The Siberian Candidate

The Trump story of the morning appears to be a clumsy attempt to walk back yesterday’s folly/treason.  The ferret-headed Benedict Arnold now says he was just kidding.

In the reality-based universe this looks ridiculous, a twelve year old bully’s gambit to duck out of trouble when his mouth makes a promise the rest of him can’t back up.

In a political world described to the electorate but a media community that is either complicit (Fox, et al.) or cowed into ineffectuality (at best), it’s at least a solid move by Trump, and maybe more so.  He gets two main benefits out of what should be a candidacy-killing blunder.

The first is a refocusing of attention onto the Hillary email story, never mind that the actual hack — and the evil thereof –was not on Clinton’s server but was instead an attack against one of America’s two major political parties.  To all those — I spoke to one yesterday — who see Hillary as guilty, guilty, guilty, any means necessary to bring her down is just fine, and this story helps fuel that hunger while reminding everyone, yet again, that Hillary is the worst ever traitor/murderess/spy/arglebarglegabblegibberish….

The second, and even more potent benefit to Trump is the distraction his invocation of Russian spycraft offers the media.  This is classic misdirection. Focus on the more sensational, but ultimately off-the-point element of a story instead of the meat of the matter.

That would be, of course, how Trump has already, and will likely continue to pay off on Putin’s investment in his sorry ass.  Josh Marshall wrote an elegant bill of indictment a week ago, and our own Adam has gone into some detail on the extraordinary damage Trump is wreaking on more than a half a century of American geopolitics.

To do the TL:DR — Trump increasingly depends on Russian money as more and more of the major players in the western financial system have learned to their sorrow that he’s a litigious deadbeat.  That means that Trump doesn’t have to be a witting agent of the Kremlin; he’s already been bought and paid for (and, as Adam has noted, he’s long curried favor with/genuinely supported Russian authoritarians).

Giotto_di_Bondone_-_No._28_Scenes_from_the_Life_of_Christ_-_12._Judas'_Betrayal_-_WGA09213

You can see how much vig he’s paid already:  threats to NATO and other allies, the signals he’s sending on Putin’s ambitions in the Baltic, Chamberlain-esque appeasement in his seeming willingness to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, explicit changes the GOP position on Ukraine in an unequivocal shift towards the Kremlin line.

Does Trump believe in any of that, independently of a Russian handler? Who knows and who cares.  The threat Trump’s Russian connections poses to US and world security exist whether or not he’s a dupe, a useful idiot, a debtor, or (easily the least likely, IMHO) an actual witting asset of the FSB.  The real story lies in two strands and two only.  First:  follow the money.  What does Trump owe to whom? Where does/can he lay his hands on cash these days?

Second:  look at what Trump has done and proposes to do.  Not the conditional BS — how great it would be if Putin hacked HIllary.  The real stuff, the weakening of the western alliance, down-the-line support for Kremlin actions and arguments.

This is a test of our political media, one I’m afraid is already being flubbed.  Trump is a good — no, a great — three card monte player.  The patter conceals the real action.

This is how a Siberian Candidate gets the job done.

For our part, it’s a matter of keeping the story alive as much as we can in every venue we can: calling representatives, hitting social media, writing letters to the editor, and above all, talking to voters who need help seeing what’s at stake in this election.

Image:  Giotto di Bondone, Judas Receiving Payment For His Betrayalbetween 1304 and 1306.

 



Open Thread: Who Among Us…

… has not seen an opportunity and seized it? asks Disgraced Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, per the Chicago Sun-Times:

Federal prosecutors portray former House Speaker Dennis Hastert as a serial child molester who agreed to pay millions to cover up his shameful secrets — but former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay describes him as a man of “strong faith” and “great integrity.”

“We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few,” DeLay wrote to Hastert’s sentencing judge. “He is a good man that loves the Lord. He gets his integrity and values from Him. He doesn’t deserve what he is going through.”

DeLay penned one of 41 letters released publicly on Friday in support of Hastert, just days before the Yorkville Republican’s sentencing. Included are letters written by Hastert’s wife, two of his sons, two of his brothers, former Congressman and head of the Central Intelligence Agency Porter Goss, former Illinois Attorney General Ty Fahner, several ex-congressmen and a few retired law enforcement officers, including retired Kendall County Sheriff Richard Randall and members of the U.S. Capitol Police force.

The letter writers call Hastert, now 74, a great friend, great public servant and great American…

Also a grown man who used his job as a wrestling coach to shop for vulnerable adolescents he could use as sex toys, but hey, everybody needs a hobby.

Leo Kocher, the head wrestling coach at the University of Chicago and an associate professor there, wrote that Hastert helped when the U.S. Department of Education created a strong incentive to eliminate intercollegiate athletic opportunities through Title IX.

“He never said no when it came to his being able to help in any way to stem the senseless devastation of non-scholarship sports opportunities,” Kocher wrote, adding Hastert “was driven in this by pure concern for, and loyalty to, the youth — boys and girls — whose development was at stake.”…

PHRASING!

Also, it would be interesting to find out exactly how Hastert came to have a couple spare million to use for hush money, but then, money is the only topic the American media is more squeamish about than sex.



Three ways in the House

Reading the Huffington Post, I saw this political bodice ripper and I still can’t figure out how to make the mechanics of the piece actually work in our shared reality:

Suddenly they realize, “holy shit, what if we could stop Donald Trump and keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House?”

So they run a moderate establishment Republican as a third-party candidate — 100 percent as a spoiler candidate. Worst case scenario oh, they prevent Donald Trump from winning the White House. Best case scenario they pull enough votes away from Hillary Clinton to prevent her from securing the necessary majority of 270 electoral votes.

Then the election goes to a House of Representatives ballot presided over Speaker Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s former running mate in 2012.

If neither candidate gets 270 electoral college votes, Congress picks the president. And he will be called President Mitt, the one who is laying the groundwork for this doomsday electoral scenario.

The basic theory is that a third party candidate who is Generic Republican Establishment (no not Pawlenty) would be able to do three things at the same time:

  • Insure that Trump does not get 270 electoral votes
  • win at least one electoral vote
  • Insure that Hillary Clinton does not get 270 electoral votes

In an alternative universe, that could work, but in this universe, I am having a hard time seeing how to actually make it work with a generic Republican running as a non-Trump alternative.

I think the first part is achievable.  However, the third party Republican spoiler is not needed.  Continual video playback of Trump’s speeches to non-Trump fans will isnure that.  If the Republican establishment decided it needed at least one electoral vote, it’s sock pocket could probably win Utah or a Congressional district in Nebraska.  Worse comes to worse, an elector could be a faithless elector.  I’ll concede the mechanics on this one.

The problem with this pre-emptive pants shitting is the third part.

Read more



Excellent Read: About Those “Terrorist Camps”…

During my involuntary hiatus, I couldn’t even read Balloon Juice — I was checking Google cache on the regular, but that was spotty & I couldn’t manage to read entire comment strings. So you’ll have to forgive me if this got written up already, but I thought Philip Bump’s Washington Post explainer on the ‘terrorist training camps’ conspiracy theory was too interesting to miss.

Can’t work the auto-links function, so here’s the link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/09/18/donald-trump-and-the-terrorist-training-camps-conspiracy-theory-explained/?tid=pm_politics_pop_b

… “We have a problem in this country: It’s called Muslims,” the questioner began, going on to state that President Obama was himself Muslim. “We have training camps, growing, where they want to kill us. That’s my question: When can we get rid of them?”

Trump’s response met with immediate backlash. He didn’t correct the questioner’s incorrect assertion about Obama’s religion and, further, suggested that his administration was “going to look at that.” Trump’s campaign insisted that the “that” they’d be looking at wasn’t getting rid of Muslims — but rather, those alleged training camps.

Which is itself a weird proposition.

The idea that there are 22 (or, in some iterations, 35) terrorist training camps in the United States appears to stem largely from a 2005 report from the National White Collar Crime Center (https://www.nw3c.org/), a nonprofit organization that receives federal funding. The report, “Identifying the Links between White-Collar Crime and Terrorism,” (https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/209520.pdf) focused on a group called Jamaat Ul Fuqra and the ways in which it used white-collar crime to fund its activities. An appendix to the report indicates a number of places where Fuqra had conducted activities or had training compounds across the country…

Other conservative sites have zeroed in on particular compounds. There’s Islamberg, along the eastern New York-Pennsylvania border, usually described as the “national headquarters” of Muslims of America — which the sites link to Fuqra — in the United States. There’s Mahmoudberg, near Sweeny, Tex., which has received a lot of attention thanks to an accidental shooting in 2002 that resulted in an FBI report (http://www.clarionproject.org/analysis/exclusive-clarion-project-discovers-texas-terror-enclave#popup-1) on the compound. And there’s Islamville, in South Carolina, home of a holy shrine (http://www.holyislamville.net/). A Web site focused on Islamic terror called “Clarion Project” released footage (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxoykqCSruY&feature=youtu.be) that it claims shows weapons training in Islamberg…

A lot of the Fuqra’s nefarious activity occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. The point of the White Collar Crime Center report, after all, was that Fuqra was involved in white-collar crime, like workers-compensation fraud. That’s tough to pair with spooky music…

So why the conspiracy theories? Because that’s how conspiracy theories work. Conspiracy Web sites often point out how close to New York City Islamberg is — even though it’s really not very close at all. It’s far enough away that Brooklynites see it as a refuge from the city’s noise and activity… In a response to Trump’s comments, a commenter at FreeRepublic.com (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/3338327/posts) points to the 2006 arrest of Muslims near Virginia — right near “the Virginia Muslim cemetery [where] the Chechen who bombed Boston was buried.” We’re through the looking glass here, people…

So, there’s “reasons” why those numbers keep getting passed around. The looking glass is warped and cracked, but there are weird images from which the Wingnut Wurlitzer ink-blots a new nutball “explanation” for every purpose…



The Bounds of Civility

Matt Breunig has written a couple of good posts about Jeremy Corbyn’s rise in the UK, one of which points out the dilemma that left wing candidates face in the current media/political environment:

So, you can’t run as a third-party because you might split votes. You also can’t run in the primary if you have any chance of winning the nomination because then you increase the risk that the “party” (so defined) will lose the general election. What, then, can you do? What is the center-left’s view on how the left is supposed to interact with electoral politics? It seems that the actual view is that they shouldn’t involve themselves at all, except as voters to a centrist party that does not accomplish (or even aim to accomplish) the left’s political goals.

That excerpt doesn’t do the whole piece justice, so read it, since it uses Corbyn as an example of what Sanders is going to face if his campaign gets any real traction.  We’ve been watching the spectacle of the Republican primary field in a race to the bottom (mainly in vain) to be more xenophobic and anti-feminist than Trump. The pack of lies dished out by all the candidates is only challenged after the fact and tepidly, while the insults are front-and-center in the campaign reports. Yet I doubt anyone reading here will be surprised if Sanders is treated like the next coming of Stalin, as well as a danger to the delicate sensibilities of the average American, if and when he is finally taken seriously.








Open Thread: Rambling the Appalachian Trail

From the Washington Post, a review of Barton Swaim’s new book on “What it’s like to write speeches for a rude, rambling and disgraced politician“:

You don’t need to be a speechwriter to realize that the phrase “I won’t begin in any particular spot” is a wretched way to start a public address. Yet those were the opening words of one of the more remarkable political spectacles in recent years: Mark Sanford’s rambling and teary news conference of June 24, 2009, in which South Carolina’s then-governor confessed that rather than hiking the Appalachian Trail, he’d been hooking up with his Argentine mistress…

No, Swaim didn’t write that speech, but now he has authored something just as revealing and unusual: a political memoir that traffics in neither score-settling nor self-importance but that shares, in spare, delightful prose, what the author saw and learned. “The Speechwriter” feels like “Veep” meets “All the King’s Men” — an entertaining and engrossing book not just about the absurdities of working in the press shop of a Southern governor but also about the meaning of words in public life…

The term “speechwriter” is misleading. Swaim spent much time crafting news releases, penning thank-you missives, and drafting scathing statements and scathing op-eds about whatever the legislature was pushing. “We did a lot of scathing,” he recalls. He also wrote “surrogate letters,” i.e., letters to the editor ostensibly from supporters but actually written by the governor’s staff. “There was something slightly but definitely dishonest” about them, Swaim admits, but they were also an art form: Start off with some generic sass (“Which constitution is Senator So-and-so reading?”), and then make an argument that doesn’t reflect too much insight, or otherwise editors would see through the ruse….

“The Speechwriter” will become a classic on political communication because it goes beyond the contortions of public statements to explore how politicians speak to their staffers when no cameras are around. In this case, the governor demeaned and humiliated them at every turn, usually as a way of coping with anxiety or working through ideas. “Being belittled was part of the job,” explains Swaim, who often drove to work nervous to the point of vomiting, bracing for whatever mood might grip the boss. When the governor noticed that a whiteboard hadn’t been updated with his latest goals, he collapsed “into a fit of angry inarticulacy.” And in a petty breach of office etiquette, Sanford sliced off a piece of a subordinate’s birthday cake and took it into his office, before they’d even celebrated. Later, Swaim recalls, staffers sang “Happy Birthday” to their colleague while gathered around a cake with a corner missing.

It wasn’t malice. Worse, it was indifference. “The governor wasn’t trying to hurt you,” Swaim concluded. “For him to try to hurt you would have required him to acknowledge your significance.” His attitude fostered perverse camaraderie among staffers, but also undercut any loyalty. He was the same with state lawmakers. The governor barely remembered their names, and that enraged them. He didn’t care…

And, of course, the capper: “Despite impeachment calls, [Sanford] served out his second term and now represents South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District after winning a 2013 special election.” IOKIYAR uber alles!



Open Thread: TBH, I’d Charge Him At Least Twice That Much…

… and then I’d do my (considerable) best to undercut him at every opportunity. Looking forward (not) to seeing how the GooGoos who shook their fingers at Hillary Clinton for her unfeminine attention to earning money defend Jeb!’s financial dealings, as described by the Washington Post:

Shortly after Jeb Bush left the Florida governor’s office in 2007, he established his own firm, Jeb Bush & Associates, designed to maximize his earning potential as one of the country’s more prominent politicians.

Tax returns disclosed this week by the Republican’s presidential campaign revealed that the business not only made him rich but also provided a steady income for his wife and one of his sons…

The returns show that the company set up a generous and well-funded pension plan now rare in corporate America, allowing Bush to take large tax deductions while he and his wife built up their retirement portfolio.

They also illustrate how Bush — who has touted his business experience on the campaign trail — relied on his public persona and political connections to rapidly increase his net worth.

More than a third of the firm’s $33 million in proceeds from 2007 to 2013 came from banking giants Lehman Bros. and Barclays, which paid Bush a combined total of about $12 million for his work as a senior adviser, according to the tax filings and campaign officials. An additional $8.1 million during that period came from speaking fees.

Although Bush presented the release of 33 years of tax returns this week as evidence of his transparency, a review of the filings shows that more than a third of his company’s income was from sources that his campaign has largely declined to disclose…

The NYTimes sticks to the impersonal — “Business Ties Made by Jeb Bush as Florida Governor Turned Lucrative When He Left Office“:

In his final year as governor, Jeb Bush led a campaign to persuade an Italian military contractor and its partners to build a plant in Florida, meeting with the company’s chief executive, offering financial incentives and appearing at an event celebrating the project.

Soon after Mr. Bush left government for the private sector, the contractor, Alenia North America, provided him with a warm welcome of its own: It paid him $64,000 to deliver a speech, his campaign disclosed.

As Mr. Bush sought to create a personal fortune for himself and his family after eight years in public office, he found a ready source of income: speeches sponsored by corporations and industry trade groups, including some that benefited from his administration’s policies.

Since 2007, Mr. Bush has delivered about 260 paid speeches, earning around $10 million in the process, according to records provided this week by his presidential campaign. The speeches, combined with his consulting and investment businesses, rapidly transformed his finances: His and his wife’s net worth soared to at least $19 million from $1.3 million over the past eight years…

That parvenu Romney didn’t have the patrician brio to release his tax returns — he retained some residual shame, or at least sensed that the details of his prosperity might be viewed as unseemly by the striving voter. Jeb!, true scion of the Bush Crime Family, cares not what the peons whinge about at their grubby little “electoral gatherings”…