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Tuesday Tidbit 08/13/2019: Domestic terror is a feature, not a bug, of the Trump machine

If you don't understand that trump is fanning the racist, ant-semeitic flames on purpose, I don't know how to commuincate with you.

If you don’t understand that trump is fanning the racist, ant-semeitic flames on purpose, I don’t know how to commuincate with you.

There have already been so many stories about mass shooters, would-be mass shooters, and related domestic terrorists that they’re going to overwhelm the Friday Five. So I’m going to post them now with a bit of commentary.

Here’s the data on white supremacist terrorism the Trump administration has been ‘unable or unwilling’ to give to Congress. “Alleged white supremacists were responsible for all race-based domestic terrorism incidents in 2018, according to a government document distributed earlier this year to state, local and federal law enforcement.”

Second suspect wanted for stolen AR-15, tactical vest from Macon co. school turns himself in. So, the tactical vest and assault rifle were on school grounds in the first place because of the repeated idiotic “a good guy with a gun” arguments. (If you don’t understand why it is idiotic: first, can you shoot a bullet out of the air with a gun? No, you cannot. Second, responsible gun owners will all tell you that you never shoot into an area where you might hit innocent people. Which is why for most mass shootings where there were licensed conceal-carry people there, no one could safely take a shot at the shooter. And in a significant number of the few cases where a “good guy with a gun” tried to take out the shooter, bystanders got hit, instead.)

‘I’m the Shooter’: El Paso Suspect Confessed to Targeting Mexicans, Police Say. See, no “alleged” about it. It was racially motivated.

Trump Cultist Arrested For Death Threat Against AOC. He’s a convicted felon who is forbidden from owning guns… but he had a bunch and ammo to go with them.

An armed man who caused panic at a Walmart in Missouri said it was a ‘social experiment,’ police say. Doing something to cause a public alarm is, itself, a crime in most states, including his. Even in open carry states, waving a gun around in a threatening manner is a crime. I hope he get serious jail time.

A Vegas Man Was Arrested For Plotting A White Supremacist Attack On An LGBTQ Bar And Synagogue – Conor Climo told FBI agents he hated blacks, Jewish people, and members of the LGBTQ community, and was planning attacks that involved explosives or snipers. Such a fine person [/sarcasm]

Don’t just take my word for it: After El Paso, We Can No Longer Ignore Trump’s Role in Inspiring Mass Shootings.

Op-Ed: Why do Trump’s supporters deny the racism that seems so evident to Democrats?. Short version: most of them are the kind of racists who insist they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies…

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Weekend Update 8/10/2019: the Coward’s Way Out

©2019 Walt Handelsman, The Times-Picayune, The Advocate

I had planned to lead of this weekend’s commentary on stories that either broke after I composted this week’s Friday Five or where new information about a previously linked story had come to light with a story about documents related to Jeffrey Epstein’s case this week. And it’s a very informative story: Huge cache of records details how Jeffrey Epstein and madam lured girls into depraved world.

And then this morning the world woke to this news: Jeffrey Epstein Found Dead in Cell in Apparent Suicide. Reminder: Epstein is under arrest on charges of sex trafficing—specifically recruiting underage girls to provide sex for himself and a large group of clients over many years. Several years ago he got out of most of the charges of a similar case with a deal offered by a former prosecutor (who later became Trump’s Labor Secretary, and then resigned when this new information came to light).

Their are conspiracy theories being thrown around how this isn’t a suicide but rather a murder to silence him before he could be pushed into a plea deal where he testified against his rich and powerful clients. One reason I don’t buy that is because Epstein’s death doesn’t stop the rest of the criminal case going forward: Epstein: How he died and what it means for his accusers and also Epstein’s Victims Will Continue to Pursue Justice, Lawyer Says.

And I want to unpack that further than those articles do. A number of possible co-conspirators have already been identified. Charges are likely to be pursued against them. And those charges are not solely dependent on flipping Epstein. Remember, the feds have thousands of photographs seized from just one of Epstein’s properties of people having sex with the underage girls. One of the many tools that the feds had in their back pocket on this case is that possessing those photos constituted a crime in an of themself, even if Epstein wiggled out of the trafficing charges.

However, even though we haven’t seen the photos (and I sure as heck don’t want to personally), the description vague description entered into the court records, coupled with that fact that for some years financial experts have suspected that Epstein’s income may be the result of blackmailing rich people, the logical conclusion is that those photos were the blackmail. The photos constitute proof that certain recognizable people had sex with those girls. That, plus the flight records and other details we already know about at least some of the rich and powerful who hung out with Epstein will add up to enough to charge some of those people.

So killing Epstein isn’t enough. Not by a long shot.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t something fishy about his death: Epstein had been taken off suicide watch before killing himself, source says.

But there are other fishy things besides a conspiracy to silence him. There are plenty of people who think he deserves to die for doing all of that to all of those girls.

The other issue that keeps coming up related to this case, which the political cartoon I linked to above sort of gets at: when the Epstein case came to light, all over social media I kept seeing conservative, Trump-supporting people angrily or snarkily confronting people they perceived as liberal when referencing this case with variants of: “when it turns out the [prominent Democrat X] is one of the clients, you’ll feel differently.”

Let put that to rest: no, no I won’t. If those men took advantage of Epstein’s “parties” and “retreats” to have sex with those girls, then I want them to go to prison. It doesn’t matter if they were a senator, or congressman, or governor who served in the party I usually vote for. It doesn’t matter if they were a president that I voted for twice. I expect them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

I do think it very telling that the first thing that comes to mind for many Trump supporters is to assume that we will stop caring about criminal activity when we find out the criminal is someone whose politics we support. It’s not a revelation, we have thousands of examples in the last three years alone of how they refuse to believe, make excuses, or otherwise look the other way when the crimes Trump and his cronies comes to light. It’s just one more piece of evidence that they are all right with horrible crimes being committed against certain types of people.

I could keep going, but I’m going to circle back to this: I don’t think Epstein was murdered. His whole life was built around his jet-setting lifestyle that gave him the access, power, and money to indulge his sick desires. Every indicator is that his wealth is the result of a complex illegal scheme of some sort, which the information in the possession of both federal and state prosecutors will put an end to, and once everything is sorted out, he would probably be penniless. The only futures left to him were:

  • the rest of his life behind bars
  • many years behind bars, then a life of near poverty

So, he took the coward’s way out.


Edited to add:

This is interesting! Epstein’s Pals Just Lost Any Chance of Having Penthouse Evidence Tossed by the Courts — Here’s Why. Just to be clear, they mean evidence seized during the raid on Epstein’s New York Penthouse. This has nothing to do with the porn magazine. Anyway, because it was seized on his property before he died, he is the only person who had standing to petition the courts to disallow it in trials. So…

Tuesday Tidbits 8/6/19: Smirking and Inciting

I frequently save memes, cartoons, and the like to use as an illustration for a blog post or Friday Five. I always gather a lot more than I can actually use, so every now and then I share some that I didn’t use.

If playing video games caused mass shootings, we’d see a lot more mass shootings outside the U.S.(Click to embiggen)

As the stock market drops further while China stops buying our farm goods, and buys more from Russia and Brazil.

“Two things Republicans hate: 1. Being called racist, 2. Brown people.”

Yep! (click to embiggen)

“I'm starting to think that someone who paid $290,000 to have sex twice is maybe not really a super expert in making good deals.”

Illegal diversion of campaign funds to cover it up… (click to embiggen)

“Planned Parenthood isn't killing children. You're thinking of the NRA.”

Yep!

“Jesus doesn't how how many Bible verse you have memorized. Bu he will know the bastards that put kids in cages.”

(Click to embiggen)

Since there is almost certainly going to be more outrageous political news by the end of the week that will be more urgent for the Friday Five, I also wanted to share some more stories and op-eds on the horrible crimes that happened this last weekend (which I wrote a about yesterday):

If you think the El Paso shooting wasn’t about LGBTQ people, think again – The white nationalist fear of change to “our way of life” extends from immigrants to people of color to, yes, LGBTQ people. That can lead to violence. It’s hate all the way down.

Trump smirked at idea of shooting migrants at rally three months before El Paso massacre – ‘How do you stop these people?’ US president said about undocumented Mexicans.

El Paso shooting: Prosecutors to seek death penalty for “domestic terrorism”.

Republicans Insist: White Nationalist Violence Nothing to Do With White Nationalism.

What Both Sides Don’t Get About American Gun Culture. While he has some points (which I have made myself), he is also super-over-simplifying if he thinks that there are only two sides to this debate.

US in the midst of a white nationalist terrorism crisis.

Ohio shooter kept a ‘hit list’ and a ‘rape list’ – Classmates say the gunman was suspended for compiling a “hit list” of those he wanted to kill and a “rape list” of girls he wanted to sexually assault.

The appeal to worse problems fallacy, and other unhelpful responses to domestic terrorism

“President Trump, America is scared and we need bold action. It's time to Ban Weapons of War”

Front cover of today’s New York Post.

Another week another mass shooting, or wait, no at least two more mass shootings. And oh, all the usual nonsense from people who are deeply invested in making sure we don’t do anything to cut down on the number of preventable deaths. I’ve written about this too many times already: Why thoughts and prayers are worse than inadequate, for instance. And then this analysis of the most popular arguments from those who claim there’s nothing we can go: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either. Not to mention this bit about leaping to conclusions without examining underlying assumptions: Oh, lord, the leaping!

I am slightly heartened that a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, has joined the ever growing chorus calling for a ban on certain categories of guns: The Post urges Trump to take action on assault weapons.

We’re used to all of the usual suspects trotting out their logically fallacious arguments (most of them commit a variation of the Nirvana Fallacy, also known as the Perfect-solution Fallacy: if whatever changes proposed can’t guarantee there will never be a gun death again, well, then we can’t do anything at all! Bull.

This weekend, thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson being his usual smug self, we got one of the other fallacious arguments, and not for one of the typical rightwing types at all! Tyson had one of the most vapid and tone-deaf hot takes ever, in a tweet where he made the claim that in a typical 48 hours there are far more deaths in the U.S. due to medical errors, and due to the flu, and due to suicide, and due to car accidents, and due to homicide by handgun then these too mass shootings. Therefore, we should, you know, not get upset. Hit the link to see the tweet in question.

In one tweet he managed to pack several logical fallacies, which—if we weren’t talking about people being murdered—would be funny coming from a smug wanker who has made a career out of pretending to be the smartest guy in the room.

The first logical fallacy he is committing is the Appeal to Worse Problems (more formally known as the Fallacy of Relative Privation). All of these other things, he argues, cause more deaths, so we shouldn’t waste any time worrying about mass shootings until we eliminate all of those other causes of death. It’s a specialized kind of false dichotomy or dilemma: implying that we can only choose to worry work on a solution to one of the things in front of us.

Another problem is that several of the things in the list have no relationship whatsoever to the problem at hand. That the couple that could be argued to have a relationship, it’s a very weak one.

Medical errors, by definition, are not intentional acts. One has to be licensed as a medical professional and in most jurisdictions receive regular training and sometimes re-certification in order to practice medicine. Another way they differ from mass shootings is that we have systems in place designed to study such errors in order to find ways to make them less likely to happen. We have systems in place to apply those lessons. We have nothing like this for mass shootings.

Flu is not an intentional act by a human, it is caused by a virus. We have vaccines to reduce the incidence of flu. We have medications to reduce the severity of flu when it happens. We have entire teams of experts constantly studying flu and looking for ways to improve the vaccines and educate people in other ways to reduce their odds of catching flu. We have nothing like this for mass shootings.

Suicide is an act of self-destruction. We have suicide prevention hotlines. We have other forms of medical and psychiatric help available. We have groups of medical experts studying suicide (and proving again and again that there are ways to reduce the incidence of the act—that’s a topic for another day). But, those studies do relate slightly to the mass shootings discussion, as it has been shown that, for instance, banning guns in the residential parts of U.S. military bases (a program first undertaken at bases with a high incidents of service members committing murder-suicide of their families) doesn’t just cut down on the instance of gun deaths, but also reduces the rate of all categories domestic violence.

The vast majority of car crashes are not intentional acts. And again, we have experts in both the private and public sector who study car crashes and car design and relevant laws to find ways to reduce the rate of car fatalities. And we’ve significantly reduced them! Again, nothing like that exists for mass shootings. Also, you are required to have a driver’s license and regularly renew it to be drive. Cars are required to be registered and have their plates renewed periodically. Most jurisdictions require that you carry auto insurance for each car you own. Many jurisdictions require periodic inspection of the car to retain its registration. None of this applies to gun ownership.

The only one of his claimed worse problems to have more than a slight connection to mass shooting is homicide by handgun. And those findings about domestic violence on military bases give us at least some reason to suspect that the easy availability of guns contributes to the incidence of violent crimes in general. There seems to be something about the way that we perceive guns as opposed to knives and other weapons that has far-reaching effects. But, again, we don’t have large systemic ways of studying gun violence in this country.

The reason we don’t have systems in place to study gun violence is because Congress, under the influence of the gun lobby (usually in the guise of the NRA) has made it illegal to do so. And if there were no relationship between the availability of guns and the incidence of gun violence, why else would gun manufacturers be willing to spend millions each election cycle to prevent anyone from studying it?

Humans are social animals. Working together and the ability to divide labor is one of our species’ survival traits. We can work (as we already are), on other problems and the scourge of gun violence at the same time. Putting effort into universal background checks, and voluntary gun buy back programs, and studying other ways to reduce the incidents of these crimes. Red flag laws, which at least some Republican Senators have signaled they are willing to pass, would be a nice start.

Figuring out how to unpack toxic masculinity, racism, and how the mega-rich use our prejudices to blame economic uncertainty on marginalized groups instead of the hoarding and exploitation by corporations and billionaires, isn’t going to be easy. But if organizations like the National Institutes for Health could start studying gun violence systematically, we will find at least some ways to combat those contributing factors.

But it isn’t going to happen unless we ignore the excuses and demand action.

Weekend Update 8/3/2019: damn lies, stupid lies, shocked deniers, and the end of a campaign

(click to embiggen)

Time for another post about news that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five, or didn’t come to my attention until afterward, or about a previously linked story which has new developments. And as usual I have some opinions that I wish to expound upon.

Let’s jump in: With Ratcliffe, another Trump nominee withdraws with a damaged reputation. So, Ratcliffe was an attorney in Texas that George W. Bush appointed to a position in the Department of Justice where he worked for five years (including a brief stint as an Interim U.S. Attorney). Also during that time, he was serving as Mayor of the small town of Heath, Texas. Which would indicate that he may not have been burning the midnight oil at the Department of Justice all the time.

But he eventually ran for Congress in a campaign that heavily relied upon certain racist dog-whistles, such as claiming to have arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day! Never mind that it was a blatant lie. He also frequently claimed to be a special prosecutor in a large and somewhat famous anti-terrorism case against the Holy Land Association, which was a closed down as a fake charity funneling money into terrorist groups. This, it turns out, was also a lie—a whole pack of lies, since both is official web site and all his campaign materials included many untrue anecdotes and false statistics from his supposed involvement in that trial.

His supposed involvement in that trial was really his only qualification for being nominated as the Director of National Intelligence. And when rumors came out just before his nomination, lots of people (including a lot of conservative pundits) were pointing out that it was an awfully thin resume for an intelligence chief. That was before this week, when news came out is was all lies: Trump brutally mocked after his intel nominee crashes and burns in just 5 days: ‘It is called VETTING you idiot‘.

And when asked more politely by the press about it, Trump Withdraws Ratcliffe DNI Nomination, Jokes Media Does White House ‘Vetting’ – Report. Except, I’m sorry, I don’t think he was joking.


Speaking of ridiculous things the alleged president says, Fox Host Cuts Away From Trump To Explain That Trump Is Lying Yet Again About China Paying Tariffs (I’ve also embedded the video below). Trump keeps repeating the lie that the countries we levy tariffs against are paying those tariffs. They aren’t. The people who pay the tariffs are American citizens. The tariff is levied on imports, and that means the prices go up. All of us are paying higher prices for all sorts of things because of this trade war.

If this is news to you, it might prompt you to ask what the purpose of an import tariff is? The economic theory is that you impose tariffs on certain foreign goods in order to encourage people to buy locally produced things instead. But that only works if there are local sources of the goods in question. And since some of the earliest tariffs were raw materials that some of the few industries we still have in this country (raw materials that we can’t mine because we’ve already strip-mined all of ours), that simply causes U.S. companies to shut down those factories and move production elsewhere.

This is why economists keep pointing out that trade wars don’t work.

There isn’t any simpler way to put it: China Isn’t Paying These Tariffs. You Are.

I sincerely think that Donald doesn’t understand. It’s like just before Acosta, the Secretary of Labor (who resigned over his past connection to sex trafficker and sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein) left, Trump was touting the marvelous employment rates as if Acosta was delivering them. The Department of Labor doesn’t stimulate the economy or manage it in any way that effects job numbers. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws—making sure companies aren’t exploiting workers and so forth. It has nothing to do with how many people are employed! Trump clearly doesn’t understand that.

Similarly, I think he really doesn’t understand the tariffs, either. Yeah, China doesn’t want the tariffs, because it means that their industries will likely sell less to us, but the tariffs hurt the American consumers long, long before the pain is felt by the exporter.

Argh!


This one belongs in the, “how can you be so clueless this surprises you?” category: Reagan called President Nixon to slur Africans as ‘monkeys.’ Of course there are tapes. And then the reaction: Presidential Biographers Absolutely Stunned to Find That Ronald Reagan Was Racist. Every single campaign speech in 1980 included racial dog whistles! Every one! From the comments about “welfare queens” to his frequent use of the phrase “young bucks buying steaks with food stamps” not to mention all the “states rights” talk.

It was all code to appeal to the racist fears of white voters.

Ronald Reagan: No defence for ‘monkeys’ remark, says daughter. That’s right. There is also no excuse for not noticing the racist, misogynist, and homophobic polices of his administration throughout the eight years he was in office. As others have noted: Why is anyone surprised by Reagan’s racism?

I keep saying it: Trump is not at aberration: his is simply blatant about what the Republicans have believed for decades.


Let’s move to something that is probably just an amusing footnote to the looming presidential election: Gravel and his campaign teens end presidential run. Mike Gravel retired from representing Alaska in the U.S. Senate back in 1981. In 2008 he made a run for the Democratic nomination for President and didn’t make much of a splash. He tried to nab the Libertarian Party nomination the same year and also failed there. And he’s been an executive for a marijuana products company.

So no one was sure how seriously to take it when, with the help of a couple of teen-agers on twitter, he launched his bid fo the Democratic nomination earlier this year. Mike Gravel Ends His Unorthodox Twitter Campaign for the Presidency – The 89-year-old former senator turned heads with his unique campaign strategy.

The announcement that he’s winding down the campaign mentions that the aforementioned teens are moving onto jobs with a liberal political committee, so maybe that was the point all along? I’m not sure. I really don’t think anyone was expecting Americans to vote into the White House someone who would turn 91 just a couple months after being sworn in.

But who knows?

Anyway: Gravel to form liberal think tank after suspending campaign.


Fox’s Neil Cavuto Wearily Explains Again That Trump Is Wrong to Say China Is Paying Tariffs:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Sunday Update 7/28/2019: The dubious finances of men with no morals

"Wealth is no proof of moral character... On the contrary, wealth is often the presumptive evidence of dishonesty" — Thomas Paine, 1795

(click to embiggen)

Since I was busy with friends most of Saturday (and thus I started my usual errands earlier than typical), I didn’t have time to do a Weekend Update. So, here are some stories that either didn’t make the cut for this week’s Friday Five, or broke after that post was assembled, or just provoke a desire for more extensive commentary than I like to put into Friday Five.

First, I have written more than once about financial and other shenanigans of local political gadfly and perennial anti-tax, anti-gay, anti-well-anything-decent initiative filer: Tim Eyman. A while back Eyman was caught on video stealing an office chair from an Office Depot. The video was kind of funny: he finds the chair set up near the door, sits in it, spins around in it, then stands up and wheels it out to his car. Moments later he came back inside and bought some other stuff. According to the testimony of the employees, he did not mention the chair to the cashier. He did not pay for the chair. When the cashier called someone over to help Eyman carry his purchases (which included some heavy printers), Eyman tried to turn them down. When they insisted, he led them to his SUV, and had the guy stack things next to the back of the SUV but pointedly did not open the back of the vehicle until after the employee had walked back into the store.

Eyman claims he meant to pay for the chair. But the sketchy behavior in the parking lot clearly said otherwise. Anyway, the case came to a close this week: Lacey lets Tim Eyman off with $193 fine for stealing chair. He also is barred from entering that Office Depot for nine months. The sheer pettiness and stupidity of stealing a $70 office chair when he’s going to be paying for $300 worth of printers other things is, to me, the perfect metaphor for the kind of entitled scam artist that he is. He hasn’t worked an honest day in decades. His only source of income for many years are the political campaigns he wages to cripple the state’s tax system or take rights away from gay and trans citizens.

And that income isn’t all on the up-and-up, either. He’s involved in a lawsuit over campaign finance violations, and he had some bad news there this week: Thurston County judge finds Tim Eyman in contempt again. According to the judge, this charge is for “refusal to disclose complete information related to hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments he solicited from individual donors.” Back in 2002 he settled a campaign finance lawsuit by paying a $50,000 fine and agreeing to a lifetime ban on being the “signer on any financial accounts” for political committees. In the current lawsuit, in which the state says he illegally funneled $300,000 from a 2012 initiative campaign into his personal accounts, the state is seeking $2.1 million dollars plus court costs and a lifetime ban on handling any finances of any political campaign. His previous contempt charge, for not turning over required documents, has been racking up a daily fine that the state says adds up to more than $200,000 so far. I don’t know if this second charge means more daily fines or what.

Meanwhile, another of his initiatives to severely limit local and regional citizens to tax themselves for capital projects will be on the ballot in the fall. He previously filed for bankruptcy protection, but then withdrew that once he learned that monthly reports on his personal finances would be available to the public, and might make some of his supporters question whether they wanted to keep donating to him. It has been said that the most dangerous place to be in this state is standing between Eyman and a TV news camera. Strange how he keeps refusing to turn over information, huh?

His wife filed for divorce last year—he claims that it’s because the state is being mean to him. Which is a really funny way of spelling “tired of being in close proximity of all this negative publicity that her husband’s actions have brought down on him.”


Speaking of men with no morals and sketchy finances: Financier Jeffrey Epstein found nearly unconscious in jail cell, suicide attempt suspected. You may recall the Epstein has been arrested in connection with sex trafficking and sexual abuse of underage girls. You may also recall that the evidence against submitted to the court includes what was described has a massive drove of photos of said underage girls in sexual situations. You may also recall how he got a sweetheart deal on similar charges years ago that meant he didn’t have to do serious jail time and was allowed to leave the jail 6 days out of every week to keep running his so-called business? And that after serving his ridiculously short sentence, he failed to report his movements to law enforcement as required under his plea deal?

Well, the case isn’t exactly looking any better for Epstein: The Feds Want to Talk to the Pilots Who Flew Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express”. Yes, the feds issued subpoenas earlier this month to Epstein’s pilots. I wonder if that may have prompted the alleged suicide attempt. And I’m using alleged for a couple of reasons, but mainly because it hasn’t been ruled out that he staged the stunt to get transferred out of the prison and into a hospital or mental institution.

Anyway, for years (and even just a few weeks ago) news stories have frequently referred to Epstein as a billionaire (though Forbes magazine famously refused to: Why Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein Is Not A Billionaire).

It’s always been a little unclear how he made is money. He started his own financial firm some years ago, claiming to only take clients who would deposit $1 billion; yet he never, ever mentioned any client except one, Leslie Wexner, the owner of Victoria’s Secret: How Jeffrey Epstein Used the Billionaire Behind Victoria’s Secret for Wealth and Women. Wexner cut all ties with Epstein years ago after Epstein was arrested on the previous sex trafficking charges that were never prosecuted. People have been wondering ever since how Epstein still lives his opulent lifestyle. Some theories have emerged: ‘I Think He’s Engaged in Blackmail’: A Jeffrey Epstein Expert on Where He Made His Money or How Jeffrey Epstein Made His Money: Four Wild Theories.

One of those wild theories is based on something that Alexander Acosta (the former U.S. attorney who made that sweetheart deal years ago, and who was forced to resign as Trump’s Labor Secretary when the new Epstein charges brought that old deal back into the press) during the vetting for the Labor position. He said that old deal with Epstein wouldn’t be a problem because the only reason he made the deal was that someone warned him to back off because Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” The implication was that Epstein had been providing some sort of information to U.S. intelligence agents. That’s the one I think is least likely. But his secretive money management funds might actually be a big Ponzi scheme, or blackmail could be a major component (and might be a better explanation for why someone would warn Acosta away from the case), or all his off-shore account, besides being a tried-and-true way to avoid paying taxes might also be a money laundering scheme.

I hope that it all comes to light as his trial proceeds. And I hope all the men who participated in the sex parties filled with young girls get what’s coming to them. Whoever they are.

Weekend Update 7/20/2019: Crystal cathedrals, berated bigots, and racist racisms

“If the pope was ever like, 'Hey, I just realized, that we could cure world hunger...”

“If the pope was ever like, ‘Hey, I just realized, that we could cure world hunger…”

“...if we sold some of these gold cathedrals.”

“…if we sold some of these gold cathedrals.”

“The next day that would be like, 'Oh no! The pope died!'”

“The next day that would be like, ‘Oh no! The pope died!’”

I thought I was getting over the current illness, and since when I woke up Friday morning I saw that my husband had gone into work rather than call in again, I figured he was feeling better, too. Well, not so much. I do not want to go into graphic details, other than to say that we spent a good portion of the evening, for different reasons, taking turns in the bathroom.

Speaking of things that turn one’s stomach,

Catholic Church Spent $77 Million To Remodel Crystal Cathedral Built By Scamvangelicals. A long, long time ago (1955) an evangelist named Robert H. Schuller rented a drive-in theatre in Garden Grove, California one Sunday morning. He invited people to come to church as they were in their cars. It was a drive-in church. He also preached at more traditional church building he rented about a mile away, but the thing that got him coverage in the news were the services (complete with an organ) at that drive-in. As money poured in, he eventually bought a 10-acre plot nearby, and in 1958 broke ground for a “walk-in, drive-in.” That’s right, he had a regular church building, but also a drive-in style lot with an enormous screen where he projected the sermons. Eventually he built the 13-story “Tower of Power” as an office building with a 90-foot illuminated cross on top, and then bought another 10-acres and constructed the “Crystal Cathedral” — hailed as the largest structure in the world constructed completely out of glass, and it contained the fifth-largest organ in the world. By this point he was broadcasting his sermons on television as the “Hour of Power” while continuing to have the drive-in section outside the church and was raking in the dough like never before. They built a giant Prayer Spire beside the building, they opened a private school on the property, the built a memorial garden (a portion of which was an actual cemetery). They staged elaborate holiday pageants at Easter and Christmas every year, charging $45 per person if you wanted to sit inside the church to watch it (admission fee? wouldn’t that mean this wasn’t a church service?). Anyway, despite the fact the Schuller literally once said that spending all those millions was better than trying to feed the poor because “the poor will always be with us, but this monument to god will stand for the ages” money just kept pouring in!

Until it didn’t. As Schuller aged, he eased into retirement, first appointed his eldest son as pastor in 2006, and then due to unspecified disagreements, asking his son to resign and eventually appointing one of his daughters in 2009. In 2010 the church’s board filed for bankruptcy protection. Eventually court filings would reveal that the money problems had been ongoing for a few years, with the board borrowing heavily from the endowment to pay the lavish salaries of the many relatives of Schuller who made up most of the senior staff. Hundreds of more modestly paid employees were laid off, actors and musicians and costume-designers and set-builders who had already put in months work for that year’s Easter Pageant were told they weren’t getting paid after all and so forth.

In the midst of all of this, Schuller’s wife fell ill with pneumonia, and in a particularly tone-deaf move, the church sent out a plea to members to make meals for the Schullers, but not to take them to the Schullers’s home, but rather take them to the Tower of Power and leave the meals with the limo drivers who would deliver the food to the Schullers. I kid you not!

Anyway, as part of the bankruptcy settlement, the property was eventually sold in 2012 to the local Catholic Archdioceses for $57 million dollars. The Catholics have since spent about $77 million dollars more renovating the building (including shipping that enormous organ off to Italy to the refurbished, then shipping it back). And this week, they consecrated the main building, now renamed the Christ Cathedral.

I give all these details because, as an ex-evangelical myself, throughout my childhood and teen years there were always people in my life who watched Schuller’s show faithfully. I thought it was always clear that he was in it just for the money. Schuller died in 2015, but despite the horrible bankruptcy, Schuller’s grandson is still broadcasting the Hour of Power every week from their new home, a nearby Presbyterian building called Shepherd’s Grove. Schuller’s eldest son runs his own ministry, broadcasting services online. His daughter is now a pastor at another church in Orange, California: Sheila Schuller Coleman: Hope Center for Christ opens in AMC Theater.

Which I guess is a very long way of saying, the scam goes on?

While the Catholics distract us with their shiny new glass cathedral in California, look what they are failing to do in West Virginia: Vatican Declines To Defrock Bishop Accused Of Sexual Harassment And Lavish Spending.

Of course, the Catholics aren’t the only church with sex scandals: Bail Denied For Megachurch Leader After Testimony About Threeway Sex Tape With Minor Enrages Judge. Sex trafficking, production of child pornography, coercing underage girls into having sex because otherwise god will be angry at them? Why does that sound familiar?

Okay, I have to stop looking that the religious news, because that’s all too depressing. Oh, look! Consequences: Three White Supremacists Get Prison Sentences For Charlottesville Rioting. Three of Trumps very fine supporters who were identified from the videos punching and choking counter-protestors are getting some prison time. Good.

Meanwhile, how is the so-called straight pride parade doing on lining up corporate sponsors? TripAdvisor Zaps ‘Straight Pride Parade’ Organizers with Cease-and-Desist Letter Peppered with Gay Anthems. Netflix and TripAdvisor aren’t the only ones sending cease and desist letters or otherwise doing everything that can to distance themselves from the hate groups (Patriot Front, Resist Marxism, American Guard, and others) behind the parade: Not One of the Straight Pride Parade’s “Sponsors” Wants to Be Associated With the Event. On the one hand, good for all these companies. On the other, I can’t help but think that each of this stories is just more publicity for the haters.

On the other hand, at least some of the cease and desist letters are entertaining.

Let’s end this with this. The alleged president has “so many racisms, we don’t have time to cover them all!”

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee | A Rundown of Trump’s Racist Racisms:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

Weekend Update 7/13/2019: Powerful men sometimes face consequences, but what happened at New Republic?

This is a picture for the day Acosta was sworn in as Labor Secretary. Note the identical haircuts and dresses of the daughters (who are NOT twins) not to mention Mom’s clothes. Why does this picture make me think of the kind of super-strict “christian” family with dark secrets?

It’s Saturday morning and time for a news update. Once again, there have been some news stories that broke after I composed this week’s Friday Five upon which I don’t want to wait until next Friday to comment. And one of them is a doozy! So, let’s get to it!

First: Trump Labor chief Alex Acosta resigns due to Jeffrey Epstein case. I wish I’d posted on line on Thursday what I said to my husband when I saw a news stories in which Trump was reported to have said that there was “zero chance” he would fire Acosta over these allegations. Because the moment I read that I thought, “he’s going to be out by the end of the week!” In case you don’t know what this is about, a week ago Trump pal Jeffrey Epstein arrested for sex trafficking dozens of minors and Fund manager Jeffrey Epstein was charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy, accused by US prosecutors of paying girls as young as 14 for sex and using them to recruit others from 2002 to 2005. And not just trafficking: Wealthy financier charged with molesting dozens of girls under the age of 18.

“Prosecutors said the evidence against Epstein included a “vast trove” of hundreds or even thousands of lewd photographs of young women or girls, discovered in a weekend search of his New York City mansion. Authorities also found papers and phone records corroborating the alleged crimes, and a massage room still set up the way accusers said it appeared, prosecutors said.”

How does this involve Trump’s Labor Secretary? Well, 12 years ago Acosta was a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and mega-rich Epstein was under investigation for very similar charges involving molesting 36 young girls. Acosta stepped in a negotiated a plea deal where Epstein plead guilty to two minor prostitution charges, and would be required to register as a sex offender. Immunity from prosecution was granted on all of the other charges for Epstein, four named co-conspirators, and “unnamed potential co-conspirators.” People have been criticising that deal for years, particularly as it was pointed out that around the same time, Acosta prosecuted much less high-profile defendants on similar charges and got much more serious prison time for them.

Acosta had a press conference earlier this week in which he argued that the case hadn’t been strong enough to win, and besides, state authorities were really to blame. Those officials had something to say: ‘Abhorrent’ and ‘Completely Wrong’: Former Florida Officials Push Back Against Acosta’s Account of Epstein Case.

Some conservative sites are arguing that the new case isn’t prosecutable because of the deal. There are a few problems with that. The original deal only covered the 36 victims mentioned in the deal, for one, and More than 12 new Jeffrey Epstein accusers come forward. So none of these cases would be covered by the prosecutorial immunity. Also, one of the conditions of the deal was not just the Epstein would register as a sex offender, but that as a sex offender he would report his movement to authorities: NYPD let convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein skip judge-ordered check-ins (when you’re rich, you can get away with anything). Which doesn’t automatically mean the deal is voided, but a judge can set aside such a deal on those grounds.

Also, the original plea agreement was approved by a judge (as all have to be), and at that hearing it is traditional that victims of the alleged crimes are given a chance to address the court concerning the deal. At the time, only a few of the victims did so, and Acosta’s office told the court that all of the other victims declined to comment. Several of those victims insist that they were not consulted and not given an opportunity to speak, and a Florida judge ruled earlier this year that the non-prosecution agreement violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because at least some witnesses were never consulted or informed that it had happened. The federal court where Epstein is currently being tried doesn’t have to abide by the state court’s ruling, but it can take it into account.

So, Acosta resigned yesterday. Good riddance. Though I don’t think that simply resigning and then retiring to a cushy consulting job in the vast alt-right media-and-consulting ecosystem is adequate punishment: How Alex Acosta Got Away With It for So Long – The only way the labor secretary could give Jeffrey Epstein that 2008 plea deal is by ignoring victims.


Every now and then, someone likes to accuse me of only going after bad behavior on one end of the political spectrum. Yesterday evening was an example of the other direction: The New Republic removes op-ed attack on Buttigieg; admits it was ‘inappropriate and invasive’. Yesterday, the New Republic, which is generally considered to be a left-leaning publication, published a op-ed by an out gay writer entitled, “My Mayor Pete Problem.” I saw lots of people commenting on it throughout the day, but didn’t get a chance to go read it until the evening.

It was special.

It literally read (and I said so on line before it was pulled) like a drunken rant you would hear in a gay bar in which someone was critiquing a gay politician and blending opinions about the politician’s personal life choice, speculation about his habits in bed, along with poorly sourced comments on the politicians actual policy positions. Since the essay has been taken down (and a rather lame editorial apology posted), you can’t go read it for yourself. But don’t take my word for it:

In the hard-to-believe essay, Peck repeatedly referred to the also openly gay Buttigieg as “Mary Pete.” …Among the many gratuitous personal insults to the mayor, Peck also compares him to a 15-year-old boy who’s wondering if he should sleep with a 50-year-old man, and speculates about Buttigieg’s sexual preferences in bed — in terms that are not appropriate to repeat in this publication.
—The New York Daily News

Beside the fact that this vulgar hit piece was represented as political commentary (and then after the firestorm of criticism, the editors pivoted to claiming it was satire), the other crime it committed is that it forced me to agree with the arch-conservative wingnuts at the Washington Examiner: Nasty, horribly written New Republic op-ed attacks Mayor Pete as the gay Uncle Tom (Note, this is a donotlink.it link).

When the same publication that frequently insists that IQ is hereditary which therefore justifies some of their racist editorials recognizes that something you’ve published is homophobic, you have really screwed up!

Someone at the New Republic needs to get fired over this.


And here are a collection of awful headlines that I want to clear out and not even think about for next Friday:

Florida principal wrong to equivocate on Nazi Germany atrocities – The Holocaust happened. Period. End of story. At least he was fired.

A Detroit man is facing a first-degree murder charge after allegedly using Grindr to track down gay people and shoot them. Arrested.

Feds Bust Christian Missionary For Molesting Orphans. Arrested. Please, oh please don’t let anyone like Acosta near this case!

Finally, while I don’t feel right trying to end this on a positive note, I will end it with just a bit of schadenfreude:

Anti-Gay Former GOP Rep. William Dannemeyer Dies At 89, Called For Firing And Quarantining People With HIV. When he was still in congress he claimed that queer men infected with HIV “emitted spores” that could infect pregnant women—and that was hardly the craziest thing he ever said. Anyway, here’s hoping his soul is mounted on a nice rotisserie in hell.

Strangely, bigots aren’t interested in protecting children from the actual predators…

“A person's character is shown through their action in life, NOT where they sit on Sunday.”

(click to embiggen)

Many years ago, Dan Savage started posting a weekly Youth Pastor Watch on the blog of the Seattle Alt-weekly newspaper, The Stranger. As he explained at the time, he did it because religious bigots were arguing against gay rights and the legal recognition of civil unions (then later marriage equality) with wild claims about how children needed to be protected from gay people. So Dan proved, week after week, that a simple Google news alert would produce new cases pastors—usually youth pastors—being arrested or charged with sexually assaulting children and teens in their congregations. Sometimes other crimes, but sexual assault happened a lot.

And if you follow the news, you know that it still happens.

As Dan said himself a couple years ago, he didn’t stop doing the weekly posts because pastors stopped raping kids in churches, but because the bigots abandoned their “think of the children” arguments against marriage equality. However, the bigots have revived those arguments, but now targeting trans people. And, as Alvin McEwen notes frequently while posting news links on his blog, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, all of the lies that bigots used to make about gay and lesbian people to justify discriminating against us are being re-purposed toward transgender people.

I am not going to start doing a weekly post of sexual crimes of pastors. However, I noticed when I was compiling the last Friday Five that it was about the third week in a row where several stories about pastors committing sexual and other crimes had not quite made it into the list. I bookmark lots of news each week, but I try to limit the number of stories posted on Friday about how horrible people can be to less than half the links each week. So these have tended to be omitted. I’m going to just list them all here, then follow up with a bit more commentary after:

N. Charleston pastor charged for reported sexual conduct with minor out on $100,000 bond.

Anti-Gay Baptist Pastor Charged With Molesting Boys.

Founder Of “Biblical Flat Earth Society” Charged With 56 Felony Counts Of Child Porn.

Former youth pastor sentenced for indecent liberties with a minor – Jordan Baird’s sentencing Monday follows five months served on a similar charge in 2018.

Westlake church pastor fired after rape arrest.

Central Pa. pastor had child pornography images with his face superimposed on them:.

It Takes A Village To Deceive A Family – an infuriating story about how one Baptist megachurch in suburban Dallas handled — and failed to handle — a case of alleged abuse by a youth pastor.

Youth pastor at Colorado Springs church arrested on suspicion of sexual assault of a child.

Youth pastor given suspended sentence.

Pastor Who Backed Murder Charge For Abortion Arrested For Molesting Teenage Relativ and also: Pastor Stephen Bratton: following his confession, his church moved swiftly to excommunicate him from the congregation and scrub any trace of his name from their website.

Sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention: what will it take to prompt meaningful action?

A few comments:

Please note that I didn’t do a Google news alert. The above stories got bookmarked because they appeared on news sites I read regularly. When I do run a search on “pastor crime” in News, a lot of stories that don’t make it to my usual news sites always pop up.

Back when I was seeing Dan’s weekly posts, one of the things that irritated me was how often the headlines said “former youth pastor” and similar phrases (which you will note at least one of the above headlines employs). The reason that irritates me is that, whenever you read the stories, the crimes the pastor has been arrested or convicted of happened when they still were actively serving as a pastor. Often their victims were members of the church at the time. Yeah, after the sexual predator was arrested, suddenly the church decides to fire him and distance themselves from him, but at the time of the crimes, the pastor was still employed as a pastor, and more importantly, merely being fired is not the same as stripping the person of their credentials. In most cases, these criminals still possess their certification or registration or whatever the specific denomination refers to as its official recognition that the person has been ordained even after they are sent to prison.

As at least two of the stories above explicitly explain, churches in general are really bad at handling these cases. They often cover up the pastor’s crimes. And even when they don’t, they frequently roll out the forgiveness carpet from the perpetrator of these horrendous crimes, while shaming the victims and those who support the victims.

It isn’t transgender students who just want to use the regular bathroom at school who pose a threat to children. Far too often, it is youth pastors and other church leaders.

“If kids got raped at Denny's as often as they get raped at church, every Denny's in the U.S. would be burned to the ground.” —Dan Savage

“If kids got raped at Denny’s as often as they get raped at church, every Denny’s in the U.S. would be burned to the ground.” —Dan Savage

Weekend Update 7/6/2019: Miss Major, still leading the trans revolution

I had several news stories that either didn’t make the cut for this week’s Friday Five, or that I found after posting. And there was even a good strong theme emerging. And then I saw something that had totally slipped by me yesterday: Miss Major Griffin-Gracy Has Suffered a Stroke – The Stonewall veteran and lifelong transgender activist has been hospitalized. Miss Major is one of the trans women of color who was involved in the Stonewall Riots. Unfortunately, she was struck on the head by a cop and taken into custody during the riots, and while in jail was beaten severely. Before Stonewall, she had been actively fight for trans rights and women’s rights, and she had continued the fight for all the years since.

So, I think this Weekend Update is more of an extension of my Pride report posted last night, today I want to point you to more information about Miss Major, and the role she and other trans people of color have played in the fight for queer rights:

Stonewall Activist Miss Major Is Still Leading the Trans Revolution.

Trans Activist Miss Major Revisits the Stonewall Riots.

Here’s hoping Miss Major has a swift recovery. If you’re so inclined, send love, healing thoughts, and good vibrations for one of our heroes.

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