Everything we knew about Trump is still true

Robert Mueller may have confirmed that the President of the United States didn’t knowingly collude with Russia, and Team #MAGA is taking its victory lap.

Retweeting himself is the least objectionable thing about him.

The report is agnostic on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice, and several members of his circle are already or will soon be behind bars. (As noted by CNN Legal Anlyst Elie Honig, imagine if Mueller had waited until he completed his report before announcing all 34 indictments, including the likes of Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Michael Cohen, at once.)

In any event, even if Trump isn’t guilty of collusion, it certainly doesn’t make him a good President or even a decent human being.

Some perspective from Rachel Larimore at The Bulwark:

…at the end of the day Donald Trump is a bad man. A bad, orange man. And  a bad president. Vanna, show them what they’ve won!

Trump is still the same guy who:

Told Billy Bush that “I moved on her like a bitch” in reference to a married woman. And that his M.O. is to “grab ’em by the pussy.”

Insulted John McCain for being captured while serving in Vietnam.

Insulted a Gold Star family whose son died in Iraq.

Said Mexico was going to build America a wall.

Accused an American judge of dual loyalties.

Refused to divest from his businesses after he was elected president.

Does not appear to understand trade deficits.

Complained about immigrants from “shithole” countries.

Said terrible things about female journalists.

Said terrible things about male journalists.

Failed to swiftly and simply condemn violence by neo-Nazi and white nationalist protesters during the Charlottesville protest.

Said he had a “great relationship” with Rodrigo Duterte, the Phillipines president who has bragged about personally killing people during his war on drugs.

Retweeted an extremist British nationalist’s anti-Muslim videos.

That’s not even half the list. And the complete list doesn’t even mention he’s a vaccine troofer on top of everything else.

In any event, that victory lap might be premature, according to Henry Olsen:

This evidence could have a quite different effect on public opinion than it would in a legal proceeding. Criminal prosecutions require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and Mueller clearly saw a strong case against Trump under that standard. While Barr decided he did not, reasonable observers could conclude differently. They could also conclude, perhaps, that they have reasonable doubts but think Trump did obstruct justice under the more lenient “clear and convincing evidence” or “preponderance of the evidence” standards. Prosecutors would not look at a criminal case through those lenses, but politicians and pundits are sure to do so.

Barr’s section labeled “Obstruction of Justice” is essential here. Every sentence is extremely precise and carefully worded. The matter of the president’s intent is key, as a prosecutor would have to prove that such a crime was committed with “a corrupt intent.” Barr writes that the special counsel’s finding that the president was not involved in an underlying crime bore “upon the President’s intent” regarding obstruction. In plain English, that suggests there is evidence that people could conclude constitutes criminal obstruction, but that Trump’s saving grace in the law is that he also could not be proven to have colluded with the Russians. Political observers could disagree.

[…]

Barr’s subsequent release is highly likely to contain much more detail, much of it at least unflattering to the president, than most pundits surmise. With respect to the issues of Russian collusion and obstruction, we have clearly reached the end of the beginning. We are nowhere near the beginning of the end.

The more Trump crows about how the Mueller report proves his innocence, the harder it will be for him to avoid releasing it. Though if anyone is shameless enough to try, it’s him.

Mueller is done, but the political wrangling has just started

In this video from the Washington Post, reporter Matt Zapotosky explains what happens with special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia:

It could be a while before we see everything in the report. With Mueller recommending no new indictments it certainly appears he couldn’t definitely prove collusion, but I think the Trump supporters on Twitter are taking their victory laps way too early. 34 people, including several of Trump’s famously sleazy colleagues and collarborators, have already been indicted. I suspect the final report will include a lot of damning information about the President.

And even if Mueller completely clears Trump, other investigations are still ongoing:

Trump may face significant peril from federal prosecutors in Manhattan, according to legal experts. His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said in Feb. 27 congressional testimony that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is examining Trump’s business practices and financial dealings. Cohen already has implicated Trump in campaign finance law violations to which he pleaded guilty in August 2018 as part of the Southern District investigation.

Cohen admitted he violated campaign finance laws by arranging, at Trump’s direction, “hush money” payments shortly before the 2016 presidential election to porn film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal to prevent damage to Trump’s candidacy. Both women said they had sexual relationships with Trump more than a decade ago. He has denied that.

Prosecutors said the payments constituted illegal campaign contributions intended to influence the election. Under federal election laws, such donations cannot exceed $2,700 and need to be publicly disclosed. Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, received $130,000. McDougal received $150,000.

[…]

A defamation lawsuit against Trump by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on his reality television show “The Apprentice,” continues in New York state court after a judge in 2018 allowed it to proceed. Zervos sued Trump after he called her and other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct liars and retweeted a post labeling her claims a hoax.

Trump has agreed to provide written answers to questions from Zervos by Sept. 28, according to a court filing.

Zervos accused Trump of kissing her against her will at his New York office in 2007 and later groping her at a meeting at a hotel in California. More than a dozen women have accused Trump of making unwanted sexual advances against them years before he entered politics.

[…]

A lawsuit filed by the New York state Attorney General’s Office has already led the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was presented as the charitable arm of Trump’s business empire, to agree in December 2018 to dissolve, and the litigation continues.

The state is seeking an order banning Trump and his three eldest children from leadership roles in any other New York charity. Trump has said the lawsuit was concocted by “sleazy New York Democrats.” The state’s Democratic attorney general accused the foundation of being “engaged in a “shocking pattern of illegality” and “functioning as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests” in violation of federal law.

[…]

Trump is accused in a lawsuit filed by the Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia of violating anti-corruption provisions of the U.S. Constitution through his businesses’ dealings with foreign governments.

[…]

Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating whether the committee that organized Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 accepted illegal donations from foreigners, misused funds or brokered special access to the administration for donors.

Trump likes to gloat about how well the economy has been doing, and you can’t deny that the Trump era has been a time of unprecedented prosperity – for lawyers.

Putin’s game

In a remarkable Twitter thread, a Russian sportswriter illustrates how the KHL, Russia’s premier professional hockey league (sometimes considered the best league in the world after the NHL) is being rigged so Putin’s beloved SKA will win.

Instead of rebuilding the USSR, maybe Putin is creating his own East Germany.

TV Review: “Russia on Four Wheels”

[Originally posted to Blogcritics.org]

My favorite episodes of Top Gear are the ones where Jeremy, Hamster and Captain Slow take interesting and unusual cars on long road trips in exotic locations. Another BBC production,Russia on Four Wheels, follows basically the same formula: hosts Justin Rowlatt and Anita Rani take two very different vehicles and take them to very different parts of the world’s largest, and in many ways most mysterious country.

Image

They certainly chose the right machinery for the trip. Rowlatt takes a Brezhnev-era UAZ military jeep into Russia’s agricultural heartland, to the awesome Volga River and the outskirts of Siberia. Meanwhile, for her trip through more prosperous, industrialized regions, Rani drives a hilariously insane armor-plated Kombat truck – basically an armored personnel carrier with leather seats. This thing is exactly what you’d picture a flamboyant, slightly sinister Russian oligarch using as his daily driver.

The trip isn’t as irreverent as Top Gear, of course, but it’s a very interesting and beautifully filmed look at the country that will host the Winter Olympics this month. (Both road trips start in Sochi, host city for the winter games, yet a place warm enough for lemon trees to grow). A portrait emerges of a country where many have achieved prosperity – some, almost unimaginable wealth – but much of which is still recovering from 70 years of communism and another decade-plus of total chaos.

Rani definitely gets the easier ride, visiting newly wealthy entrepreneurs, a modern VW factory and Moscow’s GUM shopping arcade, where you can drop the equivalent of £100,000.00 on a fur coat. But Rowlatt’s excursion in his little UAZ (which runs most of the time) is arguably more interesting: Volgograd (where some campaign to restore the city’s historic old name: Stalingrad), the venerable Lada factory, and a haunting trip to a Stalin-era labor camp that remained in operation until 1989. He even meets a prisoner who spent five years in the camp for the imaginable crime of distributing anti-communist leaflets, and he makes the surprising assertion that the gulag was actually the one place in the USSR where you could speak freely. You were already in a labor camp, so what more could they possibly do with you?

Communism is long gone, but as we’ve seen in recent years, Russia is no liberal democracy. Part one of Russia on Four Wheels, however, doesn’t dwell on the Putin regime’s increasing authoritarianism, its laws against “gay propaganda” or its petty and mean-spirited ban on foreign adoptions – all of which, unfortunately, can’t in good conscience be excluded from a program about Russia in 2014. (Part two, which I have not yet seen, features a gay rights protest, so these issues may yet receive the attention they deserve.)

Still, Russia on Four Wheels does show us many sides of the country most of us didn’t know about, and that makes it worth watching. Part one aired on the BBC World News channel February 1; part two will air February 8. Until Top Gear returns, it will do nicely.

The new useful idiots

How times change.  The people who used to believe the Soviet Union could do no wrong were left-wingers.  Now, it’s far-right “paleoconservatives” who reflexively support Vladmir Putin’s Russia, according to Jamie Kirchick:

But with the twilight struggle long over, opposition to communism no longer offers the unifying appeal to American conservatives as it once did. And Putin’s cynical talk about protecting “moral and ethical norms” has earned him fans among the arch-traditionalist, isolationist wing of the conservative movement, the paleocons.

“Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative?” former Nixon speechwriter, Republican presidential candidate, and paleocon godfather Pat Buchanan asked in his nationally syndicated column. Buchanan, a fundamentalist Catholic who lost his pundit job at MSNBC in 2012 after publishing a book lamenting “the end of white America” and “the death of Christian America,” lauded Putin for signing into law last year a measure prohibiting the “propagation of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.” That act was followed by a wave of violent homophobia in Russia, and determined protests from democratic governments, including the United States. Standing defiant, Putin lashed out at his Western foes for “requiring…the mandatory acknowledgement of the equality of good and evil.” Buchanan took this as a swipe at the West’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality, writing that, “To equate traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is to equate good with evil,” thereby casting all of those people engaged in same-sex relationships as “evil.”

Paleocons like Buchanan have always looked at America with alarm, nostalgic for the days when the country was segregated, gays were in the closet, and quotas were placed on the numbers of Jews admitted into universities. “Our grandparents would not recognize the America in which we live,” Buchanan writes. “America’s embrace of abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values,” validates Putin’s critique. But if one judges a society by these socially conservative metrics, it is Russia, not America, which performs poorly. Russia has both the highest abortion and divorce rates in the world. And last year, the State Department downgraded Moscow to its lowest tier of countries with regards to efforts at combatting human trafficking. Like the infamous former New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, who denied Stalin’s famines in Ukraine, Buchanan is either unaware of these facts or willing to ignore them in his attempt to uphold Russia as a bastion of virtue, so enamored is he with Putin’s assault on gays.

[…]

The paleocons’ esteem for Putin’s Russia goes deeper than mere admiration for his standing up to what they see as a bullying, interventionist America. For the paleocons, Putin evokes the values that made America great, before the disasters of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism wreaked their havoc on American society.  Writing in the current issue of the American Conservative, the magazine Buchanan founded, William Lind faults Americans for not failing to take off their Cold War goggles and realize that Russia no longer presents a threat to the Western way of life; if anything, Lind argues, it is Russia that today embodies the traditional values forsaken by a post-Christian West. We simplistically conflate Russia with the Soviet Union, Lind alleges, “forget[ing] that Tsarist Russia was the most conservative great power, a bastion of Christian monarchy loathed by revolutionaries, Jacobins and democrats,” a rather clear repudiation of democracy itself. Democrats had ample reason to loathe Tsarist Russia, of course. Not only was it a country that carried out frequent pogroms against Jews (something which probably doesn’t bother Lind, who at a 2002 Holocaust denial conference, spoke of a plot seeking the “destruction of Western culture” carried out by “guys” who “were all Jewish), it was one of the most unequal societies on earth, bounded by a tiny, noble aristocracy at the top and a vast peasant class at the bottom. Indeed, it was Tsarist Russia’s punishing inequality and its refusal to reform that sowed the seeds of the Bolshevik Revolution. That Lind, Buchanan, and other paleocons would romanticize such a backwards, agrarian society is hardly surprising, given their wistfulness for the antebellum, pre-industrial American South, a “humane and decent civilisation [sic],” in [Daniel] Larison’s words. “The defeat of the Confederacy, though the Confederate political experiment does not exhaust the richness of Southern culture and identity, was a defining moment when the United States took its steps towards the abyss of the monstrous centralised [sic] state, rootless society and decadent culture that we have today.”

Lind praises Putin for having “saved and strengthened the Russian state” after the “chaotic Yeltsin years,” failing to mention that Putin did so by pulverizing tens of thousands of civilians during the bloody Chechen Wars. “Washington elites” failed to appreciate the awesomeness of Putin because they were “blinded by their worship of the clay god ‘Democracy.’” All in all, Lind exhorts the magazine’s dwindling readership, “American conservatives should welcome the resurgence of conservative Russia.”

Still, it’s not just the extreme right to admire Putin’s Russia.  Extreme leftist George Galloway, who never met an anti-Western tyrant he wouldn’t take money from support, now has a show on the Russian English-language “news” channel.

A Halifax couple’s adoption nightmare

After months of work and thousands of dollars spent, Adam and Pam Webber – a couple of good friends of mine – have had their worst dears confirmed:

A Halifax couple says their dreams of adopting a child have been crushed by Russian politics.

Pam and Adam Webber were in the final stages of a year-long adoption process. They thought they’d be flying to Russia this fall to bring home a toddler, but then they heard Canadian adoptions of Russian children were in limbo.

“It’s just heart wrenching and really hard to take,” said Pam.

International adoption was the end of the line for her. She and her husband tried fertility treatment and adopting from within the province with no luck.

“We wanted a family. We wanted a young family. We wanted a very involved family. I was the little girl who asked Santa for her own baby,” she said.

Adam Webber said they chose Russia because they heard the process is quicker.

“Quick being a year or two, as opposed to three or more years like a lot of places,” he said.

[…]

A Russian law banning adoptions by U.S. citizens was rushed through parliament in December and sped to President Vladimir Putin’s desk in less than 10 days in retaliation over a U.S. law calling for sanctions on Russians identified as human-rights violators.

Then, earlier this month, the country stopped adoptions to Sweden because it allows same-sex marriages.

But there was no word on Canada, so the Webbers prepared a toddler’s room and Pam quit her job so she could fly to Russia at a moment’s notice this fall.

Still, they braced for bad news. On Tuesday the Webber’s fears were confirmed by their Ontario adoption agency.

“It’s been a long couple of weeks trying to get answers and officially we found out today that Canada-Russia adoptions are suspended,” she said.

An increasingly nationalist Russia has been shutting the door on international adoptions for quite some time – first against the United States (ostensibly because of some admittedly heartbreaking cases in which adopted children were hurt or killed, but mainly as revenge) and now against other Western countries.  And this is what awaits them in their own country:

Russian authorities have ordered the arrest of two nurses they said severely beat three young children at an orphanage during a night of drinking. According to the authorities, they beat the children to get them to stop crying. One of the victims, a 7-month-old, was wrapped in a sheet and stuffed in a plastic container to muffle the cries.

The other children, a 3-year-old boy and a 10-month-old girl, were hospitalized with multiple injuries, Russia’s Investigative Committee said Thursday. The 7-month-old child was initially in a coma. Their current conditions were not immediately known.

[…]

…critics say little has been done to improve conditions at Russian orphanages or to promote adoptions domestically. More than 600,000 Russian children live outside the custody of their biological parents, many in foster homes. But about 130,000, many with physical and mental health problems, live in orphanages, where they are sometimes neglected and abused.

It was not clear how many children lived at the orphanage in the Khabarovsk region, or whether there had been a history of abuse there.

Investigators said the beatings began after several children awoke during the night and started crying. The children were not found until the next morning, when other workers arrived. Only then were they were taken to the hospital.

More at adoptanewattitude.com.