Saturday, August 20, 2016

Trump, Manafort, and the 'Russia problem'

Things happen fast in the world of Donald Trump.   It was only a few months ago that Paul Manafort was brought in to right the campaign, on the grounds that he was an expert in convention in-fighting and delegate persuasion.   And, by the way, it allowed them to ease out campaign manager Cory Lewandowski, who encouraged Trump to be Trump.   Manafort was supposed to make Trump (appear to be) more presidential.

Now Steve Bannon has been brought in to replace Manafort and to let Trump be Trump again.   It turns out that Trump doesn't like having to be "presidential."   And Kellyanne Conway, an experienced political pollster, has been brought in to get the day to day campaign under control.   He's the message-guy;   she's the one to keep the train on the track.

They said Manafort would be staying on, but that lasted only two days;  and now he has resignedAccording to Eric Trump, the campaign "didn't want to have the distractions" that Manafort is having to deal with" -- presumably meaning the stories that keep escalating about Manafort's former work for the ousted, Pro-Russian Ukrainian president Yanukovych.    Now there is evidence that Manafort may even be legally culpable for failing to register as a lobbyist when his firm was obviously doing lobbying work to influence our government for the Yanukovych forces, as well as trying to undermine U.S. support for his rival Yulia Tymoshenko, former Ukraine Prime Minister who was being held as a political prisoner.

What's flying under the radar, however, is that Rick Gates, Manafort's deputy, is still working with the Trump campaign.   It was actually Gates, as Manafort's associate, who personally worked with the lobbying firms as part of the Manafort team.

So does Trump really care about Manafort's shady past -- or did they ask him to leave simply because it was bad publicity?  Manafort has said that Trump knew about his former work in Ukraine and Russia when he began with the campaign, and he was ok with it.  Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, issued this statement:
“Paul Manafort’s resignation is a clear admission that the disturbing connections between Donald Trump’s team and pro-Kremlin elements in Russia and Ukraine are untenable.  But this is not the end of the story.  It’s just the beginning.  You can get rid of Manafort, but that doesn’t end the odd bromance Trump has with Putin.” 
How true.   This is nothing new.    Josh Marshall wrote about Trump's Russia-Putin connection months ago.   Also see ShrinkRap posts on:  August 12 and 13, as well as July 29, and May 14, for previous reporting about this, including the puzzling fact that the Trump campaign took no interest in the Republican Party Platform -- except for one item.  They insisted on getting rid of support for the new Ukraine government that replaced Manafort's ousted boss, Yanukovych.

Given Manafort's past working relationship with pro-Russian forces in Ukraine;  given the sketchy information about Trump's possible debt obligation to Russian investors and oligarchsand given the pro-Russia tilt apparent in Trump's positions since Manafort came on board;   plus Trump's obvious admiration for Putin even before that -- is it time to have some of Trump's own proposed "extreme vetting" of this presidential candidate for his loyalty to the United States?   Or would that put us on a slippery slope of governmental control of who can run for elected office?    Either way, this Trump-Putin connection is something that voters should be informed about and take seriously.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Trump has a new enabler-in-chief -- but who will this strategy add to the support he already has?

Since the Republican primary, Trump has basked in his defeat of the 16 rivals for the nomination.   He saw no reason to change the free-wheeling appeal to angry white voters that fill his rally seats.   Why, he insists, should he change?

He never seems to grasp that he won with a plurality, not a majority, of just Republican primary voters and that he would have to expand that base to win the general election.  Yes, he won 16 million primary votes.   But to win the general election, he will need something closer to 60 million votes.   And there just are not that many angry white, working class men without college degrees.

So Republican party leaders and his own advisers pressured him to adopt a more disciplined, stay-on-message demeanor in hopes of broadening his base. Trump made half-hearted attempts, uncomfortably reading a teleprompter speech from time to time.  It didn't work;  because he couldn't really put his heart into it.   He was unhappy, out of his element.   Every time he gave a scripted speech, he would follow it, often within hours, by tweeting or saying something outrageous that promptly undid the feeble attempt to appear more like a traditional presidential candidate.

Now that has all been thrown out the window.  No more pretending to be something he's not.  Trump will be Trump;   and, if he loses, he loses.   As he said, if he's going to lose, he'd rather do it having been genuinely who he is.

For a narcissist, what's the solution?    Get someone who mirrors you and reinforces your thoughts and feelings, affirms your decisions, someone who encourages you to be You.   That's what Trump has found -- his mirror-self with a few more skills and more knowledge.   Steve Bannon is perfect, because he is not simply a yes-man;   he is a skilled propagandist and publicist who happens to think the same way Trump thinks.  They both revel in the fever swamps of conspiracy and false, outrageous tales.  They both traffic in insults, anti-immigrant rants, and targeted bigotry;

Bannon mirrors Trump in that same free-wheeling, go-from-the-gut, appeal to the angry white voters.  For months, Bannon has been encouraging Trump not to try to make Republican donors and officials feel comfortable but to run more fully as an outsider and an unabashed nationalist.   In fact, Bannon is even more of a hater of the Republican establishment, more of a conspiracy theorist, more of a racist -- than Trump is.

Bringing Bannon into an official "message CEO" position in the campaign is a major move for  Trump to take back his campaign, to stop trying to be someone he is not.   What we can expect is doubling down on what won the primaries.  For Trump, that's the great solution.

I'm realizing that, for Trump the Narcissist, being affirmed is even better than winning.   Or, rather, being affirmed IS winning.

However, from the standpoint of the Republican party, for the country, and even for the Trump campaign itself, this is not an election-winning strategyOn MSNBC Wednesday night, Joy Reed asked exactly the right question in her interview of Steve Cortes, businessman and surrogate spokesman for Trump.    Framing the question as the Trump srategy reverting to the free-wheeling embrace of the angry right," Joy asked Cortes:
"Who is this designed to resonate with that are not already Trump supporters?"
Exactly.   This is a great strategy for solidifying that small base of support from the niche audience who attend his rallies.    But it will further drive away the ones he's already losing and chip away at the margins of his core.  It adds nothing except more noise and emotion.   Predictably, the Trump surrogate ran away from the question, even though Joy tried three times to pin him down.   Because the answer is:   It adds no one.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trump: "We're doing it MY WAY"

Once we had the Donald Trump of the Republican primaries.    Campaign manager Corey Lendowski more or less just let Trump be Trump.    When he became the presumptive nominee and the Republican establishment got nervous about whether he was up to a general election campaign, they kept trying to rein him in, get him to stay on message, and make him seem more presidential.

In came new campaign chief Pual Manafort, and out went Lewandowski.   Manafort made the effort but eventually just gave up trying to change Trump.   It was so obvious that Trump just didn't want to change, didn't want to be anything but who he is.   As one CNN commentor (whose name I didn't get) called it:  "like trying to teach a pit bull to waltz."   It just didn't work.

So yesterday a second campaign shake-up was announced.   A new campaign chairman, Steve Bannon, and a new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, were announced.    What to expect?    Plenty.

First, expect Trump to be Trump again . . . only moreso.   Bannon is the head of the news department and the defining voice of the website Breitbart News.   According to a press release, his focus will be primarily messaging.   He has no experience in managing a political campaign, but he does know how to raise a ruckus and hurl accusations.  Expect him to take the reins off and to encourage Trump to let fly with accusations and conspiracy theory attacks on Hillary Clinton.   That's what Breitbart News is known for.

Kellyanne Conway is an experienced political pollster and campaign manager type who has worked for Mike Pence among other Republicans.   She may be very competent;   but when I have seen her as a Trump surrogate on MSNBC presenting his point of view, I personally experienced her as gratingly offensive, something akin to fingernails on blackboard.    Now, admittedly, being irritating to people like me may be exactly what they're looking for -- or it may just be an irrelevant factor.   Truth be told, I can think of at least four other Trump spokespersons who affect me the same way.    So maybe I just don't like him.

The one bright spot:  It will all be over in 84 days.   Any thoughts that Trump might quit just went out the window.    He's at least going to make one last, yuuuuge attempt.   And he's going to do it Trump's way.   Trump's way, doubled down and augmented by Bannon's feeding him even more outrageous, false tales to tell.


PS:   More about Steve Bannon.   Last year, Bloomberg Politics called him "the most dangerous political operative in America."  He peddles conspiracy theories and false stories about the Clintons, including "trading cash for favors," involving foreign contributors to the Clinton Foundation supposedly getting quid quo pro assistance from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.   There is no evidence for any of that, by the way.   The Clinton campaign responded by calling Breitbart News under Bannon:  "a so-called news site that peddles divisive, at times, racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, conspiracy theories. . . .  The merging of the vast right wing conspiracy and the train-wreck that is Trump is now complete."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Where Do We Go To Have Any Sense of Truth?"

Remember "the Fourth Estate"?   The U.S. Constitution established three branches of government (an elected legislature that makes laws;   a judiciary that interprets the laws and settles disputes;   and a chief executive in the form of a president and his administration to execute the laws).

And then, in a free society, there is the unofficial, but necessary, fourth estate:   a free press, which is considered necessary so that the people can make informed decisions in electing congress and the president.   Another function of a free press is to investigate and expose wrong-doing in elected officials.

Lately, with the explosion of talk radio (mostly exploited by the right wing), Fox News, and then the nuclear explosion of the internet and social media, the lines and authoritative voice of the fourth estate have become very blurred.

The great progressive and intelligent blogger, "digby," has written on this in an article in Salon, excerpts of which is quoted here:

*     *     *     *     *

"Where Do We Go To Have Any Sense of Truth?"

"Back in the early 2000s right wing talk radio was a juggernaut that influenced American politics so thoroughly that all mainstream GOP leaders genuflected to their power. Rush Limbaugh was, of course, the king . . . .   Combined with the ascendance of Fox News, Drudge and total Republican control of the government, right wing media completely dominated the political landscape.

"This phenomenon had a number of bedrock assumptions but the first, and most important, was the notion that the mainstream media suffered from a liberal bias so extreme that it was completely untrustworthy. Now this idea had . . . .  been an article of faith among conservatives since the 1960s when the right began to rebel against the civil rights movement and the Vietnam and Watergate coverage.  It later became a more cynical . . . exercise in which their constant accusations of liberal bias kept reporters and editors constantly on the defensive and ended up tilting much of the coverage their way. . . .

"There was even a famous quote from a Bush official [who] said that reporters like Suskind lived in the "reality based community" which was made up of people who believe 'solutions emerge from a judicious study of discernible reality.'   He and his cohorts on the right, however, were not constrained by such restrictions: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality" . . . . 

"The rise of social media turned it into an even louder megaphone that simultaneously blocked out any competing information. It was this environment that has made it possible for Donald Trump to emerge. . . .  And it's no mystery where Trump got his increasingly unhinged rap about the press either, is it? . . . 

"[T]oday, for the first time, some conservatives in the #NeverTrump camp are seeing where their decades long attacks on the mainstream media and the "reality based community" have led.  Right wing radio talk show host Charlie Sykes from Wisconsin [one of the more thoughtful ones, who is often a guest on MSNBC to comment on news from the conservative position] said this:
Over the years conservative talk show hosts, and I'm certainly one of them, we've done a remarkable job of challenging and attacking the mainstream media. But perhaps what we did was also to destroy any sense of a standardWhere do you go to have any sense of the truth? You have Donald Trump come along and the man says things that are demonstrably untrue on a daily basis. . . .  we live in an era when every drunk at the end of the bar has a twitter account and maybe has a blog and when you try to point out  'this is not true, this is a lie and then you cite the Washington Post or the New York Times, their response is 'oh that's the mainstream media." So we've done such a good job of discrediting them that there's almost no place to go to be able to fact check
"Welcome to the reality based community.

"The right is in disarray, to say the least, and that includes their media. Fox News is in crisis . . . .  Conservative radio is losing listeners. It would be nice to think that this fever has broken and we can get back to a point where people can at least agree on a certain set of facts even if we have disagreements about how to proceed from there. But it's a long road back.

"And social media is not going to be helpful. The next phase I'm afraid is rampant conspiracy theories on all sides of the political spectrum. Indeed, all we have to do is look at the Trump campaign for a preview of where that's headed too. But the great Right Wing Wurlitzer is finally sputtering out. The damage it's left in its wake is incalculable."

*     *     *     *     *

That how digby responded to one of conservatism's own -- a conservative talk show host -- voicing his feeling that they have gone too far and destroyed the credibility of what we used to rely on as "the newspapers of record" that could be relied on as grounded in fact.

What will happen to this right-wing, disinformation machine when Donald Trump leads the Republican Party to a landslide defeat? -- and very likely with loss of the Senate and, at least, a reduced margin in the House?

First, they will claim, as Trump is already signalling, that the election was rigged.   Knowing his predilection for tying things up with lawsuits, let's hope Clinton's electoral victory is so massive that any conceivable court challenge will be thrown out.    But how difficult will it be for her to govern?   Will Congress oppose her as they did Obama?   How will the angry, working-class, white men of Trump's constituency react to such a massive repudiation?

It won't be pretty.   But maybe . . . just maybe, it will be the beginning of a corrective.   Wouldn't it be great to live again in a world where facts matter?   Where evidence is the basis for evaluating what works?


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Why do top Republican leaders still support Trump?

Why indeed do Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell still support Donald Trump?   Why doesn't the RNC and its chair Reince Priebus dump him?   Here's one answer from Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, writing in Saturday's New York Times:

*     *     *     *     *
"Pieces of Silver" 
"By now, it’s obvious to everyone with open eyes that Donald Trump is an ignorant, wildly dishonest, erratic, immature, bullying egomaniac. On the other hand, he’s a terrible person. But despite some high-profile defections, most senior figures in the Republican Party — very much including Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader — are still supporting him, threats of violence and all. Why?

"One answer is that these were never men and women of principle. . . . Another answer is that in an era of intense partisanship, the greatest risk facing many Republican politicians . . . is that of losing to an extremist primary challenger. This makes them afraid to cross Mr. Trump, whose ugliness channels the true feelings of the party’s base.

"But there’s a third answer, which can be summarized in one number: 34. . . .  the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the average federal tax rate for the top 1 percent in 2013, the latest year available. . . . 

"If Hillary Clinton wins . . . .  her tax plan would raise the average tax rate for the top 1 percent by another 3.4 percentage points, and the rate for the top 0.1 percent by five points.

"But if 'populist' Donald Trump wins, taxes on the wealthy will go way down; in particular, Mr. Trump is calling for elimination of the inheritance tax, which these days hits only a tiny number of really yuuuge estates (a married couple doesn’t pay any tax unless its estate is worth more than $10.9 million).

"So if you’re wealthy, or you’re someone who has built a career by reliably serving the interests of the wealthy, the choice is clearas long as you don’t care too much about stuff like shunning racism, preserving democracy and freedom of religion, or for that matter avoiding nuclear war, Mr. Trump is your guy. . . .

"Should we be shocked at the willingness of leading Republicans to make this bargain? Well, we should be shocked. . . . But we shouldn’t be surprised, because it’s just an extension of the devil’s bargain the economic right has been making for decades, going all the way back to Nixon’s 'Southern strategy'. . . .

"Recently Avik Roy, a leading Republican health-policy expert, had the personal and moral courage to admit what liberals (and political scientists) have been saying for years: 'In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.'

"Just to be clear, I’m not saying that top Republicans were or are personally bigoted — but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they were willing to curry favor with bigots in the service of tax cuts for the rich and [for] financial deregulation. . . . 

"All that has happened this year is a move of those white nationalists from . . . supporting cast to a starring role. So when Republicans who went along with the earlier strategy draw the line at Mr. Trump, they’re not really taking a stand on principle; they’re just complaining about the price. And the party’s top leadership isn’t even willing to do that.

"If this election goes the way it probably will, a few months from now those leading Republicans will be trying to pretend that they never really supported their party’s nominee, that in their hearts they always knew he was the wrong man.

"But whatever doubts they may be feeling don’t excuse their actions, and in fact make them even less forgivable. For the fact is that right now, when it matters, they have decided that lower tax rates on the rich are sufficient payment for betraying American ideals and putting the republic as we know it in danger."
*     *     *     *     *

That is typical, hard-hitting Paul Krugman.   But is he wrong?    I don't think so.   I would only argue that cutting taxes for the wealthy is not the only thing . . . but, in the end, it is very nearly the main thing, along with related things like deregulation of the financial industry, and ensuring a conservative Supreme Court for decades to come.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz finally agrees to debate primary opponent -- on Sunday at 8:00 AM !!!

Tim Canova is a college professor who is running against Debbie Wasserman-Schultz for the Democratic nomination to represent their south Florida congressional district, which DWS has held for 17 years.   Canova is a progressive who has Bernie Sanders' endorsement and backing.   He accuses DWS of being bought by the payroll lending corporations (that charge exorbitant interest rates to people who don't quite make it paycheck-to-paycheck) and by Wall Street interests.   There's good evidence that she receives large donations and favors their interests.

In addition to her congressional seat, President Obama nominated Wassernan-Schultz to be chair of the Democratic National Committee following his 2012 re-election.   However, things had gotten so bad that he reportedly wanted to replace her last year, but told insiders that he didn't want the controversy she would create if they tried to get her to leave.

So once Hillary Clinton became the presumptive nominee, they installed a Clinton person at the DNC as the campaign chairman.   This is the usual procedure;  once there is a presumptive nominee, that person chooses someone to move into the DNC to coordinate the campaign and replace the DNC chair as day-to-day campaign manager.   So they were going to just let that takes its course. 

But then the Russian-sourced email hacks of the DNC exposed something egregious enough to give Obama and Clinton the excuse to force DWS to leave.    She dug in and clawed her way into insisting that she would resign, but not until the end of the convention, wanting to preserve her right to preside.    The first day, however, at a breakfast meeting with a group of delegates, she was badly booed.   This foretold what would happen if she walked onto the stage at the convention.   So she was finally persuaded not to appear (reportedly it was "resign or be fired" from Obama himself that was required).

But in addition to that business about the email hacking, I have opposed her for several other reasons, along with her political tilt toward the financial industry:
   1.  According to DNC staff members' private communications to sources, she has been a bad administrator.    Staff morale was reportedly so bad that they celebrated when she was forced to resign on the eve of the convention.  Sort of -- "Ding, dong;  the wicked witch is dead!!" -- kind of celebrating.

   2.  She ignored the 50 state strategy that Howard Dean had put into place when he ran the DNC, which seems largely responsible for the failure to challenge the Republicans' dominance in local and state offices which, indirectly through redistricting and gerrymandering, also let Republicans dominate the U. S. House.

   3.  She has been (believably) accused of using DNC staff to help her congressional re-election campaign.    When confronted with this, she not only did not deny it, but she rationalized it, saying that the staff knew her and her policies and they just naturally wanted to help.  But that help came (probably ordered by her) in using DNC resources to track her opponents' campaign events, an offense that would be illegal if proved.

   4.  She terribly mismanaged the 2016 primary campaign as far as running a fair and balanced organization to help both Clinton and Sanders.   It was obviously tilted to Clinton, especially in the scheduling of debates:   the few she did scheduled were set at times to ensure small audiences (opposite major sports events, weekend nights, etc.).  In addition, she placed hurdles in the way of the Sanders campaign re getting voting lists, data bases, etc.

   5.   Now that she has a primary opponent in Tim Canova, she had refused to debate him -- which would have required her to answer these charges -- claiming that she didn't have time to debate.   Politics finally compelled her to relent -- and she agreed to one debate at 8:00 an on Sunday morning on a local Miami tv station.

I watched the first part of the debate streaming online, but had technical difficulties that prevented my seeing the rest.   That's OK.   I saw enough to confirm my strong opposition to her re-election.   Here's what did it:

In defending her performance as DNC chair, she spoke about working for the 2012 Obama campaign and helping him get re-elected.   Then she said she was very proud of helping set the stage for the nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016.  [WHAT ???]

She said it and moved on.   Neither the moderator or Tim Canova picked up on that bombshell -- at least not in the portion that I saw, which continued for at least 10 minutes after that.

Let me emphasize:   The job of the DNC chair is to be the executive and the spokesperson for the Democratic Party.   As such, the chair is supposed to be neutral and offer the party's support equally and fairly to all candidates for the nomination.    Bernie Sanders had legitimate complaints that he was not being treated fairly.  At one point he had to threaten a lawsuit to get access to voter data.   And now, seemingly completely unwittingly, DWS with a straight face flat-out admitted as much.   Did she not even understand her job?   Or was she just blindly partisan?   Or corrupt?

Would more help from the DNC have changed the outcome?   Probably not.  But that's not the point.   In a democracy, shouldn't the "Democratic" party at least be . . . well, democratic?


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Michael Phelps wins his 23rd Olympic gold medal

Photo byTim Clayton - Corbis via Getty Images 
Wrapping up his career as the most medaled Olympic athlete in history, Michael Phelps won his 23rd gold medal in his final appearance as part of the men's 4x100 medley relay -- and with it a new world record.   This was his 5th gold, along with 1 silver, in the Rio 2016 games.   

Michael first competed as a 15 year old at the 2000 Olympics;  2016 was his 5th and, he says, his final Olympic competition.    Teammates note that he said the same thing after the 2012 games.
His overall total number of Olympic medals is now 28:    23 Gold, 3 Silver, and 2 Bronze.   Along with this, Michael holds 7 Olympic world records.

While not yet matching Phelps' medal count, the U.S. team has had other standout performances by swimmer Katie Ledecky with 4 gold medals and 1 silver.  She also smashed her own world record in the 800m race, where she finished a whole 11 seconds ahead of the second place finisher, phenomenal in Olympic swimming where winners are often decided by hundredths of a second.

In addition, gymnast Simone Biels is still winning gold after gold, already being mentioned as the greatest woman gymnast of all times.   And, if it were not for her teammate Simone, Aly Raisman would have been the champ.   The two finished #1 and #2 in the women's individual all round gymnastic competition.  And they still have the individual events to go.

Overall, this is a very good year for United States athletes.   But Phelps, Ledecky, and Biels will go down in history as three of the best of all time.