Maple Leaf Rage

When I first saw a tweetstorm by Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain blaming Donald Trump for Iran’s shootdown of Ukranian Airlines Flight 572 – on his company’s official Twitter feed, no less – I was immediately reminded of the immortal words of Ann Coulter:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

The far-right commentator was mourning the loss of her friend Barbara Olson in the 9/11 attacks when she penned these provocative, fiery words. I have no doubt Coulter was sincerely stricken with grief and anger when she wrote this. But that sure doesn’t excuse it.

Michael McCain isn’t nearly as repellent a person as Coulter, and his angry tweets don’t come close to her borderline promotion of genocide. But in both cases, their heartfelt grief led to lash out at people who didn’t deserve it. And, yes, there are many good reasons to lash out against Trump, but this one isn’t on him.

After the Flight 752 disaster killed his colleague’s wife and 11-year-old son, Michael McCain, chief executive of Maple Leaf Foods Inc., took to Twitter on Sunday night to admonish the Trump administration for escalating tensions with Iran.

“I am very angry, and time isn’t making me less angry,” McCain wrote on Maple Leaf Foods’ official Twitter account. “A MLF colleague of mine lost his wife and family this week to a needless, irresponsible series of events in Iran.”

McCain is at the helm of a major Canadian meat processing empire, with 12,500 employees and production facilities in Canada and the U.S., including a planned $310-million plant-based protein plant in Indiana.

[…]

Without ever naming Donald Trump — referring to him instead “a narcissist in Washington” — McCain criticized the president’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear agreement and the recent U.S. killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Iran retaliated with missile strikes on U.S. military positions in Iraq, then hours later, Iran fired on Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752, killing all 176 on board, the majority of them en route to Canada via Kiev. After initially denying any involvement, Iran admitted on Friday to shooting down the plane, calling it a “disastrous mistake” caused by human error. Iran said the air defences were fired in error while on alert after the missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.

It would be one thing if McCain blamed Trump and Iran for the shootdown, like this past weekend’s Chronicle Herald cartoon. I still don’t think it would be accurate, but at least it would acknowledge that the people who actually shot down the plane must bear some responsibility or their actions.

But if you knew nothing else about the incident, you would read McCain’s tweets and assume the U.S. shot down the jet. Whether he meant to or not, McCain treats the Iranian government and military not as professionals but as wild animals who just can’t help themselves.

Which, ironically, isn’t that far off from the way people like Coulter view the people of Iran – many of whom are risking their lives to hold their own leaders accountable for this disaster.

It's Iran's fault. Period.

As we argue about who is really responsible for the downing of Ukranian International Airlines Flight 752, Tom Nichols – whose anti-Trump credentials are second to none – places the blame squarely on the country that actually shot down the plane.

Trump is a reckless, ignorant fool. He is not responsible for everything bad that happens in the world, and to say otherwise is to deny everyone else any responsibility for their own actions.

In other contexts, that would be considered racism.

As for Iranian cooperation and openness in finding out what happened, this is not a promising sign:

Our worst fears confirmed

The crash of Ukranian International Airlines Flight 752, which claimed the lives of 176 people – including 62 Canadians, many of them with connections to Halifax – was likely caused by an Iranian surface-to-air missile:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says intelligence now indicates the Ukrainian passenger aircraft that crashed outside of Tehran on Wednesday, killing everyone on board — including 138 people destined for Canada — was shot down by an Iranian missile. 

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said during a news conference in Ottawa, adding that it might have been an unintentional act.

[…]

The crash happened just hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, in response to U.S. President Trump’s decision to order the targeted killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani

When asked if the U.S. air strike was in part to blame for the crash, Trudeau said only that Canada needs a thorough investigation.

I’m not normally inclined to give the Iranian government any benefit of the doubt, but I really don’t think they intended to destroy this civilian plane. At a time when they’re on the verge of war with the United States, this is the last thing they needed. Plus, 82 Iranians were among the victims.

When the U.S. Navy shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, it was because they mistook the plane for a fighter jet. The downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine was likely carried out by Russian-backed separatists who thought they were firing on military aircraft. The most likely explanation is that the same kind of terrible, negligent mistake happened here.

As for President Trump, I guess you can say he bears some responsibility for this, in the same way President Johnson bears some responsibility for Forrest Gump’s friend Jenny getting abused by her boyfriend. The word “crossfire” is being thrown around, but at the time this happened only one side was actually doing any shooting.

The orange one himself is much less bellicose than you might expect:

Trump declined to share his theories around why the plane crashed but said he thought “something very terrible happened. Very devastating.”

“Well, I have my suspicions. It was very – I don’t want to say that…because other people have those suspicions also.”

He also said someone “on other side” could have “made a mistake.”

Trump is being roasted online for his cavalier remarks about the plane ” flying in a pretty rough neighborhood.” Maybe not the most sensitive way to put it, but my goodness, could you realistically expect anything better?

The President's charity scam

Remember when the President of the United States was caught running a scam charity, from which he used the proceeds to buy giant paintings of himself, and was forced to pay $2 million in damages? No?

It says a lot about this President that something like running a fraudulent charity can fall through the cracks:

President Trump has paid $2 million in court-ordered damages for misusing funds in a tax-exempt charity he controlled, the New York attorney general said Tuesday.

At least he paid. His contractors usually aren’t so lucky.

The payment was ordered last month by a New York state judge in an extraordinary rebuke to a sitting president. Trump had been sued in 2018 by the New York attorney general, who alleged the president had illegally used funds from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to buy portraits of himself, pay off his businesses’ legal obligations and help his 2016 campaign.

The money was split among eight charities, according to a statement from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D). The charities were the Army Emergency Relief, the Children’s Aid Society, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha’s Table, the United Negro College Fund, the United Way of National Capital Area, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to the statement.

That one of the legitimate charities scammed by the white nationalists’ favorite President is the Holocaust Museum is…[chef’s kiss].

In addition, Trump agreed to distribute the remaining $1.8 million left in the Donald J. Trump Foundation to the same eight charities. In all, each charity received $476,140.41.

[…]

In a statement, attorneys for Trump said: “The legacy of the Trump Foundation — which gave away many millions to those in need at virtually no cost — is secure.” They did not answer a reporter’s query about whether Trump intended to count the court-ordered $2 million payment on his taxes as a charitable deduction.

(via Joe Walsh – the longshot Presidential candidate, not the “Life’s Been Good” guy – on Twitter)

On The Simpsons, Mr. Burns was once diagnosed with “Three Stooges Syndrome,” a condition in which he has every single disease known to man but they all kind of cancel each other out.

Similarly, Trump is embroiled in so many scandals that none of them can really gain any traction. And that’s why he thinks he’s indestructible. Hopefully the impeachment hearings are the slight breeze.

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.

We’re all Al Bundy now

In an interview with Rich Eisen, the great Ed O’Neill talked about how he got his breakout role on Married With Children by portraying Al Bundy not as angry and outraged by his family’s antics, but as a resigned loser who was past the point of caring:

Yesterday it was revealed that the President of the United States and his family were running a charity scam for years, and that legal threats have forced them to shut it down:

President Donald Trump’s personal charitable foundation has agreed to dissolve under judicial supervision amid an ongoing lawsuit concerning its finances, according to a document filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court by the New York state Attorney General’s office.

The dissolution of the Donald J. Trump Foundation resolves one element of the attorney general’s civil lawsuit against the foundation, which includes claims that the President and his three eldest children — Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric — violated campaign-finance laws and abused its tax-exempt status. Rather than operating it as a genuine charity, the lawsuit alleges, they instead allowed it to be used “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”

According to prosecutors, Trump’s phony charity scammed veterans:

The suit, filed in June, alleges that Trump and his children violated federal and state charities law with a “persistent” pattern of conduct that included unlawful coordination with the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

Central to the lawsuit is a nationally televised charity fundraiser for military veterans that Trump held in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 28, 2016, just ahead of the Republican caucus vote there. The foundation received $2.8 million as a result of that event. According to the New York suit, Trump campaign staff then directed the disbursement of those funds for Trump’s political benefit.

The lawsuit also alleges that Trump mined his charity for “personal enrichment,” including using $100,000 from the nonprofit to settle legal claims against his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Imagine if this had come up with Obama, or Clinton, or either of the Bushes in the White House.  It would be a scandal the likes of which Washington had never seen.  Public outrage would force the President to resign in disgrace.

For this President, it’s barely a blip on the radar:

cnn

Again: the President of the United States ran a phony charity for his own benefit, and it’s little more than an afterthought compared to other stories about Trump-related scandals, corruption and investigations.  A sentencing hearing for his former National Security Advisor, whom the Judge basically accused of actual treason, bumped it to little more than a footnote.

While he was running for President, Trump famously said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any of his supporters.  He hasn’t personally killed anyone yet, but our ability to be shocked has certainly taken a hit.

The walls are crumbling

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It’s in the Enquirer.  It must be true.

Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s sentencing got most of the attention yesterday, but this information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York might be even more significant:

The Office also announced today that it has previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, in connection with AMI’s role in making the above-described $150,000 payment before the 2016 presidential election.  As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election.  AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.

Assuming AMI’s continued compliance with the agreement, the Office has agreed not to prosecute AMI for its role in that payment.  The agreement also acknowledges, among other things, AMI’s acceptance of responsibility, its substantial and important assistance in this investigation, and its agreement to provide cooperation in the future and implement specific improvements to its internal compliance to prevent future violations of the federal campaign finance laws.  These improvements include distributing written standards regarding federal election laws to its employees and conducting annual training concerning these standards.

Emphasis added.  AMI, parent company of the National Enquirer, is free to support whichever candidate it wants.  But paying off someone to suppress a damaging story, with the express intent of helping that candidate, looks like a serious campaign-finance violation.

Trump-skeptical conservative Allahpundit explains how this could be big trouble for the President:

…It’s legal to pay people off to benefit political candidates; it’s not legal to do it without reporting it to the FEC and it’s not legal to exceed the federal cap on contributions. The key question in analyzing whether the payment qualified as a campaign contribution was whether it was made for the purpose of influencing an election, rather than, say, for the purpose of sparing an adulterer’s family from embarrassment. The latter is what got John Edwards off the hook from this same sort of problem a few years ago. In the end, the feds couldn’t prove that his mistress was being hushed up to protect his presidential candidacy rather than to protect Mrs. Edwards from some personal pain.

Which brings us to today’s news. “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump,” said the company to the WSJ in a statement for its original story about this in November 2016. Two years later, AMI’s now saying something different. And suddenly the president’s in real trouble.

[…]

AMI just shredded Trump’s “Edwards defense.” The payment wasn’t made to spare Melania Trump or the Trump children from the embarrassment of learning about the affair. It was made to influence the election — that is, it was a campaign contribution. And it wasn’t reported. And it exceeded the statutory cap. And it was made in concert with the campaign. The DOJ has crept right up to the point of accusing the president of conspiring with AMI to make an illegal contribution. This is why I thought it was silly on Monday for Republican senators to be shrugging off last Friday’s court filings about Cohen on grounds that he’s a sleazeball and a liar whom no one should take seriously. He is a sleazeball and a liar, to be sure, but the feds never would have gone as far as to implicate Trump unless they had evidence beyond Cohen’s say-so. Today it’s implied that they do have more: They have AMI, not just Cohen, confirming that the law was intentionally broken and that “the campaign” knew about it. What does AMI know about Trump’s personal involvement in this?

Trump’s defense now (and maybe it’s the only defense left) will be that he didn’t know….

Good luck with that, considering that Cohen made a recording of him discussing this very issue with Trump in 2016:

Presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard on tape discussing with his attorney Michael Cohen how they would buy the rights to a Playboy model’s story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier, according to the audio recording of the conversation aired exclusively on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.”

The recording offers the public a glimpse at the confidential discussions between Trump and Cohen, and it confirms the man who now occupies the Oval Office had contemporaneous knowledge of a proposal to buy the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, a woman who has alleged she had an extramarital affair with Trump about a decade ago.

Cohen told Trump about his plans to set up a company and finance the purchase of the rights from American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer. The recording captures what appears to be a routine business conversation of several matters on their agenda. The audio is muddled and the meaning of Trump’s use of the word “cash” is disputed by the two sides.

“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen said in the recording, likely a reference to American Media head David Pecker.

When financing comes up again later in the conversation, Trump interrupts Cohen asking, “What financing?” according to the recording. When Cohen tells Trump, “We’ll have to pay,” Trump is heard saying “pay with cash” but the audio is muddled and it’s unclear whether he suggests paying with cash or not paying. Cohen says, “no, no” but it is not clear what is said next.

It’s been a long two years since Trump’s shocking election, but it really feels like something has changed in the past few weeks.  I’m calling it now: Trump will not be running for re-election in 2020.  Assuming he isn’t removed from office before his term runs out, I think he’ll deem himself the most successful President in history, declare victory and avoid a humiliating defeat by choosing not to run again.

(Because my predictions are always so accurate, you know.)

It’s Trump, but not just Trump

Capture

That’s not a MAGA hat.

Has President Trump contributed toward the mainstreaming of antisemitism and bigotry?  Put it this way: a GOP candidate in Connecticut had no qualms about sending out a mailer showing his Jewish opponent grasping for money.

I don’t know if Trump is himself antisemitic – as his defenders point out, his daughter is a convert to Judaism – but he’s certainly indifferent to it among his supporters.  And as we saw in Pittsburgh this past weekend, it’s a short journey from antisemitic hatred to the mass murder of Jews.

But it’s called “the oldest hatred” for a reason.  As Philip Klein points out, antisemitism was prevalent long before Trump ran for President, and unfortunately it likely won’t go away even after he’s perp-walked out of the White House.

The reality is that anti-Semitism is an evil that has been with us for thousands of years and, despite the great blessings of freedom and religious liberty enjoyed by Jews here, it existed in America long before Trump entered the political scene. If we only talk about anti-Semitism within the limited context of Trump, we will fail to understand and combat it.

Since the FBI started keeping data in 1996 and through 2016 (the most recent year for which statistics were available and the year prior to Trump’s presidency), there were 19,023 anti-Jewish hate crimes recorded. That represented about two-thirds of all religious hate crimes in the U.S. — a shocking statistic considering that Jews only make up about 2 percent of the population. Those crimes occurred under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

It’s common for Jews to navigate armed guards, police, and metal detectors when going to worship at synagogues, drop their children off at Jewish daycare centers, or attend activities at local Jewish community centers.

The Pittsburgh shooting was the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history, but for many of us, something like it has felt inevitable for a long time. There were were shootings at a JCC in Los Angeles in 1999; at the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006; at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009; and the Overland Park, Kan., JCC in 2014. Bomb plots have also been thwarted. Those were fortunately less successful for various reasons, including heroic efforts of security and law enforcement personnel.

As somebody who has spent a long time raising alarms about anti-Semitism, it’s frustrating to see that people who have ignored the festering problem for so long only care about it when they can weaponize it against Trump.

Anti-Semitism comes in many shapes and is not confined to Right or Left, either in the U.S. or throughout the world. It thrives among those who are completely ignorant and among educated elites. In recent decades, it’s often been cloaked as opposition to Israel.

Even as the bodies of Jews murdered at prayer were being removed from the Tree of Life Synagogue, serial plagiarist C.J. Werleman was ensuring his Twitter followers that Hamas, whose Charter  cites The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to justify a war against the Jews, isn’t really antisemitic because something something Israel:

It is remarkable, how antisemitism ceases to be antisemitism when you substitute the word “Zionist” for “Jew.”  And also how people who insist Israel doesn’t really represent the Jews are quick to bring up Israel whenever Jews anywhere else in the world are attacked.

Meanwhile, here in Halifax, James Petras is still listed as a faculty member at St. Mary’s University.