people might be repulsed by the way that church leaders mishandled the sex abuse crisis for decades. Nor is it the money scandals or callousness toward gay and lesbian Catholics or the bishop-driven one-issue politics that has reduced religion and faith to a bumper sticker in the culture wars.
No, they say, the problem lies with young people who have acquired culturally influenced defects.
The cultural critique has value, of course, and the disaffection of young people from all manner of institutional involvement — from the local symphony orchestra to the Rotary Club — needs continued examination to figure out how institutions can be relevant to young people.
Before becoming too convinced that the reason for the disaffection lies with everything and everyone else, church leaders need to seriously examine how their own shortcomings and failures have contributed to young people leaving the church.
It is reasonable to understand that teens and young adults, living in a civil culture that increasingly accepts their LGBT friends and family members, find unacceptable the intolerance and outright discrimination of some Catholic officials and organizations.
It is understandable that a young person would rather not be part of an institution that preaches God's mercy but shows little mercy toward divorced and remarried parents.
Young people, especially young women, who know how their mothers and grandmothers struggled to gain equality in the wider culture, don't care to become involved in an institution where women are marginalized.
Isn't it also reasonable, speaking of vocations to the priesthood, that parents might hesitate to encourage their sons to join a clerical culture that has been depleted not only in numbers, but also in credibility and moral standing?
Unless church leaders at the highest levels thoroughly examine how our community became so distorted — corrupt like a white sepulcher — a synod about attracting younger members will ultimately prove a waste of time and effort.
A similar analysis needs to be undertaken by Republicans: there is a reason a super majority of Millennials vote Democrat.Perhaps the breathless pursuit of young people in its embarrassing obviousness should be set aside to give church leaders time for deep reflection on what it means to be authentically humble. Replace fanciful answers to questions few are asking with a simple sign, containing one line, in each bishop's office: "You may be the problem."
If a fiction writer wrote about a White House like the one now on daily display even as recently as five (5) years ago, everyone would have condemned the narrative as "ridiculous" or "unbelievable." Now, with each passing day we become increasingly aware that the occupant of the White House operates more or less like a crime boss, dealing with underworld figures, Russian oligarchs, cavorts with porn stars and then threatens them with physical violence while simultaneously trying to silence them with hush money. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin - who likely has his own cashe of blackmail materials - smiles on as American prestige and engagement with the world as a super power lurches from one embarrassment to another. The story line put out by Trump sycophants and Republicans - whose willingness to prostitute themselves to the morally bankrupt that would shame a tawdry whore - has been that "adults in the room" would rein in Trump's worse excesses. As we are witnessing, this storyline is a crock of bullshit. Every decent, honest American - which I am sad to say excludes evangelical Christians who put this human refuse in the White House - should be appalled and gravely worried. A column in the New York Times looks at the rolling disaster. Here are excerpts:
Since the beginning of this nightmare administration, we’ve been assured — via well-placed anonymous sources — that a few sober, trustworthy people in the White House were checking Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims. A collection of generals, New York finance types and institution-minded Republicans were said to be nobly sacrificing their reputations and serving a disgraceful president for the good of the country. Through strategic leaks they presented themselves as guardians of American democracy rather than collaborators in its undoing.
Last August, after the president said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., senior officials rationalized their continued role in the administration to Mike Allen of Axios. “If they weren’t there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall,” Allen wrote. Since then, we’ve had a government shutdown over immigration, albeit a brief one. A trade war appears imminent. Arrests of undocumented immigrants — particularly those without criminal records — have continued to surge.
Over the past 14 months we’ve also seen monstrous levels of corruption and chaos, a plummeting of America’s standing in the world and the obliteration of a host of democratic norms.
Increasingly, however, the people who were supposed to be the adults in the room aren’t in the room anymore. The former Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell left in January. Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council, announced his resignation on March 6. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was terminated by tweet on Tuesday. National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster will reportedly be among the next to go, and Trump may soon fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, possibly as a prelude to shutting down the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The self-styled grown-ups are, for the most part, being replaced by lackeys and ideologues. Larry Kudlow, the CNBC pundit Trump has appointed to succeed Cohn, is known for the consistent wrongness of his predictions. Tillerson was a terrible secretary of state, but unlike his chosen successor, the director of the C.I.A., Mike Pompeo, he never trafficked in nut-job Benghazi conspiracy theories or anti-Muslim invective. John Roberts of Fox News reported that McMaster could be replaced by uberhawk John Bolton . . . .
This new stage of unbound Trumpism might make the administration’s first year look stable in comparison. That would partly vindicate the adults’ claims that things would be even messier without them. But it would also mean that by protecting the country from the consequences of an unhinged president, they helped Trump consolidate his power while he learned how to transcend restraints.
Whatever their accomplishments, if from their privileged perches these people saw the president as a dangerous fool in need of babysitting, it’s now time for some of them to say so publicly. . . . Of course, unlike Omarosa Manigault Newman, who confessed horror at her former boss’s presidency on “Celebrity Big Brother,” they haven’t. Their defenders among anti-Trump Republicans say it’s because some of them still have a role to play in staving off potential disaster. One Republican in regular contact with people in the White House told me that Powell and Cohn “need to protect their capacity to reach in and help manage in the event of any national crisis.”
I don’t find this entirely convincing. If these people see the administration as unequipped to handle an emergency, they owe the country a firsthand account of our vulnerability.
[I]f there’s one person who has no excuse for not speaking out, it’s Tillerson, once one of the most powerful private citizens in America, now humbled and defiled by his time in Trump’s orbit. . . . . There’s little doubt that Tillerson holds Trump in contempt and disagrees with large parts of his agenda. After Charlottesville, Tillerson refused to say that the president’s words represented American values.
“Rex is never going to be back in a position where he can have any degree of influence or respect from this president,” my Republican source said. Because of that, the source continued, “Rex is under a moral mandate to do his best to burn it down.” That would mean telling the truth “about how concerned he is about the leadership in the Oval Office, and what underpins those concerns and what he’s seen.”
In this case, patriotism and self-interest point in the same direction. Before entering this administration, Tillerson was a vastly more respected businessman than Trump . . . . Now the first line of his obituary will be about a year of abject failure as the country’s lead diplomat, culminating in a humiliation fit for reality TV.
The only way he will ever change that is by joining those who would bring this despicable presidency down. If Tillerson came out and said that the president is unfit, and perhaps even that venal concerns for private gain have influenced his foreign policy, impeachment wouldn’t begin tomorrow, but Trump’s already narrow public support would shrink further.
Last year, Axios’s Allen and Jim VandeHei half-jokingly called the insiders trying to circumscribe Trump the “Committee to Save America.” Now the committee, having failed, is disbanding. The least they could do is be frank with the rest of us about what we’re up against.