Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Associated Press Calls BS on Bogus Trump SOTU Claims

Mod: The following Associated Press report was liberated from an ABC News website. This morning the AP is calling Trump out on some of his most fraudulent claims, and we are certainly glad that they did. After all, the guy does lie like a rug, and people do need to be reminded of that often.

Checking the facts: Trump’s claims in his State of Union address (ABC News link): The AP is fact-checking remarks from President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech. Here's a look at some of the claims we've examined (quotations from the speech as delivered or as released by the White House before delivery):

TRUMP: "After years and years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages."

THE FACTS: Actually, they are not rising any faster than they have before. Average hourly pay rose 2.5 percent in 2017, slightly slower than the 2.9 percent increase recorded in 2016.

Most economists say wages should increase at a faster rate as the unemployment rate drops. The unemployment rate stands at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, but that has done little so far to spark rising wages. The last time unemployment was this low, in the late 1990s, average hourly pay was rising at a 4 percent pace.

TRUMP: "The third pillar (of my immigration plan) ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard to skill, merit or the safety of our people."

THE FACTS: That's a highly misleading characterization. The program is not nearly that random and it does address skills, merit and safety.

The diversity visa program awards up to 50,000 green cards a year to people from underrepresented countries, largely in Africa. It requires applicants to have completed a high school education or have at least two years of experience in the last five years in a selection of fields identified by the Labor Department. Winners are then randomly selected by computer, from that pool of applicants who met the pre-conditions. Winners must submit to extensive background checks, just like any other immigrant.

TRUMP: "We have ended the war on beautiful clean coal."

THE FACTS: Coal is not clean. According to the Energy Department, more than 83 percent of all major air pollutants — sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, toxic mercury and dangerous soot particles — from power plants are from coal, even though coal makes up only 43 percent of the power generation. Power plants are the No. 1 source of those pollutants.

Coal produces nearly twice as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide per energy created as natural gas, the department says. In 2011, coal burning emitted more than 6 million tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides versus 430,000 tons from other energy sources combined.

TRUMP: "The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age — that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration."

THE FACTS: Not so. The Obama administration pushed legal status for many more immigrants and was prevented by Congress and the courts from offering it. A 2013 bill that passed the Senate but died in the House would have bestowed legal status on about 8 million people, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

In 2014, the Obama administration announced an expanded program that included parents of young immigrants who were shielded from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, the measure would have given legal status to up to 4 million people. The Supreme Court deadlocked on the plan, letting a lower court ruling stand that blocked it.

TRUMP: "In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists only to meet them again on the battlefield, including the ISIS leader, (Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi, who we captured, who we had, who we released."

THE FACTS: Trump is correct that al-Baghdadi had been released after being detained at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, U.S. detention facilities in Iraq. But Trump made his comment while announcing that he had signed an executive order to keep open the controversial U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If he meant that "hundreds and hundreds" of Guantanamo detainees had been released only to return to the battlefield, his math is off.

The office of the Director of National Intelligence said this summer in its most recent report on the subject that of the 728 detainees who have been released from Guantanamo, 122 are "confirmed" and 90 are "suspected" of re-engaging in hostile activities.

TRUMP: "We have sent thousands and thousands and thousands of MS-13 horrible people out of this country or into our prisons."

THE FACTS: That's an exaggeration and goes beyond how even how Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration's most aggressive anti-gang enforcer, characterizes the scope of the effort. Sessions said in a speech this week that federal authorities had secured the convictions of nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members, "and worked with our international allies to arrest or charge more than 4,000 MS-13 members."

On other occasions, the attorney general has specifically said the 4,000 number reflects work done with "our partners in Central America." That suggests that at least some of the MS-13 members Trump is referring to weren't actually in the U.S when they were arrested, and aren't now in U.S. prisons.

TRUMP: Changes in immigration policies, including more border security, "will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction."

THE FACTS: Drugs being brought across borders are only part of the problem contributing to the nation's opioid crisis. According to the U.S. Centers on Disease Control and Prevention, about 40 percent of the opioid deaths in 2016 involved prescription painkillers. Those drugs are made by pharmaceutical companies. Some are abused by the people who have prescriptions; others are stolen and sold on the black market.

The flow of heroin into the U.S. from Mexico is a major problem, but drugs that are brought from other countries don't all come over land borders. Illicit versions of powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which are a major factor in rising overdose numbers, are being shipped directly to the U.S. from China.

TRUMP: "My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need."

THE FACTS: The bipartisan National Governors Association doesn't think he's lived up to that commitment. Earlier this month, the governors called on Trump and Congress to do more to pay for and coordinate a response to the opioid epidemic.

The Trump administration has allowed states to begin allowing states to seek permission to use Medicaid to cover addiction treatment in larger facilities — a measure advocates say is needed.

TRUMP: "Last year, the Congress passed, and I signed, the landmark VA Accountability Act. Since its passage, my administration has already removed more than 1,500 VA employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve."

THE FACTS: This statement is inaccurate. It's true that more than 1,500 firings at the VA have occurred so far during the Trump administration. But more than 500 of those firings occurred from Jan. 20, when Trump took office, to late June, when the new accountability law began to take effect. That means roughly one-third of the 1,500 firings cannot be attributed to the new law.

Congress passed the legislation last June making it easier to fire VA employees and shortening the time employees have to challenge disciplinary actions. But the law's impact on improving accountability at the department remains unclear: More VA employees were fired in former President Barack Obama's last budget year, for instance, than in Trump's first.

TRUMP: "For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities."

THE FACTS: "Open borders" is an exaggeration. Border arrests, a useful if imperfect gauge of illegal crossings, have dropped sharply over the last decade. The government under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama roughly doubled the ranks of the Border Patrol, and Bush extended fencing to cover nearly one-third of the border during his final years in office.

The Obama administration deported more than 2 million immigrants during the eight years he was in office, more than in previous administrations. Studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

TRUMP: "Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives."

THE FACTS: It's not happening because the waiting list is so long. There is currently no wait for U.S. citizens to bring spouses, children under 21 and parents. But citizens must petition for siblings and adult children, and green-card card holders must do the same for spouses and children.

On Nov. 1, there were 4 million people in line for family-based visas, according to the State Department. The waits are longest for China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. In January, Mexican siblings of U.S. children who applied in November 1997 were getting called, a wait of more than 20 years. An immigrant could theoretically bring an uncle by bringing a parent who then brings his sibling, but the wait would be interminable for most.

TRUMP: "We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare — the individual mandate is now gone."

THE FACTS: No, it's not gone. It's going, in 2019. People who go without insurance this year are still subject to fines. Congress did repeal the unpopular requirement that most Americans carry insurance or risk a tax penalty but that takes effect next year.

It's a far cry from what Trump and the GOP-led Congress set out to do last year, which was to scrap most of the sweeping Obama-era health law and replace it with a Republican alternative. The GOP blueprint would have left millions more Americans uninsured, making it even more unpopular than "Obamacare." Other major parts of the overhaul remain in place, including its Medicaid expansion, protections for people with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed "essential" health benefits, and subsidized private health insurance for people with modest incomes.

TRUMP: "Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades."

THE FACTS: He's wrong about recent decades. The auto industry has regularly been opening and expanding factories since before became president. Toyota opened its Mississippi factory in 2011. Hyundai's plant in Alabama dates to 2005. In 2010, Tesla fully acquired and updated an old factory to produce its electric vehicles.

Trump also declared that "Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan." That's not exactly the case, either. Chrysler announced it will move production of heavy-duty pickup trucks from Mexico to Michigan, but the plant is not closing in Mexico. It will start producing other vehicles for global sales and no change in its workforce is anticipated.

TRUMP: "Last year I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the earth. One year later, I'm proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated."

THE FACTS: Although it's true that the Islamic State has lost nearly 100 percent of the territory it held in Syria and Iraq when the U.S. began airstrikes in both countries in 2014, Syria remains wracked by civil war, with much of that country controlled by the government of Russian ally Syrian President Bashar Assad and not by U.S.-allied groups. The Iraqi government has declared itself fully liberated from IS.

The progress cited by Trump did not start with his presidency. The U.S.-led coalition recaptured much land, including several key cities in Iraq, before he took office. And the assault on Mosul, which was the extremists' main stronghold in northern Iraq, was begun during the Obama administration. But in the past year the counter-ISIS campaign has accelerated, based largely on the approach Trump inherited.

He's right that more remains to be done to eliminate IS as an extremist threat, even after it has been defeated militarily. The group is still able to inspire attacks in the West based on its ideology, and it is trying to make inroads in places like Afghanistan and Libya.

TRUMP: "Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses."

THE FACTS: That depends on how you define "tremendous." The biggest beneficiaries from the tax law are wealthy Americans and corporations. Most Americans will pay less in taxes this year. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that about 80 percent of U.S. households will get a tax cut, with about 15 percent seeing little change and 5 percent paying more.

Middle-class households — defined as those making between roughly $49,000 and $86,000 a year — will see their tax bills drop by about $930, the Tax Policy Center calculates. That will lift their after-tax incomes by 1.6 percent. The richest 1 percent, meanwhile, will save $51,140, lifting their after-tax incomes by 3.4 percent, or more than twice as much as the middle class.

TRUMP: "We are now an exporter of energy to the world."

THE FACTS: There's nothing new in that: The U.S. has long exported all sorts of energy, while importing even more. If Trump meant that the U.S. has become a net exporter of energy, he's rushing things along. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that the U.S. will become a net energy exporter in the next decade, primarily because of a boom in oil and gas production that began before Trump's presidency. The Trump White House has predicted that could happen sooner, by 2020. But that's not "now."

TRUMP: "We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history."

THE FACTS: No truer now than in the countless other times he has said the same. The December tax overhaul ranks behind Ronald Reagan's in the early 1980s, post-World War II tax cuts and at least several more. An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in the fall put Trump's package as the eighth biggest since 1918. As a percentage of the total economy, Reagan's 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II.

Valued at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, the plan is indeed large and expensive. But it's much smaller than originally intended. Back in the spring, it was shaping up as a $5.5 trillion package. Even then it would have only been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product.

TRUMP: "Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker."

THE FACTS: This appears to be true, but may not be as impressive as it sounds. According to a tally of public announcements by Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group that supported the tax law, about 3 million workers have gotten bonuses, raises or larger payments to their retirement accounts since the tax law was signed. That's about 2 percent of the more than 154 million Americans with jobs. The Labor Department said before the tax package was signed into law that 38 percent of workers would likely get some form of bonus in 2017.

Few companies have granted across-the-board pay raises, which Trump and GOP leaders promised would result from the cut in corporate tax rates included in the overhaul. Many, such as Walmart and BB&T Bank, said they will raise their minimum wages. Walmart made similar announcements in 2015 and 2016.

TRUMP: "We have ended the war on American energy - and we have ended the war on clean coal."

THE FACTS: Energy production was unleashed in past administrations, particularly Barack Obama's, making accusations of a "war on energy" hard to sustain. Advances in hydraulic fracturing before Trump became president made it economical to tap vast reserves of natural gas. Oil production also greatly increased, reducing imports.

Before the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. for the first time in decades was getting more energy domestically than it imports. Before Obama, George W. Bush was no adversary of the energy industry. One of Trump's consequential actions as president on this front was to approve the Keystone XL pipeline — a source of foreign oil, from Canada.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Grammar Lady Is Not Happy With MENSA Member Andy Bencosme's Spelling And Grammar Deficiencies

I had a call from the Grammar Lady yesterday. She was in a bit of a panic about a spelling error on Andy Bencosme's City Council candidacy webpage. I have received these kinds of calls from her in the past, usually right around election time.

Normally I like to tell the Grammar Lady that we are all human, everyone makes mistakes once in a while, and isn't that why God put erasers on pencils? Besides, I am hardly perfect in this regard myself, so why would I want to throw those kinds of rocks around my glass house?

However, she countered my misgivings with a rather emphatic argument. Andy has made his membership in MENSA an important part of his election presentation, and therefore he should NEVER make spelling errors. Especially in his official campaign material. "There are certain standards involved," she let me know. I said I would look into it.

In case you are not aware, MENSA is an organization you might be permitted to join, but only if you can pass their test. One proving that you have an IQ high enough to number amongst so chosen and hallowed an elite. Here is how they describe this on MENSA's website (link):

Membership of Mensa is open to persons who have attained a score within the upper two percent of the general population on an approved intelligence test that has been properly administered and supervised.

In a world that often rewards achievement more than it does those who do well on tests, I am not certain there is any real value in this. But if you would like to be able to tell people how smart you are, and need the backing of an official organization to make that claim believable, you can go to the MENSA website and take a test. This won't immediately qualify you for any "I am really smart" lapel pins, but it will let you know if you stand a chance of ever becoming quite that annoying. Good luck, and please, no cribbing.

Andy has made his resume' available on-line (link), and here is the part where he discusses his MENSA membership. You might want to click on this to enlarge, especially if you are as blind as I am.

I just hope living in Monrovia isn't a qualification for MENSA membership. Should that be the case very few people reading this blog are going to qualify.

Andy also points out that MENSA credential on his campaign website.

Anyway, back to the Grammar Lady's points of informed concern. If you go to the Andy 4 Sierra Madre webpage (link), you will be able to read about the many things Andy really likes about Andy. Here is a passage that gives you some spice on his hopes and dreams. It is called "Why Andy."

I am sure Andy can say all of that, and more. I mean, who ever ran for City Council in Sierra Madre and didn't claim they could bring people together, make tough choices, and manage those tight budgets? And who doesn't love volunteers? People who are willing to work for no compensation other than the satisfaction of having done good deeds are always in high demand. What's not to like?

However, the Grammar Lady was not especially happy about that "I know how to be creative or and make the tough choices when needed" passage. "That makes no sense," she grumbled.

But where the ever vigilant Grammar Lady really got her straw and flowered hat into an unattractive shamble was over this ruby slipper. It is called "Issues."

"That is not how you spell 'priveleged' you know," pointed out the Grammar Lady in a heated huff. "You'd think Mr. Smartypants would want to go to Staples and buy himself a MENSA spellcheck."

I am not sure what I am supposed to do about this. I suppose I could turn Andy in to the MENSA Police and see if they'll revoke his membership. That is, if I remember their phone number. Or I could just post something here on The Tattler, and forget about it.

Wouldn't be the first time I've done that.

Monday, January 29, 2018

What Is So Transparent About City Hall's Transparency?

Ruthless social pressure on the matter of aspirin. 
Not to complain, because who would ever want to do that? However, meaningful input can sometimes be appreciated, especially by those who are making it. But if you are the recipient of that sort of thing? Not quite so much. Or at least that has often been my experience. Other people's ideas are rarely quite as satisfying as your own. What follows are mine.

A while back I exchanged a series of emails with Sierra Madre's City Manager about the Library Survey Postcard, which makes its appearance this week. Hopefully that is true and the long wait has finally come to an end. The cause of our correspondence was a comment that had been left on this blog a couple of times. Whoever made it was pretty persistent, so I figured I should finally follow up. This is what the commenter asked:

I get tired of asking but how many bids did the City get to bring the Library up to code? And, what is the amount of those bids. There has to be more than one bid to know anything at all. If it's just one bid how do we really know the truth?

All in all not a bad question. I forwarded this to the City Manager, and here is how he responded:

We’ve been asked this question a few times, here are the main elements which inform cost: electrical survey, engineering structural analysis, engineering and property condition assessment, ADA analysis and report, Library Facility Master Plan (this includes elements of ADA, accessibility, building condition, and structural analysis).

The estimate for bids will be different based on the how many projects we bid at once and which items are urgent and which can be phased in overtime. The estimate from the "Master Plan" report is $1.398 million.

Each of these should be available online in easy to access format soon.

I took that to mean the answer is no, and that there would only be one set of numbers, which are available as part of something something called the "Library Facilities Master Plan." That, along with a lot of other information (some of which IMHO is not quite as vital as those who wrote it had hoped it would be), can be found on the city's website under the somewhat loaded word "Transparency." You can get to that by clicking here.

Now I would encourage you to go and read this stuff for yourself. Not only to get information you might or might not agree with, but also as a life lesson in how difficult transparency can often be. Rarely is information as clear or precise as we'd hoped, and there are reasons for that. Human fallibility being foremost amongst them. It is why God put erasers of pencils. Or, for that matter, also gave us matches.

It is also why basic information might be labeled "transparency." Not only because transparency defines a rational understanding of a situation, but also because in the end there is so very little of that in life. Then again, if this information was transparent, and only dealt with truth distilled down to its purest essence, how much would you need?

That said, and if you are pressed for time, here are most most essential numerical elements for the existing library. This is how much money the city would get if they sold that property. Either some of it, or all of it.

Here is how much you would have to spend to fix the current Library. Please note that if you sold both parcels of that property you would not be able to spend all of the money raised on the current Library. This is because the new property owner would likely bulldoze the place to make room for the luxury condominiums necessary to maximize his (or her) profits.

By "Minimal Investment" I am going to assume the Library solons actually meant to say "adequate repairs necessary to make the place compliant with safety and ADA requirements." Of course, this is not what they are so energetically trying to sell here, and that they acknowledged the place can be fixed at all must have caused them at least a little pain. Perhaps they need a Howard's aspirin.

So the good news is the "fix the current library" part is fairly transparent. Sell the back lot for $1.45 million and you'd have more than enough to make the place both safe and compliant with the many demands of a few dozen intrusive state and Federal bureaucracies.

I knew you'd be relieved to hear that. Even if it is the result of only one single bid, and with few opportunities for your questions, opinions or input.

Where things get rather non-transparent, and troubling, is with the lack of transparency on how much it is going to cost to turn the YAC into Sierra Madre's new Library by the Pool. And do you know why that is? I had no idea, so I asked the City Manager.

Tattler: Is there a similar "master plan" (or any kind of cost estimate) associated with moving the Library to the YAC and building on that additional space? I believe the reason I get asked this is some people are analytical. I think they're uncomfortable with the survey card which is more intuitive. I can see why the city would want to build a consensus before getting into the actual numbers, but I suspect you will get a number of "no move" results because some feel that without numbers they're being denied important information.

City Manager: The estimate(s) for the move will not be as in-depth as the Library Master Plan, but they do provide a good frame of reference for a range of what actual costs will be. In addition to the space and parking analysis we also know what the square footage cost for construction is and can use that to gauge what an addition/retrofit of the community center would cost. As you stated, we don’t want to put a lot of money into a plan to move if the community desires the library to stay at its current location.

The short answer here apparently is "No." Which unfortunately takes us back to one of our original questions. How can people be expected to share their opinions on that survey postcard if they first don't have all of the numbers upfront? Or at least one bid's worth of them?

You can't. At least not in an analytic and rational way. Of course, you could suspend all of that and go on just belief and emotion. Which is pretty much what you have been asked to do. Use the force, Luke.

But would that be "transparent?" As in "a rational and clear understanding of the situation?" Not all that much.

Meaningful Improvement

That is a term used above, and at first I was not quite certain what was meant by it. After some reflection, however, I have come to believe that what the Library Brain Trust is talking about here is space. Or, as they used to say on Star Trek, the final frontier.

Here is how the space controversy is described in a document called "What Are The Problems With The Current Library?" (link).

The current Library building was opened in 1955 and showcased a community room and even a movie projection closet! Just 5 years later the community room was turned into a children’s room to accommodate the burgeoning youth collection and programs. The lack of space has been keenly felt ever since. Attempts to extend the building or rebuild occurred in 1967, 1976, 1989, 1994, 1996, 2003- 2004, all failing from lack of funding. The only additions have been two small rooms at the front of the Library.

As mentioned in the Library Facility Master Plan, “lack of community space is the single largest hindrance to providing quality service. The Library contains no community rooms, no meeting space, no private study space, no open gathering space, and limited study areas. Library programs by default must take over the main reading room of the Library, displacing regular Library users. Even without programs, there is very little room for people. Conditions do not encourage quiet reading, study, or collaboration. Space constraints have put significant obstacles in the Library’s ability to update services.”

Alright. If space is what this is really all about, then maybe the problems are not quite as bad as some have suggested. We all have to deal with small inconveniences from time to time. I mean, if you don't like being at the library when a joyous round of Baby Rhyme Time is rocking the house, can't you just pack up your book and go read it at home? Put your feet up and pour a glass of wine, perhaps?

Is this space issue really worth the mostly unidentified expense and bother of razing the place and moving everything to an as yet largely unplanned and only partially constructed facility across town?

This week you will make your call.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Fox False Flag: Sean Hannity Is Now a Favorite Weapon of Russian Trolls Attacking America

Mod: Fox News, the cable network that has for years proclaimed itself an essential outlet for those people who swear they love America more than everybody else, has apparently now become a favorite informational resource for Russian trolls keenly intent on undermining western democracy. And who do these fake newsers love to share more than anyone else? Why Sean Hannity, of course. What a surprise.

Sean Hannity Is Now a Favorite Weapon of Russian Trolls Attacking America (Mother Jones link): Soon after Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn agreed to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller on Dec. 1, Kremlin-linked trolls began ramping up their social-media attacks on the Russia investigation. They tweeted out dozens of articles from Fox News and far-right outlets aimed at undermining the credibility of the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the so-called deep state. And Vladimir Putin’s trolls would soon have a new vein of material to exploit.

As Christmas approached, a drumbeat against the FBI grew louder in certain quarters of Congress: GOP Rep. Jim Jordan led the attack, claiming on Fox News that the FBI had conspired against Trump’s 2016 campaign. President Trump himself launched broadsides against FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and “leakin’ James Comey.” And on December 20, Fox News star Sean Hannity tweeted “CONSPIRACY: GOP Lawmakers Says FEDERAL CONSPIRACY to Prevent Trump Presidency.”

That day, Hannity’s website ranked among the top 10 shared by the network of Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence campaigns and tracked by the nonpartisan Alliance for Securing Democracy on its national security project, the Hamilton 68 dashboard. Hannity content had not registered much previously—but since December 20, links from Hannity’s site have appeared frequently on the dashboard, often ranking among the top 10. “It’s now up there with other top most-shared domains,” says Bret Schafer, an analyst who monitors the dashboard for the Alliance.

Another storm kicked up last week when House Republicans began calling for the release of a memo produced by Rep. Devin Nunes, purportedly alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in the Trump-Russia investigation. On January 18, Hannity inveighed against Mueller specifically: “I have a message tonight for the special counsel, Robert Mueller,” he said at the outset of his Fox News prime time report on the memo. “Your witch hunt is now over. Time to close the doors.” By the end of the following day, the hashtag #releasethememo had been tweeted about 3,700 times in 48 hours by the 600 accounts monitored on Hamilton 68, boosted in part by a tweet from WikiLeaks offering a reward for the memo. Hannity also posted “#releasethememo” to the top of

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that House Freedom Caucus leaders including Rep. Jordan recently sought Trump’s blessing for their campaign to release the memo. While the White House said Trump didn’t endorse the release of the memo, GOP lawmakers believed the president signaled that he strongly favored it.

“I think it’s fair to infer with about a 99 percent probability that since it helps the president so much, that he would be happy if the public knows about it,” Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks told the Post. On Tuesday, as #releasethememo sat among the top hashtags of the Hamilton trending list for the fifth day in a row, senior congressional Democrats called on Twitter and Facebook executives Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg to investigate the extent of the Russian influence campaign happening on their platforms in real time.

“If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff wrote to the tech leaders.

Former senior CIA official John Sipher says the smear campaign by Fox News and Trump’s allies in the House plays directly into Kremlin hands. “A weak FBI is in the Russian interest. They will use all the tools at their disposal to pile on and amplify the negative messages,” he told Mother Jones.

“At the very same time that we should be coming together to defend ourselves, partisan supporters of the president are attacking the institutions that are protecting us. There needs to be a level of trust and awareness that [FBI and DOJ] are working on behalf of the people, and are not partisan hacks. While it might be in the immediate, short-term interest of a few right-wing politicians, they are helping our enemies and risk doing long-term damage to our democracy.”

Since the Hamilton dashboard launched last August, Fox News in general has often appeared on the trolls’ most-shared list. “Anecdotally, Fox is the go-to news source for breaking news,” Schafer says. But the more recent Hannity links seized upon by the Russian trolls echo a deceptive style seen with content from far-right conspiracy sites like Gateway Pundit and True Pundit.

One recent example: a link headlined, “KNIVES OUT: Elizabeth Warren GOES AFTER Oprah Winfrey over 2020 run”—leading to a story quoting Warren as praising Winfrey for a “fabulous speech.” Another Hannity link shared by the trolls recently carried a headline claiming “Fusion GPS says FBI likely funded ‘Trump dossier’ author” and crediting Breitbart News. The Hannity links shared this week continued to demand the release of the Nunes memo and hammered at the freshest conspiracy theory, the alleged disappearance of FBI officials’ allegedly biased text messages.

Hannity did not respond to a request for comment about his rising popularity among the network of Russian-linked accounts.

“Because Russian accounts promote a certain political position is not evidence of coordination” between the trolls and Trump partisans advocating for the release of the memo, Schafer notes. The key takeaway with #releasethememo, he says, “is that Kremlin-oriented trolls have used that hashtag to promote divisiveness, distrust, and to negatively influence our public discourse.”

Former FBI special agent Clint Watts pointed out Tuesday that attacks on the FBI have been increasing as the Russian investigation continues to accelerate. After reports Tuesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and James Comey had been interviewed by Mueller’s team, Watts tweeted: “Interviews are getting closer to the top & suddenly attacks by @GOP on FBI have increased.”

The 600 Kremlin-linked live Twitter accounts that Hamilton 68 monitors are separate from the 2,752 accounts Twitter revealed last fall that were operated before the 2016 presidential election by the Russian Internet Research Agency. Last Friday, Twitter updated that number to 3,814 IRA-linked accounts—plus more than 50,000 automated bot accounts linked to the Russian government. Twitter says it is sending emails to 677,000 users to notify them that they interacted with the Russian accounts.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who has been involved in the Trump-Russia investigation via the Judiciary Committee, called on Mueller in December to “clean house” of partisans. Cornyn tweeted Saturday that Twitter had notified him that he had shared content from or followed known Russian accounts.

“Finally social media is waking up to manipulation of public opinion by our adversaries,” he wrote. But he seemed to downplay the role of Congress: “All of us need to step up to meet this challenge,” he said, “especially the Press.”

Mod: Funny how so many of our loudest self-proclaimed patriots have turned out to be happily serving the interests of America's foreign enemies. And what is it that all of these false flag "patriots" are so keenly focused upon? Protecting Donald Trump. Ask yourself why.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Daily Mail: Melania Trump has been spending nights at a posh D.C. Hotel since the president was accused of having a fling with porn star Stormy Daniels

Mod: So did Melania bug out on that trip to Davos due to her husband's now infamous fling(s) with porn star Stormy Daniels, or not? The media controversy continues to rage on. This inquiring mind wanted to know, and found the following reporting.

Melania Trump has been spending nights at a posh D.C. HOTEL since the president was accused of having a fling with porn star Stormy Daniels - before the first lady unexpectedly flew to Palm Beach (Daily Mail link): Melania Trump has spent a number of nights at a posh D.C. hotel away from President Trump following allegations of a fling with porn star Stormy Daniels, White House sources told

The first lady opted for time away from her husband since news of a possible $130,000 payoff from the President's lawyer to Daniels to cover up an alleged tryst was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Then, last week, to add insult to injury, a celebrity magazine published a cringe-worthy 2011 interview with Daniels in which she talked about the alleged 2006 sexual encounter with the future president in a hotel room at a casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada following a celebrity charity golf tournament.

'It's been upsetting and humiliating; her relationship with President Trump has become strained,' a White House source told

Over two hours after posted this story, Melania's  spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, tweeted: The laundry list of salacious & flat-out false reporting about Mrs. Trump by tabloid publications & TV shows has seeped into "main stream media" reporting.'

She did not say specifically what, if  any, part of the was 'false.' Grisham did not respond to several requests for comment from regarding Melania's hotel stays, although given several days notice prior to publication.

Melania left Washington D.C. mid-day on Thursday for West Palm Beach, Florida, just as the president held court at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an event the first lady was originally scheduled to attend.

Daniels, who has starred in movies such as 'Good Will Humping' and 'Operation Desert Stormy,' claimed she could intimately describe the president's manhood and even revealed sex positions they had enjoyed.

At the time, Melania would have been caring for her and Trump's four-month-old son Barron.

Sparking more rumors and speculation about the impact on their marriage, on Tuesday it was announced she would not be joining President Trump on his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as was originally planned.

East Wing communications director Stephanie Grisham confirmed to that the first lady's decision to forgo the trip to Davos was based on 'scheduling and logistical issues,' as CNN reported.

Grisham had said the First Lady had intended to go to Davos as a show of support for her husband, who will deliver a speech at the forum.

But White House sources have told that a memo sent to staffers also indicated the first lady was not expected to make any solo appearances while the President is away, drawing into question how her schedule is conflicted.

One well-placed source said: 'Melania spends three to four days a week away from the White House and has stayed at a hotel in D.C. multiple times in January, often for days at a time. She also travels up to New York.

'She rarely comes into his West Wing office as other first ladies have done and her schedule is vague at best.

'She seems to be avoiding duties unless there is a very special reason.

'Talk among staffers is that the Stormy Daniels affair hit her hard, it's been upsetting and humiliating and her relationship with President Trump has become strained.

Mod: The rest of this unhappy and shocking news can be read at the link. Melania's spokesperson is not happy with the Daily Mail's reporting on this controversy, and has now said so in a Tweet.

Melania spokeswoman blasts 'salacious' reports as 'fake news' (The Hill link): A spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump lashed out at the media for "tabloid" reporting that about she says has "seeped into 'main stream' reporting."

In a tweet Friday afternoon that did not mention a specific report, Trump's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham accused news outlets of "salacious & false reporting," and referred to some outlets as "fake news."

"The laundry list of salacious & flat-out false reporting about Mrs. Trump by tabloid publications & TV shows has seeped into 'main stream media' reporting. She is focused on her family & role as FLOTUS - not the unrealistic scenarios being peddled daily by the fake news," Grisham tweeted.

The tweet from Grisham came just hours after the United Kingdom-based Daily Mail published a report claiming the first lady was spending nights in a D.C. hotel following news reports alleging that President Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star for her silence concerning an affair with Trump.

The first lady originally planned to accompany her husband to Davos, Switzerland, this week for the World Economic Forum but instead remained behind.

Grisham told CNN on Monday that the change was made due to "scheduling and logistical issues."

Trump has not made a public statement since the publishing of The Wall Street Journal's report earlier this month that President Trump had an affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2006, shortly after the birth of Barron Trump.

Mod: Whatever the truth here might be, Stormy Daniels has been cashing in on her recently revitalized career, and big time. Here is a Newsweek report many in the Trump administration were not happy to see.

Trump State Of The Union Risks Being Upstaged By Stormy Daniels Interview On Jimmy Kimmel (Newsweek link): President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address will not be the only thing the world will be watching come January 30. Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel announced on Thursday that he will be interviewing adult film star Stormy Daniels right after Trump’s speech.

I am pleased to announce that the very gifted @StormyDaniels will be on #Kimmel Tuesday 1/30 after the #StateOfTheUnion. I have MANY QUESTIONS! #MAGA,” Kimmel tweeted Thursday night.

Daniels made the news earlier this month amid a wave of reports about Trump’s personal life before he entered the White House, including allegations that the two had a relationship. In a 2011 interview with In Touch Weekly that was not published until January 19, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she was invited to Trump’s hotel room where they had sex. The alleged encounter happened four months after his wife, Melania, gave birth to their son, Barron.

The story first came to light in a report in The Wall Street Journal that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, gave Daniels a $130,000 payment to keep quiet about the 2006 sexual encounter less than a month before the 2016 election.

Mod: And now it looks like everybody wants to get in on the act. So to speak.

Trump Wanted A Threesome With Stormy Daniels, Porn Star Alana Evans Claims (Newsweek link): Donald Trump was a reality-TV star and billionaire real estate mogul when he invited porn star Alana Evans to “hang out” with him and fellow adult-film starlet Stormy Daniels in July 2016, Evans claims in a newly released interview. She said she believed Trump was inviting her to have a threesome.

Evans told People she received a phone call from Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, when they were at Nevada’s Lake Tahoe for the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship almost 12 years ago. Evans previously told NBC’s Megyn Kelly earlier this month about Daniels asking her to “party” with her and Trump, but has now said she believed the future president was angling for a sexual escapade with both women.

“If my girlfriend calls me to hang out with another man, I expected it was for something naughty,” Evans said.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Decision 2018: Arcadia’s April Election Already Raising Some Eyebrows

Bulldozer Bob: Preservation is a government plot.
Mod: The two following articles from the Arcadia Weekly were forwarded to me by someone from Sierra Madre's neighbor to the east, and south. There were several comments included, which I am adding at the end of this post. So you know, I believe that the 2018 local elections will be the year the Empire attempts to strike back. The Realty/Development crowd have suffered some pretty significant defeats at the polls lately, both in Sierra Madre and Arcadia. They badly want back in, and are going to do anything they can to get there. The articles were written by Terry Miller.

Decision 2018: Arcadia’s April Election Already Raising Some Eyebrows (Arcadia Weekly link): Elections are always fascinating and occasionally contentious, but when Arcadia Weekly learned that embattled and disgraced former council-member, John Wuo initially pulled papers to run for office again we thought this year’s would be a doozie.  Alas, he didn’t file, nor did Paul Van Fleet, who pulled papers in late December. Van Fleet was planning on running for ShoTay’s seat.

This election is for three seats: Members of the City Council for Districts 2, 3, and 5-(Full term of four (4) years). The nomination period began on Monday, December 18, 2017, at 7:30 a.m., and closed Friday, January 12, 2018, at 4:30 p.m.

If no one or only one person is nominated for an elective office, appointment to the elective office may be made as prescribed by Section 10229, of the Elections Code of the State of California. Two newcomers, Joyce Platt and Jolly Wu round out the more familiar names: Bob Harbicht; Tom Beck; Roger Chandler and Sho Tay.

According to candidate Tom Beck, “This election will be different from all previous Arcadia elections. In 2017 the Arcadia City Council voted 3-2 to go to ‘district elections’ instead of ‘at large elections’. I voted “NO” (as did Councilwoman Verlato) to this change. Only two districts, 2 & 5, will actually have a contested election this cycle. My district is 2 which generally is bordered by Orange Grove on the north, Michillinda on the west, Huntington on the south, and Santa Anita on the east.”

Bob Harbicht, who ran unsuccessfully in the last election, maintains that “private property rights have been under attack in Arcadia.  The latest government takeover of our property rights is the so-called “Historic Preservation Ordinance.”  This would allow government or your neighbors to declare your home a “historic resource” without your permission, thus severely limiting your ability to remodel, add onto, or modify it.  While protecting truly historic structures is admirable, there must be a limit on government infringement on our property rights,” Harbicht said.

Chandler: First elected in 1986. Wants more.
Newcomer Joyce Platt had 30 years teaching in the Arcadia Unified School District says, “Currently there is an expansion of new business areas and mixed-use areas being planned for the City of Arcadia, but along with the new development we need to look at our current business areas such as Baldwin Avenue and revitalize those areas and make them more client friendly.

I believe that the biggest challenge in the next four years is long-term financial sustainability.  This is becoming more difficult as it’s a function of what happens in the state legislature and what happens with the economy along with pension costs and unfunded liabilities.”

Jolly Wu moved to Arcadia 17 years ago and is a strong advocate “of equal opportunity for accessibility to the city council by advocating free roll out service from Waste Management for people with physical hardships. In the same year I participated in an effort to successfully rezone my neighborhood from R2 to R1 in order to prevent developers from constructing a huge apartment complex on 3rd Ave., Lee Ave., and Greenfield.”

In 2016 several senior citizens and Wu formed the Arcadia Transportation Taskforce to insure that Dial-A-Ride funding was properly used for seniors and disabled people only.  This led to introducing the option of transporting school children by professional well-trained school bus drivers to increase the safety of school children.  The Taskforce also advocated repairing uneven sidewalk in the business district on Foothill Blvd.  This prompted the city to repair several locations on Foothill Blvd.

Roger Chandler, who has a long history with Arcadia, is a former law enforcement leader who was first elected to office in 1986.  Chandler is a strong advocate to get more police officers on the beat in Arcadia. “We are being inundated with dangerous criminals preying on our neighborhoods. Early prison release won’t end; it’s up to us to protect ourselves. Our police have arrested more felons for residential burglary and street robberies in 2017 than in the past several years combined,” Chandler says.

Sho Tay, originally from Taiwan, is running unopposed as Van Fleet decided not to run at the eleventh hour.  Tay, has been very active in the Asian business community and like Chandler, has a background in law enforcement serving as a reserve officer for Alhambra PD. “I want to bring more attention to public safety by sponsoring a citywide program to install doorbell cameras and alarm systems. We will look at new technology to aid our law enforcement. And we need to preserve the special qualities that make Arcadia unique,” said Tay.

Sho Tay: The Too Happy Anointed
Who’s running against whom? (Arcadia Weekly link): There is a wee bit of confusion with Arcadia’s upcoming April municipal election, according to a couple of concerned readers about last week’s page one story said forthcoming vote.

Essentially, this is a two person race in two separate districts:

District 2: Tom Beck’s seat is being challenged by Bob Harbicht.

District 5: Roger Chandler’s seat on the dais is being challenged by Joyce Platt and Jolly Wu.

Residents in District 3, where Sho Tay has no opponent this year, will probably not receive a ballot as council will likely vote Thursday to save tax payers the burden of $14-15,000 for an uncontested seat in that district.

Because of the above facts, Section 10229 of the Elections Code allows the City Council to take one of the following courses of action:

- Appoint to the office the person(s) who has/have been nominated.

- Appoint to the office any eligible voter if no one has been nominated.

- Hold the election if either no one or only one person has been nominated.

At a special City Council meeting to be held on January 25, 2018, the City Council will consider whether to make an appointment and cancel the election for that office or direct an election to be held. The persons appointed, if any, shall qualify and take office and serve exactly as if elected at a municipal election for the office.

Comments from our friend in Arcadia

Thoughts about Arcadia's upcoming election:

First: It's a sad day when a public official who is expected to represent a population of 60,000 people gets appointed and doesn't have to run, because there is no one to run against him. Proto-developer Kin Hui of Singpoli, the contributor of $10,000 to Sho Tay's campaign in 2014, will be able to save his grease money for another campaign.

Second: Chandler wants to fix a problem by throwing taxpayer money at it. He wants to hire more police to fix the increase in burglaries, yet burglaries have gone down in Arcadia in the last six months without having to add a single officer to the department.

ThirdHarbicht wants to scare the hell out of the residents into voting for him. He fabricates a historic preservation ordinance that would take away everyone's property rights, unless he is elected to save the day.  He forgets to mention that he was one of the 3 votes that led to the demise of Anoakia, the home of Anita Baldwin.  I think it's fair to conclude, Harbicht does not think the history of Arcadia is important.  For someone who is running to represent Arcadia, I would think residents would want a person who values the history of the place he/she represents.

So if you are uninformed and you believe everything you read in a candidates' statement, you might vote for the 2 worst choices in Arcadia,  Harbicht and Chandler.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Not A Lot Of Enthusiasm Shown For Moving The Library At Last Night's YAC Forum

Where you will be able to both read and take a shower.
There were about 60 concerned folks in attendance at the big show, and most of them were of an age that many of us like to think of as that time when hoped for wisdom finally meets up with life's experiences. If only more people would just listen, how much better a place the world would be!

OK, sure. So where was I? Oh, Library Forum II. I think the best comment of the evening not surprisingly came from Gina Frierman-Hunt, who whipped up something along the lines of: "If you move the Library to Sierra Vista Park, it will become more conveniently located for Arcadia middle school students and dead people." It would be closer to the pool as well, so you'd be able to swim. Also where the Rose Parade float wiles away the days during its extensive down months.

This was officially a meeting for a couple of city commissions, so there was a little time set aside at the beginning for topics not on the agenda. One gentleman seized the moment and asked about an April ballot measure that will completely do away with the Utility User Tax. City Manager Gabe Engeland invited him to look at the city's Voter Guide for the response of those who would prefer that tax things stay the way they are. Which is just about everyone associated with the local government agency. Think of them as stakeholders.

Gabe Engeland commented that he had recently met with two residents on the tax question. One said that if taxes are raised he would have failed miserably at his job. The other one told him taxes must go up to save the Library. So how can a new City Manager win? Of course, I would have added that taxes had already been raised to save the Library, so why does it now need to be torn down? But then that would have been so 2016.

The Library Survey Postcard, which supplants the need for an actual and far too clear vote of the people, will be mailed out by its mysterious and remotely located Colorado creators within the next few days. There will be four questions there that will take your temperature about moving the Library. You will also be allowed to rate the mood of those answers on a scale 1 to 4 if you like. I will be making use of that here today.

There will also be some inquiries about your demographics, the results of which I am sure someone in the marketing field will find quite useful. I personally never answer these kinds of questions. Or sometimes I just make stuff up. A Zoroastrian eminence from Uzbekistan, perhaps. Age 26.

The attendees present then moved quickly on to the money issue. Something that I thought was rather moot since there are no architectural designs or building plans created yet for the proposed new location. Nor has the existing Library property been put on the market yet so, and as anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, who really knows how much money the city is going to get?

This question did come up. Would there be enough money to make this all happen without jacking up taxes? Gabe threw some happy numbers out, but I am not sure that really eased the skepticism in the room. He also noted that most people are against a tax increase. Or at least those he has heard from. Please rate this observation from 1 to 4. With 4 being the highest number, and 1 being the lowest.

The Sierra Vista parking situation came up. A woman whose name I believe is Nancy was of the opinion that since the current Library is in the center of town, there are plenty of places to park a car. In the new proposed location things could get quite tight. Sierra Vista Park has tennis courts, basketball hoops, several baseball diamonds, a pool, a kiddy park, an interesting stand alone snack bar, a gym, a picnic area, a Rose Float barn, plus some other stuff. Throw in a Library and things could get complicated. Mark 4 if you disagree, 1 if you'd prefer to ride a bike to get there.

Gabe added that we have work to do irregardless. Which is true. We all have clocks to punch.

Heather asked if it was the community that would be making the decision. The City Manager's answer was no, the City Council will be deciding that based on how the postcards are filled out. Of course, had there been a vote the community would be making the decision. However, the City Council decided that such a verdict might not be nuanced or flexible enough. Make sure you have your pencil ready. Mark 4 if you disagree, 1 if this was a moment of ecstatic peace for you.

A well turned out young man named Owen, who apparently was chosen to speak on behalf of the Foothill Village's youth, said if you build the new Library, the teenagers will come. Fitting for a Library located next to a baseball field. Hopefully they will be dropped off by their parents and therefore not require any parking.

Someone whose name I neglected to write down asked if the new Library would be able to provide the kinds of access the community needs. Gabe talked about the hard working $9,600 consultant and the space analysis he is doing. "Space is important," Gabe said. According to Star Trek it is also the final frontier.

A gentleman named Bill, who was amongst the few there that actually wants to move the Library into the Community Recreation Center, said that we need "a Library for the 21st Century." He really did say that. And since taxes are too low to accomplish this futuristic imperative, imposing a $200 dollar a year parcel tax would be just the thing. Circle 1 if you don't think so, 4 if you'd be happy to cough that up. Mark down 2 or 3 if you'd rather have been at Lucky Baldwin's hammering down a few highly fortified Belgian beers.

A guy named Rex had an idea I would have rated a 4, except for one problem. He suggested building the new Library where the current one now stands. But then how would you be able to sell the property in order to fund a new building? Also how would Andy Bencosme be able to make any commission? You know they wouldn't approve of that in Arcadia.

Someone asked if there was a reasonably good description of what the Library by the Pool would look like. Gabe said no. Such planning would cost money, and the city first wants to know what people want first. Judging by what I heard at this meeting Gabe could be waiting a long time for that. Mark 4 if you agree, 1 if you haven't formed your opinion yet.

A woman named Helen wanted to know what the costs are going to be. Gabe said costs are going up. I was not surprised to hear this. I'm going to put down a 4.

MaryAnn McGillivray, who I used to talk with often but not so much lately, said we'd be foolish to sell the Library property. Once sold it will be gone forever. She also said the city needs to adopt a Green Plan. Keep the open spaces and think things through a little more. Gabe countered by observing that Sierra Madre is difficult to develop, that the current library is not ADA compliant, you know, the usual rhythm.

That only gets a 1 from me. Just make the damn place ADA compliant and let's get past this already.

It was then asked what would be built on the Library property once it is sold to someone we're probably not going to like very much. Gabe said it is in the General Plan. I am pretty familiar with the General Plan, and I cannot recall seeing anything about building condos on the lot where the existing Library stands.

The last question I wrote down came from a thoughtful gentleman named Gary who said that the people of Sierra Madre should be able allowed to look at some bids on this project. You know, like how it is usually done. He suggested 3 of them. Gabe said that can't be done. I would have asked why, but instead I marked down an empowering 1.

That's all I got. See you at the cyber cafe.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

‘Don’t ever preach to me again!’: Ex-GOP chair tells evangelicals who still support Trump to ‘shut the hell up!’

Mod: The President of the United States paid a six figure hush money bribe to a porn star that he had repeatedly propositioned for sex? Right around the time his third wife had given birth to his fifth child? Tell me, is America getting greater yet?

‘Don’t ever preach to me again!’: Ex-GOP chair tells evangelicals who still support Trump to ‘shut the hell up!’ (Raw Story link): Former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele blasted Family Research Council president Tony Perkins for giving President Donald Trump a “mulligan” on paying hush money to former adult film star.

“When it comes down to giving Trump a pass, some top evangelical leaders are turning a blind eye to his past discretions and came to his defense following recent reports about his alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels,” news host Chris Matthews explained.

“I have very simple admonition: just shut the hell up and don’t preach to me about anything ever again,” Steele suggested.

“After telling me who to love, what to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter, the grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter, the outright behavior and lies don’t matter, just shut up!” Steele blasted.

“They have no voice of authority anymore for me,” Steele concluded.

‘Trump Was Merely Sharing The Gospel With That Porn Star,’ Explains Jim Bakker (The Babylon Bee link): Squashing accusations that President Trump had a sexual encounter with porn star “Stormy Daniels” while he was married to Melania, televangelist Jim Bakker explained to his audience Friday that he had confirmed that Trump was merely scheduling private time with the woman in a hotel suite in order to share with her the good news of Jesus Christ, as he had become acquainted with her and was very concerned that she was not a Christian.

“It is preposterous to assert that a virtuous believer like Mr. Trump would cheat on his beautiful wife so callously, and while their child was only months old,” a solemn Bakker said into the camera as colorful balloons provided a backdrop for some reason.

“He was so concerned with the eternal state of Miss Daniels’ soul that he scheduled some alone time with just the two of them, so he could share with her how Jesus Christ had changed his life and how He could also save her from her sins.”

Nearly choking up with tears, Bakker went on to explain how much he loves and looks up to Trump as a model saint.

“Our president even arranged through his attorney to give this woman $130,000 in an attempt to help rescue her from the destructive adult film industry and get her life back on track. What a man of God!”

The televangelist ended his broadcast by wagering that there were probably “many, many more” sex-industry workers like Daniels who could tell a similarly inspiring story about President Trump.

Gerson: Trump evangelicals have lost their gag reflex (GazetteXtra link): Billy Graham has been one of the most visible, respected and influential Christians in the world since the 1950s. But he often had a blind spot when it came to politics.

Graham was Richard Nixon’s golfing buddy and spiritual adviser. He was there to pray with Nixon after every victory and loss. And Nixon consulted him on everything from his vice presidential pick to the conduct of the Vietnam War.

It must have been a heady experience. “Nixon showed his friendliness to me in many personal ways,” Graham later recalled. “He came to our home on the mountain. He often referred to the pineapple tea my mother served him when he visited her. ... In our games of golf together, he was always willing to coach me. ... He remembered birthdays.” In Graham’s view, Nixon was “a modest and moral man with spiritual sensitivity.” He “held such noble standards of ethics and morality for the nation.”

Graham was in denial about Watergate until the last. When he finally read through the Watergate tape transcripts—including profanity, political corruption, lying, racism and sexism—Graham remembers becoming physically ill. He said later of Nixon: “I wonder whether I might have exaggerated his spirituality in my own mind.” Graham’s biographer William Martin quotes a close Graham associate who is more blunt: “For the life of me, I honestly believe that after all these years, Billy still has no idea of how badly Nixon snookered him.”

We can now look back on such gullibility with nostalgia. Billy Graham had the alibi of self-deception. But Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and Donald Trump’s other evangelical advocates have no such excuse. They have made their political bargain with open eyes.

Trump has made profanity an unavoidable part of our political culture. He is in the midst of a gathering corruption scandal that has left close aides under indictment. He tells repeated and obvious lies. He incites ethnic and racial resentment as a political strategy and was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. Add to this something that could never be said of Nixon: The credible accusation that Trump paid hush money to a porn star to cover up an affair.

And what is Franklin Graham’s reaction? “We certainly don’t hold him up as the pastor of this nation and he is not. But I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values, he does have a concern to protect Christians whether it’s here at home or around the world, and I appreciate the fact that he protects religious liberty and freedom.”

“A concern for Christian values.” I imagine there is considerable presidential stroking behind such a pronouncement—the current equivalent of remembering birthdays and pineapple tea. But Graham’s argument is as crudely political as it gets. Since Trump has delivered the goods on protecting Christians, evangelicals should give him the benefit of every doubt on moral matters, even when such doubts are absurdly transparent ploys.

The level of cynicism here is startling. Some Christian leaders are surrendering the idea that character matters in public life in direct exchange for political benefits to Christians themselves. It is a political maneuver indistinguishable from those performed by business or union lobbyists every day. Only seedier. You scratch my back, I’ll wink at dehumanization and Stormy Daniels. The gag reflex is entirely gone.

From a purely political perspective, the Trump evangelicals are out of their depth. When presented with the binary choice of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, I can understand a certain amount of anguish.

But that is not a reason to become sycophants, cheerleaders and enablers. Politics sometimes presents difficult choices. But that is not an excuse to be the most easily manipulated group in American politics.

The problem, however, runs deeper. Trump’s court evangelicals have become active participants in the moral deregulation of our political life. Never mind whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is of good repute.

Some evangelicals are busy erasing bright lines and destroying moral landmarks. In the process, they are associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.

Not long after Watergate broke, a chastened Billy Graham addressed a conference in Switzerland, warning that an evangelist should be careful not “to identify the Gospel with any one particular political program or culture,” and adding, “this has been my own danger.” The danger endures.

Stormy Daniels Granted Official Status As First Pornstar (Breaking Burgh link): Adult actress Stormy Daniels is now to be officially known as First Pornstar, after a pro forma procedural vote was taken in both Houses of Congress today.

The title is a result of the invocation of the little-known 28th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states: “A consort of the President who is a sex worker and not otherwise bound to him shall be known as First Concubine, or by whatever is the most appropriate parlance of the day.”

Though the role comes without a federal salary, Daniels can use the title when on tour, receive Secret Service protection, and, per local protocol, enjoy full diplomatic status anytime she visits France.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the first international leader to convey his nation’s congratulations: “We French have always had a relaxed attitude towards the infidelities of our leaders and mocked you Americans for being so uptight about it. But clearly you have relaxed. Boy how you have relaxed.”

Vladimir Putin also sent his best wishes directly to the First Pornstar:“I have enjoyed the tapes I have of you so much, just as I enjoy all my tapes featuring the current President of the United States.”

Mod: OK, so here's one thing that I am pretty certain about. Donald Trump is not what your mom and dad might have called a conservative.