Tuesday Morning Open Thread: #FaceBorked

(Mike Luckovich via GoComics.com)

Michelle Goldberg, in the NYTimes, on “Trump’s High-Tech Dirty Tricksters”:

After days of revelations, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Cambridge Analytica. But we’ve learned that an operation at the heart of Trump’s campaign was ethically nihilistic and quite possibly criminal in ways that even its harshest critics hadn’t suspected. That’s useful information. In weighing the credibility of various accusations made against the president, it’s good to know the depths to which the people around him are willing to sink.

Created in 2013, Cambridge Analytica is an offshoot of the SCL Group, a British company that specialized in disinformation campaigns in the developing world. It’s mostly owned by the Mercer family, billionaire right-wing donors and strong Trump supporters. Before becoming the Trump campaign’s chief executive, Steve Bannon was Cambridge Analytica’s vice president. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I., also served as an adviser to the company…

At a minimum, we’ve learned that the Trump campaign’s vaunted social media program was built on deception. Shortly after the 2016 election, Forbes ran an article crediting Jared Kushner for his father-in-law’s shocking triumph. Thanks to digital tools, it said, the traditional presidential campaign was dead, “and Kushner, more than anyone not named Donald Trump, killed it.”

For those who knew something of Kushner’s pre-election career, this portrait of him as some sort of analytics genius was befuddling. The small, gossipy New York newspaper he’d owned, The New York Observer, didn’t even have a particularly good website. “He wasn’t tech-savvy at all,” Elizabeth Spiers, the paper’s former editor in chief, told me.

Cambridge Analytica’s corruption helps provide the missing piece in this story. If the Trump campaign had a social media advantage, one reason is that it hired a company that mined vast amounts of illicitly obtained data.

There’s a lesson here for our understanding of the Trump presidency. Trump and his lackeys have been waging their own sort of psychological warfare on the American majority that abhors them. On the one hand, they act like idiots. On the other, they won, which makes it seem as if they must possess some sort of occult genius. With each day, however, it’s clearer that the secret of Trump’s success is cheating. He, and those around him, don’t have to be better than their opponents because they’re willing to be so much worse.

(Jack Ohman via GoComics.com)

Late-Night Speculation Russiagate Open Thread: Was North Carolina in 2014 A Trial Run for Cambridge Analytica?

From North Carolina’s own WRAL, “Tillis may have benefited from Facebook data breach”:

The data firm accused of stealing the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users may have used that information to help U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis win his seat in 2014.

North Carolina voters were among the first in the U.S. to be targeted by Cambridge Analytica, which boasted that its cache of “psychographic data” could be used to build personality profiles of voters and target political ads at them to influence their behavior…

n 2014, Tillis’ campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $30,000, and the North Carolina Republican Party paid $150,000, making the GOP the company’s fourth-largest client that year. The party also paid the firm $65,000 in 2015.

Cambridge Analytica now features Tillis’ successful campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan as a case study on its website…

Tillis defeated Hagan by fewer than 50,000 votes following a campaign marked by one negative ad after another on both sides.

Cambridge Analytica’s third-largest client in 2014, the John Bolton SuperPAC, was also highly active in the Tillis/Hagan race, spending nearly $1.5 million to benefit Tillis and damage Hagan. The super-PAC spent $341,000 with the company for messaging consulting.

Tillis didn’t respond Monday to repeated requests for comment on the allegations against Cambridge Analytica’s methods. Republican 10th District Congressman Patrick McHenry, whose campaign also spent $15,000 on Cambridge Analytica’s services in 2014, also didn’t respond to requests for comment…

Still, North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said the new revelations raise a lot of questions about what the GOP, Tillis or McHenry knew about Cambridge Analytica, what they asked the firm to do and when they found out about its connections to Russia…

Meanwhile, per the Daily Beast

Billionaire heiress Rebekah Mercer is standing by embattled data firm Cambridge Analytica––at least for now. A person close to Mercer, who sits on the firm’s board, told The Daily Beast she has no immediate plans to leave her post there, despite a bombshell report alleging the company used Ukrainian sex workers to try to get compromising material about its clients’ political opponents.

“She is working to be part of the solution,” said the source, of one of American conservatism’s most powerful mega-donors.

“She has always worked to make sure she observes and abides by all established norms and legal mandates,” the source added.

The source said Robert Mercer, who co-founded America’s most lucrative hedge fund, is just a passive investor in Cambridge Analytica and has never been on its board. Rebekah Mercer is his daughter, and conducts broad business oversight as a board member…

The Mercers were among Trump’s most generous supporters, spending millions to support his campaign.

Wouldn’t it just be the rancid cherry on this shit sundae, if it turned out that Rebekah threw millions of Daddy’s money down a Russian rathole just for the chance to feel like she was a Serious Important Political Macher, someone “in the room where it happened”? And not just another dumb heiress like Ivanka?

Last Decade’s Model Open Thread: Party at Mar-a-Loco


Remember the halcyon days when this would’ve been as much entertainment as political junkies could expect over a weekend?…

If they came to see the president, they were disappointed. But the well-dressed crowd of Republican activists who gathered at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club here Friday night still got a glimpse of party royalty.

There by the poolside, in a pink shirt and sport jacket, was Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. And the headliner of the night was Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate…

Laughter rippled through the sold-out crowd of about 700 attending the Palm Beach GOP’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner, which cost $350 for an individual. Prices went up from there: A “patriots” package was $1,000 for two, and the “presidential” package was $25,000 for two tables of 10…

Florida Gov. Rick Scott was also scheduled to speak, but he canceled because of a deadly bridge collapse in Miami, event organizers said…

Some of Palin’s lines drew laughter and applause, particularly those that echoed the phrases that propelled her to fame….

As her speech veered into policy specifics about trade with China and other matters, however, the crowd’s attention appeared to shift to their meal. “I wish you would pay attention,” Palin admonished. “I traveled two days from Alaska to get here.”

As she was walking out the ballroom, Palin was asked if the crowd’s inattention and noisy chatter bothered her. She thought for a long second, and then said with a smile: “I like a crowd with energy.”

Speaking of half-forgotten GOP figures…

McCabe and Mr. Mueller

I don’t know if Trump will end up firing Mueller and I don’t know what the significance of firing McCabe is, but…it doesn’t mode well for Trump not firing Mueller. If Trump fires Mueller, nothing will happen immediately. Congress will do nothing. The right-wing media will back Trump. Bret, Bari, and Bobo will take a one or two day break from the global war against the Oberlin student council but that’s probably about it.

But none of that matters anyway. What matters is what happens in November. And if Mueller is fired, the left will be energized. And if the left is energized, we take back the House. Nothing else matters.

There’s a perverse irony to this for Never Trumpers. They claim to hate and fear Trump and I take them at their word on that. But they hate and fear angry hippies anymore. Now, their only hope of containing Trump is that hippies get angry enough to flip the House because if Dems take the House back it won’t be because Dems made a thoughtful moderate argument that won over all the Burkeans in the inner-ring suburbs, it will be because a lot of pissed off liberals voted and got everyone they know to vote. (Don’t get me wrong — Trump won’t be removed if Democrats take the House back, but there will be real investigations.)

The elections in November are the only thing that matters. All this bullshit about norms and so on is a waste of time. Give to the Balloon Juice fund that is split equally among all eventual Democratic nominees in House districts currently held by Republicans.

Goal Thermometer

Update. This is one of the greatest movies ever made. See it if you can.

We Can Always Use Some Bitter, Cynical, Gallows Humor, So Here’s A Kudlow Post

Larry Kudlow is the pure distilled essence of a Trump appointment, the type specimen of the breed, and the perfect expression of the state of Republican “thinking” on not just economics, but any matter in which actual knowledge and a respect for empiricism might help.

Via Wikipedia, we find he is barely educated, at best, in the fields in which he now works:

Kudlow graduated from University of Rochester in Rochester, New York with a degree in history in 1969. Known as “Kuddles” to friends, he was a star on the tennis team and a member of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society at Rochester.

In 1971, Kudlow attended Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where he studied politics and economics. He left before completing his master’s degree.

I’ll admit that Kuddles is kinda cute, but an unfinished masters degree in a policy school is not one you’d usually associate with economics acumen.

He went on to a stellar business career, managing to get fired repeatedly for substance abuse on the job, including a claimed $10,000/month cocaine habit that got him canned from Bear Stearns in 1994. (It’s interesting to note that a frantic effort is underway today to diminish such inconvenient truths on Kudlow’s Wikipedia page.)

Fortunately for Kuddles, he cleans up well, dresses nicely, and can tok gud. So he was able to revive his career as a TV gasbag, with a series of appearances and then shows on CNBC, the network that figured out the markets could be covered like sports teams.

Unfortunately — for the rest of us, if not for the ever-failing-up Kudlow — he’s been wrong about almost every key economic call since Methuselah was in diapers.  He is a Laffer disciple, a supply-sider whose faith that there is no tax that is too low, no plutocrat whose needs must not be served, is impervious to any test of reality.

Consider this:

In 1993, when Bill Clinton proposed an increase in the top tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, Kudlow wrote, “There is no question that President Clinton’s across-the-board tax increases … will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy’s long-run potential to grow.” This was wrong. Instead, a boom ensued. Rather than question his analysis, Kudlow switched to crediting the results to the great tax-cutter, Ronald Reagan. “The politician most responsible for laying the groundwork for this prosperous era is not Bill Clinton, but Ronald Reagan,” he argued in February, 2000.

And this:

Kudlow firmly denied that the United States would enter a recession in 2007, or that it was in the midst of a recession in early to mid-2008. In December 2007, he wrote: “The recession debate is over. It’s not gonna happen. Time to move on. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth splendid year with many more years to come”. In May 2008 he wrote: “President George W. Bush may turn out to be the top economic forecaster in the country” in his “‘R’ is for ‘Right'”.

And this:

When Obama took office, Kudlow was detecting an “inflationary bubble.” That was wrong. He warned in 2009 that the administration “is waging war on investors. He’s waging war against businesses. He’s waging war against bondholders. These are very bad things.” That was also wrong, and when the recovery proceeded, by 2011, he credited the Bush tax cuts for the recovery. (Kudlow, April 2011: “March unemployment rate drop proof lower taxes work.”) By 2012, Kudlow found new grounds to test out his theories: Kansas, where he advisedRepublican governor Sam Brownback to implement a sweeping tax-cut plan that would produce faster growth. This was wrong. Alas, Brownback’s program has proven a comprehensive failure, falling short of all its promises and leaving the state in fiscal turmoil.

The reviews are coming in. Via the BBC:

David Stockman, Mr Kudlow’s former boss during the Reagan administration, told the Washington Post in 2016 that Mr Kudlow’s prediction that tax cuts would lead to growth was “dead wrong”. Instead, he said the cuts led to budget deficits.

More recently, he has warned that Mr Kudlow would not be able to rein in the president.

“As much as I love him … Larry’s voice is exactly the wrong voice that Donald Trump ought to be hearing as we go forward,” he told CNBC.

Liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been sharply critical, noting that Mr Kudlow missed signs of the housing bubble and recession.

“At least he’s reliable — that is, he’s reliably wrong about everything,” Mr Krugman tweeted.

Indeed in December 2007 – just as the recession was beginning – Mr Kudlow wrote in the National Review: “There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen.”

It is interesting that Kudlow himself doesn’t seem to disagree with his predecessor on the issue that got Cohn out. From a quick take bylined by him, Laffer and Stephen Moore (another stellar, always-wrong econ public intellectual) here he is on Trump’s tariff announcement:

Tariffs are really tax hikes. Since so many of the things American consumers buy today are made of steel or aluminum, a 25 percent tariff on these commodities may get passed on to consumers at the cash register. This is a regressive tax on low-income families.

I wonder how that squares with the new job. ETA: I know how it squares. It’s already been forgotten. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

But that’s just SOP in the circles in which Kudlow travels:  intellectual rigor doesn’t actually matter.  He’s under no obligation to be consistent in any of his pronouncements, and he certainly doesn’t have to be right about anything as long as he provides cover for the true Republican (n.b.: not just Trumpian) policy goal: the transfer of more and more of our society’s wealth to those who are already wealthy — and hence, in the GOP/Rand/Sociopath view of the world, those who are virtuous enough to deserve such riches.

For all of you who’ve wondered why the US can’t be more like Kansas — we may now we get to find out.

Image: Thomas Shields Clarke, A Fool’s Fool,  c. 1887.

Great success

Big win in Pennsylvania. It proves, once again, that this is a right-center nation.

There are over one hundred Republican-held districts that are bluer than PA-18, let’s win them all. Give here to the Balloon Juice fund that is split equally among all eventual Democratic nominees in House districts currently held by Republicans.

Goal Thermometer

Late Night Schadenfreude Open Thread: For Whom No Violin Is Tiny Enough

A break from more weighty topics…


Also, Peter Thiel’s wannabe neighbors have a big sad about those lousy emigrant-excluding Kiwis. Per Bloomberg, “The Rich Aren’t Happy About New Zealand Foreign Bolthole Ban”:

Rich-listers like Californian billionaire Ric Kayne have issued a warning to New Zealand — banning house sales to foreigners could hurt the country’s reputation and turn wealthy investors away.

Kayne, who has built an exclusive golf course in New Zealand and wants to expand his investments, is one of several rich businessmen who claim the proposed new law will have unintended consequences. They’re seeking amendments to the draft legislation or its withdrawal in its current form…

The new Labour-led government came to power in October on a pledge to fix a housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property. While data suggest non-residents have only a minor impact on the wider housing market, support for the move was boosted by headlines about rich foreigners buying mansions and farms in New Zealand as boltholes away from the world’s ills.

House prices have surged more than 60 percent in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall. In biggest city Auckland, prices have almost doubled since 2007 to an average of more than NZ$1 million ($730,000). That’s made it more difficult for first-time buyers to enter the market and driven up rents, leaving increasing numbers of poor people homeless.

“It’s really important for us that we sort our housing market out, that we give New Zealanders a fair go at buying their first home,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a television interview Sunday. While the country welcomes foreign investment, “what we want is good-quality investment that supports the productivity of the New Zealand economy,” he said…

Kayne, who plans another golf course of similar quality that will be open to the public, said he will also be forced to sell the house he’s building for himself and wife Suzanne under the new restrictions.

Although he is a New Zealand resident, the legislation would not recognize him as one because it requires people to spend at least 183 days a year in the country — something his business interests prevent him from doing…

Yeah, it’s all about “optics” — but after the horrors that jet-setting parasites have inflicted on cities like London, New York, and San Francisco, I somehow doubt there will be many tears shed for the plight of thwarted golf-course developers and their ilk.