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The Trump-Putin chat: what the heck just happened?

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Do you know what happened between Trump and Putin in their little chat about RussiaGate? I sure don’t—and I’ve heard and read just about all the news there is.

Trump said multiple things:

In a tweet: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He strongly denied it.”

To a direct question: “Well, I think it was Russia, and I think it could have been other people in other countries. Could have been a lot of people…”.

Also in a tweet: it’s “time to move forward” in a constructive United States relationship with Russia.

Putin’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said: “U.S. President Trump said that he heard firm assertions from Russian President Putin that it is not true and that Russian authorities have not meddled in the elections. He (Trump) said that he accepts these assertions.”

Putin himself said, “He asked me many questions on the subject [and] it seemed to me that he was satisfied with the answers.”

Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, said: Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections…And I think President Putin did exactly what we thought he would do, which is deny it. This is Russia trying to save face. And they can’t.”

So, was Trump “satisfied” with Putin’s denials, or wasn’t he? We can infer only a few things: that Trump did indeed bring up the subject (which, by the way, is being portrayed by his surrogates as a major achievement when, in fact, if he hadn’t, he would have been lacerated for it in America, including by his own Republicans). We can also infer that Putin said, in effect, “I didn’t do anything, Donald.” And finally, we know (because Trump himself said so), Trump believes it’s “time [for Americans] to move on” and put RussiaGate behind us, as if anyone in this country—Republican or Democrat—beyond the most embittered core of the tea party believes that.

So it’s all quite confusing, which is according to the Trump playbook: lie, obfuscate, contradict, make stuff up, mix a little truth in with the falsehoods, dodge and shift, put up smokescreens, cite “alternative facts”it’s Trump’s standard shell game: say anything and everything: up is down, north is south, stop is go—an Orwellian use of language with one purpose in mind: so people will take from the news what they want—which, of course, undermines the entire notion of “objective reality.”

As for why the Russians would cooperate in such a strategy of disinformation, well, if you have to ask…

Look: it used to be—always was—that, following a summit meeting like this, all reporting was on the same page. Here’s what Krushchev said; here’s what Kennedy said. Everybody knew where each side stood. You might agree with one side or the other, but at least the facts were not in doubt. The Congress could have a rational debate, so could America’s allies, the voters could decide for themselves, and the free press in America could take credit for furthering the Founders’ vision, expressed in the First Amendment, promising “freedom of the press.”

Donald Trump knows that in order to overturn the Founders’ vision, and to promote his own presidency, possibly beyond a second term, and to promote the interests of his family, possibly to succeed him, and to destroy Americans’ confidence in the integrity of the nation’s institutions, and to erode the ability of those institutions to provide checks and balances on his power, and on the power of the billionaire class he represents, and to further Russia’s interests, and for God only knows whatever other dark motives he has, he must first eradicate the notion of “objective truth.” Once he does that, all the other things will then come to pass. And, so far, it seems to be working out for him.


Flyover Country, Then and Now

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The phrase “flyover country” first made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in 1980, “59 years after ‘fly-over’ was first used to describe an aircraft passing over a place,” according to this 2016 article from National Geographic. In more recent times, the term has been “sometimes used pejoratively, but more often defensively.”

The pejorative use came first. Flyover states “generally aren’t destinations for travelers or tourists,” explains the Urban Dictionary. Folks looking for good times in New York, L.A., San Francisco, Boston or Miami Beach slept or read magazines while flying over Nebraska. Alabama and Illinois. As a columnist for the website MetaTalk noted, I can’t read ‘flyover country’ without imagining some amount of dismissiveness, resignation, and even contempt on the part of the writer.”

Flyover states began turning reliably red in the 1968 Presidential election. In the Democratic landslide of 1964, President Johnson had taken them all (except for the Old South). But four years later, there was a complete switch: nearly every state we think of as “flyover country” voted for the Republican, Richard Nixon. That status quo hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama broke into enough of flyover country to win the Electoral College a total of four times, but in 2016 Trump rearranged the red-blue map to make it look more like, say, George W. Bush’s map of 2000.

Why did flyover country go from blue to red? Flyover country is predominantly rural, and rural folks tend to be white, Christian and not as educated as coastal folks. These states, ranging from the Intermountain West to the Great Plains to the Ohio Valley, Upper Midwest and the Old Confederacy, were targeted by Christian born-agains and evangelical politicians like Jerry Falwell heavily starting in the 1970s, when the cultural shift between liberal, “urban” values and the more conservative values of the “heartland” became a major factor in American politics. The Republican Party, sensing an opportunity, seized on that conservatism and steadily went rightward, until it became the social movement—almost a cult—we see today.

But then an interesting thing happened: As Wikileaks noted, the term “flyover country” began to be used “more often defensively” by those living there. They took a phrase that was derogatory to them and, by embracing it, neutralized it. As a writer for the conservative publication “Human Events” noted in 2008 (when Sarah Palin was the vice-presidential nominee), As a lifelong resident of flyover country, I hardly know where to begin to refute [liberal] snobbery. So let’s stop dancing around the subject. The reason these groups [i.e. liberals] feel alienated from the Republican Party is that they are embarrassed by those of us who want to defend innocent human life and traditional marriage. They simply cannot believe that these issues are more important to us than a temporary drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.”

The biggest political question today is whether flyover states will once again turn blue, the way they were in Lyndon Johnson’s time. Nobody knows, but according to this rather pessimistic article, which was written by a recovering evangelical, “Rural, Christian white America will never change.”  The reason is because of the version of Christianity—Biblical inerrancy, anti-intellectual, intensely nationalistic–that has become popular in flyover country. In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king, figuratively and literally.” These people insulate themselves from the outside world and associate only with their own kind, with the result that “Their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians.” They are a cult—and, like all cult members, they are zealously protective of their own kind and both fearful and resentful of The Other. What they like about Donald Trump is that he seems like them. There is nothing in this status quo that is unstable; we can expect no change in the immediate future; the red states that are “gone” from the Democratic column are likely to be gone for a long time.

Have a great weekend!


Trump + white nationalism = hate crimes. On the rise.

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“Hate crimes in California are increasing, particularly attacks on Muslims and gay men, after nearly a decade of decline, the state attorney general’s office reported Monday.” This, from the San Francisco Chronicle’s legal reporter, Bob Egelko, in Tuesday’s paper.

Jews, too, as well as their synagogues, are increasingly being attacked. “The largest number of religiously motivated hate crimes were aimed against Jews,” Egelko writes, citing data from the attorney-general’s office. African-Americans also are frequently on the receiving end of hate crimes.

Hmmm. Who could be beating on all those Muslims, gays, Jews and Blacks? Here’s your multiple choice quiz for the day, kids. Your choices are:

  1. ISIS
  2. Mexican immigrants
  3. The LGBTQ community
  4. Handicapped people
  5. White Christian males

Yes, kids, if you guessed (e), white Christian males, you win a free lifetime subscription to this blog, because you’d be right! According to the FBI’s “Hate Crimes Statistics” website, 62.4% of known offenders were white. Typical of these offenders (although his hate crime was much worse) was Dylann Roof, the young white man who shot up that Charleston, South Carolina church, murdering nine Black worshippers, in a racially motivated attack. In a “manifesto” he wrote about the attack, Roof said he was inspired by an organization called the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes as “a crudely white supremacist group.”

CCC has its roots in the old White Citizens Councils of the deep south, themselves an outgrowth of the Ku Klux Klan. The Trump administration and its enablers have extensive ties with CCC. Ryan Zinke, Trump’s Interior Secretary, accepted a $500 campaign contribution from the group. CCC also has contributed “substantial sums” of money to the campaigns of such Republican rightwingers as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. A top CCC official—the founder’s son-in-law—wrote on his website, “We like Steve Bannon” (a top Trump advisor), calling him “a proud son of the South” and describing him as the most important figure in the Alt-Lite,a term the most radical extremists use for “diluted versions” of the alt.right. Bannon’s friend, the current attorney-general of the United States, Jefferson “Jeff” Beauregard Sessions, also has ties to the CCC; in 2012, when he was a Senator,  he placed into the Congressional Record a “congratulations” to a racist named Roy Beck, the founder of another hate group, Numbers USA, an organization affiliated with the CCC. And when Sessions was named Attorney-General, one of CCC’s board members wrote on his (the board member’s) website, “Suck it, shitlibs! It’s a new day at DOJ!”

 As SPLC notes, “White nationalists…see Trump as their last stand and last best hope for controlling the country.” California’s Attorney-General agrees. In a thinly-disguised reference to Trump’s speeches and tweets, he said, in the Chronicle article, “Discriminatory rhetoric does not make us stronger, but divides us and puts the safety of our communities at risk.” In fact, according to the SPLC, these are the group affiliations inspiring the highest number of hate crimes:

  • KKK (72)
  • Neo-Nazi (142)
  • White Nationalist (115)
  • Racist Skinhead (119)
  • Christian Identity (21)
  • Neo-Confederate (37)
  • Black Separatist (113)
  • General Hate (165)

Indeed, we see on the right wing of the Republican Party what Charles M. Blow, the New York Times columnist, calls “an utter contempt for decency,” in his powerful op-ed piece from Monday’s paper. Blow issues a stark warning to Republicans: they have bound themselves up with Trump. His fate is their fate. They have surrendered any moral authority to which they once laid claim — rightly or not. If Trump goes down, they all do.” However much Republicans say they denounce hate crimes, they cannot run away from their complicity. “Trump is an abomination, and a cancer on the country, and none of us can rest until he is no longer holding the reins of power,” Blow writes—harsh words, but true, and necessary to say.

Deposing Trump will not eliminate hate crimes in America; we’ll still have Pence to deal with, and a revanchist Republican Party that has shown no signs, yet, of moderating their negativity. But by removing the hater-in-chief, the sociopathic white males who bash Muslims, gays, Jews and Blacks (and homeless, immigrants and handicapped people) will lose a symbol that, for the time being at least, is emboldening them.


In Florida, the Republican war on science just went thermonuclear

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My family always valued education. My grandparents, who were immigrants from Russia, had little formal education, so when they raised their own three children, in the 1920s and 1930s in New York City, they made sure they went to public school and studied hard. That attitude, of a profound respect and yearning for knowledge, was passed onto me. As a kid, I loved going to school, and reading and writing, and I respected my teachers, who were often role models for me. I understood that there was a body of knowledge, accumulated by humankind over centuries, in fields as far-flung as history, astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, archeology and paleontology, and I wanted to understand them all.

The shock of my adult life has been the Republican Party’s formal break with scientific knowledge. It seems to have emerged into public awareness, if I can pinpoint a date, with Al Gore’s 2006 “An Inconvenient Truth” documentary, which the religious right bitterly attacked. Although the phenomenon was bubbling beneath the surface well before then, the film exposed the deep skepticism in the Republican Party toward scientific facts that contradict their ideological, religious and corporate interests.

Re-reading what I just wrote, it occurs to me that the famous Scopes Trial (1925), in which John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution in public school, was an even earlier manifestation of the right’s war on science. But in that case, it wasn’t so much Republicans versus Democrats as Christians versus modernists: Christians didn’t want evolution taught in the schools because it flat-out contradicted their Bible’s demonstrably fake version of reality. Today’s problem is that the Republican Party, once legitimate, has now been taken over by the most conservative Christians in the country, rendering it a cult, not a real political party.

Which brings us to Florida House Bill 989, recently signed into law by the Republican Governor, Rick Scott. The new law, which is aimed at empowering Floridians to object to the use of specific instructional materials in the public schools,” is the most extreme form of religious interference in education ever approved by a U.S. state, and represents a dramatic escalation by the Christians running Florida of their war on science. Any parent who objects to the teaching of any particular subject is empowered to challenge it: and if enough parents in a school district object, the curriculum has got to be changed.

The two main topics the Florida Christians wish to expunge from school curricula are climate change and evolution, both of which conflict with a religion that demands faith, not reason, as the basis of thought. In the case of climate change, Christians for a variety of reasons do not wish their children to be taught about it, and they object to the notion that it might be caused by human activity. And, of course, outside dark money, for example from the Koch Brothers, who have heavy investments in fossil fuels, fuels this Christian war on science. In the case of evolution, we see that the far-right wing of Christianity in America continues to espouse the Biblical myth of creation, nearly 100 years after “Scopes.”

The sponsor of HB 989 is something called the Florida Citizen’s Alliance (FCA), which sounds like a grass roots group of citizen-activists but in fact is an astroturf front organization, one of dozens of similar-sounding fake groups in Florida funded by dark money. FCA’s ties to the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove’s Americans for Prosperity, the John Birch Society, Rand Paul and Breitbart News, as well as dozens of other shadowy tea party groups, have been well-documented.

FCA’s director, Keith Flaugh, is a longtime right-wing Christian activist: his Twitter profile decries “moral destruction” in America (read: homosexuality and abortion), he brags that FCA supports Christian groups promoting “the kingdom of God,” and he has vowed to continue FCA’s efforts to ban “instructional materials” in schools “that demonstrate a bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity…Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” Flaugh says.

Think about it: the theory of Six Days to Create the Universe (He rested on the seventh day) versus everything that science has proven. Which do you believe? This is the face of the Republican/Christian war on science. They don’t want “balance,” as Flaugh lies, they want to put their Christian thumb on the curricular scale and indoctrinate our kids in their peculiar cult. And Keith Flaugh is not an outlier: he is the modern Republican Party, in all its superstitious ignorance, fear, arrogance, authoritarianism and intolerance. Their most fervent wish is a Christianized America, a theocracy like Iran, where clerics are judges and juries, using the Bible, not the Constitution, as their guiding document. And this catastrophically backward group—the most fundamental threat to American liberty of our time–now has its own Pope in the White House, a (probable) agnostic who, until he needed evangelical votes, would sooner have groped a hot Christian woman’s pussy than prayed with or for her.

 


Happy July 4th!

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steveheimoff.com resumes publication tomorrow. Party safe!


Insurers, Trump collude to kill Obamacare

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Republicans, especially Donald Trump, make much of the fact that insurers are pulling out of some markets, even as premiums in others are skyrocketing.

“Remember, ObamaCare is dead,” Trump tweets, calling the Affordable Care Act “a failed, expensive and dangerous legacy” for “Dems.” He bases these allegations on stories that insurers are pulling out of (mostly rural) exchanges—Humana, for example, in February announced it’s abandoning all eleven states where it had exchanges, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without insurance in states like Tennessee. Trump immediately jumped on the announcement. “Obamacare continues to fail,” he tweeted. “Humana to pull out in 2018. Will repeal, replace and save healthcare for ALL Americans.”

Well, we know that his promise to “repeal and replace” hasn’t come true, yet; and the only way it can appeal to arch-conservatives like Rand Paul would be to take healthcare away from 30 million Americans.

Insurers cite their increased cost of doing business as the reasons why they’re backing off from Obamacare. Nobody disputes that the cost of pharmaceuticals, hospitalization, durable medical devices and other aspects of healthcare is skyrocketing, and insurance companies, including not-for-profit ones, can’t stay in business if they lose money.

The obvious fix-it would be for Congress to limit these runaway price increases, but that’s not going to happen with Republicans wedded to Koch Brothers, Cato Institute-style “free market” capitalism, in which any government regulation is considered socialist and collectivist. The result is unfettered for-profit medicine, designed to wring every last dollar possible out of consumers’ pockets and into the corporate coffers (and offshore accounts) of Big Pharma, Big Hospitals, and Big Medical Devices.

But the poor, poor pitiful me complaints of the insurers are proven to be lies by simply looking at their stock performance. For example, the weekend Wall Street Journal, reporting on insurers terminating their coverage for “hundreds of thousands of consumers across the country,” mentioned three in particular: Aetna, Humana and Anthem. So how have their stock prices done over the last five years (2012-2017)?

Aetna: from $37.63 to $152.10

Humana: from $76.48 to $240.62

Anthem: from $59.91 to $190.17

Not exactly evidence of financial strain! In other words, an average price rise of nearly 390 percent over the time period Obamacare has been in effect. The insurers’ claim, endlessly recycled by Republicans, that Obamacare is hurting their bottom lines is a lie.

If these insurers are making so much money under Obamacare, then why on earth do they hate it and want to get out? Simple: because they stand to make even more, if the power is once again placed into their hands, and they can pick and choose their customers instead of having to insure the elderly, the sick, those with pre-existing conditions. And this is where the Trump administration is complicit: By creating conditions of massive insecurity, it gives the insurers an excuse to pull out of markets and raise premiums.

In fact, two-thirds of rate increases expected in 2018 are attributable to the uncertainty surrounding continued funding of cost sharing reduction payments and the question of how the relaxation of the individual mandate will impact enrollment and risk pools,” according to this analysis, cited in a June 29 report by the Center for American Progress that details how “bipartisan legislation” to repair—not repeal or replace—the Affordable Care Act “would be simple and easy to put together.” That is, repairing the A.C.A. is eminently doable if Republicans will cease their obsession with “repeal and replace.” But the Top Republican, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, steadfastly refuses to sanction “repair.” He promised the tea party he’d kill Obamacare, and even though the promise is insane, he and his fellow Republicans feel obligated to follow up on it.

So, by creating this climate of uncertainty, Trump is actively working with the insurers to force premiums up, taking healthcare insurance away from Americans, and giving Republicans continued excuses to repeal Obamacare. As Huffington Post reported in May, “President Donald Trump has had his finger on the detonator of the bomb to blow up Obamacare for months. Now he may be about to press it.” This is collusion, pure and simple—but, fortunately, the American people, beginning to wake up from their Trump-induced coma, aren’t buying it.

 

 


Inoculating his base, Trump prepares for a showdown

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He knows it’s coming. We all know it’s coming. Mueller, or the House Intelligence Committee, or the Senate Intelligence Committee, or two of them, or all three, are going to issue a really damning indictment of Trump and his senior surrogates, and then the Mother of All Constitutional Crises will be upon us.

In any normal year, if a Special Counsel determined that a President of the United States had committed High Crimes and Misdemeanors while in office, the machinery of Impeachment would click into gear. The House Judiciary Committee would immediately begin public hearings. If the full House then impeached, a Trial would occur in the Senate. This is what happened to Bill Clinton, who eventually was found not guilty, and remained in office, more popular than ever.

But this is not a normal year. And 2018 will not be a normal year, if it doesn’t happen until then. But it will happen—it’s coming—we all can sense it: the circumstantial evidence is just too powerful. Trump is in the cross hairs, and there’s not a damned thing he can do about it.

Except what he’s doing right now: inoculating the base. His appallingly bad-taste attack yesterday on “Morning Joe’s” Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough was only the latest in his unrelenting war on the media, a war whose objective is obvious: to convince his base that all the negative reporting about him is “fake news.” Whether it’s from the “failing New York Times,” or the “Amazon Washington Post,” or “Fake News CNN,” or “Fake News NBC, CBS & ABC,” (all taken from his @realDonaldTrump twitter feed), the Big Smear is on—and, judging by his base’s reaction, it’s working.

Evidence? Just go to my favorite fever-swamp of the far right to find out what the wildlife is saying: Breitbart. Here’s the serial adulterer and disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calling for an “Independent Counsel” to investigate CNN for “fake news.”

Here’s some half-nude porn star named Jenna Jameson slamming Playboy Magazine for fake news.

Here are crazy comments about an article on The Atlantic’s editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, who is worried (rightfully so) about attacks on reporters by violent white ultra-nationalists:

“Fake news media is the enemy of America.”

“It’s the LEFT that are the violent scum.”

If lying, manipulating, POS reporters get beaten up because DJT tells the truth, whose fault is that?”

“We the people are not participating in the media’s lies of filth anymore, let them reap the whirlwind of their actions and suffer the consequences.”

“there is no such thing as journalism, its all propaganda.

“Libtards and MSM have ginned up violence against conservatives for years; it’s only natural for peoples anger to be turned against the real agitators.”

“The MSM media needs to be destroyed at all cost!”

Whatever it takes. Ends justifies means.”

The disturbed individuals who issue these threats have been riled up for years by violent propaganda from Fox “News,” Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Alex Jones, the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed fulminators, and similar rabble-rousers. Trump has upped the ante to unprecedented levels of hostility: the Breitbart comments are deeply troubling. But, as I said, Trump knows what’s coming, and he knows (or thinks he knows) what he’s doing: preparing his people for war. When the indictments come down, he’ll be able to tell his base: “I told you so! Fake news, fake accusations! Don’t let them get away with it!” And then what? We’ll have millions of unhinged wack jobs with guns, determined to defend Trump’s America, on the hunt for liberals. And that won’t be fake news, folks; it’ll be for real.

 


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