A Disgrace to the Nation, a Disgrace to the Presidency

I have not been shy about my fierce antagonism to Donald Trump. But his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin culminated in a show stopping trainwreck that should’ve shocked nobody but generated bipartisan outrage across the United States. On Monday, July 16, 2018, Trump held a friendly rendezvous with Putin who sabotaged an American election on his behalf. And he has been rewarded by seeing an American foreign policy turn in a pro-Russian direction.

When Donald Trump issued a plea on a podium in Doral, Florida on July 27, 2016, he stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” We all know he was referring to the emails Hillary Clinton had deleted as irrelevant to her work as Secretary of State. But for those who don’t understand, Trump was publicly asking for Russian agents to break into her computer systems, steal documents she had erased, and release them to the public. And according to recently released indictments Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed a few days before, that same day, for the first time, Russian hackers attempted to hack into, “email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” They also, “targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.” Now Russia’s campaign to interfere in the election had been an ongoing campaign as early as March that year. What Trump’s request seems to have done was focus efforts on Clinton’s inbox. There are plenty of plausible explanations of wat happened here. Maybe the Russians heard Trump’s call and heeded it. Perhaps Trump’s invitation was attached to a private plea to Russian contacts like one sent by either Paul Manafort or Roger Stone. It’s possible the whole thing was just coincidental. But we should resist the tendency to speculate since it’ll just distract us from what we do know. And it’s damning.

Nonetheless, it should be glaringly apparent that Vladimir Putin is not our friend. He does not share our values nor does he care for democracy. In fact, he rules Russia as a kleptocratic dictator with a repressive iron fist. For God’s sake, the guy had his critics and political opponents murdered, including journalists and ex-spies like Alexander Litvanenko in Great Britain. It’s obvious that Russia couldn’t have meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign by hacking into the DCCC, DNC, and Hillary Clinton’s team without his orders. And we know they orchestrated this massive information theft on the Dems and used it to help Donald Trump win. Not to mention, Russia’s efforts to help Trump win included social media campaigns to inflame racial divisions on his behalf with armies of bots meant to elevate stories boosting him and hurting Clinton along with efforts to compromise state voting machines. None of this is in doubt.

Even before Donald Trump decided to run for president, the Russian ties were there. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said of the Trump Organization, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” And in 2014, Eric Trump added, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” From 2003-2017, “buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City.” Trump’s onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort had ties to the Kremlin and was deeply in debt to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, closely connected to Vladimir Putin. And he was keeping in touch with this guy’s team during the election as well as asked of his powerful position in the Trump campaign, “How do we use [it] to get whole?”

Yet, we also know that Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin even at considerable political cost after asking Russia to hack into Clinton’s emails, which it did. We know that Trump associates like Roger Stone seem to have advanced warning of the hacked emails’ release. We know that the willingness to cooperate with the Russians wasn’t one of Trump’s idiosyncratic musings. It was suffused in the Trump campaign’s top ranks since members of his inner circle like Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort eagerly accepted a meeting with Russian operatives promising Hillary Clinton dirt. And that Trump dictated the statement lying about the infamous Trump Tower meeting’s purpose. Additionally, we know the Trump campaign interfered in the Republican National Committee’s platform drafting to softening the language on Russia and Ukraine. We know that Jared Kushner sought a secret communications channel with the Russians so the US government couldn’t hear their negotiations.

The Russia strokefest even carry on to Donald Trump’s presidency for there has never been a single issue haunting his administration as long or as much as his Russian ties. Since his election, he’s bucked his party, his administration, and decades of foreign policy in attempts to shield Russia from sanctions for electoral interference, pull American support back from NATO and the European Union, and forge a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin. Then there’s Trump’s own testimony about firing FBI Director James Comey to end his investigation into Russia’s role into the 2016 election. In addition, he wanted to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for failing to protect him from the investigation. An it’s no wonder the Trump administration has moved from arguing that Trump didn’t obstruct justice to arguing that by definition, the president can’t obstruct justice. All of this leads to Trump insisting on the Helsinki meeting with Putin over his staff’s objections and despite the absence of any clear agenda.

Indeed, Donald Trump addressed the election hacking during his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. “I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said. Well, you think? Because of course he’d deny that he’d have anything to do with election hacking despite all evidence to the contrary. Trump then added, “And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.” Uh, no it’s not. If anything, that’s like having Al Capone offering to help the cops with the investigation over the guys involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. You know that things won’t turn well. If anything, Putin isn’t interested with working with the Mueller investigation. More likely he’d offer to help with respect to draw people from the Mueller team into Russia to kill them.

Donald Trump then attacked US intelligence services and again mused how much better it might’ve been if Russia cracked into Hillary Clinton’s server and gotten her documents. “What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails?” he demanded as if anyone cared about her emails 2 years after the 2016 election. “33,000 emails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.” Even his allies were dumbstruck, with former Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher tweeting: “I continue to believe there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But when Trump so easily and naively accepts Putin’s line about not being involved, I can understand why Ds think Putin must have the goods on him.” Asked if Russia had compromising material on Trump, Putin replied, “it’s difficult to imagine utter nonsense on a bigger scale than this. Please disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.” Though you can imagine him privately laughing maniacally with fellow Russian officials. When asked about whether he holds Russia accountable for their actions contributing to the deterioration in the US-Russia relationship, he replied in an answer reeking of treason:

“Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time, frankly, before I got to office. I think we’re all to blame. I think that the United States now has stepped forward along with Russia. We’re getting together and we have a chance to do some great things, whether it’s nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping, we have to do it — ultimately, that’s probably the most important thing that we can be working on.

“I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know, virtually, none of it related to the campaign. They will have to try really hard to find something that did relate to the campaign.

“That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily and, frankly, we beat her. And I’m not even saying from the standpoint — we won that race. It’s a shame there could be a cloud over it. People know that. People understand it. The main thing — and we discussed this also — is zero collusion. It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”
He’s basically saying that the US is no better than Russia. And that he won a clean campaign so all what the Mueller probe is doing is hurting our relationship with Russia.

Despite that 12 Russian agents hacked into Democratic emails on Putin’s orders and for Trump’s benefit. And the Trump team was eager to let it all happen. Later, when asked specifically about Russia-backed hackers stealing Americans’ private correspondence, Donald Trump replied: “My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, and said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties.” Uh, Coats and his team didn’t think it’s Russia. They said it was Russia. But anyways, as president of the United States, Trump stated that he has equal confidence in Vladimir Putin and the American intelligence community the same way he believes that both the white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Such remarks are politically baffling since such remarks only undermine his position. The simplest explanation for why a president who happily outsources his domestic policy to Paul Ryan and his judicial nominations to the Federalist Society insists on freelancing around Russia is that there’s a genuine meeting of minds between Trump and Putin on a wide range of issues.

Take the matter of the natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 Germany plans to build which Russia hawks in the US and Europe have long been concerned about. Such pipeline would give Russian fossil fuels more access to the European market. Donald Trump often likes to criticize Germany but rarely likes to bash Russia. But somehow, he surprised many observers by criticizing this pipeline at the NATO Conference in Brussels. On the surface, it appears that Trump had tried to ingratiate his passion for making trouble with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with something resembling routine American foreign policy. But the Helsinki summit quickly dashed those hopes. Asked by a Russian journalist about the pipeline and how he’d characterize the US-Russia relationship, Trump made it clear his pipeline concern isn’t that it would give Russia undue political leverage over Germany, but simply that would be bad for fossil fuel interests:

“I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is. I think the word competitor is a compliment. I think that we will be competing when you talk about the pipeline. I’m not sure necessarily that it’s in the best interests of Germany or not. That was a decision that they made. We will be competing. As you know, the United States is now, or soon will be, but I think it is right now the largest in the oil and gas world. So we’re going to be selling LNG. We’ll have to be competing with the pipeline. I think we will compete successfully. Although there is a little advantage locationally. I wish them luck.

“I discussed with Angela Merkel in pretty strong tones. But I also know where they’re coming from. They have a very close source. We will see how that all works out. But we have lots of sources now. The United States is much different than it was a number of years ago when we weren’t able to extract what we can extract today. So today, we’re number one in the world at that. I think we will be out there competing very strongly. Thank you very much.”

Essentially, Donald Trump’s view on the relationship with NATO to Nord Stream 2 make absolutely no sense. But it’s consistent with his overall worldview. While a normal US leader may worry that Russo-German energy ties might undermine Germany’s ability to lead an independent Europe at a political level, Trump’s objection is backward. He doesn’t think it’s worth America’s while to contribute to Europe’s defense through NATO if Europe turns around and buys Russian gas. He defines Russia as a “competitor” to the United States exclusively in the commercial sphere rather than a geopolitical one. That’s why he called the EU a “foe” in much stronger terms in regards to competition levels in export markets. If you view world affairs through a mercantile like Trump does, then America’s closest allies who are mostly rich democracies are our biggest enemies and deterring Russian expansionism is a waste of cash. Nonetheless, it’s time to accept that this is what Trump really thinks and that’s how he’s governing accordingly.

In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait published a speculative idea that Donald Trump had been a compromised Russian agent since the 1980s, which though chilling borders more on conspiracy theory than anything else. It’s more likely that Trump is more concerned on how the Russian election meddling for his behalf may render his electoral victory illegitimate. Though he doesn’t care much about how to win since he’s employed dubious means in the past. In fact, he’s more worried about getting caught. Nevertheless, like much of the debate, Chait’s piece reflects the view we’re still largely in the dark about the Trump Organization’s true nature of its relationship with Russia. Except we’re not. In fact, we know a vast amount about Trump’s Russia connections, Russia’s role in the 2016 election, the Trump Organization’s efforts to conceal Russian contacts, Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation into the matter, and about his treatment of Russia, Putin, and NATO since his election. As former NSA official and executive editor of Lawfare Susan Hennessy told Vox, “Every single time we’ve heard of that the Russians reached out to offer something — dirt on Hillary Clinton, access to another trove of emails, secret meetings, back channels — the common theme of every single individual in Trump’s orbit was, ‘Yes. Help us out.’ That is the really astounding picture that has emerged.”

While there is much left to find out, learning the truth is important for its own sake. Yet, the obsessive focus on what we still don’t know reflects a hope among Donald Trump’s opponents that Mueller will find something, reveal something, or bait Trump into doing something that will trigger consequences of some kind. However, there’s nothing so automatic in the system. And there’s no reason to believe further revelations would call forth that kind of response. At this point, the big issue isn’t what we don’t know. It’s what to do with what we do know.

Thanks to politics, the 2018 and 2020 elections can’t and won’t act as a clear way for accountability on Donald Trump and Russia. From issues such as Supreme Court justices, tax policy, Obamacare’s future, civil rights, workers’ rights, and environmental regulations, there is too much at stake at any given election these days and there are too few choices available for voters for them to answer a problem as complex and unusual as this one. This is especially true since Republicans control both houses of Congress and many in the House have went out of his way to protect him. Because they know their future is tied to Trump’s survival. Anything that weakens his administration weakens their 2018 reelection prospects, their ability to fill judgeships, and their ability to pass tax cuts. Thus, their political lives depend on Trump’s political strength.

It’s hard to remember now that Donald Trump entered the White House with an unexpectedly low level of support from his own party. Vulnerable Republican senators and House members refused to admit voting for him while Speaker Paul Ryan stated he’d no longer defend him. As a candidate, Trump was personally hostile to a number of established GOP figures like US Senator Ted Cruz and expressed heterodox views on a wide range of policy issues. Theoretically, it could’ve led to an unusual dynamic where congressional Republicans subjected Trump to an uncommonly stringent level of oversight for a same-party president, and Trump engaged in an uncommonly high level of policymaking cutting across established party lines. In practice, Trump and the GOP reached a Faustian compromise. Republicans would give no restraint whatsoever on Trump’s personal corruption or financial conflicts of interests. While Trump won’t attempt to pursue heterodox agendas on infrastructure, healthcare, anti-trust, etc. that he promised on the campaign trail, which was easy enough since he made them to give socially conservative white working-class voters no incentive to vote with their economic interests. And he doesn’t care much about those supporters anyway and had no plans on fulfilling what he promised them. The deal has worked well on domestic issues, culminating in the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

But it’s begun falling apart on foreign affairs after a successful 2017. Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and others with conventional conservative Republican views hold key advisor jobs in the Trump administration. However, Trump had no interest taking their advice since he thinks that advice is wrong. And now he’s acting to unravel America’s global trading relationships, doing what he can to undermine NATO and the EU, trying to find excuses to get out of defense obligations to South Korea, and otherwise implement a mercantilist vision he’s articulated over and over again. Thus, it’s time for congressional Republicans to stop issuing gutless statements denouncing him and start taking this seriously as his policy agenda. But since Republicans place a higher value on party unity than the foreign policy issues they claim to stand for, they will do whatever they can to stay in Trump’s good graces and avoid angering his base before the upcoming midterm elections. Because they don’t want to jeopardize their legislative agenda, they’ll let their Snowflake King take a sledge hammer on decades of US foreign policy on Russia and other issues. At the same time, the mainstream GOP tries desperately to at least pretend they can be anti-Putin and pro-Trump. However, the Trump-Putin presser makes it clear that it’s impossible.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats don’t have the power to do anything right now and are more focused taking back Congress back in 2018. But even if they do win the election, their priority will be retaking the presidency in 2020. So they’ll more likely focus on healthcare and Social Security, not Russia and the 2016 campaign. Thus, it’s best we don’t expect impeachment down the line in the foreseeable future. Since while the Democrats can successfully impeach him and remove him from office quite easily once they’re in power, that might mean President Mike Pence. And no one in the Democratic Party wants that.

As for the rest of the legal system, well, there’s nothing necessarily illegal about Donald Trump publicly asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. Just as there’s nothing illegal about him pursuing a stunningly pro-Putin foreign policy after receiving Russia’s aid. The actual hacking was illegal, no doubt. But who’s going to hold Russia accountable for that? It won’t be the Trump administration who asked for and benefitted from their help. For when asked by a Reuters journalist “Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular” that has contributed to the decline in the US-Russia bilateral relationship, Trump delivered the defining answer of his foreign policy that he doesn’t. Nor did he object to Vladimir Putin’s oppression, Russia’s 2008 effort to dismember the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Russia-backed forces shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 and killing hundreds of civilians, Russia’s invasion of Crimea, its subsequent invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Russia’s apparent use of a deadly nerve agent in the UK, or of course, the computer hacking associated with the 2016 election.

Though Mueller’s indictments were announced just before the infamous Trump and Putin summit, it first led to talk of whether Trump might cancel it meeting (which he didn’t) and then speculation over whether and how he’d confront Putin over Russia’s actions. But everyone knows that Trump’s actual response to Russia’s intervention on his behalf has always been of gratitude and solicitousness. So what other response is there to a world power doing exactly what you asked of them in a time of political need?

Nevertheless, after a massive bipartisan condemnation of Donald Trump’s disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki where he questioned Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump held a surprise press conference the next day to walk back on his comments. Sitting at a table with members of Congress, he read clearly prepared statement asserting he had “accepted” US intelligence’s findings that Russia was behind cyberattacks leading up to the 2016 election. He claimed he had misspoken about the press conference when he questioned the idea of Russian interference which might be plausible in theory. But take his statement in the context of what Trump actually said, it makes no sense. And it’s very clear he’s still expressing skepticism about Russia’s guilt as he states:

“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others; they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. … I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people [Russian agents indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for election interference]. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

What he’s saying is that there’s a conflict between US intelligence and Russia claims, that he’s not sure who’s right, and that he’d appreciate Russian intelligence’s help in clearing up what happened. Despite the fact that the 12 newly indicted Russians were intelligence agents so we’re in no position to trust Russian intelligence on such matters whatsoever. What’s more he still reiterated his skepticism when he said, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” following it up with, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” He still doesn’t believe Russia is involved and he’s trying to convinced us that he didn’t mean what he said. Let’s not kid ourselves that Trump’s trying to gaslight the entire world and assert something he didn’t by sheer force of confidence. He’s brazenly lying to us and we shouldn’t let him get away with it. Russia meddled with the 2016 presidential campaign of which can there be no doubt. We shouldn’t believe otherwise.

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Yes, Virginia, There Was a Manchurian Candidate and Now He’s President

While Donald Trump was out of the country acting like a complete disgrace toward our closest ally, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment against 12 Russian officers for crimes related to hacking and publicly releasing the Democrats’ emails as part of an effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign. As long suspected, Mueller alleges it was Russian intelligence officers behind the high-profile hackings of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and various Hillary Clinton campaign staff emails, including those of her campaign manager John Podesta. Many of these were posted by 3 separate entities. Two of those, “Guccifer 2.0” and “the DCL Leaks website” were created and controlled by GRU officers from Russia’s intelligence agency. The third, Wikileaks, got the stolen DNC emails from these officials (and eventually, the Podesta emails), but referred as “Organization 1” it’s not yet charged with anything.

The indictment presents significant technical evidence on precisely how these Russians pulled off the hack, including electronic communications and transfers of information between the various figures involved. However, there’s no allegation that any Americans or any Trump campaign member were criminally or knowingly involved in the hackings or leaks. Or at least not yet. But nonetheless, this new slew of indictments brings the entire total in the Mueller probe to 32 individuals and 3 companies.

The new indictments released on Friday, July 13, 2018, provide concrete evidence that the release of the hacked DNC emails was timed for maximum political impact. And they suggest Russian intelligence agents and Wikileaks planned to engineer discord between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. According to the latest Mueller statement, a conversation between Russian intelligence and Wikileaks on July 6, 2016 had the latter correspond with GRU officers with “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” After the Russians responded with, “ok … i see,” Wikileaks explained their motives for wanting information that would reveal tension between the Sanders and Hillary camps. They replied with, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.” Of course, tensions between Sanders and Clinton existed long before the hacked emails were released since it was why the DNC was such a splash. But Russia and Wikileaks knew that releasing the information at the opportune time would have ripple effects. The Democratic National Convention was meant to be a coming together moment to focus on defeating Donald Trump and the Republicans after a long and bitter primary between Clinton and Sanders. In fact, Sanders actively encouraged his fans to vote for Clinton in his convention speech. Yet, with the leaked emails as backdrop, he was booed at every turn and some Berniecrats didn’t heed his call to vote at all in 2016. Though there is a lot of speculation about how the trove of leaked DNC documents spurred discord between the two groups, the indictments suggest that this is exactly what the Russians wanted.

Mueller’s indictments also detailed a Russian hack into a state board of elections website (believed to be Illinois) in July 2016. According to him, Kremlin-linked hackers, “stole information related to approximately 500,000 voters, including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.” In addition, Russian spies penetrated a US vender that supplied voter-registration verification software and, in November 2016, sent over 1,000 spearfishing emails to “organizations and personnel involved in administering elections in numerous Florida counties.” They even visited election websites in Georgia, Florida, and Iowa in an attempt to find vulnerabilities. The incursions into the US voting infrastructure have been widely reported. But Mueller’s indictment present clear evidence that Russian intelligence probed into the systems. Though there’s no proof that these hacks altered the vote count or election outcome. Yet, Russia wasn’t poking around for kicks since spies were likely gathering information and searching out vulnerabilities.

But these 12 new indictments of Russian intelligence officers are a powerful reminder of the 2 hard core truths of the Trump-Russia story that often go missing amid the political controversy and amateur detective work. First, whether the anyone in Trump campaign was knowingly involved or not, real crimes were committed in 2016 with real victims. Second, since announcing his candidacy for the presidency in 2015, Donald Trump has gone out of his way to shield those who committed these crimes from exposure or accountability. But whether that’s because his campaign colluded with Russia or that he merely benefited from these crimes remains to be seen. Yet, these points are worth dwelling over because they cut against 2 commonplace narratives about the case. One renders the entire issue as a question of mystery and spycraft, leading ultimately to things like Jonathan Chait’s maximalist speculation that perhaps Trump had been a KGB asset since the 1980s or anything comparable to the stuff of Cold War fiction like The Manchurian Candidate. The other renders it as a narrowly political question where passionate Hillary Clinton fans should feel robbed of an election win. Though her critics across the political spectrum can smugly feel self-assured there were other reasons she lost.

Obviously, illegal hacking and invasion of privacy is a bad thing on its own terms regardless of election outcome. When Russian hackers pilfered John Podesta’s Gmail inbox, they didn’t exclusively obtain material highly relevant to Hillary Clinton’s career and political prospects. In fact, the vast majority was simply the personal correspondence of a man involved with Democratic Party politics. Wikileaks then laundered through his emails to disguise their origins and posted their entirety online with no regard to privacy or newsworthiness. The contents include a risotto recipe, an email birth announcement by a friend, a performance evaluation on a previous job, and hundreds upon hundreds of examples that had nothing to do with Clinton or American politics. But once the emails were out, there were few visible alternatives but to cover them. It’s understandable why Republicans chose to opportunistically take advantage of the crimes by gleefully citing them as a damning indictment on Clinton. However, fundamentally, all Americans using email have a genuine interest not seeing this form of privacy invasion not to become a routine aspect in our lives. It’s illegal for a reason, and it would be good for people committing this kind of crime to be caught and punished.

But Donald Trump has consistently acted to prevent any form of accountability. In fact, during the 2016 campaign, he publicly lauded the criminals on TV. Of course, he shouldn’t have done this since it was in poor form. But the fact he did this probably deserved to be a bigger point of emphasis in the coverage at the time. Yet, what’s really remarkable is that Trump has kept operating as a kind of de facto accessory after the fact of the crimes. He’s repeatedly denied the existence of a Russian hacking campaign by over and over again suggesting that Mueller and the federal investigators looking into the crime are nothing but a partisan political ploy. However, at best, it’s Trump rather than Mueller who’s exclusively viewing the whole thing through a partisan lens. But a less generous interpretation of Trump can be that he’s deliberately trying to stymie the investigation because he’s aware that he’s personally guilty of serious crimes. And he fears a thorough investigation will expose them.

Even if that’s not the case and Donald Trump is merely reacting to the partisan interest in the Trump-Russia investigation with his own partisan antics, the misconduct involved is serious. A president has obligations to the country and to its citizens, including those who didn’t vote for him. Donald Trump’s inability to even feign anger or outrage at the real crimes committed against real American citizens is remarkably relative to the context of what’s ordinarily considered acceptable presidential behavior. That it seems banal from Trump itself is perhaps not surprising given how flagrantly and consistently he reminds us that he doesn’t care about anyone outside his narrow circle of support. Yet, that’s merely a measure of how far we’ve fallen as a society in the Trump era. But it’s not a real reason to ignore it.

Still, you have to wonder about Donald Trump’s conduct over the whole Russia investigation. On July 27, 2016, in front of TV cameras in front of the whole world, he said he hoped Russia would, “find the 30,000 emails that are missing … I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Apparently, Russian intelligence officers were happy to oblige since they launched a new attack to hack and publicly Democratic emails, according to Mueller’s latest indictments. To be clear, the DNC emails had been hacked and leaked by then while Podesta’s inbox was already compromised. In fact, the Russian email phishing expeditions against the Democrats were well underway by March 2016 when the Podesta emails were infiltrated. In May, George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragged about Russians having dirt on Hillary Clinton to an Australian diplomat. The infamous Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort took place in June. Thus, Trump’s comments can’t be claimed as the start of Russia’s digital attacks against American political parties and figures. But the timing is nevertheless uncanny. Because the same day he called for Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails, the hackers went after Clinton’s personal email within hours. As the indictment states:

“The conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton campaign through the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.”

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s brazen comment urging a foreign power to hack his opponent has always been difficult to decipher. Was it a typical Trump bluster, at a time when hacked emails and Clinton’s email server were huge news stories? Or was there something more sinister going on. The new Mueller indictment doesn’t answer that. But it sure looks like when Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails, Russia heard him.

In addition, the White House’s reaction to Mueller’s new indictments included zero condemnation of Russia for interfering in a US presidential election. But instead focused on bolstering Donald Trump’s longtime assertions that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia and that interference didn’t change the 2016 election’s outcome. Apparently, calling out Russia for launching a malicious attack against American democracy wasn’t a Trump White House priority. Since it was a glaring omission people noticed immediately as one guy tweeted: “The White House statement on today’s indictment includes no condemnation of Russia. It also refers to “alleged hacking.” The fact that hacking happened is not an allegation.” Except that Russia intelligence was behind the high-profile DNC and DCCC hacking breaches during the 2016 campaign. And while the indictment doesn’t allege any American or Trump campaign involvement yet (at least knowingly), it seems that was the message the White House wanted us to take away.

Despite that the new indictments don’t prove that the Trump campaign was entirely innocent either. In fact, far from it. During the 2016 campaign, it was apparent enough that Donald Trump was unusually friendly to Russia and that the Russian interventions seemed aimed at trying to help his electoral chances at Hillary Clinton’s expense. After the election, more and more attention became devoted whether any Trump’s associates and Putin’s government coordinated to intervene in the campaign in some way. Though there’s no smoking gun yet, it’s not mere idle speculation either. As of July 2018, there are at least 6 instances in which Trump associates tried to get Russian dirt communicated with hacking and leaking figures. The FBI investigation kicked off when George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragged to an Australian diplomat about getting Russian dirt against Hillary Clinton. Then there’s the infamous Trump Tower meeting that June involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort meeting with Russians to discuss “adoption” through Next, we have Cambridge Analytica, Roger Stone, and Donald Trump Jr.’s contacts with Wikileaks. In addition, Roger Stone corresponded with Guccifer 2.0 while remaining in Trump’s orbit as an impromptu adviser. Last, there’s the matter of Republican operative Peter Smith trying to find the missing Hillary Clinton emails who claimed he was in contact with Michael Flynn and other Trump staff.

Nonetheless, the 12 new indictments of Russian intelligence officers come at a very bad time for Donald Trump who’s supposed to meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin within three days at the time. It’s more likely Mueller announced the indictments on July 13 because that’s when they were ready since they reflect months and months of work by him and his team. While the Putin meeting only materialized just weeks ago. According to Assistant Attorney General Rob Rosenstein, the timing of the release “is a function of the collection of the facts, the evidence, and the law and a determination that it was sufficient to present the indictment at this time.” But even if that wasn’t intentional, it’s extremely awkward for Trump since he’s about to meet Putin for a high-stakes diplomatic meeting in Helsinki, which they’re expected to discuss Russia’s election hanky panky among other things. While that’ll be contentious, Putin will again deny Russia interfere at all while Trump will say he believes him as a matter of course. Yet, thanks to the Mueller indictments proving that Russian spies were behind the Democratic hacking breach, Trump will find it a lot harder to say he believes Putin without looking like a complete fool in the process at best or complicit a worst. In fact, Trump will at least find it harder to avoid the topic altogether.

For in Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled Russia, it’s nearly impossible to believe all these people operated for months to sway the US election without their boss’s green light, as 3 US intelligence concluded in January 2017. At the minimum, it stretches credulity to think Putin at least didn’t know about the efforts. Yet, with all the evidence piling up, there’s a miniscule chance Donald Trump will challenge Putin’s denial when they meet. Hell, he might even stop praising Putin and Russia as he has over the past few days despite knowing the imminent indictments days ago. If any of this happens, it’d be a huge shift in his approach toward the Russian dictator and the Mueller investigation. But don’t bet on that because admitting that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to get Trump elected will likely tarnish his victory which he likes bragging about. He could heed Democratic calls to cancel the meeting entirely.

On Saturday, July 14, 2018, Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets with, “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?….Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep State?” Indeed, Barack Obama was president during that time. But the hacks at the DNC, DCCC, and the Hillary Clinton campaign were meant to hurt her and help Trump, which the US intelligence community has repeatedly asserted. Furthermore, why Obama didn’t act sooner is complicated but he did send Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, CIA Director John Brennan, and other administration members to look into it as soon as he knew about it. But he didn’t make a show of it due to squabbles among Democratic and Republican leaders. Vice President Joe Biden even said that during an event or the Council of Foreign Relations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to sign a bipartisan condemning Russia’s 2016 activities. And that the Obama administration worried that without a bipartisan front, it would look like they were trying to sway the election, which he didn’t want. As Biden told Politico, “Can you imagine if the president called a press conference in October, with this fella, [Trump campaign CEO Steve] Bannon, and company, and said, ‘Tell you what: Russians are trying to interfere in our elections and we have to do something about it.’ What do you think would have happened? Would things have gotten better, or would it further look like we were trying to delegitimize the electoral process, because of our opponent?” Though the Obama administration formally accused the Russian government that October, it came just a half-hour before the infamous Access Hollywood tape leaked. And we all know which story got more publicity.

In the meantime, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned of the intensifying threat of cyberattacks against US digital infrastructure, calling Russia “the most aggressive foreign” in attempts to disrupt and divide America. He told the audience at the Hudson Institute, “These actions are persistent, they’re pervasive and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not. The warning signs are there. The system is blinking. And it is why I believe we are at a critical point.” Coats has been one of the more vocal voices in the Trump administration about the very real threat of Russia incursions into US digital infrastructure and its meddling to sow discord and division. He has previously warned that the 2018 midterms could be a Russian hacking target and according to the New York Times, he indicated that the federal government was working with state and local jurisdictions to secure their infrastructure. Yet, Russia isn’t the only offender for North Korea, China, and Iran are also waging cyberattacks at all fronts: federal, state, and local governments along with private entities. However, Coats stated that so far analysts haven’t seen, “electoral interference in specific states and in voter databases that we experienced. However, we realize we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.” So it pays to remain vigilant of future Russian hacks.

None Dared Called It Terrorism

While the country was swept in the Supreme Court Justice media frenzy, Donald Trump issued pardons for two Oregon cattle ranchers whose conviction for setting fire to public lands became a rallying cry for militia groups in 2016, leading to a tense, days-long standoff with federal officials. On Tuesday July 12, 2018, Trump gave clemency to Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr., and his son Steven, whose convictions and a court order that they return to prison, inspired the militia group standoff at Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge during January 2016. There is no doubt their pardon is Trump’s latest example using his pardon power as a cudgel in the culture war. After all, granting pardons or commuting sentences to figures waging partisan warfare or have become right-wing folk heroes.

In 2010, the Hammonds were convicted of setting 2 fires that burned on federal land. The father-son duo stated they set the fires to reduce the invasive sagebrush and juniper tree growth for wildfire prevention, thereby accelerating rangeland grasses for cattle feed. But a 2015 statement from the US Attorney’s Office read, “Witnesses at the trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property. Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out ‘Strike Anywhere’ matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to ‘light the whole country on fire.’ One witnessed testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.” That fire consumed 139 acres of federal property and destroyed all evidence of game violations. As for the other fire Steven started in 2006, prosecutors stated that he set several back fires, violating a burn ban, to save his winter feed after lightning stated numerous fires nearby.

We should also note that the Hammonds had been fighting for the feds to get out of the land management business since the 1980s. The federal pursuit of these men followed years of permit violations and unauthorized fires, but they never accepted responsibility. Late in the 1980s, Dwight began trading barbs with the US Fish & Wildlife employees. Both father and son had previously been accused of making death threats against federal officials and were arrested in 1994 after trying to stop federal workers from fencing off a canal at Malheur. The elder Hammond had even reportedly “threatened to kill” the manager of the refuge that they used for their cows. As former US Attorney Dwight Holton told KGW News, “The Hammonds were serial arsonists who stole from United States taxpayers for years.”

Anyway, in 2012, since US District Michael R. Hogan said the mandated 5-year sentence under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, he sentenced the Dwight Hammond to 3 months and Steven a year. But because that was less than the mandatory minimum sentence federal law mandated, the federal government challenged the sentence. In 2015, an appellate court ruled that the Hammonds had been illegally sentenced and had to return to prison. Such decision sparked outcry among their local community and across the rural West, with critics slamming the federal government for their aggressive tactics. However, Oregon US Attorney, Billy Williams, justified the mandatory sentencing, saying they’re, “intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place firefighters and others in jeopardy.” This sparked a flashpoint in the ongoing dispute between cattle ranchers and the federal government over land-use rights.

The Hammonds’ case became a rallying cry that kicked off a tense stand-off. In January 2016, armed anti-government militias and “patriot” groups seized Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters. To reflect their belief the federal government has only a limited right to own property within a state, they changed the refuge’s name to Harney County Resource Center.They stayed for more than 3 weeks with the standoff only ending after state troopers shot and killed one of the militia members and arrested 6 others. The Hammonds’ importance to the standoff was mostly symbolic. They may have initially welcomed the militia’s help, only to rejected it later and told the groups to go home. In addition, the groups occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge had broader disputes with the federal government about public land use than just the Hammonds’ case. Nonetheless, the case became a focal point for armed militias that violently occupied federal land in order to achieve their goals. Nonetheless, leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy, (sons of the infamous Cliven Bundy of the Nevada standoff with feds over unpaid grazing fees) along with 5 other defendants were eventually acquitted of charges stemming from the takeover by a federal jury in Portland.

But it’s the latest example of Donald Trump using near-limitless presidential power in the service of a cause celebre for extreme segments of the right. While George W. Bush and Barack Obama relied on Office of Pardon Attorney recommendations that used a multi-step application process to determine whose cases get relief, Trump has bypassed all of that. Instead, he’s used his pardon power to commute the sentences of ideological fellow travelers such as prominent right-wing figures or folk heroes caught up in legal trouble. Before the Hammonds, it was conservative writer and conspiracy theory enthusiast, and troll Dinesh D’Souza who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance laws after falsely claiming he was targeted for political retribution. Before him, was Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. “Scooter” Libby who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to the FBI during an investigation into who leaked the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. And before him, it was ex-Maricopa sheriff Joe Arpaio known for his cruelty to anyone he suspected as undocumented immigrants and was convicted of contempt of court.

Regardless of what you think about public land use or federal overreach, as Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said the Hammond pardon sends a, “dangerous message to America’s park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers. President Trump, at the urging of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has once again sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans.” Oregon Wild’s Arran Robertson told the AP about the pardon’s darker impact, stating, “From the Bundys to logging and oil companies, special interests are working with the Trump administration to dismantle America’s public lands heritage, and this will be viewed as a victory in that effort.” Yet, the Hammond pardons come as some federal employees in the rural American West are nervous of what they say is a high likelihood more standoffs can break out. According to NPR’s Kirk Siegler, citing soil scientists, cattle range managers, and those staffing recreation sites, “It’s also not clear yet if other ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands might decide to openly defy federal laws, [with] the Hammonds being pardoned.”

Nonetheless, the matter of the Hammonds and the armed militia takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is one I find particularly disgraceful. It’s plain to see that the Hammonds clearly committed an act of domestic terrorism and for endangering lives in their arson crime. So, a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence for setting fire to federal land is hardly government overreach. Yet, somehow the District Court judge finds such a sentence too lengthy and harsh for two cattle ranchers who burned 139 acres of land to cover up an illegal deer hunt. As he noted, “would not meet any idea I have of justice, proportionality … it would be a sentence which would shock the conscience to me.” It just seems like the guy sympathized with them enough to let them off so easily. Despite that according to Think Progress, the prosecutors’ choice was rooted in the firefighters’ earnest belief that the Hammond ranchers have been indifferent to their lives at best and seeking to harm them at worst. In the wake of their pardon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a briefing, “The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement and farmers and ranchers across the West.” She basically describes these guys like they’re some friendly neighborhood Though mandatory minimums have their share of critics all across the political spectrum, the Hammonds were serving a sentence that was established for terrorists which they undeniably were. Besides, there are plenty of other people languishing in prison under mandatory minimums for far lesser crimes. Yet, none of them get the kind of sympathy these men received by the media, the government, or the criminal justice system.

Then there’s the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by armed anti-government militia and “patriot” groups. Despite that these guys seized a wildlife refuge carrying weapons for political purposes, somehow the media referred their clear act of domestic terrorism as a “protest.” And yet, despite holding the place hostage for about 40 days until an armed standoff with federal authorities prior to arrests, the Bundy brothers who led this takeover and 5 walked free. Look, I have no problem with protesting about public lands and use rights though I do believe that this land was made for you and me and have no problem with the federal government setting aside lands for preservation of our national heritage. But once you bring loaded guns to threaten federal employees and take over a wildlife refuge, that’s terrorism. And yet, none called it terrorism. Despite that while the locals were sympathetic with the Hammonds’ plight, they weren’t interested in Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s takeover of a federal building. The fact the Hammond case was so connected to the Bundys makes their pardon seem like Donald Trump is signaling the noxious Nevada ranchers that it’s okay to seize and destroy public lands when someone has a beef with the feds. There are plenty of ways to lawfully address grievances. Domestic terrorism shouldn’t be one of them nor should be condoned, much less pardoned. Since that undermines Americans’ rights to our shared public lands and national parks.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but imagine how different the legal system and the media would perceive this circus if the Hammonds and the anti-government militia groups at Malheur weren’t white. I’m sure none of them would’ve received the sympathy or the positive recognition for their efforts. Hell, if the Hammonds were Hispanic, I’d bet any money that Judge Hogan would’ve sentenced them to at least the mandatory minimum with no outcry other than their sentence wasn’t harsh enough. And they’d certainly not receive a pardon from Donald Trump. In fact, he’d be ranting about them at his ego-stroking, hate-filled rallies and use them as an example to illustrate how Hispanics put America to shit with their crime and violence. In addition, if those anti-government militias and “patriot” groups were all Muslims, well, you can guess they wouldn’t have held onto the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for long. Mostly because the authorities would’ve called law enforcement at all levels akin to the Standing Rock protests until all the ranchers were cuffed and put into a truck to the jail. The media and the country would universally condemn them. A federal jury would convict them while a federal judge would hand them a sentence to make sure they’d never see the light of day again. If not, then perhaps give the jury an option of instilling the death penalty. I know that implying that race was a factor in how the Hammonds and the right-wing militia groups at Malheur were treated less harshly than other terror incidents may make people uncomfortable. Yet, I can’t ignore the fact that race has been a determining factor on why the country doesn’t seem to take right-wing and white supremacist terrorism much more seriously. Another reason has to do with that millions of white conservative Americans may share their principles to certain extents and don’t want to look in the metaphorical mirror whenever a right-wing terror event occurs or take that responsibility.

However, the Hammonds’ pardon deserves special attention and more media coverage than it got because it’s an extremely irresponsible one. Not just because Donald Trump granted them clemency on partisan grounds, but because it sets a dangerous message that threatens our national security and the lives of millions of Americans. In a time of rising hate crimes and right-wing terrorism, presidential pardons to domestic terrorists are among the last things America needs right now. By pardoning Dwight and Steven Hammond, Trump not only lets them out of jail but also that the fires they lit were perfectly acceptable. These pardons mark the first time anti-government militia groups opposing federal land laws have their issues validated at the federal level. Not to mention, they speak to the ways the Trump administration is emboldening the far-right patriot movement more generally. It’s as if Trump’s signaling the radical right not to worry about facing criminal charges. Southern Poverty Law Center reporter Ryan Lenz told The Daily Beast, “This is the latest in a long string of setbacks for federal efforts to bring anti-government extremists to justice for their actions. The militia movement sees this as further vindication and further proof that their cause is just.”

The worst implications of the Hammond pardons may have nothing to do with desecrating public lands with no consequence. The rise of right-wing extremist terrorism is a threat to national security that Donald Trump and millions of Americans don’t want to acknowledge or solve. And it doesn’t help that many of these white supremacists, right-wing terrorists, and extremists comprise of a key part of Trump’s base and count among his most ardent supporters. The Hammond pardons send a glaring message that he has their back in the White House. If any of them are facing federal convictions and sentencing, Trump will make sure they get off scot free to terrorize whatever facet of America they please. As long he could use his pardon power for terrorists to outrage liberals and inflame culture war tensions, then millions of Americans’ lives could be in danger to political violence. And there’s nothing they could do about it. Nonetheless, suppose his next pardon was the man who ran over Heather Heyer at Charlottesville and he goes free. After all, Trump once called the white supremacists responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, “very fine people.” I’m sure a pardon for some of those guys will be around the corner should they have legal troubles. As former Colorado National Monument superintendent Joan Anzelmo tweeted on the matter: “This is so very wrong. No one is safe from felons with friends in high places. Terrible. Dangerous. Wrong.”

Who Will Rid Us of This Activist Judge?

In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, there is so much for Americans, particularly the Democrats to be worried about. After all, him stepping down during the Donald Trump nightmare would shift the Court to the right for the next few decades. Now that Lord Cheetohead has nominated DC Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, there is plenty of talk about how his tenure of the court might overturn Roe v. Wade, gut the Affordable Care Act, undermine labor rights, weaken environmental regulations, hurt civil rights, and give more free rein on large corporations to do whatever the hell they want. But while all these issues are very important to consider, it’s not exactly on my mind at the moment.

Before I get to the point, I must acknowledge that during the 1990s, Kavanaugh worked on an independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s extremely zealous team of prosecutors pursuing what they believed to be wrongdoing by President Bill Clinton. For those who were either too young like me or not born yet, this independent counsel investigation into Clinton began with a land deal in Arkansas and eventually ended with a report recommending his impeachment for lying under oath and obstructing justice over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. According to Ken Gormley in his book, The Death of American virtue, Kavanaugh was a particularly committed team player. Since at one point, he wrote a memo to Starr which included the following:

“After reflecting this evening, I am strongly opposed to giving the President any “break”… unless before his questioning on Monday, he either i) resigns or ii) confesses perjury and issues a public apology to you [Starr]. I have tried hard to bend over backwards and be fair to him… In the end, I am convinced that there really are [no reasonable defenses]. The idea of going easy on him at the questioning is abhorrent to me…

“[T]he President has disgraced his Office, the legal system, and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into a shambles—callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. He has committed perjury (at least) in the Jones case… He has tried to disgrace [Ken Starr] and this Office with a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush.”

As much as I think Clinton’s impeachment was stupid, I can see the guy’s point on the perjury part and the fact Lewinsky hasn’t been able to escape the infamy of the whole scandal since. Yet, to be fair, men in elected office publicly lie about their extramarital proclivities happens all the time and most usually don’t face any legal trouble whatsoever. Besides, perjury over an extramarital affair doesn’t seem like an impeachable offense compared to, well, making money off the presidency, firing the FBI director while under criminal investigation, ignoring the Emoluments Clause, and possibly colluding with the Russians. Kavanaugh’s memo went on to propose asking President Clinton questions like:

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated into her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?

“If Monica Lewinsky says that on several occasions you had her give [you] oral sex, made her stop, and then ejaculated into the sink in the bathroom off the Oval Office, would she be lying?

“If Monica Lewinsky says that you masturbated into a trash can in your secretary’s office, would she [be] lying?”

However, fast forward a decade and Kavanaugh seems to do a 180 on the topic after later working for a president from his own party. From 2001-2006, he served in President George W. Bush’s White House, first in the White House Counsel’s office and later as White House Staff Secretary. In 2006, he was confirmed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. And in 2009, he wrote an article that would be published in the Minnesota Law Review. Now this piece addressed several issues related to the presidency and separation of powers. Yet, the most relevant section comes right after the introduction, focusing on civil and criminal investigations of sitting US presidents:

I. PROVIDE SITTING PRESIDENTS WITH A TEMPORARY DEFERRAL OF CIVIL SUITS AND OF CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS

He then opens here by describing his work for President Bush and how he learned to appreciate “how complex and difficult that job is” and continues (emphasis added):

“I believe it vital that the President be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible. The country wants the President to be “one of us” who bears the same responsibilities of citizenship that all share. But I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.”
He next calls on Congress to consider passing a law that would relieve some of the burdens and expresses his doubts that investigations of a sitting president can rise above politics.

“In particular, Congress might consider a law exempting a President—while in office—from criminal prosecution and investigation, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense counsel. Criminal investigations targeted at or revolving around a President are inevitably politicized by both their supporters and critics.

“As I have written before, ‘no Attorney General or special counsel will have the necessary credibility to avoid the inevitable charges that he is politically motivated—whether in favor of the President or against him, depending on the individual leading the investigation and its results.’”

Look, I understand that the presidency is a complex and difficult job. But while I may agree that investigations regarding sitting presidents may not be able to rise above politics, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t excuse them from “some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.” Our country was built upon the idea that presidents must obey the laws and suffer the legal consequences like everyone else. This is especially because the presidency is the highest office in the nation and the fact they can be sued, criminally investigated, and prosecuted like everyone else is a major check on the President’s power. But while the Mueller probe may be politicized among the American public, the rationale behind it such as the FBI investigation on the Trump campaign and George Papadopoulos drunkenly bragging about Russians digging dirt on Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with politics.

Nonetheless, Kavanaugh bemoans the consequences if the sitting president was indicted:

“The indictment and trial of a sitting President, moreover, would cripple the federal government, rendering it unable to function with credibility in either the international or domestic arenas. Such an outcome would ill serve the public interest, especially in times of financial or national security crisis.”

Indeed, this is a genuinely unsettled legal question. While Justice Department opinions have typically stated that sitting presidents can’t be indicted, some experts have argued otherwise. The question has never been tested in the courts, but it was revived last year with the scandal over Donald Trump, Russia, and possible obstruction of justice. Special Counsel Robert Mueller seems unlikely to defy Justice Department policy with a legally questionable indictment of Trump. But if he does, the Supreme Court would surely decide on the matter. And since he’s been nominated to the Court, Kavanaugh’s 2009 article on the subject takes on a significant importance.

Kavanaugh goes on to the civil suit arena:

“Even the lesser burdens of a criminal investigation—including preparing for questioning by criminal investigators—are time-consuming and distracting. Like civil suits, criminal investigations take the President’s focus away from his or her responsibilities to the people. And a President who is concerned about an ongoing criminal investigation is almost inevitably going to do a worse job as President.”

This will also likely resonate with Donald Trump, who’s spent an enormous amount of time on the Mueller probe while plagued by other lawsuits as well. Indeed, the question on whether Trump should have to sit for Mueller’s “questioning” is a current discussion topic. If Trump should refuse questioning (which he will), Mueller could subpoena him, which will culminate in a battle likely rising to the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh concludes by briefly trying to address two possibly critiques on his arguments. First, he says that the president could always be prosecuted after he leaves office. Second, if the president does anything bad, Congress could use the impeachment process.

“One might raise at least two important critiques of these ideas. The first is that no one is above the law in our system of government. I strongly agree with that principle. But it is not ultimately a persuasive criticism of these suggestions. The point is not to put the President above the law or to eliminate checks on the President, but simply to defer litigation and investigations until the President is out of office.

“A second possible concern is that the country needs a check against a bad-behaving or law-breaking President. But the Constitution already provides that check. If the President does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available. No single prosecutor, judge, or jury should be able to accomplish what the Constitution assigns to the Congress. Moreover, an impeached and removed President is still subject to criminal prosecution afterwards.”

However, his conclusion falls short on to points. First, waiting until the president is out of office to investigate him doesn’t prevent the damage he may cause during his tenure as well as gives him free rein to abuse his power while in office. Second, while Donald Trump has done really bad things over his presidency and before then, that doesn’t mean Congress will impeach him. Because it’s controlled by the GOP who has no interest to check his power. Besides, Kavanaugh doesn’t address what happens when it’s not yet clear and hotly disputed whether not a president has done “something dastardly” like colluding with Russia to intervene in the 2016 election, or obstructing justice. It appears he’d be happy to leave that to Congress to decide, without any investigation from the executive branch. Now this is disturbing since I consider such investigation from the executive branch necessary before Congress can decide whether to impeach a president.

He concludes the section:

“In short, the Constitution establishes a clear mechanism to deter executive malfeasance; we should not burden a sitting President with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions. The President’s job is difficult enough as is. And the country loses when the President’s focus is distracted by the burdens of civil litigation or criminal investigation and possible prosecution.”

Of course, the country loses when a president’s focus is distracted by the burdens of civil litigation or criminal investigation and possible prosecution. But the country loses more when a president suspected of egregious wrongdoing is allowed to abuse his power however he pleases without any way to hold him accountable. Stating that we shouldn’t “burden” a sitting president with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions because the presidency is a difficult job as it is simply doesn’t cut it. Yes, such processes might be a pain in the ass but they ensure that sitting presidents must answer to the law regarding their actions. If a sitting president doesn’t want to be distracted by lawsuits, criminal inquiries, and prosecution, then he shouldn’t have done what got him there in the first place. This especially goes with a president who believes he’s above the law and can do whatever he damn well pleases without consequence.
So why did Kavanaugh change his mind? Probably because he spent 5 years working for a president from his own party who gave him a big promotion. As he admits in his 2009 article:

“This is not something I necessarily thought in the 1980s or 1990s. Like many Americans at that time, I believed that the President should be required to shoulder the same obligations that we all carry. But in retrospect, that seems a mistake.

“Looking back to the late 1990s, for example, the nation certainly would have been better off if President Clinton could have focused on Osama bin Laden without being distracted by the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and its criminal investigation offshoots. To be sure, one can correctly say that President Clinton brought that ordeal on himself, by his answers during his deposition in the Jones case if nothing else.”

I may be no legal expert. But unlike Kavanaugh, I still believe a president should shoulder the same obligations we all carry. And yes, the nation would’ve been better off if President Clinton wasn’t distracted by the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and the criminal investigation offshoots. But to say that prevented Clinton from catching Osama Bin Laden is quite a stretch. However, just because the whole Bill Clinton impeachment circus might’ve been a mistake that made nobody happy, doesn’t mean we should exempt sitting presidents from civil litigation or criminal investigations and prosecution. Donald Trump and his team have been under criminal investigation by the FBI for possible collusion with Russia long before he was even elected to the presidency. And his efforts to stop it like the firing of FBI Director James Comey have only verified suspicions that they did. Or at least saw no problem with it. Besides, Robert Mueller’s team has already either indicted or accepted guilty pleas from 4 former Trump advisers, 14 Russian nationals, 3 Russian companies, a California man, and a London-based lawyer. Furthermore, the US intelligence community and the Senate Intelligence Committee all say that Russia tried to help Trump win the 2016 election and that Russa President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to do so. The real question now is whether Trump and his team colluded with Russia’s effort to sow seeds of division through the internet and running ads to stir up racial tensions.

What Kavanaugh wrote in 2009 about executive power sounds nice to Donald Trump and may be the major reason why he chose the guy to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy. It’s not too far-fetched to assume the Supreme Court may hear an element of the Russia investigation like subpoenaing a sitting president or less likely indicting one. There’s also a strong possibility that Kavanaugh can be one of the justices to decide on such matters. Sure, he advocated passing a law to protect the president from civil and criminal scrutiny but he didn’t say such notion is unconstitutional. Yet, to suggest that a president shouldn’t be subject to a civil suit or criminal prosecution while in office appears to fly in the face of decades of precedent stating that no one, including the president is above the law. While we don’t know if Trump has any criminal exposure at this point, Kavanaugh’s position could influence how he ruled on the appropriateness of any future actions by prosecutors against him. What impact that might have on the Mueller investigation remains to be seen. But should the Supreme Court rule in Trump’s favor that would neutralize the Mueller probe until he leaves office, America is in serious trouble.

Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that Brett Kavanaugh’s entire career has been in service to the Republican agenda. His old writings from the 1990s show that he was certainly a true believer in the Starr investigation before the Bush administration made him skeptical on the wisdom of litigation and investigations involving a sitting president. Donald Trump’s legal team has prepared to argue that the president isn’t obligated to sit for a Mueller interview and has limitless power to shut down the investigation or pardon anyone involved, including himself. Though this argument is basically summed as: Trump isn’t above the law, he is the law. The Kavanaugh from 20 years ago would’ve vociferously disagreed since he urged his boss, Kenneth Starr not to cut Bill Clinton any slack in his inquiry on the Lewinsky affair. When time came to help write the Starr report, Kavanaugh argued for Clinton’s impeachment for lying to his staff and misleading the American public. Had he still held that belief today, Trump would’ve never considered him for the Supreme Court. Yet, after working for George W. Bush, Kavanaugh apparently changed his tune as indicated in his 2009 article for the Minnesota Law Review. Not only did he contend that the president can’t be indicted, he also took his interpretation of executive power one step further by suggesting Congress pass a law allowing the president to defer such investigations until they’re out of office.

Still, I think it’s more likely that his awakening on presidential power during the Bush administration and his 2009 apology for the Starr report conceals more partisan motivations. Should the Russia investigation culminate in a Supreme Court battle, could we expect Kavanaugh to rule Trump’s case impartially and without favor? Or would he rationalize bending over backwards for the outcome he’d want to see? Because from my standpoint, I think he’s an activist judge willing to hold certain views that would be in his party’s favor. And I strongly believe Trump selected him to protect him from Mueller’s Russia investigation. He shouldn’t have seat on the bench of the most powerful court in the land.

To the Honorable United States Representative Conor Lamb of the Pennsylvania 18th District

Dear Congressman Lamb:

As your constituent of the 18th District, I have been satisfied with your efforts to represent the interest of Southwest Pennsylvania in ways your hypocritical sellout predecessor Dr. Tim Murphy ever could. Though you may not be my representative for much longer due to a new congressional map, I wish you the best of luck beating Keith Rothfus. As a liberal who supports gun control and environmental protection, I know you may not share my views on everything. But since I live in a heavily red district, I know I have to make due with whoever Democrat has a fighting chance in the polls and be as inoffensive to the electorate as possible. Unlike Murphy, your support for affordable healthcare and unions seems genuine while you appear very keen on fixing the opioid crisis ravaging our nation. From looking at your priorities list, you seem honestly committed for actions that benefit working Pennsylvanians and their families.

However, while your site states that you have a bias for action, I am not sure if any of your stated goals are feasible at the moment. You may be today’s Senator Jefferson Smith in Washington, but sometimes a fresh face with good ideas can only go so far. You may be willing to work with anyone to protect our people and bring good jobs. But so has any politician willing to work across the aisle for the greater good. Yet, sometimes it does not matter whether you are willing to work with those who do not agree with you. But whether those on the other side are willing to work with you. And from what I have seen with the Obamacare repeal nightmare last year and since, I honestly believe that as long as Donald Trump is in office and Republicans control both houses of Congress that our nation’s problems will not get better and even exacerbate in years to come.

Yet, if there is anything requiring direct action by our leaders in Washington, then it is on the matter of Donald Trump in the White House. I am painfully aware he enjoys a credible following among a significant contingent in the 18th district since so many in my community, neighborhood, and extended family have disturbingly supported him and continue to do so despite all the unconscionable things he’s said and done. I know you make it a priority not to criticize Trump by name in your public life out of reluctance to offend potential constituents and voters. However, as my US Representative who genuinely cares about the issues affecting working Pennsylvanians and their families, I strongly urge you do. Now you do not have to talk about Russia or Stormy Daniels. Nor do you need to address his other numerous scandals and controversies. But I do believe if you really care about and respect your Trump-supporting constituents, you need to at least tell them the cold, hard, truth they do not want to hear: that the man they see as their champion has no interest in solving their problems and is not on their side. Trump knows how to give wins to interest groups he actually cares about, many of these are large corporation who support unpopular measures such as letting health insurance companies discriminate against those with preexisting conditions, doing away with key environmental regulations protecting our access to clean air and water, letting financial advisers deliberately give their clients bad advice on their money, eliminating essential banking regulations that will pave way to another recession someday, getting rid of key labor protections like those against wage theft, and handing a sweetheart tax cut deal boosting corporate profits to record levels.

But more importantly, you need to address the undeniable fact that Donald Trump has never been the friend of ordinary working Americans and never will. Throughout his entire career he has reaped in millions from the remains of failing businesses at the expense of investors, small businesses, and American workers. For decades, according to a 2016 USA Today article, Trump has been subject to at least 60 lawsuits along with hundreds of liens, judgements, and other government filings documenting people accusing him of failing to pay them for their work. These include a Florida dishwasher, a New Jersey glass company, a carpet company, a plumber, painters, 48 waiters, dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, real estate brokers who sold him his properties, and even several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others. Since 2005, Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 Fair Labor Standards Act violations for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage according to the US Department of Labor at the time. In addition, USA Today’s review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens on wage theft claims filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies, or his properties since the 1980s. These range from a $75,000 claim by a New York heating and air conditioning company to a $1 million claim from a president of a New York City real estate banking firm. For Trump Taj Mahal casino project in Atlantic City, New Jersey Casino Control Commission records state that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, if at all. These comprise of workers who installed walls, chandeliers, and plumbing.

Nor do all these wage theft cases date from the 1980s. In May 2016, Trump Miami Resort Management LLC settled with 48 waiters at Trump National Doral Miami golf resort over failing to pay overtime for a 10-day Passover event. The lawsuit contended that some even worked 20-hour shifts. In Trump’s facilities at California and New York, bartenders and wait staff have sued with a range of allegations from not letting workers take breaks to not passing along tips to servers. And in January 2017, several contractors who worked on his D.C. Hotel project with renovating the Old Post Office on wage theft claims.

In sum, these actions paint a picture of Donald Trump’s sprawling organization consistently failing to pay small businesses and individuals before tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. Sometimes Trump’s team financially overpowers and outlasts much smaller opponents by draining their resources that some give up the fight or settle for less, some declare bankruptcy, and some end up out of business entirely. Of course, Trump and his associates have shrugged off these wage theft claims on the excuse that they did a terrible job despite that he often offered to rehire those same contractors again. But the sheer number of companies and others he hasn’t paid either suggest two things. His companies have a poor tract record hiring workers and assessing contractors. Or more likely as alleged in dozens of court cases that Trump’s businesses renege on contracts, refuse to pay, or consistently attempt to change payment terms after the work is done.

Mind-boggling wage theft practices is just one way Donald Trump has screwed his over ordinary Americans. Though he has done well after his multiple Atlantic City casino bankruptcies, his own casino employees have collectively lost millions of dollars in retirement savings after Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts’ value plummeted. According to a class action lawsuit filed against the company following its 2004 bankruptcy, starting in 1996, THCR encouraged its employees to invest their 401(k) savings in company stock. That same year, it sold $1.1 billion in junk bonds to offset Trump’s personal debt and buy more ill-fated casino properties in Atlantic City. Then when the stock price neared its nadir amid bankruptcy, the company forced its workers to sell at a huge loss. More than 400 employees lost more than a combined total of $2 million from their retirement accounts. One worker who put $1,000 into her 1997 retirement account had her savings withered to just $59 by 2004. Trump has never had to declare personal bankruptcy but the company he set up to operate his Atlantic City casinos went through numerous corporate restructurings to reduce its debt load. Since Trump used his company as a means to of transferring his personal debt, issuing rounds of junk bonds to build cash that would erase them. As he prospered, his companies floundered. In other words, he put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to his casinos while collecting millions of dollars in salary, bonuses, and other payments. Any burden of his failures fell on his investors and others who bet on his business expertise. While Atlantic City casino employees had their retirement savings wiped out, the share price rose from $.57 to $2.04/share, and Trump kept his $2 million salary after THCR emerged from bankruptcy, and took in more than $44 million in compensation over the course of 14 years he served as the company’s chairman.

Despite how many publications like the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and others have done stellar work on reporting Donald Trump’s history of corrupt business practices which have left a trail of destruction and destruction in its wake, especially in Atlantic City. But I was deeply disappointed by how little the televised media and our leaders in Washington have touched upon his sordid history of corruption and abuse of power which I strongly believe are the core of his character and give an idea of what he really thinks about his white working class base. To him, they are just a means to the end meant to be cast aside once they’re no longer useful to him. I know their racial resentment and anxiety over demographic change was the main reason why so many of them voted for this unrespectable con artist to the presidency. But I think another big reason why he is in the White House today is the fact that many Americans don’t seem to take corporate crimes as seriously as they should since they hurt those with the least resources to defend themselves. Yet, when corporate executives steal from their employees and use their company to leverage debt and free themselves from responsibility for their bad decisions, ordinary working Americans suffer. And that is especially the case when workers are underpaid and in precarious situations that will result in termination if they ever dare complain or challenge their bosses. Trump’s crimes may be egregious but he’s far from the only man in Corporate America who’s screwed over his investors and employees. Wage theft is so endemic in this country that the average American has either been a victim of it or knows someone who has. And even when caught, employers who steal from their workers usually face little or no consequences. Since no Wall Street banker has been convicted for causing the Great Recession, I think addressing Trump’s shady business practices is a conversation is sorely needed on Capitol Hill and in our public squares, at least to make an example out of him.

I know criticizing Donald Trump in front of your constituents won’t be easy for you. I understand you don’t want to alienate potential voters. Yet, if not enough people in Congress don’t address Trump’s abuses of power and corruption as a businessman, including what he did to Atlantic City, then I deeply fear he might be on his way to winning a second term as president. Since the Constitution limits presidents to serving two terms, it’s very possible that Trump won’t need his white working class base anymore to retain power in the White House. I really don’t want to face the prospect of a Trump reelection victory. I have been through that nightmare once in my life resulting me crying myself to sleep afraid of what would happen to me and waking up early when I couldn’t sleep anymore. As a young woman on the autistic spectrum, I was almost inconsolable over the notion of losing my Medicaid coverage when the American Healthcare Act passed the House until the Senate’s ACA repeal plan died on the floor last summer. Since finding a job is difficult for me at the moment, I don’t ever want to go through that again. And since Medicaid is so essential for fighting the opioid crisis in this country which is now a national emergency, neither do you.

I know you are a good man and are nothing like the good for nothing piece of shit in the White House. You have made sacrifices to your country such as your time in the Marines and you support the welfare of those who served. And I do believe you care about ordinary Americans and their families. However, being a true advocate for your constituents shouldn’t just be about making stump speeches on what potential voters might want to hear. Though I know you do your best to fulfill the promises you’ve made. I am aware you don’t want to cause controversy among the public in Southwestern Pennsylvania. And considering you won your seat in a highly-contested special election by 755 votes, I wouldn’t blame you.

However, there comes a time when you must state the inconvenient truth that might make your constituents view you as a pariah in anger, which may put your political future at risk. Yet, if you want to prove that you’re truly on your constituents’ side and that you’re willing to put their interests first, then you must make a compelling, respectful, honest case to prove that Trump is taking them for suckers and has no intention to fix their problems. His history as a corrupt businessman who’s exploited employees and investors to enrich himself perfectly illustrates this. In fact, I have compiled a blog post in The Lone Girl in a Crowd highlighting decades worth of his corruption scandals with links if you’re interested. Yet, however vague and substance-lacking they were, Trump campaigned on some ideas similar to yours and promised similar things which unlike you, he had no intention to deliver. Many voters in the 18th District fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Living in a rural area, I witnessed the worst of it with people in my community flaunting Trump signs everywhere I went, of which I found deeply distressing. But even then, I knew Trump was working his art of the con since I had been conducting research on his past and building a case against him. Nonetheless, if you truly respect Trump voters, then you must tell them the truth, even if it brings you fits of rage from potential voters already sold on his brazen lies and false promises or costs your nascent career. Your constituents in Southwest Pennsylvania deserve nothing less.

Asking you to criticize Donald Trump at the risk of losing your career may not be the wisest of requests. Yet, with the Republican Party so deep in his support for this unrespectable man, I am desperately pleading you to stand up to him on behalf of the people in your district. Yet, while you denounce him as a fraud, assure your voters you will work with him if that’s possible and do everything you can to protect them against his cruel and hostile policies that only benefit him, his allies, and his corporate backers. Trump may value loyalty of his subordinates and supporters, but that doesn’t mean he will return the favor for he’s known to stab people in the back once they cease being useful to him or suddenly become a liability. And though he will provoke controversy to please his base, he will not go out of his way to help his supporters in any meaningful way that doesn’t benefit him in return. Since you’ve been a Marine, I’m sure you can show him what true loyalty means as you represent constituents who may not have voted for you and may not be able to give you anything in return.

The Anthro World of Furry Costumes (Third Edition)

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In the hot and humid atmosphere of Southwestern PA in early July, the Furries descend upon Pittsburgh for their annual Anthro Con, which is the world’s second largest convention for them. Why they’re able to withstand the hot summer heat this time of year, I have no idea. But they come from all over the place and have money to burn so Pittsburgh really doesn’t mind as long as they behave themselves. This year, the Furries are stated to bring about $7.9 million to Allegheny County which is a big boost to the area. And with that kind of cash, you really don’t care where it comes from, even if it is from people who like dressing in animal costumes. And if you go to Fernando’s Café during this weekend, you’ll find plenty of Furries hanging out. After all, they raised money to help the owner keep his business through donations during the Great Recession. So for your reading pleasure, I give you another assortment of Furries for this Anthro Con weekend.

  1. A crouching dog is always ready to rumble.

Here he is ready to fight. Best not to mess with him or he’ll rip you to shreds.

2. This fox is ready to mingle in her bright red scarf.

She has her own fluffy tail with a blue tip. And she’s not shy to show it off.

3. Of course, you might have some hell hounds here and there.

Don’t they won’t bite. They’re just hanging out at the convention.

4. Always put your best paw forward.

This dog seems happy to greet their fellow furries. And will show their blue and yellow paws.

5. Someone must’ve received a package.

And someone can’t wait to open it. Wonder what it is. Is it a brand new chew toy?

6. A few pounds of kibble, please.

Actually they seem more likely to be in the candy store. Yet, I’m not sure what this person is supposed to be.

7. Only at Anthro Con can a bunny and polar bear be friends.

Because in real life, a bear is more likely to eat the bunny. And a bunny is less likely to be purple and yellow.

8. A cool cat can always be a snappy dresser.

This one wears a green shirt and a blue polka dot scarf. And they’re all dressed and ready to go.

9. This sitting dog is all covered in tiger stripes.

He’s also wearing a shirt and pants. Seems like he’s going to a concert afterwards.

10. This dark dog sometimes loves to lay about.

And he seems ready to show his claws. So best you leave like right now.

11. I thought dogs weren’t allowed on the subway.

Don’t worry, I’m sure he’s toilet trained. Because he’s a guy in an animal costume.

12. This tiger is locked and loaded.

I’m sure the gun is a toy. But he surely looks like a badass compared to Tony the Tiger.

13. Don’t mind the dog with this cup.

He just has a red Dixie cup on his nose. Guess he really likes to party.

14. You need not fear this friendly hyena.

After all, he’s not that filthy compared to those on the Savannah. Rather, he seems quite clean and friendly.

15. This dog loves showing his claws.

Since they’re all shiny and green. And so is his tongue which is kind of gross.

16. This tiger always loves to wander in the forest.

Well, they’re wearing ragged clothes for some reason. Yet, they like pouncing on the rocks.

17. No frisky fox can resist this vixen.

After all, sexy foxes are always seen as vixens. This one is no different.

18. This cat knows how to don a sweater.

Not sure how he keeps cool during the summer. But he doesn’t look quite bad either.

19. Get a load of this colorful cat.

Yes, this colorful tiger seems straight out of a drug trip. But they just like to hang around.

20. This dog always knows how to rock.

Here he is in his furry get up. He even has his own hat for his ears to stick out.

21. This cat loves hanging by the waterside.

Though they may not want to go into the water. Since it might ruin their coat.

22. This cat has the world on a staff.

This might be a character from some video game. Then again, you have to like their sense of style.

23. Every dog needs a break now and then.

Well, we all can use a break. Furries are probably no exception.

24. Someone seems quite excited today.

Well, they’re in their pants and shirt. And they have their paws up in glee.

25. Want to give a hand to this colorful goat?

Keep in mind that a lot of these furries don’t appear in colors that conform to nature. This goat is purple with green feet and horns.

26. This blue fox wears their heart on their coat.

Well, they have hearts on their upper arms. And they seem quite modest about it.

27. Want to play some ball?

Hope you can keep up in a game of catch. Then again, it’s not a game you should play indoors.

28. This horned cat is off on an epic adventure.

And they seem rather sneaky about it if you ask me. Hope they watch the horns.

29. These loveable animals love to train for a fight.

But they’re always in a good sport about it. Yet, don’t mess with them or they will fight.

30. This dragon loves to spread their wings.

Kind of surprise you don’t see a lot of dragons at these events. Since they’re among the coolest fantasy creatures.

31. Bet you’re expecting this white tiger to drop and give twenty.

Yet, whatever the case, this tiger seem irritated about it. Not sure why, exactly.

32. How about you raise your paws for this tiger?

Sure they may seem a bit dirty. But they’re happy to smile for the camera.

33. This bird of prey has come to roost.

This bird also looks familiar. Not sure where I’d recognize them from.

34. Get a look at this friendly zebra.

Because zebras in the wild are usually too mean for domestication. Since they have to defend themselves against lions.

35. This dog always loves to receive a heart now and then.

Doesn’t hurt that she’s wearing a wig and glasses. Don’t worry, she won’t bite.

36. This wolf feels rather ambivalent about city life.

And I’m sure they’re not in Pittsburgh. Since it’s a coastal area while Pittsburgh certainly isn’t.

37. This dog always shows pride in their ears.

And they don’t mind standing for the photo either. Still, they have their unique kind of charm.

38. Who says dogs don’t have wings?

Actually, dogs don’t have wings in real life. But in furry land, an animal can have as many attributes as desired.

39. Perhaps a snowy owl may interest you.

Though this owl likes to wear clothes like they’re from a fantasy story. Not exactly sure why.

40. “I shall call him, Mini Me.”

Well, they have stuffed dog in a similar patterned scarf. So you can get the idea.

41. This spotted pooch loves to sport a long jacket.

Guess they’re on a key mission. Not sure but they’ll never say.

42. This yellow beast sports a flower necklace.

She also seems rather coy about being photographed. But her yellow fur makes her stand out.

43. This wolf loves to play in the snow.

Not sure why Pittsburgh would host Anthro Con in the winter than the summer. Weather wise, it would make more sense.

44. Who can turn down flowers from this dog?

Indeed, the roses are fake. But this dog seems quite sweet with its puppy eyes.

45. Who says a tiger can’t come in on a scooter?

This yellow and black striped tiger shows otherwise. And they seem to have a rather good time.

46. I wouldn’t go near Puss in Boots if I were you.

Because when he shows his kitty cat eyes, he’s about to attack. Since he uses them to get his enemies to drop their guard.

47. Some colorful dog would like to say hello.

They may be dining out. But that doesn’t mean they won’t turn down a photo op.

48. Didn’t know they can do hand signs with paws.

Yet, they don’t seem to mind as they salute for the camera. And wearing a multicolored scarf around their neck.

49. Who wants to give a cat a hug?

There they are dressed and in a pile of leaves. But they seem quite happy to spread out their arms.

50. Bet you’d never come across a horse like this before.

Yes, that’s a furry horse. And yes, they almost seem like they’re straight from a fantasy story.

51. You always have that one furry willing to show off their tail.

This one has a long, striped tail with bright blue stripes on it. And they’re dying to show it off.

52. This cat seems like a slave to fashion.

They’re in a sleek skirt and matching skirt. So this cat must make herself fancy.

53. Best you don’t go near this big black dog.

Yet, he seems to keep his sleek black coat impeccable. But beware of them.

54. Who says furries don’t like dancing?

This fox always knows how to do the tango. Though I wonder if they know the fox trot.

55. This dog likes showing off their blue fur.

Well, their belly seems to contain blue shades. But they love to rock their coat for the picture.

56. This blue cat just wants to swing by.

They have pink and blue stripes. And they seem to like hanging around the spiral staircase.

57. This lion just wants to hang out in a tree.

Though they seem to have some spots on their coat. Not sure why that is.

58. This dog has to be in a harness.

Wonder if they’re kept on a leash. Though this dog seems friendly to me.

59. Can you give a paw to this pink cat?

She even has her own collar. And you got to love her pink spots, too.

60. This cat knows how to rock a suit.

Sure he may be a tabby. But that doesn’t mean he can dress too shabby.

61. Apparently, this fox has his pants ultimately ripped.

He even seems equipped with belts on his chest. Bet he’s on an adventure.

62. Want to play in the snow with this dragon?

Well, if you get cold, this dragon can breathe some fire. But they better not scorch a forest.

63. This brave wolf knows how to use an ax.

He’s even clad in armor for added protection. And I guess he couldn’t fit into the helmet and pants.

64. This bird has plenty to crow about.

This one has a bird spreading their wings. Wonder what kind it’s supposed to be since you have to look from the back.

65. Not sure if I want to run into this bear in the woods.

Seems like a rather realistic costume if you get my drift. Wonder how many times they get mistaken for the real thing.

66. You might want to get acquainted with this goat.

And they seem rather fuzzy in their white coat. Not to mention how they rock the horns.

67. This white tiger just wants to lay around with the other cats.

You have to wonder what the cat is thinking. Because it may not have the slightest idea.

68. All these furries want are free hugs.

They even have free hug signs. Still, I don’t think there’s much to worry about with them.

69. Bet you wouldn’t run into to this funky goat.

They’re mostly blue and wearing a hat over the scarf. Check out those pink glasses.

70. You wouldn’t like this polar bear when they’re angry.

And it seems that this bear is on the rampage. So best to stay away from them.

71. Apparently, this buck decided to go stag.

After all, he came all by himself. But I wouldn’t lock antlers with him on a bad day.

72. This cat knows how to use the Force.

Here they sit on the couch with a purple lightsaber in hand. But they will pounce when threatened.

73. Hope you didn’t think you’d see them in this post.

Indeed this is the Pink Panther. Cue the iconic Harry Mancini music.

74. Check this fox on the bridge.

Not sure if they’re in Pittsburgh. But the city does have at least one yellow bridge.

75. Seems like these two have a kitten in their paws.

Well, the kitten is a plush toy. But these cats seem to care about each other.

76. This dog greets everyone with open paws.

They’re even wearing a shirt and shorts. And they’re wanting for a hug.

77. This black dog has a rather sneaky side.

This guy is called Zippo Wolf. And I bet they’re in Pittsburgh for the convention.

78. Lay your eyes on this blue raccoon.

They’re even wearing a gray sweat shirt. Still, hope they don’t get in your garbage.

79. This lonely kitty needs a hug.

Well, they’re pouting at this point. So now may not be a great time.

80. This dog always loves to nibble on a steak now and then.

Well, as long as it’s plush steak. But they don’t seem to mind.

The Art of LEGO

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They may be indestructible plastic blocks that hurt like hell when you step on them. But these colorful interlocking bricks from Denmark have had a special place in our hearts along with their yellow minifigure figurines. Since 1949, these bricks can be assembled and connected in a variety of ways to construct objects, vehicles, buildings, and even working robots. Anything built can be taken apart for another day. As of 2016, Lego has produced over 600 billion bricks while supporting movies, games, competitions, and 6 Legoland amusement parks have been developed under one of the world’s most powerful brands. And it’s because these bricks are so versatile that several people with too much time on their hands have turned the iconic LEGO into the realm of art with sculptures, models, dioramas, and mosaics. Many of these may imitate existing cultural artifacts and every day objects. Others have their own original design. But each is worth marveling at in its own way. So for your own reading pleasure, I give you a treasure trove of Lego works of art.

  1. You’d almost think Whistler’s mother would come to life in the brick.

Kind of seems a bit life size and 3-dimensional. But almost appears you’re in the room with her.

2. Perhaps a small Lego country church may suit you.

These Lego buildings can be small enough for a table top. While some can be large to take up a whole room. Also, there seems to be a wedding taking place here.

3. Try breaking off a piece of this Kit Kat Bar.

Sure you can’t eat it. Since it’s made out of plastic bricks. But it’s quite interesting to look at.

4. You’ll never have to water a Lego bonsai.

Such a delicate structure that you’d almost mistake it for the real thing. Yet, at least it’s easy to maintain since you don’t have to water it.

5. Feel free to color your world with these crayons.

Actually you can’t do that since they’re made of Legos. But one of them is slightly unwrapped.

6. Looks like Mt. Brick Helens has finally blown its top.

Got to like the Lego clouds. Wonder how the artist managed to keep the whole thing on balance.

7. You’d almost swear that this Lego King Tut façade is straight from Ancient Egypt.

Well, it’s certainly quite colorful. And King Tut seems like he’s smiling at this angle.

8. Perhaps you can use a lawn mower for your grass.

You’d almost think it was a real lawn mower. But it’s mostly made from Lego and can’t actually cut grass.

9. A Concorde jet can travel at supersonic speeds.

Unfortunately, you can’t fly on one of them. But you have to admire this LEGO model.

10. Live on Tape from the Brick Sullivan Theater in New York City, it’s Stephen Colbert.

Can’t get through the Trump Administration without this guy. Still, like how they use a pair of glasses for his Lego bust.

11. Bird lovers will enjoy this perched blue jay.

Indeed, this is a small creation. But it’s nonetheless lovely to look at. So pretty.

12. Take a glance at this Lego sailing ship.

This one has tall sails and a red hull. However, I have to admit it looks great on a shelf.

13. Be careful with this Ming vase.

Actually it’s made from sturdier stuff than porcelain. But you don’t want to drop it either.

14. Behold, the ruins of ancient Greece.

Wonder if this is supposed to be a Lego version of the Athenian acropolis. Nonetheless, it almost seems like the real thing.

15. “Help! There’s a giant gorilla climbing the Empire State Building!”

As we all remember that iconic scene from King Kong. And yes, it’s all in Lego and in a large warehouse.

16. Perhaps this ornate clock will tell you the time of day.

Yes, it’s a Lego cuckoo clock. But unlike what Harry Lime says in The Third Man, it wasn’t invented in Switzerland.

17. How about a bear head on your wall?

Don’t worry, it’s just made out of Lego bricks. Yet, it carries an expression of a bear in the headlights after it shit in the woods.

18. Here’s Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear like you’ve never seen them before.

Since 1995, Woody and Buzz have been close friends and icons at Pixar and Disney. And they’re quite giant size in Lego.

19. If you love Virginia, take some time to see Thomas Jefferson’s beautiful Monticello.

Yes, it’s a scaled down Lego model. But you have to admire the close resemblance.

20. Care to explore this jungle waterfall?

Can’t believe you can make such a landscape with such bricks. Love the waterfall and trees.

21. This Lego moon base is out of this world.

Though it seems more like a galactic metropolis than anything. But it’s amazing to see with its colorful towers.

22. If you’re a fan of The Hobbit, you might enjoy this magnificent village.

It’s the village you see near the dwarf’s mountain city. You know the one that has Smaug and a shitload of treasure.

23. Anyone can admire a graceful Bald Eagle.

And it’s perched on a ledge. Still, it’s the animal symbol of the USA. And it’s no wonder.

24. All aboard to an exotic location on this Lego Cruise Line.

And yes, it’s surprisingly huge. But you really don’t want things going wrong on a cruise ship vacation.

25. If you’re from the Philippines, you’d smile at this Lego map.

It’s a map of the Philippines with some of it’s structures on it. I’m sure anyone from that country would enjoy this work of art.

26. This Lego Cinderella would outshine at any brick ball.

Well, she certainly has the Disney charm in her blue dress. But once she leaves her glass shoe, you’ll be scrambling to search for her.

27. Nobody can resist these Lego penguins.

Comprises of an adult emperor and chick. And yes, they’re just as adorable as the real thing.

28. A Lego Hogwarts castle is certainly a place for magic.

And yes, it’s simply massive as you can see. In some pictures, it even lights up.

29. Any Hobbit would love to live at Lego Bag End in the Shire.

Well, this is a small model. But it’s akin to a lovely hobbit hole in the countryside.

30. Dr. Seuss fans would rejoice with this Lego Sam I Am.

But I would rather not try his green eggs and ham. Because I don’t want to get any bad case of food poisoning.

31. This small Dresden cathedral seems almost heavenly.

Yes, it’s an amazing Lego replica. But I hear the rest of Dresden isn’t quite as picturesque.

32. You will thaw over this Lego polar bear mom with her cubs.

Too bad these beautiful creatures are losing their habitat due to climate change. Since they rely on the ice so much in their Arctic home which is melting at record rates.

33. I guess this is a modest dwelling for a samurai.

Sure it’s not as spectacular as the other Japanese Lego structures. But you have to love the garden and bridge on this.

34. You might gaze at the Washington Mall.

Of course, the Washington Mall is much bigger than that. Yet, this one includes the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

35. Anyone would marvel at this Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.

This one has a nest of eggs. nearby. Yet, it’s a prehistoric Lego masterpiece.

36. Get a load of this giant Blackberry phone.

He even has his own face in the screen. And it’s all made out of Legos.

37. Check these Lego sculptures from a galaxy far, far away.

These consist of Darth Vader and Chewbacca. And I’m sure the Force is strong with them.

38. Anyone would love to have a moose mounted on their wall.

And it’s all made out of Lego bricks. Perfect for any cozy study or living room.

39. You don’t want to mess with the powerful Maleficent.

Since she can turn into a fire breathing dragon. And here’s a replica of her against Prince Philip.

40. Perhaps you might want to put some Legos under a microscope.

Well, this is a Lego microscope. Not sure if it works. But it’s quite cool to see.

41. Look no further for the seat of British power.

These are the Houses of Parliament and the seat of the British government, which Guy Fawkes tried to blow up. And yes, it includes the famous Big Ben Tower.

42. Care for a Lego Eggo for a complete breakfast?

Actually you don’t want to eat it since it’s made from Legos. But it has butter and syrup on it.

43. Wes Anderson fans would adore this Grand Budapest Hotel.

And yes, the Grand Budapest is in its exquisite 1930s decadent glory. Don’t ask about its concierge Gustave.

44. Didn’t know you can make a globe with plastic blocks.

You have to marvel at the exquisite detail, too. I mean the topography is almost top notch.

45. Had no idea that Santa’s workshop was an underground operation.

Has a whole assembly line and everything. And you’d think it was a lone house with a tree.

46. Explore the wonders of Lego Petra.

This is a replica of a palace that was built into a rock face. And its revelation has made it the stuff of legend.

47. You’d almost think this Starry Night mosaic is the work of a master.

Well, a master Lego artist copying from Van Gogh’s most famous work. And yes, it’s almost spot on in Lego.

48. No need to worry about this offshore oil rig.

Since it’s made of Legos and constructed just for show. So you won’t have to worry about a massive oil spill like Deepwater Horizon.

49. Someone must’ve crashed their plane.

Now they’re stranded in the wilderness and not sure where to go. But at least the plane didn’t explode upon landing in the trees.

50. With this Lego light bulb, you can light up the world.

Though you’d have to use a light bulb inside the light bulb. But it’s nonetheless amazing.

51. Want to drive this Ford Model T?

It’s more of a scaled down model made from Lego. But like the original, only available in black.

52. A rainbow pinwheel flower can always please.

And boy, what a large flower it is. Not sure if can actually turn though. But it’s pretty.

53. All aboard the RMS Titanic.

Actually, I’d rather not since I know what happened. Still, this Lego replica of the doomed ocean liner is immense.

54. You’ll probably have to assemble this one all by yourself.

Since it’s a Lego IKEA. You know the Swedish store for furniture you have to put together yourself.

55. 3, 2, 1, Houston, we have liftoff.

This is a Lego shuttle launch. Looks quite amazing in an indoor setting, doesn’t it?

56. Nobody could imagine this Lego map of the world.

This one includes the Earth’s topography. And yes, you can lay it down flat.

57. Lego American Gothic is a new twist on an iconic masterpiece.

This is in a similar mode as Whistler’s Mother. And yes, it’s quite spot on.

58. Ride along the river with this golden dragon boat.

Guess this is a Lego replica of a royal barge. Not sure where this is supposed to be from.

59. If you’re a Warhol fan, you might appreciate this Lego mosaic.

That’s the iconic Campbell Soup picture if you’re wondering. Had to include this since Warhol was a native of Pittsburgh.

60. Wonder how many are in this nesting doll.

This is a Lego Russian nesting doll. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of smaller ones inside another.

61. Perhaps you might want to live in a treehouse near a waterfall.

Indeed, it gives a rather breathtaking view. But this Lego replica can just as well be a work of art.

62. Please stop and smell the roses or tulips. I’m not sure what these are.

Since Lego flowers can be hard to identify. But they’re nonetheless pretty.

63. “That’s one small step for man..”

Care to salute a Lego astronaut? Wonder if he’s almost life size.

64. A majestic hawk can always spread its wings.

Wonder what kind of hawk this is supposed to be. Since it seems incredibly huge to be life size.

65. If you’re the proper sort, you might like Lego Downton Abbey.

Yes, there’s a Lego Downton Abbey. And I’m sure you’ll be pissed if any of the minifigs die, too.

66. Lego Santa Claus wishes you a Merry Christmas.

And he on a wintry backdrop. Still, he’s quite lifelike and life-size.

67. Lego Captain America is Marvel’s patriotic champion.

Yet, I wonder why he can’t save us from our country’s biggest threat. Like Donald Trump in the White House. Oh, wait, he’s a fictional character.

68. Set your hands on this Greek column.

Well, it’s a Lego column. And yes, it’s quite Ionic if you ask me.

69. You’d almost think you were inside a mummy’s tomb.

However, these are all made out of Legos. But the resemblance is quite close.

70. A Lego Vatican is the answer God has been waiting for.

This was made by a priest, by the way. But it’s nonetheless spectacular.

71. A Moai statue will surely please admirers.

We’re still not sure why the people of Easter Island erected these massive statues. But you can’t help but appreciate this.

72. Even Jabba the Hutt can’t resist this Han Solo in carbonite.

Yes, there’s even a Lego version for that. And yes, it’s almost life size.

73. While Harry isn’t at Hogwarts, he loves spending summers at the Weasley’s Burrow.

The Burrow may not be the most stable place. But it’s home to the Weasleys. Still, this is a great Lego replica.

74. Want to shoot some pool?

And yes, these are all made from Legos. Not sure if you can actually play with these. But they’re quite cool.

75. Travel the Mississippi River on this quaint old steamship.

While it may evoke feelings of nostalgia for a bygone time, these were very dangerous in their day. Seriously, these were prone to fires.

76. Of course, I had to include a Renaissance masterpiece.

This is the Mona Lisa in Lego form. And her smile is as enigmatic as ever.

77. Anyone want to enjoy a turkey dinner?

And yes, it seems to look quite good. Though you wouldn’t want to eat it. Care for a drumstick?

78. You have to admire these colorful parrots.

They’re even on a Lego ledge. But don’t try to get either to talk.

79. Anyone in Paris can appreciate the Arch de Triomphe.

It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Paris. After the Eiffel Tower, the Lourve, and Notre Dame Cathedral, of course.

80. Abu Simbel is a temple fit for a Pharaoh.

The temple was built by Ramses II, by the way. But this is a replica in Legoland.

81. “Someday we’ll find it, the Lego connection…”

Yes, this is Lego Kermit the Frog with a banjo. Built for the lovers, the dreamers, and me.

82. You’d be tickled by this silly old bear.

This is a Lego Winnie the Pooh. Such an inoffensive character yet he’s somehow banned in China.

83. Best you beware of this ferocious Tiger.

This one even has fangs. But it’s harmless since it’s made out of Lego.

84. Indiana Jones has just come from an epic adventure.

Wonder what kind of ancient structure he had to destroy to get that trinket. Yes, I know it belongs in a museum.

85. Care to ride in this rainbow hot air balloon?

However, I’m not sure it can float up in the air. Because hard plastic can be rather dense.

86. This Lego family is just taking a rest.

This is from a Legoland, by the way. But they seem a rather happy family.

87. Try launching this rocket, NASA.

This is a Lego replica of a Saturn V. The rocket used to launch astronauts to the moon.

88. Bet you can’t catch this Roadrunner.

And Wiley Coyote would know more than anything. Since he’s been through hell and back trying to catch this impossible bird.

89. Lo and behold, He has risen!

Here’s Lego Jesus in front of a stained glass window. And yes, he’s glorified within the white brick.

90. Anyone would be mesmerized by this snowy owl.

Don’t worry. It won’t claw or bite you. Nor will it deliver your mail.

91. Even if it leans, the Tower of Pisa will still stand.

This is a Lego version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Since it was built on rather unsteady ground.

92. Nobody could resist this ornery and adorable BB8.

BB8 is basically R2-D2 on steroids. And yes, he’s quite versatile and feisty.

93. Beware of the dreaded monster of the deep.

Yes, the Lego shark is ferocious with its sharp teeth. But it won’t hurt anyone.

94. Feel free to walk around the US Capitol.

This is the Lego US Capitol. Note the lack of protestors. Still, it looks magnificent.

95. At Legoland, your wedding will have a cake like this.

Well, it’s a Lego wedding cake that will only be used for decoration. Because hard plastic isn’t edible.

96. Many Bothams died building this.

Actually, that’s the wrong Death Star. But if you’re building a Lego Alderaan, you might want to stay clear of this guy.

97. With a castle like this, dreams will come true.

This is a Lego replica of Cinderella’s castle at Disney World. It also appears on the Disney logo.

98. Mt. Olympus is reputed to be the home of the gods.

Well, the gods of Ancient Greece. A dysfunctional family of jerks who commit incest and do whatever they damn well please no matter. Just don’t tell them you’re better than them and they will put you through hell.

99. Haiga Sophia is the jewel of Constantinople (now Istanbul).

It’s an architectural marvel known to withstand earthquakes. Nonetheless, you have to love the massive dome and minarets.

100. This painting is well worth a scream.

It’s a Lego version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. And it’s 3-dimensional, too.