Today’s grandmothers should call out Trump, as this GOP grandmother did to Nixon in 1974

Richard Nixon giving his trademark “victory” sign upon leaving the White House. Some thought he should show more remorse.

The recent passing of my husband’s uncle brought the inevitable sorting of photos, papers, letters, and other memorabilia. Unearthed in all of this was a letter my husband’s grandmother wrote to Richard Nixon in 1974 asking him to ‘fess up to his part in the Watergate conspiracy.

It’s doubtful that he followed her advice (or even read the letter). I hope he at least apologized to his family, those around him, and some of his supporters, as she advised him to do.

It’s even more doubtful that Donald Trump would ever confess to, much less feel contrite about, his involvement in any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and any attempts to cover up Russian involvement. Actually, it’s doubtful that Trump ever feels contrite about anything.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to discover that Grandmother McConnell, as the family always called her, who was definitely a lifelong Republican, felt moved to call out Tricky Dick. Maybe some grandmothers of today’s generation will get a similar urge to call out Trump.

When the Watergate scandal and its coverup were unraveling, the exposure of Nixon’s tape recording system was the smoking gun. That came during congressional testimony from Alexander Butterfield, Nixon’s former deputy chief of staff, in July 1973. Over the next year, partial tapes were released (with some parts “accidentally” erased) as Nixon, the special prosecutors, and Congress battled over the release of the tapes’ content.

A year later, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that Nixon must turn over all the tapes. Facing a growing likelihood of impeachment, Nixon resigned 15 days later, on August 9, 1974, and Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in as president. Ford issued a complete pardon for the disgraced former president on Sept. 8.

Here is Grandmother McConnell’s letter, in its entirety.

She apparently wrote it out in longhand on her own personal stationery before mailing it. She also typed it as a record for posterity. (She obviously was not a skilled typist.)

Grandmother McConnell was a woman who stayed home to raise five children instead of working outside the home. She was one of those often described as a “pillar of the church” in her home Presbyterian church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, so the inclusion of scripture and the advice to meet with religious leaders to seek forgiveness comes as no surprise. No doubt it pained her to go against her Republican leanings and write something critical of Nixon, but she must have felt compelled to write and send this missive.

As this letter was written before Ford’s pardon of Nixon, she likely thought Nixon might still face a trial and be forced to testify under oath. It would have been satisfying for the country to listen to him give such testimony, but we never got that chance. Nixon did offer at least a partial apology for Watergate in a series of interviews he did with David Frost in 1977. But in the same series, he also offered the infamous words, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

August 21, 1974

Dear Richard Nixon,

This letter is being written not out of malice, but in mercy and charity. I have only pity and hope for you, extreme sorrow for Pat, your two daughters, and their husbands.

In view of the past, will you be believed as a witness when under oath?

I believe you were sincere and contrite and that the family agreed with you, that you should suffer the consequences of impeachment and conviction (no ex-president pension and perquisites).

You have admitted “wrong judgments.” Would it not be better if you “came clean” and asked the country and those who, under your leadership, have been and may be in legal difficulties, to forgive you and your dissembling? (My father always said no one had good enough memory to lie consistently.) And to ask your family for their forgiveness?

Then above all, ask the good Lord, God our Father, to forgive you for disgracing the Presidency of the Unites States of America and being untrue to your family (Julie must not have known, either) and to so many of your supporters. This will be difficult to do, either publicly or privately, but it is necessary.

Jesus Christ said confession with true repentance is forgiven. “Go and sin no more.” Read David’s Psalm 51, asking for forgiveness.

Have you not been untrue to the Lord even more than to your country and your family?

If you alone cannot get the needed guidance and help through the words of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings, etc., maybe Billy Graham or Norman Vincent Peale would be glad to help you. You need something. My heart goes out to you and to your family.

I do not expect a reply to this, but I pray that this may all come about and President Ford’s hope that prayers for your peace will be fulfilled.

Sincerely,

Helen S. McConnell

(Just a grandmother with five married children, twenty grandchildren, six and three-quarters “great grands”)

If any grandmother today wrote a similar letter to Trump, I have a feeling the language would be much stronger and not nearly so polite. “Dear President Trump: Why do you lie all the time? Why are you destroying the country?” might be one such offering. It’s hard to imagine a grandmother starting a letter with “Dear Slimeball” or a similar epithet. But you never know.

Helen Slagle McConnell died in 1985 at the age of 96. This photo, while undated, is likely to have been taken in the late 1960s or 1970s, possibly around the time she wrote the letter in 1974, as it is marked as being taken in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Presumably, Grandmother McConnell would have been as mortified about Donald Trump as she was about Richard Nixon. No doubt she would have asked him to apologize to his family and the country and would have offered some scripture to guide him.

Since her suggested religious leaders are no longer around, I’m sure she could name others to give Trump spiritual guidance. But I bet she could do better than some of the evangelical leaders who are so eager to suck up to Trump, such as Franklin Graham and James Dobson.

And although her father told her that “no one had good enough memory to lie consistently,” Trump is certainly doing his best to try — even if his lies are never consistent.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 16, 2018.

Democrats’ midterm edge: more political activity, bigger growth in voter turnout

An awful lot of voters are lining up for Team Blue this year.

With midterm elections less than two months away, it’s becoming clear that important positive factors such as greatly increased voter turnout and greater voter political engagement are pointing to an advantage for Democrats.

The primary season is almost over, and there has been greater overall growth in the number of Democratic voters than there has been for Republicans. At the same time, more Democrats are attending rallies, donating to campaigns, protesting, volunteering for candidates, and contacting elected officials.

And while Republican voting totals also are up in some states, it’s obvious that the greater momentum is on the Democratic side. This matches the voter enthusiasm since Donald Trump took office: 43 state legislative seats have flipped from red to blue. Even in congressional special elections in traditional GOP districts where the Republican candidate won, once-huge partisan voter gaps have narrowed to single digits.

An NPR story reported that the higher increases in turnout on the Democratic side match the voter enthusiasm of previous wave elections, such as when Democrats took over the House in 2006.

Democrats saw a 78 percent increase in turnout compared to the 2014 midterm election. Republicans, meanwhile, saw an uptick of 23 percent. That’s based on available data from 35 states that [Republican pollster John] Couvillon studied. And among those states, 29 had better Democratic gains in turnout than four years ago, with only six states having higher Republican turnout between the parties since the last midterm elections.

Democratic turnout accounted for 53 percent of primary ballots cast this year in those 35 states. In 2006 – the last time Democrats took control of the House – they made up 54 percent of the primary ballots.

Given voter suppression tactics and gerrymandered districts that favor the GOP, Democrats will need all of that 53 percent — and more — to turn all of this voter energy into wins on Nov. 6.

The changes in voting numbers vary by state, but some of the increases in Democratic totals are truly startling. According to the numbers in the NPR story:

Minnesota saw one of the biggest surges in Democratic ballots cast in the primary this year — a 206 percent increase from 2014. The state has four competitive House races this year, including two Twin Cities-area seats that Democrats hope to flip and two open Democratic-held seats on turf in districts President Trump carried by double digits two years ago. While the uptick in turnout is good news for Democrats, Republicans can hope that the 74 percent increase on their side will keep things competitive.

In two important Midwestern states with multiple House seats up for grabs, Democratic turnout spiked while Republican turnout actually dropped from 2014 levels. In Illinois — where there are four seats that the Cook Political Report rates as competitive — there was a 170 percent increase in Democratic ballots, while Republicans saw a 12 percent dip. And in Iowa, where as many as three of its four congressional races are competitive, Democrats had a 154 percent increase in turnout, while Republicans saw a 36 percent decrease.

Even in Texas, where so many Lone Star State Democrats hope for a victory for Beto O’Rourke over incumbent Ted Cruz in the Senate race, Democratic voting was up by 88 percent, compared with only a 16 percent jump in Republican voters.

And while GOP turnout was up in several places, Republican voter turnout actually fell in 29 of 35 state primaries from 2014 to 2018. But in some states, such as West Virginia and North Dakota, GOP turnout went up more than Democratic turnout, which could spell trouble for Democratic incumbents Joe Manchin and (especially) Heidi Heitkamp.

Besides voting, voter engagement is a key measurement that points to a Democratic advantage. A recent survey from Pew Research found that “voters who back Democratic candidates for Congress are reporting higher levels of political activity than GOP voters.”

Among registered voters who favor the Democratic candidate in their House district, 22% say they have attended a political event, compared with just 8% of those who support the Republican candidate.

The differences are more modest in the shares saying they have donated to political campaigns; still, 23% of Democratic voters say they have done this in the past year compared with 18% of Republican voters. Democratic voters are also more likely to have contacted an elected official (36% vs. 28%) and volunteered for a campaign (9% vs. 5%).

The Pew report adds that Republicans are slightly more likely to have expressed support for a candidate through social media, 39 percent to 35 percent, while Democrats are more likely to have expressed opposition to a candidate on social media, 35 percent to 31 percent.

There aren’t many gender differences in political engagement in the two parties. But in terms of education levels, college-educated Democratic voters win the prize. Nearly two-thirds of such voters who support the Democratic candidate in their House district say they have done at least one of the following: attended an event, donated money, contacted an official, or volunteered for a campaign.

Democrats also have a money advantage — on paper, anyway, including the amount of cash on hand. According to the latest overall figures on campaign donations from Open Secrets, part of the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats held the money edge in both House and Senate contests. The totals as of early September were $621 million for Democratic House races vs. $470 million for GOP House races and $368 million for Democratic Senate races vs. $268 million for GOP Senate races.

Some caveats: These figures represent all the races so far, for primary as well as general election spending, and there were more Democratic candidates in contested races. And Republicans hold a big advantage in PAC money and huge funding from GOP mega-donors such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers.

One question both sides definitely agree on: According to the Pew survey, both Democrats (78 percent) and Republicans (75 percent) say that partisan control of Congress is crucial. We’ll have to wait until Nov. 7 to see which side pushed its candidates — and its voters — harder.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 9, 2018.

We don’t need an anonymous op-ed to tell us Trump is nuts

This is not a picture of a well or happy man. But we knew that already.

The political world is agog, agape, and aghast about the anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times trashing Donald Trump.

The Times essay, described as being written by “a senior official in the Trump administration,” delivers the news of a “resistance” within the White House itself, trying to protect the country from the worst inclinations of the 45th president. The op-ed describes a movement of many senior officials who try to stem actions that could send the country on a course of disaster. Trump is described as “impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective.”

Mr. Anonymous (there’s no proof the writer is male, but given the plethora of white males in the Trump administration, it’s highly likely) pats Team Resistance on the back. “This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state,” the op-ed reads.

Members of the political media are falling all over each other trying to pinpiont the writer’s identity. Various cable news shows offered guesses. CNN has a list of 13 possible and likely suspects, ranging from Vice President Mike Pence (“It uses the word lodestar!”) to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats (“He’s 75 and never going to run for anything again”) to first lady Melania Trump. Given that so many of Melania’s speeches and utterances were found to have been cribbed from Michelle Obama, she’s an unlikely suspect.

Some members of the media are miffed, saying that if the writer wanted to call out Trump, he or she should sign the op-ed and resign. Others see the op-ed as a way for the GOP to have their cake and eat it, too — it praises the few Trump legislative successes, such as the GOP tax scam bill, while it still bashes the boss.

Trump, of course, was furious, calling both The Times and the op-ed itself “gutless.” Trump officials are trying to push each other out of the way in issuing denials of authorship.

The op-ed follows reports of the upcoming release of veteran reporter Bob Woodward’s damning new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, which names names of officials calling Trump’s sanity into question. “Crazytown” was just one of the many descriptions of Trump and his White House behavior. The book describes officials’ stealing letters off Trump’s desk so he can’t sign them. Pointing out that certain military actions could be illegal and possibly start World War III. Ignoring an order to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Let’s take a step back here.

Why are these revelations a surprise to anyone? They’re not a surprise to most of the American people, and they certainly don’t surprise anyone inside the Beltway. There are daily reports of Trump’s lunacy, especially since he took office.

Do we need yet another book or anonymous op-ed to tell us that Trump is unqualified and unfit? He proved that over and over again in the 2016 election, and he proves it daily in 240-character bursts of ego and idiocy.

Are we supposed to believe that members of the media are just now noticing that the candidate who dissed a Gold Star father, bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, made fun of a disabled reporter, and bashed all immigrants is amoral? Are they only recently learning that he doesn’t understand anything about domestic or foreign policy? Did they really not notice his extreme paranoia before?

None of this is news, and they’ve all reported it. It’s just more out in the open.

Actually, satirist Andy Borowitz has the best take on the anonymous op-ed.

The racist stain of Trump’s presidency

The tiki torch neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in the death of protestor Heather Heyer when she was struck by a car driven by a white supremacist. The number of hate crimes and murders by right-wing extremists has risen sharply during Trump’s presidency.

Whatever happens to Donald Trump, however long it takes before he’s out of office, there’s one area where it will be hard to stop the spread of his poisonous politics: his stoking of racial hatred.

Trump and Republicans keep trying to turn the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts, allegedly done by an immigrant who may have been in the United States illegally, into a campaign issue, trying further to stir up anger and raise fears about immigrants among Trump’s base. But they conveniently ignore the murder of 18-year-old Nia Wilson on a BART train in Oakland, California, allegedly committed by a white supremacist.

It’s not hard to figure out their reasoning: Tibbetts was white, and her accused killer is Latino. Wilson was African-American, and her accused killer is white. Crimes by “others” are by definition bad and scary, to a racist’s way of thinking. Crimes by whites must be a sign of mental illness, right?

Multiple reports and analyses show that the number of hate crimes against minorities have risen since Trump became president, and that the number started rising the day after the election in 2016. “There were more reported hate crimes on Nov. 9 than any other day in 2016, and the daily number of such incidents exceeded the level on Election Day for the next 10 days,” says a report from The Washington Post.

Even the increase in hate crime numbers is no doubt understated, because hate crimes are always underreported. But they have been rising all over the country, in cities, in small towns, and on college campuses, ever since Trump’s election. Victims encompass all minorities: African-American, Latino, Muslim, LGBT, Asian-American, and immigrants of multiple nationalities. Except, of course, for immigrants from Western European countries like Norway. Immigrants from “shithole countries” are obviously still fair game.

Over the last decade, extremists committed 387 murders in the United States, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League. Of those, 71 percent were done by white supremacists and other right-wing extremists. Islamic extremists were responsible for only 26 percent.

When do hate crimes occur? There’s no shortage of bigoted remarks and bombastic insults at his campaign rallies, often rousing his supporters into shouts against whatever minority group he currently has in his cross hairs, whether that’s the media, immigrants, Muslims, or whatever his outrage du jour.

But often, says one study, hate crimes occur right after a bigoted Trump tweet.

An online paper published on the Social Science Research Network found a pattern of an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes after particularly virulent anti-Muslim tweets. From the paper’s abstract:

We show that the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes since Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been concentrated in counties with high Twitter usage. Consistent with a role for social media, Trump’s Tweets on Islam-related topics are highly correlated with anti-Muslim hate crime after, but not before the start of his presidential campaign.

A commentary on the study in Scientific American cautioned that the link between Trump tweets and anti-Muslim hate crimes is correlational and not necessarily causal. Still, the researchers “point out that their findings are consistent with the idea that Trump’s presidency has made it more socially acceptable for many people to express prejudicial or hateful views that they already possessed prior to his election.”

Making such prejudicial and hateful views “socially acceptable” is the crux of the problem. We all know that racism exists and always has existed. With Trump’s ascendancy, people with those racist views have ripped away the layer of social responsibility, giving them (in their own eyes) permission to express racism openly, with little fear of repercussion. The abundance of cell phone videos distributed on social media showing insults, harassment, arrests, attacks, and even some killings illustrates the fact that harassment toward people who are merely #LivingWhileBlack is an everyday occurrence.

A Washington Post column by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt called Trump’s willingness to play up racial fears to his base “The wound that may long outlive Donald Trump.”

Though Trump and Fox News fearmonger Tucker Carlson will always be able to find inflammatory cases of young white women killed by sinister brown men, studies overwhelmingly show that immigrants, including illegal immigrants, commit crime at far lower rates than do native-born citizens. As the percentage of foreign-born increased in the United States from 7 percent to 13 percent between 1990 and 2013, violent crime rates fell 48 percent.

Politically, though, what matters is the first statistic — the increase in foreign-born. […]

The always fraught challenge of incorporating this generation of immigrants — assimilating, learning from, being enriched by — will be that much harder and take that much longer. It will happen; most of those people are not going away, no matter how much Trump dreams of deportation, and the country’s adaptive genius will be stronger than the Trump poison.

But the poison will linger. And when history considers how the Mitch McConnells and Paul Ryans acquiesced to Trump’s many depredations, it will be their failure to stand up for respect and tolerance between one human being and another that will be judged most harshly.

The Southern Poverty Law Center agrees:

Since he stepped on the political stage, Donald Trump has electrified the radical right. Through his words and actions, he continues to deliver for what he clearly sees as his core constituency. As a consequence, we’ve seen a rise in hate crimes, street violence and large public actions organized by white supremacist groups that have been further emboldened by the president’s statements about “shithole countries” and his policies targeting refugees and immigrants of color.

Nothing will stop Trump from exploiting the racial and ethnic fear and hatred he has espoused for decades and brought out into the open when he descended that escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015, spouting nonsense about Mexico sending rapists and drug dealers to the U.S. Nothing will stop his base from cheering about a nonsensical wall that will never be built (and Mexico certainly will never pay for). Nothing will stop him from discarding the dog whistle and grabbing a bullhorn in his racist tweets and shouts.

Ultimately, that will be Donald Trump’s legacy: MARA — Make America Racist Again.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 2, 2018.

Celebrate Women’s Equality Day by voting — and winning — on Nov. 6


Kentucky Gov. Edwin P. Morrow signed a resolution ratifying the 19th Amendment in January 1920. Kentucky was the 24th state to pass the amendment.

August 26 was Women’s Equality Day. It’s the day in 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was formally adopted, giving women the right to vote. It was finally fully ratified eight days earlier when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the constitutional amendment, giving it the needed three-fourths of all states. August 26 is also the day designated by Congress in 1971 to commemorate American women getting their voting rights.

We already know that 2018 is turning into the Year of the Woman in electoral politics, specifically, the Year of the Democratic Woman, as Democratic women across the country rack up primary victories (and at much higher rates than Republican women). There will be a record number of women on the ballot in November, in races for governor, for House seats, and for state legislative seats.

Multiple polls show that the gender gap of Democratic-voting women and Republican-voting men is sizing up to be one of the biggest ever, likely even record-breaking, with one poll showing the gap at 24 points, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

Why is that so important? Because women outvote men. Even though universal women’s suffrage has only been around for less than 100 years, women have cast more votes than men in every election since 1964. Women make up more than one-half of the U.S. population, and they have cast between 4 million and 7 million more votes than men in recent elections.

“In every presidential election since 1980, the proportion of eligible female adults who voted has exceeded the proportion of eligible male adults who voted,” according to research by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Women’s higher voting totals also hold up during midterm elections. In addition, more women than men are registered to vote.

So: More women running, more women voting, more women voting for women, and more women voting for Democrats. It all adds up to a Blue Wave come Nov. 6.

Some history: The women’s rights and women’s suffrage movement started in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, although the suffrage movement didn’t really take off until after the Civil War. A constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote was first introduced in 1878. Obviously, passing voting rights for women took a while.

Of course, there are some caveats about the 19th Amendment. While it gave all women the right to vote in 1920, that obviously applied only to white women. It would take decades to remove barriers to voting such as Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, and other impediments, and today’s voter suppression tactics and voter ID laws still seek to limit voting by minorities.

But back in 1920, some states were ahead of the game in giving women the right to vote: A full 15 states granted voting rights for women before passage of the 19th Amendment, mostly in the American West. Five areas gave women voting rights while they were still territories. Twelve states allowed women to vote in presidential contests (but only in presidential contests) before the 1920 election.

(All of these facts about when women gained the right to vote are courtesy of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Just a quick plug.)

Much of the country’s attitude toward women voting changed during World War I, as women took on more important roles at home while some men were fighting overseas. This is from an editorial from Hearst Newspapers, written by Arthur Brisbane, a leading and influential newspaper editor and syndicated columnist in the early 20th century (his grandson, also named Arthur Brisbane, was public editor of The New York Times from 2010 through 2012).

The editorial, reprinted by ThoughtCo. in 2017, is undated but is thought to have run in 1917, during the time that women suffragists were actively working for voting rights, as they had been throughout the decade.

The woman who votes becomes an important factor in life, for a double reason. In the first place, when a woman votes the candidate must take care that his conduct and record meet with a good woman’s approval, and this makes better men of the candidates.

In the second place, and far more important, is this reason:

When women shall vote, the political influence of the good men in the community will be greatly increased. There is no doubt whatever that women, in their voting, will be influenced by the men whom they know. But there is also no doubt that they will be influenced by the GOOD men whom they know.

Men can deceive each other much more easily than they can deceive women — the latter being providentially provided with the X-ray of intuitional perception.

The blustering politician, preaching what he does not practise, may hold forth on the street corner or in a saloon, and influence the votes of others as worthless as himself. But among women his home life will more than offset his political influence.

The bad husband may occasionally get the vote of a deluded or frightened wife, but he will surely lose the votes of the wives and daughters next door.

Voting by women will improve humanity, because IT WILL COMPEL MEN TO SEEK AND EARN THE APPROVAL OF WOMEN.

“Voting by women will improve humanity, because it will compel men to seek and earn the approval of women.” I like the thinking behind that. Of course, Arthur Brisbane never counted on a candidate like Donald Trump.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association published a list of 16 reasons “Why Women Should Vote,” which is housed in the Library of Congress. The exact date of publication is unknown, but it’s likely shortly after 1896. Perhaps the first reason on the list is the most important: “Because it is fair and right that those who must obey the laws should have a voice in making them, and that those who must pay taxes should have a vote as to the size of the tax and the way it shall be spent.”

The League of Women Voters, a group that evolved from the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was founded only months before the 19th Amendment was passed, reminds everyone that the best way to mark Women’s Equality Day is to register to vote. If you have any questions about your voter registration status, or if you need to register, find a polling place, or see a sample ballot, you can check online at the League’s affiliated website, Vote411.org.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 26, 2018.

Trump tariffs hurting farmers, and GOP could pay a price in midterms

Soybean farmers are seeing prices go down and markets shrink, all because of Trump’s tariffs and the escalating trade war. The $12 billion in planned farm supports won’t be enough to make up the difference.

You get what you vote for.

Farmers in rural America overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Figures from Pew Research show that 62 percent of voters in small towns and rural areas—men and women both—voted for Trump.

And now those farmers are seeing the results of those votes as the trade war over Trump’s tariffs—and China’s retaliatory tariffs on many American goods and crops—are resulting in lower prices for American farmers.

The crop taking the biggest hit seems to be soybeans, but the damage is not limited to soybean farmers. Prices for all agricultural exports fell 5.3 percent in July, according to an August 14 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the biggest drop since 2011. On July 6, China started to impose 25 percent tariffs on a variety of American agricultural products. Soybean farmers, dairy farmers, and fishermen seem to be especially hard hit.

Even though China now says trade talks with the U.S. are back on, the scheduled talks are preliminary and being held by lower-level officials on both sides. The economic damage has been done.

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap” (Galatians 6:7). More than anyone else, farmers know all about sowing and reaping. Only in this case, what farmers got for sowing their Trump votes has turned out to be crops that are losing their markets. Their reaping isn’t exactly paying off.

Because of the trade war that Trump started, China has cancelled several soybean shipments from U.S. farmers and has turned elsewhere, mainly stepping up soybean purchases from Russia: China has tripled its soybean purchases from Putin-land. Those increases, however, represent only a fraction of what China usually buys from the U.S. Other countries picking up the soybean slack are Canada and Brazil. While other countries sell more, U.S. soybean prices continue to plummet; they’ve dropped 13 percent since the beginning of this year and have now hit a 10-year low.

The $12 billion in price supports Trump is touting are supposed to help farmers in four commodities that were hit hardest by Chinese tariffs: corn, cotton, pork, and soybeans. As usual in Trump world, that aid was announced with a big fanfare but has not yet been delivered. One farmer figured out that the farm payouts would be an average of less than $6,000 per farmer.

And what about other crops? If you grow anything else, you’re out of luck. As an editorial in The Modesto Bee, a newspaper in California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley, put it:

This trade war is hurting farmers across America, but it’s especially painful in Stanislaus, Merced and south San Joaquin counties.

After Trump threatened tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum, China retaliated by targeting almonds, wine, walnuts and more products grown here. China imports $2 billion in ag products from California alone – mostly fruit, nuts and wine. That’s what we grow.

Farmers were urged to sit tight as the master deal-maker worked his magic. Since then, more tariffs and more retaliation. It’s so bad that Trump is now asking for a $12 billion to help farmers who grow corn, cotton, pork and soybeans. We grow those things, too, but they’re insignificant compared to our fruits, nuts, vegetables and wines. And those who grow our most important products are eligible only for federal government purchases of surplus produce.

Midwest soybean farmers are bearing the brunt of Trump’s simplistic meddling, even while they’re expecting a bumper crop this year. According to a story on Huffington Post:

America’s trade deficit jumped 7 percent in June, based on the most recent data. And [Brian Duncan, vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau,] said the annual estimated net farm income, which is typically about $60 billion, is estimated to drop by $20 billion because of Trump’s tariffs.

“Oh, we’re losing money already,” he said. “As soon as harvest comes ― it’s going to start in a month ― this becomes real. This becomes real.”

The effects of Trump’s tariffs could very well turn out to be a political point in Democrats’ favor in the midterm elections. As Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos, who represents many farmers in Central Illinois, said in the Huffington Post story:

“The numbers don’t lie. President Trump’s tariffs are putting the livelihood of thousands of hardworking farmers across the heartland at risk,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who represents the district where these farmers live.

“During his campaign, President Trump promised he’d ‘end this war on the American farmer,’” she said. “I just wish he’d actually do it because right now all we’re seeing is a trade war that gets worse from one tweet to the next.”

Republicans are left floundering, afraid to criticize Trump while facing the wrath of their farming constituents. Rep. Devin Nunes, whose 22nd Congressional District in California has a large agricultural base, was one of several California Republicans (along with several Democrats) signing a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue raising concerns about the tariff trade war. According to the description in The Modesto Bee:

Chinese tariffs, they wrote, are “making fruits, vegetables and tree nuts in our districts significantly more expensive than their competitors” and “threatening the economic livelihood of our businesses and communities.”

Too bad Nunes is too busy having his staff call 911 to keep constituents away from his offices rather than take the issue seriously and actually meet with voters.

While farmers seem reluctant to give up their strong support for Trump, the rural wall may be beginning to crack. According to a story from Yahoo Finance News:

Farmers worry about long-term disruptions to valuable business relationships. “Farmers welcome the aid, but would very much prefer the original markets to sell their products into,” says Michael Nepveux, an economist with the Farm Bureau, the trade association for farmers and ranchers. “Trade aid is not is not going to make them whole.”

An analysis from Axios showed that some Republicans are worried, especially in the Midwest.

If the high voter turnout in Democratic primaries this year is any indication, especially in Midwestern states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, at least some of those farmers who were Trump supporters may be voting with their feet—all the way to the ballot box.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 19, 2018.

Democrats’ mantra for #Midterms2018: No days off

If Democrats want to win, we all need to keep up the pressure. On all races, at all levels, all the time.

My take-home message from Netroots Nation in New Orleans came from the very first session I attended. The message was crystal clear: We can’t take any days off in the fight for Democrats to win elections.

A panel consisting of people from various Democratic organizations, from the Democratic National Committee to grassroots groups that sprung up after the 2016 election, stressed the need to work together, share information, and get involved at all election levels. The panel was “Navigating Partnerships with a New Democratic Party and the New Grassroots,” and panel members stressed how all groups needed to reach out to one another if we want to achieve success.

The panel was moderated by Irene Shin, political director for Crowdpac, who has worked on various campaigns and for several progressive organizations. Also on hand were Jamie Perrapato, executive director of Turn PA Blue, a group dedicated to flipping the Pennsylvania Legislature; Lala Wu, co-founder and director of engagement and partnerships at the Sister District Project, which is focused on electing more Democrats in state legislatures; and Allison Zelman, director of states and deputy political and organizing director at the DNC, who works with state parties to build up Democratic state infrastructures and elect Democrats up and down the ballot in each state.

But the line that really hit me came from the fifth member of the panel, North Carolina State Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat who has served in the North Carolina House of Representatives since 2013. He created and still leads a grassroots effort called Our Shot to elect Democrats to the North Carolina House. He described his message to those working on campaigns to elect Democrats as one of “tough love.”

His message? There are no days off. “It’s too important,” Meyer told the crowd.

“The people we are doing this for get no days off,” said Meyer, who worked as a social worker in North Carolina public schools for 16 years before he was elected to the North Carolina Legislature. “Children living in poverty get no days off from poverty. The people who go to work every day and don’t have health care get no days off from work because they’re sick. The people who are drinking bottled water because their water is polluted, whether that’s in Flint or the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, they get no days off of having an environment that is trying to poison them.

“And none of us get any days off right now from a horrible Republican government all over the country. And so no days off between now and Election Day. If we win, then we have work to do. Still no days off. But between now and then, no days off for the people that we care about. I do not want to be in Virginia’s position, where we lose control of a legislature by the flip of a coin.”

(Meyer was referring to the 2017 race between Democrat Shelly Simonds and incumbent Republican David Yancey in Virginia’s 94th District in the House of Delegates. Simonds led by one vote, until a three-judge panel accepted a mismarked ballot, which originally had been tossed, as a vote for Yancey, making the race a tie. Instead of a coin flip to break the tie, it was decided to pull a name out of a bowl to decide the winner. Yancey’s name was drawn from the bowl, he was declared the winner, and Republicans kept control of the Virginia House of Delegates, 51-49.)

Meyer drove home his point. “And so anybody who leaves any last sense or bit of energy on the field will feel my wrath if we lose by the flip of a coin!”

The crowd laughed and applauded. Of course, he was kidding about the “wrath” part. I think.

Taking “no days off” is a tall order. We all have lives to lead. Many of us have loved ones to care for, jobs to go to each day to pay the rent and put food on the table, classes to attend, and responsibilities that must be met just to survive. All of that is on top of the fact that the vast majority of us are putting in time on election efforts as volunteers, and also are contributing money to various candidates’ campaigns and political campaign groups.

But in the push to elect more Democrats, we can never forget that every vote counts, a message that was emphasized by every panel member. They all stressed the need for organizing and engaging volunteers, harnessing the new wave of energy that has been growing since November of 2016. It means working at state and local levels to elect Democrats in those races as well as those at national levels. Success depends on every door you knock on, every phone call you make.

How many races are coming down to razor-thin margins, such as the special election for the House seat in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District? Every vote counts.

Here’s an example of a campaign taking no time off, ready to jump from a primary win to a general election race:

Okay, so we’re not all Jason Kander. We still need to take early opportunities to get involved and for campaigns to accept help, early and often.

After the 2018 midterm elections come the 2020 elections. But that’s not just a presidential election; it also means electing state legislatures that will redraw legislative district boundaries. The main reason we’re in this gerrymandered mess is that Republicans were wildly successful in the 2010 elections with the help of their Redmap project, when Republicans flipped 19 legislative bodies to GOP control. They will keep that legislative advantage until more Democrats can take over more state legislatures to redraw those boundaries.

So let’s make that two mantras. No days off and every vote counts.

A video of this panel is available to watch online. Details about all of the events at Netroots Nation also are still available online. Videos of speeches from Netroots’ keynote sessions are available on the Netroots Facebook page.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 12, 2018.

2018 is the year of Democratic women, but not only candidates (UPDATE)

The millions of people who took part in the Women’s Marches in 2017 and 2018 are among those who will have the most important roles of all in the midterms: Voters.

The elections in 2018 are turning out to be the Year of the Woman, but it’s not just women candidates running as Democrats. It’s women voting in big numbers. It’s women donating money to candidates — lots of money. More than anything else, it’s about women having their voices heard.

No longer are women candidates afraid to speak out on all issues. They’re proud of touting their military service. And they’re also not afraid to talk about a double standard for women candidates.

Suddenly the media are full of stories about the number of Democratic women running and winning primaries. About how the midterms could feature a record gender gap between men and women voters. About how women are establishing “giving circles” to make sure candidates are funded and to give more interested women a way to get involved.

Philip Bump of The Washington Post suspects that the driving force for this year’s predicted Blue Wave might turn out to be pink.

It was women who launched the first massive protest of the Trump era, marching the day after his inauguration in the millions to express opposition to his election. It was women who led the anti-Trump effort at the outset; it’s women who lead it still. Even the advent of the #MeToo movement has roots in opposition to Trump, both given the outstanding accusations against him and given the fuel that his triumph in 2016 added to the push to hold powerful men accountable.

Perhaps because this has been a constant undercurrent since early last year, it often goes unremarked upon. But it shouldn’t, particularly in the context of electoral politics. As the midterms near, there are signs that an energized base of women will play a significant — and probably defining — role in the outcome.

What factors are contributing to all of this predicted success for a Blue Wave?

Democratic turnout is up — bigly. Turnout in this year’s primaries is high on both sides, but particularly on the Democratic side. According to new figures from the Pew Research Center:

Turnout has surged in the 31 states that already have held their congressional primaries — particularly among Democrats.

In those states, nearly 13.6 million people — or 10.1% of registered voters — have voted in Democratic primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of state election returns. By this point in the 2014 midterm election cycle, fewer than 7.4 million people — or 6% of registered voters — had cast ballots in Democratic House primaries. (The same 31 states have held primaries as by this date in 2014.)

The total number of votes cast in Democratic House primaries so far this year is 84% higher than the total for the equivalent point in 2014.

Pew adds that Republican turnout in House primaries also is up, from a combined 8.6 million votes at this point in 2014 (7 percent of registered voters) to 10.7 million (7.9 percent) so far this year. But the increase is smaller, and the total number of votes cast in Democratic House primaries is considerably higher.

Women are donating money in record numbers to Democrats and to women candidates. An NBC News story reported on the surge of money fueling Democratic women’s chances. It described “giving circles,” informal organizations in which mostly upscale members pledge a minimum amount of cash toward candidates for an election cycle.

As of July 23, 329,000 women had donated at least $200 to a federal campaign or PAC in the 2018 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, far outpacing the 198,000 women who donated similar amounts over the entire 2014 midterms.

Men still make up close to two-thirds of donors, with women’s share up slightly from 2014, but women’s contributions are becoming more concentrated on one side: 61 percent of donations to candidates or parties have gone to Democrats this cycle. In the last midterms, a 51 percent majority went to Republicans.

The data suggests these Democratic women are more eager to support women with their dollars as well. As of March, 44 percent of contributions to Democratic women running for Congress came from women, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the highest share yet and a five-point jump from 2014. By comparison, they made up 34 percent of contributions to male Democratic House candidates, which also was a new high.

When good and viable candidates run, dollars will follow. Especially, it seems, for a candidate with two X chromosomes.

Women vets are running — and winning. Some of the women running in the fall are military veterans — and they’re putting their service front and center in their races, often running ads with photos or video of them in uniform, in the pilot’s seat of a fighter jet, or at the helm of a Navy helicopter. At least 28 female veterans filed to run as candidates in U.S. House races, and four ran for the Senate. Most of them — 24 — are Democrats, and many have been winning their primary contests. Four female veterans currently serve in Congress.

One such candidate is Amy McGrath, running in Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District. The retired marine lieutenant colonel launched her campaign with a video that quickly went viral and has been described as one of the most effective campaign launch ads ever.

But as much as I love this ad, I also love what McGrath tweeted in response to a story (that also went viral) about author Lauren Groff. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette about her latest story collection, called Florida, Groff was asked a sexist question about work-life balance. Here’s that exchange, as run on ABC News:

GAZETTE: You are a mother of two. In 10 years you have produced three novels and two short-story collections. Can you talk about your process and how you manage work and family?

GROFF: I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.

That’s the way to shut them down — politely, yet. Here’s what McGrath said in her tweet: “Bold answer. I like it. When I’m asked how I’d manage as a congresswoman with small children, I respond by reminding the person asking that my opponent (the current congressman), a man, also has small children the same ages as mine. Does he get asked that same question?”

Indeed, no one is surprised that male candidates don’t get this question, even as they love to use their adorable offspring as props in campaign ads.

Women voters are voting for Democrats and Democratic women. There’s usually a gender gap in voting, with more women voting for Democrats and more men voting for Republicans. But the gap this year could be historic. According to a CNN story:

In the average poll since June, Democrats are leading among women by an average 20-percentage point margin compared to trailing among men by 6 points. If this holds, this would be the largest margin that Democrats would win women by in a midterm election since at least 1958. …

One clear advantage of doing better among women voters though is that they almost always represent a larger percentage of the electorate than men do. Historically that hasn’t made much of a difference because the gender gap hasn’t been as large as it is today. With a gender gap of 26 points, however, it could matter.

A recent Washington Post-Schar School of Government poll also showed that women voters have an edge in voting enthusiasm. Even more important, Democratic women have an edge over Republican women voters.

There are wide differences by party, though. Democratic women are more likely to say that it’s “extremely” or “very” important to vote than are Republican men — and much more so than Republican women. This may help explain that campaign-contributions graphic: Republican women aren’t as energized as Democrats.

You want to see a stark gap? According to the same poll, there’s a 47-point gap in favor of Democrats among white women with college degrees. “Support for the Republicans among white women with a college degree drops off a cliff after 2016,” wrote Philip Bump in another Washington Post analysis.

It wasn’t until 2011 that a single women’s restroom was finally installed near the Speaker’s Lobby in the U.S. House of Representatives (a woman’s restroom was installed near the Senate floor in 1993). Before that, congresswomen had to walk a long way past tourists in Statuary Hall to find available facilities.

After this fall’s midterm elections, the House may have to install at least one more women’s room. Maybe it’s time that the House chamber should be considered an inclusive kind of women’s room, all by itself.

UPDATE: A record number of women have now advanced through primaries and will be on the ballot in November. At least 185 women have captured a Democratic or Republican nomination for the House (most of them are Democrats). Women also have won 11 primaries for governor.

And there are a dozen more primaries to go.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 6, 2018.

Global heat wave another sign of #ClimateChange

A Philadelphia man tried to cool off in the spray of a fire hydrant when temperatures soared in early July.

You might have noticed that it’s been hot outside lately. Really hot.

In early July, all-time heat records were set all over the world. The Algerian city of Ouargla set a new recorded high for the entire continent of Africa: 124.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 51.3 degrees Celsius, on July 6. But that’s far from the only place where — to quote Cole Porter — it’s too darn hot.

  • In Texas, the extreme heat is widespread. Multiple cities are reporting runs of five or six days in a row with temperatures over 100. The record-breaking heat is overwhelming the state’s electric power grid. One day was so hot that the grid set a new system-wide all-time peak demand record.
  • An “unprecedented” heat wave in Japan has been declared a natural disaster. Kumagaya, a city near Tokyo, recorded the highest-ever temperature in Japan —4 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 105.98 degrees Fahrenheit. At least 80 people have died of the heat so far, but some weather officials say the death toll is more likely in the hundreds. More than 30,000 people have been hospitalized for heatstroke. The extreme weather also is forcing officials to postpone construction of venues for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
  • In Sweden, high temperatures and persistent drought are being blamed for the spread of some 44 wildfires. Sweden has asked other European countries for assistance in fighting the fires. These wildfires are reaching as far north as the Arctic Circle.
  • Heat records are being broken all over: Denver; Los Angeles and several other California cities; Montreal; Glasgow, Scotland; Shannon, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and many locations in Russia, including Siberia. In the U.S. alone, nine all-time temperature records have been broken and 10 have tied records.
  • In Ireland’s Boyne Valley north of Dublin, the extreme heat and an accompanying drought, with the help of a drone camera, uncovered the footprint of an ancient Stonehenge-like structure on land that is usually green with crops.

There are many, many more examples, including boiled bats in Australia. All of this follows 2017, which also had record-breaking heat. As a matter of fact, the five warmest years on record all have occurred since 2010.

This is weather, not climate, but the two are linked: Multiple studies have already tied weather extremes such as heat waves to climate change due to increased greenhouse gases produced by human activities. Heat waves are predicted to become hotter, longer, and more frequent.

If only the dim bulbs currently running environmental policy in the U.S. would stop denying the obvious just to protect fossil fuel companies.

Extreme heat is not just an inconvenient truth: It causes people to die, especially the elderly, young children, and those who already have health issues. There are reports of an estimated 70 people dead in Canada; more than 75 dead from wildfires in Greece; and 65 dead from a May heat wave in Pakistan. The National Climate Assessment reports that, on average, more people in the United States die each year from heat-related illness than from any other weather disaster.

At least in India, where extreme heat takes a large toll on human life each year, the death count is lower in 2018 since the government instituted policies such as distributing free water and painting roofs white to reflect rather than absorb extreme heat. Several European countries that had high death tolls in a 2003 heat wave, which killed up to 70,000 people across Europe over three months, also are instituting new policies, such as shipping air conditioners to hospitals that never needed them before and sending leaflets to older residents with tips on how to manage the heat. Of course, while air conditioning saves lives, it also contributes to climate change, using lots of electricity and emitting hydrofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. It’s been described as a vicious cycle.

Then there are other consequences, such as health effects. According to the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, extreme heat due to climate change is making Americans in every part of the country sicker. Some of the outcomes are increased air pollution, higher risks of infectious diseases, more food contamination in hotter weather, and more widespread presence of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks, which now can thrive in areas that were once too cold for them.

The leaked final draft of the new U.N. climate report, the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C,” delivers the news that the world temperatures are on track to rise in excess of the original predicted target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by about 2040. The current projection is a rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

This draft is being circulated to governments who are part of the Paris climate agreement, a group that includes every country in the world except the United States, after Donald Trump withdrew from the pact. A final report will be released in October.

A story at FiveThirtyEight described the report draft and its ominous predictions.

“The red alert is on,” Laurent Fabius, who was president of the 2015 international climate change negotiations in Paris, told an audience last week at the EuroScience Open Forum, Europe’s largest interdisciplinary science meeting. As of 2015, global temperatures had risen about 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. “It’s a race against time,” Fabius said, and the political challenge is to avoid acting too late.

We recently took a trip to Colorado and northern New Mexico. Of course there were hot days, which you expect in the summer, especially in the Southwest. But temperatures hit 100 several times in multiple places. A waitress in Taos, New Mexico, explained to us that the town usually gets a handful of days that hot all summer. They already had hit temperatures in the high 90s and 100 and over for several days in a row. And it was still June.

The entire area is suffering from drought. The owner of the B&B where we stayed in Manitou Springs, Colorado, near Pike’s Peak, explained that the area had received only around half of its usual snowfall the past winter. Drought conditions in Colorado are the worst since 2002, with 80 percent of the state experiencing some level of drought. There’s even the possibility of triggering a “call” as part of the Colorado River Compact. States in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River Basin such as Colorado and Utah would be required to pump even more water from the overallocated river to Lower Basin states like Arizona and California. So none of those states will have enough water, and agriculture will take the biggest hit.

The drought is so bad in New Mexico that signs everywhere proclaimed the fire danger as “extreme.” Campsites everywhere banned open fires, and even hiking was banned in many places because of the dangerous possibility of wildfires.

The temperatures will only continue to climb. According to a story in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

Environment New Mexico’s Albuquerque office said research conducted by the group in 2015 showed summers in New Mexico have warmed 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s.

“Without action to eliminate global warming pollution, summer temperatures here in New Mexico could rise by nearly 10 degrees by the end of the century,” the group said.

The idea of a 2 degree Celsius change by 2040 is scary enough. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes more than 1,300 scientists from around the world, also predicts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.

Despite efforts by the Trump administration to delete climate change information from government websites (such as this NASA site), there’s still a wealth of material outlining the predicted effects of climate change.

Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves (periods of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks) everywhere are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense everywhere.

Summer temperatures are projected to continue rising, and a reduction of soil moisture, which exacerbates heat waves, is projected for much of the western and central U.S. in summer. By the end of this century, what have been once-in-20-year extreme heat days (one-day events) are projected to occur every two or three years over most of the nation.

It’s way past time to heed the warning from leading climatologist and geophysicist Michael E. Mann, author of many books on climate change:

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 29, 2018.

How deep are ties between Russia and the GOP?


Donald Trump isn’t the only Republican Russian President Vladimir Putin has his hands on.

Recent events have driven home the point that Russian influence in American Republican politics is more prevalent than previously thought.

The examples are numerous — and very serious:

  • Donald Trump’s rejection of the conclusion of U.S. intelligence services about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and Trump’s embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of that interference (and no, the “would/wouldn’t” attempt at a take-back doesn’t cut it).
  • The arrest of Russian agent Maria Butina, who is facing multiple charges and is being held without bail. The details of story and the reports of her offering sex to infiltrate groups like the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party read like a bad spy novel.
  • Threats of Russian prosecution against — or “interrogation” of — 11 U.S. citizens. They include longtime Kremlin critic and financier Bill Browder, who was born in the U.S. but is now a British citizen and whose Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in Russian custody; Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, who, of course, had diplomatic immunity; and Kyle Parker, a congressional staffer who wrote most of the Magnitsky Act imposing sanctions on Russia, which has been a thorn in Putin’s side for years. Trump officials pointedly failed to deny that they might cooperate in such prosecution, saying only that it was “discussed” by the two leaders when they met in Helsinki. They have since backed down.
  • The report that Russians were asked for and sent stolen documents about the Democratic opponent of a sitting Republican U.S. congressman during the 2016 election. Some reports identify that congressman as California’s Dana Rohrabacher, who met with Butina in Russia in 2015 and is sometimes described as “Putin’s favorite congressman.”
  • Evidence that Carter Page, foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, was a Russian agent, which he continues to deny. The FBI’s wiretap application said Page had engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia. Yet Page admitted that he was an “informal adviser” to Russia in a 2013 letter. “There may have been a loose conversation” with Russian officials about U.S. sanctions, and that “a few people might have brought it up in passing,” Page told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Condemnation of Trump’s behavior during the Helsinki news conference was swift and severe, by media, Democrats, and many Republicans. Trump has made it crystal clear that he has no problem sucking up to Putin, described as his KGBFF by comedian Jimmy Kimmel on his late-night show on ABC. But exactly how deep are the claws of the Russian bear dug into the GOP?

The threats against Americans — especially the former ambassador — are beyond outrageous, and for any member of the Trump administration to play coy about cooperating with such a plan is despicable. Here’s what California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell tweeted about it:

The U.S. State Department was quick to label the Russian claims against the Americans as absurd. Given the strong backlash by the diplomatic and intelligence community, Trump officials abandoned the idea, and the U.S. Senate voted 98-0 on a resolution condemning the proposal.

But the damage has been done. The Daily Beast compiled comments from several current and former U.S. diplomats, who were all horrified at the prospect of turning over a former ambassador to Putin, even quoting one current diplomat who chose to remain anonymous but said he was “at a fucking loss.” From the story:

David Wade, who was Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff, said that the White House refusal to disavow Putin on McFaul crossed a line “from demoralizing to dangerous” for American diplomats.

“To even hint that there’s some element of credibility to Russian disruptions and distractions puts a bullseye on the back of any diplomat and invites authoritarian regimes to bully and threaten American public servants for the crime of doing their job. No administration should require a lesson or reminder in why this is reprehensible,” Wade said.

What Trump is willing to admit about Russian interference into the 2016 election is anyone’s guess on any given day, depending on whether he’s standing on a stage in Putin’s shadow or whether he’s half a world away, trying to sound tough with laughable damage control. Trump has made more conflicting claims on the charges of Russian cyberhacking than there are ingredients in borscht.

But there’s no question about what’s true—and that Trump knew it was true. The New York Times reports that, two weeks before his inauguration in January 2017, Trump was shown detailed, highly-classified intelligence reports that Putin personally ordered cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to sway the election. All along, Trump knew it wasn’t China or some 400-pound guy sitting on his bed.

The story of Maria Butina gets more bizarre with each new set of details. And it’s a tale that reaches further into the GOP, touching many GOP officials, many of whom had photos taken with Butina at NRA conventions, the National Prayer Breakfast, and other instances, which she posted on social media.

Butina faces two charges: conspiracy and acting as a covert agent for Russia’s FSB spy agency. According to a story in The Washington Post:

Butina is accused of trying to cultivate relationships with American politicians to establish “back channel” lines of communication and seeking to infiltrate U.S. political groups, including an unnamed “gun rights organization,” to advance Russia’s agenda. Descriptions in court papers match published reports about Butina’s interactions with the NRA. …

Butina was allegedly assisted in her efforts by a U.S. political operative who helped introduce her to influential political figures. That person was not charged and is not named in court papers, but the description matches that of Paul Erickson, a GOP consultant who sought to organize a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Alexander Torshin, Butina’s Russian colleague and a former Russian senator, at a May 2016 NRA convention.

Butina is described as “a former furniture store owner from Siberia and gun-rights activist.” She questioned Trump during a 2015 town hall meeting (no coincidence, I’m sure) about his plans for Russia; met with Donald Trump Jr. at the 2016 NRA convention; and met with many Republican officials at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Deemed a flight risk, she is being held in custody before her trial.

And speaking of the NRA, the gun industry’s reported ties to Russia also are documented. According to a story from Newsweek:

The National Rifle Association has accepted contributions from at least 23 Russia-linked donors since 2015, the gun rights group revealed in a letter addressed to Congress. The admission came after Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, prodded the NRA as part of an investigation into what political organizations may have been used by Russia to influence the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump.

The money totaled $2,500, with most of it coming from subscriptions or membership dues, according to the letter, which was … first reported on by NPR. About $525 of that money came from “two individuals who made contributions to the NRA,” wrote John Frazer, the general counsel for the gun rights group. The 23 people “may include U.S. citizens living in Russia,” the NRA said.

Sure, $2,500 sounds like chump change when you consider the fact that the NRA gave more than $30 million to the Trump campaign and other Republicans. But it goes deeper than that. According to reporting by NPR, Alexander Torshin, now deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and someone who is currently barred from entering the U.S., has spent six years building relationships with multiple NRA officials and past presidents, trying to gain greater access to GOP politicians.

Top GOP officials know all this and don’t care. According to an analysis in The Nation:

Russiagate isn’t just the narrow story of a few corrupt officials. It isn’t even the story of a corrupt president. It’s the story of a corrupt political party, the one currently holding all the levers of power in Washington. After Trump groveled before Putin in Helsinki, many Republicans in Washington proclaimed their solemn concern, just as they did when the president expressed his sympathy for the white supremacists in Charlottesville last year. But all of them are fully aware that they are abetting a criminal conspiracy, and probably more than one. …

[Special Counsel Robert] Mueller, who knows more than anyone in the media about the extent of the Russiagate scandal and never leaks, isn’t telling us that Trump colluded and obstructed justice — we already know that, because we literally saw Trump request on camera, in the summer of 2016, that Russia hack the Clinton campaign, just as we later saw him bluntly admit to the world that he fired James Comey to end the Russia investigation.

Instead, we are being told something much more frightening: that Russiagate doesn’t end with Trump and his inner circle, that some members of Congress may be implicated, and that the Republican leadership therefore has a personal stake in preventing anyone beyond [former Trump campaign Chair Paul] Manafort and a few other flunkies from being held accountable.

So Donnie, I hope you enjoy your friendship with Vlad, however one-sided it might be. This satire of a Facebook clip, made a few months after the 2016 election by the comedy filmmaker team of Evan and Adam Nix (the Nix Bros.), sums it up perfectly:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fnixbros%2Fvideos%2F10154868227771113%2F&show_text=0&width=476

KGBFF, indeed.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 22, 2018.

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