Saturday, August 13, 2016

Did another shoe just drop in the Trump-Putin link?

Donald Trump just can't let a news cycle go by without tossing out some red-meat morsel to an eager mob of news-consumers.    As his polls number continue to fall, he just keeps escalating.   The latest being his claim that President Obama is the "Founder" of ISIS.

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewett tried to help him out by suggesting that he meant that Obama's policies had left conditions in Itaq that allowed ISIS to thrive.   Trump wouldn't have it though:  "No. I meant he's the founder of ISIS.   I do. . . .  I wasn't kidding."

He later repeated this on other media outlets and at his rallies, adding that "Crooked Hillary" was the co-founder.   Then Friday morning, after two days of turmoil in the political arena, he claimed he was being sarcastic when he said that.   And he mocked "these poor, pathetic people on television working so hard to figure me out.   They can't."    Then he declared that he was being sarcastic when he called Obama the Founder.   He couldn't quit though:   "Obviously, I'm being sarcastic  -- but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you."

There are two ghastly points to be made here:
1.  This man is asking that, in less than 90 days, we vote for him to be our president and commander-in-chief.    He hasn't got one iota of the seriousness required for the job.

2.  This little "joke," or whatever it was, also conceals the fact that his claim -- that Obama created ISIS -- is also a Russian talking point.    Within the past year, both Vladimir Putin and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, in addressing the United Nations, have blamed the formation and rise of ISIS on President Obama.   It's a familiar Kremlin line.

So why is Donald Trump putting out Russian propaganda?    Go back and read my post from yesterday (8/11/16) about all the other connections that point to something going on between Trump and Putin that could be very dangerous for our democracy if Trump get's elected.   Whether it's a secret, global political alliance in the offing, or whether it's campaign chief Paul Manacort's  manipulations of Trump through his connections with pro-Putin forces in Russia, or whether Trump is simply very badly in debt to Russian oligarchs who could blackmail him -- or whether Trump is just stupidly having fun with the media -- any one of those scenarios should scare the bejeebers out of every American right now.

Remember my old World War II slogan I wrote about a while back:   "Loose lips sink ships."  Trump should not get anywhere near the Oval Office, the Situation Room, or the nuclear codes.   I hope the security officials who are supposed to give him weekly briefings now will use common sense and not tell him anything important.  He can do damage whether he's an out-and-out enemy agent or whether he's just a stupid, blabbermouth, losing presidential candidate.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Is Trump's campaign manager his real link to Putin? Or is Trump himself in debt to Russian oligarchs?

This is from a blog post from Mark Sumner sent out by Daily Kos.   It is a logical, fact-based look at what could be a serious threat to our democracy if Donald Trump were elected president.   So this is worth paying attention to.   Actually, I hope our security forces and CIA are already on top of this.

Sumner begins by suggesting that most of the outlandish things that Donald Trump has been saying lately are really for the purpose of diverting attention from the real, more dangerous story that he does not want us to talk about:   His ties to Putin and Russia.

Here's the gist of Sumner's article:

1.  Trump has repeatedly praised Putin as a strong leader, showing how he obviously admires him.

2.  Trump has talked about pulling the U.S. out of NATO if the other countries don't pull their weight financially.    Putin sees NATO as his enemy because NATO opposes Russia's incursions into eastern Europe, especially the Balkan states that are part of NATO.   We are obligated to defend them if they are attacked.  Putin desperately wants to keep Ukraine from joining NATO, because he would lose this important region.  [Putin also opposes the European Union, because he sees them as his competitor economically for Eastern Europe.  So Trump is spouting Putin-friendly positions about NATO, EU, and Brexit.]

3.  Previously, Trump had expressed support for Ukraine.   But after he brought in Paul Manafort as his campaign chief, he changed his tune to one that is far more friendly to Russia.    For much of the past decade, Manafort worked for—and may still be working for—pro-Russian forces seeking to destroy the democratic government of the Ukraine.

4.  At the Republican convention, Trump's campaign showed zero interest in shaping the platform -- until the last minute when they insisted on one, and only one, change.   And that was to alter the pro-Ukraine language, insisting it be more supportive to Russia.   That was the only thing Trump's campaign tried to influence in the whole platform.   Why that only?   And then both Trump and Manafort denied they had anything to do with re-negotiating this, despite staff members who were in the meetings insisting that it was people who identified themselves as Trump staff, and at one point said they "would have to check with Mr. Trump" about something.'

5.  One week later, the hacked emails from the DNC were released by Wikileaks, and both government and independent investigators identified the hackers as being associated with the Russian government.   Then Trump suggested in a public rally that maybe Russia would also find Hillary Clinton's 30,000 deleted emails.   And since then, the Clinton campaign's email have been hacked, also identified as coming from Russian sources.

6.  In an interview, Trump was either confused, or ignorant, or playing dumbWhatever his motive, he seemed to approve of Putin's annexing Crimea, claiming that the people of Crimea preferred being part of Russia.

Sumner then says:
"Right now, there’s no proof that Trump and Manafort have been involved in a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Vladimir Putin. However, this whole thing stinks to high heaven. This isn’t just a hint of smoke on the horizon, this is a raging forest fire of connections between a United States presidential candidate and a foreign power. . . .  this is the story Donald Trump hopes you forget. . . .

"There’s a great big why that needs to be answered by Manafort and Trump. Because it’s very easy to think of an answer."   Sumner then suggests the answer by quoting Franklin Foer, writing for Slate:
"Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West—and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France, well-documented transfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign alive. Such largesse also wended its way to the former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who profited 'personally and handsomely' from Russian energy deals. . . .  There’s a clear patternPutin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO."
*     *     *     *     *
There are some burning questions here:    Is Trump really leaning toward PutinOr is Paul Manafort manipulating him?    I only read it in one place several weeks ago, and nobody else seems to have picked it up.   But it was said that Manafort is working for the Trump campaign without pay.   Why would he do that?    Is there some other deal that makes it worth his while?    We know he worked for years with the pro-Putin, corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, before the people revolted and ran him out of the country in 2014.  Putin gave him asylum, and he still lives in Russia under Putin's protection.   Manafort has also worked for various other Russian oligarchs who have connections to Putin.

What is clear is that Trump's position toward Ukraine changed after Manafort came on board at his campaign.   And we know that the Trump campaign changed that wording in the RNC platform to favor Russia -- and showed no interest in anything else in it.   And then denied doing it.   Why deny it, if there's nothing to hide?

But here's the other, even more alarming thing.   Credit goes to Josh Marshall of TPM.
*     *     *     *     *
"Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin.  And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. . . . 

"After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. . . . Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks . . . .  He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin. . . . 

"Trump's tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. . . . .

"Trump's foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to [the Russian energy giant] Gazprom.   It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin's policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time. . . . [For emphasis:   this is Trump's foreign policy adviser on Russia, beholden to Putin.]

6. Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump.  

*     *     *     *     *
So there you have it.   It's pretty clear that, at the moment, Putin is putting his thumb on the scale to try to get Trump elected.    It could be that he simply thinks that it would be to his advantage.   The question is how much leverage Putin would have over a president Trump?   Is he deeply in debt to Russian oligarchs close to Putin?    Or are they simply investors in his projects?  Could they blackmail him?   Or just try to influence him through Manafort?

All these questions seem a little less alarming now that Trump seems to have so little chance of making it to the White House.   But -- and this is a huge but -- what's in all those emails that Russian-connected hackers have found at the DNC and the Clinton campaign?   The latest news is that hundreds of individuals private accounts have been hacked.   Even if there is nothing legally incriminating, there will obviously be things that can be twisted to be politically damaging.

We'll just have to wait for the other shoe to drop.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Trump in 4th place among African-American voters

In an average of four nation-wide polls, Donald Trump is in 4th place among African-American voters:  Clinton 86%, Stein 5%, Johnson 4%, and Trump 2%.   Even Romney did better, and he was running against the first ever black, incumbent president.

Black voters are expected to make up 10% to 15% of the electorate, so he would have to over-perform with some other demographic to have any chance of winning.  Hispanics?   No, a huge deficit there.   Women?   Same thing.   White men?   Depends on whether they have a college degree.    Frankly, there just aren't enough white men without college degrees to make up Trump's huge deficits among those other groups.


The "bad Donald" just keeps getting worse

MBNBC's Chris Hayes is the news show I watch most consistently, not only because he presents excellent commentators in their area of expertise, but also because neither he nor his guests insult the intelligence of their listeners.    The only exceptions are those guests who come on to defend or explain Donald Trump, who seem to think that MSNBC audiences are just as gullible and uninformed as Trump's rally crowds.    Otherwise, this is intelligent news analysis. 

The MSNBC field reporter, who has been following the Trump campaign from the beginning and frequently reports in live, is Katy Tur.   She's bright, informed, and articulate.   I always look forward to her reporting in from the field.

Katy herself made news today, because Donald Trump retaliated against her, turning his rally crowd against her.   He didn't like what she has written about him, so he pointed her out to his crowd, saying:   “What a lie. Katy Tur. What a lie it was. Third. Rate. Reporter. Remember that.”

Hullabaloo's "digby" reported watching this on TV: 
"The crowd of Trump supporters turned so fiercely against Katy Tur that she says the Secret Service had to protect her while she was walking to her car, simply to keep her safe. She’s referring to it as an “extraordinary step.” The agents are specifically tasked with protecting people such as Presidential nominees, and it is in fact rare that they would feel compelled to protect a reporter due to the unsafe situation she’d been placed in by the candidate they’re protecting. . . .

"[Trump] knows very well what he's doing. He's intimidating people, especially women, into going easy on him by threatening to sic his violent cretins on  them. There was no other reason to publicly name her."
OK.    If digby is right and he's doing this intentionally, is it only that he's trying to intimidate people from speaking out against him?    Or can't help himself?   Or could there be a deeper, and even more disturbing, motive?    Like distracting everyone from asking probing questions about his connections to Putin and the Russian oligarchs?

More about this later. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Trump's response to "Letter from 50" shot down

Regarding the brutal but spot-on letter from 50 former national security officials calling Donald Trump unfit and dangerous as commander-in-chief (see 8/9 post), Trump lashed back saying these are the people who got us into the mess the world is in today, especially the war in Iraq.   So don't listen to them.

First, you can't have it both ways, Donald.   If that's your claim, then you can't also blame "the mess" on Obama.  These people worked in Republican administrations long before Obama's time.

Second, as pointed out by John Bellinger III who drafted the Letter for the 50:  "We agreed to focus on Trump's fitness to be president, not his substantive positions."

So your defense is irrelevant, Donald.   Loser !!

Minnesota success story due to progressive policies

Compare this success story in Democratic Minnesota with my 08/08/16 post about the failure of trickle-down economic policies in Republican Kansas.

When Democrat Mark Dayton took office as Governor of Minnesota in January 2011, his Republican predecessor had left him with a $6.2 billion budget deficit and unemployment at 7%.  Gov. Dayton took the opposite path from Gov. Brownback in Kansas;  and his success bookends a two-part, natural experiment in how to come out of an economic recession.

In contrast to Kansas's slashing taxes on the wealthy, and draconian spending cuts in government jobs and services to the people in Kansas, Minnesota Gov. Dayton raised state income taxes by 2% for those earning over $150,000, raised the minimum wage, and signed a state law guaranteeing equal pay for women.   

The results?   During Gov. Dayton's first term, new jobs brought the unemployment down to 3.6%, fifth lowest in the country, while the economy grew at the fifth fastest U.S. rate.  Medium household incomes rose more than twice as much as the national average:  US:  4.4%;    MN:  9.5%.

And by the end of Dayton's first term, January 2015, the $6.2 billion deficit had flipped over to a $1 billion surplus, half of which he pledged to reinvest in education.   Of course, Dayton didn't accomplish all this alone.   During his first two years, he had to convince a Republican-controlled legislature to work with him.

More good things accomplished:  Rather than try to suppress minority voting, as Kansas' Secretary of State has worked assiduously to do, Minnesota at the same time created an online voter registration system to make it easier.

Robert Gibson, whose reporting for the Huffington Post is the source for my information here, summed it up this way:
"The reason Gov. Dayton was able to radically transform Minnesota’s economy into one of the best in the nation is simple arithmetic.  Raising taxes on those who can afford to pay more will turn a deficit into a surplusRaising the minimum wage will increase the median income. And in a state where education is a budget priority and economic growth is one of the highest in the nation, it only makes sense that more businesses would stay. 

"It’s officialtrickle-down economics is bunk. Minnesota has proven it once and for all. If you believe otherwise, you are wrong."
So now we have one state, Minnesota, that followed Democratic principles, with excellent results;   and we have one state, Kansas, that followed Republican trickle-down principles, that was a dismal failure.    Wisconsin under Scott Walker is a second state that did more or less what Kansas did, with similar disasterous results, especially in the effect on schools.

We have a clear choice.    And a good lesson to keep in mind when choosing a president.  It works at the national level too.