Nel's New Day

September 4, 2019

NRA Rapidly Disintegrates

Filed under: Guns,Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 11:02 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Last year has been hard on the organization that controls Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and GOP legislators since the National Rifle Association imploded at its annual conference only five months ago. That was when NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre blocked the re-election of NRA’s President Oliver North. When North became president a year earlier, LaPierre called him “hands down, the absolute best choice to lead our NRA Board”; a year later LaPierre accused North of trying to extort him.

Since that time, multiple scandals about NRA have dribbled out, causing many of its members to become disillusioned. In May, leaked documents showed employees unhappy about low wages, underfunded pensions, and a culture of fear while LaPierre made $1.4 million in 2017, making him the eighth-highest compensated nonprofit leader in the nation. The pension plan was frozen in 2018, meaning that employees cannot accrue new benefits while working for the organization. LaPierre got a one-time $3,767,345 supplemental retirement payment in 2015.

Less than two months after North’s ouster, LaPierre got rid of chief lobbyist Chris Cox, part of NRA leadership for 24 years, by accusing him of conspiring with North against him. Cox was also executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, the explicitly political arm of the gun lobby, since 2002 and made over $1.1 million in 2017. A lawsuit against Cox might force North to pay his own legal fees with the claim that he acted in bad faith.

Another blow was NRA’s closure of its online media arm, NRATV. NRA board members had increasingly become disenchanted with live production for the video channel with little response: January had only 49,000 unique visitors. The content also moved far from gun rights into right-wing talking points such as criticism of immigration and the FBI. Bad publicity came from Dana Loesch’s program putting KKK hoods on talking trains from Thomas & Friends because the popular children’s program added a train from Africa. 

A sexual harassment allegation against NRA senior official Josh Powell from an employee was settled in 2017 with the nonprofit’s funds, the same year that LaPierre promoted Powell to executive director of general operations. The next year, NRA’s ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, barred Powell from any further contact with its employees after a sexual harassment dispute with a woman who worked for the ad agency. Ackerman said that Powell received “the full support of Mr. LaPierre and the board of directors.” LaPierre said that the claim was part of a larger “extortion demand” and made Powell a “senior strategist” on the NRA’s legal team. NRA accountants found payments by Powell to his father, and his wife was hired by one of NRA’s top fundraising vendors. Board members had asked that Powell be dismissed.

Two prominent board members resigned from the NRA board in mid-August: country music singer Craig Morgan and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, the latter after he had urged careful review of spending under LaPierre. Childress wanted an independent ethics counsel to review $24 million paid in 13 months to an outside law firm. Since May, seven of the 76-member board have left, some of them after they were stripped of committee assignments. Board objections came from cuts in funding for firearm safety and education to increase spending on legal fees, travel, and entertainment. Eighteen board members also benefited from NRA finances, incurring possible conflict of interest charges.

The departures started in the midst of news about LaPierre’s efforts to get NRA to pay for a $6 million mansion in a gated Dallas-area golf club after the Parkland shooting. The “good guy with a gun” said he need a more secure place to live. In addition, LaPierre and his wife asked for a membership at the exclusive club and two vehicles. The NRA started the purchase transaction by paying $70,000 to an entity set up by Ackerman at LaPierre’s request. The deal fell through, and the ad agency stopped funneling LaPierre’s personal expenses through its multimillion-dollar annual contract.

Before Ackerman stopped paying LaPierre’s bills, NRA paid $542,000 for private jet trips for LaPierre, including a trip to the Bahamas with his wife after the Sandy Hook shooting; $300,000 for Italian designer suits; and $13,800 rent for a summer intern’s apartment. LaPierre’s wife, Susan, also benefited from the NRA, spending tens of thousands of dollars flying hair and makeup artists around the country, including housing the stylists in luxury hotels. Again, LaPierre blamed Ackerman.

Prior to North’s departure, the NRA suffered from publicity about its expenditure of $31 million for DDT’s campaign, part of the over $50 million for the 2016 elections. The media reported possibly illegal connections, perhaps money laundering between NRA and Russian officials for the election. Gun safety groups outspent the NRA for the 2018 elections for the first time ever, and gun safety candidates won, partly from the movement led by Parkland High School students after the horrific high school shooting in Florida. Since 2010, the NRA took over $200 million in cash from its non-profit NRA Foundation to survive, and NRA was short $31.8 million at the end of 2017.

Making matters worse, New York declared that the NRA’s “Carry Guard” insurance program providing policies for self-defense shootings violated state insurance rules. Critics called it “murder insurance” because of is coverage for a potentially criminal act. Litigation continues while the state’s AG investigates NRA’s tax status and Congress investigates campaign finance law violations involving Russia.

Government records show that DDT’s 2020 campaign funneled money to a shell company connected to ad buyers in an illegal coordination scheme with the NRA through 2018 and up to May 2019. The buys were routed through a secret limited-liability company appeared in FCC records.

In July, D.C.’s attorney general issued subpoenas to the NRA for its financial records, payments to vendors, and payments to officers and directors.

Ackerman continues to sue NRA after it demanded the ad agency remove any NRA references from the ad agency’s website. The National Rifle Association has sued, again, its former ad maker and “NRATV” creator, Ackerman. The feud started in April when NRA sued Ackerman for not handing over financial records and then for leaking documents. Ackerman then sued NRA for the first time, and the back and forth became more vicious as LaPierre accused Ackerman of extortion.

The NRA’s biggest loss may be its donors disgusted with the organization’s problems. David Dell’Aquila gave $100,000 to NRA and pledged most of his own estate but said that $134 million in pledges may disappear. One donor, an anonymous “senior firearms industry executive,” might decide that LaPierre is bad for the interests of the firearms industry. Under LaPierre, the NRA focuses on guns as self-defense for angry and paranoid people who might not approve of LaPierre’s scandals. Difficulty in attracting followers might translate in difficulty in finding Republican voters.

The gun culture may be changing, especially after the growing number of deaths in highly-publicized mass shootings this summer. The loss of 22 percent in membership fees between 2016 and 2017 means an even greater drop in membership because of two membership raises in one year. Contributions to the NRA were $98 million in 20017, down from almost $125 million the year before. Almost one-fifth of last year’s contributions, $19 million, came from one anonymous donor. At the end of 2018, the NRA reported losing $55 million in revenue.

Gun sales are also dropping: U.S. firearms sales fell 6.1 percent in 2018 marking the second straight year of declines. Because NRA gets a cut of these sales, their revenue also goes down. More stores are eliminating gun sales, the most recent Walmart, that is ending sales of handguns and short-barrel rifle ammunition that can be used in large capacity clips on military-style weapons while asking customers to not openly carry firearms in its stores. A statement referred to concern about “multiple incidents” of individuals wanting to “test our response” to the El Paso shooting by bringing weapons into stores. For example, 20-year-old Dmitriy Andreychenko who faces up to four years in prison and a $10,000 for legally bringing over 100 rounds of ammunition to a Walmart in Springfield (MO) as part of a “social experiment.” Walmart stopped selling assault-style rifles in 2015, raised the age to buy guns from 18 to 21 in 2018, and called for strengthened background checks. Krogers has also asked customers to not openly carry in their stores.

Despite an increasing number of mass shootings and more gun violence from white supremacists, GOP members of Congress who receive hundreds of thousands from the NRA reject any gun safety legislation plus millions more dark money given to PACs. These are the top-20 list of congressional members recently getting the most money recently from the gun lobby based on the 2017-2018 election cycle. Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) who lost her election and then was appointed until 2020 came in second at $227,928.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution declaring the NRA a “domestic terrorist organization” and urging the city to examine its financial relationships with companies that do business with the group. The statement noted mass shootings, including the murders of three people, all younger than 26, at Gilroy’s (CA) food festival. “The National Rifle Association musters its considerable wealth and organizational strength to promote gun ownership and incite gun owners to acts of violence,” the resolution read.

After the August killings in El Paso, DDT made a few noises about background checks but quit after several long discussions with LaPierre. Later killings in Midland-Odessa made no difference with him. In a complete rejection of democracy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that he would bring any bill to the floor that DDT didn’t want. Only elections may make a difference.

April 28, 2019

The Religions of the Right

The religious right loves guns, wants to own women’s bodies, and listens to rantings of hatred and violence from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). These leading stories are since their holy time of the Easter weekend on April 19-21:

Yesterday, a young white man killed a woman and injured another three people at a synagogue in Poway, near San Diego, because he hates Jews. The tragedy occurred on the last day of Passover and six months to the day since another gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. At his rally in Green Bay (WI), DDT made a short statement against anti-Semitism and hate “which must be defeated.” Then he launched into his familiar diatribes. The FBI people who investigated him are “scum,” according to DDT. He welcomed “lock her up!” chants about Hillary Clinton—who hasn’t committed any crimes—and then lied about Democrats wanting to execute babies. He denounced the media who covered the event as “sick people.” The day before he again defended protesters at United the Right, the Charlottesville (VA) protest organized and advertised as a racist and which supremacist event. [Photo: the self-described “young, vibrant man” at his rally.]

Two days before the Poway shooting, hundreds of people admired the guns filling a football-field-size venue at the NRA convention, and DDT bragged about pulling out of the international agreement, the Arms Trade Treaty, that regulates arms sales to keep weapons from human rights abusers. Technically, the U.S. has never been in the agreement because the conservative Senate has refused to ratify it since 2013. At least 101 countries have formally agreed to the treaty, and the U.S. joins Iran, North Korea, and Syria in the 29 countries refusing to sign thus far.

Other messages sent to the NRA cult members include “the first to uphold ‘Judeo-Christian values’”; VP Mike Pence’s opposition to the Green New Deal; Sen. Ted Cruz’s (D-TX) ridicule of the Democratic primary; and DDT’s mocking presidential candidate Joe Biden. The biggest cheers came from DDT’s “building the wall” and his lies that 400 miles supposedly built “by the end of next year.”

It was on his way to speak for the fifth consecutive year at the NRA convention that DDT spoke about his being “a young, vibrant man.” The convention was as woebegone as DDT looks in this photo. A schism in the NRA led to Oliver North leaving as president after only one year and Wayne LaPierre staying on as CEO. North didn’t show up at the convention in Indianapolis, leaving LaPierre the floor to accuse North of “extortion” for threatening to release “damaging” information about him.

The NRA had spent $30.3 million for DDT’s presidential campaign, but the money may have been funneled from Russia. Now the NRA has serious financial problems plus the New York AG, Letitia James, is investigating the NRA’s tax-exempt status. Some of the organization’s related businesses have also received subpoenas. James said that the NRA claims to be “a charitable organization” when he’s really “a terrorist organization.” The NRA is chartered in New York. NRA sued its ad firm, Ackerman McQueen, claiming that it won’t turn over financial records. Ackerman was paid $40 million in just 2017. LaPierre accused North of siding with Ackerman to the alarm of some board members. Ackerman is behind NRATV, the online streaming network that annoyed some board members from straying from Second Amendment issues. The network had addressed race wars and depicted trains in the children’s show Thomas & Friends in KKK hoods.

One difficulty came from the NRA Foundation, a charity, transferring over $100 million to the NRA and lending the NRA $5 million in 2017. Unlike donations to NRA, the ones to the Foundation are tax-deductible, which makes the transfer legally questionable. The NRA also paid $18 million since 2010 to the company that produces Under Wild Skies, a hunting show on NRATV. The NRA’s advancement director had a stake in the production company for most of that time, another possible nonprofit violation. These problems could lead to the NRA’s nonprofit status being revoked. In addition, the Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo questioned the NRA for insurance it offers to gun owners.

NRA members also think that leaders of the embattled gun rights group have lost their way and sense of mission. Members also complained about the NRA’s close ties to DDT. One member said to “stick to guns” and “keep your mouth shut about the wall.” Another one cancelled her membership because of the financial scandals. People might want to send IRA their “thoughts and prayers.”

Last Tuesday, the Saudis beheaded 37 citizens, most of them minority Shiites, in a sectarian-driven mass execution. One of them was well-known Shia religious leader, Sheikh Mohammed al-Attiyah. Thus far this year, the Saudis have killed 100 people.  At least six of the 37 killed were minors despite international law that prohibits death sentences for minors. Saudi Arabia has a pattern of executing minors.

Radical Rabbi Shloo Aviner told Jews that burning churches is acceptable if it’s in retribution for Christian actions. He claims that the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire is justified because of “the mass-burning of Talmud volumes by French Catholic priests” in 1242. “Christians must be punished,” Aviner said. The burning of the Talmud almost 800 years was triggered by Nicholas Donin, a Jewish man who converted to Christianity. Aviner doesn’t recommend burning of churches generally—“for the time being”—but in Israel “the issue is more complicated.” The targeting of homes, vehicles, and Palestinian individuals in Israel is a daily occurrence, and the website Mondoweiss notes:

“Several churches have been burnt in Israel in the last few years, and the police have been spectacularly useless in capturing the arsonists. In several cases, the arson was accompanied by slogans familiar from ‘price tag’ attacks in the West Bank (mostly along the lines of Jewish vengeance).”

Franklin Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, has said that God should kill gay people, and he’s applying that ethic to presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Asked about the heckling that Buttigieg has received for being gay, Franklin responded with Leviticus 20:13:

“The Bible makes it very clear that homosexuality is a sin. ‘If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.’ (Leviticus 20:13). That’s what God says and that settles it for me. I stand with the Word of God. I care enough about people to tell them the truth and to warn them about the judgment to come for all sin.”

The verse finishes, “They shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.’”

The D.C. Circuit Court agreed with the House rules that prayers for the chamber must be “religious.” A self-described atheist is forbidden to offer a secular prayer in the House of Representatives. The judge made the decision, not against the person delivering the prayer, but against its content. The House had defended its position that the rules require “a religious invocation” from the time of former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

On the flip side, the IRS has determined that the Satanic Temple is a church. The group will have the same benefits as other religion organizations such as tax exemption and protection from discrimination. Its founder, Lucien Greaves, said, “I am following a code of ethics, having fellowship with brethren. Why can’t I be a religion?” Once called a cult, Christianity has entered mainstream religion. Benjamin Zeller, religion professor, described a letter that Pliny the Younger wrote in the second century to Emperor Trajan about Christianity at that time:

“This Roman governor is complaining about the Christians and using all this anti-cult language. He says that they have these secret gatherings, they’re stealing children from families, they’re engaged in weird sexual practices, and they’re disrupting the social order. Just replace ‘early Christians’ with whatever your current cult fear is.”

In the 19th century, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, was regarded as a con man. The church became a political movement after their establishment in Utah, and the 20th century saw them as a business. Now they’re mainstream. Protestants think that religions must have beliefs and a deity, both of which need to be taken seriously.

Maybe DDT followers and the NRA can declare themselves religions.

Careful! Jesus Christ has risen. And he’s watching.

May 30, 2018

Democracy on Memorial Day

Filed under: Politics — trp2011 @ 10:41 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Today is the real Memorial Day and the final blog post in a series of vanishing democracy in the United States. News from the last few weeks:

When the cost of healthcare premiums skyrocket next year, people need to thank Republicans and Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Vice President Kris Haltmeyer said that the rise will come from the GOP failure to shore up the market after a bill collapsed during Republican arguments about abortion restrictions. In last week’s briefing, Haltmeyer said, “With the repeal of the individual mandate and the failure of Congress to enact stabilization legislation, we are expecting premiums to go up substantially.”  He put the average increases in the “low teens” with costs in some areas of up to 70 or 80 percent.

The NRA found the “good guy with the gun” vital to their propaganda, but the organization blocked all guns at their convention earlier this month. People in the United States were safer for a few days while almost 90,000 gun fanatics gathered in one place without their weapons. The group made Oliver North its new leader. He can be remembered as an important figure in illegally selling weapons to Iranians for the release of U.S. prisoners before using the money to illegally finance a war in Central America. His convictions of multiple felonies were later overturned on appeal. It’s the new conservative world. In a recent appearance on Fox, he claimed that all Iranians are liars.

North joins the “convict caucus,” politicians who came out of prison to take important positions or run for office. (Technically, he was only convicted but never behind bars.) Other members are two candidates for U.S. Senate and one for the House in GOP primaries. Don Blankenship, imprisoned for violating workplace safety in the deaths of 29 coal miners, already lost his run for the senator from Kentucky but plans to run as an independent for the Constitution Party, despite the “sore loser” law preventing his candidacy. The other two primaries are August 28 when former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio runs in Arizona for the Senate, and June 26 when Michael Grimm runs for a representative from New York.

Grimm claimed to be a close friend of DDT, but DDT endorsed his opponent. One reason for the endorsement was Dan Donovan’s vote for the tax cut, but Donovan really voted against the bill. Grimm is running on his record of admittedly hiring undocumented workers, hiding $900,000 from tax authorities, and making false statements under oath. After Grimm’s aide filed fraudulent candidate petitions in Donovan’s name, he may be headed back to the hoosegow.

The former Boy Scouts decided to recruit girls in an effort to increase its members, but the Mormon church pulled all its members world-wide, instantly reducing the 2.3 million membership by 20 percent. All boys who were part of the 30,500 congregations automatically became part of the Boy Scouts.

DDT’s swamp deepens. Busy with foreign affairs, he has not made many appointments lately, but this one is a doozy. Ronald W. Mortensen, a strong anti-immigration activist, is DDT’s pick to lead the State Department agency overseeing refugee and immigration issues. Normally GOP Senators would automatically confirm him, but his writings have attacked senators, including Marco Rubio (FL) and John McCain (AZ). Mortensen has worked for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and said that DACA gives amnesty to “criminal illegal aliens.” As assistant secretary of State for the bureau of population, refugees and migration, Mortensen’s mission would be to “provide protection, ease suffering, and resolve the plight of persecuted and uprooted people around the world,” according to its mission statement.

After assigning immigration judges quotas for their employment, AG Jeff Sessions ordered all immigration judges to not temporarily remove cases from their dockets without issuing decisions. Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said that this practice will create problems, and Trina Realmutto, attorney with American Immigration Council, called the decision “bad law, bad policy.”

As if DDT’s appointments aren’t bad enough, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is adding to the sewer by appointing Family Research Council president Tony Perkins to the Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Southern Poverty Law Center designated FRC as a hate group. The commission’s job is to review violations of religious freedom and make policy recommendations to Congress, Secretary of State, and president. Perkins is best known for his virulent hatred of LGBTQ people.

Gordon Hartogensis, Mitch McConnell’s brother-in-law, is DDT’s pick for the Department of Labor’s pension agency, responsible for paying back dissolved pensions after companies cannot meet their obligations. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, is already the Transportation Secretary. Hartogensis has no public service experience or understanding of his job’s responsibilities of protecting pensions for 1.5 million people with a deficit of $76 billion.

Andrew Smith, a former lawyer for payday lenders, has been confirmed as the director of the FTC’s consumer protection unit that acts as watchdog over private companies.

Richard Grenell, the new ambassador to Germany, lived up to concerns that he will offend Germans. An hour after his arrival, he issued the order that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.” DDT had said that he wanted all countries to join him in sanctions against Iran, but Germany, along with four other countries, don’t plan to back out of the denuclearization agreement. Just as many people predicted, Germans found Grenell to be offensive. He matches the inappropriate selection of Pete Hoekstra, ambassador to the Netherlands, who lied about having said that the country has “no-go” areas where Muslims set cars and politicians on fire. Hoekstra then denied claiming “fake news” after he discovered the video footage of his statements. Since Grenell’s statement, he’s been fairly low-key although he told Fox that he didn’t want to be a “typical diplomat,” that he would “dig” into policy.

A few commencement speeches this year focused on the loss of democracy in the United States. Michael Bloomberg talked at Rice University of the threat from “our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party and in pursuit of power.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) spoke to graduates of the Harvard Law School “about our democratic norms and how hard-won and vulnerable they are” with the lessons to be learned about today’s administration. At the University of Maryland, Al Gore encouraged his audience “to reclaim the integrity of American democracy.” Economist Alice Rivlin agreed, telling people at Indiana University, “Only you can fix American democracy.”

No address got as much attention as the one that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered to graduates at Virginia Military Institute about the end of American democracy if Americans don’t take action. His warnings didn’t mention DDT by name, but the intent was obvious:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.

“When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth—even on what may seem the most trivial of matters—we go wobbly on America.

“If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both public and private sector—and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector—then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.

“But a warning to you as you leave this place—a place where the person sitting on either side of you shares that understanding. You will now enter a world where, sadly, that is not always the case. And your commitment to this high standard of ethical behavior and integrity will be tested.”

According to Tillerson, truth is the “central tenet of a free society.”

Tillerson was complicit in an administration that displayed the opposite of the ideas he presented after he participated in a huge cover-up of climate change when he was CEO of a huge company in the fuel industry. We can only hope that he benefits from 20/20 hindsight and can help others understand how destructive the current administration and their followers are to the values of the U.S. people say they prize. And we hope that the youth of the United States will want to bring back a form of democracy to the nation and attend to the U.S. Constitution.

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