Thursday, December 7, 2017

What is Wrong with This Picture? Trump Edition

By Bob Ferris

When I was a child I would delight in playing the game in children's magazines called "what's wrong with this picture."  Big time fun.  But not as fun when we are constantly and involuntarily doing it as adults.  Here is a prime example.  At the top we have Ginni Thomas head of "United for Purpose"  presenting an Impact Award to a young film maker.  So what is wrong with this picture?

Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Virginia (Ginni) Thomas.
Certainly there are the easy things to see.  Ginni is Virginia Thomas the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who stepped down from the now-invisible, conservative activist organization Liberty Central in 2010 because of the appearance of conflict with her husband's work.  Now she seems to head up an entity called United for Purpose.  I say "seems" because this entity has no website and does not appear in a Guidestar search or pretty much any other place on the web.  Perhaps this is not wrong, but absolutely is weird. 

Easy too to see that the event was held at Trump International Hotel.  We could insert here the commentary from when Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch spoke at the Trump location (1,2,3,4).  The arguments are basically the same.  How did a publicly-owned building basically become the club house for conservative politics and Republican fundraising?

Sean Hannity.
And then we start to look at who is getting awards.  Sean Hannity?  This is confusing because if it is for his reporting and commentary then the question rises whether the award is for his truthful statements or his false ones.  As he runs at about 50 percent truthful it could be either.  Does being half-right really deserve an award?  Ginni Thomas representing a nearly non-existent group seems to think so.

James O'Keefe mugshot.  
But the most troubling, and this is a race with many horses, is James O'Keefe and Project Veritas (see here).  In the photo at the top we have the wife of a Supreme Court Justice presenting an award to someone convicted of breaking into a Senator's office and accused of conspiring to plant a politically-motivated false news story receiving accolades in a public building leased problematically to a sitting president who made contributions to the awardee through a foundation that seems to have repeatedly violated non-profit practices and regulations.  Sorry for the run-on sentence, but really!

The amazing part is that I have only scratched the surface with this.  There is much more wrong with this picture and the associated tendrils.  Particularly when we see Senator Al Franken stepping down and not a peep out of those critical of Franken about Clarence Thomas and his history or even commentary on Trump trying to initiate a "not me" whisper campaign about the infamous "pussy tape."  All this just makes the head spin and is really indefensible by any logical or ethical person.   But that is where we are unless we work to correct this.  I am going to a protest this afternoon, what are you going to do? 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ban Bump Stocks? Nyet...I mean, No.

By Bob Ferris

I am starting to cringe a little when I hear anything that sounds like a Russian accent.  And that is a shame, because I like a lot of things that are Russian.  My mother would play "Peter and the Wolf" for me when I was a child and I have consumed a few White Russians in my time.  That said, this negative sensitization is wholly natural for an aware American given the totality of what we know and what we are learning.  

From here.
Take this picture of a pin-loving (1), conservative sheriff and frequent Trump campaign surrogate (1,2,3) from the Midwest who traveled to Moscow and Israel in late 2015 (the same time as Michael Flynn and Jill Stein).   The picture is a head-scratcher until you know that the trip was paid for by gun rights advocates and the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Add to this information the NRA's investment of more than $30 million dollars (1,2,3) in getting Trump elected (pushing and pulling), recent disclosures about NRA Russian connections being offered to the Trump campaign (1,2,3), and the whole stinky, fish kettle full of muck represented by the interactions between Paul Erickson, Maria Butina and bad hombre Alexandr Torshin (1,2,3), and then the connections and associations cascade once the search terms are assembled.  

From here.
Sure some of the above connections can be discounted as guilt-by-association.  But, honestly, what is the likelihood that a Russian gun rights advocate (Butina) would attend and be allowed to ask a question of candidate Trump at a FreedomFest rally in July 2015 (see at 9:08), that her Russian gun rights group would invest $6,000 in bringing Trump-surrogate Clarke to Moscow five months later, then that she would end up at an invitation-only venue celebrating Trump's win with her Bridges LLC business associate and Republican operative Paul Erickson who proffered the Russian connection mentioned above?  That she has said that she helped Trump and frequently travels with Putin-ally and her former employer Alexandr Torshin seems only unnecessary icing on an already too sweet cake. 

This is a decidedly NRA-style set of arguments.  The first being that an assault rifle is a hunting weapon and the other that what they want access to is small and relatively harmless.  Both are not true.  (Maria Butina pictured above).

I am by training an ecologist and not a political scientist. My field often deals with the probability of effects being associated with parallel causes.  For me, the above shows far too many political critters all walking like "ducks" and migrating similarly to be ignored without asking some serious questions.  I commend those in Congress asking questions about this.  

Alexander Torshin at the 2016 NRA Convention.
While I am pleased that this Russian question is being asked, what about the NRA's $30 million investment in this past election?  Where exactly did this money come from?  The NRA mantra has been that their campaign expenditures are not much relative to their other activities and that they come from small donations (see here).  But while their $35 average donation from 30,000 members claim sounds nice and reasonable that yields only 3 percent of what they spent in 2016 leaving us with the inescapable conclusion that either the average donation or number of donors increased, individually or in combination, thirty-fold in two years.  Given that the NRA receives wheelbarrow loads of money from sources that cannot contribute to campaigns, such as companies with government contracts and foreign entities, questions should be asked.  This is particularly true given the NRAs push for the lifting of Russian sanctions relating to weaponry.  It would be a tragedy of enormous irony if this flag-waving bunch of buffoons saddled us with the worst president in our country's history simply so some insecure ammo-sexual could import an AK-47.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

The High Crowned Roads, Worker Ants and the Cut Cut Cut Tax Bill

By Bob Ferris

I went on a shopping run this morning and on my walk back I saw a black woman in a wheel chair.  She was missing her left lower leg at mid-calf.  She rolled down the access ramp at the crosswalk only to be greeted by a steeply-crowned Washington, DC roadway designed to drain quickly.  She was obviously struggling and her large purse was slipping slipping off her lap as she could push only with her right hand because she had no leverage with her left.  How did I know this?  Because the end of her empty left pant leg flapped as she tried to gain purchase and balance with the foot that was no longer there.  I asked if she would mind if I helped her.  She thanked me but said: No.  There was a smile attached.

This filled my mind with many thoughts but right at the forefront was a notion that what I just experienced was a metaphor for Trump's Cut-Cut-Cut tax bill.  The Republicans rejected this particular appellation but not the operational philosophy inherent in it.  The tax bill is a morass of moral decay that gives lip service to those needing help while providing serious obstacles for the lower register of society and mechanisms for quickly removing those who are not worker ants or hyper-consumers from the landscape. 

The House and Senate versions are nightmares for most Americans that will progressively strangle the poor a little like the fable of the boiling frog (see above). But it is worse than that because they are also festooned with the plague-ish pet posies of those who needed some sort of enticement to come on-board with this legislative insult.   Examples?  Sure.  How about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that makes so little sense that Jerry Taylor formerly at the Koch-founded Cato Institute called it and other extraordinary pushes for domestic production "nonsense on stilts." 

Another bad provision is that churches and other non-profits would be allowed to make political statements and endorse candidates.  It essentially sets up a mechanism that favors large political donors who heretofore could not deduct political contributions associated with elections from their taxes.  This provision opens the door for more contributions from larger donors intent on reshaping the country in their own selfish image.  Horrifically bad idea for a democracy.

I am happy that this tax bill package is running into some road blocks.  But that does not erase the sorrow that I feel that it was every put to paper in the first place.  For all those on Capitol Hill and in the White House who so frequently invoke our Founding Fathers, I would suggest that they take a little time and re-read the Preamble to the US Constitution.  These are the guiding instructions to the package of laws they have sworn to uphold.  Those currently in office seem to have the Preamble confused with the rules to Monopoly and that is a shame for all of us those that come after 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Veritas My Ass...That Smells like Electioneering...and Dry Rot

By Bob Ferris

Setting aside the dubious nature of the "public good" performed by James O'Keefe, Project Veritas and his merry gang of hyper-Christian fraudsters, there are legal sideboards to an IRS code 501(c)(3) non-profit's activities and one is an absolute ban on dipping their toes in electioneering.  So this action taken with the Washington Post and the fake story about Judge Roy Moore (1,2,3), if it can be definitively linked to Project Veritas, seems to point to this specious non-profit stepping outside that boundary.  That would seriously jeopardize their IRS status.   And I hope it does.

For a timeline of James O'Keefe's pranks and clumsiness see this thread.

Is the case a strong one?  I would think so.  Judge Roy Moore is an active candidate coming down to the wire in a very close race.  If this action had been successful and brought the Washington Post's reporting into question it could certainly have made it easier for those desperately looking for some moral cover for a Moore vote.  But if O'Keefe and crew just wanted to expose the Washington Post on this topic, why wouldn't they have used Trump or even Franken as their stalking horse?  Moreover, this coming on the heels of the infamous Lenny Bernstein robocall in Alabama is just too, too coincidental or perhaps "convenient" as the Church Lady would say.

How James O'Keefe sees himself.
And I do understand that Project Veritas has an associated 501(c)(4) which would be allowed to do this (kind of), but I strongly suspect that money for this came from the (c)(3) side which draws on many of the same sources that brought us this past election including the infamous Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.  These funds are also very, very active in the climate denial realm so the "pain index" inflicted on most in the US by the likes of the Koch brothers and the Mercers is pretty high.

How the world sees James O'Keefe.
Lest you think this a grassroots movement, nearly 84% of the $3.7 million received by Project Veritas in FY 2015 came in chunks of $5,000 or more.  And who are these donors?  One of the 2015 donors was a foundation in New York with the name of Trump which gave $10,000.  The organization is growing along with James O'Keefe's salary which neared the $240,000 mark in 2015.  Lying and playing pranks seem to pay pretty well.

In any logical, truth-loving, or law-abiding society Project Veritas would be shut down with windows boarded up.  But that is not where we are.  We have this clump of very rich folks whose unbridled (under-regulated) pursuit of trophy capitalism is on the verge of crippling this country.  O'Keefe, Bannon and Trump are certainly helpful minions connected much like mushrooms in a forest by political and economic mycelium but they are just the "toadstools" we see most not the whole package or even the most important parts.  Dealing with the visible does little long term good without also addressing what's below the surface. 

That said, I agree that O'Keefe is creepy in the extreme, a little Roger Stone in-training.  But while dealing with him, we also need to address these masses of tendrils that enable him and are overtaking America.  Those tendrils are wrapped tightly around the net neutrality debate.  They are pushing this tax bill which will keep the rich enriching themselves and the poor destitute and then discarded once they are no longer worker ants or consumers.  They are gobbling up our media (1,2,3,4) and perverting our legislative and judicial systems (1,2) much like dry rot does to once sound joists and beams.  What is unfortunate is that we know all this and from multiple sources.  We are like a homeowner who holds five home inspections hoping that one will give a different more hopeful answer.  The reports all point to the same problems.  And like that home owner it is time we faced our problems.  We must stop or contain this rot now or lose our cherished home that formerly provided some semblance of "liberty and justice for all" and now increasingly seems to be the playground for economic, political and intellectual abuse.